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1.29 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): Before the House adjourns for the Whitsun recess, there are a number of points that I wish to raise, and I shall try to rattle through them as quickly as possible.

I was delighted that my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) referred to Southend cancer unit. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), the four of us are absolutely united. We will resist any move to undermine or diminish the present cancer service.

In the light of the remarks of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), I was delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point spoke about volunteering. My goodness—our country could not function without its huge army of volunteers. Only this week, I heard about one of my constituents, Mrs. Mude, who has been a volunteer at Southend hospital for 63 years, welcoming and greeting people. That is a fantastic achievement.

While I am on the subject of volunteering, I hope that hon. Members will make a firm note in their diaries that the scouts tea party will take place on 18 June. Scouts and guides do a magnificent job and I hope that as many hon. Members as possible will turn up on 18 June to support their scout groups.

I entirely agreed with the comments of the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) about shellfish. As the Minister knows, I have raised that matter on previous occasions. It is crazy that, as a result of those European directives, our shellfish producers are being punished, and I hope that the Minister will contact the excellent Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who has responsibility for those matters. Perhaps we could hold a round-table meeting to discuss the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) has left the Chamber, but as he seems to have dropped a pound coin on the Bench I am sure that he will be back—[Interruption.] Ah, he is back already.

I was fascinated by my hon. Friend's strictures on philosophy where I shall certainly not compete with him. I find the concept of happiness intangible—perhaps we could devote a day to debating it. It seems to me, however, that young people are "bored" because they experience everything much sooner and more quickly than we did when we were children. If my hon. Friend has an answer for that, I should be only too happy to hear it—we might adopt it as Conservative policy.

Mr. Hayes: I would never claim to have all the answers to human happiness; if I did, I should not be in this place but somewhere much more lucrative—I do not say "somewhere more noble", because there is nothing more noble than being a Member of the House of Commons.

It seems to me that fulfilment and contentment come from satisfaction with what one has, rather than the pursuit of the unattainable. My hon. Friend referred to

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boredom; if we reflected on the lovely and glorious things in the world instead of seeking the unattainable, perhaps we should all be a little happier and more content.

Ms Drown: How lovely.

Mr. Amess: I could not disagree with either of those remarks.

I also wanted to draw the Minister's attention to two health matters that have been completely neglected. In 1994, the Encephalitis Support Group was formed. I am sure that hon. Members know that encephalitis is inflammation of the brain and that it affects many people. Representatives of the group have contacted me; they are anxious to raise the group's profile in the House.

Another group that is subtly lobbying Members of Parliament is TOAST—the Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust. To be hugely overweight is no joke. Many companies market ridiculous diets and rip people off with claims that they can lose stones. That is extremely upsetting. I hope that the House will reflect on that and consider how we can give more support to people who are unhappy—for whatever reason—with their appearance.

I have pontificated about mobile phones on many occasions. I loathe them. We over-use them in this country. Everywhere we go, people with mobile phones clutched to their ear are holding inane conversations for everyone else to hear. I have often pointed out that using a mobile phone while driving could result in a terrible accident—as has happened. Recently, someone who caused such an accident was sent to jail for three years. What on earth is the House doing about it? Absolutely nothing. Now we have—

Mr. Tyler: Of course the House has had an opportunity to do something about it, and one would hope that the Government will take it up, because there is a private Member's Bill on the subject—the Telecommunications Transmitters (Restrictions on Planning Applications) Bill. The hon. Gentleman may have been about to mention that.

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the very important work done for BRAKE, the pressure group on safety on the roads, which shows that handheld mobile phones are not much more dangerous than the screen ones, because both are equally distracting if used when the car is in motion?

Mr. Amess: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I believe that it was BT who tried to seduce me in the early days by giving me one of those contraptions for use in the car, and I found it just as distracting as the type that one holds under one's chinline. The work of BRAKE is absolutely excellent, so I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support in that regard.

I want to draw to the Minister's attention a matter which I am sure will be repeated to him. We have a huge row in the constituency that I represent. We have in the town probably one of the finest restaurants in the country; it is wonderful, and it is the intention to plonk on that highly visible restaurant one of these mobile phone mast monstrosities. I have been inundated with letters and telephone calls from local residents who think that,

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aesthetically, it would be awful to have a mobile phone mast on top of the restaurant but who are also very concerned indeed about the health problems.

The House has discussed the subject ad nauseam but nothing ever seems to happen, and I am fed up with the buck passing. Local authorities look at the plans and turn them down. The matter then goes to appeal and the mobile phone mast goes up. I hope that the Minister will try to get some action.

I have received many letters from constituents who are totally unhappy with the 999 emergency service system. In the area that I represent, for whatever reason, we have these absolutely useless call centres, so instead of getting on to the local police station, the caller is put through to Chelmsford, and when he or she eventually gets through to Chelmsford, probably the person who is trying to mug them or has blocked them in has disappeared.

The Home Secretary needs to give greater guidance to chief constables throughout the country on call centres. Once upon a time it was possible to dial 999 and get through to someone immediately, and help would arrive. That certainly does not happen at the moment. These call centres are a disaster.

Ms Drown: On a recent visit to our local police headquarters, I was told about the increasing number of 999 calls. Would the hon. Gentleman support the introduction of another number that people could telephone for help, if the incident was not of a blue-light or ambulance degree of severity?

Mr. Amess: That is a very interesting point. I would be very pleased to work with the hon. Lady on that issue and see whether we could persuade the Home Secretary to take it up, because at the moment the emergency service simply is not working. The hon. Lady is entirely right when she says that the 999 line is blocked with other calls.

I never thought that I would be talking about the Palace theatre again in the House but, sadly, this week another crisis appears to be emerging. Once again, the theatre seems to need more funding in order to continue, but perhaps when we have more time I will wax lyrical on that.

I wish to raise two final points. First, Mrs. Narwar has contacted me about her son, who is an Egyptian in a jail in Egypt. I am glad that the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) is in his place now because I know that he has a constituent in the same jail, and I believe that three or four other hon. Members are affected. A meeting took place between Baroness Amos and the family and friends of the people in jail. Unfortunately, no hon. Members could be present with their constituents, but I should be very grateful if the Minister would have a word with the Foreign Office, because these people are still in prison. We do not have time to go into the charges, but I consider that an issue of human rights is involved.

Finally, I had the privilege and enjoyment to be present at the Ivor Novello award ceremony yesterday. It was a glittering occasion; in fact, it reminded me of what the Brit awards used to be like. There I was, sitting with one of the singers of The Three Degrees. Anyway, there were some marvellous conversations. The bottom line is—I say this to the Minister as a younger Member—that the industry is feeling slightly neglected at the moment.

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We have the finest writers in the world. Our music is better than anyone else can produce—never mind the fact that we did not have a single in the American top 100 for a week or so. The Government should carefully consider the way in which the industry has been affected by the fact that people obviously no longer buy 78s or 45s, that compact discs are given away free in magazines and that the blank tape levy is no longer an issue. Those people have a right to be rewarded in some way or other. I know that the relevant Department is a supporter of the industry, but the Minister knows full well that, without persuading the Treasury on the issue, we are wasting our time.

I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you and everyone else will have a very enjoyable Whitsun and, in particular, that everyone enjoys the jubilee celebrations.

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