Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr. Roy).
Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for giving me the chance to raise some important issues affecting my constituency and others.
A review of the Forensic Science Service is taking place and I would be failing if I did not mention that. We are talking about 200 scientists, and the scientific base within the north-west, who are solving the most hideous crimes. There is a proposal to close the service within the north-west, meaning that we will be reliant on Birmingham or Yorkshire to sort out the problems.
If we were talking about London—the No. 1 crime hotspot—we would not think of closing such a service. However, we are talking about closing a service in what is—because of the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester—the No. 2 crime hotspot. The proposal makes absolutely no sense. We have some of the leading forensic scientists. The university of Central Lancashire is second to none and has world-class status in forensic science degrees. We should be looking at the service being brought together between the university and the Forensic Science Service in the north-west. It should be the last facility that we should consider closing.
It is a rather strange situation and I believe that common sense will prevail and that a review will show that it would be silly to close the facility. I have had an Adjournment debate on the subject and have made these points clearly. I met the Prime Minister to make sure that he was aware of the sensitivities of the matter and how crass that decision would be. We have quality people, solving crimes and working for many police forces, including Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Lancashire, Cumbria, North Wales and even Staffordshire. A huge service is being provided at Chorley and we cannot allow it to close, as that would be a further attack on our science base within the north-west. We have already seen the synchrotron go from Daresbury and we do not want to see any more closures or attacks on our scientific base.
The other big issue facing the north-west is jobs and there is great concern about Jaguar Land Rover, which has announced over 300 redundancies at its plant at Liverpool. That is bad news. I want manufacturing to be put on the front foot and for it to receive more support from the Government. Manufacturing has had support but I would like to see even more. That could be done through the short time working subsidy. We have seen that operating in France, Germany and even Wales. I would have thought it was time for the Government to bite the bullet. I do not believe that we should be subsidising people through the jobcentre to be unemployed when, for the same amount of money, we can support them within their job. That is why the subsidy would make a real difference to people within manufacturing and would keep those companies ticking over.
When we come out of the recession, we want to be best placed to ensure that the skills are there. We want to train people when they are in employment and make sure that they have a future. I cannot see a better way of doing that and we ought to back it up with a national jobs summit, at which we could bring together the employers, trade unions and bodies such as Federation of Small Businesses to make sure we deliver on the future of jobs. Following that, we could have regional jobs summits to bring people together. Manufacturing is the future of the country and should be its backbone. We should learn from previous Governments, and from this Government, who have wanted to believe in the service industry and the banking industry. We have learned a costly lesson that manufacturing is important and it ought to be No. 1 again.
In my constituency, there is a good charity called Derian House that was about to lose £350,000 to Customs and Excise. I believe that there is good news today and that Derian House will get that money back from Customs and Excise. Common sense has prevailed. We won the moral argument and we have now won the argument completely. That is good news in which all constituents throughout the north-west can share.
It is right that we are under attack at present. We had an Equitable Life statement earlier today, and a lot of my constituents are affected by that. We were disappointed in the question and the answers. What we want from the Government is action, not words, so that our constituents get the compensation they deserve. We must ensure that that is done sooner rather than later.
I have touched on the Forensic Science Service in Chorley and the attack on jobs, but I also want to mention the tax office in Chorley. There is an award-winning tax office there, and another in Hyndburn. The office in Chorley is in a purpose-built building. It was never down for closure. In fact, it was held to be an example of the best way to run a tax office: the staff were second to none, and, as I have said, the office was award winning and purpose built. Although it was not down for closure, guess what happened? The tax office in Blackburn was down for closure and so was the one in St. Helens. Suddenly, however, although we were not down for closure because we had an award-winning office, there appears to have been some interference. The office in Blackburn is no longer going to close and neither is the one in St. Helens, but those in Hyndburn and Chorley are going to close. How can that be right? Has there been political interference? If there has, that is unacceptable. I hope that the Treasury is listening, and that it will reopen this tax office and let common sense prevail, because although it is down for closure, it is not closed yet. We could bring in other work. As we know, increasingly people are applying for tax credits. We want to be able to ensure that they get their credits right. Why do we not bring that work into Chorley, and into the office in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) as well? We can deliver on these things, and it is important that we do so.
Fuel duty is a big issue for constituents such as mine, who live in an urban-rural area. The constituency covers 80 square miles and it has many parishes. People are reliant on their cars. They also expect items to be delivered, because we live in a rural community. We are a farming area as well. We need the 2 per cent. escalator to be scrapped. All it will do is add to inflation and stop us coming out of recession early. I plead with the Government to listen to what we are saying about the fuel escalator. It must not go ahead in October. That would help to ensure that the recession ends sooner.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). He raised a range of issues. The last of them was the fuel duty, which is extremely important in rural areas, and I echo his message to the Government to listen on that.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Equitable Life. We have had an oral statement from a Minister in response to an urgent question. The hon. Member for Chorley said he did not like the question. I thought the question was very good, but the answers were somewhat lacking. If we are going to have an ombudsman service and if we want to encourage people to save, when the ombudsman highlights maladministration and a remedy is identified, the Government should look very carefully at that remedy, because if people are going to invest in future, they will need to have confidence that there will be proper regulation. The Government want to encourage greater saving, but that will not happen if regulators fail and then there is no compensation. People are not going to be encouraged to save if we do not have a system that gives them confidence that when things go wrong there will be compensation.
I am pleased to have done that. Although I am aware that I am not subject to a time limit, I am also conscious that many Members wish to speak and it would be unfair of me not to take time into account. I therefore want to concentrate on a key constituency issue by highlighting the first report of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, which, appropriately, was on the UK offshore oil and gas industry.
I must at this point declare an interest that appears in the Register of Members’ Interests: I have a shareholding in Shell. I am also vice-chair of the all-party group on the offshore oil and gas industry, which paid a visit to the Offshore Northern Seas conference in Stavanger, which was funded by various oil companies. A more recent entry that is about to go in the register is a visit to the carbon capture and storage pilot project in south-west France that was funded by Total.
My real interest, however, is that of a constituency MP representing the concerns of many constituents whose livelihoods depend on the health of the oil and gas industry. That is an interest I have not just as a constituency MP; I am an MP for the north-east of Scotland, which has been fundamentally tied up with this industry for many decades. Moreover, this interest involves the whole country; it may be unheard of in the rest of the country, but what has been achieved in the North sea has involved a golden opportunity for the whole country. It has delivered many jobs—between 350,000 and 400,000 at present. It has contributed massive revenues to the Chancellor—a third of his corporation tax last year came from the North sea. It also made it possible for this country to meet its Kyoto commitments by the use of gas as a more environmentally friendly fuel than coal. The North sea has therefore delivered a lot for this country, including a period of great energy security when we were an exporter of energy. However, that is now changing.
There are challenges facing the North sea now, which the Select Committee highlighted. The specific challenge is that facing any province reaching greater maturity: the big finds have long ago been identified, and now we have moved on to the smaller fields, but they have to compete for investment in a global financial market. They need to be competitive in that global financial market and they need the Government to recognise the challenges they face.
As the Committee made clear, the industry is looking not for a subsidy, but for a fairer and more effective tax regime that takes less tax up front and thereby offers more incentives to invest, and in the long run brings in more tax to the Chancellor, because with that investment more oil and gas will be produced, which will earn more revenue for the Chancellor. Any oil and gas left in the ground produces no tax revenues. It belongs to the country, but we only get it out of the ground by engaging with the private sector. It is that sector’s skills and expertise that get it out of the ground. We need a regime that encourages that future bold move to get more out of the ground.
There is another North sea challenge in the current period. Many of the platforms are reaching an age when they might usually have been decommissioned: their maintenance is getting more expensive as they were not designed to last this long, but—fortunately—they were over-engineered so they are still in active use. The current pipelines and platforms are, however, crucial hubs to future exploration. The finds that are now being made are too small to justify stand-alone production. They need to be linked back to the existing platforms and pipelines in the North sea. Once those platforms and pipelines have gone, whole areas of the North sea will be sterilised from future investment and production. Timing is vital to maintain them, and to encourage those hubs to be there. The Select Committee felt the Government should go further in their tax incentives to bring in more activity on the existing platforms so that they continue to be economic and to be invested in and so that future developments can be tied back to them.
In a mature province such as the North sea, such smaller future developments are not attractive to the big global companies that have their own cash reserves to invest. The tradition is that smaller and more nimble companies move in to take over that investment and that exciting exploration. However, those smaller and more nimble companies rely on the financial markets to unlock the investment, and the credit crunch and the recession have hit them as much as they have hit the rest of the economy. The Select Committee has therefore proposed to the Government that the tax relief that will come to these smaller companies when they get into production should be paid up front and then taken back later when the production comes in. That would assist their cash flow.
Another exciting prospect highlighted by the Committee is the future gas finds west of Shetland. There are still large fields there, but it is a very challenging environment in which to operate: it is very stormy and there are very deep waters. Again, we think the Government should incentivise activity in that whole west of Shetland province, because if some of those major fields west of Shetland are developed, that will provide a great psychological boost to the oil and gas community and will produce more excitement in the markets about the potential of the North sea. All this is about security of supply for our energy needs, future tax revenues from those fields and—above all from a constituency point of view—the jobs that come from that work.
The jewel in the crown of maintaining an efficient and vibrant home market is the growing export market that the UK has built up around the world. We are now world leaders in the frontiers of deep sea oil and gas exploration and production—subsea engineering—and we export our skills around the world. The fact that we still have a base in the UK means that that big manufacturing and industrial sector remains in the UK, bringing money back to the UK economy. For all those reasons, I urge the Government to respond boldly to the Select Committee’s recommendations and create a brighter future for the North sea and for the security of this country’s energy supplies.
As we enter the recess—
It is a long recess, which our leaders say we should not be having. As we enter it, I should make the point from this Front Bench that the House carries on, and many functions will take place here and much work will be done by many staff of the House. I wish, again, to place on the record a thank you, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, from Liberal Democrat Members to the staff of the House for all they do to support our work throughout the year and to make it possible for Parliament to function so efficiently and effectively.
I do not need seven minutes to say what I have to say, which is about delays in investigating freedom of information complaints. Maurice Frankel, the director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, had an interesting piece in The Guardian exactly two weeks ago entitled “A slow and sluggish trudge to transparency—A backlog of cases and a budget shortfall is making the Freedom of Information Act toothless”. That is what he believes, and he tells us that the backlog in the Information Commissioner’s Office is such that
“on average it takes eight months before an investigation into a complaint even begins. More than a quarter of cases wait for over a year”
to get started. That is just unacceptable.
At the beginning of this month, on 3 July, the campaign published a report entitled “Delays in Investigating Freedom of Information Complaints”. It states that
“46 per cent. of cases took between 1 and 2 years from complaint to decision notice”
“25 per cent. of cases took between 2 and 3 years to a decision”.
In the long run, we are all dead and a Parliament runs for a maximum of only five years, yet people are waiting for years for the Information Commissioner to come forward with a decision—I am one of those people.
In November 2007, in the Public Administration Committee, I raised the case of Michael Ashcroft with the Cabinet Secretary. I did so because in March 2000, No. 10 issued a press release that said that Michael Ashcroft had given—I paused for effect there—
“a clear and unequivocal assurance”
that he would take up permanent residence in the UK by the end of the year—by the end of 2000. To this day, he refuses to answer the question on that. I, therefore, raised it with the Cabinet Secretary in the Select Committee in November 2007. Sir Gus O’Donnell got back to me, saying that the Cabinet Office has no jurisdiction over either House of Parliament and he did not see a role for him on the issue of the undertaking, as it was really not a matter for him. On the other question of residency, he said that it was exempt information because it involved a conferring by the Crown of an honour or dignity—that refers to Michael Ashcroft’s peerage. The second reason the information was exempt was that it related to personal information provided, by Michael Ashcroft, in confidence.
Those reasons were bogus and spurious, so I appealed. My appeal was considered by the permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office and it was turned down in March 2008. At the end of that month, I wrote to the Information Commissioner and the matter has been with the Information Commissioner ever since. To this day, I do not know why there has been a huge delay of 16 months. I am asking only for two simple pieces of information. I do not want to know how much tax Lord Ashcroft is paying, but I want to know the answer to the following questions: to whom did Michael Ashcroft give that assurance and what form did that assurance take—was it oral, in a letter or in an e-mail? I have been denied those two straightforward pieces of information for 16 months.
I have also tabled a question to the Cabinet Office. As I had this vision of the Information Commissioner’s office being submerged in a tidal wave of information from the Cabinet Office relating to those two simple requests, I asked the Cabinet Office how many documents the Department had supplied to the Information Commissioner about my request. The Cabinet Office refused to say. I did not want it to specify the nature of the documents; I asked how many documents the Cabinet Office had passed over to the ICO, but the shutters came down. This makes a mockery of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This issue involves someone who was given an honour, but he is in our legislature, down there—
He is up there voting on, formulating and participating in the laws of the land. I am talking not about the laws of Belize, but about the laws of the United Kingdom, so I want the new Information Commissioner to listen to what I am saying today and ensure that I have this information within the next four weeks. If I do not have it by then, I will raise this matter again when we return in October.
The House should not rise for the summer recess without addressing and resolving a situation facing a small but significant number of citizens of the United Kingdom who are being denied their right to “exportable benefits”. In October 2007, the European Court of Justice determined that aspects of disability living allowance, attendance allowance and carer’s allowance were sickness benefits, rather than “special non-contributory benefits” and were therefore exportable and payable to United Kingdom claimants living in other EU states and Switzerland. That decision has, potentially, a profound effect on the incomes and well-being of those who, having left the United Kingdom to take up residence in other EU states, had benefits to which they had previously been told they had an entitlement for life, summarily withdrawn in 1992.
Let us be clear: these are not rich people who have chosen to leave the United Kingdom to take their money with them and live in large villas with swimming pools; they are, by implication, all suffering from advancing disability, and most are elderly and drawing United Kingdom pensions. They have, throughout their working lives, paid UK taxes and national insurance contributions and have earned the right to those continuing benefits to which the ECJ says they are entitled. It would appear that there are about 2,000 to 3,000 such people and their moving abroad has probably saved the UK taxpayer significant sums in continuing health care costs.
Although the ECJ ruling was issued in October 2007, it was not until 24 February 2009 that the Department for Work and Pensions finally issued its eligibility criteria for the payment of exportable benefits. First, the Department has imposed a condition that claimants must have resided in the United Kingdom for 26 out of the previous 52 weeks before claiming—inevitably, many people who moved abroad before the ECJ ruling have found their claims rejected on those grounds. Secondly, claimants are told that their applications for reinstatement fall because they did not appeal within the time limits set following the original decision to terminate benefits. Given that the ECJ ruling was not announced until October 2007, that is clearly a condition designed to facilitate the rejection of claims for reinstatement, rather than to facilitate them. Indeed, in a letter to me dated 14 April 2009 the relevant Work and Pensions Minister said:
“Where no appeal was made, decisions made before the ECJ ruling on 18th October 2007 cannot now be revised because it was not until that court ruling that these decisions were shown to be errors in law”.
In other words, the Government were saying, “We acted erroneously in law but you should have known that before the ECJ ruling and lodged an appeal. Because you did not do that your claim is now out of time and we don’t have to pay you the money that the ECJ says is lawfully yours.” What an honourable Government should have done, as swiftly as practicably possible following the ECJ ruling in October of 2007, is to have written to every known claimant whose payments had been terminated by the Department and advised them that, following the ECJ decision, their claims were being reinstated and backdated. There should have been no requirement on the claimants to instigate action to regain that to which they were and are entitled.
One claimant, who has had his application rejected, is my constituent John Hamilton, now resident in France. Mr. Hamilton has 44 years of United Kingdom national insurance contributions behind him, paid during a long career in teaching and civil engineering. He had his eligibility to receive disability living allowance confirmed for life on 17 June 2002 while still resident in the UK. His last full payment of DLA was made, after he advised the DWP of an impending move to France, on 23 May 2006. Mr. Hamilton and his wife left to live in France on 9 June of that year.
On 13 March 2008 my constituent found on the internet a reference to the October 2007 ECJ ruling and wrote to the Department requesting reinstatement of his benefits. He was told that the exportability team were
“awaiting confirmation of the eligibility criteria”.
Following the publication of the long-awaited criteria in February of 2009, Mr. Hamilton received a letter telling him that a decision maker had rejected his claim. My constituent then submitted a request for an appeal hearing before an independent tribunal. To date he has received no date for a tribunal hearing and no satisfaction.
What Mr. Hamilton—and many others in a similar situation—should have received is an apology from the Department for the chaotic mismanagement and delay following the ECJ ruling, immediate reinstatement of his benefits and, in his case, backdated payments from the date of termination in May 2006. John Hamilton was claiming DLA before he left the UK. He was awarded it for life. The ECJ has ruled that he is entitled to this benefit, and he and others like him want and deserve their money without further delay.
If this Government and this Minister seek to prevaricate further at the expense of a few elderly and infirm UK citizens and their carers who have paid their dues to the United Kingdom, it will be to their eternal shame. I hope that when she comes to respond, the Minister will feel able to announce that all of those who have had their benefits terminated will now, and without further argument or appeal, have them reinstated along with reparation in the form of back payments. Nothing less will suffice.
There are several issues of importance to Plymouth that I could mention today, including how we could speed up the connectivity of broadband; how we respond to the Walker review of water supplies, in view of the high water costs in the south-west region, and how some fairness could be brought into the charging system; or the need for further investment in transport, given our peripherality. However, in the past few weeks, one issue has been raised with me frequently by telephone and letter, and that is the problems with leasehold managing agents.
In 2006-07, according to the English housing survey, more than 1.5 million households were owned leasehold, so about 11 per cent. of the total owner-occupied sector could be subject to management by a managing agent. Most leaseholders lead a problem-free existence and are happy with the way in which their properties are managed and their relationship with their freeholder. However, for a significant minority, this is not the case and most MPs will know from their casework in both the private rented and residential leasehold sector that people’s lives can be made a misery.
Typically, where a block of properties is owned leasehold, the freeholder appoints a managing agent to maintain the property, arrange building insurance and look after any communal areas. These managing agents will levy fees on the leaseholders for the provision of these services and should explain these charges—but that does not always happen, as I will explain later.
The managing agent sector is a multi-million pound industry, and one which is at the moment entirely without objective and independent scrutiny and regulation. In the last two months alone, I have had complaints about four separate managing agents. Many of the concerns raised have a common theme, and interestingly many of the properties affected in Plymouth are part of the portfolio that was sold off by the Ministry of Defence. The complex web of sales has been part of the problem for residential leaseholders, who have had difficulty tracking down their landlord and then the managing agent responsible for ensuring that works are carried out.
For example, a company called Novograde bought a tranche of ex-MOD properties from Annington Homes in Barne Barton. Novograde employed a company called Labyrinth Properties Ltd to manage that property. The Shorepoint residents came to me because they were receiving bills from Labyrinth for work which they claimed had never been carried out, and when they tried to contact the managing agent seeking the details of the maintenance being done, nothing was forthcoming. I tried to make contact with Novograde to see if it would put pressure on its agents. I also contacted a company called Galliard Homes whose name cropped up, but whose role was unclear. I contacted Labyrinth, to try to get them to talk to the residents. Sadly, none had the decency to respond to my request for a meeting.
Some progress now appears to have been made. Labyrinth has lost its contract to a company called TMS, and TMS has already been in touch with me and seems to be moving in a more positive direction. It has acknowledged that the area has been poorly managed and that the residents have not had the information to which they were entitled. Clearly the jury is still out, but I have encouraged TMS to engage with the residents and vice versa.
In the case of the Shorepoint properties, one issue of concern was the common areas, including play areas, which were neglected and potentially a health hazard. The problem was that no one was taking responsibility for those areas. Residents are often, and understandably, concerned with their own individual properties and simply expect the private landlord to ensure that the grounds are maintained, as their contracts provide. Common area maintenance is not initially residents’ first priority. However, when the exterior becomes overgrown and when residents are being charged for maintenance and nothing is being done, they get more than a little irritated. Some managing agents and freeholders will try to delay action and dispute land ownership to avoid paying out for remedial action. This of course often then puts pressure on the local authority—and the council tax payer—when it has to be called in to inspect areas and serve notices, if appropriate, on the landlord.
Leaseholders are often invoiced for works outside the legal timeframe, and invoices are sent out incorrectly—either too soon or with the urgency of a final demand without prior warning. In Vicarage gardens, St. Budeaux, there is now an active group of residents—lovely people—who are in some cases very frightened because they have received court summons and final demands for sums that they believe they have been incorrectly charged. Pier Management, which oversees these properties, again proved elusive until very recently. It has at last responded to letters I sent on behalf of a resident—an elderly woman—who had been sent a court summons for moneys which, when broken down, she had either paid or were in fact not due for some time. The lady in question has at least been reimbursed and I now understand that progress is being made with other residents.
However, some questions remain unanswered. The residents have not been allowed to see the insurance cover which exists for their buildings. These are a series of mainly maisonettes which have four properties in them and which are wholly free-standing. The residents want to know why they cannot organise their own buildings insurance. The managing agents simply say that all the properties should be insured as a single portfolio. I would welcome the Minister’s confirmation that that is in fact the case, and if it is, the issue should be revisited.
In another part of my patch, a company called Solitaire is the managing agent; again, until very recently and following my involvement, its unwillingness to speak to or meet residents has led to a serious breakdown in relations. It has now met residents, and its regional director has taken away their concerns. The residents produced figures showing that the percentage increase in charges was astronomical with no obvious improvement in the service offered. They quite rightly felt that this was unacceptable. I am pleased to say that yet again there has been some progress. Errors have been found in the company’s budget figures that make a considerable improvement in the charges levied.
Why is it acceptable for these companies not to provide the service for which leaseholders pay not inconsiderable sums annually? They should not have to engage the support of the local MP. Leaseholders should be able to access their landlord and know where to contact them. The same applies to private tenants, and I am pleased that the Government appear to be making progress towards changes in this regard.
I am not condemning all leasehold managing agents. The professional association is keen to see the sector cleaned up. Finally, I ask Ministers to give serious consideration to any legislative change to the practices of letting and managing agents of residential leasehold properties, because many companies offer both services and the abuses are the same.
I want to speak about aeroplanes, tax and flowers—a combination that probably has not been addressed by the House so far.
I shall speak first about planes. There has been much debate recently about Heathrow. I opposed the third runway there and I also oppose the development of the Thames estuary airport that is sometimes known as “Heathrow-on-Sea” or “Boris Island”. Whatever it is called, it is a rehash of the Maplin Sands proposal of the 1970s and it is wholly and totally inappropriate. However, I fully support the expansion of Southend airport.
That may appear contradictory, but the expansion of the facilities at Southend airport would be very positive for the town and the surrounding area. The main expansion would involve lengthening the runway from 1,605 to 1,799 metres. That would make Southend a successful regional airport with the capacity to serve 1 million to 2 million passengers, and so similar to the very successful airport at Southampton.
Southend’s economy is heavily interwoven with tourism, and a fully functioning passenger airport would provide a major boost to the town. However, Southend cannot rely on tourism alone, as it also needs to rely heavily on the business sector. The airport plays an important part in that respect as well.
Hi-Tec is a big company with its headquarters in Southend, to which it relocated mainly because of the existence of the airport and the capacity that it offered for staff to get around Europe. A larger airport would offer more passenger flights, and both Southend and Rochford councils have made a strong commitment to developing a business park. The airport already employs 1,300 people: its expansion would create at least another 1,000 jobs, but my gut feeling is that there would be a great many more.
There are always different views on airport expansion. I have received many letters and e-mails both supporting and opposing expansion. I conducted my own survey of local business people and 62 per cent. said that they supported expansion of the airport, with only 13 per cent. saying that they opposed it.
Politicians can disagree with each other as well. In our last recess Adjournment debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) set out some of his legitimate concerns about expansion, but the final decision rests with councillors in Southend and Rochford. I urge them to have some backbone: they should do what is right for the town and not worry about political point scoring. Some politicians in both towns have stepped up to the challenge, but not all. We should set aside party politics and do the right thing for Southend.
The consultation on the joint area action plan closed on 15 May. It was a mistake for the councils in Southend and Rochford to request the airport not to get involved and to stay silent. It was also a mistake by the Stobart Group to acquiesce in that and not to get out and sell the benefits of the airport. Now that the consultation is closed, there should be much more aggressive selling of the benefits that an expansion of Southend airport could bring, especially as we approach 2012. Southend is closer to London than Stansted, with faster journey times to the capital.
I turn now to the question of tax credits. I know that Mr. Speaker is keen to speed up responses to parliamentary questions, and I hope he will consider extending that to parliamentary correspondence as well. I have written to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury about my concerns about queries to the tax credits office and, given that over the next 10 days some of my constituents will fill in their tax credits renewal forms, that is a very appropriate matter to raise today.
Some families in my area have children leaving full-time education. If they do not notify the tax credits office of that, they could end up in receipt of an overpayment of tax credits and thus being fined more than £300. The system is a mess, and the responses from the tax credits office are poor, untimely and sometimes not especially comprehensive. The result is that several clarifications have to be issued, and the extended correspondence can cause confusion. It is a great disincentive to people taking on the extra work and promotions that would be notifiable to the tax credits office.
I turn now to flowers. I have noticed that Members of Parliament sometimes get the bit between their teeth about really small issues. Given the bigger issues such as the recession and the economy, it may seem odd to speak about Southend hospital’s decision to ban flowers, but things are sometimes symbolic. The ban on flowers is symbolic of a public institution that has lost touch with reality—one that has lost the common touch.
Ministers have said that the flower ban is a matter for the local hospital trust, but I am sure that if they seriously thought that flowers were a risk to health, they would issue national guidance on the matter. An article entitled “The Evidence Base and Infection Risks from Flowers in a Clinical Setting” was published in the British Journal of Infection Control in 2005, and I am sure that hon. Members of all parties will have read it in great detail. It states that there is no “robust evidence” that flowers cause a problem, and it goes on:
“Occasionally, new practices become part of clinical routines despite the lack of supporting evidence. Banning flowers from general hospital wards falls into this category.”
Another survey that I held found that more than 70 per cent. of people wanted to keep the display of flowers in hospital. The journalist Matthew Stanton spearheaded a campaign in the popular local newspaper the Yellow Advertiser, to which the majority of respondents also said that they wanted the hospital to allow flowers in the wards.
Last week, I went to the hospital at quite short notice to see a friend, and I found it to be dirty, depressing and disorganised. The visit confirmed some of my worst fears, and the hospital’s failure to see common sense on flowers is on the same level as the failures that have caused it to become dirty and have poor patient flows. Despite its multi-million pound budget, the chairs are crumbling and there is not a decent one to sit on. The ragged signs on the walls telling one where to go suggest that the operation there is not run in a professional way. The symbolism of the ban on flowers represents a much greater problem at Southend hospital, and it is a problem that I hope the hospital addresses.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Appropriation (No. 2) Act 2009
Finance Act 2009
Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009
Political Parties and Elections Act 2009
Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.
Neville Chamberlain once talked about
“a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”
That could apply to the subject that I want to raise today—the recent military coup in Honduras.
People probably do not know much about Honduras, but the journal Business Week tells us:
“Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Two-thirds of its 7.8 million citizens live below the poverty line…The country has one of Latin America’s most unequal distributions of wealth: the poorest 10 per cent. of the population receives just 1.2 per cent. of the country’s wealth, while the richest 10 per cent. collect 42 per cent.”
President Zelaya was elected to lead the country in 2005. A member of the Honduras Liberal party, he was a wealthy rancher and a man of the centre or centre right. Under pressure of events, however, he began to change his politics and he implemented several progressive measures during his time in office. He raised the minimum wage by 60 per cent.—something that new Labour might note. He also gave out free school lunches and provided milk for babies and pensions for the elderly. He cut the cost of public transport, made scholarships available for students and forged alliances with the progressive Governments in the continent of Latin America such as those of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
President Zelaya also sought to institutionalise many of his progressive developments with constitutional change. The non-binding poll of the public that he proposed for 28 June was aimed at gauging support for a proposed constituent assembly to redraft the constitution ahead of a ballot in November. This is the translation of the question:
“Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?”
That step was too much for the military, and as a result, on 28 June—the day the ballot was supposed to take place—the President was kidnapped, bundled on to a plane and flown out of the country, and the military junta and the leading oligarchs in the country came together to form what is effectively an illegal Government.
The Honduran junta has rightly been almost totally isolated. It has been rejected by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Organisation of American States and the European Union, among others. It is rare that I pay tribute to Ministers, but I pay tribute to the newly installed Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has responsibility for Latin America. He responded very quickly and efficiently and made a statement to put on record Britain’s opposition to the coup. It is also important that the EU yesterday suspended more than $90 million in aid to Honduras in the wake of the coup.
However, such opposition has so far been ineffectual in restoring Zelaya to government and stronger action is needed. Obviously, that stronger action should come from America, because at the end of the day, it calls the shots in what is historically its back yard. There were hopes of real change with the election of President Obama, but we can see that there are tensions within the American Government. Clinton, the Secretary of State, is possibly somewhat enamoured of the new regime and does not want to take the action that others in America would like. If the US is to break with the past and work with people rather than against them, as President Obama told the conference of Latin American leaders it wants to, the steps that he must take are clear. The Honduran Government—or rather, the supposed Government—must be replaced and a democratically elected President must be installed.
We hear lots about human rights in the media, but since the coup on 28 June that installed Roberto Micheletti, the regime has unleashed a wave of repression of human rights. Protesters and political activists have been killed, 1,300 people have been arrested, and there have been curfews, widespread media censorship and the violation of other civil liberties.
That is important, because although we have joked in the past about banana republics and Governments being changed on a monthly or daily basis, most of Latin America has emerged from that darkness and the people have begun to take charge of their destiny. We have seen that throughout the Latin American continent, including central America. The military junta represents an attempt to turn the clock back to those dark, dark days. If those dark days return, it will mean real hardship for the millions of people in central and Latin America.
I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will re-confirm that the UK is absolutely and implacably opposed to the Honduran military regime, and that the UK will do all it can to restore the democratically elected regime.
The Isle of Wight shares many problems with the mainland, and has a few of its own. My time as the island’s MP is often taken up addressing those matters and explaining their importance to the House and to Ministers. With that in mind, I should like to extend my thanks to certain Ministers for their help this year with issues that have affected my constituents.
Three months ago the right hon. and learned Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), then a Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate change, contacted me with news that Vestas was planning to close its operation on the Isle of Wight. Later I wrote to the First Secretary of State, Lord Mandelson, to ask for his support and advice. Vestas is a hugely profitable Danish company and has operations across the world. Until recently, it operated England’s only wind turbine manufacturing facility, in my constituency. It was one of only two in Britain—the other was a small Scottish Government-funded operation.
Following announcements that Vestas was to shut its Newport operation, several meetings were held. The Minister for the South East, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), visited my constituency when he was looking into the matter and ensured that help was given to people seeking new employment. I thank him for his time.
I attended a private meeting with a delegation from the Isle of Wight TUC and others from the island, including the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate, Mark Chiverton. A public meeting was held and it attracted a wide audience from across the island and several people from the mainland. Needless to say, Vestas employees and my constituents generally were dismayed at the company’s decision. Vestas announced record profits on the same day that it broke the news that it was closing its facility with the loss of 600 jobs. Vestas is not cutting jobs because of the recession or because of a need to downsize; it has decided that it will be more profitable to manufacture wind turbines in the United States and China, without a thought for the highly skilled workers that it leaves behind.
When it originally came to the island nine years ago it received a £3.5 million Government subsidy, which contributed to the costs it incurred moving from the mainland. Less than a decade later it is leaving, despite that sizable taxpayer-funded financial support. That is why, when public money supports private companies, it is important for it to be directed to companies and businesses that are firmly rooted in the local economy.
Since writing to Lord Mandelson on the matter, I have received no reply. I find it disappointing that he could not find time to speak to me about this important issue, especially when I see him on television daily. However, I believe in giving credit where it is due. I thank the Ministers whom I mentioned for their efforts to convince Vestas to remain open on the island. I understand that all avenues were investigated—even subsidies were offered—but with no success. Subsidies, it seems, were not what Vestas was after.
Only last week Lord Mandelson was congratulating himself on the launch of the new low carbon industrial strategy. I hope that he considers Vestas to be a serious loss to the future of our low-carbon economy. Government plans state that around 7,000 wind turbines are to be installed across Britain in the coming years. It seems unfortunate that such green technology will have to be manufactured overseas and shipped here.
The loss of those 600 jobs has been a body blow to the island’s economy, especially during the recession. Since Monday evening, protesters against the closure of Vestas have been occupying the site. I understand their frustration and I am sympathetic to their concerns. Not only is Vestas leaving the workers high and dry, it is doing so with very poor redundancy packages. Those who have worked at the site for two years or more are entitled to only twice the statutory pay. Those who have worked for less time will receive less still. As I understand it, there were no negotiations with workers on the redundancy packages. I find that totally unacceptable, and it reflects very poorly on a company as profitable as Vestas.
The South East England Development Agency has arranged a series of open days for Vestas staff to help them to find suitable jobs. They are a highly skilled and capable work force and I am confident that they will find work in the near future.
On another matter, I must ask why the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property has failed to produce a full response to a letter from a constituent of mine concerning the Student Loans Company dated 22 April. In late June, via a parliamentary question, I asked when the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills planned to provide a substantive reply to my constituent’s letters. Here we are in late July, and I still await a proper response to my letter. I received a brief reply on 5 July but it was in no way satisfactory. The matter is particularly pressing for the constituents concerned, and they cannot afford to wait any longer. I hope for a full response from the Minister as quickly as possible. The delay is unacceptable.
Finally—although I had planned to speak for much longer—I can tell the House that we are getting on with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its Ministers, and we hope that we will be able to deal with the problem of fallen stock on the island fairly shortly.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all right hon. and hon. Members a happy and productive holiday—although in my opinion it is too long.
I shall touch on a topic mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). He said that he would not speak for seven minutes, and I promise the House that I shall not speak for as long as that.
I want to lay before the House the difficulties I have experienced in pursuing an alleged case of fraud against the NHS. In September 2007 allegations were made to me that a local doctor was passing off his private patients as NHS patients in one of our local hospitals—Arrowe Park, part of Wirral hospital trust. I wrote to the trust to ask for a meeting, which was held in November 2007, when I requested the information held by the trust about its investigation of the fraud. I suggested simple steps that the trust might take to find out whether the fraud was more widespread and involved other doctors. Both my request and my suggestion were refused.
In January 2008, under the Freedom of Information of Act 2000, I asked the trust for information about the inquiries that it said it had undertaken. After some delay, the trust refused to give the information. In July 2008 I applied to the Information Commissioner for a ruling that I should have access to the trust’s surveys of that case of alleged fraud. Almost a year later—to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle—the commissioner turned down my request, so I wrote to the Information Tribunal disputing that decision. The tribunal replied that it would of course receive my application, and that of course there could be a hearing, but if I lost the case, all the costs of the inquiry and the tribunal costs would land on my doorstep.
I do not expect the Minister to reply tonight, but I would be grateful if one of her colleagues could look into that matter. Is there not a difference between us as private citizens wanting information under the Freedom of Information Act, and Members of Parliament wanting to pursue—as I am in this instance—an alleged case of fraud in which a national health service doctor is passing off his private patients as NHS patients? In terms of the costs, I think there is a real distinction to be made.
I shall pursue the case, although I have no idea what the costs will be. However, I hope that before then the Government will take the decision that people in public positions, such as MPs, who take cases on behalf of the public good, to protect public funds, should be treated differently in terms of costs from the litigious constituents who are to some extent clogging up the freedom of information process.
I start by reflecting on the fact that in the county council elections this year, the Conservatives took control of Derbyshire county council for the first time in 28 years. I congratulate Andrew Lewer, the county councillor for Ashbourne, on becoming leader of the council. The last time we took control of Derbyshire county council was in 1977, which was followed by the famous election victory of my noble Friend the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher. I hope that what we have achieved in Derbyshire is the precursor of an event that may take place in the not too distant future—whenever the next general election is held.
A few moments ago, Madam Deputy Speaker, you read out the names of a number of Bills that had received Royal Assent and had become Acts of Parliament. I want to talk about a Bill that was taken through the House some years ago: the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.
I have received a letter from the headmaster of Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Ashbourne—before people draw the conclusion that that is a grammar school, I point out that it is, in fact, an 11-to-18 comprehensive school. The headmaster is concerned about the implications of the Act for hosting foreign students. He wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, from which I shall quote:
“From November 2010 any family hosting a child under the age of 18 must have one adult, considered to be primarily responsible, registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority, i.e. a CRB check must be made. Aside from the cost, and we do not know who will pay, I wonder how many people will be willing to undergo this imposition. It is intended to ensure child safety yet there will be adults in every household who will not need to be checked.”
Only one adult needs to be checked. The letter continues:
“However the questionable effectiveness of such a scheme is totally undermined by the fact that no similar checks, beyond the informal ones we currently do…have to be undertaken by the host schools with whom we exchange students in France, Germany or the USA. Every Derbyshire Head to whom I have spoken assumes it will be the end of school exchanges.”
Surely the Government cannot have intended that to be the case. The Act, like so many others, has unintended consequences.
Much can be gained from foreign exchanges for schools, and I am concerned that the regulations being applied to local authorities and schools will rule out such things. We have several times heard the Secretary of State say that he wants to encourage such exchanges, because he believes they are good for the development of individuals. I believe that too, but unless the Government take some action to change the regulations, they will lead to the ending of all those foreign exchanges. As with so much of the legislation we pass, good arguments were made about the measure, but when we see the reality of its coming into effect we wonder how we ever allowed it.
The Government have treated the victims of Equitable Life disgracefully. The simple fact is that the Government have had the report for some time. Last November, the Prime Minister told us that we would have a statement on Equitable Life before Christmas. The statement came after Christmas and, as ever with the Government, time after time there have been delays. A lot of people are suffering great hardship because the Government did not move faster to deal with the problems. People who have done the right thing and invested for their future have been let down by the failure of the regulator. The victims of Equitable Life deserved to be looked after more quickly than the Government have pursued the matter.
My constituency has a huge rural area and we are suffering badly from bovine TB. The Government should pay much more attention to the subject. They have hung on for far too long; as the disease has spread through cattle it has cost the state more than £600 million. In West Derbyshire we have a specific problem with bovine TB. We have waited for reports, but the Government now have a huge number of them, and they need to take action urgently.
Time is short, so I have raised just three issues that are very important in my constituency. There are many other such issues, but I know that other colleagues want to speak.
I wish to raise the case of the prisoner, Ronnie Biggs. A fortnight ago the Secretary of State for Justice made a decision on his case. His son, Michael Biggs, invited me to visit him in prison, HMP Norwich. I applied to the governor to visit. I wanted to see if this 80-year-old was a threat to society. His son said that his health was frail, so I wanted to see what sort of condition he was in, and how that related to the Secretary of State’s decision. My application to visit was turned down by the governor, which I think is quite exceptional.
I wrote to Ministers and I received a reply from the Justice Secretary, who wrote that the governor, Mr. Paul Baker, thought that
“such a visit would cause significant disruption to the hospital on top of the disruption which the hospital has already experienced.”
I was surprised at that. I still think it was the wrong decision, but the Secretary of State went on to say:
“That said, I also think it is reasonable to ask him to facilitate such a visit in the future”.
I hope that that will take place, but it was wrong, in my opinion, to deny me a visit in such circumstances.
The real issue is the Secretary of State’s decision to overturn the Parole Board’s recommendation that Mr. Biggs be released. That was an unreasonable and cruel decision, and there is some evidence that has been put forward by some lawyers that it was a misuse of power and, indeed, ultra vires. Clearly, Mr. Biggs had to spend his time in prison, but his 30-year sentence was excessive. I looked up the Dome diamond robbers, who I think are pretty comparable to those who took part in the great train robbery. Two of them got 18 years, two got 15 years and one got five years. Mr. Biggs would have been released if he had received such a sentence. His sentence was excessive in the first place. It is more comparable to the sentences passed on serious sex offenders and mass murderers, and was inappropriate.
Mr. Biggs has now served 10 years after surrendering in 2001. He was eligible for parole and was recommended for parole. The reason given for not granting him that was that he was not repentant. I have a letter from Mr. Chris Pickard, who was the ghost writer behind Ron’s autobiography, “Odd Man Out”. He states:
“I do, therefore, have to question who is advising and briefing Mr. Straw as most of what he has said about Ron in his ruling is simply factually wrong.”
Mr. Pickard continues:
“To say Ron is unrepentant goes against all the interviews Ron has given on the subject over the years and what he wrote in his autobiography in 1994. Ron has always abhorred violence and has not committed a crime since escaping from HMP Wandsworth back in 1965, other than entering a number of countries on a false passport. Why after over 44 years would Ron, who may never now walk again, return to a life of crime and how would he pull it off in his current state of health?”
To say that Mr. Biggs is unrepentant is plain wrong, and to say that he could benefit from crime is ludicrous. This is an ill man, who can hardly walk; I shall say a little about his ill health. He is not going on a speaking tour. He cannot earn from his crime—that would be against the law. It is the media who are imposing themselves on him, not Ron imposing himself on them, and that will happen anyway when he is released, unless he dies in prison, as some officials in the Home Office seem to want. That is unreasonable.
There is some dubiety—I think some craziness—about the legal powers being exercised by the Justice Secretary, using a law that has been repealed and another that was overruled by the Law Lords in 2002. There is massive inconsistency. The Secretary of State will not intervene in cases of murderers who have received life sentences, but he says that he can in cases involving lower offences, such as that of Mr. Biggs. He says that he cannot intervene on future cases, because the law has been changed, but he can on past cases. That is wholly inconsistent.
A case is being made by Mr. Biggs’s son, Michael, that there was some political element to the decision. The day before, the Secretary of State made a decision in relation to Michael Shields, the Liverpool man who is in prison in Bulgaria. He decided not to let him go, which I think was the wrong decision, but once he had made that decision, he had to make a similar decision in respect of Ronnie Biggs. Both were unreasonable decisions, and the motivation in the Ronnie Biggs case was unreasonable.
In reply to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) on the matter, the Leader of the House said that the Justice Secretary had made his decision to keep Ronnie Biggs in prison in the public interest. What public interest is there in keeping a frail 80-year-old man, who has served 10 years, in prison? It is a cruel penal policy, which many organisations for the elderly and the Prison Reform Trust say it is wrong to inflict on the increasing number of people in their 70s and 80s in prison, despite the fact that the severity of the crimes involved has not increased. Why do we have such elderly people in prison, when they should be outside?
My last point concerns Mr. Biggs’ ill health. He has suffered three strokes, cannot walk, cannot talk, cannot go to the toilet without a bag, has a nasal gastric feed, has broken his hip and his pelvis, has injured his spine, has acute pneumonia and is currently in Norwich general hospital. This is a man who is a threat to society, according to the Secretary of State for Justice. That is ridiculous. The decision should be reconsidered. It is not in the public interest to have an inhumane penal policy. We should have a humane policy, so I ask that it be reconsidered.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen). I hope he will forgive me for not following his line, as I intend to begin by speaking about a group of people whom I regard as more deserving of our sympathy and support—the victims of the Equitable Life debacle. Today’s statement by the Chief Secretary was extremely disappointing. It continues a saga that has gone on for almost 10 years, whereby the Government have delayed and ducked and weaved in order to try and avoid their responsibilities in relation to the victims of Equitable Life.
Today, in response to the challenge from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who asked why the Government did not table a substantive motion on the subject in order to see whether that gets the support of Parliament, the answer from the Chief Secretary was that that was a matter for the business managers. Will the Deputy Leader of the House, as a business manager on duty tonight, tell the House tonight that as soon as Parliament returns in the autumn, the Government will table a substantive motion on Equitable Life? If she cannot give such an undertaking, will she explain why?
The issue should be one for Parliament, rather than for the Government. After all, we talk about the parliamentary ombudsman. The cynical way in which the Government are responding to the crisis, which seriously affects groups of elderly people in all our constituencies, is contributing to bringing the House into disrepute and making it appear as though we are some way removed from the interests of our constituents. I hope the Minister will address that challenge when she responds.
Another matter which I hope the hon. Lady will address is what is happening to the regional spatial strategy for the south-west. My constituents and others elsewhere in the south-west have been waiting for years for a final determination of the regional spatial strategy. They were told by the Government that that information would be made available at the end of June. I tabled a question to obtain that information which was answered on 16 June. The then Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), stated:
“We intended to issue the final Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West at the end of June. However, on 20 May, the High Court issued a judgment that the previously issued Regional Spatial Strategy for the East of England had failed to meet certain requirements”.
The Minister went on to say that it was impossible for the Government to
“reach a clear view until the written judgment is issued…It is not possible to set a new timetable, until the implications of the judgment have been clarified.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2009; Vol. 496, c. 208W.]
The latest information was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) in a parliamentary answer on 9 July, in which the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin) said:
“On 20 May, the High Court gave an oral judgment about the published Regional Strategy for the East of England…The Department and the Government Office for the south-west are currently considering the potential implications for the Regional Spatial Strategy for the south-west, and an announcement is expected shortly.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 960W.]
Given its meaning in common parlance, I would expect “shortly” to refer to a date before 21 July.
I should like to ask the Deputy Leader of the House two questions. First, when will we get the Government’s response to the regional spatial strategy for the south-west? Secondly, will she guarantee that that response will not be issued during the parliamentary recess, making it impossible to hold the Government to account? I am sure that she can make a statement to confirm that, because the Government have not been able to do anything about this during the parliamentary Session until this stage in July, so they should not make an announcement when the House is not sitting. It is relevant that the South-West Regional Grand Committee is meeting in Exeter in 3 September, and it would be a pity if information on that regional spatial strategy was bounced on the Committee just before that date. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can give me a specific response.
Finally, I want to flag up the important inquiry that the Procedure Committee has launched into the way in which we appoint the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers. I hope that the news that we are undertaking such an inquiry will ensure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and your fellow Deputies have a more enjoyable vacation than might otherwise be possible, as I think that the air has been cleared, and it is obvious that your future is assured for much longer than might have been thought likely after Mr. Speaker’s statement on 2 July. I hope that Mr. Speaker himself will give evidence to the Procedure Committee and can comment on the Procedure Committee report from the 2001-02 Session. The Committee determined that
“it is entirely possible that the House might in future choose a Speaker from one party at a time when two of the three sitting Deputy Speakers were also members of that party. In such circumstances it would be unfair to expect a sitting Deputy Speaker to resign merely to re-balance the team.”
I think that when Mr. Speaker made his statement on 2 July, he overlooked that point. He overlooked, too, the statement in the Procedure Committee report that the present system is—
Year 5 at St. Christopher’s school in my constituency of Brent, North is not usually the final year for pupils. However, on 18 May 2009, parents were notified that St. Christopher’s would not run a year 6 class from this September. Parents were given two months to plan their children’s future before the end of the school year, which is in breach of the contract between parents and Happy Child Ltd, which runs St. Christopher’s school—some people may think that is a misnomer in the circumstances. I wrote at that point to Ms Tracey Storey, the managing director of Happy Child, asking her to clarify precisely when Happy Child began to consider that alternative provision for those children might be required, and to explain why absolutely no consultation with parents had taken place before 18 May to discuss their understandable concerns.
I was extremely concerned—and still am—about the impact of Happy Child’s decision on other parents and children in the school. Such a decision undermines the confidence of parents whose children are in year 4 and below and who expect their children to continue to be taught at the school until the end of year 6. I asked Ms Tracey Storey to clarify Happy Child’s plans for year 6 teaching for the children currently in year 4 and below.
Changing school is a stressful experience at any time, and it is normal for children to take time to settle in and make new friends. Year 6 is a critical year for many of those children, as they sit SATs and other examinations in preparation for their secondary school education. Such a change in the lives of those children can only be detrimental to their educational attainment and their future success. The parents tell me that their children were looking forward to being in the top year of the school and having the chance to be elected to positions of responsibility—being prefects and so on—and they are concerned that their children will miss out on those opportunities if they are removed from St. Christopher’s. There are other issues about which the parents are concerned, including the additional cost of having to purchase a new school uniform, which raises the wider issue of compensation.
I therefore asked Ms Tracey Storey to confirm what she and Happy Child would do about issues such as compensation, as well as the fact that the school had failed to give the required notice, as set out in the contractual provisions between it and the parents. She replied that she was not prepared to discuss
“Happy Child’s decision to ensure the viability of our business”.
There was not one mention of regret or the effect on the children and their lives, or of the breach of contract with the parents. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to speak with the appropriate Minister in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. At a time when children are going off on their summer holidays, can we ensure that those children in particular become happy children, not Happy Child’s victims?
I want briefly to raise another issue that affects my constituency. Bailiffs are out of control in Brent, and the council is instructing them, even in cases in which it had entered into agreements with my constituents that they could pay their debts by instalment. We are all aware of the effects of the recession, and debt is likely to be on the rise. It is important that public institutions and bodies act appropriately. It is absolutely right that they should agree to make payment by instalment available to debtors who wish to enter into such agreements. Unfortunately, Brent council has not seen fit to do so in the case of Mr. and Mrs. J who, on 29 July 2008, received a council tax vetting form that stated:
“The customer is agreeing to pay for himself and his wife’s share, equal to £245.60 of £739.06. The Council will have to make a decision if this is acceptable. The customer is able to pay by direct debit in 5 payments.”
Despite the fact that Brent council failed to write to Mr. and Mrs. J, it instructed bailiffs, who arrived at their house on 9 December, asking for £1,142.91. My constituents had to pawn some jewellery to pay that amount. The bailiffs then contacted them again, stating that they owed a further £764.06, and Mr. J sent a letter to the council offering to pay the amount in five instalments. The council agreed to accept payment by instalments and, I am pleased to say, has now, after investigating the matter, agreed that it was mistaken to instruct the bailiffs.
Unfortunately, the council has not agreed as much in the case of Mr. F, regarding a council tax debt. On 1 July 2009, Equita Bailiffs visited his property to collect a debt of £2,300. The bailiffs did not see Mr. F, but they pressurised his aged and sick mother, who was not the debtor, to go to the bank and withdraw the full amount to pay off her son’s debts.
Finally, there is the case of Mrs. T—
The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) opened the debate this afternoon at breathtaking speed. He did not quite leave himself breathless, but I was impressed by the number of different subjects that he was able to cover in the relatively short time that is available to us today. I have common cause with him about the Government’s incredible approach to the future of tax offices, which, in Galashiels and Hawick in my constituency, have been left in complete limbo. Highly skilled and professional staff are unsure about their future. I echo also some of the hon. Gentleman’s comments on fuel duty and Equitable Life, which others have repeated in the debate.
I shall return in a minute to manufacturing, one of the hon. Gentleman’s main themes, but, first, I should like to pick up on the comments from the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), who made some criticisms of local hospitals in his constituency. I appreciate that his comments were very specific and about circumstances that are unknown to me, but for my part I put on the record a great tribute to the consultants, midwives, nurses and others in the Borders general hospital, where—I hope the House will allow me the indulgence—my daughter, Ella, was born eight weeks ago. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I thank hon. Ladies and Gentlemen for their reaction to that fact.
I was really taken by the professionalism and dedication of the hospital’s staff. I was obviously focused on my experience and the health of my wife, Alison, and daughter, Ella, but I also saw at close hand over many days the dedication of those staff and their need and ability to switch between so many different, pressing cases all the time. It was the best insight that I have had into the national health service in all the years that I have been a Member. We can never praise sufficiently those who serve in the health service.
The personal is important to us in our work as Members, and I should like to turn to another encounter. In Hawick in my constituency on Saturday, I joined many others from the town to celebrate the gathering there of the clan Turnbull, a very proud and historic family in the area. While I stood waiting for the pipe band as it marched along to the unveiling of a new sculpture, however, a lady appeared out of the crowd beside me. She was very angry, perturbed and keen to impress upon me the scale of the problems for members of her family who have lost their jobs in the past year.
My constituency is the centre of the UK’s cashmere knitting industry. The people of Hawick, Galashiels, Selkirk, Innerleithen, which I used to represent, and other areas all contribute to a world-class industry, but in the past year the unemployment statistics, which have doubled in my part of the world, have been largely changed by the terrible experience of many in that sector. They have been losing those jobs, and that lady was very intent—I assure the House that she made her point—on getting across to me the human suffering of her children, her grandchildren, their friends and others in the town who have lost their jobs in recent months, and of those who fear greatly for the future of their jobs.
Indeed, I fear that unless we see urgent action from the Government now to tackle not only the general problems of manufacturing but the specifics of textiles, we will see many more job losses. Last week, I met the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), who has responsibility for manufacturing. Alongside me was Mr. Ken Pasternak, a gentleman from Denmark who, with some supporters, has invested a considerable portion of his wealth in Peter Scott and Co. in the town. Mr. Pasternak went along not just as a senior industrialist in his own right, but as the leader of the Scottish Cashmere Club, and he therefore spoke on behalf of the whole industry. I have met him and many others countless times, and with his colleagues he has been battering to get attention from the Scottish Government. So far, however, he has been very disappointed at the lack of practical measures offered by the powers-that-be in Edinburgh.
The items on the agenda for the meeting with the Minister last week were very focused. Mr. Pasternak is concerned, and I share his worries, about the export credit insurance support arrangements, which have been put before the House and are now being implemented, because they are largely focused on the domestic trading of UK manufacturing. The cashmere sector is a huge export earner and needs support for its exports, but it has not been given any, so I hope that the Minister will re-think that policy.
Mr. Pasternak re-emphasised the point that many right hon. and hon. Members have made in the House countless times—the need for companies to access good banking facilities. Many have growing order books but see their credit shrink before their eyes, and many do not get credit because they cannot get trade export insurance. We now own those banks, which are on the front line when it comes to lending decisions, so I urge the Minister and those in the Treasury to go into those banks, examine the decisions and understand why world-class businesses with good order books may be throttled because of the lack of available cash.
Mr. Pasternak also highlighted the need for product development support, along the lines that the Italians and others on the continent of Europe have offered to their local businesses. He echoed a point that many business men and women in the borders and elsewhere have put to me—the need to focus on skills and skills retention. Many in short-time working could be put into good, productive training if there were the support for it, so I hope that the Government will finally—belatedly—see sense.
Mr. Pasternak said that his industry was in a crisis moment, and I echo that point. I do not want to meet that constituent again and have her tell me that more job losses have affected her family. I want us to put a stop to that, and I urge the Government to take urgent action before it is too late.
Thank you very much for calling me to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is always a delight to take part in such Adjournment debates, and it is excellent to see so many people here tonight joining the regulars.
I wish to raise several constituency issues before the House adjourns. The first is about compensation for former Icelandic water trawlermen. In Hansard today, it was announced that an estimated £10 million is being made available further to compensate 1,000 men, or their families, who lost their livelihoods as a direct result of Government action following the cod wars. The scheme will open on 31 July and the first payments should be with people before Christmas. I raised the issue in previous Adjournment debates, and it only goes to show that if we are persistent in raising such subjects, we do get through to the right people eventually.
The second issue—this is the one where I want Ministers to listen—is about business rates in ports. Port-based businesses in my constituency are being asked to pay business rates backdated as far as 2005, following the Valuation Office Agency’s revaluation of their businesses. However, the firms say that they have already paid business rates, via a cumulo system, to Associated British Ports. Some companies are being asked to pay literally millions of pounds in backdated rates, and it is threatening jobs in my constituency. Thankfully, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has met MPs who represent port areas and finally his officials are speaking on behalf of port businesses to legal representatives. I hope that at last we will be able to reach a solution to the problem before too many jobs are lost.
My third issue is the east coast main line. As everybody will appreciate, following all the shenanigans that have gone on, the line is likely to be taken into public ownership later this year. That gives me cause for concern because National Express had promised to run a direct rail service between Grimsby and Cleethorpes and London King’s Cross. We do not know now whether that will go ahead. It is important for there to be such improved transport links, to maintain the economy and encourage investment in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area. During a Westminster Hall debate on the matter, a Minister confirmed that services from London King’s Cross would be extended to Lincoln. But I want them to go the extra 50 miles or so to the coast, to Grimsby and Cleethorpes, so that our economy can benefit from those direct links.
I turn to the Humber bridge tolls. There was an inquiry into them in March this year. The bridge board wanted to put up the tolls, but local MPs are saying that we do not want that to happen and that the tolls are already far too high. The Minister has received the report from the inquiry. I want to say on behalf of all the business representatives, councils, other MPs and residents that we do not want the tolls to go up. We want Ministers to agree to have a year-long trial of reduced tolls, involving a token charge of about £1 to cross the Humber bridge. That is the decision that we want from Ministers when we come back after the recess.
People would think that free school meals for all primary-aged children in North East Lincolnshire was a good-news story—but, oh no, it is not. Our area was among those selected to bid to be a pilot project for free school meals for all primary-age children. However, the local authority said that it could not find enough match funding to put in a bid to go ahead with the policy. Yet that same local authority—North East Lincolnshire council—invested £7 million of public money in Icelandic banks days before they collapsed. Every inquiry into the council’s activities has criticised it, and there has been a vote of no confidence in its Liberal Democrat leader. Yet he continues to wend his merry way, saying that he is not resigning, that it had nothing to do with him anyway and that it was all the officers’ fault.
What strikes me as odd about the situation is that a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition used to run the council. But the Conservatives are doing what I call “a bit of a Dallas”—they have forgotten the past five years, when they were in coalition with the Lib Dems and all these things were going on, and they are saying, “That’s nothing to do with us either, guv.” Frankly, they were all in the cabinet together and lost £7 million of public money. That has affected investment projects in our area, and it is shocking.
Finally, I turn to early-day motion 1829. It was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby), and my hon. Friend for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) was one of those who supported it. I encourage people to look at the early-day motion, which is about protecting our war memorial heritage and making sure that the architecture and memorials are not threatened by development and that we preserve them for the future of this country.
I wish everybody a most wonderful break. If people want to visit the British seaside, they should know that Cleethorpes has the most wonderful beach and the best fish and chips in Britain. Please come to Cleethorpes, which is wonderful. I hope that everyone enjoys their holidays.
I commence by paying tribute to our brave armed forces, who, while we sit in comfort, safety and security, are in the fields of Afghanistan defending our freedoms and ensuring that that nation does not return to being a failed state in which the Taliban can regroup and from which they could re-emerge on the streets of Europe, including this country. It is sad that today we have again lost one of our servicemen, from the joint service explosive ordnance disposal units. Our thoughts and prayers go to that man’s family, and we salute his courage.
When we send our forces into harm’s way, it is incumbent on us all to think carefully about whether we should do so in a way that raises questions about the kit and equipment with which they are sent into battle. In the past few weeks, there has been a debate about helicopters; it may now have moved off the immediate front pages, but it is a fact that our armed forces need more helicopters. It is also a fact that our NATO allies are not providing the support that they could. I hope that more nations will look at their own helicopter support for allies on the ground, and for British troops in particular.
However, the issue is about not only helicopters, but armoured vehicles. Although some of our armed forces prefer to use Snatch Land Rovers, weapons-mounted installation kit Land Rovers or other forms of lightly armoured vehicle, there is no doubt that there is a call for more heavily armoured, albeit mobile, vehicles as well. I hope that the Minister will give some assurance this evening that those issues are being taken seriously.
Of course, there is also a need for more troops on the ground. If we win the space, we need to hold the space; if we do not hold the space, those who have lost their lives in winning the space might have died in vain. None of us would want that. The families of those who have died would certainly want the victories won on the ground to be sustained. They would want the space in which we have won victories to be enlarged.
I also hope that the nations surrounding Afghanistan will do all they can to ensure that there is no increased threat to our personnel. For example, there have been reports that Chinese nationals have been found in Afghanistan. The Chinese Government need to ensure that the border with Afghanistan is secure and that any fundamentalist seeking to cross it is intercepted and dealt with appropriately.
Furthermore, this Government have the responsibility to ensure that any British nationals found to be shooting and targeting our armed forces personnel in Afghanistan are dealt with appropriately. If, for example, DNA profiles from improvised explosive devices or bomb fragments match known DNA profiles on the British database, it is only right that the Government should give an account of what action, if any, is taken to bring the relevant British subjects before the courts.
In the brief time that I have, I should also like to pay tribute to General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff. He has dedicated most of his adult life to serving this country and Her Majesty’s armed forces. It is regrettable that some Ministers have been briefing against him; that does not assist our armed forces on the ground and it does nothing to help morale. The Prime Minister promised that such briefings from other people should be dealt with severely. I hope that if Ministers are caught briefing against any senior members of the military, they will be disciplined accordingly. Our armed forces on the ground want a Government and a senior military, yes, to engage in discussion, and yes, perhaps occasionally to disagree, but they certainly do not want Ministers briefing against the head of the Army while we are at war.
Finally, I should like to touch on the defence training review—the largest private finance initiative in British history. It was originally costed at £12 billion; within the past 12 months, the cost has risen to £13 billion. As I have said previously in the House, this is a privatisation too far. I am not against privatisation of some elements of support services for the military, but it needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis. It is clear that RAF St. Athan in Wales is not in a position to deliver the type of training that is currently delivered on other sites—for example, at RAF Cosford in my constituency. It is no good the Government driving ahead with this project, the cost of which is increasing week by week, with £100 million in direct and indirect subsidy even within the past nine months. Ministers need to look again at this project to ensure that they do not endanger Her Majesty’s armed forces’ training for the future, particularly given that we are in a time of war.
I should like to thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your patience with me and support for me over the past few months. I wish you a happy recess.
May I associate myself with the tribute that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) paid to our armed forces? Having spent a year with the armed forces parliamentary scheme, including a trip to Afghanistan, I was massively impressed by our young people in the armed forces here, and that was exceeded only by seeing them in action in Afghanistan, where the work that they are doing is in our national interest. All the lives that have sadly been lost there will have served to make the world a freer and a better place. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must ensure that those enormously brave young people are properly equipped and that there are enough of them to do the very important job that they have been given.
I wish to talk about a planning issue that particularly affects my constituency. By the time we come back after the recess, the consultation will have been completed and decisions will have been taken, and plans that will shape my constituency, and those of my neighbours, for many years to come will practically be at the point of going off to the regional office. West Northamptonshire joint planning unit is drawing up proposals for many thousands of new houses and industrial units for Northampton, and it proposes to turn the town into a city. I have spoken to my neighbour, the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) about this, because a number of the plans affect his constituency as much as, if not more than mine. We are both extremely concerned not only about the proposals but about how they are being dealt with.
I want to raise three concerns and ask three questions of my hon. Friend the Minister. First, the number of proposed units should be reviewed. The requirements need to be reviewed in the light of the recession and the fact that several sites already zoned for development have not been developed, while a large number of industrial and commercial sites in the town are empty. Secondly, infrastructure should be provided before new units are put in place, particularly schools, hospitals—we very much need a new hospital—and transport services. That subject was raised at a packed and lively meeting in my constituency.
Thirdly, and most importantly, there should be proper consultation about the proposals. Usually, when a policy proposal is discussed, we are used to having three months’ consultation. Arguably, a major emerging plan will affect individual people much more than a general policy proposal, and yet there is to be only six weeks’ consultation. That would be bad enough, but the six-week period starts on 28 July. Most people would understand that residents’ associations, parish councils and all the other local groups that need to have meetings to consider these plans do not meet during August, and one cannot rely on their meeting in the first week of September. If the planning unit holds local meetings and asks people to go to them, many will be unable to do so because they are on holiday or tied up with children on school holidays.
Although it is said that this an emerging plan that sets out only broad principles, many of the broad-brush proposals for where the developments should be sited are based on actual plans that property owners have put forward, and are therefore about more than broad principles. If the land allocations are agreed, fairly well-worked-up plans could come forward fairly quickly and people could see things change equally quickly. We are being told that the time limit for the consultation—apparently six weeks is okay legally—has been set on the basis that the plans have to get to the regional office by November. Unfortunately the planning unit, which has not been particularly competent in going about its work, has missed a number of deadlines and is now up against the buffers. It is completely wrong that people who will have to live with the consequences of this development should pay the price for the fact that the organisation producing the plans has not been able to get itself organised to produce them in time to have proper consultations.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister relay to her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government queries about revisiting some of the development proposals, numbers, and regional and local strategies in the light of the impact of the recession? Can we have some genuine assurances about the provision of infrastructure before any development takes place? Most importantly, will serious attention be given to the consultation so that local people have a chance to put their views, well before the decisions are taken, on developments that will affect them? The Liberal Democrats are driving the timetable on this, which is shocking. We should not come back from our holidays to find that my constituents, and those of my neighbours, have lost their right to control or have a say in the use of the land around them, and that the plans are on the brink of going off to the regional office for final approval.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and everybody else in the House a very happy holiday.
I wish to raise several points before the House adjourns for the summer recess.
Nicky Avery, 27, became the youngest man ever to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. His mother is a constituent of mine, and I very much hope that the Government will raise awareness of this disease among young men.
The Proprietary Association of Great Britain has advised me that the top 10 minor ailments account for 75 per cent. of consultations. I agree with that organisation’s view that we need to have increasing responsibility for taking care of our own health by treating minor ailments in the knowledge that the NHS is really there for more life-threatening and serious conditions.
I have in my constituency the greatest number of centenarians in the country. I hope that this autumn we will again be successful with the “Guinness Book of Records” attempt at the greatest gathering. Many of these elderly people are in care homes, which are dependent on residential fees. Have the Government taken into account the fact that many elderly widows, for instance, are unable to sell their homes because of the recession?
Last week, I was privileged to attend Belfairs high school’s prize giving. There was a young lady there called Jo-Jo Cranfield. She was born with her left lower arm missing and she is a remarkable athlete. She missed out on going to Beijing by 0.06 seconds and she is the second fastest swimmer in her discipline in the country. She has a place at Millfield school, but she desperately needs funding, so I greatly hope that someone, somewhere will come up with assistance for her—not least the Government, who say that they will do everything they can to support gifted and talented athletes.
An organisation called PERA has advised me that numerous companies in south Essex, including Ford in Dagenham, have been preparing to deliver training to 1,700 people—more than 100 are in Southend, West—only for the Learning and Skills Council’s financial collapse to bring a halt to the programme. I hope that the Government will intervene on the matter.
I draw the House’s attention to an article, which appeared in The Times on 6 July, about chief constables’ salaries. Senior police officers apparently receive off-book payments and secret perks, which total hundreds of thousands of pounds. The House has come under great scrutiny, and I welcome the fact that all sorts of other publicly funded bodies are coming under scrutiny. Our local chief constable in Essex was paid slightly more than the Prime Minister. Yet again, we have a chief constable taking early retirement in Essex. We have had several senior officers; it is like a merry-go-round—one minute, one person is in place, the next, someone else is there. If police authorities are to be worth their salt, there should be much greater scrutiny. The Independent Police Complaints Commission should also be given more teeth.
It is a shocking state of affairs when police constables come to MPs’ surgeries, complaining about their treatment by the police authorities. That illustrates their powerlessness. Mrs. Katie Greatorex—she said I could name her—has suffered the most appalling harassment, including death threats. She has been arrested and bailed without evidence and she came to my surgery with a long-serving police officer. Her ex-husband is a serving police constable. A proper investigation has not taken place, despite forensic evidence, so I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will pass that on to the Home Secretary.
Seat belts were once debated at great length in the House, and many hon. Members were against their being compulsory—they were mistaken. The fine for non-compliance used to be £30. I have tabled several questions about that and I shall take credit for the fine’s increase to £60. I also support the fitting of seat belt reminders on all new cars.
A disgraceful incident took place recently, whereby a community nurse parked her vehicle in a development at the end of Hamlet Court road because she was treating a terminally patient—incidentally, the patient died—and was charged £483 by LBS Enforcement Ltd for her car’s release. I am currently achieving nothing with that.
I heard the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) about Southend airport. It is a difficult issue and I am glad that the owners of the new airport are meeting local community representatives. They must convince them that any increase in flights must mean quieter flights than at present and that the road changes will take place without disruption.
I was recently made chairman of the all-party group on the Maldives. The high commissioner said that no funding has been received from the Department for International Development and that she cannot get a meeting with the relevant Minister. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can pass on the message.
There has been controversy about slow answers to questions. I received an answer from a Treasury Minister, dated 1 July 2009, responding to a constituent’s inquiry on 30 September 2008. An apology is not sufficient.
The House is in a state of drift, there is confusion about swine flu and we have heard about difficulties in Afghanistan. The sooner we have a general election, the better. Before then, I wish all my colleagues and all those who serve the House a very happy summer.
I wish to speak about a despicable act of vandalism perpetrated on the homes and lives of thousands of my constituents. Some 3,500 families, the majority in Shepherd’s Bush and some in Hammersmith and West Kensington, face demolition of their homes and uncertain futures.
Let me be clear from the outset: we are talking about good quality homes, built to a high standard, modernised at the cost of tens of millions of pounds in the past few years, thanks to the Decent Homes programmes, in neighbourhoods in which people are proud to live. They are on the White City, Batman close and Wood Lane estates in Shepherd’s Bush; on Ashcroft square and Queen Caroline estate in Hammersmith, and on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in west Kensington. The last two are outside my current constituency, though in my prospective constituency. I have had the honour of representing the area for 20 years on the council and they are all areas that I know well. The homes are designated “not decent” by Hammersmith and Fulham council, which has, in the most disparaging terms, condemned not only the buildings and the areas but the residents. It is the nastiest piece of social apartheid in this country for many years.
A year or so ago, rumours, which were hard to credit at the time, began to circulate that the relatively newly elected Tory council in Hammersmith and Fulham planned to pull down the seven estates. Freedom of information requests were dodged and answers to questions were evaded—there was nothing in writing at the time. Plans were held up because of the continued presence of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London, but when Boris Johnson was elected last year, the council moved swiftly ahead, first by dropping all plans for new affordable housing, by accelerating small-scale demolitions, by designated sales and by handing back hundreds of affordable homes to developers, saying that they were unwanted.
However, last month, as a consequence of a document called the local development framework core options strategy, the seven estates were named as requiring complete redevelopment and demolition, even though some will have Decent Homes work done, at a cost of millions of pounds, next year. The plans are to replace them with luxury housing and commercial developments such as conference centres. That has already been extensively reported in the Evening Standard and I am grateful to it for featuring the story as a double-page spread the week before last, to the Daily Mirror, which did an excellent editorial on the subject, and to The Guardian and other newspapers.
The leaseholders and freeholders will get a price, which will not enable them to buy equivalent accommodation in the area, and they will have to move considerably further out. The tenants have an uncertain future. At least a third fewer units of housing will replace existing affordable housing. The replacement affordable housing will be registered social landlord housing: typically, it will be half the size, more expensive to run, and the rents will be 50 per cent. more. For many tenants, the only option will be to move out of the borough—Barking, Dagenham and Thamesmead have been mentioned as destinations for them. Many are elderly people, who have lived on the estates since the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when they were built. The greatest irony is that those estates are already mixed communities. Half the flats on many estates are leasehold—they contain many professional people and many people in employment on average wages or above.
The side effects will be on the local waiting lists. For 20 years of the redevelopment strategy, nobody will move on any other estate or RSL property in the borough. In the meantime, as the estates are developed—it has happened elsewhere—there will be complete neglect. Flats will be boarded up, there will be temporary housing and infestations, and only health and safety repairs will be done. All that was confirmed to me by not only the published document but by the assistant director, Lyn Garner, whom I saw for an hour and a half the week before last. She admitted to me for the first time face to face that all those things would happen.
I have given notice to the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) that I would refer to him. He represents four of the estates. He needs at some point to correct the record because earlier this month, he said that the plans
“‘to demolish the estates and force everyone to move’”
“wholly untrue.”—[Official Report, 29 June 2009; Vol. 495, c. 42.]
His own council—his colleagues—has published the fact that that is true, so it is wrong that those remarks should remain on the record in that form.
However, that is not the end of the matter; it is the beginning. We are not talking about just an attack or gerrymandering that goes far beyond anything that Shirley Porter tried in her time. We are talking about something that was designed by the leader of Hammersmith council, who is the head of the Tories’ local government innovation unit, as a blueprint for the rest of the country. How do we know that? We know it because he published a document earlier this year called “Principles for Social Housing Reform”. We also know it because, at the council’s expense, he held a round-table discussion with Tory Front Benchers, other senior Tory politicians and, shamefully, local government officers on 3 March that agreed to the most extraordinary blueprint for the future. Market rents for all housing; no security of tenure; no right to buy; no duty to house the homeless; no capital investment at all in social housing—is this really the future for housing under a Tory Government?
I believe that what happened was unlawful—the involvement of local government officers, the employment of Tory activists to carry out the work and the funding of Tory think-tanks by a local authority—and a complaint is being made to the district auditor. More importantly in the long run, however, we are talking about the destruction of communities for political advantage and in the interests of warped social engineering of a kind I had hoped I would never see a mainstream party in this country support. It is now up to the Tory Front Benchers to dissociate themselves entirely from what is being done in Hammersmith and Fulham. If it really is a right-wing fringe taking such action, let them say so; but if they wish to endorse such appalling attacks on the lives and livelihoods of my constituents, let them say that also.
I want to raise three issues and will do so as quickly as I can.
The first concerns a children’s hospice in my constituency called Naomi House. It does amazing work for children, as I am sure hon. Members know all hospices do, and not just in Hampshire but in a much wider area. Unfortunately, Naomi House was involved in the Icelandic bank affair and has consequently lost £6 million of its funds. As one can imagine, that has had a devastating impact on the organisation, particularly as it was just about to build a new wing—Jack’s place—that had been designed specifically for teenagers.
My concern is that the Government have not been as supportive as they should have to a children’s hospice. I totally understand their argument that it would have been impossible for them to help all the charities and organisations that have lost money in Icelandic banks. I also understand that the Government have, quite rightly, been supporting compensation schemes for charities that have lost money. Bluntly, however, Naomi House has not been allowed to apply to those compensation schemes because it is regarded as having far too much money—it has lost too much money and cannot make a claim under those schemes.
The Government have also said that they would not bail out charities. In one debate, the Minister concerned said, “Look, how do we decide which charities to support?” For example, a lot of people say that the Government should support the Cats Protection league, given the money that it has lost. In my judgment, a children’s hospice should be regarded as being in a different category from a cat lovers’ charity. The argument is compelling, and it is this. Charities that do the work of the Government should be seen in a different light. By many people’s benchmark, hospices provide the kind of service that should be funded by Government money in the first place. In fact, Naomi House takes £300,000 of Government money, so the Government recognise that they should be supporting it.
I ask the Minister to take the issue back to the Department of Health and to think carefully about the consequences of not supporting the hospice. Taking £6 million out of that service will mean an enormous demand from sick children will have to be met in the NHS, because Naomi House may not be able to fulfil its responsibilities. Surely it makes sense to support a children’s hospice in some way. After all, it was not Naomi House’s fault that it lost money in the Icelandic bank concerned.
The second issue that I want briefly to raise is the problem of so-called bogus universities. I understand that there have been grave concerns about the number of false universities being set up and the difficulties that they have caused with individuals coming to this country. However, one of the consequences of the Government’s new scheme to crack down on bogus universities has been the number of student visas that can be issued under the new tier 4 proposals. I declare an interest: I lecture at Wroxton college, which has a number of American students.
Students who come to this country are worth around £6 billion a year to the economy. We do education well in this country, and many people want to come over to participate in it. However, the consequence of the new changes to try to crack down on the number of bogus university places has been to hit that industry to such an extent that applications from individuals who want to study in our universities and colleges are falling dramatically. Students are having their applications for places turned down because of the new regime. Indeed, I tabled a parliamentary question about that and discovered that of the applications from students received so far this year from India, 49 per cent. have been rejected. We are not seriously saying that almost half the applications from students from India are connected with terrorism, are we? The figure for American students is 21.3 per cent. Just over one fifth of American students who want to come to this country have had their visas refused under the new scheme.
I understand the need to address bogus universities and tighten up the system. There have been problems, but those that we have created by putting in place the new scheme are having a very detrimental effect on an important industry in this country. The figures speak volumes. Under the new regime, we are in danger of turning away a lot of good students whom we would want to come here and study.
The final issue that I wish to raise concerns the new guidelines on helping individuals with mild or moderate depression. Depression affects many people in this country, and it is welcome that we have at last recognised that we need to tackle it. However, to date, doctors have had little power to refer individuals to counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, all of which are now recognised by the Government as useful tools.
As we face the economic downturn, there is strong evidence that more people will suffer from mental health problems and depression as a result of what is taking place in the economy. The problem is that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines have made a judgment about which kind of support should be available for mental health problems. Again, I declare an interest, in that I am on the board of a mental health provider, Mental Health Matters. My concern is that the Government have narrowly said that the only form of support that should be available under the guidelines is cognitive behavioural therapy. Superb and excellent as such treatment is—I declare an interest: I have seen a counsellor at times in my life and have received enormous support by undergoing that process—the professionals argue that making CBT alone available is not good enough.
Individual cases are very different, particularly those involving child abuse which need a much longer form of therapy. CBT teaches individuals how to deal with day-to-day pressure and how to cope with their depression, but it does not necessarily provide the kind of course and time needed to get to the underlying reasons. That needs to be done through professional psychotherapy, but at the moment the NICE guidelines do not allow that to be included. That is a great shame, so I would like to ask the Minister to report back to the Department of Health. If we are serious about tackling mental health issues, we need to allow the professionals the right form of support and not narrow it down to the one that is currently in the NICE guidelines.
In the seven minutes allotted to me, I shall briefly raise three issues.
The first concerns further and higher education and the Government’s stated wish to have more university places and more young people going to college when they leave school or sixth-form college. I strongly support that, and would like this country to get somewhere up to the European level. I would also like to see much wider access to universities, so that children whose parents did not have the opportunity to go to university, and who perhaps did not do so well in school themselves, have the chance to go into higher education.
My local university is London Metropolitan university, which has a good record on widening access to higher education, a wide variety of courses and high levels of student participation. However, it has got into enormous funding problems because of a disagreement about the method of counting student numbers. As a consequence, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has ordered the university to repay £39.5 million, which will obviously have a seriously devastating effect on its finances.
In addition, the HEFCE has also told the university that its annual funding will be cut, resulting in a loss of about 5,000 student places. As a result of all this, 550 jobs at the university are to go, through redundancy. The voluntary redundancy figures have not been met, so it is not clear what the university will do now. The situation is therefore grim. The university faces the possibility of the loss of more than 500 jobs, the closure of a number of courses and a reduction in student numbers in the long term. It cannot be the Government’s intention that so many people should lose the opportunity of going to university or that so many experienced, effective teachers should lose their jobs.
I have raised this matter in an Adjournment debate, in parliamentary questions, in early-day motions and in correspondence with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and with the relevant Ministers of State. They have all referred me back to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. How very convenient! Well, I am sorry, but that is just not acceptable. This House decides the annual Budget. It also holds Ministers to account, and we expect Ministers to intervene in a situation such as this to prevent jobs from being lost and to protect courses and student numbers. I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House could assure me that she will quickly and firmly pass this matter on to the Secretary of State and ask him to look into the situation during the recess and intervene to protect those jobs, courses and student numbers. The future of higher education demands that that be done.
There are two other items that I wish to raise. As the House knows, I represent Islington, North. That includes Finsbury Park station, which is one of the busiest underground stations outside central London. It is a transfer point between Network Rail, the Victoria line and the Piccadilly line. It is a very old and crowded station, and, crucially, it has no disability access whatever. After many years of argument and campaigning, moneys were found by the previous Mayor, Ken Livingstone, for the complete refurbishment of the station, including step-free access throughout. That was welcomed, and we looked forward to the rebuilding of the station so that we could, at last, get ourselves into the 21st century and people who use wheelchairs, people with pushchairs and those who have difficulty in walking could actually get on and off the trains, rather than having to descend a lengthy spiral staircase from the mainline platforms to the underground, which was obviously unsatisfactory and dangerous.
Then the new Mayor came along, re-examined all the funding priorities of the previous Mayor and decided that the step-free access at the station would be postponed—until, I think, 2016. Network Rail, which is responsible for the mainline platforms and the mainline services running above the underground station, has decided that it will go ahead with its bit of step-free access, however. So we now have the ludicrous position in which a lift is being installed to connect the mainline platforms to the street, but not to the underground station underneath it, because that is someone else’s responsibility. That is absurd beyond belief.
I was at a demonstration outside the station last Saturday, at which we were saying, “Boris, give us a lift.” That is the very least that he could do in the circumstances. It is unfortunate that the Government’s stated aim of having step-free access to public transport so that it can be really and truly accessible for everybody is being frustrated by this ridiculous funding row. Again, I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House could assure me that she will convey to the Secretary of State for Transport my extreme displeasure, as well as that of my constituents and—more importantly—that of the tens of thousands of people who use Finsbury Park station every day. They want an accessible, usable, efficient station; they do not want a lift that goes halfway. That is simply ridiculous. It is up to the political structures to ensure the right outcome.
My final point also concerns transport and the railways. I am pleased that my Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) is present today, because we both have the great privilege and honour of representing two of the constituencies through which the famous Barking to Gospel Oak railway line runs. The line was earmarked for closure during the dark days of Mrs. Thatcher. Since then it has been reprieved, but some of us are determined that it should be electrified, so that freight transport running between the east and west coasts could use it, and so that it and the rest of the North London line could operate as one system using the same trains, all powered by electricity. If we electrify the Barking to Gospel Oak line, improve public transport and cut pollution, London will be an even better place than it already is.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). For the first time in living memory, he has made an entire speech without calling for the abolition of the British strategic nuclear deterrent. I shall try to follow his example and refrain from discussing defence issues in the course of my short contribution. I also pay tribute to the particularly impressive speech made by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten). Naomi House, the children’s hospice to which he gave great credit, provides a wonderful service to my constituents as well as to his, and I warmly endorse the plea that he made on its behalf.
In the time available to me tonight, I want to touch on a principle, a policy and a tribute. The principle is that the fluoridation of water should not be carried out without the general consent of the people affected by it. In an unusual, and quite positive, cross-party alliance, the Liberal Democrat councillor, Councillor David Harrison, who represents Totton in my constituency, and I, as the Conservative MP, have been working together to try to involve the ombudsman in exposing the corruption of a flawed consultation process that completely ignored the fact that 72 per cent. of the people who responded to it were against that kind of mass medication.
I will say no more about the specifics of that case, however, because the matter is now subject to judicial review and I do not wish to trespass on that territory. That is why I shall talk only about the principle. The problem was first highlighted in March 2005, when the Water Fluoridation (Consultation) (England) Regulations 2005 were being debated in the upper House. Earl Howe, the shadow Health Minister, drew the House’s attention to regulation 5, which was passed into law. It states:
“A Strategic Health Authority shall not proceed with any step regarding fluoridation arrangements that falls within section 89(2) of the Act unless, having regard to the extent of support for the proposal and the cogency of the arguments advanced, the Authority are satisfied that the health arguments in favour of proceeding with the proposal outweigh all arguments against proceeding.”
The noble Earl Howe asked what this was supposed to mean, and pointed out:
“When we debated Section 58 of the 2003 Act, the Minster emphasised that:
‘no new fluoridation scheme would go ahead without the support of the majority of the local population determined by local consultations conducted by strategic health authorities in England and the National Assembly in Wales’.”
Earl Howe emphasised the words “majority of the local population” and went on to observe:
“I see nothing in the order which fulfils that undertaking.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 March 0005; Vol. 670, c. 709.]
Neither do I. However, even if 72 per cent.—or 100 per cent.—of the people oppose mass fluoridation of a water supply, as long as the strategic health authority can satisfy itself that the health arguments outweigh the opinions of the people affected, their opinions can be ignored. Only the courts and the ombudsman can do something about this; MPs evidently have no influence, and we must await the results of the case to which I have alluded.
I now move on to my policy issue, which is the policy of Associated British Ports. Having been massively defeated after a year-long inquiry in its wish to build a giant container port on Dibden bay in my constituency, it is beginning to return to the subject again. Let me quote what Mr. Doug Morrison, the port director, had to say to my constituents:
“How do we leave a legacy for future generations? The answer has to be Dibden Bay. Just as you thought you were safe to put your toe back in the water, we are back again. And we are never going to go away.”
That seems rather reminiscent of the film “Jaws”: at the outset people are being gobbled up by a great white shark, but we should remember what happens to the shark at the end of the process.
Finally, I come to my tribute. This is very sad indeed. On 11 September 2001, a brilliant and beautiful young woman, a fashion designer, was due to be at the twin towers. Fortunately, she overslept and missed the catastrophe by minutes. She was in London on 7 July 2005, and although she often used the bus service that was bombed, she did not use it on that day, fortunately. Last November she was working in her boutique in Notting Hill when a psychotic serial robber confronted her with a knife, but she still managed to outwit him. But on 3 July this year, she was in her flat in Camberwell and was one of the six people killed by the fire there.
Her name was Catherine Hickman, and she was known as Cat. Her parents, and her sisters Elizabeth and Sophie, are my constituents. Her parents, Pip and Flo, are putting up with their terrible loss with amazing dignity, as is Mark, her partner of four years. I would like to ask everyone here—those representing all religions and none—to bear in their thoughts and hold in their prayers the Hickman family, as we remember a talented young lady who, like her family, was and is a credit to our community.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and the whole House will of course send its condolences to the Hickman family.
I want to raise two issues of concern within my constituency that are linked to large-scale planning developments. One is, of course, Heathrow expansion—the threat of the third runway and the sixth terminal, which, as Members will know, threaten the demolition of Sipson village, with 2,000 residents losing their homes, their school, their community centre and the entire village. The third runway also threatens Harmondsworth, Harlington, Cranford Cross and Longford villages, so people living there, too, will lose their homes, either through demolition or because they will have been rendered uninhabitable by air pollution and noise pollution. Those homes are already blighted. The families are unable to sell their properties if they wish to move, and mortgage companies will not lend to any purchasers. As a result, my constituency includes families with children who are trapped—in some instances, in one-bedroom or studio properties—and older people who are unable to sell their properties if they want to retire and live nearer to their families.
BAA introduced a bond scheme, which effectively means that BAA promises to buy the properties affected by Heathrow expansion, but the problems with the bond scheme are the cause of real anxiety. The scheme does not cover all the properties affected by the expansion, and the payment levels, based on valuations of the properties, do not reflect their true value. When people lose their home, there is no compensation within the scheme for the costs of moving or losing their whole community. The bond scheme, furthermore, does not commence until the planning application for Heathrow expansion is actually submitted. That could be years, given the current economic climate and the chaos within BAA and its owner, Grupo Ferrovial. As a result, people are trapped in blight, often in overcrowded and inappropriate accommodation, and unable to plan their lives while this uncertainty hangs over their heads.
BAA promised to bring forward the implementation of the bond scheme within weeks—but that was six months ago. I met its representatives, who argued that the problem lay with the individual airline companies, which had to guarantee the liabilities of the bond scheme. A number of them have refused to sign up, and BAA says it cannot secure their agreement. I asked those representatives whether they wanted the Government to intervene, and they said no. We cannot go on like this. It is damaging the lives of my constituents, so I urge the Government to set a deadline of no more than, say, two months, and if BAA does not adhere to its commitments and promises to my constituents to bring forward the start of the bond scheme, the Government must intervene to force it to do so.
The real solution is, of course, to scrap the third runway proposal once and for all. I do not believe that I know anyone—other than the Prime Minister and the chief executive of BAA—who believes that the third runway proposal will go ahead. It is dead in the water, but what my constituents want are absolute commitments not only that the proposal is dead, but that it will never be revisited. My constituents want some safety and security for their homes, and they want the end of the threat to their communities.
The second largest development in my area is the Southall gasworks site, which involves the largest planning application for housing development in west London—on the site of a large gasworks. There will be 4,000 new properties, shops and a school. It is located in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma), but it abuts my own constituency. The major road accessing the site will run through my constituency from the Hayes bypass.
The development poses the threat of immense growth in traffic and associated air pollution in an area already designated as an air pollution management reserve. I have become increasingly aware of the potential dangers to my constituents from pollutants on this highly contaminated site. The developer’s own report now confirms that the contamination includes oil and tar waste, which forms carcinogenic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cyanide and asbestos. The developers intend to excavate and treat those dangerous materials on site, but I am meeting members of the community who are extremely concerned about the risk that those materials will pollute the nearby Yeading brook and enter local water supplies.
I am also extremely anxious about any attempts to transport those highly toxic materials through my constituency. The local Hillingdon council, I have to say, has done virtually nothing to explain the risks from the site development to the local community. The only public meetings on this planning application have been convened either by myself or by Friends of Minet country park, of which I am vice-chair. Not a single meeting open to the general public has been convened by the council to explain the potential risks of the development.
I want to raise my concerns in the House, to draw attention to the risks and to urge the Government to maintain a close watch on that large-scale development and its environmental impact. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to take the matter back to the relevant Ministers. We in the community are launching a campaign to ensure that my constituents are fully aware of the risks and are fully protected. We will submit our views to Hillingdon and Ealing councils to ensure that the proper inspections take place. Yes, we will urge those local authorities to ensure that conditions are attached to the application that protect my constituents from the increase in traffic and, more importantly, from the threat of pollutants from this contaminated site. If the application is to go ahead, I believe that every condition that could be applied should be applied, to protect the local community and the local environment.
This site is also close to Guru Nanak school, one of the most successful schools in the country, where the Government have invested large sums in the expansion of both the primary and secondary school. I want to ensure that that school and its pupils are fully protected and fully safe. I also want to ensure that Minet country park is protected from the damage that could be incurred as a result of the development. On that basis, I give notice to Hillingdon council and others that my community will not stand by and allow our environment to be polluted by the development—even if the council is standing by and doing nothing.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to raise what is an important and urgent issue in my constituency.
The House has often debated, and dealt with questions about, Zimbabwe and the difficulties experienced in that country. Some 12 years ago my local church, Saltash Wesley Methodist church, established a twinning arrangement with a church in Mbare, a suburb of Harare. During the first few years of that arrangement, we enjoyed four annual reciprocal visits. One involved young people from Cornwall going to Zimbabwe to help build water tanks.
That was a long time ago, and over the intervening nine years there have been no opportunities for the visits to continue. However, despite the great difficulty that arose, connections have continued through e-mail and letters between families, and support has been given to the people who are living in such desperate circumstances. In more recent times a number of members of the church have supplied funds for the education of Zimbabwean children, and nearly 100 have benefited. A great deal of moral support has also been provided.
Earlier this year, when there were signs that Zimbabwe might have a real opportunity to emerge from its darker times, the churches decided to try to re-establish the original relationship—or friendship—through reciprocal visits. It was decided that it might be possible to bring a number of leaders from the church in Mbare to Cornwall this year. That involved great difficulties relating not only to the funds that would have to be arranged, but to choosing the people and ensuring that the visit would be successful. It involved planning for the future, and re-establishing relationships that had been somewhat curtailed over the intervening period. However, as a result of all the planning over six or seven months, the money was raised, it wad decided who would come, and everyone was looking forward to a visit between 24 September and 7 October this year. The air tickets had to be purchased before the application for visas, but they were subsequently bought. The visas for the eight people who were to come here were applied for in Pretoria, which is now in charge of visa applications for Zimbabwe.
It was a cause of huge disappointment and great regret that only a couple of weeks ago, with only a few weeks left before the visit, all the entry clearance visa applications were refused. We are talking about people who have provided leadership in Zimbabwe: ministers of the church, youth leaders and people who had worked on environmental projects. We are talking about people who had given dedicated service over a long period. They had met all the necessary requirements, and they were, of course, hoping to come to this country to re-establish a relationship that went back more than 12 years.
It seems to me that the entry clearance officer examined all the available information and decided that perhaps these people of honesty and integrity, who had clearly served their communities in an excellent way, were not the sort of people who would come to this country and then willingly leave. He, or she, believed that those people intended to come here, stay here and not return to their home country. That was despite the fact that they would be leaving families and friends, and despite clear evidence from people in this country, including me and, indeed the superintendent minister of the church. We had given details of the programme in which they would be involved and the issues that they would discuss with us. We had also given an absolute assurance that they would not reside here or impose a burden, but would come to re-establish friendships and then return to the country with which we have maintained a twinning arrangement.
I plead with the Deputy Leader of the House to consult the Minister for Borders and Immigration. They must recognise that these issues will continue. If we are to support people in Zimbabwe, we must recognise the opportunities to re-establish relationships and friendships between organisations, churches, families and people. This is a great opportunity to bring eight very good people back into this country so that a relationship between two churches that has lasted for more than 12 years can be re-established, and so that—hopefully—a group of people from my church in Saltash will be able to visit them in Zimbabwe next year.
The twinning arrangement has been mutually beneficial. It is not a one-way exercise: great benefit has been gained from an arrangement that has been undergone through such difficult circumstances. However, after those people had done all that they could, after all their funding had been arranged, their tickets purchased and their accommodation fixed, they were told “You cannot come here, because we think that you are coming purely in order to stay here.” That is an insult to them, and it is a disaster in terms of this country’s relationship with Zimbabwe.
I very much hope that the Government will intervene. I hope that they will recognise that visits and relationships of this kind are worthy of support, and that those people will be able to come to Cornwall, enjoy their stay, and return to their country reinvigorated.
I am delighted to be able to contribute to the debate. I wish to raise three substantive issues, but I shall begin by displaying the same level of indignation as my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle).
I was promised a Jobcentre Plus facility in Dursley, in the south of my constituency, some six months ago. The jobcentre there had closed a couple of years ago. I had no angle on that, because there were reasons for the closure, but there was a need to open another centre, and the fact that that failed to happen is an indication of the Government’s failure to address rural issues. I hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will convey my indignation to the Department for Work and Pensions, because there is an urgent need for the Department to act.
The first substantive issue that I shall raise relates to something very sad that happened last week. A certain Mr. Nick Griffin arrived in my constituency. That may or may not be something that Mr. Nick Griffin does regularly, but I should like to think that Members of the European Parliament must give the same notice as Members of Parliament when they intend to visit constituents. I do not know why Mr. Griffin was wined and dined in Painswick, in my constituency, but he was.
It just so happens that one of my constituents took offence, and happened to spill some beer over Mr. Griffin. I know the young man concerned, and he is totally upstanding. Indeed, he is an outstanding individual, the sort of person with whom I am proud to be associated. As a result of that incident, he was taken outside and given one hell of a hiding. I am not prepared to accept that any politician should have a private army. I am not prepared to have the BNP anywhere near my constituency. In previous times we would have chased these individuals around but I hope that we will take action and look at the actions of the BNP. I do not know whether a court case is proceeding because the young man is too shocked, but it is indicative of what the BNP is like.
My second issue is one that I raised in a previous debate before Easter and concerns school staff. I can now use their names; Roger Lock, the former head of Marling school in my constituency, and Mick Madden who was the head of care at Cam house, also in my constituency. I use the past tense because they have now been summarily dismissed and have lost their appeals. Roger served for 30 years at the school, as well as being the head for a period. Mick served for 27 years at Cam house. Both have lost their jobs. There is an employment tribunal pending in both cases so I shall be circumspect in what I say, but their cases are mentioned in the excellent report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee.
A real issue arises in terms of how staff are removed. Most of the Select Committee report refers to pupil allegations; the cases in question did not involve pupil allegations, but did involve unfair practices. In the case of the second school’s head, it is very unfair that allegations of bullying and harassment came suddenly to the surface after a new chairman of the governing body arrived. He became the presenting—or dare I say the prosecuting—officer. He chose the hearing committee. He chose the appeal committee, which involved a parent—the school’s internal arrangements make it clear that a parent is not the preferred person to be on such a body—and two external representatives, which again was most peculiar. That case is deserving of proper investigation. A support group, the Friends of Marling School, is fighting on behalf of that head teacher. I wish the group well and will continue to raise the issue because wrong things have been done.
Mick Madden, too, has lost his job. He was seen a something of a sacrificial lamb, given that the deputy head of that school resigned and the head teacher, after 18 months of being suspended, was then reinstated. It just so happens that in the last couple of weeks the head teacher has been dismissed. The three senior members of the school’s staff have now lost their jobs. Mick is by the far the most innocent of those individuals and is fighting his corner. He subsequently got another job but, to put it mildly, powers were brought against him and that job was also taken away. There has been a degree of vindictiveness, which is more than unfair and is deserving of proper investigation.
I finish by mentioning three Bills, two of which I have presented to the House and one of which, the Permissible Donors Bill, has been somewhat overtaken by events, I am pleased to say. I am glad that the Government have now come to their senses in terms of the Political Parties and Elections Bill and have seen that there is a need to restrict donor activity from outside. The first of my other two Bills was the Parliament (Disclosure of Information) Bill, which I hope in due course we will get a chance to talk about properly. The Bill demands financial disclosure, as in the United States where all representatives have to disclose three years’ of tax returns in advance of taking office. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and I hope that arrangement can come in here.
Finally, the Media Owners (Residency Requirement) Bill would restrict ownership of media outlets to British individuals and British firms who pay full tax in this country. I could go on at length about what I have learned from others about those who have attacked us in this House. It would only be just and proper to look at the tax that they pay. Horrifyingly, many of those media outlets pay no tax at all. They are the key to tax avoidance and I hope that, in due course, we will get a chance to investigate those individuals, who they are and what they do.
I was very disturbed to hear the story about the constituent of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) who spilled some beer over Nick Griffin. I am vice-chairman of the all-party beer group. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) is the chairman of the “Save the Pub” group. All I can say is, “What a dreadful waste of beer.” I take on board the serious point made by the hon. Gentleman. If people were beaten up every time beer was spilled, there would be hardly any room in the accident and emergency department of any hospital in this country. I hope that the person concerned is able to pursue the matter.
I hope that the House will not adjourn until we have had the opportunity to discuss the issue of Mr. John Siddall and his deceased wife who, in September 2004, went to Menorca. What happened to Mrs. Siddall there, and the repercussions since on Mr. Siddall, are of relevance to each and every Member of Parliament, particularly as we are now in the summer season and people are looking forward to their package holidays and generally to going abroad.
Mr. and Mrs. Siddall were an ageing couple, and we should bear in mind that we now have an ageing population in this country. They went to Menorca to enjoy a holiday. Sadly, Mrs. Siddall was taken ill. Mr. Siddall did not know what to do about that in Menorca, so he contacted the hotel front desk and the hotel doctor was called. He had a look at Mrs. Siddall and decided she should be admitted to hospital. Instead of admitting her to the appropriate hospital, however, she was taken past the state hospital to a private hospital. Mr. Siddall was concerned about his wife and does not speak Spanish, and he did not know exactly what was happening in terms of the diagnosis of Mrs. Siddall during this period. Later, it became obvious to him that Mrs. Siddall was not getting any better in this private hospital. She was then finally moved to the state hospital, which had the right people with the right equipment. Sadly however, it was all too late and three days later she died.
On further investigation, we found that this problem affects a growing number of people in this country who holiday abroad. The last thing people think about doing when they are planning to go abroad is check out the local hospitals and the facilities available. They are going abroad to enjoy themselves.
There are suspicions about what has happened in this case. I have spoken to a number of people about it and I have visited the British medical emergency service forum, which deals with such situations on a daily basis, and I have learned that there is often a web of money involved in the choice of hospitals in certain countries. Spain is mentioned time and again, but so are Bulgaria, Greece and a few other countries. In terms of this web of money, I am not making accusations against the tour operator, but there are suspicions about some individuals. There might be suspicions that there is money in it for the doctor to send the patient to the private hospital. There might also be money in it for the receptionist and for a taxi driver. Many different people might be on the take to ensure that the person is put into the private hospital where the money is paid.
Last year in Spain, consular staff were involved in dealing with the deaths of 1,500 people. To put that in context, the figure for Germany was 75, in France it was 170, and in the United States of America it was just 121. Therefore, 1,500 is a huge number. We know that a lot of British people visit Spain and others live there, and people might go and stay with those ex-pats as well. I have talked to some emergency service experts, and they believe that in many cases people should be going to the state hospital, irrespective of the fact that they might have fantastic private health care cover. They are not going to know that the private hospital might not have the right facilities. They are not going to know that the medical staff in the private hospital might not be trained to the same level as those in the state hospital. They might also think that the private hospitals are jolly good, and they might have always dreamed of going to such a hospital and believe that that is the right place to go; but the fact is that it is not. The emergency service forum has speculated that perhaps as many as 400 people a year die because they get sent to the wrong place where they are misdiagnosed or are just dealt with inappropriately.
We need action; I know that the emergency service forum wants action. It wants the tour operators to speak to the Government and the insurance companies to ensure that when people go abroad and something goes wrong, the tour operators follow a set procedure in order that people get to the right hospital. I am sure that the local tour operator will know the best restaurants, tourist activities and car rental companies. They should also know the right hospital to go to, so that if someone who is booked on a holiday with the company falls ill, they get taken to the right hospital. They must not get shipped off to a place where people are coining it at the expense of others. People must not become victims, becoming too ill and then sadly dying as a result of not being dealt with properly. Mr. Siddall has to carry this with him for the rest of his life, and he is doing so. We clearly want justice for him, but what he wants is to ensure that a procedure is put in place so that this never again happens to anybody going abroad on holiday. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will refer to this in her winding-up speech and will ensure that the message gets out to the Foreign Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that there is clearly a serious problem that needs to be addressed and that, at this holiday time, action is urgently needed and should be happening now.
I am pleased to take part in this debate. I wish to start by picking up on something said by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner). He wished us all well on our holidays, but I should make the point on behalf of all hon. Members that the recess is not a holiday and we shoot ourselves in the foot if ever we give the impression that it is. I will be working for a great proportion of that time, as I am sure most right hon. and hon. Members will be. I find that I am busier in September with constituency visits to schools, hospitals, homes and so on than I am when I am in this place. We must debunk the damaging myth that the recess is a holiday, because enough damage has been done already.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to say what he thinks about the 38 Degrees campaign? To my mind, it is the most simplistic campaign; the survey that I have been asked to fill in is highly dubious, because it assumes that I am on holiday. It is quite a wrong campaign, and I hope that he will be able to say a little on that.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. All hon. Members have a responsibility to be prepared to share broadly what they are doing. I will be spending some time in my constituency and some time here, and of course I will rightly be spending some time on holiday. It is important to get that balance across.
I wish to raise, yet again, the problems of public transport in Leeds. People in the Yorkshire and the Humber region are sick of being bottom of the Government transport spending league table, and we are simply not prepared to be at the bottom of it year on year. We have just received another couple of blows, the first of which was the decision by First to scrap a number of bus routes in the Leeds area. Again, the decision was taken entirely in that company’s own commercial interest and with little regard for the people who want to use those services. Metro, the passenger transport authority, has estimated that the decision will lead to approximately 14 per cent. of those people not bothering to use the bus network at all.
Even worse than that decision is the as yet unconfirmed report—it is a disgrace that there has been no confirmation—that the Department for Transport is going to reduce from 182 to 106 the number of additional carriages for the Northern Rail franchise. The figure of 106 is a little more than half the original commitment set out clearly in the rail White Paper, which was published in just 2007. The simple reality is that since the late 1990s the number of peak rail passengers in West Yorkshire has almost doubled, and is continuing to grow, yet Northern Rail has had no new carriages in the past five years—during that period, commuter services in London and the south-east have had 580. That discrepancy is simply not acceptable. We have not even been given confirmation of this reduction in the number of carriages—it has simply been reported. Department for Transport Ministers have not come to this place to give us that announcement. I wrote to the Secretary of State today demanding that we find out as soon as possible whether this decision has been taken. I shall be critical of the Department if it makes a negative announcement during the recess, because that is not acceptable.
I am also keen to lead on the campaign for high-speed rail to Yorkshire and the Humber. Many of us who represent Yorkshire constituencies are very pleased to support the excellent fast track to Yorkshire campaign, which is running in the Yorkshire Post. A number of us from a cross-party group of MPs have this week written to councils up and down the Yorkshire and the Humber region asking them to support that excellent initiative. If we are serious about getting through this recession and kick-starting the economy again, we need foresighted investment; many regions in this country have been held back in that regard. It would be a welcome addition to the rather facile debate about cuts, if we were to talk about the real, long-term investment that this country so patently needs.
I also wish to touch on the issue of the Leeds arena and the “Leeds needs an arena” campaign running in the Yorkshire Evening Post. I am delighted that Yorkshire Forward has come forward with £18 million of funding for this excellent initiative. As all who visit Leeds know, it is a cultural hub. We are proud of that and the city needs a first-class concert arena. It is frustrating that the Government have to rubberstamp this money, and it is disappointing that some Sheffield MPs are seeking to interfere in what we are doing in Leeds. I ask them to keep their noses out. The Government should allow these decisions to be taken in Leeds by Leeds city council and Yorkshire Forward.
I have also to bring to the attention of the House once again the appalling case of Dr. John Hubley, my constituent who died following complications at the Eccleshill independent sector treatment centre in Bradford. The first question is why Dr. Hubley was sent there when he wanted to have his procedure at the excellent Wharfedale hospital in my constituency. It was, of course, because Leeds PCT has a contract with the independent sector treatment centre that it has to fulfil. Dr. Hubley’s death was described as unnecessary and the verdict was death by misadventure. The coroner said that the safety procedures at the facility were a “recipe for disaster” and “Mickey Mouse”. That is appalling, but the situation was made worse when Leeds NHS decided to put the matter in the hands of its solicitors, who gave Dr. Hubley’s fiancée—also my constituent—10 days to respond to what was essentially a threat. She was told that she had to accept a frankly derisory offer of compensation to her and Dr. Hubley’s two children and if the family did not accept, they would become liable for legal costs running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. This behaviour by Leeds NHS is despicable, considering what the family has already gone through. It was bullying and blackmail, and to do that to a family who had already suffered the loss of a loved one is scandalous and flies in the face of everything that the NHS is supposed to stand for. It is cowardly to have put the matter in the hands of solicitors, and Leeds NHS’s apology rings hollow.
I am also disappointed that the solicitors, Brown Jacobson, claim to have been following legal procedures and principles, but it is extraordinary that the coroner has not had the chance to respond. The offer is on the table and has to be accepted or the family will lose all their money. Frankly, whoever made the decision to act in this way at Leeds NHS should resign, but it is difficult to discover the identity of that person, although I have requested it under the freedom of information legislation.
The case shows the problem with independent sector treatment centres. The National Patient Safety Agency has warned that no surgery should be commissioned or delivered in facilities that lack systems or equipment to deal with emergencies, but the simple fact is that we do not know whether that is the case in independent sector treatment centres. Nor do we know exactly how many operations are being performed under the £2.7 billion contract, because the Government will not tell us for reasons of commercial confidentiality. I have asked several times for a proper debate on this issue, because at the moment the Government are allowing the PCTs to play fast and loose with the NHS’s guiding principles.
On a lighter note, I wish to thank all my colleagues in the “Save the Pub” parliamentary group. We have achieved an enormous amount in a short time. I hope that all hon. Members will support the pub and enjoy a pint or two in pub gardens this summer. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be one of them.
I wish to take part in this debate to raise several issues that have come out of my constituency mailbag and surgeries. The first of those issues came to my attention at my surgery last Saturday at Worcester Park library, when a couple of my constituents came to tell me about their niece who, at the age of 22, had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was given the necessary treatment: she had operations, and she also received chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Before the treatments proceeded, she was offered the opportunity of a cycle of ovary stimulation and egg harvesting, which meant that her fertilised eggs could be safeguarded by being frozen and stored so that they could be used in the future. The treatment made her infertile but the storage of those harvested embryos meant that she had the chance to have children. Thanks to a surrogacy arrangement, she now has a child. So far, so good—but, as was noted earlier in the debate, the law of unintended consequences sometimes operates when we in this place legislate.
Back in 1990, this House passed an Act of Parliament dealing with the regulation and control of embryos that provided that embryos could be stored for up to five years. Just last year, in 2008, another Act was passed to change the framework and extend the storage period to up to 10 years. It also provided that new regulations could be made to allow for further extensions thereafter. The problem is that the five-year period under the old Act expires for my constituents’ niece before the new Act comes into force. Her embryos are therefore in limbo, between one Act of Parliament and another. As a result, even though the embryos were stored well within the 10-year period specified by the new legislation, they will have to be destroyed in September of this year. With them will go the hopes of there being any further children for that family.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was consulted by the Government about this very issue. Its response was very clear, as the consultation documents show. It said:
“An unfortunate matter of timing ought not to be grounds enough to deny access to extension for those who actively desire it”.
I can tell the House that the people in this case do actively desire just that.
There is a statutory instrument on this matter currently before the House. It has not been debated yet, although there has been a formal request that it should be. It is really important that people who find themselves in the limbo between the old Act and the new one should not be confronted with having their embryos destroyed before this House has had the opportunity to debate the matter. We need to persuade Ministers to change their minds and accept that, in this case, it is inappropriate for them to cite the wrongness of retrospection. This retrospection is about life and the opportunity for someone to have children.
I know that if my parliamentary friend and neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), were here he would be four-square behind the hon. Gentleman. We have a local case that is almost identical to the one that he has described. There are very few such cases, but it is a very tragic circumstance.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Indeed, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is one of the hon. Members from all parties who have signed my early-day motion 1929 on this very issue. I fear and suspect that there are a number of tragic cases such as this, but some very active families are making sure that we in this place are doing our job of representing their concerns.
The second issue that I wish to raise has to do with housing. Last night, I received an e-mail from Jean Crossby, who chairs the federation of tenants and residents associations in the London borough of Sutton. She told me that the long-awaited funding to pay for renovating and updating Sutton’s council housing to the Decent Homes standard is to be delayed for several years. The Government aspire to raise homes to that standard, as I am sure do all hon. Members, but the decision means that the 800 box bathrooms installed in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) 40 years ago will not be replaced for years to come, even though they were fit for only 15 years in the first place. The problem is that those box bathrooms are coming away from the properties to which they were attached. They have asbestos in them, and they are a nightmare that needs to be brought to an end.
Chaucer house is a tower block in my constituency. It has leaks, poor plumbing and poor electricity supplies, as well as many other problems that need to be dealt with. Again, its residents face the prospect of more delays.
On 4 June last year, the chief executive of the London borough of Sutton was told in a letter that the Department for Communities and Local Government was expecting to make “substantial funding allocations” for the start of the Decent Homes investment programme in 2009-10. In a written statement, the Housing Minister restated that commitment to that funding. He stated:
“We remain committed to completing our comprehensive decent homes programme and to maintaining this standard. The reforms I propose will safeguard this commitment. Capital funding will be provided to support this.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2009; Vol. 496, c. 9WS.]
So much for that support and so much for that capital funding, because just 17 days later, on 17 July—last Friday—in a press release rather than a written statement or any other form of statement to the House, the Minister announced that to fund the Prime Minister’s promise of 20,000 new homes, the Decent Homes programme must be put on ice. It will have raided to provide the extra money to pay for those new homes.
That will affect the arm’s length management organisations in the constituencies of hon. Members across the House. In my constituency, it will mean that the promise of £112 million will not be delivered. Work had been going on well with the tenants organisations and staff. The announcement will damage their morale and the relationships between the local housing partnerships and tenants, who see it as another sign of the total disregard of their poor living conditions.
For all those reasons, I hope the deputy Leader of the House will give us some indication that the Government will look at the matter again, and that they will deliver the Decent Homes standards to which they have attached so much importance. Given the overwhelming evidence that substandard and poor housing conditions are the breeding ground of despair and often the place where the British National party thrives, it cannot make sense not to invest in decent homes or to ensure that those resources are available.
My final point is on Sri Lanka. I have many Tamil constituents and although the war may have come to an end, there are many humanitarian issues in the country, not least rape, torture and child recruitment. Three hundred thousand Tamils are still detained in camps. They are not allowed free movement, and food, water and other supplies are limited. Half the children in the camps are under-nourished. There are outbreaks of disease—chicken pox, hepatitis A and many others. That is not peace; it is war by another means. It is terror inflicted upon an innocent group of people who deserve better. It is time the Government did even more to ensure that as the gaze of the world has moved away from Sri Lanka since the firing ended, we focus very clearly on the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that they deliver a just peace and human rights for the country’s Tamil population.
I thank all who have spoken in this debate. Many Members on both sides of the House have done so, and I say a big thank you to all of them for staying right till the end on this last day before recess.
It was with typical passion that the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) made the first speech. He is the same whether it is the last or the first day of term. I thank him for having the courage to be critical of the Government, and particularly of the earlier statement. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is smiling, but he should perhaps let me finish what I am saying, particularly given that many people are affected by the Equitable Life issue and that it is important for many of us in all parts of the House. I praise the hon. Member for Chorley for having the guts to criticise the Government for their lousy statement and their even lousier answers when hon. Members spoke up passionately for their constituents’ interests. The issue was subsequently taken up by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope).
The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), gave us a bit of good news when he spoke of the possibility of jobs in the supply of oil and gas in the west of Shetland. Clearly, that would happen in the medium to long term, but at a time of such economic crisis it is good that we can occasionally talk about the creation of jobs rather than their loss.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) raised a very serious issue and I hope the Deputy Leader of the House passes it on to the relevant Ministers. It is unacceptable that some 2,000 to 3,000 people who have paid their taxes and lived most of their lives in Britain find that the benefits that they have been promised have been terminated. That is despite the fact that all the evidence says they should be in receipt of those benefits. Those elderly disabled people have given our country its due, but the country is denying them what is theirs by right. I very much hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will deal with the matter expeditiously. I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising it in the House today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) clearly showed in the number of issues he raised, and in the way he raised them, what a conscientious and diligent Member of Parliament he is. How proud his constituents must be to have him as their Member of Parliament.
Indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East mentioned his local airport and spoke about his constituents’ problems with the tax authorities—something that affects all of us. However, most of us will have been particularly struck by the fact that hospitals, including his local hospital in Southend, are stopping people bringing flowers to patients. That is distressing news, both for patients and the friends and relatives who want to bring them a little lightness at a time of serious ill health. I wish my hon. Friend well in trying to overcome that ban at Southend hospital.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) spoke about an issue that he has raised before concerning Vestas, a successful Danish company, which less than a decade ago received £3.5 million of British taxpayers’ funds to help it start in the UK. On the day the company announced record profits, it also announced that 600 jobs would go in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I was sorry to hear that he had been unable to speak to Lord Mandelson and had not even received the courtesy of a reply to his letter, but I have to say that I am not surprised. It is clear evidence that Lord Mandelson’s attention is on anything but his various responsibilities; his only concern is trying to prop up a failing and discredited Prime Minister.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) raised a disturbing case of alleged fraud concerning a doctor. He also raised a broader issue—that we should ensure that public servants who are trying to act in defence of public funds are not themselves penalised. I hope that his criticism of the Government will be taken on board, and that the Deputy Leader of the House conveys the proper message to the relevant Ministers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire mentioned that Derbyshire county council has become Conservative after a number of years. That was one of the highlights on the day of the local and European elections and I join him in congratulating his local county councillors, and I wish them well in trying to undo the mess they inherited from their predecessors.
My right hon. Friend also raised the important point that schools are burdened with so much regulation that many of them are considering no longer having exchange trips. I for one found such trips useful when I was at school, and few people would argue that they are not good for the development of the individual. My right hon. Friend is right to press ahead with the issue and I very much hope that his concerns will be heard by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, although he is another Secretary of State whose eye is anywhere but on his brief.
I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House has taken on board the concerns about bovine TB expressed by my right hon. Friend. The issue concerns many of us who have rural constituencies.
The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) deserves congratulations from all of us on the fact that he has a new addition to his family. I congratulate him and his wife Alison on the birth of their daughter, Ella, eight weeks ago. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to his local hospital. The health services generally deserve a big thank you for doing so well in difficult circumstances. We have a Government who are burdening them with excessive bureaucracy and who put targets above health priorities. Working under such conditions, the health services deserve credit. We often express our thanks to the doctors and nurses, but let us take this opportunity to thank the cleaners, the porters, the caterers, the receptionists and all the volunteers who also do such sterling work in the health services.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) displayed his expertise and knowledge of matters foreign. He delivered a passionate and welcome speech on Afghanistan. I was privileged to visit Afghanistan last November and to meet some of our brave men and women, many of them very young. It is a matter of concern that they are not getting the full backing and resources they deserve when they are fighting for the interests of Afghanistan and the broader freedom of the rest of the world.
It is a disgrace that although we have some 500 helicopters, there are only 30 in Helmand province. Moreover, it is regrettable that the Prime Minister does not have the courage to admit his contribution to the lack of helicopters through his failure to allow the proper budget for them when he was Chancellor. May I say how disingenuous it is for him to speak of a 60 per cent. increase in the number of helicopters in the past two years? When he talks about the increase in troops, he mentions specific numbers, yet on the subject of helicopters he has to resort to playing with words and speaking of 60 per cent. By doing so, he demeans himself and the office that he holds.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. By contrast, the Americans have a similar number of troops to the number that we have, yet they have 100 or so helicopters in the same region.
As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) made a number of constituency points. When he spoke of breast cancer in men, it reminded me of the occasion I tried to introduce a private Member’s Bill to increase the breast cancer screening period for women. The Bill was talked out by the Government but, as is frequently the case, they were happy to take on board a good policy and rehash it as if it were their own. In his first conference speech to the Labour party, the Prime Minister said he thought it was a good idea to increase the screening period for breast cancer for women. I was pleased that he took on board my suggestion. Again, it is typical of the Prime Minister and the Government that they fail to give credit to the Opposition when they take our policies. Nevertheless, I am pleased that people will benefit from it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his chairmanship of the Maldives all-party group. With reference to his concern about the slowness of answers to his questions, a question tabled in 30 September 2008 and only now receiving an answer is pretty deplorable. I take this opportunity to mention the fact that the Government often do not supply attachments with answers. They make reference to the House of Commons Library, but members of the public who take an interest in parliamentary answers do not have access to the Library. The Government ought to bear that in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) paid rightful tribute to Catherine Hickman, a beautiful young lady who, sadly, lost her life at a very early age in the recent tragedy in Camberwell. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with Catherine Hickman, her family and her partner, Mark, and with the friends and relatives of all the others who so sadly lost their lives on that day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) raised the sad case of Mr. and Mrs. Siddall. I entirely agree that priority should be given to ensuring that there is a procedure in place for people who go abroad and find themselves unwell. We need joined-up thinking when it comes to working with the Foreign Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We are talking of lives being at stake, nothing less.
We have heard many speeches, a number of them critical of the state of affairs in Members’ constituencies. The Conservatives certainly know who, after 12 years of Labour Government, is responsible for causing all that criticism, and we have no hesitation in laying the blame where it belongs—with the Prime Minister and his Government. I am only sorry that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Chorley, no Government Member had the courage to blame those who deserve it, including the Prime Minister himself.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) rightly spoke of the recess as an occasion for us to take our holidays, as well as an occasion to spend more time on constituency activities. The hundreds of e-mails and letters that we receive will not stop because of the recess. They will continue to come to us, and our constituents will expect replies, which they will receive from us, despite the fact that it is the recess.
May I simply take this opportunity to wish all Members, their staff and all the House staff a happy recess, and may I also wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a happy recess? I very much hope that the Prime Minister will take the opportunity for reflection and come to the right conclusion that everyone else in the country has reached—it is high time to hold a general election.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), even though I do not necessarily agree with his final comments.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that an Adjournment debate in which many Members have taken part—and I count myself privileged to be able to participate this afternoon—demonstrates a spirit of comradeship across the House, as we have raised issues that we all accept are appropriate to our constituencies? Is it not a shame that that note of party political temper had to come in at this late stage, when we are all looking forward to the recess?
Those are very much my sentiments.
When my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), first responded to a recess Adjournment debate, he said that these were slightly odd events. Most hon. Members would accept, given the variety of topics and issues that have been raised tonight, that that is certainly the case.
I look forward to my hon. Friend’s reply, and I hope that she will follow the convention of the House and make mention of all the contributions that have been made. I was astonished that the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara)—[Interruption.] I was hurt, too, that he did not even attempt to reply to any of the important issues raised by Labour Members, including the obvious, legitimate and quite correct concerns about Heathrow airport expressed my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) was concerned about housing, but there was no attempt by the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire at a reply, even though my hon. Friend specifically complained about the Conservative-controlled Hammersmith council, which has apparently disregarded the social needs of the people of Hammersmith.
I hope that when the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) reads Hansard, he will appreciate that I made collective mention of all those on the other side. I hope he accepts that that means I gave everyone a mention. [Interruption.] If he has difficulty understanding standard English, I suggest that he take that up, as I said earlier, with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
Perhaps my hon. Friend could enlighten us on the concept of collective reference. To a number of us, it looks like a collective ignoring of key issues, including avoidance of any response to the political gerrymandering by the Tory administration that has gone on in Hammersmith.
Order. There is a danger of hon. Members doing the work of the Deputy Leader of the House for her.
Thank you for that intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
We can draw a parallel between the contributions of Members who have stayed to the end—we hope to stay to the bitter end, 10 o’clock—of this debate, the last debate of the summer, and the dogged determination of our valiant cricket teams in the current Ashes test series. Members will note that I use the word “teams”, in the plural, because I mean the women’s cricket team as well as the men’s team. Of course, the women have already retained the Ashes, so congratulations to them.
The fine stand of Anderson and Panesar, hanging on until the finish to take a draw from the first ever test match in Cardiff, was equal to the determination of right hon. and hon. Members here to raise their constituency issues and other issues in this penultimate debate before the recess.
I shall leave Members to work that out for themselves.
We had many excellent contributions. It had seemed as if it might not be possible to get through the great number of issues that were raised, but I shall certainly try to. Following the cricket analogy, I should note that my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) was our opening batsman and did a great job. He raised the issues of manufacturing jobs, the Forensic Science Service, his local hospice, Equitable Life, the HM Revenue and Customs office in Chorley, which we learned was an award-winning tax office, and fuel duty in rural areas. His speech was a model of how to get as many topics into a recess Adjournment debate as possible—particularly as he had only seven minutes.
Twelve, was it? I lost track. They came thick and fast.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the funding of a young athlete, and I know that the publicity that he has given to that young athlete can really help. I have in my constituency a promising young triathlete called Aimee Backhouse, so I have managed to give her a mention, as the hon. Gentleman gave one to his constituent, and that is a great thing to do.
Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend raised many subjects, but, where appropriate, we will try to get him meetings, and answers, on the topics that he raised, as we will do with all hon. Members who are here tonight.
Some hon. Members’ speeches had a different format and focused on a single issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who is not in his place, talked about delays in investigating freedom of information requests, and we will try to get him the answer that he wants.
Yes. [Interruption.] He’s moved.
The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) also made a case for claimants of exportable benefits such as disability living allowance, following the European Court of Justice ruling, and he commented on some other issues, too.
Let me turn to the couple of issues to which a number of Members referred. On Equitable Life, the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) said that if regulators fail, that causes problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley was concerned about the answers that he had heard today, and the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) was concerned about hardship. The hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) also commented on the issue.
I have been sympathetic, although not entirely sympathetic, to the ombudsman’s case. It would be useful if she came to this place and talked directly to Members about her case; there is now some confusion and a degree of interpretation about that. I have offered to go and see the ombudsman—I should say that I went to school with her, although she does not realise that. [Interruption.] I did not sit next to her. She should come here and explain her case. Will my hon. Friend set that in motion?
It is not my role to set that in motion, but I can refer it on.
I return to Members’ comments on Equitable Life. Earlier, we had an urgent question on the matter, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury raised some key points. The point at issue relates to the failure of regulators, but my right hon. Friend feels strongly that the Government are not the compensator of last resort. He made that key point today.
A number of hon. Members asked whether we could lay out the timetable. They need to know when action will be taken, and I shall take that message away and communicate it again. I say to any hon. Member who was not here earlier that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury accepted the need for a timetable and said that he would try to provide a “long-stop date”, as he called it, for resolution. He has already agreed to come back to the House to try to provide that.
I understand what my hon. Friend has said about the Government not being the compensator of last resort in these matters. However, does she not agree that the most important point, made repeatedly in the House and in Westminster Hall debates on this matter, is that members of the Equitable Life scheme are now dying? It is unjust for people to be left in a state of limbo. The issue must be addressed with extreme urgency, because we cannot let it linger and fester as it has done.
My hon. Friend is generous with her time. [Interruption.] She has a bit of it to kill.
Is there an estimate of how many people will have died before any compensation is paid in respect of Equitable Life? What time scale is involved? There is a “long-stop date”, but what does that mean? The truth is that the people have waited for long enough. The time is now ripe to pay them; they should not have to wait any longer. What pressure can my hon. Friend put on the Treasury so that it comes back with the answers that all our constituents want to hear?
One issue that is four-square within the hon. Lady’s responsibility as a business manager is whether we can have a substantive motion and debate on Equitable Life. Earlier today, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that such a debate was a matter for the business managers. I asked her specifically whether she could give us an undertaking tonight that the Government would bring forward a substantive motion when we return in the autumn. In that way, we can test the will of the House in relation to the Government’s policies on Equitable Life. Will she agree to do that?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot agree to do that at this moment. However, I reiterate the point that there will be a report from Sir John in August. After it comes out, we will see what the situation is and what is the appropriate thing to do. We have had debates and oral questions on the matter and we will continue to treat it with the importance that Members have highlighted.
I am not saying that it will not be; I am just saying that it is something that we can come back to. If hon. Members want to raise it again as soon as we get back, we should have Sir John Chadwick’s report, and probably a much better idea of the timetable.
Could my hon. Friend at least report the sense in the House that the debate needs to be time-limited—in my view it needs to be before the Queen’s Speech, so some time in October, or at least no later than November—and that it should be on a substantive motion so that the House can express its will?
I will certainly express the strong opinions and feelings that Members have raised.
Several Members addressed similar issues, but sometimes in different ways. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley appealed for a national jobs summit and a short-time working subsidy. He particularly talked about supporting people staying in jobs—an important sentiment that fits in well with the policy theme of the Government.
The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine appealed for tax incentives for the future. He wants to incentivise companies in west Aberdeenshire, focusing on smaller and more nimble ones that he thinks are particularly important in that context. I noted his comments about supporting and maintaining platforms and pipelines.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) raised an issue of concern that has been discussed in this Chamber recently—the loss of jobs and poor redundancy payments at Vestas. There are several issues to be taken on board, and I am encouraged by his positive comments on work with Ministers.
I recognise that the products were for the American market. However, given that the Government are, rightly, expanding the UK market, with more wind farms offshore and onshore, what can we do to ensure that some of that work is put into the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight to keep this country’s manufacturing base going?
That is a very good point.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight talked about the importance of the South East England Development Agency. The Government have worked closely with SEEDA, which set up a taskforce as soon as the consultation was announced. However, it seems as though decisions are being taken very quickly, which is a pity.
We should not forget the textile industry, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, particularly the important issues concerning the cashmere knitting industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) outlined the variety of problems created for her constituents by leasehold management agents. There have been similar instances in my own constituency, particularly in connection with insurance cover. I will ensure that she gets the answers she wants on the two matters that she raised.
Will my hon. Friend take back to Ministers the need to look at what they are doing in the private rented sector and link it across not only to letting agents but to managing agents? That is extremely important. There is a lot of common ground that we could legislate on, and over which the profession itself would like to see some controls.
A constituent of mine who was also a councillor had great success in representing residents in tackling the insurance problem, which applies in other parts of the country.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) raised the tricky question of fluoridation, which also arises for us in the north-west. He covered the issues well, noting that it is difficult for MPs to influence the situation because the decisions are taken out of our hands.
There is an active all-party group on fluoridation, which has exposed some practices and the way in which area health authorities have tried to drive fluoridation forward. Should not the House have a further opportunity to review the use of fluoridation as an alternative to good dental practice? It is not acceptable, and that should be said loud and clear.
That is an interesting thought. I have a dental surgeon friend, who probably would not agree, but the point is worth making.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) raised alleged fraud in the NHS; he is not in his place, so I simply say that I shall try to get him an answer.
The right hon. Member for West Derbyshire made strong representations about the new protections under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and the Criminal Records Bureau checks for those hosting foreign students. I will pass on his representations, but I disagree with him. I believe—and I think that my view is shared by the Department for Children, Schools and Families—that we must be careful to take enough steps to safeguard children. Some vulnerabilities attach to young people who go into people’s homes when they are on exchange or foreign trips, and the protection may prove important.
That must be kept under review, but I have been responsible in local government for schools services, and it is difficult when one believes that there are child protection issues. Protection must be across the board, and those who want to host visits should be ready to be checked—just as all those who visit schools, including Members of Parliament and authors, should be willing to be checked, as councillors have to be. [Interruption.] We must agree to differ, and I will pass on the right hon. Gentleman’s representations.
The hon. Lady skirts around an issue that raised its head in the past week. Some prominent authors have already said that they will not visit schools. Many Members of Parliament have work experience students, who are under the age of majority, working with them. There is a danger that we will find ourselves in the same position as the authors, and that such citizenship work will come to an end because people are unwilling to go through the process.
I do not believe that authors should stop visiting schools or that people should have a problem with certification for visits. However, if it is a problem, we must keep it under review.
Several hon. Members have praised Ministers for their work; that is rare in such a debate.
Yes, they have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) praised a Foreign Office Minister—I think he meant my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda—for his quick response concerning the military junta that has taken over the Government in Honduras. I will pass on his comments, but also his concern that the Government should take up the implacable position that he would like.
I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is currently visiting a couple of countries in Latin America. Will my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House use her powers to direct him to visit Honduras to lecture the military junta on the bad steps that they have taken?
I do not know whether my powers extend to directing my hon. Friend in such a way, but I will pass on that representation to him.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight wanted to thank Ministers for their actions on Vestas, but I will follow up the response for which he is waiting from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. I note that the hon. Gentleman is also getting on with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers about fallen livestock—a subject that he has raised previously in such debates.
As is always the case in such debates, I do not agree with everything that everyone has said, but this is an useful opportunity for hon. Members to express what they feel. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) made representations on behalf of Ronnie Biggs. I fear that I do not agree with him.
My hon. Friend started with a cricket metaphor, so will she recognise that the friends and family of Mr. Biggs are sad that he is not out? Will she also confirm that the parole board recommended that he be released—that he be out—and that the decision by the Secretary of State for Justice against that is not a judicial one, but a political one?
One could take that view, but Mr. Biggs served only one year of a 30-year sentence for a crime that involved violence, even if it was not violence that he instigated. The Justice Secretary has to take into account the feelings of all the families involved, including the family of the person who was lost.
I have already touched on one of the things that the hon. Member for Christchurch raised, but he also talked about the regional spatial strategy. It seems a shame that it has taken longer than expected to settle the timetable for those arrangements. I will pass on his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will attend the South West Regional Grand Committee on 3 September. In fact, I hope that all hon. Members will attend their Regional Grand Committees in September and October.
I really need to make some progress now.
Let me deal with the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner). It is difficult to comment on some issues that hon. Members have raised, because they have done that vital thing that a constituency MP does, namely raise various local issues. We heard that he wants happy children in his constituency, not victims of Happy Child Ltd. He also raised a serious concern about bailiffs being out of control. If anything can be done in legislative or other terms, that would be helpful.
Would my hon. Friend accept that it is not simply a matter of bailiffs being out of control, but a matter of councils—in this case Brent council—not communicating effectively when they have come to an agreement with the debtor on how to pay over a period of time, and then allowing the bailiffs to continue with the process of distraint, which causes enormous distress to constituents?
Yes, indeed. I know from my own experience when I was a local government councillor the great distress that bailiffs can cause. It behoves the council to take my hon. Friend’s points on board.
Let me add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and his wife Alison on the birth of their daughter Ella. I thank him for his praise of nurses and midwives. I will also take up the issues that he raised about the textile industry.
The contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) highlighted the benefit of these Adjournment debates. I commend her on the persistence that she has shown in raising the issues concerning trawlermen, who will now receive the compensation that they deserve. She has fought for that. She also mentioned her campaign, which she is persisting with, to reduce the tolls on the Humber bridge, with which most of us would agree. It is vital to make crossing backwards and forwards affordable.
The Deputy Leader of the House has just said that most of us would agree with the campaign of her hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) to reduce the tolls on the Humber bridge—certainly I agree with her—so is this a Government commitment?
No, it is an expression of the solidarity of the pre-recess Adjournment debate more than anything else.
Let me deal with the serious comments made by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard)—[Interruption.] He is over there. People have moved around; it is very confusing. I join him in paying tribute to all the men and women in our armed forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I pass on our condolences to the families of those who have been lost—another serviceman has been lost today. I am sure that other hon. Members know that this is also a question of providing support and solidarity for the families of those who have been injured. I have a constituent whose son was terribly injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, and that is a loss for the family, too.
Yes, indeed. My constituent and his son had a very useful meeting with me and the Minister responsible for veterans, and the support that the young man is now getting in the rehabilitation phase is very important to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) joined in the tribute to the armed forces. She is a member of the armed forces scheme, which is another useful parliamentary scheme. She said that she supported the armed forces and their mission. She also raised a number of quite serious-sounding issues about planning policy. Several Members have mentioned planning policy issues related to their local council. Such issues can be difficult. The plan that my hon. Friend mentioned—the major emerging plan to turn Northampton from a town into a city—is a plan of a different order, so I will pass her comments on.
No, I do not. If my hon. Friend looks at the Cabinet Office policy on consultation, she will see that a six-week period that takes no account of a holiday season would in no sense be regarded as acceptable. She could remind her local council of the Cabinet Office’s good practice guidance on consultation, and suggest that it starts to stick to it. She also mentioned the scale of the planning developments in her constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) is not in his place—[Hon. Members: “Yes, he is! He’s behind you!”] I should say that it is very confusing when Members move around the Chamber, because I tend to fix them in my mind. My hon. Friend highlighted what seemed to be a really disgraceful example of a council—Hammersmith and Fulham council—carrying out a very difficult-sounding scheme that is putting people out of the estates where they have lived since the 1950s and 1960s and moving a different type of person in. We have come across this before in this country, and it is a serious matter. My hon. Friend has invited other Members to dissociate themselves from such actions, and it is open to them to do so.
I apologise to my hon. Friend for confusing her, and for being slightly late for her speech. I blame the dodgy telly in the Adjournment restaurant, rather than not wanting to hear the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. However, I understand that the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) did not mention several of the contributions to the debate. I wonder whether his failure to mention my speech illustrates his embarrassment that senior politicians in the Conservative party are describing council estates in my constituency as “ghettoes”, and that, over wine and canapés, they are—
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) raised a serious issue about the funding for further and higher education. He asked me to pass his comments on to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and I am happy to do that.
I thank the Minister for mentioning that, and for giving way. This is a very serious issue. Will she impress on the Secretary of State that he needs to intervene personally to save those jobs and student places? In no way should the people who are responsible for this mess get off scot-free, yet it is the staff and students who are losing their jobs and courses because of those people’s incompetence in the past.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of step-free access at stations such as Finsbury Park. Transport is also a serious issue in my constituency. I have two very useful friends of station groups—one is Friends of Walkden Station—and I have to say that the notion of moving to step-free access at our station is a dream. I can understand why, if the dream was promised and then taken away, many people would be disappointed. My hon. Friend also raised spoke about the electrification of the Barking-Gospel Oak railway line.
I want to make progress and see if I can finish, as it is right for me to try to refer to all the contributions.
The next contribution came from the hon. Member for New Forest, East, who referred to the death of Cat Hickman; she was killed in the Camberwell fire and our thoughts and prayers are with her family on their terrible loss. The constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House is, of course, Camberwell and Peckham, and I know how much she has done—even bearing in mind the pressure at the end of this parliamentary Session—to support her constituents over that incident. I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments to her.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) spoke about Heathrow expansion and particularly the bond scheme. He talked about people and families being trapped in blighted properties. We will try to take that issue forward for him.
I say this more in sadness than in anger—although my Mace days may not be completely over—that, despite my raising the issue for three or four years, neither the Secretary of State nor any other Transport Minister has visited my constituency to meet the people who will lose their homes. Will my hon. Friend yet again take back to the Transport Department the request for a Minister to visit the people whose homes are under threat?
I need to move on.
The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) raised the importance of twinning for church groups and others who want to entertain visitors from such a twinned area. I will make the necessary representations to the Minister for Borders and Immigration on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf. In common with him, I know how much churches and communities gain from those visits.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) raised a number of different issues, including rural communities. He also spoke about violence in a constituency pub that involved the British National party member, Nick Griffin. That is a serious matter. The north-west, particularly Wigan, which adjoins my constituency, has also seen violence around BNP meetings. When it happens, it reveals a very reprehensible aspect of BNP politics; we just cannot have that at all. My hon. Friend also made representations on behalf of a head teacher and other senior school staff against whom allegations have been made. We are keenly aware of the effect that such allegations can have on a person’s health, family and career. I think it is a matter of working to ensure that the systems for dealing with such allegations are fair and capable of resolving the issues quickly. I know that my hon. Friend has made the same representations on previous occasions, and I am sure that it has been helpful for him to have made them again tonight. He also referred to two Bills that he had introduced.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) gave another plug to the all-party beer group, which I suppose we can expect at this time of year. I will refer on his key point about representatives of the emergency services forum wanting to speak to people in government. It is concerning when so many people lose their lives on holiday. It should be a happy time of year and people should not come back from holidays, particularly in Spain, having lost loved ones.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland)—[Interruption.] He is not in his place; he has obviously decided to go and sample the beer. Perhaps colleagues could pass on to him my response to the issues he raised about the north and the north-west. Leeds was the town I grew up in. The hon. Gentleman said that Leeds needs an arena, but wants Sheffield MPs to keep out of the debate. I should perhaps remind him about a casino in Manchester, in respect of which Leeds got heavily involved. It seems that, over there in Leeds, they need to take their own advice.
I believe that I have touched on most of the issues raised in the debate. If I have missed any out, I will make the necessary representations on behalf of hon. Members.
As we reflect on spending some 68 days working in our constituencies, as well as having the odd fortnight for a summer holiday, I would like to end by thanking all House staff, particularly the Hansard writers who make sense of our contributions. If they can make some sense of the debate that we have had tonight, that clearly shows their talent. I also thank the staff of the Tea Room, who keep us all going—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No 9(3).