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11.5 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): I want to raise several issues before the House adjourns for the summer recess. Today, I had the honour to introduce a Bill to give

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protection to endangered species. The current law, with an offence that is not arrestable and carries a maximum sentence of two years, is crazy. My Bill would make the offence arrestable and extend the maximum sentence to five years. We all enjoy watching films about dinosaurs, but we do not want to create any more, which we will unless we protect endangered species.

I am also very concerned about law and order. We meet in the House in order to make laws, but increasingly I feel that my constituents are less than happy with the way in which laws are enforced. Police morale is at rock bottom, and our constituents are often disappointed when the crimes that they report are not followed up. It does not matter what the Government say, because the general public feeling is one of a lack of confidence in law enforcement.

I have asked the Library to conduct an analysis—it will take a great deal of time—of just a few Acts of Parliament, to find out on how many occasions the laws have been enforced. In 1988, I had the honour to introduce the Protection against Cruel Tethering Bill, which became an Act of Parliament, yet I had a letter only this week from a constituent complaining that she had reported horses being inadequately watered and improperly tethered but that absolutely nothing had been done.

My constituents complain that when they ring the local police station they are put through to a call centre—it could be in Chelmsford or, on another occasion, in Croydon—with no local knowledge. That, too, has caused a reduction in confidence.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) mentioned mobile phones. The House may be aware of my own prejudices on that issue. Earlier today, we debated a related subject. It really is not good enough for Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and pray in aid the Stewart report and sit on the fence, when we all know that the law is an ass. Local authorities do their best to turn down applications, but the operators get their way on appeal.

Ministers have said that it is not lawful to drive a motor car while talking on a mobile phone, but every single day I see a legion of people with the mobile tucked under the chin, having detailed conversations and taking not a blind bit of notice of what is going on. Two months ago, someone was convicted and went to prison for three years because he had been talking on a mobile phone and killed someone, but the law is scarcely ever enforced.

Only recently, we had the case of Dr. Shipman, a man who has been found guilty of murdering 250 or 280 patients, and who perhaps killed another 100. That had been going on since 1975. What confidence can the general public have in law enforcement when this doctor's performance was not even properly monitored? It is an absolute disgrace. If I was one of those murdered patients' relatives, I would not be satisfied with the way in which the matter seems to have been dealt with so far.

On law enforcement, the Government have kindly sent us all a consultation paper called "Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud." In 1993, I introduced a ten-minute Bill to provide for voluntary identity cards; indeed, I think that that was the first time such a Bill was not opposed. Ten years later, the current Government want us to reflect on their consultation paper, but I need not do so. I cannot understand why any law-abiding citizen would object to identity cards. Before beginning my speech, I thought,

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"Shall I take out my wallet, which looks a bit bulky?" It is stuffed full—not of money, unfortunately, or of losing lottery tickets, but of plastic cards. If we had identity cards, that particular problem could be dealt with. If this House is to be relevant to our constituents, we must consider carefully the fact that it is no earthly good our continually passing laws and not providing the work force to enforce them.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) and for West Chelmsford, mentioned the crisis in care homes. My hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and I are served by the excellent Southend Times, and I certainly praise the efforts of the editor, Michael Guy, in trying to highlight a number of related issues. One headline ran, "Care Homes in Crisis: One home a month is closing in Southend". I should point out that, of the 659 constituencies in this country, mine is 33rd in terms of the number of senior citizens.

David Cormack, chief executive of Southend Derby and Joan organisation and chairman of South Essex Care Homes Association, told the Southend Times that care homes are closing because the proprietors are not being given enough money to run them at even a tiny profit. Also, as a result of the standards and guidelines imposed by the National Care Standards Commission—the regulatory body that took over responsibility for ensuring good standards in the care home sector—it has been pretty well impossible for such homes to remain viable.

We are all familiar with the story of the lady—she was well into her 90s—who went on a starvation protest a few weeks ago because she did not want to be moved from her home, and who eventually died. I served on the Committee that considered the Care Standards Bill, which eventually became an Act. We tried then to warn Ministers that most elderly people are not bothered whether their room is 2 in too small, or whether their home is the all-singing, all-dancing affair that such homes used to be; what matters is the love and care given by the proprietors. Although I have a great deal of time for the Minister with responsibility for such matters—he always tells me that he is doing his best to allow the owners of care homes to meet the new standards—I very much regret the fact that so many care homes have had to close.

In the Whitsun Adjournment debate, I raised the case of Mrs. Narwar's son, who was imprisoned in Egypt together with several other people after going on a trip there. Unfortunately, he is still in prison. Baroness Amos is dealing with the matter, and I understand that she must do so very carefully. However, I am finding it increasingly difficult to convince Mrs. Narwar that her son is being treated in the way that she would hope. Several important issues of justice are involved.

The Friday before last, I had the privilege of shadowing—in the nicest sense—a nurse at Southend hospital. I arrived at 6.50 am, when the night shift was just finishing, and for more than three hours I saw at first hand the excellent work that is being done at that hospital. Mrs. Janet Cornell, a constituent of mine, wrote recently to say that we only hear about the poor aspects of the NHS, but, she continues:

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She goes on to praise the wonderful work that is done at Southend hospital. However, I also saw at first hand how pressurised the staff are.

Another constituent, whom I will not name, wrote to me recently about what he considers to be the abuse of the ambulance service. I do not mean to attack our GPs, who do magnificent work, but the constituent told me of a dialogue with a GP whom he had wanted to come out to see his wife. The doctor was a little short with my constituent on the telephone, refused to come out and suggested that he call an ambulance. My constituent eventually did so, and the ambulance driver told him that this was not a one-off event, claiming that locums are increasingly taking that course of action because they, too, are under great stress.

Just as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) thought that he would not need to mention his hospital, I did not think that I would need to mention the Palace theatre, because, as far as I was concerned, its future was not in doubt. However, unfortunately and dramatically, it has now closed. Several of my constituents feel that that is because of a lack of funds from Eastern Arts. I shall not take this opportunity to have a go at the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), but apparently Colchester theatre gets £450,000 as a subsidy, whereas the Palace theatre in Southend gets nothing. That cannot be fair.

Bob Russell (Colchester): I am grateful for that welcoming introduction. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that since Colchester is the cultural capital of Essex, it is only right that it should receive appropriate funding?

Mr. Amess: The hon. Gentleman has probably had a good dinner, but I have not yet had the opportunity to do so. Colchester is a wonderful town, but the hon. Gentleman slightly exaggerates its position. It is a disgrace that the Palace theatre receives nothing while Ipswich and the other theatres get a lot of money.

Recently, we staged an Agatha Christie festival, which was fêted not only in the UK but all over the world. It was absolutely first class. The present owners of the theatre, managers Green and Lenigan, thought that Eastern Arts would give them £250,000, but they received nothing. The Palace theatre had intended to run a young people's theatre summer school. It was fully booked, but it has had to be cancelled. I hope that the Minister will have a word with the appropriate Department to see if we can obtain some extra funding.

Several other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), have said that their towns will win the bloom contest, but Southend, which won the gold medal at the Chelsea flower show, will be a tough act to beat. I hope that hon. Members will consider visiting Southend for their summer holidays this year. I am delighted to say that the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting recently visited Southend and we are grateful for the interest that he showed in the town and, in particular, in our pier, which is the longest in the world. We have recently opened a new lifeboat station, we have millennium illuminations and a new sewage disposal system—I doubt whether that will be of huge interest to visitors. We are constructing the new pier entrance, including the installation of a lift. We are reconstructing the area of the pier head that was substantially damaged

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by fire in 1976. There is also the renovation of walkway shelters and pier-head toilets and the installation of CCTV cameras. I hope that all these things will act as incentives to visitors.

Let me move on quickly to my three final points. Many Members feel strongly about religious broadcasting. The appropriate Department has been sending us letters with which I feel slightly uneasy. Hundreds of thousands of law-abiding tax-paying people throughout the country have been asking for Christian broadcasting for more than 12 years. Yet the Department for Culture, Media and Sport still justifies its ban by continuing to say that its aim is to satisfy as many viewers and listeners as possible. I join the organisation in asking the Government to remove the disqualification of religious persons from the draft communications Bill and to replace it with Parliament's previous provision for Christian religious broadcasting.

My penultimate point relates to Westborough's residents association, which was keen that I should raise the issue. I attended its meeting a few days ago—one of the best-attended residents' meetings to which I have ever been. Of the nine wards in my constituency, Westborough is probably—I know that no local residents will take offence—the most deprived area. When we had a Liberal-Labour council—I am glad to say that we now have a Conservative-controlled council in Southend—and we tried for assisted area status, Westborough would have been one of the two wards to receive some European funding. However, it was taken out of that.

There is a large old timber yard in Fairfax drive, and unbelievably there is an application—I understand that the council is to debate the matter at full council on Thursday—to turn it into a residential area. The one thing that Westborough does not need is more housing. There are so many people living in cramped conditions—97 people per hectare. The area is within the top 10 most densely populated wards in the United Kingdom. It is not good enough that local residents be given more housing. There is asbestos in the timber yard and there is great difficulty in getting access to the area. Many residents have been complaining that there is need for another school. We need more doctors and another community centre.

Local residents understand what the Deputy Prime Minister said about wishing to build 200,000 houses in the south-east, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to the residents of Westborough. Given that the average population density is 4.2 people per hectare and that in Westborough it is 23 times that, the situation is unacceptable.

I enter the summer recess on a jubilant note, because yesterday I completed my charity walk. I mentioned on another occasion that I would walk down every road, cul-de-sac and lane in my constituency. The walk was completed yesterday. I do not quite know how the pedometer works and I am slightly nervous to find out exactly how far I walked. I have given the instrument to a council official. However, I can tell the House that we hope—I say "we" because I did the walk with my black labrador Michael—that when all the money is collected, we will have raised more than £10,000. That will be shared among three charities. I do not feel guilty about putting my feet up for a little while during the summer

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recess. I hope that all other right hon. and hon. Members and those who work so hard to support us in the House have a happy and enjoyable summer recess.

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