Westminster Hall

5 May 2009 17:41:35

Rob Wilson on another glaring omission in national health statistics

Rob Wilson MP Reading East MP Rob Wilson secured a Westminster Hall debate for today, on the subject of Fibromyalgia. North Thanet MP Roger Gale was in the chair.

Highlights from Mr Wilson's speech follow. It is clear that this is another area where the data that ministers gather is inadequate - a theme I wrote about recently.

"I should take this opportunity to give a brief introduction to fibromyalgia, as there is little knowledge of the condition. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition of widespread pain and profound fatigue. Its name is made up of “fibro” for fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments, “my” indicating muscles and “algia” meaning pain. A patient can experience widespread muscular pain, stiffness, constant fatigue and non-refreshing sleep. The pain tends to be felt as an aching or burning, and is often described as being felt from head to toe. It can change location and can be worse at some times than others. Because it can come and go, sufferers can feel suddenly drained of energy, as if someone has just pulled the plug on them.


Fibromyalgia has been shown to have more impact on patients’ lives than many other forms of widespread pain and chronic illness. I believe that the sheer scale of the illness and the suffering that results from it mean that it is high time fibromyalgia was taken seriously as an issue.


Many people do not know that fibromyalgia is a very common illness. It is in fact as common as rheumatoid arthritis and can be even more painful. It is a condition with no age limits. It affects mainly women, from children to the elderly, and the mean age is 49. A staggering 2.7 million people in the UK suffer from the illness. People with mild to moderate cases of fibromyalgia are usually able to live a normal life, given the appropriate treatment. However, if the symptoms are severe, they may not be able to hold down a paying job or enjoy much of a social life.


Even those GPs who know about the condition—and there are too few of those—who are looking for specialist help within the NHS cannot always refer patients directly to consultants with an interest in and knowledge of fibromyalgia. One of the immediate actions that the Minister could take today is to rectify the situation. Those clinics could be added to the choose and book system, and the NHS could build and provide an extensive list of accepted specialist NHS services around the country.


I also know that the Minister’s heart is in the right place, and that she is anxious for the NHS to help. However, recent parliamentary questions from hon. Members throughout the House have had a less than encouraging response. In June 2008, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) asked what plans the Department of Health had to improve treatment for people with fibromyalgia. The answer came:

“There are no specific plans to improve the treatment for those living with fibromyalgia.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 655W.]

Another hon. Member asked how people were diagnosed in his constituency, the region and nationwide since 1997. The answer was:

“Information on the number of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia is not collected.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 998W.]

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3 Apr 2009 11:48:55

Nick Herbert: We face an unprecedented crisis in our marine life

Nick Herbert With Congleton MP Ann Winterton in the chair, Westminster Hall hosted a debate entitled "Investigating the Oceans" yesterday. The now defunct Science and Technology Committee published a report with the same name back in 2007. Eighteen months later, MPs were back for a progress report from ministers!

Shadow DEFRA Secretary Nick Herbert spoke for the Conservatives:

"We face an unprecedented crisis in the marine life in our seas and oceans. Research predicts that the world will run out of seafood species that it can fish by 2048 and that the associated loss of marine biodiversity will destroy the ocean’s natural ability to adapt and self-repair. A strong science base is therefore essential if we are to respond to the challenges to our marine ecosystems.

It is possible to identify five key challenges to the marine environment. First, and perhaps the most significant, is climate change and its impact on sea levels. The world’s oceans absorb more than one quarter of the carbon dioxide that the human race generates, and half of that is absorbed in the Southern ocean alone, so oceans and marine systems play a key role both in the debate that we must have about climate change, and in regulating climate systems. There is a danger that meltwater could interrupt the oceans’ natural currents and a particular concern that the gulf stream could slow down or even shut down, meaning less heat for north-west Europe and, therefore, harsher winters.

The second key challenge is fishing in our seas and oceans. Some 70 to 80 per cent. of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, and 15 of the world’s 17 largest fisheries are so heavily exploited that their reproductive cycles cannot guarantee continued captures. Demand for fish next year is expected to reach 110 million tonnes, which will outstrip supply. The global crisis is mirrored in our waters. We need to reconnect fisheries domestically, in the European Union and internationally with environmental interests, to ensure that fishing can be conducted in a sustainable way.

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1 Apr 2009 12:50:27

David Heathcoat-Amory says Britain must embrace nuclear energy

David Heathcoat-Amory MP Yesterday saw Wells MP David Heathcoat Amory introduced a debate in Westminster Hall, on the subject of nuclear energy. Herewith some extracts from his speech:

"Due to a combination of short-sightedness and wishful thinking, this country faces a looming energy gap between future demand and supply, because we have been decommissioning our nuclear power stations without replacing them. Many stations have already been decommissioned, and the rest will largely disappear in the next 10 years. Coal has also declined in importance: many coal-burning stations are increasingly obsolete and will fall victim to the tightening regulatory system, particularly the EU large combustion plant directive, which will take them out of service. So far, the difference has largely been made up by burning more gas. Incidentally, the so-called dash for gas was largely the reason why the Government were able to claim that they had complied with the Kyoto commitment on carbon dioxide stabilisation. That happened anyway, because gas produces less carbon dioxide per unit than does coal, and was nothing to do with what the Government had done elsewhere.

The massive switch to gas burn cannot continue for ever, and is becoming expensive. There were significant price rises last year, which have not been fully reversed, and which created a lot of grief both domestically and industrially. Also, gas reserves around our shores are declining—it is not just North sea oil that is running out—and we are having to import more and more gas. Indeed, we will soon be overwhelmingly dependent on imported gas from countries that, by and large, are unstable, unfriendly, or both. Many of those gas-exporting countries clearly use their energy exports as a foreign policy tool. Russia is a good example of that. Europe, as a whole, is very dependent on Russian gas, but those supplies are interruptable, and this country is at the end of the pipeline.


The Government are relying on another source of energy that is based largely on make-believe—a vast expansion in renewables. We are now committed to deriving 15 per cent. of all our energy requirements—not just electricity—from renewable sources by 2020, but we currently derive only about 2 per cent., and we are nowhere near getting to 15 per cent. within that time scale. That commitment is legally binding and will be in treaty law. We know that EU law is superior to national law, but I do not know who will go to prison when these commitments are not fulfilled—it will probably be another lot of Ministers in the future. Today’s Government are signing up to a specific, legally binding commitment that is not attainable.

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26 Feb 2009 11:29:02

Stephen Crabb calls for clear Government message on gas storage

Stephen_crabbPreseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb secured a Westminster Hall debate for Tuesday, on the subject of gas storage in the UK. Herewith some highlights from his speech:

"I am grateful to have secured this short but timely debate on the adequacy of UK gas storage. We are experiencing another winter of tight gas supply with supplies being drawn down heavily in the face of a colder than normal winter, and European supply disruptions caused by the dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Rather perversely, it is only because of a sharp drop in industrial demand, due to the recession, that the UK has avoided severe difficulties in meeting peak gas demand this year.


By 2010, gas imports could be meeting up to one third or more of the UK’s total annual gas demand, perhaps rising to around 80 per cent. by 2020. That represents a huge change from our position just five years ago when we were a net exporter of gas. I do not share the populist panic about imported energy, and I do not believe that energy independence is achievable or even a necessary or desirable goal in an age when international energy markets are increasingly interlinked. There is an unquestionable economic loss to the UK as our domestic oil and gas production declines and that is significant, but I shall not lose sleep about energy security and energy imports as long as we have a diversity of reliable suppliers with proven long-term reserves alongside as strong a domestic component as possible with diversity of infrastructure for the import, transmission and distribution of energy, including a measure of spare capacity and, crucially, an adequate stock of stored energy to serve as a buffer against supply disruptions.

The UK has significant stored capacity of oil and gas. We have around 80 days’ consumption of oil and petroleum products in stock and around 90 days’ consumption of coal. There is no common stocking obligation on those types of fuel, but it is interesting that there is around three months of coverage for both. Britain’s natural gas storage capacity is around 4.3 billion cu m, which represents no more than 15 days’ supply.


The UK needs more storage capacity, and the Government must provide a clearer message on how much new capacity is needed, where it will come from, when it will be delivered, and what can be done to mitigate the effects if it does not come on stream in a timely way."

26 Jan 2009 12:02:37

Tobias Ellwood criticises DCMS annual report

Tobias_ellwoodOn Thursday Westminster Hall held a debate on the annual report of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe announced that Exchequer funding for Sport England (the English sports council) has increased from £33 million in 1997 to £133 million in 2008-09, and that nine out of ten pupils now do at least two hours of "high-quality physical education or sport a week". That is good as far as it goes, but they should be doing at least two hours of sport, period. And Lottery funding for sport is an altogether different matter, as Labour have raided that source of money for other purposes.

Between February this year and March 2011, 618,000 free theatre tickets will be available for people aged 26 and under. £15 million a year up to 2011 will be invested in a project called "Sea Change”, to "create new performance spaces, improve theatres, restore promenades, enable the redesign of beach fronts and provide new exhibition spaces".

A creativity and business international network has been launched in Liverpool, to "bring together the most influential international creative and business figures to shape the future development of the worldwide creative economy".

The minister also assured the Hall that the Government is working to combat problem gambling.

Tobias Ellwood, a Shadow DCMS Minister, responded for the Tories:

"My first question is why the Department has this debate in this particular context. For many other Departments, the report that scrutinises their work is written by the Select Committee—it is not written entirely by the Minister and his team. In this situation, we will get a rose-tinted picture.


Of course, the Minister managed to circumnavigate all the issues around 2012 that lie ahead. On several occasions, we have questioned the Minister for the Olympics on our concern about the changes to funding and the way in which money has been taken away from other areas—good causes and so on—because of the escalating costs of the Olympics.


We in the Opposition feel that the marketing capability in respect of tourism in the UK has gone a little awry. That has been compounded by devolution, since 1998, by Visit Scotland and Visit Wales doing their thing and by the nine regions doing their own thing, too. Until we pointed it out to the Government, six different offices representing different corners of the UK were marketing their patch in Boston, Massachusetts. How ridiculous is that? Instead of having one voice saying, “Come to Great Britain”, all those organisations were spending a lot of money, with overlapping interests, trying to market their corner. People are not even aware of what is in the north-west of England, by way of a brand name, and certainly not the south-west—although they may have heard of Blackpool and Liverpool—but they will certainly have heard of Great Britain. That should be the starting point.


We are the sixth most visited place in the world. That is a fantastic position to be in, but if we compare that fact with the numbers involved in global tourism from 1997 to today, the statistics are sad to see. In 1997 we had 6.9 per cent. of the global tourism market, which is an impressive statistic. Today, that figure has dropped to 3.3 per cent."

The Shadow DCMS team, ably led by Jeremy Hunt, is in fine shape.

Tom Greeves