I shall be as brief as I can. It would be an understatement to say that there has been a great deal of interest in the national media and, in particular, in newspapers in recent weeks. Indeed, that interest continues today. Whatever we think, a free and thriving press is undoubtedly important to us all. In any vibrant democracy there are two important ingredients—the first is competitive politics. We need parties competing with each other, and of course the battle of ideas. Secondly, we need diverse, challenging and inquisitive media, which legitimately hold to account politicians and others in positions of power and responsibility. That media should be diverse, with a variety of radio stations, newspapers, television channels and the new media.
We often underestimate the importance of the media at the local level. That is the subject of my short speech today. Strong local media are equally important to hold people to account, whether they are politicians or others in local communities or regions who have positions of influence and power. In my area I am fortunate to have a diverse range of media. We have a daily newspaper, a weekly newspaper, two radio stations and two TV channels, all covering local issues in and around the Carlisle area, north Cumbria and south-west Scotland. However, if we scratch beneath the surface of those media, we discover that all is not necessarily as good as we would hope.
The papers are struggling because the recession has affected advertising and the income that that generates for them. The purchase of papers has fallen in recent years, which is worrying for the sustainability of the local newspaper. One of the TV channels is, in effect, a north-east channel and only occasionally covers Cumbria. The second channel has been greatly reduced. It was once known as Border TV. Now it is, to a certain extent, an outpost of the north-east. As for radio, we have CFM, which functions well on limited resources. The real strength is in Radio Cumbria, but that is under potential threat from BBC cuts. I shall concentrate on that.
We cannot underestimate the importance of Radio Cumbria and its contribution to local community. Back in 2001 we had the foot and mouth crisis, and in 2005 the Carlisle floods. In many respects it was the only source of information during that period. Then in 2009 there were the west Cumbrian floods. More recently Radio Cumbria provided information and reassurance to many people when Derrick Bird was murdering people in west Cumbria. Radio Cumbria is also a source of local news, information about community events, coverage of the local football team and coverage of politics. It is one of the most listened-to radio stations in the country.
I support other radio stations up and down the country, as I believe that local radio is extremely important for local communities. The danger is that with the proposed cuts by the BBC, that will be a much diminished service. I therefore call upon the Minister to put as much pressure as he can on the BBC to ensure that local radio is taken care of and is supported properly. I would rather see local radio survive than channels such as BBC 4. There is enough national coverage already. What we need is more local support.
According to a European comparative study of children’s exposure to accidents conducted in 2005, the fatality rate for child cyclists in the most vulnerable group—10 to 14-year-olds—was found to be around five times worse in the UK than in the Netherlands and Sweden. Every year about 50 cyclists are killed in collisions with cars. Many more are badly injured.
For health and environmental reasons, there is a consensus across the House and the country that we need to encourage more people, including children, to take up cycling. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to consider how we can improve the cyclist safety record in this country, hopefully bringing it into line with other European countries. A good starting point is to look at the difference between our country and countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands. I am sure there are several differences, but one thing stands out. Here in the UK, if a cyclist or pedestrian is injured or killed in an accident with a motor vehicle, it is for the victim or the victim’s family to prove that the driver of the motor vehicle was negligent. In Europe, we share that approach only with Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.
In every other European country, stricter liability applies for insurance purposes. Under stricter liability, which reverses the burden-of-proof balance, it is for the driver to prove that the cyclist or pedestrian was negligent and therefore caused or contributed to the accident. As Lord Denning said, as long ago as 1982:
“There should be liability without proof of fault. To require an injured person to prove fault results in the gravest injustice to many innocent persons who have not the wherewithal to prove it.”
I believe that adopting stricter liability in this country for road accidents would be an important step forward for justice and, more importantly, would save considerable numbers of vulnerable people from injury and even death.
A report produced for the Department for Transport in 2004, “Children’s traffic safety: international lessons for the UK”, attributed at least some of the differences in the safety record here, as compared with other European countries, to the law of stricter liability in those countries. The evidence points to the fact that stricter liability has the psychological effect of making drivers more aware of the vulnerability of children, cyclists and pedestrians. That is what the 2004 study concluded and it is also the conclusion of many cyclists who have experience of cycling in this country and on the continent. My constituent, David Naylor of the Swansea Wheelwrights cycling group, who first raised this issue with me, is one such person. He wrote informing me that he has toured in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. He went on to say:
“This has made me aware of how much safer one is over there. Motorists treat cyclists and pedestrians with respect. The better infrastructure helps but my judgement is that the existence of stricter liability is more important”.
When I took that up with the Department for Transport earlier this year, the Minister replied: “Even if there were some benefit for road safety such benefit would need to be weighed against the disbenefit which might result from overturning the well established and effective law that applies in civil liability.” Personally, I think that road safety should trump legal tradition every time.
We would not be revolutionising British law if we applied stricter liability in these cases because it is already part of our civil law on workplace health and safety incidents and on product liability. It is even in the field of motor insurance already, as it applies to car passengers. Extending it to protect cyclists and pedestrians makes sense and I urge the Government to give serious consideration to making the necessary changes even if the insurance industry does not happen to like the idea.
I would like to make the case for including body image classes in schools. We already recognise the need for our schools to inform young people about a wide range of issues such as the dangers of drugs and alcohol misuse, how to have a healthy lifestyle, and basic financial literacy in relation to mortgages, interest rates and debt. I believe that these personal, social and health education classes should now include body image.
We live in a looks-obsessed society and huge commercial and social pressure is placed on young people to aspire to unachievable body “ideals”—so much so that half of young women aged between 16 and 21 say that they would consider cosmetic surgery to change the way they look, and half of young men feel bad about their body after reading men’s magazines. Eating disorders now affect 1.6 million people in this country. Most worryingly perhaps, the prevalence of eating disorders doubled between 1995 and 2005. Even when the situation is not as serious as a full-blown eating disorder, negative body image can have a real impact on educational achievement. A study in 2005 by Lovegrove and Rumsey found that 31% of teenagers—almost a third—say they do not engage in classroom debate for fear of drawing attention to their appearance and that one in five pupils reported staying away from school on days when they lacked confidence in their appearance.
Channel 4’s “How to Look Good Naked” is a fabulous example of what the media can do to play a positive role in developing body confidence. Its presenter, Gok Wan, has also championed the cause of body image classes in schools. In May, he brought a massive body confidence lesson to Parliament. There are lots of great examples up and down the country. Y Touring, the theatre arm of YMCA, has taken its discussion-provoking play “Beautiful” into schools, and the campaign group Body Gossip has developed gossip school, in which individuals who have recovered from eating disorders go into schools and lead discussions about body confidence. In the US, the body project, which got young people to critique the “thin ideal” in essays and role plays, was shown to reduce the risk of participants’ developing eating disorders by 61%.
The university of the West of England’s centre for appearance research will soon publish its evaluation of different types of body image lessons. It suggests that the technique of cognitive dissonance—putting young people in a position in which they challenge the stereotypical, ideal body themselves—is the most successful in changing attitudes, and can reduce body dissatisfaction and the likelihood of developing eating disorders.
What should the Government do? First, the issue needs to be examined in the context of the forthcoming review of personal, social and health education, and
I hope that the Government will conclude that body image should be taught in all schools, just like education on drug abuse and safer sex. Secondly, the Government should work with various partners to develop a range of resources that teachers can use for those lessons. My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities has entered into discussions with Media Smart to develop a media resilience and body image toolkit that can be offered to schools. It is a great start, and we should undertake more initiatives like that.
Thirdly, we need to encourage teachers and schools to use those resources by sharing best practice at education conferences, in teacher training colleges and by using the media to highlight successes. Setting time aside in the curriculum to develop teenagers’ body confidence makes sense for the sake of both the academic performance and the long-term health and well-being of our young people.
Defence is the first and most important duty of Government, and it demands particular responsibility when, as now, we face the need for significant reforms. If we do have to cut, we must do so with care. Instead, the Government are making changes that will greatly affect our capabilities and our role in the world without a proper assessment of our needs, without proper consultation, and without proper scrutiny in Parliament. It is unacceptable that the Secretary of State should have appeared in the House yesterday to announce major changes across four critical policy areas with less than an hour for the House to debate them. The British public, and our armed forces, deserve better.
The problems facing our armed forces have grown under successive Governments. Labour’s record included reducing the number of civil servants in the MOD by more than a third and by making reforms to the structure of the armed forces after we came to office. We recognised the need for further reform, which is why we commissioned the Gray report on defence acquisition. We could have done more, and we must take our share of responsibility, but we should not stand by and watch when the coalition Government get it wrong.
I accept that there are genuine challenges facing the Secretary of State, but it is increasingly clear that the strategic defence and security review was a rushed and compromised process, driven by a Treasury agenda and a Treasury timetable. That is not just my view but that of the Defence Secretary himself, who said that
It is no wonder, that nine months on, the incoherence of the review has been exposed.
It is always difficult to second-guess military decisions in opposition. However, is the Prime Minister’s judgment not called into question, given that he argued that there are few circumstances in the short term in which the ability to deploy airpower from the sea is essential? Libya undermined that assertion after just five months, and it could be 2020 before we have full carrier capability again. The Royal Navy as a whole has been cut to the bone, even though it is important to the flexibility and reach set out by the national security strategy. At the same time, our island nation is eliminating our maritime patrol aircraft. We now know that there are more cuts to the Army to come. In reality, as Chatham House put it,
“the cuts are actually far greater than those that were imposed by any previous UK defence review.”
Finally, the SDSR fails to deal with the underlying problems in the way the military is structured and run. That is why more than two thirds of defence experts described it as a missed opportunity. It put in place a number of piecemeal reviews that will not deliver the structural and coherent changes needed to address the organisational problems at the Ministry of Defence. I do not believe that that is good enough, so once again I ask that the Prime Minister do the right thing for our armed forces and our country and order a new chapter to this outdated and inadequate review.
May I first put on the record my disgust at the fact that this House, having summoned someone to appear before a Committee, has failed to protect them, and that they have been assaulted? Regardless of the politics and the accusations, we have a responsibility to look after them, and we failed.
Over the past year I have spent a long time talking about educational attainment, particularly the need to ensure that young people in my community speak English. If they are to reach their maximum potential and take advantage of all the opportunities life brings them, we must encourage them to speak English and reach the highest possible educational attainment. I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Education to go further than the response he has given so far and identify interventions that he will put in place to hold parents to their responsibility to ensure that their children reach their maximum potential. I would like him to respond in writing on how we will do that.
When we return after the recess, I hope that the Localism Bill will go through. There is a long-outstanding call in Keighley for independence, not from the rest of the world, but from Bradford council, and I hope that a referendum conducted under the Localism Bill will offer that opportunity. There is a strong call from the community I represent to break away from Bradford and ensure that they get value for money and local representation. I would like the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to outline clearly when such a referendum can be held and give an associated time line so that we can start to talk to the public about this issue.
I raised during Prime Minister’s questions the VAT that the Sue Ryder Manorlands hospice has to pay and whether we should think about an exemption. There has been a long debate with the Treasury on how this problem could be solved. This is Government, and we need to have a can-do approach and to find a solution. I ask the Chancellor to write to me on the debate that has gone on so far, outlining clearly what is holding this back and how we can find a solution to the issue. I know that there is support from both sides of the House on the matter.
While many people have been damning the big society, the members of the Worth Valley young farmers club in my constituency have been rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it, with 80 young people aged 10 to
26 out there in the parks, working for local groups and really making a difference. I want to celebrate that, as we are extremely proud of what they have done. Lots of people put their hands out and ask for something, but these young people are really making a contribution. I say well done to the leadership of the club, and the young farmers themselves have our support and are proud ambassadors for our town.
Worth Valley railway, Ilkley moor, the Brontë parsonage and the landscape of “Wuthering Heights” are great tourist attractions in my town. I would like to invite the Minister responsible for tourism to come up and talk with businesses in my constituency and listen to them about how we can make their business work better.
There is a large Kashmiri population in Keighley, and one of the big issues for them is independence and self-determination for Kashmir. My final point is to ask the Foreign Secretary to reiterate the Government’s position on self-determination and to write to me to let me know what we have done over the past year in government to address the issue.
In 2010 more than 234,000 people were claiming employment support allowance for a mental or behavioural disorder, which is 40% of the total and by far the biggest single group. The figures are similar for other sickness benefits. The Department for Work and Pensions is now in the process of migrating all sickness benefit claimants to employment support allowance, which includes reassessing their fitness to work through a work capacity assessment, but there are huge doubts about the fitness of this work capacity assessment for people with mental or behavioural disorders. Over 40% of people who lost their benefit won again at appeal—that is, over 20,000 in 16 months, which is far more than for any other refused benefit. After waiting for many months they had their benefits reinstated, but they should not have had to suffer that wait. This number does not include the people who had a decision was reversed at an earlier stage or who gave up their struggle to make a claim.
This is a benefit claim system that is not fit for purpose. I have heard numerous examples of people with very serious and apparent mental illness having been found to be “fit for work” because they do not happen to meet the descriptors used as part of the work capability assessment. I do not need to remind the House that many of these people are highly vulnerable. The heads of a number of leading mental health charities and the Royal College of Psychiatrists wrote to The Guardian following a poll which showed that over half of those surveyed reported suicidal thoughts as a result of the prospect of a work capability assessment, while 95% said that they did not think they would be believed at their assessment.
In recognition of this failure of the work capability assessment procedure for people with a mental illness, the Government are enacting Professor Harrington's recommendation for mental health “champions” in every assessment centre. Professor Harrington is also, at the request of the Government, working with leading mental health charities to review the mental, intellectual and cognitive descriptors used in the work capability assessment. Despite this, not all assessment centres yet have an assigned mental function champion, and where they do, they have not had the time to bed in and change practice in their centres.
The mental, intellectual and cognitive descriptors are recognised by the Government to be in need of review. In the meantime, tens of thousands of vulnerable people are being forced to undergo an assessment procedure that the Government acknowledge is failing them. I call on the Government to suspend all reassessments of those with a mental or behavioural illness until such time as Professor Harrington’s recommendations are fully implemented. The descriptors of mental, intellectual and cognitive impairment and the mental function champions need time to change working practices within the Department for Work and Pensions. We cannot allow hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people to undergo a process that we know to be flawed, risks suicide, causes huge distress, and is denying an unacceptably high proportion of benefits to those who are, in fact, entitled to them.
Returning officers play a very important role in our democracy, notwithstanding some of the difficulties that we saw in 2010. They need the statutory protection of their appointment to make sure that they are not influenced by council groups or Members of Parliament at election time. The costs that they incur in running elections are fully justified, but it is my strong contention that the fees that they are paid personally for their services are not justified, and cannot be justified at this time, and that the continued payment of these massive fees to returning officers is wrong and must be stopped. At a time when there are cuts in mobile libraries, bus subsidies and some leisure services, we continue to pay these enormous fees.
Let me give some examples from seven different authorities. In Liverpool, the returning officer was entitled to £14,000 on top of a salary of £217,000. In Islington, there was an entitlement of £13,800 and the returning officer had a salary of £210,000. In Newcastle city, there was an entitlement of £9,880 on top of a salary of £150,000. In Manchester, there was an entitlement of £19,251 on top of a salary of £199,000. In Leeds, there was an entitlement of £27,654 on top of a £176,000 salary. In Bedford borough, there was an entitlement of £18,241 on top of a £170,000 salary. Lastly and most enormously, in Glasgow city there was an entitlement to a £44,000 fee on top of a salary of £170,000. How can we justify such payments? Those sums are many times the amount earned by many of my constituents.
If the Deputy Leader of the House is asked by the Leader of the House, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Prime Minister to do an extra job, he does not say, “I’ll do it for an extra £5,000 or £6,000.” He gets on and does it, because he is a public servant in a leadership position. Why should we have extra payments for returning officers? In my view, we need urgently to amend the relevant sections of the Representation of the People Act 1983.
These fees are a large, undeserved cherry on top of an already very well-iced cake, and it is time that they went. I look to the Deputy Leader of the House to do something about it.
Upon my re-election, I declared that the big issues for my constituency were investment and jobs. Unemployment in my constituency in June 2011 was 3,082, which is far too high—the 132nd highest in the UK. This Friday, I will attend a meeting with Department for Work and Pensions officials and other MPs where we will analyse in some detail the statistics and trends of what has happened in the last year. However, my constituents are not statistics. They are decent people, neighbours, friends and families who are worried about their future. My constituents want action from the coalition Government and the Scottish Government.
One example is the regeneration of Gartcosh. Starting in 1986, a multi-million pound investment of public money was spent on creating this new industrial park. For far too long, there has been a lot of huffing and puffing from the Scottish Government about planned jobs. This is turning into a national scandal. Massive public investment has not yielded one job. The Scottish Government and all the agencies accountable to them are in the dock. My constituents want answers, and they want them now.
Equally, the communities that I represent do not want jobs at any price. For example, the planned incinerator was rejected by North Lanarkshire council. In my view, Councillor Jim Brooks has skilfully exposed the Scottish Government’s role as pathetic and like that of Pontius Pilate.
I invite the First Minister, for the second time, to visit my constituency so that he can listen to the sincere views expressed by decent, hard-working people who value their health and that of their children.
I will make three quick points that are important to my constituents. I believe that the scandalous domestic energy prices should be subject to a full investigation by the Competition Commission, and I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr Davey to order an inquiry.
Credit unions in my constituency perform an outstanding role in helping people with their finances. Because of their differing values, the banks have bombed and the credit unions have boomed.
Financial constraints led North Lanarkshire council to consider parking charges. I have recorded my view with the chief executive and I met the leadership of the council to explain that our economy is too fragile and our town centres too vulnerable, and that above all else our people are being hammered enough without the imposition of such charges.
I will end on a positive note. Jobs can come from superfast broadband in the future. Pauline and Robert Bell, the energetic owners of Skyline Installations, a burgeoning company based in my constituency, have a legitimate interest in the new infrastructure. On their behalf, I wrote to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and in all fairness, the Secretary of State replied immediately. However, the response from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was less than satisfactory. As a consequence, and consistent with my support for small businesses, particularly in my constituency, I have decided to request a meeting with the appropriate
Minister. As a former Minister in that Department, I do not think that that should be too difficult. My constituents would expect no less.
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, there are a number of points that I wish to raise. Mrs and Mrs Tweed came to see me at my last surgery. Mr Tweed is 52, and he has terminal cancer of the bowel, liver and lymph nodes. He had disability living allowance turned down. It went to appeal, and that was turned down, and in October he was told, “Wait another year”. He has not got a year, so let the Department for Work and Pensions act now.
My constituent Jean Judge’s daughter suffers from severe dyslexia and Asperger’s. She gained a place at University College London as a mature student. I thought that people with special difficulties would be given extra help, but she has not been. I hope the relevant Department will see what it can do to help.
Brian West is one of the 10,000 people who took out an Equitable Life policy before the September 1992 cut-off date. I hope that the Government will look again at trying to help people in that situation.
Southend West, having the most centenarians in the country, depends on its bus services. Again, I ask the Government to see what they can do with subsidies. I have organised a public meeting for
Recently I went with the town clerk of Southend to see local businesses in the town. A number of businesses premises are empty, and we need to reconsider rate relief for empty business properties.
There was an increase of 3% in the number of animals used in experiments last year compared with 2009, and it is particularly worrying that there has been an increase of 10% in speculative research. As I served on the original Bill Committee on the matter, I am very disappointed with those figures. Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will pass that on to the appropriate Department.
The Royal College of Midwives has said that there were 687,000 live births in England in 2010, a rise of 123,000 since 2001. I hope that we will do all we can to recruit more midwives.
Mrs Karen Glassborrow is looking to set up a free school in Southend, and I hope that the appropriate Department will help her.
On Parliament square, it is terribly sad about Brian Haw having died. He was the only person who was given permission to stay there, and I do not understand why on earth we have all those tents in a dangerous roundabout. Let us get on with it and do something about it instead of having the weasel words.
I end with phone hacking. I get on the tube at night listening to endless telephone conversations, which I find very boring indeed. Unfortunately no one has hacked my phone, so I am not entitled to any money.
The Labour party raised this issue, but we had a rotten Labour Government from May 1997 until last year. When we have the inquiry, let us start by having the former Prime Minister Tony Blair give evidence. Secondly we should have the noble Lord who was his deputy for 10 years, and then we should have the last Prime Minister.
I hope everyone has a wonderful summer recess.
I wish to raise two issues. The first involves a group of eight banks, particularly the Royal Bank of Scotland, which has lent money to Davenham Trust Ltd. Davenham intends on Thursday to seek the bankruptcy of my constituent Mr Mark White, having lent one of his businesses £1.7 million. He has repaid approximately £2.2 million, so that is Davenham’s capital plus interest, albeit not the full sum that Davenham is demanding.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to raise concerns about other aspects of the case, but there are four questions that the Treasury should demand the Royal Bank of Scotland answer, in its role as administrator of a £300 million lending facility to Davenham. What knowledge of Davenham’s financial problems has it had; how involved has it been in the effort to keep Davenham afloat; what knowledge has it had of efforts to replace Davenham’s board; and finally, what knowledge and scrutiny of Davenham’s business strategy did it have before granting it extended facilities earlier this year, and does it have now?
Bankruptcy would not only mean my constituent losing his home, a bad enough outcome and traumatic for him and his family, but would put at risk a separate company with 200 employees. At that company’s request I spoke to representatives of the Royal Bank of Scotland on Friday, and they made it clear that it is anything but their normal practice to intervene in such a situation. However, I repeat in the House today the request that I put to them on Friday. The times that we are in are tough enough, and RBS should recognise the opportunity to do the right thing and intervene to try to prevent bankruptcy. I hope the Treasury will encourage it in that view.
The second case that I wish to mention involves my constituent Mr Ashok Chatterjee, who was allowed to submit claims for overnight stays that he made while working at RAF Wyton, first at the Alconbury House hotel and later, after it closed, at the Alconbury motel. The Ministry of Defence for a long time believed that my constituent had falsified claims for the one hotel, long after it closed, when in actual fact he was claiming, as allowed, for a stay at a similarly named but different premises. My constituent’s nightmare began when he was formally interviewed concerning possible abuse of his monthly claims. Over the next two years, he was suspended from duty, then reinstated, and then threatened with criminal charges, which were dropped. He was eventually reprimanded, but at the end of the MOD’s appeal process, when the then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, Sir Kevin Tebbit, revoked the charges against my constituent, he noted significant procedural flaws in how the MOD had handled the case. Sir Kevin also concluded that the personal record of my constituent in his time at the MOD should be restored to one of integrity and honesty.
I feel a deep sympathy for Mr Chatterjee and his family, for whom this has been a terrible experience. He has not been able to put it behind him and move on with his life, suffering considerable stress and illness as a result. I have written to a number of Secretaries of State for Defence, who have not been willing to consider the case for compensation. Mr Chatterjee could not afford to take the financial risk of court action, so I use this debate to ask the MOD to look at all the papers relating to the handling of the original disciplinary charge, in particular, and his appeal, one further time, and consider whether the handling of his case does not in fact merit some out-of-court compensation for the trauma he has gone through, and indeed is still going through.
Before the House rises for the summer recess, there are a number of points that I would like to raise on behalf of my constituents with those on the Treasury Bench, none of which—the House may be pleased to learn—relates to News International.
Many of my constituents write to raise concerns about the Child Support Agency and its manifold failings. It is clear that the CSA is in need of reform, as is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, or CAFCASS, the dispute resolution mechanism. Parents in Tamworth tell me that communications from CAFCASS are often vague, sometimes complex and are almost always sent only in response to parents’ questions and complaints. CAFCASS, in my own experience of dealing with it, seems to be reactive and unhelpful. Yet day in and day out it is dealing with the some of the most upset, angry and worried parents. It seems clear that we need better dispute resolution procedures between parents so that fewer cases go to court and disputes are resolved more quickly. I would be grateful if the relevant Minister would write to me outlining any proposals that they may have for CAFCASS reform.
Additionally in connection with the CSA, my constituent Mr Paul Doxey, a CSA adviser from Tamworth, has raised a number of cases with me in which local parents, paying child support, are unfairly penalised by a quirk in the system and the whim of their variations officer. Parents who own properties and rent them out for income often find that CSA variation officers capitalise the value of those assets when assessing the child support payments they are required to make. The result of that capitalisation, in many cases, is that the parents are required to pay more in support than the rental income they receive from their properties, forcing them to liquidate their assets, which are their main or only form of income. Then, in logic of which Kafka would be proud, the CSA variations officer has to reduce the payment award because the parent’s income has reduced—because of the original capitalisation decision. I would be grateful if a Minister would look into that anomaly with HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions, and let me know of any action that they propose to remedy the situation.
During the next few weeks, scores of landlords of the Southern Cross care home company will be asked to nominate alternative operators who they wish to operate their properties following the failure of Southern Cross to meet its liabilities. In each case, any new operator will need to satisfy local authorities and regulators of their credentials before the transfer of any homes. Haunton Hall care home in my own constituency is one of those homes. I know that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Paul Burstow mentioned this earlier, but I would be grateful if he would write to me outlining any actions or guidance that he proposes to ensure that the transition to new landlords is as orderly and as transparent as possible.
As the fickle finger of time is against me, I shall conclude by reporting to the House that during the recess the magnificent Staffordshire hoard, the cache of beautiful carved gold objects that were buried for more than 1,000 years at Hammerwich on the border of the Tamworth and Lichfield constituencies, will be on show at Lichfield cathedral between
I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this debate, which I consider to be the anchor leg of the relay race that is the Hollobone pattern of pre-Adjournment debates. I shall have to sprint even to recognise all the Members who spoke, let alone to respond to them properly. As usual, however, I shall ensure that those to whom I, inevitably, will not be able to give an adequate answer will receive a substantive reply from colleagues in the relevant Departments.
I normally try to weave a connection between contributions, but that is impossible today—they were all on different subjects and there is no logical connection—so I shall simply deal with them as they came. John Stevenson talked about the importance of local radio stations, local newspapers and regional television. Of course, he is absolutely right. There is a saying that all news is local. It is essential that we maintain the local media that give people a sense of what is happening in their areas, and the issues that are important to them. I know that he has been a strong advocate of Radio Cumbria. He raised the threat that he perceives to its future, but which I do not think the BBC entirely accepts. I know that he will continue to argue for the existence of that station. I think that Members across the House will recognise the importance of BBC local radio.
Martin Caton raised a matter of particular relevance to myself and the Leader of the House, because we are both more often seen on our bicycles than in a ministerial car. Cycling safety is a crucial issue. I know that the Department for Transport has recently launched the strategic framework for road safety, and that it is particularly conscious of the dangers to cyclists as road users. It strongly encourages a wide range of measures that local authorities and others can take to make the roads safer for cyclists. He has raised a particular issue—that of stricter liability—and he knows that the Department does not currently accept that rationale for a change in the law, but I hope that he will accept that the Government are very aware of the dangers to cyclists and the need to provide better protection. He has raised an important point, which I shall make known to my ministerial colleagues.
My hon. Friend Jo Swinson talked about something on which she has been campaigning very effectively—body confidence. It seems to me a basic tenet of education that we help young people to feel positive about who they are. That is essentially what she is saying. She knows about Reg Bailey’s review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. It has reported and the Government have accepted the recommendation that children should always be helped to develop their emotional resilience—the word that she, too, used—in the face of the pressures put on them by what are often impossible images propagated by the press and media. We should support those efforts, because it is important for kids to realise that we do not all have to look the same, and that there is not a “good” sort of person and a “bad” sort of person based on appearance. I hope that she will continue with her effective campaign.
Dan Jarvis has a great deal of experience in defence matters, and I listened carefully to what he said. I have to argue with him, however, when he says that it is a disgrace that my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary came to the House to make a statement yesterday. I think that it would have been a disgrace had he not done so, and not made the House aware of the Ministry of Defence’s current thinking. Let us be clear: the strategic defence and security review was a huge challenge, partly because it had not been done by the previous Government. If they had not failed to do what was necessary, perhaps it would have been easier to bring forward sensible planning for our military. However, the decision to take an adaptable posture with flexible forces was right, and has been proved right by subsequent events.
Kris Hopkins raised an important point about what happened this afternoon. I am not aware of the circumstances, so I make no judgment. I simply say this: it is absolutely and wholly wrong that a witness before a Select Committee should be assaulted in this House. Let us be in no doubt about that. That is a shameful act, and cannot be acceptable in any circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman then raised a number of other issues, which he asked me to pass on to the relevant Secretaries of State, and of course I shall do so. He talked about the teaching of English, and about independence for Keighley from Bradford. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government knows a thing or two about Bradford, and he may have some opinions on that subject. The hon. Gentleman also talked about tax exemption for charities, and Worth Valley young farmers club. I used to be on the executive of a young farmers club in Somerset, and I know the value of the work done by young farmers. The hon. Gentleman also talked about tourism in his constituency, and about Kashmir. He knows that I cannot respond to all those points adequately, but I will ensure that he receives appropriate answers.
Mrs Moon raised work capacity assessments, with which there has been a continuing problem—I remember raising it under the previous Government—and the inability to deal with mental health issues effectively. She knows about Professor Harrington’s review, because she talked about it. That review is an important step forward on the part of this Government.
Andrew Selous talked about returning officers. He engendered great sympathy from me—as a Minister without salary in this Government—when he talked about having additional responsibilities without any additional salary. He will be aware that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 allows the Electoral Commission to withhold all or part of the fee available to counting officers. The Government are considering whether that should apply to returning officers as well. However, on the other hand, returning officers have considerable responsibilities and they have them—to coin a phrase—all the year round, not just at elections.
Mr Clarke talked about a number of issues in his constituency. Many of them are devolved issues, as he understands, and are the responsibility of the Scottish Government. However, he made a specific request for a meeting with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I will pass that request on, and hopefully that can be done.
Mr Amess, as always, put in a wonderful performance, in which he managed to include more subjects than I can possibly respond to: constituents with a number of problems, buses—I am afraid that I cannot guarantee that I will attend his public meeting—rate relief for empty properties, animal testing, hepatitis C, midwives, free schools, Parliament square and phone hacking. He knows—because he has enough experience to know—that I will ensure that he receives replies to his queries from the relevant Departments.
Mr Thomas raised some important points about Davenham Trust Ltd. I do not know the answers to those, but I shall pass them to the Treasury to reply to him directly. He also raised an important issue—on which it sounds as if he has been fighting on behalf of his constituent Mr Chatterjee for some years—concerning the Ministry of Defence. Again, I will pass that on to the MOD.
Last but not least, Christopher Pincher raised the CSA and CAFCASS. I take careful note of what he said. As for the particular circumstances involving the CSA to which he referred, I will read out the note that I have here: “In short, the situation described can arise only where the income a non-resident parent derives from a property—which must be a second property and not their home—is not declared as part of the non-resident parent’s net income, and if the parent with care of the child believes the non-resident parent has undeclared income and asks the agency to include any such income in the maintenance liability.” I have no idea whether that satisfactorily answers the hon. Gentleman’s point, but if it does not, I will ensure that he receives a more satisfactory response in due course.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Staffordshire hoard. In return, I shall ask him to come and see the Frome hoard, found in my own village, which is on display in Taunton castle.
Mr Speaker, may I wish you and your colleagues, and all Members of the House, a very positive and valuable recess? I also thank all the Officers of the House for all the hard work that they do on our behalf.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the rather unusual circumstances of the debate tomorrow, we have not yet had notice of the motion or the terms of the debate. However, the 17 Select Committee Chairmen, plus the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party and the chairman of the 1922 committee, and representatives of the four leaders of the devolved Administrations, have all expressed their concerns about the terms of the inquiry. I simply ask you whether it will be possible for us to table a manuscript amendment tomorrow, in the event that the motion requires amendment to satisfy the terms of early-day motion 2088.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He is even further ahead of the game than usual. As he has acknowledged, there is, as yet, no formal recall tomorrow, as the Standing Order does not operate until this sitting is adjourned. I can assure him and the House, however, that shortly thereafter, I shall sign the necessary order. Only after that will we know the form of the motion for tomorrow. So his point is hypothetical at the moment, but I have noted his words, as I invariably do. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman and to the House.