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The hon. Member for Elmet talked about grey power. I have not yet gone greywith the help of my hairdresser. I must be honest with the House: I was grey by the time I was 25, for which I entirely blame my children. There is something to be said for grey power. The youth of today is a much discussed subject; we all want to be inclusive and take account of the different generations, and for them all to have an input. But I am a bit fed up with people
On a more serious note, it is a good thing that people live longer and that whereas in previous generations people in their 60s and 70s were regarded as pensioners, today such people are active and, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, articulate. They have priorities and something to say and to contribute. We must ensure that we have policies which recognise that such people are not past their sell-by date.
That brings me to the Liberal Democrats, who are not here. Had they been here, they might have explained why the Liberal Democrat candidate who fought my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) at the election is on the record as having described him as white haired and past his sell-by date. It did a lot for his majority because every grey and white-haired person in Totnes rushed out to vote for him, regardless of political party. The Liberal Democrats could have learned a few lessons about age discrimination had they attended today.
I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Elmet recognised the contribution, which we all appreciate, of people in that age group, their needs in terms of pension and monetary provision, and the wider context in which those in that age group are making a great contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) made a short intervention, but an important one for his constituency, concerning Northumberland county council's decision to charge £2 for school transport for sixth formers, which will clearly have a big impact on the family budget. Children wishing to stay at school and take A-levels or to enter further education at 16 will suddenly find that they are faced with such a bill. I hope that the Minister will have noted my hon. Friend's concern and will draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Ealing, North did not attempt to be a Liberal Democrat today. He raised an interesting case. I was not sure whether he was advocating that the BBC should be subject to market forces like everyone else. I do not think that that was quite what he was saying.
Mrs. Browning: I see a little cross-party support; a little glimmer here. We all recognise the problem with the BBC being funded by the licence payer and receiving financial support from the Treasury. The BBC has a responsibility and should clearly not be in a position where it can simply cherry-pick what other people have had to innovate and work up. I am sure that this will not be the last time that we hear from the hon. Gentleman on this subject.
The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) referred to Cyprus, a subject that has been raised on several occasions during these end-of-term Adjournment debates. Today he focused on human rights in Cyprus. It is a difficult matter, in which the
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): We have had a wide-ranging and interesting debate in which 19 Back Benchers participated. We have heard about a broad range of matters, from the average age of hon. Members and of members of the Conservative party, to the relative merits of the cities of Leeds and Birmingham. I shall do my best to deal with all the remarks of hon. Members in the time available. If I am unable to respond for lack of time or information, I shall ensure that ministerial colleagues write to hon. Members.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) for not being in the Chamber when they spoke. However, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was present and ensured that I was briefed on what they said.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) that there is no threat to the continued existence of the summer Adjournment debate, which was described by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) as whingeing gits' day. The 19 Back-Bench contributions, and the 20th, from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), were far from whinges. We heard some important and eloquent contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) described it as a car boot sale of a debate, and the speeches certainly covered a wide range of products.
If press reports are to be believed, this may have been the last Front-Bench appearance of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton. I am sure that I speak for hon. Members in all parts of the House in thanking her for her contributions from the Front Bench. No doubt she will be just as robust and active as an Opposition Back Bencher. She spoke about grey power. I confess that over the past few weeks I have noticed the odd grey hair on my head. I do not know whether I am on the right or the wrong side of 53at my age, I suspect, the wrong side.
We are about to see a significant exercise of grey power when the Conservative party elects a new leader. As we heard during the debate, the average age of the membership of the Conservative party is 66, but in the light of the hon. Lady's commitment to empowering older members, I wonder whether she will switch her vote from the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) to the slightly older right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).
I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides who raised Cyprus, especially the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis), who is my neighbour in north London, and my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, who has done immense work over many years in bringing Cyprus to the attention of the House. There are many good friends of Cyprus in all parts of the House.
I declare an interest, as I represent a constituency with a larger number of Cypriots, both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, than any other parliamentary constituency. I am pleased to reaffirm the Government's commitment to a just and lasting settlement in Cyprus, based on United Nations resolutions. I reaffirm that the Government use whatever opportunities they can to press human rights matters with the Turkish Governmentnot only human rights matters in Cyprus, but some of the other issues mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green. The Government have a continuing commitment to the process of accession of Cyprus to the European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) referred to the tube, as did a number of other hon. Members. Like him, I have four tube stations in my constituency, at the north end of the Piccadilly line. The concern that he expressed about the tube is shared by my constituents and many others in the Greater London area and there must be an opportunity for the House to debate and scrutinise the proposals.
I reaffirm the Government's commitment to the public-private partnership, which will bring in much needed extra investment to improve the track, signalling and stations across the tube network. That is desperately needed after decades of under-investment. This is a matter to which the House will return.
The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) made a wide-ranging speech, in which he did not have many good things to say about the Government. However, he had the courtesy to inform me that he would not be here for the end of the debate. He was under the impression that it was a three-hour debate today, as used to be the case. Had he known it was a five-hour debate, he told me, he would have spoken for longer. Perhaps we could have a cross-party consensus that there are advantages to having a shorter debate.
The hon. Member for Southend, West was the first of several hon. Members to refer to mobile phones and the Stewart report. All of us will have had concerns raised by constituents, and my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch (John Cryer) and for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) mentioned the matter.
On 16 March, the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Construction, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), announced a series of important improvements to the planning arrangements for telecommunications development. We shall be introducing rules and publishing the revised planning policy guidance note 8 on telecommunications development at the earliest opportunity. I shall ensure that the strong feelings expressed in the debate are drawn to the attention of relevant colleagues so that progress can be made.
Two maiden speeches were made today. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington made a witty speech in which he talked about the people of Birmingham as the backbone of this country. He was at pains to say that his constituents were normal people but pointed out that he was not using Lord Tebbit's definition of the term. He gave a powerful message to the House about the importance of delivering the fundamentals so that we can make a real difference to the lives of our constituents.
The hon. Member for Billericay described his constituency as a shopping paradise and referred to the importance of reducing red tape and bureaucracy for small businesses, the importance of the green belt and concerns about incineration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington and the hon. Member for Billericay have replaced characters in the House, Teresa Gorman and Robin Corbett. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I wish both of them well and say that they will be sorely missed, although Robin Corbett is to become a member of the other place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North discussed the poor turnout at the general election and mentioned the possibility of compulsory voting. I have never been much persuaded by the argument for compulsory voting. The onus is on us, as politicians, to persuade people to vote, rather than to make criminals of those who do not. However, I recognise that strong views are held on the matter, and, in the light of the recent poor turnout, I believe that it should be debated. She also raised a planning matter regarding a horse-racing course. I shall ensure that the relevant people are aware of her concerns. She should probably be thankful that I am responding to the debate, rather than my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons, who may have had to declare an interest on that point.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) spoke about several serious matters that he has raised in previous debates and with other Ministers, including Health Ministers. Not least among them is beta interferon, about which I am sure that constituents have expressed concerns to all hon. Members. Anxiety has certainly been expressed to me, and others have contributed to that aspect of the debate. As has been pointed out, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence has not yet issued its guidance on beta interferon. I am told that it is now consulting on the economic model and that appraisal of the drugs is under way. NICE anticipates that the appraisal committee will reconsider the evidence later this month. That evidence will consist of the new model and any other material that is made available.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also spoke about neurology waiting times in Lincolnshire and the difference between the experience there and the national statistics that Health Ministers have provided to him. That inconsistency is clearly a matter of concern. In particular, I support his point about the need for professionals to be open and accountable in the same way as other public officials and servants. Nobody should be excepted from that requirement.