Queen's Speech

Commons Hansard
19 Nov 2002

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The Queen's Speech is excellent. Having said that, there are some flaws in it, and I shall concentrate on three or four of the 19 Bills and three draft Bills announced in it.

The Communications Bill is necessary. There is no doubt about that, because technology has moved on. Digital television and satellite mean that we need to change our practices, which is fine, although I am worried at the prospect of Channel 5 being purchased by, for example, Rupert Murdoch. That in itself might not seem a problem, but I am concerned about the future of ITV. Some people may say that that reflects normal competition, but I am sure that hon. Members need no reminding of the fact that ITV has to provide regional broadcasting. Channel 4 and Channel 5 do not have to do that. There is no doubt that a system in which a successful Channel 5 took revenue from ITV might cause the collapse of regional broadcasting.

The area that I represent is covered by Border Television. We have very good regional television, so I hope that, when we come to the details of the Communications Bill, we will accept the need for some safeguarding of regional television. We should either say that international companies cannot buy Channel 5, for example, or require by mandate that those companies provide regional broadcasting. I hope that that point is not lost on the Minister.

The Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill is excellent and long overdue. I have been banging my head against a brick wall with regard to Cumbria county council for a while. I am not saying that just because a Conservative-Liberal alliance runs it, because similar problems have arisen in the past. Last week, at my local hospital, the Cumberland infirmary, there were 34 delayed discharges, the vast majority of them due to the fact that social services were not providing the resources to get people out of hospital and into nursing care or back home. That same hospital is cancelling operations because of a shortage of beds. I am sure that throughout the country social services look on someone staying in hospital for an extra fortnight as #400 a week saved. The expense goes on the NHS bill, not the social services bill. There is very little regard for the individuals who are imprisoned in hospital, but the practice saves money.

Last year, the Government made a lot more extra money available to local authorities to help to get people out of hospital, and that worked for a while. If the searchlight is turned on social services departments, they will respond, but as soon as that searchlight is moved, we are back to the bad old days. Given that nursing home owners in my constituency are telling me that they have vacancies and are in danger of going bankrupt while some of my constituents are imprisoned in hospital and others are having their operations cancelled because of the shortage of beds, something has to be done. The Government are completely right about that, and the sooner the Bill is introduced the better. I accept that more intermediate care beds might have to be provided; I do not think that that is an issue.

I see no advantage to my constituents in the proposal for foundation hospitals. Our problem in what we call north Cumbria is that, of necessity, we have two different district general hospitals. They are 40 miles apart; one is in the Copeland constituency and one is in mine. There are not adequate resources for both hospitals. We need extra money because we need those two hospitals. Foundation hospitals will do nothing for my constituents, and I will find it very difficult going through the Lobby to vote with the Government on that.

I come to the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill. I am in favour of regional assemblies; they are long overdue. I disagree with the Government about which region north Cumbria should be in. I strongly believe that we belong with the northern region. There is no argument about that; I am quite sure that that is the case. None the less, we hear comments such as, "There's no point in debating this because the Deputy Prime Minister has said that we are in the North-West." The boundary commission is to look at local government reorganisation. Why does it not take into account the views of people in the area? Then, if it is decided that we fall into the North-West region, fine. If that route is not taken, we will still have some disagreement.

I worry about the fact that we will have to reorganise local government if regional assemblies are established. I say as a former chairman of Cumbria county council that we have been crying out for local government reorganisation regardless of regional assemblies. The two-tier system is not working any more. Representatives of senior businesses in my constituency are angry about the red tape. They tell me, "The county council does this, but the district council does that." We need reorganisation of local government regardless of regional government, and we need a unitary authority.

It is nonsense for the Government to tell people, "Vote in a referendum for regional government and we'll get rid of your county council." My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) is present. The argument in Durham is about whether to preserve the county council, not about whether to have regional government. I hope that the Government will reconsider and decide that local government should be reorganised to form a single tier.

Mr. Dawson : I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend is saying, but is not the argument about regional government an argument about quality? Would not North-West regional government be more palatable to the people of Carlisle if they felt that their region would be able to engage the whole of the North-West rather than being dominated by areas to the south?

Mr. Martlew: My hon. Friend is wrong. I have nothing against the North-West region; my family originate from there. It just so happens, however, that the people from north Cumbria have always gone down the Tyne valley and never over Shap. Historically, that is where we should be.

I am delighted that we are to have a Bill on hunting. As long as we can amend the Bill, I see no objection to it. I know that it will be argued in my area that fell paths should be retained, but in those areas they breed foxes to hunt, so it is not a matter of pest control.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Is my hon. Friend not a little disappointed, as I am, that the Government have not had the guts to put to the House the abolition of hunting with hounds, rather than the proposed gimmick of licensing or whatever?

Mr. Martlew: I understand my hon. Friend's frustration, but we should not prejudge the Government. They have not come forward with a Bill at all yet. Perhaps they will surprise us - although perhaps not.

The antisocial behaviour Bill will also be greeted with tremendous enthusiasm in my constituency. We must consider air weapons and fireworks, as both create considerable problems throughout the country. Recently, four swans were killed on the River Eden by somebody with an air weapon. The firework season now starts in September and goes well into January. Air weapons and fireworks have become far more powerful than they were when I was young. If we do not get legislation right this time and stop the antisocial behaviour of some, we will have to put the banning of fireworks and air weapons in the next Queen's Speech.

Angus Robertson (Moray): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the risk of abuse of fireworks and air weapons. Does he concede that the Government should look into the sale of BB guns, as a large number of injuries have been reported recently in my constituency resulting from the misuse of such so-called toys, which are sold to very young children?

Mr. Martlew: New technology has taken over from the old spud gun that I remember well.

The antisocial behaviour Bill will be excellent. My concern is that the police might not implement the law. In October, I wrote to my local police force pointing out that it is of course illegal to throw fireworks in the street. It is illegal to let them off in a public place. I accept the police's argument that the law is difficult to implement, but I want a clear law - if people misuse fireworks they should be brought to court or, even better perhaps, subject to a fixed fine. Without doubt, my elderly constituents are worried. I recently received a letter from a lady with a guide dog. She was concerned that she could not leave the house because the guide dog was terrified. I received -

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up, I am afraid. I call the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous).

Return to Homepage | House of Commons Contents

On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB