I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, I wish to raise a number of points. The first relates to the reshuffle. Some colleagues were pleased; some were disappointed. No one has asked me for my advice, but I can tell my colleagues that, having waited 31 years for preferment, I am still optimistic. My advice to colleagues who are still ambitious is if you keep your head down and serve your time, you will eventually gain preferment.
I was unable to support either of the teams playing in the final of the World cup, but I am very concerned about the performance of the English football team. They badly let us down. In 1966, it was my home team, West Ham, that provided Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. They led the team and scored all four goals. All those players were home grown. Nowadays, the premier league is an absolute disgrace. Our footballers are paid far too much money, and they underperform. I advise everyone to boycott premier league matches, although not those of the other leagues. The rest of our football teams are fantastic, but we will never win the World cup again if we continue to have all these overseas players.
My next point relates to a scurrilous article about working-class Conservatives. I wish to advise the House that no one in the Conservative party asked me to produce a booklet on that subject; it was done entirely on my own initiative. I was not embarrassed by the fact that the first pamphlet mentioned 14 Members, but I have now been overwhelmed by colleagues who tell me that they are working class. In fact, I am now producing a hardback edition of the publication, so it would appear that these Benches are awash with working-class Conservatives.
I also want to mention banks. This House has spent a great deal of time talking about how the banks are letting us down, but nothing has changed. The worst of them all is probably Barclays bank, whose customer service is an absolute disgrace. I wish there was a little more resolve among colleagues to do something about the banking sector.
Over the weekend, the lift in a residential care home in my constituency broke down. The lifts there are run by Otis elevators—the same people who run the lifts in No. 1 Parliament street. The care home had 24-hour insurance cover, but it took three days for the lift service to be restored. That was an absolute disgrace.
I have long been unhappy with the management of the probation service in Essex, so I was delighted when the Government I support—well, I support the Conservative part, at least—said that that probation service was going to be reorganised. To my horror, however, I have found out that the management of which I was so critical still seem to be involved in the service. I want to know how the management of the Essex Community Rehabilitation Company was appointed, what they are being paid and how many people were interviewed for the jobs.
Along with many other colleagues, I attended events that were part of Royal Mail’s dog awareness week. Those events were designed to raise awareness of the dangers of dogs attacking postmen and postwomen when they are delivering letters. Those people do a fantastic job, and we should be much more appreciative of them. I am particularly pleased that Royal Mail is producing a special stamp relating to Southend being the alternative city of culture in 2017.
There is too much variation in diabetes treatment across the UK. Recent evidence shows continuing variation in the prescribing of diabetes medicines across the country, and immediate action is needed to ensure that diabetes patients can access the full range of treatments and essential care processes.
I have long been critical of the South Essex Partnership Trust. Day in and day out, week in and week out, I hear parents and other relatives of loved ones expressing their concern that those with mental health problems are not getting the support that they deserve. Recently, I have had contact with a family whose son, a troubled young man who has displayed homicidal thoughts, attempted suicide twice in one week. He was allowed to walk free by SEPT, which put him and his family in a very vulnerable position. As usual, SEPT got away with issuing a quick questionnaire and prescribing sedative medication. I want to continue to work with the Minister of State who is responsible for care and support to ensure that SEPT is inspected as soon as possible and that the management team is replaced.
I am delighted that Southend hospital is working in partnership with the wonderful Macmillan organisation. A new support centre has been installed at the hospital, and in the first month it has already helped to support 100 cancer patients on their challenging journey.
I am concerned about the cancer drugs fund. Takeda UK has recently brought to my attention that the fund, which has been extended to March 2016, is not guaranteed to continue after that date. I hope that all parliamentarians will do all they can to ensure that the wonderful support for the fund continues.
Arthritis affects 10 million people in this country. I have recently met representatives of a number of arthritis-related charities. The British Society for Rheumatology is campaigning for the Government to create greater public awareness of the problem when people go to see their general practitioner.
Physiotherapy is an important profession in the United Kingdom. I recently attended a reception on the Terrace organised by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. The total cost of adult social care in the UK in 2012-13 was £19 billion. Physiotherapy could do a great deal to reduce those costs.
I happen to have had the honour of being the chairman of the all-party group on the Philippines. That country had the biggest economic growth in the region, in 2013, but it is currently under threat from the South China sea problem. A great part of it is now being claimed by China on the basis of an imaginary nine-dash line. China has asserted indisputable sovereignty over those waters, to the exclusion of the Philippines and Vietnam, among others, so I very much hope the Government will do all they can to help the wonderful Philippine nation.
The issue of Cyprus has been raised in this House many times. Cyprus has proved time and again that it is a reliable and predictable regional partner to the United Kingdom. I welcome the fact that negotiations on the island have resumed under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General. A just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem will allow Cyprus to fully utilise its role in the region.
It is about time that we recognised that the UK needs a national cemetery. Some 94% of the population believes that a national cemetery should be set up to honour UK veterans and those who serve in the armed forces. I hope that colleagues will get behind that particular proposal.
Something is certainly happening regarding the dredging of the River Thames. A local branch of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has been waiting to schedule a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), for nearly three months. By the time this debate has finished, I expect a clear date for that meeting.
I am honoured to have a number of magnificent schools in the area I represent. Westcliff high school for girls is the second best school in the whole country, but between 2012 and 2017 it is having to make an effective reduction of 16% in its budget, and that is before it makes any pay increases to reward its highly skilled staff. Similarly, Southend high school for boys is coping with a 10% drop in available income at the moment, so I hope the Department for Education will do something to support those wonderful schools.
Southend is in the current Guinness book of world records, having gathered together the greatest number of centenarians ever. Sadly, I have to report to the House that that record has just been broken by the United States of America, which has gathered together 31 centenarians. I am pleased to say that on 5 October at Nazareth house we will attempt to break the world record again. If any colleagues have centenarians in their constituencies, please send them along.
This Saturday, 26 July, Rossi Ice Cream, in partnership with Cancer Research UK, will attempt to break the world record for the longest chain of people licking ice cream. I invite all colleagues to join us at Garon park to lick Rossi ice cream.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker and the other deputies a wonderful summer, and I thank all the staff of the House of Commons for the marvellous support they have provided for us over the past year.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the summer Adjournment debate. I am particularly pleased to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), a fellow West Ham United supporter. I have to report to him that an unkind comment was made in the Tea Room as I left at about 8 o’clock this morning. Colleagues said that by the time we come back for the next sitting in September, West Ham will be in the bottom three again. I am sure that will not be the case, but you never know. I am also pleased to be able to refer, like the hon. Gentleman, to my working-class roots. I cannot imagine that anybody who has been in this place for as long as he or I have been could still call themselves working class—that would be like defying gravity—but we do have working-class origins and are naturally very proud of them.
As the hon. Gentleman has demonstrated, it is customary to raise a number of issues in the pre-recess debate. I intend to do that as well, but not as many as the hon. Gentleman. I want to talk about Gaza, Zamir Telecom, east London river crossings, Tower Hamlets council, cycling, leasehold reform and housing. Given that so many colleagues wish to speak and that time is brief, it will suffice for me to use only a sentence or two in addressing most of those issues.
I will start with the easiest issue, namely cycling. The Transport Committee recently produced a report on cycling safety, and the all-party group on cycling produced a report earlier this year on the back of The Times campaign, which resulted from the serious injury to one of its staff and deaths earlier this year. With the success of the Tour de France in the UK and of the cycling scheme promoted by Mayor Johnson in London, cycling is going from strength to strength. Last year, however, the Prime Minister promised a champion for cycling, but that has not materialised. We certainly need it.
On east London river crossings, most people will know—Londoners certainly do—that the centre of gravity in London has been moving east for 30 years, and it will continue to do so for the next 30 years. If half of London’s population does not already live east of Tower bridge, it very soon will, yet west of Tower bridge there are more than 20 crossings over the Thames but only two to the east of it. Fortunately, consultation started today on another new crossing. One is already assured by the Department for Transport, Transport for London and the Mayor of London, but we need more than two. If London is going to continue to thrive, we need to make sure that the Thames is bridged or tunnelled, and we need those two crossings very quickly.
PricewaterhouseCoopers is undertaking an investigation into the economics and finances of Tower Hamlets council over the past four years. The Electoral Commission recently produced a report on the chaos of the 22 May election. The police have undertaken a number of investigations into allegations. I commend Chief Superintendent Stringer, the borough commander, and his staff and colleagues for the assiduous way in which they investigated all those allegations. Tower Hamlets council is a work in progress. There is still a lot to be done. We want to make sure that next year’s general election is as clean, fair and transparent as possible, and I encourage everyone involved to continue to work in that direction.
On leasehold reform, Martin Boyd and Sebastian O’Kelly of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and Carlex have been working assiduously to press the need for leasehold reform. It is estimated that between 5 million and 7 million householders in England are leaseholders, and they are subject to unscrupulous efforts by freeholders to overcharge them for insurance, service charges and other aspects of their lease. The hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey) and I have been working with the Department for Communities and Local Government and other Departments. Real progress is being made on leasehold reform for the first time since 2002, and I commend the coalition for that. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who has responsibility for housing, has met us several times and I encourage him and his colleagues to continue to make progress, because millions of our fellow citizens are being ripped off by unscrupulous individuals who take them for every penny they can get. The issue affects pensioners and former council tenants who have exercised their right to buy but who are exposed to unfair service charges. They need protection. The issue crosses class boundaries—from former council tenants right the way through to many people living in £1 million properties in my constituency and docklands who are equally exposed because of gaps in legal protection.
Housing is the biggest issue in Tower Hamlets and I know the same is true for many colleagues in London and in constituencies across the country. All parties are promising more house building in their manifestos next year—at least, that is how it looks. Clearly, that is an important and fundamental promise that needs to be kept. When we came to power in 1997, our focus was on properties, particularly council properties and social housing, that were below the decency threshold. We focused on bringing those 2 million homes up to decency standards, but that meant that we did not focus on new build as much as we ought to have done in the early years. Obviously, that needs to be focused on now.
My last two items are Zamir Telecom and Gaza. Zamir Telecom in my constituency is, as its name implies, a telecommunications company that services Bangladesh. There is an arrangement whereby it employs 50 people in my constituency, and more than 100 in Dhaka in Bangladesh. It was subject to a previous dispute with the Bangladesh Government and the Ministry of Communication. There was a court settlement in 2008, but three years later the Bangladesh Government reimposed difficulties to prevent it from functioning. UK Trade & Investment is involved; there are Government-to-Government communications; I have written to the Foreign Office and to the high commissioner; and there is a memorandum of understanding between Governments. There is a court case, and there have been two judgments for Zamir Telecom, but there has been a judgment in chambers against it.
Zamir Telecom is a good local company, about which I am bidding for an Adjournment debate in September, so perhaps you, Madam Deputy Speaker, could exert your influence, as could the Deputy Leader of the House, to get me some space to raise the matter and get an official response from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills or the Foreign Office. This company has grown from strength to strength for a number of years, but if this matter is not resolved, the prospect is that it might close completely, with jobs being lost in the UK and in Bangladesh.
The final item I want to raise is Gaza. I know that we had an extensive statement and question and answer session yesterday afternoon with the Prime Minister, and that the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), made a statement last Monday. I also know that Gaza was raised during Foreign Office questions earlier, but I did not get a chance to come in this morning. I just want to reinforce the interest I have already shown by signing the early-day motion, by my question to the Prime Minister yesterday and by my letter to the Foreign Office 10 days ago. I advise the House that I have had more than 1,200 —it is probably going on for 1,400—e-mails from constituents on this matter alone over the eight days from when the latest Israeli action started to Sunday just gone.
This matter clearly exercises the House, but I cannot put it better than by quoting my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), the Leader of the Opposition, who said in a speech to our national policy forum at the weekend:
“I defend Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But I cannot explain, justify or defend the horrifying deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and innocent civilians.”
The death toll yesterday was 500—it is probably closer to, or has even exceeded, 600 by now—and 3,000 people have been injured, with tens of thousands displaced. The whole House has expressed concern about this matter. The whole House recognises Israel’s right to defend itself, but with its level of equipment, technology and intelligence, the targeting of hospitals, beaches, schools and residential apartments just does not seem proportionate. I do not think that anybody could possibly say that it looks proportionate. The right to defend is one thing; the mass killings that are going on are something else.
I have a history of attacking Islamist groups in my constituency—I was very interested to hear the statement on Birmingham schools by the new Education Secretary earlier today—and I am more often called Islamophobic, but I have now been getting e-mails calling me anti-Semitic, so I must be doing something right, or I am upsetting both sides equally. Whatever it is, I am trying to do what I think is appropriate, to reflect my constituents’ concerns and to make points that are appropriate.
In agreement with the hon. Member for Southend West, I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr Speaker and your colleagues, as well as all the staff, security and police of the House for their service this year. I wish everybody a good summer.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should say that the first two speakers in this debate have been perfect in their discipline with the length of their speeches. A great many Members wish to speak this afternoon and this debate is timed—we have to finish at 7 pm—but if everybody keeps to about eight minutes, out of courtesy to other Members, then everyone who wishes to speak will have the chance to do so. I will not at the moment put on a formal time limit, but rely on the courtesy of each Member to his and her fellow Members. The person to set the example perfectly is Mr Nigel Evans.
No pressure then, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope to be perfect, but I am clearly not as perfect as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) or my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess). My hon. Friend regularly takes part in pre-recess Adjournment debates; indeed, it would not be a pre-recess Adjournment debate without him. His list of ideas would flavour admirably any future manifesto, and I wish him well with his suggestions. The hon. Gentleman was my Member of Parliament for a while when I lived in Limehouse. I must say that I cannot believe that he has angered anybody—never mind the two sides, as he intimated—because I believe that he is one of the more effective Members of Parliament who just says it as it is, rather than being overtly partisan at times. I thank him for his speech.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned housing, and the only issue I will speak about today is housing in the Ribble Valley. Yes, we need new housing—there are no two ways about it—and in certain high-pressure areas, such as London, we clearly have to look at extra appropriate and affordable housing. However, I live and represent an area in the Ribble Valley that is under siege from developers.
Towns such as Clitheroe, which has already taken several hundred houses, has found a place within the core strategy for 1,040 more homes in a strategic site. Even though an area of more than 300 homes at Waddow was turned down just the other day, another application has now gone in for more than 275 homes there. I congratulate Councillors Kevin Horkin and Ian Brown on fighting those applications. A three-phase application in Langho, off Longsight road, could eventually end up with 900 houses, and Councillors Lois Rimmer and Michael Thomas are fighting those applications admirably.
In Copster Green, 32 houses have recently been turned down by the local authority, and we will look at how, if that application goes to appeal, it is handled by the inspector. Although Ribble Valley has not adopted its core strategy, we believe that it is almost ready. The inspector and the local authority have worked hand in hand to ensure that the agreed amount of housing is at an appropriate level. There had previously been a hiccup, when historical figures were used. We will be watching very carefully to ensure that the almost adopted core strategy has some weight, which is vital.
Councillor Simon Hore has taken a great interest in an application that may well be made in Chipping. On the site of an old chair works that is now disused—sadly, it has gone into liquidation—there is an application for a hotel and spa, and the same applicant intends to put more than 50 houses on a cricket field not too far away. I know that a number of local residents are up in arms about losing not only the facility, but the site, on which I am in discussions with the developer.
Councillor Ricky Newmark has valiantly tried to fight applications for a total of more than 200 houses on several sites in the one area of Sabden. I have mentioned in Prime Minister’s questions the case at Barrow. It is a community of just over 200 houses, and an application has been put in for 504 houses. That was turned down by the local authority, but then overturned on appeal. One can only imagine the impact of 504 houses on that particular area.
Not far away from Barrow is Whalley, which has already accepted hundreds of new houses. That includes an application from the Co-op, funnily enough, for more than 80 houses, where the application has been approved for some time, but the Co-op has not made a start on the houses, so one really starts to wonder why the application was put in in the first place. Hundreds of houses are going into neighbouring Whalley, even though hundreds have already been built in nearby Calderstones. I congratulate Councillors Terry Hill and Joyce Holgate on their representation in that area.
The final area that I will mention is Longridge, although a number of other villages have accepted new houses, some through appeal. There are applications for a total of 1,700 houses over five sites in Longridge, which is a relatively small town. It also has the problem that neighbouring Whittingham, which is in Preston and so is in a different local authority area, has given permission for the construction of 650 houses. That was years ago and not a single house has been built. It is also considering giving permission for the building of 400 houses on the border of Longridge. The people who live in those areas will use Longridge as their main market town.
A couple of websites called “Save Whalley Village” and “Save Longridge” have been set up. I went to a public meeting in Longridge to which more than 500 people turned up to protest against the over-development of the town. They spoke with great enthusiasm and passion. They are not saying no to any house building, but no to the over-development of the area that they love. We must start to listen to people. I know that we regularly say that if somebody says no to something, they are a nimby. Frankly, if I lived in an area where there were applications for the over-development of a number of sites, I would be proud to be a nimby. I would want to protect my backyard, my front yard and the sides of my property too. I do not think that referring to people as nimbys helps.
The local authorities, councillors and residents in those areas are doing a sterling job. We need to look again at the powers of the Planning Inspectorate. When a local authority turns down an application by a certain percentage and an inspector tries to overturn that decision, it should go back to the local authority. If the local authority again turns it down by a similar percentage or a higher percentage—the Government can look at that—that should be final. Localism should mean that the local councillors who represent local people have the final say. We should not have a person who comes up from Bristol, looks at the application and says off the top of his head, “That seems to fit some sort of criteria,” and then off he goes, leaving destruction and chaos in his wake. We need to look again at empowering local authority councillors to protect their areas. We all know—without going into detail, because I am coming up to my eight minutes—why people do not want to see their areas destroyed.
We need to look at other areas, such as around Ribble Valley, Pendle, Burnley and Blackburn, where money could be spent on regeneration, which is far better than building on greenfield sites. We should look at charging no VAT on the regeneration of housing stock to bring it back into use. We need more protection for areas that are struggling with their core strategy, but that aim to get it in place as quickly as they can. There should be no presumption in favour of building.
The Planning Inspectorate seems to have a similar slogan to Obama’s “Yes we can” or “Yes you can”, whereas the people who live in these areas say, “Please, enough is enough.” I think that “Enough is enough” beats “Yes we can.”
I have two issues that I will put together as seamlessly as I can. I might not be as seamless as the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) because I plan to breathe a couple of times.
A little while ago, there was an issue in my constituency and the surrounding area involving the Grangemouth refinery. It was a sad story and there was much tumult locally. I will not bore Members with the detail but, suffice it to say, there was an issue between the employer and the trade union, Unite, that almost led to the closure of the refinery, which employs about 1,400 or 1,500 people and a further 4,000 or 5,000 in the local labour chain. In the long run, 5,000 or 6,000 people would have lost their jobs, had the refinery shut. I have my views on the situation, but I do not think that this is the place to air them.
In due course, the situation was solved by a combination of the union seeing a bit of sense and the employer negotiating with the UK and Scottish Governments. The UK Government gave some guarantees about future investment. This week, the employer, INEOS, announced that it had secured a £230 million facility through the Government’s loan guarantee scheme and that, in addition, it was investing £300 million in a new plant to process shale gas imported from the US. For the first time in many years, that will secure the jobs at Grangemouth for a long time to come. It has always been touch and go whether Grangemouth’s future would extend beyond five or 10 years; it now seems to be secure for at least 20 years.
I hasten to say that Grangemouth is not in my constituency, but it is just a few hundred yards away and the majority of the people who work there live in my constituency. There are also several thousand people in the supply chain who live in my constituency.
A couple of issues arise from the current situation. First, given that the gas that is imported will come from fracking, we need to take a position on whether we support fracking. I do support fracking, but it is a contentious issue and not everyone in this House agrees with it. In addition, Dart Energy has a substantial coal bed methane extraction project in my constituency. I firmly support that as well. Locally, the Scottish National party has campaigned against coal bed methane extraction. I do not know what position it will take on the importation of gas that is extracted through fracking. The view that it has taken suggests that it will be against it in principle, and therefore against the employment of a large number of my constituents. However, I will leave it to the SNP to answer that. Having said that, the SNP Government in Scotland have made a contribution of £6 million. The Scottish Government are taking one position and the local representatives are taking another.
The extractive industries in Falkirk, Grangemouth and the surrounding area in central Scotland are concerned primarily with oil. I am fortunate to be one of the civil society representatives on the extractive industries transparency initiative to which the UK is signing up. That is going very well and the Government have just submitted their application to the EITI. That is an important symbolic measure for the UK.
Of course, the primary element of the EITI in the UK is oil and gas. That leads on to the second issue that I want to raise. Recently, I have had quite a lot of communication with politicians from other parts of the world who are involved in the EITI, which is about transparency and good governance in the extractive industries. That relates mainly to mining in some countries and mainly to oil and gas in others.
Recently, I have had a lot of contact with Nigeria. The governor of Rivers state, which is Nigeria’s Aberdeen as it is the main centre of the oil industry, has led the EITI process in that country. By chance, I was in the region a couple of weeks ago for a day or two and I visited him. It was striking what a good job is being done there. What is being done varies across Nigeria and we tend to hear the bad news stories. One can see the link between the money that is being paid into the state and the investment by the state—both the federal state and Rivers state—into the infrastructure. That is the whole point of EITI. Hundreds of new schools are being built, several of which I visited. A monorail system and a good road system are also being built. That is a good example of what can happen through good governance.
I am reluctant to praise the Government, but they are pushing ahead with some good legislation and have signed up to the transparency and accounting directives. The beneficial ownership stuff will also be coming up shortly. The UK is pretty much in the lead on that, with the support of the Opposition.
I will conclude on this point, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you will pull me up if I go over my eight minutes. I do not want to delve into how other countries vote or into which Governments are returned. I know that nobody wants to do that, except for in a few rare cases where there is consensus. However, I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that the party of government in Nigeria has effectively started campaigning. I am a little sympathetic to the plight of the opposition in that country, not because I know a great deal about the internal politics of Nigeria, but because I see what is going on in Rivers state, which is very good. I am therefore prepared to accept that the opposition—the All Progressives Congress—has some kind of plan. I would not wish to be any more explicit than that. It seems to me that there is a coherent opposition. The governor of Rivers state is an important member of that opposition and there are many others. At the moment, we tend to hear the party of government’s campaign through one or two things that are said in this House. I noticed that there was a visit by the Finance Minister of Nigeria two weeks ago, and those things were echoed in statements in meetings around the place. Some things that were said were essentially party political, and Members who were, I think, being supportive for good reason of the Nigerian Government were essentially echoing party political themes, and the opposition in Nigeria cannot campaign at the moment because it is unlawful to campaign until November.
I urge Members to reflect on the fact that there is a presidential election next February in Nigeria, and some of the stuff that is coming out, and coming through London and back through CNN, the BBC World Service and so on, is blatantly party political campaigning that the Nigerian Government can do, but which an increasingly well-organised opposition cannot.
The last time I was called to speak was not by you, Mr Deputy Speaker, or by another Deputy Speaker, but was actually at the Glastonbury rock festival—the Glastonbury festival of performing arts. I was asked to speak in the speaker’s tent, and follow in the illustrious footsteps of Tony Benn, God bless him. I think I was asked to speak because although perhaps not on the same scale, I have had what has been seen as a radical agenda in this House in promoting complementary medicine over the past 20 years. I do not regard that as particularly controversial, but it is something I have stuck to, and I think that Benn’s law certainly applies to me.
As colleagues will recall, Tony Benn said that when someone has a controversial idea:
“First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous… and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”
I have found over the years that that has happened, and I have had relentless attacks. The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) once called me the hon. Member for Holland and Barrett. I have had a fake Twitter account set up called “Inside the head of David Tredinnick”—[Laughter.] Yes. With my brain displayed. In the 2001 general election I had the honour of having a science candidate stand against me. He polled 196 votes against my 23,000, which colleagues will agree is not a bad result. I have been attacked by sceptical people over the years, and I regard many of the people who bombard Members’ websites as bullies and ignorant. They have never studied the subjects they are criticising. They are abusive and it is almost a breach of privilege in trying to stop colleagues speaking out.
I want to talk, quite briefly, wearing four hats—as a member of the Health Committee since the beginning of this Parliament, as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, as vice-chair of the Government’s herbals working group, and as chair of the all-party group for integrated healthcare. My researcher tells me that I have chaired nearly 100 meetings of that group.
I was somewhat surprised to find billed at Glastonbury a pair of speakers from the other side of the House: the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who is the shadow Health Secretary, and a certain former Member for Brent East, Mr Livingstone. I was not sure whether the right hon. Member for Leigh was the warm-up act for Mr Livingstone, or whether Mr Livingstone was the warm-up act for the right hon. Gentleman, but it would have been interesting to go to the Left Field, the field for left-wingers, where they were speaking. I was in a more modest tent.
I had quite a challenge because I was asked to follow Jonathan Cainer who, as one or two colleagues may know, is the astrologer who writes for the Daily Mail. I did a little research on that, and he has 12 million followers worldwide and 10,000 subscribers to audio forecasts. People who are sceptical might think it strange that somebody like that can attract such a following, but in that situation I think another parliamentary rule applies. You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.
Yes, thank you.
In this instance it is just possible that Jonathan Cainer has something that people do believe in, and I have made a study of astrology in connection with health care over the past 20 years. I was on the last parliamentary delegation to Hong Kong before the Chinese took it back, and Governor Chris Patten said, “David, what would you like to do? Do you want to go up to the Stanley barracks, go out on a frigate or to the new territories?” I said, “No, Governor. I would like to see your astrologer.” And as Governor of Hong Kong he had one. I went to meet the astrologer and he was very concerned about the buildings around Government House.
I have been to India and talked to people there and to the Indian Government about the Indian astrological system, lahiri, which is part of their culture. In western culture, Culpeper’s book, “Astrological Judgement of Diseases from the Decumbiture of the Sick” of 1655 is the longest in print, so in all cultures we have that tradition.
I will conclude my remarks because I know I will get a lot of friendly e-mails for having had the temerity to talk about astrology in this House, but I am absolutely convinced that those who look at the map of the sky for the day that they were born and receive some professional guidance will find out a lot about themselves, and it will make their life easier. As Propertius, perhaps the most famous Roman poet, said, “A man should live his life in the endeavours which suit him best.”
I am happy for you to intervene, Mr Deputy Speaker, and remind me how much time I have left.
Well I will definitely get a lot of friendly e-mails, because I have not got on to saying that I believe firmly as a member of the Health and Science and Technology Committees of the House that we must consider ways of reducing demand for antibiotics. Both the Health Committee and the Science and Technology Committee have reported that by using complementary medicine and by listening to the witnesses we can reduce that demand. I hope that in future we stop looking just at increasing the supply of drugs and consider the way that complementary and alternative medicine can reduce the demand for drugs, reduce pressures on the health service, increase patient satisfaction, and make everyone in this country happier.
It is a pleasure to follow my colleague from the Health Committee who spoke on a theme we hear quite a bit about in our meetings—less so the astrology, but we hear quite a bit about the other aspects.
I want to talk about carers, who are a key part of our society. The challenges of caring should be a vital part of the debate on social care. Now that we talk so much more about the integration of health and social care, we must remember that unpaid family carers provide most of that care. It is not paid for—it is given. The Care Act 2014 gave local authorities responsibility for assessing a carer’s own needs for support, and for deciding whether those needs are “eligible” for support. I believe that that legislation fails carers in two ways. We know that £3.7 billion has been cut from adult social care budgets since 2009-10. Giving carers new rights to assessment and support is a hollow improvement because the support available to them is dwindling because of higher eligibility levels and increased charges.
Macmillan Cancer Support reports that only one in three carers of people with cancer had heard of a carer’s assessment, and only one in 20 carers have actually had one. A survey in 2013 found that more than 70% of carers come into contact with health professionals, including GPs, doctors and nursing staff, during their caring journey. We have given the duty to assess carers to a body that a lot of carers do not see. It has always been clear to me that health professionals should have a key role in identification, but currently they identify only one in 10 carers, and GPs identify fewer than that.
The need for NHS bodies to identify carers and ensure that they are referred to sources of advice and support was raised at all stages of the debate on the Care Bill in the Commons, but was not accepted by the care Minister. Labour tabled new clauses to ensure that NHS bodies were required to identify carers and ensure that carers received advice and support, but they were voted down. In my constituency I see how that leaves carers with inadequate support. Last week I raised the example of a 62-year-old man from Eccles, who is caring for his wife who has Alzheimer’s. When Mr Bielawski sought an urgent GP appointment for his wife, he was told that it would take five weeks for her to see her GP and two weeks to see any GP, or he could take her to Salford Royal hospital’s A and E department. That is clearly not acceptable, but it is what happens when there is no duty on GPs or their staff to identify carers. If they did that, carers and the people for whom they are caring could be given the support and the priority that they deserve. In my view, a carer for somebody with Alzheimer’s disease should receive more priority than Mr Bielawski was given.
I believe it is time for the national Government to make a covenant with carers to show how society values their caring, and how we intend to support them to continue to care in future. A covenant could address flaws in the Care Act 2014, widen the definition of carer and address additional burdens that have been put on carers by this Government’s welfare reforms.
I suggest that, initially, under the covenant, NHS bodies should have a duty to identify carers, which I have just discussed; GPs and hospital staff should signpost carers to that help and support; NHS bodies should ensure that carers receive relevant medical services, because many carers need health checks that they never get; the definition of carer should be widened to include young carers and parent carers; and schools and colleges should recognise the needs and rights of young carers, and have procedures in place to identify them. More generally, the Government should have a role in ensuring that children and young people are protected from inappropriate caring.
We should not—absolutely not—charge carers if they need an extra room for their caring responsibilities. The bedroom tax currently affects 60,000 carers, and I am glad that Labour has pledged to abolish it. I hope that we have an early vote on that. Given the reported policy U-turns in other parties, I hope they will join Labour Members in that pledge to abolish the bedroom tax. Given that current welfare reforms have had an impact on carers, the Government should ensure that future legislation is more carer-proofed, so that changes do not negatively affect carers’ ability to care.
My last point on the care part of my speech is on Labour’s whole person care proposals, which would bring together three fragmented services—NHS, mental health and social care—into a single service co-ordinating all a person’s needs. I trust that supporting carers will be central to Labour’s proposals, because, as I have said, carers provide so much of the care needed.
The bedroom tax has hit my constituency hard. Around 1,400 households are still affected. A small number have been able to move and downsize, but for the rest of those affected, the true impact of the bedroom tax is becoming clearer. Some households affected by the bedroom tax were helped by the local authority’s discretionary housing payment scheme, which was well managed and targeted appropriately by Salford city council. Despite that help, only 49% of those households affected have been able to pay the tax, and 51% of have slipped into arrears, which have risen by £90,000 in recent months. As I said, Labour has pledged to abolish the bedroom tax. That will be a relief to my constituents, but meanwhile, it is worth saying that the policy is taking my constituents into debt and into misery.
Talking of Department for Work and Pensions chaos, I recently took up the case of a constituent, Mr Koppens, who had undergone major surgery for tongue and neck cancer—a very difficult cancer. My constituent told me that, in an operation lasting more than 13 hours, he suffered heart attacks, and that he continues to have unstable angina. Given his medical history, he is not allowed to drive. Despite that, a DWP decision maker put Mr Koppens into the work-related activity group, so that he was required by the local jobcentre to attend an interview. He was referred to the Work programme.
Mr Koppens was astonished at that outcome. He felt that the jobcentre was putting pressure on him, and making him feel like a cheat and that his cardiologist and doctors were liars. In the end, he attended an interview with the Work programme provider, but during the interview, he started to suffer chest pain. He asked for a first-aider but there was no first-aider, so he had to ask for an ambulance to be called. I was amazed to discover that, despite all that, as Mr Koppens was leaving to go to the hospital, the centre’s manager remonstrated that Mr Koppens’s wife, who had driven him to the interview, had failed to sign in properly when they arrived.
Furthermore, I have had to raise with Ministers eight cases of constituents who have claimed personal independence payment from May 2013, June 2013, August 2013 and September 2013. They have encountered lost forms, waits of six months or more for an Atos assessment, and a lack of updates or information when they contact the DWP. The process appears to be in complete chaos. I hope the newly appointed Ministers will be able to make some impact on the chaos at the DWP because my constituents are suffering from it. To be frank, I am not holding my breath.
Another local issue is air pollution. Last Thursday, I asked the following question to the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:
“The M60, the M62 and the M602 run through my constituency…We have extremely high levels of air pollution from road traffic. Indeed, the Highways Agency has had to shelve its plans to widen the M60 near my constituency because that would have brought too much road traffic”
on to the motorway
“and made our unacceptable air pollution worse. Now that the European Court of Justice has ruled that the Government are failing to meet their air pollution targets…what plans”
“Ministers have to tackle air pollution in areas such as mine, to prevent my constituents from suffering respiratory disease and early death?”—[Official Report, 17 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 1001.]
Not surprisingly, the Secretary of State—she had been in her new role for only 48 hours—found that she could not answer that question, so I hope the Deputy Leader of the House has an answer today because, in summertime, the pollution tends to make my constituents very ill.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) spoke of the need for a national cemetery, but in the past 24 hours, I have been dealing with the problem of dozens of gravestones dumped on land near the Manchester ship canal. I thank Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle of Greater Manchester police, and David Seager of Salford city council, for dealing with that sensitive matter and for trying to find a solution that respects the families who own the gravestones, which should never have been dumped. I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, a good recess, and I thank all who support our work, particularly the Hansard writers and Noeleen and her team in the Tea Room.
Britain’s road safety record is arguably the best of any industrial country in the world. The number of people who lose their lives on the road today is about a third of what it was almost 50 years ago. Great progress has been made, and successive Governments can take pride in that. It is in that context, therefore, that I draw the House’s attention to the inexplicable possibility of a relaxation of certain aspects of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This year, we commemorate the 40th anniversary of its passing in Parliament with the unanimous support of all political parties, which it has had over those years.
Based on the figures of 40 years ago, it is estimated that 1,000 lives have been saved every year—40,000 lives have been saved. That is not to mention the injuries at work that have been prevented. We should think about the impact that such injuries have on the lives of people who are injured, their families and work colleagues, and the about impact on hospitals’ accident and emergency departments, which hon. Members know are already overburdened. In that context, to even talk of or think about diluting something that saves lives and prevents injuries, and makes work a safe environment, is unbelievable. The fact that the Government and others are thinking about it is something that we should take very seriously.
It is worth noting that the whole Olympic stadium was built without the loss of a single life. We should contrast that with the large number of deaths that occur in the building of World cup stadiums and Olympic stadiums elsewhere in the world. The 1974 Act was crucial in ensuring that safe environment in that flagship development, which we all enjoyed two years ago. We give praise in equal measure to employers organisations and trade unions, as well as Governments, for allowing that to happen.
Into that great success story of safety and of lives being saved, it is being suggested that the approved code of practice in construction regulations should be diluted. I draw attention in particular to what is known as appendix 4. Many of us assume the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 applies only to dangerous occupations such as building, but it applies everywhere, including in our constituency offices. I was going to say it applies to the Houses of Parliament, but I have a feeling that they are exempt. I would like to think they follow the code of conduct. Health and safety accreditation schemes cover industries from A to Z, from air travel to zoos—just about everything.
Appendix 4 is adopted by a whole range of organisations to ensure that their work force can work in a safe environment. It is simple to read; clear; easily understood and applied; relevant and applicable across a wide range of industry sectors, not just, as I said, in construction industries; and widely used and recognised because of its regulatory standing as part of an approved code of practice. I therefore hope in this very brief contribution—I want to keep it very tight—that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will ensure that common sense breaks out. If 1,000 lives a year are being saved and people at work are being saved from serious injury—not to mention the impact that that would have on their place of work and on their employers’ ability to do whatever that business is doing—why do away with it? If it is going to be done away with, what will the consequences be, purely in terms of injuries, on our accident and emergency departments?
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 has been a great success story. In the same way that we have made our roads safer, we should ensure that we do not make our workplaces less safe.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) on his speech. I disagreed with every word of it. I was intrigued to hear that he is the chair of what I think he called the Government herb committee. That conjured images from my childhood of the television programme, “The Herbs”. Parsley the Lion, Dill the Dog, Lady Rosemary and Bayleaf the Gardener all went flooding through my mind.
I was delighted by the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). I completely agree with her on the bedroom tax. I am determined that when Labour wins the general election next year, we will repeal the bedroom tax. If the Deputy Leader of the House, who will wind up for the Government, is still a Member of Parliament then, I look forward to him voting with us, even if he cannot bring himself to vote with us on this matter before that date.
I wish to raise two specific issues. The first is concussion in sport. Members may know that in the United States a legal action against the National Football League has led to a $1 billion class suit. It looks as if the money set aside by the sport will still not be enough to compensate those who have suffered from industrial injuries. That was due to the negligence shown by the sport, and the cover-up: the sport had conducted research, but was not prepared to make it public. I believe—as do some other Members; we have produced a joint report—that exactly the same thing is happening in the United Kingdom. The sporting bodies in this country need to take this matter far more seriously than they do.
On 19 January 2002, Jeff Astle died. He was perhaps one of the most iconic soccer players of the late 20th century. He played for West Bromwich Albion and was renowned as a great header of the ball. The coroner decided that he had died because of repeated minor traumas to his head caused by heading the ball. Some people say that football has changed in the intervening years. However, the research conducted in the US shows that the use of a lighter ball makes absolutely no difference to the chronic traumatic encephalopathy that can be suffered by players.
When Jeff died, the Football Association in this country promised—it swore blind to Jeff’s family, his lovely widow and his daughters—that it would conduct 10 years of thorough research, and that it would make that research public. To date, no research whatever seems to have been done. If any research has been done, it has been covered up and not made public. Not only is that a disgraceful way to treat the family of Jeff Astle, but the FA is verging on the criminally negligent in how it is treating other players who are in exactly the same position.
We only had to watch two of the last matches of the World cup to see examples. In the final, Christoph Kramer was playing for Germany when he received what was quite clearly a concussion, but he went back on to play. Afterwards, he said that he could not even remember most of the first half of the match because of the blow he had taken to his head. Javier Mascherano, one of the Argentine players, was also clearly concussed in a semi-final game, but went back on to the field of play. That sends the message to young boys and girls playing many different sports in which they might receive a blow to the head that it is better to go back on the pitch, even if they have received such a blow.
To appreciate the all-too-possible danger of a double impact, particularly to children, we need only consider the case of Ben Robinson, who a few years ago went back on the pitch, received a second concussion and died. Of course, I am not saying that every child should be wrapped in cotton wool—we want people to enjoy their sport—but the message coming from big sport, broadcasters, doctors and sporting bodies is that it is better to get back on your feet, go back on and play. Where there is good research proving that chronic traumatic encephalopathy is leading to long-term depression, mental illness, early onset dementia and possibly suicide, surely to God we need to take that seriously, and where there is no research, in sports with regular brain injuries, surely to God we need to ensure that research is done, and all the sporting bodies need to work together.
That is why the hon. Members for Salisbury (John Glen) and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), two peers, Lord Addington and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, and I have produced a joint report calling on the Health Committee or the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of this House to conduct a parliamentary inquiry, bringing together all the facts from sporting bodies, doctors, the NHS and schools, and coming up with a single message: concussion will not always kill, but we must take it seriously because on occasions it can be fatal. I commend those journalists at The Mail on Sunday—I do not often say that—and The Guardian who have taken this issue seriously. However, I hope the Minister—and other hon. Members, if they know anyone on either Select Committee—will encourage colleagues to produce such a report before the general election.
In this potpourri or smorgasbord debate, I want to move, seamlessly but briefly, to the issue of Russia, for one simple reason. I had responsibility for our relationship with Russia in the last Labour Government, and I worry that the Government, though they might now be making all the right noises, have not been doing so consistently, and therefore effectively, in relation to Russia. When they came to power, they understandably wanted to draw a line under the Litvinenko case, move on and establish better trading relations with Russia. I am delighted that they have now changed their mind and that today the Home Secretary announced a proper public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, because we owe it to his widow, who simply has not had justice yet and is a courageous and independent-minded women.
We also have to be clear about the case of Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered in a Russian jail because he unveiled corruption in Russia while working for a British company. If we already have travel bans on some Russians coming to the UK, we should surely be saying that everyone involved in that corruption and murder is not welcome in this country. This House passed that resolution unanimously on 7 March 2012, and instead of all the mealy-mouthed nonsense I have heard on the eight occasions I have asked this question, the Government should get on and announce such a ban. This is a cross-party issue. France and Germany are showing a dereliction of duty in their relationship with Russia, which will always want to pick off one country after another in Europe and end up with a free pass. We have to stand together and show that Russia is currently acting more like Hitler in the Sudetenland than a modern, 21st-century democracy.
The benefit of these Adjournment debates is that they give Members in all parts of the House the opportunity to raise a range of issues. For once—for, probably, the only time—I agreed with every single word that was said by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about both football and Russia.
I intend to raise a range of issues during the time that is available to me. Let me say first that yesterday in Westminster Hall I initiated a debate on the second largest e-petition that we have received in the House, asking for Diwali and Eid to become public holidays. I support that proposal, and also believe that Rosh Hashanah should be added to the list. Ensuring that we held a debate on the issue certainly livened up the public.
This year saw the creation of the all-party parliamentary group for British Hindus, which I chair. The issue of caste legislation has caused deep upset and hurt in the British Hindu community. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research looked into the issue of caste discrimination back in December 2010 and found no evidence of its being a problem, but British Hindus who are now second and third generation have been immensely offended by the idea of caste being enshrined in legislation when it has nothing to do with their lives or community in this country. That is one issue that I believe we shall take further when we return after the recess.
I am, however, pleased that Hindus are better represented in Parliament than ever before, with more events taking place here which bring the community right to us. For example, the National Council of Hindu Temples has just launched the British Board of Hindu Scholars, which is intended to foster a better understanding of India’s vast academic heritage here in Britain. I was pleased to lend my support to that project, along with other Members of Parliament, and I wish its chairman, Satish Sharma, every success. I have also had meetings in Parliament with members of Hindu groups such as the Redbridge Hindu association, which voiced its deep concerns about violence against Hindus in Bangladesh.
While I am on the subject of international affairs, I cannot but mention what is going on in Gaza, and what has led to this terrible humanitarian tragedy. We must not forget that three Israeli teenagers were brutally murdered, and that responsibility lies with the despicable terrorist organisation Hamas. We must remember that the Israeli Government accepted every single proposal for a ceasefire, and Hamas refused because it regards a ceasefire as a surrender. We in Britain must ensure that not a single penny of taxpayers’ money goes to Hamas or its supporters, and I shall continue to press Ministers on that. We must ensure that Israel’s security is safeguarded.
I also want to raise some local matters. The 25 acres of Whitchurch playing fields are now being protected for the public good following a threat to turn them over to private developers. I am delighted that Harrow council has approved the application by Avanti Schools Trust to build the largest free school in the country. It will be a faith school based on the Hindu ethos. The project will reach the planning permission stage when we return after the recess, and I trust that Harrow council will grant that permission. Krishna Avanti primary school, which is nearby, is already a free school, and has been an overwhelming success. The high educational standards have created a huge demand for places. Once the new site is established, the school will accommodate 1,680 pupils from reception to year 12, and I think that that is something that we can all applaud.
Another new free school in Harrow, sponsored by the London Diocesan Board for Schools, is to be a bilingual primary school. It is on course to open, and to relieve the enormous pressure on primary school places. I look forward to the progress of that project through its various stages. We also have the Heathlands multi-academy site, which will provide a further 750 secondary school places and 150 places in the sixth form, thus combating the great need for school places in the borough of Harrow.
Those who have had the opportunity to visit my constituency may have travelled there on the Jubilee line and reached Stanmore station. If they have done so, they will have faced Mount Eiger: the steps that lead from the platform to the street. One has to be extremely physically fit to alight at that station, but many of my constituents are elderly or suffer from various ailments. There is a desperate need for a lift to be installed at the station. However, there are even more serious issues connected with the car park.
The car park is filled up all the time, and I have led the campaign for 10 years to get a second, or even a third, layer on this car park to ensure it can be used by all travellers. The fact is that the Stanmore car park is used as the car park for Wembley stadium, although perhaps after England’s lack of prowess at the last World cup we should not have to worry about that too much. We will continue at a local level to lobby Transport for London and the Mayor of London to have this lift put in and to improve the car parking facilities.
Continuing my little tour of my constituency, I want to mention the new development of 120 flats at Anmer Lodge in Stanmore, which I raised, as those who were present may remember, in the Easter Adjournment debate. The project is clearly far too big for the area, and will be a very dense development in an area of widespread housing. The development of Stanmore broadway and the opportunity to have a Marks & Spencer store are welcomed by many residents, but the position of the development presents an unacceptable challenge.
Recently I took the Secretary of State for Health to the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore, where we discussed the redevelopment of the site. Over the last 35 years Governments of all persuasions have promised that the buildings will be replaced. We are still waiting. We are campaigning, and the medical staff do a brilliant job in portakabins and Nissen huts. I am determined that we rebuild that hospital for the benefit of patients and the medical staff who do such a diligent job in their area.
Moving on to Edgware, we once again have the issue of Barnet football club—an issue the Deputy Leader of the House will recall. The lives of my local residents in Edgware have been plagued by Barnet football club coming to the Hive. The club acts in a bizarre manner: it just decides what it is going to do and then tries to get retrospective planning permission for its oversized stand and floodlights. That was rejected and an enforcement notice was issued, but the club threatened all sorts of legal action and eventually the council backed down. Not only did the club do that, but it introduced London Broncos to the site, and that move was so successful that London Broncos has lost every single match in the super league and has been relegated for the first time in its history. Barnet football club begins its second season in my constituency, and we will see what happens to it in the season ahead.
The Hive is not the only addition on Whitchurch lane in my constituency. We also have a Tesco Express being set up, which is opposed by many residents, and this is probably going to be one of the areas where Tesco has sought to get permission but has backed off. The pressure from local residents is clearly beginning to tell.
In closing, I will briefly take us to two other high streets. The first is Burnt Oak broadway, which is cleaned by Brent council and by Barnet council, but Harrow council leaves it neglected. The other is Harrow Weald high street, where once again Harrow Weald residents have been suffering because the local bank branch is going to close later this week. We have campaigned against that: we have called on NatWest not to do it, but once again it has refused.
I end on the issue of the hated “no right turn” on Kenton road. I am all in favour of turning right and it is regrettable that the councils of Harrow and Brent cannot get their act together and remove this hated “no right turn” off the Kenton road, which local residents want so they can access their properties and the local area.
Finally, I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all Members and members of staff a thoroughly good summer, and I look forward to hearing about some action from my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House in reply to this wonderful speech that I have made.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I know very well all the places in his constituency he mentioned, and I am looking forward to spending more time at those locations campaigning for Uma Kumaran, his replacement next year. He raised one particularly interesting scenario for me: the fitness challenge of climbing the steps of Stanmore station. In between campaigning for Uma Kumaran, I am training for the London triathlon on Sunday 3 August and I might just come to Stanmore station and take that challenge. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to join me when I do.
I wish to come back to something the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) began his remarks with: the disappointment with the performance of the England football team at the World cup. He suggested, I think in jest, that we should boycott premier league matches because there are too many overseas players. I think that the competition foreign players bring to the premier league is a good thing, but a more comprehensive look at how the interests of fans who want England to do well and who support premier league clubs needs to be thought about, particularly so that those interests can be properly represented in the governance of premier league clubs. Surely it is not an unreasonable ask to have a fan on the board of each club, elected through its football supporters trust—that might be a good thing, in order to ensure that the interests of ordinary football fans are properly represented.
Swansea City stands out as a lone example, as it has genuine fans, elected through the supporters trust, sitting on the board and taking part in all the decisions it makes in the interests of the club. The premier league needs to think through with a little more gusto how Swansea’s example might be replicated. Similarly, an audit of each premier league club’s contribution to grass-roots sport is surely also overdue. Each club should be expected to contribute at least 5% immediately, rising to perhaps some 10%, of TV income to the coaching of the next generation of England’s football fans and players. Surely it is not unreasonable to ask clubs to invest such sums in grass-roots sport in the areas around them.
Let me move on to my second issue. There is a need to review the funding formula for Harrow council and for the NHS in Harrow. The council faces some £75 million in funding cuts over the next four years—£25 million in this year alone. Other nearby councils receive substantially higher per capita funding, so I strongly support the campaign for Harrow council to receive fair funding. I hope that the Minister who is sitting on the Bench today might solicit a letter to me from the Department for Communities and Local Government about Harrow council’s case.
Had NHS England decided to implement the new funding formula it devised, the NHS in Harrow would have received an extra £23 million this year, and indeed next. I say gently that perhaps if the Government had not wasted £3 billion on a completely unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS, NHS England might have been able to find more quickly the funding that will be needed to ease the pressure at Northwick Park hospital, which serves my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Harrow East. The board of The North West London Hospitals NHS Trust has identified an extra 120 beds as necessary just to cope with the existing demand—that is before the closure of Ealing’s accident and emergency department and that of Central Middlesex hospital. That money might also have helped to stop the closure of the Alexandra Avenue urgent hours centre, or polyclinic. It used to be open from 8 am to 8 pm, 365 days a year, providing a hugely valuable service to many of my constituents in the south-west of the borough of Harrow. Sadly, the centre is now open only from 9 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and that situation urgently needs reviewing.
The last issue I wish to touch on is reform of the UK’s pension fund market. It is an almost £3 trillion market, and automatic enrolment is bringing a further 10 million working people into the private pension system. In theory, through our pension and savings funds, we each own a stake in various companies, and have a say in how those companies are run. In practice, that is nonsense. Instead such power is concentrated in the hands of a small number of financial institutions, the pension and savings fund managers or their appointees. They are the ones who, in practice, exercise the power of shareholders. Those institutions, I gently suggest to the Minister, should surely be accountable to our constituents who invest their savings and pension funds. To all intents and purposes, that accountability is largely a myth at the moment. A more accountable investment system is arguably overdue. Savers should surely have guaranteed rights to scrutinise decisions that are made on their behalf by the people who manage their money—the institutional investors.
At the moment, savers have very limited rights to information about what their money is being invested in. Should our constituents not be able to find out how those institutional investors are using shareholder rights that are being exercised in their name? Our constituents should also have access to information about the strategy of the pension or savings fund into which they have put their money, and the risks that are attached to that strategy. Surely they should be able to see an annual report on how the fund has implemented its investment policy over the year and how it plans to mitigate any risks in future.
Our constituents should also be able to question the people who look after their money. Is an annual meeting that much of an unreasonable ask? After all, it is only what companies with normal shareholders have to do. I understand that Legal and General is about to do exactly that, but most of its rivals in the savings market do not have any plans to ape it.
Should our constituents not have the right to be consulted on the investment and voting policies of the institutional investors into whose trust they place their savings and pensions? Should our constituents not also have the right to elect representatives on to the board or governing committee of the pension fund in which they are investing? These are sensible rules that would make the pension and savings fund market a little more accountable. They have been developed by the excellent organisation ShareAction, and I commend them to the House.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for finding the time for this important debate, which has become a highlight of the parliamentary calendar. We can hear MPs discussing a range of local and national issues—a smorgasbord, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) called it.
Today I want to speak about one local issue, which is of tremendous importance to my constituents. Cossham hospital now lies just outside the Kingswood constituency, but it is very much at the heart of local people’s feelings. People in Kingswood have come there to be born, to die, to be treated and to be cared for. My mother was a nurse for 40 years. She was inspired by the idea of nursing in the 1960s when, as a child, she had her tonsils out. She then went on to have a career in the NHS. I had the pleasure of attending an antenatal class at Cossham on Monday—[Hon. Members: “Hear! Hear! Congratulations.”] Thank you very much.
Cossham hospital is currently facing a threat, which relates to a promised minor injuries unit. Before I go into that, let me give Members a bit of context. The history of Cossham hospital is inextricably linked with the history of the House of Commons. The land was gifted by Kingswood MP Handel Cossham who actually died in the House of Commons Library. He was a collier who owned a lot of land, and he decided to gift this land to set up a hospital. When people talk about Cossham hospital, they are talking about not just a superb NHS facility but a hospital that belongs to the people of Kingswood. A huge amount of time and effort has been invested in this local facility.
Back in 2004, local NHS health care bosses at North Bristol NHS Trust decided to close Cossham. It was thanks to the enormous campaign and the marches of the Save Cossham Hospital group, which was then run by Graham Kennedy, that the local health bosses changed their mind and decided to keep the hospital open. I met the commissioner to talk about that decision, and he said that at the time they had been absolutely determined to close Cossham but that it was superb that it was open and that that had been exactly the right thing to do. That is worrying, because local health care commissioners who admit they have made mistakes in the past are, I believe, going on to make those mistakes in future.
After Cossham hospital was threatened with closure in 2004, the Bristol health services plan decided to keep it open, offering a wide range of services and a £19 million refurbishment, which has now happened. I am incredibly grateful for that refurbishment, but a minor injuries unit was also promised for Cossham hospital and that has yet to be delivered. South Gloucestershire clinical commissioning group is holding off the decision on whether to put in that minor injuries unit until October.
My worry for Kingswood and the eastern region of Bristol is that we will simply no longer have the health care facilities we deserve in our region. The decision to downgrade Frenchay hospital accident and emergency was, I believe, a disgrace. My hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and I have campaigned and called for several debates on the closure of Frenchay A and E and we are continuing to campaign to ensure that the community hospital at Frenchay is delivered for 2016. People in our area of Bristol and South Gloucestershire need the health care facility that a minor injuries unit would provide. It simply is not good enough for them to travel all the way around Bristol to go to the new super-hospital at Southmead. It is too far, and in some cases it might endanger people’s lives.
The minor injuries unit is still there to be put in and the room is empty. I call on South Gloucestershire CCG to think again and to listen to the voices of local people, particularly the Save Cossham Hospital group, which is now ably run by Reg Bennett. Reg has skilfully taken the politics out of the issue so that we have Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and the UK Independence party members lined up and agreeing that we need a minor injuries unit at Cossham hospital.
I have more than 1,000 petition signatures that I would like to give to Reg and the group to add to the thousands they have already collected. They are having a local meeting at Warmley community hall this Saturday. Unfortunately, for personal family reasons to do with the antenatal classes I mentioned earlier, I will be unable to attend that meeting, but my message to all those who attend is that they should keep fighting. As their local MP, I am absolutely determined that they should get the minor injuries unit. If they do not, there is a clear and present danger that local people in my area will be let down. Everybody pays for the NHS through their taxes and they deserve health care facilities at local points of need. They should keep fighting for Cossham hospital and for an MIU. I hope that the campaign will be successful and I will back it all the way.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who was formerly a member of the Select Committee on Health. It is good to see that he has not lost his interest in the health service and that he is keeping up the population at the same time.
These debates are always a good time to raise various issues on behalf of our constituents, and a number of Members have already touched on the theme I want to pursue, which is the relationship between the people and those who make decisions for them and why it is becoming such a struggle for people when their voice is not heard. This was mentioned by the hon. Members for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and for Kingswood and by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas). In particular, I want to cover how local authorities consult local people. I also want to touch on the NHS and access to treatment and services.
Let me start with the subject of consultation and illustrate it with three examples from Walsall South. In Stafford road, speed humps were installed and residents and I met council officers for a further consultation on removing them because of the noise and vibration they created. The consultation resulted in 34 out of 43 residents wanting the speed humps to be removed. One hundred and forty-eight people were contacted and 43 responded, but the council counted the 105 non-responses as though they were in favour, and therefore kept the speed humps against the wishes of local people.
Darlaston road residents contacted me to say that there had been a number of incidents, including one in which a four-year-old boy had to be airlifted to safety after a car had hit him. There have been other near misses. Residents want a signal-controlled crossing and presented a petition with 300 signatures to that effect, but still nothing has been done. Does someone really have to be injured before action is taken and before my constituents’ voices are heard?
On Walstead road, residents have had to suffer a traffic calming scheme that they did not want. A consultation took place in July for three weeks. Some people were on holiday; some were about to go on holiday. Traffic humps were bolted down along the road. They were different from any I had ever seen before. I have been over them and—you would not believe it, Mr Deputy Speaker—I had to clench my neck because it was so painful. One was placed near a traffic light and one by a zebra crossing. Local resident Tracy Clifford carried out a survey after they were installed, and 97 people responded, of which 73 reported that they had difficulty with noise or when they reversed their car out of their drive. The traffic island gets in the way and then they are abused by passing car drivers just for coming out of their driveway.
At our second meeting, residents came up with a valuable suggestion about having different solutions for different parts of the road. If only they had been consulted and listened to properly. Will the Deputy Leader of the House ask Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government to introduce some guidance on how consultations take place with local people? When my office rang the information lines of neighbouring local authorities—Birmingham, Sandwell, Stafford county council and Wolverhampton—they were told that non-responses were not counted as responses in favour, and they placed all their consultations on their website. Bristol city council has seven principles, the first of which is that consultations should be well timed and sufficient time should be allowed for people to respond. That, along with the other six principles, is eminently sensible. Guidance should be issued throughout England to make sure that non-responses are not counted as responses in favour. As one person said to me at a local residents meeting, if we do not vote in an election, we do not expect our non-vote to be counted as a vote for the winning party.
The residents of the park homes at Beacon Heights cannot get a bus at night. Centro conducted its survey in the afternoon when no one was using the buses. The residents did not want a bus service in the afternoon; the 65 residents want a bus service on Saturday and Sunday evenings. They are elderly, and that bus is all they need. We need my constituents to be listened to.
Our constituents need more information and transparency. Many complain to me about their local GP service, Sai Medical. Their complaints went unheeded by the surgery. They were told that they had to complain to the patient advice and liaison service. They were never seen by the same doctor, only by a continuous supply of locums. I had to have a meeting with the local clinical commissioning group, which told me that Malling Health, a company based in Kent, had a contract with NHS England. The Library found out that the Care Quality Commission had issued a damning report on this company. Malling Health at West Kingsdown medical centre used to hire staff who were not qualified to work with patients and had not been through recruitment checks, and there were no effective systems in place to prevent infection. Malling Health’s contract was terminated at the Brambles surgery in Essex. My constituents were right to complain, yet their voices were not heard. We do not have information. I did not have any information that Malling Health was running the GP surgery, yet the Government have just passed regulations under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014. and with the care.data programme they want to know every single piece of information about citizens.
I made a simple request for a constituent to have an insulin patch pump. I had to write to the Department of Health, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and all my constituent’s GPs to get a vital service. A 13-year-old already has bruises on her leg from having to inject insulin every day, and she will have to do it for the rest of her life unless she has a pump. We should be listening to people and nurturing them, not placing obstacles in the way when they raise issues.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) talked about the reshuffle. I was pleased to see that the Leader of the House is now the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague). Mr Deputy Speaker, you may already have had the benefit of Mr Speaker’s impersonation of the right hon. Gentleman. Now, every Thursday morning, we will have to listen to Mr Speaker refining his impersonations. I hope you will take the message back that they actually go on for far—too—long.
May I also congratulate the women of the 2010 intake, and tell them, on behalf of the other women members of that intake, that we all knew they could do it? I ask them to bear in mind what Ginger Rogers said—that women have to do it backwards and in high heels. From one Rogers to another, I would like to say goodbye and good luck to Sir Robert Rogers, who was very helpful to me personally. He was very accessible and he gave me a copy—which I bought—of his wonderful tome “How Parliament Works”, which I have consulted on many an occasion. I wish him good luck.
Finally, I know it is not a popular thing to do, but I would like to thank the people who work in the public services, especially those who work in the passport office, who, every time I have asked for an intervention, have produced the passport for my constituents. Thank you to them—and to all the exhausted teachers, who do their job nurturing the next generation. I also want to thank the Library staff for their independent and impartial research and statistics in support of my work, and all the House staff. Lastly, I want to wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all the other Members a very happy recess.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who raised a number of very local issues. We particularly enjoyed all her impersonations. She may get some extra bookings after that.
For tabloid purposes, we are about to head off to a sun-kissed exotic beach for seven weeks, but, back in the real world of being a local MP representing the area my family and friends live in, I am looking forward to a busy, energetic summer, which will include my annual volunteering week. I will be supporting local businesses, which are expanding, providing new jobs and apprenticeships. I am doing lots of charity runs and charity bike rides, following on from the Tour de France, which came through my constituency a couple of weeks ago. I will be holding lots of advice surgeries. Oh, and I will be squeezing in a one-week break to recharge my batteries.
In the next seven minutes, I want to focus on by far and away the biggest local issue in my beautiful part of West Yorkshire—planning. The picturesque Colne and Holme valleys and Lindley are under threat from Labour-run Kirklees council, which is hellbent on supporting unsustainable house building. It is riding roughshod over local communities who are already struggling with infrastructure that is at breaking point. We—and yes, I say we, as I live in the lovely village of Honley—are desperate to preserve what is left of our green countryside in an already congested part of Yorkshire. Fair play, though, to Labour-run Kirklees; they are up front about it. They want to build houses, they want to build lots of them, and they want to build them on green fields. Even Labour’s local election candidates are honest enough to put it on the front of their election leaflets, and I praise them for their honesty.
Tomorrow night I will be joining Lindley community campaigners at Birchencliffe cricket club for the Save Grimescar Valley campaign meeting. We are fighting plans to turn a lovely, picturesque green strip of countryside, which separates Kirklees from Calderdale, into housing and industrial units. Thornhill Estates is applying for planning permission for 200 dwellings on provisional open land in Grimescar valley, and in doing so resuscitating the Kirklees gateway project. The Kirklees gateway project comprises 260 hectares—650 acres—of commercial and residential development with plans for a school, care home and eco-centre, although no nursery places. Lindley is already scarred by a similar controversial plan, which was passed three years ago, for 287 houses on Lindley Moor; a narrow 8-7 vote on the planning committee, with the casting vote by a Liberal Democrat councillor, saw the scheme go ahead.
The threat to Grimescar valley is the latest in a series of applications on provisional open land designated in the old unitary development plan for Kirklees, which is now decades old. Local wishes are being brushed aside. Labour-run Kirklees does not have a local plan; it withdrew its original, flawed plan in October 2013, and we await the start of a new one. As a result, we have a developers’ free-for-all: the old unitary development plan means that land designated as provisional open land is up for grabs. As well as Grimescar valley, developments are going ahead or being planned in Netherthong, Upperthong, Meltham, Slaithwaite, Golcar and many more of my Yorkshire communities. I have already brought the chief executive of Kirklees council and some of my local councillors down to meet the previous planning Minister, and I look forward to discussing these pressing planning matters with the new Minister.
We need a new and radical approach to local development. Confidence in local democracy and the Kirklees planning committee is at rock bottom. We need transparency on the planning committee. Why not have it streamed live and the votes recorded? Councillors need to be held to account for their votes. I am fed up of local councillors saying that they want to protect our green spaces, and then getting into bed with the local Labour group and voting for unsustainable developments. Yes, we need a brownfield first policy. Why is the Thirstin Mills area, a cleared brownfield site in my village of Honley, still empty? It has planning permission; why not build there, instead of on a greenfield site? Why is the Royd Edge dyeworks site, cleared at great expense, still empty? It has planning permission and is ready to go ahead.
Why are affordable homes that have been built in new developments across my patch still empty? Work is being done to bring thousands of empty properties and homes back into use, and I praise the Government for introducing new council tax powers to encourage owners to do up the properties and bring them back into use, by letting them out or selling them. Grants have been made to local councils, including through the future home builders plan, in which young unemployed people learn skills such as carpentry, plumbing and how to be an electrician by working on those properties, which are then brought back on to the market as affordable homes. Those are the sort of schemes we should be promoting and encouraging to bring empty properties in our communities back into use. They are sustainable because people who live in those homes do not need two cars; they can walk to local shops and local schools.
Let us regenerate our town centres. Why not encourage folk to live above vacant shops to stimulate those areas and have people living in them 24 hours a day? My award-winning Huddersfield university investing millions of pounds in new quality student accommodation will release thousands of properties formerly used by students—although they will need some investment. Let us stop doing the easy thing—and the cheapest thing for developers. Let us get smart, and let us protect our beautiful green countryside in West Yorkshire. The battle to save Grimescar valley begins in earnest tomorrow evening. I am up for the fight and so are hundreds—nay, thousands—of local folk, who really love where we live.
I would like to wish all hon. Members a very happy summer. As well as working hard, I hope we all get a chance to recharge our batteries. I thank all the wonderful staff here in the House of Commons, and I would like to pick out Betty, down in the Terrace cafeteria, who always has a smile and a lovely word for my children when they visit during the summer. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who will become a father in just three weeks’ time—he will have a very busy summer indeed. Mr Deputy Speaker, have a lovely summer. We look forward to seeing you again in September.
The one thing I agree with the last speaker on is that Betty is wonderful. She deserves the congratulations and the compliments.
I want to raise the issue of adults with autism and the possible problems the Care Act 2014 may bring. The Department is consulting on the criteria for support, and there are fears that adults’ eligibility to receive support could be damaged. I do not think that I need to take up the House’s time describing the condition. It is a terrible, life-long condition that damages and constrains a person from childhood to death, with no cure in sight. The fact that support can be withdrawn from adults with autism should concern the House.
It is wrong to think that children with autism are in a better situation than adults with the condition, but they have the support of legislation and they are surrounded by professionals, for example in schools. If those professionals are doing their job, support should be forthcoming. If the local authority is doing its job, it will be encouraging support and paying for it. However, too many adults with autism slip below the radar once they reach the age of 25 and lose what support they had, often with disastrous consequences.
The national criteria propose that the present banding of low, moderate, substantial and crucial be substituted with a sole criterion comparable to the present “substantial” definition. Although that gives some comfort to people across the country that support will not be determined by postcode, there is a worry that those people with needs that could be described as lower than substantial will have their support withdrawn.
That raises the difficulty of withdrawing the existing requirement for local authorities to provide support to individuals at risk of abuse or neglect. Some adults with autism can struggle to understand the intention of others. That can lead to them being taken advantage of and even abused by people they often think are their friends. Low-level support, such as one-to-one counselling sessions on understanding relationships and boundaries, can reduce the risk of a vulnerable person with autism becoming a victim of abuse. However, under the criteria in the regulations, that low-level support could be withdrawn.
Let me give the House some figures. The National Autistic Society has found that
“49% of adults with autism… told us they had been abused by someone they thought of as a friend, 27% have had money or possessions stolen by someone they thought of as a friend, and 37% have been forced or manipulated to doing something they didn’t want to do by someone they thought of as a friend.”
It is therefore very important that the regulations are tweaked to stop that happening.
The regulations propose that the inability to maintain relationships should make a person eligible for assistance, but forming or developing relationships in the first place is something that people with autism often need specific help with. Without that support, they can be particularly vulnerable to social isolation. According to the National Autistic Society,
“65% of adults told us they need prompting to wash, dress or prepare a meal. 86% of adults who need prompting have not washed, 70% have missed meals and 69% have not got dressed because they didn’t get this help.”
It quotes one individual:
“I don’t eat. I don’t change clothes, nothing except maybe get a drink of water and go to the bathroom when I can’t hold it anymore. Don’t take my meds either. I can lose entire days and nights that way.”
That is what is at stake. In the regulations, the definition used for determining whether an adult with autism gets support is “to be unable”. Those familiar with autism consider that that should be extended to include guidance and prompting. Someone with autism might be physically capable of carrying out a basic act of personal care, but often they need to be prompted, reminded or guided to do it. Prompting, in that case, means reminding, encouraging and explaining, by another person verbally or through the use of visual aids.
My last point is that adults with autism should receive community care assessments from people with specific expertise in autism, because someone who is not aware of the varied and hidden aspects of autistic behaviour could fail to understand that adult or could make the wrong decision as a result of being primarily influenced by the physical appearance of the individual. That has happened, and is happening, with disability examinations when mental health problems and their debilitating effects are not given due and vital attention by medical examiners who lack detailed mental health knowledge and tend to concentrate on the claimant’s physical aspects.
It is very important that I raise this issue in the debate, because the regulations are being formed now and will probably come to the House immediately after the recess. If that is the case, they will be secondary legislation, which is not amendable, so the current consultations and discussions with bodies such as the National Autistic Society have to be sympathetic and take on board those points. Otherwise, people who are already damaged will be damaged further, because we will not be able to change the regulations.
I will end on that note and wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the staff—particularly Betty, and Noeleen, Mary and Margaret in the Tea Room—and other Members a short but happy recess.
I want to take the opportunity provided by this debate to reflect on two cases involving constituents of mine that have caused me to ask, yet again, what can be done to relieve individuals and businesses of petty regulation and, more particularly, the powers given to officials to interpret the vast amount of legislation and regulation that comes forth from Government, the European Union, local authorities and the ever-increasing agencies of Government. The two cases are also linked to an inquiry being carried out by the Procedure Committee, of which I am a member, into the accountability of executive agencies and quangos, or non-departmental public bodies.
Mr Gary Rockhill of the Dovedale hotel in Cleethorpes has been having a little local difficulty with the planning department of North East Lincolnshire council. It is not uncommon for small businesses to cross swords with the planners and I make no particular comment as to the rights and wrongs of the case. I merely want to address the powers available to enforce regulations.
When Mr Rockhill attended my surgery, he outlined the problems he is encountering, one of which related to the display of an A-board outside his premises. Members on both sides of the House, particularly those who have served as councillors, will, I am sure, be familiar with these advertising displays, which seem to be so disliked by planners. Of course, councils should have powers to prevent A-boards from blocking the pathway if they are causing problems for pedestrians, the disabled, those with pushchairs and the like, but my question is: should those powers be as extensive as they are?
On 9 April, Mr Rockhill received a letter form Cofely, the council’s partner organisation, which enforces and administers the council’s planning functions. It stated:
“I am writing to you regarding the above property and the illegal advertisement you have placed on St Peters Avenue, Cleethorpes.
In connection with this investigation, the Council would like to invite you to a formal interview under caution at the Council offices. The caution states”—
these are familiar words—
“‘You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be taken in evidence.’ The reason for the interview under caution is that the Council suspects that an offence has been committed, and before any questions are put to you about your involvement or suspected involvement in that offence, the caution should be given so that your answers or silence may be given in Court in evidence.”
I remind Members that this is in connection not with burglary, drunken driving or any of the more serious offences, but with the alleged nuisance and inconvenience caused by displaying an A-board.
On behalf of Mr Rockhill, I wrote to the council’s chief executive:
“It would seem that sending out letters of this kind is, to say the least, heavy-handed. This is not a serious crime but a case of placing an A-board on the pavement…I am well aware that these are a potential hazard in certain circumstances though I have to say that, in my experience, the potential hazards seem to be in the eyes of officials rather than in reality. I would be very happy to walk around Cleethorpes with you when it is very easy to come across scores of examples of highway authority signs, lighting columns, litter bins etc that are a far more serious obstruction than Mr Rockhill’s signs.”
As I anticipated, I received a reply explaining that the council was acting perfectly properly, and in line with current legislation. Of course, councils need powers to deal with violations that cause inconvenience to those they serve, but are we seriously saying that we need such a heavy-handed approach? My question for the Minister is: should a Government who are both Liberal and Conservative allow such legislation to remain on the statute book?
My second example relates to another constituent, Mr Ernest Cromer. On Friday 20 June, Mr Cromer featured in Richard Littlejohn’s column in the Daily Mail, and he visited my constituency surgery on the same day. Mr Cromer is a former trawler skipper and, as Mr Littlejohn’s article states, he
“retains his love of the sea and fishing.”
The article continues:
“His daily exercise consists of walking 60 yards out into the”—
“estuary to inspect his net tethered on the mud-flats to catch fish on the incoming tide. It’s a method used by locals on the banks between Grimsby and Cleethorpes for generations. On a good day, he might catch two Dover sole... Some days the net is empty. But if he catches more than a couple of fish, he gives them away to friends and neighbours.”
In no way can his operation be described as a commercial one. It does not sound as though it is akin to some foreign trawler moving in and hoovering up tons of fish. Do we really need the vast array of officialdom to protect us or, indeed, the natural resources of our seas and coastlines? On the 21 June, Mr Cromer’s story was covered by the Grimsby Telegraph, with comments from both me and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) in his support.
Immediately following Mr Cromer’s visit to my surgery, I wrote to the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority to express my concerns at yet another example of officialdom acting in a high and heavy-handed manner. A few days later, I received a reply from the authority’s chief officer, who I am sure has acted entirely properly and diligently in busily interpreting the vast array of legislation, rules and regulations that nowadays appear to be necessary to protect the natural environment. The first paragraph of his reply expressed his concerns:
“I would like to register my disappointment”
“public statements by your office, for your constituent’s position.”
Well, Mr Deputy Speaker, I make no apology for defending my constituent’s position: I regard it as a fundamental part of the role of a Member of Parliament to defend constituents against the might of the bureaucracy.
The letter states that the statutory authority for the NEIFCA is the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966, as updated by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The particular regulation covering Mr Cromer’s activities was first made in the early 1990s under section 5 of the 1966 Act and section 37(2) of the Salmon Act 1986. Apparently, there are 22 regulations in force in NEIFCA’s area to protect species including salmon, sea trout and eels. I do not doubt that serious thought went into making the regulations, and that there was a need to protect some species from illegal activity, but I cannot help asking why these species are still in existence when the Mr Cromers of this world have been doing for centuries exactly what Mr Cromer is now doing. If he used modern methods—as I mentioned, they can hoover up a vast tonnage of fish—I could understand it, but is it really being suggested that a couple of fish in his net every day will cause such major problems?
As an aside, the same applies to the vast array of industry on the Humber bank and elsewhere. From the 1950s onwards, vast swaths of land on the south bank of the Humber have been developed for industry—power stations, oil refineries and other heavy industry. That was done without all the environmental regulations that now apply to protect migratory birds, yet the birds are still there. The birds are now in need of protection that delays investment and the associated jobs. I have asked representatives from Natural England and other organisations why the birds survived the previous industrial development. As yet, I have received no convincing reply. I assume the answer is that nature adapts.
I do not believe that we should abandon the regulations that protect the environment across the board, but that they should be commensurate with the problem that they seek to address and that some accountability for the officials who implement them is essential. In the case of the IFCA, there is an advisory council, but how closely it monitors the activities of its officials is open to doubt.
The NEIFCA pointed out in its reply to me that the original article was inaccurate in linking the story to Europe. I am always keen to blame the EU and the link in the article was implied rather than factual. It did not blame a specific regulation or directive for Mr Cromer’s plight, but drew attention to the fact that the destruction of the fishing industry is linked to our EU membership, which is quite right. Admittedly, the Icelandic cod wars played a part in the demise of the industry, but the hostility to the local community of what was the Common Market and is now the EU remains. I do not care whether it is the EU or successive British Governments that have introduced the regulations, but there needs to be discretion in the way they are implemented.
To return to the letter that I received from the NEIFCA, it states that
“unfortunately and hopefully as you will appreciate, we cannot make one rule for one and not another and however well meaning, to allow a specific exception for Mr Cromer would in my view place the Humber Estuary at significant risk of environmental impact, resulting in completely unregulated and uncontrollable levels of activity, killing sensitive migratory fish and eel species…and placing the general public at risk.”
To conclude, we hear frequently that the prosecuting authorities, sometimes in serious criminal cases, have decided against prosecution because it is not in the public interest, yet for poor Mr Cromer, who is accused of catching a couple of fish each day, there can be no exception and no discretion. As the NEIFCA states,
“as you will hopefully understand, this specific byelaw regulation is in place for very sound reasons and my officers provide advice and enforce their provisions in a very even-handed and fair manner right across the board.”
Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to differ.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow a number of other hon. Members who have spoken about housing, which is one of the issues that I want to raise. However, unlike the Members for the valleys—the hon. Members for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney)—who are against houses being built in their areas, and especially in greenfield areas, I would like to see more houses in my borough of Hackney and in London as a whole.
There were 671 new starts in Hackney South and Shoreditch in 2013, which compares with a constituency average in the UK of 185. Clearly, the average is a curious figure because it includes areas where development is more challenging for all sorts of reasons, but it shows that in one small London borough, where there is a will, more homes can be built.
I declare an interest in that I am a landlady. There are a large number of private renters in my constituency. We need housing across the board because London and Hackney continue to grow. The price rises are incredible because of the great shortage. More people rent privately than own housing in my constituency, and the number of people who rent social housing in my borough is greater than the number of people who own and rent privately combined. Hackney is one of the top two councils nationally for building new council homes. Even though that is good for Hackney, it is not enough to keep up with demand.
I have spoken about house prices and rent levels in my constituency before, but I want to remind the House about them. According to Land Registry figures, between March 2013 and March 2014, the percentage increase in house prices was 19%, meaning that an average home now costs £525,000—just over half a million pounds— which is up from £441,000 a year ago. The figures that I have are the median rent levels, but many homes are much more expensive. For a typical three-bedroom home, the rent is just shy of £2,000. For a one-bedroom home, it is £1,235.
We need more housing in Hackney, in London, and probably in other parts of the country too, and we must challenge the Government’s target of setting social rents at 80% of local private rents for new social housing—something that happily Hackney council continues to resist. Those rent levels would be unaffordable for many hard-working people in my constituency, and it would hoover up and scoop out loads of people living in inner-London, and change the nature not just of a borough but of a city where people live cheek by jowl, with incomes mattering less than their contribution to the community.
Part of the solution must be new longer-term tenancies in the private sector. Labour Front Benchers have called for three-year tenancies in the private sector, which I back. For tenants who want such tenancies that is great and should be offered, but it is not enough for families who need far more stability than a three-year tenancy. We must look seriously and cross-party—this will take time to implement—at some sort of financial incentive for private landlords who want to be long-term landlords and not just in it for the money to provide longer-term tenancies for families. It may be that they need a tax incentive or some other economic device to encourage them to provide longer-term tenancies with rent guarantees, as part of the mix of social housing more generally. That certainly needs to be part of the solution in London, to help boost the intermediate sector and make private renting a longer-term choice for those who wish to or have to take that option.
Finally on housing, we need to abolish the bedroom tax. This is a failed policy. It is easy to say, “Oh, it’s fair because people have an extra bedroom”, but when someone has lived in a home for 30 years, or was born there, or has adult children who come and go, to suddenly be charged £14 for that extra bedroom is not fair or reasonable. Often, people’s household circumstances change periodically. I have many constituents who have fallen out of work through no fault of their own and are looking for work, but in that period they have to pay the extra out of their benefits. They do not want to leave because they are optimistic that they will get a job again. One woman who came to see me had moved from a three-bedroom property to a two-bedroom property because her eldest child had left home, and she has—temporarily, she hopes—fallen out of work. She was encouraged to move to a two-bedroom social rented property, but the rent she pays for that is higher than the rent she was paying on the three-bedroom property. Now when she looks for work, she has to look for a job that pays even more to ensure she can cover the rent. That makes her search for work even more challenging.
Another example comes from Wenlock Barn estate in Hoxton in my constituency where more than 70 families on one estate are affected by the bedroom tax. They are not moving anywhere because those are their homes, and there are not many options that they can move down to. I challenge the Deputy Leader of the House to make clear in his response his party’s position as a party of government about the future of the bedroom tax.
I also want to mention GP services in east London and particularly Hackney. The Government have withdrawn the minimum practice income guarantee, or MPIG, but that unsexy sounding acronym is a serious issue for my constituents. I represent one of the most deprived areas of the country—although there are huge issues around the price of housing—and many people are living in great poverty and need health care support.
Yesterday I met Dr Sarah Williams who leads the campaign across east London to ensure we protect our GP services. Earlier this year I raised with Ministers during Health questions my concerns about how the withdrawal of the MPIG would affect the services that my constituents receive from their GPs, and I was told forcefully by the Minister that NHS England had the matter in hand. I happened to have a meeting in the next few days with NHS England and another London MP, and NHS England was clear that it was speaking with local GPs to try to find solutions to the issue. What I hear from local GPs, however, is not what I am hearing from those sources, and local GPs were unaware of the discussions that NHS England says it is having with them. Dr Williams told me, in her words, that the MPIG was introduced in 2004 “in perpetuity”, whereas Ministers have said on the record in the House that it was always supposed to be a temporary measure.
I am therefore asking for the minimum practice income guarantee withdrawal to be frozen. One seventh has been withdrawn because it will be withdrawn over a seven-year period, but perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House could pass this question on to Department of Health Ministers: how much overall will be drawn from the most deprived areas when the minimum practice income guarantee is withdrawn? Some GPs are very much in favour of the withdrawal. If we take away money from some practices and distribute it evenly across the whole, some practices will be net gainers. Many of my constituents have arrived from other parts of the country, and many have had poorer upbringings. All the data show that poor early upbringings have a long-term impact on health. We need GP services to be tuned in to that and ensure that we have the extra provision so that we have properly funded practices. I do not see why my constituents should lose those services in order to fund services in constituencies such as, to pick random examples, Carshalton and Wallington or Surrey Heath, where the needs are markedly less great.
In the short time I have left, I want to talk about child care, an issue I have raised many times. I represent one of the youngest constituencies in the country. More than a fifth of residents are under 16. Therefore, a lot of parents of young children are struggling to make ends meet because of the cost of housing if they are living in the private rented sector or trying to buy, and because of the lottery of child care. We have good child care in Hackney, but finding the right child care when they need it is a challenge for all parents up and down the country.
Often, we think we are lucky when we get good child care, but it should be there anyway. I am perhaps bolder than those on the Opposition Front Bench. I believe we should have universal free provision of child care. That would have to be funded over time, but the revenue from taxpaying parents would soon cover it. Very few parents I know can afford to work full time because the cost of full-time child care is so great. They would contribute far more to the tax regime if they could.
We should see child care as a cross-party issue. The Government are trying things, but they tinker at the edges. They are fiddling around with the tax regime and making it even more complicated for parents when we already have systems in place. Introducing a new system does not solve the problem of supply, which is the serious issue.
As I said to the Prime Minister in the past month, broadband is a national embarrassment. I have often spoken about that but it is a national concern. We are too wedded as a country to one technology. Broadband is too expensive, particularly for small businesses, which need it when they are growing but do not have the money to spend. Business grants of £3,000 have been added in, but that is like a sticking plaster—it is a bit like worrying about the scratch on the patient’s finger when they have a broken leg. We need a comprehensive review of broadband, and plans for infrastructure and roll-out, and for a competitive framework that delivers.
My final point is a reminder to the House that it is 100 days today since the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls in north-eastern Nigeria. There is a demonstration today at the Nigerian embassy to ensure that we do not lose sight not just of those schoolgirls, but of the other abductions and atrocities that have taken place in Nigeria as a result of the activities of Boko Haram. As chair of the all-party group on Nigeria, I challenge the Nigerian authorities to ensure that their policing is done on human rights terms, and that there are no abuses from the security services. Not doing so would weaken the support that the international community gives to Nigeria. The state provision should be done properly and we should tackle the terrorists in the right way.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and to follow so many fine speakers and speeches. I would like to raise three important constituency issues in my remarks.
First, Great Western Air Ambulance is based in my constituency at the Filton airfield site. It is run and supported by extremely dedicated and hard-working people. Like all air ambulances, it is a charity. The team who run the service have to raise the funds they need to keep it going—approximately £1.5 million a year. The charity receives no funding from the Government and, as a relatively new air ambulance charity, it has no cash reserves.
The Great Western air ambulance flies approximately 1,500 missions a year and provides emergency cover for 2.1 million people in Bristol, Bath, north-east Somerset, north Somerset, Gloucestershire and parts of west Wiltshire. It is one of the few air ambulances that works to the gold-standard critical care model, which means rushing a critical care paramedic and critical care doctor to the scene. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, it can be with the casualty within 20 minutes of receiving the emergency call anywhere within the region it covers.
On average, 20% of incidents that the Great Western air ambulance attends involve providing emergency care and transfer for children under the age of 16 and babies. The critical care team are volunteers, giving up their precious personal time to help others. Great Western Air Ambulance has managed to secure two full-time trainee pre-hospital emergency medicine doctors from University Hospitals Bristol medical school. I pay great tribute to Great Western Air Ambulance for its fantastic life-saving work.
Great Western Air Ambulance needs a new helicopter. Its current helicopter, a 1972 Bölkow 105, is no longer fit for purpose. It does not have the power to land at the new elevated helipad at Bristol Royal Infirmary or at Bristol children’s hospital. As I mentioned, 20% of its cases involve children. The helicopter is relatively slow to load up, start up, shut down and unload. The clinical stability of the patient and the confined space in the cab mean that the helicopter often cannot transport patients. Those limitations mean that patients must be transported by road. A new modern air ambulance helicopter will save time and, therefore, save lives.
With the help of my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) and for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), I am supporting Great Western Air Ambulance’s charity bid for £1,020,000 from the LIBOR fund. That amount would pay for the first year of the EC135 helicopter’s running costs, allowing the charity to put its long-term financial position on a much more sustainable basis. I look forward to meeting the Chancellor to discuss this matter, along with my neighbours, my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood and for Bristol North West. I will be playing a small part in fundraising for the charity by running a Bristol half-marathon in September.
The next matter I would like to bring to the attention of the House is the need for a new junction on the M49 in my constituency. I have had previous meetings with road Ministers, and there have so far been various bids for this junction by the Highways Agency, South Gloucestershire council and, most recently, the local enterprise partnership. A new junction on the M49 would provide essential infrastructure investment to help unlock the potential of Avonmouth Severnside. Avonmouth Severnside is the largest brownfield site in western Europe, extending five miles along the Severn estuary between the north of Bristol and adjacent to the M5 and M49 motorways. Planning permission for commercial space and development has been granted, but much of the land has not yet been utilised. The new junction would link Avonmouth Severnside growth area to other key economic centres in the south-west.
Currently, there are access issues, with industrial traffic having to go a long way around, and often through, picturesque villages. The solution is simple: a junction on the M49 that would open access across the enterprise area. The junction would be good for business, jobs and the economy, both in my constituency and across the region. Work should start without delay.
The third issue I would like to highlight relates to the Frenchay residents user group. I would like to pay tribute to the group, which is known as RUG. It was set up as a local residents group to engage with the local community in relation to plans to redevelop the Frenchay hospital site and to ensure that local residents’ voices were heard, represented and considered. RUG has had some notable successes. One was to prevent the magnificent lime tree avenue on the site being chopped down, and another was to provide support to the village green application, which will preserve around 30 acres of green space in perpetuity for the local community.
RUG has grown in strength, with more than 1,000 members. Last Sunday, it became the new Frenchay residents association. It has a constitution, and has elected its first president and committee. I was honoured to take part in the first meeting by proposing the new constitution and the election of the first president and committee members. The first president is Frenchay resident of more than 50 years, Bob Woodward OBE, who was honoured in the Queen’s birthday honours list this year. Bob founded the children’s leukaemia charity CLIC in 1976, after his son, Robert, was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, Robert died in 1977, aged only 11 years old. Bob went on to raise more than £50 million for the charity and has dedicated his life to charity work, including for the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, the Children’s Hospice appeal and the Starfish Trust. I am sure Bob will be a fantastic president of the new residents association. I wish him and the new residents group all the very best in continuing their great work to safeguard Frenchay’s best interests.
I do not want to comment on the many interesting contributions this afternoon, but I want to pick up one point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) about the minimum practice income guarantee, which has been in the public eye in the way it affects practices in London, but also has had an impact across the country. In fact, five GP practices in Sheffield are affected, including two in my constituency. I have pressed Ministers in Health questions and met NHS England, and I have had a similar experience—warm words and reassurances but no sign of significant practical action to alleviate the impact on those practices working with the most challenging patients in the city. Those practices face a tipping point, and I join her in urging the Government to reconsider the withdrawal of MPIG over the next seven years, because, if they do not, a number of practices will fall by the wayside.
That was not what I rose to speak about. These debates provide a useful opportunity for us to reflect on the past year and to learn lessons for the remainder of the Parliament. I am proud to represent a multicultural constituency in a multicultural city, and I want to talk about a community that I have worked with over many years but which is feeling increasingly beleaguered: our Muslim community. It is long established in Sheffield—over three or four generations—and I have worked with it for more than 30 years, challenging extremism, since long before I was a Member of Parliament. I have to say that the extremism we have challenged over that period has largely come from the white community: from the National Front, the British National party, the English Defence League and others.
The community now feels threatened. A community leader said to me recently:
“People feel under attack all of the time, not in a physical way, but that they’re always under suspicion.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) described the problem very well in a recent article in The Guardian. She said that
“this lazy discussion (practising Muslim = extremist = on the conveyer belt to terrorism) is getting just a little tired”.
The members of my local community are not just tired of the narrative, but worried about it. People who have worked for years to promote community cohesion say to me that the situation has never been worse. We have to act on this lesson for the remainder of the Parliament, because a toxic public discourse is developing in which religious conservatism, political extremism and national security issues are often dealt with as one when it comes to the Muslim community.
Everyone in this place has an important role in helping to frame that public discourse—today we had a significant debate about the issue in Birmingham schools. The bullying and intimidation of staff; improper employment and governance practices; the promotion of one branch of a faith to the exclusion of others; and a lack of financial transparency are issues that we have to take extremely seriously and which should be investigated seriously, as they have been, but to frame them as an Islamist plot and to link them to terrorism by appointing the former head of the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism command to investigate is profoundly unhelpful, because it fuels division, rather than reducing it. As another of my Muslim constituents told me recently,
“Everything you do is questioned, by the Government and by your neighbours. Muslims are seen as terrorists.”
The press plays a role in creating such a climate. Newspaper headlines linking the appalling events associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, in Iraq and Syria, with threats to the UK, as reflected in a recent Daily Telegraph headline, “Are the British jihadists going to turn their guns on us?”, fuel enormous suspicion. A recent article in the Evening Standard on women jihadists told the story of two 17-year-old British girls arrested at Heathrow and went on at length about the threat posed by women converting to Islamic terrorism, before pointing out that they had been released without charge. We have even witnessed hysteria over people eating halal meat. The Daily Mail described that—in a front-page horror story—as
“a stealthy takeover of Britain’s supermarket shelves”.
The way in which we frame discussion and the way in which we address issues need to be approached carefully. It was not helpful for the Prime Minister to contribute an article to the Daily Mail which was accompanied by a front-page headline reading “Be more British, Cameron tells UK Muslims”. A debate about British values is fine, but let us be careful how we frame it. Let us also recognise that when the Prime Minister talks about
“a belief in freedom, tolerance of others”,
it is not helpful for some of his Back Benchers, at the same time, to introduce private Member’s Bills to legislate for what women can and cannot wear.
All this is not without consequence. According to Tell MAMA, a voluntary organisation with which some Members will be familiar—it measures and monitors anti-Muslim attacks, and, unfortunately, its funding has been withdrawn by the Government—the number of attacks on Muslims increased significantly over its last reporting period, between May 2013 and February 2014. That contrasts sharply with the general figures produced by the police and the Government on hate crime incidents.
Careless words cause real damage. As we look forward to the remaining part of the current Parliament, there are three things that we could do. First, all of us—on all sides—need to be enormously careful about the way in which we use language, and the Government in particular need to think carefully about the way in which they frame their debate on British values. Secondly, we need to recognise the good work that is done in all communities to tackle extremism, and to recognise that extremism exists in all communities. Thirdly, we need to work harder at building community cohesion. It would be useful for the Government to reflect on the decision to cut the budget of the Department for Communities and Local Government for community rights, integration and the big society from £38.6 million in 2013-14 to £27.2 million in 2014-15, at precisely the time when we need to work harder to build community cohesion. If we fail to rise to that challenge, we shall be driving communities apart when we should be pulling them together. Let us make those our objectives for the remaining months of this Parliament.
I hope that my constituents will forgive me for not mentioning my constituency or any part of it. I know that it is traditional to do so in summer adjournment debates, but for some reason we have not been given an opportunity to make speeches about the plane that was downed over the European continent, and I think that that was remiss of whoever made the decision. I think it important for us to debate that incident and the ramifications that I believe it will have in this country, in relation to its foreign and energy policies and in general.
Indeed, I do not think that we should be adjourning today. I think that we should all be given an opportunity to reflect on such a dreadful incident. I struggle to work out what has to happen for a debate to take place when 300 people—300 innocent people—have been blown out of the sky over the European continent by a surface-to-air missile, most likely by individuals backed by proxy by a state with which we retain diplomatic relations. What needs to happen for us actually to think that it is worthy of this mother of all Parliaments to debate the implications of such an appalling occurrence?
Three years ago, it was thought appropriate that we should extend the Session to discuss phone tapping and the influence of Rupert Murdoch on politics in this country. At the time, I commented that I thought that was out of date and that I was more concerned about the influence of Google and Facebook on politics and that Mr Murdoch was very much a man of the past. A year ago, we were recalled because of an international crime that had been committed in Syria. We all flew in from various parts of the world to participate in the debate and to discuss what was undoubtedly an appalling act. How can we witness the shooting down of a plane, with 80 or so children being blown out of the sky and landing on the ground, and a 10-year-old child being found strapped in a seat with a look of horror on its face, and not debate that?
Britain’s role needs to be clearly defined—indeed, it needs to be redefined. We have lost a sense of what this country stands for and what it is about. We do not seem to take our responsibilities in the same way as we perhaps once did. To my mind, the 20th century was about defending, and trying to spread the value of, democracy and liberty. Will the 21st century be about the rise of autocratic regimes that we try to placate, that we want investment from, and that we want to be involved in the critical infrastructure of our nation? I find this perplexing. I am rather baffled that this generation of politicians, of all political colours, seems comfortable to engage in such commercial dealings and is prepared to look the other way when anything uncomfortable is thrown up, in order to secure an economic future—or, dare I say, because it is politically expedient to do so. That applies to both sides of the House; it is not a party political point.
Britain at the moment finds itself in debt. The nation’s debt will have virtually doubled in this Parliament. People talk to me about austerity Britain and I look at the numbers and I think, “Well, we’re still spending more money than we’re getting in, so we clearly haven’t learned our lessons.” We remain dependent on people lending us money to service that debt and we are increasingly dependent on imported energy in the form of gas and food and the like. That level of dependency in terms of both debt and energy is perhaps one of the reasons why we look the other way when tragic events take place—events we wish we could ignore, and which may impact on our short-term geopolitical targets.
What frustrates me even more is that wherever I look in the world, I see a dearth of true leadership. Please give me a list of names of people leading countries around the world who are strong leaders—people who are prepared to stand up for particular values and principles, and who are prepared to put men and women in the line of fire to defend those principles. I fully understand that Britain is rather war-weary—I do not want to comment on the recent exploits in various countries around the world—and that the country is, of course, thinking that this is not our problem. But when 10 Britons are blown out of the sky, and when over 190 Dutch—just remember how brave the Dutch people were in the second world war on our side—are blown out of the sky, I think it is our problem. What have we done? We have made a few telephone calls, and are threatening a few sanctions. It is just not good enough.
I find it pretty disgraceful—in fact, I am quite embarrassed—because an international crime has taken place. We knew the location of this site—I presume there have been US satellites trained on that part of Ukraine for the past few months—so why did we not go in and secure the site? We have the capacity to do that. Why have I had to watch journalists picking through evidence? How come there were not international observers at the site within 36 or 48 hours, to protect that evidence and to secure those bodies so that they do not fester in unrefrigerated train carriages? I am rather embarrassed that we did not have the courage and did not seek to get the support of the Americans, the Dutch, the Germans or the French in order to go in and secure that site. That does not reflect well on Britain and on western democracies.
My frustration is that there is no reason why Britain cannot be that strong nation it once was—that country that stood up for particular values and principles. We need to rediscover valuing the right things in life. We need to value invention and finding the 21st century equivalent of the Watt steam engine, which made us strong in the first place. By doing that, we would not be so dependent on these countries with which I do not want to have commercial dealings. We would not be dependent on these countries that have no concept of a free media and on countries in which human rights are a secondary, perhaps tertiary, thought. I want to be a part of a country that stands for something, that means something in the world and that is respected around the world. I fear that at the moment, because of our level of debt and of dependence, and our complete absence of any vision or leadership, we are being less of a country than we should be and most certainly less of a country than the globe desperately needs.
It was a pleasure to listen to the thought-provoking contribution of the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee). I had forgotten how wide-ranging and interesting the pre-recess Adjournment debate can be. We have heard contributions from hon. Members championing individuals, for example, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) championing Mr Cromer; discussions about children’s TV programmes such as “The Herbs”, which many of us will fondly remember watching; and speeches about the role of the 1966 World cup and how West Ham was instrumental in making sure the cup was won for England. I want to make a contribution about the NHS.
I am growing increasingly concerned about the NHS in my Hull constituency. In 2010, the NHS, both in Hull and across the country, had high levels of patient satisfaction—the highest levels in its history. Of course there were challenges in 2010, but the NHS was well placed to deal with them. Under a Labour Government, Hull had many new health centres: we had a new women and children’s hospital; a new eye hospital; a new oncology centre at the Castle Hill site, just outside Hull; and the new Hull York medical school opened in the city, so that we could produce our own doctors for the future. As an MP, I received very few complaints about the NHS then.
In the past two years, however, especially since the wasteful £3 billion top-down NHS reorganisation, which nobody voted for and for which there was no call in the coalition agreement, things have deteriorated. I worry that the only person who seems to understand or know how the fragmented NHS now operates and fits together is the former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), and I note that he is leaving the House of Commons at the next election, so I am a bit concerned about the situation we find ourselves in today. The number of complaints I have received from my constituents about the NHS has doubled in the past year, going from 16 to 34 in 2012-13. This year, I have already received 27 such complaints.
I want to run through a few of the issues I am most concerned about, the first of which relates to parents trying to seek a diagnosis for their children where there is a concern that the child may have autism or be on the spectrum. The clinical commissioning group in Hull tells me that the standard for this diagnosis is supposed to be 20 weeks, but two constituents have come to me in the past few months saying that they have been told it will take more than 12 months for a child to be diagnosed. That is unacceptable. We all know that the earlier we can get children into the kind of services that will help them, the better. The outcomes will be better for those children. The CCG tells me that it is doing everything it can to address the problem, but that is not a wait that should continue for very long, and I hope the CCG is able to get it down.
I want to raise an issue that a parent brought to me about children regarding Down’s syndrome. There is no national care pathway for this group of children. There is good practice around the country, but that good practice is not in every part of the NHS, and it should be. With the changes to the NHS and to the role of the Department of Health, I am worried that the drive to ensure best practice around the country may now be fragmented and that we may see a return of the postcode lottery.
The headline story in today’s Hull Daily Mail is that almost 4,000 patients in East Yorkshire are now forced to wait more than 18 weeks to see a hospital consultant. The areas in which they have to wait are orthopaedics, neurology and colorectal and thoracic medicine. It is a concern that ill people have to wait to be seen.
Finally, I have had complaints about A and E and the acute assessment unit at Hull Royal infirmary. The complaints are often about waiting times to be seen by doctors. Many people say that they think the staff are doing a good job, but are overstretched. A constituent sent me an e-mail in which she said:
“My husband was admitted to Hull Royal Infirmary on New Year’s day with a major asthma attack due to a viral chest infection. He received excellent care by the staff both in the ambulance and those on duty. However, the overcrowding in A&E gives serious cause for concern. Many dozens of poorly people were waiting on trolleys in the corridors. The staff were run ragged.”
She said that her husband had to wait 11 hours to get the results of an X-ray and blood test. She went on to say:
“If A&E is the barometer of the Health Service then it is sadly in trouble. The NHS had improved so much under Labour.”
Let me read out another case that was sent to me by my caseworker:
“The constituent’s father had been unwell for over a year. He was admitted to Hull Royal Infirmary…where he was on the Acute Assessment Unit Ward with suspected tuberculosis. When the constituent visited him the next day, they found that: the drip in his arm had not been put into a vein; he had been laid in his own urine; there was no way for him to attract the nurse’s attention; and nobody had checked on him for 6 hours. He was discharged the following Tuesday, however he was still poorly and had difficulty walking. He still had a cannula in his arm. The constituent had to go back to the hospital to collect his medication, and she found out that the nursing staff didn’t know why he had been discharged. The constituent said she was later told by a nurse and her family’s GP that he had been sent home to die.”
Those are just two examples from my growing postbag. I am truly shocked—I am sure that other Members are too—to hear these harrowing accounts of the care that my constituents have received.
Admittedly, not all the problems with Hull’s NHS as reported in our recent CQC report, such as the totally unacceptable bullying culture, may be entirely made in Whitehall. However, these problems seem to have come to the fore in the past two years, after the NHS reorganisation.
There is another matter that I want to raise, one that I have raised before with the Secretary of State during Health questions. The former chief executive of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Phil Morley, suddenly resigned just before the publication of a very poor CQC report, which highlighted the bullying culture in the trust. I was shocked to read, just a few weeks later, that he has now resurfaced as the new chief executive in Harlow, Essex. I thought that the new Health Secretary was going to end this revolving door of chief executives moving from trust to trust, but he has not, and I am very anxious that we should deal with the matter.
I am also still waiting for an answer to another question. The CQC report mentioned a shortage of junior doctors in our local hospitals. I do not understand that. As I said at the beginning of my speech, we have the Hull York medical school in Hull, which was designed to train doctors for the local area, so I do not understand where the junior doctors are going.
I also want to mention the privatisation going on under the coalition’s NHS reforms. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) has tabled a private Member’s Bill that will have its Second Reading in November and would scrap the competition framework set out in the coalition’s NHS legislation. I hope that the Liberal Democrats might support my hon. Friend’s Bill.
Let me raise just one more issue to do with health. Last winter, A and Es around the country received extra money to cope with the winter pressures: some £250 million was made available. Hull did not get any of that money, but the CQC report to which I have referred made it quite clear that the inspectors felt that A and E needed extra assistance and support. I say again, as I have on many occasions, that Hull often seems to miss out on moneys that are very much needed in a city that has considerable health inequalities and where people develop chronic illnesses much younger than they do in other parts of the country.
The NHS is a key issue for many of my constituents. I will be out and about over the summer listening to their concerns about the NHS and about what is going on locally. I am seriously worried by what has happened over the past two years. I remember very clearly the Prime Minister saying in 2010 that the NHS was safe in his hands. Four years on, I do not particularly think that he has kept that promise, and I think that over the coming 12 months we will start to see more and more issues raised about the state of the NHS.
I finish by taking this opportunity to wish everybody a good recess, particularly the staff of the House, who serve us so well.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. I add my support for the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who raised the issue of the plane being shot down over Ukraine and the problems that has caused, with all those people, from the Netherlands in particular but also from this country, being killed. We must send a message that that must not happen again and we must do much more about it, so I endorse his comments.
I want to refer first to the A303/A30. As we leave here for our recess, many people from all over the country will be moving down to the west country for the holidays. If they come from Birmingham, they will come down the M5 all the way to Exeter and will then get on the A30 down into Devon and Cornwall. That is great, but then we have all the traffic that comes from London. We want to see as many visitors as possible, because as my suntan shows—it has all come from Devon, not from foreign parts—we have wonderful weather. Everybody is most welcome. However, as visitors come from London, they come down the M4 and must also join the M5, so when the Birmingham traffic meets the London traffic there is absolute chaos. As you represent one of the Bristol seats, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will know that.
I am delighted that we will have a statement in the autumn, all being well, from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury giving money towards dualling the A303/A30, because it is essential that we have a second route in the west country. The traffic from London would then go down the M3, pick up the A303 and go on into Devon and Cornwall through Somerset and Wiltshire, and we would split the traffic between the midlands and London. At the moment, when the M5 or M4 is blocked, there is absolute chaos and hours and hours of traffic jam. The whole length of the A303/A30 needs to be dualled. There are five sections that need doing. The first is in Wiltshire at Stonehenge. It is extremely expensive because the powers that be seem to believe that we need a tunnel. I will not comment on the merits of that one way or the other, but it is expensive. The end that I represent, going into the Blackdown hills, is also expensive. I do not want to see the Government go shooting down the A303 and then shoot off on the A358 up to Taunton, because that road should be complementary. I am happy to have the A358 dualled, but we need the A303/A30 dualled all the way into Honiton to provide that second arterial route into the west country. Otherwise, if people join at Taunton, everything will be mixed back up on to the M5 and there will be complete chaos. That is why it is essential to dual the A303/A30. We can find a way to dual the route through the Blackdown hills without damaging the environment; we just have to be imaginative and make sure that we do it.
I welcomed the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), to my constituency. He drove the route with me to see where the problems are, and I look forward to the Government doing something about it in the very near future.
As we move into the 21st century, the one thing that matters to most, if not all, our constituents is access to fast broadband. Some of my constituents cannot even get snail’s pace broadband, let alone anything that is fast. There are huge problems even now in getting broadband into the Blackdown hills area, and places such as Upottery. I have an awful lot of farmers in my constituency who want to claim their single farm payments online. It is almost impossible to get access in some areas, so we really need to do something about it. I welcome what the Government have done already. Devon and Somerset county councils, along with BT, have put more than £100 million into delivering broadband, and Government money has been put in too. We have to make sure that it happens.
We have had a problem in the past—I think it is getting better—in that BT seemed a little secretive about where it was going next. It is all very well to be secretive about these matters, but of course people on the ground see the BT vans turn up and have a rough idea who is going to be connected and who is not, even if it does not appear on a BT map. That is where I hope that we are learning the lessons. I look forward to having broadband throughout the constituency. Unfortunately, a lot of spots are hard to reach. We are raising money in Devon and Somerset to deal with that, but Government money is necessary. It could be done by BT, or perhaps there could be some competition from other companies to deliver broadband to the hardest-to-reach areas. A little more competition might be a good thing. I have worked with the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), on broadband.
My constituency also has a lot of beef cattle and a lot of sheep. Recently we have seen the price of beef drop significantly, as has the price that farmers receive from cattle. One of the most worrying things is that a year ago 57% of the value of a beef animal went directly to the farmer, whereas now it is 53%. The processors, retailers or whoever are taking too much money out of the market. It is expensive to raise beef cattle, and not only are the cattle very good to eat but they look after the wonderful countryside that everyone is going to drive down the A303 to see. We look forward to people eating those animals when they get there, but we need to make sure that farmers get a decent price for them so that they can carry on producing this excellent meat.
When you come to Devon, you can also have some great lamb, Madam Deputy Speaker, if that is what you like to eat. I am not sure whether you do, but if you do you are most welcome to come to Devon and eat some of it. Again, it is a case of making sure that the farmers who produce that food get a fair market price because they are the ones who look after the countryside.
I have been delighted, Madam Deputy Speaker, to be able to speak in this pre-recess debate. I look forward to coming back in September. In the meantime, I say to you, the Speaker’s Office and all the staff of Parliament, thank you very much for looking after us so well, and we look forward to returning in the future.
It is always a pleasure to speak in the pre-recess Adjournment debate. The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) is not here at the moment, but he did his introduction. I always look forward to his introductions, because they are always full of fun and he refers to many things. But there is one thing that he referred to that I did not agree with: not attending premier league football matches. I am a Leicester City football supporter—as I have been for 45 years, just to put it on the record as other Members have done—and we are back in the premier league for the first time in 10 years, so we are very pleased. I would urge everyone to go and support Leicester City whenever the opportunity comes.
I should like to raise an issue that is close to my heart, one that I feel is extremely important in England, Scotland and particularly Northern Ireland. That is the role that the loyal Orange Order plays in our society. Throughout the years, especially in the summer months, we commemorate the brave actions of William III, Prince of Orange, and we celebrate the actions of 1690, which secured religious freedom and toleration for everyone. It is always good to remember that it is toleration and religious liberty for everyone. The Orange Order is a Protestant fraternity, with members throughout the world. Grand lodges are to be found in Ireland, in Scotland, in England, the United States of America, Canada, new Zealand and Australia, and in many countries across the African continent. Therefore you would not be surprised to learn, Madam Deputy Speaker, that as a member of the Orange Order, I feel a great sense of pride and camaraderie with my brothers and sisters in lodges throughout the world.
The Orange Order is an integral part of the community, raising money for many local charities, as well as helping to raise funds for those in developing countries and supporting disadvantaged children in local areas. One example of such charitable work was the work centred on a district lodge in Randalstown that produced badges to raise over £16,000 for the Royal Ulster Constabulary/Police Service of Northern Ireland Benevolent Fund and the Royal Engineers Benevolent Fund. Those charities were chosen because of the brutal murders of two soldiers in Antrim and, earlier in the year, PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll by dissident republicans in 2009. As well as the established Grand Master’s Charity Appeal, the Lord Enniskillen Memorial Orange Orphan Society is an institution that has a magnificent record for helping boys and girls who have been deprived of the love and the contribution of a parent, either through death by natural causes or as a result of continuing violence in Northern Ireland.
Parades are a key factor in the Orange Order celebrations, as people will know, the biggest of which takes place on the twelfth of July each year. This year we had no bother whatsoever. Indeed, many people said to me, “It was that good this year, I wish every day was the twelfth of July.” That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is always good to have a parade that goes off without any bother, and it is always good to have an opportunity to enjoy the celebration of that occasion.
The parading tradition that the Orange Order upholds is an honourable and historic tradition, which was the norm for other fraternities in the past. The parades of the Orange Order are the largest public Protestant witness of their kind anywhere in the world. In Northern Ireland we are very pleased to know that they are attended by people from both sides of the community, who enjoy the pageantry of the occasion. The parades are a glorious display of pageantry. The flags and banners are full of religious, cultural and political symbolism, depicting biblical scenes, famous people or events in history, and in themselves portray the rich cultural heritage of our people in pictorial form. The music provided by the accompanying bands is of a very high standard and in rural areas especially people will come across an instrument that in many people’s minds is synonymous with Orangeism—the Lambeg drum.
I remember that 10 or 12 years ago, when a group of young people came from Germany to meet some of our young people in the Ards peninsula, the thing that those German young people enjoyed most of all about the twelfth was the Lambeg drums. It was good to know that they have that attraction in other parts of the world.
Of course, parading is loved throughout the world, as we all know, from the fantastic carnivals of Rio or the mardi gras in New Orleans to the St Patrick’s day parades in New York and Dublin. There is a great tradition of parading in other cultures and for other celebrations as well. Those are fantastic celebrations in their own right, but to me, nothing can quite compare to the sheer thrill of marching on the twelfth of July, seeing the delight in spectators’ faces and the various colours that an Orange parade bears, be it in the various collarette colours or in the vibrant images on the banners. My own lodge is LOL 1900, “Kircubbin True Blues”, so it will be no surprise to learn that our collarettes are blue.
This year in Northern Ireland, we witnessed a very peaceful twelfth of July. Unfortunately, due to some ludicrous decisions by the Parades Commission, many lodges were prevented from returning home via the straightforward route. Under the leadership of the Orange Order, a six-minute protest was held, with demonstrations across Northern Ireland. Every lodge and the accompanying bands stopped marching, silenced their instruments and stood in solidarity to represent the six minutes it would take for the lodges to pass the so-called contentious area and return home. The issue is one that greatly concerns us all across Northern Ireland. I congratulate the order on that response, because it was undoubtedly its careful and responsible leadership that led to such a glorious and peaceful twelfth.
The Orange Order represents an important part of our community, but it means even more than that, particularly this year. The Orange Order represents Unionism, so it was extremely poignant to see the many lodges and bands that came to Northern Ireland from Scotland. I have kept up to date with the latest statistics and national opinion polls, so I am under no illusion that Scotland will opt to leave the Union rather than stay within it, but the very fact that the question has arisen is sad for Unionism. Each time I stand in Westminster, I love to see the four national emblems and four flags of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, and know that this is where they all merge to form one flag and one identity: that of being British. This is where our strength lies and this is where we need to remain.
It should be remembered that the order has a worldwide membership. The structure that is Orangeism has its basis in the coming together of men and women of good will who are determined to use what power and influence they can muster to ensure that civil and religious liberty is maintained. Members of the Orange Institution are pledged to uphold the Protestant faith and liberty under the law. Orangemen are neither bigots nor extremists, standing for tolerance and compassion towards all; they also stand for the underlying principle of the Christian faith and the dignity and rights of the individual.
The Orange Order represents civil and religious liberty as it always has done, but today it means much more than that: it stands for unity and Unionism at its deepest level. It allows those of us in Northern Ireland who want to celebrate our British heritage and culture to do so and to enjoy the fact that we represent an essential part of the United Kingdom. We are proud to be part of the United Kingdom—I emphasise the word “United”—and hope to remain so for a long time. To sum up, the Orange Order is a fantastic organisation. It promotes Christian values, friendship and unity. Orangemen share common interests, beliefs and goals, which tie all of us together. It is a bond of the deepest kind.
Perhaps not all Members are aware, but love is in the air in the House of Commons: this week, three MPs are getting married. The hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) is getting married in the morning of 25 July, and in the afternoon something more stupendous is happening, as the hon. Members for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) and for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) are marrying each other. It would be remiss of us not to add our congratulations to all three of them as they enter into the honourable institution of marriage. With that in mind, we wish them a happy marriage, good health and long life.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you, the other Deputy Speakers and the Speaker, and your staff, for all your graciousness and good humour and for the fair way you conduct the business of the House. It is greatly appreciated by us all, and even more appreciated by me. Thank you very much.
I would like to follow almost exactly the same theme as my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who made an extremely thoughtful speech. We must not underestimate the seriousness of the current international situation. Never in my life have I seen the world in a greater mess, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Libya and central Africa, and we must also remember the problems in North and South Korea, and those are only some examples.
While we in the west are decreasing our defence spending, Russia is rapidly expanding its own. In 2013 it spent more on armaments than the United States. Russian defence spending increased by 4.8%. Under Russia’s state armaments plan, Moscow plans to spend $705 billion to replace 70% of the country’s military equipment by 2020. Some 45% of its ships will be new by next year. However, in the west, and particularly in Europe, defence is seen as a low priority. Spending on social security dominates and military security, which is the first duty of government, takes a back seat. Are we sleepwalking? The west won the cold war, but right now it does not look like we are winning the post-cold war.
We, the British, are strong supporters of NATO, yet we are still prevaricating about spending a definite 2% of GNP on defence, which is an alliance commitment. Even that is not enough; we should be increasing defence spending well beyond that. For instance, how are we going to man, equip, fly from, sustain and protect two massive aircraft carriers currently being built in Scotland? Looking at the projected military budget for 2020, I simply cannot see how we can afford it. Where will the money come from? I cannot see how we can do it, based on current projections. We must increase our defence budget beyond 2%. Although I understand and support the need for some targeted overseas aid, I am none the less surprised that we spend one third of the defence budget on such aid each year.
Defence is much too serious a matter to be fiddled, but NATO members, particularly in Europe, do so year in, year out. They certainly do not pay their NATO club dues. Surely what is happening in Ukraine, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell pointed out, is a serious wake-up call. A French defence strategist recently described NATO as
“an alliance of the unable and unwilling” .
I am not sure that he was wrong.
The situation in Ukraine is a total disaster, and tragically it is one that we seem unable to affect. Politically, as my hon. Friend suggested, we will huff and puff internationally, particularly in the United Nations, but probably with little effect. Economically, some states might tighten sanctions on Russia, but they are severely constrained by their interdependence with Russia. Militarily, the Foreign Secretary has already ruled out armed action, but surely there are some measures we might contemplate. Let me suggest two of them.
First, would it be a total flight of fancy or madness for a UN force of some sort to have flown into Ukraine, at that state’s request, to secure the crash site of flight MH17? Of course there would be huge Russian protests, but at least that would have shown that we are very angry about what has happened and that we mean business. It is just a thought, but perhaps it is not as crazy as it might seem at first sight.
Secondly, perhaps a more acceptable option would be to position NATO troops permanently, or in rotation, in eastern Latvia, eastern Estonia and eastern Poland. I think that should definitely be on the agenda of the forthcoming NATO summit. Again, Russia would denounce such a move, but so what? President Putin has asked for it by his actions. He would protest long and hard, but at least it would prove that NATO was not a paper tiger, as some think, and that it has teeth.
I wish everyone in the House a really good recess, particularly you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you have been so nice to me, and even called me to speak occasionally. I thank everyone in the House, particularly my colleagues, who have been good friends. I thank the Clerks of the House, the ladies in the Tea Room and, in particular, the staff in the Strangers Bar.
I apologise, because I want to raise six issues, but I will take only a couple of sentences on each one.
It will be world hepatitis day on 28 July. The Hepatitis C Trust briefed Members two weeks ago about the number of hepatitis C sufferers in this country. There are now 250,000 in the UK and most remain undiagnosed. New treatments are able to cure 95%, but awareness and testing are extremely low, so only 3% of sufferers receive treatment every year. I want to put that on record and urge the Government to increase the awareness of hepatitis C in our country and to prioritise diagnosis and treatment.
I want to raise three issues with regard to the fire service. In the Christmas recess debate I raised the ongoing dispute between the Fire Brigades Union and the Government on pension age and pension protection, and I wish to do so again because the dispute has not been resolved. The Northern Ireland Administration and the Scottish Government have agreed with the FBU that a retirement age of 60 is too old for the physical demands of the firefighting job. They have also agreed on a retirement age of 55 with no financial penalty, but the UK Government will still not budge. I urge the new fire Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), to break the deadlock and enter into meaningful negotiations. I hope she will agree to meet the FBU parliamentary group to discuss the matter. We are willing to meet at any stage during the recess, if it will help to resolve the dispute.
Another issue is the ongoing discussions about the unresolved pension arrangements for defence fire service and rescue firefighters. In 2015, these firefighters will contribute 12.55% to their pension, which is the highest contribution in the fire service across the country. They will pay more than any other firefighters, but they will receive yet fewer benefits. They have still not had a decision from Government about their pension age. I, along with a number of colleagues, including the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), who has just left his place, and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid), wrote to the fire Minister last week, urging her to resolve the matter. We thought it would be resolved months ago, but it has not. I urge the Government to look at the matter, because these firefighters consider their pension to be insecure and require a decision from the Government.
Thirdly, I want to draw the attention of the House—this is a cross-party issue—to the Mayor of London’s attempt to change the representation on the London fire authority. He is promoting a statutory instrument that will enable the replacement of London assembly and borough representatives on the fire authority with his own appointees. It will cut the Labour representation in half and remove all Lib Dem and Green representation. I urge the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to refuse to agree to the introduction of the statutory instrument, but if it is introduced I urge Members to vote against it on a cross-party basis.
May I tread into Northern Ireland again and talk about welfare reform there? The Government are seeking to impose their welfare reform legislation on the people of Northern Ireland, including the bedroom tax, the harsh benefit sanctions, the disaster of universal credit and work capability assessments, with all their adverse consequences. Sinn Fein has looked at the hardship that such measures have caused in England and Wales and has met several representatives in this country, Wales and Scotland, and it is concerned about what has happened here, especially to the most vulnerable—children and people with disabilities. It has been agreed that those welfare reform proposals are not appropriate for Northern Ireland and not supported by the people, and that they should therefore not be implemented.
The Government’s response has been to impose a £13 million fine on the Northern Ireland Administration for 2014, which will rise to £87 million in 2014-15 and to £114 million in 2015-16. That was contained in a letter I was copied into from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. It is somewhat bizarre, because at the same time he sent the letter, he was saying publicly that he would vote to scrap the bedroom tax after the next election—somewhat contradictory, but I suppose unsurprising of the man. I urge the Government to think again. The proposals threaten not just to impose a significantly harsh welfare regime on the people of Northern Ireland, but to undermine the whole concept of devolved government.
I want to turn to Hillingdon council, which I raised in the last pre-recess Adjournment debate. Again, I desperately urge the Government to launch an independent public inquiry into the administration of Hillingdon council. Eighteen months ago, I brought to the House for debate Transparency International’s report on the potential risk of corruption and maladministration in local government in this country. Transparency International is the organisation that specialises in preparing reports on openness and transparency in Governments overall, and in calculating levels of corruption across the world to produce a league table of states.
Transparency International looked at the changes in local government administration and decision making in this country in recent years—under the previous Government and under this one—and it expressed concerns about the risk of corruption and maladministration in local government in this country. I believe that Hillingdon council is a prime example of what Transparency International was talking about. In Hillingdon, we now live under an elective dictatorship. It is a prime example of the lack of openness and transparency in decision making.
I believe that the use of the argument that commercial confidentiality prevents open discussion of decisions and issues before the council is used to cover up incompetence and maybe worse. I would just give the example of this week’s cabinet committee papers. On 25 July, the cabinet will meet, but of the 12 items with reports on the agenda, seven are marked as restricted and will not be publicly published. Not only are the general public denied any access to those reports, but any opposition councillor who in any way informs the public about any items in those reports will be threatened with criminal action. I believe that that is unacceptable: it is actually undermining local democracy within my area.
I have raised that matter on several occasions. On one of them, I used the example of Triscott House, which is a residential home for elderly people. When it was renovated, there was a delay of 18 months as that dragged on, and ladies in their 80s—one was in her 90s—lived out of packing cases while waiting to be rehoused back into Triscott House. I demonstrated that that was because the council had fallen out with a contractor, and I exposed on the Floor on the House that it had laundered money to pay the contractor through another contract. I now find from a cabinet report that the council is now at risk of incurring a £1 million payment to the contractor as a result of the settlement of the dispute. That all arose from the fact that the leader’s decision was not reported publicly at all, which is a disgrace.
I do not think that the Government can stand to one side when such practices are undermining confidence in local government and democracy overall. I therefore again urge them to establish a full independent public inquiry to reassure my constituents that local democracy can be restored to my community.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about jobs and skills in Pendle. I will talk about the progress that has been made and the challenges that we still face.
Pendle’s local economy relies heavily on manufacturing and that sector has had a rough few years. Some 1.8 million manufacturing jobs were lost under the last Government and by August 2009, 2,239 people in Pendle were claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Our local schools were also near breaking point, with the lack of school places meaning that children were being taught in temporary classrooms in playgrounds, in converted attics and even in a basement at one school that I visited.
We are making significant progress in tackling that. Thanks to the doubling of funding for new school places under this Government, the popular and heavily over-subscribed Laneshaw Bridge primary school became the first Pendle primary school to benefit from a new multimillion pound building, which increased the school’s capacity from 154 to 210 children. Plans were then drawn up for three more brand-new primary school buildings. The new £5 million Barnoldswick Church of England primary school, which has just been completed, the new £6.1 million St Paul’s Church of England primary school and the new £8 million Whitefield infant school in Nelson are all due to open in September this year. Those four new schools, along with the expansion of others, such as Reedley primary school, which I visited last week, and the £6.2 million investment at West Craven High technology college, represent a capital investment of more than £30 million in our local schools.
Crucially, those new buildings are not being delivered through private finance initiative contracts, as were two of Pendle’s secondary schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme. The new schools have been fully paid for and will not saddle taxpayers will large bills from private companies for decades to come.
There is also a £3.6 million investment in the outstanding Nelson and Colne college, which the former skills Minister, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), visited in May. Nelson and Colne college has been pivotal in delivering the Government’s ambition of a record number of apprenticeships. In 2009-10, 470 people started an apprenticeship in Pendle. By 2012-13, the figure had increased to 1,150. That is an increase of 145%, which is hugely welcome to young people in my area, especially the 3,600 of them who have started an apprenticeship in Pendle since the Government came to office.
In March, we saw the official opening of East Lancashire’s university technical college in Burnley by His Royal Highness the Duke of York. The new £10 million Visions Learning Trust UTC will provide young people with vital engineering and construction skills. It is supported by large Pendle employers including Rolls-Royce, Weston EU, Graham Engineering, Fort Vale Engineering and Barnfield Construction.
Added together, those investments represent a real boost to education and skills in Pendle and are ensuring that our young people have the skills that our local employers need. They have also undoubtedly helped towards the 41% reduction in youth unemployment that we have seen in Pendle since May 2010.
Turning to the overall jobs situation, the number of Pendle residents in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance has fallen from a high of 2,239 in August 2009, which I mentioned earlier, to just 1,305 in June this year. That is a fall of 42%. That has come about not by accident, but thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plan and the steps that have been taken by our local authorities to support job creation in the area. For example, when one of Pendle’s largest employers, Silentnight, went into administration in 2011, there was concern over the future of its site in Barnoldswick. I visited it soon afterwards to discuss how the company could be supported to remain in Pendle. Very quickly, a package of support was put together by then Conservative-led Lancashire county council. That support meant that by March 2012, the company was not just staying in Barnoldswick, but was looking to create an additional 140 jobs. I was proud to take the Prime Minister to visit Silentnight in May to see a company that is going from strength to strength.
The local jobs market has received a significant boost since July last year, when the Government agreed with the arguments that I and others were making and approved £5 million of additional business support via the regional growth fund to help local mid-sized manufacturers to expand. In the past 12 months, that money has been distributed by Regenerate Pennine Lancashire through the accelerating business growth grants to help 14 business across Pendle, including Optimill in Colne, Mackintosh in Nelson, ACDC in Barrowford, Standel Dawman in Nelson and Pendle Polymer. Between them, those businesses have benefited from almost £1 million in grants, creating well over 100 jobs and safeguarding many more. I am actively working with businesses such as Wellocks and New Call Telecom to support their major expansion plans that could create more than 200 jobs on the Lomeshaye industrial estate in Nelson.
The recent announcement of assisted area status for Pendle is an important step forward for my constituency. The previous assisted area status map drawn up under the previous Government in 2007 included parts of Blackburn, Hyndburn and Burnley, but not a single part of Pendle. As part of the consultation on the new map, Pendle council and the Lancashire local enterprise partnership argued for four Pendle wards to be included, but I met Ministers and made the case not just for those four wards, but for going much further. I am delighted that in the end it was agreed that 13 Pendle wards should be included—more than half the borough—with assisted area status covering businesses stretching from Reedley and Brierfield through to Earby. The new map came into force on 1 July and will remain in force until 2020, which will deliver a long-term economic boost to my constituency. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) for his help in securing assisted area status for my constituency.
Sadly, all is not well with Pendle’s largest employer, Rolls-Royce, which has sites at Bankfield and Ghyll Brow in Barnoldswick, and currently employs more than 1,000 people. Rolls-Royce has been a major employer in the town since acquiring those sites shortly after the second world war, but the numbers employed have fallen over the years. Most worryingly, under the last Government Rolls-Royce opened a new factory in Singapore to manufacture civil wide-chord fan blades—the same process currently undertaken in Barnoldswick—as the company opted to invest abroad rather than in the UK.
In January the company contacted me to say that following a review it expected the loss of 27 jobs at its Barnoldswick sites. By March that figure had risen to 120, and last week we had confirmation that total proposed job losses would be 156. Consultation meetings have been ongoing since March and the company has been looking at mitigation options, including voluntary severance leavers, individuals taking roles elsewhere in the company, and the release of agency workers. Regrettably, however, those job losses will start soon and will be phased in between now and the end of the year.
I appreciate that all companies need to keep their costs down and run as lean an operation as they can in today’s marketplace, but the number of job losses is deeply regrettable at a time when that flagship British company is growing and winning new orders across the globe. In addition to my regular meetings with Rolls-Royce, trade union representatives, and regular visits to the site since I was elected, I wrote to the chief executive, John Rishton, in June. In my letter I pointed out the potential for its sites in Barnoldswick to expand, the new University Technical College in Burnley where Rolls-Royce helps with the curriculum, and the new assisted area status that covers the site. In his reply, Mr Rishton said that he was appreciative of the support the aerospace sector is receiving from the Government and that the company was making investment in the Barnoldswick sites, but that the reduction in the work force was still necessary. I am sure he will realise that as Pendle’s MP, and as vice chairman of the all-party group for aerospace, I will continue to make the case for investment and job creation in Barnoldswick.
Four years ago I delivered a maiden speech in the House in a debate about building a high-skilled economy. I mentioned manufacturing, skills, and the outstanding Nelson and Colne college. I am proud of what we have been able to achieve in Pendle since then, but there are many challenges still facing the area and our economic recovery is not guaranteed. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members an enjoyable recess, and particularly you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the staff of the House.
It is a pleasure to respond briefly to this debate on behalf of the Opposition, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for initiating it. It seems to be a return to the traditions that we had until 2010-11, although we are using a slightly different format today. I do not intend to cover all the issues raised because I want to provide the Deputy Leader of the House the maximum opportunity to respond, but I thought that the speech by the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) was one of the most thoughtful and powerful that I have heard this year. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take the opportunity to provide a substantive reply to him on the possibilities for recall during the summer recess if the situation overseas deteriorates.
I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in wishing hon. Members who are getting married this week all the best. I am sure the whole House wishes them all the best for their futures.
A number of hon. Members have taken the opportunity to thank the staff of the House. On behalf of the Opposition, I join in thanking them, in particular Sam, Elaine, Joanna and Russell, our hard-working and very talented civil servants in the Opposition Whips Office, whom I know will have a very good summer without Members getting in the way of running the business.
A number of long-serving staff have retired or are in the process of doing so, including the Librarian, John Pullinger; Christine Gillie from the Library, who has provided many years of high-quality briefing on education; James Roberston, who started 20 years ago in the Serjeant at Arms Department, and who most recently served as director of accommodation and logistics services; Janet Rissen and Judith Welham, who have given excellent HR advice over many years; Amanda Waller, who has served a number of Committees and who has most recently served in support of our delegations to parliamentary assemblies; Chris Weeds, who has been engaged in providing education; and Clare Cowan, who started Parliament’s outreach efforts. We thank all those public servants, as well as many others whom I have been unable to mention and who are moving on this year, for all their efforts.
Of course, one other retirement is taking place in just a few short weeks. Sir Robert Rogers is held in the highest regard by all Members and all members of the House of Commons service. It is worth noting briefly how much the House has changed in the 42 years since Sir Robert joined the House service. The Clerk of the House at the time was Sir; the underground car park was a hugely controversial building project, opposed by many in the House service and many Members of Parliament; and Parliament had not yet found additional office accommodation. The Norman Shaw buildings as we know them were yet to be acquired, and were described just a few years after Sir Robert arrived as the Savoy of office accommodation, which perhaps goes to show how much Parliament has changed during Sir Robert’s time.
I am sure I speak for all Members when I wish all staff members who will be returning—Hansard, the Doorkeepers, the Clerks and everyone else—a very enjoyable and peaceful summer.
Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is fair to say that you will be aware that not many Scottish Members of Parliament will be here during our September fortnight. Not only on behalf of the Scottish tourism industry, but on behalf of the referendum campaign, my hon. Friends and other Scottish MPs, I extend a very warm welcome to all Members of Parliament who wish to spend a bit of time this July and August, and indeed September, coming to Scotland, seeing the sights and knocking on those doors to keep the UK together.
I have the rather daunting task of responding in the 30 minutes that remain to the 26 contributions we have heard this afternoon. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for facilitating the debate.
As is customary, we first heard a contribution from the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who has just returned to his seat. He displayed a high level of optimism—perhaps his level of optimism was the same as that of many English people about our chances of success in the World cup. His optimism was for his chance of promotion in the reshuffle. I encourage him to maintain that level of optimism.
The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about working-class Conservatives. There was a bit of banter between those on the two sides of the House about who could claim the highest number of working-class antecedents. He touched on many other issues: his concerns about Barclays bank; the residential home and its lift service; the probation service and its payments; and the Royal Mail dog awareness campaign. I can confirm that I, too, participated in the campaign. I was able to confirm to Royal Mail that, like most Members of the House, I did indeed have my backside bitten by a dog on one occasion when out canvassing. I am not quite sure why the person I canvassed, having failed to open the door to me when I knocked on it, felt it was necessary, at the point when I was leaving her house and had just reached the gate, to let her dog out so that it could viciously attack me.
My hon. Friend talked about Southend being the alternative city of culture, which I think is probably true. He talked also about diabetes treatment, an issue that comes up frequently in the House. He is right to highlight that. It is a very significant health issue with the potential to drain a very high level of resource from the NHS. He talked about mental health. He is right that in the past it has perhaps been the Cinderella health service, but the Government have tried, through parity of esteem and additional funding, to recognise mental health as something to which we need to give greater priority. He also talked about the importance of dealing with arthritis.
My hon. Friend talked about the concept of a national cemetery. I am afraid that I cannot give him any comfort on that. I have tried to identify which Department would like to take responsibility, but at the moment it is proving somewhat difficult to identify the lead Government Department. He bemoaned the fact that Southend did not have as many centenarians, but said that he was working to boost their numbers. Finally, he talked about the world record-breaking attempt that Rossi Ice Cream is going to conduct for the largest number of people licking an ice cream. It was not clear to me whether it was the same ice cream they would be licking, or whether they would each have a separate ice cream.
We then moved on to the contribution from the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). He is not in his place, but I would like to respond briefly to the points he made. He paraded his working-class origins, although he said that having served as long as he has in this House he probably cannot claim that any more. He talked about cycling, of which I am also a great supporter. He thought that we needed a cycling champion, but I think we have at least a couple in Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins. He thinks that we perhaps need other cycling champions. He talked about Thames crossings and the need to provide additional access, which would be welcomed. One difficulty with additional access is whether it creates more traffic, but I am sure he is on top of that issue. He highlighted the importance of having a clean and fair general election in Tower Hamlets, on which I am sure that we all agree. Some of what happened there, including the logistics, in terms of the length of time taken to complete the election, was absolutely astounding.
The hon. Gentleman talked about leasehold reform, and I suspect that all of us will have encountered leaseholders who are up against some real challenges. He also talked about the need to increase house building. Again, I think there is a cross-party consensus on that. He raised the issue of the telephone company Zamir. I will certainly make sure that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is aware of the problems that company is having in its dealings with Bangladesh. He referred to Gaza, as did a number of other Members. I agree with what the Deputy Prime Minister said on this issue. First, we must condemn absolutely what Hamas is doing. Hamas needs to stop launching rockets at Israel. At the same time, Israel must stop the military strikes it is conducting on densely populated areas, because it is inevitable that they will lead to an unacceptable level of civilian casualties.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), who is in his place, for his work in representing his constituents on housing and development. He highlighted the scale of the proposed developments in his constituency, and the contrasting views and demands in different parts of the country. Opposition Members have talked about the need to expand housing provision. He rightly wants to defend the interests of his constituents, who are concerned about the very high level of development they face. He also said it was important to consider the issue of VAT on housing renovation. That is an idea which, although not Government policy, I have some sympathy with as a means of bringing back into use houses that are in need of renovation.
We then listened to the contribution from the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce), who is no longer in his place, on the issue of Grangemouth. We have all followed that story, and I think we can all welcome the outcome, which has secured the jobs of many thousands of workers. He also highlighted his support for fracking and methane extraction, which given that our nation needs energy diversity, are potentially important sources of energy. He also referred to the extractive industries transparency initiative, which he has referred to in previous pre-recess Adjournment debates, and highlighted something that I was not aware of and which other Members might not have known either: in some places in Nigeria, such as Rivers state, it is having a positive effect. As we all know, the presence of oil can often be a poison, rather than something that contributes positively to the development of a country, but at least in Rivers state it is making a contribution. He then tried to tempt me to get involved in Nigerian politics. For me, coalition politics is sufficient, without my getting involved in Nigerian politics.
The hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) mentioned his support for complementary medicine. My friend Evan Harris—I wish he was still here—who has strong views on the subject, could have had a lively debate with him. The hon. Gentleman described the progress of a policy from being opposed to being fully adopted—from “mad and dangerous” to “can’t find anyone against it”—but then he talked about wearing four hats; I was worried he was still at the mad stage, as opposed to everyone agreeing with him. He also referred to astrology—it is probably best not to say any more about that, although he does not need to be an astrologer to know he will probably get some e-mails expressing frank views on astrology and its merits or otherwise. I agreed with his final point, however, about the need to make everyone in this country happier. I think we are trying to do that. I hope I am making all Members who contributed happy by responding to at least some of their points.
The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), who unfortunately could not stay—she let me know beforehand—talked about the importance of integrating health and social care and rightly sang the praises of carers, as we all often do in this place. It gives me the opportunity to sing the praises of the Sutton carers centre in my borough, which does a good job of supporting carers. I hope that this Government, and previous Governments, have recognised the importance of carers and are putting measures in place to support them. The carer’s assessment is part of that, the existence of which she has successfully highlighted to try and ensure that more people access it. She asked why the NHS was not being made responsible for identifying carers. I think local authorities, too, have a clear public health role and responsibility to do the same.
The hon. Lady also talked about the spare room subsidy. It is clear what the Liberal Democrats said on that issue. We support the principle of what the Government have done, but the Department for Work and Pensions has produced a report highlighting certain problems with the present scheme, and of course we will work within the coalition to get our Conservative partners to accept that action needs to be taken as a result of that report. If that is not possible, we will return to the issue in our manifesto at the general election.
The hon. Lady also mentioned air pollution. The Government are committed to working towards full compliance with current EU air quality standards. In recent decades, there have been considerable improvements in air quality, but we are not complacent. As a London MP, I am aware that air quality is a serious issue that we need to address.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) referred to the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, whose importance I think we all recognise. Since its introduction, the number of employees killed at work has fallen by 85%. That is a substantial drop, although there is clearly more to be done. My hon. Friend pointed out that there had not been a single loss of life during the building of the Olympic stadium, which I think is a real tribute to the safety standards that were adopted. As he said, it is a great pity that other countries—including Qatar and, indeed, Brazil—have not managed to achieve the same result.
Like my hon. Friend, I should be worried if anything were happening that would reduce the health and safety of workers, but certainly nothing that the Government are doing would have that effect. He referred to appendix 4. I am afraid that I do not know the details of appendix 4, but I will ensure that he receives a reply, because I know that the issue is of interest not only to him, but to other Members of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—who is not in the Chamber—talked about sporting bodies and the importance of looking seriously at the health impact of playing football. A range of football-related issues arise in the House regularly. During business questions, we have frequently encouraged Members to apply to the Backbench Business Committee, because it is clear that there are enough sport-related concerns to justify a wider debate on the issue.
I certainly agree with one of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. I was shocked to see the German and Argentine players stumbling around on the sidelines and then going back on to the pitch. I cannot understand why they were allowed to do that. My son plays football, and I know what happens at junior level. All the advice is that someone who is thought to have concussion should be taken off the pitch, and medical help should be sought. That person should not be sent back on to the pitch.
On Russia, which was raised by a number of Members, the hon. Gentleman underlined the importance of standing together and trying to persuade France and Germany to work on the issue. I hope that that will be possible, notwithstanding the business interests that those two countries have in relation to Russia.
The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who is present, mentioned an e-petition, and drew attention to the success of e-petitions generally and what they could lead to in terms of parliamentary debates. I am very pleased about the debate that took place as a result of that e-petition. He then referred to the issue of caste, which is clearly controversial. Some believe that it is an issue even in the United Kingdom, in the context of people’s ability to obtain jobs in, for instance, the national health service. That has been raised with me in the past. I think we shall have to agree that there may be differing views on caste.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about Gaza, about a number of free schools in his constituency—it is clear that a great deal is happening to education there, and that he is very proud of it—and about the fact that managing the steps from the platform to street level at Stanmore station requires one to be an Olympic athlete. I shall ensure that the Mayor is aware of that, as it is a Transport for London issue. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Anmer Lodge and the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital, as he had done during our Easter Adjournment debates. He is clearly as determined to ensure that his local hospital is rebuilt as I am to ensure that St Helier hospital is rebuilt, and I have no doubt that both of us will continue to campaign on those issues.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Barnet football club, Tesco, the NatWest closure, and the “hated no right turn”, of which none of the rest of us were aware, apart from the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas)—who, I understand, is training for the London triathlon. My tip is that if he has not done his swimming training yet, he will have a real struggle. It is not really possible to engage in the other two events without the swimming; I know that. I wish the hon. Gentleman good luck.
The hon. Gentleman also raised an issue to do with football. That again suggests there is potential for the Backbench Business Committee to deliver a comprehensive debate on football matters, if Members approach it. He asked if I could secure for him a letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government on the Harrow council funding issue, and I will endeavour to do that and to flag that up to them. He also raised concerns about pensions and reforms to the pensions system. I hope he agrees that some of the changes the Government made are positive, but he highlighted some specific issues about pension funds and the need for greater accountability and accessibility, and I hope some of them will follow in the footsteps of the Legal & General, which he highlighted as having taken positive action in this respect and which has, perhaps, set an example for others.
We then had a contribution from the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who is in his place. I commend him on his campaigning on Cossham hospital, and, indeed, his mother on the work she used to do—or may still do—as a nurse. I also have some advice for him in relation to antenatal classes, particularly if he is attending the birth: the second one is easier, but he may find that he faints in the first one. I just give him that word of warning. He made a very strong case for the maintenance of services at his hospital and I hope his campaign is successful.
The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) talked about the need for best practice guidance in relation to consultations, and she asked whether I will introduce that. I can confirm to her that it has already been introduced, so I have already delivered that, but it was in November last year. There are best practice guidelines for consultations, therefore, although I must confess I am not sure whether there is the level of detail that would confirm whether a non-response should or should not be counted, so she may want to look at that and see whether it is the case.
The hon. Lady also raised concerns about her GP surgery and the legislation we have just passed, and I think she suggested that the Government want to know absolutely everything about their citizens. That is certainly not what the data retention proposals are about. She highlighted that in her view the reshuffle the Government —or the Conservatives—have just undertaken is actually about creating more opportunities for Mr Speaker to impersonate leading Ministers. He has not heard that, but he may be practising once he has read Hansard later.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) highlighted his volunteering work, as he has done in the past, and I commend him on that—he is not in the Chamber, but I commend him none the less. He also highlighted planning issues, which is one of those difficult areas for Members of Parliament where on the one hand we need to represent constituents who might have children still living at home who cannot afford to move out, while on the other hand we have constituents who do not want to see developments in their backyard. He highlighted the importance of developing brownfield sites, too, which the Government clearly support, and bringing flats above shops into use.
The hon. Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) rightly highlighted the importance of speaking out for adults with autism who are not in a position to do that themselves and concerns he had that they may drop below the radar—I think that was the phrase he used—and that, although the banding proposals may ensure there is no longer a postcode lottery in the provision of care, he believes it may in fact mean some people will drop out of receiving the support they need.
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who is in his place, referred to Mr Rockhill, who got a formal caution for displaying an A-board. Like him, I would have hoped the local authority could have demonstrated a degree of common sense in its approach. He also referred to a constituent who should not be spreading his net in the bay, and again I think a modicum of common sense might have resolved that, but he might also like to know of a case involving a county council that asked a local borough council to take down the knitted bicycle bunting erected for the Tour de France because of the damage it might have caused to the heritage lampposts. That is another example of people perhaps being a little over-zealous in their application of the rules and regulations.
The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) referred to the need to build more housing. As I said, there is a cross-party consensus on that; there may not be a similar consensus on where the houses should be built, though the need for them is clearly demonstrated. I believe she said her local authority is building council homes, and I am pleased to say that my local Sutton council is doing the same thing and has set up its own company for that purpose. She highlighted the need to encourage responsible private landlords to offer longer tenancies. We have all had constituents in our surgeries who dealt with someone who may potentially be a good private landlord but who had provided them with only a year’s tenancy, and I think we would all want to see that addressed.
The hon. Lady referred to her concerns about the withdrawal of the minimum practice income guarantee and how it may lead to a transfer of funding from poor areas to richer areas. I do not know whether she is right about the impact in my constituency, but she asked whether I could secure a response from the Department of Health and I will do that for her. She also referred to broadband and I will pick that matter up shortly. She rightly reminded everyone that it is 100 days since the schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram and almost no action seems to have been taken—that is very depressing. Like others, I experience a degree of bafflement about the lack of any concrete action in that respect.
The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), who is in his place, talked about the need for a new junction on the M4. I know that has been considered, but I am afraid it is not in the current programme. He rightly highlighted the very good work done by the Great Western Air Ambulance and the support it provides to 2 million people, and his desire to see it funded from the LIBOR fund. He also talked about residents user groups, and his constituent Bob Woodward OBE and the work he has done in raising huge amounts of money for CLIC.
I will ensure that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) also receives the response that will go to the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch about the minimum practice income guarantee. He talked about the work he is doing with Muslim communities, and I agree that we need to ensure they do not feel under attack because of the conflagration of different things that they might feel is targeted at them. We should all be very careful about the language we use in that respect.
As other hon. Members have said, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) made a very thoughtful and hard-hitting statement. I guess the issue is: what can we do in concrete terms about Russia? Are some of the options that were put forward viable or would they inflame the situation further? That is the challenge to which the Government have to respond. Clearly, there is the possibility of a recall if that is necessary—if things develop—but we did have the Prime Minister’s statement on the issue.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who is also in her place, had concerns about the NHS. I agree that the NHS faces challenges, but there are a range of measures, be it on hospital-acquired infections, mixed-sex wards, or the record lows for the 18, 26 and 52-week treatment targets, where things are more positive. I am of course very sorry to hear about the poor care her constituent received, although from what she was describing I think it was not a resources issue; it was more of a communication issue, potentially within the hospital and upon release of the patient.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who was not able to stay, referred to the A303. All Members who have been on holiday in that area probably want to see action taken, and we await the autumn statement later this year, which we hope will be positive on that. He also raised the issue of broadband. We have invested heavily in broadband—£790 million—but I agree that, in certain parts of the country, it has not yet delivered the goods that people want to see.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the Orange Order, and its motto “Toleration for everyone”. Clearly, that is particularly essential in a Northern Ireland context, and is something that we all want to support. We support too the charity work that it is undertaking.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)—
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government—or the international community—are failing in relation to Russia. I hope that it is possible to bring together the different players to ensure that action is taken, but we will have to wait and see what happens.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raised a number of issues. I will, if I may, highlight world hepatitis day to which he wanted to draw attention. He also talked about hepatitis C, and the need for greater diagnosis and publicity. He is also a doughty campaigner on behalf of the fire service, and he raised a number of issues in that regard, as he does on a regular basis in pre-recess Adjournment debates and at other opportunities. He referred again to Hillingdon council. He is clearly an assiduous campaigner and will not let the council off the hook if he thinks that it is up to no good.
The hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who is in his place, talked about the important investment in schools and businesses in his constituency. Quite rightly, he highlighted the fact that, unfortunately, Rolls-Royce is having to retrench in his constituency, but I am sure that he will work with other community representatives to campaign on behalf of the aerospace industry to ensure that Pendle recovers from the loss. I commend him on the first and, I think, only use of the “long-term economic plan” phrase, which gives me an opportunity to say that the Government are building a stronger economy and a fairer society.
Finally, I echo the thanks of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) to long-serving members of staff—John Pullinger, Christine Gillie, James Robertson, Janet Rissen, Judith Welham, Amanda Waller, Chris Weeds and Clare Cowan—for all their efforts in the House in recent years.
It was remiss of me not to mention this before. I mentioned Sir Barnett Cocks, who was the Clerk when Sir Robert first arrived. I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of this, but after Sir Barnett retired he published a book about Parliament. Does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea if the Clerk, in his newly acquired time, was able to bring out a publication on how Parliament works, and after that, perhaps one on cricket as well?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Sir Robert may have heard his entreaty to produce such things, but I will also use this as an opportunity to thank Sir Robert on behalf of all Members. Members should consider the range of things in which Sir Robert has been involved. Let me name just a few. He was involved in implementing the Modernisation Committee’s reform of the legislative process; writing the “Shifting the Balance” report of the Liaison Committee, which was a major step in Select Committee innovation before the Wright Committee; proposing the idea that the Prime Minister should appear before the Liaison Committee; and writing the so-called 75-point plan in the options for Commons reform, which are gradually being worked through. On the more administrative side, he began to grapple with some of the biggest challenges that we face, such as the need to invest substantially in ensuring that this building is fit for purpose for members of staff, Members and peers in decades to come. Sir Robert will be sorely missed by all Members of the House, and I have personally enjoyed his friendly, informative and experienced advice in the years that I have been here.
With that, I will finish by thanking all the staff—the police, the Clerks, the Chief Clerk, Sir Robert, staff in the Tea Room and everyone who supports us to enable us to do the job that we do. Without them it would not be possible, and we would not get the enjoyment out of it that we do.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.