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Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): These are always unhappy occasions, but it is important that the House can operate proper and effective self-regulation. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) for his chairmanship of the Committee. I also thank the commissioner and the other members of the Committee who work so hard on these difficult cases on behalf of all of us.
It is clear from the report and exhibits that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) has conceded that he did not exercise sufficient control over the company he part-owned and that those using the company website had scope to believe that the company was in the business of providing access to the House of Commons. There was an appearance of conflict of interest in his staff employment arrangements. He has had to apologise for giving the Fees Office and the commissioner wrong information.
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The Committee found that the hon. Member stood to gain financially from the benefits to the company of his involvement in visits to and entertainment at the House. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire said, the Committee concluded that the hon. Member's conduct was well below the standards expected. Hon. Members will know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition has described that behaviour as wholly unacceptable. I support the Committee's recommendation and the motion before the House.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): It is generally accepted that the House should move quickly to resolve recommendations from the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The Committee published its report last Thursday 3 February, and the Government have provided time for debate at the earliest opportunity.
I thank the Committee for its examination of this matter, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for his investigation. I believe that both have operated with commendable thoroughness and scrupulous fairness to the hon. Member concerned. I pay tribute in particular to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who has demonstrated yet again why he is so appropriate a Chairman of the Committee.
The House will welcome the apology by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) in what was a speech of some dignity, but as the right hon. Gentleman said, it is regrettable that the hon. Member's press release was so stridently different in content and tone. It is not clear whether he has actually accepted the Committee's recommendations.
In paragraph 15, the Committee found clearly that the hon. Member stood to gain, even if indirectly, from the benefits that accrued to the company from clients visiting the House. It found a clear risk to the reputation of the House, and the House has heard from the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire a clear explanation of its reasoning, which we welcome.
I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to endorse the Committee's report and accept its recommendation. Matters of this kind reflect on the integrity of the House and on each of us who are Members of it. They affect the way in which the public look at Parliament, encouraging cynicism about politics and politicians. They undermine all the good work that is being done to increase public engagement. It is important that we should be seen to respond to matters of this kind fairly but robustly.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): I, too, want to refer briefly to the Committee's report. I hope that the whole House will take this opportunity to express confidence in the commissioner, the Committee and the process for which they are responsible on our behalf. The integrity of our process is extremely important to the reputation of the whole House.
I hope that the Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), may be able to confirm that the commissioner,
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as is normal practice, gave the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) opportunities to correct any factual inaccuracy. A rather misleading impression was given by the hon. Member in his contribution earlier. I hope that it can be corrected.
In response to the comments of the Leader of the House, perhaps the Chairman of the Committee might like to comment on the subsequent press release, which followed publication of the Committee's report. Did the Committee take that into account in considering this case and will it do so in any future cases? Clearly, a press release issued immediately after publication of a Committee's report can itself damage the reputation of the process and of the House as a whole.
The House should declare its confidence in our carefully designed disciplinary process and we should express our full support for those who undertake these difficult and sometimes invidious tasks on our behalf.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter, but I am not sure whether what I have to say is a brief contribution or a point of order. I speak as a former member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, although I was not involved in this case in any way. Normally, the procedure adopted on such occasions is that the Member against whom a finding has been made will agree his statement with Mr. Speaker before presenting it to the House, as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) has done
That the Lords Message of 2nd February relating to a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider and report on any draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown, be now considered.
That this House concurs with the Lords that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on any draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown, and that the Committee should report on the draft Bill by 26th May 2005.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): It is a delight I hope that the Minister agreesto debate British trees. After all, they have been providing us humans with food, fuel, shelter, building materials, places of recreation and beauty in our landscape for millennia. Indeed, our quality of life is enhanced by the existence of trees, which absorb greenhouse gases that otherwise cause harm to us and our environment. Trees give us shade. They block out noise. They conserve biodiversity, as habitats for numerous animal and plant species. They aid the economytimber and tourism, with visits to see trees, most immediately come to mindand in my view, they make us happier.
Hon. Members can see a glorious row of trees close to the House in New Palace Yard. They can see an ancient hawthorn and a rare black poplar in Green park, and they can see the famous Elfin oak in a gilded cage in Kensington gardens. My constituency contains examples of the brilliance of treesI am sure that those of many hon. Members are the sameand many contexts in which trees are valuable to our history. The Royal Oak public house is in Bishop's Wood in my constituency. Many pubs in the country have that name, but the one in my constituency is within a mile or two of the very oak where it is alleged that Charles II hid after his disastrous defeat at Worcester.
Trees are valuable to our heritage. My constituency contains parts of the wonderful Cannock Chase, which was once a great royal hunting forest but is today owned by the county council. It is a mass of sites of special scientific interest, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a special area of conservation for its heathland. Trees are valuable to our habitats. What a delight it was for me the day that I stood in Shugborough estate, viewing a lime tree that was home to enormous numbers of wasps. I assure the Minister that I watched from a safe distance. Trees are also valuable to housingsomething that applies across the country. I refer in particular to urban areas: trees add to the delight of parks, grass verges alongside roads and housing estates.
I want to discuss the polices that we should implement to value and protect all kinds of trees, and the contribution that my hon. Friend the Minister can make in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Let me start with the brilliant reforms that we have had to the common agricultural policy since June 2003. It is great to see that woodland and trees are recognised for the part that they play in farmed landscapes. We have a glorious toolkit: the cross-compliance conditions, the entry level and the high-level schemes for the forest stewardship and woodland grant schemes. For goodness' sake, let us ensure that we use all those schemes to improve the country's treesfor example, by buffering important woodland sites from surrounding intensive land use.
The Department has other tools, such as its biodiversity strategy, which covers the conditions that are set to maintain the condition of SSSIs and the number of agri-environmental schemes to manage land. Another of the Department's tools is the plant diversity
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challenge, otherwise known as the UK's response to the global strategy for plant conservation. The target for the sustainable management of plant products is relevant to that.
Training, skills and information services are a crucial tool for the Department. I believe that it is possible to fire the public's imagination and inspire people to work, including as volunteers, with trees. From my constituency experiences, I know that there would be a positive public response. When residents living near the ancient Fullmoor wood thought that it was under threat from works proposed by the Forestry Commission, they organised a huge campaign, which included public demonstrations and contact with their Member of Parliament. I praise publicly the response of the Forestry Commission because, through its openness and transparency, it resolved problems and soothed anxieties. It now has a positive partnership with the residents.
I shall cite a further positive example from my constituency. In the run-up to the millennium, all the residents of the village of Derrington got together to plant a millennium wood, which now stands as a fine tribute for centuries to come. It was a delight for me to join the residents one day in planting those trees, which they now tend to attentively.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister can make a contribution to all trees. I know that that is not my hon. Friend the Minister's Department, but I am sure that he can assist me. The current system of tree preservation orders is inadequate. There are explicit exceptions to their power. Trees that are dead, dying or dangerous are not protected. The removal of a tree can be authorised by an Act of ParliamentI suppose that the measures on high hedges in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 would provide for that. An existing tree preservation order can be overridden by granting new planning permission for development. On top of all that, there is the obvious exception that a council may give permission to lop a protected tree, or even to cut it down.
In addition to those exceptions, there are obvious weaknesses and loopholes in the system. For example, only a fine can be imposed for breaking a tree preservation order and destroying a valuable tree. During my time as a councillor in Stafford, I knew of a developer who deliberately cut down protected trees and stood the fine because the profit on the houses that he subsequently built was miles greater than the fines.
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