Commons Gate

Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons 2002-03

While speaking in the chamber of the House is a high profile activity for an MP, much other work is done elsewhere, in committee, as well as a large casework load for constituents.

A backbencher speaks for his constituents



In the House Current
Home Page
18/09/03 Constitutional Reforms
09/09/03 Military Situation in Iraq
09/07/09 Compensation
30/06/03 Registered Hunting
30/06/03 Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
16/06/03 Regional Assemblies
05/06/03 Police Disciplinary Procedures
15/05/03 Otters
13/05/03 National Rail Academy
03/04/03 Sewage Works
01/04/03 Railways
06/03/03 Foot and Mouth Disease
26/02/03 Vote on War with Iraq
30/01/03 Radioactive Waste
08/01/03 Foundation Hospitals
17/12/02 National Rail Academy
17/12/02 West Coast Main Line
16/12/02 Hunting Bill
12/12/02 Dairy Industry
05/12/02 Local Government Financial Settlement 2003-04
28/11/02 Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill
26/11/02 Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill
25/11/02 Employment Statistics
19/11/02 Queen's Speech


Commons Hansard
18 Sep 2003

Constitutional Reforms

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My hon. Friend will be glad to hear that I shall support the Bill on the ground that I do not want to go back to my constituents or local Labour party to tell them that I voted to keep hereditary peers. In February, I voted for a 100 per cent. democratically elected Chamber and a 100 per cent. appointed Chamber because I do not believe in the hybrid system. I went to hear the statement in the other place and Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the Conservatives, threatened to use hereditary peers to interrupt Government business because he did not agree with the policy. Does my hon. Friend agree that the killer comment came from Lord Marsh, who sits on the Cross Benches? He reminded the other place that the Conservative party had a majority in this House and the other House for 18 years yet did nothing about reforming the House of Lords, so we should take no lessons in democracy from Conservatives.

Mr. Leslie: It is interesting that Opposition parties have made not one proposal to try to rectify the balance of the political composition in the second Chamber or to suggest that there should be more Labour peers, who are in a small minority in the second Chamber. I heard Lord Strathclyde's comments and I trust that I should not interpret them as meaning that he would obstruct parliamentary business, because that would be inappropriate. It is possible to take steps toward a final stage and, especially, a consideration of composition, but for the time being, we must recognise that we are where we are and that we need to get rid of the hereditary peers. I am glad to have my hon. Friend's support.

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Commons Hansard
9 Sep 2003

Military Situation in Iraq

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): As the hon. Gentleman said, he was not taken in by the document and voted against it, as I did. The truth is that we are in the position that we are in today because we lost that vote on the war, not because of what the Government said at the time.

Mr. Walter: The hon. Gentleman is right, but the background to the current military situation is that the UN weapons inspectors could find no weapons of mass destruction. There were no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, yet the Prime Minister told the House that Saddam Hussein had them and they could be deployed in 45 minutes. That is the longest 45 minutes in history.

Mr. Salmond: The Prime Minister may not have managed to persuade the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) or me, but the point is that some of the Prime Minister's more gullible colleagues were persuaded by the variety of dodgy dossiers with which we were presented.

Mr. Walter: The British people were taken in by dodgy dossiers and other things. I think that Hans Blix was too convincing in the view that he presented to the UN and that the military situation was precipitated by the possible disappearance of a window of opportunity, but that is all history, as hon. Members have said. We need to consider how we deal with the awful situation in Iraq now.

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Commons Hansard
9 Jul 2003


Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What my hon. Friend needs to do is to compare the situation with that in Cumbria two years ago - he knows Cumbria well, as he trained there as a solicitor - when we had foot and mouth, as farmers were compensated for the loss of beasts but the farm labourers who lost their jobs were not compensated at all.

Mr. Hurst: That is the best argument that I have heard so far, and as they say on American law programmes, I shall take it under advisement as to what the proper answer would be.

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Commons Hansard
30 Jun 2003

Registered Hunting: Absolute Bans: Deer, Hares, Foxes and Terrierwork

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My right hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way. However, was he not aware that new clause 11 would be tabled, so was it not remiss of him not to have tabled the necessary amendments so that we would not have to recommit the Bill? He knew that new clause 11 would be tabled.

Alun Michael: I knew that amendments were going to be tabled, but I did not have sight of them.

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Commons Hansard
30 Jun 2003

Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Kaufman: Of course.

Mr. Martlew: It is obvious that the Government are in something of a mess at the present time - [Hon. Members: "No!"] Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way forward would be for the Government not to move new clause 13?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Kaufman: That would be a way forward of a brilliance that I expect from my hon. Friend. Whether I can expect such brilliance from Ministers, we shall see.

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Commons Hansard
16 Jun 2003

Regional Assemblies

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Although I welcome my right hon. Friend's decision, I should have welcomed it much more if Cumbria had been with the North-East. However, that is not the reality at present.

The effect of a yes vote will be to reorganise local government. Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether the boundary committee will be able to look beyond county council boundaries to form the new unitary authorities?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Because of my years of dealing with regional matters, I am well aware that there is great contention about whether Cumbria should be in the North-East or the north-west, so I tread carefully when drawing conclusions about that. As my hon. Friend rightly said, it has been decided that it should now be within the north-west regional area.

I have been asked whether county boundaries would stay the same when considering electoral areas. The areas do not have to be defined by the county boundaries. We want to achieve a proper balance between the rural and urban areas, and the committee will take that into account. I shall give the committee guidance notes - I think that they are available in the Library - which confirm what I have said to my right hon. Friend.

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Commons Hansard
5 Jun 2003

Police Disciplinary Procedures

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): May I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate in the near future on the need to streamline the police disciplinary procedures? Yesterday in Cumbria, an internal inquiry that cost £2 million and took three years to complete collapsed owing to lack of evidence. It concerned a minor complaint about the misuse of police vehicles. It not only cost a fortune, but robbed the people of Cumbria of the dedicated services of nine police officers for three years. We need not only a debate, but new legislation to streamline the shambolic system that we have inherited from 50 or 60 years ago.

Dr. Reid: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that matter to the attention of the House. It is certainly disconcerting in a number of ways. I cannot promise him a full debate on that particular issue, the details of which I do not know, but I promise to bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will find opportunities to raise the matter again.

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Commons Hansard
15 May 2003


Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): We have been talking about fish-eating birds; may we discuss the situation with regard to a fish-eating animal - the otter? Only this week there has been a report that the otters are coming back in great numbers.

Mr. Speaker: Order. We shall have to leave the otters for another day.

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Commons Hansard
13 May 2003

National Rail Academy

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What progress is being made towards the establishment of a National Rail Academy. [112573]

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. John Spellar): I am pleased to report that the National Rail Academy was formally established on 1 April. Its aim is to provide a cost-effective means of ensuring that the rail industry has the right people with the right skills at the right time.

Mr. Martlew : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the announcement, having pushed for the National Rail Academy for more than five years. My worry is that it will be a virtual academy and that virtually no training will take place. We need a chief executive, and we need a headquarters. What progress has been made?

Mr. Spellar: As my hon. Friend probably expects, the Strategic Rail Authority has, since the announcement, been approached by a large number of organisations about where the academy should be located and what it should do. The SRA will consider those views to establish what the industry needs and is prepared to support before it chooses the route forward. The idea is that the academy will be not a single, bricks-and-mortar establishment, but a strategic co-ordinating facility that is able to develop new and existing training facilities around the country as it works with the industry. I take the point, which my hon. Friend has made to me personally, that when it is decided where to locate the core centre, we should seriously consider the claims of Carlisle, which he and others have advanced, given its long record of service to the railway industry.

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Commons Hansard
3 Apr 2003

Sewage Works

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a serious problem? I must declare an interest, because I live quite close to our local sewage works. The reality is that again we have a problem with United Utilities, which will not spend the money to provide a good sewage facility without any odour. Is it not right that we need legislation, and when will we get it?

Alun Michael: I can understand my hon. Friend's concern if he is in close contact with the problem. Many hon. Members understand it through the experience of their constituents, but he has direct experience. These matters should be capable of being dealt with by a common-sense approach. We undertook the consultation because it was discovered that in some parts of the country - not many, but a significant number - problems were not being solved at a local level, and we want to deal with that as quickly as possible. I would encourage water companies, local authorities and local residents to get together to see whether such matters can be dealt with speedily and sympathetically at a local level.

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Commons Hansard
1 Apr 2003


Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern over the reductions in cross-country services on the west coast main line - including reductions in the Glasgow-Bournemouth service that will affect my constituency? The main problem on the cross-country services is overcrowding. However, my main concern - and, I hope, that of the Secretary of State - is over the introduction of the pendolino, or tilting train. It appears that there is only one service between Euston and Manchester. Is the Secretary of State confident that such trains will be introduced on time and on budget?

Mr. Darling: On the issue of the Virgin cross-country service, as my hon. Friend knows, the SRA has made a small reduction in the number of trains running. There are two reasons for that. When the service was launched last September, no account was taken of the effect that an increased number of trains would have at certain pinch points on the track. As a result, there were hold-ups and trains did not reach their destinations on time. That, in turn, meant that the return journeys were held up as well. For example, a train leaving Aberdeen and going down to the South-West of England could sometimes arrive several hours late and so could not be on time going back. That is why some of those services have been taken out - to make them more reliable. Because trains have been withdrawn, Virgin will be able to use larger trains on those cross-country routes. It is obvious that four-carriage trains are insufficient to cater for the demand that has been generated. The SRA is ensuring that something that was long overdue on the railway network is put in place - proper management. Money is going in, but proper management is essential if we are to have a reliable train service.

My hon. Friend is right to say that one pendolino is running at the moment. The operators have been running more trains, without passengers, to test the line. [Interruption.] In the past, train operators have been anxious to bring new rolling stock into service very quickly, without first checking whether that rolling stock runs effectively and properly. It is better to spend the time necessary on testing new trains before introducing them into full passenger service. If we did not do that, people would quite rightly start to complain.

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Commons Hansard
6 Mar 2003

Foot and Mouth Disease

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Does my hon. Friend know the names of the [sniffer] dogs? [Interruption]. I have not finished yet. If we cannot stop illegal drugs and illegal immigrants coming into this country, we will never stop all illegal imports of meat. The reality is that we can safeguard against a further outbreak of foot and mouth disease only by routinely vaccinating all the animals that are susceptible. What efforts are going into developing that vaccine?

Mr. Morley: We have access to a range of vaccines, but complex issues are associated with how they are applied. As my hon. Friend will know, in response to independent inquiries, we are moving vaccine use up as part of our response strategy. As I said, if we are to have an effective strategy to combat disease, we must apply a range of measures. I confess that although I take a close interest in the work of the dogs, I am not aware of their names.

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Commons Hansard
26 Feb 2003

Vote on War with Iraq

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many of his Back Benchers who will support him in tonight's vote on Iraq but who cannot support war against Iraq unless there is a second United Nations resolution? Will he make time for the House to have a debate and a vote before we commit British troops to Iraq?

The Prime Minister: As the Foreign Secretary has already said, subject to the natural qualification that we must do nothing that would ever put the security of our troops in danger, I have no doubt at all that the House will have an opportunity to vote on this issue many times if we come to military action - and, if there is a second resolution, to do so in relation to that second resolution.

We are not actually voting on the issue of war tonight; we are voting on the issue of the Government's strategy. I assure my hon. Friend that I am well aware that many people want the second resolution, and that is exactly what I want. I assure him that I am working flat out in order to achieve it. But the best way in which we can achieve it is to hold firm to the terms of resolution 1441.

Increasingly, the whole issue before the international community really comes down to this. When we said last November that this was a final opportunity to Saddam, when we said that there must be full, unconditional and immediate compliance, did we really mean it - or did we mean that we would come along later and say "Well, let's postpone it again"? I believe that we meant it: that we intended this genuinely to be the final opportunity. That is why I say that the onus is now on Saddam to make sure that he has indeed come into compliance with the United Nations' wishes.

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Commons Hansard
30 Jan 2003

Radioactive Waste

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Does my right hon. Friend agree that when Nirex considered Sellafield, it found that the geology of the area was not suitable?

Margaret Beckett: Yes, I am aware of that. That is part of what I meant when I was replying to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). He identified a number of elements and said that a lot of people think this or that and that a lot of people think that there should be retrievable underground storage. That is all true, but unfortunately as soon as one starts to get more concrete and to decide where the pattern of agreement might emerge, difficulties emerge with it. We have set in train a process to try to ensure that we build up an understanding of what really is the broad basis of acceptance and that is the right thing to do.

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Commons Hansard
8 Jan 2003

Foundation Hospitals

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Going back to the 1970s, can my hon. Friend remember a time when councils had the right to nominate an elected councillor to sit on such boards? Would not that be a better way forward?

Mr. Colman: I would certainly like more nomination rights in relation to all hospitals for local authority representatives. Currently, a basis exists on which it is presumed that the cabinet member for social services for the area in which a primary care trust operates should serve on that primary care trust. I would certainly like more representatives of local councils on an interim basis. What attracts me to the proposal, however, is that the majority of the governors for a foundation hospital would be locally elected. That would be the first time in the NHS that power has gone to the people and the patients and moved away from the clinicians, the bureaucrats and everyone else working within the NHS. That is an important initial move.

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Commons Hansard
17 Dec 2002

National Rail Academy

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): In an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), my right hon. Friend said that the rail academy had been set up. The reality is that the project is stalled in the Strategic Rail Authority at present, and there is great concern that it will be downgraded and even abandoned. There is a massive skills shortage on the railway, and without that rail academy we will not meet the 10-year plan.

Mr. Darling: I have seen the letter that my hon. Friend wrote to me about this subject, and I am about to reply to him now. I told my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that it is planned to set up a rail academy, but it will not physically be situated in Carlisle or anywhere else. It will simply be a means by which we can enable more training to take place in different places up and down the country. It will not be like a university that is situated in one place. However, I plan to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) to set out the position fully.

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Commons Hansard
17 Dec 2002

West Coast Main Line

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Following on from that, does my hon. Friend agree that the reality is that, although the SRA has put a plan out to consultation, there are great worries that the money and the resources will not be there due to the speculation over the weekend? Can he confirm that the moneys will be there?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): My hon. Friend knows that a huge investment is being made in that line - a total of #10 billion. He refers to stories that were in the newspapers over the weekend. Those who have been invited to bid for the new franchises have been asked what they can provide at a lower rate of public subsidy. They have also been asked what they can provide at the same and at a greater rate. Unfortunately, the only story we saw in the newspapers was about cutting those subsidies.

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Commons Hansard
16 Dec 2002

Hunting Bill

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Tonight we have seen the anger of the Tory grandees and the violence out in Parliament square, and the reason is obvious - they know that the game is up. The Bill will be passed. We have a commitment from the Minister, with which I am sure the Prime Minister agrees, that there will be a free vote for Labour Members and Ministers. We also have a commitment from the Government that if the Bill is thrown out by the other place, we will use the Parliament Act. That is why there is real anger among the Opposition, in the House and on the streets outside. Tonight is the beginning of the end for hunting as we have known it in this country.

My right hon. Friend is a very clever Minister. He has worked hard for many hours, consulted everybody and introduced a Bill that hardly anybody agrees with, but nobody blames him. That is the art of being a great politician. I welcome the Bill because it does two things: it bans hare coursing and it bans stag hunting, and I have for a long time been part of attempts to get those measures passed. The Bill will be much better when we have amended it, and I am sure that it will be amended so that it bans much more hunting.

I want to concentrate on upland hunting. I know what the Burns report said about upland hunting, which in my area is run by the fell packs. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) mentioned John Peel, who, like me, was a Cumbrian. John Peel is part of our history; he is not part of our future. There can be no difference between fell packs and mounted packs, whether in Cumbria or Leicestershire. If an activity is cruel, it is cruel, and I find it difficult to believe that there is utility in it.

If we consider the fell packs - the Ullswater, the Melbreak and the Blencathra are those nearest me - we find that they use artificial earths. They dig a hole and put in a pipe so that the foxes will be nice and warm and able to breed. The local hunt's code of practice says that foxhunting is a sport.

Miss McIntosh : I have been out with the Blencathra hunt. Has the hon. Gentleman? If so, is he aware that one reason it goes to such lengths is to ensure a balance in the countryside for future generations of foxes? My problem with the Bill is that it would lead to the eradication of all foxes, which is not what the Opposition want.

Mr. Martlew: When the Blencathra gets back home to Cumbria, it says that hunting is necessary for pest control; the hon. Lady says that it is not necessary for pest control and that the hunt needs extra foxes for its sport. I do not think that it will be pleased with the hon. Lady's intervention.

There is no doubt that in the Lake district, hunts use artificial earths. Not only that, but it is recorded that they put sheep carcasses inside to make sure that the foxes have enough to eat. The idea that hunting is pest control is wrong. I hope that the Minister is aware of that. I am sure that he is taking notes.

Hunting also causes problems of disturbance, disruption and trespassing in the Lake district, as it does everywhere else. It can be argued that because the roads are busy in the Lake district the hounds are in greater danger there than in many other parts of the country. There are other dangers in the fells. There are many records of hounds being killed by falling off a crag. In the 1990s, the Ullswater mountain rescue team was called out to rescue hounds that were fell-bound.

A hunt follower of 30 years' experience came to see me. He was not in favour of banning hunting, but he said that hounds were cruelly treated. He told me of a hound with a broken leg which was made to go out on the chase and of hounds that were kept half-starved so that they would run better. He also said that a hound's life is brutal and short because when it is too old to follow the hunt, it is not retired; it gets a bullet in the back of the head.

David Taylor: Is it not also the case that apart from shooting hounds that are too old, hunts shoot at an early age hounds that do not show a great inclination to hunt?

Mr. Martlew: That is the case, and it is another reason for cub hunting. It not only trains hounds to kill foxes; it allows the hunt to find out which hounds do not have the killing instinct. Young hounds without that instinct are destroyed - there is no argument about that.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously arguing that shooting or poisoning foxes - many of them suffer a lingering, evil death for many hours if not days - is better than dispatching them with hounds which, by instinct, must kill the fox quickly so that it does not nip them?

Mr. Martlew: I was arguing strongly that it was bad not only for the foxes but for the hounds as well.

I believe that there is a need for fox control by lamping on the high ground of the Lake district. The idea that we can control foxes with hounds is rubbish. A BBC video called "Cumbrian Tales" featured a local landowner who was a member of the mounted hunt and a local shepherd who supported foxhunting. When the shepherd had a problem with a fox, he did not tell the local hunt, but got a couple of his mates to flush out the fox and shoot it. I asked a shepherd friend of mine what he does if he has a problem with foxes. He told me, "I get the men with the lamps."

Some will argue that we cannot have people with guns on the fells, as there are too many tourists. However, lamping happens at night in remote areas, and there has never been an accident or incident with anybody lamping or killing foxes - to argue otherwise is to argue from a false premise. Finally, I welcome the opportunity to vote for the Bill. However, it is nonsense to ban foxhunting in Leicestershire but leave it in Cumbria.


Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): I congratulate the Minister on his handling of the debate so far. If I take out my long dogs and deliberately course a small hare, I will be breaking the law, but if I take them out the following day and deliberately course a large rabbit, twice the size of a hare, I will not break the law. Is not that ridiculous? Why has the Minister got it in for large rabbits?

Alun Michael: No, there is a difference in the species. There is also the fact that hare coursing fails the test of utility. As I have said, it is also a pernicious activity in many parts of the countryside. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of that.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Is not the logic of the argument that rabbits should not be hunted by dogs either?

Alun Michael: I shall leave my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) to continue that debate. I have put my conclusions before the House and I believe that they are sound.

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Commons Hansard
12 Dec 2002

Dairy Industry

Mr. Lidington: We heard lukewarm words from the Government about competition policy. The Government speak, rightly, about the importance of farmers developing collaborative ventures in order to strengthen their clout in the food chain, but today's strategy document seems a little too satisfied with the current state of UK competition regulations. I am troubled when I see a New Zealand milk co-operative with more than 90 per cent. market share, and similar co-operatives on the continent of Europe with market shares in those countries of well over 70 per cent., and our dairy sector reduced by our competition policy to no more than 40 per cent., if that, of the market.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I have been in the House for quite a long time. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his Government destroyed the milk marketing board?

Mr. Lidington: I have two things to say to the hon. Gentleman. First, unlike his Government, I am prepared to learn from experience; I do not feel wedded to decisions taken by previous Governments. I am prepared to look at policy on its merits. Secondly, we are discussing farmers' co-operatives, not state agencies. When we are asking our dairy farmers in particular to go out and compete in a European and, increasingly, in a global market, we must review our competition policy to make sure that it takes account of the realities of global competition that our producers are encountering.

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Commons Hansard
5 Dec 2002

Local Government Financial Settlement 2003-04

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Is my right hon. Friend aware that Cumbria county council, which is run by the Conservatives in cahoots with the Liberal Democrats, has been saying on its website that the council tax will have to go up because money is being taken away from rural areas? Can he confirm that that is not true? Can he also confirm that Cumbria has a 7 per cent. increase for education - the highest anywhere in the country?

Mr. Raynsford: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I confirm, as I have already said in response to an earlier question, that rural shire districts have done well out of the settlement. It is certainly the case that local authorities in his area have benefited. Cumbria county council is receiving a 4.7 per cent. increase, and Carlisle, I am sure that he will be delighted to know, is getting a 9.9 per cent. increase. I know that his constituents will be really pleased with that.

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Commons Hansard
28 Nov 2002

Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My right hon. Friend is being very generous to local authorities, but he has not provided any extra money. He has actually taken £100 million out of the NHS, and that is a worry to me.

Mr. Milburn: That is true. [Interruption.] I hope that I am not intruding on private grief. I have transferred £100 million from the national health service to social services. It will help the national health service do its job because if we do not build up social services, NHS hospitals will not be able to do their job. I realise that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) is hurriedly rewriting his speech as a consequence of my announcement, but it is no use for him to complain about transfer of resources - he is against resources. He is against resources going into the health service. He is against resources going into social services.

For the sake of people in hospital who need to come out and for the sake of people who need to be in hospital, we must address delayed discharges once and for all. The Bill is about making the system work for older people who are needlessly stuck in hospital. It is about putting older people first. It is about helping them to get the right care, in the right place, at the right time. For the first time, the Bill introduces a positive incentive to ensure that the resources of health and social services are directly linked to the responsibilities that they share. It will help to ensure that resources provided for social services are actually spent on social services. The Bill is fair to the national health service, it is fair to local government and, above all, it is fair to older people. I commend it to the House.

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Commons Hansard
26 Nov 2002

Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I will not say which region I think Cumbria should be in, but the reality is that the area that I represent is crying out for single-tier local government, whether we get regional assemblies or not. Will the Deputy Prime Minister consider that proposal?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend well knows, the proposals in the Bill are for unitary government. We believe that if any regions want regional government or want to take a step towards it, we should test opinion with a referendum. We will ensure that the boundary committee puts in the proposals for, on the one hand, regional government and, on the other, unitary government.

The proportion of people covered by unitary government varies from area to area - it is large in the North-West - but I will not get into the argument about whether Cumbria is in the North-West or the North-East. Both have high populations under unitary government, but my hon. Friend will find that the figure for the eastern region is low. We are making it clear that we do not want three tiers of government in a region. Under regional government, where the people choose it themselves, there will be a unitary local government structure.

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Commons Hansard
25 Nov 2002

Employment Statistics

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What assessment he has made of the most recent employment statistics. [81272]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith): The employment level is holding up well, given the world economic slowdown. We have record numbers of people in jobs thanks to economic policies for stability and labour market policies that keep people engaged with the job market, whatever the stage of the economic cycle.

Mr. Martlew : Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating those at the Jobcentre in my constituency who in the past five years have seen unemployment drop dramatically, especially youth unemployment, which has dropped by more than 40 per cent.? But does he acknowledge that, at present, many people - not just in Carlisle, but throughout the country - who wish to work are on incapacity benefit? Will he outline the Government's proposals to help those people and support them back into work?

Mr. Smith: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Jobcentre Plus staff and all the associated partners on the good work that they are doing in Carlisle. The number of young people unemployed for more than six months has fallen by 70 per cent. or more - a great tribute to the efforts of all concerned. In relation to incapacity benefit, I announced the consultation document last week, which will suggest a more intensive programme of interviews and other support for people going on to the benefit in the proposed pilot areas. We will introduce groundbreaking rehabilitation collaborative work with the national health service and a new £40 a week back-to-work credit in those pilot areas for the first year of employment. My hon. Friend is right: 90 per cent. of those coming on to incapacity benefit expect to get back into jobs. Those proposals will help them to do just that.

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Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO

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