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stressed the importance of the earliest possible deployment of the 3,000 additional personnel, as mandated by resolution 1843...however, the target of two months was a bit too leisurely.
The United Kingdom stood ready to find...troop-contributing countries, to help deployments, and it stood ready to contribute both equipment and personnel, notably on the command and intelligence sides.
The Foreign Secretary went straight out to the DRC with the French Foreign Secretary, and Lord Malloch-Brown has worked tirelessly to do something about this situation, but the fact is that, at the moment, resolution 1843 is just a piece of paper, and nothing is happening in respect of it. I do not blame any particular country, although some countries are more reluctant to contribute than others, and I certainly do not blame the UK Government, but the reality is that the totality of the effort on resolution 1843 is that nothing is happening.
Mindful of that, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General, has asked for an EU force to deploy to fill the gap. It is very difficult for the UK to deploy troops, because we have heavy commitments in Afghanistan, but it is equally difficult to see, at the moment, where any other countries are going to contribute any other troops. If the UK were to contribute a proportion, there would be a risk that it would end up taking on the whole task. That is the fundamental sticking point from the UKs point of view. Some countries that would like to do something cannot because they cannot secure the agreement of all the other European countries. There are historical difficulties in respect of the involvement in the region of countries such as France and Belgium, but I believe that Belgium in particular would be prepared to deploy troops to plug that gap.
Those who know the situation there know that Goma needs to be properly stabilised. At the moment, the CNDP and General Nkunda, who commands it, could take Goma if they wished. That would be a grievous blow to the DRC and it would threaten its integrity as a country, and it would be a grievous blow to the UN. We desperately need to respect UN resolution 1843 and, in the meantime, an EU force will probably need to be involved. At the moment, it appears that although we are saying that this is terribly urgent, because all over the place women are being raped and children are being murdered, the international community is doing literally nothing at all about resolution 1843. We really must get a grip of the situation.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): May I join in with the plaudits for the Deputy Leader of the House, and wish him well on his first outing at an Adjournment debate? Given the quality of the praise given to him, I hope that he does not feel too much pressure. In any event, I am sure that he will rise to the occasion as he always does.
We started with a knowledgeable and thoughtful contribution from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn). It clearly reflected her experience before she entered the Commons, when she worked in the social services arena. She referred to the tragedy of baby P, and we all agree that the challenge is to try to minimise risk to children. Sadly, we may have to contend with the fact that we may never be able to prevent such tragedies completely.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) followed, and I disagreed with some of his comments. He said that Members were off for a long holiday, but most of us take the view that being in Parliament is part of our duties and we will be doing a lot of work in our constituencies. Although I appreciate that his party will put out a holier than thou press release saying that he is against this long break, I wish him a happy holiday in his constituency, while the rest of us are working in ours.
The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) referred to a disagreement that he had with the late Gwyneth Dunwoody. I remember it well, as I was sitting here wondering how to address the argument that was going on. I give him all credit for having the courage to concede that he was wrong. I am sure that Gwyneth would have been very proud of him.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) delivered a typically powerful speech and his constituents can rest assured that they have a strong voice in this Chamber. He rightly criticised the disgraceful delay in making a final announcement on Post Office card accounts. There are still some questions that need to be answered about the millions of pounds that were squandered on the whole process, and indeed the millions of pounds that were paid to all those who put in bids but got nowhere with them.
My right hon. Friend also highlighted the importance of the spoken word and integrity, when he recalled the Prime Ministers promise, made at the Dispatch Box, of a statement on Equitable Life before Christmas. The Prime Minister has failed to provide an explanation of why that will not happen, and nor has he apologised for promising something that has not been delivered. My right hon. Friend asked a straightforward questionwhy the delayand I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will answer it.
The hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) made an impassioned plea that when President-elect Obama visits the United Kingdom, he visits a pub. The hon. Gentleman is chairman of the all-party beer group, and I hope that he will bear in mind the rest of its members and that we will all be invited along to drinks with President Obama, as he will then be. May I just point out that my constituency has several excellent pubs which would be happy to host the President?
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) raised several points, including some serious concerns about the local bailiff service. I was concerned to hear about the job application of one of his constituents. My hon. Friend raised some important questions about funding and the Ministry of Justice, and I hope that answers will be forthcoming.
The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) described himself as a usual suspect and, as usual, he raised several issues. In particular, he made a plea for greater awareness for diabetes, and he certainly put that on the record today. I hope that his efforts in raising that awareness will have received a big boost from his contribution today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) raised a number of serious points about the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). My right hon. Friend rightly questioned the role of some senior Ministers, particularly the Home Secretary, and expressed considerable regret at the fact that the Speaker had proposed a Speakers Committee that was subsequently hijacked by the Government, who put forward their own version of the Speakers Committee. The two certainly did not match. A number of questions remain unanswered. May I point out to the Deputy Leader of the House that if he and his Government feel that the issue will simply stay in the long grass, we hope that it will not and we will persist until we get those answers?
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) brought the reality of war to our debate when she mentioned the death of Lance Corporal Mathew Ford. She asked if his mother would be able to meet some of the relevant Ministers. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will have taken that on board and will
facilitate some of those meetings. Having visited Afghanistan very recently, I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to our brave men and women who, while the rest of us are enjoying festivities over this Christmas period, will be doing anything but.
I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) well in trying to overcome the traffic difficulties associated with Cullompton in her constituency. I hope that the Government will have heard her words about the difficulty that many people are having with the income that they rely on from interest on their savings. The Government will have heard her message about the dependency that many elderly people have on interest derived from savings, which, as we know, is increasingly declining.
Deep discontent with his local railway line was all too clear when we heard the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson). However, he went on to suggest the nationalisation of the railway industry. As far as I am aware, that was not in the Queens Speech, but perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House would like to confirm that we have not just had a Labour Back Bencher giving us a Christmas leak of some sort.
It is not often that I find myself in agreement with a Lib Dem Member, but the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) will have had considerable sympathy from many Members when she spoke about the misery of some of her constituents in dealing with the tax credit system.
I am sure that the House will have been appalled to hear about the treatment in Southern Cross residential care homes, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I wish the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) well in trying to get urgent redress for those elderly people who are suffering. I also hope that the strong message that my hon. Friend tried to convey to the chief executive of Hillingdon hospital will have been heard. On behalf of us all, I wish my hon. Friends mother well, as I know that she has recently been unwell.
The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy) threatened to talk at length about her sisters and their lives but thought better of it. She spoke, however, in more serious terms when she referred to the underclass in our society, which is something that has been in the media a lot recently. I hope that she will agree with the hard work that has been put in by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and the Centre for Social Justice, with which he has been working so diligently.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) spoke, rightly, of the numerous problems facing those who live in rural areas. That is an ongoing issue and those of us who have rural constituencies will have much sympathy with what they had to say.
As always, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) raised a number of issues. He was absolutely right to point out the dire straits that our economy is in as well as the tragedy of Zimbabwe.
The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) spoke of the need for another platform at East Croydon railway station. I think that he will agree that that is a cause that will not be won easily, but I wish him well in his campaign.
My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), spoke of the appalling circumstances of the kidnap of Corporal Gilad Shalit by Hamas. He has been in captivity now for some 900 days, and I have much sympathy with all that my hon. Friend said. Indeed, when I was successful in securing a debate in Westminster Hall, I too raised the tragedy of Corporal Shalits kidnap. I wish the campaign well, as it is certainly very inhumane for people like him, and the many others in captivity, to be treated in that way.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) spoke again about the difficulties that have arisen with one of his local colleges. I recall that it was not so long ago that he spoke in similar vein in an Adjournment debate, and I am sorry that not much progress has been made. All I can do is wish him success in his next Adjournment debate, and I hope that the fact that he has mentioned the matter today will prompt those in authority to take proper notice.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) is a relatively new Member of the House, and I welcome him as such, but I disagree with his support for proportional representation. Under that system, political parties are elected on the manifestos that they set out, but afterwards they hide behind closed doors. They then produce new deals on which the public have had no say, but that is the form of Government that the hon. Gentleman seems to prefer. In addition, PR tends to give minority parties greater credibility and an amount of power disproportionate to what they deserve. That is probably one reason why such parties are always banging on about it.
There was a festive flavour to the contribution from the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), who told us about excellent Christmas lights in his constituency. He said that they bring people in who then support the local economy by visiting pubs, restaurants and the like. He is certainly proving to be a good advocate for his local tourist industry.
The hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) raised serious issues concerning United Nations resolution 1843, and he spoke of the need for nations to work together. As we all know, conflict overseas is bad enough without the additional difficulty of trying to get many countries to work together to deal with it. Again, his contribution served to remind us of all the tragedies taking place around the world at this Christmas period.
Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I take this opportunity to wish you and all hon. and right hon. Members a very happy Christmas? I should like to extend the same good wishes to all Clerks and House staff, as well as to all the cleaners, caterers and security personnel who make our lives so easy and thereby enable us to serve our constituents. I wish everyone in the House a happy Christmas and a prosperous and successful new year.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): My predecessor warned me that these debates were slightly odd events, to put it mildly. I have taken part in many European affairs debates, and I have likened them to an episode of Dads Army, with people constantly saying, They dont like it up em, you know! However, todays debate reminded me rather more of an episode of Allo Allo!, as I shall explain.
For instance, we certainly have Colonel von Strohmthe seemingly very bluff but actually extremely bright man who organises everythingand that would definitely be the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). We also have Herr Flick, who is constantly scheming and a great enforcer of discipline, and I think that that is my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar). We certainly have Lieutenant Gruber, in the person of the extremely dapper, precise and keen-to-please right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay). Unfortunately, he is not in his place at the moment, for which absence he has offered his apologies. Above all, we have General von Klinkerhoffen, the heavyweight with the warm heart who is much nicer than his politicsdefinitely the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).
Everyone has been wonderfully eloquent today so the debate lacked Officer Crabtree, the man who gets all his words wrong, but that role would probably fall to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who sadly has not been able to take part in the debate. We have not had a Helga or a von Smallhausen, and we certainly have not had a Louise of the resistance, because she would say something only once. However, we have had Madam Edith, who invites everyone into her café and then warbles away to them eloquently. That is the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning). [ Interruption. ] I did not hear what the hon. Lady just shouted at me.
We started off with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), a close friend of mine ever since we were elected in 2001. She made an important speech about child protectionan issue that has exercised the whole of the country in the past few weeks and months, with specific cases that we all know about. She spoke from her personal experience very effectively.
We then moved on to the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). It was a bit of a PR puff for his council, which of course he used to sit on. Before that, I think he used to work for Kall Kwik, which doubtless has been useful in the production of constant Focus leaflets. His speech had a little bit of the ring of the Focus leaflet to it, but I would not want to doubt his word as I do every Focus leaflet I have ever seen in my life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) asserted that Gwyneth Dunwoody was always right. This was difficult to disagree with when she was physically here, but now that she is not, I have to say that I did not always agree with her. But my hon. Friend made some important points, notably about water charges for charities. I am prepared to make sure that the meeting to which he referred takes place.
My hon. Friend also referred to the measles outbreak. There are important lessons to learn about the rise in the number of measles outbreaks. Much of the scaremongering of a few years ago about the MMR vaccine has receded. Measles is a serious illness that can cause complications such as meningitis and encephalitis,
and on rare occasions it can kill. So it is important that all parents take the opportunity that is offered to them by the health service.
General von Klinkerhoffen then made his speech: the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire referred at some length to rural issues, but I recognise many of the issues that he said were rural issues from my constituency of Rhondda, where the population is highly concentrated. Many of the same issues arise, such as what is happening with post offices, the local economy and pubs and the provision of broadband.
The right hon. Gentleman, like many hon. Members, asked why we had not yet had a statement on Equitable Life. I know from my own constituency that the issue exercises a large number of people. As it happens, I took a loss myself. It is important that the Government get this right and do not rush into action. I know that the Prime Minister said he wanted there to be a statement by Christmas, and I believe that he believed it was going to be possible at that time. I do not think hon. Members need to imagine that some nefarious plotting is going on; it is simply that we want to make sure that we get this rightand the right hon. Gentleman can take that face off.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the takeover of Derbyshire building society by the Nationwide and the issues related to the Isle of Man. I have constituents who have lost money in the Isle of Man. There are difficulties here because the arrangements for depositors in banks in the Isle of Man and Guernsey are a matter for the Governments of those islands. We do not have plans to issue a statement, but deposits with Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander of the Isle of Man will be subject to the Isle of Man deposit compensation scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman also talked about people who did the right thing and saved up throughout their life yet find themselves penalised at the end. This is one of the toughest issues for any Government who want to treat people fairly. How do we make sure that those people who have set a bit aside do not get penalised? I believe that what we have done in the past few years, by making sure that the increased prosperity of this country has been shared out among all pensioners, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, through the winter fuel payment and the pension credit, has gone some way towards that, but there is further that we could go.
My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) revealed that he thinks 58 hours spent with his family over Christmas is far too long, and that the trains should be got going a little earlier so that he can escape them. I think that was the gist of his speech. He made an important point about the role of ITV. When it comes to Ofcoms final report in the new year, many hon. Members will want an opportunity to raise related issues. To have a single, monopoly broadcaster as the voice of our country, especially in news broadcasting and current affairs, would be highly detrimental to the democratic and social welfare of the country. My hon. Friend also referred to racing. As he knows, it is for the racing fraternity to decide how to allocate rights and for the broadcasters to decide what they show over Christmas.
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