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House of Commons Hansard
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Petitions
23 March 2015
Volume 594

Petitions

Monday 23 March 2015

PRESENTED PETITION

Petition presented to the House but not read on the Floor

Downsizing of UK visa and immigration services in India and Bangladesh

The Petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that the Government’s decision to downsize the Mumbai Deputy High Commission’s visa services will inconvenience hundreds of thousands of people; further that these changes to one of the busiest visa centres in the world will move the majority of decision-making powers to New Delhi; further that in Dhaka in Bangladesh, visa decision-making powers have been removed altogether which deprioritises the importance of the UK’s relationship with Bangladesh; further that the decision was made under ‘cost-cutting’ measures as it may take longer for decisions on visas for friends and families of British Indians and Bangladeshis to be made and may cause them to encounter numerous problems and further that a local petition on this matter was signed by 196 residents of Leicester East.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to immediately review the decision to downsize visa and immigration services in India and Bangladesh.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Keith Vaz.]

[P001467]

OBSERVATIONS

Communities and Local Government

Children's centres in Rushden, Northamptonshire and the surrounding areas

The Humble Petition of residents of Rushden, Northamptonshire and the surrounding areas,

Sheweth,

That in Rushden and the surrounding areas, there is a high proportion of isolated working women with children; further that this group often suffers post-natal depression through their circumstances but as they are often working and married, these women are not targeted for support by the local Council; and further that local children’s centres currently provide a vital lifeline to these women, offering them access to non-judgemental support networks, other mothers with similar aged children, and the reassurance that regular, trained and familiar staff are keeping an eye on their babies and their mental health.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to encourage Spurgeons and Northamptonshire County Council to reconsider their decision to reduce universal access services for working women with children and instead decide to increase the offer of such services to nearer 50% of the overall service provided.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, and c.––[Official Report, 21 January 2015; Vol.591, c. 3P.]

[P001427]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

The Government acknowledge the important part that such services can play in local communities. We want to see a strong network of children’s centres in place across the country, offering families access to a wide range of local, flexible services, tackling disadvantage and preparing children for life in modern Britain.

Local authorities have a statutory duty on children’s centre sufficiency and should ensure services are accessible to all families and young children in their area, with the revised core purpose setting out a particular focus on those families with the greatest needs.

It is up to local authorities to decide how to organise and commission services from children’s centres in their area, which is why we have given local councils, like Northamptonshire, the freedom to target their resources where they will best support the needs of local communities.

Local authorities have the funding to ensure they can meet their statutory duty to provide sufficient children’s centres.

Closure of the Seven Stars public house in Sedgley

The Petition of residents of the Dudley North constituency,

Declares that the Petitioners are opposed to the proposal to close the Seven Stars public house on Gospel End Road in Sedgley and are opposed to the retail development plans for the site.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage Marston's PLC to reconsider the closure of the Seven Stars public house, Gospel End Road, Sedgley.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Ian Austin, Official Report, 4 March 2015; Vol. 593, c. 1046.]

[P001446]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is aware of the concerns some people have about losing their community pubs, and the Government have made clear their commitment to protecting those pubs that most benefit the community.

Through the Community Right to Bid the Government have given people the power to list local buildings as Assets of Community Value. So far this has included over 600 pubs. In addition, the Government have recently introduced new legislation which means that, from 6th April 2015, the listing of a pub as an Asset of Community Value will trigger the disapplication of the permitted development rights that allow the change of use or demolition of a pub without the need for planning permission.

This will mean that, where a pub is listed as an Asset of Community Value, planning permission will be required for its change of use or demolition. This will enable the local planning authority to determine the application in accordance with its local plan, any neighbourhood plan, and national policy, and provide an opportunity for local people to comment on any proposals.

Impact of new housing in Longridge, Clitheroe and Whalley

The Petition of the residents of Longridge, Whittingham and the Ribble Valley Parliamentary Constituency,

Declares that the small rural towns and villages like Longridge, Clitheroe and Whalley up and down the country are under siege from housing developers seeking to build excessive numbers of homes to encourage people to migrate from industrial towns and cities to rural communities.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons recognises the problems of these communities like Longridge where developers are seeking to build 2,300 houses and amend the National Planning Policy Framework to:

(a) Suspend the operation of clauses 14 and 49 of the National Planning Policy Forum until 90% of local authorities have an approved local development plan so there is no presumption in favour of planning consent where a local authority does not have an approved Local Development Plan or 5 years of development land and

(b) Allow local communities divided by a local government boundary to be treated as one entity for planning purposes.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Nigel Evans,

Official Report, 4 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 796.] [P001395]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

Through our reforms in the Localism Act and National Planning Policy Framework the Government have put local plans at the heart of the planning system. We have encouraged and supported all local authorities to get up-to-date plans in place as soon as possible as this is the most effective way of managing development within a local area. Local plans help guard against ‘speculative’ or unwanted development by setting the framework in which decisions on particular proposals are taken (whether that decision is taken locally or by the Planning Inspectorate at appeal).

Our policy does not ask that areas deliver more development than is needed, but that they plan to meet objectively assessed development needs as far as is consistent with national policy as a whole. National policy, including the presumption in favour of sustainable development included in the Framework does not mean development at any cost. The presumption is clear that applications should not be approved if the adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits; or if specific policies in the Framework indicate that development should be restricted.

This ensures that important safeguards are respected.

The Ribble Valley Core Strategy (local plan) was adopted by the Council on 16 December 2014. In determining planning applications, decisions must be taken in line with the local plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The adopted plan will therefore put local communities in the best possible place to steer future development in their area.

It is a fundamental principle of the planning system that authorities must take decisions on planning applications as they come before them rather than delay until a future point in time. It is also now almost three years since the publication of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework and the Localism Act. To impose a moratorium on decision-taking in respect of housing until 90% of plans are adopted would stall much needed development; there are pressing national needs for housing and jobs that would be exacerbated were such an approach adopted.

All residents of Longridge, Whittingham and the Ribble Valley, have opportunities to express views and influence decisions on proposals for future developments. Upon the submission of any planning application for development the council must advertise the application by site notice and on their web-site. At such a time local residents may object to the proposal, and the council must take these views into account in reaching a decision.

Since the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced, the number of appeals received across England has fallen as has the number allowed. The quality of local decisions also remains high—99% of decisions are made locally with only approximately 1% of planning applications overturned on appeal. Housing starts and housing construction are also up, as are permissions for new homes. This means there is more local decision-making, and our reforms are supporting badly-needed new homes within a locally-led planning system.

The Localism Act 2011 places a legal duty on local planning authorities, county councils, and public bodies to co-operate with their neighbouring authorities on strategic planning issues. Councils are required to demonstrate that they have complied with the duty when their local plans are at examination. Failure to demonstrate compliance will mean that a local plan cannot be found sound. Co-operation between local authorities should produce effective and deliverable policies on strategic cross boundary matters, and effective planning policies will ensure local authorities are in control of their planning issues.

Health

Radiotherapy facility at Lister Hospital

The Petition of residents of the constituency of North East Hertfordshire,

Declares that patients who are residents of Letchworth Garden City and the surrounding towns and villages have to travel to Mount Vernon Hospital in Hillingdon to receive radiotherapy treatment and that this journey is long and exacting and often has to be made on consecutive days.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage NHS England to provide a radiotherapy facility at Lister Hospital in Stevenage in order to make the journey for radiotherapy treatment much easier for patients who live in Letchworth Garden City and the surrounding towns and villages.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Sir Oliver Heald, Official Report, 10 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 266.]

[P001441]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Health:

Decisions about local services should be made as close to patients as possible, by those who are best placed to work with the patients and the public to understand their needs. Because it is a specialised service, radiotherapy is commissioned directly by NHS England.

NHS England has carried out a high-level exercise to assess capacity and demand for External Beam Radiotherapy generally at a national level. A further phase of work will also take place at a local level shortly and will include the launch of a radiotherapy capacity and demand survey.

On 12 March 2015, the Public Accounts Committee published “Progress in improving cancer services and outcomes in England”. One of the recommendations in the report is that NHS England should set out how it will ensure a co-ordinated national approach to procuring replacement radiotherapy equipment so that sufficient capacity is available in the right places.

NHS England will develop a plan to respond to this recommendation and the radiotherapy capacity and demand survey will be the first step in this process.

NHS England will continue to review the need for additional radiotherapy facilities outside the current centres if it benefits sufficient numbers of patients and will ensure that any changes are economically viable and enhance the existing care pathways.

The hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and the hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) are meeting NHS England representatives shortly to discuss the provision of radiotherapy services locally, which is the appropriate course of action.

The Petition of residents of the constituency of Stevenage,

Declares that patients who are residents of Stevenage and the surrounding towns and villages have to travel to Mount Vernon Hospital in Hillingdon to receive radiotherapy treatment and that this journey is long and exacting and often has to be made on consecutive days.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage NHS England to provide a radiotherapy facility at Lister Hospital in Stevenage in order to make the journey for radiotherapy treatment much easier for patients who live in Stevenage and the surrounding towns and villages.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Stephen McPartland, Official Report, 10 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 1P.]

[P001450]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Health:

Decisions about local services should be made as close to patients as possible, by those who are best placed to work with the patients and the public to understand their needs. Because it is a specialised service, radiotherapy is commissioned directly by NHS England.

NHS England has carried out a high-level exercise to assess capacity and demand for External Beam Radiotherapy generally at a national level. A further phase of work will also take place at a local level shortly and will include the launch of a radiotherapy capacity and demand survey.

On 12 March 2015, the Public Accounts Committee published “Progress in improving cancer services and outcomes in England”. One of the recommendations in the report is that NHS England should set out how it will ensure a co-ordinated national approach to procuring replacement radiotherapy equipment so that sufficient capacity is available in the right places.

NHS England will develop a plan to respond to this recommendation and the radiotherapy capacity and demand survey will be the first step in this process.

NHS England will continue to review the need for additional radiotherapy facilities outside the current centres if it benefits sufficient numbers of patients and will ensure that any changes are economically viable and enhance the existing care pathways.

The hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and the hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) are meeting NHS England representatives shortly to discuss the provision of radiotherapy services locally, which is the appropriate course of action.

Justice

UK Petitions to the European Court of Human Rights

The Petition of Jonathan Roger Steinberg,

Declares that the Petitioner is a resident of both London and New York; further that the Petitioner and his mother were forced to leave their home; further that the Petitioner believes that he was deprived of his home and assets as a result of a malicious vendetta carried out by a solicitor in over half a dozen pieces of litigation concluding with Pritchard Englefield v Steinberg HQ02X01159; further that the Petitioner believes that each such action over a 15 year period was commenced in abuse of process by a firm of solicitors acting for their own benefit; further that in that litigation, the solicitor succeeded by applying to various courts for various ex parte and without notice judgments often by presenting falsified evidence and at a time when they knew the Petitioner was unable to take part in the litigation for medical reasons; further that the UK judge assumed a right to handle the solicitor’s application because he said he had power after a few weeks wait to “decide the time had come” to dispense with the strictures of Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights and pass judgment against a party who could not take part in the proceedings for medical reasons and deprive that party and his family of their home contrary to Article 8(1) of the Convention without giving that party any opportunity to present opposition to such application or applications; further that the Petitioner believes that without any or proper reference to judicial staff, the European Court of Human Rights wrongly struck out the Petitioner’s petition to that court without any hearing and without being able to write any judgment in the case with the statement that the petition disclosed no breach of any Convention right; and further that the Petitioner believes that litigation before courts of the UK should be properly and fairly disposed and that applications should not be left undecided for any reason.

The Petitioner therefore requests that the House of Commons urges the Government to strengthen the procedures for requesting the Master of the Rolls to review a litigation case under Section 54(4) of the Senior Courts Act 1981; further requests that the House requests that the Government press the Council of Europe to review the Petition process of the European Court of Human Rights to establish whether UK Petitions are properly treated when tested against whether a violation of rights is alleged and to establish what further steps could be taken to strengthen the rights of UK subjects who have Petitions before the European Court; and further requests that the House urges the Government to consider whether steps should be taken to strengthen the rights of UK subjects who have Petitions wrongly culled from European Court lists without regard for the rights of those UK Petitioners; further requests pursuant to the facts and matters set out herein the House of Commons set up a full inquiry.

And the Petitioner remains, etc.––[Official Report, 12 February 2015, Vol.592, c. 11P.]

[P001437]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The Government have the following Observations to make:-

In the United Kingdom the separation of powers as between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary is paramount––the judiciary are not subject to review by the executive, nor indeed Parliament.

Judges carry out their duties having regard only to the facts and arguments which are brought before them and it is their task to apply the law in that light. Questions about the merits of a case, about the evidence that was offered, about the interpretation of that evidence, or about the decisions that have been made, are not questions on which Parliament has any jurisdiction.

Where someone believes that a court or tribunal has been confused and did not properly understand the facts of the case concerned, or has misdirected itself in law, the appropriate remedy is to seek to appeal or, where appropriate, to apply for judicial review.

The judgment of the Court of Appeal in Steinberg, v. Enslefield f20051 EWCA Civ 288 makes clear that the litigation referred to in the petition was properly conducted. Here Sedley LJ set out the case history and paid specific attention to the care that the lower court had taken in dealing with the petitioner, especially in balancing the need for judgment as against the need to be present at the proceedings1. It should be noted that the petitioner made two separate applications to the Court of Appeal; both raising the complaint that judgment was made in his absence2. Both times his applications were dismissed. There has been no appeal to the Supreme Court.

As to the issue of the loss of the family home, this is covered by the findings of Peter Smith J in the possession proceedings3. In effect the sale was ordered so as to preserve as much of the value as possible so that there would be something left over for the petitioner’s mother to live on. Had the judge not made the order for sale, the equity would have been swallowed up in the existing charging orders and the judgment debt.

Our legal system, courts, judges and lawyers are admired throughout the world. Judicial independence, professionalism and impartiality are the cornerstone of this. There is nothing that indicates that the cases were not tried with the degree of care that one expects from United Kingdom judges.

In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, it is for domestic courts to ensure that proceedings are conducted compatibly with the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is of course open to anyone to apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if they believe their rights to have been breached. However, in view of the large number of applications that it receives, it is the practice of the Strasbourg Court to dismiss an application immediately as manifestly inadmissible if it considers that it does not disclose a possible violation of the Convention, taking note of the consideration that has already taken place at national level.

The Government strongly support the implementation of the principle of subsidiarity by the Strasbourg Court, this having been a key part of the reforms cemented by the Brighton Declaration under the United Kingdom’s Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2012.

There is no evidence that applications made against the United Kingdom are treated differently by the Strasbourg Court from any others. In any case, as the Government respond to proceedings on behalf of the United Kingdom, it is not in a position to intercede on behalf of applicants against it.

1 See para 18

2 [2005] EWCA Civ 824

3 [2004] EWCH 1908 (Ch)