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Mr. Banks: Does the right hon. Gentleman concede that fireworks are not only used on 5 November? Other communities also use them to celebrate their festivals, which is one reason for their more widespread use. Perhaps we should consider each of those festivals and set a date before which fireworks cannot be purchased.
On the right hon. Gentleman's concern about animals, surely a limit should be set on the size of the explosive fireworks that can be bought. Some of them are huge: they are mortars. The amount of noise that they make causes enormous distress, not just to animals, but to old people and to people of a nervous disposition, of whom I happen to be one. They are frightening and it is about time that action was taken to deal with them.
Mr. Knight: I agree that we should consider the issue, and I hope that the Minister will feed that back to his colleagues. However, I have reservations about framing legislation on the hoof, so I would not want to talk today about the scope of such legislation or the clauses that it should contain.
The hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) mentioned the problems caused to 1 million people, some of whom are his constituents, by Equitable Life. Some are also my constituents, so I join him in pressing the Minister to try to ensure that an equitable conclusion is reached.
The hon. Gentleman then spoke with feeling about several aspects of what is happening in Northern Ireland, which is a tragic and serious matter. Northern Ireland politicians are not short of commentators, so I shall not give the House the benefit of my opinion other than to say that all hon. Members, on whichever side of the House they sit, hope that the peace process will succeed. I hope that the Minister will take on board the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expressed on behalf of one section of the Northern Ireland community.
The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) devoted his entire speech to football and the problem of football hooligans. He spoke from a position of knowledgeeven expertiseand I hope that Home Office Ministers and the Minister for Sport will read his speech carefully. I am pleased that he has neither lost his edge in debate nor stopped calling for action from his own side. His Front Bench has been diminished by his absence, and I hope that in the not too distant future he will experience ministerial life after death.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) covered several issues that affect his constituency. He spoke movingly about people's fear of their homes being flooded and the problems that they experience as a result of flooding. Part of my constituency has been flooded, so I know that it is an ongoing problem. The Institution of Civil Engineers recently considered flooding, and it said that one of the problems was that the Government's policy was piecemeal and inadequate and that spending should be doubled. I do not want to start to
The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard YoungerRoss) spoke about ambulance chasers. I think that he is on to something in that respect. I share his worry that we may be importing a trend from America. Last time I was in the United States, I heard a radio advertisement that ran, "Have you ever been affected by food poisoning? Did you get sick from a sausage or ill from an eel? If you did, telephone this numberwe are attorneys at law and we will pursue your claim." That is something that we could do without. I should perhaps declare an interest in that I am a lawyer. When I qualified as a solicitor, my profession had a rule that one could not advertise, and my partner and I managed to build up a highly successful firm without ever having to do so. The legal profession has lost something now that it is able to advertise and, in some cases, chase work.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge went on to discuss the problem of self-harm. He is right to say that those who are distressed or disturbed need proper specialist care. I want to add a third dimension to his comments. Self-harm admission may mask something else.
A young woman who is an artist and a good friend of two musicians whom I know showed all the signs of suffering self-harm for a long time. She would appear with bruises and claim that she had fallen down the stairs; she would have other injuries, and sometimes her clothes were torn. After deep discussion over a long time, it was revealed that she was not suffering from self-harm but was a victim of domestic violence. She was so frightened of revealing what had happened that she preferred to blame herself rather than admit that she was a victim of domestic violence. I therefore believe that those who look after people who admit self-harm need expertise to discern symptoms that may not always be obvious when someone presents themselves to a doctor or at a hospital.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) made an excellent contribution. I agreed with his early points. As in my hon. Friend's constituency, agriculture plays a large part in my constituency, and he was right about the unacceptable power of supermarkets. Many farmers, especially dairy farmers whom I know, are worried about that. My hon. Friend went on to mention policing and then started to consider the meaning of happiness. I shall confine myself to saying that, as long as he is our pairing Whip and can decide which members of my party can be slipped from the House, my idea of happiness is listening to him.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall gave us the benefit of his perspective on the issues that have been raised today. I hear a lot from him because I sit opposite him on the Modernisation Committee. I do not always agree with him, but it is worth listening to his contributions, which are always thought-provoking. He did not disappoint us today. He mentioned pylons, which are worrying. He said that in bygone days, people living in a village gave three cheers when they saw the pylons arrive. What's new? Early adverts for smoking told us that it was a healthy pursuit. We were initially told that
The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) gave us his opinion on matters further from home. He made a thoughtful speech and all hon. Members are united in our support for a peaceful resolution to the dangerous situation about which he spoke.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) is a permanent feature of such debates, although he was a late arrival today. He made many points with his customary vigour and effectiveness. I believe that he agreed with in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings that happiness comes from what you have, not what you cannot attain. I am not sure whether that is true. I believe that Oscar Wilde said that there are two disappointments in life. One is never achieving one's lifelong ambition, the other is achieving it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West mentioned his involvement in the all-party obesity group. I wish him well with that venture because people tend to snigger when one refers to the problems that those who are grossly overweight can suffer. I believe that it is unacceptable in a civilised society that discrimination on the ground of size is still regarded as acceptable in many sectors of commerce.
Like the hon. Member for North Cornwall, I shall finish with an offer. If any hon. Member decides to visit east Yorkshire in the recess, I should not only be delighted to show them the Yorkshire coast, but to buy them a drink.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): If any hon. Member wishes to visit suburban north London during the recess, they are very welcome to do soin fact, they can join me straight after the debate and assist at my advice surgery at 4 o'clock this afternoon.
We have, as ever, had a wide-ranging debate. I am always impressed by the way in which these debates are able to fill whatever time is allocated for them. When we arrived this morning and saw that the Benches were more sparsely populated than usual, some of us feared that we might not fill the full five hours, but we have done so. I shall do my best in the next 20 minutes to respond to all of the points raised. If I fail to do so completely in respect of every speech, I shall do my best to ensure that Departments respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.
I shall draw the remarks made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) about tourism to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I was not aware of the apparently enormous disparity between England and Scotland and Wales. The right hon. Gentleman's rallying cry was that he sought not parity, but justice. I am not sure how near to parity one has to get to achieve justice, but it sounds as though there is a large disparity, and I shall certainly draw that to my right hon. Friend's attention.
I shall now try to respond to the points made by a combination of the usual suspects and the pre-recess debate virgins, whom I hope we will welcome back in other pre-recess debatesthe usual suspects of the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) expressed concern about the abuse of right to buy. The Government have commissioned research into the extent and type of such abuse and its effect on the housing market. The results of that research are expected in November and will be made publicly available. The Government do not rule out taking legislative action in future to close loopholes in the right-to-buy rules.
Right to buy has brought great personal benefit to many thousands of families who have bought their properties, but it has many negative features as well. In my area, about half the council property that existed 20 years ago no longer exists, and we have a serious shortage of affordable housing for rent for families in need. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said, that is a major national issue that has been neglected by Governments of both main parties. We must get a grip on it.
As always, the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who is certainly one of the usual suspects in this type of debate, raised many issues and connected them to his constituency. Street crime is a hugely serious issueone that most if not all of us encounter as constituency MPs. Although street crime is prevalent across the country, it is highly concentrated in a small number of mostly urban areas: it is a striking statistic that 10 police force areas account for 82 per cent. of street robberies. The Government are focusing on those 10 areas, but we must not neglect the rest of the country when tackling a major problem that must be grasped by the police and others.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the third road for Canvey Island and issued a challenge to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who was absent from the debate. I am advised that the Government recognise the importance attached to those transport improvements and that we are working with Essex county council to resolve the outstanding issues. It should be possible to complete the work well before the next round of annual progress reports, and we will consider the case for the scheme before the next settlement. If the hon. Gentleman wants to follow that matter up, I shall be happy to pursue it with him.
The hon. Gentleman raised several other matters that I will not have time to deal with if I am to respond to other hon. Members, but let me touch on Cyprus, with which he closed his speech. I have the privilege to represent a constituency that has a large number of Cypriots, both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriotsin fact more Cypriots live in Enfield, Southgate than in any other part of the world, with the exception of Cyprus itself, of course. There was some optimism earlier this year when the latest round of talks between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash began. It is positive that the talks are continuing and that the third round has been completed.
I concur with the hon. Gentleman's remarks, including the talks between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash and the accession process. If Cyprus is to become part of the EU, as I hope it will, economically the greatest beneficiaries will be the Turkish Cypriots, if a united Cyprus comes in. If necessary, with a divided Cyprus, we would see the Republic of Cyprus coming in. I think that all of us hope that we can achieve a just and lasting peaceful settlement for Cyprus that will benefit that part of the world and all the people of Cyprus.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who is unable to remain in the Chamber, raised a number of issues. I shall concentrate on the matter of hate crime, and especially the extremely disturbing spate of anti-semitic attacks over recent months. Like my hon. Friend, I have a significant Jewish community in my constituency. I am well aware of the real fear and hurt that there is in that community at what we have witnessed in this country and in other parts of the world. That is most notable in France, where the scale of anti-semitic attacks, and the nature of some of those in Paris, Marseilles and elsewhere, are appalling.
As my hon. Friend said, we saw the recent incident at the Finsbury Park synagogue. As he said, it affected an old and longstandingit is quite small nowJewish community in that part of London. Everything must be done to tackle hate crime in all its forms, including anti-semitic crime. There is often a view that somehow anti-semitism is something of the past. Tragically it is not. It is still very much alive and with us, and it needs to be tackled seriously. I know that my colleagues in the Home Office have been in discussions with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, with the Community Security Trust and others from the Jewish community to ensure that all is done to take the matter forward.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) raised a number of important issues. Like him, I went to state schools. I am not sure that it is quite the same in this place as at Southgate comprehensive school, but it is rather like bringing the games in for the last day before the holidays. He referred to what is clearly a major constituency issue on the Braer tanker grounding of nine years ago. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of colleagues, particularly in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the common fisheries policy, which was taken up by other hon. Members. Clearly the matter needs to be taken forward. The Government expect the proposals from the Commission to be produced by the end of May. We are disappointed as a Government that the proposals from Brussels did not emerge sooner. We shall continue to press, and we attach great importance to the debate and to taking matters forward as set out by the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) raised many issues, as ever. I will not be able to do justice to them all. I agree that we need to address the issue of fireworks, and it is being addressed in government. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North
My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon described the reform of local government funding as a bit of a nightmare. Having attended a Cabinet Committee yesterday that was considering it, I can say that it certainly is. I am sure that we shall have winners. But sadly we shall also have losers. It will be quite a task to get things right. Perhaps speaking sneakily as a London Member, I am aware that we have extremely serious recruitment problems in public services in London and the south-east. I know that they are not exclusive to our part of the country, but there is strong feeling about that.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's strong and consistent commitment to securing the modernisation of the House. I agree with her on term limits, but I disagree with her on the payment of Select Committee Chairs. That could be one way in which we can strengthen the Select Committee system and give greater weight to the task of parliamentary scrutiny, and therefore give Parliament a greater role in our national political debate.
The hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) made a powerful speech on behalf of his constituents. It is important that we in Government listen carefully to what he said. I hope that it is not true that consent has gone from the Good Friday agreement, and that we can take the agreement forward. The hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues regarding the current status of the IRA ceasefire in relation to Castlereagh. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wrote to him this week, stating that there will be a full reply to the hon. Gentleman's question as soon as possible. I will chase up my right hon. Friend on that matter. All of us in the House want to see a genuine and fully-fledged peace in Northern Ireland. Let us hope that we achieve it sooner rather than later.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) told us that the French are the Olympic cricket champions, which I did not know. He also told us that he would be supporting France against the team of the hon. Member for Castle PointSenegal. As an avid Arsenal supporter, I shall have to support France as well, although we may need to look to Senegal for players in the Arsenal team.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham said that from his experience as Minister for Sport, he was careful about predicting what would happen at the World cup. Having listened to his story, I should make it clear from the Dispatch Box that I fully expect that England will win the World cup.
My hon. Friend went on to give us a detailed and highly informed analysis of the impact of the football disorder legislation that was introduced following the appalling events at Euro 2000. Clearly, significant progress has been made, but my hon. Friend highlighted disturbing differences in the impact of that legislation in different parts of the country. He raised the issue of training for magistrates. The figures that he set out, contrasting Merseyside with Staffordshire, were striking. I shall draw the matter to the attention of colleagues in the Home Office and in the Lord Chancellor's Department. My hon. Friend also told us about football violence in other parts of the world, and gave a plug for the BBC's series on the issue, the next episode of which will focus on the Italian club, Lazio.
Like the hon. Member for North Cornwall, I think that in his closing remarks about protecting both the Union flag and St. George's flag, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham made a powerful point, which I hope we will consider further. It is important that the flag should unite the peoplethe English people in the case of the flag of St. George, and the people of the United Kingdom as a whole in the case of the Union Jack. I will draw that to the attention of colleagues.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) raised a number of important issues, as did others, including the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, concerning flood and coastal defences. I am advisedit is nice to get advice on these occasionsthat the Government are committed to sustaining flood and coastal defences.
Funding for DEFRA's programme for investing in flood warning arrangements and flood and coastal defences is increasing from £66 million in 2000-01 to £114 million in 2003-04. Funding for future years is being considered as part of the current spending review process. Significantly more money is thus being made available, and I am sure that hon. Members' arguments today will be taken into account as part of that important review.