Easter Adjournment

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 2nd April 2009.

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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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