I am delighted to participate in the summer Adjournment debate—I shall do so briefly in view of the many hon. Members who want to speak. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the Front Bench and, indeed, Mr. Vara. The hon. Gentleman and I have an engagement to attend together at 6.30 this evening, so I am confident that the debate will finish on time.
I want to raise three issues. The first is the pathway project in my constituency. I am proud that we have a Labour Government who have allocated more money to the health service than any other Government in history. I am proud that the amount of money that we have spent trickles down to local communities. We have several impressive local improvement finance trust schemes and new doctors' surgeries, and waiting times have been cut.
Imagine my disappointment and that of other hon. Members who represent Leicester and Leicestershire when the hierarchy of the health authority came to see us last week to announce that the pathway project—a £700 million project to rebuild and refurbish our three major hospitals in the city of Leicester—was to be shelved. The reason given was that Triskelion, the private sector partner, had decided to increase the price of the pathway from £711 million and to charge the health authority an additional £201 million. The chief executive of the health authority, Peter Reading, and the chairman of the strategic health authority decided that it was far too much to spend and that it would not represent value for money.
In the spirit of all-party consensus, Mr. Garnier and I went to see my right hon. Friend Ms Hewitt, who was then Secretary of State for Health, a few months ago because of our concerns about the delays in the completion of the pathway project. It is a tragedy that the rebuilding and refurbishment, which would have transformed health services in Leicester and Leicestershire, will not now take place. It is a tragedy because, for seven years, local Members of Parliament and the public were presented with a vision of what underlay the pathway project. I am disappointed because we have no firm commitment from the health authority and those who advise it about future plans for redeveloping our hospitals.
I hope that Ministers will understand the concerns of not only the local Members of Parliament but the local communities about what appears to me to be a misuse of public funds. We want especially to know what has happened to the £23 million of taxpayers' money that went towards paying for the consultants and others who have produced no hospitals and no new health service.
I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies, she will give me three assurances about the pathway project. First, we want to be assured that the £711 million that was originally allocated will remain in the health service in Leicester and that there is no question of it going elsewhere. Secondly, we want to be assured that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Mr. Bradshaw will meet Members of Parliament from the Leicestershire area in the next few weeks. I appreciate that it is traditional when we are in recess for Ministers to take their holiday—rightly; they deserve it—and for Members of Parliament to be busy with constituency and other parliamentary business. However, I am prepared to return to Westminster—and I know that that applies to my colleagues—to meet the Minister because, having been told about the decision, we feel that it is important to know what will happen in future. Thirdly, I hope that we will find out what has happened to the money that has already been spent on the local health service. Where has the £23 million gone? We can then justify to local people what has happened to their money.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for mentioning the joint meeting that we held with the former Secretary of State for Health not long ago. Will he let me know when he manages to arrange the meeting with the Minister of State, Department of Health, Mr. Bradshaw because I should like to join him? Will he also remind the Parliamentary Secretary that my constituency has been affected by the collapse not only of the pathway project but of the Market Harborough hospitals project, and the consequent waste of money? The latter is on a much smaller scale but is none the less a waste of public money.
Absolutely. I will keep the hon. and learned Gentleman informed. He will recall his comments at the meeting when we were told that the hospital project might be downsized and that perhaps a floor would be taken away. He said, "We hope it's not the ground floor." It is important that the matter is tackled on an all-party basis because I believe that we have the best health service and we have let down those who have contributed to its success in Leicester and other parts of the county.
I have raised my second point, which is about video games, on many occasions in the House. Since we last had such a debate, I am delighted that the British Board of Film Classification has banned "Manhunt 2", the sequel to "Manhunt 1", which was produced a few years ago and caused so much controversy. According to Giselle Pakeerah, the mother of Stefan Pakeerah, the young Leicester boy who was stabbed to death in a park in Leicester when aged only 14, the 17-year-old killer copied exactly scenes from "Manhunt 1" to lure Stefan into the park and stab him 17 or 18 times with a knife.
"Manhunt 2" is even worse because it shows graphic scenes of violence, including people being syringed in the eyes and bludgeoned to death. I was delighted when the BBFC decided to ban it. However, having banned the first video game in 10 years, it is important that the Government react much more proactively. I know that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is the mother of a young child. My children are 12 and 10 and I cannot supervise them every moment of the day. I see them at their computers—obviously, since I became interested in the subject, I check what they are doing there. However, peer groups of which young children are a part may result in their watching videos that are inappropriate for their age because they have access to those games.
A partnership between the retailers, the producers of the video games and the Government is therefore important to ensure, first, that labelling is clear. It is still about the size of a 10p piece, which is far too small. The content of some games is so serious that a warning should be splashed on the bottom that clearly states the age limit so that those games will not pass the retailers who sometimes sell them because inexperienced people operate cash registers and do not know that they should not sell them to someone who is under 18. Such labelling also means that, if such a game is lying around a house, people can see that it is inappropriate.
I welcome what the Government have done and the statement that Tony Blair made just before he resigned as Prime Minister. He said that there is a wider social responsibility, beyond the notion that the publishers should be able to make profits out of such games. A huge amount of money is made out of the production of such games, for which we have become the centre of Europe, but there is a wider social responsibility, too. I therefore hope very much that something can be done to ensure additional research. The Government can do that immediately, without having to wait for the publishers, although they ought to contribute towards the cost of the research.
My final point concerns one of my constituents, Mr. Abder Razak Filali-Tomouh, a British citizen who went abroad for a weekend trip to the continent. He came back with the legal limit of tobacco in his car, with his whole family. There was no question of his being above the limit provided for by the Treasury and mentioned by the Customs and Excise people. He was within the limit, but he was stopped on his arrival and asked why he had brought that amount of tobacco in. He explained that it was for his use and that of his family for the foreseeable future. Having committed no crime, he found that the contents were impounded and that, worse for him, so was his car—the car in which he had driven to and from the country. He came back and lost everything, but no criminal offence was committed.
My constituent has not admitted to doing anything wrong and no evidence has been found that he has done anything wrong. He just had a lot of tobacco with him, but within the legal limit. This gentleman has lost his car and can no longer go about his normal business in Leicester. No real explanation has been given for what has happened, which, as I found out from a letter from the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, is standard practice—that is, that HM Revenue and Customs has the power to take people's cars away from them, even though no offence has been committed. That is draconian and bizarre. There ought to be a right of appeal, allowing people the opportunity to challenge the decision.
My constituent cannot afford legal representation—as we know, the Government have cut legal aid over the past few years for people in same position as my constituent—so his only recourse is to come to his Member of Parliament. I have written on his behalf, I have received a standard reply from the Exchequer Secretary and apparently that is the end of the matter—he cannot do anything to get his car back. We need to look at the situation, which would never have come to my attention but for my constituent coming to me at my ordinary weekly surgery, because I do not regard myself as an expert in such matters.
Please let us look at the law, and in particular at people's rights of appeal in such circumstances, especially for citizens who are not experts in that area of law and who become totally bewildered when one day they have a car to drive and the next they do not, and there seems to have been no court process in between. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will give me some reassurance that at the very least that case will be examined again and that at most we will examine the law to see whether we can exercise rights of appeal.
Finally, in the traditional way, may I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and other hon. Members a very pleasant summer recess?
I should like to draw attention to yesterday's written ministerial statement, from column 68WS of the Official Report onwards, on the Government's determination on the bids that they have received for councils to receive unitary status. I deplore the fact that the Government have made a written statement and that the Ministers concerned did not come to the Floor of the House. Contained in the statement is the fact that the Government are minded to implement the bid on behalf of Exeter city council to become a unitary authority.
I and other hon. Members, on a cross-party basis, met Ministers during the consultation period—in fact, we had a constructive meeting with the Minister concerned. I want to draw attention to the five criteria that the Government have set themselves in deciding what would and would not qualify for unitary status, which are listed at column 69WS. The first criterion states that the bid
"must be...supported by a broad cross section of partners and stakeholders".
Last week I tabled a named day question to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government asking
"whether it is her policy to approve unitary status only for those councils which command broad stakeholder support."
Although the question was meant to have been answered by Tuesday, the Minister for Local Government replied:
"I will answer this question shortly."
I do not know how long "shortly" means in the House, but today is the last day on which we are sitting and the question should have been answered on Tuesday. I checked the letter board before coming into the Chamber and found that as yet I had received no reply.
However, the issue is pertinent in respect of the criteria that have been named yet again in the ministerial statement, because I do not believe that the bid for Exeter commanded the full support of the community that was consulted. In fact, when I receive my reply, I anticipate that the statistics will show that 83 per cent. of the responses that the Government received, including those from members of the public, were against the city of Exeter being made into a unitary authority and that only 14 per cent. were in favour. If that is a true reflection of where the figures lie, there is an obvious reason why the Minister has delayed answering a straightforward question, in the light of the ministerial statement. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House, whom I welcome to her position on the Front Bench, will make it a matter of urgency to ensure that I receive that reply in terms before the close of play today.
Another criterion was that the bid should
"deliver value for money and equity on...services."—[ Hansard, 25 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 69WS.]
The Government considered bids for unitary status in Lancashire, a large rural county, by both Burnley and Lancaster, but because of the impact on the rest of the county, the Government reckoned at the time—and I think have failed to implement unitary status for this reason—that those bids did not deliver equity on public services. Exactly the same argument can be deployed for the county of Devon, a large rural county with two moors that are national parks, where Torbay and Plymouth already have unitary status.
If we take Exeter out of the Devon equation, we are left with a difficult situation for Exeter, which is far too small to be sustainable as a unitary authority in its own right, not least because there has just been a major restructuring of education in the city of Exeter, which was three-tier and is now two-tier, the cost of which is being borne under a private finance initiative county-wide. If Exeter is given unitary status, the city and the ratepayers of Exeter will have to pick up the long-term implications of that enormous PFI project. I am not just raising the issue from the point of view of a Member of Parliament representing a peripheral rural part of the 600 square miles of my county that abuts the city of Exeter. However, I am particularly concerned about the impact on the whole of Devon, which, if we take Exeter out of the equation is sparsely populated with a population of 93 people per square kilometre.
We must also consider the economies of scale that can be achieved in some of the important services that have to be delivered, especially the complex care services delivered by the primary care trust across a rural area. Economies of scale of expertise can be pooled by the city of Exeter and the rest of the county, and there is clearly a question mark not only over the financial implications of taking Exeter out of the equation but over the subsequent ability to deliver acceptable, good quality services, particularly in an area with a large number of elderly people.
I was not going to raise this issue, but as the matter has come to light today, I must now ask the Minister to ask her colleague to give me an answer to my question as a matter of urgency. The Government's decision about the city of Exeter in today's ministerial statement is profoundly flawed and will almost certainly be challenged. There is cross-party agreement on this, although perhaps not from my neighbour, Mr. Bradshaw, who holds ministerial office. I imagine that he will be batting for the other side on this matter. These issues cannot be taken in isolation in a county such as ours.
I have watched on television the plight of the many people around the country who have suffered from their homes being flooded in the most dramatic way. I also speak from personal experience. In 1997, my house in Devon, in which I had lived for 30 years, was flooded by an overnight flash flood. It was the first time that it had ever happened. We left the house that night, and were unable to return for five months. It is the most traumatic experience that can happen to anyone.
A lot is being said about the lessons to be learned from building on flood plains. Opinions vary as to whether the recent levels of rainfall are unique, and there was an interesting article in The Sunday Telegraph last week by Philip Eden which gave the statistics from the 1960s, '70s and '80s. They showed that we are not experiencing unique levels of rainfall, but we clearly have to take account of what we now know about the predicted climate change when we propose to build on flood plains.
There are proposals to build a new town, Cranbrook, in my constituency, starting with about 3,000 properties and building up to 10,000. It is a pretty big development. An environmental study was carried out into the consequences of building a new town on an area of land, much of which comprises flood plains. The Environment Agency has approved the proposals, saying that although
"current guidance in PPG25 requires developers to avoid development within floodplain defined on the basis of the 1 in a 100 year (1per cent. probability) event," it accepts that, in the case of Cranbrook, it would be defined on the basis of a 1 in 1,000- year event, which is much less likely to happen.
The real point, however, with any large-scale development—goodness knows, a whole new town is pretty big—is that a lot depends on whether the infrastructure to help with the drainage, the run-off and all the other problems associated with a lot of new build will be put in place on time. My experience of developments of this scale is that, regardless of any negotiations about the infrastructure to be provided by the builders, that is almost the last thing to happen. We can see the consequences of that, especially as drainage infrastructure needs to be among the first things to be built, rather than the last. That involves spending money up front on the basis that the developers will anticipate getting more contracts to build and that the planning will go ahead as predicted.
I will not rehearse the arguments about whether we should have this new town; that is a battle that I fought and lost many years ago. I will say to the Minister, however, that if we are genuinely to learn lessons, it cannot be acceptable to use predictive figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that have been on the books for a long time when planning large developments such as these. When this kind of infrastructure is required, we need to determine at what point in the development the developer should put it in. That will involve ensuring that the firms that win the contracts have the money and resources to provide that infrastructure, because there is often a question mark over their own viability. They usually want to sell the houses and get the money into the bank before they invest too much in any infrastructure other than the basic bits, usually the roads. If lessons are to be learned from the tragedy that many people have experienced in the past few days, that issue must be looked at, particularly in the context of planning policy guidance note 25.
Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I wish you, members of staff and all colleagues here present and elsewhere a very happy summer recess? Devon awaits you. It is looking glorious, as always. If you want a weekend break or have not yet thought about where to go, the county of Devon will welcome you all.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I start by offering my humble apologies to you, to the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and to the Opposition spokesman? I shall not be able to be here for the winding-up speeches, as I have to go to a local health meeting at a hospital in my constituency. However, I shall read the whole debate with interest.
It is customary to say that we should not adjourn until we have discussed a particular subject. I do want the House to adjourn today, but when we get back, I want us to have a full-scale, grown-up, informed debate on drugs policy, the drugs industry and the drugs trade. I am not talking about pharmaceuticals; I am talking about the illegal drugs trade and its domestic and international ramifications.
I should like to draw to the attention of the House the best book on the subject that I have seen for years. It was published last year, and it is called "The Political Economy of Narcotics" by Julia Buxton, a senior research fellow at the university of Bradford. She gives a history of the subject, along with masses of information and a very good analysis. I got the book from the House of Commons Library, and I can tell that it is a good book because its source, the British Library, demanded it back straight away. I read it through to the end, however, and it should inform the debate. If there is more in-depth analysis of the subject, however, we should bring it forward. Indeed, the Government should bring forward their own in-depth analysis.
Ms Buxton refers to the United Nations and the international drug institutions, and to "institutional crisis and decline". Yet I know, from a parliamentary answer that I have received, that the UK is a major donor to those institutions, and to this failing effort. She refers to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN international drug control programme and the International Narcotics Control Board. She talks of
"the inability of the apparatus to revolutionize its working practices or to refocus policy."
Because of the institutions' dependence on donor countries,
"the mechanisms for debate, policy evaluation and review within the UN were limited and this further impeded the reform of UN and drug control approaches."
She goes on to say that,
"while there might be a lively debate on changing aspects of the national drug laws in some countries, the reality is that national governments have very limited room for manoeuvre in terms of developing domestic drug strategies."
Importantly, she concludes:
"This situation is regrettable because the system of international drug control does not work. All the statistical information shows that, rather than decreasing, the number of people who are producing, distributing and consuming harmful drugs is increasing. The expansion of the trade in drugs has been particularly pronounced since the collapse of Soviet communism in the early 1990s and it has accelerated in line with the globalization process. On that basis alone, drug control policies have failed. Not only have they failed, they are also counter-productive...The current control model has not adapted to the enormous changes that have occurred in production and consumption trends during the 1990s and 2000s. As a result, drug control strategies are no longer simply counter-productive; they are doing more harm than good."
Four types of drugs are dealt with in the book: poppy for opium and heroin; coca for cocaine, crack and other derivatives; synthetic-type drugs such as LSD and ecstasy; cannabis and marijuana.
The book also provides valuable information about the financial value of the drugs sector—estimated by the UN as in the region of $300 billion to $500 billion a year, which is more than the market value of steel, cars, pharmaceuticals, meat, chocolate, wine, wheat, coffee and tea. In 2003, the global retail cannabis market was worth an estimated $140 billion a year; cocaine $70 billion; opiates $65 billion; and synthetics $44 billion.
In fact, the lucrative drugs market of north America accounted for 60 per cent. of amphetamine retail sales; 52 per cent. of ecstasy; and 62 per cent. of cocaine sales. That is interesting because America is the country most insistent on the prohibition policy—yet it has the biggest drugs market. What we have seen economically, because of the failure of the control system, is supply up, prices on the street down, demand up. Clearly, the current prohibition policy has failed.
What worries me most is the connection with crime. As with alcohol prohibition, which led to Al Capone and the US mafia, drug prohibition creates the most dangerous organised criminal gangs and threatens civil society beyond just drugs. For example, in Colombia, three presidential candidates were assassinated as a result of the drugs trade. The drugs industry almost went to war with the state in that particular case.
The book notes that drugs prohibition has been advocated by the US Christian evangelists, who also brought in alcohol prohibition: the US likes bans and prohibition. I see that its policy on drugs is "Just say no". That same phrase, by the way, applies to HIV/AIDS in Africa—but again it is not realistic. The British and US Governments have fallen out over that issue and we recommend supplying condoms. America says no to global abortion rights, but abortion should be a right. I note that our International Development Ministers are to address the Marie Stopes conference—again that shows that we are adopting a different position from that in the US. If the US will not change, we should be prepared to adopt a different policy on drugs. The book also points out that US foreign policy takes precedence over its counter-drugs policy. The US will condone drug states or drug players if that is seen to be in its best interests. That factor will be used against whoever the US regards as its enemy.
The drugs industry and the prohibition strategy, which makes it so profitable, lead to wars—Afghanistan is a clear example—and narco-states such as Colombia. That was the status of that country in the past and perhaps still now. The response is unreasonable militarisation and the mass denial of civil liberties; and environmental damage when crops are sprayed. There are also employment and livelihood issues. Bolivia is cited as having almost half a million people—16 per cent. of the work force at one point—employed in the drug industry. As we know from Afghanistan, people often have no other feasible livelihood. While the trade remains illegal, producers get a good price and the process is highly organised. There would be a better chance for alternative production to be pursued if the bottom were to fall out of the market.
Julia Buxton says that the prohibition conventions of international organisations are out of date. They were brought in before the HIV/AIDS epidemic, before the collapse of communism and before globalisation. She argues that they spread harm while the real policy should be one of reducing harm. She refers to HIV/AIDS and drugs in prisons. Clean needle supply would help to combat the disease, and even safe supply could be justified. That would be better than the current practice, which ends up causing more HIV/AIDS as a result of dirty needles. The choice does not have to be between total prohibition or total liberalisation; Julia Buxton suggests that we could have a third way through regulation and an element of control. That is attractive because it would remove the worst of the criminality.
Let the House consider the equivalent industries that are also often viewed as unsavoury. There is the sex industry, for example. There are some bans, quite rightly in some respects, but that industry is not totally banned; indeed, most of it is legal and highly profitable, however unsavoury. The arms industry—most of us detest it—is not illegal; it is regulated. Tobacco is another example; it is legal, but we are quite rightly imposing ever more constraints on it. Alcohol is licensed. There is a third way, a third option, that could be adopted for drugs policy.
Whenever this matter is discussed, the debate is seldom thorough. It is all about soundbites—a simple matter of whether we are tough or soft on drugs. I admit that drugs have an impact on our streets and even in people's homes when it affects their loved ones. It is, of course, a political issue, but we need to have a proper debate about it. I believe that we need to do what is best for public health and for society as a whole. I urge the House to have that discussion.
I shall limit my remarks to the time recommended by Mr. Deputy Speaker in order to maximise the opportunity for all colleagues to contribute to the debate. I would like to put one national issue—mentioned earlier in the announcement of forthcoming business—on the agenda and then discuss issues related to my part of London.
On the national issue, I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will give us an update on whether active consideration is being given to the case of the Sri Lankan Tamils on hunger strike in Harmondsworth, which is causing great concern not just in the Tamil community, but more widely. The case is predictable; it is about people who are afraid to go back to their own country, given the terrible civil war. Many of us would encourage the new team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to put Sri Lanka high on its agenda. It used to be British; it is a Commonwealth country; it is a great country—but it will be a truly great country only when it has become peaceful for all the communities living there, whether Simla, Tamil or others. I am sure that we all share that objective.
Moving on to issues about London, my borough has a population of between 200,000 and 250,000. Like all inner-London boroughs, a significant increase in population is projected over the next 10 years. The official figures show that, but last night's Adjournment debate suggested that they may well be underestimates and that the real figures are much higher.
In that context, housing is, as always, a huge London issue. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will confirm that the good words about housing, particularly council housing, in the Government's recent statements represent a willingness to talk to boroughs and local housing authorities about the ability to build more council housing if that is what the people and their elected representatives want. There should no longer be any disincentives against council housing, forcing people to go down other routes. Council housing is often as well built and as well managed as any other housing. Our borough has the largest council housing stock in London, with more than 40,000 rented properties and another 20,000 bought under the right-to-buy arrangements. All three parties in the borough are determined to sustain that; we are all committed to that means of continuing to meet housing needs.
In that context—and in the context of the great environmental debate—we would also like the Government to think more about funding not just decent homes initiatives, as they have done across England, but environmental initiatives that would allow the best heating systems and the least wasteful energy systems to be used. We have district heating systems, but they are old style. If we are to make properties for the future, we need, bluntly, to retrofit new combined heat and power systems. That has a cost, and we would be willing to work with Government to make sure that we pilot such proposals on estates such as the Four Squares, the Manor and the Rennie, which are old but have decent homes. If they had modern heating that did not waste energy, that would be progress.
Secondly, I want to raise a health issue. South London Members of Parliament, my friend Kate Hoey who is present, and all other Members who represent Southwark and Lambeth seats, kept telling the previous Prime Minister's Administration that it was a bad idea to endorse the closure of the 24-hour emergency clinic for the mentally ill at the Maudsley hospital on Denmark hill—the most well known London and national hospital for mental illness. Sadly, that 24-hour clinic has been closed. A promise had been made to open decent alternative facilities on the King's college site that would separate the mentally ill and non-mentally ill. That has not happened, and it does not look as though it will. I hope that Health Ministers will reconsider that decision, and I have written to the Secretary of State to that effect. A review is needed. Tonight, I hope to present another petition from users of those facilities and their friends and families. It is not appropriate to deal with difficult mentally ill patients at one of the busiest accident and emergency departments in London and Britain.
Thirdly, given the announcements made, many parliamentary colleagues have post office closures looming in their constituencies. My request relates to a Crown post office in my constituency that has an uncertain future. A few post offices, of which Borough high street is one, have had a stay of closure without an outcome, and further closures of sub-post offices around the country are in prospect. Before we start having discussions and are given the list, will the Government at least insist that the Post Office provide the facts that we need to evaluate the case? The Post Office has been dreadful at sharing the facts; it always says that it cannot tell us. We cannot engage in debate if we do not know how many users a post office has, or what its turnover is. If we get the facts, we can have an honest debate about the relative merits of post offices. The four Crown post offices in my patch have been much busier since the sub-post offices that previously existed were closed. The facts need to be provided, and then I will happily engage in debate in defence of my remaining post offices.
Lastly, I want to raise issues relating to transport, including train, tram and tube services. On trains, the Secretary of State for Transport's welcome announcement on Tuesday about investment in the railways left in abeyance the issue of whether London will get Crossrail. There is a united cross-party view that London transport will be hugely better if it has an east-west link. We urge the Government to come down on the side of investment in Crossrail sooner rather than later. I know that the private Bill is going through the House, but a green light for Crossrail is needed soon.
Another major, strategic London-related announcement was on Thameslink, which is to have a £5.5 billion investment. That north-south link goes through my constituency, crossing Blackfriars bridge. Thameslink is a very good idea, but has one problem, which I have raised over and again—the threat posed to Borough market and the area around Southwark cathedral by the impact of the scheme. I put on record that if Network Rail and Thameslink are to sustain the support of the community—but more importantly, protect one of London's heritage sites that has associations with Dickens, a cathedral at London bridge that goes back 1,400 years and Borough market, which is wholesale and retail—an inappropriate viaduct and the demolition of lots of listed buildings is not the way to proceed. There must be ways of accommodating the double-width viaduct without destroying the heritage of that wonderful part of London. Huge support has been received from across parties and from people all over the world who are worried about Borough market. Let us say yes to Thameslink, but to a Thameslink that does not ruin Borough market. We cannot rebuild history or remake Dickensian, historic London.
On the tram, I want to make a plea for the comprehensive funding review to direct adequate funding to Transport for London for good London projects, which would significantly reduce congestion, motoring and environmental harm. The first proposal in that regard is the cross-river tram, which is widely supported. London currently has two tram proposals in the pipeline: the Uxbridge road tram, which is not very popular; and the north-south London tram, which would go from Camden Town in the north down to Peckham and Brixton in the south, crossing Waterloo bridge and going through my constituency at Elephant and Castle, for which a fantastic new regeneration scheme has been announced this week. We need to know that the money is available to do it. If TfL has the money, the Mayor will say yes. My understanding is that if Crossrail gets the green light, and the money is there for one tram, it is likely that we can have the north-south London tram, because an east-west train will not be needed as much if we get Crossrail. That is logical.
People north of the river—in the posher bits of Camden, I understand—might be a bit nervous about the thought of a tram going past their exclusive houses and giving them grief in some of the leafier squares. I hope that that problem can be resolved. Even posh people can go on trams and benefit from them. People with expensive houses might even see their house prices going up, not down. Can we at least have the money to allow us to have what is not a cross-river tram if it stops south of the river, having started south of the river? We want the tram to go from Brixton and Peckham to Waterloo, and at least over to Aldwych. If the good burghers—I use my words carefully—of Camden do not want it to go further north than the Aldwych, that is their problem; they are mistaken.
Finally, London has two tube issues, which are not merely related to south London. South London has 38 tube stations, and north London has 200—a gross inequity, as I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will agree. On the first issue, everyone agrees that the extension of the East London line is a good project, which is waiting for the funds to be continued. Work is starting, and the line will close later in the year as preparations are made. In the first phase, it will run from Dalston junction down to New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon; at the moment, it just goes from Shoreditch to New Cross and New Cross Gate. The second phase will eventually take it to Clapham junction via Surrey Canal Road. It will link all the bits of the system that are not currently linked. One will therefore be able to get on to the East London line via the Victoria line at Brixton, for example.
It will be no good, however, if the comprehensive spending review does not provide the money. I am a big fan of the line, which will hugely reduce traffic in east London. A lot of people will be able to go to Canary Wharf from south London—crossing the river is difficult, because there are not many crossing points. It would be a hugely valuable investment, so may I make a big plea that Transport for London be given enough money to allow the East London line to go ahead as planned?
The second tube issue relates to Metronet and its consequences. The Prime Minister has done many good things in his political career, but one of the bad things that he did was to insist on the public-private partnership for the London underground. That was always going to come to grief, and it has; and Metronet has come to grief. The impact of that is that all the restoration work, and the work on the lines affected, including the Bakerloo line at Elephant and Castle, is at risk because we do not know who will be doing it. Will the Deputy Leader of the House please take back to her colleagues, including the Prime Minister, the new Chancellor and the new Transport Secretary, the message that such a scheme cannot be allowed again? More importantly, we need the security that any scheme will be viable for all its users, if we are to have confidence in the London tube.
I was shadow Minister for London at the time that that scheme was being discussed, and it was as clear as day that consortiums put together with £2 share capital do not have the balance sheets to support the deficits that they will inevitably run into. The result is that the problem comes back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Should not the Government at least let such contracts to proper companies with proper balance sheets that can underwrite the cost overruns, which are probably their fault in any case?
I am grateful for the informed intervention of the hon. Gentleman. What Londoners and the millions who visit London want is an arrangement for the involvement of the public and private sectors, if that is appropriate, or for the involvement of the public sector alone that does not carry all the risks that the current scheme had from the beginning. The workers in the London underground, the users of the London underground and local residents want the same mistakes to be avoided. It is no good replacing one failed arrangement with a parallel failing, risky arrangement. Please heed the warnings from around the House. It is not a party political matter. Warnings came from everywhere.
If we are to have a London that is fit for purpose, we need a tube service, a tram system, bus services and rail services that work, so that when the Olympics come to London, we have a fantastic city that works. I hope that the Minister will heed the constructive suggestions that have been made today, take them back to her colleagues and come back with good news for Londoners and for transport in London.
Even the most fervent or rabid fans of the school academy programme would find it hard to justify the fact that Heartsease high school in my constituency could be turned into such an academy. The two sponsors have each put money into the programme—up to £2 million. One is a Pentecostal ex-car dealer and the other is the Bishop of Norwich. It seems to be a phenomenon raging across the country these days. Nevertheless, we are in the middle of a consultation, which ends on
I will not bore hon. Members with all the honeyed words that are said about the aim of such academies and schools: providing a lovely new building, which is welcome, and making a contribution to people's lives and so on. We have all seen those words. I do not think that I would find anyone who would ever disagree with that, whatever position they took. The school no longer appertains to be a faith school. I say that because, in its original documentation, it said:
"there is an opportunity to support an academy in Heartsease. This derives from our faith that the love of God should be seen in our lives" in such a lively school. That has changed as the opposition has grown. It is now to be an open academy of the best sort and to be socially non-divisive—ethnic, and religious diversity will be the flavour of the month.
I should say too that it is a school that can improve; it has had trouble in the past. That was the original criterion for such academies. Let me quote from its Ofsted report following its hard years. In February 2007, inspectors said:
"This is a satisfactory and improving school. It has overcome significant turbulence caused by recent changes to headship"— somebody whom I taught at university—
"and governance and it is now much more stable" and there is a great spirit. It also interacts through the sixth form with the local Blyth-Jex high school and Sprowston high school. With the new middle school and early entry to secondary schools, there will be more pupils there than ever. I will say more about that later.
One wonders about the vision for the school, because it is not always clear. When we enter discussions with the sponsors and others they say that they are going to have environmentalism—well, everyone says that these days—but they do not define exactly what that means in teaching in a school. They are of course to have their specialism, which is engineering. The school achieved specialist status in engineering. It is pretty rare in this country to take that on. It is a hard area to get people interested in, but by gosh when they do get into it they are interested and go on to universities and other places. The vision of how those things will merge has not been spelled out clearly and we have not seen any documentation explaining it.
On a wide range of value-added measures of attainment, the school is among the most improved in the country. It has improved at all key stages. It dispirits people when they see that that is not rewarded and that perhaps many of the teachers and others will lose their jobs. It will have its new glossy buildings, presumably, and its ICT facilities and it might raise standards, but the question is how those standards will be raised. Will it be by diversion of pupils from other schools into the academy because of the attraction of it? Will it really be because of the Christian ethos and what is taught there—sustainable development or whatever? Will that bring people to that school to raise the numbers from about 600 to perhaps 900? They will have to come from the other schools in that district.
One thing that has really established Norwich schools has been the interaction between them. Norwich is not north and south; that is only a constituency matter and two MPs. There is a unitary educational system, where the schools work together and through the years they have interchanged heads and helped each other. The products from our schools—the young people—go on to do excellent work elsewhere; that is second to none. Therefore, social grounds alone may have helped to develop that school.
I am also concerned about the questionnaire that has gone out, which is quite interesting. If ever there were a questionnaire that you wanted to fail, this is it. The questions are biased and loaded. It is amazing. I will take just one example:
"Do you agree with the sponsor's vision for the proposed new Academy? 'We believe in the unique worth of each child'. Yes, No, Undecided".
Who could ever be undecided about that kind of question? There are 16 questions just like that, for which the obvious answer is that Heartsease school, as it is now, is rubbish and we need an academy to make it better. No reasons are given. It is just pushing people in that direction. Many people have pointed that out. I am amazed that a county council—Norfolk county council—can allow such a questionnaire to go out in its name. I wonder as well about the Christian sponsors allowing that to happen.
One other thing gravitates against giving the school academy status. Yesterday, there was a statement—it has already been referred to—that unitary status is coming Norwich's way. There is an argument about how it will come. It is not in one of the nine primary areas to which we were minded to give unitary status; Angela Browning mentioned Exeter in that connection. Norwich is singled out and it is said that if we can widen the boundaries just outside Norwich—there is no green belt there now; areas have all merged together—to territory such as Sprowston and Hellesdon, we really have a chance to meet the five criteria. Everything I hear indicates that there is great hope that that might happen. That means that the local education authority loses its right to look after those schools, including Heartsease, Blyth-Jex and Sprowston. That reflects a difference from where we started, taking one school out of the system and trying to make it very different. It would be divisive to do such a thing in the current situation. I hope that the Minister will listen when we meet him to discuss that issue. Unitary status changes everything.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has made some authentic claims about changing the criteria for academies, not dramatically but just enough. He said that it is just not enough to have a lot of money to be a good sponsor. One has to show leadership, innovation and commitment to act in the public interest. If one is going to run education, it would help to know a little about it before taking those responsibilities on. That is beginning to change, in terms of how the academy programme is rolling out across the country. There is a long way to go, but people are beginning to realise that sponsorship may not be the way to develop better standards in education. There may be better ways, such as addressing the size of the school or the interaction between schools. If someone gave me £25 million, I could take those three schools into the stratosphere, including Nobel prizes or whatever.
Schools need better buildings and playing fields. The science labs at Sprowston high school are mediaeval. I had a meeting the other week with the director of education for the county and we showed him the appalling labs. The wooden desks have things like "Tony loves Cherie" scrawled all over them. We used to love such desks, but labs in good schools now look completely different. All those schools need an investment of money, and to interact with each other. That has started to happen with the sixth forms and it could happen in other areas of school endeavour.
I also wish to raise a point that someone made recently in a big meeting about academies, and that is the human rights of people in academies. Are they covered by the 1944 Education Act and the rest of the 9 ft pile of legislation and regulations on education and grant-maintained schools and the rest? A lawyer from the eminent Matrix chambers, which I seem to remember hearing of somewhere before, said that that has not been tested yet, so that is another problem.
I do not think that the academy proposal has been considered in terms of value for the £25 million that the sponsor gets to do what they like, such as appointing governors and so on. Because of the unitary status situation, it will take time to discuss with other local councils how they can work better together and how the schools and other services will be taken from the county council and brought under the umbrella of the unitary authority. In those circumstances, I call for a moratorium on the academy programme. The judgments that have been made so far are unsound, such as the questionnaire that I have mentioned. If one looks at the education situation in the round, the academy proposal will not give us a well funded, accountable or fair school system in my part of Norwich.
I wish to raise three subjects, and I shall end with the one on which the Government could act before
The first subject goes back some way to the unfair treatment of pensioners from this country who choose to live overseas. Many people believe that the arguments that successive Governments have used are wrong. Brian Havard of Australia has pointed out that he has lost £30,000 since he retired there. Another resident of Australia, aged 96, is getting a state pension from this country of £6 a week, but it would be £70 to £100 a week if she had chosen to go and live in the Philippines rather than in an old British dominion. I do not expect the Minister to be able to do more than to say that she has heard what I have said, but it is a scandal that gets worse with the passing years. It is time that Government woke up and said that whatever the other spending priorities may be, pensioners should get the same north of the 49th parallel as in the United States, in another European Union country or in South Africa. People should be treated fairly.
The second issue is one to which I have given a great deal of time and attention. It is the proposed reconfiguration of hospitals in West Sussex. I pay tribute to the chairman of the primary care trust, David Taylor, who has resigned today for personal reasons. I do not believe that his resignation is linked to the fact that the health oversight committee yesterday referred the consultation to the Secretary of State on the grounds of inadequate and improper procedures. I accept what the chairman said and I wish him well.
I suggest—although he is in my party—that the Government appoint as chairman of the PCT someone such as Henry Smith, the leader of West Sussex county council. He would approach the issues in a proper way. He has led the council well and he would be able to get the consultation halted and then put back on course properly.
It is unprecedented for the first meeting of a joint health and oversight committee to take the action that that one did, and the Government should take it seriously. If they say that it is nothing to do with them and that the strategic health authority should make the decision, they should give direction to the chief executive of the SHA to try to get the consultation working properly. I shall not take the House through all the issues, but the representations made to the former Secretary of State for Health have not apparently been referred to the PCT as part of its consultation. The thousands of representations made to the PCT in the year that it took to come out with its inadequate consultation get no more than a passing reference.
Many of the clinicians, including those who got standing ovations at the meeting in Worthing a few days ago, have made a declaration that the proposals were not safe, and that—apparently—has allowed others to claim that the clinicians are agreed that there can be only one major hospital on the south coast in West Sussex.
The county of West Sussex has a population of 750,000 and there will be 3,000 births at Worthing hospital this year. The former Prime Minister, who thought it worth bypassing one's local hospital for special primary angioplasty treatment, should know that if he wanted that treatment he could have it in Worthing, where our surgeons are of world renown. At a meeting of the all-party health group, some of us heard Professor Sir George Alberti and another Government adviser, Roger Boyle, agree with Mark Signy of Worthing hospital that treatment there is more likely to save a patient's life than if they journeyed to hospitals in Brighton, Chichester or Portsmouth.
The inadequacies of the consultation are well known locally and to the PCT, too. As an example, it was decided to recommend three options. A fourth was cut out at the last moment—my belief is that it was done on the instructions of the SHA or the Department of Health, but I cannot prove it. There has been some dispute as to whether the consultation document was submitted to the Department of Health for approval before it was released. It was certainly released later than anyone expected, but that is in the past so there is not much point in going over it again.
The consultation should include an option for two hospitals with accident and emergency and maternity services. There are good arguments for Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath, but to make people decide between St. Richard's hospital at Chichester and the Worthing and Southlands hospitals in my constituency is wrong. The fourth option—knocked out at the last moment—should have been included, which, like the first option, includes a benefit to the NHS of more than £20 million, but because it would be at Portsmouth in Hampshire it is not counted in the financial calculations. The Minister would have to look in a small box on page 7 of the fifth document attached to the seventh item of the PCT agenda to find it.
The PCT should also be required to reinstate one of the Government's accessibility hurdles, which was dropped in March without anybody noticing. I should be surprised if any non-executive directors of the PCT understood what was happening at the time. What is proposed is wrong. Worthing has one of the best hospitals in the country. People want to be patients there. Staff want to work there and people want to be trained there. I declare a slight interest, as my doctor daughter was trained at the hospital.
My daughter is not the reason why I raise the next issue, which is the total mess of the Government's nationalised scheme for choosing doctors for hospital training posts. In November and December 2006, there were warnings, in which I took part, that the modernising medical careers system and the computerised medical training application system—MTAS—would not work. In March, sensible directors of medical education advised deaneries that they should hold the system for a year and process applications manually. If that had happened, we would have known about almost every hospital position by May. Those positions are for the benefit not just of doctors in training but for patients. They also enable senior doctors to do their work properly rather than downgrading themselves to jobs that require less experience and skill.
The Government did not heed those warnings. We have reached the stage of resignations—not only of the chairman of the BMA and of some of the people who helped design the system, but of the Secretary of State for Health, Ms Hewitt, who left her job for personal reasons, which we can well understand. The junior Minister responsible for some of those things has moved on to another post. The Select Committee on Health is to hold an inquiry and the Tooke inquiry is under way, but I should prefer Ministers to say, "We realise the whole thing is a total mess. We went on regardless and we were wrong." The Minister will discover the strength of what is wrong if she asks Great Ormond street hospital whether it is true that it has up to 12 vacancies for posts that need to be filled on
We are used to flood warnings, but we are getting to the stage where we should put out a warning saying, "Do not be ill in August." That is not just because people are changing their jobs everywhere in the country and many vacancies will not be filled, but because many of those that are filled will be filled by people who did not want to have that specialty in that place. Imagine what it is like to be one of the people who is actually given a job that they did want in a place that they wanted, only to be told two weeks after receiving that news, "I am sorry; we made a mistake. We have offered six places for four posts, and two of you have to be picked to go elsewhere to do something totally different." That is not the way to treat a committed professional, on whom this country has spent perhaps £250,000.
The same applies to people referred to as IMGs—international medical graduates: people who came to this country to do A-levels, their first degree and their medical training. As a result of a change of policy by the Home Office in March 2006, brought about apparently by the Department of Health either conniving or being ignorant about the consequences, those people found out that by late last year a decision had been taken, without full information to everyone who would be affected, that it was now not enough to have a letter from the Home Office in order to switch to the highly skilled migrant programme, and that a stamp in one's passport was also required. Given the delays at the Home Office, one would not only have to have applied, having obtained the qualifications to get the FT3 grade that gets one above the salary level that makes it possible to apply for the highly skilled migrant programme, but would have to have got in the queue where they open the letter and put the stamp in. A letter from the Home Office was judged not to be adequate.
What kind of a Government say that one Department can send a letter saying that a person is qualified whereas another can say, "Unless you actually turn that letter into a stamp in your passport by
Some specialties, such as pediatrics and psychiatry, normally rely on international medical graduates. I suggest that the new Secretary of State goes down to the airport and tries to stop some of those people leaving the country. They may have been in this country for seven or eight years but they are needed here. I challenge the Government to publish during the next week, even though Parliament may have gone off on holiday, the figures for every deanery, hospital, specialty and grade, and to say where the gaps are and how many doctors are trying to enter the transfer system, where they can swap with someone else. For example, someone with a job in Scotland may want to be down in Kent. How can they swap? It is a shambles of a system and I am ashamed to be part of it. We as MPs have failed.
On a different subject, during the break I am going to America to help win a clemency hearing for a man called Krishna Maharaj. The former Prime Minister mentioned him. Several members of the present Cabinet signed up to the amicus curiae brief signed by nearly 300 MPs and MEPs in the House of Lords. I hope that I can come back knowing that Florida will grant a clemency hearing to this man and have a full investigation. If he cannot be ordered a new trial, at least he can get the clemency hearing that he richly deserves.
The first issue that I shall raise has already been raised by Simon Hughes. That is no surprise, because it is the question of the closure of the emergency clinic at the Maudsley hospital. All the Members of Parliament in south London, the two local authorities of different political persuasions and health scrutiny committees of different political persuasion united to say that they did not want it closed and that they did not want it moved to an inferior position at King's College hospital. The former Secretary of State for Health did not listen to any words that we said. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will make a point of drawing this matter to the attention of the new Secretary of State for Health even though that has already been done.
The local paper, the South London Press, has led a very good campaign on this issue, and has really got people in south London to see mental health issues as central to the problems that many of my constituents and other Members in south London face. Each week now in the South London Press we read of people who have been treated very badly indeed, and we read of the bureaucracy that is involved in that change. And yet £6 million was going to be spent, although it has not been spent yet, to move a service that nobody wanted moved. I still do not understand the reasoning behind that.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made three changes in the last week or two, and all of them are on issues on which I voted against my own Government—on the questions of cannabis, casinos and 24-hour licensing. I am hopeful that, over the next few weeks and perhaps by the time that we come back in the autumn, there will be more changes on policies on which I was against the Government and on which they have now seen the error of their ways. I hope that the new Secretary of State will look again at the issue that I have raised, because it is not too late to change.
I also wish to draw to the House's attention the way in which the ballots for arm's length management organisations are carried out and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will refer it to whichever Minister is responsible for monitoring the conduct of those ballots. There has recently been a ballot in Lambeth for an ALMO and I was ashamed by the way that my borough handled it. The ballot form was biased and set out in a way that was clearly one-sided. Something like £400,000 was spent on glossy brochures, DVDs and all sorts of other things that were sent to tenants, and they amounted to propaganda as to why the tenants should have their housing put out to an ALMO. Despite all that, there were questions such as
"Are you aware that the ALMO could attract over £200 million of additional investment to make homes decent in Lambeth?
Yes No Don't know
Are you aware that with the ALMO for Lambeth you will remain tenants and leaseholders of the Council?
Yes No Don't know".
The whole ballot form was not in any way a fair way to ask tenants' opinions, especially after the expenditure of £300,000.
Ironically, of the 30,986 council housing tenants and residents who had the right to vote, the total number of valid votes cast was 8,278. Of that, the number voting yes was 3,518, the number voting no was 3,362 and the number voting "don't know" was 1,398. The council leadership portrayed that as a great victory for the ALMO and claimed that it had received the support of 52 per cent. of the tenants voting. However, when we add the figures up, we see that a minority of the people voting voted for an ALMO. I ask the Deputy of Leader of the House to make sure that the Minister responsible is made aware of that.
Although we need extra resources to improve the homes in my borough, setting up a bureaucratic way of proceeding is not what residents and tenants want. I hope that Ministers will study that carefully and realise that Lambeth council would have done much better to spend its money and resources on improving the repair system and the whole system for the management of housing rather than on paying overtime to extra staff to knock on doors so many times that the residents told them to go away and locked their doors. Lambeth might then have had the chance to become a two-star housing authority, which it is not.
Instead of Lambeth council wasting money, it could have campaigned for the fourth option of direct investment in local authority housing. That is needed and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is moving towards greater support for council housing. I am fed up with the terms "affordable housing" and "social housing". Let us get back to using the term "council housing", because that is what people mean when they talk about improving some of the housing. It does not mean that other types of housing cannot be built, but people know what council housing means and that is what we want.
The House should not adjourn until it has debated another issue. For 150 years, we had a wonderful universal postal service that was carried out by the Royal Mail. It was the envy of the world, with low, uniform stamp prices and six-day deliveries. I believe that the rapid introduction of full liberalisation in January 2006—well ahead of all other European countries—has created an unlevel competitive playing field for the Royal Mail that is now threatening its commercial viability and the future of the universal service. Postcomm has not carried out its duty very well in allowing foreign competitors to enter the UK market while denying the same opportunity for Royal Mail to compete in Europe. As the Communication Workers Union predicted, competition has amounted to cherry picking and to allowing the private competitors to cream off the Royal Mail's most profitable bulk mail business. Real competition has proved a myth, with no other competitor being prepared to develop a national collection and do all the things that we are so used to with Royal Mail.
Those who run Royal Mail, Mr. Leighton and—I've forgotten his name, but I do know him. [ Interruption. ] Mr. Crozier. They have got themselves into a situation where they are refusing to negotiate properly with the Communication Workers Union. I have a long association with the Communications Workers Union, dating back to when it was the old Union of Communication Workers, and I know that the people who work for the Post Office do not want to strike. However, the Royal Mail has handled the situation appallingly. It goes on about huge salary increases for its workers, who actually earn a small amount, while people such as Crozier award themselves huge amounts of extra money every year. Over the summer, the Government need to get involved, address the issue, and knock some heads together at Royal Mail.
There are two final issues that I would like to mention. I know that my hon. Friend Ms Stuart will probably have more to say about one of them. It is quite wrong that we are going off for the long recess without having a proper debate on the need for a referendum on the European Union constitution. For me, it is still a constitution. It is disgraceful that, unless it has been produced today, we still have not seen an English edition of the so-called constitutional treaty. It is quite clear that the vast majority of the original 250 proposals in that constitution are there in black and white as they were before. A very strong commitment was given in the manifesto that I stood on that we would have a referendum on that constitution, and we need a referendum. The demands for that will grow over the summer. Before we come back in the autumn, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will change his mind on that, as we changed our minds on the original referendum—unfortunately, we were not able to have that referendum because other countries voted against the constitution.
Finally, a lot of my constituents will be travelling this summer. They will be flying off and using the airports. I want to put in a word for some kind of reality check on the question of terrorism and the various measures that have been introduced. I am absolutely certain that one of the things that the terrorists want to do is to change our way of life and to change the basic idea in this country that we do things within the law and we do not change our behaviour too much. I am afraid that, as a constant traveller—quite often I go back and forward to Northern Ireland, where there is no alternative but to fly—I have noticed the attitude and the way in which people handle the security process. Quite honestly, if anyone wanted to do something, they would simply do it around the long queues at check-in and security.
The Government have to allow a more common-sense approach to hand luggage. I had a tiny bottle of blackberry jam, which my mother made, taken off me because it was slightly bigger than the size of blackberry jam bottle that I would have been allowed to carry. There is no common sense in the attitude to the kind of measures that are being taken. Unless we take people with us on the measures, people will react. Although everyone wants to see normal security carried out, they do not want to see more and more people acting as if they just quite enjoy having a little bit of power over ordinary people. I hope that, over the summer, Transport Ministers do not react too much to suggestions that there should be even tighter security. We should take a common sense approach and recognise that the answer to terrorism does not lie in just making the lives of everybody in this country more difficult.
I am sure that many other Members want to speak. May I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all the staff a good long recess? We London MPs do not disappear off; we are usually seen wandering around the House of Commons where lots of work is going on, because we do not go off unless we are actually on holiday.
I congratulate Kate Hoey on a common-sense speech. We all admire her independent spirit, and I hope that she gets her way on a referendum, as she has done on other matters, such as casinos, now that the new Prime Minister has taken over.
I should like to raise a subject that will be of interest to the hon. Lady and Simon Hughes, who spoke earlier, namely health care in south London. More particularly, I want to discuss the disturbing financial situation of the Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust. The trust has two hospitals: the Princess Royal University hospital in Farnborough, and a smaller hospital—a community hospital in effect—the Orpington hospital. The PRU, as it is known locally, is a brand-new private finance initiative hospital that opened four years ago. It was financed by land sales and a PFI scheme.
When the PRU was built, part of the original plan was that the Orpington hospital would be closed down, despite it being a community hospital, and its buildings would be used to house the trust's accounts department. With the help of a magnificent, formidable group of ladies in my constituency, who run an organisation called the Community Care Protection Group, I petitioned against the change, under the slogan "beds before bookkeepers", and managed to save Orpington hospital, which is one of my greatest triumphs as a Member of Parliament. I give the Government great credit for the fact that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and something else—[Hon. Members: "Regulatory Reform."]—yes, reducing regulation or something, opened a new treatment centre four years ago, on which the Government spent £8 million of taxpayers' money. I therefore have a brand-new PFI hospital and a community hospital, both of which are four years old, so we have excellent new facilities in my constituency, and I give the Government credit for that.
All seemed to be going well, even over the past year, although, as we know, there is a £500 million deficit in the NHS countrywide, and 20,000 nurses and others have been laid off. There are difficulties across the country, but the fact is that in Bromley patients were very satisfied with the new facilities. The staff morale was good, and the nurses and clinicians do a terrific job. High recommendations came from the Government. The possibility of foundation status was mooted and worked towards. More and more stars were allocated, and all seemed to be going well. It was recognised that the financial situation was perhaps a little challenging, but it was understood that the operating deficit was under control, and would be eliminated this year.
Imagine our horror when the new management of the trust revealed, in the past two months, that there was in fact an £87 million deficit, and that the financial situation demanded a cut of £20 million in the current financial year. That has staggered everybody in the local community, as the Deputy Leader of the House can well imagine. I have been trying to find out the exact reason for that abrupt volte-face, and as far as I can see, it is first down to a very bad PFI deal. I have looked at the appendices attached to "A Picture of Health"—it always amazes me that the Government have jolly little titles to conceal very uncomfortable facts—and it says that the occupation costs of the PRU are very high; indeed, they are double what they would be under conventional public-sector financing. They are so high that they are worse than those for most other PFI hospitals, and I understand that that is because it was an early PFI scheme, so the hospital got a worse deal than some others did.
In the circumstances, one would expect a refinancing of the debt. Indeed, that took place when the construction was completed, but it has finished, and the downside of the refinancing is that the debt arrangements will remain the same for the next 35 years. There can be no further change in the debt arrangements. The banks and so on that picked up the debt get their interest, uprated for the retail prices index every year, and there is no risk transfer whatever. Now that the hospital is in financial trouble, there is no possibility of them taking up some of the slack. They get their money anyway. It is astonishing that there has been no risk transfer in the whole of the PFI operation, as there has not been in many others.
Bonds were used in the refinancing and because the bond-holders are difficult to locate, there can be no leasing out of the facilities, which would otherwise be a possibility in such a situation. The financial position is bad and it gets worse. Recognising the difficulties brought about by the hospital financing situation, the Government gave Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust an annual sum of £6 million to cover the difficulties. That has been abruptly withdrawn, and we do not know why.
Will the Minister ask her colleagues in the Department of Health why that substantial sum—£6 million out of an operating deficit of possibly £20 million—has been abruptly withdrawn with no explanation? The hospital management, to whom I spoke last week, does not know why and is trying to find out. I do not know. I hope the Government know why that extraordinary action was taken.
The Government have put in place a new tariff system for the recovery of health costs throughout the country. That is based on average cost. The problem is that Bromley NHS trust has above average costs. It is therefore providing many items and carrying out many clinical jobs at a loss, thereby contributing to its operating deficit.
As a consequence of all this, the Government have looked at all these matters in south-east London as a whole on a cash basis and are no longer prepared to consider the sort of financial devices that carried hospital trusts in that situation from one year to another. They will no longer contemplate that, presumably because they are running out of money to finance the NHS, as a result of all the bungles that have occurred over doctors' salaries, IT, the legacy of extra bureaucracy and so forth. There is an acute financial crisis.
In addition, as London Members know, there is the plan to transfer health treatment from hospitals to community care. Lord Darzi has brought forward that scheme for London. The problem in Bromley is, first, that we have all those brand-new facilities—two new hospitals—and the Government are telling us not to use them so much and to transfer treatment to the community. Secondly, we do not have very good community care facilities. In a recent survey the GP surgeries in Bromley are rated the fourth worst in the country. They are very old fashioned. Often a Victorian house has been used for many years by a single-handed or perhaps a two or three-handed GP practice and cannot take on board all the additional facilities and treatments that the primary care trust wishes it to offer.
The PCT says that it is still giving the hospitals trust the same amount of money. Indeed, it is, in theory, but it is asking for more treatments to be carried out in the community and fewer to be carried out by hospitals. In the end the hospital gets less money. That is also contributing to its cash crisis.
A bad financial situation was set up, to which poor resource planning contributed, and a blueprint for health care which is inappropriate to the circumstances of Bromley has been imposed. I shall be campaigning against that so that the situation does not affect my constituents adversely, and to retain the facilities that we greatly value in Bromley and Orpington. They are much loved by local people, who have received excellent health care there over the past few years, which I wish them to continue to receive. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will tell her colleagues in the House of Commons and in the Government that that is a perfect example of bungling incompetence ruining potentially good health care facilities, and I hope that she will do something about it.
Order. I have an appalling confession: the assumptions on which the 12-minute time limit were based have proved to be over-optimistic. I want to try to accommodate every hon. Member who is here. I could do that by invoking the short speech rule at the appropriate time, which would mean a seven-minute limit for the remaining speakers, but if everyone adheres to a nine-minute limit from now on—I cannot compel that—it may be possible to avoid having to step down at 4.30 pm. I hope that that helps the House, and I am sorry that the difficulty may arise.
In this debate, it is customary to raise constituency issues, but I do not want to do that this afternoon. I want to debate a Government Green Paper and a document that is not yet available, because this is the last opportunity before the summer recess to do so.
The Green Paper "The Governance of Britain" is excellent and I welcome it. In it, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House commit themselves to much greater involvement by the public and Parliament in our constitutional decisions. They state that they
"want to forge a new relationship between government and citizen, and begin the journey towards a new constitutional settlement".
The document briefly recounts how the British constitution evolved. It mentions at great length on a number of occasions the Council of Europe and the European convention on human rights. However, there is only one reference to the European Union, namely:
"in 1973, the UK joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union) and became a part of a multinational political structure."
The document does not mention the Single European Act and the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties, which I think are extremely important in the evolution of our constitutional settlement. Page 19 briefly refers to the process of EU treaty ratification, but otherwise the EU is absent. For example, the document includes a list of public appointments that could be subject to affirmative hearings, but I think that European Commissioner is a classic example of an appointment that should be open to a scrutiny hearing.
The document encourages us to reinvigorate our democracy, and it mentions
"the Government's wish to ensure that decision-making is done at the right level: whether national, regional or in the local community".
It also discusses the youth citizenship commission and voting rights, but, again, there is no mention of the EU. We have a whole Green Paper on the governance of Britain that completely leaves out the source of some 60 per cent. of our domestic legislation in areas such as health and trade. When was the last time we saw Department of Trade and Industry legislation? There is no mention of the European Parliament, other than mentioning the change in voting rights, which is a sad omission in what is otherwise an exceptionally good document.
One part of the document attempts to define the values of Britain, and it considers with some envy the way in which the French or even the Americans have managed to do that. In the UK, we could make much more of the rule of law as one of the key values by which we define ourselves.
At least we can discuss that Green Paper, because we can read it. I think that the second document is called "The EU Reform Treaty". I want to make it clear that I am not against the European Union—far from it; my whole life has been a product of its evolution. However, it is sometimes disheartening how those on the Treasury Bench manage to pigeonhole anybody who has anything even marginally critical to say about it as being completely antediluvian—to want to withdraw immediately and go back to being little Englanders saying, "Fog in the Channel: continent cut off." That is not the point. I am in favour of the European Union, but I would like it to work properly. We should have the right to discuss this, and not pretend that the elephant in the room does not exist.
People say that the call for a referendum is an old Tory agenda, but I would have thought that it was a classic new Labour agenda. We are the party that has asked the people far more often than any other party has done before. The Conservatives never went to the people—they were afraid to do so. We have had local referendums and referendums on devolution. We had a referendum on whether Birmingham should have an elected mayor. I was absolutely delighted to go into the 2005 general election with a manifesto commitment that we would have a referendum on the then constitutional treaty, but it was extraordinary that the former Prime Minister did not give its constitutional implications as the reason for seeking the people's opinion.
Now we have the new treaty. In the past two and a half hours I have managed to skim through the first 26 pages of the 118-page document, which is still so far an unofficial translation. We are leaving for the recess and will not come back until October, when all the negotiations and deals will have been done, yet the purpose of this new democratic settlement, which started five or six years ago, was to involve the people and national Parliaments more. I do not want to get into whether this document contains 90 or 95 per cent. of the old constitutional treaty; all I will say is that I can see, having skimmed through it, that all the big items are still in there. I do not want to fall into the trap whereby we assume that anything that has been taken out must therefore be good and anything that has been put in is bad. That is not true. People really need to read this properly. One of the things that I just spotted is on page 26, where, under the heading "Ordinary revision procedure", it says that
"any Member State, the European Parliament or the Commission" can bring forward proposals that
"aim to increase or reduce the competencies conferred on the Union in the treaties."
That would be, for the first time, a mechanism for returning powers, which is extremely good.
The new treaty also claims to give more power to national Parliaments, but that is extremely misleading. What it does is extraordinary. For the first time, the Union tries to put a duty on national Parliaments to behave in a particular way. We do not bind our successor Parliaments, yet we are being asked to accept a document that says:
"National Parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union".
There is a whole list of ways in which we are supposed to fulfil that role—we will be informed, we will be seeing to things, we will be taking part, and we will be notified, but will have no teeth other than in facilitating the functioning of the Union. I am sorry, but I have never perceived having a duty to serve the Union to be my role as a national parliamentarian—I thought that it was supposed to be the other way round.
The document still contains the citizens initiative whereby more than 1 million people across a number of member states are being given the right to initiate legislation—something that national Parliaments have not done.
I suggest to the Deputy Leader of the House that the Government should stop going on about what percentage of the treaty is what it was before and look at it properly. The Government say that the red lines that we have secured mean that we do not need a referendum, but those matters were already protected in the constitutional treaty on which we were prepared to have a referendum—nothing has changed. Opt-outs are continually politically vulnerable to pressure every time a crisis occurs. This is now a question of trust. It is a question of having given a commitment to a referendum on a document that we say is good for Britain. We should ask the people to endorse that. If we are so confident that it is good, we should have the confidence to ask the people.
The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe deny that the treaty is substantial enough for us to be bound by that promise. Are they being deliberately disingenuous or are they ill-informed? I suggest to them some light summer reading—read the treaty, in English or in French. They can then come back and we can decide which one of the two interpretations is correct.
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, there are a number of points I wish to make. The theme of my speech is "Breakdown Britain: does anyone care who actually runs the country?" Under this dreadful Labour Government, this House has lost all its powers. We have become a glorified talking shop, and are simply ornaments. I absolutely deprecate that fact.
Last month, the occupant of No. 10 Downing street came to the Dispatch Box for Prime Minister's Question Time, at the end of which Government Members stood up to applaud his performance. They might have, but I could not believe it when Members in my party joined in the applause. The noble Baroness Thatcher left the country and the world a better place, but the last Prime Minister certainly did not.
On the day that the last Prime Minister made that appearance at the Dispatch Box, the occupant of No. 11 Downing street moved into No. 10. He was elected in 1983, and the deputy leader of the Labour party was elected in 1982. Sir John Major became Prime Minister after just 11 years—he had not been a Member of Parliament for that long, really. The leader of the Labour party and his deputy have been Members of this House for a great length of time. During the premiership of the noble Baroness Thatcher, a number of Ministers left office and a number of people resigned. Under the stewardship of the last Prime Minister, no one ever got sacked or ever resigned. Things were handled in a quite different way.
Since the former Chancellor has become Prime Minister, we have had announcements about casinos, regional government, cannabis and the supremacy of Parliament. No doubt there will be an announcement on Iraq. But, excuse me, have not the new Prime Minister and the deputy leader been at the centre of Government since 1997? How brave they were to have expressed their concerns. Did they consider resignation? No they did not, but they are now presenting themselves as a new Government. This is not a new Government, and I hope that Her Majesty's loyal Opposition will remind the public of that over and over and over again.
I have checked, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and it is in order to say that the former Prime Minister misled the House of Commons. He did, on many occasions. He misled the House of Commons on the war with Iraq—an absolute disgrace. I blame him for bringing terrorism to this country much sooner than would have otherwise been the case. We then had the sale of peerages. Was anyone surprised that there were no prosecutions? Again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have checked what I can and cannot say, and did anyone expect that the Crown Prosecution Service would go ahead with the prosecutions? The gentleman who is in charge of it happens to be a Labour supporter. For goodness' sake—I say again that this is breakdown Britain. Does anyone care what is happening to our country at the moment?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mrs. May, who last night drew to the House's attention all the announcements that have been made during the past two days. The Leader of the House—the boss of the Minister who will respond to the debate—wrote an article in The House Magazine last week about us losing our powers and how dreadful it was. Surely the deputy leader of the Labour party is responsible for that, yet she pretends that she believes that it is dreadful and that the Government will put it all right. We have found out that the former Prime Minister's last tour, as he went around the country to sell his services, cost us nearly £2 million, and now he is a middle east peace envoy. I do not think that he will be successful there.
I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary directly whether she can find out for me what can be done when constituents feel that the police have not behaved properly. The Independent Police Complaints Commission's powers appear to be blunt, and that also applies to police authorities' powers. I have already mentioned the Crown Prosecution Service. Where does the power lie? At some point during the Parliament, I shall speak on my personal feelings about those different organs. The Labour Government have messed them all up, including the judiciary.
I told the House a few weeks ago that, when my elderly mother was burgled for the second time, the person responsible was eventually found. That person had committed 1,379 other crimes at the age of 19, yet it is glossed over as if it is the norm. My youngest child had her mobile phone stolen a few weeks ago. Nothing will happen, although one quickly gets a letter from Victim Support. I am in despair about powers and what we can do.
I recently introduced a ten-minute Bill about online copyright theft. Creative industries are becoming one of the UK's most notable exports and need to be protected from the threat that the digital revolution poses to them. British music dominates the world. The then Minister agreed with the intention of my ten-minute Bill. I hope that whoever now has that job will support the Bill, which calls for a national enforcement agency to monitor and enforce copyright law on the internet in the way in which related industries do for themselves.
The Government have talked about a planning Bill. Planning in my constituency is a nightmare. I applaud my hon. Friend Greg Clark, who introduced a private Member's Bill to tackle land grab and building on gardens. Endlessly, old houses are acquired, then left to go to rack and ruin, and the next minute there is an application to build yet another block of flats on the site. I represent a tiny urban area, where such developments have huge adverse consequences on the local population.
I recently conducted a tour of schools in my constituency. I visited an excellent infant school, which gained first-class results. However, an Ofsted inspection in February led to school morale plummeting. It caused great distress to the headmistress and the teachers. Only one person conducted the inspection. The school, with the same headmistress, had previously been described as outstanding, but that did not happen in February. After the inspection, the inspector wrote letters to infant school children. I hope that we will consider carefully the way in which Ofsted inspections are conducted in future.
Lord Archer, a former Solicitor-General, is conducting an inquiry into contaminated blood. I was privileged to give evidence on behalf of the all-party hepatology group. I hope that the Government will examine the findings of that independent inquiry because there has been a delay in producing a comprehensive strategy to tackle hepatitis C, a failure to ensure that primary care trusts implement Government strategy, a lack of NHS investment in hepatology and a failure to prioritise the issue. The sum of £2.5 million has been spent on advertising the scheme and that is simply not enough.
I end by wishing everyone a truly happy and joyous summer recess. This is breakdown Britain. I ask again: does anyone care who runs the Government? I hope that my hon. Friends do. If they want to discuss it with me further, they are very welcome to spend the summer in Southend.
It is a pleasure to follow the positive contribution of Mr. Amess.
I had hoped to discuss several issues on a national and an international basis, but, given that other hon. Members have cut down their contributions, I shall do likewise. I will therefore concentrate on my constituency and the work done by the few to help the many. I want specifically to refer to those with disabilities and especially a radio station called Insight.
Insight Radio was once called VIP On Air and deals with people who are blind or partially sighted. The station delivers information, has music programmes, newspaper readings and book readings that people can tune into, and generally helps people who have a sight problem. Insight Radio is a community radio station and broadcasts via a mast in the centre of my constituency at Anniesland Cross to a radius of about 5 km. The station is also on the internet and broadcasts all over the world. It receives contributions from contacts in Australia and Canada, as well as other countries in Europe. The station does an excellent job, and I see my job here as being to try to assist it.
Let me tell a story about why Insight Radio came into existence and why it wants to give information to blind people. There was a train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. The Edinburgh station at the end of line is Waverly—the other of the two main stations is the stop before, at Haymarket. ScotRail, which was in charge of the service at that time, put notices on all the seats in the train to tell everybody that the train would not stop at Waverly, but that it would stop at Haymarket. That was really good for people who could read the signs and knew that they were there, but blind passengers would have known nothing about it. Needless to say, two blind people got off at Haymarket, but thought that they were in Waverly and did not know where to go.
Insight Radio provides a service in telling people that kind of information. Unfortunately, people have to have a computer, and blind people can have problems with computers, but the facilities and the technology are advancing and we hope that they will move further. I see part of my job as being to help Insight Radio get on to Sky radio services and freeview, so that it can deliver the service to approximately 2 million in this country who have such problems. That is one of the campaigns in which I hope to be involved when we return after the summer recess.
Another campaign that I took up some years ago was on ATMs. It was pleasing when the Select Committee on Treasury took it up and Ministers jumped onboard, too. That was great, but when I first raised the issue back in early 2005, I did so in connection with a constituent who had gone to the ATM to get some money out. He had £40 in his account. Unfortunately, the ATM charged him £1.75 to get his money out, which meant that he could get only £30 out. That meant that the rest of his money just had to sit there, and in Yoker, in my constituency, that extra £8.25 could have gone a long way. Unfortunately, if my constituent had wanted to go to a free ATM, he would have had to pay a bus fare, which would have cost him £1.50. That was totally unfair, so I took up the cause, along with many others. I worked closely with a newspaper in Glasgow called the Evening Times, which was helpful. The newspaper helped to broaden the campaign and the Committee took it up, too, which also helped.
I was pleased to receive a phone call last year—funnily enough, in the first week of the recess—from the Royal Bank of Scotland to say that the campaign had worked and that the bank was about to install 400 free ATMs throughout the UK. Since then, HBOS has also announced its intention to install 100 free cash machines in low-income areas in Scotland and the north of England; 74 have been installed so far, of which 38 are in Scotland. It is still looking for sites for the other 26, however, and if any hon. Members in those areas are looking for a free ATM, they should please get in touch either with me or with HBOS, which I am sure will try to install them in any deserving area. This campaign has given a lot of pleasure when things go right, and it is pleasing to know that I am now having difficulty in pinpointing sites for the other ATMs from HBOS that are not too close to other free ATMs.
The first that I know of was put into a credit union by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and I want to see the idea being taken up by other credit unions, so that people who are paying money into a credit union do not have to take it there from a bank and perhaps run the risk of being mugged or attacked on the way. The bank was very helpful. Nationwide must also be congratulated on the work that it has done. HBOS started the red and green notices on the ATMs, but Nationwide took that a step further. It did a lot of work on the red and green stickers, which show which ATMs are free to use and which involve paying a fee.
I hope that the Treasury Select Committee, the Government and hon. Members on both sides of the House will take note of this project. I believe that there is a case for taking it forward, particularly in rural areas, where people have been short-changed—no pun intended—by the banks. I do not live in a rural area, but I am quite happy to lend any assistance that hon. Members might require to contact the right people. This is certainly something that we, as Members of Parliament, should be doing to help our constituents.
I want to mention the communications allowance that has been given to Members of Parliament. I know that some Opposition Members did not think that it was a great idea, but let me tell them, it will allow me to contact every one of my constituents. I am going to do that this summer by putting out a questionnaire to ask them what they want and what they think are the most important issues. I, as their Member of Parliament, can then address the matters that they think are important. I can then go back to them and they will be able to tell me whether I have done my job or not. Come the next general election, whenever it might be, they will have the opportunity either to vote for me or to replace me, but at least I will not have had to say that I did not have the opportunity to contact them and to let them know what I was doing, or that they could not contact me to tell me about their issues.
I want to talk about the draft legislative programme and the Queen's Speech. I have tried twice already—and I shall keep trying until I succeed—to introduce a Bill on employment retention and rehabilitation leave. People who become disabled or whose disability gets worse while they are in employment and who want to remain in employment should be given the opportunity to do so while being supported not only by the company but by the Government. They should be enabled to get back into work where they can pay their taxes, which will give money to the Treasury, and give valuable work to their employer, to whom they might feel that they owe something for having looked after them. I hope that hon. Members will support that measure when it comes back.
I want briefly to mention yesterday's announcement about the ships to be built in Scotstoun in my constituency, which has secured the employment of 2,000 workers. I also want to reiterate my point to the Secretary of State that I am still looking for the seventh and eighth Type 45 destroyers, and I certainly want to take part in the debate on defence procurement on the second day after we come back from the recess, to talk about what we are going to do with the MARS—military afloat research and sustainability—ships and to ensure that shipbuilding in the United Kingdom is up and running and will continue for quite a few years to come.
I endorse the final comments of John Robertson. Like him, I would welcome an announcement on the seven and eight Type 45 destroyers. Both of our constituencies would benefit enormously from the shipbuilding capacity alone.
Let me deal with yesterday's welcome announcement not only of the two aircraft carriers, but of the retention of the three naval base solution. It is the only option that does real credit to the Royal Navy and great service to the country. From Portsmouth's point of view, I was particularly pleased at the Minister's statement about what would happen in the future and about the need for the three communities—in Scotland, the west country and south Hampshire—to work together to find a system from which we can all benefit while the Royal Navy maintains its ships and looks after those craft. Further opportunities will undoubtedly come through the shipbuilding programme.
I would like to thank the team from Portsmouth for its magnificent efforts. There are far too many people to be thanked individually, but I would mention the local authority and Portsmouth city council's lead officer, Barbara Thompson and her team; the team from the South East England Development Agency; and the Royal Navy base commander, David Steel, who did a magnificent job. He made a determined effort to stress to his senior officer colleagues the importance of Portsmouth in the overall concept of the Navy. That message was put out to the local media, including radio, television and the Portsmouth News, which led a great campaign to save the base. All those people really need to be congratulated. I hope that we can now all work together to make the building of the aircraft carriers successful while retaining the three bases. That really means something for our nation.
My next topic also relates to defence. Several Members have raised the matter of the reformed constitutional treaty, particularly aspects connected with defence. There are worrying consequences arising from it. The proposals on defence are extremely alarming because they give no indication of how European defence will be properly scrutinised in future. It is rightly suggested that national parliaments should have a major role, but the unified Europe approach to scrutiny is not at all clear. One suspects that most of the decisions will be taken in Lisbon towards the end of September—it could turn out to be a black day, because we will not have had an opportunity to debate them before they are signed up to. I regret that. I am with other Members who believe that we should have an opportunity to debate first what our position should be at Lisbon in September, but more importantly, whether or not we are going to trust the British people to take the decision. I, for one, wholeheartedly support the idea of having a referendum. I did at the outset of the process and I retain that view today.
Together with Labour and Conservative colleagues, I have already had a meeting with the Minister for Europe on the issue of how to deal with defence scrutiny through an amendment to existing treaties that would allow the current structure of the Western European Union to be broadened out to include all member states of the EU. In our case the delegation comprises 36 members—18 full and 18 substitute members. I believe that delegations should be responsible for national scrutiny— [Interruption.] Mr. Jones shakes his head, but had he been a member, it might be different. The current chair of the parliamentary Labour party is an enthusiastic member. The former Deputy Prime Minister is about to lead the British delegation to the Council of Europe— [Interruption.] That is a very interesting point. Perhaps we will know where he stands in the future. Undoubtedly, those Members are big supporters of that platform, as am I. I would hope that we could sensibly look to that as an alternative that would not require a major treaty to be put in place. Anything else will need a new treaty, as it will not be compatible with the treaties of Rome, Maastricht or Amsterdam. I urge Ministers to look carefully at what I have outlined as a viable alternative option.
My next point relates to the ongoing problem faced by women who marry UK citizens from abroad. They sometimes come to this country on a spousal, fiancée or visitor visa, believing that once they are married— this is what their partner has told them—they will automatically become British citizens. They get married and have children here. However, if for one reason or another the marriage breaks down, they can find that the partner who promised to "do everything" has done nothing. They may suddenly be confronted with a difficult situation. Two of my constituents—one a lady from Russia, the other from the Gambia, both with children—are in that position at the moment. They have been told that they now have to leave the UK, but that they can leave their children behind—not with their husbands, but in the care of the state. They cannot take the children with them because they are British citizens and their British fathers are refusing permission for the children to be taken out of the country. Those ladies cannot have legal aid for legal support to fight appeals. They came here with a status that did not allow them to claim benefits, and they have been totally abandoned by society and their partners. The Government must recognise that there is a real issue. I must have had at least a dozen similar cases in my constituency—the two that I have quoted are the ones with which I am currently dealing.
I went to the immigration court of appeal with one of those constituents, only to be told by the judge that, as a Member of Parliament, I had no right to be there. The judge all but ordered me from the court. My constituent, a Russian citizen, had no legal representation and no one to present her case or speak up for her. Of course, her case failed, because she had been seen not to have done the things that we demanded of her. Her husband will be in court in the near future on a case of domestic violence against the woman, but she had no help whatever from anyone—no lawyer or immigration adviser would touch her.
It was news to me that Members of Parliament were prohibited from representing our constituents in immigration courts, and it must have been news as well to part of the immigration service, because when it asked whom the lady's representative was and I was identified—and I wrote to the court to ask for the date to be changed so that I could attend in the afternoon, not the morning—it readily agreed. It was only the judge who suddenly presented us with the fact that Members of Parliament are particularly excluded from representing constituents in such immigration cases, which is an absolute nonsense.
We must do something about the rights of such women. It is simply ridiculous to say to them that they cannot stay in a women's refuge for more than three weeks because no local authority will fund them, but that they can have their children taken into care, and they can go on the street, or they can go home and leave their children here at a cost of probably £1,000 a month. I urge the Government quickly to consider the case of ladies who, in one way or another, have been misled by their British citizen husbands who bring them into the country and then all but abandon them. Those men should be made to support them.
My final point is on housing, which many Members have said is important, and it certainly is in my constituency. I cannot wait for us to have the courage again to say that we are proud to build council houses, to call them council houses, and to say that they should be available to people who would not get on to the housing ladder otherwise. Portsmouth has more people waiting to be re-housed now than it did just after the second world war, when nearly 50 per cent. of all properties in the city were either damaged or completely destroyed by the effects of the blitz. The current situation will not easily be remedied. If the Prime Minister is as good as his word and genuinely wants housing back on the agenda—housing that local authorities can control and build according to need, rather than according to a developer's requirement—we might be in for a surprise, and many more people might live in houses that are fit for them to live in.
I am pleased to follow Mr. Hancock and his comments about immigration and asylum and housing. Bearing in mind that many Members wish to speak, however, I will not follow that track.
I am privileged to represent a constituency with a strong community spirit. The demographic make-up of Hove and Portslade has evolved over the years, and now encompasses people from all backgrounds and nationalities. The area has mosques, temples and churches all within yards of each other. Throughout the recent national and international tensions, the people of Hove and Portslade have been proud to recognise that our community is stronger when we work together. As the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South mentioned, in our globalised society, many choose to marry partners from different countries and cultures. In those circumstances, where a couple have made a genuine commitment to each other, the bureaucracy and at times frustrating approach by the foreign countries and our own immigration service can place a great strain on individuals, their families and friends.
I would like to mention my constituent, Abdullah Al-Shimmeri. Mr. Al-Shimmeri is a Bidoon from Kuwait. The state of Kuwait does not recognise such people as their citizens. In an article in April last year, the Gulf States Newsletter stated that Bidoons in Kuwait have been given more rights but that Kuwaiti citizenship was still far off. Last October, the United Arab Emirates announced plans to naturalise around 10,000 Bidoons—people who have been living without citizenship for more than three decades in their country. However, that has not happened in Kuwait. Therefore, Kuwait will not allow Mr. Al-Shimmeri to return, and as such the Home Office has been unable to arrange a travel document for him. That situation is particularly difficult in light of the fact that he is married to a British citizen. They have a small child together. I have taken over that case from my hon. Friend Laura Moffatt. Mr. Al-Shimmeri first came into my surgery two years ago, and the matter is still dragging on. Throughout that time, his family has had no security and he has been unable to support his young child.
Mr. Al-Shimmeri is liable for removal to Kuwait. The Home Office has attempted to remove him on one occasion. However, it was unable to: as he had nowhere to go to, he does not possess travel documents. As a result, Mr. Al-Shimmeri was detained for a number of months by the Home Office at taxpayers' expense. Ideally, if he were able to return to Kuwait and apply for entry into the United Kingdom in the correct manner, he would be entitled to remain here. Indeed, he would like to do exactly that, but like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal", which was based on a true story, he is trapped, stateless and unable fully to participate in either his country of origin or the country in which he lives and where his wife and child are British citizens.
I have written to the Kuwaiti embassy, requesting travel documents for Mr. Al-Shimmeri, but that was refused on the grounds that he is not a Kuwaiti citizen. I have also written to the Minister for Borders and Immigration, trying to find a solution to this seemingly intractable problem. The Home Office felt unable to provide a short-term solution on a discretionary basis, as it was argued that there are additional avenues which could be taken to verify Mr. Al-Shimmeri's status as a Bidoon. However, I would like to know what those are, since the Kuwaiti embassy still refuses to discuss that issue.
After two years, Mr. Al-Shimmeri and his family are still trapped in this Catch-22 situation: he is due to be removed from the country and would indeed like to be removed, were he able to return to Kuwait in order legitimately to re-enter the UK. It seems morally wrong to me that somebody who is clearly part of a loving family, who has contributed to his local community and who is longing to work and support his family financially should have to put his life at a halt for more than two years—indeed, for the foreseeable future—due to nothing more than a procedural point.
I appreciate that this is not at all a Home Office failure, but a decision taken by the state of Kuwait. However, may I ask my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, whom I welcome to her first debate on the motion for the Adjournment of the House, to ask the Home Office to take a pragmatic approach in this matter, making sure that Mr. Al-Shimmeri can legally settle and work in the UK, where his family are. I also ask her to ask the Foreign Office to impress upon Kuwait that its policy on Bidoons is creating misery for many people such as Abdullah Al-Shimmeri. The UAE's decision to naturalise Bidoons living in that country is a good example of how to address that problem. It is couples such as Mr. and Mrs. Al-Shimmeri who often contribute so much, and we should be grateful for the contribution that they make to the fabric of our society. We should apply common sense where it is needed; indeed, it is essential in this case.
Our communities are strengthened not only by individuals, but by so many of our local institutions. From banks sponsoring the painting of our schools to our local football team providing a platform for education for those who might otherwise feel disconnected from learning and skills, we owe a debt of gratitude to so many. That is why I am particularly delighted that after much deliberation and consultation the prospect of a wonderful new community stadium for Brighton and Hove Albion is finally on the horizon. I use the phrase "community stadium" as it best describes the immense benefits that the new development will have for all who live in the immediate area. The new stadium will have positive effects that will extend far beyond providing a permanent home for our city's football team.
Brighton and Hove Albion has always prided itself on its community work. Ever since it was founded in 1901 it has been at the heart of community projects, contributing on a practical level in both sports and general education. Building on its already established adult education programmes, the Albion's "Playing for Success" programme makes a real and measurable difference to educational opportunities for hundreds of children in Brighton and Hove. Run by a centre manager and supported by other teachers and tutor mentors, it focuses on raising standards of literacy, numeracy and ICT among key stage 2 and 3 pupils and adults in my community.
The Albion understands the impact and influence that football has on the lives of so many in the community of Brighton and Hove—a community that has supported the club through good times and bad. By working with the Government, the local authority, local and national businesses and the many schools in the area, the club is able to provide an educational programme throughout the area. As the community of Brighton and Hove has sustained the club through good times and, unfortunately in the past decade, through bad, so the club aims to sustain the community.
On behalf of so many of my constituents and supporters of the Albion across Sussex, Britain and even the world, I wish to thank the Government and in particular my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—and I ask my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to do the same—for taking that decision. Based in an area of the city that houses some of our poorer constituents, Falmer stadium will be a wonderful community facility and it will provide a real and measurable difference for generations to come.
As we look to regenerate our most deprived areas, it is essential that we continue to realise and to acknowledge the true value of community. I thank my hon. Friend John Robertson for the free ATM machines throughout my constituency, and I hope that there will soon be more of them. The former home of the Albion, the Goldstone ground, has an ATM machine and that resource was used by many in the local community. I hope that the new ground will also have that facility and I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to ask those few remaining opponents of the ground to accept the Secretary of State's decision. After 10 years, the community deserves the new stadium. The Government have taken several important steps to ensure that we as individuals recognise that our spirit of community is something that we should cherish, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for her decision.
I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all other hon. Members a very happy summer recess.
I have three issues to raise and I hope that other hon. Members will recognise them, because after devolution it is often difficult to tell where one part of the UK starts and another ends.
The first is the 90-day consultation period that was introduced by the Maastricht treaty. In the opinion of many, it does not help the businesses concerned. At the moment we are in a consultation period for Remploy, which started after the decision to close a significant number of factories had been announced. That is negotiation after the event, and there is a huge difference between consultation and negotiation. Workers have to negotiate on the back foot, and that is the wrong way to do it. I urge the Government to consider early-day motion 1689 on UK manufacturing, which has cross-party support and calls for a level playing field in consultation. It calls for workers to be involved before decisions are made by boards of directors, because otherwise one is starting from a losing position. I have been involved directly and indirectly in situations where workers are asked for their opinion after a closure announcement has been made. It is almost impossible to change that decision. I hope that in the Remploy case there will be some change, but we await events.
Another important thing that is happening throughout the country, and in my constituency as we speak, is the buy-out of businesses by multinationals in order to asset-strip. They buy the smaller units in places such as my constituency and announce closure, and then there is a 90-day consultation—not on how to save the factory but on how to close it. Again, the decision is made without consulting the work force. The multinationals have the power to decide the fate of those small factories, and the workers are left to worry about their future. I urge the Government to look at that EDM and to enforce the Warwick agreement, which says that we should consult and work with employees before decisions are made.
The second issue that I want to raise concerns policing and community safety. I welcome today's announcement about the work to be carried out with the youths of our country. Preventive is obviously better than reactive and that is a huge step forward. I support the creation of police community support officers and the antisocial behaviour structure, but I would ask the Government to look at an issue that has been brought to the attention of the House many times: the need for a police presence on the streets. We have seen reports recently that as much as 73 per cent. of police time is spent on bureaucracy—behind a desk, not out on the street. I have spoken to local inspectors and chief inspectors recently, and they agree that too much time is spent behind a desk. To drive through an area of a constituency is not to police the area. Travelling through streets at 40 or 50 mph to get back to the station to fill out a report is not policing the area. We need to ensure that the police presence is where it is most needed: out on the streets.
There are some allied areas that we really need to work on to support the police and our communities. The importance of youth workers was mentioned in today's statement. We cannot expect people to take on those roles with a contract of one, three or five months. It must be a job of work. Yes, it is a vocation, but they need security of employment. If we start a project, let us ensure that it has a long time to run, because we need those people.
The other significant problem in my constituency, and I guess many others, is a huge lack of social workers. In recent years, we have had social workers from Canada, Romania and Poland coming into our boroughs to work with families, but—and I mean no disrespect to their training or the way that they gained their skills—as they are without community knowledge and the link to that community, it is very difficult for them to have a real impact on helping, sustaining and supporting the families. In my opinion, that knowledge is priceless. It is essential to know the people whom one is dealing with.
Teachers have an important part to play. We have spoken many times about children with learning difficulties. Dyslexia or learning problems that are not identified at an early age can lead to the disfranchisement of children. Primary heads have told me that we need to start at primary school level; it is too late when pupils reach secondary school. We have all heard of cases where children reach the age of 11 and then just disappear into the ether. We need to start at primary school level and really deal with young children, getting families involved but ensuring that they are part of the community.
It is important to have a consultation process with young people. When I was 13—a long, long time ago—one was still a child at 13 or 14. Now they are young adults. The whole attitude of the youth culture is completely different. In order to get them at primary school level, with the parents, to talk about the problems of drugs and alcohol and so many other things, we need to deliver at a very early age. We need to ensure that the whole support mechanism—social work, youth work and the police—works together for the benefit of all the community.
The third and last issue that I want to raise is apprenticeship training. A report on the importance of apprenticeship training came out from the other place in the past couple of days. As an apprentice a long time ago, I know that working alongside other skilled people is so important. I have asked questions over the past couple of months about the structure of the apprentice system and I know that the numbers have increased significantly. I think that there are 250,000 apprenticeships now, but where do they lead? Are they work-based? Are they in the crafts and skills that we need in our communities? My community is looking at the regeneration of a former steelworks site, and we need bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers, but I know that if I went to the jobcentre tomorrow and asked for five electricians, they would not be there. We train in retail and lots of things, but targeted training is what we need.
We talk about where we learn the skills, and in comprehensive education there was a structure by which someone could take woodwork, metalwork, catering and engineering. However, we have moved away from that to ICT. I was not sure what it meant until I asked my son—information communication technology, but what does that mean? I am not sure. I know what woodwork and metalwork are; I can guess about that. We need to get back to basics in that respect and comprehensive education offered that and can still offer it. We need to look at how we train at an early age to encourage young people to go into properly structured apprenticeships. I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of work-based training. Experience at the face is important, and I stress that again and again.
Having said those three things, I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and every right hon. and hon. Member a peaceful and, let us hope, successful recess. See you in October.
I agree with comments of Mr. Davies about proper workplace apprenticeships for the most basic skills that we need in our engineering industry. Those skills are lacking at the moment.
I will gallop through my speech to give other hon. Members time to contribute. I will raise my concerns about the conduct of the local election that took place in my constituency on
"That this House congratulates the individuals and organisations, secular and religious, who have over many years worked assiduously towards community cohesion and integration in Keighley; but condemns in the strongest terms the behaviour of certain Keighley Conservatives who, under the direction of their candidate Zafar Ali, used the tactics of intimidation, treating and discriminatory propaganda to secure electoral victory in Keighley Central ward on 3rd May 2007; further condemns the failure of officers of Bradford Metropolitan District Council to take action against such activities; expresses the hope that no authority in future will allow such activity to take place; and urges the Government to review electoral law as it applies in these circumstances with a view to tightening up regulations and providing for sanctions in future."
A number of factors on that day caused considerable concern to me and others. Although an understanding of electoral law is not the most exciting of subjects, unless our council officers, presiding officers or the police are trained in electoral law, how can we ever hope to protect our democracy? The assistant returning officer in Bradford argued that treating was not an offence and stated that, as long as the cost of the food and drink that is offered to voters on election day is included in the election returns, it is not illegal. That is absurd.
Worryingly, the confusion goes beyond the returning officer. In dealing with allegations of treating, West Yorkshire police, in a recent e-mail to my office, took the view that reference should be made to
"the Election commission document 'Guidance on fraud prevention and detection for use at May 2007 elections in England and Wales'."
The e-mail continued:
"a protocol between ACPO and the commission describes the role of both organisations in such an instance. The Police should not independently investigate matters pertaining to expenses. This is the commission's responsibility. If they consider there are grounds for further investigation the enquiry is passed to the relevant Police force."
However, in dealing with the same allegation, the Electoral Commission states its position as follows:
"Looking into allegations of 'treating' is a matter which falls beyond the remit of the Commission."
The sad reality is that, when the returning officer, the police and the Electoral Commission all take the view that they are not responsible, nothing is done—and nor will it be. Treating is a crime and if the perpetrators are allowed to get away with it, I am afraid that the practice will continue and possibly be accepted as the norm, eventually becoming decriminalised.
Similarly, confusion regarding responsibility between the police and the electoral services in Bradford was highlighted by the issue of the use of discriminatory language. Over the public address system—used only in areas inhabited predominantly by the Asian community—those acting for the Conservative candidate, Zafar Ali, called for people to "vote for their Muslim brother". My constituents were told that that was their religious duty. When that was reported to both the electoral services and the police, they each said that it was a matter for the other. Again, the result was that nothing was done.
Intimidating crowds stood outside polling stations discouraging people from entering to vote. Again, contemporaneous complaints to both the police and the electoral services resulted in each insisting that responsibility rested with the other. Again, the net result was that intimidation was allowed to continue unchallenged.
Much worse is the fact that, recently, people with no party affiliation whatsoever came to my office to tell me that they had been visited by Zafar Ali and told by him not to mention to the police the fact that he did indeed ask them to "vote for their Muslim brother." I have had to guarantee their anonymity because they fear violent repercussions for them and their family should their identity be known. Clearly, the breaking of ranks is feared more than the weight of the law.
I was also recently visited by a member of the clergy in my constituency who told me that the Conservative parliamentary candidate in Keighley was concerned by the fact that he was having to work with "unsavoury characters in the Asian community." Indeed, for once, I agree with him. Of the main supporters of the Conservative candidate in Keighley Central in May, one has been investigated for money laundering and another declared bankrupt on at least two occasions. They are the small minority, but they are running the show.
To add to this shady political cocktail, there was a recent announcement by the local organiser of the British National party in support of the Conservative candidate at the next general election. The announcement said that the BNP would not field a candidate. This coalition of the extremists may appear to be a strange alliance, and it certainly is. The relationship between extremists—they need to feed off each other in order to survive—is not new. However, it is the first time that we have seen it in Keighley and the first time that it has, through electoral manipulation, threatened our electoral system.
I do not fear elections; I thrive on them. Nor do I fear losing. I am prepared to accept the views of the electorate when they are allowed to express them freely and within the law. However, I am not prepared passively to stand by and allow extremists, from wherever they hail, to take advantage of our elections and get away with clear infringements of the law. I do not believe that the type of incidents witnessed in Keighley on
As a society, are we prepared to accept the blurring of the lines and allow inappropriate practices to become the norm? Are we prepared passively to allow a misguided minority, hell-bent on victory whatever the cost, to rule? At the heart of British society is a sense of decency, tolerance and compromise. The fairness of our legal system inspires confidence, here and abroad. It is naive to believe that everyone will simply act according to the spirit of the laws, and there can be nothing more naive than to think that turning a blind eye or passing the buck will solve the problem.
Postal voting can be—and is, for most people—a real asset, but there have been irregularities. The answer in the Bradford district, which includes my constituency, was for candidates and agents to sign up to a voluntary code of conduct, based on an assumption of decency and honesty. It never seemed to cross the mind of the police and officials that it might be ignored, and neither group made any preparation to deal with the law-breakers. We must accommodate the desire for easy access to the polls, but we must balance that with the real threat of prosecution when there is any infringement of the law. Realistically, we can only hope to reach that stage when there is a coherent and clear line of responsibility, supported by the will to act. I have not finished my speech, but given your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will bring my remarks to a close.
It is a pleasure to follow Mrs. Cryer, who is absolutely right. The chairman of the Electoral Commission, Sam Younger, is working closely with the Government to toughen the way in which electoral returning officers do their job, and to put regional super-returning officers into the system above them, so that returning officers do not have the final word in matters of law. In my constituency, as in Keighley, corrupt and incompetent decisions have been taken by returning officers.
No, I do not think that I can, because of the time. I apologise for my voice; I lost it at a party in my garden last Saturday, which greatly pleased 400 of my constituents. We raised £4,000 clear profit for charity. My constituency faces a number of threats, not least those posed by over-development and designs on our green belt. An aggravating factor is that we get more and more houses but no new supporting infrastructure and no real extra capacity, such as doctors, schools or dentists. Our local roads suck. The ever increasing congestion hits us all, and the lack of proper, reliable access for Canvey is a growing problem for many reasons. Not least among them is the public safety issue of the possibility of having to evacuate the island because of global warming and rising sea levels, which I am watching carefully. In fact, just yesterday I had a meeting with the Environment Agency about improving Canvey's flood defences.
The loss of more Castle Point post offices, on top of those that have already had to close, is an avoidable tragedy, but it will happen. Hon. Members will find that an average of three or four additional post offices will close in every constituency in the country. Those post offices will be put to the sword because of the European Union. Article 88 of the 1997 EU treaty of Amsterdam obliges Parliament to seek the permission of Brussels if we want to subsidise our own post offices. After lengthy negotiations, we were finally permitted to subsidise them with a measly £50 million a year for three years. Another 2,500 to 3,000 post offices will be closed, hurting the fabric of our communities and vulnerable individuals. That is one reason why I became the chairman of the Campaign for an Independent Britain—to fight for British interests. More of that later.
Let me address one final local issue: Calor wants to store liquefied natural gas on Canvey Island. It would be imported to Canvey, via a boom arm on a jetty, from ships on the Thames. More than 100,000 tonnes of LNG will be held in two huge new tanks, each of them over 130 ft high. This would bring significant risk to the mainland, as well as to Canvey people.
I asked Parliament for a public inquiry, and I asked for it to be held on Canvey island. Although there was a bit of shuffling, both those requests were met. The inquiry starts on
My constant questioning of Ministers in Parliament has revealed evidence that may greatly assist our cause. I will present all that evidence at the inquiry. I wanted to present it now, but there is no time. I will do all I can to stop the Canvey LNG plans, because the human and environmental consequences are not just unacceptable; they are unthinkable.
I turn to a couple of national issues. Children's palliative care is dear to my heart, and I am sorry to say that those services are facing cuts and closures. They include children's hospices, the Diana community nursing teams, home nursing teams and a raft of other voluntary and statutory agencies. As a result, children and their families who need help—families with terminally ill children—are still not getting that help. I asked for and helped to get £27 million stop-gap funding, for which I thank the Government, and a long-term review. I had intended to elaborate, but I shall cut that part of my speech as well.
I welcome the Prime Minister's new support for changing the way honours are awarded. It is about time. People such as hard-working volunteers, doctors, nurses and teachers deserve honours. They are the real stars who make our country special and great. Those such as Joyce Long, Joan Lythgoe, Eddie Stacy and John Brennan in my constituency who, like many others, have worked selflessly for years deserve recognition. The public are sickened by awards to celebrities, who already have obscene amounts of money and adulation for doing relatively little and often setting bad examples. We must do more to reward and encourage those who do wonderful selfless work in our communities, and not insult them by giving gratuitous awards to celebs. Hug a luvvy is off the agenda.
Inevitably, I come to Europe. Seven in 10 British people want looser ties with the European Union. They want a transparent, mature and constructive relationship, but they want Britain to be put first. They want a free Britain. Enter the Campaign for an Independent Britain, the CIB. It is the UK's oldest significant Eurosceptic organisation—indeed, it invented the word Eurosceptic. It provides co-ordination and unity for the broadly Eurosceptic national organisations that represent the opinion of 70 per cent. of the British public.
The CIB has members from across the political spectrum, as the umbrella organisation serving many excellent groups such as the Campaign Against Euro Federalism, the UK Independence party, the Freedom Association, the Bruges group and many others. It is those groups, not MPs, who are truly defending Britain, trying to regain the primacy of Parliament, and trying to stop the uncontrolled EU immigration that damages race relations and is adding to our housing crisis, with up to half a million immigrants a year entering the UK from Europe. It is those Eurosceptic groups that are trying to stop the haemorrhaging of our money and jobs to Europe.
Finally, I turn to the treaty and say plainly that it is a constitution. Only 10 of the 250 proposals are different, so 96 per cent. of the text is unchanged. The articles have simply been renumbered. German Chancellor Merkel said:
"The substance of the constitution is preserved."
The Irish Prime Minister says that 90 per cent. of the constitution remains in the treaty. Giscard d'Estaing says that the figure is over 90 per cent. The former Belgian Prime Minister says that it is 95 per cent. The Spanish Foreign Minister says that it is 98 per cent. This sounds like one of my charity auctions. The man who actually wrote the constitution and who knows about it said:
"There have been few changes."
The Government's own Trade Minister said that it
"is a con to call this a treaty; it's not. It's exactly the same: it's a constitution."
The Prime Minister has said that he wants to restore trust in the Government and to listen to and involve people in decisions affecting their lives, but he has betrayed them by breaking his promise on a referendum. He is trying to commit one of the most audacious political deceptions ever attempted, but the big battle lies elsewhere. Around 70 per cent. of UK laws now originate from the EU, and as the shadow Leader of the House put it last week:
"Parliament is ignored and its decisions are overridden".
The fundamental problem lies in section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972, which is where the eventual solution must also lie. The provision dictates that
"All such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions...created or arising by or under the Treaties...are without further enactment to be given legal effect...in the United Kingdom...and be enforced".
No hon. Member or Government should bind a future Parliament or hand over our parliamentary democracy to an unelected foreign body, but that is what the 1972 Act effectively does—it must be changed, which is my long-term aim.
Shame on the Prime Minister for his dishonesty in breaking his promise. I say to my own party that our Conservative principles made Britain great, and we should trust those principles, especially on defending our Parliament.
Order. If I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, I think that he accused the Prime Minister of being "dishonest". I do not think that that is an appropriate word. Perhaps he will withdraw or modify it.
I am happy to withdraw that word, and I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Bring on the election, so that decent, honest British people can dump this sleazy Government, who hold so cheaply the traditions and constitutional rights that British people have won over the centuries with their blood, sweat and tears.
As is traditional on these occasions among most hon. Members, I intend to focus on local issues.
Disabled facilities grants are made available by local authorities to assist elderly people with disabilities to stay in their homes, and they are increasingly used to help younger people who require assistance, too. We all recognise the increased demand for adaptations. People are living longer, and a greater degree of choice is available. Most people choose to stay in their own homes rather than moving into a nursing environment. There is also an increasing technical capability to assist people and to help older people and the disabled to stay at home.
Local factors in South Derbyshire have further increased the growth of adaptations. First, the local district council, I think correctly, decided to resource its own design team to provide adaptations. The county council service had previously been subject to delays, and the district council's decision has provided more rapid progress through the design stage. Secondly, there is a strong local commitment to care in someone's own home by the county council, which is welcome and which is a view that I share. Thirdly, there is the terrible physical legacy of the mining industry in South Derbyshire, which has left many people, some of whom are quite young, in need of help with adaptations in their homes. Fourthly, there is a fast-growing population—it is the fastest growing in the east midlands. Fifthly, rurality is an issue. The district is largely rural, which means that when adaptations are made, they need to be inclusive—a person may need to be more self-sufficient, because it is not always possible to supplement their needs.
Government resources for the grant have doubled in the past 10 years, which is welcome. Local authorities must increase the sum provided by the Government to attempt to meet demand. Over the past two years, South Derbyshire district council has committed more than £500,000 towards the scheme—it has actually contributed the majority of the funds.
The Government have been consulting on changes in the grants system, because they recognise the trends that I initially identified and the need for strategic alterations in how the money is delivered. Many of the proposed changes are welcome but may challenge the budget still further—for example, raising the maximum limit of the cost of works that will be funded out of the grant. Making some very welcome changes will, again, stretch resources—for example, removing the means test on adaptations where disabled children are involved. In South Derbyshire, that has led—I do not criticise this at all—to applications from families who had previously had difficulty in getting support because of the means test. Under the new rules, some extremely costly schemes are coming forward that recognise the severe needs that those families have. There has been some sensible piloting of ways in which the budget that is available can be used more flexibly with greater co-working between agencies. A lot of useful work is going on.
Local authorities may only claim 60 per cent. of their expenditure on these grants, but would that South Derbyshire actually received that sort of sum. In fact, over the past two years it has itself contributed the majority of the costs of the scheme. As a small district council, that places its budget under steadily increasing pressure. The Government regional office attempts to arbitrate between the various bids for resources under the scheme and uses a mechanism that appears to be based largely on the number of disability living allowance and attendance allowance claimants in the area, together with a comparison with the bid from the local authority.
There are inevitably, and have been for some time, shortfalls in the council's ability to respond to the bids that it receives. Many councils, I am afraid, address that by, for example, slowing down the process by cutting back the design stage so that it takes longer to arrive at a scheme that can be delivered, or failing to promote the scheme so that people do not know that it is available. There are several ways of making the scheme costs smaller in the short term, although I am glad to say that they have not been followed by my council. However, the consequence is that it starts this financial year with £483,000-worth of commitments beyond the resources that it has available for the scheme. It has historically paid in additional resources from other parts of its capital budget to supplement the scheme; I emphasise that this is a statutory obligation, with no choice involved. The council must meet the demands that are placed on it. The only flexibility it has is to delay the process and increase the backlog. It is expected that at the end of this financial year the scale of unmet demand will probably reach £750,000.
What is desperately needed is first, in the short term, a discussion between the regional office and the council about the resources that it needs on a more realistic basis; and secondly, more globally, that the comprehensive spending review allocates sufficient resources to this very important budget head within the Department for Communities and Local Government—one that helps the most needy people in many of our communities.
I want to spend a moment or two on another matter which I am surprised that other Members have not raised. I have had increasing numbers of complaints from my constituents who are British Gas consumers about inaccuracies and difficulties in their bills. I have been greatly helped by Energywatch in pursuing issues with the company to resolve disputes that have in some cases even led to threats of court action and other consequences. That has led me to reflect on the changes that the Government have already set out for dealing with consumer representation in this area and has highlighted further work that we need to do. The removal of an organisation such as Energywatch, which we intend, cannot be left as a matter for the marketplace. The assumption is that we now have a free market in which informed consumers can make their own judgments and in which, if dissatisfied by either the quality of customer service or supply, they simply shift. I do not think that my constituents are unusual; a small number of people have that flexibility and are willing to play the game, but many wish to rely on one company and expect to receive a competent, adequate service and to be billed correctly.
If the advocacy currently available is removed, people will need additional support by other means. One of those means will be to turn to the offices of people such as me for assistance, which, of course, I will be happy to provide. Others will go to the citizens advice bureau and seek help there. What is at least required is the application of clear complaint handling standards to the energy companies; a comprehensive collection of complaint data, so that it is understood how the companies are performing; clear advice on where a consumer can get help, not simply saying to them, "You have got to talk further to the energy company;" and an independent audit of that complaint procedure to see whether standards are being maintained. To leave many consumers—those who contact me tend to be older—to the hands of the free market in the hope that customer service standards will rise in a competitive environment is simply unreasonable.
I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and others, a very happy recess. I suspect that it will be a hard-working one.
Like Mr. Todd, I shall concentrate primarily on a local issue, but never having taken part in one of these end-of-term debates before, it is a great pleasure to hear such a variety of topics raised under a rather arcane procedure. As I understand it, every speaker so far has pledged to vote against the Adjournment, and as the whole of the House is on a one-line Whip, the Government might lose the vote. I wait with bated breath to see how this works.
I would like to pick out two issues raised so far. First, it is remarkable that there is such cross-party concern about the so-called reform treaty of the European Union. The referendum campaign is gathering pace; it goes far beyond those who might be described as the usual suspects. I particularly welcome the comments of Ms Stuart, who pointed out that the Government seem to brand as some sort of extremist anyone who raises any objection about any of the treaties, when in fact, the points that she raised, and those raised by Kate Hoey, were reasonable.
Mr. Hancock declared himself in favour of a referendum, which demonstrates that one does not need to be a Eurosceptic to be in favour of one. It is incumbent on the Deputy Leader of the House to explain not why the treaty is a marginally different arrangement—that the constitution has been dropped and replaced by an amending treaty—but the substantial difference between the effect of the constitutional treaty and what is now proposed. If she can explain that, she might begin to explain why it was right to have a referendum on the constitutional treaty and why it is wrong to have one on this new arrangement. I suspect that she cannot begin to explain that because the effect of the reformed treaty is almost identical, if not actually identical, to the previous one. It is dishonest to pretend that there should not be a referendum, and that there is not as strong a case for a referendum as there was before, as conceded by the Prime Minister.
The other point I wish to pick up on relates to the comments of Mrs. Cryer about the problems of returning officers and the management of modernised election processes. Our returning officers have been grossly overloaded with far too much change. They are overburdened, especially by the postal voting problem. I have received a letter from the returning officer in each of my districts expressing deep concern. Both complain that there is insufficient print capacity to handle the postal voting in a general election. People complained about late postal votes at the local elections, when half the numbers who vote in general elections turn out. When we have a general election or a referendum, the system will be grossly overstretched, especially with the additional requirement for personal verification of every vote and matching the signatures on the electoral register with those that come in with the postal votes. It is far too big a logistical problem and there are not enough competent printers to deal with the print load that is required almost all on one day throughout the country. Unless the Government tackle that, the next general election will be beset by the same problems that led a judge in previous local elections in Birmingham to say that our system was the equivalent of that of a banana republic.
I want to concentrate briefly on the closure of a GP surgery in my constituency. In recent months, I have applied for an Adjournment debate on the topic and I make no apology for raising the matter today. Dedham in my constituency has an elderly population, many people without cars and no public transport infrastructure. In 2002, it was announced that the general practice outpost in the village would close. General practice services have been provided in there for more than 100 years. Although there was a stay of execution, the facility has now closed.
The key point is that a neighbouring practice in a neighbouring primary care trust provided services. A bureaucratic log jam then resulted in what amounts to a dispute between two health authorities as they try—or do not try—to resolve the matter. Constable practice, which provided the services, is in East Bergholt in Suffolk in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo, and Dedham is part of North East Essex PCT. The news of the closure provoked an outcry and a substantial campaign. The Dedham patients steering group was established to save GP facilities in the village. It mobilised the community and persuaded a local landowner generously to provide some green land—developers call it white land—as a site for building some social housing in conjunction with the Colne Housing Society, which is a housing association. A new GP surgery is piggybacked on the development. It was part funded by the East of England Development Agency to the tune of £95,000 and by Essex county council's communities fund in the expectation that the local NHS would agree, as it said it would, to continue to provide GP services.
Constable practice then broke its promise. It pains me to say this, but my comments reflect huge local frustration: the North East Essex PCT has been more obstructive than helpful. There is much good will and financial commitment from the local community. There are ways in which to reduce the premises costs to make the additional cost to the NHS of providing satellite services from another GP practice marginal. I have raised the matter with the strategic health authority and North East Essex PCT. I warned them that, if the problem was not resolved, there would be a row. I am now prepared to have that row.
I can only describe the letter that I first received from Dr. Paul Zollinger-Read of the North East Essex primary care trust as rubbish. He told me:
"There is no agreed mechanism for the transfer" of money from the Suffolk primary care trust to the North East Essex primary care trust. That is perfectly true, but that was not a reason for giving up. He explained that if 1,000 patients transferred to a north-east Essex GP practice run on a satellite service, that would cost the NHS £330,000. However, that ignores the fact that cheap premises had been provided and that the NHS as a whole has to bear the costs of treating those patients anyway. The additional cost is much less.
Dr. Zollinger-Read then explained that life expectancy in Dedham is 82.3 years, as opposed to other areas, where it is as low as 70.1 years, as though that were an argument for making 80-year-old people travel further for their general practice services—in this case miles and miles further, to a neighbouring village. In fact, he simply highlighted the need for continuing the GP services promised to the people of Dedham, a higher proportion of whom are elderly and live longer, through no fault of their own. Moreover, surprising as it may seem, the Jarman underprivileged area index, which is a standard measurement of deprivation, shows that Dedham is by no means the most privileged part of my constituency. Indeed, it is more than halfway down the list of wards in my constituency. Therefore, it should be treated more fairly.
I also received a copy of a letter to the primary care trust from the Riverside health centre, which is a neighbouring GP practice in Manningtree. The proposal is for the Riverside health centre to operate satellite services in the new building at a much lower cost than was quoted by the primary care trust. I am simply not satisfied that the proposal has been considered in good faith. The letter says:
"We are extremely excited about the possibility of extending our practice boundaries to include Dedham and would look favourably on staffing the new building at Dedham...We would be prepared to open our list to Dedham patients, subject to agreement with the relevant authorities and subject to successful negotiation we could undertake to staff the new premises at completion."
The Riverside health centre has made it clear that from as little as between £30,000 and £40,000 a year, with up-front start-up costs of around £30,000, at least a part-time service could be provided on the premises. I do not know why the health authority has been so obstructive.
One problem is that, because the proposal depends on the transfer of people from one authority to another, some of the capitation payment will be lost. Ministers should address that issue, and I hope that the health authorities will support me in my representations to them to resolve the issue.
I would like to concentrate on an issue in my constituency that I have already raised in an Adjournment debate, which concerns View Lane park in Stanley and the absolute scandal of Derwentside district council selling more than half of the park to a development company called Mistal Homes, for a centre for the treatment of adults with autism. The company made an unsolicited bid to the council to buy more than half of the park. The bid was fiercely objected to by local residents, who value the green lung in their town centre. Despite that the council steamrollered ahead, as has become all too commonplace, and not only gave Mistal Homes planning permission, but sold it half the park. It did that even though the district council has no responsibility whatever for the provision of autism services or adult services; that is the function of the county council.
When the council took that decision, it did not look at the track record of the company. In fact, it had no track record, because it was registered at Companies House only in January 2006. Nor did it take a close look at the directors of the company, including a Mr. Hampshire, who declared to Companies House that he was a director of no other companies apart from Mistal. In fact, he is also a director of several other companies, one of which, Chartnell Ltd, is late in filing its accounts and Companies House has proposed that it be struck off. A post in the London Gazette last September suggested that the company in question was going to be wound up under the terms of the Insolvency Act 1986.
I raised my concerns and those of angry local residents with the Audit Commission earlier this year. I wrote to the commission on
"concern about 'the adequacy of assurances gained by the Council over the potential buyer of the land'."
He went on to say:
"My understanding of the position is that the Council is not proposing to be involved in an ongoing contractual relationship or joint delivery of services with the developer."
Well, that is what I thought until a few weeks ago, when the leader of Derwentside district council, Mr. Alex Watson, and its chief executive, Mr. Mike Clark, had a meeting with the chief executive and the leader of Durham county council to ask the county council to procure 20 beds over a five-year contract for Mistal homes at the autism centre, even though the district council has no responsibility for the procurement of adult services. Quite rightly, the leader of Durham county council, Mr. Albert Nugent, and the chief executive, Mr. Mark Lloyd, were not going to be strong-armed by this approach. They wrote back to stress that the commissioning of services by the county council was done on an individual basis and that they could give no block contracts to the company.
This worries me. What on earth are the leader and the chief executive of a district council that has no responsibility in this area doing trying to procure business for a private company, Mistal Homes, which has no track record of delivering this type of service? I shall write to the Audit Commission again to ask about this matter, as there are some very serious concerns surrounding the entire deal. Who approached whom in the first place? What is the relationship between certain individuals on Derwentside district council and Mistal Homes? Mr. Heppell's letter goes on to say:
"In common with other sales of land, officers took the view that the track record and financial status of the developer or individual Directors was not relevant to the sale itself."
If the council is now going round touting for business for this company, what is that relationship?
Mr. Heppell is clearly not doing his homework. Part of the so-called deal relating to the sale of this land involved the reinvesting of a proportion of the capital sale of the park into improving the remaining park area. People ask whether that is really a concern. Well, yes it is. I raised this matter in an Adjournment debate recently. Derwentside district council has made no attempt to apply for lottery funding for improving the rest of the park, so it is relying on the success of this development for the improvement of this vital remaining piece of green space in Stanley.
There are some disturbing unanswered questions here. If the leader and chief executive of a council are touting for business for a private company, I want a full investigation into the matter. If that is not carried out by the Audit Commission—to which I shall write again, because I do not accept that it has carried out a full investigation—I shall refer the matter to the police.
This week, I was pleased to hear that Derwentside district council is to be abolished. That will be welcomed by many of my constituents. I am concerned, however, that the dying days of the council will lead to more shoddy deals like this, to fire sales of land, or to commitments with private companies, which will hamper the new unitary council's ability to make certain commitments. The Audit Commission and the Minister need urgently to ensure that no further dodgy deals like that are entered into in the next few months during the dying days of Derwentside district council.
I have welcomed the formation of a unitary council for Durham. Indeed, I think that it is long overdue and it will certainly abolish Derwentside district council and others that are, frankly, pathetic for having delivered such a poor service to my constituents for so many years. As I have suggested, that council has done things that are highly questionable, if not verging on illegal.
Durham now has an opportunity to have a dynamic and strategic new county council—not the existing one, but a new one. I understand that it will be painful for the 249 councillors to be abolished in the process, but it will lead to better governance in county Durham. In looking forward to the new county council, we should reflect on how best to promote the county and ensure that developments in former mining communities—across my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House—are pressed forward.
I would urge the Liberal Democrat council in the City of Durham, which is threatening judicial review, not to waste a single penny more of taxpayers' money on attempting to challenge the decision. My understanding is that there is no legal case whatever, so going ahead would be a scandal. I suspect that Durham taxpayers would never forgive the Liberal Democrats; they would quite rightly be very angry about it.
The decision to move towards a unitary council is part of a broader agenda, which includes the abolition of the regional assembly. Once again, I believe that that is long overdue. Regional issues about transport are important; and the new Select Committees announced by the Government—and designed to scrutinise what happens in the regions—are quite exciting. I believe that those new Select Committees will need to have teeth. They will need to hold to account not just the regional development agency, but organisations such as the Environment Agency and the strategic health authority. They should help to ensure that local people have a clearer understanding of how those organisations work, while also providing a key role for parliamentarians in this place to scrutinise the quango state of the north-east.
To conclude, I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and right hon. and hon. Members a successful and enjoyable recess. Speaking as a member of the north-east tourism board, it would be remiss of me not to say that if people wish to visit the north-east, there are great attractions in Northumberland, Durham, Teesside and Newcastle. No one coming to North Durham should miss the Beamish open air museum, in which the constituency takes such pride, and my hon. Friend Dr. Blackman-Woods has the fantastic attraction of the Durham cathedral.
I was not intending to touch on the issue of the local government review, but following Mr. Jones, I shall do so. My part of the world is also going to see a new council. I greatly share the hon. Gentlemen's concern that in the transition period, the assets of previous councils will need to be monitored very carefully so that they are not disposed of in a way that undermines the set-up of the new council. There will need to be greater devolution and a drawing down of powers from central Government to the new authority—an issue that Members in the Cornwall area will closely monitor.
It has been a very interesting debate. I shall touch on a couple of issues raised by other hon. Members. I believe that both the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) referred to access to banking.
It struck me that one of the key ways for people to gain access to free banking is through their local post office. A number of banks allow their account holders to withdraw cash free of charge from the local post office. It is important to put on record how important that service can be, particularly in rural areas. When the House returns after the recess, perhaps we should look into encouraging all banks to provide that service and support the post office in that way.
Mr. Davies raised the issue of Remploy—its factory in my constituency is being proposed for closure. It is important that services for people with disabilities reflect the 21st century. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that a number of people who have been employed by Remploy for a very long period have almost become institutionalised. It will be difficult for them to adjust to a new setting. In addition, Cornwall is very isolated, and people who may end up being based at another Remploy factory may have to travel greater distances. The needs of those vulnerable people must not be forgotten in the consultation process.
I wish to raise a constituency issue that is causing considerable concern: the proposed changes to fire cover across Cornwall, and particularly the proposal to downgrade two fire stations in my constituency, Falmouth fire station and Camborne fire station, which are the only two fire stations in Cornwall that provide 24-hour whole-time cover. Downgrading those stations to whole-time day cover only would mean that, across Cornwall, there would only be a retained service on offer at night.
To provide some background for those who are not familiar with Cornwall's geography, the fire authority is within the county council, but that covers an area of 3,500 sq km, and has only one neighbouring authority—the rest of it is surrounded by sea. In the vast majority of cases, it cannot rely on help and assistance from other authorities, so it must be self-contained. The authority has a total of 31 stations, 20 of which are entirely retained, five of which are day-crewed—precisely because of difficulties recruiting retained staff, as many people are self-employed and must travel all over the county, and hence cannot respond in time—and two of which are the 24-hour whole-time cover stations in Falmouth and Camborne.
Those two stations cover the most densely populated part of Cornwall. Camborne has a population of about 50,000 people and will grow further, and that was not taken into account when the proposals were put forward. Falmouth fire station not only has responsibilities to the town and surrounding area but to the docks and further out to sea, if there are problems there. In addition, both stations have specialist equipment that has been used to provide assistance all over Cornwall, for instance in the flooding at Boscastle. When there were blizzards on Goss moor, and people were stranded, that equipment was used to help. The stations are therefore not just an asset to their immediate community but provide an invaluable service to the rest of Cornwall, yet they are under threat of being downgraded under proposals currently being considered.
I want the Deputy Leader of the House to take back for consideration by the relevant Ministers the issue of how this situation transpired and what the Government can do to assist. Ultimately, it has transpired because Cornwall's local government has one of the lowest levels of funding in the country. As with other areas, Government grants have not kept pace with the cost of service delivery. As a result, there is an overall deficit of £15 million to be overcome. There is also the capping on council tax—the regressive council tax would not address the problem even if the Government tried.
Consequently, we are seeing cuts to a whole range of services. Adult social care has had no choice but to withdraw support for those with the lowest levels of need. The fire service is facing cuts of £1 million in costs—the equivalent of a cut of one sixth of the whole-time work force. Although that will be achieved without compulsory redundancies, it has significant implications for the cover across Cornwall.
The Government's nationally set targets conflict with what the fire authority is trying to achieve. According to the first public service agreement, the authority is required to reduce accidental fire-related deaths in the home by 10 per cent. and deliberate fires by 20 per cent. by 2010. The fire authority has already done a lot to reduce such occurrences, by providing a greater retained service, which it was asked to do, and by doing more school visits and so on. Therefore, it is already delivering. At the same time, however, there is a requirement to find efficiency savings totalling £105 million by 2007-08.
The problem is that, because the authority delivered efficiency savings and because things were so tight ahead of that requirement, the only way that it is going to make those further efficiency savings is to make front-line cuts. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to take that back to the relevant Department. When setting that efficiency target to pay for the pay deal for firefighters, what account did the Government take of authorities such as Cornwall that have already delivered efficiencies and whose only alternative therefore is to make front-line cuts? Are they happy that, in areas such as Cornwall where efficiencies have already been delivered, there will be virtually impossible challenges in delivering both those targets?
We are already seeing the results in Cornwall, particularly in the area that I represent, of the freeze in recruitment in previous years. The local newspaper called Camborne
"the arson capital of Cornwall", where there were
"218 attacks in the towns and their surrounding villages in the last 12 months, nearly a quarter of the 941 suspicious fires in the whole of Cornwall."
At the very time when arson appears to be increasing across the area, we are having to look at proposals to make cuts.
Serious questions have to be asked about the integrated risk management plan process, which had the task of trying to deliver those cuts to make the books balance. The response to a parliamentary question that I tabled stated:
"Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs) are required by the Fire and Rescue Service National Framework to have in place and maintain an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) which reflects local need and sets out plans to tackle effectively both existing and potential risks to communities."—[ Hansard, 16 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 76W.]
But that bears little relationship to the correspondence that I have had with the chief fire officer, who is clear that the reason behind looking at cuts and looking again at the IRMP was the financial situation, not the risks. Undoubtedly cuts to the number of staff and the level of cover will have an impact on the risk to people living in that community.
The council and the chief fire officer are trying to do the right thing in coming forward with the proposals. They have openly acknowledged that those proposals are the least worst option, not the best option, and the chief fire officer himself said:
"I had to recommend this objective because I had to make savings. The downgrading of Falmouth and Camborne is purely a consequence of the budget".
Therefore, the people of Falmouth and Camborne are being asked to meet the brunt of the so-called cost-effectiveness drive, knowing that it will result in longer call-out times and that there will be knock-on effects across the county. The county council has agreed to look at that again and to undertake a risk assessment. I cannot believe that it was not required to do one in the first place. Will the Minister go back to the Department and say that there are serious pressures?
As a constituent wrote to me recently, people in Cornwall are not asking for fire services that are better than anywhere else in the country. We just think that we deserve the same level of fire service as the rest of the country. We do not want lives to be threatened because we have become the only county in the whole of England that has no whole-time fire cover at night.
Anyway, as I was saying, I want to raise three things with the House before we go. I have raised the first before on occasions such as this: it relates to the inadequate capacity of people such as me to remedy a wrong for my constituents in relation to access to railway stations. I refer particularly but not exclusively to Tilbury Town station in my constituency, where there is an inordinately high pedestrian bridge. There are no real facilities for people who are handicapped, semi-ambulant, or parents with pushchairs and prams. It is wholly inadequate. The upside goes to London. Most of the residential area of Tilbury is on the other side.
I have raised the matter over the years with the rail operator, successive organisations, including Railtrack and Network Rail, and with the former Disability Rights Commission, which did not seem adequately interested in my view. It was very disappointing. I hope that the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights will address that problem in Tilbury. I suspect that other hon. Members face similar situations. I acknowledge that it can be very costly to provide adequate access to and in railway stations, but it is a price that the community should pay. We cannot go on like this, and I hope that the Government and the new equality commission will take an interest so that the issue can be pursued and—I use the word deliberately—prosecuted with vigour. We need some remedy.
The second issue will also strike a chord with other hon. Members. Those who have been able to access their post today will have received a letter from Postwatch that draws attention to the fact that the Post Office is about to embark on the closure of 2,500 post offices. I was in a Committee the other day that agreed the funds to facilitate the reorganisation, but many of us are deeply concerned about the course on which the Post Office is embarked. Members of Parliament are realists about progress and we accept that some rationalisation is necessary, but we do not trust the Post Office to deal from the top of pack with us or our constituents.
There is to be a consultation period, but—surprise, surprise—it is at a time when Parliament will not be sitting. I know that many hon. Members will actively champion the cause of the post offices in their constituency, but in the same way that Governments go to war and coups d'état occur during recesses, the Post Office closes post offices during a recess.
I am especially concerned by the letter that we have all received from Postwatch. It draws our attention to the fact that the Post Office will bring forward 46 area plans, covering all parts of the UK and following parliamentary constituency boundaries—so far, so good. However, it continues:
"Postwatch will receive area plans, on a confidential basis, before each six week local consultation starts."
Why on God's earth will it be done on a confidential basis? It goes on to say that Postwatch will check whether the proposed closures meet its criteria, but those criteria—such as access, reasonable distance and adequate alternative premises—are precisely what the consultation should be on. I would prefer 12 weeks public consultation rather than six weeks of a confidential, cosy arrangement between Postwatch and the Post Office. We need 12 weeks to argue our corner and demonstrate the flaws in the decisions. I hope that those who read about our deliberations today will take note of that. When the Deputy Leader of the House replies to the debate, I hope that, as a Member of Parliament and as a Minister, she will undertake to seek out this letter and persuade ministerial colleagues that that is not a satisfactory situation. Hon. Members are universally concerned about the situation and, because we all bear the scars of how the Post Office operates, there is a lack of trust.
The hon. Gentleman might also wish to intervene on the final issue that I wish to raise, which relates to the welfare of our ex-servicemen and women. I have one particular constituent, Dennis Dimond, who is a former leader of the Conservative group on Thurrock borough council and a former officer of the Essex regiment, whom I consult regularly about such matters. We are especially exercised about those people who have left our armed forces, some of them many years ago and who are now in the evening of their lives and becoming fragile. They are not getting everything that they are entitled to and I invite the Deputy Leader of the House to ask ministerial colleagues to prepare, over the parliamentary recess, a comprehensive statement of care available for ex-service personnel, perhaps through a White Paper, Green Paper or other formal statement. In that way, we could take stock of the care available for our ex-service personnel. I am especially concerned about people who are wounded or suffer trauma, or both, in the current conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places in which our armed forces are committed—sometimes, of necessity, in a secret manner. Many of us are not satisfied that when they are discharged appropriate care and facilities are available at the time or will be sustained in the long term. Trauma or mental illness can arise much later and we need reassurance that the nation's commitment to ex-service personnel is comprehensive and that care will be ongoing. We need to understand how we as Members can assist and counsel such people, working with veterans organisations.
This morning, I received a letter from a parliamentary colleague, Eddie Lowey, a member of the Legislative Council of the Isle of Man. He has no access to this place, but on behalf of his constituents he wanted me to raise the case of an Isle of Man resident who served on Christmas Island between 1958 and 1959 and was involved in the atomic tests. A further 10 residents of the Isle of Man are in the same category, as are many of our constituents who served on Christmas Island at the same time. There is growing and compelling evidence that they were adversely affected by the atomic testing. Members who are listening to me will share the view that when the Ministry of Defence says, "Oh, it's really not a problem and we're monitoring it", that is not good enough. We heard the same thing about Gulf war syndrome.
I asked the Library to do some work on the subject, and my attention was drawn to a parliamentary question diligently raised by our colleague, Mr. Harper, on
In reply to our colleague, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, the Minister said that the directive was not "legally binding". Well, whether it is or not there is a moral obligation and although the Minister acknowledged that the Government recognise their obligations to such veterans, he went on to make the worrying statement that they had found
"no general effect on the participants' expectation of life nor on risk of developing most cancers, though there was a small increase in risk of some leukaemias".—[ Hansard, 12 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1599W.]
We have heard such denials all too often in the past. It is not good enough, so I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will tell the Ministry of Defence that over the coming months Members will increasingly demand that the issues are addressed on behalf of the people who suffered as a result of those experiments in the 1950s. A remedy should be found soon, rather than having a big row in the House of Commons in the future.
It is always a pleasure to follow Andrew Mackinlay. I thought that he was going to wind up a little earlier and I was thinking that I might follow your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and rush over and embrace him, but he took all his time so I will not, you will be glad to know. I want to raise two issues concerning my constituency. As I am a Gloucestershire Member, the House will not be surprised to hear that I shall be raising the issue of flooding. I shall also raise the issue of ambulance cover.
I undertook a comprehensive tour of my constituency on Monday and Tuesday, and unfortunately I found that the flooding there was far more widespread than I had anticipated. I am keen to stress that, despite the high-profile news coverage of Tewkesbury and Gloucester, my constituency suffered quite considerably as well, to the tune of several hundred houses being flooded.
Perhaps I might acquaint the House with some of what I discovered on Monday and Tuesday. I started my tour at a small village near Lechlade in the south-west of my constituency, and I drove through rather a deeper flood than I should perhaps have done. I donned my wellies, rushed into a house—the water immediately went over the top of my wellies—and found a poor person whose furniture and carpets had been ruined. I then went on to Fairford, and even more dismayingly I found a road of houses that were under 2 ft of a mixture of sewage and water. The main bridge in Fairford had fractured and the main road was closed.
I went on to Bourton-on-the-Water—wryly called by one resident Bourton-under-the-water—and found, as many people may be able to picture Bourton-under-the-water, the picturesque village, the rivers, the bridges, the greens and the high street entirely under water, which had spilled over into many shops and houses.
Perhaps the biggest shock was when I went on to Moreton-in-Marsh, where I found that 250 people had been evacuated last Friday night to the fire college, their homes having been rendered unfit for habitation. I discovered that more than half the shops had been flooded, many of the houses near the station had been flooded, and many of the hostelries will not be open for many months.
I went on to the pretty town of Chipping Campden, where the Cambrook had burst its banks and many houses had been flooded. Likewise in Northleach the main culvert under the main high street had closed, and there a problem re-occurred that I had heard about in several other places. A road had been flooded and HGVs and cars trying to get through the flood, driving far too fast, were causing bow waves and causing even worse flooding into the houses—until a public-spirited local resident put his car across the road, effectively closing it. Even the main road into my own village was washed away.
Repairing the infrastructure will be expensive and time-consuming, and because it is spread over a very large area of the Cotswolds it will be expensive. I therefore issue this plea to the county council: that we in the Cotswolds should get our fair share of funding. I know that the high-profile cases of Tewkesbury and Gloucester will cause vast strain on both the county council's and the Government's budgets, but we are going to need some resources in the Cotswolds, not only to restore the infrastructure but to pay for emergency things such as the simple provision of Portaloos, sandbags and pumping equipment. There will need to be a substantial clean-up. I pay great tribute to the Cotswold district council for immediately swinging into action and providing a free collection service for ruined furniture and carpets. That was hugely appreciated by people on the ground.
Some of the flooding had been caused by the Environment Agency's policy of clearing out watercourses only on a biennial basis, on the grounds that to do so encourages biodiversity. That will need to be looked at again rigorously, because if it causes any possibility of flooding homes it is totally wrong.
I have mentioned the problem of sewer flooding. I had had a problem of sewer flooding in various places in the Cotswolds before this general flooding of water. Fortunately, I was able to persuade one of my two water companies, Thames Water, to advance a £5 million sewerage scheme in South Cerney, which did help this time, but there are many smaller instances of sewer flooding which will need attention. I call on the Deputy Leader of the House to bring the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, because the regulatory regime needs looking at to ensure that water companies have sufficient ability to invest in the infrastructure from their profits.
I should also like to bring to the attention of the House a matter about which I received another e-mail from a constituent this morning. The flooding of the Mythe waterworks, which was raised in Prime Minister's questions yesterday, resulted in the cutting off of the fresh water supply to 340,000 people, which is being attended to by the provision of bowsers. It was widely advertised on BBC Radio Gloucester and on the website that a bowser would be available for the villagers of Birdlip in my constituency. There is, or was, no such bowser in that village. The villages have no fresh water and no bowser from which to get it. I urge Severn Trent Water urgently to attend to the matter.
Like many other Members of the House, I cannot express high enough praise for the emergency services, particularly the fire service, that worked throughout Friday night to pump out a vast number of houses. The community spirit that I found when I was going round on Monday and Tuesday was absolutely tremendous, but the problem is that that community spirit will give way in some cases to depression when the true extent of the damage sinks in. I urge all the social services and other support services to be in place when that happens.
The second issue that I would like to raise is the provision of ambulance cover in my constituency. The chief executive of the newly merged Great Western Ambulance Service NHS trust said to me in a letter of
"rurally based resources have been pooled in to urban areas to cover higher density activity."
Ambulances are being taken away from rural areas and are being put into towns. In fact, that has already caused the loss of one life.
As it has been in the press, I would like to bring to the attention of the House the tragic case of a young lady, Rebecca Wedd. She was hit by a car just outside Cirencester, but the ambulance service took 45 minutes to attend to her. The incident was totally unacceptable and it occurred not in a rural village but near the Royal Agricultural college just outside Cirencester, which is the largest town in my constituency.
I will run over the facts of this particular case. The only ambulance available in Cirencester was not available that evening, because the entire crew had reported sick. At the beginning of the evening, there were five crews in Staverton and, when the ambulance service knew that no ambulance was available in Cirencester, I would have thought that it would have immediately deployed one of those crews to cover Cirencester, particularly when an event with 700 people was taking place there. There had been a serious incident at Tetbury further south in my constituency and three ambulances attended that. The Wiltshire air ambulance was also deployed, but it was delayed and did not reach the scene on time. However, most tragically, an ambulance was available in Swindon, a mere 15 miles down the dual carriageway, and the most shocking fact of all is revealed in a letter from the chief executive of the trust. He wrote:
"Gloucestershire Emergency Medical Dispatch Centre did contact the Wiltshire Emergency Medical Dispatch Centre, and ask for assistance—but this was declined."
A young lady tragically died because of that, and ongoing investigations are being carried out to discover what happened.
Sadly, that is not the only case. On
I am aware of those two examples of response times failing to live up to targets, but how many other constituents have had their lives put at risk? Despite assurances from the chief executive of the trust, I am not convinced that trust targets are being met even in the most urban parts of my constituency, let alone in the many far-flung villages, hamlets and farms of the Cotswolds.
I raised the issue of the merger of the Gloucestershire ambulance trusts in Westminster Hall, and I said:
"If someone is lying beside the road, dying from a motor accident...the one thing that that person wants is a quick ambulance response. The merger will inevitably slow down that response."
I went on to say:
"If they do not have a proper ambulance service when they need it, they will die. There is no question about that. We must be sure that the merger will work; otherwise, we are putting people's lives at risk."—[ Hansard, Westminster Hall, 9 February 2005; Vol. 430, c. 442-44WH.]
I take no pleasure at all in saying that that prophecy sadly came true and I ask the ambulance trust to see what it can do to prevent it from ever happening again.
I have sat here all afternoon listening to a catalogue of complaints, and I am now going to add to that catalogue. I am sorry that my complaint will be rather shorter than the others, but the sincerity with which I put it before the House and the Deputy Leader of the House—this is my first opportunity to congratulate her on her promotion to the Front Bench—is none the less for the shortness of the time available to me. Mrs. Cryer said that she would have to gallop through her 12-minute speech. I can assure her that we do a lot more galloping in Leicestershire than they do in West Yorkshire.
I will do my best to bring to the attention of the House a matter that I have raised on a number of occasions: the noise that emanates from aircraft flying in and out of East Midlands airport and the disturbance it causes. I know that that matter concerns not only my constituents in Harborough, but the constituents of David Taylor, Mr. Todd, who is not in his place at the moment, and other Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Members of Parliament.
The problem arises because East Midlands airport is the United Kingdom's freight hub. There are other airports—in particular, Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow—that attract more traffic. However, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are at least what is called designated under the Civil Aviation Act 1982. [ Interruption. ] I am talking about the favourite subject of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire. He is about to come into the Chamber, and I am sure that when he does he will listen with great intent. Those three airports are designated under the 1982 Act, which means that the Secretary of State for Transport can control the numbers of flights that go in and out of them, particularly at night, between the hours of 11 and 7. There is no such control available to the Secretary of State in the case of East Midlands airport. On a number of occasions, Ministers have been asked to take on that responsibility, and, on every occasion, for one reason or another, they have refused to do so.
I have been told by the various aviation Ministers, who have followed one another almost as quickly as the aircraft coming into East Midlands airport, that there is no need for designation: everything is absolutely hunky-dory; the airport is controlling the noise; it is doing what it can to make sure that the aircraft flown by the aircraft companies obey the rules in relation to noise; and there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Ministers also say that it is entirely a matter for the airport, or for the Civil Aviation Authority. If one goes to the Civil Aviation Authority, it says that it is entirely a matter for the airport or the Government. If one goes to the airport, it says that it is entirely a matter for the Government or the Civil Aviation Authority. So, round and round we go. The last excuse I had was: "It's a matter of international agreement now. It's all dealt with by the European Union and, unless we can get some form of international treaty, establishing some form of control of aircraft noise, there's very little we can do." I am afraid that that will not do at all.
To be fair to the airport—and I am not always fair to it—it has introduced a system of fines and penalties, or surcharges, on aircraft that breach the airport's private noise levels. Wow—in the last accounting period the airport fined three aircraft, and introduced, I think, eight surcharges, of the thousands of aircraft that come in and out of the airport through the day and night.
The intention is that, under the master plan, by—I think—2012 there will be aircraft coming in and out of that airport every 90 seconds carrying freight from around the world. Of course, freight does not mind when it arrives; air passengers prefer to arrive during more civilised hours of the day. I went to the national air traffic control base at West Drayton just west of London not so very long ago. It is easily forgotten by those who operate that system, and also by the pilots of course, that below the aircraft and all those little dotty lights on the control panel are people—human beings—who want to get a good night's sleep. They are not getting it because of the noise.
In the few seconds remaining to me, I want to say that the other context in which the whole issue is being played out is a reluctance by airports to allow the debate to continue. They will do anything that they can to suppress debate. I took part in an interview on BBC Radio Leicester last Friday, and I was given the distinct impression that East Midlands airport's public relations team would rather the interview had not taken place. A public relations officer from the airport was there, ready to take part, but I got the distinct impression that he thought that the interview was wholly unnecessary, and that the issue was best not spoken about.
Let me finish on a point that gives the issue a national focus. Next week, Heathrow airport and its various holding companies are applying to the High Court for an injunction to prevent approximately 5 million Britons from doing things that annoy it. The owners of Heathrow will attempt to ban them from the airport, the Piccadilly tube line, parts of the rail network and sections of the M25 and M4. The injunction would ban members and supporters of AirportWatch, an umbrella organisation, from setting foot on named locations in and around London. AirportWatch includes groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Campaign to Protect Rural England; I add in parentheses that the Queen is patron of both those organisations. If she is prevented from getting to Windsor castle for the weekend, I do not suppose that I shall be the first to know.
It strikes me as ridiculous that huge great companies, whether they be Heathrow's companies, or the Manchester Airport Group, which is owned by 10 local authorities in Manchester, and which wholly owns East Midlands airport, should resort to suppressing debate on a legitimate complaint about aircraft noise. My ability to debate is about to be suppressed, so I shall end my remarks voluntarily before you get to your feet, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I wish that the House and the Government would pay more attention to the damage caused to my constituents by the noise emanating from the airport.
May I start by thanking all the speakers who took part in the summer recess Adjournment debate? Some of the faces are familiar, and some less so, and one Member admitted to being a newcomer to recess Adjournment debates. As usual, we have covered a number of subjects, including domestic and constituency matters. We have also covered the international spectrum. All arguments were put forward effectively and in excellent speeches, and I commend all hon. Members present for having stayed the course until almost the last minute before the recess.
Keith Vaz started off the proceedings by expressing his concerns about local health provision. He raised the issue of the misuse of public funds, a subject that gives rise to controversy in all of our constituencies. My hon. Friend Angela Browning raised a number of important points, including the efficiency of Ministers. I hope that the letter that she hoped would be on her desk by close of business today has duly arrived.
I am sorry that the letter has not arrived. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House has taken that on board, and that her assistants are dealing with it. Harry Cohen spoke about drugs and their impact on the global market. I am sure that all of us in the Chamber are familiar with the distress and havoc that drugs cause, as a result of people coming to see us in our surgeries, and from the letters that we receive.
Simon Hughes raised the issue of the closure of a 24-hour clinic for mentally ill people, an issue that causes much concern. Mental illness carries an undue stigma, and it is right that we raise the issue as often as possible, so that we can get rid of that stigma. Dr. Gibson gave a learned speech about local education. It is noteworthy that he spoke of the interaction between all the schools in Norwich. Long may his local schools continue to flourish.
We then heard a passionate speech from my hon. Friend Peter Bottomley, who raised the important matter of British citizens in Australia not getting what can be called a fair pension. I very much hope that the Deputy Leader of the House took those arguments on board and that she will relay them to the relevant Minister. I wish my hon. Friend well in his campaign to get clemency for Krishna Maharaj on his visit to the United States during the recess.
The hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) both made eloquent speeches on the need for a referendum on the European treaty. I was struck by the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston when she rightly pointed out that the issue concerns not just a small number of people, but many throughout the country.
My hon. Friend Mr. Horam spoke about Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust and the revelation of an £87 million deficit. That is an extremely serious matter, and I wish him and his community well in their efforts to resolve it expeditiously. My hon. Friend Mr. Amess, a regular attender at Adjournment debates, spoke of the breakdown in British society. He was right to point out that the new Prime Minister cannot distance himself from the problems that have emerged over the past 10 years, because he has been closely involved in the running of the country over the past decade.
John Robertson raised a number of topics, including community initiatives. He highlighted the good work being carried out by Insight Radio for blind and partially sighted people, a group which is extremely vulnerable in our society. I am sure they welcome all that the radio does for them. Mr. Hancock spoke of the need for more council houses. Regrettably, I must inform him that in every year of the past decade less social housing has been built than in every year of the preceding Government.
Ms Barlow brought a light touch and a slightly happier tone to the debate by giving a big welcome to the new stadium for Brighton and Hove Albion. I am sure that all the supporters locally will join in those congratulatory messages. Mr. Davies made an argument that comes regularly from Opposition Members about the importance of police officers being present on the street in greater numbers, rather than sitting at desks writing reams of forms. I hope that his point will add to the argument about police officers on our streets.
Mrs. Cryer dealt with the breaches of electoral law—again, a matter that concerns many in the Chamber—and what happens at local elections. She made a valid point about the need to ensure that there is proper training for returning officers and all their officials who look after elections in our constituencies. My hon. Friend Bob Spink, despite having lost his voice, made an enthusiastic speech. As usual, he covered a number of local issues. On the national level he was very serious, and I am sure we share his concern, about the threat to palliative care. We wish him well in his campaign.
Mr. Todd spoke about, among other things, the inaccurate bills and material received by consumers of British Gas. That is a serious matter which affects consumers of other utility companies as well. I wish him well in dealing with his constituents, and I hope that utility companies throughout the country will take note that the complaint is not confined to British Gas. My hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin spoke in his first recess Adjournment debate, and what a welcome contribution it was, if I may say so. He drew attention to the closure of the GP service in one of his villages, a service that has existed for some 100 years. I hope that the dispute between the two health authorities will be resolved quickly, because people are suffering as a consequence of the failure to arrive at a solution.
Mr. Jones spoke about a number of issues. He raised several serious questions concerning the relationship between council officials and a private company. I believe that some serious answers are required, and I hope that he receives them.
Julia Goldsworthy discussed access to free banking, which many people, particularly in rural areas, obtain through their local post offices. Many rural people are suffering in all sorts of ways with the decline in any number of other services. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House has taken that point on board and that she will relay it to the relevant Minister.
Andrew Mackinlay made his speech in his inimitable style. He raised the serious issue of access for disabled people at Tilbury railway station. I wish him well for his constituents, and that important point needs to be taken on board by railway companies throughout the country.
My hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown discussed the enormous difficulty and misery that many of his constituents are experiencing as a result of the flooding that has affected so many people throughout the country. The flooding will, of course, mean costly reparations for both infrastructure and people's houses and valuables. I think that hon. Members agree that it should be a priority when the House returns after the recess to have a debate in Government time on the lessons to be learned, so that in the event of a threat of future floods, we can avoid the damage and destruction that has occurred on this occasion.
Finally, despite being deprived of his full quota of speaking time, my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier eloquently put forward all that he had to say. He discussed the noise and disturbance caused by aircraft flying in and out of East Midlands airport. Those of us who are fortunate enough not to live or work in areas where aircraft fly overhead sometimes underestimate the distress that aircraft can cause to those who have to put up with regular noise. The campaign will not be easy, but I know that he is a doughty campaigner on the issue. I wish him well and hope that there will be a resolution that brings a bit of peace to all those concerned.
All that remains for me to do is to wish all hon. Members and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a happy, peaceful and restful recess. I want to extend that wish to all the staff of the House and particularly to the security staff, who in these difficult times do so much to ensure that we can carry on living, working and trying to look after the interests of all whom we serve.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Vara, who has kept to his side of the bargain on keeping to time in a very co-operative manner.
I, too, shall begin with a confession: this is my first summer Adjournment debate. Now that I have been initiated into its mysteries, I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied by the way in which I respond to their points.
My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz raised a delayed private finance initiative project. As I understand it, the project has been delayed because the costs have risen by more than £200 million. That is obviously a matter for the Department of Health, and I will draw it to the attention of Health Ministers, but in so far as my right hon. Friend is concerned about the proper use of public money, that is, of course, a matter for the National Audit Office.
My right hon. Friend also raised the serious problem of video games, and I will refer the matter to colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Finally, my right hon. Friend raised the case of his constituent whose car had been impounded. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs are aware of that case, but I will ensure that Treasury Ministers take account of it.
Angela Browning is concerned about the advent of unitary status in her county. I can tell her that the parliamentary question has now been answered, and I hope that there is a letter on the Letter Board. I will draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government to her concerns about the criteria. As for floods, I heard this morning that we have had more rain than in any summer since 1789, so she is right about the assessment of the flood plains.
My hon. Friend Harry Cohen talked about the economy of the drugs market. When he began, I thought that I would be called on to refer those issues to the Home Office, or possibly to the Ministry of Justice, but as he developed his argument it became clear that the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development also have an interest in what is happening in this terrible trade.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the housing problems in his constituency, his concern about the closure of Maudsley hospital, about post office closures and about transport. I hope that he realises that we are continuing with the Crossrail legislation because we are committed to that piece of infrastructure for the capital. The issue of financing will follow once the legal infrastructure is in place.
My hon. Friend Dr. Gibson talked about academies, particularly about Heartsease school in his constituency. He was concerned about the role of sponsors and the quality of education in that school, which has clearly been a controversial matter. It was evident that he is a former Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, given his particular concern about the quality of science teaching in the school.
Peter Bottomley raised several issues. I am fully aware of the problem of overseas pensioners, which centres on the contributory part of the state retirement pension. He talked about the reconfiguration of hospitals in West Sussex and his frustration about that. I am sure that he is aware of the next-stage review that Lord Darzi will undertake. Although there may be some difficulties with the reconfiguration of the hospitals, his primary care trust has had a 31.2 per cent. increase in resources over the past three years, and waiting lists in the NHS south-east area are down from over 30,000 to 32.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman raised the question of the clemency appeal in the United States for Krishna Maharaj. I understand that the former Foreign Office Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr. McCartney, has written to the Americans about that and that British consul will attend the clemency hearing on
Kate Hoey also talked about the Maudsley. She mentioned several policy issues where she has looked for significant change—cannabis, casinos, licensing and a referendum on the European Union treaty. I think that she will be more fortunate on the first three than on the last one. She spoke about the Post Office and the liberalisation of the postal market. I will draw her remarks to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. It is quite clear that the current stand-off between employees and management is partly about short-term issues, but partly about some long-term policy questions.
Mr. Horam talked about the Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust, and was well apprised of the complex issues in NHS financing. He pointed out that guidance on how to run PFIs has improved with experience, and I remind him that it is up to the primary care trusts to commission local services.
My hon. Friend Ms Stuart talked about "The Governance of Britain" Green Paper and the need for it to have a more European emphasis. She also talked about her desire to see a referendum on the EU reform treaty. That is unlikely to be forthcoming because the Government's four red lines, which we set at the outset of the negotiations, have not been broken. That is the matter that will weigh most heavily when we see the final text of the treaty in September. She is absolutely right about one thing: to be a real European does not mean being totally uncritical of all things European. Like her, I speak as one with mixed parentage.
No. I am very sorry.
I had always known Mr. Amess as a quiet, charming, unassuming member of the Chairman's Panel, but he proved himself to be rather wilder than that in his assessment of the current state of the country, and he made a number of points with which I totally disagree.
My hon. Friend John Robertson talked about his ATM campaign. I think that I must have heard the first speech he made on that two years ago in Westminster Hall. It has been a very successful campaign and many people—in his constituency, in mine and in those of other hon. Members—will have benefited hugely from the work that he has done.
Mr. Hancock referred to two constituency cases. I will draw those to the attention of the Home Office, and I will raise the question of the rights of the children concerned, as well as the rights of the women. My hon. Friend Ms Barlow raised a connected case, which I shall refer to my hon. Friends in the Home Office and the Foreign Office.
I know that Mr. Davies has been active in defending the interests of the Remploy factory in his constituency, and he raised the question of the way in which 90-day consultations operate.
My hon. Friend Mrs. Cryer raised important issues relating to the running of local elections, and she is quite right to say that those matters need to be referred to the Ministry of Justice. Bob Spink also talked about the Post Office.
My hon. Friend Mr. Todd talked about the need to control utility prices, and I hope that he will be satisfied by the forthcoming energy Bill.
Mr. Jenkin referred to the closure of a GP surgery in his constituency. Closures of local facilities are a matter of concern, but I point out to him that hitherto, NHS resources were not fairly distributed. The north had far lower per capita resources than the south.
My hon. Friend Mr. Jones was unafraid, as usual, to challenge what he perceives as abuses. He has been energetic in covering scams and I shall raise the issues that he mentioned with the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Julia Goldsworthy talked about fire stations and the problems of providing services in rural areas. Again, I will raise the matter with the Department for Communities and Local Government.
My hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay spoke about Tilbury town railway station. He also asked about the way in which post office closure consultations will be handled and I will refer his comments to the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. He considered the welfare of ex-servicemen and women and called for a comprehensive care package, which should, of course, cover members of the Territorial Army. I will refer that matter to the Minister with responsibility for the armed forces.
Mr. Clifton-Brown talked about the serious problems that his constituents are facing because of flooding. Obviously, the whole House shares his concerns. He will be aware of the arrangements for keeping in touch with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers during the recess. The Department for Communities and Local Government will take on board his points about the long-term implications for water companies to provide sufficient investment. He, too, talked about some of the problems—in the context of ambulance cover—of providing services in rural areas.
Mr. Garnier spoke about aircraft noise. I had expected it to be an issue for the Department for Transport or the Department for Communities and Local Government, but I forgot that he was a lawyer. His point about the injunction, if it is applied, is obviously for the Ministry of Justice.
I thank all hon. Members who took part in the debate. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues. I thank all the staff of the House, for their support not only this afternoon but since the previous recess. I wish everybody a pleasant recess. As well as continuing with all the great work in their constituencies, about which we have heard in the past three hours, I ask hon. Members to find some time to have a happy holiday.