Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons
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.
28/10/04 Charging for Hadrian's Wall
26/10/04 Education Standards
25/10/04 Child Care
19/10/04 Winter Fuel Allowance
19/10/04 New Opportunities Fund
19/10/04 Child Tax Credit (Carlisle)
18/10/04 Class Sizes
15/10/04 Employment (Carlisle)
15/10/04 Malaria (Malavane)
21/07/04 Size of the Army
15/07/04 Community Railways
26/05/04 Regional Assemblies
26/05/04 Child Cyclists
29/04/04 Animal and Plant Diseases
29/04/04 Council Tax Capping
28/04/04 Alcohol Nuisance
23/04/04 Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill
31/03/04 Cycle Helmets (PMQ)
06/01/04 Sixth-form College (Carlisle)
06/01/04 West Coast Main Line
19/11/03 Local Government Reorganisation
17/11/03 Anti-social Behaviour Bill
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The hon. Gentleman represents a very beautiful part of the country that attracts a lot of tourists. Would he favour a congestion charge for people visiting Hadrian's wall, for example?
Mr. Atkinson: I would certainly see some value, if it was practical, in asking visitors to make a contribution, when that is for the benefit of the local community. I do not see anything wrong with that. It is an imaginative idea, and I would be happy to discuss it. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman could find a way of charging visitors to enter the city of Carlisle. Ken Livingstone does it in London, after all.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what percentage of 15 and 16 year olds in (a) Carlisle, (b) Cumbria and (c) England achieved five or more GCSEs at grade A*-C in each of the last seven years. 
Mr. Miliband: The information requested is:
Percentage of 15 year old pupils(1) achieving five or more grades A*-C at GCSE/GNVQ
|Year||Carlisle constituency||Cumbria LEA||England|
(1) GCSE/GNVQ results are reported as standard as the results of pupils aged 15 at the start of the academic year i.e. 31 August, and therefore reaching the end of compulsory education at the end of the school year.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many and what percentage of 11-year old pupils in Carlisle reached level 4 in (a) mathematics and (b) English in each of the last seven years. 
Mr. Miliband: The information requested was placed in the House Library in response to Parliamentary Question 167566, on 10 May 2004, Official Report, column 34W.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many child care places have been created in Carlisle since 1997. 
Margaret Hodge: The Department is unable to provide details of child care places for Carlisle. However, between April 1999 to December 2003, my Department estimates that Cumbria local authority created 11,500 new child care places helping some 20,400 children. This shows an increase in stock child care places, taking into account turnover, of 8,000 helping some 14,400 children.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many senior citizens in Carlisle have benefited from the winter fuel allowance since 1997. 
Malcolm Wicks: The number of senior citizens in the Carlisle constituency who have benefited from the winter fuel allowance since 1999-2000 is in the table. Information relating to the 1997-98 and 1998-99 winters is not available.
Figures are rounded to the nearest 5.
Source: IAD Information Centre, 100 per cent. sample.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how much money from the New Opportunities Fund has been allocated to Carlisle in each year since 1997. 
Estelle Morris: The following amounts have been allocated by the New Opportunities Fund in Carlisle in each year since 1997:
* To date
The information is freely available from the Department's searchable Lottery award database at www.lottery.culture.gsi.gov.uk, which uses information supplied by the Lottery distributors.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many families in Carlisle have received child tax credit. 
Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 15 October 2004]: I refer my hon. Friend to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris) on 12 July 2004, Official Report, columns 922-23W.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the level of unemployment was in Carlisle in each year since 1996. 
Mr. Timms [holding answer 15 October 2004]: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.
Letter from Len Cook to Mr. Eric Martlew, dated 18 October 2004:
As National Statistician, I have been asked to reply to your Parliamentary Question about unemployment. (191353)
The attached table gives the estimates of the number of people unemployed and resident in the Carlisle Parliamentary Constituency for the 12 months ending in February each year from 1997 to 2003, the latest date for which information is available.
As with any sample survey, estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) art subject to sampling variability.
Unemployment in the Carlisle parliamentary constituency 12 month period ending February each year from 1997 to 2003
|Year||Level (000)||Rate (per cent.) 1|
People unemployed as a percentage of all economically active (i.e. employed plus unemployed).
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many children in Carlisle were taught in classes of more than 30 on the latest date for which figures are available. 
Mr. Miliband [holding answer 15 October 2004]: The data requested is shown in the table.
Maintained primary and secondary schools(1): number of pupils in classes of 31 or more pupils taught by one teacher(2):January 2004 - Carlisle parliamentary constituency
|Number of pupils in classes of 31 or more|
|Total pupils in all classes||Number of pupils||Percentage of pupils pupils(3)|
(1) Includes middle schools as deemed.
(2) Figures have been rounded to the nearest 10.
(3) Percentage of pupils in those classes expressed as a percentage of pupils in all classes taught by one teacher.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many new jobs have been created in Carlisle since 1997. 
Mr. Timms: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.
Letter from Len Cook to Mr. Eric Martlew, dated 15 October 2004:
As National Statistician, I have been asked to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about jobs created in Carlisle. (191352)
While statistics of new jobs created are not available explicitly, statistics from surveys enable comparisons to be made of net changes, in numbers of jobs, from year-to-year.
The attached table shows the information requested, relating to jobs in Carlisle, for 1997 and the latest year available, 2002.
Numbers of employees1 with workplace in Carlisle Parliamentary Constituency: 1997 and 2002
|Numbers of employees||Total|
|Change from 1997 to 2002(2)||1,900|
(1) Employee jobs only, not self-employed jobs.
(2) The 1997 to 2002 change has been rounded to the nearest hundred separately from rounded levels for 1997 and 2002.
Source: 1997; Annual Employment Survey, rescaled. 2002; Annual Business Inquiry
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make Malavane available on the NHS as an anti-malaria treatment; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Hutton: There is no drug called Malavane. The anti-malarial drug Malarone is not available on the national health service. Regulation 24, Schedule 5(I) of the national health services (General Medical Services Contracts) Regulations 2004, states that general practitioners can charge patients for
"prescribing or providing drugs or medicines for malaria chemoprophylaxis".
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is some disquiet on the Labour Benches about a reduction in the size of the Army. In my constituency, and the rest of Cumbria and north Lancashire, we have no military bases at all, so we keep our contact with the armed forces through the King's Own Royal Border Regiment, and it would be a great pity if that tradition were to go, and we would have great difficulty in recruiting from these areas if the regiment were no more.
Mr. Hoon: I agree with my hon. Friend to this extent, that it is important to maintain a footprint and identity right across the country. One of the problems, though, with the arms plot as it currently operates, and in particular for single-battalion regiments, is that they may not even be based in the traditional recruiting area from which they come, so it could well be that the regiment to which he refers is not even located in the area from which it is recruiting. I certainly anticipate a much greater identity between the recruiting area and the location in which people serve following the restructuring. That will be good for the footprint of the Army across the United Kingdom, as well as for the families of those who serve.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My right hon. Friend referred in his statement to the valuable role of community railways. I wonder whether he could expand on that, especially with regard to branch lines in rural areas, such as the west Cumbrian line and the Oxenholme to Windermere line. How will the White Paper affect them? What more local control will we have over the railways?
Mr. Darling: The White Paper deals with local community railways and refers to the recent SRA consultation. The idea is that certain railway lines, which may not be viable under the present system, could be operated much better. It does not include specific suggestions, but sets out a framework for decision making in the future. I have been impressed by the fact that a number of working community railway lines would almost certainly have been shut if they had not been transferred to the control of local people. That is something that I want to encourage.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My right hon. Friend will be aware that yesterday the boundary committee published proposals for unitary authority boundaries in areas that are holding elections for regional assemblies. Does he not agree that we need to get rid of two-tier local government up and down the country, whether we get a yes vote in the regional assemblies or not, as it is inefficient, expensive and bureaucratic?
The Prime Minister: We welcome the completion of a significant step towards the holding of referendums for elected regional assemblies in the autumn. We will consider carefully the final recommendations, and decide what options for unitary local government we will put to the electorate in any forthcoming referendums. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right that while there is a powerful argument for regional government so that decisions are taken closer to the people, it is none the less correct to make tiers of local government underneath regional government unitary because that would be more effective.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am pleased to have secured the debate. I requested it because my private Member's Bill, the Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill, received its Second Reading on 20 April, but, unfortunately, there was a technical problem - we did not have a quorum - so the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), did not get the opportunity to respond to my speech and those of other hon. Members. It would be inappropriate for this Minister to reply to a debate that has passed, especially as he was not the Minister in the Chamber at the time, but I intend to go over the Bill's salient points and give him the opportunity to reply to those. Children are always a vulnerable group, so I hope that the Government response will be fairly extensive.
The sad truth is that a disproportionate number of accidents involve children on cycles. Figures from the Transport Research Laboratory and the Department for Transport show starkly how vulnerable children on cycles are. The Transport Research Laboratory has found that child cyclists comprise only 6.6 per cent. of road cyclists, yet the Department for Transport's analysis of average road-cyclist deaths in a two-year period leads it to conclude that there are 133 deaths, 28 of whom, or 21 per cent., were children. Using that calculation, children are four times more likely to die in a cycle accident on the road than adults. Once a fortnight, a child dies in a cycling accident on our roads. Children are seriously injured and often disabled in our constituencies every day of the year. Each year we kill the equivalent of a primary class of children and severely injure the equivalent of a small secondary school.
I do not claim that introducing cycle helmets will necessarily reduce the number of accidents, but I am convinced that the measure will reduce the severity of the injuries involved. Many accidents involve serious head injuries. Scientific research, both at home and abroad, has proved the case for cycle helmets in protecting the head and brain against the worst effects of injury.
The report "Bicycle helmets: review of effectiveness" was produced by the Department for Transport in November 2002. It is good and I recommend it to hon. Members. It states:
"There is now a considerable amount of scientific evidence that bicycle helmets have been found to be effective at reducing head, brain and upper facial injury in bicyclists. Such health gains are apparent for all ages, though particularly for child populations".
I said that although child cyclists comprise only 6.6 per cent. of the population, 21 per cent. of those who are killed are children. The report says that cycle helmets save lives, and that is the conclusion of the supporters of my Bill, who come from a wide range of professional organisations.
If my Bill were successful - it is still tabled for discussion, although I suspect that it will not become law - it would provide a legal framework that was practical and proportionate. It would make it an offence for children under the age of 16 to ride a cycle on the road, in a public park or in a recreation area unless they are wearing protective headgear. This is not new ground. A similar Bill was put on the statute book in 1990. The Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990, which was introduced by Harry Greenway, the then hon. Member for Ealing, North, made it an offence for children to ride a horse on the public highway unless they were wearing protective headgear.
My Bill would not make every child cyclist or their parents into potential criminals, as some of my more excitable opponents claim. Provision for an offence is an important enforcement mechanism when there is persistent flouting of the law, but in reality I envisage that a friendly word of caution or verbal instruction to wear a helmet would be enough to ensure that people complied with the law. Recent statistics show that in 2002 there were only 92 prosecutions of people riding on the pavement and 134 of people riding without lights. Some might say that there should be more prosecutions, but in many cases the law can be enforced without taking people to court.
The Government have argued about compliancy rates, and I accept that the Department for Transport has been trying to do something about them by actively targeting young people. Last year it devoted £137,000 to an advertising campaign on the importance of wearing a helmet as part of the safe cycling message. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether there are plans for another campaign this year or next year.
The Department is concerned about compliance and it wants the rate of helmet wearing to increase to a critical mass before it is made compulsory. I understand the Department's motivation for holding that view, but does the Minister think that the goal will ever be reached? Surely, it should be the other way round. Rather than waiting for the practice of wearing helmets to change and then introducing an enforcement measure, could not the Government act now and introduce enforcement measures, so ensuring that the practice changes? If they do not, the Minister will continue to fall into the trap set by the opponents of helmets, such as the Touring Cycle Club, which will do everything it can to avoid helmets being made mandatory. The CTC discourages people from wearing them because it realises that if the practice reaches a critical mass, the Government might legislate.
In 2002, when 18 per cent. of cyclists were wearing helmets, the Government said that they would monitor the wearing rate and review the option for compulsory wearing from time to time. In October 2003, they used the same words, although the rate had by then increased to 25 per cent. The Minister must tell us what rate the Government would find acceptable before deciding to legislate to make it compulsory.
The Government agree that helmets are effective. They also agree on the vulnerability of child cyclists and the importance of delivering a safer cycling environment. In fact, in a response to me, the Prime Minister said:
"The issue that my hon. Friend raises is a high priority for hon. Members and the Government." - - [Official Report, 31 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 1594.]
It is a pity therefore that we cannot agree on the most effective means of delivery.
On Second Reading of my Bill, I went into detail on its opponents, but I shall not do so today. However, I am concerned about the National Cycling Strategy, a quango set up by the Government and given credence because it operates out of Marsham street. It sent letters to hon. Members from the Department for Transport headquarters which gave a distorted view of my Bill, which worries me. Does the Minister believe that quangos should be involved in the politics of a private Member's Bill, especially if they do not tell the truth? Is it appropriate that this particular quango should be housed in the offices of the Department for Transport?
The argument for my Bill is that attempts to encourage children to cycle should go hand in hand with measures to create a safer cycling environment. I agree with the press release put out by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport, which said:
"by making cycling safer, more people will take to their bikes."
That is common sense and beneficial, but does not reflect the current situation.
If the Government are concerned that making cycle helmets for children mandatory would be unpopular, they should take note of the poll of 9,000 adults carried out by the My Voice polling organisation in April. Some 80 per cent. of the those polled wanted helmets to be mandatory for children, and 70 per cent. of children agreed. Experience in other countries has led not only to recognition of the effectiveness of helmets, but to action - they have made it law.
In many countries, putting on a helmet is as common as using a safety belt in a car. Accidents and injuries have declined dramatically in countries in which helmets are mandatory, including Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the Czech Republic, and parts of the United States and Canada. Since the Second Reading of my Bill, two European Union countries - Sweden and Finland - have introduced laws making it compulsory for children aged 15 and younger to wear helmets.
Another important area is child cycle training. Perhaps hon. Members can remember the old cycling proficiency test at school - it was the first examination I ever passed and I took pride in that. It also had the advantage of bringing policemen into schools, so children's first contact with the police was favourable. Throughout the '90s, the police decided that they were too busy and that cycle training was not their responsibility. Sometimes that responsibility was passed to the county council, which decided that it was not mandatory. Therefore, the number of children being trained properly declined. We would not have dreamt of letting a child out on the streets without having taken a test. It should not necessarily be compulsory, but this and previous Governments have not given the issue the priority it deserves.
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills is keen to encourage young people to cycle to school. Having seen the way some youngsters cycle, I think that they have never been made aware of the potential dangers. What provisions will there be to increase cycle training for children? I want more youngsters to go to school on bicycles. A report will be published tomorrow - although it is in the media today - on obesity and, in particular, child obesity. I want more youngsters to ride bicycles, because it is good for them, and to be taught what to do. I also want them to wear helmets so that we do not have the tragedies that we see at present.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing the debate and on all that he has said about the safety of child cyclists. I also convey to him apologies from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who is out of the country on Government business; otherwise, he would have responded to the debate.
The Government take the safety of children on the roads very seriously. Our road safety strategy, "Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone", published in 2000, emphasised our aim to improve our performance on child road safety. The general target is for us to reduce deaths and serious injuries on the roads by 40 per cent. by 2010 compared with the average for the period from 1994 to 1998, but the target for children is 50 per cent. The reduction in child casualties has been outstanding. Compared to the baseline, child pedal cycle deaths and serious injuries have fallen by 47 per cent. That reduction significantly outstrips the decline in child cycling levels over the same period - something that concerns my hon. Friend - and represents a significant trend towards the target. However, we are not complacent and are taking action on a range of fronts.
The data show that, although the number of casualties is falling for child cyclists of all ages, we still have a problem with the number of young adolescent boys in particular getting hurt while cycling. We know from regular monitoring that boys are the most reluctant to wear helmets. Set against the general, rising trend, the wearing rate for boys went down from 16 per cent. in 1994 to 12 per cent. in 2002. A large proportion of those who choose not to wear helmets are young adolescents.
In the broader sense, we are doing much to improve child cyclists' safety. There are measures designed to make drivers far more aware of vulnerable road users, such as child cyclists. The highway code includes a section on road users, including cyclists, which requires drivers to take extra care. The practical driving test has been lengthened, so that drivers experience more road types and have a greater opportunity to encounter vulnerable road users. The theory test question bank contains many questions about vulnerable road users, including cyclists. Hazard perception skills are important to safe driving, and we want new drivers to develop those skills quickly. The screen-based element of the theory test includes video clips to help to test hazard perception with moving images.
We have also produced publicity for drivers. Our drink drive advert shows a motorist taking care to avoid a young cyclist. The underlying message is to give cyclists space. We have published the "Drive Safe, Cycle Safe" leaflet, in alliance with the AA and the Cyclists Touring Club. It is designed to make motorists and cyclists aware of one another.
Of course, it is important that cyclists take responsibility for their safety, and cycle training is an important part of that, although awareness among drivers is equally part of the overall safety package. About one third of children aged between nine and 10 are trained each year at school. Research shows that trained children are significantly safer than untrained children, as my hon. Friend suggested, when knowledge and skills are tested two years after training. We strongly advise parents to encourage their children to have cycle training and not to let them out on the roads until they are competent to handle their cycles safely.
We have raised the standards of child cycle training. We assisted the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents financially with its "Guidelines for the management and operation of Practical Cyclist Training Schemes". My Department and the Department of Health gave a £76,000 grant to the CTC to develop a cycle training scheme for adults and teenagers, which was launched I n May 2003. Driver awareness is certainly important but, as my hon. Friend suggested, the training of cyclists is very important, too.
Mr. Martlew : I am conscious that the Minister said that one third of youngsters are trained. That means that two thirds are not. How will we get to those two thirds? In addition, the CTC campaigns against wearing cycle helmets. How can the Government be involved with that organisation when it works against one of their objectives?
Mr. McNulty : I shall return to the CTC in a moment. On my hon. Friend's first question, he is right: a significant number of children are still not trained, and the job to ensure that more and more are trained remains ongoing. These are not one-off initiatives aimed at simply sorting the task out and moving on. The job on driver awareness and cyclist training is ongoing.
On publicity for child cyclists, we have published "Arrive Alive", a highway code for young road users that encourages children to act sensibly when using roads, and it includes a section on cycling. It is given to every child taking cycle training and more than 500,000 copies are issued annually. We are working with private sector organisations on a cycle smart campaign, which promotes safer cycling among children. It consists of a comic and a "Be safe and be seen" sticker. We promote the wearing of cycle helmets. Some say that helmets do not work. To try to get an independent, objective view on which could all agree, we commissioned research to assess the effectiveness of helmets. It concluded that they have been found to be effective in reducing injury for cyclists of all ages, especially children. As ever, some question that research, but as children are more likely to have low-speed accidents just falling off their bikes, I do not believe that much research is required to conclude that they will be better off wearing a helmet.
The Government helped to launch the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust's "Guidelines for Setting up Community Based Bicycle Helmet Programmes" in May 2002. That was the result of three years' work, with £100,000 of joint funding from the Department of Health and the Department for Transport. We also funded the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust to produce similar guidelines for schools, which it issued in July 2003.
We believe that helmets can work, so last year we launched publicity aimed specifically at boys in the vulnerable age group - the young adolescents. Before the launch, we tested different material with them to establish how they would receive it. The publicity that we ran was the material to which they were most receptive. It is called "Cycle Sense", and the campaign also covers issues such as technique, cycle maintenance and visibility. It consists of a poster, postcards and a website. We are also developing a TV filler film that we hope to launch later this year.
I agree with my hon. Friend; I, too, was very disappointed with the reaction of the CTC to that initiative. It mounted a campaign to undermine it and complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, which has since found in our favour. To an extent, I appreciate the CTC's concern to increase cycle levels, but that is an issue for the Government too, and we tailor publicity accordingly. If the reaction had been that young adolescents would be put off cycling, we would not have used the campaign. The CTC is a major cycling stakeholder and I hope that it will work with us more positively on safety in future, as it does on other cycling issues. Given the CTC's role as stakeholder, we could not simply refuse to work with it. However, I share my hon. Friend's concerns and acknowledge his complaints about its activities in the past.
I do not have the information to hand, but I will explore what my hon. Friend says about the National Cycling Strategy and its role in the run-up to 23 April and the promotion of his Bill. I will get back to him on that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on giving the issue of cycle helmet wearing such prominence through his Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill, which, as he knows, was dealt with on 23 April and remains, not in pole position, but in the frame for further discussion on 18 June.
Our position on compulsion has been that we will - to quote yet again the words quoted by my hon. Friend - review the option from time to time. However, due to the current rates of helmet wearing among children, which are relatively low, we have a concern that compulsion would affect cycling levels and cause enforcement difficulties. That has been the Government's position. The Bill has caused us to reflect; we need to think about how compulsory helmet wearing might affect the wider initiatives to increase cycling and improve health.
The supporters of helmet wearing say that provided that helmets are introduced with care, compulsion need not affect cycling levels. As my hon. Friend will know, some of the international experiences are that, with a long lead-in of promoting awareness, education and other elements, compulsion has subsequently been introduced. Opponents point to evidence from overseas where compulsion has clearly affected cycle levels. As ever in this life, the reality is mixed and the overseas experience can be read either way. We worry, however, that with helmet wearing by youngsters so low at the moment, compulsion would put many of them off cycling. If that happened it would affect cycling levels. Increasing cycling has the positive benefit of improving health. It is key to our anti-obesity strategy, especially for children, and to the further development of sustainable transport.
Our success in this area does not begin to compare with how well we are doing in moving towards the road safety targets, but I agree with my hon. Friend's intention: we must increase helmet wearing. We are continuing our campaigns to promote cycle helmets, ensuring that we do not do so in such a way that it presents cycling as dangerous or risky. The emphasis is on cyclists being sensible and other road-users taking care around them.
It is not simply about training, driver awareness and helmets, with or without compulsion. The whole package is designed to heighten cyclists' awareness and drivers' awareness of cyclists and the notion that cycling is good and should be encouraged, especially among young people. We want to promote cycling and the wearing of helmets. We will continue to reflect on the issue of compulsion and the level at which it should kick in. I hope that others, both inside and outside the Government, will do all they can to support us in promoting cycle helmets and improving the safety of child cyclists. I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate.
Mr. Martlew : The Minister said that when we reach a critical mass the Government will consider implementing compulsion. What does he think the critical mass will be? Is there not a difference between children and adults with regard to compulsion?
Mr. McNulty : As I said, it is not as simple as just reaching a cut-off point for children or adults. It is about all those aspects: driver awareness, cyclist training more generally, and the promotion of cycling, especially among young children. There will be more focus on young adolescents through education. Depending on the effectiveness of all those policy initiatives, we will see whether compulsion should kick in. We will reflect on all those issues, because of the wider campaign and the points raised by my hon. Friend, and will review the position from time to time.
If not all those elements are successful, we may need to steer in other directions. Increased cycle helmet wearing may go alongside all those policy initiatives. We may need to reflect at every stage. One conclusion may be that things are going so slowly that we should move to compulsion. It may be at a far lower figure than we expected. If all those elements are successful, compulsion should be at the tail end, rather like the experience in New South Wales.
I wish my hon. Friend well in his campaign to increase helmet wearing by young cyclists. I know that it will not stop on 18 June. I fear that, for better or worse, the debate on compulsion will continue. I suspect that that is right and proper. We agree absolutely with his fundamental position: wearing helmets makes cycling safer. We should all, CTC included, endeavour to increase cycling wearing by young cyclists in the context of promoting cycling generally. It is an outcome that we all want to see.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Is the hon. Lady aware that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), carried out an investigation into foot and mouth disease in this country?
Mrs. May: I am grateful for that intervention, but I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about the full and independent public inquiry that the British farming industry wants the Government to call in order to get answers about why the outbreak happened.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I shall start by attacking the Opposition's logic in claiming that the Government's record does not bear looking at. I shall then gently criticise my Government for some of the things that they have not yet done.
It seems to be my lot to speak about agriculture. Over the years, I have tried to get away from it, but the reality is that I am in my place to talk about it again. In 1986, I was working for one of the largest dairies in the country when the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl took place, nearly closing the factory. To be honest, biosecurity would have had no effect on that particular incident.
It may be asked why I am bringing up events that happened in 1986. First, I remember that in 1986 the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - now the noble Lord Jopling - said that the matter was under control and that the problem would be solved in six months. However, farms - many in Wales and, I understand, some in my county of Cumbria - are still affected by radiation from Chernobyl. So nearly two decades on, we are still suffering from problems stemming from Chernobyl. The Government of 1986 allowed lamb contaminated with radiation to enter the food chain. When I became a Member of Parliament, I sat on the Agriculture Select Committee, which conducted an inquiry into that matter.
Shortly after that, I recall the problem of salmonella. It was a major issue because the responsible Minister and former MP, Edwina Currie, said that most British eggs were contaminated with it. That created panic in the country and meant the destruction of millions of hens. It took the industry years to recover and brought an end to a ministerial career. I recall debating the issues in the House and quoting Peter Rabbit - the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the time was John MacGregor, and it seemed appropriate.
Some people say that the problems caused by foot and mouth disease are of the same magnitude as those caused by BSE. They are not. The difference is that BSE has killed 140 people, including an 18-year-old constituent of mine.
Moreover, BSE was not imported, and did not come to Britain in someone's suitcase. It was manufactured in the UK, by the previous Conservative Government, who allowed a reduction in the rendering temperatures used on material going into food. I do not say that they manufactured BSE deliberately, but the problem arose directly out of that decision.
Today, the Opposition's criticism of the Government does not amount to very much, as an inspection of the motion makes clear. Some Opposition Members attending this debate were in the House at the time of the BSE scare, and some were even Ministers. In fact, I accept some responsibility too, as I was a member of the Select Committee that investigated the matter. We concluded that it was safe to eat beef, but we were wrong. It was not safe to eat beef at that time, but we did not know the science involved. Later, I was in a car on the way back from a by-election when I heard the then Secretary of State for Health admit to the House that BSE could be transmitted from animals to human beings. We must not think that BSE and foot and mouth are of equivalent seriousness, as the foot and mouth outbreak did not lead directly to any human deaths.
I want to say, by way of a gentle word to the Minister, that it is not a good idea to keep on saying that the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak was the largest in Europe, or the world. I do not think that this Government, or any other, could have tackled it any better, but the truth is that they did not tackle it very well. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) is not present, as the foot and mouth outbreak was tackled well across the border in Scotland. The problems there were far smaller than in England.
I represent Carlisle, so I was at the epicentre of the outbreak. It was not very pleasant, and I accept that the problem went far beyond the loss of animals. A whole way of life was lost, and many people lost their life's work. That was very distressing.
My constituency is mainly urban, and I live in the centre of it. However, I could smell the meat singeing on the pyres all around. I vowed that we should never have to go through that again - in my constituency or anywhere else.
Part of the problem in tackling the outbreak stemmed from the fact that the previous Conservative Government had reduced the number of veterinary surgeons. If another outbreak occurred today, we would not have enough vets to deal with it. I suggested, during the 2001 outbreak, that we should establish the veterinary equivalent of the Territorial Army. Under that plan, we would have vets in reserve who could be called on in emergency. I am not sure that we have done that.
My biggest criticism of the farming industry and the Government - and the Opposition too - is that, both during the outbreak and since, everyone has avoided tackling the question of vaccination. I do not believe that we can make the country's borders secure. In 2001, the foot and mouth epidemic caused the general election to be delayed. If people wanted to create panic in this country, all they have to do is import the foot and mouth virus. That would be bioterrorism, and it could happen.
In such circumstances, it would not matter how many sniffer dogs we had at our ports. I remember asking my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who in 2001 was Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, if he knew the names of the only two dogs that we had. For the first time in my experience, he was not able to answer the question. In reality, our borders will never be secure. Although I agree that we should try our best to make them so, there will always be the chance of disease coming into the country. That is why I believe that we should make sure we never have foot and mouth again by introducing routine vaccination. It is sad that this country - under the previous Government, though I do not blame them for that - persuaded the rest of Europe away from vaccination. Unless we introduce that as policy, we will, sooner or later, have another outbreak of foot and mouth.
Mr. Kidney: We all hope that there will never be another outbreak of foot and mouth disease, or that if there is, it is as long until then as the last one was from the one before. Vaccination is important, but when we considered it at the height of the last outbreak, retailers would not accept it for meat to be sold and we thought that the public would not buy meat if animals had been vaccinated, which was the justification for the retailers' decision. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should now be raising awareness and winning minds about vaccination for the future?
Mr. Martlew: I totally agree. The company that runs the dairy where I used to work threatened to close it if we introduced vaccination, because it believed that the product would not be acceptable. That was nonsense. We need only to think of the number of other things for which animals are vaccinated. It was a panic reaction by the retailers. Even so, people in Cumbria practised on oranges - that is how close we came to vaccination. In the end, the National Farmers Union decided that it was not a good idea, although I suspect that most farmers in the area thought that it was. We have to take the opportunity now when there is no panic to get retailers, wholesalers and the industry to accept vaccination. It will be too late once there is another panic, as my hon. Friend says. Vaccination is the way forward.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) mentioned a vaccine for bovine tuberculosis, and I agreed with what he said. About 12 years ago, I tabled a parliamentary question asking why we had not developed a vaccine for that. We have had one for human TB for 50 or 60 years. The answer was that research was going on, but that a vaccine was a long way in the future. Twelve years is a long time into the future, and I do not think that the issue has been given enough priority. One reason for that was that everyone hoped it would go away. It will not.
Unless we have a vaccine, some difficult decisions will have to be taken. On one side, the farming community will rightly want to protect stock, and the Government will spend millions of pounds paying them compensation. On the other side will be the animal welfare people. It is a delight to see a badger in the wild. Any Government who underestimate the effect of carrying out a major badger cull are deluding themselves. I hope that we shall work hard on a vaccine. If the problem is resources, perhaps we should switch them from somewhere else, because that would save money in the long run.
I will conclude because I notice that a lot more people want to speak than I had expected. The Opposition had no right to table their motion because their record does not stand looking at. That is true on how they responded to Chernobyl, on salmonella and, especially, on how BSE started in this country, not just affecting farm incomes and animals, but affecting humans. Even now, it is unsafe for the vast majority of us to give blood because of BSE under the previous Government. Foot and mouth taught us a lesson, although I am not sure that the Government have learnt it totally.
I have explained my particular solution. It does not worry me that we might have an outbreak of foot and mouth disease tomorrow. We know what to do because we have just done it. People will be put in place and it will be sorted. What really worries me is if we have an outbreak in 15 or 20 years, by which time the lessons will have been forgotten and some community will suffer as mine did.
For those reasons I will support the Government today, but I am concerned that they have not learnt all the lessons from the foot and mouth outbreak.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) failed to tell us that in 1996, the last year of Conservative Government, there were 1,115 police officers in Cumbria, while at the end of this year, there will be 1,231 - an increase of 116.
The Minister has fallen into the trap of imposing a universal cap, whereas local people should be able to take the decision. As has been pointed out, a MORI poll says that the vast majority of people in Cumbria were in favour of increasing tax for the police. To some extent, the police authority was misled by indications that, if the increase was less than 15 per cent., it would not be capped. I should be grateful if the Minister agreed to receive an all-party delegation to discuss this matter. I do not think that what has been announced is particularly drastic for Cumbria police, but it will create a problem for us.
Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the increased investment to which I referred in responding to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). There has been a substantial increase in police numbers, and those numbers are not affected by our proposal this year. We are not proposing to cap Cumbria police authority this year; we are proposing a nomination. We will obviously listen to representations, and I shall take on board my hon. Friend's request for an all-party delegation to put forward whatever concerns it wishes to express on behalf of Cumbria police authority. When we have received the representations and considered any points that are put to us, we will reach final decisions, but I can assure him that this is not a universal cap, because it is proposed only to nominate Cumbria police authority, and not to designate it, so there would be no reduction in this year's budget.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am sure that my right hon. Friend, like me, is looking forward to the longer days and the lighter nights of summer, but is he aware that an increasing number of people dread it? That is because of the loutish behaviour, fuelled by alcohol, of many young people in our town centres and public spaces. In my own constituency, for example, under-age drinkers go into the parks and make a severe nuisance of themselves. Is it not time that the Government took action to help to solve that problem?
The Prime Minister: I am pleased to say that we are indeed taking action on it. Some of the measures that we are taking include the ability to use exclusion orders to ban those causing trouble from pubs, clubs and town centres. Of course, there are now the fixed-penalty notices and also the power of the police to shut down pubs and clubs where this binge drinking is happening and disorder results. These measures on antisocial behaviour are a vital part of the work that the police are now doing, which means that crime overall, since this Government came to power, has fallen, not risen.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have introduced a private Member's Bill that will make it compulsory for child cyclists to wear helmets. Is he aware that, in a recent opinion poll, more than 80 per cent. of those polled agreed with the aims of my Bill? Is he also aware that my Bill is supported by 200 hon. Members on both sides of the House, including some Ministers? So will the Government give serious consideration to supporting my Bill?
The Prime Minister: We will give serious consideration to it. The issue that my hon. Friend raises is a high priority for hon. Members and the Government. As he will know, for children, our target is to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 50 per cent. by 2010. By 2002, we had already reduced deaths and serious injuries by 33 per cent. - so a large number of children have been saved from death or serious injury. Sometimes when we are talking about speed humps, speed limits, speed cameras and so on, we forget that, although those things can be aggravating for the motorist from time to time, sometimes they have a real point in relation to protecting our young people and, indeed, others. So we will certainly give careful consideration to his Bill, and if we can support it, I am sure that we will.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) on securing the debate and on using his position as Opposition Chief Whip to provide us with about three hours in which to hold it.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education for spending an hour with me yesterday discussing the proposals. I still have some questions for him; I think that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border may have already asked the first one, but it needs a categorical answer. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the LSC's proposals are only for consultation and that no decision has been taken, either by the Government or the LSC, that they should be the final proposals? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend tell us about the procedure that can be used to support or oppose any LSC proposal before he makes a decision? I realise - I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does too - that we will get few answers out of my right hon. Friend today because, at the end of the day, he will have to take a decision, so we would not expect him to be specific.
I shall deal quickly with the points made by the right hon. Gentleman. I suspect that we would not be debating this issue if every school in the Carlisle area were as good as William Howard school. Many people were surprised to see William Howard school included in the proposals - I am sure that its inclusion will be discussed - but the fact is that, overall, the number of youngsters who stay on at school and get adequate A-levels in the Carlisle area is below the county and the national averages. The number of youngsters who leave in the lower sixth form is very high in some schools.
The reality is that we in Carlisle are underachieving, and the LSC is right to point out that problem, but I call its proposal the nuclear option, as it was designed to upset the maximum possible number of people. It has achieved that aim to some extent, but it has put the issue on the agenda, when it was on the back burner for 13 or 14 years. The local authority never tackled the problem of underachievement, and I would definitely not support a system that ensured that the youngsters in Carlisle underachieved. We have some very good schools and sixth forms, but some of them underachieve and it would probably be wrong to name them. No one will be taking A-levels at one sixth form this year, and fewer than 10 pupils will do so at another school. The youngsters who have not stayed on may perhaps go into further education or whatever.
We have a problem, and it needs to be addressed. I have spoken to all the heads teachers and the chairmen of governors of the schools in my constituency. With the exception of one school, which is in favour of the proposals, the rest are against them. I have also talked to the FE college, Carlisle college, which supports the proposals. The head teachers and the chairmen of governors of the other schools, however, do not say that the situation is good. They all accept that there has to be change, but I suspect that that change will depend on the attitude of the head teachers. When the proposals first came out, they were totally opposed to them; they were anti everything. They have now decided to go away and discuss among themselves an alternative to the nuclear option, and I look forward to that alternative being discussed with the LSC and to the LSC coming up with an alternative to its initial proposal.
Reference has been made to Caldew school, which is in my constituency. I have visited the school and talked to the head teacher and the chairmen of governors, and one of the things that came out - the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to it in his speech - is that between 25 and 30 per cent. of the children who go to that school come from the urban area of Carlisle. Although probably 70 per cent. of the school's pupils come from rural areas, it has a large intake from the urban area. The school welcomes that because it would otherwise struggle with its numbers, and its proportion of children from urban areas will probably increase as the years go on.
A considerable amount may come from the LSC to improve sixth-form education in the city - the right hon. Gentleman cited a figure of £12 million. I would not like all that money to go away, because I do not accept that our schools have lots of new buildings - some of them are quite old and in need of refurbishment. We need the LSC to be flexible and to provide some of that money - perhaps for a central location or elsewhere - to improve the standards and quality of the buildings in which youngsters are taught.
I went to the city of Durham to see an alternative proposal to that which has been put forward in my area. Durham has schools for children aged between 11 and 16. Although Lochinvar school in Longtown is such a school, most of our schools are 11 to 18 schools. Durham has a sixth-form centre that is based at a local school but the centre is twice the size of that school. One might initially think that the solution was a political fudge because the council could not agree on which schools to close and open, but the system actually works. I hope that people will consider such an option.
I shall not take much more time from the Minister because we talked for an hour yesterday. We need to know that the proposal is for consultation - that no final decision has been taken - and that there could be flexibility with the money. We also need to be told what Cumbria county council is doing. The council is a shambles at the moment because its chief executive has left and it is weak. It has not uttered one word about sixth-form provision. Although the right hon. Gentleman was critical of the LSC, I want to know what the county council thinks of the proposals and what its alternative proposals would be. We know everybody else's proposals on a subject that is so important that the right hon. Gentleman secured an Adjournment debate on it, but all that we have heard from the county council is silence. I hope that the LSC and the county council will work together with the heads of the various schools to come up with an option that would improve opportunities for youngsters in my constituency and leave in place what is good in the area. We need to reach a point at which there is consensus on a proposal so that the Minister would see that there was little opposition to it and thus be able to rubber stamp it saying, "That's great, we've got a deal done and people are happy."
I am conscious that the project is one of the first throughout the country although there are about 50 local learning and skills councils that are going through the exercise. It would be wrong if our LSC were seen to be totally defeated because it has pinpointed and highlighted a problem. Although I do not agree with its solution to the problem, I thank it for bringing the matter forward. I agree with some arguments made on the consultation because it has been poor in some cases. However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and I both want better education for all youngsters whom we represent, whether they live in urban or rural areas.
Mr. Martlew: When the proposals come to the Secretary of State, is it his duty just to accept them or reject them, or can he amend them at that stage?
The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Alan Johnson): The Secretary of State will take a view on the proposals. If they are rejected, it is up to the LSC to begin a process of finding another way forward. It is not a matter for the Secretary of State, from the great distance of Sanctuary house in Westminster, to make decisions on behalf of Carlisle and Cumbria. His job would be to judge the quality of the proposals.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): As my right hon. Friend will know, I have taken a particular interest in the west coast main line for more than a decade, and we are now at a point where we will see improvements. Yesterday, the first Pendolino train went from Euston to Glasgow. That service will be a great benefit to my constituents. However, will my right hon. Friend comment on the decision not to lay extra track in the Trent valley, which will create congestion and delays on the west coast main line? I understand that that decision was taken after the rail regulator intervened with Network Rail.
Mr. Darling: On the first point, my hon. Friend will know that once the upgrade is completed next year, more than half an hour will be taken off the journey time to Carlisle. I am glad that he mentioned the arrival in Glasgow of the first Pendolino train - I am told that it was eight minutes early, which is a shining example to the rest of the trains going up and down the west coast main line.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): It is all very well to talk about regional government and changing unitary authorities. The law provides that county boundaries can be crossed. Will my right hon. Friend explain how that will appear on the ballot paper? There is great confusion in my area, including Cumberland and Morecambe bay. We do not understand how people will be able to vote on the issue.
Mr. Raynsford: The boundary committee will make proposals on precisely that matter in two weeks' time. It will be entirely appropriate for people to have information about the proposed changes, their impact and the options available before they decide. When I was in Cumbria a while back talking to representatives of local government, it was clear to me that there were two or three clearly held views on what would be the best options. It was recognised that there were appropriate boundaries reflecting natural communities that could make good new boundaries for unitary authorities in those areas. I am sure that these matters will be decided properly by the people when they come to vote in the referendum on these matters.
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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Will the fly-posting provisions apply to political parties?
Ms Blears: Anybody who contravenes the Town and Country Planning Act will be liable to a fine higher than the current level 3 fine. I am aware that there are different provisions in different parts of the country about what kind of party political advertising can be permitted. For example, I know that in Birmingham there is a tradition of allowing posters to be stuck on street furniture. That certainly is not a tradition in my community, so the position varies from local authority to local authority. None the less, where those provisions are contravened, the fine will be up to £2,500 rather than the present level of £1,000.
Mr. Martlew: If there were a general election, and a political party - the Liberal Democrats, for example - was fined £2,500, would that be added to its election expenses?
Ms Blears: That would be a matter for the returning officer and the Electoral Commission; it would be determined by electoral law at the time.
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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|