I do not know about you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am rather tired of all the mitherers and doom-mongers. We know the types: those quick to criticise, quick to talk down, and quick to jump on any passing hashtag bandwagon. However, as Lord Mandelson said recently, those without a plan of their own should not be criticising those with plans. Many knowledgeable business folk have told me that the only thing holding back big levels of growth in our country is confidence, and we can get that only by recognising and celebrating success. Therefore, in the next few minutes as we head into the Easter recess I want to celebrate some of the many wonderful things going on in my Colne Valley constituency.
In Colne Valley, 1,220 apprenticeships started in the last academic year, and another 360 in first quarter of this academic year—a 74% increase on the last year of the previous Labour Government. Right at the forefront of that increase in apprenticeships is Kirklees college, under the leadership of the inspirational Peter McCann. A couple of weeks ago during national apprenticeship week, I went to meet one local apprentice who has a dream job. Helen is working up at Holmfirth vineyard—what a great place to work!—which not only hosted thousands of wine tours last year, but also offers quality homemade food and drink. Ironically, it is in Holme valley, which hosted many visitors on the back of the famous long-running BBC TV series “Last of the Summer Wine”. It is therefore fitting that a vineyard is now proving to be the big, new honey pot for tourism in my part of the world.
As we know, apprentices need full-time jobs to go to, and I am particularly proud that manufacturing is going great guns in my part of Yorkshire. I am proudly wearing a lapel badge that says “Huddersfield—the Place to Make It”, which is a manufacturing campaign in my part of the world. Even in London I see great examples of that manufacturing. The glass pods on the London Eye are made in my constituency at Novaglaze in Lockwood, and the textiles for the suit that David Beckham wore at the royal wedding a couple of years ago were manufactured in my constituency. On the way home tonight, those who go on a London bus should look at the flecked upholstery, which has probably been manufactured by Camira Fabrics in Meltham—we are very proud of that.
Down the road from Meltham is a wonderful engineering company, CNC Mill Turn Solutions, which is taking on apprenticeships and winning new contracts. Many of those are defence contracts, including for the new Ocelot Snatch Land Rover. Those are companies that I have visited recently, and the facts back up my remarks. Statistics from an independent consultancy firm show that 1,187 new companies started in Huddersfield and Colne Valley last year—an 8% increase year on year, and a record for any year.
On food and drink, I have already mentioned the vineyard, while local breweries on my patch—including the Linfit, Mallinsons, Magic Rock, Empire, Golcar, Milltown, Nook Brewhouse and Riverhead micro-breweries —were very pleased with the Chancellor’s news that he was cancelling the beer duty escalator. They are pleased with some of the Government’s moves. Pure North Cider also makes cider in my constituency, so it is not just wine and beer that we make.
We are very lucky with regard to education. Huddersfield university will welcome 5,000 new students this year. On the sporting front, Huddersfield Town are holding their own in the championship and have a big game against Hull City at the weekend, and the Huddersfield Giants rugby league club are currently proudly top of the super league. On
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but the cyclists will be very tired by the time they get to his constituency because they will have taken the long climb up Holme Moss to the top of the Pennines, where it is very picturesque.
I will leave Members with all those positive things going on in my constituency. It is really important, given all the doom-mongers, to celebrate things and back business, enterprise and entrepreneurs. Let us also back apprentices and Yorkshire.
It is a pleasure to follow Jason McCartney, who did not say whether he was made in Colne Valley. I apologise to Members and the Official Reporters for the speed at which I am going to speak, but it is because this Back-Bench day has been hijacked by various other issues.
I want to raise two issues, one local and the other national. The first relates to a constituent of mine, Mrs Brenda Pressdee, a senior citizen who faces the prospect of having the home she has lived in for 38 years sold, but she cannot remember why. It is important to highlight this case because it could happen to any one of us, our family or our constituents.
It is unclear how Mrs Pressdee came into contact with Dream Money Ltd. It brokered an agreement and she had to pay £3,000 in fees because she signed a loan agreement for a second charge on her property of £36,000. Once the brokerage fee and all the fees for lawyers, solicitors and title insurance had been paid, the total charges and interest came to £32,995, which is 99.9% of the £33,000 Mrs Pressdee had initially requested. By December 2012, with interest and charges and charges associated with arrears, Mrs Pressdee’s total debt was £51,713.74. She is unable to keep up her payments and now has to sell her home under the mortgage rescue scheme while living there and renting it out. As a result, Blemain Finance will receive a £55,000 redemption from the sale of her home.
The situation is heartbreaking. Mrs Pressdee signed a piece of paper saying:
“I can confirm that I intend to repay my loan at the end of the term by the sale of my property.”
The note is dated
Who can protect Mrs Pressdee? The Office of Fair Trading’s guidance on irresponsible lending only came into force in March 2010, so she was not covered with regard to the finance company’s actions. I do not think that she had the capacity to enter into the agreement. She was continually charged for every letter written. On two separate occasions she was charged £230 in legal costs, so the bills went up.
The OFT cannot help Mrs Pressdee, but what about the Consumer Credit Act 1974? Section 140A centres on the unfair relationships between creditors and debtors. Thanks to the Library, we have managed to find two cases against the company concerned. Under section 140A, Peter Bentley challenged the right to repossession of his property. The High Court judge in Cardiff asked both parties to rewrite the loan agreement, and they have done so.
In the second case Blemain Finance took repossession proceedings against Mrs Thomas from Penzance. Three loan agreements had to be rewritten. The judge held that they were unenforceable, because the amount of credit on them was incorrectly stated, so those repossession proceedings were dismissed.
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who passed it on the Office of Fair Trading. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Jo Swinson, wrote to me yesterday to say that she had nothing further to add, but the Department can do something—it can consider winding the company up in the public interest. The Minister could also meet me and the Pressdee family to see what we can do to help Mrs Pressdee, a vulnerable pensioner who has been driven out of her home. We should be protecting her.
I raised the issue of marine conservation zones with the Leader of the House, who suggested I should have an Adjournment debate, and here we are. What is the problem? Some £8.8 million has been spent on a consultation. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs guidance states that the lack of scientific certainty should not postpone the decision. For two and a half years, we have had a steering committee of 44 industry representatives and 12 conservation non-governmental organisations, and the announcement of the 21 designated zones, and 28 species of mammals and fish are under threat. I am a member of the National Trust. It is important to protect not only the seas, but the coastline, because it is a finely balanced eco-system.
I therefore have some questions for the Minister. What is the timetable? Can he state whether there will be a re-consultation on redefining the guidance on an ecological coherence network? Parliament needs to know before any more public money is wasted on a further consultation. If not now, when?
I should like to talk about the Maldives. People often ask why the Member of Parliament for Salisbury is so concerned about the smallest Asian country. I am concerned because the ousted President of the Maldives has a strong association with my constituency. He was educated just outside it and has spent a lot of time in exile there. Since I came to the House, I have taken a great interest in the Maldives. The situation there is dire and appalling, and it deeply concerns me. I am also very worried by the reaction of the international community.
After many years fighting for free elections, in 2008 Anni Nasheed was elected as President of that small country. Last year, a few weeks after I went out there to help his party prepare for the upcoming elections, he was ousted in an appalling coup. The country is now in a critical state. The free and fair elections that should happen later this year are in the balance. It is difficult to get clarity from the international community, and even from the British Government, on how assertive it is prepared to be to deal with the country.
There is systematic corruption among the judiciary, and almost every week new stories of human rights violations reach the press. Although the ousted Nasheed is expected to run in the forthcoming elections, it is difficult to say that he will have a clear pathway to the elections, given the legal machinations put up against him almost every week.
As I have mentioned, there are the most vile human rights abuses in the Maldives. A 15-year-old girl has been sentenced to 100 lashes in public when she turns 18, and to eight months of house arrest. It is appalling that the international community can apparently do nothing about the situation. I stand today to generate some publicity, I hope, so that people are aware of the direness of the situation in the country.
The prosecutor-general stated that the 15-year-old was charged with the crime of pre-marital sex, which emerged from a police investigation. That followed a completely ludicrous allegation. It was alleged that the 15-year-old had given birth and that her step-father had murdered the baby and buried her. The step-father was accused of molesting the 15-year-old, and the victim’s mother has been accused of concealing a crime and failing to report the molestation. We will only get changes in the Maldives if there is public awareness of what is going on. Similar things are happening in many countries across the globe, but I am not prepared to just stand back and let these things happen.
The Maldives need free elections later this year, so that Anni Nasheed, that honourable and decent man, who was educated in this country, can stand as a candidate, unimpeded. The illegitimate president must ensure that those elections take place. Recently, Anni Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic party organised a mass rally with 7,000 or 8,000 people participating, but when the rally reached Dr Waheed’s residence—that is the person who grabbed control last year—riot police aggressively charged the crowd. Many people reported that the police used excessive force in breaking up the rally, and many injured women remain in hospital. Video footage shows the police attempting to arrest bystanders and using excessive force.
I urge the British Government to acknowledge what is really happening and to stand firm later this year.
I rise to bring to the House’s attention the resolution passed in the European Parliament on January 2009 to commemorate the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. My interest in Bosnia and Yugoslavia arises from having worked for the United Nations mission in Kosovo between 2000 and 2002.
The background to the massacre began after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s which led to conflict within Bosnia. That war sparked numerous atrocities, including the “mass rape” of women, as defined by the United Nations war crimes tribunal. Studies estimate that as many as 20,000 to 50,000 Bosniak Muslim women were raped by Serb forces and many were abused for months.
One of the most prominent and gravest incidents took place in July 1995. The Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which was, at the time, an isolated enclave stated to be a protected zone by a United Nations Security Council resolution of
This tragedy was declared an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. In January 2009, the European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution to proclaim
The European Parliament resolution called the Srebrenica genocide
“the biggest war crime in Europe since the end of WWII.”
The Assembly called it
“a symbol of the international community’s impotence to intervene and protect civilians.”
I call on the Government to commemorate appropriately the anniversary of the Srebrenica act of genocide by supporting the European Parliament’s recognition of
Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of reconciliation in the European integration process, particularly with regard to the role of religious communities, the media and education, so that people of all ethnicities can overcome the tensions of the past, move forward, and begin a peaceful and sincere co-existence in the interests of enduring peace, stability and economic growth. In working to move forward, we must not forget the lessons of the past. It is therefore vital that this genocide, which has been described by the United Nations and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as the worst since the end of the second world war, is appropriately commemorated in the United Kingdom and in all European countries.
It is a pleasure to follow Yasmin Qureshi and my hon. Friend John Glen. They have shown that Backbench Business Adjournment debates can provide a real insight into different issues, and they have put them on the record. Both hon. Members were sombre in their tone, but I was pleased to note that Jeremy Corbyn and I have something in common: we have both been members of Haringey council. I was slightly surprised to find out—because I know him reasonably well—that my hon. Friend Jason McCartney describes himself as an optimist.
The policy of incineration is being pursued across the country. Specifically, an incinerator is planned in St Dennis in my constituency. Since before I was a parliamentary candidate, I have said consistently that Cornwall should not go down the route of incinerating its municipal waste. I have said consistently that St Dennis is the wrong place for an incinerator and that incineration is the wrong solution and technology. I have argued for several years that cheaper, cleaner and greener alternatives are available to local authorities, yet in Cornwall and in other local authorities across the country we see a determination to continue to pursue this one-size-fits-all solution and off-the-shelf easy win to deal with municipal waste when alternatives are available. Yes, they might require a little extra effort, but in the long run they can deliver huge savings in carbon emissions and money. Road movements would be reduced as less waste is ferried around, and that would be better for our country and our planet.
I was delighted that the respected environmental waste management consultancy, Eunomia, which has previously advised Cornwall council, looked recently at the council’s plans and decided that savings could be made. Those savings are not insignificant. It suggests that potentially £320 million of savings can be delivered to taxpayers in Cornwall if the council revisits its waste strategy. It makes the point that the contract is outdated and not fit for purpose, that it no longer fits the overall policy context of either the UK Government or our European counterparts, that the PFI credits are poor value for money, and that with some simple changes Cornwall can find a different solution that better meets its needs.
Cornwall currently recycles just 37% of its waste and has no real plans to improve that rate. Recycling rates cannot be improved while trying to feed an incinerator that is ever-hungry for material to burn. The best local authorities now recycle more than 60%, and recycling alone could deliver £12 million-worth of savings a year to the council. Indeed, if we went as far as Surrey county council, which is hitting a 70% target, there is potential for still more significant savings. Eunomia reports that the PFI contract that Cornwall council agreed with the previous Government is outdated and not fit for purpose, and that savings can be made there too.
None of this comes at a time of plenty. We know only too well in this House that local authorities face a difficult financial environment. We know from the representations that we all receive from our constituents that the money that could be saved—the £320 million that Cornwall council is throwing away—could be better used to help to meet people’s needs in their day-to-day existence.
Perhaps I can put it best by leaving it to the director of Eunomia, who said:
“Cornwall used to lead the recycling league, but now languishes in the bottom 25% of local authorities. In the 15 years since the PFI plan was hatched, the world of waste has moved on and far better alternatives now exist. Our analysis shows that the PFI contract is a very expensive way to ensure that Cornwall continues its poor environmental performance on waste for decades to come.”
I wish to raise two very different issues.
First, Marlborough and Vaughan schools—both excellent schools in my constituency—are in urgent need of rebuilding. They were built in the 1960s as temporary schools. They have problems with asbestos and other serious defects. Given Harrow’s growing population of young families, both schools also need to expand to become three-form entry schools. The council wrote to the chief executive of the Education Funding Agency last July to propose a financial agreement involving funding provided through the priority school building programme and Harrow’s share of the basic needs allocation. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will use his influence, at the very least to speed up a response to Harrow council’s letter to the EFA—one containing, I trust, positive news.
Secondly, I hope that the Competition Commission will investigate the funding of premiership rugby teams. Together with the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby is the body that distributes funding to England’s top rugby clubs. It does so on an uneven and unfair basis. I understand that London Welsh rugby club received some £1.4 million from Premiership Rugby to help to fund players’ salaries, while other premiership clubs—notably the so-called founder clubs, such as Sale, Bath, Leicester and Gloucester—receive some £3.5 million a season. Indeed, figures I have seen for January suggest that Worcester, London Irish and Sale all received about three times the funding that London Welsh received. Given that they are London Welsh’s rivals for the relegation place, this hardly suggests that a fair contest is being played out. Indeed, bizarrely, recently relegated Newcastle also appears to have received three times more funding in January than London Welsh, while Bristol and Leeds, which were relegated some time ago, received almost double the funding that London Welsh received in January.
In short, there is a clear bias in how funding is distributed against teams promoted to the premiership. The funding arrangements have all the appearance of a cartel. They make it extremely difficult for newly promoted teams to survive or thrive. To their credit, Exeter and Worcester have done so, but the vast majority of promoted clubs struggle to survive beyond a season or two. I have therefore written to the Office of Fair Trading today asking it to request an investigation by the Competition Commission into the funding of rugby clubs. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will speak to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and encourage them to use their influence to support such an investigation.
There is, too, the fiasco of the five points deducted for messing up the registration paperwork of the London Welsh scrum half, Tyson Keats, even though no one disputes his entitlement to seek employment in the UK, his eligibility to seek work as a professional rugby player or indeed—should the call come—his eligibility to play for England. I very much regret today’s decision to turn down London Welsh’s appeal against this grim five-point deduction. Quite why the crime is so severe that it should merit such a huge penalty, when other clubs making similar mistakes have not been hit so hard, is frankly difficult to fathom. Exeter fielded an extra overseas player in one of its matches last season and was hit with only a two-point fine. Leicester fielded Manu Tuilagi some seasons ago, despite his effectively being an illegal immigrant. The club was not penalised any points at all. One would think there would be some expectation by the RFU that Leicester would have checked his status; instead, the RFU rallied round to help him to get his status resolved.
The premiership should surely be a genuine competition in which clubs battle it out on a level playing field. At the moment, sadly, a newly promoted team first has to climb a mountain to get to the playing field and is then expected to play with one hand tied behind its back. It is time that the funding of premiership rugby clubs became much more transparent and that newly promoted teams received appropriate funding.
Following last week’s Budget debate, I welcome today’s opportunity to highlight some key business-related issues affecting my constituency and my constituents.
The House will be well aware that Essex is a county of entrepreneurs, as there are many successful small businesses. That is why the first item on my list is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which continues to act as a barrier to businesses and many small firms in my constituency. To put this into some kind of context, HMRC has spent over 10 years relentlessly pursuing and seeking to punish my constituent, Mr Philip Wright. His case relates to a complex issue surrounding tax paid in the construction industry. Despite Mr Wright losing his business, being unwell and being of very limited means and having previously won an initial court hearing, HMRC continues to drag this case on, persecuting my constituent. HMRC has made many errors, yet it seems to be determined to secure a precedent-setting victory over Mr Wright at a further court hearing later this year.
This case shows how HMRC has targeted its efforts on the defenceless and on easy targets, while letting larger firms off the hook. It also shows once again how inept HMRC has been. My constituent had built up his own business and spent years doing the right thing. It is about time that HMRC did the right thing. I urge the Government, and particularly the Treasury Minister responsible for HMRC, to leave Mr Wright in peace.
Today is quite a significant day, as we have to ask ourselves whether the official who presided over so many failures at the UK Border Agency is the right person to fix HMRC, with all its backlog of cases and problems.
The next business example from my constituency highlights problems with the Valuation Office Agency. The VOA, as it is fondly known, is an executive agency of HMRC, and it has spent the past three years sitting on a firm’s business rate re-evaluation appeal. In June 2010, the business requested a reduction on the basis that the rateable value applied was
“incorrect, excessive, contrary to law and a disproportionate reflection on the change in rental values in the locality”.
The VOA has sat on its hands for three years and done nothing. This is yet another example of bureaucracy not understanding how businesses operate in the real world, as a result of which I understand about 250,000 further appeals in similar instances are outstanding. I urge Ministers to take action to end this bureaucratic shambles and to press the VOA to get its act together.
Last week’s Budget has been positively welcomed by business, which is why I urge Ministers and the Government to press local councils to unleash local businesses from business rates and to tell local authorities to use their new powers to reduce rates and take a more flexible approach to local business taxation. My constituent, Duncan Clark, is an outstanding local entrepreneur who converted a redundant out-house building into a cookery school, creating two full-time jobs. He has taken a risk to set up that business and has a great “can do” attitude—the type of attitude that this country needs to grow into a more prosperous future. He should be congratulated on what he is doing; instead, of course, he faces a £6,000 bill for his rates. I hope that the Government will urge local councils to use their powers over business rates to foster a competitive spirit of business enterprise in this environment. That would help start-ups and help business men such as Mr Clark.
Many of the problems that I have highlighted demonstrate that the public sector needs to have a greater understanding and appreciation of the private sector. If those public bodies engaged more constructively with the private sector, they would enhance their own understanding. A great example of that happened in Witham town, when Essex county council listened to a body called Witham Industrial Watch, whose business members monitor criminal activity on our industrial sites. The county council was on the verge of taking away the street lighting on the industrial estate, but Witham Industrial Watch made a persuasive case to the council. I pay tribute to the council and to the cabinet member for highways for realising that it made business sense to work with Witham Industrial Watch to get the right outcome.
I look forward to hearing the Government’s response. Let me take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all the staff of the House a very pleasant Easter recess.
The world is still divided, as we know. The plight of poor children in that divided world preoccupies tens of thousands of the finest of our citizens. The proximate cause of my applying to speak in this debate, for which I am grateful, was a visit that I had from campaigners from religious organisations and others from Bradford university. The campaign is based around the organisation Enough Food For Everyone If, which will have lobbied most hon. Members in the run-up to the Budget, seeking an important relief for poor children in poor countries. Sadly, the Government, on that occasion at least, failed to rise to that challenge. It is my hope that that campaign can continue and that the Government will take on board its demand to introduce some requirement on British companies operating in poor countries.
In parenthesis, every 45 seconds—the length of time I have been speaking for—a child in Africa dies of malaria, let alone all the other ailments that kill so many children in poor countries. In the world as a whole, 110 million children under 10 go to work instead of school. For those children, there is no Easter, Christmas or holiday. There are none of the basic comforts that we wish for our own children. Yet in the midst of that, we discover, contemporaneously, that many British corporations and companies, some of them well known, are not only operating in those poor countries to take advantage of the very low wages that workers labour for, but doing their best in those poor countries to avoid, even evade, the minimal rates of taxation that those countries require from them. Therefore, that campaign is asking for something like the disclosure of tax-avoidance scheme that will be applied to British companies under the Finance Bill to force them to disclose the tax-avoidance schemes in which they are involved in poor countries.
Of course, child poverty is on the march in our own country, too. Yesterday, I had a brief moment with you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to allude to some of the child poverty in my constituency, which has the second highest child poverty and the second highest child mortality in the entire country. I know that I will not melt the hearts of the Government on that point, so I want to raise a practical point with them that, even in their own terms, is an anomaly. More than 10,000 children in Bradford are not receiving free school meals but are officially under the poverty line. The reason is that their parents are working and receiving working families tax credit. They are officially poor, officially below the poverty line, but cannot get free school meals. However, if their parents gave up their jobs, they would immediately be eligible for free school meals.
How can that conceivably fit with the Government’s oft-claimed intention to try to encourage the unemployed into work and to help the working poor? According to the Children’s Society, in one city alone—Bradford—more than 10,000 children are living under the poverty line but are not receiving free school meals. Therefore, they are likely to go an entire day without proper nutrition.
I would like the Deputy Leader of the House to explain to me, in writing, at least, how this anomaly can be tolerated. Why not give the working poor at least the same break that we give the unemployed, by giving their poor children something to eat at lunchtime?
Easter is one of the most important Christian festivals and as we speak, across the world, particularly in the Punjab in Pakistan, Christians are being systematically traduced, attacked, tortured, imprisoned and even killed. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement said in a recent letter to me:
“The ongoing abuse of blasphemy laws against Christians in Pakistan is a violation of their human rights and the laws themselves are in direct contravention of various human rights charters. Pakistani Christians are accused of blasphemy to settle personal scores and without being given the chance to prove their innocence are locked up in jails.”
If the UK’s soft power means anything, it means exercising influence and withdrawing funds if necessary, to make sure the Pakistani Government know that this is completely unacceptable.
The House will know that in October 2011, I led a debate in Westminster Hall on Tourette’s syndrome, an inherited neurological condition that affects children from the age of six or seven. Many of those children are not well educated because they struggle to keep their tics under control and end up being excluded and in the criminal justice system. I remain unconvinced that the new NHS and education reforms take account of children who desperately need to have their issues addressed. I hope the NHS Commissioning Board looks at that.
The House will also remember that during a recent Prime Minister’s Question Time, I raised the issue of the fortification of basic foodstuffs with folic acid, particularly for women of child-bearing age. Many countries across the world have done so, and although they have not eliminated the dreadful, tragic conditions of hydrocephalus and spina bifida, they have reduced their incidence. It is my great good fortune to represent the city of Peterborough, in which the Shine charity, formerly the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, is based. It gives help, support and guidance to children affected by spina bifida and their parents. I remain hopeful that the Government will work with the Food Standards Agency—the Department of Health will work with others—to do the right thing and fortify foodstuffs such as bread and flour with folic acid to prevent these terrible conditions.
Turning to the comments made by my hon. Friend Priti Patel, I will not dwell too much on the Budget, other than to say that I was disappointed that, although we could find time for something was not in the manifesto and the coalition agreement, such as same-sex marriage, we could not do so for something that was, such as a marriage tax break. Senior members of my party, including the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have said that that will happen under this Government, and I sincerely hope they are as good as their word.
Representing as I do the city of Peterborough, in which the headquarters of Thomas Cook is located, I was disappointed that the Chancellor also avoided the issue of air passenger duty, but I remain ever hopeful that that will change.
On a more positive note, philanthropy and the voluntary and community sector in my wonderful constituency, which I have had the good fortune to represent for eight years, is thriving. The Peterborough cathedral “900” appeal, which is seeking to raise millions of pounds from business and others for a heritage and education centre and a centre of excellence for English choral music to celebrate 900 years of a Christian settlement on the banks of the River Nene—an abbey, and then a cathedral—is doing well. Of course, something very dear to my heart is the Sue Ryder hospice at Thorpe Hall. A grade I listed building which was the home of Oliver St John—Oliver Cromwell’s money man—it is no longer fit for purpose as a hospice. The fundraising committee, of which I was a member for five years, is raising money for a purpose-built £6 million 22-bedroom hospice on the site. We desperately need the funds for that and good work is being done. So my city is generous and it is raising money for good causes.
May I begin by apologising to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the House and the Deputy Leader of the House for that fact that I will not be able to stay for the duration of the debate? I congratulate Mr Jackson on his contribution, as he took the opportunity to raise a kaleidoscope of issues. I also congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Backbench Business Committee on this excellent initiative that I am taking advantage of for the first time. Although I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on tax breaks for married couples, I hope that he would extend them to same-sex couples who choose to marry.
Such great issues of human rights have been raised by the hon. Gentleman and by George Galloway, who discussed child poverty, a shameful and deepening scar on this country. However, I wish to be a little more parochial and concentrate on issues closer to home. This may feel like groundhog day to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I spoke about the future of Cockenzie power station in yesterday’s Budget debate, but it is an issue of real importance to my constituency.
Cockenzie’s coal-fired power station closed on
I wish to praise ScottishPower, which has a good record in managing such closures. I praise the way in which it has worked with the trade unions in the workplace and with individual employees to ensure that there have been no compulsory redundancies. Many employees are moving to other stations, while others have opted for retirement or severance voluntarily. Having said that, this was still a tough day for East Lothian, as Cockenzie now lies like a sleeping giant, waiting for a decision from this Government.
There has been uncertainty about the future of Cockenzie for some time, and I do not lay this all at the door of this Government; the previous administration in East
Lothian council, a Scottish National party-Lib Dem coalition, opposed planning permission for the plant’s conversion to gas. Fortunately, that decision was overturned by Scottish Ministers, who are also from the SNP—indecision is not limited to those on the Government Benches. Thankfully, we have a new administration in East Lothian council, a Labour-Conservative coalition—that is how democracy can be at times. It results from the single transferable vote, and I do not think it is a coalition we will ever see replicated in this place.
ScottishPower is calling for clarity on a capacity mechanism for thermal generation in the Energy Bill. Speaking at the annual meeting of the shareholders of Iberdrola—the Spanish owner of ScottishPower—its chief executive officer, Mr Galan, said that ScottishPower would increase its planned UK spend of £10 billion by £3 billion to build new gas-fired power stations, but uncertainty caused by market conditions and a lack of clarity from the UK Government was holding back that further investment. Some of that money could be used to refurbish the station at Cockenzie, creating 1,000 construction jobs in my constituency in the process and with further knock-on benefits to the local economy. When completed, it would be a welcome source of skilled jobs and apprenticeships for young people in my constituency. I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to take that message back to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. This is an opportunity for investment in the UK and in my constituency to create jobs and to keep the lights on.
Not long ago, a Slovak national, Mr Peter Pavlisin, badly beat up his pregnant Gloucester girlfriend, Natasha Motala, threatened her with death and had to be subdued by several policemen. He was sentenced to four years in prison in the Gloucester Crown court and the judge revealed during sentencing that during Mr Pavlisin’s four years in the UK he had been convicted of 14 offences from 21 charges. When I read that in our local paper, The Citizen, my immediate reaction was relief for my constituent Natasha, who had given birth safely, and for my other constituents, as the criminal would be off the streets of Gloucester. There was something missing, however. Where was the instruction to the courts to deport the prisoner at the end of his sentence?
I rang the judge and he explained that judges have the authority to deport non-EU nationals but not EU nationals. That can only be decided by the Home Secretary. I did more research, and I discovered that if an EU national is sentenced to more than two years, or 12 months for certain crimes, the National Offender Management Service is supposed to make recommendations to the Home Secretary on deportation some months before that sentence is over. That system is unsatisfactory in several ways. First, the victims, the court, the media and the community are unaware of it. No one in Gloucester knows that Mr Pavlisin should be deported in due course. As the judge is silent on the issue—indeed, judges have to be—the implication is that he will not be deported and will emerge with a strong likelihood of extending his frequent appearances in our courts.
Secondly, there is no clear responsibility for action, no audit trail and no measurement of the Ministry of Justice’s ability to ensure that dangerous EU nationals are deported at the end of their sentences. Thirdly, as the law allows for deportation but the process does not highlight it, my constituents and everyone else’s are unlikely to have confidence in the system.
That gap in the process could, I believe, be fixed relatively simply through an amendment to the UK Borders Act 2007 and a memorandum of conviction that would require judges to say when the sentence for any EU national is of a length or severity that obliges NOMS to consider recommending deportation to the Home Secretary well ahead of the completion of the sentence. That would spell out to everyone, including EU nationals, an important likely consequence of serious crime in our country. It would remind everyone that we decide who is deported and who is not, wherever they come from, and give us all more confidence in the process of law.
Let me be clear: this is not about bashing the EU or stoking xenophobic paranoia. Immigrants to Gloucester, from Roman legionaries to Norman monks, Jamaican nurses, Asian engineers, Polish makers of shirts and many others besides, including some great European rugby players, have contributed hugely to our city. We have thrived on immigration but not on foreign criminals. This is about the safety of my constituents and justice for all our constituents and it is a plea for more certainty and rigour in the process of justice. I am sure that Ministers in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Department share my concerns and I hope that they will act to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done and that all foreign criminals will be deported when they deserve to be.
Let me take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and everyone in this House a happy Easter.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about sport and fitness for women and girls. I spoke about it during the debate on international women’s day last year and from that debate we managed to get cross-party agreement to support the development of a new all-party group on women’s sport and fitness. We launched it, it is supported by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation and we have had some great meetings. Our first meeting was with the presenter and sports commentator Clare Balding and the Olympic rowing gold medallist Kath Grainger, and most recently we have had a meeting with the Paralympian Martine Wright, who survived the 7/7 bombings and went on to compete in the Paralympics, and Claire Lomas, who was the first paraplegic to complete the London marathon, doing so in 17 days walking in a robotic suit.
It was great to listen to those inspirational women from those different sports. It is needed, because women’s sport faces a crisis in media coverage and lack of sponsorship. Outside Olympic years, women’s sport receives less than 5% of the total sport print coverage, and even then, unsurprisingly, women’s sport receives only 0.5% of the total sponsorship income. There was the recent case of the England women’s football team being offered a salary increase from £16,000 to £18,000 a year. They eventually settled on a contract of £20,000 a year. In the same week, the Arsenal football player Theo Walcott signed for £100,000 a week. I know that we have some talented girls and young women playing football now, and the difference in reward levels for women’s football must be offputting for those talented enough to seek a professional career.
Appropriately enough for a debate at this time of year, it is a case of the chicken and the egg. More media coverage is needed to provide girls and young women with positive role models in sport, and that would encourage participation and future achievement, but media coverage is elusive and without it we do not get the sponsorship and salaries remain low.
Let me turn quickly to school sport, because we currently have a crisis of activity levels among children, especially girls, with just 16% of girls and young women reaching the recommended levels of activity by the time they leave primary school, compared with 29% of boys, and only 12% of 14-year-olds are active enough to benefit their health. In fact, girls leave school only half as likely to meet the recommended activity levels of boys, and nearly a third of 16-year-olds do no physical activity at all.
In that context, the Government’s announcement of £150 million for primary school sport is welcome, but I have some questions about the funding. How will Ministers ensure that the investment helps to close the gender gap in activity levels in primary schools? Do they have any plans to provide similar, much needed support in secondary schools, where sport among girls really drops away? How do Ministers plan to measure the success of the investment, given that there is no comprehensive annual measurement of children’s activity levels in sport? The status quo is that 51% of girls say that school sport and physical education actually puts them off being active, and they are only half as likely as boys to meet the recommended activity levels.
I commend the Rugby Football Union for its All Schools programme. At a recent event in the House, I met three young women who had taken up playing rugby at school and at a local club. The RFU has done a great job in enthusing teachers and coaches, who in turn enthuse and inspire young women, such as the three I met. I also congratulate FC United of Manchester on commemorating international women’s day by holding events to celebrate women in football, including an event called “A woman’s place is at the match”. Its women’s team was awarded Manchester Football Association’s “Team of the Month” award. They also won a recent semi-final to win through to the league cup final against Manchester City’s women’s team. I commend them and all women and girls working to break down barriers in women’s sport.
Finally, I would like to give the customary thanks to all staff of the House. I particularly want to thank Noeleen and the staff of the Tea Room, who I think do a wonderful job, the Hansard reporters, to whom I think we should all be very grateful, and you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish all a happy Easter. I will end by wishing a happy birthday to my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and my right hon. Friend the
Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). I do not know whether any Government Members have birthdays today, but if they do I wish then a happy birthday, too.
In fact, today is also my birthday. I am grateful for the opportunity, on this jolly occasion, to draw the House’s attention to proposals for a Congleton link road that would run from Sandbach road to the west of the town, past the north of the town centre and on to Macclesfield road to the east. The potential benefits have been excellently summed up in an appropriately titled document, “The key to unlocking Cheshire East: Securing jobs and a future for the local economy”, which has been compiled by a forward thinking partnership of Congleton business people and the East Cheshire chamber of commerce, collectively called the Link2Prosperity group—L2P.
The road would improve connectivity right across east Cheshire by improving links to Manchester airport, the M60 and the M6, the latter being just 10 minutes away at Sandbach, junction 17, in my constituency. It would also improve connectivity to the rail network, particularly the inter-city connection at Crewe, and would help alleviate heavy traffic problems that the people of Holmes Chapel have endured for 40 years.
On my hon. Friend’s birthday, she is making a characteristically powerful speech. I agree wholeheartedly that the Congleton link road will be vital in improving connectivity in east Cheshire and to stimulate economic growth. Does she agree that it is also important to have a similar road—the Poynton-Woodford relief road—to help to improve connectivity in the north of our borough?
I absolutely do agree. It is interesting to note that both these roads are priorities in Cheshire East council’s draft development strategy.
The Congleton link road would reduce the daily traffic congestion in the centre of Congleton that impedes businesses, residents and school pupils and has been described by Siemens, the town’s biggest employer, as “chronic”. It would also reduce the consequential high levels of nitrous oxide at pollution hot spots in the town.
The benefits of this road involve far more than traffic improvements alone. Its route north of the town would open up much-improved access to industrial and business park sites that are small, land-locked, in poor condition and under-occupied, which means that existing businesses looking to expand are being forced to relocate. Moreover, the sites offer minimal opportunities for inward investment by new businesses. All this could radically change with the investment in these sites that improved connectivity both locally and regionally would justify. The benefits of opening them up are cited not only in the L2P document but in Cheshire East council’s draft development strategy, which states in its foreword that the council has
“a jobs-led development strategy, supported by improved connectivity through sustainable infrastructure such as the…Congleton Link Road”.
It goes on to say that the strategy
“seeks to promote the right conditions for jobs growth—by boosting the delivery of existing major employment sites, improving connectivity and identifying new areas for future investment and expansion.”
The Congleton link road will do just that.
Let me give a case study. The L2P document talks about Senior Aerospace Bird Bellows, which is based at Radnor Park estate, one of the business sites to the north of Congleton. SABB manufactures key aircraft components, and it is Congleton’s second largest employer. Key visitors to SABB include Boeing, Airbus and Rolls-Royce. Sadly, as the L2P document states, the condition of Radnor Park estate does not reflect its status as the home of a high-tech, world-class manufacturer. SABB is set to grow; indeed, 100 jobs are about to be attracted to the company very soon. However, if it is to remain in Congleton, it is crucial that Radnor Park estate is improved. Improvements to the Radnor Park site, and indeed to other business sites in the area, could provide knock-on benefits in terms of attracting additional new businesses and much-needed employment opportunities, particularly for young people, that cannot be overestimated. That is why over 60 local companies listed in the L2P document support the link road proposal, including the town’s biggest employer, Siemens, which says that
“this new artery has the potential to pump new levels of economic activity into this town.”
The proposals are also supported by Congleton town council, Congleton Partnership and the retail arm of Congleton Business Association, which say that there is a need to focus on contemporaneous support for the town centre’s public realm and retail sector to ensure that that part of the town flourishes, in conjunction with this redevelopment, just as much as the business parks. I believe that with appropriate creative thinking and investment, the town centre will indeed benefit, not only as a result of the improved traffic flow and access to the town centre, but because it will provide a more pleasant shopping and leisure experience, and, one hopes, increased footfall as a result. Other key supporters include Congleton high school, Eaton Bank school and Congleton Town football club, all of which have ambitious aspirations to develop their facilities—something that could be facilitated by the link road development, with its improved connectivity and release of land.
In association with the link road, there would be additional housing developments. These must be sensitively planned, taking into account the existing communities’ views. That is a very important consideration that we must continually be aware of.
I ask the Minister to raise this important local proposal with his colleagues in the Department of Transport in the hope that I, and others, will be able to meet Ministers there in the near future to discuss this project in greater detail.
May I join the House in wishing my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley and Fiona Bruce a very happy birthday? I will keep my remarks brief because I know that other Members are seeking to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I am sure that the House has seen the sad news today that Dunfermline Athletic has gone into administration after owing Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about £130,000. I hope that the Minister can say whether the Government, through HMRC and the Treasury, will be sympathetic to that problem.
My remarks will concentrate on the Royal Navy’s presence in Scotland. At this time of year, when we are all thinking about spending time with our families, loved ones and friends, we should remember the armed forces personnel of all services who are serving overseas and are apart from their families.
There have been recent announcements about the British Army lay-down in Scotland and there was a written statement yesterday about the RAF lay-down. Obviously, the Royal Navy plays an important role as well. Not only is Faslane the home of the deterrent; over the coming decade, it will become the home of the Astute class submarines. Sir Bob Russell and I were up at Faslane just two weeks ago to see the fantastic work that goes on there. About 8,500 personnel will be based there and bring their experience to it. That base is an important source of employment. The Royal Marine base outside Arbroath at Condor is also an important presence in Scotland and it, too, provides jobs.
The other major site for the Royal Navy is Rosyth dockyard in my constituency, where the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are being assembled. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will recognise what fantastic pieces of engineering those carriers are. They are 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers that will form the centrepiece of the Royal Navy.
As the construction of the carriers progresses, the Royal Navy will have to increase its presence at Rosyth. Although there was understandable disappointment in west Fife that the Army would not be coming to Caledonia, I hope that the Minister will confirm that there was an important reason for that, which was that the Royal Navy has an important requirement for Caledonia and the wider west Fife area. I hope that the Minister will elaborate on the number of personnel who may be based there. I understand that at its peak, there may be somewhere north of 500 extra personnel.
I hope that the Ministry of Defence will meet me and others over the coming weeks to discuss how best we can accommodate those personnel and whether they should all be based inside Caledonia or whether work needs to be done with the council. Fife council has said that it is happy to talk to the MOD about what support it can offer to make them feel welcome.
I am sure that the Minister will want to confirm that were Scotland to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, not only would 8,500 jobs be lost at Faslane and the Royal Marines leave Condor, but there would be no future for the Rosyth dockyard. Not only would hundreds of jobs be lost at Caledonia, but the next 50 years of work that are coming to the dockyard would be lost. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined the view of the Royal Navy on the future requirements.
Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I wish you and the whole House a happy Easter? You are a benevolent boss and have no doubt bought your staff an Easter egg. I am quite sure that the Deputy Leader of the House has bought an Easter egg for Mr Mike Winter, the head of office, Ben Sneddon and everybody else who works for him in his office. I am sure that every colleague will ensure that all their staff are looked after at this important time of year.
Before the House adjourns for the Easter recess, there are a number of points that I wish to raise.
A constituent of mine, Katrine Kuzminas, recently sent me a DVD called “Earthlings”. I share her concern about the proposed badger cull.
Planet Leasing is a car leasing firm in my constituency that does a wonderful job in taking on school leavers to serve internships. In October 2012, it won the employer of the year award and celebrated its sixth birthday on
Honeywell, which makes switches and lights, is a Fortune 100 company that created many of the sockets that we use, including those at the Olympic games. During my visit to its factory, the topic of carbon monoxide detectors came up. Its particular concern is that, when a house is draught-proofed, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases. Under the green deal, we have been promised that carbon monoxide detectors will be fitted as a legal requirement. I hope that that will happen.
Hospitals do a marvellous job, but do not seem to work at the weekends. Recently, my 92-year-old aunt was in hospital for a day. She returned home, but no one was there to look after her. She was standing on the side of the road, fell down and broke her hip. It was a disaster.
Jill Allen-King, a blind constituent of mine, has raised an important issue—the eligibility criteria for the higher rate of the mobility component part of disability allowance. Those who reach 65 lose that benefit, which seems extraordinary.
Essex county bowling club is currently £26,000 worse off, because it has been refused re-admittance to the community amateur sports club. As a result, it has not received the tax relief that it was previously given. I think the Inland Revenue needs to be more helpful.
The East of England ambulance service is struggling with several difficulties. I have heard first-hand accounts of how one addict called an ambulance nine times in one day. As of 2010, ambulance calls have been increasing at a rate of 6.5% each year. Considering that each call costs £200, it is an absolute disgrace that the service is being abused.
Gas prices are far too high. I was proud to introduce the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. I hope that the Energy Bill will deal with current high gas prices.
Small claims courts give our constituents a wonderful opportunity of getting redress relatively cheaply, but we need to consider carefully how they are financed and how they operate.
Whistleblowers seem to be the flavour of the month. In 1998, I publicly defended in the House a lady called Sharon Tattoo, but the NHS establishment of the day won, and the chairman of the health trust who defended her who was forced to resign. It was an absolute disgrace. I hope that Health Ministers will look at that case again.
Spinnaker, led by Phil Parry, is a wonderful company in my constituency specialising in shipping, maritime and marine world recruitment. It has an exemplary customer relations record and should be congratulated on all the work that it does at home and abroad.
A constituent of mine has written to me. He is 38 and his wife has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unbelievably, bereavement allowance only operates from the age of 45. That needs to be changed. Another constituent of mine has a brother, Abid, who is a British national sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in Pakistan for supposedly murdering his father. The case details are an absolute disgrace, and I call on the Foreign Secretary to do something very quickly.
I end with Southend. It is clear to me that everyone is getting behind Southend’s bid to be city of culture in 2017. Southend United are playing in the cup final on
It is a pleasure to make a few comments about Ulster Scots culture, on which I am very keen. Last week, I took some of my staff round the House. It was a privilege to show them the history of the place. It reminded me of the pride that we all take in the Chamber. We are a small part of this great place and of the great nation that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am proud to hail from the unparalleled shores of Strangford. I am proud of our rich history and culture. I am proud to be an Ulster Scot.
I want to highlight the rich cultural links between Northern Ireland and the nations that make up the United Kingdom. Some Members might be unsure about what I mean by “Ulster Scots”. For nearly 400 years, the term has referred to a people, not a place—to the people who migrated from the lowlands of Scotland to Ulster and to the Ulster Scots communities they established across the nine counties.
The first large wave of permanent migrants were not soldiers or mercenaries but ordinary Scottish families seeking a new life. They were mainly Presbyterian in faith and outlook, and overwhelmingly spoke the Scots language. I understand that they were descended from the Stewarts of the lowlands of Scotland, and there are many people down the Ards peninsula, where I make my home, who can—and have—traced their ancestry back to Scotland and who hold their history very dear.
Ulster Scots refers not only to those people and their descendents, but also to their heritage and cultural traditions. The lowland Scots brought industry, language, music, sport, religion and myriad traditions to Ulster. Many of those have now become mainstream—not narrow cultural markers, but broad themes in our society. The Ulster Scots folk and the Scots alike have much to gain by strengthening our deep historic ties and understanding the Ulster Scots story.
Throughout schools in Northern Ireland, the Ulster-Scots Agency is working to instil in our children a pride in their heritage, safe in the knowledge that when we have a good foundation, we can build a sturdy home. One school in my constituency, Derryboy primary school, has an Ulster Scots dance in its PE class—that is something to behold—as well as having after-school clubs in Ulster Scots. We have children who can recite poetry and dance a jig and who understand that to enjoy their history and heritage is not being offensive or bigoted but simply being who they are.
In Strangford, we have strong link with Ulster Scots. We run programmes in the summer with the Lougheries Historical Society in Newtownards, with individuals reciting poetry at events and children being taught Ulster Scots in schools down the Ards peninsula, at Castle Gardens primary school and Movilla high school in Newtownards. The interest shown by those young people is second to none, and poetry is one of the things that they enjoy.
I am going to recite one verse—I have spoken to Mr Deputy Speaker about this—from one of those poems: Leevin in Drumlister:
“I’m leevin in Drumlister
An’ I’m gettin very oul
I hae tae wear an Indian bag
To save mae frae the coul
Theires naw a man in this toonlan
Wus claner raired than me,
But I’m leevin in Drumlister
In clabber tae the knee.”
I would love to read all three verses, but I was told I could not, so I will not.
Hon. Members who may be questioning what links they have with the Ulster Scots all enjoy the benefits of Ulster Scots ingenuity. Hans Sloane from Killyleagh in my Strangford constituency invented milk chocolate. Ladies love chocolate; men love chocolate. I used to love chocolate before I became a diabetic and I can no longer have it. Nevertheless, we have chocolate in our society because of Hans Sloane and Killyleagh.
More than 7,000 lives have been saved by the Martin-Baker ejection seat, which is now used by more than 90 air forces and navies. The number of lives saved increases by an average of more than three a week—again, ingenuity of the Ulster Scots. James Martin was a famous Ulster Scot who invented that ejection seat, and Frank Pantridge—also an Ulster Scot—developed the world’s mobile defibrillator and became known as the father of emergency medicine. We are doing our bit for society when it comes to inventions.
Massey-Ferguson tractors—perhaps some hon. Members have one, but if they do not, it was the first tractor and was perfected and built by an Ulster Scot. Twelve American Presidents have been of Ulster Scots heritage. We are a small nation, but we punch well above our weight producing 12 Ulster Scots Presidents with our heritage, history and our nation as best ally.
Some of the greatest inventions in the world and the funniest poetry is by Ulster Scots, as well as the most beautiful turns of phrase and dance. It is little wonder that I am proud to be an Ulster Scot. I cannot wait to see more people from the Chamber today and from outside the House travelling to my constituency to enjoy a rich culture and beautiful scenery.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s contribution, but on a serious note, the 100th anniversary of the first world war will soon be coming up. Will he acknowledge that, during the great war, Ulster Scots played a role with great heroism as part of the wider British Army? One thinks particularly of the battle of the Somme.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, our heritage is not just cultural but historical. We fought alongside and within the British Army at the battle of the Somme, and we commemorate that contribution of our soldiers every
We Ulster Scots are very proud to have beautiful scenery, a rich culture and the warmest of people, who are anxious to welcome others to our heart and heritage. I invite all Members to Strangford to discover our Ulster Scots heritage, and I look forward to seeing them.