I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
I move the motion on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, and I want to raise several points before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess.
The place in which we work has changed and continues to change. I pay tribute to all the staff who work here. However, I have a number of worries, including that if we leave this place for five years, when it is refurbished, we may never return. I am very concerned about our sitting hours, which have had a deep impact on the catering facilities. Many of the facilities used to be very busy, but half of them are now empty. I am very concerned about the prices of refreshments generally. The refreshments are excellent, but the prices have put off charities from having events here.
I praise the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, which was introduced last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway). However, a couple of constituents came to see me to say that it is very expensive to get the licence, and that they do not believe the legislation is fully funded. All sorts of people are just paying lip service to it, so I urge the Government to ensure that extra support is given to local authorities and the police to monitor scrap metal sites and mobile dealers.
I had the privilege to pilot the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 through the House, but the issue of fuel poverty still has to be addressed. I am delighted that the Government are rolling back green levies, and increasing the winter fuel payments and the warm home discount. However, some families are still suffering from fuel poverty. I encourage all constituents to consider switching to an energy provider or to a tariff that is cheaper and suits them best. A list of accredited switching sites can be found on the Ofgem website.
I am delighted to report that Southend high school for girls and Southend high school for boys have been chosen to represent England at the world school athletics championships in China next year. I hope that everybody rallies behind them so that they do very well.
I have mentioned to the House before that Councillor David Stanley leads the wonderful Music Man project, which enriches the lives of people with learning difficulties. I am delighted to tell the House that it will be performing at the London Palladium on 21 June 2015. I am hoping that my good friend, Sir Bruce Forsyth, will compere the programme. Tickets will be available next month.
The House will know that Southend is the alternative city of culture 2017. I am delighted to announce that at the end of January 2015, c2c will be naming one of its trains in recognition of that, and that there will be a talent show in the Arlington Rooms in February next year.
Earlier this year, I had the honour of hosting a number of Koreans at the Leigh Elim church. That is particularly pertinent given the story in the news today. Those wonderful people from Korea are praying for this House. I hope that Members take comfort from the fact that those people are working on our behalf in a far-off land.
I want to comment on a number of all-party parliamentary groups that I chair. As we all know, some all-party groups are absolutely farcical and do not meet much. I chair the all-party parliamentary group for the Philippines. People from the Philippines do marvellous work. Its care workers are second to none. I am sure that I have the House’s support when I say that, thankfully, the number of casualties of the terrible flooding that the Philippines has experienced as a result of Hagupit, which made its first landfall on 6 December with a force equivalent to a category 3 storm, has been relatively small. I know that the Philippines would like to thank the British Government for their generosity in the wake of the typhoon. The Department for International Development has activated its humanitarian rapid response facility and agreed to a £2 million fund to help the humanitarian relief that is being provided by GOAL, Christian Aid and Oxfam, which are all established in the Philippines.
I am very concerned about the situation in Bahrain. I continue to receive reports from individuals of ongoing torture, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings. The recent sentencing of the activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, is of particular concern. The Foreign Affairs Committee this year claimed that it had found no evidence of progress in Bahrain and I have asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to list it as a country of concern.
I am the joint chairman of the British parliamentary committee for Iran freedom. I urge the Government to refer the regime’s human rights dossier to the United Nations Security Council for punitive measures and the prosecution of the Iranian regime’s leaders. The Government should realise that something needs to be done, particularly in respect of Camp Ashraf.
I am the chairman of the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group. I praise the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who is responsible for fire, resilience and emergencies, for supporting the work of the APPG. A number of concerns about the built environment and schools remain unresolved. The group wants to work more closely with the appropriate Departments.
I was pleased that when we voted against the prayer on Monday, we received strong assurances from my hon. Friend on firefighters’ pensions. I visited one of my local fire stations last week and was made aware of all the concerns that were raised in the debate. I was delighted to hear her confirm that if someone fails a fitness test through no fault of their own and does not qualify for ill-health retirement, they will be redeployed or receive an unreduced pension.
I am the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on maternity. Having fathered five children, I think that I have a few qualifications for that. I was delighted that we organised an event, in collaboration with the National Childbirth Trust, to honour a number of maternity groups throughout the country that are providing an excellent service for parents and their babies in the first 1,000 days.
How many times have we heard that mental health is the Cinderella service? Of course, all political parties say that they will do something about that. I was very concerned to find out, when I met a group who are proposing a mental health manifesto, that although people with mental health problems account for 23% of the disease burden, they receive only 13% of NHS expenditure. Something needs to be done about that.
Thinking of the season of good will and Christmas, I am chairman of the all-party parliamentary hepatology group. I urge hon. Members to read the group’s report on hepatitis C, which highlights the catastrophic consequences of failing to address the alarming rise in liver disease in the United Kingdom, which is caused by preventable viral hepatitis, alcohol misuse and obesity.
I know that a number of colleagues have been lobbied recently by Parkinson’s UK. I agree with its campaign that calls for Duodopa to be commissioned routinely, based on national eligibility criteria. I would like to see more transparency from the clinical priorities advisory group in relation to that treatment.
I was lobbied recently by the Institute of Customer Service. We all want the highest quality of service possible. It has concluded that the major enablers of excellent customer service in the public sector include a focus on customer insight, the co-creation of services with customers, simpler processes and employee engagement.
I will end—[Hon. Members: “No!”] Well, I could go on a little longer, but there are 18 other speakers. I will end with an issue that I have mentioned on a number of occasions, which concerns Southend hospital, the South Essex Partnership Trust and Monitor. Because of what happened between 1997 and 2010, I believe that this place has increasingly lost a lot of power. I want to take this opportunity to praise all the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff who work at Southend hospital and for SEPT. However, I am appalled by the management standards.
The chief executive of Southend hospital left, but she seems to have moved on seamlessly to another job, even though she took a £25,000 pay increase before she left. We have also been left with an £8.5 million debt. That is quite wrong. I want to know where the governance from the chairman has been. I want the chairman of Southend hospital to be replaced and I want a new management structure to be introduced.
Monitor came to see me in October, and it has taken longer than two months to get back to me. A meeting was supposed to take place in my office this morning, but it seems not to have happened. I am not best pleased about that. I want to know who exactly is running the hospital on an interim basis, how much they are being paid and what their expertise is.
I say again to the House, SEPT is a huge organisation. It is top heavy with management. I am not going to leave this matter alone until the current management are replaced and until what went on under the last management, by which I mean the previous chief executive, is addressed. What is happening at those two services simply is not good enough.
I extend my thanks to c2c, Arriva, the Genting Club, Waitrose, Morrisons, Tesco and all the other good organisations that have helped our community in the past year. I hope that that will encourage others to follow suit.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker, the other two Deputy Speakers, all colleagues and all staff of the House of Commons a very happy Christmas, good health, peace, prosperity and a wonderful new year.
Several hon. Members
Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. It is obvious that a great many people wish to speak in this final debate. We do not have unlimited time, as we have had in the past. I am reluctant to introduce a time limit and thought that we might try to rely on the good will of Members to their fellow Members. I ask that Members restrict their remarks to around seven minutes. If everybody takes around seven or eight minutes, everyone who wishes to speak will have the opportunity to do so. Let us see how it works.
I will do my best, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Transport for London is London’s biggest and arguably least accountable quango. Bossed by the Mayor, in practice it is answerable to no one in London apart from him. Londoners have virtually no say in what it does. Fares go up with Londoners having no chance to stop them, never mind reduce them, while vanity projects such as a plan for an estuary airport, on which a royal ransom has been spent, and a cable car that carries few passengers, are funded and no one can stop them. That needs to change.
Londoners need to be given more control over TfL, in the same way that patients were given the right to become members of their local hospital so that they have to be listened to and consulted on the trust’s strategy and non-executive director appointments. Surely it is time that Londoners were allowed some power to shape what TfL does, affect the decisions it makes and have a voice when its spending and fares plans are put together.
London’s fares have gone up by some 60% in the past six years, with outer-London residents, including those in my constituency, being hit very hard. TfL’s most senior staff member recently said that he fears riots if the cost of London travel keeps rising. There has been little discussion with Londoners about the decision to shut virtually every ticket office despite the current Mayor’s pledge to keep them open, and there has been even less public debate about how TfL’s property might be used to address London’s housing crisis.
There is the fiction of mayoral and London assembly accountability: every four years, if people do not like what the Mayor has done with public transport in London, they can vote for change, and there are regular London assembly transport question times, when the likes of Val Shawcross, Navin Shah and other assembly members do a great job within huge constraints, but there is no real input from ordinary Londoners. The first that anyone on the 8 am train from Harrow on the Hill or East Croydon hears of the next year’s fare increases is when they read about them in the Evening Standard, and only once the Mayor’s spin doctors have carefully packaged the announcement so that the worst rises are not discovered for a couple of days.
If Londoners are to be given the chance to have a say on the big decisions that are needed on the future of London’s transport, they must surely be part of TfL’s decision making. They should be able to challenge the Mayor’s proposals on significant issues such as above-inflation fare rises, big projects or significant shifts such as privatising services or the use of TfL land.
How could Londoners be given a greater say? The simplest way would be to create a right for all those paying council tax in London to join TfL if they want to do so. Membership of TfL would entitle London’s residents to attend annual meetings and to listen to, question and approve TfL bosses’ plans. Such a system already exists in foundation hospitals, and to a lesser extent in Welsh Water. The Mayor would still have the right of initiative, but crucially he would have to face a far more vigorous system of public scrutiny and approval. I gently suggest to the House that TfL needs to be reformed and that a more engaged and democratic TfL needs to emerge.
Secondly, I wish to mention the huge cuts in funding that my local authority faces—some £25 million this year. That will put facilities such as Harrow arts centre and Harrow museum at risk, although they appear to have been saved at least for this year. Other cuts that the council envisages include those to North Harrow library and Rayners Lane library, both of which are popular facilities. North Harrow library in particular is a crucial community facility in an area that has lost a number of other services and commercial firms of late. Harrow faces some £50 million of further cuts in future years, so there will be difficult choices. I nevertheless hope that there might be a way to save North Harrow library in particular.
Thirdly, I want to raise the example of Desjardins, the biggest financial services player in Quebec, in Canada. It is basically a credit union, but an unusual one. It is essentially a federation of 480 individual credit unions, which co-operate to present a unified back-office service and a unified front-facing offer. The individual credit unions share back-office services, cross-guarantee each other’s financial decisions and share the same brand name, making marketing of their services far easier.
Desjardins is owned by its members and backed by the Church in Quebec, and its branches have become almost as prolific in Quebec as churches. It offers the full range of individual and business financial services, helping individuals to manage their future and helping small businesses to grow into larger ones. It makes a profit, which is shared by members across the credit unions.
In the UK, the challenge remains how to take credit unions to scale. Part of the Desjardins model is being considered in the UK under the credit union modernisation project that the Department for Work and Pensions has funded. What has not yet been created is a similar front-facing offer—a common brand with an extensive common marketing offer and agreement on common products. Co-operatives are often fiercely independent, but I wonder whether it is time for an attempt to be made to bring credit unions together, at least on a regional basis, to fund for a number of years the common front-facing offer that is needed. Clearly, flexibility would be needed so that individual credit unions did not lose their identity or power. Why could not the Mayor of London, perhaps working with the Church of England, consider such an operation to help London’s credit unions grow in membership and number?
The last point that I want to raise is about London Welsh rugby club. I have recently written to Alex Chisholm, the chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, about the fact that London Welsh, newly promoted to the premiership this year, get just £1.5 million in subsidy whereas other premiership rugby clubs get more than £4 million. Inevitably, the premiership is a rigged market as a result, always making it harder for newly promoted clubs to compete with more established clubs on an equal basis.
Talks are in progress between London Welsh and Premiership Rugby, but I hope that Mr Chisholm from the CMA might be willing to use his good offices, following the letter that I have written to him, to which I hope the shadow Deputy Leader of the House might encourage a quick response, to encourage Premiership Rugby to see sense and sort out the huge imbalance in funding.
For all of us, it is a matter of fortuity as to whether the experience and expertise that we acquire in different ways before we enter the House can be utilised when we come here. I had the good fortune, before I entered the House, to be a member of the financial evaluation team at Rio Tinto-Zinc. Our responsibilities were to evaluate for the board of RTZ some of the most complex and largest capital projects worldwide in the mining and hydroelectric sector. The head of our team was the internationally renowned Mr Allen Sykes, and the book that he co-authored with the late Professor Tony Merrett, “The Finance and Analysis of Capital Projects”, was required business school reading.
That background has been of considerable help to me both as a Minister and on the Back Benches, but perhaps never more so than now. My constituency extends to the western extremity of Kent, and every single aircraft landing at Gatwick airport from the east flies over my constituency, where noise levels for many of my constituents are already intolerable both by day and by night. The House will not be surprised to know that when the Airports Commission produced its latest and final consultation documents on the three additional runway options for the south-east, I went straight to Gatwick Airport Ltd’s financial evaluation of its second runway proposal. To say that I was acutely disappointed by what I found would be a major understatement. In fact, I was profoundly shocked at the level of concealment.
The key elements in any financial evaluation are the crucial lines of financial numbers and the assumptions behind those numbers. Let us consider the key document published by Gatwick Airport Ltd and the appendix entitled “Financial Model”. In paragraph 3.4 on financing, for example, we would expect lines of figures, but instead we have lines of scissors—every single figure has been redacted. When we look at similar paragraphs, the balance sheet or the cash-flow statement, similarly, it is all scissors. In the crucial paragraph on tax—tax payable is a critical element of a financial evaluation—again we find acute disappointment.
The owners of Gatwick airport are an international company, and all the major shareholders are foreign. They are from the US, Abu Dhabi, Australia and Korea. One key policy on which there is complete all-party agreement across the House is that international companies that operate out of the UK should pay their full and fair share of UK taxation. That was stated to me unequivocally by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who said in a recent letter:
“The UK is at the forefront of multilateral action through the G20 and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to reform the international tax standards to prevent profit shifting by multinationals. It is essential that these issues are looked at in a comprehensive and co-ordinated manner to come up with effective solutions.”
What do we find in the tax paragraph on Gatwick Airport Ltd’s financial evaluation? There is not a single figure for tax payable by the company during the lifetime of the project. There is an assumption about corporation tax, but not one single figure for actual tax paid.
Having seen that lack of information, when I and some of my colleagues who have constituencies in the vicinity of Gatwick airport met its chief executive, Mr Stewart Wingate, I asked him why he had redacted all that information. His answer was that it was commercially confidential, but I do not accept that that argument has validity. It would be valid if Gatwick Airport Ltd were competing for a franchise over the airport, but it is not. Gatwick Airport Ltd is the owner of the airport, which it bought from the British Airports Authority for £1.5 billion in 2009. In those circumstances, I do not believe that the issue of commercial confidentiality reasonably arises; much more fundamental is that there should be openness and transparency at what is a critical time moment for those living in the vicinity of Gatwick and indeed Heathrow.
It is time-critical because this is the last-chance saloon and the last opportunity for members of the public and their elected representatives to give their views to the Airports Commission about the three available options—after the general election the commission will make its choice. This is a critical moment, and I consider that Gatwick Airport Ltd has failed—and failed scandalously —to be open and transparent about the financial evaluation of its project.
Gatwick Airport Ltd has projected an increase in airline passengers from the current 30 million to almost 90 million by 2050—an extra 60 million travellers. It is self-evident that that will require substantial surface access improvements to Gatwick airport, and particularly rail access. What has Gatwick Airport Ltd said about meeting that need? There has been a deafening silence. Happily, by contrast the Airports Commission has not been silent, and paragraph 3.36 of its paper, “Gatwick Airport Second Runway: Business Case and Sustainability Assessment”, contains a significant one-sentence statement:
“It is likely that Government will need to fund some or all of the surface access requirements”.
In my view, Gatwick Airport Ltd is simply seeking a blank cheque from UK taxpayers, signed on their behalf to provide the surface access infrastructure that will be needed.
In conclusion, on the grounds that Gatwick Airport Ltd has totally failed to be transparent about its financial evaluation, and has concealed the public expenditure implications of the infrastructure needed for a second runway, its proposal should be rejected by the Airports Commission.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). This debate gives us a chance to touch on various issues, and I wish to mention three: local government, the NHS, and something I hope we can all support on a cross-party basis because it appeals to our humanity.
On local government, there is much discussion about the private and public sectors, and in my view the public sector comes off worse. Let us consider the cuts in welfare and the amount of money given to bankers under quantitative easing. What is that quantitative easing other than welfare for bankers? There were no questions asked, no Atos interview requiring them to walk 60 metres to qualify; the money was just handed over and they kept it without even lending it. In contrast, most local authorities that provide vital services are having their budgets slashed. It is extraordinary that the Government are pushing ahead with budget cuts to local government of more than a third.
The National Audit Office said that single-tier authorities feared for core services, including education and social care, and that the Government have no way of monitoring the financial sustainability of councils. That matters because my council—Walsall metropolitan borough council —is a single-tier council. We have an outstanding Sure Start centre in Palfrey that has an innovative fathers club. It has a role to play in helping new parents and is a focus for them, but all that is under threat. Some families in Walsall cannot even afford a computer or the internet, so children go to libraries after school. How will we raise standards and aspirations if we deny people, especially children, access to knowledge? Those vital services can affect the long-term needs of society, and the budget cuts are short-term thinking that in the end will undermine society.
Let me turn to the NHS. In the Health Committee I was surprised by an extraordinary admission from the Health Secretary, who told me that NHS staff could not receive their 1% pay rise because it was in patients’ interests not to give it to them. I cannot follow the logic of that. People were entitled to that pay rise, which was agreed and would have raised morale. Productivity drops if people do not feel valued, and none of the crisis in the NHS was made by the people who work in it.
Earlier this year the Health Service Journal reported that two thirds of commissioners have experienced increased commissioning costs, and £60 million has been spent on tendering exercises. That is taking money out of the NHS. I have to keep repeating this, because the reorganisation cost £3 billion. An underspend of £1.4 billion was sent back to the Treasury in 2011-12. In 2012-13, £2.2 billion of underspend was sent back. That has all been handed back without giving staff a pay rise, even though there is a crisis in A and E.
We need more doctors, yet we know that for every 350 medical student places there are at least another 1,000 applicants who have met the criteria. Should the Secretary of State not discuss with universities how to fast-track new doctors? The Secretary of State cannot rely on the one doctor, Doctor Who, to save the NHS—he can save lots of other things, but not the NHS.
The most important thing is accountability. The Secretary of State and the chief executive of NHS England both appeared before the Committee. No one quite knows who is in charge and no one has a grip on the NHS. Like Statler and Waldorf, the two characters from the Muppets who sit in the side box, they heckle everyone saying, “Work harder or you won’t get a pay rise.” Of course, staff work harder but do not get a pay rise. They run down the services, so people have to look to outside providers. That is not the way to run a national health service.
Finally, I became involved with John’s Campaign when I met Julia Jones and Francis Wheen. Julia told me about her elderly mother and how she worries about her as her carer. She talked about her friend Nicci Gerrard, whose father had recently died. Many Members will have seen the article in The Observer about Nicci’s dad. Dr John Gerrard had dementia. He was admitted to hospital, and Nicci said he was cared for by the doctors and nurses. Nicci and her family took an interest in John: they talked to him, read to him and played chess with him. However, in the hospital setting Nicci was not allowed to stay with John. All Nicci asked for and wanted was to continue doing those things with John, so that he could carry out his usual activities. Hospital is unnerving without dementia, but imagine if one cannot remember things—one would definitely feel more vulnerable. Nicci knew that John was deteriorating. The Library provided information on an example of very helpful good practice in a Bristol hospital. University Hospitals Bristol allow carers to continue their care in hospital. Ward staff have an initial daily conversation with carers, so they are clear what their role is in hospital. Carers are allowed to be with patients outside visiting hours, including through the night.
The Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who has responsibility for care and support, wants all hospitals to be dementia friendly. He wrote a letter, on 14 March 2013, to all acute hospital trusts, but this aspect was not mentioned. Parents are encouraged to stay with their children overnight to make the experience less formidable. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to ask the Minister to meet me and the founders of John’s Campaign, Nicci Gerrard, Julia Jones and Francis Wheen, to discuss taking this issue forward. The early-day motion I tabled has received cross-party support from 41 Members, as of today. If there ever was a new year resolution that could come true, the Deputy Leader has it in his power to grant it. It would help those who support their loved ones in difficult times, and do so in John’s memory.
It remains for me to say that I sat on the House of Commons Governance Committee and I have seen how brilliant this institution and the people who work in it, from top to bottom, are. I want to thank all of them for their hard work, and wish them a happy Christmas and all the best in 2015.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) for securing the debate. He is always the expert in delivering so many constituency cases and I congratulate him on that. I want to cover a number of constituency cases—perhaps not as expertly as my hon. Friend, but I will do my very best.
First, I very much welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport on the £2 billion to deal with the bottleneck on the A30/A303, which goes through my constituency.
Broadband in rural areas is extremely necessary. I have worked with all Members for Devon and Somerset from both sides of the House to secure funding for rural broadband. Devon and Somerset county councils have put money in, along with Broadband Delivery UK, to deliver rural broadband across the two counties. The very nature of the contract let to BDUK states clearly that broadband should get to the hardest-hit areas. Of course, what happens when the contract starts is that BDUK picks the easiest cherries on the tree and gets to the areas that are not quite so hard to hit. However, there are delays and delays in bringing rural broadband to areas around the Blackdowns, such as Upottery, Smeatharpe and over on the other side towards Seaton and Rousdon. We even had the chief executive of BDUK, in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, saying that it could be 2020 before some of those villages are reached. BDUK has come out with wonderful statistics stating that there is 95% broadband coverage across the country. The only problem is that nearly 95% of parts of my constituency do not have broadband. I suggested to the BDUK chief executive that it would not be wise for him to make that statement in some of my rural villages, because 95% of the people there do not have broadband.
BDUK has begun, very late in the day, to look at alternatives to the large junction boxes or cabinets with fibre-optic cables. There are ways to introduce smaller cabinets on telegraph poles and the like. It is now beginning to pilot those schemes, but it is time for it to up its game and get broadband out to those hard-hit rural areas. I am looking forward. I welcome the support, with Government, council and public money, but it is time that broadband was delivered. I would love the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, to deal with this, because pressure needs to be put on BDUK on delivery.
In my constituency, there is a group of volunteers called the Devon Freewheelers who deliver blood and body parts for transplant to hospitals. They have police-type bikes, are fully trained and deliver across the county of Devon, into Cornwall and beyond. The service they provide is run entirely through charity. No help has been given to it by the NHS or the local NHS trust, even though it now has a contract with the NHS in Devon for deliveries. It is time that we looked across our Departments in Government to see if we can find ways to support these great people, who have put in a huge amount of effort. One can imagine the tremendous amount of money it would cost if the NHS in Devon, Cornwall and beyond had to pay for the service.
My constituent John Panvert of Steart Farm in Stoodleigh, Tiverton, bought a farm with a commercial stables with a large gallop area, many stables and an indoor horse-walking area. When he bought the property, business rates were being paid on it. He did not challenge immediately the fact that he carried on paying business rates, even though he now uses the stables domestically, so he now has a huge amount of business rates to pay. I have been to the property twice and seen that three stables are used for his wife’s horses, but for no other purpose. Even though we have challenged the valuation office about that, it is about to hire a barrister and take him to court to get him to pay the business rates. I think that is an abuse of power by those in authority.
My last point is about the huge problems facing dairy farmers in my constituency and across the country. The price of milk is falling to 24p and below, but the cost of production is at least 30p. Farmers need support. I urge the Government, when procuring milk and other dairy products, to look for British products. I would also like the Government to look at how we promote milk. I am a great believer—I declare an interest as a former dairy farmer—in milk being a wholesome product that is very good for us. Over the years it has been downgraded, with people always talking about the fat it contains, but not the protein and all the other good constituents. We should go out and promote milk, using the resources of Dairy UK and others. The Government must stand up for a great farming industry that is not only looking after and feeding people, but delivering the great countryside that we all love to visit.
Finally, I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all in the House for looking after us so well and wish everyone a thoroughly happy Christmas.
I am absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to contribute once again to a Christmas pre-recess Adjournment debate. I want to raise two health issues: the hysteroscopy procedure and pancreatic cancer. I know that some Members were present when I talked about hysteroscopy last year, but I must warn the others that it is not for the squeamish, so I will perfectly understand it if anyone wants to leave the Chamber.
The hysteroscopy procedure was first brought to my attention by my constituent Debbie, who lives in Plaistow. She is a really lovely women and a great campaigner. She was diagnosed with womb and uterine cancer and contacted me not about the pain of the cancer, but the pain she went through during the process of diagnosis. Debbie underwent a hysteroscopy, which I remind Members is a procedure for looking inside a patient’s uterus. It is used to investigate symptoms such as pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding and infertility. Biopsies are often taken during the procedure and tissue is removed. The procedure is uncomfortable and can be incredibly painful.
Debbie has since campaigned tirelessly to prevent other women from being subjected to such a painful procedure. I pay tribute to the work that she and others in the hysteroscopy campaign have done. Since raising Debbie’s story in the House last Christmas, I have been contacted by a number of women across the country who heard about the debate and wanted to share their stories with me. The cases they described have all happened since last year’s debate.
One such woman is Mrs Hughes. She had a thickening of her womb and was told that she might have cancer, so she had a pipelle biopsy, which in itself was very painful and distressing. She was then told that she would need a hysteroscopy and that she would be given an anaesthetic. Mrs Hughes, who has heart problems, phoned the hospital to find out what type of anaesthetic she would be given. She was told that it would be a nerve block anaesthetic. To be clear, Mrs Hughes received information from a doctor, a nurse and a leaflet at the local hospital, all telling her that the procedure would be conducted under anaesthetic.
On the day of the procedure, however, her doctor—let us call him Dr C—told her, “Well, we only give anaesthetics to people who can’t cope with facing it. It stings, but you’ll be all right. I’ll be gentle. I’ll be in and out in 30 seconds.” But the doctor could not find the cervix. After some time, and a considerable amount of intense and painful probing inside her, water was pumped into her womb and a camera was inserted. The pain increased significantly and Mrs Hughes was calling out loudly in distress. She felt herself passing out because of the pain. The doctor then said, “I can’t reach it.” The procedure was terminated without a biopsy or a diagnosis.
After the procedure, Mrs Hughes went home. She said:
“I had excruciatingly painful cramps and bleeding. I was so very distressed and dazed...I started to shiver and then began to shake all over. I couldn’t stop the shaking. My nerves were shot. I was crying and couldn’t get the procedure out of my head... I kept having flashbacks. My heart was affected, thumping and missing beats. I felt truly traumatised. I couldn’t sleep—I kept waking up in an absolute panic.”
She was in agony and was clearly experiencing post-traumatic stress. The doctor simply told her that she would have to come back and have the procedure done under general anaesthetic.
This really cannot go on. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), kindly wrote to me after last year’s debate. She highlighted the guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, stating that she expected
“all clinicians to adhere to guidance where available to ensure good practice and the best outcomes for patients.”
The guidance includes the need for formal informed consent for out-patient hysteroscopy before the procedure. I am afraid that I do not consider that to be sufficient protection for women. A significant number of hospitals still do not use a written consent form for an out-patient hysteroscopy. It is a postcode lottery as to whether a patient is offered different options for pain control, or indeed even advised to take a pain killer before the procedure. Put simply, many women across our country are still having to go through this procedure, which is often agonising, without the right information or informed consent.
I implore the Minister to take action to ensure that surgeons must always discuss with patients what will happen before, during and after a hysteroscopy, and that they must obtain formal informed consent for an out-patient hysteroscopy before the procedure. This matter must be tackled. I ask the Minister to use her good offices to make some progress.
I would now like to turn to pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer often comes too late for any effective treatment, meaning that for many the news is abrupt, shocking and, all too often, a death sentence. It is often called the silent cancer, because the early symptoms are hard to detect and it is only later, when more precise and exact symptoms appear, that patients and doctors consider the possibility of pancreatic cancer.
One of my constituents, Norma Giles, wrote to me about the loss of her son Steven to pancreatic cancer in 2010. He was previously a fit and healthy man, happily married and a father, and his death has had a devastating impact on the family. He was just 42, and like many he was diagnosed too late for surgery. His wife, Clair Giles, wrote:
“if I told you pancreatic cancer is a git, I would be lying, as there are no words strong enough to tell you what pancreatic cancer does to the patient and to their family. I have struggled losing my husband, my soul mate.”
She wants me to help get the message out that early diagnosis and surviving pancreatic cancer go hand in hand, and she argues that the lack of funding for the fight against pancreatic cancer is directly responsible for the poor survival rate. Understandably, she wants that to change.
Tragically, Steven was diagnosed only after numerous visits to their GP with a range of symptoms. He had lost 4 stone and had diabetes, but it was only when a locum saw him that he was referred to hospital. Tragically, it was too late. We need to do far more to save people like Steven. Survival rates have remained unchanged over the last 40 years, with 22 people dying every day from pancreatic cancer and only 10% of patients being diagnosed in time for lifesaving curative surgery. Surely we can do better. As Members know, behind each statistic are personal stories and individual and family tragedies.
Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of all cancers, yet it receives only 1% of research spend. Over the last four years, cancer spending has been cut by £800 million in real terms, and I am told that treatment standards are deteriorating and that the national cancer target has been missed in the last three quarters. Hon. Members will share my concern that this is simply not good enough, so I implore the Government to look at the issue afresh. I am sure I speak for all Members in extending our thoughts and prayers to those battling cancer and in expressing our admiration for and thanks to the NHS staff caring for them, especially over the Christmas period.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, hon. Members and everybody who works on the parliamentary estate the happiest of Christmases and the very best of new years.
We hear today that Sony has pulled the apparently joke film “The Interview” about North Korea. I decry inhibiting free speech, whatever the material, but life in North Korea is not a joke. It is not a joke that desperate women wade across the frozen Tumen river to escape to China, only to be caught by Chinese men, sold into sexual slavery and then, when used up, sent back by the authorities to face torture in North Korea and the forced abortion of their unborn children.
It is not a joke for those hundreds of thousands who live in concentration camps reminiscent of the Nazi era, many for uttering a few words against the North Korean regime—or, worse, under the regime’s atrocious “guilt by association” rule, not for something they have done, but for something their relatives have done to offend the regime. Prisoners are told they are not humans but animals and indescribably tortured: steam-rolled to death; killed by having hot molten metal poured over them; frozen to death; starved to death; worked to death in factories; hung upside down to have water poured into their nostrils, like so much beef hanging from hooks in a slaughter house; deprived of clothing and sleep, then mercilessly pummelled with wooden bats; kept in cells with two holes in the door for them to stick their feet out to be horrendously tortured; and frequently forced to watch executions, including of their blood relatives. As my co-chair of the all-party group on North Korea, an increasingly active group, Lord Alton, said,
“Christmas spent in a North Korean gulag will be just another day of grotesque suffering.”
Life in North Korea is not a joke outside the concentration camps either. It is not a joke for the thousands of stunted, parentless children—the so-called wandering swallows—who eke out a living on the streets. The problem of malnutrition in North Korea is so bad that the minimum height for a member of their armed forces is just 4 feet 2 inches. It is not a joke for the disabled in North Korea either. Just when we thought that reports from North Korea could not get any worse, this week we heard at first hand from an escapee at a meeting of the all-party group in the UK Parliament about how disabled people, including children, were sent
“for medical tests such as dissection of body parts, as well as tests of biological and chemical weapons. Dwarves are castrated. Babies with mental and physical handicaps are routinely snatched from hospitals and left to suffer indescribable things until they die. The disabled in North Korea are simply disappeared.”
We were told that by a disabled escapee, Ji Seong-Ho, who, at 14, lost his left hand and leg after passing out from hunger while scavenging for coal on railway tracks and was run over by a train. He was told by North Korean Government officials:
“disabled people like you hurt the dignity of North Korea and you should just die.”
He told us, “That really hurt.”
At Christmas time, let us remember that living in North Korea is not a joke for the many brave Christians who every day fear incarceration simply for owning a Bible. One lady has told the all-party group that if soldiers suspect that someone is a believer, they will ransack their home until they find what they are looking for. In her home, they did: they noticed a brick slightly out of position, and behind it they found her Bible, so she was taken to prison.
I have mentioned just two of many escapees who have spoken to our group this year and who are now finding sanctuary in the UK and increasingly giving testimonies of their suffering to Members of Parliament. For the rest of my speech, however, I want to speak not to fellow Members, or even to our constituents, but to the people of North Korea. When I first spoke about North Korea in the House, I was amazed to receive a letter from supporters in South Korea saying, “You are being heard” so I know that when we speak here, many of you in North Korea hear what we say—and that is increasingly the case with modern means of communication, such as smuggled-in USB sticks.
I want you, the people of North Korea, to know that your suffering is being heard. Do not think that no one cares. Do not think that no one is speaking out for you. In the UK Parliament, more and more people are speaking out and showing that they care. We have compassion for you in your suffering, and this Christmas remember that our compassion is as nothing compared with that of Christ. One day, this too will end. Kingdoms rise and fall. We are praying for you and for your freedom.
In addition to praying and speaking out, more and more people are acting. This year, a 400-page UN report by Mr Justice Kirby catalogued the brutal atrocities you experience. The world now knows of them and cannot stay silent. Increasingly, people in the free world are calling for action on your behalf. Only last week in this Parliament, the all-party group on international freedom of religion or belief issued a report that can be found at www.freedomdeclared.org which added to demands made last month at the UN by no fewer than 111 countries that those responsible for human rights violations in North Korea be brought to justice by the International Criminal Court. We also called for all appropriate justice mechanisms to be considered to bring the North Korean Government to account for their terrible atrocities against their own people. Here in the UK Parliament, as MPs we continue to press for the BBC World Service to broadcast to you, the people of North Korea, in the Korean and English languages, and we MPs continue to press for an increased dialogue with China to stop its policy of forced repatriation and for humanitarian aid to the people of North Korea.
So, at Christmas time our hearts go out to you, the North Korean people, from the UK. Know that we are with you; know that we are supporting and working with your relatives and friends who have escaped to this country and know that they have a voice; and know that we shall continue to speak out for you and to press for action on your behalf until the day comes, which it surely will, when your country is free again and your suffering is at an end.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who I am sure speaks for the whole House in her moving and compelling contribution.
The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) spoke about Transport for London, and the ridiculous plans of the Mayor of London and Transport for London which no one could do anything about. He gave two examples, one of which was a Thames estuary airport. I am pleased to say that we could do something about that, following a fantastic campaign, which the Airports Commission said generated more representations than any other. I was privileged to lead that campaign with people from the Hoo peninsula and elsewhere in my constituency, but also with people from across the country and beyond, so that on 2 September this year, the Thames estuary airport pie-in-the-sky proposal promoted by the Mayor of London was categorically ruled out.
Unfortunately, two days later, Medway council’s own planning committee attacked the Hoo peninsula with its own threat—a very serious threat—to build approximately 5,000 houses at Lodge hill, a bird sanctuary in my constituency. Two days after we had had the dreadful threat of the Thames estuary airport ruled out, we had this other one to deal with. Five days later, Medway council had to refer the application to the Secretary of State to consider whether it should be called in.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. [Interruption.] I said no.
The criteria used for planning application call-ins used to be called the Caborn criteria. Three of those criteria appear to be met very clearly by this application to the extent that a call-in is required. The first relates to conflicting with national policies on important matters, notably the protection of sites of special scientific interest—and, indeed, the whole integrity of our system of environmental protection.
The second relates to having significant effects beyond the immediate locality. It could even have an effect as far away as west Africa, where the nightingales that are the cause of this area becoming an SSSI spend the British winter. There could be an impact on Essex, because the planning committee of Medway council has, in its wisdom, accepted a proposal that the nightingales can be told to go to an alternative location somewhere in Essex. We do not have much in the way of detail, but this clearly suggests significant effects beyond the immediate locality. Perhaps most importantly, approving the proposal or failing to call it in and seeking to nod it through with a green light could have impacts on other SSSIs across the country.
The third criterion is where the development would give rise to substantial cross-border or national controversy. Having been at the centre of such controversy during the recent Rochester and Strood by-election, I can vouch for that.
On 25 September, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recused himself from considering the application on the basis that he is a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Two days later, I recused myself from the Conservative party and was determined to fight a by-election partly on this issue. Since the Secretary of State recused himself, the matter has been considered by the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis). He wrote to me on 15 October, and I was glad to hear that no ministerial decision had been taken on whether the matter should be called in. He criticised what he described as my claim that such a decision had been taken.
Of course, that was not my claim. It was a claim made by the deputy leader of Medway council, Councillor Alan Jarrett, in a meeting of Conservative councillors. His statement was that it had apparently been communicated to him by the Government that the proposal would be green-lighted and would not be called in. That led to another councillor present at the meeting, Councillor Peter Rodberg, leaving the Conservative group and joining me in UKIP. He says—and this is borne out by another councillor who has spoken to me, and who remains a Conservative—that at the end of the meeting, after the councillors had been told that the Government would green-light the proposal, Councillor Peter Hicks, who represents Strood Rural, said that they should keep quiet about it until after the election.
It was a pleasure to learn from the Minister that he was dealing with the issue of the call-in properly. He clearly recognises that he is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, and—at least in terms of the time that he has already devoted to the issue and the correspondence that he has issued—he appears to be performing his duties with diligence. His most recent letter was written on 8 December to Councillor Rodney Chambers, the leader of Medway council. I understand that since this Government have been in office no more than a dozen applications have been called in each year, whereas under the last Government about 30 a year were called in, but I am not aware of any precedent for such a letter.
The Minister wrote asking for Medway council’s views, and in particular the views of the planning committee that had considered the application on 4 September, on a number of representations that had been received, including representations from the RSPB and Natural England. Unfortunately the Minister did not attach the representations that he said he had attached to the letter, and, as far as I know, they have not been published. The letter is peculiar, however. It is not clear whether Medway council’s views were being sought, or the views of the planning committee, or both, and it is not clear how any conflict between them should be resolved. The planning committee meeting was, of course, on the record, so the extent to which it has considered—or, one suspects, not considered—the matters that it should have considered should have been made clear either in its decision notice or in the record of that meeting. I therefore question the credibility and reliability of any ex post facto justifications that Medway council may now produce for its decision, and any statement in which it purports to have abided by the national planning policy framework.
Given that letter, given that at least three of the criteria for call-in were clearly met, and given the statement by the deputy leader of the council that the proposal would be green-lighted in the light of communications that he at least believed were taking place within the Government or among those who he thought could speak for them in respect of there not being a call-in, I think it is clear that the safest and, indeed, the only appropriate option is for the Government to call in the application, appoint an inspector, and give proper consideration to what is, in my view, an incredibly damaging application. This application would result in the pulling together of several villages into a single conglomeration, and would cause a site of special scientific interest to be almost completely built over, which would undermine the whole system of environmental protection in this country. It should now be considered by an inspector and then by the Secretary of State, and, hopefully, turned down as a result.
Two hundred years ago Britain and the United States of America were at war, and had been for more than two years. Christmas Eve is the 200th anniversary of the signing of a peace treaty to end the north American war of 1812-14. Since then our two great countries have been friends and close allies, which has served us well through good as well as difficult times. However, as far as I can ascertain, the anniversary of the treaty of Ghent is not being commemorated either in the United Kingdom or in the United States.
Next year there will be huge commemorations to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, at which Napoleon was finally defeated, and every year we have Trafalgar day to mark the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Two great battles that shaped European history are taught in our schools, so why has the north American war, which took place in the years between Trafalgar and Waterloo and which shaped British history and the history of north America, been airbrushed from the history that is taught to our children?
Had the United States won the 1812-14 war, there would not be a proud Commonwealth country called Canada today. Fortunately, our Canadian cousins recognise the huge importance of what was delivered by the treaty of Ghent, but successive British Governments and the education establishment—by omission—stand accused of dereliction of duty in ignoring it in the school history curriculum. It would be an insult to the memory of those who fought for Britain—British soldiers and sailors and the loyalist population living in British north America —if the British Parliament did not recognise the 200th anniversary, so in their honour I am doing what I can today to put on the official record that this important moment in our nation’s history has been raised in the House of Commons.
I can further report that on Monday evening this week, at my instigation, a commemorative dinner was held in the House of Lords hosted by Lord Clark of Windermere with two guest speakers from the US embassy, Brigadier General Dieter Bareihs, defence attaché of the US air force, and Elizabeth Dibble, deputy chief of mission. It was a modest event with just 20 people drawn from both Houses. We had toasts to Her Majesty the Queen and the President of the United States, and to UK-USA relations past, present and future. Thus the 200th anniversary was commemorated, with most admitting that they had not hitherto been aware of the war of 1812-14, and nor had I until last year when I stumbled across knowledge of it during a visit to Canada with the Colchester military wives choir, who sang at the Canadian international military tattoo, at which cameo scenes from battles of 1813 were staged between the main events.
This prompted me to hold an Adjournment debate on 25 June this year entitled “History Curriculum: North American War, 1812-14”. I have also pursued at education questions why this war does not feature in the history curriculum. I will not repeat today what I have put on the record previously, but instead I will concentrate on the signing of the peace treaty in what is today Belgium on Christmas eve 200 years ago. As ever, I am grateful to the House of Commons Library for its assistance, specifically Mr Paul Lester and Mr John Prince.
I intend to talk about this later, but is the hon. Gentleman aware of the excellent book by Andrew Lambert called “The Challenge”, which deals in particular with the naval element of the 1812-14 war, in which the Royal Navy sank the whole US navy?
I am not aware of that book, but I am aware of the equally wonderful book by the TV journalist Peter Snow about when British forces burnt down the White House and other aspects of the war of 1812-14.
Following the signing of the treaty of Ghent, it was ratified by the Government and signed by the King on 30 December—or perhaps by the Prince Regent; I have not been able to confirm which. The ratifications of the treaty were exchanged in Washington on 17 February 1815. Hansard, volume 30, columns 209-218, headed “Treaty of Peace with America”, records that the treaty, when fully ratified and exchanged, was presented to Parliament by Lord Castlereagh on 16 March 1815.
It is fascinating to read the proceedings, and to observe that the treaty was printed in full, broken down into 11 separate articles, with a preamble commencing as follows:
“His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, desirous of terminating the war which has unhappily subsisted between the two countries, and of restoring, upon principles of perfect reciprocity, peace, friendship, and good understanding between them, have for that purpose”—[Official Report, 16 March 1815; Vol. 30, c. 209-10.]—
and which continues with a list of the representatives of the two countries delegated to reach an agreement to end the war which had been declared by the USA on Britain in June 1812. Among the five Americans was John Quincy Adams; 11 years later, he become President of the United States.
We are currently commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first world war which started in August 1914. Some 100 years before, in August 1814, British forces, among them the East Essex Regiment, burnt down the White House. That was the last time that mainland USA had been invaded by a foreign power. We quite rightly commemorate the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the battle of Waterloo in 1815. Now, with the 200th anniversary of the peace treaty which brought to an end the north American war of 1812-14 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom, I urge the Government to prevail on those responsible for the history curriculum in our schools to include this war, which occurred in the same period as those two battles, and on the education establishment to give an explanation as to why it currently ignores it.
I enjoy the Christmas Adjournment debate because it gives us a chance to raise diverse subjects that are of concern to us. I want to raise two subjects that might look very different but in fact have a link from the national to the international. In questions to the Leader of the House today, and earlier this week in questions concerning Iraq, I asked why Britain had just announced that it was going to build a new military base in Bahrain. I have also just tabled an early-day motion on the subject. It will be the first new base to be built anywhere in the world by Britain for a very long time. It is not just an extension of the existing naval facilities; it is a new base. The details are slowly beginning to emerge, and it appears that Bahrain is buying a British flag to go on the base and is indeed paying for quite a lot of it.
Following the announcement, the British ambassador to Bahrain spoke at a business meeting last week at which he assured the business men—I should imagine that they were indeed all men—that Britain was aware of the improving human rights situation and democratic processes in Bahrain, and that it was therefore an act of choice for Britain to build the new military base there. Yesterday, a press conference was held in the House of Lords. It was excellently chaired by Lord Avebury of the parliamentary human rights group. It was attended by a considerable number of people who had been exiled from Bahrain. Some were political exiles, others had relatives in prison there. A number of lawyers were also present, and they explained exactly what the prison conditions were like.
The assertion that human rights in Bahrain are somehow improving is bizarre beyond belief. If anyone doubts that, I would refer them to an excellent article in The Guardian on 20 October by Maryam al-Khawaja, in which she describes how her family have been imprisoned in Bahrain and how she has tried to get them out. They are in prison because they had been protesting about the lack of democratic rights in Bahrain, the systematic discrimination against the opposition there and the interference in Bahraini affairs by Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Bahraini Government.
It is incumbent on our Government at the very least to come to the House and make a statement telling us why the base is being built, from where they are getting their information that human rights in Bahrain are improving when clearly they are not, and why they think that our approving of the regime—from the Formula 1 race to this—is somehow going to improve the human rights situation there.
In a telling section of her article, Maryam said the thing that would have the greatest influence on improving human rights in Bahrain would be the influence of the British and United States Governments, if they chose to exercise it. They have chosen not to exercise it, however; they have chosen to do the exact opposite because that fits their geopolitical view of the world.
We are, of course, also a major arms supplier to Bahrain. We have even sent anti-personnel equipment to Bahrain that has been used to suppress demonstrations and used against demonstrators. It does not do much for the image of the United Kingdom when people are being oppressed and beaten with equipment that has been supplied by this country, assisting the police in oppressing human rights and demonstrators.
Behind all that lies the huge influence of Saudi Arabia, which went into Bahrain with military force in order to support the Government there. The human rights record of Saudi Arabia is beyond appalling—there are public executions and very few rights for women—yet it remains a massive arms export market for British products. That is why, when we discussed earlier the anti-corruption plan, I specifically raised the running sore of the way in which the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, suspended the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the corruption surrounding the al-Yamamah arms contract, which was worth £2 billion in sales to Saudi Arabia.
We talk about corruption around the world, and about human rights around the world. It is true that we cannot change everything, and that we have limited powers, but we can send signals. The signal sent by opening a base in a country that systematically abuses human rights and by selling arms to a Government who we know abuse human rights is absolutely the wrong one. We could do something rather different and rather better. I hope that when we come back in the new year we will have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s decision on the base and the associated issue of the arms trade. Of course, it is part of the strategy that our Government adopt internationally, but I would have thought that the experience of the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq—the cost in human life, both of the Iraqi and Afghan people, and of British and American soldiers, and the damage to our own civil liberties and standing in the world—would lead us to think a little more carefully about spending such sums on a military presence around the world. We could be using that money so much better.
The second part of what I want to say relates to how Government money is spent. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) has just announced the local government spending settlement, and he kept saying, in answer to many questions, that the way forward for each local authority was to grow its business base to grow its income. That is fine, and I am sure every local authority would like to do that, but the reality is that more than half of all local government expenditure comes from central Government grant. That is not likely to change in a big hurry, unless there is a massive change in the whole taxation system in this country, and I do not see anybody introducing that in the near future. Local government is dependent on central Government grant every year. It comes in many forms—direct grant, special grants, special services and so on—but in essence local government is dependent on that.
Under this Government there has been a huge cut in the local government grant, which has affected most local authorities, but it is not a universal cut. The great cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, and all the London boroughs, have had massive, disproportionate cuts, almost directly related to the level of need and poverty that the people of those boroughs experience. By the end of the financial year 2015-16, Islington, my borough, will have had half of its money cut under this Government, yet it faces the same level of demand—nay, it faces an increased level of demand and need, because the borough has a bigger population. Some 40% of our children live in a degree of poverty. There are huge needs and there is a huge wish by the local authority to be able to meet those needs and the adult social care needs, but it will not have the wherewithal to do it. I appeal to the Government to carry out an audit on levels of poverty in this country and to start to think about how we allocate expenditure based on the crying needs of many people, particularly children growing up in inner-city areas.
Like all of London, my area suffers a housing crisis. The local authority is doing its best to build council housing, either directly or in partnership with housing associations, and to ensure that it does not go down the road of the Government’s policy of charging 80% of market rent for social housing but remains with the original affordable formula of local authority rents. However, the council is not going to be able to solve the housing crisis very quickly, and the issue we face is in the private rented sector, which comprises about a third of my constituency housing.
Despite everything the Government say, rent levels are increasing fast. The security of tenure is limited—it is usually six months but sometimes a year in an assured shorthold tenancy. There is little security at the end of those six months and no security if the person has had the temerity to complain to the environmental health service about the conditions they are in. The rent levels are so high that they are way beyond the level of the benefit cap, which, sadly, Parliament voted through, and that means that when it goes beyond the ability of families to pay the rent, they will be forced to move away from the borough. The families want to remain in the borough and their children want to remain in local schools, so many children are having horrendous long journeys every day in the hope that they will be able to get back into the borough and get a council house in the future. The situation is cruel, disruptive and damaging to the community. The lack of regulation in the private rented sector is enabling speculative private landlords to make vast amounts of money. This Parliament is unlikely to bring in any kind of regulation of the private rented sector; it will be a job for the next Parliament.
The proportion of private rented homes is very high in my constituency and in a number of other areas in London, as it is in one or two big cities, but nationally it is going up very fast. By the end of the next Parliament, more than a quarter of the people in the UK will be living in the private rented sector. It is unbelievable that in the next Parliament there will not be regulation of the private rented sector to give longer, more secure tenancies, rights for tenants and, above all, control of rents, so that we bring an end to excessive rents and the evictions that follow.
I wish everyone a very happy Christmas, but I also think of the misery of children being homeless, unsure of their future and living in very poor conditions. It is unnecessary in the fourth richest country in the world that this degree of insecurity and poverty exists. We can and should do something about it.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise an issue of great importance to my constituents: the rail service between Chelmsford and Liverpool Street.
We have a problem with the railway because, by the historic nature of its original build, it is only one track up the line and one track down, and it is impossible to expand it to two tracks because of where the track was positioned in the first place. We are relieved that, in the next five years, Network Rail will be investing £149 million in improving the whole of the Great Eastern main line. In his autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer embraced the Great Eastern taskforce recommendations, which will see £476 million invested in improvements to the rail network.
However, in the short term, there is a problem. If one looks at the reliability figures over the past six months between April and the beginning of November, one sees that they have fluctuated each month, between 92.6% on a good day and as low as 87.5% on a bad day. Worryingly, Chelmsford station is, according to the Office of Rail Regulation, the second busiest station in the region. More than 8,500 people commute daily to London to work, so they are reliant on that service to get to and from work each day. Since late November, we have been seeing far too many disruptions to the line, which have caused severe problems for those who need to get to work or to travel to London or elsewhere along the network.
Sadly, one reason, which is not unique to the line, is the increased number of suicides that are occurring on our railways. It is a tragedy not only for those who commit suicide and their family and friends, but for society at large. It is, as Members will recognise, a difficult issue to overcome, but more needs to be done.
There are three top causes for the disruptions to our railways from 1 December to 15 December. First, 22% of the total delay is due to technical fleet delays, which basically means broken down rolling stock and engines. That has accounted for 23% of the rail cancellations. The second reason is what is known in the trade as possession overruns, which is a serious and totally unforgiveable issue. It is when Network Rail overruns on the engineering work it has been doing over the weekend. Of course, we all welcome the engineering work being done, because it shows investment in the track and overhead electrification cables to improve and enhance the service, but to my mind there is no excuse if, due to bad planning, it overruns into the rush hour on a Monday morning, causing catastrophic disruptions for commuters trying to get to work.
The third reason is track faults and broken rails, which account for 11% of total delay minutes and 9% of the total calculations. Those three categories alone caused 45% of the disruptions to the service in the first two weeks of December.
When we talk about broken-down trains, the company that gets most blame is Greater Anglia, which provides the service, but in most of the cases in this two-week period it was not Greater Anglia trains that were breaking down but freight trains, which then caused the back-ups and backlogs in the service. That is why I want far quicker action on electrification of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton line so that more freight trains can use that electrified service and will not have to come down through Chelmsford into London and around north-west London to go out again towards the midlands and the north of England.
I also want to see new trains for Greater Anglia routes or for whoever else gets the franchise to run the service in 2016. I am particularly pleased that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Transport have accepted that a commitment to new rolling stock and trains will be part of the franchise tender document published next year, before the award of a new franchise from 2016. We have now become one of the parts of the rail network with the oldest rolling stock. It is at least 30 years old and has all the problems that 30-year-old rolling stock suffers from, particularly with the reliability of the engines.
I am also keen that more should be done by Network Rail to put measures in place to ensure that when it plans its timetable for badly needed engineering work—considerable engineering work has gone on on the line for the past 10 to 15 years, with an upgrade of the track from Liverpool Street through to Chelmsford and north up to Colchester and the replacement and modernisation of the electrification cables—it must do so in such a way that when Monday morning dawns it has completed the work planned for that weekend and the rail network can get back to running a reliable and proper service for hard-pressed passengers who have to get to work. I have spoken to Network Rail and appreciate that it understands the problem and the need to get its timetables and programmes right, but it cannot simply talk about it. It must ensure that that actually happens.
Commuters, whether they are in Chelmsford or elsewhere, do not pay cheaply for the service they get. I accept that in the past when British Rail was a nationalised industry, successive Governments, Conservative or Labour, always had investment in the rail network as one of the first cuts at their disposal when getting into financial problems. It was a false economy at the time, and since privatisation successive Governments—to be fair, the previous Labour Government did this too—have played catch-up to provide the investment. In this control period, 2014 to 2019, £38.5 billion is being spent by Network Rail to upgrade our rail network, just as the previous Labour Government, in control period 4, invested billions of pounds. The only difference is that one of the main challenges for the rail network now involves greater electrification. In 13 years, the previous Government provided an extra 10 miles of electrification whereas this Government will provide 856 extra miles. The hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench, who I do not think has ever been a transport spokesman, is shaking his head, but I assure him that those figures are right.
Although I was not a transport spokesperson, I worked for Network Rail and I am a member of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association. I worked on a project to build a new electrified line that was 15 miles in length, so I am sorry that the former Transport Minister is not quite aware of all the facts.
I am impressed by the hon. Gentleman’s qualifications, but I will tell him, and he can check the facts later—surprisingly, his own Front-Bench team have never questioned them—that under the Labour Government there were 10 extra miles of electrification in their 13 years. Under this coalition Government there are at present 856 extra miles—not replacing existing electrified line, but over and above, new electrification of our railways. Before Christmas if he has time or in the new year, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be able to check his facts and write back to me confirming the accuracy of my figures.
I think we have consensus now. On that happy note, I wish all the staff who work so diligently and hard on our behalf throughout the year a very happy Christmas, and Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you a very happy Christmas.
I want to raise the case of Shaker Aamer and make a plea for Government action to secure his release from Guantanamo Bay. Shaker is the last British resident of Guantanamo.
The story of Shaker is simple. He was born in December 1968 in Medina in Saudi Arabia. He left home aged 17, lived in America for a year and travelled to many countries before making his home in the United Kingdom. In 1996, he was granted the legal right to remain in the UK and worked as a translator for a firm of solicitors. His application for British citizenship was in progress when Shaker, his wife and young family decided to travel to Afghanistan to work on charitable projects. Notably, he was supporting a girls school and digging wells. He arrived in June 2001 to join his friend Moazzam Begg and to share a house in Kabul.
After 9/11, in October 2001, the US and the UK started bombing Afghanistan and Shaker sent his family on to safety. As he tried to follow them, he was betrayed by Afghani villagers to the Northern Alliance. He was tortured and then sold for a bounty of $5,000 to the US. He was taken to the “dark” prison in Kabul, where he suffered appalling torture and was transferred to Bagram and Kandahar for further abuse. Shaker states that he was subjected to cruel torture and coercive interrogation, and MI5 and MI6 agents were present. In February 2002 he was among the first detainees to be transported to Guantanamo, in the orange suits, the chains, the ear muffs, the shackles and the blindfolds. There he continued to suffer acts of cruelty, torture and deprivation.
Shaker was among the prisoners who protested against the harsh conditions and he soon became a respected spokesperson for the other detainees. Following his role in a major hunger strike in June and July 2005, he organised a prisoners council. All the prisoners’ requests were denied, and to silence him Shaker was put into solitary confinement for five years. Articles 5 and 9 of the universal declaration of human rights state:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”,
yet Shaker’s lawyer in the US, Brent Mickum, stated:
“Shaker is still being tortured down there. Shaker has been jailed as long as anyone, undergoing regular torture from beating to food and sleep deprivation. There isn’t a shred of evidence against him.”
Shaker has now been held without charge for over a decade. President Obama promised to close Guantanamo by January 2010 and to restore the US to the rule of law. However, Guantanamo still remains open, with the remaining detainees losing hope of an end to their ordeal, in which all their human rights have been denied. Shaker Aamer was cleared for release by the Bush Administration in 2007. In January 2010, the Obama taskforce review reaffirmed his status. In August 2007, the UK Government recognised Shaker’s right to return as a long-term resident and requested his release to the UK. This request was strenuously repeated on subsequent occasions. In July 2010, the Prime Minister stated that the coalition Government would continue to request his release.
Shaker’s family live in Battersea and they are British citizens. They were represented formerly by Martin Linton and now by the current Member of Parliament for Battersea, both of whom have worked assiduously to secure his release. All he is asking for is to return to his family to live with his four young children back home in London. It is beyond belief, frankly, that he is still detained in Guantanamo, having been cleared twice. It is extremely hard for his family and friends to bear. He has done no wrong but has been greatly wronged by the shameful action of the US Government, unfortunately with some collusion originally by the UK Government. He has suffered cruel and inhuman treatment, including many years incarcerated in solitary confinement in a cell of 6 feet by 8 feet. Shaker’s mental and physical health is a cause of great concern. Following recent visits from his lawyers, it was reported that he is “gradually dying in Guantanamo” from his many medical problems and from the years of abuse.
I ask the Prime Minister to pick up the telephone again to Washington to ask that Shaker be released. He is innocent, he has been cleared twice, and he should be returned home.
I was happy to be with my hon. Friend yesterday delivering a letter about this to Downing street. I am sure he agrees that if President Obama can, correctly, release the remaining members of the Miami five and show a rapprochement with Cuba, he could release somebody who is in prison in Cuba whom he has the power to release, and do it quickly.
It is perfectly open to the President to do this now. There is a window of opportunity that may close in January as a result of the changes in Congress, so now is the time for him to act. A number of MPs from all political parties have signed a plea to urge the Prime Minister to pick up the phone to Washington to ensure that Shaker is returned home to his family by Christmas.
I want to raise two other things. This Christmas will the last Christmas when my constituents and many others in the London borough of Hillingdon will have the opportunity to use the services of Randalls store in Uxbridge, because it is closing. It has served our community over generations and decades. I thank the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), his predecessors, his family and the staff for the service they have provided. I wish him and all the staff well in the future. The store will be greatly missed as a local community facility.
This morning I visited pupils at Harlington community school, a local secondary school where a group of sixth formers had, of their own volition, collected parcel after parcel of food to be provided to Hillingdon food bank. I wish them a very happy Christmas. I take pride in what they have done and their generosity as young people working hard on behalf of the community. I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all Members and staff a happy Christmas.
There can be no more appropriate moment to call Sir John Randall.
One of the regrets I will have when I leave this House will be not to work alongside—at least in parliamentary terms; I may be able to do so in an extra-parliamentary way—my comrade in arms, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).
This will be my last Christmas Adjournment debate. Like all good things, it must come to an end. Yesterday in the Division Lobby, I rather got the impression that the time had come to leave, because as I approached the desk to register my vote, I pulled out my Oyster card. I think that sums up the fact that I am getting ready to go.
I remember these Adjournment debates with great pleasure. When the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was Deputy Leader of the House, he used to make very amusing wind-up speeches in which he gave all the speakers roles from various television sit-coms, such as “’Allo ’Allo!”, “Dad’s Army”, and perhaps appropriately, “Are You Being Served?” As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has said, I was usually portrayed as Young Mr Grace. I think the Prime Minister must have read some of those Hansard reports, because he used to refer to me as Young Mr Grace. I do not think that was necessarily a compliment, but I will take it as such.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, unfortunately the family business is closing its doors. I want to thank the staff who have worked there over the years. When I go around canvassing or talking to constituents and they mention the store, it is usually not the quality of the products that they talk about—although they do mention the things they have bought—but the wonderful staff. The longest-serving member of staff has been there 42 years and I assure the House that I will do whatever I can to help those who want to find another job. I will do my very best.
Having witnessed the experiences of those looking for work elsewhere, I am shocked at how the retail world has changed. The sort of employment being offered now, including zero-hours contracts, makes it quite scary for people going into the retail business. All of us, as consumers, have to take some blame for that, because it is consumer pressure that leads to margins being cut and everybody looking at how they can do that, and I am afraid that employment is one of the affected areas. Although I can blame online services and lots of other things, we all have to take responsibility for that.
On the issue of long-serving members of staff who have probably done more for my constituents than I have ever done, I want to mention my secretary, Mrs Delma Beebe, who has been with me since I entered the House in 1997. She started working in the House in 1963, in the Refreshment Department. In 1967 she took on a Member of Parliament and I am her latest, and probably her last, MP. She is the person with whom my constituents have most interaction. If it was not for her, I am not sure that I would be here today, because they may well have booted me out.
One of my constituents, Mr Conrad Tokarczyk, has raised with me the issue of step-free access in underground stations, and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and I have been working on that, together with Deborah King. She is another constituent of mine who is always coming up with good and interesting ideas, although I do not always agree with them. For instance, she wants job sharing for MPs, but I do not understand how that would work with votes. Anyway, step-free access is very important and there are some innovative ideas about how businesses could provide sponsorship. Money could also be taken off a passenger’s Oyster card—to return to my favourite subject—on a voluntary basis and given to their particular station in order for it to improve its facilities. Transport for London should find out how much the necessary improvements will cost, because then we would know the sum we are working towards.
One of the things I have been very pleased to have played a small part in during my time in the House is the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, because I did some work on marine issues. I was delighted to hear the recent announcement on fisheries. The anglers and I do not always agree—they have different policies from mine on cormorants and goosanders—but I have spoken to Members and an ex-Member, Martin Salter, and they are disappointed that there are not enough measures relating to the preservation of sea bass stocks. We should address that.
I know that not only the House but somebody from Private Eye who likes to follow these debates and regards my speeches as among the most boring things that happen in this place would be disappointed if I did not mention birds in the remaining minutes of my speech. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) did not take my intervention earlier, because I was going to welcome him to the side of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I remember having a heated discussion with him in the Members’ Lobby some time ago. He had said during a Westminster Hall debate that houses were more important than birds, so I was going to congratulate him on his Damascene conversion in the past few months. Is it not refreshing to find UKIP actually speaking on behalf of west African migrants? We should all welcome that.
I want to talk about a success story, which Members from both sides of the House can take pleasure in. The numbers of bittern—the bog bumper, as it is also known—have been increasing. It is a marvellous bird. People do not need to go to incredibly special places to see them. In the winter, not far away at the London Wetland centre in Barnes, people can, if they are lucky, see these elusive denizens of the marsh. In 1997, there were only 11 booming males. They are called that because of their display call, which can be heard for miles.
How does it go?
I do not think that Hansard had better try to do it.
In 2014, there are now 140 boomers, or singing males, over 61 sites. The great thing is that that is all the result not only of a bittern project, but of making sure that the reed beds are in a good way. I am particularly pleased about the reed beds not only for the bitterns, but for other denizens of the reed beds that are doing really well. One bird that I perhaps feel a great affinity for, and which is also doing well, is the bearded tit. [Laughter.]
On that note, as always at this time of year, we like to thank everybody who works in the House. Because I worked with them for a long time, I particularly want to refer to the people in the Government Whips Office. I have previously mentioned those at the very top of it—Mark Kelly, Roy Stone and Kate Wilson—but I also want to mention Claire Scott and the others in the administration unit.
Finally, I must mention one person whom I have never referred to in Parliament before, but who has done as much for me as anybody else in this place—my wife Kate, and I will also mention our children Peter, David and Elizabeth. If it had not been for their support, I would have been even grumpier than I normally am.
Several hon. Members
Order. May I just say that Members should aim to speak for seven minutes? Otherwise somebody’s time will be cut, which I do not want to happen.
I assure you that I will keep to that limit, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Every 15 minutes, someone in the UK is told that they are losing or have permanently lost their sight. That leaves them with a sense of bewilderment, and they often ask themselves what will happen next. In January 2011, I underwent an emergency operation to repair a torn retina in my right eye. If the operation had not taken place, I would have lost the sight in that eye. Back in September, I again experienced the same trauma in my other eye, which also required surgery. A possible side effect of the retina vitrectomy operations that I received is a cataract. In my case, the operations caused a partial one in the right eye and, more recently, a full one in my left eye.
As a result of my first experience, I became actively involved with several sight-related issues in Parliament. I spoke in an Adjournment debate on the use of Avastin in age-related macular degradation. I campaigned for oral warnings on silent hybrid vehicles, and I sought to change the law so that an attack on a guide dog is considered as an attack on its owner. I welcomed the opportunity to open the Optegra eye hospital in Colindale in my constituency. I have urged constituents to have regular eye and sight tests, and I have lobbied Barnet clinical commissioning group to ensure there are enough funds to cover the demand for cataract operations.
I want to raise the issue of eye clinic liaison officers. Across England, ECLOs help patients and their families to understand their diagnosis when someone loses their sight. They provide information and support, including referrals to other services. However, only 30% of eye clinics in the UK currently have some kind of qualified support.
My constituents in Hendon are covered by the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. Three hospitals in the area have an ophthalmology department—Barnet hospital, Edgware community hospital and the Royal Free hospital. First, Edgware community hospital does not have an ECLO, but it is a very small clinic. Although I would not necessarily call for an ECLO to be based there, it should certainly have access to one. Secondly, there is no qualified sight loss adviser service at Barnet hospital, although early intervention support is provided by the Hertfordshire Society for the Blind, to which we are grateful. Finally, as far as I am aware, the Royal Free hospital does not have a sight loss adviser service.
During my regular visits to Moorfields eye hospital, I have witnessed the pressure that ophthalmology departments are under. During 2011-12 in England alone, the number of out-patient appointments for ophthalmology totalled 6.8 million, making it the third largest hospital service in terms of attendances. The demand for ophthalmology services will continue because the number of people with sight loss is set to increase.
Recent research conducted with health care professionals in Wales has shown that sight loss advisers reduce the number of follow-up appointments through the immediate and ongoing support that they offer, which saves the NHS money in the longer term. On three occasions, I have sat in hospitals on my own facing the reality that I could lose my sight—a prospect that is frightening for anyone. Sight loss has a huge impact on the lives of those who suffer it and on their families. I believe that the expansion of ECLOs across the country would be a comparatively small financial price to pay for a service whose benefit cannot be measured in monetary terms.
According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, 66% of registered blind or partially sighted people of working age are not in employment. Two-thirds of working-age or employed people with sight loss experience restrictions in accessing and fully participating in employment. That is a great loss on many levels. Unsurprisingly, almost half public in another recent poll expected that emotional counselling would be available if they discovered that they were going to become blind. Sadly, that is not the case.
I find it ironic that I stand here today, knowing that tomorrow I and several hundred other people will again face the prospect of losing our eyesight without any clinical support. Some people will have corneal replacements, some will have vitreo-retinal procedures and some will have glaucoma operations or canaloplasty. I expect to have cataract operations on both eyes. As I said, cataracts are a side effect of retina vitrectomy operations. There is now a clinical need to operate on both my eyes.
In conclusion, it is clear that sight loss can have a devastating and profound impact on a person’s life, and it is shocking that people are left to face it on their own. The general public expect practical and emotional support to be available to people who are losing their sight. No one should have to return home on their own not understanding their sight condition, not knowing what support is out there and left isolated. Sight loss advisers provide a bridge between health and social care, and ensure that patients receive the support and information that they need to be independent and to learn the skills that they need in order to adapt to losing their sight. The service is cost-effective and benefits the clinic by ensuring that patients receive the necessary support, which results in clinicians being able to focus on treating and diagnosing patients. Today, I want to join the call of the RNIB for every eye department in the UK to have access to a sight loss adviser and for those vital posts to be funded permanently. We need to ensure that no one is left to face sight loss on their own.
I echo the last point made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord). It is right that that sort of investment is made because it provides a saving and makes a huge difference to people’s ability to live with the consequences of their eye problem. I commend him for what he said.
Before the House rises for Christmas, I wish to raise several issues. The first concerns my constituent Lauren Dobbe, who is 14 years old. On Tuesday, I presented a petition to this House on her behalf to draw attention to her case. She has gastroparesis, and it took a lot of time and a lot of tests to get that diagnosis. The condition means that she is constantly nauseous, finds it hard to eat and is in pain for 24 hours every day of the week. Because of her condition, she now has to be fed by a tube. Her teenage years are being marred by this.
The good news is that a procedure is available that involves fitting a gastric stimulator. It is not a cure, but it does manage the symptoms. The procedure has been recommended to Lauren by no fewer than four specialists. The bad news is that, despite the specialist opinions, NHS England, which is responsible for funding the procedure, is playing a game of pass the parcel with Lauren and her family. It sought a second opinion, but that endorsed the four specialist opinions that had been offered. It then tried to refer the matter to a hospital in London, but it turned out that the hospital could not provide the procedure.
NHS England is now saying that the family must reapply because the procedure can be provided only in a different region. However, NHS England is one legal entity. It does not have separate legal bodies from one region to another. Its decision to sub-divide itself for administrative convenience should not become a barrier to people getting treatments. My request is simple: NHS England needs to take a common-sense view of the case and ensure that the procedure is provided, because it will make a huge difference to the life of a young lady in my constituency and give her back her teenage years.
I turn to another matter, relating to the care sector. Over the past year I have had the privilege of chairing two commissions, one with Demos looking at the future of residential care and the other with the Local Government Information Unit looking at home care. Both commissions have independent experts with a wide range of talents, and on the subject of care workers both have come to broadly similar conclusions: that the low pay, low skill and low status of workers in the sector undermines care and the continuity of care. As a result of the low pay, the sector has among the highest turnover rates of any sector of our economy. As our society ages and more and more families are having to juggle work with both raising children and looking after parents, a failure to address those weaknesses in our care system will simply hold back growth in our economy.
Both commissions have made some proposals to make care a career of esteem. They say that there need to be better and clearer training standards and a licence to practise. It is unacceptable that we recognise the need for bouncers and hairdressers to be licensed, but when someone comes into our own homes to administer the most intimate of care, we do not think they need a licence to practise.
I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will feed it back to the Treasury and particularly to HMRC that they must redouble their efforts to pursue and prosecute cowboy care agencies that exploit their staff by paying less than the national minimum wage. I hope that he will also urge his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to lift their ban on the Care Quality Commission conducting themed inspections of councils’ commissioning practices, which sometimes condone that.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) referred to mental health, and I want to raise a concern about the current international negotiations on the UN sustainable development goals, which make good references to the importance of physical health but do not give the same prominence to mental health. I hope that the Minister might enter some discussions with Ministers in the Department for International Development to ensure that the Government’s policy of parity of esteem as between physical and mental health is reflected in our international stance on global health goals.
I turn now to several constituency points. I start with a 1960s office block in North Cheam, which is empty and has become increasingly derelict over many years and is an eyesore that many of my constituents would love to see demolished. There have been many delays to its redevelopment, despite the best efforts of councillors and local planning officers. One of the current causes of delay is that one unit is still occupied, by the bookies Ladbrokes. There is growing frustration in the neighbourhood that the company is holding up progress on the much needed demolition and replacement of the building. There is a perception that it is gambling on the prospect of getting a better pay-off to quit the building and give over its lease. I hope that Ladbrokes understands that that is bad for its reputation and for the economic development of North Cheam.
Then there is Thameslink. One has only to look at Twitter, or indeed at my mailbag, to understand that every day commuters from my constituency suffer real misery because of the uncertainty about trains running on time and about their reliability. As a fellow south-west London MP, I hope the Minister will join me in asking Transport Ministers to take a hard look at the performance of the Thameslink franchise.
Finally, I want to raise the issue of consultations. The consultation on renal services in south-west London is running over the Christmas period and will end on 9 January, and many people tell me that they were unaware that it was taking place. I hope that the Minister will raise with NHS England the need to extend the consultation period.
I hope that at this time of year we can recognise the amazing work done by staff in this place, whether they work directly for us or for others, and the amazing work that people do in our constituencies. I thank the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) for paying tribute to his wife and family—he spoke for many of us who appreciate the support that family gives us. I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all other hon. Members, a happy Christmas.
I am delighted to take part in this Christmas Adjournment debate. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) said that it was his last, and it will be my last as well. I think it is also my first—I may have been missing something all these years, but I am delighted to take part now. I will start by wishing Members and staff here a happy Christmas, as well as members of my family and office staff in my constituency who work exceptionally hard on my behalf.
I wish to raise two topics. The first is the Hazel Grove bypass, the A555. I raised this in my maiden speech in 1997, so it is not an issue that has just arisen on the street corner. There is a bit of history to this because back in the 1930s a dotted line on a map showed that there would be a bypass around Hazel Grove. Plenty has happened since I came to the House in 1997, and the most significant event was the south-east Manchester multi-modal study, which was an attempt to analyse the transport needs of the southern part of the Greater Manchester conurbation. Its report stated that improvements were needed to rail and bus services, cycle provision and also for pedestrians, and that that was essential if we were to reduce pollution and congestion in the area. The report went on to state that even when all those things had been done, a Hazel Grove bypass would still be needed. Given that the study was set up to prove the opposite of that, it confirmed what I and my constituents had been saying and campaigning on for years.
For eight years after the publication of the south-east Manchester multi-modal study—commonly called SEMMMS—there were frequent attempts to get action on that road. I led a number of public campaigns and took every opportunity to raise the matter in the House and with Ministers. Not a lot happened in those eight years in practical terms, but I am delighted that much progress has been made since May 2010—I do not choose that date arbitrarily; it is a result of the coalition Government’s approach and the way they were ready to listen to the case put forward by my constituents. There has been a consultation and 70% of my constituents supported the road, with only 10% opposing it. The first phase of the road now has full funding and planning permission, and hearings on compulsory purchase have been held. The contractor has been appointed and I am delighted that phase 1 will start on site in March next year.
Today I am speaking in favour of phase 2 of the bypass. I am delighted about phase 1, which mainly runs through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter). He and I stood shoulder to shoulder on this campaign throughout those years, and the first phase will run from the A6 in Hazel Grove via Woodford to the Manchester airport interchange with the M56. However, for my constituents in Hazel Grove, Romiley, Bredbury and Woodley, the traffic, pollution, congestion, heavy goods vehicles and pressure on their daily lives will not be lifted or reduced by phase 1. Phase 2 is needed, and I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to convey to Ministers elsewhere the fact that we need the next step and an update on SEMMMS. The Stockport metropolitan design team and engineers will have finished work on phase 1 by early next year, so from April onwards they will be ready to begin work on phase 2. My plea is simply for the necessary £300,000 to be allocated for that vital task.
My second point relates to a more immediate and perhaps smaller scale event that may have wide consequences. There was a catastrophic house fire in Kennett drive in Bredbury in my constituency. It took place in a house that was built just over 10 years ago on an estate of 60 or so homes of the same character. Unexpectedly, the fire spread from one house to another, until four homes were completely destroyed. I am happy to report that there was no loss of life, although one firefighter was injured putting out the blaze.
The issue has highlighted the failure in the expected performance of the fire protection of those homes. Of course, when a house catches fire it is likely that there will be damage to that home. However, the design of all homes in this country is intended to be such that a house fire will not spread to adjacent property, at least not before the fire brigade can get there and get it under control. On this occasion, it was unable to achieve that and four homes, consisting of a whole block, were completely destroyed. As you can imagine, Mr Deputy Speaker, the residents in the remaining homes are very concerned about the implications for their homes. I have been working intensively with them, the fire authority and others to see what needs to be done.
The opinion of the fire brigade, as expressed to me by its fire prevention officer, is that there was a breakdown in the construction, and that what is called technically the “fire stopping” was not properly in place, which led to the spread of the fire through what was a timber-framed building with brick cladding, making it unstoppable. I have had meetings with the National House Builders Confederation, which provided the building regulation control and the guarantee to householders on which they rely. I have studied the Building Research Establishment’s reports on fires in similar buildings and I am currently pushing the NHBC to extend its investigations on site to ensure that other homes do not suffer from the same fault of defective fire stopping. I am sure the Minister will understand that residents will not be satisfied until they know precisely what happened, and whether it is likely to happen to their homes as well.
There is a wider point here. This type of construction is very widely used in the United Kingdom. Clearly, a fault has been revealed that needs to be examined and dealt with at national level. I have, over several weeks, put in a request to Mr Speaker for a full Adjournment debate on this topic. I hope, by raising it today, that I may have caught your ear as well, Mr Deputy Speaker, with the possibility of exploring the issue more fully and properly. With that, I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and others in the Chamber a very happy Christmas and a successful new year.
As I have done on many occasions in these Adjournment debates, I want to speak about my Cleethorpes constituency. I will focus on the wider local community of Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The central theme is something that applies to any provincial town represented in this House—one of identity.
Grimsby and Cleethorpes are in fact one town. We locals, of course, know where the boundaries lie and each town has a distinctive history. Those of us born in Cleethorpes are Meggies, whereas over the border they are Grimbarians. Councillors and MPs have the great privilege of getting around and meeting many different people who contribute to their local communities through voluntary groups, churches and the like. Only recently, I was privileged to attend services at St Margaret’s church in Laceby and All Saints church in Goxhill. After the service, chatting over a cup of tea, I realised how much local people put into their local communities. It then comes as a bit of a shock when TV programmes such as “Skint” on Channel 4, which has featured Grimsby in the past month, in many respects denigrate local communities and make them feel rather unwanted.
I do not intend to focus on the individuals who have occupied the programme’s storylines. They are characters who in slightly different circumstances could have been plucked from any part of the country. Some are struggling to come to terms with the world around them, others seem content with their lot yet, to most people’s eyes, are not achieving anything like their full potential, and others are struggling with drugs and alcohol.
Channel 4 has deservedly come under a barrage of local criticism. We cannot stop such programmes being made, but surely it is reasonable to ask whether they benefit anyone. Perhaps we kid ourselves that we are watching with the intention of finding solutions to the predicaments of the participants. The local media have reflected local opinion, which is overwhelmingly hostile, and not only to the programme makers, but to Channel 4 itself.
Although the Department for Communities and Local Government’s index of multiple deprivation statistics shows that the East Marsh ward in North-East Lincolnshire—that is where the programme was filmed—is classified as the second most deprived in England, it contains much that is good when it comes to community support, and it is communities that pull together feelings of mutual identity and provide for others. The widespread anger among local people about the one-sided “Skint” programme is fully justified, and the message has gone out very clearly from the local community: “Don’t come back. You will not be welcome.”
Last weekend I attended two events on consecutive evenings in the East Marsh ward. The first was the Christmas concert provided by the excellent Grimsby Philharmonic Society, at which the solo performer was Michael Dore, the Cleethorpes-born singer. The following evening, along with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), I attended the annual Salvation Army carol concert. It was notable that every time the admirable Ivan Stead, who always presides on such occasions, mentioned that we were on the East Marsh, or that here was yet another example of the community coming together, while also raising £400 for the mayor’s charity, a ripple of applause went around the hall. Clearly the community, not all of whom were East Marsh residents, were feeling rather sore about the programme and wanted to show some support.
The point that keeps coming through is identity. We are passing through a period when the electorate feel more and more remote from the political process, and the further we travel from Westminster, the more remote it can seem. I hope that the current debate about devolution to England will deliver English votes for English laws fairly quickly. However, as I mentioned to the Leader of the House when he announced his programme yesterday, I hope that we will have the opportunity to look over a slightly longer period at the structures and powers of local government, because they, too, have an essential role in community identity and in providing for local communities. It is essential that units of government, at whatever level, follow boundaries that people can identify with. If people feel no allegiance to their unit of government, we will not be wholly successful.
In my part of the world we lived through the disastrous local government reorganisation of the ’70s, with the creation of county Humberside. People felt no allegiance to it, so eventually it withered on the vine. Only last week the Scunthorpe Telegraph was again reporting that Hull city council is planning some sort of land-grab, in what appears to local people to be a reconfiguration that will recreate county Humberside. That will simply not work. Individuals need and value their sense of identity. It is not created by political boundaries, but if we can strengthen that sense of identity by creating administrative units that reflect local communities, we will all benefit.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I join others in wishing you, members of staff and all Members of the House a happy Christmas.
It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), and I echo entirely what he said about identity—in Stafford and Staffordshire, during difficult periods over the past few years, we have experienced that same sense of identity.
Yesterday, we heard the welcome news that the number of people out of work claiming jobseeker’s allowance had fallen in Stafford by 452 in 12 months. Stafford’s strengths are many—in engineering, especially energy, and in information technology, health services, defence and consumer chemicals—and signs of investment are everywhere. There is the substantial expansion of the Ministry of Defence base, to welcome two new Signals regiments in 2015; two new business parks; major developments in the town centre; Northfield village, which brings together a new health centre, extra care housing, a first-class dementia care home and a community centre; and the opening of Pencric in Penkridge, which is a superb example of extra care housing, with a mixture of homes to buy and houses for social rent.
Stafford borough and especially Stafford have also been clear about the need to build more homes to meet current and future needs—more than 10,000 of them—but in a planned way. Several developers have tried to break open a plan on which so much time and effort have been spent. Fortunately, thus far, it has been to no avail, but I urge the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make it clear that an agreed plan is an agreed plan and that efforts by developers immediately to throw it into the bin will not succeed.
After five and a half years, two Francis inquiries and a trust special administration, our hospital, now the county hospital, can finally focus on what my constituents and its excellent staff wish to do: deliver top-quality, safe care. I thank the Support Stafford Hospital group and many others for all they have done to get this far. The hospital is now part of the University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust. I believe that this coming together will bring both challenges and benefits. We will see benefits through increased investment in A and E, cancer and dialysis services, and refurbished wards and theatres, but the challenge will be to ensure that the trust makes best use of the county hospital for my constituents and others. The hospital is a tremendous asset, and our community campaign has managed to save its A and E and acute status and even to save it from closure, which some people feared might happen.
As we debated this morning, there is great pressure on A and E everywhere. In Stafford, we have a much improved A and E that is open 14 hours a day. Increasing that back up to 24 hours a day with paediatric cover will bring great benefits both to Stafford and the rest of the region, where hospitals are under pressure. The proposal for an overnight, doctor-led service at the county hospital from April is welcome and will help, but I will continue to argue for a return to 24/7 A and E until it happens, because it makes absolute sense and the cost is manageable.
My hon. Friend is being somewhat modest, because he omits to mention the tremendous work he has done for the hospital ever since he became a candidate. We should also mention the work of our hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash).
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. He was a doughty supporter as a Minister in the Department of Health, which we appreciated greatly.
A 24/7 A and E department would guarantee 24/7 access for children to paediatric emergency doctors. In the meantime, I and my constituents need assurances that any transfer of services will not happen unless independent experts say that the arrangements are safe.
Next year will see the review into consultant-led maternity services. Let me be clear: this must be properly carried out, as the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary have said. There can be no pre-ordained outcome. I have still heard no convincing explanation why our major European neighbours can run much smaller consultant-led units but we cannot, especially when, as with our county hospital, a hospital is part of a large trust that could surely provide such services on a network basis.
Our part of Staffordshire is tendering for cancer and end-of-life services. I understand the reasoning—a desire to integrate the services better to improve care and outcomes—but, as I have said before, I believe that this form of tender is not the right way to go about things. If there is a need for an integrator to help better joint working, let us search for an organisation to work alongside the providers; there is no need for the integrator to be the commissioner as well. It will simply add another layer of management. I therefore urge the Department, NHS England, Macmillan, which is involved, and the clinical commissioning groups to reconsider my proposal for an integrator that helps providers to work better together but does not actually commission the services.
Our libraries are at the heart of many of our local communities. Staffordshire has had a consultation on their future, and I welcome the county’s desire to keep all its libraries open, but the initial proposals for my constituency are flawed. The main towns in the county should all have a library in the top category—“library extra”. I simply cannot understand how Stafford and Cannock were not placed in this category, but Newcastle-under-Lyme, Burton, Lichfield and Tamworth were. That needs correcting. Penkridge is also a large and thriving community with an excellent library. As stated in the petition I presented here last week, it needs professional staffing—assisted, of course, by the volunteers who are very willing to support it. The other libraries in my constituency in Rising Brook and Holmcroft also need the support of professional staff.
Let me turn to other matters concerning my constituents. Nuisance telephone calls and copycat websites that pretend to be official, but charge people money unnecessarily are the bane of many constituents’ lives. I urge the Government to mount an education campaign to alert people to the free services and to work with search engines to ensure that the free Government services are always top of the listing.
Respite care funding is another issue. This Government have introduced more of it, which I welcome, but there is increasing need for people to have respite care. The millions of carers around the country depend on it.
I welcome the steps that the Minister for Schools has taken to improve schools funding for the underfunded counties and authorities around the country. In Staffordshire, however, we have not gone far enough, and there is a problem with the formula under which special care funding is calculated. I welcome the fact that the Minister has now included the county of Staffordshire within the 10 authorities where that is being investigated. General practice and health funding need looking at, too. The weighting of funding for older people is not sufficient, which certainly affects my constituency and my county.
Constituents have raised a number of other matters, often relating to older people and their treatment by pension funds and their tax treatment. A widow who had been married to a policeman who died in the course of his service has found that, having married again, she is not able to collect her pension. There seems to be some confusion about whether that should be the case. I have been told that it should not be under new regulations, but her experience is that she is unable to receive her widow’s pension.
I discovered last week from a constituent whose husband died more than 50 years ago—and she has not remarried—that she is not entitled to the transferable inheritance tax allowance on her property, whereas someone whose spouse had died more recently would be entitled to that transferable allowance on the estate. The estate effectively claims on both spouses, the original and the current, making two allowances. I believe that this amounts to some sort of age discrimination, which the Treasury could look into.
I would like to bring to the attention of the Department of Health the matter of retrospective care refunds. There was a problem a few years ago when families were overcharged for care. A process of refunding is going on, but it is taking too long, with bureaucratic hurdles in the way. I ask the Department of Health to look into this and to work with CCGs to ensure that the refunds, many of them dating back as far as 2006 and 2007, are given to the people to whom they are owed.
Finally, I would like to thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for all the work you do and to wish you a very happy Christmas. I would like to thank all the staff and everybody in my constituency. I thank the voluntary organisations, and then there are local councillors, to whom we do not often give enough credit. This year, when the Staffordshire mayoralty is 400 years old, it is particularly important to remember local councillors and the work they do, alongside volunteers and everybody else who makes my constituency such a wonderful place in which to work and to live.
I shall be as brief as I can manage, so that the Deputy Leader of the House has enough time to respond fully to all Members who have spoken. It is a pleasure to respond briefly today. As far as I am aware, this will be our last pre-recess Adjournment debate before the end of this Parliament.
It has been a pleasure to shadow the Deputy Leader of the House over these past six months or so. We sparred a bit over the Deregulation Bill and the Recall of MPs Bill, but I hope he has a good Christmas and new year, and an opportunity to get along to Selhurst Park with his son and hopefully see some Palace victories over the new year period.
Let me now comment on a few of the points that have been made today. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) made a thoughtful speech about railways. He and I may disagree on whether the Labour Scottish Government’s expenditure should be included in the electrification figures, but he made some valid points about investment.
I assume from his generous comment that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I was talking in the context of England, and that my figures were therefore correct.
I think—if I may say so gently—that the confusion may have been confounded when I referred to the Airdrie-Bathgate rail link and the right hon. Gentleman was unaware that that was in Scotland. Let me move on, however, to his useful remarks about suicides and attempted suicides at this time of year, particularly those involving railway lines. He and I will both know, because of our backgrounds, that not only are many of the very unhappy individuals who seek to throw themselves under trains unsuccessful, but horrific and life-changing injuries may result from their actions. I am sure that all Members would urge any constituent who faces such troubling times to contact organisations such as the Samaritans. I commend their work, and also that of Network Rail and the rail companies which have invested a great deal of time in recent years in trying to minimise the number of cases that occur.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) raised the issue of the 1812 war. He knows of my interest in that subject, and he was right to draw attention to the 200 years of close co-operation between our two nations. He was also right to point out that a third nation participated in that war. When we stand at the Dispatch Boxes, which rest on a table that was donated by our Commonwealth cousins in Canada, we are always grateful for their continued friendship.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred to Bahrain. He will not be surprised to learn that Opposition Front Benchers do not share his particular view of the decision to set up a base there, but he was right—as he was earlier today—to call on the Government to organise a debate about foreign policy and our defence posture in the new year, particularly as in 2015 we shall have a national security strategy from the new Government. We strongly support that call, and we hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will refer it to the Leader of the House for consideration.
As ever, the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) made an impassioned and knowledgeable speech about the situation in North Korea. She has a tremendous track record in relation to the persecution of Christians, and—again, as ever—she made a hugely important contribution. I know that her work has the support of all Members.
The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) spoke in support of what I suppose could be called the bird communities in the United Kingdom. He is a champion of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and, as he knows, my researcher Sally Webber says that he is probably its biggest supporter in the House of Commons. The RSPB will certainly miss him, even if not all Back Benchers are entirely forgiving of his strong leadership during his time in the Whips Office.
I want to mention some of those who serve the House. Many Members on both sides of the Chamber have rightly thanked the House’s staff, and, on behalf of the Opposition, I too thank all those in all the Departments, particularly Hansard, the Doorkeepers, and those in Visitor Services. I also want to highlight a small group of individuals, some of whom have retired or are about to retire after decades of public service. I am grateful to the Clerk of the House for his assistance in the compiling of this list.
Roger Rankine worked at the House for nearly 27 years. He started as a joiner working in the outbuildings, before working his way up to become a higher technical officer. In that role, he covered the external works for state openings and has led the search team for that event. Roger is sports mad and an extremely keen golfer.
Rosalind Bolt retired at the end of October. She served for 21 years in the House. She started her career in the accounts payable team and finished as office manager in the web and intranet service. She knew many, many people across the parliamentary estate and was, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, widely respected. She was always quick to offer support and guidance to her colleagues and had a strong sense of the “right way” to interact with colleagues, stakeholders and suppliers.
Mel Barlex, whom I had the pleasure of working with in particular on restoration and renewal, stood down earlier this autumn as parliamentary director of estates. He turned a struggling organisation into a high-performing delivery team, providing maintenance, capital works and property services to both Houses.
Michael—Mick—Brown was a Doorkeeper who retired at the start of the summer recess. He had been here since 1990, and before that had served in the Royal Navy and is a Falklands veteran. Ian McDonald, a fellow Cumbrian, will be retiring this week. He worked here from December 2006 and before that served in the Metropolitan police. Sonia Mcintosh retired in October 2014 after some 30 years’ service in the House. Chris Ridley completed 37 years of public service, retiring at the end of October 2014. He worked in the civil service and the House of Commons over that period. Peter Thomas started in the catering services as a kitchen steward in 1990. He was the first person to come into work at the weekend for the lying in state of the Queen Mother.
Janice Spriggs retires today from the House of Commons catering service after 38 years of service. Janice joined as a waitress in the Members’ Dining Room before moving to the Harcourt Room, which is now, of course, the Churchill Dining Room, and then the Strangers’ Bar. She ran the 6th Floor 7 Milbank room until its closure. Latterly, she has worked on the Principal Floor managing the Strangers’ Dining Room. I know she will be fondly missed by many customers and colleagues.
Finally, Carol Hill, the heritage cleaning team manager, has retired after 15 years in the House. Her team is responsible for looking after the heritage areas in the Palace.
I, on behalf of the Opposition, want to wish all those public servants a very enjoyable retirement. I am sure they will all be trying to have a peaceful Christmas, and will perhaps even take a slice of Chorley cake to top off their Christmas lunch. Let me end by wishing you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all colleagues a very peaceful and merry Christmas, and a happy new year.
It is a pleasure to respond, for what will be the last time in this Parliament, to the pre-recess Adjournment debate. Earlier, we heard that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has previously taken this debate, referred to Members who contributed to the debate as characters from different TV series. I would, perhaps, liken those sitting here today to characters we would all recognise from our local pub. There is the one who always bangs on about how immigrants take our jobs. There is the one who always goes on about medical problems. There is always one who only ever drinks orange juice. There are others who will insist on talking about birds at great length. Finally, there will be another who will always complain about their trains being late—that is me, incidentally.
This debate was, as always, opened very effectively by the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess). As usual, he ran through a large number of issues, and I will try to respond to at least some of them. I think he started by suggesting that, following the renovation works, we might never return to this place. He will be relieved to hear that I suspect his concerns in that respect are unfounded. He referred to the facilities being empty and the prices being too high, and then went through a long list of local issues, including scrap metal, energy prices and the world athletics—and I want to commend his schools, Southend high school for boys and Southend high school for girls, on qualifying to represent England at that event. He also referred to the Music Man project and to Councillor David Stanley, and then proceeded to plug that event. He did not tell us what the ticket prices would be, but he no doubt would have done so if time had allowed, as well as providing us with a link so that we could purchase tickets online. He also referred to the talent show that is being launched as part of the alternative city of culture events in 2017. I think that the House would like to be assured that he will be taking part in that talent show himself.
The hon. Gentleman referred to all-party parliamentary groups. Initially, he described them as “farcical”, but then went on to describe the very significant role that he plays in a number of APPGs. He rightly highlighted the fact that, following the significant loss suffered in the Philippines after the cyclone struck, the authorities there took the necessary action. That shows that, if countries take steps to deal with climate change, mitigation can have an effect, even if it is not always successful in reducing the amount of damage inflicted on the infrastructure of a country. He referred to Bahrain, and I will come back to that subject shortly. He also mentioned Iran.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell) might want to talk to him, if he has not already done so, about the fire safety issue that he identified. The hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to something that Members on both sides of the House are concerned about—the issue relating to firefighters. He said that if a firefighter failed a fitness test through no fault of their own and did not qualify for ill-health retirement, they would be redeployed or receive an unreduced pension. That is a significant concession that is worth underlining.
May I say something to the right hon. Gentleman—very gently, as it is Christmas—about the repeated statement that firefighters in those circumstances will get redeployment or a full pension? If he reads the statutory instrument that was laid today, he will see that the Minister is going to ask the fire and rescue authorities to do that, but that there is no requirement for them to comply. We will not be doing anyone a service by continuing to repeat that there is to be a requirement for jobs and full pensions to be guaranteed.
As I understand it, the situation will then be monitored to ensure that that happens.
The hon. Member for Southend West also referred to his own personal contribution to the work done by maternity wards, in that he has five children. I congratulate him on that. He mentioned the mental health manifesto. He also talked about the all-party parliamentary hepatology group. He started that point with a reference to the season of good will, then referred to obesity, hepatitis and alcohol misuse, which was a bit of a downer. He was making a serious point, however.
If I were to refer to all the other things that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in the debate, I would not have time to refer to anyone else. However, his most important subject was the one he raised at the end of his speech. It is a concern that he has raised repeatedly, and it relates to his local health service. I am sure that the Department of Health, his clinical commissioning group and the trust in his area will have heard his arguments loud and clear.
The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), who is no longer in his place, referred to the estuary airport. I agree with him that that project was never going to happen, because the airlines would not have wanted to pay for it or to pass on the costs to their passengers. He referred to the important role of London assembly members in holding Transport for London to account, and I would like to congratulate Caroline Pidgeon and Stephen Knight on the role that they play in the assembly in that respect. The hon. Gentleman supported the idea of Transport for London being more open to engaging transport users in the system, and I agree with him on that. He referred to local authority funding cuts, which other Members have also raised; that is clearly an issue. Labour Members have accepted that the deficit needs to be addressed, and that is one way of doing it. If they find it unacceptable, they must come up with a financial alternative, but I am afraid that none has been forthcoming.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) referred to Gatwick, where other aviation proposals have been made, raising concerns about some of the financial aspects and the projection of passenger number increases. If the intention is for an increase from 30 million to 90 million by 2050, clearly there will be a need for significant public transport investment in infrastructure around Gatwick.
The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) touched on the issue of local government and the tough financial settlement. She referred to the NHS pay rise, where people have been given a minimum of a 1% increase across the board, although I agree that that is not the full pay increase that some had been expecting. She referred to the need for more doctors and nurses. I am pleased to say that there are 9,000 more doctors and 3,000 more nurses. Perhaps more helpfully, she referred to John’s Campaign, which is about allowing carers to stay in hospital. I can confirm that, by means of an exchange of texts, the relevant Minister has confirmed that he would be happy to meet her and campaigners to discuss that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who is not in his place, referred to the A303. Anyone who has gone to that part of the country will welcome the investment being made in that road. He referred to the need to accelerate the implementation of rural broadband, on which, again, we would all agree. He also referred to the Devon Freewheelers, talking about bikers who deliver body parts—he paused at that point and we all started to worry about what this meant, but it turned out to be about transplants. We should certainly support such charities. I believe he was calling for NHS funding, but often charities work because they are charitable enterprises. I am sure, however, that anything the Government can do to support them in terms of publicity and ensuring that they can operate effectively will be done.
The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) referred to hysteroscopy, as she did last year, and it was equally as uncomfortable for us listening to it as it was 12 months ago. I am pleased to hear that the Minister with responsibility for public health did respond to her, but clearly she has identified that there is an ongoing issue and so I will follow that up again and make sure that she gets a further response, which I hope will clarify that things have moved on and what further can be planned. She also raised the issue of pancreatic cancer, the silent cancer. More needs to be done to raise the profile of that, so that we have a better chance of early diagnosis. I commend her for drawing that to the House’s attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) rightly drew attention to North Korea and the horrendous situation there. Anyone who is in any doubt about that can still go on to Google Earth to look at the concentration camps in North Korea. I commend to all Members “Escape from Camp 14” on Shin Dong-hyuk. I have read it and it sets out in the bleakest terms possible exactly the conditions political prisoners and others in North Korean camps are kept in.
The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) referred to the estuary airport. [Interruption.] He is not in his place. He then talked about a housing development of 5,000 homes and he did a very effective job of opposing those plans—it was as effective a job as he did when he was supporting them before he defected to the United Kingdom Independence party. It is Christmas—a time for caring, reflection, forgiveness and good will—and I know he is running a fundraising campaign whereby he is seeking £7.30 contributions from each and everyone to support his legal case against the Conservative party. I am not sure how many people will want to contribute to that appeal fund.
We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), who will be very relieved to hear that it is perfectly in order for schools within the national curriculum to discuss the 1812 to 1814 war. I will, if he wishes, set out afterwards precisely how that is possible. We have given teachers the flexibility to do that. Clearly I hope that many teachers will have listened to his pleas for them to pick up this issue and will respond accordingly.
We had a contribution from the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on the subject of the base in Bahrain. The Leader of the House responded to that point in some detail this morning, drawing on the knowledge he had gained from his previous role as Foreign Secretary. The hon. Gentleman and I have been lobbied by representatives about the human rights situation in Bahrain. Although the Foreign and Commonwealth Office thinks that some positive steps have been taken, it is clear that there are still areas that need to be addressed. In particular, more needs to be done on the accountability of police personnel and the investigation and sentencing of those alleged to have committed torture and mistreatment. There is a recognition that action needs to be taken.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to local authority funding and the private rented sector, which he does on a regular basis, and I commend him for that. He will be as disappointed as I was—indeed as almost everyone was in this House—that the Bill about revenge evictions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) was talked out.
We then had a positive and informed contribution on the subject of trains and the reliability problems that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) faces on his service. I can commiserate with him on that matter, as the works at London Bridge at the moment are causing chaos on the Southern and Thameslink services, which frustrates me virtually every day of the week when I attempt to get into this place. I will refer to the Secretary of State for Transport his plea for faster electrification of the Felixstowe and Nuneaton line.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on again raising the case of Shaker Aamer, to which the Government accord high priority. He again called on the Prime Minister to raise the matter with President Obama, and I will ensure that that request is conveyed to him. The Prime Minister last raised the matter in June 2013, but there have been interventions since from the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. The hon. Gentlemen is right to continue to raise that particular issue.
I regret the forthcoming departure of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall). Having been on a Select Committee tour to Brazil and Venezuela with him, I can say that he is excessively good company and one of the friendliest, most considerate and courteous Members of this House. We will all miss him, as will the customers of his store. He also thanked the Whips Office, which is probably rather rare in this place.
The hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) talked about sight loss. I commend him for the work he is doing on that issue and draw to his attention the importance of ensuring that sight tests are available for people with learning disabilities, which is an issue I have taken up recently given the high level of prevalence of sight impairment within that group. He raised the matter of sight loss advisers and the need for expanding eye clinic liaison officers, and I will draw these point to the attention of the Department of Health.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) raised a number of issues, including that of his constituent, Lauren, and the runaround that he is getting from NHS England in relation to the services or support that will help her to deal with gastroparesis. As he has often done in this place, he referred to a number of issues to do with care, on which he is a real champion, and he referred to the two reports on residential care and home care. He asked me to pursue with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs the subject of agencies that pay less than the minimum wage to carers, and of course I will do that. He talked about the need to ensure that there was parity of esteem in relation to the millennium development goals and the role that the Department for International Development is playing. Finally, he referred to the short time frame for the renal consultation. As I understand it, that is necessary because the changes need to be implemented by 1 April next year, and it will be difficult to achieve that if the consultation period is extended. I am sure that he will follow that up with the Department of Health if he does not feel that that is satisfactory.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove referred to the A555, for which he has consistently campaigned along with my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) since 1997. Phase 2 might be his legacy, but that might be in the next Parliament. I am sure that he will be able to get his name attached to it in some shape or form and I hope that the money for that phase will be forthcoming. He raised the issue of fires in houses, which he could take up with the all-party parliamentary group, but I will ensure that it is drawn to the attention of the appropriate Minister as there is clearly a potentially significant issue that could affect not only that estate but many others around the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) is a regular attendee at these events and I welcome him again to this one. He referred to a number of significant events in his constituency and the need for a rapprochement between the electorate and Westminster. He also referred to English votes for English laws, which we need to move on quickly. However, I do not think we can rush it and there are issues that need to be considered alongside it, including the devolution of more power below the level of England and, in my view, the need for a constitutional convention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) raised a number of local issues and I commend him for his work in campaigning to improve the NHS in his area as well as the campaign he is running to ensure that his A and E is returned to a 24-hour-a-day service. I wish him well. He also referred to libraries, and I think we collectively support the network of libraries in our constituencies and will want to see them strengthened by the provision of the sorts of things recommended in the recent report, such as wi-fi provision, innovation and ensuring that they can operate as a network. My hon. Friend referred to other issues that affect many Members of Parliament, including nuisance telephone calls and copycat websites, which I think we can all do a lot to campaign against through our use of our own social media, for instance. He also referred to local councillors and I want to take this opportunity to commend them for their work.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) referred to the Recall of MPs Bill. I do not know whether he noticed that Lord Campbell-Savours was rather lacking in festive spirit when he described the changes that the hon. Gentleman had implemented as ones made by boys in short trousers in the shadow Cabinet. Perhaps he can take that up with Dale later.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on foreign policy, which I shall certainly pass on to the Leader of the House, although I think that contrary to the impression that was given we are not a zombie Parliament. We have important business to transact and that might be a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. I thank the hon. Gentleman for thanking members of staff individually, some specifically for what they have achieved in the House.
In conclusion, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you and wish you a merry Christmas. I wish all Members in the Chamber, the Clerks, the officers of the Serjeant at Arms, the staff who care for us here and our own staff a merry Christmas.
Let me finish where we started the debate with the final words of the hon. Member for Southend West. I thank the emergency services that will be looking after us over the Christmas period. I thank the ambulance service in St Helier, the fire service in Wallington, the police in Sutton and the NHS staff in all our hospitals, particularly at St Helier hospital. I know that they will be working over the Christmas break to keep us all healthy and safe, so merry Christmas to them all.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
May I also take this opportunity to say thank you to all right hon. and hon. Members? I wish them all the best for Christmas and a peaceful new year, as well as all the visitors of this House and the staff who keep this place going.