Tom Cox (Tooting) (Lab): I wish in this Christmas Adjournment debate to mention two parliamentary early-day motions now on the order book, of which I am the principal sponsor. The two motions are very different and in my view they are not political. The first is early-day motion 89 relating to pensioners of the Maxwell Communications pension fund. The motion has been signed by more than 100 Members from all the main parties. Some are very senior Members, including former Cabinet Ministers.
Many of us will recall the events that surrounded the death of Robert Maxwell. Many of us feel that we shall never really know how he died. What we soon learned after his death was that he had robbed his companies' pension fund of the money that people who had worked for the Maxwell companies had paid in, expecting that when they retired they would be in receipt of a pension. Very many learned that there would be no pension, or a much reduced one.
I was very quickly asked by a constituent, a Mr. John Emler, who had been a senior official of a Maxwell company, to meet him and his colleagues to discuss the position that they found themselves in, and it was a very sad story that they told me. I then sought to help them and, with the excellent help and advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), members of all political parties became involved because what Maxwell had done affected people in many parts of the country. Some 32,000 people were affected by Maxwell's actions with the contributions that they had made to the pension fund.
The Government of the day soon realised the scale of Maxwell's despicable actions and started to help. The early-day motion refers to what was done, which was welcome. However, what deeply concerned people who had worked for the Maxwell companies was that of the
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money that was raised by Lord Cuckneysome £280 million£30 million was taken by the Treasury. Sadly, we are now seeing the effects of that action.
Since February this year, 1,400 members of the pension fund, including people who retired after June 1992, have lost 50 per cent. of their pensions. Their position was made worse by the actions of the Treasury, which took £30 million of the money that Lord Cuckney raised. Early-day motion 89 therefore states that the £30 million should be returned to the pension fund. That money was raised in 1995 for the benefit not of the Treasury, but of the men and women who worked for the Maxwell companies. Like many hon. Members, I believe that returning it would not present any serious problems to the Treasury. It was not its money in the first place and it would greatly help retired people, who often live on a limited income, to receive the entitlement that they paid for when they were in work. The number of hon. Members who signed the early-day motion clearly shows that there is support for the proposal, and I urge my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to pass on my views and concerns about this important issue to the Chancellor.
Early-day motion 92 deals with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Channel Islands. This year, we have rightly remembered in commemorative events the 60th anniversary of the liberation of European countries. I am a member of the executive committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I am the UK representative for our region, which covers the British islands and the Mediterranean. That includes the Channel Islands, which, as we all know, is a Commonwealth country and is close the United Kingdom both geographically and in friendship.
The early-day motion refers to the celebrations that will take place in May 2005, which mean a great deal to the people of the Channel Islands. Many individuals who lived through the German occupation are still alive. The suffering that they enduredmany of them were deported, forced into labour camps or tortured, and many of them diedhas not been fully understood, although an excellent book on the occupation was published by William M. Bell.
Senator Jean Le Maistre, a senior parliamentarian from Jersey who is closely involved in the CPA, is participating in work on the 60th anniversary and has told me how he and the Channel Islanders want the British involvement to be marked. British military forces liberated the islands and their courage and sacrifice has never been forgotten by the Channel Islanders, who are closely linked to us. It is their wish that our military forces play a major role in the ceremonies next May because, 60 years after the event, they respect and remember the part that they played in the liberation from German occupation.
I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to ask the Secretary of State for Defence and his officials soon to begin discussions with political representatives and officials from the Channel Islands about that request and what the Ministry of Defence can do. I assure the Secretary of State that the Channel Islanders and their elected representatives are willing to work with him, given the importance of the 60th anniversary to the Channel Islands and its people.
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Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Tom Cox). I thought that he might refer to his Adjournment debate this eveninghe is clearly in overdrive todaybut I wish him well when he speaks on the important subject of adults abused in childhood. I know that he has been working with the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, which is an important organisation in this area.
I am afraid that my opening remarks do not reveal my mood about a number of subjects that need to be debated before we adjourn. I could pick a subject to which the new Home Secretary could give his attention. Having moved from the Department for Education and Skills, he may be aware that overseas students require a visa. Appallingly, we take money from them by stealthit costs them £155 to renew their student visa, and £250 if they try to do so by post. It is disgraceful that we should covertly penalise overseas students who, given the way in which higher education funding works, pay well over £7,000 a year in tuition fees. I was a member of the Government who were castigated for increasing overseas students' fees, and I believe that that is a source of shame. I never thought that a Labour Government would treat overseas students in such a wayand I say so as a governor of the London School of Economics and the University of the Arts, London, a member of the council of the university of Surrey and a close associate of the university of Portsmouth.
I could speak about the rate support grant. A press notice that, as ever from this Government, is Orwellian in nature spoke about extra funding for local government. Fascinatingly, there is to be 6.2 per cent. extra, but in Waverley it amounts to £45,000or 2 per cent. below the rate of inflation. That is a classic ploy by the Government who, time and again, have shown contempt for the south-eastthe very area that helps to fill the Chancellor's coffersby forcing through public squalor amid private affluence.
However, the issue that I shall speak about is the one about which I feel most strongly. The Government have demonstrated such contempt for the south-east and disregard for Members of Parliament that I am still trembling from the information that I recently received. In a press notice, the Government announced a £1 billion boost for national strategic roads and their programme for the future. We learned that the A3 at Hindhead is to be taken out of the spending programme. The details of the notice show how the Government define whether a road is of predominantly national and international importance or of predominantly regional interest, but everyone in the Highways Agency says that that is purely a political decision.
A year ago, in response to a question that I asked about the Hindhead tunnel and the time scale for the project, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), who had ministerial responsibility for roads, said:
"Subject to the satisfactory completion of the Statutory Procedures and the availability of funds the A3 Hindhead scheme should be in a position to start construction in 2005 and the new road open to traffic in 2009."[Official Report, 17 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 920W.]
The point about that announcement is that neither the then roads Minister nor the chief executive of the Highways Agency has made any contact with me or my neighbouring Member of Parliament. I defy the Minister to find a road scheme in the country for which there is a clearer need for new investment[Interruption.] Name one, please.
We only have to go there to see that no responsible highway authority could let those conditions continue when there is a real prospect of a solution. The problem has gone on for too long and local people should wait no longer for a solution.
I am sure that the House is anxious to know all the fascinating details about the road scheme at Hindhead. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is an area of national and international importance. It is of special landscape value. The Devil's Punch Bowl at Hindhead is the only area on the route between Scotland and Portsmouth that has no dual carriageway. Since this Government have been in power, there have been a great number of roads Ministers, many of them from Scotland, and it is important to point out that they may wish to travel to Portsmouth, which we are now told is only of regional, not national, significance. Portsmouth is the second most popular passenger port. It is one of the key gateways to the European continent. The area has the only traffic lights on that route between Gatwick, Heathrow and Portsmouth, but the Government say that this is only of regional interest.