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Mrs. Browning: For the record, I think that the Minister will find that the research that is being done after the Stewart report is not on the safety of masts, but on that of mobile phones, which is very different.
The hon. Member for West Chelmsford also referred to housing, which was mentioned by a number of hon. Membersespecially those representing constituencies in the south-east that are likely to be affected by some of the announcements that the Government made last week. Again, a balance needs to be struck between his desire to protect the environment of his constituency and the need for affordable housing, which I am sure is shared by his constituents. Most hon. Members recognise that we have a challenge on our hands with regard to housing, that more housing will be needed and that some difficult decisions will have to be made. However, I shall certainly pass on his particular concerns to the Minister who is responsible for those matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) referred to education funding and pointed out that Stafford was hoping to do well in the Britain in Bloom competition. I am sure that we all share his hopes in that regard. On his point about education funding, as I have mentioned, consultations are currently under way, and I am sure that he will stand up vigorously for his constituency. He also commended the parliamentary education unit and paid tribute to the work that it does, especially in the summer. He might like to know that I shall be involved in some of the unit's work by participating in a question and answer session, as I always do. I join him in paying tribute to the excellent work of the unit.
My hon. Friend offered to provide all hon. Members with a citizenship pack. That would be extremely useful; I know that many of our constituents and schools are very excited about the prospect of beginning the compulsory citizenship courses when they are introduced in September. I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity to visit their schools and engage with young people. All the research shows that when MPs personally engage with young people, they tend to take a rather more positive view of politics and political engagement.
The hon. Lady graciously acknowledged that burglary and robbery were down in her constituency, but highlighted a problem that a number of hon. Members outside the Met area have been having with police numbers, as they are finding that police officers are being attracted to the Met by the inducements that are being offered to solve its recruitment problems. The Home Secretary acknowledged that problem in making his statement to the House about the comprehensive spending review, so I can assure the hon. Lady that he is aware of it. I remind her that crime has fallen nationally by 23 per cent. since 1997, whereas it doubled under the previous Conservative Government. As with health, education and all the other public services, we need to investif we are to get crime down, we need to invest in the police. I point out to her that her party is not committed to matching our spending plans on the police.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) raised a number of Home Office issues, all of them very important. She wanted an extension for antisocial behaviour orders, and reform of rape law, about which she has spoken eloquently in the House before. She was also concerned about fireworks, as are we all. The Government are considering what further measures can be introduced to control fireworks and replica guns. I shall be happy to take up all those issues with the Home Office on behalf of my hon. Friend.
The hon. Members for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) and for South Antrim (David Burnside) both spoke, understandably, on the future of the Belfast agreement. They spoke with passion and conviction, representing the views of at least some of their constituents, and I am sure that the Ministers responsible will read their comments with interest. There will be a statementon Wednesday this week, I believeby the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I hope that the hon. Members will avail themselves of the opportunity to be here and to make the same points to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) made a passionate speech about the behaviour of oil companies in the developing world, and made specific allegations about the behaviour of BP in Colombia, based, I believe, on an article that he had read in a Labour Left Briefing. I shall not respond directly to those allegations, because I was not aware of them before. I shall, however, draw them to the attention of the Foreign Office Minister responsible for that part of the world, and get him to respond to them. I would say, however, that, in my experience, the role of the British oil companies in the world is a responsible one. It is not in their interests
The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised the issue of the Royal Hospital, HaslarI hope that that is the correct pronunciation. The Ministry of Defence has provided me with a statement on this matter. It has decided to close the Royal Hospital because
I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said, although I am not sure that he was right to say that there is a policing crisis in Cornwall. My constituency of Exeter is also covered by the Devon and Cornwall police and, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we are one of the many areas of the country that is currently enjoying record numbers of police officers. Spending on policing has risen 20 per cent. since 1997 in Devon and Cornwall, and crime is down by more than the national average of 23 per cent. The hon. Gentleman also made some interesting points on the future of party funding. I welcome that debate, but I do not think that tonight is the time to have it.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) raised a number of local issues. He was the first Member to mention the situation facing hospices, which was subsequently raised by a number of other hon. Members. I know from conversations that I have had with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health that he is aware of hon. Members' concerns on this matter, but I shall certainly pass on the specific points that the hon. Gentleman raised. I think that I am right in remembering the Secretary of State for Health saying that the Government were committed to increasing the proportion of spending on hospices that comes from the public purse, but I will certainly check on that and write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I can.
The hon. Gentleman will await the statement on airports tomorrow; I do not intend to say any more about that tonight. He went on to raise the problem of homelessness in his constituency, and of families living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. In the next breath, however, he argued against extra housing. There was something slightly contradictory about that, but let me deal with the problem of people staying in bed and breakfasts. There will be more homes and, in particular,
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not say anything about Cyprus; I will simply pass on his points to the Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain). I am sure that my right hon. Friend will respond in due course.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) drew attention to early-day motion 1670, relating to care homes in Birmingham. He acknowledged that the level of fees was the problem, rather than care standards, but let me say to him and to others who raised the problem of care homes that the high capital values of the properties has also played a significant role in the selling or marketing of a number of themas has the Government's increased use of home care packages, which many elderly people want. The answer to increased fees is increased investment in social services, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will put pressure on his own Front Bench to match our spending plans.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a social services problem in Birmingham. I did not know of it, but I will certainly draw it to the attention of my ministerial colleagues. He also asked for a specific answer to the question of home visits for pensioners. Again, I will ask my colleagues to clarify what he described as a discrepancy between what Ministers had said and what officials had said. I know, however, that a Minister has been told:
The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) raised a number of issues. I apologise for not being present for all of his speech: he is the only Member to whom that applies. Let me touch on two issues he raised that were not raised by others. The first is cruelty to animals, and the fact that the police in his constituency were not taking as much action as he would like. Essex is another part of the country that has a record number of police officers. I am sorry if they are not taking the issue of animal cruelty seriously enough. I think we all know how seriously our constituents take it, and how upset they are by reports such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
The second issue is that of people talking on mobile telephones while driving. That is a bugbear of mine: every day when I cycle in and out of this place I witness people driving badlynot concentrating, perhaps driving with one hand on the wheelwhile speaking on mobile phones. It is very dangerous. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is possible under existing legislation to prosecute people who use mobile phones while driving, but the Government are considering whether it would be a good idea to introduce a specific offence. I am sure that the Ministers responsible will report to the House when they reach decisions.
My neighbour, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, raised the question of the A30 resurfacing. I congratulate her on her active campaign, and that of Maureen Jones and her other constituents. Let me tell her what I told the hon. Member for West Derbyshire: a Conservative Government commissioned the building of the roads using that horrible loud concrete, and a Labour
As for Uffculme school, the Minister for School Standards, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), who arrived in a very timely fashion, will have heard how outraged the hon. Lady was at being refused a meeting with him. Funding for schools in Devon has risen by £550 per pupil since the 1997 general election, and following the comprehensive spending review it will increase even more.
I share the hon. Lady's concern about hospice care. Hospices do an excellent job in ExeterI know many of those involvedand I will take up not just the local issue but the issue of national funding with the Minister responsible. I think I am right in saying, however, that the Government have committed themselves to increasing the proportion of spending on hospice care from the public purse.
On access to broadband, the hon. Lady is right: it is a commercial decision for BT. However, I will speak to my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and see what more can be done in that respect.
All hon. Members will share the hon. Lady's frustration at the time it takes for some Ministers in some Departments to reply to letters. I would like to think that I was not guilty of that in my previous job and I hope I am not guilty of it in my current one. I do not think that the point can be made too often in this place that hon. Members should have prompt replies to letters.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) repeated a point he made about a week ago about search charges. The Government take that matter seriously. We are aware of the problem and have acknowledged that there is genuine interest in the matter. I will draw to the attention of the Minister responsible the more recent hiccups to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. He also spoke about mobile phone masts and pointed out that the roll-out of the next generation will cause more problems. It is something that will not go away, and I am sure Ministers' minds will be concentrated by the number of hon. Members who have raised that matter in the debate.
The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) raised the general question of social services funding, which I hope I have dealt with, and then made interesting and serious points about the impact of regulation on adult services in his constituency and nationallyan impact that he felt the Government did not intend following the introduction of the Care Standards Act 2000. I will make those concerns plain to the Minister responsible and ask him to respond to the hon. Gentleman's concerns as soon as possible.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) raised the case of his constituent, Gordon Ashby, who I am pleased to say has now benefited fully from the Government's winter fuel payments. I was grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing the House's attention to the popularity of the payments and indeed everything else that the Government have done to help to alleviate pensioner poverty. I am glad that his constituent's story had a happy ending and I am sure that it was in no small part due to the excellent job that he did on his constituent's behalf.
The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) made a speech about speculation about military action against Saddam Hussein. I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said at the Liaison Committee last week but he and other right hon. and hon. Friends have constantly reassured hon. Members on both sides of the House that if and when any decisions are made the House will have ample opportunity to debate them.
The hon. Gentleman congratulated our armed forces on the excellent job that they have done in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. I associate myself entirely with those remarks. I share his hope that we can make progress in the middle east peace process, which is vital not just for the region but for world security. I was pleased that he welcomed the Government's big increase in defence spending.