We now come to the debate on general matters. I will start off with a six-minute limit on speeches, but if there are too many interventions, I will have to drop the time. I am trying to get everybody six minutes. I am sure it will be a good debate as we go into recess.
There is a strong and growing sense of anger in Salford and across Greater Manchester about the Government’s decision to axe the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. A strong campaign in the Manchester Evening News is asking the Government to rethink their plans.
The 2nd Battalion has a long and distinguished service history dating back to the Lancashire Fusiliers. Nineteen heroes from the Lancashire Fusiliers, which became the 2nd Battalion, were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. The battalion has served this country in every major conflict since 1674. Many of its soldiers gave their lives fighting for this country.
In 2009, the 2nd Battalion of Fusiliers completed a tour of Afghanistan in which it lost seven men killed in action. Others were wounded, some very seriously. Three of the seven died together in an explosion while on patrol near Sangin in Helmand province on 16 August 2009, including Fusilier Simon Annis from Salford. Simon and fellow Fusilier Louis Carter were trying to drag their injured comrade, Lance Corporal James Fullarton, to safety after a roadside bomb blast, but as the pair lifted Lance Corporal Fullarton on to a stretcher, they triggered a second device, causing an explosion that killed all three soldiers, who died at the scene. Simon was on his first operational tour. He was described by a senior Army officer as a “shining example” to the nation. Simon Annis had been married for just a month before he deployed to Afghanistan.
When the 2nd Battalion had its homecoming parade from Afghanistan later in 2009, Salford people lined the streets to give the returning soldiers a warm welcome. I was proud to be at the parade and to meet my constituents, Ann and Peter Annis, the parents of Fusilier Simon Annis. The pride his parents feel is replaced by anger at the Government’s decision to axe the battalion their son served so valiantly. Simon’s mother Ann has said:
“Simon was so proud to serve in the battalion and now this feels like a smack in the face. He died with his mates in that battalion and now it will be gone…Lads are still in Afghanistan and dying out in Afghanistan and the Army are talking about cuts and job losses. Morale must be at rock bottom.”
(Beckenham) (Con): My uncle served in the Lancashire Fusiliers and I am very proud of that fact. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be a good idea if the Government could rethink their policy on cuts to infantry battalions—the three in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland—at least until we are out of Afghanistan?
I very much agree with hon. Gentleman. I am today asking for such a rethink.
The decision to axe the battalion feels like a betrayal to the memory of Simon Annis and the other soldiers who have given their lives. I agree with Mrs Annis that the decision is bad for morale—it must be. There is a deep attachment in Salford and across Greater Manchester to this battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers, which has such a long and proud history of service to this country, as I have mentioned. The 2nd Battalion is linked to Salford and other places in Greater Manchester. At this difficult time for employment, its loss will significantly reduce the opportunities for local people who want to enter a career serving their country. Furthermore, the decision will put 600 soldiers and officers at risk of being made redundant.
Brigadier David Paterson, the honorary colonel of the 2nd Battalion, wrote in a letter to General Sir Peter Wall that the decision would not best serve the armed forces. In the letter, he tells of his bitter disappointment at the decision to cut the battalion, which he describes as
“the strongest in raw manning and deployable strength”,
and he writes of the difficulty he will have in telling his fusiliers, in an almost fully staffed battalion, why they are now likely to be posted to battalions that cannot recruit as well as the 2nd battalion, which has 523 trained soldiers out of a maximum strength of 532. He has questioned the criteria being used to single out the unit, which actually has a strong record in recruiting new soldiers and is the only regiment set to grow over the next six months.
The Secretary of State said yesterday that the recruiting ability of regiments over a period of 10 years had been taken into account when deciding these cuts, but it seems wrong, given the different employment situation today and the battalion’s strong record in recruiting, to take what must have been a few leaner years of recruitment as the reason for axing this historic battalion. I urge Ministers to reconsider the decision and instead respect the proud history and valour of the 2nd Battalion, of which I and the people of Salford are so proud.
A good education is the best start that a child can be given, so I am pleased that the Isle of Wight further education college provides a great education and now has the added benefit of a sixth-form department. Before the current principal, Debbie Lavin, took over, results were poor, but under her leadership it has become a flagship college. I am also confident that Christ the King sixth form, which will open in September, will be of a high standard and give its students a similar excellent start in life. I wish the principal, Pat Goodhead, the chairman of governors, David Lisseter, and all those involved with Christ the King college well in their endeavours.
Unemployment on the Isle of Wight has fallen in recent months, which is welcome news, but the news is not so good for young people. I know that Ministers are working hard to reduce youth unemployment, but one way of doing that is to increase the number of apprenticeships. To that end, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), has agreed to visit the island in December to help us boost local apprenticeships.
It is necessary that apprenticeships be expanded at all levels, which is why I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister is visiting. I look forward to it.
One positive way of gaining experience while looking for employment is voluntary work, and there are many excellent causes on the island. For example, the Isle of Wight food bank, which has been doing a sterling job since its launch a year ago, has helped more than 2,000 people in dire straits by providing food donated by other islanders. I pay tribute to Hannah King, who runs the food bank, and all her volunteers for the sterling work they do.
Finally, I want to touch on events that brought parts of the island to a standstill for more than 24 hours last month. Many hon. Members will have seen the headlines about the Isle of Wight festival chaos. The festival has been held in its present location since 2002, but owing to atrocious weather and a clear lack of contingency planning, some island roads were gridlocked on 28 and 29 June. The impact on some islanders’ lives was very serious. Vehicles were at a standstill for hours, blocking roads and preventing islanders from getting to work, school, hospital appointments and the ferry terminals, while ferries sat in the Solent for up to five hours, unable to unload cars; there was nowhere for them to go. School children missed important exams, and others walked home when there were no buses. Some families were unable to get to the funerals of relatives, and other funerals were cancelled.
It is not for me to apportion blame, but a bad situation was certainly made much worse by a lack of communication with the island’s media. For example, Michael Coombes and Paul Topping, along with Heather McCallum, Glyn Taylor and Lucy Morgan of Isle of Wight Radio, worked tirelessly to try to keep islanders abreast of events. However, their efforts were largely thwarted, because nobody would tell them what was going on. Thankfully, the situation was finally brought under control on the Friday morning, when alternative car parks were opened. Many islanders showed amazing community spirit, offering food, shelter and other help to stranded festival goers. That included the Vectis 4x4 responders. Without their help, vehicles would have been stuck in the mud bath that was the festival car park for many more hours.
In order to ensure that such problems do not arise again, we need to know what went wrong this year. The organisers, Solo, are not covering themselves in glory. First it was announced that refunds would be given; then Solo said that they would not. I know that VentnorBlog has asked Solo a number of times for a copy of the emergency safety plan, but those requests have been ignored. Solo may not feel accountable to local people or our local media, but without local good will the festival will be harder to stage. I want the festival to continue—so do many others on the island and, of course, off it—but Solo must ensure that local people are able to go about their lives around it. Then we will all benefit again.
I want to use this afternoon’s debate to put down a marker of my concern about the changes in Government policy towards further education and the introduction of further education loans, and also about the possible impact of changes to higher education funding on social mobility. I am particularly concerned that the introduction of further education loans will discourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds from taking up access courses to university or, if they are over 24, from entering FE to undertake level 3 study.
A couple of years ago I visited a school in my constituency which some years previously had had poor attainment levels. Because of the investment by the last Labour Government, it had massively increased its levels of success at GCSE and A-level; hence, for the first time ever, a lot of the young people there were considering going to university. However, I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago with a group of young people from the same school who were just not so sure that going to university was a possible way forward for them. That should be a matter of great concern to this House.
Last month I attended, as I do every year, the New College Durham graduation ceremony in my constituency. The students at New College range from 16-year-old school leavers to adults with families who have gone back into education, often after losing their jobs. I congratulated them on doing the right thing—on getting a good education and working hard—and I wished them all the best for the future. However, I am concerned that introducing further education loans may reduce the number of such people in colleges across the country who are getting the education they deserve, gaining the skills for a new career or accessing higher education. In 2010-11, more than 370,000 people aged over 24 were studying at this level, so the change will not affect just a small number. The people in FE want to reskill, but they also want to get promotion or enter employment for the first time. We are risking our economy and our future economic growth by not encouraging that group of people to reskill.
My hon. Friend makes a useful point. We need apprenticeships, but it is important that people—especially those aged over 24—are able to take up those apprenticeships. We also need to support the 16 to 24-year-olds in apprenticeships, as that is yet another route by which they can gain skills and get into the labour market.
Projections predict that, by 2020, 56% of jobs will need to be graduate level jobs in order to meet the demands of a knowledge-based economy. It is vital that people from all backgrounds are able to get the necessary education to get those graduate level jobs. The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Sharp of Guildford has recognised that the introduction of further education loans threatens social mobility, saying that she cannot understand why the Government are pushing forward with loans for level 3 study while they claim to be concerned about social mobility. I ask the Minister to comment on that point today.
In my constituency in Durham, there has been a 355% increase between May 2011 and May 2012 in the number of people who have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for 12 months. If those people want to get an education, start a new career and get out of the trap of unemployment, we need to ensure that they have access to the necessary education. A survey conducted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has found that the proportion of people surveyed who were willing to take out a loan for further education has dropped dramatically for higher age cohorts. Worryingly, that suggests that the policy could do real damage to the lifelong learning sector and to the ability of people to retrain and reskill in their 40s and 50s, which could block their chances of regaining employment.
The importance of further education can really be seen at the moment, with so many people unemployed right across the country, but even in the good times we need people to be able to gain skills in certain industries to maintain our global competitiveness. In 2006, the Leitch report called for the continued upskilling of Britain’s population, but the Government are failing to implement those proposals.
I also want to consider what is happening in the higher education sector. About 70% of those enrolling in higher education access courses are women. I know from a recent letter from the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning that people who undertake access courses and get into university will have the money that they spend on those courses refunded, but we must also take into account the deterrent effect that having to take out a loan could have on people enrolling in access courses in the first place. I am also worried that the number of applications to universities for courses starting in 2012 has reduced dramatically. That might not follow through to a reduction in the number of students going to university, but we should be worried by the fall in applications.
Finally, I want to make a plea to the Government to keep supporting the widening of access to our universities. We know that they have allocated £140 million this year for widening participation, but it is essential that those funds should be not only maintained but increased so that education can fulfil its role as a route to social mobility.
It is a pleasure to follow my near namesake, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods). I want to talk about three issues: the general position of policing and criminal activity in London; the excellent work being done by Harrow police; and the scandalous proposal to close the custody suite in Harrow.
On the general position in London, some 300,000 people were arrested last year for alleged crimes, of whom 100,000 were foreign nationals. Of the 100,000 foreign nationals arrested, 86,000 were convicted of a criminal offence. I am one of those who welcomes tourists who come to this country on holiday, spend their money here and enjoy our wonderful heritage. I also welcome those who come here as students and who learn about this country and go back to their own countries enriched by their experience of the United Kingdom. I welcome those who come here to work and pay their taxes, and the families that choose to live here and integrate into society, becoming part of our great British society overall. However, those who come as guests and then commit criminal offences, and who are responsible for a third of London’s crime, are a danger to everyone else who comes here to make this country their home.
That is a key concern. The worst aspect is that, as I understand it, of those 86,000 people convicted of criminal offences, none were deported. Worse still, none were barred from returning to the UK if they chose to leave of their own volition. That, of course, creates community tensions and concerns for all the law-abiding people who have come here either to live here or on a visit. This requires prompt and immediate Government action.
Let me turn to the issues in Harrow. I recently had the pleasure and honour to attend a commendation service for 22 policemen and women who were commended by the borough commander for courage and for work above and beyond the call of duty. These brave individuals do an excellent job in ensuring that Harrow is London’s second safest borough. They cannot be praised highly enough. I believe it is right and proper to pay tribute to all those brave men and women who lay their lives on the line almost daily so that we can go about our business in a carefree manner, as we would all wish.
Finally, the third issue I want to deal with is the scandalous proposal to close the custody suite in Harrow police station. Everyone knows that when people are arrested, they are often violent, they are sometimes intoxicated and they can give the police a very hard time. Such people need to be transported to a custody suite, and processed and looked after in the prison cells, if required, in the most expeditious manner possible. The last thing that is needed is to transport people arrested in Harrow to Wembley or even to Kilburn when they may be violent, intoxicated on drink or drugs and causing many problems for police officers.
Another key concern is that if this proposal were to go ahead, police officers would be dragged away from Harrow to go to Wembley, Kilburn or beyond to process these individuals, and criminal investigation department officers would have to attend at one of those police stations to interview them and make sure that they were safe and secure overnight, if necessary. That, to me, is dragging away police officers who should be patrolling Harrow streets and unnecessarily tying them up in work that they should not need to do. Equally, there is a concern that people who have been arrested and put in police cells need to be inspected by police inspectors on a regular basis to make sure that they are safe and secure, and thus in a position to be interviewed. What is being proposed suggests that there will be an attempt to move the CID officers from Harrow to Wembley or Kilburn in order to facilitate all this investigation work and the necessary work of policing.
I therefore ask responsible Ministers to step in and make sure that this proposal bites the dust very quickly so that we do not see a drag-down of police officers and a drag on police time and resources in Harrow, and so that we do not cease to be London’s second safest borough.
It is currently a proposal across London to close certain custody suites. I am obviously concentrating on my own constituency, but my hon. Friend should be clear that a similar proposal might well come forward for his own constituency, which will impact on his own borough of Bromley. We have to be careful about this across London.
I am particularly concerned because I know that when people are arrested in Harrow, at certain times of day it can take almost an hour to get to Wembley or Kilburn police station. Members can imagine a scenario involving violent criminals kicking off in the back of a police van that is dragging policemen or policewomen to another station where they will be tied up for several hours. Resources in Harrow will be severely stretched, and I suspect that there will be proposals for other custody suites to be closed throughout London, which I think would be wrong. We need to make it clear that custody suites should be in the most locally appropriate area, so that criminals can be processed in a humane and orderly fashion rather than transported for huge distances, tying up police resources unnecessarily.
I am sure that a Minister will respond to me in writing, but I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take the issue on board as well, so that we can be given an answer. I know that all three Harrow Members are very concerned about this, as are the Harrow public.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to participate in the debate.
The Northern Ireland Executive have designated 2012 the “our time, our place” year, because of the number of significant anniversaries and major events taking place in the Province. Given that we are nearly halfway through 2012, I think it would be useful to take stock of what has happened in Northern Ireland so far this year,
We have had some enormous successes. The Irish open golf championship was the first European tour event ever to sell out completely—in this instance, for all four days of the competition. It was a fantastic occasion, despite the weather, which did its best to dampen spirits. We have also experienced the build-up to the Olympics. I am pleased that Northern Ireland is providing training venues for the Chinese male and female gymnastics teams and the Cuban boxers, among others. A few years ago it would have been unthinkable for those teams to stay in Northern Ireland to train, so that is a sign of the great progress the Province has made.
This year was also the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, which was marked by the opening of the iconic Titanic Experience building in Belfast, which is already attracting visitors whose number massively exceeds that predicted. The great news is that two thirds of the visitors are “out of state”—an encouraging sign for the sustainability of this major new tourist project. Belfast has again stamped its mark on the Titanic name, which is important given the association of that great ship with the city where it was built.
Her Majesty’s visit to Northern Ireland on 26 and 27 June was an enormous success. A great deal of attention was paid to the famous handshake between the Deputy First Minister and Her Majesty. I for one was delighted that Her Majesty was able to come to Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and that the Deputy First Minister was presented to her as part of the jubilee tour. That too is a sign of the enormous progress we have made. Her Majesty has been to Northern Ireland 20 times during her reign, but the fact that on this occasion she was able to proceed through part of Belfast in an open-top vehicle in the presence of 20,000 members of the public shows just how far the Province has come.
Later this year, we shall mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster covenant on 28 September. Back in 1912, 500,000 people signed the covenant enabling Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom, in opposition to the third Home Rule Bill. It is often forgotten that, two years later, more than 2 million people in Britain signed a similar covenant. We look forward to those events later in the year.
Next year, we shall celebrate Londonderry’s becoming the UK City of Culture, and the world police and fire games will come to Belfast. We have very good things to look forward to as we continue to make progress with the political stability that now exists at Stormont. However, we must also confront challenges and difficulties, one of which is facing up to the events of the past. This Saturday, 21 July, marks the 40th anniversary of the Bloody Friday bombings in Belfast. We have heard a lot this year about the Bloody Sunday 40th anniversary, but it is often forgotten that just a few months later some of the worst atrocities ever carried out by the IRA took place, when 22 bombs were set off in Belfast city centre in an 18-minute period, killing nine people and injuring 130, including 77 women and children. Many of those victims and their families still bear the mental and physical scars to this day. We must never forget to honour the memory of those victims, and, indeed, all the victims in Northern Ireland. Justice demands that those who know about what happened in those events—we know, for instance, that Gerry Adams was commanding officer of the IRA in Belfast at that time—should come forward even now and tell the victims and society at large what they know, in order to provide closure and truth for the victims.
In recent days, the Orangefest took place on and around 12 July. There were many Orange parades throughout the Province. Almost all of them passed off entirely peacefully, but there was orchestrated violence aimed at the police—include gunshots—by republican dissidents in Ardoyne in my constituency. Some people simply do not want peace; they do not want a resolution to any of the problems we face. There have been attacks on Orange halls at Greencastle and Clifton street in my constituency and at Glenavy in County Antrim. The fact is, however, that the people of Northern Ireland want to move forward. They do not want to be held back by this tiny minority of dissidents who are opposed to the peace process and political stability.
Yes, and I will come on to that point soon.
In the months and weeks leading up to this year’s parading season, community representatives, clergy and political leaders did a lot of hard work on the ground on many different topics. There were talks, supported and encouraged by local politicians, on parades and protests involving the North and West Belfast Parades Forum and the Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association. The Democratic Unionist party, Sinn Fein and others in north Belfast sat down and worked on investment and regeneration plans, and sought resolution to long-standing issues. By making progress across a range of issues, we can create the environment for the resolution of the most difficult problems. I am determined that that should continue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) just referred to the recent situation having been made worse by the gross mistakes of the Parades Commission. That was the case.
This point applies not only to north Belfast, but to my constituency of South Antrim, where, once again, the Parades Commission bungled things—but, thankfully, sense prevailed and the Orangemen and women did their best to ensure a very happy day for all.
I am glad there was such a happy outcome in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and he is right to pay tribute to the people on all sides who worked to bring that about.
There has been a notable lack of support, or even understanding, in both communities in Northern Ireland for the Parades Commission’s mad and bad decision to give a boost to a dissident republican mob intent on violence in the Ardoyne area of my constituency. The chairman is now trying to divert blame by passing the buck to others, which only serves to illustrate how out of touch he and his colleagues are.
We will remain committed to working through these problems. They are isolated and small in number, but they cause great difficulties for my constituents on both sides of the community. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Government must recognise that the tremendous progress that has been made in Northern Ireland must not give a veto, or allow dissidents who are against everybody who is for peace and political progress in Northern Ireland to hold the rest of society to ransom.
As the Minister with responsibility for culture, communications and creative industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) is set to review the future provision of e-books in libraries, now is a very apt time to highlight the options, challenges and opportunities of e-book lending for libraries, and by default for the publishers and the authors, who control the rights to e-books, focusing in particular on how we can make e-book provision widely available in a manner that supports and sustains our excellent community library network and credits the creative industries.
My research has brought to light some interesting statistics. E-book sales in 2011 were up a staggering 366%, making up some 8% of the market and worth £92 million. Physical book sales in the first half of 2011 fell to a 10-year low, and e-book production overtook hardback output for the first time ever. In researching this issue and preparing this speech, I have been very grateful for the feedback from and views of various library campaign groups, experts, publishers, booksellers and professional librarians. I can tell the House that not everybody agreed with my initial thoughts, which I am about to set out, but it is important that we put those on the table as part of this review and try to make some progress.
My view is that, in principle, e-books should be widely available throughout the library network. Currently, 94 local authorities offer some form of e-book provision, but the available stock is at best poor, predominantly because the big six publishers are not willing to release their stock. They will not do so, first, because the private label rights arrangement whereby publishers and authors get 6p every time a physical book is lent out does not apply to e-books. In the business world, authors and publishers need some form of incentive. There is also a worry that the balance between physical sales and library usage would be altered, resulting in fewer physical sales.
At the moment, the balance between paperback and hardback book sales, and library usage, works. It is often more convenient physically to buy a book than to borrow one from a library: for example, some supermarkets that offer books open 24 hours a day, whereas libraries have limited opening times. Some people choose not to use a library because they do not like the idea of a second-hand book that somebody may have spilt their tea and biscuits on. A significant number of people who purchase books do so to display them on their shelves. I do not envisage people being told on visiting someone’s house in the future, “Please browse my hard drive to look at what I have been purchasing.”
It is therefore clear that for publishers to release their e-books, they will have to be paid for, and there are two options. First, a Government—of whichever colour—will have to write a very large cheque, probably considerably bigger than the one they already write for the PLR arrangement, to release those books. Presuming that we do not have a Government of a particular colour who wish to dash to the rescue, I propose a second option that is worth considering: a small charge for e-books. As somebody who inherently does not like paying for things, that does not come easy to me; however, because we are currently not prepared to pay the publishers, the books are simply not being released.
I propose that the money generated from such a charge be ring-fenced and shared between the publishers and authors, and the physical community library, with the money generated for the latter being spent on enhancing provision and service, be that events, book stock—staggeringly, that accounts for only 7% of library expenditure—extending opening hours, outreach work and so on. The publishers, in return for getting financial compensation for their books being borrowed, would be encouraged to release some of their stock for free access. I have met a number of publishers, and they see that as an opportunity to promote upcoming authors and educational books.
I also propose—again, this is controversial—that e-books be borrowed through a physical visit to the library, thus protecting footfall. That seems like madness in a digital world, but my fear is that if we make things too easy—I go back to the point about convenience—why would anybody buy an e-book or visit a library? Local authorities across the country would soon start cutting huge swathes of community libraries, which are very important, particularly for people getting their first opportunity to enjoy reading, such as younger people, and those who cannot afford e-readers.
I also advise the Government to look to provide a uniform e-book service. Lots of local authorities have been signing up to the models currently available—at great expense—from the book stock fund. I fear that a number of authorities, through no fault of their own, will end up investing heavily in a “Betamax” option. Underlining all this, we should keep traditional books: paperbacks and hardbacks should always remain free, because they are the cornerstones of libraries.
If we do nothing and do not convince the publishers to release their stock, library usage will continue to fall as people drift to e-readers and e-book provision in libraries remains insufficient. Local authorities will continue to invest in the wrong forms of technology, and we will miss out on the potential of e-books to attract new generations of readers.
These are just ideas to start the debate, and I am delighted the Minister has agreed to carry out a review. I hope to secure a 30-minute debate in Westminster Hall, which will provide a great opportunity to discuss some of the points that have been made to me.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who made a very interesting speech, to which I listened intently.
I wish to speak about reform of the civil service. A well-functioning civil service is exceptionally important to the effectiveness of any Government, and we must get it right. I was therefore interested to see the Government’s White Paper on reform of the civil service. Ministers must be able to rely on civil servants and to be able to drive their work forward. I was a civil servant for 16 years, between 1980 and 1997, in the Treasury. Some 10 years later I returned as a Minister, serving briefly in the Cabinet Office and the Department for Work and Pensions. So I have experience of fighting on both sides of the barricades, as it were.
I found that some aspects of the culture were unchanged in the 10 years that I was out of Whitehall, with some seemingly unchanged for 400 years. Coriolanus is told by Shakespeare to proceed by the procedure, and I think that the culture of process over delivery is a long-lasting one in Whitehall. For example, in 2006 an official who was working on the forecasting of the number of immigrants who would come from eastern Europe said, “We went through all the right processes. What more could we have done?” That forecast was out 30-fold.
The good news is that we have a professional civil service that is largely free of corruption. I say “largely” because although we were all looking for more exchanges between the public and the private sector, those have sometimes engendered rather unfortunate behaviour. Our civil servants are also, by and large, intelligent and committed. The problems, however, are well rehearsed and some are mentioned in the Government’s White Paper. They include the fact that the civil service has a stronger capacity on policy than on delivery, which has been recognised as a problem in the British civil service since the Fulton report of 1968. In this White Paper, the Government say that only a third of projects are delivered on time and to budget. One point that they do not raise, but it is an issue, is the narrow social base and experience of civil servants, particularly senior officials. That leads to ignorance and naivety in areas of social policy. I noticed when I was a DWP Minister that I sometimes knew far more than my officials.
Other problems include: the lack of specialist expertise in project management, in contracting and commercial work, and in finance and in human resources—those are all key management delivery skills—a culture of irresponsibility; weakness in long-term and strategic thinking; poor oral and communication skills; a focus on managing inwards and upwards, rather than downwards and outwards; and, I am sorry to say, a loss of administrative skills and honesty. For example, when I was a Minister I had my electronic signature put on documents that I had not seen.
Does the Government’s White Paper address those issues? The answer is: up to a point. I notice that it is a document that calls for less bureaucracy, despite having three forewords. The proposal to have stronger management—the measure for pushing out the bottom 10% and boosting up the top 25%—is rather crude. I would have thought that a well-managed organisation would not need to use such crude management techniques. However, the Government note the importance of strengthening capabilities and of shared services, and they want to strengthen ministerial influence over senior appointments. I agree with what they are doing there, but I do not think that they are going far enough.
The approach of “open” policy making is extremely complex. Obviously, Ministers want to be able to source ideas from people other than Whitehall officials, but the neutrality of officials is also very important and we need to hold on to it. The Government are going wrong in cutting too far, there are too many new-fangled financial mechanisms, such as payment by results, which will be more expensive than gilts, and they have not addressed the narrow social base and the experience situation.
The crucial issue is accountability. Three basic types of accountability are possible in an organisation: hierarchical, market or democratic. In Whitehall, the most important of those is the democratic element. That means that Ministers can be responsible for policy and, if they are warned, for delivering failures, but that otherwise officials must be responsible for delivery. I totally support the work that the Public Accounts Committee has been doing in that regard.
The negative needs a proactive solution. The Secretary of State should be able to appoint the permanent secretary from a shortlist that has been put together by the Appointments Commission. I had always thought that that was a good idea, but when I heard Lord O’Donnell, the previous Cabinet Secretary, say on Radio 4 that that was the one thing he did not want to happen, I knew that it was the lever that we must pull.
I want to raise the question of leasehold valuation tribunals. I declare that my parents had to leave their home in the 1950s after leasehold reform. I also declare that I have an interest in a leasehold flat in Worthing, where the landlord is good, the managing agents are good and we are all happy. That is not true of all. There are about 1.8 million leaseholders in this country and the figure will grow. They pay about £3 billion a year in service changes, and that figure will grow, too. Not all landlords create problems, but some do; not all of those landlords are in the private sector. Some are in the public sector and I have come across a case in which a major London council was found to have been overcharging leaseholders enormously.
I have taken up this issue because there was a long-running problem, which is now being resolved, in Oakland court in my constituency. I pay tribute to those on both sides who are helping to resolve it, but until it reached a resolution I described what was happening to people who, in the majority, are frail and elderly people in their 80s and 90s—those who are still alive since the case began—as, in effect, legal torture, to which they were subjected as they tried to get into the leasehold valuation tribunal proceedings. Appeals, delays and applications from the other side blocked them from being heard.
Leasehold valuation tribunals are part of the residential property system that might properly be described as a non-departmental body. They replace the rent panels and I suspect that it falls between the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Justice. They are probably more the responsibility of the former, but I stand to be corrected on that.
I do not expect my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to respond to what I am saying today as I would much prefer to get a letter later. My request to him is that if in September it is possible to have a ministerial statement from the appropriate Minister or Ministers, saying that their officials have met together, taken advice from those who staff and sit on the leasehold valuation tribunals and listened to some of the organisations that have considered the issues, as well as stating how the Government assess the situation and intend to approach it in the future, I shall be grateful.
Let me pay tribute to a liberal think-tank, CentreForum. I anticipate that it will bring out a guide to the issues in leasehold valuation tribunals and the reforms that are needed. Although it is not necessarily a true blue think tank, I welcome its proposals and look forward to reading its full report with great interest.
When my constituents, ably led by John Fenwick, to whom I pay tribute, applied to the Bar Council pro bono unit to get representation, they made the point that when the leaseholders applied to challenge invoices for services that were not being provided, they were confronted by demands from solicitors and a barrister to the tribunal
“to decline jurisdiction and…to dismiss the whole of the application as being frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process, having no prospect of success.”
If it takes two or three goes to get in front of a tribunal and the application costs, say, £350, there is a major problem that needs dealing with.
The tribunals can be very useful for one group of leaseholders who are trying to get a recalcitrant fellow leaseholder to pay up when they are not paying their charges. A very good example appears in an article from 2007 by Liz Hodgkinson in The Daily Telegraph, talking about how they managed to get an order to make one leaseholder pay up thousands of pounds-worth of costs that they had not paid.
My issue is about the inequality of arms that leads to oppressive behaviour by managing agents or freeholders. If leaseholders are faced with a freeholder or managing agent who has associated companies in which they do not declare their interest, we end up with the situations disclosed in leasehold valuation tribunal judgments, whereby each leaseholder may be asked to pay insurance costs of £6,000 or £7,000 when the appropriate cost is about £2,000. There are scandals that need exposing. We need publicity and better adoption of rules and guidance and, if necessary, the law—although I suspect that the registration of managing agents would do far more —so that many vulnerable and elderly people do not suffer.
I am grateful to Martin Boyd of the Charter Quay residents association in Kingston. He points out that neither leasehold valuation tribunals nor the Department for Communities and Local Government
“keep data on the effectiveness or otherwise of the legislation in terms of outcomes.”
He notes that FOI disclosures show Ministers and their advisers what is going on.
The DCLG and the Ministry of Justice probably have very few resources. There may be only one or two officials trying to look after those things, so the Minister has to accept the advice that not much is known and not much needs to be done. The Government’s policy, rightly, is for more leasehold flats, with greater enfranchisement for leaseholders to challenge oppressive costs. We need change, and I look to the Government to review whether staffing is appropriate and whether more people can be brought in to advise Ministers so that there is a better outcome.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who is a personal friend. We have campaigned together on many things over the years.
I am saddened by the issue I have to raise this afternoon. As a Member with reasonably long service, I have been very disturbed over recent months about the low morale among the people who make this place work. For the information of the House, over the past few days I have talked to chefs, kitchen staff, cleaning staff, visitor assistants, maintenance men and women, Library researchers, Doorkeepers, Committee staff, procedural Clerks, finance and legal workers, human resources staff, drivers, porters, attendants, curatorial staff, Hansard reporters, members of the media and events teams, accommodation staff and so on. I have done my homework, and I have never met a group of people so demoralised by what they have to put up with as employees of Parliament.
We all rely on the staff in this place; we cannot provide a good service to our constituents without their support. This Parliament should be an exemplar of the best kind of employer, but I am afraid we are not the best employer. As I talked to members of staff, they constantly said, “It isn’t what is happening, it’s not knowing what’s happening.” There is poor communication.
I am keen on management and I chair the all-party management group. I know a little about good management. If managers do not keep in touch with their stakeholders—all the people who make this place a success, and make it amenable to good working for Members of Parliament—and if they do not keep communication open and tell people what is happening, staff become disillusioned and unhappy in their role.
Over recent months—perhaps longer—there is every sign that certain people who are influential in the management of this place believe that it is a business. It is a funny old business where people do not know quite when the House will be sitting. In 2007, we sat for 151 days, and in 2008 it was 150 days. In 2009, we sat for 134 days, in 2010—election year—128 days, and in 2011, 149 days. This is a hard-working House, but it works funny hours, because a lot of our job is done out in the constituency, where we look after our constituents and find out the information that we need to be effective parliamentarians. We cannot run this place as though it were a commercial undertaking; indeed, the House voted by a majority for changes in the sitting hours, which will make it even more difficult to run this place.
We speak to members of staff who say, “All of us in this department, after 20 years of service, have been asked to reapply for our jobs”, and to people in catering who say, “We all hear that they will privatise this, and we will all be out of employment.” That is either true or false, but whatever is happening should be communicated to our members of staff, so that they have some assurance.
The research is quite difficult, but there are 78 senior managers involved in one way or another in the management of this place, and a range of interesting people are involved. We have in the House a business change manager, a director general of human resources and change, an assistant corporate risk management facilitator, and an implementation manager. We have an awful lot of managers—and I am sure that, according to their lights, they are doing a good job. What I am saying to the House is that we should take the welfare of the people who make this place work very seriously indeed.
There is another really worrying thing, apart from the welfare of the people who work here and have, over the years, put so much into their work. I am not talking about well-paid people, or people who have the most comfortable life in this country, in terms of their pay and conditions. I am also talking about the people in the Palace involved in security, who believe that security is threatened by the lack of morale here. They are trying to do the job with staff cuts, and with a declining number of people involved. I had a hand in improving the education offering in this place. It is so nice to see many more people visiting, and lots of children on educational visits. Interestingly enough, as was pointed out to me when I tried to do my research, the downside—if there is a downside—is that this becomes a busier place to manage, in terms of numbers and security. It cannot be all one way.
The reason I asked to speak in this debate is that there are very grave concerns about security, if some of the voices that I have listened to are right. Is it not about time that the management of this place got better, so that we can communicate with people in all the jobs that I enumerated? We serve our constituents best if we are served well by those people. We now have time to reflect on what we are doing to the people in all these departments, and to communicate and manage better. We Members of Parliament are the ones who will benefit from that change.
Civil liberties are defined as
“the rights guaranteed to citizens or residents of a country or territory as a matter of fundamental law”,
and are often human rights. One of my concerns on the subject is how workable the UK’s system is for many people in this country, or for those who leave this country to get away from things here. Mental capacity is one of the areas of concern; often, if a person wishes to challenge a judgment that says that they are too stupid to instruct a solicitor, they will not find a solicitor who is willing to take an instruction. Also, they will not be able to get papers accepted by the law. I have cited a number of cases, and I am very concerned about the continuing lack of scrutiny of mental capacity law.
My early-day motion 334, which I will not read out, as everyone knows it so well, looks at the issue of court judgments. Obviously, a legal system needs court judgments, but we have a serious problem with delays in getting court judgments. If one cannot get the court judgment, one cannot explain to the appellate court what is wrong with the process.
The Republic of Ireland’s Refugee Act 1996—this is relevant—defines a refugee as
“a person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality”.
If people have a well-founded fear of persecution as a result of their political views, they are refugees. There are five or six people in the Republic of Ireland and one person in Namur in Belgium who have left the UK because of the way in which they were going to be treated by the judicial system and what was proposed by the family division. I have cited the case of Toni McLeod. I reported on her child protection conference papers and the fact that there were concerns that she had been involved with the English Defence League. The judgment stated:
“The first concern…related to the mother’s association with the English Defence League.”
The second concern was that
“the mother is someone who reacts adversely to criticism and advice from professionals.”
The third concern was that
“the mother demonstrated a lack of insight into her children’s emotional and social needs”,
partly because she had drawn her child’s attention
“to her campaign against the family justice system and her belief that social workers tell lies.”
We have a serious problem if the system proposes to take a new-born baby from someone because of that person’s political views. That is clearly a form of persecution: it has been done in the past and it is still going on today. There is a second case in Ireland—not in Cavan; oddly enough, four of these cases are in Cavan, which surprised me—in which someone was deemed a threat to his children because he expressed concern about the integrity of the system. Professor Jane Ireland, who undertook research on psychologists’ reports, showed that in the family courts—not the court of protection—of 124 reports, two thirds were either poor or very poor.
That raises concern in relation to the issue of mental capacity. People’s legal existence is removed because a psychologist says that they are too stupid to instruct a solicitor, or do not have the mental capacity to do so. There are many other things that need to be said about that.
I am lucky to have the opportunity to introduce a private Member’s Bill. Second Reading will take place on 26 October, and I shall explain why it is such a good Bill and can fix some of the problems in the system. Everyone knows about the process for such Bills: I need to consult the Government and see to what extent they respond to my concerns. Having discussed the matter quite widely, I hope to publish a draft of the Bill this week. The measure may be significantly different on Second Reading, because the Government may say that under no circumstances will they allow the measure through. There are difficulties, even though the legislature has secured greater independence from the Executive, in getting things through against strong Government opposition. I intend to send the measure to the Opposition, too, as well as other political parties to seek their views on these issues.
It may surprise Members that some parts of the measure are necessary, but it deals, first, with the right to report wrongdoing. The Health Professions Council still refuses to investigate allegations against psychologists —and we must remember that those psychologists can paint people as non-persons and make them into secret prisoners—so we must do something about that. Secondly, we should have academic scrutiny of the proceedings, so that we can check that they have intellectual integrity. At the moment, things operate in a vacuum without being peer reviewed and so on. There is not even a Daubert process.
Thirdly, and importantly, children in care do not have a voice. They are not listened to, and there is no proper remedy for them. When they leave care, they are often subject to discrimination, so I hope to propose in the Bill to improve the situation for children in care and after they have left care. I have only a few more seconds, so I shall not go into much more detail about the Bill, but I hope to publish it later this week. There are serious problems that need to be dealt with, and I hope to have hon. Members’ support in doing something about that on 26 October.
I am grateful to have this opportunity to call on the Government urgently to investigate how a land value tax might be introduced to replace, first, business rates, and then council tax. I call for this because it would be more progressive and fair, it would help to prevent property speculation and it is a potential means of redistributing wealth. I am also encouraged by the fact that land value taxation has long been a key policy of one of the coalition Government partners. I hope that the robust reports on LVT from the likes of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, as well as debates such as this, might help to persuade the other partner.
As hon. Members know, LVT is a tax or levy on the value of land that takes account of any planning permission associated with it but not of any improvements made to the site such as buildings. For domestic property, for example, the house price includes both land and building values, but LVT would apply only to the land that the house stands on. LVT encourages efficient and sustainable use of land, as owners of derelict land or properties that they have deliberately allowed to become run down pay the same as those who take care of their properties. It therefore has the potential to bring more brownfield sites into use and to ease pressure on green belt. Building in towns and cities would become more efficient, urban sprawl could be reduced, and speculative land banking—for example, by big supermarkets—could be discouraged.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, not least because it gives me the opportunity to reassure him that I certainly would not be asking that widow to leave her home. What I am asking the Government to do—I have drafted a private Member’s Bill to this effect—is to research how we would implement a land value tax. Among the provisions that we would need to consider is how to protect the widow in the case to which he alludes. For example, one could give her the option of continuing to pay council tax until she dies or moves house, and if she moved house one could think about how to introduce the land value taxation at that point. I assure him that I certainly do not envisage a scenario where this measure would force people to leave their homes. It would have to be brought in gradually. I stress that my private Member’s Bill asks the Government to research this and look into the modalities of introducing it, transition periods, and so on.
One of the great advantages of a land value tax is that it would be very hard to dodge, avoid or evade. It would encourage more efficient and sustainable use of land and avoid distorting business behaviour, as our current business rates do. Business rates are levied as a percentage of the estimated rental value of the property, and the effect of that is to skew economic activity away from property-intensive production and to create a perverse incentive not to use or properly develop brownfield land first. Crucially, an LVT could discourage boom and bust in property, giving incentives against disproportionate amounts of capital being tied up in property and unsustainable accumulation of debt.
Support for this idea comes from interesting quarters both historically and today. For example, in February this year, Samuel Brittan said in the Financial Times that
“the case for a land tax is one of the oldest and least disputed propositions in economic thought.”
He went on to explain:
“Many chancellors have said that they would jump at a tax that had no disincentive effects on work or enterprise but had a strong redistributive element.”
Samuel Brittan is in very good company. Winston Churchill, speaking in 1909, put the argument in favour of LVT rather eloquently:
“Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains—all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.”
In addition to that, last year we had the heavyweight report from the IFS that was commissioned from the Nobel prize winner, Sir James Mirlees; it is known as the Mirlees review. It clearly recommends that the Treasury take LVT seriously. It says:
“This is such a powerful idea, and one that has been so comprehensively ignored by governments, that the case for a thorough official effort to design a workable system seems to us to be overwhelming.”
In responding to the questions that I have put to the Government so far on LVT, they have always fallen back on the work done by Sir Michael Lyons in his 2007 inquiry into the role, function and funding of local government. There are many criticisms of the Lyons report and there have been dramatic economic changes since it was released, the most obvious of which is the 2008 crash, which make Lyons’ analysis of land value taxation out of date.
We need a study into the practicalities that looks at how we would bring in an LVT, who would be the winners and losers, and what transitional measures would be needed. The evidence suggests that such a measure would be broadly progressive. In other words, those who can afford it would pay the most and those who can least afford it would pay the least. I hope that the Government will use the response to this debate to reply positively to the broad cross section of people who are saying that this idea has potential. We now need research into how it would be implemented.
The practicalities of land valuation at the necessary level of disaggregation might seem daunting, but that does not mean that it is not possible. There is already a substantial apparatus designed specifically to record land and property values for business rates. Rating lists are compiled by the Valuation Office Agency, which in 2009-10 employed approximately 4,000 staff. New lists are compiled every five years. The infrastructure is therefore already there and could be used.
As I said, I have introduced a private Member’s Bill which, if we are lucky, will be discussed in November. It calls on the Treasury to do a serious piece of work that looks into how land value taxation might replace business rates and, subsequently, council tax, and that takes account of transitional arrangements as necessary. I hope that the Government will take that proposal seriously. The economic case is strong. If we took the wider view to see how such a transition could be made, I think we would find that such a tax would be sensible, efficient, effective and progressive.
I want to make just one point about the transparency of petrol and diesel prices.
The Government have stepped up to the plate in cutting fuel duty. Ministers have done more to cut fuel duty in two years than many Governments have managed. However, fuel duty is still a stealth tax. As the FairFuelUK campaign has pointed out, we are not straight with the public about how much tax they pay. I pay tribute to FairFuelUK, which is one of the most effective campaigning groups in our country.
When I fill up my car, my receipt says, “Fuel: £50. VAT: £10.” That is wrong. If it was accurate, my receipt would say something like, “Fuel: £25. Duty: £25. VAT: £10.” There should be some mention of how much of that tax is spent on our roads. I want to make three brief points. First, I will explain that it was never meant to be like this. Secondly, I will say what I am proposing. Thirdly, I will say why transparency works.
The history of car taxation is a textbook case of how a tax becomes entrenched. First, it is temporary and is hypothecated for a specific purpose. It is then expanded. Finally, it is folded out into general taxation. That is exactly what happened to fuel duty between 1909 and 1937. In the early 20th century, funding for roads was drawn mainly from local ratepayers. The so-called people’s Budget in 1909, which came from the Liberal party, put a new duty on motor spirit, or petrol, in the days before our European Economic Community membership forced us to introduce VAT. The duty was ring-fenced for a road improvement fund. The explicit promise of Lloyd George in his Budget speech on 29 April 1909 was
“that the funds so raised will not merely be devoted exclusively to the improvement of the roads, but that they will be well and wisely spent for that end.”—[Official Report, 29 April 1909; Vol. 4, c. 497.]
By the 1920s, the road fund was repeatedly raided to prop up the Treasury. At the same time, fuel duty was compounded by licence fees, vehicle taxes and so forth. Eventually, from 1937 motoring duty was treated as general taxation. By 1966, just 33% of the revenue was spent on roads, and by 2008, the proportion was just 20%. Over the years, a series of “temporary” increases have been brought in. The fuel duty escalator began, in a sense, with the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties (Temporary Increase) Act 1956, back when duty was fluctuating between 5p and 6p a litre, and VAT did not exist. The temporary increase was a mirage. Fuel duty is now 58p a litre, with 20% VAT on top—an increase of more than 1,000%.
I argue that the tax burden should be clear and transparent on every receipt and every fuel bill. There should be also be some indication of how much is being spent on our roads. My receipt would therefore say, “Fuel: £25. Duty: £25. VAT: £10. Amount spent on roads: £7.” My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) made such a proposal for income tax, which the Chancellor welcomed. Let us do the same for petrol and diesel.
Why is that necessary? First, because we should be honest with motorists. The average family in Harlow spend a tenth of their income on fuel, which is more than they spend on the weekly shop. In essence, they face fuel poverty and they have a moral right to know why their bills are so high. Tax transparency would also act as a deterrent to any Government hiking fuel duty without good reason, because people would see the increase on their receipts.
As always, my hon. Friend makes a compelling case on this issue. Does he agree that it is important not only that the ordinary motorist knows that information, but that the road haulage industry knows it? It has been crippled by heavy taxes.
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and I know that when he goes back to Cleethorpes, his constituents will thank him in the streets for the work that he has done with me to try to cut fuel duty.
Tax transparency would also make it easier to hold the big oil companies to account. The Government say that their actions have a low impact compared with the huge swings in the oil price, and my proposal would give people hard evidence on a weekly basis of whether falls in the price of oil were being passed on to consumers. as recommended by the website with which I am involved, www.petrolpromise.com.
My proposal does what it says on the tin. We need basic transparency about how much fuel duty people pay and where the money goes. That would be more honest, it would be a deterrent against tax rises and it would put pressure on the oil companies to be fair. I hope, if the House is willing, to introduce a private Member’s Bill on the subject later this year. In the meantime, I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to consider the proposal for the autumn statement.
I rise to bring to the House’s attention an issue of great importance to my constituency—fishing. We have debated that critical issue on many occasions in the House, and many Members have a particular interest in it. I wish to underline the need the EU Fisheries Ministers to give full consideration to how best to move forward in a positive fashion. We hear much negativity about fishing, but there are also a lot of positives.
I represent the second-largest fishing village in Northern Ireland, Portavogie, a port that has borne the brunt of European legislation. There are days at sea restrictions, quotas on fishing catches and levels of bureaucracy that, to use a colloquialism, would choke a donkey. The number of fishing boats in Portavogie has reduced from a high of 110 to a low of approximately 60 today, and a high proportion of those are 10 metres or under. I can honestly recall being able to walk from one side of Portavogie harbour to the other without getting my feet wet, because there were so many boats in the harbour. It is very different today.
Many people are annoyed by the situation, because there are enough fish to make the fishing industry sustainable. Scientific evidence shows that in the Irish sea, many fish stocks are regenerating. Cod, in particular, are starting to come back there.
In June, EU Fisheries Ministers agreed to a phased discard ban, to be completed by 2018. The industry supports that ban on the wasteful practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea, but we need to know just when the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), and his Department will have discussions with the fishing industry on how the rules and regulations will be implemented.
There is a clamour for meaningful regionalisation and for power to be put back into the community. The EU has indicated that it intends to do that through the common fisheries policy, but there is growing concern about the approach agreed by EU Fisheries Ministers, which many feel will not deliver the regionalisation that we all want. Brussels will retain a veto over much of fisheries policy, so the fishing industry seeks reassurance that regionalisation will be meaningful and will help the lives of ordinary people. In particular, it should help the villagers of Portavogie to regenerate the industry and do better.
There has been much talk about the maximum sustainable yield and the long-term management plans. In 2002, the world summit in Johannesburg stated, in loose terminology, that the maximum sustainable yield would be achieved “where possible”. How does the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs see that fitting in with regard to the Irish sea? The Irish sea has mixed fisheries. As such, the impact on it will be different from that in other places.
The long-term management plan has built up a backlog in the EU fisheries system. The next case to be reviewed is the cod industry, which is vital for the section of the fishing industry that has experienced most of the changes over the last period of time. There is scientific evidence that the cod are coming back to the Irish sea in numbers, but we need to know exactly what is happening.
Finally, the ongoing dispute between the EU and Norway on the one hand, and Iceland and the Faroes on the other, has dragged on for three years. I understand that a meeting will be held on 3 September, when the EU, Norway and Iceland will discuss the disputes. What is the recent UK input to the EU on the issue? What is our position on the talks? We need reassurance that UK mackerel fishermen, including those from Northern Ireland, will be given an update on this matter.
In conclusion, given the reduction of days at sea, often without due consideration of, or consultation with, the fishing sector, especially when current scientific information shows that the Irish sea is regenerating, and given that the fishing fleet is sustainable, that more jobs can be created, that more opportunity can be given, and that more economic advantage can be gained, I suggest, at this very late stage, that the fishing industry needs help, including from the Government.
The provision of rural broadband and the broadband delivery plan for the two counties I represent—the East Riding of Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire—are of great importance to my constituents. It is good that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) is in the Chamber—he has been working in support of our plans in northern Lincolnshire.
This is a massive issue in Brigg and Goole, where we enjoy particularly poor internet speeds. For example, Adlingfleet in my constituency has absolutely no broadband access. Large parts of the constituency suffer speeds to which urban areas had access a decade ago. There is clearly demand for improved broadband access in my constituency, as is evidenced by the demand surveys that my local team and I have delivered—the response rate is between 10% and 15% in a number of wards. That figure continues to grow.
I am concerned about the growing digital divide in this country, with residents in rural areas missing out, which is why I welcome the Government’s broadband pledge and the broadband delivery roll-out. However, I shall talk about the specific plans for North Lincolnshire and the East Riding. My constituents are missing out on developments in health care, such as telehealth services, which will become increasingly important, and on educational opportunities, particularly continuing learning and adult education through distance learning.
Around 25% of East Riding households are likely to be non-users of the internet. The problem is compounded by poor broadband speeds. In North Lincolnshire, 52% of children under the age of 15 are unable to use the same online tools at home as they use at school because of poor access, or because they have no access at home. I visited a school in Pollington, which is in the East Riding part of my constituency because pupils had written to me to ask me to see the poor broadband speeds for myself. The situation was fairly appalling—the children are unable to access basic education websites.
We know the value of increased broadband speeds, so I will not go into them in too great a detail, but I want to speak briefly about the two delivery plans. I shall give an example of the cost savings that can be achieved with good broadband access. The average cost of residential care in North Lincolnshire is £18,000 a year. Telehealth care services can help an individual who wants to live at home retain their independence, and can produce savings of £11,000 a year, but poor access to broadband, which is necessary to support those services, obviously makes that much more difficult in our areas.
In North Lincolnshire, the broadband bid is for £12 million, of which £2.62 million is being provided by Broadband Delivery UK. Both BT and Fujitsu have said that North Lincolnshire is one of their top six priorities out of 40 bids, but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has ranked it only 23rd. I would like Ministers—I am happy for them to respond by letter—to look at the ranking that DCMS has given to the North Lincolnshire bid, particularly in the light of the priority that BT and Fujitsu have given to it, and to take into account the developments along the Humber to support the renewable energy and enterprise zones that we have and that will require much better broadband access. I also ask them to consider the funding from the European regional development fund. Our proposal involves using ERDF funding, but there is the concern that the Yorkshire and the Humber ERDF team might not have the capacity to deliver the project on time.
I have two simple requests for the East Riding. We understand that a national contract has been let, but a lot of our broadband and internet access in the East Riding is provided by Kingston Communications. Will Ministers consider whether the unique situation, with KC as the dominant local supplier, will enable the council to go into a separate arrangement outside the national structures and procurement framework with BDUK? I would also appreciate it if Ministers could clarify the exact funding available to the East Riding, because there seems to be some concern about that. Broadly speaking, I welcome what the Government are doing, but I would appreciate it if Ministers could look at these requests.
I wish to draw to the House’s attention the huge problems facing people living in the private rented sector in this country. This has to be seen in the context of the overall problems of housing supply and need in Britain. In 2010, 102,000 new properties were provided in this country, but every year approximately 230,000 new households are created. There are 2.8 million people on the waiting list for council housing in the whole country and 3 million people living in the private rented sector.
I want to talk about the private rented sector because it has been the fastest-growing sector. Even if all the council housing I would like built was built quickly, an enormous number of people would still be living in the private rented sector. Private rents have risen at double the rate of wages over the past 10 years, while people living in the private rented sector are 10 times more likely to move than owner-occupiers. Furthermore, rents are rising fast despite the low level of wage rises at the moment and the relatively low levels of inflation. In other words, it costs more to live in private rented accommodation.
Nationally, the number of people living in private rented accommodation has risen from 9% to 17% over the past 20 years and continues to rise fast. In my own borough, the number of people living in private rented accommodation is more than double the national average—about one third of my constituents live in private rented accommodation. Less than 30% are owner-occupiers, whereas the national figure is about 68%, although that figure is falling somewhat.
The terms of tenancies and conditions for people living in private rented accommodation tell a very sorry story indeed. From the first world war to the 1950s, there was quite rigorous rent control in the private rented sector, and the sector was subsequently built out as slum clearance took place and council housing and owner-occupation developed. We have had a long period with very little council housing being built—although thankfully that is now beginning to change—but Britain also has the most lax system of rent control and tenancy control of any country in Europe. We have a system of assured shorthold tenancies—which give tenants a guaranteed tenancy of only six months and, after that, a two-month notice period—along with very high rents. In my constituency it is quite normal to find people living in private rented accommodation who are paying half their take-home pay—if they are in work—on their rent.
We also have a housing benefit system that militates strongly against people in the private rented sector. The Government have introduced the rent cap, which has limited the levels of housing benefit being paid. I am now facing the trauma—and it is a trauma—of seeing large numbers of tenants in my constituency who were or are in receipt of housing benefit being forced to move out, because their housing benefit has been cut and their rents have gone up, and because they cannot afford to meet the difference from other benefits, if they are on them, or their wages. There is, in effect, a social cleansing of inner London going on because of the imposition of the housing benefit cap. I stress the point that a large number of people in receipt of housing benefit are working—albeit on low wages, but they are in work.
The current situation is an utter disaster, but it does not have to be like this, and I hope that things can change. Germany, for example, has 60% of its housing provided by the private rented sector. Germany has permanent tenancies and rent controls provided, and a tax regime that encourages good rather than bad management. Germany has a much more stable community and society as a result.
I hope that the House will be able to return to this issue. I hope to introduce a private Member’s Bill to bring about regulation, rent controls, decency and, above all, security in good quality homes for those living in private rented accommodation. This is a serious issue that must be faced for a large number of people in this country.
There are a number of points I want to raise before the House adjourns for the summer recess.
London’s air ambulance service—for which my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) recently organised a reception—continues to do an amazing job. It helped a huge number of people in the London bombing, along with more than 2,000 patients last year, using a helicopter and rapid-response cars to deliver emergency medical care. However, the service is in need of a second helicopter, so I support its calls to raise £10 million over the next three years.
Police and crime commissioner elections will be held in November. I would have thought that the last people we need standing are retired police officers, who will presumably have some sort of axe to grind. I would therefore like to know who exactly the PCCs will be accountable to, other than through the ballot box. What will their relationship with Members of Parliament be? These are important issues, particularly as police authorities have proved to be so ineffective.
A constituent, Miss Tina Cannadine, suffers from a range of medical conditions, including myalgic encephalomyelitis, yet she has been refused disability living allowance after an appeal. I have concerns about the assessment system, which has denied Miss Cannadine her entitlements. It is clear that the required forms are too rigid, with no great leeway. They should be designed to help someone such as my constituent, not hinder them.
BBC executives are still paid too much money. Despite a series of fiascos, culminating in the shoddy coverage of the diamond jubilee, the executive team and its stars earn hundreds of thousands of pounds each year. As licence tax payers, we pay their wages and we should be entitled to better services, and if they are not delivered, they should face a pay cut. However, I think that Lord Patten does a fantastic job, and I am still available as a TV presenter.
The Government need to publish a robust liver strategy soon. Liver disease is a huge problem, but it is largely preventable. Urgent action is also needed on hepatitis C. Deaths from liver disease caused by hepatitis C are increasing rapidly, even though it is a preventable and usually curable virus. We can reduce deaths from liver disease by diagnosing and treating people living with this silent killer.
Obstructive sleep apnoea is a little known but serious condition, where throat muscles relax and block the airways—sometimes one has only to look round the Chamber to see what a serious condition it is. I support the calls by the British Lung Foundation to have everyone with symptoms of OSA diagnosed quickly and accurately, and to ensure that they receive the highest standard of care for the treatment of their OSA. That would help to reduce NHS costs and improve patients’ quality of life.
Maldivian students wanting to study in the UK face a challenge owing to the fiasco caused by having to get their visas via Sri Lanka. Their flights are also very expensive. As the Maldives were a British protectorate until 1965, I ask Her Majesty’s Government to do something to help those students.
The lives of 3,400 members of the Iranian opposition are at stake in Iraq. The promises made to the residents of Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty must be honoured, and we have to take a stand against the human rights violations occurring there.
Unfortunately, I am concerned about a number of election practices in Southend. On polling day, people seem to be displaying their names and pictures right outside the polling stations. The policemen go round to the polling stations, but I wonder what they are looking for. The Electoral Commission needs to look into those issues.
The highlight of the Olympic torch relay has already happened. It took place on 6 July when the torch came to Southend. It was greeted by a choir of 6,000 on the Esplanade singing the anthem “Let your light shine”, composed by Tolga Khashif. I congratulate Southend Metal and the council on doing a superb job of organising the event. An official who had been with the torch throughout its journey said that the Southend event was the best by a mile.
Southend-on-Sea borough council was named local authority of the year 2012 at the Local Government Chronicle awards in March. I congratulate the mayor of Southend, Sally Carr, the chief executive, Rob Tinlin, and his hard-working officers, the leader of the council, Nigel Holdcroft and Councillor John Lamb, along with everyone at the civic centre on their fantastic achievements. I also hope to host a centenarians’ tea party this September, at which we hope to break the record in “Guinness World Records” again. My mother is now eligible to attend. It is for all those reasons that it is an absolute disgrace that Southend has not been designated a city.
I wish everyone in the House a very happy summer recess.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) and to have listened to all his suggestions.
On this, the House’s final sitting day before the biggest event that this country will probably ever host, it is only right and proper that we should mention the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. It is now about 10 days until they start, and the M4 and A4, which go through my constituency, are starting to bustle as the athletes and officials arrive, along with the visitors who will be attending the games. The whole United Kingdom is looking forward to an excellent summer of sports and, of course, to lots of British medals.
I would like to focus today on the legacy of the games and on what can be done to maximise it. In fact, I shall pick up on one of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West made. London’s bid for the games always included a comprehensive plan for a legacy, to make the most of the event for the whole UK. Among the priorities was the need to harness the UK’s passion for sport in order to increase grass-roots participation by young people and to encourage the whole population to become more physically active. These are the first Olympics to have a school games—that is likely to be copied by Rio in 2016, and further into the future—to which 14,000 schools across the country have signed up. The school games recently had their first finals at the Olympic park.
An extra £500 million will go into sport in the next five years, and much has been done right across the country. Locally, 180 coaches have been trained, and today I have heard that St Mary’s tennis club in Isleworth has secured Olympic legacy funding of just under £50,000 to upgrade its clay court facilities. Many other programmes are being supported, including the Hitz rugby programme, the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, and the Kickz football programme delivered by Brentford football club community sports trust and the Met police. There is lots going on.
Another priority for the legacy plans is to exploit the economic growth opportunities offered by our hosting the games. The Prime Minister recently said that we expect the games to bring more than £13 billion of benefit to the UK. On the back of the games, VisitBritain has launched its biggest ever global tourism campaign, supported by the GREAT campaign, which is expected to result in 4.6 million extra visitors.
A further aspect of the legacy will involve developing the Olympic park for regeneration, which is already happening, along with promoting community engagement and achieving participation among all groups in society through the games. I recently attended the Olympic torch relay in Osterley, which brought together primary schools from across the borough. I am now looking forward to my Olympic torch relay, which will take place on 24 July. It will come over Kew bridge before heading through Brentford and on to Hounslow.
My key point today is how we build on that legacy. I would want to build on it by using part of that Olympic funding to support London Air Ambulance. There is a great link, because London Air Ambulance is supporting the Olympics, and sport is, in essence, about health. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West mentioned, we have one helicopter in London that covers the entire area within the M25. It supports over 10 million people over 600 square miles. Elsewhere in the country, there is one helicopter for 1.5 million people. If we make comparisons internationally, London looks way behind. We have one air ambulance and no back-up. Last week, maintenance was necessary, and no support was available.
What the air ambulance does is give world-class trauma care, reducing death in cases involving such injuries by 30% to 40%. I am sure that if any Members or their families were involved in a serious accident and were in need of an air ambulance, we would want London Air Ambulance to be available. On 7 July 2005, London’s air ambulance flew 26 missions to the various bomb sites and treated more than 700 people. Demand is increasing across London, and we have to remember that London Air Ambulance is a charity—it is supported by the NHS, but it is a charity—and that it needs additional funding.
I call on the Government and those responsible for legacy development to consider proposals to provide sponsorship support through the London Legacy Development Corporation, with agreement to use the Olympic logo, and help fund another helicopter with the Olympic logo on it that would be part of the long-term legacy and would help to continue to save Londoners’ lives.
I conclude by wishing every success to team GB and everyone involved in the games. I look forward to the London 2012 games and the opportunities they will provide to demonstrate to the world that London is truly the greatest city in the world.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this pre-recess debate. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod): we wish team GB the greatest success in the world. May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who mentioned the “Guinness Book of Records”, that he should appear in it for the amount of stuff he can get into a five-minute speech about his constituency and events all across the world? He most certainly should be given such an award.
To be serious, on 7 July, 4½ inches of rain fell in one day on part of my constituency—Axminster, Seaton and Uplyme. There was a great deal of flooding in Axminster, particularly in Willhayes park, where many bungalows were flooded. Several elderly residents were confined to their beds and literally had to be rescued while the water was rising in those bungalows. I have toured the area this last week with the mayor of Axminster, Councillor Andrew Moulding, who has set up a local fund to help residents. It is great to see how the local community has pulled together in Axminster; I was amazed at how stoic the residents whom I went to see were, considering that their houses had been flooded. Anyone who has been into houses that have been flooded will be aware of the smell and contamination that people have to go through.
My hon. Friend is touching on an important point about the flooding that has affected many of us in the south-west. Will he join me in congratulating the Environment Agency on its sterling work, particularly in keeping residents fully informed of what was happening, including Members of Parliament?
My hon. Friend must be a mind reader, because I was just about to mention the fact that the Environment Agency has been so good, especially in warning people and getting the warnings through early so that people could take action, where possible, to secure their properties with sandbags. A large flood happened in Axminster where there was a blockage across a railway under a large culvert. The water backed up and there was immediately a huge amount of flooding. In the long run, we need not only to get good flood warnings in place, but to make sure that the culverts are clear and the rivers properly dredged so that we can get rid of the water when it comes.
I accept that when 4½ inches of rainfall comes down in less than 24 hours it is very difficult to handle, but we have to realise that the drainage channels and those rivers are all there for a purpose. That purpose is to drain. Yes, they are very pretty when the water level is kept high and they are allowed to silt up. Indeed, it all looks lovely until the rain starts to come down and we cannot drain the water away fast enough. I hope that Ministers and the Environment Agency will think seriously about that.
We also experienced floods in Uplyme. Down by the village hall, culverts were blocked and, again, there was a great deal of flooding. Fewer properties were involved, but one was badly flooded when a stream came down from the hill. Again the rocks came out and blocked the pipe, and water cascaded through the building. As I have said, it is not possible to solve all the problems, but I think that we need proper drainage channels with proper grilles.
Because I do not possess the ability of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West to raise numerous matters during a short speech and am capable of raising only two or three, I shall now confine myself to raising the serious issue of the price of milk and the problems faced by dairy farmers in my constituency. The constituency contains a great deal of grassland, much of which is dairy farming land in the Blackdown hills and on the edge of Exmoor. The dairy farmers are not receiving the cost of production, and we need to do something about it, because they are experiencing a real problem. When 2,500 dairy farmers from all over the country come to a meeting in London—at Methodist central hall—the strength of feeling is clear. We cannot stand by while supermarkets drive the price of milk down by using it as a loss leader, as a result of which processors and farmers are squeezed.
Members have asked what future young dairy farmers have. I think that they have a good future, but we must ensure that there are more co-operatives. Farmers must come together if they are to have more power in the marketplace. We must also think about future markets. The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice), has told us that when he went to China he saw many milk products from France, Germany and the Netherlands, but none from Britain. I think that when we have an expanding market in China, it is essential for us to send our milk and milk products over there.
If we do not export enough dairy products and create a demand throughout the country, and if too much liquid milk is flooding the market, it is very difficult to keep the price up for farmers. Farmers in my constituency need a future. They spend a great deal of money themselves throughout the community, and they need to be supported. I hope that the Minister will do something about that, and will establish contracts so that farmers can make a decent living.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), I want to raise a matter that is particularly important to northern Lincolnshire. It involves a number of rail issues.
Although yesterday’s announcement of investment in the east coast main line is valuable and welcome, towns such as Cleethorpes, which lie off the main line, also need serious consideration. It is essential for the increased capacity created by the forthcoming investment to allow either the main franchise holder or an open access operator to provide the much-needed direct passenger service from Cleethorpes to London.
Twenty-five years ago, there were four direct trains from Cleethorpes to King’s Cross. They ran via Lincoln and Newark, although I think it more likely that the Scunthorpe-Doncaster route will be used in future. If the potential for economic growth is to gather pace—and the Government’s creation of enterprise zones constitutes recognition of that potential—we must improve connectivity with the capital. That will also boost the tourism economy. As Members will know, Cleethorpes is the jewel in the crown of the east coast resorts.
I was encouraged by what the Secretary of State said yesterday about ensuring that UK-based producers benefit from the construction phase. I hope that everything possible will be done to ensure that, for instance, Tata Steel—which is based in Scunthorpe, where many of my constituents work, and whose most profitable line is the rail track that it produces—benefits from the contracts. We should think not just of those travelling on business, but of commuters and holiday travellers. Tourism is a vital source of revenue for struggling coastal communities. A seminar at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last week highlighted the need for connectivity to these resorts.
In the Cleethorpes constituency, we have Immingham dock, which on Sunday will celebrate its centenary. About 23% of rail freight as measured by tonnes starts or finishes in Immingham. That highlights the importance of improved rail access. The local council estimates that by 2020 50% of containers arriving in the UK will be what the industry refers to as high-cube containers. We must therefore upgrade the gauge from the existing W8 to W10 and W12.
Finally, may I mention the inquiry currently being conducted by the Office of Rail Regulation into higher access charges for freight? This could be detrimental not only to the port of Immingham, but environmentally. If we push more freight traffic on to the roads, that will increase CO2 emissions and be more damaging to our infrastructure, but, more importantly, it will reduce the quality of life of local residents.
I shall conclude my remarks there, Mr Speaker.
First, may I pay tribute to our former colleague, Marsha Singh, the former Member for Bradford West, who, sadly, passed away today in untimely fashion? He will be much missed, and I am sure the whole House will wish to send its condolences to his family and friends. May I also say that I, or the relevant Department, will write to any Member who has raised issues that I am unable to cover in the relatively short period of time now available to me?
As always in such debates, we have had an excellent discussion. Some 19 Members contributed. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) mentioned 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and I perfectly well understand why she might wish to represent her constituents in the Salford area who are rightly proud of the record of service through the years of that battalion of the former Lancashire Fusiliers, including in the Peninsula war and Gallipoli. We have debated these matters before in the House, however. Every Member will wish to place on record their appreciation of Army units in their own areas, but we must have a modern, efficient and effective armed forces and the Secretary of State for Defence has made clear his intentions. I shall pass on to him the hon. Lady’s reservations in respect of the future of 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, however.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) mentioned matters to do with colleges in his constituency. He mentioned apprenticeships, and it is crucial that we build on our great success in increasing the number of apprenticeships. There were 457,200 apprenticeship starts in 2010-11. That is an increase of 63.5%, which is a terrific achievement, but I want to see it replicated in every constituency, including the hon. Gentleman’s.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the problems in respect of the Isle of Wight festival. I have some fellow feeling in that regard, as the Glastonbury festival site is on the border of my constituency, and we have on occasions had difficulties with rain and muddy conditions there as well. It is important that the promoters of festivals work very closely with local people. We have had a very good relationship over the years with the Glastonbury festival, and I am sure that he has good relations, too, with the Isle of Wight festival, but it is crucial that promoters and local people work together to the benefit of everybody.
The hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) talked about further and higher education. I understand the points she made, of course, but I would just say to her that this year the proportion of school leavers in England applying to university is the second highest on record. That is extremely encouraging. The Government have also introduced the national scholarship programme, which will greatly help those who come from modest-income backgrounds. It is important that we maintain the principle that higher and further education is open to all and that we maintain social mobility. That is a thrust of the Government’s policy.
The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) talked about the importance of bearing down on crime in the context of those who enter our country, and he is absolutely right: there is a need for a high level of co-operation between the UK Border Agency and the police, and I believe that is happening. In fact, there is evidence of that in his own constituency, with Operation Coffeeville. Encouragingly, not only were arrests made and successful prosecutions mounted; hopefully, the proceeds of the crime are being retrieved and at the end of the sentence served those people will be deported. That is the way the law should apply. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the police and he is absolutely right to do so. We sometimes forget how much we owe to our excellent police forces. He also discussed the closure of custody suites, and as he knows, I share his concern about that issue. It is a local, operational matter; nevertheless, he rightly mentioned it in this debate.
The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) talked about the huge changes in Northern Ireland over recent years, and the successes. I share in his celebration—so much is going on in the Province that, a few years ago, would have been unimaginable. If I were to feature one thing, it would be Her Majesty the Queen’s going to a Roman Catholic church in Enniskillen in County Fermanagh.
A few years ago, it would have been very hard for anyone to give credit to that idea. The right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that there are continuing concerns, but rather than looking always at the concerns, let us celebrate the success and the way the process has moved forward.
The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) made some incredibly interesting points about e-books. He knows that the Government are trying to achieve fair remuneration for publishers and authors, and provide reassurance against the illegal use of copyrighted material. I think the Minister with responsibility for such matters intends to make a detailed announcement shortly, and what the hon. Gentleman had to say ought to feed into that process.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) made a very interesting speech, given that she has served as a civil servant, a Minister and a Member of this House. She talked about the culture of process over delivery within the civil service, and I agree with her that that is the risk. Not all civil servants take that view, but we need to focus on outcomes, and to be more innovative and less hierarchical. She criticised the White Paper for having three forewords; well, better forewords than backwards. Nevertheless, the Government are trying to achieve a better, more effective civil service, and she clearly shares that aspiration. She also mentioned the accountability of Ministers. Of course, that is precisely what we were getting at with the Public Bodies Act 2011. Too often, bodies were remote from Ministers and not accountable to this House. They have now been brought back in-house, where Ministers can account for their actions, and that is absolutely right.
The hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) kindly said that I did not need to respond to the detailed issues that he raised. He rightly divined that I was probably in a state of complete ignorance about leasehold valuation tribunals and their precise workings, but I will make sure that the Ministry of Justice writes to him on that subject.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) talked about low morale among the staff of this House. I hope that that is not the case. Of course, I should stress that it is not a matter for Government but for you, Mr Speaker, and the House of Commons Commission. However, it would be a matter of great concern if the staff did not feel valued by Members of this House, because they do an admirable job that we consider to be of huge importance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) continued his campaign on the family justice system. I draw his attention to the Crime and Courts Bill and, later, to the children and families Bill, which will give him opportunities to raise some of these issues. I think he wanted really to trail his private Member’s Bill, which he did very successfully in his speech. The same can be said of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who was trailing her private Member’s Bill on the subject of land value taxation. She correctly said that the Liberal Democrats, and previously the Liberal party, have a very long-standing attachment to this subject; in fact some of our members are hugely attached to it. What she described is not the policy of Her Majesty’s Government at the moment, and there are issues to address, one of which was raised in intervention on her, for those who are asset-rich and cash poor. She recognised that, and we shall see what develops.
The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), again, was trailing a private Member’s Bill that he intends to introduce on petrol and diesel taxation. He spoke warmly of the 1909 people’s Budget, that great achievement of David Lloyd George—it has been downhill ever since then, until the past couple of years. The hon. Gentleman talked about tax transparency and the need for people to understand just how much goes in duty as part of their petrol bill.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about fishing and represented very well the people of Portavogie in his constituency. He drew attention to the movement we have had in the right direction in recent weeks on the reform of fishing policies and the need, nevertheless, to be sensitive to the industry, and to the people in his constituency, in particular. I am grateful to him for raising that with us.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) talked about rural high-speed broadband, which is very dear to my heart. I could wax lyrical about the need for rural high-speed broadband in my constituency and even in my own village; I have often said that a man with a stick would be quicker than our so-called “high-speed broadband”. However, we are looking forward to the sort of change that is going to happen as a result of the Government’s programme on this matter. I do not know whether he was in the House for a previous debate of this kind when an Opposition Member gave his opinion that rural high-speed broadband was simply for “millionaires” to do their “internet shopping”. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole and I recognise that that is not the case and that rural high-speed broadband is essential for communities up and down the country, be they in cities or rural areas, so that they can take a proper part in the modern world. I look forward to that happening. He raised a specific point, which I shall arrange for the Department to write to him about, on the position of Kingston Communications. I will pass that on to the relevant Minister.
The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) talked about the private rented sector, which I know is a big feature in his constituency, although it is important right the way across the country. The most recent figures—this may not apply in Islington but it certainly applies across the country—show that the level of private rent is rising slightly less than general inflation at the moment, so private rental is becoming slightly cheaper. I appreciate that that has not been the case over an extended period. He will know about Sir Adrian Montague’s imminent report on institutional investment, and the key part of that is the overall strategy to increase the supply of new homes. I have to say that this is the key thing for housing policy: simply having more homes. If we have more homes, people will have opportunities to live in them and the price will be more achievable.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) put in a bid to be hired as a TV presenter on the BBC. I have to say that if he became one, the likelihood would be that an entire week’s productions would be concentrated within a half-hour TV slot—blink and you would miss it. People would miss something crucial because he covers so many areas. He covered the London Air Ambulance, which was a subject also raised by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod). The air ambulances across this country, both in London and outside it, provide an essential service. I applaud what they do, as I think it is terrific that they provide that level of service to people who otherwise would be in dire danger from the results of acute trauma. We need to find ways to ensure that it is funded. There has been a debate on this subject recently and I will not reiterate the points raised by the Minister then, but its importance is clear.
The hon. Gentleman raised police and crime commissioners; his constituent Tina Cannadine and her difficulties with DLA; BBC executives; hepatology; sleep apnoea; the problems of students from the Maldives in getting their visas; Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty; election fraud; and the Olympic torch. I am sure that Southend did a very good job with the torch, but I was told by officials that the performance in Somerton was the best that they had seen in the country. Surely they are not saying to us all that we are providing the best coverage of the Olympic torch.
I congratulate Southend borough council on being council of the year. The hon. Gentleman has every reason to look forward to his centenarian’s tea party with his mother, Maud. I feel like I know his family as well as I know that of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), they are mentioned in debates so often. We congratulate her and look forward to that happy occasion.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth talked about the Olympic legacy, which is so important. We are looking forward to that great event, which will be good for sport, for business and for regeneration in this country, but we must ensure that every bit of it leaves a lasting legacy. It should not be something that simply passes, goes and is seen no more. We should benefit from it in the long term and the hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need to maximise that benefit, not just in the east end of London, which will clearly benefit, but across London and across the wider country.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) talked about the flooding in his area, particularly in the Axminster area. I do not think that there is anything more distressing than flooding. We have experienced it—I found myself in a car that I had to abandon through the windows a few years ago, because it was caught in flood water—and it is frightening, distressing and, for those whose homes are wrecked, it can be a long time before things are back in order. I am grateful to him for raising the issue today, as well as the work that is done by so many of the agencies involved, including the Environment Agency, which takes a lot of trouble to give proper warning. I am also grateful to him for stressing the need for drain and culvert clearance, which are a contributing factor. Nothing will stop flooding when we have torrential rainfall, but if we ensure that drains and culverts are properly cleared we can at least contribute towards mitigating the consequences.
Last but not least, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who is another Member whose constituency I feel I have got to know better over the past couple of years, talked about rail improvements. I think he was probably in his place yesterday when we heard the announcement from the Secretary of State of the £9.4 billion package, which is excellent news.
I wish all staff of the House well over the recess, as well as all Members of the House and you, Mr Speaker. Let us look forward to a very enjoyable recess and a wonderfully successful Olympics.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.