Backbench Business — Summer Adjournment

Part of Child Benefit Entitlement (Disqualification of Non-UK EU Nationals) – in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 22nd July 2014.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Party Chair, Co-operative Party 4:09 pm, 22nd July 2014

It is a pleasure to follow Bob Blackman. I know very well all the places in his constituency he mentioned, and I am looking forward to spending more time at those locations campaigning for Uma Kumaran, his replacement next year. He raised one particularly interesting scenario for me: the fitness challenge of climbing the steps of Stanmore station. In between campaigning for Uma Kumaran, I am training for the London triathlon on Sunday 3 August and I might just come to Stanmore station and take that challenge. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to join me when I do.

I wish to come back to something Mr Amess began his remarks with: the disappointment with the performance of the England football team at the World cup. He suggested, I think in jest, that we should boycott premier league matches because there are too many overseas players. I think that the competition foreign players bring to the premier league is a good thing, but a more comprehensive look at how the interests of fans who want England to do well and who support premier league clubs needs to be thought about, particularly so that those interests can be properly represented in the governance of premier league clubs. Surely it is not an unreasonable ask to have a fan on the board of each club, elected through its football supporters trust—that might be a good thing, in order to ensure that the interests of ordinary football fans are properly represented.

Swansea City stands out as a lone example, as it has genuine fans, elected through the supporters trust, sitting on the board and taking part in all the decisions it makes in the interests of the club. The premier league needs to think through with a little more gusto how Swansea’s example might be replicated. Similarly, an audit of each premier league club’s contribution to grass-roots sport is surely also overdue. Each club should be expected to contribute at least 5% immediately, rising to perhaps some 10%, of TV income to the coaching of the next generation of England’s football fans and players. Surely it is not unreasonable to ask clubs to invest such sums in grass-roots sport in the areas around them.

Let me move on to my second issue. There is a need to review the funding formula for Harrow council and for the NHS in Harrow. The council faces some £75 million in funding cuts over the next four years—£25 million in this year alone. Other nearby councils receive substantially higher per capita funding, so I strongly support the campaign for Harrow council to receive fair funding. I hope that the Minister who is sitting on the Bench today might solicit a letter to me from the Department for Communities and Local Government about Harrow council’s case.

Had NHS England decided to implement the new funding formula it devised, the NHS in Harrow would have received an extra £23 million this year, and indeed next. I say gently that perhaps if the Government had not wasted £3 billion on a completely unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS, NHS England might have been able to find more quickly the funding that will be needed to ease the pressure at Northwick Park hospital, which serves my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Harrow East. The board of The North West London Hospitals NHS Trust has identified an extra 120 beds as necessary just to cope with the existing demand—that is before the closure of Ealing’s accident and emergency department and that of Central Middlesex hospital. That money might also have helped to stop the closure of the Alexandra Avenue urgent hours centre, or polyclinic. It used to be open from 8 am to 8 pm, 365 days a year, providing a hugely valuable service to many of my constituents in the south-west of the borough of Harrow. Sadly, the centre is now open only from 9 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and that situation urgently needs reviewing.

The last issue I wish to touch on is reform of the UK’s pension fund market. It is an almost £3 trillion market, and automatic enrolment is bringing a further 10 million working people into the private pension system. In theory, through our pension and savings funds, we each own a stake in various companies, and have a say in how those companies are run. In practice, that is nonsense. Instead such power is concentrated in the hands of small number of financial institutions, the pension and savings fund managers or their appointees. They are the ones who, in practice, exercise the power of shareholders. Those institutions, I gently suggest to the Minister, should surely be accountable to our constituents who invest their savings and pension funds. To all intents and purposes, that accountability is largely a myth at the moment. A more accountable investment system is arguably overdue. Savers should surely have guaranteed rights to scrutinise decisions that are made on their behalf by the people who manage their money—the institutional investors.

At the moment, savers have very limited rights to information about what their money is being invested in. Should our constituents not be able to find out how those institutional investors are using shareholder rights that are being exercised in their name? Our constituents should also have access to information about the strategy of the pension or savings fund into which they have put their money, and the risks that are attached to that strategy. Surely they should be able to see an annual report on how the fund has implemented its investment policy over the year and how it plans to mitigate any risks in future.

Our constituents should also be able to question the people who look after their money. Is an annual meeting that much of an unreasonable ask? After all, it is only what companies with normal shareholders have to do. I understand that Legal and General is about to do exactly that, but most of its rivals in the savings market do not have any plans to ape it.

Should our constituents not have the right to be consulted on the investment and voting policies of the institutional investors into whose trust they place their savings and pensions? Should our constituents not also have the right to elect representatives on to the board or governing committee of the pension fund in which they are investing? These are sensible rules that would make the pension and savings fund market a little more accountable. They have been developed by the excellent organisation ShareAction, and I commend them to the House.