Business of the House
Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South, Conservative)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of a pardon for Alan Turing, the celebrated wartime code breaker and father of the modern computer. My reason is twofold. First, Bletchley Park, where Alan Turing did much of his famous work, is in my constituency. Secondly ––a more timely reason––
Before turning to that, let me remind the House of the debt this country, and indeed the whole world, owes this man. He was a brilliant mathematician and his role at Bletchley Park in deciphering the messages encrypted by the German Enigma machine was vital. He led a team that designed a machine, known as a bombe, that decoded the Germans’ military messages. So vital was that information to the allied campaign that, without it, the war might have lasted much longer and, indeed, its outcome might have been very different. How many lives of allied servicemen, residents of cities in this country bombed by the luftwaffe and people transported to Nazi extermination camps were saved by his work? It is no exaggeration to say that we probably owe our very liberty to his work and his genius.
It is also fair to say that he is the father of modern computing. He produced the first academic papers on artificial intelligence, which paved the way for modern computers. Who knows where technology would be today without his pioneering work? I hope that Parliament will be able to mark his centenary next month in some way. I am applying to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate close to that date so that we can pay proper tribute to his work.
There is a more controversial matter that I would like to raise today and ask the Government to have a serious think about. In 1952, Alan Turing, by then working in Manchester, met and fell in love with a young man and had a sexual relationship with him. That affair came to the attention of the police. Homosexual acts were illegal at the time and he was charged and convicted of gross indecency. Upon conviction, he was given the choice between imprisonment and probation conditional upon his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido—effectively chemical castration. He chose the latter option. His security clearance was withdrawn, meaning that he could no longer work for GCHQ. It is now well documented that the consequences of that treatment led directly to him taking his own life by biting into a cyanide-laced apple in 1954. In my view, the state effectively killed him. What a disgraceful way to treat a hero of this country.
In our thankfully more enlightened times, his so-called crime is now perfectly legal. Welcome steps have been taken to apologise for how he was treated. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy
and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), rightly issued an official apology on behalf of the Government. I referred to that action in my maiden speech and I am happy to repeat my praise for it, but more could be done. There is a campaign and an e-petition to grant Alan Turing a formal pardon, and to date nearly 34,000 people have signed it. Both local newspapers in my constituency, the
, are backing the campaign.
So far, the Government have been reluctant to accede to this request. I raised the issue with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House during business questions and he replied:
“I understand that an application for a royal prerogative of mercy was made on the basis that the offence should not have existed but, sadly, one cannot give a royal prerogative on those grounds. I will have another look at this, but I am not sure that there is a case for intervention by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice. That could happen only if fresh evidence came to light to show that the conviction should not have taken place. The argument that the offence should not have existed in the first place is not normally a ground for prerogative.”—[Hansard, 8 March 2012; Vol. 541, c. 1018.]
I understand that argument but ask the Government to look again. If a pardon in the traditional sense is not legally feasible, is there some other way in which this could be done? After all, it is an area of law on which the Government have recently taken welcome action. Under the recently passed Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, a person who has been convicted, or received a caution for, an offence under sections 12 or 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 or corresponding earlier Acts can apply to have their conviction or caution disregarded. Those were the same “offences” for which Alan Turing was convicted. If a full pardon is not possible, could not the disregard be applied posthumously for Alan Turing?
My call today is simply for the Government to take a fresh look at the matter and explore all possibilities. We owe so much to this great man. The coming centenary of his birth affords us a great opportunity to put right the wrong that was done to him, and I urge the Government to look carefully at the matter.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for asking me to speak in this debate. Obviously, it is of huge significance to my constituents that I can raise some points that are of concern but that do not seem to fall within the scope of particular issues when the House is discussing them.
The first issue I want to discuss is the situation at BAE Systems, which deeply concerns me. BAE Systems is a major employer not only in Samlesbury, Warton, Brough and other areas, but throughout Lancashire and the north-west because of its supply chain. The aerospace industry is huge and there would be a colossal impact if it were slowly to move away from the north-west. I have deep concerns that BAE Systems has a large investment in Texas, and the British Government do not seem as committed as I would like them to be to the projects that BAE Systems is currently engaged in.
I welcome the recent announcement of 175 jobs. It did not escape my attention that those jobs arrived in this country with our current employment laws, not those proposed in the Beecroft report. The Government
are keen to trumpet jobs in the car industry and other industries such as aerospace, so the absence of the hiring and firing proposed by Beecroft does not seem to have had an adverse impact on those 175 jobs. However, the reality is that the jobs are set against a background of thousands of job losses. I understand that BAE Systems is trying to mitigate that and reduce the number of job losses to several hundreds. How successful it will be remains to be seen, particularly given the doubts about the joint strike fighter and the orders with Lockheed Martin in America. It could well be that thousands of jobs are lost and those 175 jobs for the Hawk, although welcome, simply will not reverse the cataclysmic decline in employment and skills in the county.
I want to raise some questions about the Hawk deal. Will there be a successor to the Hawk? It only has a certain lifespan, so where is the investment in, and the forward thinking on, the next trainer plane? What are we doing about Britain’s interests? Replacing the Hawk requires a long lead-in time, and, if we do not start considering our aerospace future, we might run out of products that we can sell to the world, with exports such as the Hawk to Saudi Arabia becoming a distant memory in 10 or 15 years’ time. That really worries me.
A lot of BAE Systems’ hopes in the north-west seem to be pinned on unmanned aerial vehicles—UAVs—and, in particular, on the Taranis, so I should like the Deputy Leader of the House to state the Government’s commitment to ensure not only that they are manufactured in Britain and bought and endorsed by the British Government, but that we have an active industrial policy to push UAVs. They are clearly the future and a chance for BAE Systems to maintain production in the north-west, but, if the Taranis and UAV programmes should decline, fall or move elsewhere, they would begin the collapse of military aerospace in the region. I have deep concerns about the issue, so I should welcome his comments on that.
All that is set against the chaos of Lancashire’s enterprise zone. Last July, the Business Secretary declined to offer the region an enterprise zone; then Sky News ran a breaking story that 3,000 jobs were to be lost in Warton and Samlesbury, and within 24 hours the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a U-turn on the enterprise zone decision, stating that it would go ahead—based on 24-hour rolling news.
It was a chaotic situation that should not have been allowed to arise, particularly when it involved such a large employer that adds so much to the GDP of the area and of the country in terms of defence, and adds to skills and to the supply chain for other manufacturers and areas in the region. I have really deep concerns about that, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can put them to bed.
On the implications of that situation, I note that youth unemployment in my constituency has risen to 232% of its 2010 figure, and I have real concerns, because, if we lose aerospace, what impact will that have? The availability of work in the area appears to be declining, and I wonder where the future lies for my constituents, while we are in a double-dip recession and while economic policies are not working nationwide and, in particular, in the north. There is a north-south divide, and we are seeing the impact of that, but it is not just the young people in my constituency who are suffering, but the long-term unemployed, who are becoming the even longer-term unemployed.
The third issue that I draw to the attention of the Deputy Leader of the House is the number of people who are applying for the few vacancies that exist. Increasingly, people are forced to go for part-time work, rather than full-time, and they are struggling to make ends meet. Those concerns of mine and of my constituents reflect the economic downturn that of the past couple of years under, I am afraid, his Government, and they are impacting severely on my constituents, who are deeply worried. It should come as no surprise to him that, in my local authority area and in neighbouring areas, people at polling stations only two weeks ago rejected the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and voted Labour. He must be deeply concerned about that, because he cannot say that the voters are wrong; he must listen to them and to their concerns. Having raised the issue of youth and long-term unemployment, I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House takes it as seriously as I do and does not just say, “It will all be all right in a couple of years’ time.” These are chronic issues, the backbone of which is the industrial base in the region.
Another concern is the country’s nuclear programme, which does not particularly affect my sub-region, the east of the county, but does affect the west and the supply chain. There are huge doubts about the programme, and, given that the west is home to some large nuclear industry employers, that could have a grave impact on one of this country’s great manufacturing areas. The Deputy Leader of the House must be concerned about those issues, and I hope he will address them.
The bottom line is the increasing number of people turning up at food banks in Lancashire, particularly in the east of the county. In the corridor from Chorley to Hyndburn, people are turning up, desperate, unable to feed themselves and reliant on handouts from supermarkets and other generous donors, and that is a real concern.
Today, growth figures were revised down, from a contraction of 0.2% to 0.3%, and, if the Deputy Leader of the House looks at that geographically, he will find the south-east flatlining while the north-west and my area are taking a disproportionate hit, with the north-west contracting not by 0.3% but possibly by double or treble that, thereby giving rise to the figures I cited earlier on youth unemployment.
The chaos and confusion around BAE Systems is worrying, and it concerns many of the electorate in our area. When they see headlines involving the Navy buying ships from Korea, they find it deeply disconcerting. We have naval production in Barrow, in the north-west and throughout the country, and when people see such things they question what precisely the Government are doing in their economic strategy.
More locally, when we look at procurement, we think of Lancashire constabulary. Why are they not buying British cars? They recently bought cars from Korea, but how can that possibly be right? How is that rebalancing the economy? How on earth can Britain be a manufacturing country when just down the road in Lancashire there are Vauxhalls on offer to the police authority, which has gone and bought Korean cars? For all the talk of rebalancing the economy, it is either hypocritical or just lazy when we are not actively engaging with public services—these are public services—that procure foreign vehicles. It is not just vehicles, but ships and other things too.
The car industry in the north-west and the north in general is another major manufacturing employer, and we have heard the Government fanfare on cars, but, when Ministers say that we now have a balance of trade surplus, I think, “You probably have.” Because if the public services are procuring cars from overseas, not domestically, that is one way to achieve a trade surplus—not by increasing exports, but by diminishing domestic demand. That is what has happened with Lancashire constabulary and with other public services, and in all that there is a whiff of hypocrisy, with the Government taking their eye off the ball.
There is a national crisis in adult social care, but I shall reflect on the situation in Lancashire, which really needs some attention. Older people in Lancashire have been badly let down by the county council and by Lancashire’s Conservatives. I have raised the issue before, but, for example, our local Conservatives have raised the daily charge for day centre care from £5 to £30, and they are going to double it to £60. Some people might believe that this is the market and people should pay the cost, but let me explain the consequences. If 20 people are required to keep a day care open, but only 10 people can afford such extortionate charges so it closes, everybody loses. Then the danger is that there will be no market because it will have collapsed. Day care providers tell me that these increased charges mean that they are thinking about closing their businesses. The day centres will be shut and people will be unable to access such services—even those who can afford them. All the community links and personal links that our ageing population have built up will be lost.
For people who go to these centres, particularly those who are vulnerable and may have dementia, it is very confusing to be asked or forced to go to a different place to meet other people and to have to pay these charges. They are vulnerable people who should not be pushed around like this. Greater consideration should be given to the unintended knock-on consequences of the ridiculous charges that have been brought about by the austerity policy of the coalition parties, whose members do not fully appreciate the consequences. No wonder the voters look at these fees and think, “This is not the austerity that we want. It is undermining civil society and undermining my family. There must be other ways we can deal with this.” The electorate are unhappy, hence the election results.
The problem does not end there. There has been a wholesale attack on elderly people in Lancashire, who have been really let down by the Conservatives. The removal of funding for community transport means that people sometimes cannot get to day care centres. Extra charges are being added. People are not just paying £30 but another £3 or £4 for community transport and, on top of that, £6 or £7 for food. In total, elderly people are having to pay about £41 a day just to turn up.
It is not just the provision of day care centres that people are upset about and where there is a crisis in Lancashire. In addition, the local authority is failing to consider the private provision of day care. Day after day, I speak to people in my surgery who are deeply concerned about the inadequacy of the home help service that they receive and the lack of safeguards. We have seen the crisis that surrounds respite care and permanent residential care, and the scandals that have occurred in those settings. However, something that
never gets talked about is the fact that home helps who go to the properties of vulnerable elderly people, who often have dementia and are unable to act as consumers, provide what they and their relatives feel to be an inadequate, and in some cases appalling, service. That scandal needs to be looked at. I am sure that the majority of people feel that the current system is unsatisfactory and that there are no safeguards. People are starting late, clocking off early and providing a poor service because they know that their customer is 95 years old, has dementia, is infirm, and cannot move. That is generally the situation, and it is not right.
The situation is not helped by the removal of some care packages by Lancashire county council. For instance, it removed the allowances for shopping and laundry that were given to the infirm and those with dementia who cannot do their own shopping and washing. We now have elderly people trapped in their own homes who are able to receive some help, but not allowed to receive help with shopping and laundry. It seems that an 89-year-old with dementia will be advised that they must use the internet or phone up to get Asda to do a home delivery, or ask their neighbour or relatives to come round and do their laundry for them.
This is all adding to the deep concern about adult social care for our elderly and vulnerable people in Lancashire. If the people of Lancashire feel they are being let down by the Conservatives, I am sure that they will go to the polls with that in mind, and at the next election we will see the same as what happened in the previous election. The Deputy Leader of the House needs to be deeply concerned about the fact that this situation affects many people who may change their vote because of it. I am very worried about staffing and reduced access in adult social care, and I would be grateful if he commented on that.
There are deep concerns across the country about Sure Start—not about its being cut but its being undermined by stealth. In Lancashire, we have experienced reduced hours, reduced staff, and a cut in outreach services. In some instances, there is anecdotal evidence of a bucket being passed around so that people can put in donations to keep Sure Start going. It is not satisfactory for Ministers to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there is no reduction in the number of buildings where Sure Start services are being delivered when in fact those services are being reduced and undermined and parents are being put off going there because they are asked for handouts when they do so.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside, Labour)
Does my hon. Friend agree that while money might be being saved for the moment through this approach, it is storing up problems for the future, so that in the long term the cost will be much greater than it would in paying for a proper service now?
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the service is undermined from within, it will eventually collapse, and that is what is happening with Sure Start, certainly in Lancashire, and, I believe, in his area of north Wales.
Ministers must stand at the Dispatch Box and be honest about this, because it is affecting the people we represent, including some of the most vulnerable. They
should tell the truth about the Sure Start services that are being provided, not just give the headline figures on the number of centres that are being kept open, although I believe that that number is diminishing as well.
In 2009, the Prime Minister himself came to Lancashire and said, “This is the beginning of the Conservative fight-back in the north”, but now all these services are being undermined. To my knowledge, the Prime Minister has not been back to Lancashire, and I presume that following the local elections he has probably written us off. The damage that has been done since 2009 is irreparable. People are extremely unhappy about how some of their services are being treated and feel that there should be a better way that is not just about a message of austerity.
Another aspect of the situation in Lancashire is the local enterprise partnership, which I am deeply concerned about, and the programme for rural broadband. Not only are Lancashire residents being let down by the county council in terms of adult social care, Sure Start and other initiatives, but the Conservatives in Lancashire are obsessed with rural broadband, on which they are spending £32 million. When I asked for the figures on the number of beneficiaries per borough in Lancashire, they refused to provide them, but I acquired them for my constituency, where it appears that only some 4,000 people out of 80,000 will benefit from the upgrade to the rural broadband service. That £32 million will mean faster internet shopping for millionaires; it will not generate business in rural communities. Many people in rural communities in Lancashire, such as the Ribble valley, already run businesses. That is why they live in the Ribble valley, and they do not operate from home.
The rural broadband policy in Lancashire will not provide additional businesses or create jobs. It will certainly not mean that businesses will be opened down country lanes that take two hours to drive down and are a long way from the urban centres. This is just about faster internet shopping for wealthy people. [ Interruption. ] I will say it whether people like it or not. In most cases, the urban areas in Lancashire are already connected to fast broadband. There is simply no need for this investment, which could go towards improving urban infrastructure such as rail and road links rather than towards providing rural broadband for some farm 25 miles—
Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South, Conservative)
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman’s points with interest. Given his comments, one would think that there was no investment in rail infrastructure in the north of England, but the Government have just given the go-ahead to the northern hub, which will revolutionise public transport in that part of the country.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but, as he knows, the northern hub covers Manchester and Liverpool, whereas I am talking about east Lancashire. He will be aware that his colleague, Jake Berry, is pleading for an upgrade of the east Lancashire line between Rawtenstall and Bury. Members on his own side of the House are pleading for infrastructure projects.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge, Labour)
For the record, the northern hub has not been given the go-ahead. The Chancellor gave the impression in
the Budget that we would get the electrification of the Hope Valley line from Sheffield to Manchester, but that turns out not to be the case.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
That point was relevant to the intervention from Iain Stewart. Not only do Labour Members disagree with his comments, so are organisations such as the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership, which wants to extend the line from Colne into Yorkshire. Infrastructure investment is needed because communities and constituencies such as Pendle are isolated. Such projects require substantial amounts of money.
Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South, Conservative)
I remind the hon. Gentleman that next month, or in July, we will have the next round of investment in the rail system, with the next five-year period of high-level output specification projects. The projects to which he has referred may well get the go-ahead.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
I will be watching to see whether the east Lancashire line, which I support, along with the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen, receives funding. I am sure that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South will join me and the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen in the chorus calling for investment in the east Lancashire line. I am deeply grateful for his support if he is saying that that should go ahead alongside the rural broadband investment. However, if it turns out that we are investing in rural broadband at the expense of infrastructure projects, I will come back to him and suggest politely that he was wrong in his intervention.
I am deeply concerned about the health reforms and their impact on my constituency. We seem to have had a metropolitan or London-centred conversation about choice that does not reflect the situation in east Lancashire. East Lancashire has a monopoly provider in the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. It is futile to argue that general practitioners have choice when there is only one hospital trust, with its two major hospitals in Burnley and Blackburn, that people in the area want to use. There is no choice.
I met the chair of the clinical commissioning group for east Lancashire to discuss several issues, which I will draw to the House’s attention. Some £70 million of funding from the primary care trust is being transferred to Lancashire county council for the health and wellbeing board. As I have said, Lancashire is being let down by Lancashire county council. I have deep concerns about where that money will be spent. One of my initial concerns is that Lancashire county council, which is based in Preston, is far removed from the constituents whom the 14 or 15 MPs in Lancashire represent. I have deep concerns that the public will not fully understand, be engaged with or be able to respond to the funding that is being spent by the health and wellbeing board at county hall. There will be little accountability.
We have no choice in NHS services, and yet GPs are shaping the services. The health and wellbeing board will be spending an awful lot of money, but it is not clear how it will be held accountable for where that money is spent. My concern, again, is that the deprived corridor from Chorley to Hyndburn and on to Pendle will be left behind. We will see what we traditionally see
from Lancashire county council: white middle-class and upper-class areas will get the money and deprived, working-class areas will have money removed from them. That is true of rural broadband. A similar thing is happening nationally.
Lancashire’s residents are being let down by Lancashire county council. How does the Deputy Leader of the House feel about how local people feel and about how they are responding through the ballot box? How does he feel about the concerns that I and others have expressed about the disproportionate spending, with services being directed to white, middle-class people in wealthier areas, which makes working-class people feel that they have been left behind? That concern is also expressed nationally. Age, rather than deprivation, is to be used as one of the indices for the allocation of health funding.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)
I want to reinforce the point that my hon. Friend is making about age. My constituency has the lowest age structure of any in the country, and yet it has some of the highest health needs. Under the system that he is describing, we would suffer.
Lindsay Hoyle (Deputy Speaker; Chorley, Labour)
Before the hon. Gentleman gets back on his feet, I point out that he has been talking for almost 30 minutes. I am sure that he must be coming to the end. What he has said has been very fruitful for the House, but he needs to come to an end due to the lack of time and the need to get other people in.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for those firm words.
The talk about shifting health funding concerns me because the GP surgeries in my constituency are all at the bottom of the performance league tables produced by the PCT, whereas those in the affluent areas score far better. All the deprived areas in Lancashire come at the bottom of those tables. I am therefore deeply concerned about the transfer of health funding.
I want to mention briefly my concern about Great Harwood health centre, because it has been transferred to PropCo. It was built under the LIFT initiative. On several occasions we have thought that it will happen and then that it will not happen. We are now at a stage where we think it will happen and £10 million has been set aside by the PCT. However, all that money is to subsumed into a Whitehall quango called PropCo, which will decide how it will be spent. I would appreciate a commitment from the Deputy Leader of the House on whether PropCo will carry through the decisions that have been agreed with local people and the PCT.
Finally, I will talk about individual voter registration. I did not get the opportunity to speak in the debate yesterday. I concur with Andrew Stephenson that there are issues with postal voting that need to be looked at. It seems that it is being used to drive up turnout. I do not believe that anything wholly illegal has happened, but I do believe that it has been used to drive up turnout and win elections. Will
the Deputy Leader of the House acknowledge that the Conservative party in Hyndburn is currently under investigation for proxy voting fraud? That is unacceptable. The legislation that his Government are bringing forward should look at that element, and not just at individual voter registration. With that encouragement, I will close my comments.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe, Conservative)
It is a great honour to speak in this Adjournment debate before the recess. Hon. Members should welcome the fact that I do not intend to speak for well over half an hour, so that everybody can participate in the debate and then go out to enjoy the sunshine and, more importantly, return to our constituencies to carry on the work that we do on a daily basis for our constituents.
I will talk about an issue in my constituency that I believe has an impact on other Members: the threat to the green belt in Broxtowe. I will address two direct threats to the green belt in Broxtowe. The first is an uncontroversial issue in that all political parties in Broxtowe are in agreement about it. We are united in our opposition to an application by UK Coal for an open-cast mine on a piece of land between Cossall and Trowell called Shortwood. It is a 325-acre site, and this is the third time that UK Coal has made an application to Nottinghamshire county council in respect of it. We have already held one public meeting, and there will be another one on Friday.
There is no merit whatever in the application that UK Coal has made. It would undoubtedly lead to an excess of dust and noise and the loss of an amenity that is much loved by many of my constituents. Perhaps the greatest irony of the application is that 1.5 million tonnes of coal and clay would be removed from the site and put into lorries. There would be eight heavy goods vehicle movements every hour along an already overly congested road, up to the equally congested Nuthall roundabout and on to the M1. The coal and clay would then be driven all the way back down the M1 to the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station. It is the stuff of madness that in this day and age we are still extracting coal in that way and burning it in power stations. We should now have alternatives up and running.
The second most important threat to the green belt in Broxtowe, which I believe also affects other areas, is housing development. Many hon. Members should be greatly concerned about it. What I will say is, in effect, an open letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. In a nutshell, we have a serious problem in Broxtowe and other boroughs in Nottinghamshire and, I suspect, across the land. Councils have adopted and accepted the targets that were laid down under the last Administration’s old—they should be old—regional spatial strategies. That means that they have no alternative but to build on our green belt.
Only last week Broxtowe borough council voted on and accepted, with only the Conservatives dissenting, a top-down housing target of 6,150 houses being built in a 16-year period or so, as set down under the last Administration’s structures. We have very little green-belt land left in Broxtowe, because we have built on it over the years. We are now the most densely populated borough in the whole of Nottinghamshire, and arguably in the whole east midlands. Hon. Members do not need
me to remind them that the whole purpose of green-belt land is to prevent urban sprawl and protect communities so that they stay just that—identifiable communities that people love and enjoy, for all the reasons that one can imagine.
The other great benefit of green-belt land, as well as its preventing the coalescence of communities, preventing sprawl and retaining identities, is that it provides green, open spaces that people can love and enjoy in many ways. They walk their dogs there, take their children there and so on. We do not have much of it in Broxtowe, which has become overdeveloped. Now we have the housing target, and we have only brownfield land or green-belt land to build on, so we face the real threat of yet more of our green belt being lost.
The situation flies in the face of the national planning policy framework that the Government announced at the end of March, and of the statements of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and various other Ministers including the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. They have made it crystal clear that green-belt land should not be developed on save in exceptional or very special circumstances, and then only after robust public consultation. There is a complete disconnect between what the Government are rightly saying—they could not say it in clearer or firmer tones—and what some councils are actually doing in the real world.
There is an argument about the amount of brownfield land that is available in Broxtowe, but up to 2,000 homes are to be built on our green-belt land. I believe that the majority of people in Broxtowe are against that. However, our Labour and Liberal Democrat council has steamed ahead in the face of local people’s views and without proper consultation. Instead of adopting Labour’s admirable policy of brownfield sites first and green-belt land afterwards, Broxtowe council is doing the reverse. The very first site that has been put forward for development—it is almost a done deal—is a place called Field farm in Stapleford. That piece of land separates Stapleford from Trowell, so it is doing its job and providing a buffer to prevent urban sprawl. It is also a place that people love very much. They go there to enjoy the wildlife and so on.
An application has gone in for 450 homes on that land, and the deep irony is that the two local councillors—Labour and Liberal Democrat—not only failed to vote against the plans that have made the land ripe for development, but spoke in favour of them last week. That flew in the face of the people whom they are meant to represent. Many people have found it ironic that it has been the Tories, and a Conservative MP, who have spoken out in defence of that green-belt land.
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Labour)
The hon. Lady is speaking very well. I am an east midlands MP, as is she. She will recognise that a report published earlier this week suggested that the east midlands faces a potential housing crisis, and that in the next 20 years or so we will probably need 22,000 extra houses. I recognise her argument entirely, but those houses will have to go somewhere.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe, Conservative)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and understand his point. Unfortunately, when we run out of land on which we can build houses, we have to
look elsewhere. This is not about nimbyism; it is about the fact that my constituency only has enough brownfield land for about 3,000 houses. The target has been accepted, and the only other place to build is on the green belt. He mentions homelessness, and it is a valid point, but the number of people on the waiting list in Broxtowe is 2,254. As he will understand, that list often indicates the level of interest in finding houses that the council may have available. The number of homeless people recorded in my constituency is probably fewer than 10, if that.
I do not want to trouble the House any longer, but people in my constituency are concerned that their voices will yet again not be heard. Only this week, I was publicly admonished by the planning officer in an e-mail that was unfortunately copied to Labour councillors and my predecessor. The e-mail told me that my advice to my constituents was in some way inaccurate, but it was not at all. I have come to this place to achieve a number of things, but perhaps most importantly I am here to represent my constituents, whether they voted for me or not. I intend to continue to do that. In so doing, I speak out in favour of protecting the green belt in my constituency, whether from open-cast mining or from a housing target that my borough council did not have to accept.
I hope the Deputy Leader of the House will forgive me if I am not here at the end of the debate. I will be quiet very soon, so that others can speak. I hope that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will make the Government’s policy quite clear yet again. I hope he will say that local authorities are under a duty to determine their own housing targets and make their own plans, and to protect their green belt from development at almost all costs.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley, Labour)
It was a great temptation to go off down the M4 about an hour ago, but I wanted the opportunity to speak today since we are going to be away for two weeks. Many changes will take place in the middle east in that period, so I could not go without voicing my concern. If I take more than 10 minutes, perhaps you will signal vigorously in my direction, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also hope the Hammersmith flyover will soon be back to normal—it is ridiculous that it has taken so many months to repair. Those who use that artery to the M4 have to allow an extra hour in our journey just to get over it.
I have spoken about Bahrain a number of times. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is currently preparing a report on the Arab spring. For some countries, spring came earlier, but things have been more difficult in others. In countries where the spring is in its early stages, such as Bahrain, there are concerns about the lack of progress. Many of the recommendations made by the commission set up by the King are yet to be implemented. Human Rights Watch said in a new report released earlier this month that Bahrain’s human rights situation remains critical in the wake of the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 2011, with clashes between police and protesters continuing. There are also reports of deaths from beatings and the excessive use of teargas.
The King established that so-called independent inquiry—I have high regard for some on the inquiry, such as Sir Nigel Rodley—but unfortunately, very few
of its recommendations have been implemented, such as holding senior officials accountable for crimes. Recommendations on torture have also not been implemented, and there has been a failure to free protesters who were jailed for exercising their right to free expression and peaceful assembly. Bahraini police continue to beat and torture detainees, including minors, despite the report’s recommendations and public commitments by the heads of Bahrain to end torture and police impunity.
Nabeel Rajab, a Bahraini human rights activist and head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation, who led protests against authorities in the gulf kingdom by calling for democratic change, was arrested on his return from a trip abroad on charges of
“participating in illegal assembly and calling others to join”
and “insulting a statutory body” via Twitter. He has been granted bail but is still being held in anticipation of other charges being made against him.
The court of cassation, the highest judicial body in that gulf Arab state, shifted the case of 21 men who were convicted in a military court to a civilian court and freed one lesser known prisoner. Seven of the 21 are abroad or in hiding, but the court ruled that the other men would remain in jail, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is being fed intravenously in a military hospital after nearly three months on hunger strike. We assume that that is still the case, because we have heard nothing further about him recently.
More than a year after the men were arrested, the Bahraini authorities have produced no evidence that the jailed leaders were doing anything but exercising their basic human rights. The Bahrain Government have made it clear that they still view the case as serious. One of the al-Khalifa family—the chief Government spokesman —alleged that the 21 men
“called for the overthrow of the monarchy using violent means”.
“In due course new evidence will be presented in a civilian court to prove that point.”
A similar retrial process is under way in a civilian court for 20 medical professionals—doctors, nurses and dentists—who were convicted of anti-state activities by a military-led tribunal.
After signalling that Saudi women might be allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time at the London games, Saudi officials appear to have retreated. The only possibility remaining is that a few Saudi women might gain entry as “unofficial participants”. Saudi women must walk behind men at home, but they cannot walk behind the Saudi flag in London.
A few months ago, Human Rights Watch reported discrimination against female athletes in that Islamic kingdom. Even physical education classes and sports club memberships for women are prohibited. The report referred to a religious scholar who said that
“the health of a virgin girl will be affected by too much movement and jumping in sports such as soccer and basketball.”
How ridiculous is that? The report concluded:
“It is impossible to square Saudi discrimination against women with the noble values of the Olympic Charter”,
which forbids intolerance.
Under the kafala system of sponsorship, by which foreigners can work in the country only if they have a sponsor who organises contracts, salaries, visas and repatriation, sponsors use their control to exploit workers by taking away their passports or residence permits, or by failing to pay wages on time.
I welcome the free and—it appears—fair and peaceful elections in Egypt, but there are still problems in the country. I was there with the Foreign Affairs Committee a few months ago. Human rights violations continue to take place, in some cases to a worse extent than under Mubarak. Military trials continue; reports of the use of torture are frequent; freedom of expression is curtailed; and peaceful demonstrations have often been met with violence and repression. Additionally, civil society and NGOs continue to be repressed and restricted. The trial of foreign NGO workers who were arrested for allegedly breaching Egypt’s law on association, which took place during the Committee’s visit, is due to continue on
Women’s rights are under threat in Egypt, and there are only eight women in Egypt’s 500-seat Parliament. We met many parliamentarians and raised that point with them. They have removed their quota system, which ensured proper representation for women in the Parliament. Activists in Egypt have serious concerns that the personal status code, which currently provides some equality for women in divorce and custody law, could be repealed, resulting in women’s rights being curtailed.
Women human rights defenders and activists are being targeted with virginity testing, with those responsible being acquitted, and attacks and beatings. I have raised that in the Chamber several times.
In Afghanistan, women should not be abandoned by the pull-out of western troops or traded in favour of reconciliation with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Afghanistan remains a key foreign policy priority of the UK Government, and as a major international partner and donor they can exert significant diplomatic influence on the Afghan Government and the transitional process. Only a couple of months ago, Afghanistan’s ulema council—the country’s leading group of religious clerics—published a statement in which it referred to women as secondary to men and implied that violence against women was appropriate in some cases. Worryingly, President Karzai expressed support for the statement, in a move seen as widely conciliatory to the Taliban and other groups that would curtail the rights of women.
Women’s security continues to be extremely fragile in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. Women who contribute politically or in the public and civic sectors face considerable pressure and intimidation.
Claire Perry (Devizes, Conservative)
I am delighted that the right hon. Lady has brought this incredibly important topic to the Floor of the House. This morning, I met ActionAid, which has campaigned heavily in this area, and it told me that for an Afghan woman to approach a police officer was considered an immoral act. Does she agree that we must do more to ensure the security of Afghan women and that without it there will be no lasting peace in that country?
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley, Labour)
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. I have raised the matter several times in Afghanistan and here, including with President Karzai directly, but he always brushes it aside. The last time was a few weeks ago, when we had a private meeting with him in the House. I am afraid, however, that he would not move on, or even discuss, this matter. When I suggested that women in Afghanistan had no faith in his determination to protect them, he said, “But women vote for me.” I said, “Well, they might have done last time, but they won’t next time.” Clearly, he does not take it seriously, which is a matter of great concern.
I am pleased that Aung San Suu Kyi is to visit Parliament. Burma was admitted to the Inter-Parliamentary Union at the conference I attended in Uganda a few weeks ago. There are concerns, however. There are green shoots, but matters could be reversed, so we should wait and see. For example, we should be cautious before removing sanctions. Political prisoners are still in jail there. The IPU committee on the human rights of parliamentarians, of which I am an active member, does not know the fate of the Burmese parliamentarians elected 10 years ago who were never able to take their seats. It is said that all political prisoners have been released, but there is an argument about how many remain in jail. In truth, many died in jail or after being released, and a number remain unaccounted for. They are still on the committee’s list of parliamentarians about whom we are concerned, and we want to know what happened to them. They are not simply names on a piece of paper. We have campaigned on their behalf for many years, and we want to know their fate.
Aung San Suu Kyi will obviously get a good welcome here. However, if the Burmese President genuinely wants meaningful political reform, a joint domestic and international review board, with UN involvement, could create a credible process to investigate cases of disagreement over whether someone has been imprisoned for political reasons. That could kick-start broader legal reform to overturn laws still stifling basic human rights in Burma. One of the most pernicious is section 401 of the criminal procedure code—effectively a form of parole that could see many released prisoners rearrested for any perceived or minor offence.
I would like to continue my canter around the world, because there are so many countries where the human rights of parliamentarians remain a major issue. Of the roughly 153 countries that attend the IPU annual conferences, about 50 are of great concern. Obviously, Syria is one of them. Over the next two weeks, while we are on our Whitsun recess—looking around me, I see it has already begun—I hope that Assad will see sense. His days are numbered in Syria. He should see the writing on the wall and go now to prevent further blood loss in a country where so much blood is being lost and where there is no future for him or his crowd. He should give Syria the chance to join the Arab spring countries.
Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute, Liberal Democrat)
I want to talk about the Government’s proposal, announced in the Budget, to extend VAT to static holiday caravans. There was a short debate on this matter during the Committee of the Finance Bill. However, that debate included proposals to put VAT on many other things, so there was no time properly to debate static caravans. I was
pleased, however, when the Government announced during the debate that the consultation period would be extended to allow the industry to make representations. I am glad that the Government are in listening mode, and I want to use this opportunity to make representations to them.
My constituency interest arises from the large number of caravan parks scattered throughout Argyll and Bute. I represent a beautiful constituency stretching from Loch Lomond in the east to Loch Linnhe in the north and the Mull of Kintyre in the south. It also contains the Cowal and Rosneath peninsulas, the Isle of Bute and many other beautiful islands—there is far too much beautiful scenery to mention, including the miles of coastline on the west coast and the Firth of Clyde. The scenery is beautiful, but the economy is fragile. “You can’t eat the scenery”, as the old saying goes, but we can sell the views to the visitors, and that is where static caravans play an important role.
A large proportion of people who visit Argyll and Bute own static caravans on the many holiday parks, and these caravans provide many jobs in rural areas. There are the people who work on the parks and a whole host of small businesses that make their livelihoods from selling food and other goods to the static caravan owners. As a result, these holiday parks underpin many small businesses, and we should be encouraging such small businesses in these difficult times, not imposing a further tax on them. Many local shops tell me that a large proportion of their sales are to static caravan owners and that they could not survive without this business. Neither is this just a business for the short summer season; many owners regularly come to their caravans at weekends throughout the year.
The Treasury’s own impact assessment suggested that imposing VAT on static caravans would cut demand by 30%. That is a huge fall in demand for any business to cope with, never mind those already struggling because of the recession. It should be noted, however, that the industry regards the 30% figure as an underestimate and believes that the actual drop in sales could be much bigger. Fewer caravan sales means fewer owners, which obviously means fewer people visiting rural constituencies such as mine and spending their money in the rural economy. People living in remote areas with fragile economies who will lose their jobs if this VAT measure goes ahead will find it difficult to get another job where they live. The Treasury estimates that the measure will bring in an extra £35 million in 2013-14, but I urge the Government to consider the wider picture. The proposal might bring in £35 million, but a lot more will be lost to the economy if the extra tax goes ahead.
The proposal appears to have arisen because the Government wanted to correct a supposed anomaly—that caravans towed on the road by cars are subject to VAT but static caravans are not. By proceeding in this way, however, the Government will simply create other anomalies that will be just as difficult to resolve. For example, let us compare buying a static caravan to buying a holiday cottage. Static caravans sell from about £24,000. VAT on a £24,000 static caravan would be £4,800. Let us compare that with somebody who buys a holiday cottage for £240,000. The tax paid—in this case stamp duty—will be 1%; that is, £2,400. Therefore, the cost of the holiday cottage is ten times as much as the cost of the caravan, but the tax is only half. That is hardly fair. We should also remember that the person buying the holiday cottage
could be depriving a local family of a chance to buy a home. That is not fair taxation, nor does it make any sense as far as supporting fragile economies is concerned.
The Government realise that if they impose VAT on static holiday caravans, they will have to draw a line somewhere. They have proposed that static caravans that are manufactured to BS 3632 will not be liable to VAT. Only caravans built to a lesser standard would be subject to VAT. However, that would simply create another anomaly. British standards change all the time, so they are an unsuitable measure for determining eligibility for taxation. It is also important to consider how such a rule could be enforced. Will VAT inspectors be trained in how to determine whether a British standard has been met for a particular caravan? If so, will they have to inspect all static caravans that are sold, to determine whether they meet the standard—which, we should remember, constantly changes? Another new anomaly that would be created is that houseboats would still be zero-rated, whereas static caravans would not. Both are tied to a fixed point, yet they would be treated differently for tax purposes. Far from ironing out an anomaly, we would just be creating a series of other anomalies.
The proposal appears to have arisen because somebody found a loophole in the present legislation. They worked out that large hybrid touring caravans would not be subject to VAT. Hybrid touring caravans are large caravans that are too big to be towed by cars, although they can be towed behind lorries. Under the present rules, they are zero-rated because of their large size. However, rather than trying to block the loophole by taking static caravans into taxation, why not block it by making caravans that are designed to be towed by a large lorry on public roads subject to VAT? Surely it would be fairly straightforward to create a definition in legislation to provide that caravans that could be towed on the road would be subject to VAT. Static caravans cannot be considered to be road-going, as they do not have a chassis with brakes or a handbrake, nor do they have brake lights and indicators to comply with road traffic legislation. It should surely be straightforward to ensure that if, under road traffic legislation, the caravan can be towed on the road, it should be subject to VAT. To summarise: if it moves, tax it; if it doesn’t, don’t. Static caravans do not move—yes, the clue is in the word “static”. My suggestion for the Government would be fairly straightforward. The tax treatment of static caravans should be compared with the treatment of other static accommodation, such as houses and houseboats, not caravans that can be towed on our roads.
Although announced in the Budget, the measure is not part of the Finance Bill. I hope that, following the consultation, the Government have listened and will decide not to go ahead. I even hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will be able to make that announcement in his summing up today. [ Laughter. ] However, I suspect from his reaction that I am perhaps being a bit optimistic. The consultation closed only on Friday, so we ought to be prepared to give the Government a bit more time to respond. I hope that they will decide not to proceed. However, I would like my hon. Friend to tell the House today what procedures will be followed to introduce the measure, should the Government decide to do so.
Argyll and Bute’s main asset is our beautiful scenery. This VAT proposal will make it far harder to sell that scenery to visitors. Many other Government policies
are supportive of small businesses. I urge the Government to think again. On this policy, I hope that they will think of small businesses. I appeal to them not to go ahead with this proposal. The cost in lost jobs, in fragile rural economies throughout the country, will be far greater than any VAT income from the proposed new tax.
Lyn Brown (West Ham, Labour)
I hope that hon. Members will be gentle, because my voice is not as strong as it usually is. I also hope that I can be heard today. It is an honour to follow Mr Reid, who made an excellent speech about VAT on static caravans. Those of us on the Opposition Benches support much of what he said. I hope that his Government were listening to that speech, which really was rather excellent.
I want to take this opportunity to speak about an issue of increasing concern—breast cancer. I want to focus on three areas: diagnosis, treatment and mortality in my constituency; worrying comparisons with other countries, which raise issues about the effectiveness of cancer services in the UK; and a specific concern about radiotherapy, on which we perform rather badly, compared with other countries.
Let me first set the scene with some facts about breast cancer. As many colleagues will know, it is the most common cancer in the UK, with some 48,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Around 12,000 women and 90 men will die from breast cancer this year. The good news—relatively speaking—is that a generation ago, only half the people with breast cancer survived for five years after diagnosis. Today, eight out of 10 people are still alive after five years or more. That improvement is due to the unprecedented investment made in the NHS, with a shift in emphasis—the right shift—towards prevention and early detection, and the establishment of cancer networks, bringing together specialists to improve the quality of care.
Advances in research, new treatments, earlier diagnosis, breast screening and greater public awareness have all played a part, but it is essential that we keep up the momentum if we are to avoid slipping back. I have spoken in the House before about the inequality in health outcomes that is characteristic of my constituency and other areas with high poverty, poor housing, a poor environment and low educational achievement. Things are improving and health outcomes are getting better, but the gap remains. Although I have a huge hope that the legacy of the Olympic and the Paralympic games will bring an even greater health improvement to my area, as well as economic regeneration, we have to do more, rather than just sitting back and waiting to see whether that happens.
Claire Perry (Devizes, Conservative)
Let me give the hon. Lady a chance to rest her voice. I am grateful to her for bringing this incredibly important subject to the Floor of the House. Would she like to join me in the Race for Life at the beginning of June? We can put on our pink T-shirts, and although I am afraid that I will be walking, she can walk with me and we can raise some money for a worthy cause.
Lyn Brown (West Ham, Labour)
That is possibly an offer that I cannot refuse. I think that sounds like an excellent thing to do together.
Newham has a lower incidence of cancer than many other areas, but sadly our mortality rate is higher. The London-wide cancer mortality rate is about 112 deaths per 100,000 cases. In Newham it is 123 deaths per 100,000 cases, which is a significantly higher rate than we ought to find. That is clearly unacceptable. The five-year survival rate for women in Newham who have had breast cancer is 75%, which is significantly lower than the UK average of 83.4%. The reason is illustrated, in part, by the take-up rate of breast-screening services. In 2009-10, the take-up rate across England was 73%. Across London it was 62%, but in Newham it was 50%.
Early detection enables treatment in early stages, when the cancer is easier to treat and when women’s chances of survival are higher. In my area, the combination of late presentation and late diagnosis leads to treatment that is, of necessity, more complex and less successful. That is causing the unnecessary deaths of too many women. Those deaths are, frankly, preventable. I will be seeking to ensure that a consequence of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is not a visible deterioration in health screening services in my constituency. In fact, I will be hoping to see the 50% uptake of screening in Newham increase in the years to come.
I want to turn to international comparisons. I have before me some statistics, which were helpfully provided by the House of Commons Library. These data are drawn from a cancer epidemiology research project on the survival of cancer patients in 24 European countries. The figures need to be treated with some care, given that the most recent are for survival rates for those diagnosed between 1995 and 1999, but they provide a useful snapshot of the five-year survival rate. For England, the survival rate for all cancers at five years was 47.3%, ranking us 17th out of the 24 countries. The survival rate at five years for breast cancer was somewhat better, at 79.7%, but this still ranks us just 13th out of the 24 countries. That international comparison raises some disturbing questions about the effectiveness of our screening, diagnosis and treatment services, and I intend to return to that matter in the future.
One issue that I want to explore further today is the use in treatment of radiotherapy and, specifically, of new and advanced forms of radiotherapy such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy—IMRT. Radiotherapy treatment is more effective in treating all forms of cancer, including breast cancer, especially when the cancer is diagnosed early. It can be targeted on the cancer much more effectively, thus limiting the damage caused to non-cancerous tissue. It is far less invasive than other treatments, it leads to better outcomes and it is a much better experience for the patient.
The use of radiotherapy is more advanced in Scotland and Wales. London is marginally better provided for than the rest of England, but that does not alter the fact that the UK as a whole is woefully behind the best-performing countries in the rest of Europe and the US in using advanced radiotherapy as an effective tool against cancer. Access rates to existing radiotherapy services are already lower than the 50% of cancer patients who it is generally agreed should receive the treatment. We do not even know how many breast cancer patients are able to access the more advanced IMRT.
What assessment have the Government made of the impact of the Health and Social Care Act on the commissioning of radiotherapy, and on the supply of
suitably trained radiotherapists? From my perspective, it is entirely unclear where responsibility for the commissioning of radiotherapy will sit in the future arrangements of the NHS. The clinical commissioning groups are far too small effectively to manage it, and the position of the NHS Commissioning Board is obscure.
For radiotherapy, there is no is no equivalent of the big campaigns that we see in our newspapers. It has no equivalent of a big pharmaceutical company to promote it and lobby for new treatments, because there is no profit to be made from it. Radiotherapy is an effective treatment that is widely used in other countries, but it is patchily under-utilised here, to the detriment of cancer patients, and that is likely to be contributing to our relatively poor survival rates. In the absence of an external lobby promoting radiotherapy, I humbly suggest to the House that that responsibility lies here with us.
The issues that I have outlined today go to the heart of the quality of cancer care in this country. They need to be explored in more detail and subjected to more scrutiny so that the service offered across the country can be improved to the level of the very best, and not just the very best in this country, but the very best by international standards.
Claire Perry (Devizes, Conservative)
It is a pleasure to follow Lyn Brown, who spoke eloquently on an important topic. I look forward to our “walk for life” together.
As I am sure everyone knows by now, I represent a military constituency. with 10,500 soldiers and at least the same number of family members, but because I have a tiny job helping the Secretary of State for Defence, I can never speak on military matters, so there is no point in hon. Members lobbying me about cap badges. I meet many members of the armed forces in my surgeries, however, and I want to speak today about a story that I heard during one such meeting.
Jan and Barry Burns came to see me in my surgery in Ludgershall, in the south of my constituency. Barry is a serving Army officer. I felt incredibly moved and educated by what I heard, and I was glad that I had boxes of tissues handy. They came to tell me about their son Charlie, who died unexpectedly last year at the age of 10. I have a boy who will be 10 this summer, and it was very moving to be presented with that tragedy.
Charlie Burns was a completely fit, well and happy 10-year-old who had an epileptic seizure, completely out of the blue, on
been incredibly healthy. The coroner diagnosed the cause of death as sudden unexplained death from epilepsy—SUDEP—involving a massive cerebral haemorrhage.
The reason that Mr and Mrs Burns came to see me was that they had never heard of SUDEP before that awful tragedy struck their family. In fact, SUDEP kills more people in the UK than AIDS and cot death—conditions we have all heard of—combined. We have been educated recently to understand certain other conditions, including strokes—there has been a very good national education campaign to help us to understand the signs of strokes and what happens when someone suffers a stroke.
It is fitting that this week is national epilepsy week, running from
I ask three things of colleagues today. The first is for them to help me raise the profile of a fantastic national charity, Epilepsy Bereaved, which works with parents and anyone who has suffered a bereavement through epilepsy. We should remember that more than 1,000 people a year are so affected. I was pleased to learn that my hon. Friend Jeremy Wright had met the charity and done some publicity work last year, for which the family and the charity are extremely grateful. Secondly, there is no national standard register of epilepsy deaths, and one of the charity’s proposals is that the chief coroner should maintain such a record and have a standard diagnosis, so that we can understand the scale of the problem. I would heartily support such a measure.
Finally, we call for a review of the guidance issued to medical professionals, particularly first responders, to help them to look out for signs of that type of seizure in otherwise healthy children. Charlie’s parents told me that children can come back very quickly from such episodes. Charlie came back after his attack and was conscious when the paramedics got there, although he was droopy, drowsy and not himself. If he had been taken to hospital at that point and a brain scan had been done, he just might have been saved.
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove, Conservative)
I want to express my support for everything my hon. Friend has said about SUDEP. A few months ago, some parents in my constituency came to see me, having sadly lost their teenage daughter to SUDEP. When their daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy, the parents were not really made aware of SUDEP—the “sudden death” aspect. If they had been told about it at the time, they might have acted differently. They highlighted the need for more publicity so that more people—parents and children—are made aware of it. I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this very important issue.
Claire Perry (Devizes, Conservative)
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right; it is estimated that more than 40% of these deaths could be avoided with better
recognition, better diagnosis and speedier action. Epilepsy is a condition that affects many thousands of people and it is a manageable condition, but Charlie’s parents were subsequently told that he was among the most susceptible to a nocturnal epileptic episode out of the blue, and that such children were at greater risk of dying unexpectedly from this killer.
There is nothing I can say today to bring Charlie Burns back, or give his parents any comfort. I simply want to make as many people as possible aware of this condition, so that we can all help to make sure that similar tragedies do not happen in the future. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West, Labour)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, but I hesitate to do so after the contribution of Claire Perry, who I thought made an excellent speech and spoke with considerable compassion about the death of her constituent. I am sure that the Minister will want to respond in the most appropriate manner possible.
I seek to raise four issues on the Whitsun Adjournment. The first relates to the future of the custody suite at Harrow police station, which serves my constituency. I heard in April that the Metropolitan police were planning to close the custody suite in October. There are rumours this week that the decision has been put on hold and that a final decision on closing or saving it will be taken in the autumn. There certainly appears to be a considerable body of opinion within the higher levels of the Met in favour of closing the custody suite. That would leave Harrow with no custody suite, and one of only two London boroughs—both in the suburbs of London, as I understand the other is Richmond—without one. To date, there has been no proper explanation from the Metropolitan police of why they think Harrow’s custody suite, which has 13 cells, should close.
I raised this issue on the Floor of the House during Home Office questions, and—understandably—the Home Secretary replied that it was an operational matter for the Metropolitan police. At first glance, she is absolutely right, Nevertheless, I encourage Ministers to use their influence to ask the Metropolitan police to reconsider.
As I have said, Harrow’s custody suite consists of 13 cells. There are 5,000 “visits”, as they are called in the jargon, to those cells each year. Potentially, therefore, 5,000 prisoners would have to be held in other custody suites. I understand that the Metropolitan police want those who are arrested in Harrow to be housed at Kilburn and Wembley police stations. On one level, I am not concerned about where a prisoner from my constituency is housed. What concerns me and many of my constituents is that if prisoners have to be transported to those other custody suites for the purposes of an investigation into whether they have committed the crimes of which they are accused and preparation of paperwork for court appearances, substantial police officer time will be wasted. That would inevitably have an impact on the quality and number of investigations that can take place at Harrow. Travelling to Kilburn during the rush hour can take more than an hour, and
travelling to Wembley on cup final day can take a long time as well. According to one estimate, based on that figure of 5,000 visits a year, between 10,000 and 20,000 police officer hours could be wasted in transporting prisoners to the two new custody suites.
I understand that shortly after a custody suite closes, the CID team in the Met go to the replacement custody suite. Given that more than 100 CID officers are currently based at Harrow police station, my constituents are understandably concerned that those officers may find themselves permanently based at Wembley police station in Brent. That, too, would reduce the level and quality of policing in my constituency.
In an attempt to establish the reason for the Metropolitan police’s decision, I tabled a freedom of information request asking them for details of all their custody suites, including the number of cells and the staffing levels. There are some 44 custody suites in London; 14 contain fewer cells than Harrow police station, and at many substantially more staff and police officers are based than are based at Harrow. The decision by the Metropolitan police to close the Harrow custody suite therefore does not appear to have been made on cost grounds. I am told that the Met may have had in mind the quality of the cells at Harrow and that some capital investment is certainly needed, but I am also told that there is no difference in quality between Harrow and Kilburn.
I was not consulted on, or even formally told of, the decision in advance. I have written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who has told me that an assistant commissioner will be writing to me to explain why Harrow police station has been singled out. I have not yet received that letter. I welcome the fact that the Met may well reconsider the decision, but I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will use his influence to encourage Home Office Ministers to have a quiet word in the ear of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and urge him to reverse it.
The second issue is the proposed airport in the Thames estuary. On behalf of the airports serving my constituency, notably Heathrow, I have concerns about that proposal. There are several noisy cheerleaders for the Thames estuary airport, even though it does not make sense in air traffic control terms, it would require hugely costly investment in roads, housing and other infrastructure, and years of architects’, planners’ and traffic and environment consultants’ time, and it certainly would not solve London’s immediate need for extra airport capacity. Many rival airports, notably Schiphol in the Netherlands, have experienced a significant increase in business in recent months. Given that the Thames estuary airport has not begun to go through any of its planning, environmental, financial or air traffic control assessment processes, owners of such rival airports must be licking their lips at the prospect of the months or even years they will have to attract international business away from London’s airports while the debate about a Thames estuary airport continues.
National Air Traffic Services has quietly pointed out the considerable additional problems a Thames estuary airport will cause in London’s already congested airspace. It would sit directly under the central route into London’s airspace, so aeroplanes carrying thousands of passengers a year would be taking off and landing at the new airport through one of the world’s busiest airspaces. In short, a Thames estuary airport is about as sensible as
building a new crèche in the middle of a motorway. It would also shift the eastern boundary of London’s air traffic holding patterns, in turn opening up the need for negotiations with other nations about changes to UK airspace, which, at best, would mean another delay to any new airport’s start date. Worse still, there is the risk of creating an investment hiatus at London’s existing airports, as the business community waits to see whether the idea of a Thames estuary airport can really be made to work.
Denis MacShane (Rotherham, Labour)
I am listening very carefully as I was brought up in London. I have always been astonished that we are the only capital city in the world where the Head of State and the Prime Minister can be woken up at 5 o’clock on Christmas morning by planes flying over. Everywhere else, airports are situated some distance away, so planes do not need to fly over city centres. I wonder whether my hon. Friend is right to dismiss the idea of shifting everything a little eastwards, with planes flying into the wind from the east, rather than over the capital city. Also, if there was an accident involving a plane flying over central London, that could be incredibly dangerous.
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West, Labour)
Nobody wants to lose any passenger through an air traffic incident, and, of course, we would want to minimise disruption to anybody, whether a Prime Minister or not, but we have to look at these issues in the round, and I gently say to my right hon. Friend that, notwithstanding the noise level that the Prime Minister currently has to deal with, he should consider the range of issues mounting up against the idea of a Thames estuary airport.
I am worried about the Thames estuary airport proposal stalling investment at Heathrow. Many of my constituents work at Heathrow, or in the businesses that thrive in the economy associated with it. Leaving aside the considerable financial, air traffic control and other such reasons for not going ahead with the Thames estuary airport, I cannot see how an airport there could be in the interest of west London, as Heathrow would, in effect, be downgraded from the major international hub airport it is now and would lose the jobs and investment that a major airport brings in its wake. That is what would happen if a Thames estuary airport were built.
My last point about the problems with the Thames estuary airport relates to the environmental challenges it would generate, which do not appear to have been taken on board yet. I gently suggest to Ministers that the proposal for an airport in the Thames estuary is a distraction from, not a solution to, the issue of airport capacity. It has the potential to damage the economy that serves my constituency in the area around Heathrow, and I urge Ministers to bring it to a close.
The third issue that I briefly wish to discuss is Sri Lanka, and the report that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has just released on human rights across the world, which touches on Sri Lanka. I very much welcome the report, and I commend the FCO for continuing the tradition of publishing a report on human rights in the countries in which we all, as a House of Commons, have a considerable interest. The report noted the considerable number of disappearances and abductions that are continuing in the north and east of Sri Lanka, in particular, with a sharp rise at the end of the year.
A number of my constituents have brought to my attention the unexplained death of a young Tamil man, Easwarathasan Ketheeswaran, who was deported back to Sri Lanka from the UK. I have tabled questions to the FCO and the Home Office on the matter. I asked the FCO whether it has had discussions with the regime in Sri Lanka to press questions about the quality of the police investigation into this young man’s death. I asked the Home Office whether this unexplained death of someone deported back to Sri Lanka from our country will affect its policy on the deportations of Tamil men, in particular, back to Sri Lanka.
The FCO report gave detail about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and recalled that the Sri Lankan Government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report had noted a serious lack of investigations by the Sri Lankan police into disappearances and human rights abuses, particularly in the north and east of the country. The commission went on to note the failure of the Sri Lankan police on some occasions to register complaints when people had come to see them to point out disappearances, abductions and human rights abuses. Indeed, as the FCO’s work pointed out, that commission report also highlighted the continuing substantial military presence in the north and east of Sri Lanka, which it said was making the northern province, in particular, unsafe for women. The FCO report went on to note the number of war widows in the northern and eastern provinces—approximately 90,000.
Many hon. Members will be familiar with the huge number of deaths in Sri Lanka at the end of the conflict in 2009, which prompted United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a panel of experts to report on both the scale of the killings and the level of human rights abuses in the run-up to the last months of the conflict, when more than 40,000 people were killed. According to the UN report, many of those people lost their lives as a result of the Sri Lankan military’s use of cluster bombs and as a result of the intense bombing of areas, even those designated as “no-fire zones”. The UN report also noted that huge numbers of Tamils in particular in the north and east suffered at the end of the conflict from a lack of access to food and medicine, as the Sri Lankan military allowed food and medicine through to the then still LTTE-controlled areas in very few cases.
The UN panel concluded that there was evidence of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity and repeated the call for an international independent investigation into those war crimes allegations. Encouragingly, the UN Human Rights Council recently concluded that there needs to be a proper international investigation and that people should be held to account.
In addition, the International Crisis Group, my hon. Friend Lyn Brown and other Members have highlighted the growing insecurity of women in the north and east because of lack of access to housing or jobs and the generally unsafe environment in which they live. What can the Government do to help? They should certainly continue to keep up the pressure for an independent international inquiry. Many of my constituents were disappointed by the decision to invite the President of Sri Lanka to take part in the jubilee celebrations without assurances being sought that he will be accommodating to the UN and will help an independent international inquiry to take place.
Another direct thing that the Government could do, through the Department for International Development—I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take this point back to the Department—is fund one or two international non-governmental organisations with a proper track record in such matters to provide support and assistance to the women and many children in the north and east of Sri Lanka who are vulnerable. I know from my time as a Minister in DFID that it does not have staff based in Sri Lanka and could not therefore set up its own aid programme, but it does fund many international organisations—from the Oxfams and Save the Childrens to the Islamic Reliefs and so on—that work in countries across the world where the Department does not have a full operation of its own. They could be trusted to provide proper development assistance to incredibly vulnerable people.
My final point is very different and concerns London Welsh rugby football club’s application to join rugby’s premiership. As Members will recognise, I have some Welsh roots and a number of my constituents, like me, enjoy cheering on London Welsh. For the first time in the history of the rugby championship in the UK, London Welsh has got through to the play-off final and it submitted its bid to the Rugby Football Union to be considered for a place in the premiership should it win. Yesterday, before the first leg of that play-off final was due to take place, the RFU published the results of its investigation into London Welsh’s bid and rejected it out of hand. Proper reasons have not yet been given for the decision, but if media reports are to be believed it appears that the application was rejected because London Welsh does not have its own ground that meets premiership standards. As London Welsh spokespeople have pointed out to the media, a series of premiership teams are already in that category, notably Saracens.
Denis MacShane (Rotherham, Labour)
I wish my hon. Friend all the best, but frankly the men in blazers and those bright pink and orange corduroy trousers who control the RFU will not give any consideration to the passion of London Welsh, its players and its supporters. We experienced that in Rotherham when we got into the premier league and were then booted out. We had a wonderful ground and people could get right down to the touchline to watch the rugby. It is much better than sitting up in a big stadium, but those gentlemen of a particular class are the worst administrators of any of our major games. I wish my hon. Friend well, but he ain’t going to get going until they change their corduroy trousers.
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West, Labour)
I am a huge supporter of my right hon. Friend on most things, as he knows, but I hope that on this occasion he will allow me to take a slightly more temperate view of the Rugby Football Union. In general, I think it does a good job and I hope that it will reconsider London Welsh’s application.
Mark Pawsey (Rugby, Conservative)
As the Member of Parliament for Rugby and someone with great enthusiasm for the game of rugby, may I tell the hon. Gentleman that true rugby fans across the country will have enormous sympathy with the case he is making? The teams that do well deserve the right to be promoted.
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West, Labour)
I am grateful for the support of the hon. Gentleman and, I think, the support of my right hon. Friend Mr MacShane for this great cause.
London Welsh players responded in the best way possible to the news last night when they won the away leg at the Cornish Pirates’ ground 37 points to 21. We take a 16-point lead into the home game at the Oxford Kassam stadium next Wednesday evening. I hope that members of the RFU board will come to that stadium to see just how well that ground could house premiership rugby next year.
David Mowat (Warrington South, Conservative)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I note that the fourth issue he has addressed, rugby, has attracted a lot more interest in the Chamber than the previous three. I endorse the comments that we have just heard about the quality of administration in the RFU. If he or his club would like to come to the rugby league to see an example of fine administration they should do that.
Let me make a serious point about London Welsh, which I think would be replacing Newcastle in the premiership. I have nothing at all against London Welsh, but it would be a pity if the whole of the rugby union premiership became dominated by teams from the south and did not include fine teams such as Rotherham and Newcastle, which have dropped out of that league.
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West, Labour)
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need for rugby union to have a very diverse base across the country. I certainly hope that when Newcastle takes its place in the championship, as I hope it will, it continues to benefit from the RFU’s support and largesse so that it can have a genuine chance of winning a place back in the premiership. Nevertheless, we have to allow proper promotion and relegation to take place. I do not think London Welsh has been properly treated thus far. I raise this issue in the House today because I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House might encourage the Minister for Sport and the Olympics to use his influence to encourage the RFU to publish the full details of its assessment and how it reached the decision to reject London Welsh’s application for the premiership, so that London Welsh has all the facts in front of it as it prepares its case for appeal.
Mark Pawsey (Rugby, Conservative)
I am pleased to follow Mr Thomas, who has raised some very important issues about a team with a wonderful heritage in the game of rugby. I am pleased to contribute to this debate and although I do not intend to go on at great length, it is an enormous pleasure to be able to speak in this place without having to race the clock or strike out paragraphs from a speech because of a time limit being reduced.
I want to speak about graduated driver licensing, with would involve a change in the licensing regime for new drivers to restrict them to driving only in low-risk environments. I am very keen to raise this issue from the viewpoint of a father of four children, three of whom are now drivers. Like most parents, I had real concerns about my children’s safety in the critical period just after they passed their driving test. I have seen the effect
that a road traffic accident can have: when one of my teenage son’s great friends lost his life, it had an effect on the whole friendship group. I also speak as an observer at a local court where a young man was sentenced for causing by careless driving the death of his friend who was in the passenger seat.
The first case showed me the effect of the loss of a young life on the friends of the person. My hon. Friend Claire Perry spoke movingly about the effects of the loss of a young life. The second case showed me how the behaviour of a young driver, late at night and when there was certainly an element of showing off, also caused the loss of a life.
What is the extent of the problem? According to the Department for Transport, one in five newly qualified drivers, most of them under the age of 25, has a crash within six months of obtaining their licence. According to the AA, a young driver is 10 times more likely to be involved in a serious collision than a more experienced driver.
With that in mind, I draw the attention of the House to graduated driver licensing. Why is it necessary? A lot of research has been carried out by Dr Sarah Jones and Professor Stephen Palmer of Cardiff university, and they have put together a detailed report on the potential of graduated licensing to save lives. They draw attention to the driving conditions where risks are highest and note that they are exacerbated for new and young drivers: driving late at night, driving with passengers of a similar age and driving after drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
To save lives, those conditions need to be minimised, which is exactly what graduated driver licensing does. It reduces exposure to those conditions and builds on-road driving experience by providing an intermediate phase—where there is a degree of supervision and control—between being a learner and holding a full licence. The duration of the intermediate phase is a matter for consideration, so I shall not suggest a firm figure; some supporters have proposed between two and two and a half years.
In the intermediate phase, a driver has complete permission to drive, but not at certain times of night and not with passengers. A further factor that might be introduced could be a restriction on the cubic capacity or horsepower of the engine of the car that new drivers are allowed to drive.
I have already touched on alcohol consumption, which would be zero, and on drug-driving. Drug taking is more prevalent among young people; as a generalisation it is probably safe to say that a greater proportion of drug taking occurs in the evening, so the provisions of the graduated driver licence would mean that the prospect of young people driving after taking drugs would reduce. A consultation paper by the AA in 2008, “Learning to Drive,” said:
“The drug driving problem is not adequately quantified at present, and it is likely that its greatest impact is among the young. If the drug driving problem is as great as some reports suggest, it could be a major reason for accident levels among young drivers. A recent AA Populus poll of 17,500 members showed that 50% felt that drug driving was as big a problem as drink driving.”
I am, therefore, pleased that the Government are aware of the issue, and I welcome the legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech to create a specific offence of drug-driving.
Let us consider the difference between the present position and what would occur if graduated driver licensing were introduced. Currently, there is no restriction on a 17-year-old passing his or her test on one day and on the next driving a gang of mates in a powerful car with a 5 litre engine, capable of travelling at 150 mph. There is a problem that needs to be addressed. Research by Jones and Palmer into all accidents in Britain between 2000 and 2007 found that young people driving in certain conditions were more prone to accidents.
The key points are as follows: young drivers were involved in around 10% of all crashes; crashes involving older drivers decreased by 25% over the period, whereas those involving young drivers dropped by only 5%; a quarter of young driver crashes occurred between 9 pm and 6 am; a quarter of young driver crashes occurred when the young driver was carrying at least one other passenger aged between 15 and 24; half of young driver crash casualties, and 70% of the fatalities, occurred between 9 pm and 6 am and with at least one 15 to 24-year-old in the car; 50% of young driver fatalities occurred either between 10 pm and 5 am or with at least one 15 to 19-year-old in the car; and, perhaps most strikingly, they found that fatal crashes involving older drivers decreased by 15%, while those involving young drivers increased by 15%. The figures show that there is a real problem when it comes to young drivers.
The Government have a position on this. I raised the matter in the House during questions to the then Transport Secretary on
“suffer worse safety records than the UK”.—[Hansard, 27 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 437.]
That might be so, but I still think that the number of fatalities among our young people means that the matter should be considered properly. Secondly, he said, in defence of the existing situation, that introducing the system would reduce the mobility of young people and have a negative effect on their participation in the labour market and in higher education. What proportion of young drivers are participating in the labour market or higher education during the hours when graduated driver licensing would impose a restriction, bearing in mind that we are taking about late at night? I cannot see how that argument stands up in relation to a young person driving with his friends at 2 o’clock in the morning.
In 2008 the Government conducted a review of the learner driver process, “Learning to Drive”, and considered graduated driver licensing. They concluded that the reform of driver training and testing is a more appropriate and effective method of dealing with the problem. The Department for Transport said that graduated driver licensing
“would bring extensive social and economic costs”
With regard to costs, we know that there is economic value in saving a life. In 2003 the Health and Safety Executive formulated a cost-benefit analysis that put the cost of a life lost in a fatality at £1.3 million. Cardiff university has carried out some research on the value of preventing deaths in relation to two models of graduated driver licensing—either between 9 pm and 6 am or between 10 pm and 5 am. Under the stricter model, it
calculated savings at £247 million a year, and under the less strict model it calculated them at £162 million. Therefore, in addition to reducing the distress we have already heard about today, there would be significant economic benefits from introducing graduated driver licensing.
Elsewhere in the world, graduated driver licensing was first used in New Zealand in 1987 and has since been implemented across the United States, Canada, Australia and parts of Europe. The programmes used in each of those countries vary, and I am not at this stage making a case for which system we should adopt, but the principle of restricting new drivers remains the same in all cases. The research from Cardiff university shows that the impacts will vary, but the best result that has been seen is in Ontario, where crash fatalities among young people decreased by 76% over two years.
The number of young driver crashes is clearly disproportionately high. The issue touches almost everybody: parents, relatives and friends of the young people involved. Action can be taken. I question whether the Government’s current position of looking for more training and testing will be sufficient. I firmly believe that an approach that decreases the risks to which young drivers expose themselves will help reduce the number of young driver incidents. I urge the Government to look again at the positive effects that a new system of licensing could have in achieving what we all wish to see: the young people of our country being safer on our roads and fewer people having to go through the kind of experience that my son and his friends went through.
Denis MacShane (Rotherham, Labour)
It is a pleasure to follow Mark Pawsey, whose suggestion I entirely endorse. He revealed, though, two of the biggest problems that all hon. Members and, indeed, Government Front Benchers, face: the “not invented here” syndrome; and the Whitehall expert who knows best and will always find a reason why something cannot be done and should not be changed.
I always admired Gladstone, who brought in a tax for just six months. We should experiment, try the graduated driver’s licence scheme for a year or two and see whether it produces good results. I have seen it work over a number of years in France. After someone passes their driving test in that country, they have to drive around for a year with a large letter “A” on the back of their car, for “apprentice”. That is what it means in French.
The hon. Gentleman’s point about people not going out late at night when they have taken drugs or had a drink is extremely important. Fatalities in France are much higher for lots of other reasons, such as bad road management, speed limits and drink driving, but they are coming down fast. We have a good record, but each life lost—particularly that of a young person—is a terrible tragedy for the families concerned, so I wish him all the very best with his campaign.
I wish to talk briefly about the steel industry and my region of south Yorkshire, and it is an enormous pleasure to do so in the company, on the Opposition Front Bench, of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone
and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), because she has one of Britain’s most important steel engineering plants in her constituency and is a doughty champion of it. That plant is linked to a major one in Rotherham, and on this issue we have been able to combine action over a number of years.
The issue has to be set in the broader context of today’s extraordinarily sad news from the Office for National Statistics, which reports that our economy is again contracting. We are shrinking. We have that extraordinary malady of the ever-shrinking British economy under this Government. In the first quarter of this year it was down 0.3%, which is an increase in negative growth on the first estimate of 0.2%, but within that overall figure we have some rather more worrying statistics, which impact on the broader south Yorkshire manufacturing economy, including not only steel, but engineering, construction and all the things that go into “making” Britain, rather than the financial services or the huge amounts of money that the City makes. Indeed, one of the huge problems with the current Government is that the Cabinet knows the south of France better than it knows the north of England.
According to the ONS, construction output declined by 4.8% in the first three months of this year, after a 0.2% decline in the fourth quarter last year. That is absolutely catastrophic, and one of the biggest components of any aspect of construction, from roads, to houses, office blocks, new schools and hospital wings, is steel, so, when the construction industry declines by 5% under our nation’s current economic stewards, that signals very bad news for steel.
There has been no growth at all in manufacturing. There are of course some pockets of growth, and, as my right hon. Friend Mr Spellar pointed out earlier today, the car industry is doing better, so I accept fully that the situation is uneven, but we are a United Kingdom Parliament, not a south of England Parliament or a Parliament just for the City, and our policies have to help all of the country, not just parts of it.
Debt is the enemy of any good stewardship of the nation, although I have to say that I have probably been in debt all my life: it is called a mortgage. But, providing I have been able to manage that debt and to pay the interest rates, I have not been crippled by it. When William Pitt became Prime Minister in 1784, the average national income of Great Britain was £23 million and the national debt of Great Britain was £240 million. In other words, the national debt was 10 times the national income. That did not faze Pitt, but it seems to faze his old Etonian successor, our current Prime Minister, who thinks that an infinitesimally smaller level of debt is something that has to bring the entire UK economy to a juddering halt. I am not suggesting that we return to Pittite days of massive debt to national income ratios, but we have to strike a balance, and we will certainly not tackle any of our debt if we do not swiftly move to growth.
I accept that some Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, are interested in steel and have come to the advanced manufacturing plant in Rotherham, on the border with Sheffield, to see the excellent work done there by Rolls-Royce, Boeing and other companies. I invite a Minister to come to a
steel plant, either in my constituency or that of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, where they will be told about the extraordinarily international nature of the steel industry and about the fact that what goes into making steel entirely determines its profitability and the future sustainability of any part of the industry.
The big problem that we face is the obsession with front-loading on to the steel industry the general problem of climate change. I am talking about steel, but I am not excluding other industries. I am sure that hon. Members with connections to the glass or ceramics industry, or to other high-energy-using industries, would make the same point on their behalf. There has been a culture, not necessarily under this Government, of saying, “Heavy industry bad; anything else good.” Well, I am sorry, but we are not going to move away into an economy of which steel does not remain an essential component. Steel is vital, sometimes in very small elements, whether it be in our cars, our mobile telephones or the planes we travel in—modern steel, high-tech steel, flexible steel. Steel is also a huge recycling industry. It is not generally understood that steel production is based on gobbling up and reusing old, unused steel that would otherwise have to go into landfill or clutter up the landscape.
In this year’s Budget, our southern-oriented Chancellor outlined policies that will have a detrimental effect on the UK steel industry. He confirmed that the Government will calculate the 2014-15 prices support rates, equivalent to £9.55 per tonne of carbon dioxide, in line with the carbon price floor, using the methodology set out in the 2011 Budget. This has increased from the indicative rate set last year of £7.28 per tonne. That is a response to the dramatic fall in carbon prices seen last summer. EU allowances reached record lows at the beginning of this year, so the support rate or tax applied in the UK needs to go up to achieve the floor. That means that next year the rate will be nearly double that in 2014, which was meant to stand at £4.94 per tonne but is now set much higher.
I am sorry that this is quite complicated, technical stuff to bring to the House. I am not trying to make a partisan point; indeed, I pay tribute to Ministers, who have always been willing to receive delegations of MPs from steel industry areas. Part of the problem is that such a level of technical detail is impossible to get across in parliamentary questions. One has to dig into fairly technical steel technology and steel industry publications to find this material, because it never features on the front page of any newspaper or business section.
In response to the increase in the carbon price floor, BIS has allocated £250 million in compensation to cover the 2013-15 period. Given that our steel industry has a value of about £3 billion a year, £250 million will not be sufficient to counteract the negative effect of the carbon price floor. That might cause lasting damage to the British steel industry.
I plead with the Government—the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change—to rethink their policies. They can, by all means, insist that we reduce CO2 emissions. However, they should not use methodologies and prices that are changing so rapidly that they will do damage when rigidly applied. Believe me, when civil servants want to apply something rigidly, they do. On the whole, Ministers, however well-intentioned they are,
are not across every detail of such decisions. Without it being an intended consequence, if we allow the present structure of carbon reduction through price support mechanisms to continue, we may face serious damage to our steel industry.
Secondly, there is the pledge to consult on simplifying the carbon reduction commitment energy efficiency scheme, or CRCEES as it is known in the trade, to attempt to reduce the administrative burden on business. The Government have said that they are ready to look at replacing those revenues with an alternative environmental tax. However, they have not specified how an environmental tax will be paid and which industries it will affect. We also had the statement on feed-in tariffs earlier today.
Last night, I had the most extraordinary exchange with Mr Nigel Farage on LBC. His new term for the Prime Minister is a “warmist”. I had never heard of warmism before, but in the lexicon of the UK Independence party, it is apparently used to denounce people who like renewable energy and wind turbines, and who think that we are facing global warming. Mr Farage obviously knows better that global warming is an EU conspiracy to undermine Britain. He thinks that the louder he calls the Prime Minister a warmist, the more people will flock to vote for UKIP. I do not know whether that is the case.
At the moment, only non-energy-intensive firms and organisations are bound by the carbon reduction commitment. We have to look at other ways in which we can support energy intensive industries, and the steel industry in particular. It is the most extraordinary sight to see steel being melted in Rotherham. Scrap is poured into a giant metal pot and a red-hot electrode goes in at about 2,000° or 3,000°. There is a huge explosion, upon which I have seen distinguished colleagues shake. It demonstrates the raw power of industry. In a sense, it is a process that has not changed since the days of Vulcan—heat is applied to iron ore or scrap metal and out flows molten steel—except that the process is magnified in temperature and size many times over. It is fantastically dramatic; sometimes tragically so, as accidents still happen. That is the raw nature of what has to be the core of our economy, because however high-tech, Googley and Facebooky we want to make the British economy, and however much we want to base it on the City and the financial services industry, it will still need houses, cars, hospitals and metal manufacturing.
The third problem is the extraordinary discrepancy between the fuel costs in this country and those of our major competitors. The most dramatic difference is with the United States, where shale gas is significantly reducing the cost of energy. I have graphs here, but I do not really want to give more figures. The price of fuel in the US is about 50% lower than that in the United Kingdom. That is why I support a dash for gas, based on shale gas. That could significantly reduce the UK’s dependence on imported energy sources. I am not against wind farms—how can one be?—but they will never provide the electricity that is needed to melt steel. Everybody wants to be able to press a switch and on comes the light, on comes the heating, on comes the hot shower, on comes the air conditioning or on comes whatever else, but that ain’t gonna happen from renewable sources.
Finally, I want to consider the problem of electricity prices. I have a chart illustrating the estimated prices in 2015. I cannot hold it up, because we cannot do PowerPoint stuff in the Chamber, but the best estimates show that the cost per megawatt-hour delivered in Germany will be about €50, and in the United Kingdom €70. In the United States it will be €35, in the Nordic countries €45 and in France a bit less than in Germany, maybe €48. Those are estimates, but we—by “we” I mean our steel industry—pay higher tax on electricity than the United States or our main European steel-making competitors.
I understand the desire to reduce our carbon output and the Treasury’s perfectly reasonable desire to get what tax it can from whatever source it can. I know that my speech could be described as special pleading, but the comparators with most other countries show that the British steel industry remains fundamentally disadvantaged by the higher cost of electricity, which is needed for melting steel. It cannot be done with a Bunsen burner or by putting the gas cooker on, it needs 2,000° C to 3,000° C-worth of electricity delivered fast and hard.
David Mowat (Warrington South, Conservative)
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that every Member should spend some time looking at a blast furnace. The one that I saw was in Port Talbot. It is quite an emotional experience.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a case about high energy prices, and it is a fact that they destroy jobs and value in industries of the type that he is representing today. However, I am not quite so clear about what his solution is, given everybody’s apparent desire to have more windmills.
Denis MacShane (Rotherham, Labour)
It is to invest in a mixture of energy sources, and I would focus on nuclear. We simply need a wider national debate about what is important, including maintaining a steel and manufacturing sector as part of the broader economy. It is reducing in size and will never generate millions of jobs again, but we need a debate about whether it is worth while, particularly in the part of England that is getting less and less attention from this very southern-focused Government. The hon. Gentleman made the point that if Newcastle were knocked out of the rugby union premier league, rugby union would become an entirely southern-based sport. I want more balance in our economy and our sport, much though I am delighted that Chelsea beat the Germans on Saturday.
I will finish by quoting Karl-Ulrich Köhler, the managing director of Tata Steel here in the UK. He praised the Budget, saying:
“The Chancellor is rightly aiming to reward work”,
but he said that it
“did little to ease the additional unilateral energy costs that UK industry must bear. The benefits to industry pale into insignificance against the costs imposed on them from existing energy and climate change regulations, which are rising alarmingly in the UK.”
That is “Made in Britain” regulation. It has nothing to do with the EU. I am going to sit down now, but I could make the case that the European model of manufacturing, steel and energy prices is much more intelligent and co-ordinated than ours. If we had the same model, it
would hugely benefit manufacturing, particularly the steel industry. I urge Ministers to pay particular attention to the matter.
I would get on my knees to say that even if we have much better and fairer electricity prices, we can make all the products we want, but while we have a recession-focused Chancellor who seems to draw some weird pleasure from the British economy shrinking, there will be no money to buy those products and the firms of Rotherham will face a very bleak future. That goes not just for our huge steel industry but for every firm that needs a decent level of demand in the economy, which is currently being denied the UK.
Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)
I ended my speech in the Christmas recess debate by saying:
“I am amazed that the leaders of the Christian faith around the world, whether the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, through the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Pope, have remained silent. It is time that the Christian leaders spoke up for the people of the holy land.”—[Hansard, 20 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 1292.]
Five months of silence has followed. Collectively—with certain significant exceptions—the Christian Church has abandoned not only the holy land but the indigenous Palestinian people. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury might like to check precisely what the parable of the Good Samaritan is about.
Hunger strikes by hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons have gone barely noticed by the British media. One thing is certain: the holocaust of 70 years ago was not the fault of the Palestinians. It seems, however, that Europe’s collective guilt for what happened is represented by the collective repression and punishment of the Palestinians.
The preamble to the UN charter states that the UN was created, among other things,
“to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights…to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained…to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”
“to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”.
It specifically states that
“armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”
and refers to
“the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.
Article 1, chapter 1 of the charter refers to the need to
“develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take…appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”,
and to the need to encourage
“respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.
Denis MacShane (Rotherham, Labour)
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech, and I do not dissent from some of the points he makes. The puzzle is that in 1948 Israel was allowed to be created by the UN, so why was the Palestinian state not created then, with East Jerusalem as its capital and including the west bank and Gaza? Why did Palestine not come into being at that time?
Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)
I can answer that only by saying that in the year of my birth, the state of Israel did not exist, but today, maps of the middle east show that it occupies virtually the entirety of what used to be Palestine.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton, Conservative)
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the state of Israel should exist?
Sir Bob Russell: My view is that those who reside in Israel and Palestine should live in peace together, regardless of faith, whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jewish people or people of no faith. History is on my side and time will prove me right.
Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)
Sadly, the attitude of the state of Israel is such that the probability of a two-state solution being achieved is moving rapidly towards zero.
The UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, adopted on
“indigenous people should be free from discrimination of any kind”.
It also makes reference to
“the urgent need to respect…their rights to their lands, territories and resources”.
Sadly, there is one country with which this country, every EU country and the United States have strong links but which practises policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against its indigenous people. I refer to the state of Israel.
Last year, I had the privilege of visiting Palestine and Israel, the west bank and East Jerusalem. I witnessed at first hand those policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories—a separate matter from that of the Arab Bedouin. We have heard today about the Arab spring, but I am referring to the Arab winter. Palestinian children are being arrested, ill treated and, it is arguable, tortured. Some are being detained in Israel in violation of article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention.
I have raised concerns about the Israel-Palestine issue on numerous occasions in the House, most recently yesterday at International Development questions, when I again asked about ethnic cleansing and apartheid. On
“a country that should stand up for clear human rights and clear rights and wrongs in international relations. This Government have been very clear that we do not agree with the Israeli Government’s
practice on settlements…and this Government will continue to act and vote on illegal settlements.”—[ Official Report ,
I also raised these issues on
“We support closer ties between Israel and the international community… The EU has been very clear that no progress can be made on upgrading the wider EU-Israel relationship until there is substantial progress towards a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a position the UK supports.”—[Hansard, 16 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 200W.]
“We are not calling for or advocating a military attack on Iran, and at this moment we advise others not to do so. But we also believe that it is important to keep Iran under pressure and that no options are taken off the table.”—[Hansard, 28 February 2012; Vol. 541, c. 149.]
I have asked numerous other questions on human rights and the occupation.
Another interesting subject is how Israel ignores international law on the freedom of shipping in international waters. I tabled a written question about that last month, to which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, replied:
“The most recent incident of which we are aware”—
which suggests that there is more than one—
So there we have it: international law and United Nations resolutions can, it seems, all be ignored by Israel without any retribution or action by this country, the European Union or the United Nations.
I am grateful to Ted from Liverpool, who has sent me some background information. He ends his message—the subject of which is “War War not Jaw Jaw is Israel’s way”—with the words:
“End the Occupation, then there will be Peace.”
“Many of us worry that Israel will drag us into a war with Iran… We now learn”—
the Foreign Secretary’s answer tended to confirm this—
“that Government Ministers are considering how we might be involved in the event of an Israeli strike and an Iranian response. America has already stated its own position in a Bill, HR 4133… Texan Representative Ron Paul, the only one to speak out against it, has said ‘...the objective is to provide Israel with the resources to attack Iran, if it chooses to do so, while tying the US and Israel so closely together that whatever Benjamin Netanyahu does, the US “will always be there”, as our president has so aptly put it.’…the vote was 411 to 2 in favour”
of the Bill.
Incidentally, just as a throwaway line, I am advised that the Olympic games organisers have listed Israel as a country in Europe.
Ted writes that recently in the other House,
“Baroness Brinton spoke of an Israeli army order to demolish 1,500 olive trees in Deir Istiya… the Foreign Office, whilst condemning Israel’s abuse of human rights in its Human Rights & Democracy Report for 2011, merely remonstrates with Israel over its abuses and at the same time rewards it with favoured nation treatment and trading agreements.”
Eric of Ipswich tells me:
“we are well used to Israel ejecting Palestinians from their own homes, for demolition… It is also normal for Israel to destroy Palestinian farms and land, to prevent the local population feeding itself”.
In fact, I have witnessed that myself on the west bank, where a priority for some of the illegal Israeli settlements is to stop up watercourses, depriving the indigenous population of water to grow crops, because the water is needed by the settlers for their swimming pools. Eric continues:
“in Yatta, Rateb al-Jabour…Israeli soldiers accompanied by policemen and members of the Israeli civil administration raided the area with heavy machinery and destroyed six tents housing over 30 people.”
The object of the Israeli demolition was
“to empty it of…local residents to expand the nearby”
illegal settlement of Sosiya. Israeli forces recently
“demolished an animal barn… south of Hebron,”
“Israeli bulldozers demolished…a 600-square-meter chicken hut, built 30 years ago, in…a village southwest of Ramallah”.
In the other House, the Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell was challenged over the destruction of Palestinian olive groves, to which, I am led to believe, he responded by saying, “Well, there are two sides to an illegal invasion/occupation,” which is an extraordinary statement. We have to ask the question put to me by Eric of Ipswich:
“How many more people have to die and suffer, before Israel is made to obey international law?”
“The one and only problem is the illegal occupation. Please use your position to put an end to the misery, require Israel to live in peace with its neighbours instead of attacking them all, and allow Palestinian farmers of olives and other crops and livestock, to earn their living and feed their people.”
In conclusion, I should like to draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 57, tabled by me, on the Co-operative Group’s Israeli boycott. I hope that all will support it. Sadly, Tesco does not do so: it continues to sell produce grown on land stolen from Palestinians by Israeli settlers. However, the Co-operative Group is banning all Israeli goods from the occupied Palestinian west bank. The motion
“calls on all other supermarket chains and suppliers to follow the excellent lead of the Co-operative Group; recalls that it was such boycott policies which helped end apartheid in South Africa; and calls on the Government to make representations to the EU to urge that all member states issue similar boycott measures and to end the special trading status which the EU has with Israel.”
Denis MacShane (Rotherham, Labour)
Does the hon. Gentleman know the German term “Kauft nicht bei Juden”? If he does not, he can look it up when he reads Hansard tomorrow.
I was in South Africa, where the minority white Government behaved abominably. I could not meet a black friend in an hotel. I worked with the black trade unions there. I share many of the hon. Gentleman’s criticisms of Israel, but the last time I was there, I could meet Arab Israeli parliamentarians and Arab supreme court judges, and I saw Arab women and their families swimming alongside Jews in the sea off Tel Aviv. The apartheid comparison is there for one reason only: an apartheid state cannot exist; it has no right to exist. Those who call Israel—
Dawn Primarolo (Deputy Speaker; Bristol South, Labour)
Order. With respect, the right hon. Gentleman spoke for 20 minutes, and he knows full well that interventions must be brief. A lot of Members are still waiting to speak, and I will need to consider imposing a time limit if speeches do not get a little shorter.
Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am unable to comment on what the right hon. Gentleman has said, as I have no personal knowledge of the points that he made.
I shall conclude by reading part of early-day motion 9, which
“calls on the UK Government not to support Israel in its continuing acts of breaches of international law and UN resolutions in respect of illegal action in international waters and in the illegal occupation of the West Bank and the annexation of East Jerusalem.”
Dawn Primarolo (Deputy Speaker; Bristol South, Labour)
Order. I should like to expand on my previous comment. We need to arrive at the wind-up speeches by 5.30 pm at the latest. If each Member who has indicated that they wish to speak takes approximately 10 minutes, they will all have the opportunity to participate. If that does not happen over the course of the next couple of speeches, I shall have to resort to imposing a time limit, but I am sure that I can trust all Members to watch the clock and make their points succinctly.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)
An historic event occurred on Tuesday this week. A freight train carrying full-scale lorry trailers from the continent through the channel tunnel arrived at a freight trans-shipment terminal at Barking, on the north of the Thames and to the east of London, for the first time. This was a simple demonstration of what should be the future for the millions of tonnes of freight that are carried every year on our roads. They can and should be carried by rail. The train that arrived at Barking could carry those lorry trailers no further, however, as the loading gauge on Britain’s rail network is too small to accommodate such traffic. We shall not see that massive modal shift from road to rail until trailers on trains can be carried the length and breadth of our country. I should point out that carbon dioxide emissions from heavy road freight are 12 times higher per tonne-mile than those from rail.
There is a scheme to build a dedicated or freight-priority line from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, linking all our major conurbations with each other and with the continent of Europe and beyond. I have been involved with the scheme for a decade or more, but I must point out that I have no pecuniary interest in it whatever. I work closely with the other members of the team, who include two railway engineers and Ken Russell of Russell Transport, the second-largest haulier in Scotland, which operates the Barking terminal.
The plan is to build a 400-mile line on unused track bed and under-utilised lines, with only 14 miles of new track route for the entire length. There will be a series of terminals—to the north-west of London, in the east midlands and west midlands, in south Yorkshire, south Lancashire and in Scotland. It will have an extension to the north-east and later to the south-west and south Wales. It is designed to work with road hauliers so that they can tractor their trailers to their nearest terminal and dispatch them by rail for transport to a terminal near their final destination. In its early stages, it will, as now, use the channel tunnel rail link—High Speed 1—but a separate line through Kent is incorporated in the final design. It will be built to a gauge to accommodate double-stacked full-size containers.
A large-gauge rail freight network is already well ahead on the continent of Europe with tunnels through the Alps and a 28-mile tunnel through the Brenner pass. There is also the Betuweroute, already built and running between Rotterdam and the Ruhr. If we do not build our new line, Britain will simply be left as a peripheral, antiquated and inadequate provider of rail freight, with consequent damage to our economy—a withering branch on the international railway tree.
Under our scheme, Scotch whisky could be delivered by rail to Berlin, Rome and points east reliably, efficiently and in an environmentally beneficial way. It would save thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions every year and overcome the problem of road congestion and drivers’ hours constraints that currently affect road haulage.
Our team and I have met successive Transport Ministers, and we are hopeful that it will not be long before the Government give us the green light. We are assured that, with a nod from the Government, bank finance would be forthcoming very quickly. The scheme will be cheap to build and self-financing when up and running. We anticipate that it would take 5 million lorry journeys off our roads every year, and take most of the freight traffic from the west coast and east coast main lines, freeing up that capacity for more passenger trains.
Based on HS1 costings, we calculate that the whole route will be constructed for less than £6 billion—a fraction of HS2, if I may say so. Indeed, one of the rail constructors suggested to us that it could do it for less than £4 billion. We have wide support. The supermarkets are keen; Eurotunnel is enthusiastic; the rail constructors are interested; and AXA, the insurance giant, has said that it is interested in investing in the terminals—it currently owns the freehold of the Barking terminal.
Under the last Government, I led a team of all the supporters to meet the then Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon. It seemed that the only concern was that our line along the old great central route might take up the route required for HS2. The fact is that
there is a stretch of only a few miles for which HS2 and our freight route would need run side by side, and it would cause no problems.
This rail scheme is desperately needed, and I believe that its time has come. It just needs a positive nod from the Government. I emphasise that I have no pecuniary interest—just a passionate belief that this scheme is vital for our country.
David Amess (Southend West, Conservative)
I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee, of which I confess I am a member, on providing this opportunity for debate. I have observed that some colleagues have used it extremely well, particularly my hon. Friend Claire Perry, who spoke so movingly. I congratulate her, too, on bringing the military wives choir to Portcullis House yesterday.
I wish to raise a number of points on the Whitsun Adjournment. First, I have three early-day motions, which I urge colleagues to sign before we rise for the recess. The first congratulates West Ham United on being promoted to the premiership, despite some poor management and over-inflated ticket prices. The second congratulates Chelsea on beating Bayern Munich. The third, with which I suspect Conservative Members might be pleased, condemns the behaviour of some of the people attending the Police Federation conference. I thought that their behaviour was disgraceful, particularly the way they tried to bully and intimidate the Home Secretary. I thought that, for them, it was a public relations disaster.
I shall turn now to online newspaper comments. I am increasingly concerned with the whole system whereby people can publish material in electronic newspaper articles without supplying their names and addresses. This is totally unacceptable. There are swear words and expletives, but there seems to be no legislation to deal with the problem. None of us really has the money to fight cases through the courts, even if that were possible. I know that whenever an article is written about me in one local newspaper—which I do not send to it—the abuse is endless. It is water off a duck’s back for me, but for some people who are rather close to me it can be a little bit offensive. I welcome the Defamation Bill, but I think that there should be much stricter controls. It is absolutely gutless not to force those who wish to say abusive things online to leave their names and addresses.
Public anger has recently been directed at the high pay received by private sector bosses, most notably those in the big banks, but what regulation is there to deal with some public sector executives? In 2009, 31 council bosses earned more than the Prime Minister, which is crazy, and chief executives of public bodies can take home more than £250,000 a year. I am not satisfied that there is proper scrutiny of public organisations, including some in Essex such as the probation service and NHS trusts.
I find it less than acceptable that a Member of Parliament should have to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to confirm, after a number of months, that those who were consulted on the closure of Leigh police station lived miles away, so effectively there was no consultation. It has taken me two years just to confirm that the present chief constable of Essex was chosen from a shortlist of one. That is outrageous.
Apparently the other candidates had withdrawn on the day. When I asked who had made the decision not to re-advertise the position, I was told that the decision had been made in the first instance by Essex police authority. That says it all. In 30 years, Essex police authority has never engaged with me, as a Member of Parliament. As I have said, there needs to be much greater scrutiny. Anyone can get rid of Members of Parliament after—now—five years, but some public bodies seem to be a law unto themselves.
I must admit that one of my children had an unfortunate experience recently with a private clamping company. We are dealing with it through the small claims court, and I am determined that we will win. To charge someone £480 and then intimidate and bully them is totally unacceptable. I understand that the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 will outlaw wheel-clamping on private land, and I welcome that, but I think that private clamping companies should be much more tightly regulated.
David Amess (Southend West, Conservative)
I think that I must accept your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. Some of us have been here since 1 pm, and I know that you are very keen to give everyone a chance to speak. I apologise for not giving way on this occasion.
I am dismayed that victims of the Vioxx disaster are still struggling to obtain compensation. Vioxx was the biggest drugs disaster in human history, killing more than 100,000 people worldwide and leaving many more suffering horrific side effects. With that in mind, I find it unbelievable that victims are still fighting legal battles. So far, the United States of America is the only country in which a Vioxx settlement has been won. Attempts at settlements have been made in Canada and Australia, but we do not seem to be progressing too well in this country.
I am also concerned about the impact of drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. All of us with children know that the biggest challenge we face is bringing them up, but I am very worried about something that has been brought to my attention by a constituent, Mrs Stephanie Lister: the fact that children with behavioural disorders are being described as having ADHD. Very young children are often issued with powerful treatments such as Ritalin, and Mrs Lister wondered whether the damage that they might cause had ever been considered. Children often complain of chest pains, vomiting and even total memory loss as a result of taking medications for behavioural conditions. Such prescriptions provide big business. In 2010 the NHS spent £48 million on ADHD drugs. The number of prescriptions has increased steadily over the past decade, and is currently at about the 750,000 mark. That is quite extraordinary.
I am very concerned about the political situation in the Maldives. The resignation of President Nasheed in February caused great turmoil. Last week the Speaker of the Maldives Parliament came to see me. Its Parliament is in deadlock, while the Speaker was barred from entering the state opening ceremony. He wisely chose not to intervene with force. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to do as much possible to help with the situation in the Maldives.
We in Essex are very upmarket, so we talk about children, not kids, but two weeks ago the “kids count” awards took place on the House of Commons Terrace, and it was a privilege to be there. I presented one of my constituents, Stephanie Migliorini, with the “kids count” award for the most inspirational young person. It was a wonderful evening. Various celebs were present, including Tony Hadley, the still-great singer, and Darren Campbell, the still-great runner. Seventeen-year-old Stephanie has two older brothers with tremendous challenges, and she has looked after them magnificently.
I am proud to have been given a new book written by one of my constituents. Simon Sear has written the inspirational “Kencho: the Art of Happiness”—which, of course, we all chase. He is the husband of Juliet Sear from the popular local bakery, Fancy Nancy. The book outlines a personal transformation programme, drawing on psychological tools and Simon’s personal experience, and its focus on happiness reinforces the social messages of the current Government. I recommend it to all colleagues as a good bedtime read.
I was delighted that one of my hon. Friends mentioned the comments made by the managing director of the International Monetary Fund only this week. Some Opposition Members must be suffering from amnesia: for 13 years we had a Labour Government. For 13 years that Government had an opportunity to transform our nation’s prospects, but, started off by Tony Blair and then finished by Mr Brown, our country was left in a dreadful state. No wonder the managing director of the IMF said she shivers to think what would have happened without the fiscal consolidation implemented by our new Government. I hope they stand firm on our current policy.
Last Thursday, Southend was blessed with the arrival of a new cultural centre on the end of what is the longest pier in the world. It is the first new building to be constructed on the pier since 2000—that is because, unfortunately, we have had three fires over the last 50 years. The building weighs 170 tonnes and it was carried by boat down the river Thames. I think it will be an icon for the eastern region, and I urge all Members to visit it.
Everyone is looking forward to the Olympics celebrations that will take place throughout the country. The arrival of the Olympics torch in the south-west has been absolutely marvellous, and I congratulate those who have made it possible for 95% of the population to be involved. Of course the highlight will be when the torch comes to Southend on
Next week, we will have the jubilee celebrations. In fact, we have the jubilee party in Westminster Hall this evening, and I know that many hon. Members will be on the Terrace on
David Mowat (Warrington South, Conservative)
I will endeavour to speak succinctly on one issue. I rise as a Back Bencher, and I am aware that many of us make suggestions to the
Government about policies that usually have the characteristic of costing money. I am delighted to say that the proposal I am going to outline will save the Government about £30 billion per annum. The case I wish to make is for the abolition of tax relief on pensions. If we were to get rid of that relief, it also would enable us, if we so wished, to increase the basic pension by between 50% and 60%, and to reverse the tax raid that resulted from the previous Government’s changes to private pension arrangements. Private pension arrangements in this country are a disaster.
The question might arise as to who would lose from this proposal. They would not be the people who are saving for their retirement, because the industry with which they have saved has failed completely to enable them to do that. I will develop that point a little further later. As far as I am able to make out, the only significant losers from this proposal would be estate agents in Kensington and Chelsea, which is where the supernormal profits from the industry that is supposed to look after our retirements are going.
In broad terms, there are two models for pensions. One is the one we have, whereby tax relief is given, people are encouraged to save in their own right and they then have their pots, which they can use at the end. The other model is that used in most of the rest of Europe, whereby the state has a much higher position in helping and the consequence is higher basic pension provision by the state. In general, I would prefer our model, if it worked—it would be a model that I am more comfortable with. It is a market-based model that encourages people to do the right thing and then have more money in retirement. Unfortunately, it has not worked and is not working, and there is a real policy issue to address for Governments of whatever type.
Let me give some evidence of the failure: approximately 50% of people have a poor view of the retirement industry; one third of people in the private sector do not save at all for their pensions; and another third who do save have an average pension pot in the order of £35,000, which will buy them a pension of about £1,500 per annum. The further evidence of failure in this area is that the Government, rather than reforming the current system, are introducing compulsion, because people will not save under the existing structures.
All this has happened because we have a market failure. As I say, I would prefer a market-based solution. We have a market that is too complex, in which there is no transparency and, most seriously, a massive asymmetry of information between the suppliers of these financial products and the people buying them. Punters need to demonstrate a massive degree of intellectual self-confidence in challenging the people who are selling pensions, the fund managers and so on. That is not going to be fixed by better financial regulation, although the situation could have been fixed with better advice—that is really what should have happened. The difficulty is that the advice industry of individual financial advisers was entirely hijacked by the pension fund provision industry in terms of commission, trailing commission and all that goes with that. As a result, independent advice has not been available and that has compounded the issue.
I want to say a couple of things about charges. The Financial Services Authority estimates that 31% of private pension pots go in charges. That does not include the so-called churn charges, which are the cost of buying
and selling shares at differing rates and the equity within that, as the average pension fund churns every seven months. If we take churn charges into account, it is nearer to 50%.
Over the past decade, at a time in which pension funds have been increasing in size, one would expect economies of scale to have taken down the average pension percentage charge. In that decade, charges have risen because of the market failure. Significantly, a lot of academic research says that the difference between the pension fund industry in this country and that of the US is about 100 basis points a year—1% a year in extra charges that are almost certainly going on supernormal profits. That is the money that the Government are providing through pension tax relief.
I am keen not to take too long, so I would like to leave my hon. Friend on the Front Bench with a figure for the savings, with a description of how I got to that number. In broad terms, the fund industry in this country is worth £2.5 trillion a year. So, the funds under management are £2.5 trillion and if we accept—it is pretty clear that it is true—that 1% of that represents the supernormal overcharging caused by the market failure that I have described, which does not exist in other countries, there is a supernormal profit of £25 billion to £30 billion a year. Conveniently, that is pretty close to the amount of money that we give the industry in tax relief. I do not think that the industry expects it to continue, as it is as astonished about it as many of the rest of us are.
It is not good enough for the Government to make proposals for compulsion through auto-enrolment when they are superimposing them on the rotten industry, which continues to fail, rather than reforming it. The reform could take place through caps on charges, which the Government introduced for the stakeholder industry and will not do for this. The National Employment Savings Trust, the Government’s own provision of auto-enrolment fund management, could then be given a higher profile. Some of the restrictions on NEST should not remain, either.
I leave the Deputy Leader of the House with the thought that my proposal offers £30 billion to £35 billion and I do not even want any commission.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse, Labour)
It is a pleasure to follow David Mowat, who has been very active in the Chamber this week. I am sure that he is active every week, but he has been on his feet and successfully been called every day that I have been in the House, and I have been in on each of the past four days. I congratulate him on his activity.
I am conscious of your admonition to be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall try to rattle through a number of issues. It is a pleasure to see the Deputy Leader of the House in his place and my hon. Friend Angela Smith in hers and I look forward to their responses in due course.
As an east London MP, it would be wholly wrong of me not to start my comments by referring to the Olympics. Sometimes my classic cockney accent confuses people, but my constituency is in docklands and we are looking forward to the Olympics very much. My wife,
Dr Sheila Fitzpatrick, and I attended a test event two weekends ago and the excitement at Stratford—at a test event—was palpable. As we have all seen on the television this week, the arrival of the Olympic torch has shown that excitement is building. Clearly, there will be much to enjoy this summer and we wish for successful outcomes for the British athletes and Olympic team. We hope that transport arrangements in London work as effectively as they ought to and I am sure that under Peter Hendy, the chief executive of Transport for London, that will be the case.
On the subject of TFL, we are desperate for another river crossing—at least one. I know that the Government and the Mayor of London are committed to two, and we want to see them as quickly as possible. The area east of Tower bridge is now lived in by almost half of London’s population and we have only four crossings. West of Tower bridge, there are 20-plus crossings. We need extra crossings on the Thames, or else east London will gridlock and the driver for this great capital city for the next generation or two will be stalled.
As a former Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household, I look forward to the diamond jubilee and to the celebrations of that, which will be a portent of those that will follow during the Olympics.
I want to mention the ten-minute rule Bill proposed recently by Philip Davies on the labelling of food, particularly halal food, in relation to animal welfare. That debate was sidetracked and ended up being presented as an attack on the Muslim and Jewish communities. My support for that Bill was based on animal welfare grounds. It has subsequently been publicised that the percentage of halal meat in the UK coming from animals that were stunned is around 90%. The debate about meat labelling in relation to animal welfare therefore ought not to be about whether meat is halal or kosher but about whether the animal was stunned or unstunned, because the vast majority of people want to buy food that is labelled accurately and honestly, and animal welfare is a huge issue for many people. This is not an attack on Islam or on the Jewish community; it is about promoting the best animal welfare standards. I give credit to Mehdi Hasan for his very insightful article in the New Statesman, which clarified these issues and demonstrated that we should be promoting this not as an issue of prejudice but as an issue of animal welfare.
Let me address an issue of increasing significance in east London—leaseholders’ rights. Whether leaseholders are former council or social landlord tenants who have exercised the right to buy or whether they are private tenants who have bought a leasehold property through a mortgage, there can be a hike in service charges and insurance charges, and there is a gap in protection in relation to management companies, particularly disreputable ones. I am talking about a lot of professional people in east London—lawyers, doctors and architects—who have bought very expensive properties and are then paying tens of thousands of pounds in parking charges, service charges and insurance charges. There is a gap in the protection available to people from those who have the freehold of land. Once someone signs a leasehold agreement, they are basically at the mercy of the freeholder into the future. This issue needs to be addressed.
In today’s papers, there was a story about the lady who was, sadly, bitten by a dog and is suffering from rabies. I had a meeting this morning with the World Society for the Protection of Animals, which is seeking support from the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Development. The WSPA has an initiative called “Red Collar” under which it is immunising dogs in third-world countries against rabies. Our citizen, who was bitten when she was in a foreign country, might well have benefited from that programme, and I encourage DFID and DEFRA to support the WSPA’s “Red Collar” campaign.
The main issue I want to raise is that of housing benefit. I supported Ken Livingstone in the mayoral campaign, but I have to give credit to the Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson for certain comments that he has made in recent months and years. In October 2010, he told BBC London:
“The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs”.
He went on:
“I’ll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together…We will not see and we will not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London.”
He concluded by saying:
“On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.”
This Tuesday morning, I had a meeting with Jobcentre Plus officers from east London, as a result of which I have come here today to raise this issue. For two years I have been going to the Table Office to bid in the draw to ask a question in Prime Minister’s questions, but I have been spectacularly unsuccessful. I have bid again for our first week back in June and if I get a chance to ask the Prime Minister a question, it will be about the housing benefit cap, which will result in the forced eviction of hundreds of families from my constituency. Jobcentre Plus told me that there are 900 households in the constituency of Poplar and Limehouse whose benefits exceed the cap that the coalition is bringing in by an average of £200 but that some exceed it by £800. Those people are getting letters this week and next week in which they are basically being told that on
Many Government Members are concerned about the issue and London coalition MPs have raised it with the Government. I encourage them to continue to do so. If the plans go through, hundreds of families in my constituency and thousands more across inner London will be forcibly evicted. I cannot imagine what that will do for the future of the children.
My last point is about Bangladesh, although I do not want to encroach on the Adjournment debate to be introduced at 6 o’clock by my hon. Friend Mr Sutcliffe. He will be raising the abduction and disappearance of Mr Illias Ali, a senior member of the Bangladesh Nationalist party.
Between 20% and 25% of my constituents are Bangladeshi. The Labour party and the Government party in Bangladesh—the Awami League—have strong connections, and I am a big supporter of the Awami League Government. However, there are noises from Bangladesh about civil society there. The USA Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, expressed concerns when she visited Dhaka recently, and the Foreign Secretary has been raising the issues, and I have written to him, the Bangladesh high commissioner and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh about them.
As everyone knows, Bangladesh is one of the five poorest countries in the world. Its population is twice the size of Britain’s in a land mass two thirds the size of England. A quarter of the country is under water for a third of the year. There are massive problems.
Bangladesh is a young democracy. We are an old democracy, but we still make mistakes. In Bangladesh, some mistakes are made. When the Bangladesh Nationalist party won the previous general election, Awami League Members boycotted Parliament for a year, and I criticised them for that. When the Awami League won the election, BNP Members boycotted Parliament for a year and I criticised them too. We need to support Bangladesh and the Awami League Government and to give every assistance to make sure that the people who disappeared are found, and that there is justice and transparency in civic society. Through the Department for International Development, we also need to give support for the economy, which is growing at 6%—unlike the British economy, which shrank by 0.3% in the last quarter—so that Bangladesh continues to make progress.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise these questions, and I look forward to the responses in due course.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes, Conservative)
It is a pleasure to follow Jim Fitzpatrick. There have been some interesting, fascinating and moving contributions, although I have to take issue with my hon. Friend Mr Amess. He said that the highlight will be the Olympic torch going to Southend; in fact, the highlight will be on
Mr MacShane spoke about the high cost of energy to our high energy using industries. Many of them are along the Humber bank in my constituency, and many of my constituents work at the Tata steelworks in the neighbouring constituency of Scunthorpe. Energy costs are of considerable concern.
The main focus of my contribution will be on the town of Immingham, but first I want to talk about static caravans—an issue ably raised earlier by Mr Reid. I remind Ministers that the imposition of VAT on those caravans will be extremely damaging for local economies such as Cleethorpes. For many people, their caravan is a second home, but for others it is their first home. The caravans are occupied for up to 10 months a year, which extends the season, providing jobs for those who are dependent on seasonal work. The caravan sites are not just in Cleethorpes; there are many small sites in rural areas, such as Barton-upon-Humber and other locations in my constituency.
Many Members will have heard of the Venerable Bede, but they may be unaware of Imma, who was someone Bede wrote about. Imma was a thane in the service of the King of Northumbria. As the House will probably realise, he gave his name to the town of Immingham. Immingham, in partnership with the port of Grimsby, is by tonnage the largest port in the UK. It will celebrate its centenary this year on
Since then, Immingham has grown from a village to a town of which the residents are rightly proud. Unfortunately, like many smaller towns, it has suffered as a result of increasing centralisation by both public and private sector organisations, and it is the public services that have caused most concern. Northern Lincolnshire, as a whole, has a low-wage economy and towns such as Immingham find it difficult to sustain many of the services that larger towns take for granted. Leisure centres, sports facilities and the like cannot be provided profitably by the private sector and local authorities find it increasingly difficult to fund such projects.
It is essential that Immingham and similar towns are not forgotten, so help and support for alternative provision must be explored. Very small amounts of public funding can attract other funding streams, as was the case with the recently opened skate park. The consultation, funding and local community leadership that came together to achieve the skate park are a model of how such projects can be achieved. All involved deserve praise and the thanks of the local community.
The arrival—soon, we hope—of a new Tesco store and the associated regeneration of the shopping centre will provide a major boost to an area that has an extremely bright future if the new developments associated with the offshore renewable energy sector can be successfully established in northern Lincolnshire. On that matter, I once again stress the urgent need for statutory agencies to work at the pace required by the commercial demands of potential investors. Much has been done and I appreciate the Government’s changes to the planning system, but time is of the essence if the UK is to attract the investment that multinational companies could easily direct to our continental neighbours.
The Able UK development, which is just a couple of miles from Immingham, promises thousands of jobs. The Government recognised that in establishing the largest enterprise zone in the country but, as I have said, speed is of the essence. Page 45 of the Budget’s Red Book states that final decisions on the Able marine energy park are needed within a year. It states:
“the Government will reduce unnecessary cost and delay to developers by: setting up a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit; streamlining guidance; setting clearer standards for evidence; and changing the culture of statutory bodies.”
That is something that I hope will proceed apace.
Only a couple of weeks ago, the Government announced additional funding for the preparatory work for the much-needed upgrade of the A160, which provides access to the Able development and Immingham docks, a clear indication, I hope, that construction work will begin by 2015 at the latest.
Another plea is that much of Immingham, Habrough and Stallingborough, which are major industrial areas, lack adequate broadband capacity, so urgent attention is required to correct that, and I commend the work of One Voice Immingham in pushing forward with its campaign to highlight that. While on matters digital, it would be remiss of me not to comment on the success of the Channel 7 local community TV station, the only successful station remaining of the original stations established about 10 years ago, which has been based in Immingham for much of that time.
In conclusion, Immingham docks are an excellent and key driver of the local economy and, under the management of John Fitzgerald, Simon Brett and their management team, have continued to expand and play an important role in the community. Like many of our ports, Immingham was begun by the railways, in this case the Great Central Railway. During world war one it was a submarine base, and for a time during world war two Lord Mountbatten used it as a shore base and the docks played host to HMS Kelly. His lordship stayed at one of the town’s most notable establishments, the County hotel.
In more recent years, the docks have developed to the extent that one quarter of the tonnage of freight moved in the UK by rail starts or finishes in Immingham, and last month it was my pleasure to be present when a former Member of this House, Michael Portillo, travelled to Immingham to name a locomotive, “The Port of Immingham”. I also commend his TV programme, to be shown next January, documenting a journey from Portsmouth to Immingham.
Immingham, like all communities, has its share of social problems, but if some or all of the potential developments come to pass it has a bright future. We look forward to celebrating its centenary over the weekend of 20 to
I have mentioned just a few of the organisations and individuals who play their part in the community of Immingham, and I place on the record my thanks to them. Immingham has seen many ups and downs over the years, but it has a bright future, and I shall welcome any Member who pays the town a visit on its centenary.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud, Conservative)
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, partly because it comes after a productive Session for the Government in terms of passing legislation, and partly because we are on the threshold of an interesting year of future legislation.
I am also pleased that we have the opportunity to talk sensibly about economic growth, because that is one of the key issues that underpin all our activities in this House, especially at this time. One or two Opposition Members have today criticised the Government’s economic policy, but in truth we have to address the deficit problem, and that goes hand in hand with paving the way for economic growth. The two have the same role and responsibility in providing economic recovery, so I reiterate how important it is that we stick to our strategy of cutting the deficit and paving the way for rebalancing the economy, something I shall talk about in the first half of my speech.
It is very important that we ensure that manufacturing and engineering are promoted. In my constituency, almost one in five employees are in manufacturing or engineering, so it is a significant part of my constituency’s economic activity, and that is one reason why I held a festival for manufacturing and engineering back in April.
The festival had several aims, one of which was to highlight the success of existing firms and businesses, of which we have many, in my constituency. Recently, Advanced Insulation won the Queen’s award for enterprise, and we should celebrate that. It is emblematic of the firms in my constituency, and a strong illustration of the kind of firm we need more of, not just in Stroud, but throughout the country. Celebrating what we have is, therefore, part of the process of shining a spotlight on manufacturing and saying, “This is the sector where we are doing well, and we are going to do even better.”
The second objective of my festival was to engage young people in manufacturing and engineering, and to say to them, “This is an opportunity—a place full of opportunities—for employment, your career and your progress.” During that week, we managed to engage almost 300 students directly in firms that support my initiative to do exactly that. I noticed that the more engaged they became, the more interested they seemed to be in manufacturing and engineering.
We in this country have to stop talking about the less attractive aspects of manufacturing and engineering and start pointing out that it is a modern, clean, interesting working environment where technology is at the core of successful firms that are making progress in adding value, exporting and simply generating new ideas, and that that is really good place to be. We must get that message across not only to the general populace but to young people in schools and colleges so that their engagement with manufacturing and engineering is more intense and therefore more reflective of their own needs and requirements. It is important that we put down a marker for a continued thrust towards engagement between schools, colleges and businesses.
The third objective of my festival was to make sure that we understand the opportunities for investment in business and in new ideas. We need to think about firms’ strategic planning in terms of how they develop their capital, ideas and technologies. We were able to draw on the experiences of many firms in my constituency that are already doing that, including successful small and medium-sized enterprises such as Renishaw, Delphi and Nampak.
We need to create a culture that will turn the debate from one in which we say “We must rebalance the economy”—because we are already doing that—into one in which we say, “We’ve got to focus on what is important in terms of the real economy.” As Sir John Rose has noted, economic growth is all about growing something, digging something up or making something, and our focus must be on the latter.
There were several aspects that I covered in my festival, such as the role of banking and the need to be more flexible in our attitudes towards it, not only in terms of banks being less high street-oriented and target-driven but through firms thinking about different ways of seeking finance, attracting equity and planning their financial strategies.
Supply chains have been mentioned a few times in this debate and in Business, Innovation and Skills questions, and that is not surprising, because they are very important.
They are becoming increasingly complex and dependent on a work force who are flexible, adaptable, well trained and embrace all the manufacturing and engineering skills that are needed in an advanced economy. Airbus, which is not far from my constituency, sucks in a huge amount of its materials and component from all over the south-west, including my constituency. The success of Airbus therefore has an immediate impact on the people of my constituency. We must ensure that our supply chains are properly supported, that the infrastructure is in place for them to work properly, and that there are opportunities for local firms to get connected to them. BIS is doing some useful work in that context, and I applaud that. All those of us who are interested in the real economy need to be more vigorous in our exposition of what a supply chain is and how supply chains really matter to our constituencies.
On engineering, we need to bring together what is being done across many Departments. We need to say that engineering matters to the future of the British economy. Perhaps we need a chief engineering adviser, like we have a chief scientific adviser, to put the spotlight on engineering, because it is a big subject. Making things is a big subject, but the engineering aspect is especially important. We must bring together all the component parts of the world of engineering. I would like the Government to move in that direction.
Mr MacShane rightly spoke about energy, its cost and the hunger for it in industries such as steel and manufacturing. We have to think carefully about energy supply and the way in which we create energy. I am pleased that the Government are introducing an energy Bill to look at the market and the mechanisms, and at how we can attract the right infrastructure.
We need to think more carefully about energy and electricity storage. We have too many peaks and troughs, and our energy system is too dependent on a grid that loses energy. We can argue about how much energy is lost through the grid, but energy is lost. We can also argue about the technologies that we use to create energy, but we need to start talking about the storage of energy as well. There are some interesting ideas. Liquid air, which has being advanced recently by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, is the kind of energy storage system that could be really useful. It is similar to existing technologies, so it would not be a great leap. We need to provide a market framework for such technologies. I hope that that will be proposed in the energy Bill.
I want to ram home my three points. First, manufacturing and engineering are imperative for economic growth and I am excited about them. Secondly, it is critical that we have the right market framework to provide that boost and to put a spotlight on engineering. Thirdly, there must be links between schools, colleges and business.
I will change subjects briefly, because there is something else on my mind that deserves to be raised in this debate: school governance. I have set up the all-party parliamentary group on education governance and leadership. We need to consider the accountability of schools as academies become more numerous. There is a live debate about the links between the Department for Education and our schools. School governors have a role to play in that.
There are some 230,000 school governors, but there are also vacancies on governing bodies and there is an issue with recruitment. It is critical that we put this subject on the agenda. The Government must consider
how we can ensure that governors have the right skills and the right questions to ask of their head teachers and principals—of course, governors are also pivotal in further education. We must come up with a mechanism that ensures that there is strategic leadership and accountability at a local level in our schools through our governing bodies. Members can expect to hear much more from me on that subject over the next few months.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton, Conservative)
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate Neil Carmichael on his comments and particularly endorse his remark that the way in which the Government are handling the economy is absolutely right. We have to reduce the huge deficit that we inherited from the Labour party to increase growth and stabilise the economy. The International Monetary Fund endorsed that only this week, and it is essential that we keep to that path.
My hon. Friend Martin Vickers has left the Chamber, but he was right that the Government need to consider very carefully their policy of levying VAT on static caravans. The number of caravans bought will probably fall by about a third, affecting not only those manufacturing the caravans in the north of England but the caravan sites down in my constituency. If the Chancellor is looking for growth, he needs to be very careful about that policy.
Jim Fitzpatrick has also left the Chamber; no, I see that he is next to the Chair. I agree entirely with him about the slaughter of animals. We need to target the practice of animals not being stunned before being killed. We need clear labelling stating, “This animal was not stunned.” That would in time reduce the amount of meat needing to be labelled in that way. I have always said that animals do not choose how they are brought into this world, reared and slaughtered, and it is up to us to ensure that their welfare is respected all the way through their lives. The House needs to revisit the matter, because we have probably got it wrong at the moment.
I was not going to speak about the middle east and Israel today, but comments made in the House earlier were so one-sided that I feel I need to put the record straight. I believe that the state of Israel should exist. Its Iranian neighbours may be producing, or about to produce, nuclear weapons, and Iran’s President has previously said that he would like to wipe Israel off the face of the map. I suggest that we would take that seriously if we lived in Israel, because nuclear weapons can do precisely that. We need to be careful about taking one side of the argument in the middle east.
I would go further on the subject of democracy in the middle east. I very much welcome what is going on in Egypt and Libya, and eventually we need to see some democracy brought to Syria. However, I suggest that in the past 40 or 50 years, the only beacon of democracy in the middle east has been Israel. That needs to be made abundantly clear.
My main reason for speaking this afternoon is that my constituency is rural, with a lot of farming and food production. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud talked about manufacturing industry, which needs to be supported hugely and is of great benefit to this country, and the same is true of food production and processing, which have been a success story in the past few years.
For perhaps 20 years, it was considered that farming was not really necessary, that we could import the food that we needed and that future food security was not an issue to consider. As food prices increase throughout the world and we reach the birth of the seven billionth person and more, we need to be absolutely certain about where our food will come from. We need to ensure that we have high-quality food produced to high welfare and food safety standards. This country’s farming and food processing industries are doing an extremely good job, and the UK can produce much more of its food. We are currently reduced to probably not much more than 60% self-sufficiency, and we can do much better on many products.
Interestingly, agriculture’s contribution to the economy as measured by gross value added increased by some 77% to £8.8 billion between 2006 and 2011. The value of UK food and drink exports rose in 2011—for a seventh successive year—by 11% to more than £12 billion, making the sector Britain’s fourth largest. The farming and food sectors employ some 3.5 million people, and the total number employed directly in farming increased by 10,000 between 2010 and 2011.
Farming also delivers for the British countryside and the environment. Seven million hectares of farmland in England and Wales are being managed under agri-environment schemes. The schemes are good for the environment and the countryside, but they are also good for tourism. What do tourists come to see when they travel through the Deputy Leader of the House’s constituency to get to Devon and Cornwall, which are much prettier? The west country has great countryside and is a great environment, which draws in tourism, which is of huge value. Were that countryside not managed as it is, we would not have as many tourists in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and the many parts of the country where farming and the countryside are important.
The Government have introduced more apprenticeship schemes, and the farming and food sectors could be important in producing the extra jobs that we need. We need growth. Employment throughout the economy has increased, but there is much more to do, including on youth unemployment.
On the future of food production, cattle and beef production in this country has declined by 30% in the past 20 years. In the US, cattle numbers are at their lowest for 60 years—the herd in America stands at 29.9 million head. Even the cattle herd in Argentina has contracted by nearly 20%. As the world’s increasing population eats more food, we will need more food to be produced.
In China in 1960, people ate on average 5 kg of meat per year; this year, they will eat 50 kg. There are 1.2 billion people in China, so by my arithmetic, if they eat 1 kg more of meat, we need 1.2 million tonnes more tonnes of it. An increase in production throughout the world is therefore important. Global warming means that it is essential that northern Europe and Britain produce our fair share of food. I am delighted that the Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has responsibility for agriculture, is returning from China as we speak. He has done much to increase the trade to
China of pigmeat and the fifth quarter—the meat we do not like to eat ourselves, but that the Chinese find amazingly tasty.
There are green shoots in the economy in agriculture, food production and manufacturing. We must be more positive about what is happening in the economy. We have problems, but if we carry on talking ourselves into ever greater gloom, we will not pick this economy up. The Government have put in place the right policies. For example, we have ensured that lower-paid workers get more money in their pockets by reducing their rate of tax. We can also make it more cost effective for companies to provide employment. We need to consider the regulation of, and employment law regarding, small and micro-businesses, so that they can take on people. It is nonsense for there to be so many laws and rules in place that a small company or business finds it impossible to take on an extra worker. That needs to be dealt with.
My final point is one that many Members have made this afternoon. I am unashamedly royalist, and in the 60th year of Her Majesty the Queen’s reign, I must say that she has been an example to us all. She has provided this country with a dedication to service that we have not seen in the past and which we are unlikely to see again. She is probably the greatest expert on the Commonwealth. We, as politicians, like to think we drive this world forward, but the number of Prime Ministers the Queen has seen come and go is an example to us all. I add my congratulations to her on her 60th year on the throne.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth, Conservative)
It is a great pleasure to follow my third-floor Parliament street colleague and hon. Friend Neil Parish. It was a real education to listen to my hon. Friend Mr Amess, who amply and ably demonstrated that it is possible to fit quite a lot into a short space of time. I am not at all surprised that wherever he goes he is greeted with flash-mob dancing. I hope that, as he moves around his constituency over the jubilee weekend, he meets many more flash-mob dancers. In the spirit of my hon. Friend, I want to raise some subjects of concern to my constituents and to pay tribute to some local organisations in Tamworth and the people who run them.
In the past few days, Members might have received a glossy letter from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme extolling its virtues and claiming that it has
“helped millions and paid billions to consumers with nowhere else to turn”.
That might come as a surprise to my constituent, Mr Bill Shackleford from Hopwas, who applied to the FSCS last November for restitution, having lost £32,000 in a failed investment vehicle called Greenfield International. Mr Shackleford is retired and not well off. About 240 other people in the west midlands also invested money in Greenfield and lost it, and I believe they have also applied to the FSCS. I wrote to the FSCS on Mr Shackleford’s behalf, but after seven months, we have still heard nothing. It is still processing his compensation claim and has now outsourced it to Capita. I will be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House can advise me and my constituents on how the FSCS may be encouraged to move a little faster and help more people to receive restitution.
Another matter that, as Mr Speaker might say, has already been well ventilated in the House, but which I think needs further airing, is the exceptional hardship scheme for High Speed 2. It was set up in 2010 to help people who were in particular hardship and whose homes were blighted by the prospect of HS2 to move home. Recognition is growing that the scheme is not fit for purpose.
Six of my constituents have applied to the EHS and been turned down for arbitrary and bizarre reasons. One constituent has been told that she was turned down because she does not have a pressing health need, despite the fact that she has a doctor’s certificate to say that she has a pressing health need to live in a bungalow and not in a farmhouse. She has been told that she has not reduced the value of her property sufficiently, even though she has reduced it by 20%. She has also been told that there is no proof that she is blighted by HS2, even though Green and Co., the local estate agent, has been told by potential buyers that the reason they are not buying her home is the prospect of HS2.
I must say that the Secretary of State for Transport has been helpful to me in this matter. I should also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who have taken an interest in these matters. However, I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will use all his artistry and all his eloquence to prevail upon the Secretary of State and the Chancellor—we know that all power resides in the Treasury—to ensure that the enhanced hardship scheme, which is to replace the current scheme, recognises that people who have a reasonable desire and need to move ought to be able to move and to be helped if they cannot sell their homes. I hope that they will consider a property bond scheme, which is a fair, transparent and equitable way of ensuring that people can sell their homes and get the property market moving.
I also want to pay tribute to an organisation in my constituency that helps soldiers. The Injured Soldiers Holiday Appeal does exactly what it says on the tin: it helps soldiers who have been injured and their families to go for a holiday—away from the hospitals, the clinics and all the hullaballoo—to help them to readjust to their new circumstances. My constituent Paul Mason, whose son is a serving soldier, set up the charity. He has already done a great deal to help 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and Help for Heroes, and he has now set up this new charity, which is commendable. I trust that other Members will encourage their constituents with an interest in such matters to set up similar helpful charities.
I also pay tribute to a growing organisation in my constituency, Community Café. It was set up two years ago by Lee Bates, one of our local councillors, with Steve Hodgetts, Lisa and Andy Powers, Bernard and Carol Gee and others to span the generations and people’s backgrounds by providing a community café, in a place called Wilnecote, where people can come and have a drink, a chat and some food. The kids can come as well—there is something there called a Wii, whatever one of those may be. The concept has grown throughout Tamworth. We now have a community café in Belgrave fire station—our new, state-of-the-art fire station—and in Amington, and we have just set up another café in the Torc vocational centre in Glascote. That is the sort of volunteering that all hon. Members like to see in their
constituencies. I pay tribute to those who have given up their time and money to make Community Café in Tamworth such a success.
I will end simply by saying that June is going to be a bumper month in Tamworth. We have the jubilee weekend: I shall spend time in Stonnall, Little Aston and Fazeley, where I shall attend a big jubilee lunch, along with other places around Tamworth. I am also looking forward to seeing the jubilee beacon being lit atop our SnowDome. If that was not enough, at the end of the month, on
We have a wonderful sense of history in Tamworth. We have some wonderful facilities—the SnowDome, the castle, and the French and German markets. If any hon. Members, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker, are passing through Staffordshire in June, drop into Tamworth and bring your wallet with you. We will be pleased to see you.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)
It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Christopher Pincher, who represents 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment. In the next few months, we are going to witness some spirited debates on what might be cut from the Army. They will be particularly important to those Members who might lose regiments in their own constituencies, so as a warm-up I should like to explain my view of the regiments and the regimental system, and tell the House what they mean to me.
We all know that the Army is designed to fight for us, if directed to do so by the Government. The way in which it is organised, and its esprit de corps, are crucial determinants of how it works when it deploys. The Army is obviously a martial profession, and none of us present will have any doubts about what might be the ultimate requirement for our soldiers. Napoleon correctly identified the morale of his soldiers as the crucial ingredient of their success. He called morale “the sacred flame”, saying that it mattered more than anything else. In that respect, he also insisted that
“morale is to the physical as three is to one.”
In short, high morale can compensate for many other deficiencies, including numbers.
I saw that when I had the privilege of commanding my regiment, 1st Battalion The Cheshire Regiment, in Bosnia during 1992 and 1993. Often in conversation with the commanders of the various factions and armies, I would be asked the same question: “How many men do you have under your command?” Obviously, I would not answer; instead, I would say something like, “Lots and lots,” but then I would ask them how many soldiers they thought I had. The answer was invariably between 3,000 and 4,000. In fact, I had 800. The point is that the soldiers of my regiment gave the impression that they were far more numerous than in fact they were. It was their esprit de corps, their morale and their regimental pride that gave that impression.
Organisation and numbers are of course important to military success. The strategic defence and security review has determined that the Army is to be reduced in size, down to as few as 82,000 serving soldiers. Many definitions of an army suggest that 100,000 should be its minimum size, so what is the future for our Army? Some people have suggested that it might more correctly be dubbed a defence force. I shudder at that thought. One thing is clear: we are going to have to cut down some units from what the Army calls its teeth arms. Regiments, or parts of them, in the infantry and cavalry are going to be disbanded. All teeth arm units are formed into regiments, and we are likely to lose some historic and highly valued names.
Quite rightly, the British Army’s regimental system is respected, and sometimes copied, worldwide, but what exactly is that much-rated regimental system? The term “regiment” started in Britain in the mid-17th century when retinues that followed a certain leader were organised into some form of standing military force. Such regiments were normally named after the colonel who commanded them. For example, my own regiment, which is now called 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment—the old Cheshires—was first formed in 1689 on the racecourse at Chester. It was then called the Duke of Norfolk’s Regiment. Later it became the 22nd Regiment, after its precedence in the order of battle, and later still it became properly linked to the county of Cheshire. A similar process happened to most of our great infantry regiments.
Under this regimental system, each regiment became responsible for recruitment, training and administration. It developed its own style, which in turn derived strength and purpose from the regiment’s history and traditions. Even today, the colonel of each regiment still has the right to select his officers. In the past, and sometimes today, it was usual for a soldier—and many officers, too—to spend their entire careers within their own regiment. They frequently served with men they had known since birth. For example, at the time of the Ballykelly bomb in 1982, I was commanding officer of A Company 1st Battalion the 22nd Cheshire Regiment when six of my soldiers were killed, and over five days in mid-December 1982 I attended their funerals. All six were buried within the borders of the county of Cheshire. Amazingly, at these funerals, several mothers put their arms around me, saying that they fully realised my sorrow, too. It is because the regimental system is so emotive that it often seems like a family.
In fact, infantry battalions take great pride in using the words “the regimental family”. That is literally true, as when I was commander many soldiers in my regiment were in the fourth, fifth or even sixth generation serving in their family regiment. That sense of family is vital in battle. When they are very frightened, soldiers are often sustained by what they see as a greater fear—that of letting down their friends and their family. It gives them what I regard as another offshoot of the regimental system—the so-called “black humour” so often found among our soldiers.
As the incident commander at the time of the Ballykelly bomb in 1982, I was devastated to find four of my own lance corporals together in a crumpled heap under tons of concrete. One had been killed immediately the bomb
exploded, another died shortly thereafter, a third lingered in agony for several hours, and the fourth was trapped by his legs on top of his dead friends. After four hours, the decision was made that he would have to have both legs amputated where he lay trapped by concrete—the threat of gangrene was growing and it might have killed him regardless. I told the badly wounded Lance Corporal William Bell, whose brother was also serving and whose family went back generations in my regiment, that we would have to cut his legs off. His incredible reply sums up what the regimental system is all about: “No legs Sir! One hell of a way to get out of the Pearson trophy tomorrow, isn’t it?” The Pearson trophy was the regiment’s weekly cross-country run. All ranks do it and it is universally loathed—especially by someone like me! But that ruddy awful run was part of the regiment’s style and ethos.
The strategic defence and security review has directed that the Army is to lose perhaps four or even more battalions from Army regiments. In the next weeks and months, we in this House will be debating and arguing exactly which ones will be affected. Some have suggested that no regimental cap badge will be lost. They argue that so-called large regiments—formed in the past by pushing small regiments together into a new grouping—will remain. That happened to my own regiment last time, when the 1st Cheshires were amalgamated to become 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment. The 2nd Mercians came from 1st Battalion the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, while the 3rd Mercians were formed from the 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment—from the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth. All those battalions within those regimental groupings keep their own regimental histories and their own pride, despite coming under the umbrella title of the Mercian Regiment. It might seem easy to cut, say, the 3rd Mercians or indeed the 3rd Royal Anglians—
Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. After all, the big regiment survives, does it not, whether it be the Royal Anglians or the Mercians? Two old regiments, however, would disappear by so doing. If the 3rd Mercians go, in the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, it will mean that the Staffords are finally dead; and if we say goodbye to the 3rd Royal Anglians, in the area represented by my hon. Friend Sir Bob Russell, it will mean saying goodbye to the last relics of that historic and gallant regiment, the Essex Regiment.
Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)
I regret to say that the 3rd Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment, the successor to the Essex Regiment, disappeared a few years ago. The 3rd Battalion that we have today is a Territorial Army battalion. We are very grateful that it is there, but it is not the Essex Regiment as it was.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)
I thank my hon. Friend for that correction, and I hope that he will forgive me for my slight inaccuracy. The principle remains the same,
I know that what I am talking about may seem parochial and somewhat petty to some people, and I accept that it can look like that to those who do not understand the regimental system; but to so many who
have served, or whose family members have served, such cuts will mean another very sad day for British military history. The regimental system is a tremendous bulwark for frightened men in battle, and supports others like Lance Corporal William Bell of A Company, 1st Battalion The Cheshire Regiment, who was sustained and could even laugh at his predicament when he might have been in total despair. Truly the regimental system is a band of brothers, and I for one hope very much that it will not be damaged further by what is about to happen as a result of the SDSR. It is highly unlikely that, once gone, any regiment will live again.
Richard Graham (Gloucester, Conservative)
It is a pleasure to join in this pre-recess debate at the end of a long day. You know, Mr Deputy Speaker, and my constituents expect, that when I speak in the House it will be above all on behalf of Gloucester, and that I will speak about local issues in a national context. Today’s carrying of the Olympic torch across our city rivals the claims made earlier by my hon. Friend Christopher Pincher as the most important part of its journey across our country. On this occasion, however, I want to raise a wider issue, and to make a case which I hope will be, at the margin, in the interests of my constituents and many others across the world.
In 1976, Commonwealth day was established on the second Monday of March. It is famously celebrated with a great service in Westminster Abbey, with the flags of the 54 Commonwealth nations flying in Parliament square, and with a Commonwealth address by Her Majesty the Queen. Here in Parliament, however, the occasion has not once been celebrated in the 38 years since its establishment. I believe that—as the Parliament of the host country for the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Royal Commonwealth Society and more than 100 other Commonwealth-branded organisations, and as a nation whose Government celebrates the Commonwealth through the name of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office— we are missing a trick by not commemorating the Commonwealth on the second Monday of each March.
However, I also believe that today we have an opportunity to correct that omission by saying that the Government agree with the Backbench Business Committee that a debate should be held on the second Monday in March in 2013, and annually thereafter, on issues that relate to the Commonwealth. If that were agreed, the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association could submit the precedent to the Parliaments of all the Commonwealth nations for consideration at their September meeting. This could become a new tradition, and, above all, a new chance to focus on the values, challenges and opportunities that are shared among those 54 nations. I will therefore be delighted if the Deputy Leader of the House gives us his thoughts on the possibility of this happening, and on whether the Government will support the commemoration of Commonwealth day in this House with an annual debate on Commonwealth issues.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge, Labour)
We have had an excellent debate. First, I want to pay tribute to Claire Perry, who gave a very eloquent and compassionate account
of the sudden and unexpected death from epilepsy of a 10-year-old child in her constituency. Her account of that tragic event moved us all.
My right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd is known for her expertise on international issues. She spoke about the women’s rights records of many countries in the middle east. In what was an excellent speech, she also outlined her continuing concern about the torture, imprisonment and suppression in Bahrain of those demanding democratic rights, and she talked about similar situations in other middle-east countries.
There is a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend Mr Thomas for the work he does on business and industry. He talked about airport development in the south-east, and the proposal for an airport in the Thames estuary. His constituency borders Heathrow, so this issue is of great importance to him and his constituents. He gave an excellent speech, in which he made it clear that the ongoing debate about a Thames estuary airport is a distraction from the real issues concerning aviation and its potential contribution to economic growth in the UK.
My hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins has long campaigned on issues relating to freight and the railway system. He talked about the plan for a freight route from the south to the north of England. In his usual enthusiastic style, he pointed to the logic in securing, in the medium or long term, a modal shift in our freight capacity away from the road network and on to the railways.
My hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick talked superbly about the potential impact on London of the Government’s housing benefit policy. He referred to the Mayor of London’s view that there is a real possibility that the poorest in London and housing benefit claimants will be pushed out to the suburbs, in effect achieving a separation—a ghettoisation —of the poor and the better-off in our great capital city.
My hon. Friend also talked about animal welfare. I have worked with him on animal welfare issues. In the previous Government, he served as a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister with responsibility for animal welfare, and I can testify that he was an excellent Minister. I worked with him on dog control in particular, which is an ongoing campaign. Today, however, he talked about the labelling of meat to make it clear whether the animal was stunned. Leaving aside the religious issues, he made an excellent case for the labelling of meat and for clarity in respect of animal welfare standards.
My hon. Friend also talked about the Olympics, as did a number of other Members. It is a great event, and there is mounting excitement. He mentioned the torch’s journey around the UK. Mr Amess rightly boasted about the Olympic torch being carried through his constituency. I will just put on the record the fact that the torch will be going through my constituency, when it will be carried in the great city of Sheffield by Lord Coe, who is a Sheffielder, and we are incredibly proud of that. The hon. Gentleman, with his usual charm, also put on the record West Ham United’s promotion and Chelsea’s victory last Saturday night. I wish to put on the record the promotion of the great club Sheffield Wednesday to the championship
this season; it is well on its way back to the premiership. I am sure that I will be standing here at the end of next season celebrating the promotion of Sheffield Wednesday to the premiership.
Martin Vickers gave us a history lesson, informing us that Immingham’s name comes from a thane from the kingdom of Northumbria called Imma. I would like to inform the House that Grimsby, the neighbour of Immingham, was named after the legendary fisherman who features so strongly in the famous mediaeval poem “Havelok the Dane”. So it is now abundantly clear to the whole House that north Lincolnshire has been the centre of the universe in terms of mediaeval folklore and history, and that is something of which the hon. Gentleman is very proud.
Iain Stewart was incredibly moving in his tribute to Alan Turing. He got this afternoon’s debate off to a superb start, and I echo his sentiments about Alan Turing. Not long ago, I watched an excellent Channel 4 documentary about the life, the achievements and the tragedy of Alan Turing. It remains a stain on British justice that that man still stands convicted of crimes which, of course, now no longer exist, and we need to find a way of clearing his name and marking what he achieved for British history and for British industry and technology.
Mr Reid was eloquent in his opposition to the caravan tax, and of course I congratulate him on putting himself so firmly on the record on the matter. I am sure that his constituents will carefully watch how he conducts himself on this issue in the House over the coming weeks and months. My hon. Friend Graham Jones, in a wide-ranging speech, talked about the importance of the aerospace and nuclear industries to British manufacturing and, in particular, to the north of England. He related that contribution to the importance of the supply chains in both those industries. He made particular mention of British Aerospace in the north-west, with its strong relationship with military manufacturing, and of the great significance of the nuclear industry to the north-west, with Sellafield in Cumbria. I can only echo his sentiments, given that both those industries are also crucial to the economic future of south Yorkshire. People will not realise that steel manufacturing is heavily involved here and is crucial to the aerospace industry. Most of the aircraft that fly over UK airspace probably have a tiny bit of my constituency’s manufacturing capability within them, because components for landing gear and for the Rolls-Royce engine are made in my constituency. So I can only echo my hon. Friend’s comments. Sheffield has a great ambition to be part of the supply chain for the nuclear industry, but its ambitions to develop that capacity were severely damaged—I make no apology for mentioning this once again—by the decision to cancel the £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, which would have helped to secure the development of that very important supply chain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn also put on record the fact that there has been a 232% increase in unemployment in his constituency since 2010 and went on to describe the impact on his constituents of the continuing austerity programme set in place by the
coalition Government: the unemployment; the increase in the number of food banks; the pressures on and cuts to Sure Start, despite the fact that the Prime Minister says repeatedly that he understands the importance of investment in the very earliest years of children’s lives; and the increasing charges and pressures on adult social care services. The price we are paying for austerity is unacceptable. What is it achieving? Nothing but a double-dip depression made in Downing street.
My right hon. Friend Mr MacShane nailed that issue when he pointed out that today the ONS has once again downgraded the growth figures for the first quarter to minus 0.3%. He talked about the potential impact of the double-dip recession on the steel industry in his constituency, in mine and in all constituencies across the UK where steel manufacturing is dominant. Steel is obviously at the heart of most manufacturing processes—in construction, in aerospace, you name it, steel is at the heart of our manufacturing industry. My right hon. Friend talked about the lack of demand and about the pressures of costs, particularly energy costs. We could feel the passion with which he spoke about the manufacturing process and steel, and as the product of many generations of steelworkers I must say that people probably need to have it in their blood to understand the passion and excitement that can be generated by a big basket of scrap metal being fired up and converted into molten steel. As my right hon. Friend said, it is one of the most impressive sights that anyone is ever likely to see in manufacturing.
I want to comment, too, on the northern hub. It was mentioned earlier and it relates to our position as an economy and the Government’s handling of economic and investment matters. Earlier, it was claimed that the northern hub had been given the go-ahead. As I put on the record earlier, it has not. Let me quote what the Chancellor said in his Budget statement:
“I confirm today that Network Rail will extend the northern hub”—
not complete it, not give it the complete go-ahead, but extend it—
Network Rail has made it absolutely clear that that does not mean that the Hope Valley route is to be electrified and it is not the green light for the northern hub. We await that in the high level output specification statement, which we hope will be made later in the summer.
Once again, the Chancellor gave the impression through his Budget speech that he was doing one thing when he was doing another. He was slipping through, creating the impression that he was doing more than he was. We had other examples in that Budget of measures that he would rather we did not know about: the granny tax, the caravan tax and the pasty tax. It was a desperate Budget built on desperate measures by a Government who do not know how to deal with the fact that they have a double-dip recession on their hands that they have created and that they do not know how to climb out of. The Government only know plan A, they do not recognise the importance of plan B and the electorate is becoming increasingly disenchanted with their economic record, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn pointed out.
I pay tribute to the speech made by my hon. Friend Lyn Brown. She spoke movingly about breast cancer and its impact on women’s lives. She pointed out that the previous Government’s investment has improved survival rates for women with breast cancer, with eight out of 10 women still alive after five years, but that we still have a long way to go. It is important to have earlier detection and diagnosis and the increased and consistent use of advanced radiotherapy techniques across the country if we are to have the kind of NHS that the country really needs. The point that my hon. Friend was making was that there is no sense among Opposition Members that the health reforms delivered in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which passed through the House only a few weeks ago, will help us to deliver the approach to health that we need, with prevention of disease, early diagnosis and effective early treatment when people fall ill. Nothing in the Act will help to advance those very important agendas. The best way of reducing demand for expensive health care is to prevent ill health in the first place, but that legislation will not deliver that approach to health in the UK.
David Heath (Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)
Yet again, we have seen the value of these free Adjournment debates. I was very disappointed that we did not have one before the Easter recess and I am particularly pleased to have secured this one. I greatly welcome Mr Amess to the Backbench Business Committee and even though he has not quite joined yet, he allowed the Committee to take the credit for this debate. Actually we put it on, because the Committee has not yet started its work this Session and I am glad that we have given Members this opportunity to raise important issues about their constituencies or more widely.
I want to correct what seems to be a widespread misapprehension among colleagues on both sides of the House about the Olympic torch. They seem to think that the highlight of its journey will be its visit to their constituency whereas the highlight has already passed, this Tuesday, when it went to my constituency. It entered and went around Somerton—I was there—and then left my constituency. That was a highlight. But then the Olympic torch relay organisers realised that my constituency was too good to leave and the torch came back into Frome later on the same day, so we had another marvellous occasion. I know that all Members will welcome the event when it happens in their constituency.
Let me quickly go through hon. Members’ various contributions. I know that I cannot do justice to all the speeches and answer all the questions that have been raised, but I will make sure that hon. Members have a proper reply from the relevant Department to any questions that I cannot answer.
We started with Iain Stewart, and I agree with Angela Smith that he made a moving and valuable contribution to the debate. We should recognise the huge contribution that Alan Turing made to our country’s future and our security during the war. The centenary of his birth is an appropriate time at which to do that. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, a posthumous pardon was considered in 2009, and as a result the then Prime Minister made an
unequivocal apology for the treatment that Mr Turing had received, which the then Prime Minister accepted was horrifying and utterly unfair. I think we all believe that those successful prosecutions and convictions for what should not have been a crime would have been cruel and deeply inappropriate for anyone, but particularly for someone who had served the country so well.
The hon. Gentleman knows that there are difficulties with providing a posthumous pardon and Lord Sharkey has raised this issue in the context of legislation in another place. We know that those particular offences are now to be disregarded for those who were convicted and are still alive, but there is currently no mechanism for doing that for others. However, discussions continue and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join Home Office Ministers in looking at whether there is a way of achieving that objective.
Graham Jones raised a number of issues. I thought he might have expressed a little more pleasure about the fact that a brand-new £1.6 billion contract had just gone to BAE Systems. I would have thought that that was worth celebrating, but it seems not. He also raised other matters that are properly for the local authorities in his area. One of the things the Government are keen on is to make sure that responsibility lies where it should—with locally elected members for the decisions they take. I have no idea whether Lancashire county council is fulfilling its responsibilities, but if not those elected to the authority are answerable to their electors. That is the right way of doing things.
I was a little surprised by what the hon. Gentleman said about early years investment. The Government have actually invested a lot more money in early years. We have built on the previous provision and I am pleased about that.
The one thing I cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with is his comment about rural broadband. He chose the wrong Minister when he said that rural broadband did not matter, and that it was just faster internet shopping for millionaires. I am sorry, but it is not. If we do not invest properly to allow every member of every community in the country to have access to broadband, we shall have failed. The hon. Gentleman is deeply mistaken on this subject.
Anna Soubry talked about development on the green belt in her constituency. She knows the Government’s position; it is clearly set out in the national planning policy framework. It might be useful for her to have a conversation with the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend Greg Clark. He is the Minister for decentralisation, so he can explain exactly what Government policy is and perhaps communicate that to local authorities in her area. I will happily arrange that meeting if I possibly can.
Ann Clwyd raised a number of human rights issues—in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Burma and Syria. She was joined by Mr Thomas, who talked about Sri Lanka, and Jim Fitzpatrick, who spoke about Bangladesh. We must never forget the importance of human rights or the influence that Britain can and should bring to bear in countries around
My hon. Friend Mr Reid talked about the beauty of his constituency and pointed out that it attracts a lot of tourists. At one point, it sounded as though he was listing all the songs that have extolled the beauty of places in his constituency. He made the very valuable point that many Government policies are supportive of small businesses, and he is absolutely right about that. I would also refer to tourism.
My hon. Friend raised what he saw as the difficulties in correcting the anomalies in relation to static caravans. He knows that the Government have extended the consultation period, and that in due course they will come forward with a view based on the consultation. There is nothing wrong with correcting anomalies, but as we all know, sometimes when we correct them we introduce new ones. We have to take all the evidence and then come to a decision.
Lyn Brown talked about breast cancer, and I agree with the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge that she did so movingly. It is pleasing that survival rates are now better, and if we can reduce the level of mortality from all cancers, and certainly from breast cancer, it will be a significant step in the right direction. One of the keys to that is early diagnosis. The hon. Lady talked about the extent to which early diagnosis in the borough of Newham lags behind that in some other parts of the country, and that worries me. One of the benefits of the new legislation is that it brings local authorities who know their area well into the issue of public health and they may be more responsive to the needs of local inhabitants than the health authorities, which were rather more remote. I hope that will improve provision in her area. I also accept what she said about the new, less-invasive therapies that are available. That is something the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence must take on board; that is why we have that independent advice for medics on the most appropriate types of treatment.
We heard a very moving contribution from my hon. Friend Claire Perry, who talked about her constituents, Mr and Mrs Burns. I am sure that all Members of the House will want to extend their sympathy to them and to Isabella for the tragic loss of Charlie. Let us be clear that deaths from epilepsy are not common. With unexpected deaths, one of the problems is that it is often very hard to understand what signs and symptoms people should be looking for. Public awareness is critical, so I was pleased by what she said about the charity that is working to extend public awareness of sudden death from epilepsy and the fact that nocturnal seizures are one of the signs that people should look for. I think that she did a marvellous job in raising the issue today and hope that people will hear what she has to say. I know that the Department of Health will do everything it can to back that up with information.
Mr Thomas talked about the custody suite in Harrow police station, and I understand his point about the loss of custody suites. One of the knock-on effects is that we lose the
police officers, who are arresting officers, who must then transport people somewhere else and so cannot police the streets. He talked about the proposal for an airport in the Thames estuary. We await the consultation on the aviation industry and the consequences of that. I know that many people are not persuaded of the virtues of such an airport.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about something very close to my heart: London Welsh. I played against London Welsh a few times when I was with Saracens and always enjoyed my visits to Old Deer park. I understand why they would be miffed at the idea that, if they beat the Cornish Pirates—it is not necessarily the case that they will—they cannot then progress. The rules are a matter for the Rugby Football Union, but it is important that, literally, there is a level playing field between those in the premiership and those who aspire to be. I will draw his comments to the attention of the Minister for Sport.
Appropriately, we then moved on to my hon. Friend Mark Pawsey, who talked about graduated driver licensing. I am pleased that he recognises that the introduction of the drug-driving legislation will be an advance. He knows that he is yet to persuade the Department for Transport of his case, but I know that he will be persistent. What we need is an evidence-based approach to whether graduated driver licensing would succeed in reducing injuries and accidents, particularly for young drivers, which is something the whole House wishes to see.
Mr MacShane talked about steel, and I recognise and understand much of what he said. I just wish that he had not then lapsed into caricaturing the positions of members of the Government on that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is made in Yorkshire and knows perfectly well what heavy industry is about. The right hon. Gentleman might have mentioned the fact that the blast furnace at Redcar steelworks, which was closed under the previous Administration, has been reignited under this Government. That might have made his contribution a little more balanced.
My hon. Friend Sir Bob Russell talked about Israel and Palestine, a cause he has been so committed to for so long. He knows that the Government’s position is to support a two-state solution in which both Israel and Palestine can live in security and peace. That is what we need to achieve, and it is not assisted by illegal settlements or some of the activities he mentioned.
Kelvin Hopkins seemed to advocate a very exciting scheme, and I hope that the business case stacks up, because a modal shift from road to rail for freight is extremely important. I do not know why he singled out Scotch whisky as its main cargo, as there are probably other uses, but it was a useful contribution.
Mr Amess, with the breadth of his contribution, gave his usual bravura display on such occasions, from the art of happiness to the cultural centre of Essex, which I am advised is certainly not an oxymoron under any circumstances. He ranged over online publications and the pay of chief executives in the public sector, and he knows that the Government are very much bearing
down on the salaries that are within our control, but the same should apply in particular to local authorities, where there is concern.
The hon. Gentleman talked also about his local police authority’s lack of engagement with him, which as a former chairman of a police authority I found very surprising. He also referred to clamping, on which he knows we have introduced new legislation that will take effect this autumn.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Vioxx, a matter that is still before the courts, and he talked about his constituent Mrs Stephanie Lister and the drugs, such as Ritalin, that are used on young children. He will know that the Deputy Prime Minister has launched a significant initiative to improve mental health facilities for young people and to find better therapies for them.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Maldives, and his constituent Stephanie Migliorini and the award that she won. As always, he covered a great deal of ground.
David Mowat talked about changes to private sector pensions and came up with a scheme that would save the Government, he told us, millions and millions of pounds. Anything that saves the Government millions and millions of pounds is something that we want to consider very carefully, and although I do not feel qualified to give an opinion, I shall ensure that somebody who knows the subject much better than I do gives him a reasoned response.
Jim Fitzpatrick talked about the Olympics, which must be a matter of huge excitement in his constituency, and the need for further Thames crossings. As someone who has always lived in east London when in London, I recognise what he said.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the sensitive issue of animal slaughter, and we need to look further at it. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is doing that to see how it can sensitively reconcile animal welfare with religious practices.
The hon. Gentleman talked about leaseholder rights. He also talked about rabies—and thank goodness it has not been a problem in this country for so long. If there are ways of reducing its incidence abroad so that we maintain the safety of not just our citizens but others, that would be worth while.
The hon. Gentleman also discussed housing benefits, and I understand his point. It is a concern that has been expressed on both sides of the House, and we must get it right, so that we do not give huge amounts of money—well beyond what a household on normal earnings can possibly achieve—to people. Nevertheless we understand that when we are talking about families, we are talking about people.
Martin Vickers talked about Immingham, and we learned a little about its early history, but he talked about its development plans, too. I had not really appreciated that Immingham and Grimsby are, as a complex, the largest port in the UK, and that is a declaration of ignorance on my part, but I did know that the area has enormous economic and strategic importance, so the way in which we maintain its infrastructure—whether its development plans, road connections, broadband or all the things that he mentioned—is enormously important.
Neil Carmichael talked about manufacturing and engineering and pointed out that they are not just oily-rag trades nowadays. It is so important to our future economic success that we attract the brightest and best to engineering and manufacturing, because of not just the initial product, but the supply chains that he mentioned, which affect my constituency as well in terms of aerospace, in particular, and avionics. He welcomed the energy Bill and the things that we are doing to try to attract young people to the world of industry and bring them into it through the apprenticeships scheme and similar measures.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman talked about school governance, and I look forward to hearing more from him on this subject. We put an enormous amount of work the way of governors, who have an enormous responsibility on their shoulders. All the help that we can give them represents money well spent in enabling them to do their job in the best way possible as that is so crucial to our schools and colleges across the country.
Neil Parish tried to upset me by suggesting that people travel through my constituency only to get to his. Of course, the better class of people do not—they stop in Somerset, as he well knows. I know where he comes from, and so I know where his heart really lies, but I understand that he has to say these things because he is now in foreign parts in Devon. He talked about the importance of agriculture and about agri-tourism. We used to dig for victory and then forgot how to, but we now have to remember again because food security is so desperately important.
I was fascinated by the community cafés mentioned by Christopher Pincher and by his injured soldiers holiday appeal. He raised two rather more negative matters regarding his constituents’ inability to get satisfaction in claims on failed investments and on blight by HS2. I will contact the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Transport and hope that we can resolve those outstanding issues for him.
Bob Stewart talked about the regimental system and its importance to esprit de corps. I have always been very attached to the idea of cap badge loyalty. I have some experience of this, not in the armed forces but in the police, where I always felt that it was important to be able to identify with the body in which one served. In Somerset, we regret the fact that the Somerset Light Infantry is no longer a regular Army regiment. I think the fact that we have no Army footprint in my county has been detrimental to recruitment. The hon. Gentleman drew on his own experience and his distinguished record, and I know that he will be heard by Defence Ministers, who have not yet reached their conclusions about the final structure and deployment of the Army but are working on that at the moment.
Last but not least, Richard Graham talked about the importance of the Commonwealth. I entirely agree. It is wonderful that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are currently mounting guard on Horse Guards parade; it is the first time that a non-military unit from another Commonwealth country has done so. It is not in my gift to arrange a debate on Commonwealth day each year; that is in the hands of the Backbench Business Committee. However, if he
applies to the Committee and it thinks it a good idea, the Leader of the House and I will do everything we can to assist.
We have had an excellent debate in which Members have managed to cover a huge range of subjects. I will make sure that those whom I have not answered properly get replies from the Departments involved. I hope that Members are able to use this short Whitsun recess effectively in their constituencies, but also to celebrate, as several of them said, the jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. I have seen people’s enthusiasm for the Olympic torch, and the amount of red, white and blue bunting around our constituencies at the moment is terrific. It makes for a jollier place, and I welcome it. I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all the staff of the House a pleasant short break, after which very brief period we will resume business as usual.
Question put and agreed to .
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
Nigel Evans (Deputy Speaker; Ribble Valley, Conservative)
I wish all Members and staff a superb diamond jubilee. It is an historic, once-in-a-lifetime occasion to celebrate the glorious 60 years of Her Majesty’s reign.