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Easter Adjournment

Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 3:22 pm on 2nd April 2009.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge 3:51 pm, 2nd April 2009

I apologise to the House for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate. I always like to attend the whole of these debates—I think I qualify as one of the regulars—but unfortunately other matters took me away earlier.

It is a great pleasure to follow Shona McIsaac—also one of the regulars. From time to time, she mentions her birthday. I cannot believe that the years go past so quickly. She once described herself as Minnie the Minx. It might be said that she still has the youthful qualities of Minnie the Minx, but she also has the statesmanlike qualities of a Government Back Bencher.

The hon. Lady was kind enough to refer to the Whips as the gods of democracy. I realise that of course she was referring to the Government Whips, who are indeed very much gods. I am an Opposition Whip. We are probably from the underworld, but it is a great delight to address the House from the other side of the River Styx about some of the issues that affect my constituents, and more widely.

During the Christmas Adjournment debate, I mentioned that my mother was in hospital. Members on both sides of the House were kind enough to wish her all the best. It was good to know that people took an interest and she has certainly recovered. It was useful for me to see the NHS in action.

I hope this does not become a regular part of my speeches, but my mother, who is rather like me and of an awkward nature, has decided that she should feature every time we have an Adjournment debate. At the end of last week, she was readmitted to Hillingdon hospital, with another complaint—she has broken something in her ankle. Once again, my first-hand experience of the accident and emergency department at the hospital has been only good. Even my mother has to admit that the food she is receiving in hospital, which last time she was kind enough to describe as pig swill, is now perfectly acceptable, although as she is in bed most of the time she does not find it very easy to eat. However, if I am lucky enough to get home this evening in time to visit her in hospital, I shall do what I can to help her.

Sadly, my mother has been disabled for some time. Tomorrow, the other Hillingdon MPs and I will be speaking to DASH—the Disablement Association Hillingdon. One of the problems that the group has been made aware of is the accessibility of public transport to disabled people. From first-hand experience with my mother and other people, I know that accessibility has improved in recent years but a range of problems remain to be addressed. Strangely, we do not really understand such problems until we experience them; we may do so through somebody else, as I did, but some people unfortunately experience them for themselves.

Some of the problems are not apparent straight away. Request stops for buses are an obvious example. I have to say that until I came across the issue, I would not have thought that it was a problem. I now realise—it is quite apparent—that people who are partially sighted or blind have a real problem; they do not know when a bus is coming. I am not sure whether request stops comply with some of the disability laws. There is also evidence that some bus companies give their drivers contradictory information on whether people are allowed to bring mobility scooters on to the vehicle. That causes many problems and much distress to some people, because some people with mobility scooters are allowed on and some are not.

There are differing reports about problems to do with audible announcements. I have to say that there have been vast improvements in public transport. I do not think that we can deny that, but there are still problems. Some people have suggested to DASH, and to me, that the audible announcement service is inconsistent, and that sometimes drivers switch off the facility. Even if one is fully in control of all one's faculties, sometimes it is difficult to know where the stops are, but if a person has a disability of any sort, that information, which can now be supplied, is invaluable.

Members often hear of cases in which the ramp allowing people in wheelchairs or of limited capacity on to the vehicle is not working properly. The bus operating company and the people in charge will say, "No, the ramp is there," or "The information is there, and it should be used." Sadly, the reality is that that is not always so.

I now come to an issue that I have often raised, but have not mentioned for a little while. However, I make no apologies for raising it again now. A couple of days ago, it was the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend an event that was held here; I was visiting my mother in hospital. However, I am pleased, in some ways, to report that things have moved on. I have attended several meetings, in this place and elsewhere, that have shown that this country, and what is now Serbia, now have a much more positive attitude about the way forward. To a great extent, that will be through the European Union. Enlargement is a whole other subject, however, and I shall not go into it today, but I do want to raise an issue of great importance.

It is often the victors who write the history, and some things are not always mentioned. An investigation was initiated by The Hague tribunal in 2003 and 2004 concerning crimes committed against Serbs by Albanians, who forcibly took their vital organs and traded them. The case concerned just under 1,300 Serbs and Roma people who disappeared during the conflict in Kosovo. The evidence, mentioned in Carla Del Ponte's book, tells how those Serbs and Roma were removed from their homes, taken forcibly to a place in northern Albania called Burrel, and had their organs removed in a psychiatric hospital. People were left dying in horrible conditions, and the organs were sold.

I mention that because when we consider all the conflicts around the world, sometimes it is those forgotten details that we should concentrate on. When we try to get people together to work towards a new order, it is important that crimes and atrocities—committed, no doubt, by both sides—are treated equally. Therefore I ask the Deputy Leader of the House whether he will draw the issue to the attention of his colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and report back on the Government's position.

Of course, one of the features of Easter time is—I speak very passionately about this—the sales in retail department stores. I make no apology for that, because at least this time the Government are hoping that consumers will elevate the economy by spending money.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge

My hon. Friend mentions the name of a leading store in a certain part of my constituency, but I am not thinking only of that. It behoves us all to go out and spend money. I disagree with the Government about the VAT cut, but I shall ignore that and say that I am sure that throughout the country there will be bargains aplenty. [Interruption.] The Deputy Leader of the House is right; sometimes, I get carried away with my own marketing. Seriously, retail outlets—and their suppliers—are suffering, like many other businesses, from the lack of credit insurance. Businesses in my constituency have repeatedly told me that that is as important as anything else. I hope that when we come back after Easter, I will have the opportunity to raise that issue.

Sarah Teather mentioned "The Age of Stupid"—a film, I believe, although it could describe my past few years in Parliament. I will not say why; it might be personal or it might have something to do with the other side. The hon. Lady mentioned climate change and, in an intervention on her, I mentioned the significance of Heathrow and our problems with the Government's plans for its expansion. That issue will not go away until the glorious day when the Conservative Government take over and those plans are thrown into the rubbish bin for ever.

I also want to make a point that follows on from a speech that I made yesterday in Westminster Hall. I am concerned about a recent event in which a photographer was taking photographs of the houses in Sipson—the village that will be destroyed by the Government's bulldozers—and the police intervened, allegedly using terrorism laws to explain why the photographs should not be taken. Further to that, my constituency neighbour, John McDonnell, was stopped and searched in Birdcage walk; he made a point of order about it here. I am concerned about the way things are going with regard to a lot of these powers. We should take a step back. We are worried about terrorism, and rightly so, but our individual liberties should not be taken away from us so easily.

Others want to speak; this is always a popular debate, and I do not want to take up a lot of time. However, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes, the birthday girl, mentioned tourism. Uxbridge and the London borough of Hillingdon in general are excellent places for people to come and stay; they can visit the capital and will not be far away from the countryside. However, the arrangement will be reciprocal. I am going to Norfolk for five days, and it will be the highlight of my year, as I will be able to get away from it all. The great thing is that mobile phones do not work terribly well where I am going, so I will not be bothered too much.

On a final note, next week I am taking part in a sporting event—that may come as a shock to many colleagues. I am saying this because I do not know whether this will be the last speech that I make in this House. I expect to be on the field at Twickenham on behalf of the Lords and Commons rugby team. In case there is an imminent by-election, I would like to thank all the Members of this House, all the Officers of the House, the staff, the civil servants who help us, and all my colleagues. I have had a great time, and I could not think of a better way to go: I wish you all a happy Easter.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 4:05 pm, 2nd April 2009

It is a delight to follow the possibly soon-to-be-late hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall); it has been a pleasure to know him. I did not think he wanted another by-election in Uxbridge, but if that happens we will not dance on his grave but will remember him in the most appropriate manner.

I know that other hon. Members want to speak—I can see that my good friend, Sir Nicholas Winterton wants to say a few words—so I shall try to keep my remarks a bit shorter, even though I was told earlier to make them a bit longer. Somewhere between the two, I shall try to make a particularly apposite and relevant speech. I wish to raise four issues: three briefly, but one at greater length as I am very concerned about it.

The three brief issues are, first, something on which I have campaigned with other hon. Members, namely wage compensation for those in the automotive industry to go along with training packages; secondly, the demand for a supermarket ombudsman; and, thirdly, some of the issues to do with energy efficiency and fuel poverty. I want to talk at slightly greater length about school staff suspensions, which is irking me at the moment.

The issue of wage compensation has been well rehearsed by my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). It affects my constituency, and I hope that the Minister will take on to other Ministries the plaintive plea that we must do something about it as a matter of urgency. Two of my local companies, Delphi and Renishaw, have staff on short-time working. With the help of several agencies—the regional development agency, Gloucestershire First, Business Link, and the learning and skills council—those companies have got together some effective packages for training to use some of the spare time that people have to ensure that when the recession ends, let us hope sooner rather than later, they will be ready to deal with the upsurge in demand. These are state-of-the-art companies—the best of British manufacturing and the future of British manufacturing.

I could have gone on at great length about the anti-industrial culture of this country, citing the book by Martin Wiener written in 1981—"English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit: 1850-1980", which I studied at considerable length. That culture has been here for too long. We have seen our finances crushed, and that is all too obviously why we need our manufacturing industries and need to redress the balance. It would be a tragedy if we were to lose these companies. I do not think that that will happen, but they will be seriously damaged if we do not bolster them and support them.

Like other Members, particularly those I mentioned, I believe that the Government have to move quickly on wage compensation. They should recognise that these companies and individuals are willing to invest in the future, and it is right and proper that the state should do the same given the desperate times in which we live. I have had conversations with the Secretary of State, with the Minister of State and with the Minister for the South West, who has kindly agreed to meet representatives from the two companies as a matter of some urgency. It is right and proper for those of us in this House to continue to make the Government see that they have got to move on this issue.

The second issue is one on which I have formed an alliance with Andrew George, who sadly is not in his place, calling for the delivery of a supermarket ombudsman, which has been recommended by the Competition Commission. Sadly, it is opposed by the majority—though not the totality—of supermarkets. He has been in the vanguard of the pursuit of this matter—I have referred to him as the witchfinder-general on more than one occasion—and steadfast, which is the measure of a good Member of Parliament. He took the issue up, followed it through and is dealing with the unfairness that has come about because of the anti-competitive and monopolistic nature of too many of our larger supermarkets, and because of what they have done to the supply chain of farmers, wholesalers and customers, who are entirely at the whim of these behemoths—I think that that is the "in" word.

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The secret family courts are doing some very strange things in the schools. They have been spying on my son, getting the teachers to give letters from the man who raped me to my son, then, the next day, asking him if he has enjoyed the letters.

They also got my son to write a list of all the things he had for christmas and the rapist was given the list. I complained to the school, but the headmaster told me that the rapist has his rights!

They also tried to send a psychologist to spy on my son at school. They also tried to fingerprint my son for the school library. I told them where to get off about these ideas!

It is disgusting what the scret family courts are doing. They are doing it to loads of other kids.

Submitted by barbara richards

Photo of John Horam John Horam Conservative, Orpington

I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the supermarket ombudsman, because a large Tesco is opening in my constituency shortly. Does he not feel that part of the problem is the local planning authority, which is often suborned into agreeing to Tesco and allows a store to be built in the wrong place because of the money involved? Is not that a real problem, as well as how the supermarkets behave?

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

It is, and it is a separate issue about which I feel strongly. I only wish that the ombudsman could take on those responsibilities—at least by holding the ring for those who wish to complain about the unfairness of the way in which out-of-town stores are developed far too easily, with all the damage they do to our town centres. The ombudsman's role is clear, precise and easily laid down, and it is up to the Government to deliver that through the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. They must stand behind the Competition Commission and make sure that the commitments made are delivered. We must not allow the supermarkets to do what they usually do by threatening all manner of legal challenges, and of course they will say that the ombudsman will damage prices and the way in which they operate. We know all too well that they have had the field to themselves for far too long, and there needs to be some rebalancing.

On fuel poverty and energy efficiency, I was tempted to intervene on Sarah Teather because I agreed with many of the things she said. Her hon. Friend Mr. Heath introduced the Fuel Poverty Bill, which sadly did not make progress when it came before the House. Issues were raised about the Bill, but it must come back into play, and it should be part of a reorganisation of what is a good news story for the Government. I am proud of the amount of money we have put into addressing fuel poverty, but we could spend the money more wisely, and make even more impact. That is the basis of the current debt review, but the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a member, is about to publish a report on that topic, so I shall be circumspect about what I say.

We have to pay attention to three areas. First, there is a plethora and confusion of initiatives, which need to be simplified so that the householder is clear about what is on offer, what they should be paying and who is capable of delivering it. Secondly, neighbourhood renewal delivery should be the major mechanism involved, instead of a pepperpotting of money, which is wasteful and not nearly as effective as it could and should be. Thirdly, we need to recognise that the millions upon millions of hard-to-heat homes that we are left with—where older people often reside—will be more difficult to deal with, and we will need special measures. The cap on the amount of money and the limitation on properties that are more difficult to deal with must be addressed because we cannot afford to have the most vulnerable living in properties that cost enormous sums to heat, which has an impact on our climate.

I shall finish by talking at more length about an issue that has exercised me for much of the last year. I have been wary of mentioning it in anything other than an oblique manner, but I am pleased to say that it has become a topical issue. Anyone who heard "File on 4" a couple of weeks ago knows that the programme considered the number of school staff who are currently suspended, or who were suspended and subsequently lost their jobs. I will not go into all sorts of cases or case law. I am pleased that the Children, Schools and Families Committee has announced an inquiry. I will submit evidence to it in May, and I have spoken to the Chairman, my hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman, who knows how strongly I feel about the matter.

I want to bring two cases to the House's attention. I will not use names—the people are well known in my area and I believe that they have suffered enough. However, I will set out some of the problems that occurred as a result of what transpired in each case.

The first case involves the head of a secondary school in my constituency, who has been suspended since November. There are genuine concerns about the basis for his suspension, which dates back to an Ofsted report. Interestingly, the report was critical of the governance of the school, but not of its management. It was therefore surprising that the head was suspended. Since then, there has been an exercise in trying to trawl for information to use against him, much of it on the basis that he is guilty of bullying and harassment.

I have known the individual for more than 20 years—indeed, the accusation will be thrown at me that he is a friend of mine. I am proud to call him a friend. In times of need, one does not deny friendship, and one takes up the case. I will continue to bat on his behalf, although the process is difficult. One of the saddest aspects is that he was prevented from watching his son play rugby because his son attends the school. He was told that he was not welcome, not only on the premises but on the sports field. That shows how totally the process can envelop someone.

Since the suspension, the individual has been able to talk to officials on various occasions, but denied the opportunity of talking to governors lest he contaminate those who will eventually make the judgment on his right to continue as head. Interestingly, the teacher union in the school chose to carry out a trawl of its members.

My main criticism—I will deal with three criticisms when I have outlined the other case—is that there is an imbalance between those who are trying to prove their innocence and those who claim that the individuals are guilty and get the process under way.

I am sad because the case has done enormous damage to the school by setting people against one another. We are now well into the fourth month, and the case needs to be resolved urgently. However, all I know is that the independent investigation continues and that when and if the case is heard, the individual will have to provide evidence in his defence. Sadly, he is much on the defensive and unable to prove his innocence because so many of the cards are stacked against him.

The second case is that of a head of care at a special school—not a teacher, and, in many respects, unable to have some of the protections that teachers enjoy. The person has been in education all their life and at the school for 27 years. The case resulted from the suspension of a head teacher, and the local authority, Gloucestershire, called in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to carry out an investigation. I question that decision because the original charge was to do with someone else—the head and his management style—yet the NSPCC was called in and conducted an inquiry. I have written to the local authority because I would like to see the evidence that the NSPCC came up with. I have been forbidden to see it. Even more important, the individual in question has not been able to see it, even though it is the basis of the charges against him. After he and the head were suspended, both the deputy head and, eventually, three other members of staff were suspended, so at one point six members of staff were suspended. All that will have had an impact on the school.

It is very sad, because that individual was dismissed and lost his job. He subsequently got a job at another school with the same authority, but the head of that school was effectively told to get rid of him. Since then, that individual has been reported to the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which will take him away from any contact with children if the complaint is upheld. That is wrong. His only recourse now is an employment tribunal. He is preparing for that now, so I will be careful not to say anything that might in any way preclude his ability to prove his innocence.

I have three worries about how the system operates and about how people have to try to prove their innocence, which is vital. The first point that I would ask my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to look into is the process of investigation. Whoever conducts an investigation, if one is held, whatever is found should be available to both parties. I am convinced that the defendant, as it were, does not have the same access to that evidence. That is not acceptable. We would not have the prosecution not disclosing evidence to the defence in a court of law.

My second point is: who oversees the investigation? We seem to have a flurry of governors being created—some because of the contamination, and so on. [ Interruption. ] I am now being given the nod by the Whip, so I will finish quickly. I want to know what power the local authority has to increase or change the governing body, because that can change the basis on which someone's inquiry is held. I know that we have an inquiry and an appeal, and subsequently someone may choose to go to an employment tribunal.

My third point is about proportionality. In both the cases I have raised, neither individual had a blemish on his record. They had not been called in for a verbal warning, let alone a written warning, but both went straight on to suspension, on the basis that they would subsequently be dismissed. That shows a lack of proportionality. It also shows poor management, in that if those people were so guilty, why were they not hauled before somebody previously?

Those are grave issues. I will raise them in much more detail before the Children, Schools and Families Committee, which I congratulate on trying to address them. For too long the issue has, unfortunately, been swept under the carpet. Other heads have been suspended for other reasons. Sadly, such events are not unusual. Something is wrong and something needs to be done about it.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 4:22 pm, 2nd April 2009

I am pleased to follow Mr. Drew. He spoke with great passion about a constituency case. Many of us have had similar cases to deal with.

I want to raise four things, but almost in single sentences. First, let me highlight to the Deputy Leader of the House the ongoing crisis facing local newspapers. In my area, the Manchester Evening News—or the Guardian Media Group, which is the umbrella company—is closing the offices of all its weekly newspapers, with 150 people being made redundant, some 78 of whom are journalists. That is very serious. How will people learn about what is happening in their local courts or, for that matter, what is going on with their local authority, local sports clubs or local charities? There will be a deficit of democracy and information. The Government should pay heed to that.

Secondly, I want to highlight the plight of savers. The issue was raised by someone who came to me and said, "I've got £100,000 invested with a bank in a high interest savings account and I'm getting a 0.1 per cent. return on that money. I asked the bank how much it would loan that money out for, either to a secure private individual by way of a loan or to a business, and it said 9 per cent. plus." That bank is therefore making a substantial profit on any secure loan that it makes. The Government must take into account the position of those who have been responsible and saved—I refer in particular to the elderly and the retired, who rely on investments from their savings to provide a decent quality of life—rather than just bailing out the banks, which continue to pay substantial salaries and, yes, sadly, even bonuses.

I should also like to highlight the plight facing the Cheshire youth choir. At the weekend, I was privileged to hear it twice: once as part of a concert put on by the Macclesfield male voice choir, with which it shared the concert, and again on Sunday, when I attended the magnificent thanksgiving service in Chester cathedral to mark the 120 years of Cheshire county council. At midnight on my birthday, which was on Tuesday, the council ceased to exist, as did the six borough and district councils in Cheshire.

The Cheshire youth choir made a fantastic contribution to that service, under the inspired leadership and direction of Dr. Shirley Court. It is truly inspirational, it is magnificent, it is fabulous! I cannot find sufficient words to describe my admiration for that choir, and it is successful because of Dr. Shirley Court. Under the restructuring of local government in Cheshire, there is no guarantee that resources will continue to be made available to the choir beyond July. Will the Government tell the new authorities—Cheshire East and Cheshire West—that the choir must continue as a choir for the whole of Cheshire under the leadership of someone who is respected internationally, nationally and locally. She is unique, and if Cheshire loses her, I can only say that those who are responsible are fools.

Finally, I want to refer to the point that I raised with the Leader of the House earlier today on the Government's proposal that Members' contributions to their parliamentary pension should increase from 10 per cent to 11.9 per cent. That increase would be backdated to 1 April. I said that the problem with the fund is not that it has to pay out too much money to Members—there is inevitably going to be a longevity element involved—but that the Treasury has taken a contributions holiday for 14 years. The Treasury is the employer of Members of Parliament in respect of their pension contributions, but it has not been a responsible employer. Will the Deputy Leader of the House acknowledge that the Treasury has not paid its full contribution, and that that is the real problem? If Members were asked to pay another £60 a month, when their modest 2.33 per cent. increase would give them only an extra £68 a month from 1 April, it would place many of them under increased pressure. It would also be unfair, particularly when this is not their problem but a problem caused by the Treasury not meeting its commitment.

I hope that everyone has a happy Easter.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 4:28 pm, 2nd April 2009

Those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to discover that things can go badly wrong if they do not do so. The G20 summit is taking place today, and we are going to have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a few minutes' time. One issue that I can encapsulate quickly today—although it needs to be developed—is the question of democracy. I believe that we are now being presented with the question of what Parliament is for, not only by the events of the G20 and the international context but also domestically. We must also discuss what we should do to reform our parliamentary system, given all the press engagement in these matters at the moment. The whole question of values is being inverted and overturned, in regard to what people expect of us, not merely as Members of Parliament but as people. Moral values have been abandoned to a great extent.

To return to my point about learning lessons from history, it is important to remember those who created our modern democracy in the 19th century. I am studying that subject closely at the moment, because we have to learn lessons from the way in which they created this democracy and remember them when we apply them in our own time. Our democracy is dwindling away and, in my belief, the House of Commons is becoming increasingly less important in the public mind and less relevant when the needs of the people we serve are growing ever greater.

We also have to consider issues connected with local newspapers, which my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton mentioned a few moments ago. It was the relief, introduced by John Bright and others, on the tax on knowledge that created local newspapers. I think that today's protesters depend on freedom of speech, but I think the question of whether that can be exercised with responsibility is another issue.

Questions relating to the BBC and the manner in which it exercises its charter are relevant, as are questions about the manner in which Select Committees are appointed and the extent to which they are or should be elected. Taking evidence on oath is another aspect. There are many questions that we need to look at. Where is the power? That is a question that we have to ask ourselves, but I shall leave that to another occasion.

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"Those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to discover that things can go badly wrong if they do not do so"

Well said!

Submitted by barbara richards

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 4:31 pm, 2nd April 2009

I start by thanking everyone who has participated in today's debate. I am mindful of the time constraints, as we are due to hear a very important statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer at 5 o'clock.

We heard a passionate contribution from David Wright to start off with. He spoke of the need for vibrant shopping centres, particularly in his constituency, although I am minded to say that it is an issue with which we can all sympathise, particularly in view of the challenges posed for retail outlets given that so many purchases are made on the internet. That point was echoed by my hon. Friend Mr. Randall. Having lived in his constituency, although it was when I was at Brunel university and he was not the MP then, I can confirm that he has an excellent retail outlet in the form of Randalls—a store that I would certainly recommend to anyone visiting Uxbridge.

Returning to the speech of the hon. Member for Telford, I fully appreciate his frustration with the numerous reviews he spoke of in respect of local health services. As he said, there has been a lot of talk, but little achievement. This is not an unfamiliar story: he gets it at his local level; and the rest of the country gets it at the national level, where there are reviews after reviews after reviews. Basically, it means kicking things into the long grass, which is where they often stay—with a further review or yet another one undertaken "as is necessary". The sad thing about it is that it costs millions of pounds, and we, the taxpayers, have to pay for all these reviews, when the money could be much better spent on front-line medical services, transport and so forth.

Sir Robert Smith addressed in his excellent speech the issue of restoring confidence in the banking system. He spoke about the need to improve the flow of liquidity, the need for individuals, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises and corporations generally, to have more funds. Yesterday, I spoke to a businessman who told me about two instances where the banks—and these are tax- funded banks—are not only being difficult about providing lending to companies and individuals, but are actively seeking to take a shareholding in successful companies.

When I asked about normal banking agreements, the reply was that these banks would prefer to take a share of successful organisations because their income would be far greater. I have to say that the individuals concerned were very frightened by the prospect. They are worried that if they say no to the banks, their banking facilities will effectively be terminated. I very much hope that the powers-that-be will look into that, as it is not for banks to put unnecessary pressure on customers in respect of their existing agreements.

Sir Peter Soulsby made a detailed speech about development proposals in his area. He speaks of such matters with some authority, being a past leader of the council. He raised a number of serious issues, some of which related to transport and projected employment numbers.

I have to say, on the basis of personal experience, that whenever a developer comes along and promises a huge number of jobs, I ask to see the details. On one occasion, I found that the number of professionals being employed to carry out the development had been included in the list of people for whom jobs would be created. The impression conveyed to the constituents, with the aim of selling the project, is that x jobs will be created, but x includes the construction workers, professionals and so on who will not be around in the long term. I wish the hon. Gentleman well in his efforts to obtain the satisfactory answers that he seeks.

Having heard a speech from a knight of the realm, Sir Robert Smith, followed by one from another knight of the realm, Sir Peter Soulsby, I suspected that a trend was developing, but I was reassured that the common man had a voice in the Chamber when we then heard a contribution from my hon. Friend Mr. Wilson. I hope that, by making that observation, I have not damaged any prospects of ennoblement that he may have.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

As I say, I hope that I have not damaged my hon. Friend's prospects.

My hon. Friend made a diligent and conscientious speech, as he always does when trying to serve his constituents to the best of his ability. He demonstrated the great depth of his knowledge of education matters when he spoke about the Learning and Skills Council. I am sure that the House was concerned to learn of the appalling conduct of Reading borough council. Of equal concern is the fact that my hon. Friend is having difficulty in engaging in a conversation with Vodafone, which I gather from what he has said is the way forward.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I believe that my hon. Friend has tried that, and has not received a reply. I wish him well in his attempts to make progress on the important issue that he raised. He also raised the crucial issue—especially crucial in the present economic climate—of irresponsible lending. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House took account of his comments, particularly those concerning his constituent Trevor Howard, and that the message will be passed on to the relevant people.

Mr. Allen made a thoughtful and powerful speech about the Iraq war. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate all our brave men and women who are serving in overseas theatres, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in other posts that may receive less publicity. Having visited some of our troops in Afghanistan last November, I can verify that they are among the finest young men and women we have in this country. The hon. Gentleman raised a number of other important issues, and I hope that the answers to his questions will be forthcoming.

I am pleased to say that the long-awaited inquiry for which Conservative Members have been calling for such a long time will now finally happen, although I think it regrettable that it is to be held in private. I hope that many of the questions asked in the House today, as well others asked by many other eminent people, will receive satisfactory answers from that inquiry.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the need for the House itself to receive legal advice. I do not know whether he was present during business questions this morning, when the Leader of the House said that the Attorney-General's advice on the issue of privilege with respect to my hon. Friend Damian Green would be placed in the Library. Although that is not what was meant by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, it strikes me as an advance in the right area for legal advice to be available for all Members to view, rather than just the privileged few on the governing side.

My hon. Friend Mr. Amess, a veteran of these Adjournment debates, made a typically varied speech. I think that we all agree with his concerns about childhood obesity, and I also hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will pass on his suggestions as to how to convert cooking oil into carbon-neutral electricity. My hon. Friend also raised the important matter of allergies, and I entirely agree that that is an increasing issue for the national health service and primary care trusts. I echo his sentiment that treatment for allergies is patchy. Given that it is a serious issue and that it is taking lives, I very much hope that the powers-that-be will look into it. May I also join him in congratulating Southend council? I hope the people he mentioned will take note, as will the other colleagues who help run the council.

Mr. Joyce made a very fulsome speech, although I have to say that there were conflicting instructions from those on his Front Bench: on the one hand, it appeared that the Deputy Leader of the House was being critical at one point, but I shall give him some support by saying that I think he was acknowledging the point that was being made, rather than groaning with discomfort. I just say that in the interests of cross-party support.

The hon. Member for Falkirk raised the matter of a constituent of his and the need for the Treasury to look at the qualifications for child benefit in some circumstances, and all the Members who were present will very much look forward to hearing the outcome of that, because he gave a detailed explanation of the difficulty his constituent was experiencing. He also spoke of the difficulty in getting information from some civil servants in Scotland. I, for one, certainly have much sympathy with his point about the difficulty in getting information from civil servants, Ministers and the like, given that Opposition Members regularly find that we are up against a stone wall in that regard and that very little, if any, information is forthcoming from the Government.

Shona McIsaac also raised that issue. There were conflicting comments from those on her Front Bench on that. Her Whip, the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household, Mr. Spellar, expressed disapproval of her, and not, I suspect, simply because she was going on a bit, but because he would have preferred her not to criticise the Government on that particular issue.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman may say that, but I am minded to say that after a drink or two he might confide in honesty, and say that he was also concerned that one of his own troops was having a go at the Government.

Sarah Teather raised the very topical issue of climate change and the environment. That is clearly a major topic for all of us. I must also give her credit for making a very caring and compassionate speech. She referred to the film, "The Age of Stupid". I am unsure whether she is aware that the star of that film, a gentleman by the name of Pete Postlethwaite, has an award and has said that he will consider returning it if the relevant decisions are not taken at the G20 summit. Clearly, therefore, the statement we will shortly hear from the Chancellor is not only important in its own right and will have an impact on what we have to say, but it will influence whether he decides to return the award, which was given to him by Her Majesty.

No one will have failed to take note of the hon. Lady's comments about her visit to Nigeria; she spoke of sewage-infested water and the horrific diseases that can flow from that, as well as the lack of water and food supply generally in Africa.

It is a sobering thought that, as she mentioned, in the 21st century there are some 30 countries in which food riots have occurred. Unless we do something drastic to address poverty, migration and all its consequences will have a huge impact. This is an enormously important subject that the whole House will recognise needs to be dealt with. The G20 summit conclusions are following shortly, and perhaps there will be some hints as to the way forward on food poverty.

I compliment Mr. Drew, who intervened on the hon. Member for Brent, East to speak about religious tension and intolerance. We all recognise that the world has enough problems in trying to feed, and provide water and shelter for, everybody. I am sorry to say—I think the House will agree with me—that there is increasing incidence of religious intolerance in the country that the hon. Gentleman spoke of, Nigeria, and worldwide. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West spoke of the increasing incidence of anti-Semitism. That is a serious issue and we must not address it simply in terms of what is happening overseas; we must look at the possibility of, and real existence of, intolerance of minority communities in our own country.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes spoke today, as she regularly does in these Adjournment debates; she is a very familiar face. I congratulate her on her wedding anniversary today and wish her a very happy birthday for tomorrow. I hope that, in arranging her constituency engagements for Saturday and Sunday, it has been borne in mind that she has two celebrations in the preceding 48 hours. She raised the issue of the need to reduce the toll charge on the Humber bridge. She was right to point out the economic consequences of the decision that will eventually be forthcoming from the inspector's report, which is awaited with considerable expectation.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of compensation for trawlermen and cited some harrowing instances of people who, quite innocently, seem not to have put in their applications. I hope that the small print in the agreements will allow for those left out of the scheme to be considered as well. She also gave a wonderful tourism promotion for her constituency, as she always does. It was good that she acknowledged my hon. Friend Angela Browning, who is not here today, in that promotion. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be grateful that, despite her not being here, her constituents nevertheless got a tourism plug.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge gave a fine speech. I am sure that his constituents will want me to note what an excellent and hard-working constituency Member of Parliament he is. I was heartened to hear that his mother is well, or was well when he began his comments; we all felt for her at the last such Adjournment debate. However, I am very sorry to learn that she is back in hospital with an ankle injury. On behalf of the whole House, I ask him to convey our thoughts to her and wish her a speedy recovery. We are all pleased that the quality of food is a lot better than it was last time round.

My hon. Friend raised a very good point about disabled people and the facilities they have access to—and, as was made clear, often do not have access to. The inconsistency of service for this large sector of our community—some 10 million people—needs to be addressed. Madam Deputy Speaker, you will be aware that the Speaker's Conference is examining ways of ensuring greater representation for disabled people in this House, but we parliamentarians need to ensure that outside this place we give full recognition to the very serious concerns and needs of those 10 million people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge mentioned the horrific practice of organ trafficking. I am trying to host an event in the House on tackling organ trafficking—I am just waiting for the proper date to be found—and I hope that he will be able to take part in it. He also mentioned photography, on which he made an excellent speech in Westminster Hall yesterday—it has received widespread publicity and I thank him for it—and again he made some valid points. May I say, on behalf of the whole House, that we very much look forward to seeing his return to the House fully fit after making his contribution for the Lords and Commons rugby team? He spoke of a potential by-election, but I am sure that the House would miss his wit, charm and general brilliance, as well as his generous contribution to those of us who seek to be slipped in the Whips Office.

Mr. Drew made a passionate speech, and I believe that the House will agree with the points that he raised on sympathy for those in fuel poverty and on energy efficiency. He talked of the plethora of institutions and initiatives, and the confusion that they often involve, and we note those two points. Two other fine contributions were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and for Stone (Mr. Cash). They kept their comments brief and I shall keep my comments about their contributions brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish you and the House a very happy recess.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 4:52 pm, 2nd April 2009

It is good to see so many Members gathering in the Chamber to hear the culmination of this debate, which has been a great one—just two lawyers have spoken. That reminds me of the fact that in 1697 Tsar Peter the Great visited these Houses of Parliament. When he walked through Westminster Hall he was perplexed to see so many lawyers and he said that he thought that in his dominion there were only two and that when he got back home he was probably going to execute one of them. It has been great not to hear from too many lawyers today and excellent to hear from 15 former councillors. Those involved have represented Islington, Leicester, Reading, Redbridge, Wandsworth, Powys, Wrekin, Oakengates, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hackney, Stevenage, Stroud, Gloucestershire, Stonehouse and Warwickshire. [Interruption.] And Aberdeen.

I should apologise for suggesting in the equivalent debate at Christmas that these debates when we all gather together were rather like episodes of "'Allo 'Allo!" —the same characters rehearsing the same lines—because today's debate has been more like an episode of "The Vicar of Dibley". My hon. Friend Mr. Allen, who is not in his place, is the Councillor David Horton; in the same way as the character really loves the vicar of Dibley but tries to pretend otherwise, my hon. Friend really loves the Labour Government, despite the fact that in his speech this afternoon he was trying to pretend that he does not. My hon. Friend Shona McIsaac referred to how much she loves food, and she is the Letitia Cropley—perhaps I am being a little unfair, because my hon. Friend's father was a naval chef, so I am sure she would not be known as the poisoner of the village.

We heard from Mr. Amess, who is, as I am sure all hon. Members would agree, Frank Pickle—the very dapper member of the parish council who manages to move from the inconsequential subject to the consequential one without anybody noticing a change in his tone of voice. Frank Pickle could bore people on end with the subjects of how exciting it was when the pub completely and utterly ran out of crisps or the milkman arrived 47 minutes late. We have also heard from Sarah Teather, who must be the Alice Tinker of the House; she never quite gets the joke—I see that she is not getting it at the moment either. She has been sitting there pouting, and she is pouting again now. She rather reminds me of when all the young girls in Dickens's "Dombey and Son" are taught how to pout by saying quietly to themselves the words, "Prunes, prism, poultry and potatoes." The hon. Lady must have been a little confused today because we have had both Mr. Randall and my right hon. Friend Mr. Spellar in the Chamber at the same time, and she once confused them when my right hon. Friend came canvassing at her door. The hon. Member for Uxbridge—or perhaps I mean my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley—is of course Jim Trott, the "No, no, no, no...yes" character in "The Vicar of Dibley". He certainly looks like him. More importantly, he looks rather like the older employee of the Grace brothers, Mr. Grainger.

We had important contributions to the debate this afternoon from many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend David Wright, who referred to his hopes for a post bank, and early-day motion 1082. We are keen for the Post Office to do more and put more banking products in the reach of everyone, to promote greater financial inclusion. We are also keen on the idea of introducing street drinking bans, and the designated public places orders system that we have introduced has enabled many local authorities to restrict antisocial behaviour in local areas, with more than 700 such orders having been made.

Sir Robert Smith raised the issue of those who have savings and the assumed income of 10 per cent. I am sure that that issue is something that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who is now in his place, will consider. The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of sheep tagging, and I am sure that he is aware that DEFRA and the industry are concerned to ensure that disproportionate costs are not introduced.

My hon. Friend Sir Peter Soulsby raised the important issue of the proposed eco-town in his constituency, and I am sure that the Co-operative Society will have been listening. Mr. Wilson, who still has four YouTube Christmas messages on his website—that is the wrong religious festival—raised the issue of irresponsible lending. It is a shame that he was not able to read the document "Freeing Britain to Compete", produced by his party, which stated:

"In financial services, we should allow people to buy and sell products that are not regulated if they have signed to do so" and

"it is the lending institutions rather than the client taking the risk."

It is the hon. Gentleman's party that is opposed to regulation, not this party.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North raised important issues about our troops and paid tribute to our armed forces, and I am sure that all hon. Members share those sentiments. Our concern is to ensure that at all times our troops have the support that they need, both moral support from this House and financial support.

The hon. Member for Southend, West raised a series of issues and I shall write to him and ensure that they are all taken up with the relevant bodies. My hon. Friend Mr. Joyce raised issues relating to child benefit and how it applies in Scotland, and I shall write to him as well.

I am afraid that I disagreed with the hon. Member for Brent, East on many of the issues that she raised, although I am sure that all hon. Members agree that the problem that the poorest will suffer most from climate change is one that we need to address. We are proud that we are the first Government in the world to introduce binding legislation to tackle climate change.

We wish my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes well for her wedding anniversary and her birthday. She raised the issue of the Humber bridge and I shall ensure that that is taken up. On the issue of compensation for trawlermen, we hope that the new scheme will be ready before the summer recess.

Many other Members made important contributions, not least the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and for Stone (Mr. Cash), my hon. Friend Mr. Drew and—my personal favourite—the hon. Member for Uxbridge. I am sure that the Chancellor will be glad to hear that the latter thinks it behoves us to go out and spend.

I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I send good wishes for Easter to all those who serve us in this House—the Clerks, the Doorkeepers, those who provide food, those who occasionally serve us with a glass or two of wine or beer, the police and all the security services. I wish you in particular, Madam Deputy Speaker, a very happy Easter.

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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