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Members of Parliament are often driven by imperatives, the daily routine and the legislative programmeand so we should be. However, parliamentarians also have a responsibility to reflect on some of the bigger issues that drive and shape societyhuman fulfilment and happiness. Perhaps I can spend a few minutes reflecting on them and allow colleagues also to reflect on the issues and to contribute to the discussion.
Modern man, with his obsession with the material and the immediate gratification of material self-interest, is straying a long way from what Mill described as happiness. Happiness is born of contentment, yet I suggest that we live in an increasingly discontented worlda world dominated by the material: and not just the material, but the basest elements thereof. Man surely understands that virtue brings contentment, yet the recognition that truth and virtue will spring from within is increasingly replaced by the desire to pursue the most base motives.
I believe that the recognition of virtue springs from within, but is God givenso that virtue also exists outside man. I do not want to become too theological, but the physical world is defined by our senses and our consciousness, and that consciousness is given to us by God. I go beyond saying that consciousness is purely about the mind; I think that it is driven by the mind, the heart and the soul, inspired by the divine. The idea that it is the intellect that matters, irrespective of feeling, is to misunderstand what motivates man.
Selfish materialism is corrupting our civilisation. Free from ideals, free from faith and perhaps even free from love, people seek excitement not through the real passions of heart and soul, but through cheap kicks, thrills and shocks. The glory of love and devotion, and the passion of the pursuit of truth, are replaced by the trivial. Such trivialisation of life, with its accompanying cynicism, which leads to nihilism, is the biggest threat facing society and the next generation of children.
There is nothing worse than believing in nothing at all. That applies to many people in society, perhaps especially to young people, although obviously not all of them. I met many marvellous young people last night in my constituency who devote enormous energy to their community as youth leaders of the brownie pack in Holbeach. However, it can be argued that an increasing number of people believe in very little. Once people believe in very little, they pursue self-interest. It is such base self-interest that leads to beating up an old lady for a fish supper.
Last week, the papers reported an attack on a schoolgirl because her contemporaries perceived her as being too lovely; she was too beautiful. When her father was asked why she was attacked, he said, "Because she is pretty and popular." When I read that, I thought that it is a deeply sad day for our civilisation when someone is attacked for being pretty. Such matters are worthy of our consideration. Incidentally, those people who pursue individual rights rather than collective responsibility may be unwittingly, and mainly with good will, feeding the pursuit of selfish gratification of personal desire.
We have a responsibility as parliamentarians not only to elevate our own thinking but to attempt to elevate the thinking of the people whom we represent. We have a responsibility once again to champion virtues such as responsibility, duty, compassion, care for our community and love of country. Through those things comes social cohesiona sense of togethernessthat transcends individual achievement and unites us so that the things that we share are more important than the things that divide us; they become more important than our own successes and failures. Surely that is the responsibility of all political parties.
On senses and consciousness, common sense is always superior to book learning. An intellectual friend of mine said that we only need enough intellectuals to make a case against intellectualism. I thought that was a little harsh, but I understood what he meant. It is the common sense of the people of our country, combined with their genuine passionstheir love of all things goodthat gives me great hope in our struggle against nihilism. I think that most people are decent and honourable, have a sense of what is right, just and fair, and want all political parties and all those in public life to pursue those virtues. They expect that of us as they expect it of themselves. That does not mean that real challenges are not involved. Man is imperfect, but he is not irredeemable. We should not celebrate and revel in his imperfections, but aim to counter them by pursuing what is good and honourable.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. At the outset, I thought that we would not have our three principal usual suspects with us. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) usually talks about Cyprus, so I am glad that another Member managed to discuss that subject. In every previous such debate, the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has discussed Royal Hospital Haslar. As he is
Traditionally, this debate proposes that we should not adjourn. Significantly, however, although all hon. Members' contributions were extremely interesting and thoughtful, none suggested that we should not adjourn. I am not sure whether that means that the recess is now so attractive to Members that they feel that they can get their burdens off their chests before departing, but still depart in good conscience. It is an interesting change of attitude.
Although only a few of us are here, it is an important part of Parliament's job to raise such issues. That goes right back to the origins of this honourable House. In mediaeval times, we came here with petitions on behalf of our constituents. On the night before last, the Leader of the House gave an interesting lecture to the Hansard Society in which he referred to some of the roles of this House that are as important as its scrutiny of legislation and of executive action by the Administration of the day. Although it is disappointing that not as many hon. Members are here today as on previous such occasions, their contributions have been very interesting in their variety and the extent to which they raised constituency, and wider, concerns. The House has been doing its proper job.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) spoke about the housing crisis. The subject has been much debated on the Floor of the House since the last war and its immediate aftermath, when people thought that they had solved the problem. I recall that my first maiden speech was principally about housing in a rural area. The hon. Gentleman obviously spoke about the London situation. The housing shortage is an issue that successive Governments have failed to deal with. That relates to the issue of imposing development targets on different parts of the country.
I was struck by another recurring theme in our debate today: our dependence as a society on the work of volunteers. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) referred to that in relation to youth facilities. Not only facilities but the leadership of youth organisations is important. Perhaps that relates to the contribution of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). People contribute a huge amount to the local community through voluntary work and we depend on them greatly.
The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) made an extremely important point about the need to reform consumer credit legislation. It is an undoubted and sad fact that loan sharks are with us. It has been said that the poor are always with us. While the poor are with us, so are the loan sharks who prey on them.
The hon. Gentleman made another important point about the way in which all forms of voluntary organisations that come within the province of the industrial provident societies are in considerable difficulty because of registration charges. That includes women's institutes, of which I am a devoted follower, if not an eligible member. Registration charges have increased tenfold. That has proved difficult for voluntary organisations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) talked about the specific and worrying circumstances of his constituents who still live with the consequences of the motor tanker Braer disaster nine years ago. He also made an important point about a more general issue: the causal link that victims of natural and human disasters have to establish before having a reasonable claim to compensation.
As hon. Members may know, I have led a small group in the House that is worried about organophosphates and their devastating effects on many people, but especially sheep farmers. Throughout my time in the House, I have also been worried about the impact on my constituents of the notorious Lowermoor water poisoning incident in 1988. I pay tribute to the Minister for the Environment, who has played a leading role in trying to deal with the problem. In both cases, the law has let people down because the victim has had to establish a direct link between the incident and his or her illness. That is a great indictment of our legal system. The victim is in such a difficult situation and often up against huge organisations. That makes it extremely unlikely that natural justice will prevail.
The hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) always presents a portmanteau of subjects in such debates and it is difficult to know which to comment on. I shall choose two. Her point about the national health service and the need for decentralisation should be applied more generally. We should not simply pick and choose those who happen to be doing well and say, "You can now take more responsibility." We have a huge problem in this country that especially affects public services. We have allowed ourselves to become far more centralised than other European and developed countries, and the health service is a classic example of that. There comes a point when the sheer scale of the operation is difficult for any human being to manage. The hon. Lady is right: we must ensure more effective decentralisation in services, especially the health service.
I also agree with the hon. Member for South Swindon about wind farms, of which there are three in my constituency. I do not claim that they are all popular, but we recognise that we are making a contribution to renewable energy. I have no doubt that there will be more wind farms in Cornwall. The one place where they would not be expected to cause additional damage to the local landscape is Ministry of Defence land. The hon. Lady was absolutely right to say that the MOD must be called to account and required to explain its attitude. It is not mirrored in any other European or NATO country, so I cannot believe that restrictions on national defence have anything to do with it.