Mr. Gauke: I think that I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her kind words, although they will probably not do my career any good. None the less, there is still a problem with productivity in the health service. I am grateful to her for saying that I made a measured contribution, but I have to tell her that productivity is very poor in the health service, just as it is in the education system. I accept that it is difficult to measure, but according to any measurement, we have a problem in our public sector.
Dawn Primarolo: The hon. Gentleman must know, because he appears to follow these discussions closely, that the Office for National Statistics has done some work with us on this matter and that it has produced a paper showing a range of measures to illustrate where productivity is increasing in education and in health. The ONS acknowledges that these measures represent staging posts towards an ongoing programme to improve productivity in regard to information, so that we can get a much fairer picture of what is going on. We are clearly flagging up that this is about getting accurate and timely information to give us a proper assessment of the productivity.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) said that there was no encouragement in the Budget for first-time buyers. Mortgage rates are at their lowest levels since the 1950s and the cut in the cost of mortgages has resulted in a level that is now about £4,000 a year. Interest rates, at 4.5 per cent., remain close to their historic low levels and it is estimated that there will be about 2 million more home owners by the end of 2006 than there were in 1997. That shows that the Government are introducing precisely the kind of measures that assist home owners by providing stability, low interest rates and certainty.
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The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex raised the question of spending on housing, and he was right to do so. It is important that we invest in social housing as well. I can tell him that investment in housing is growing at 4.1 per cent. in real terms from 200405 to 200708. That compares with 0.2 per cent. from 1979 to 1997. The extra resources are going to every area in England, and the devolved Administrations will receive the Barnett consequential rises.
The hon. Gentleman also made a number of eloquent and pertinent points about defence, diplomacy, the role of the Foreign Office, the importance of the diplomatic service and the contribution made by our armed forces. I entirely agree with him. Such issues are very much in the minds of Ministers as they come forward in the negotiations and discussions with the Chief Secretary on the spending reviews and consider carefully how we balance all our commitments.
There was a great deal of discussion about the environment and the contributions of Opposition Members can be characterised by the words, "We wish the environment were better, but we don't know how to do that." The Budget has set out the next stages in the Government's strategy to tackle the global challenge of climate change, and that includes measures to encourage energy efficiency in the business sector and an increase in the climate change levy in line with inflation as from April 2004.
Stephen Pound: I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I fear I may disappoint her. She will be as familiar as the rest of the House with the theoretical journal of the Conservatives in Oakleigh ward. In view of what she has just said, did she realise that Councillor Gerard Silverstone, who lives in Brighton but represents constituents in Barnet, is somehow taking advantage of the very transport policies that she has just shared with the House? Does she think that it is an unexpected consequence of our policy and is it one that she now regrets?
Dawn Primarolo: My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point, which I may need a little longer to reflect on than I have this evening. The climate change levy package has made a significant impact on energy consumption if not the travel arrangements of the councillor whom my hon. Friend mentions.
The levy is encouraging businesses to improve their energy efficiency and, as a country, we are reaching our Kyoto targets. We will publish shortly a climate change programme review that will set out the way forward. As Members have rightly pointed out, we need to do more than our Kyoto targets.
The Government are also using the "polluter pays" principle in the implementation of our environment policies. This principle ensures that, by using tax, we can
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influence behaviour. That is precisely what we have done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) said, far more needs to be done to achieve our objectives.
This has been an interesting two days of the Budget debate. I regret that, because of time, I cannot answer every point that Members made, but I look forward to their participation in considering the Finance Bill, so that we can discuss it in detail. I commend the Budget, which adds measures to enhance our national position as a prime location for inward investment, promotes London, invests in skills, reforms our education and training programme, makes sure that we have the employment skills that we need for the future
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Over the last decade, there has been an increasing acceptance by both the public and politicians that road safety for pedestrians, particularly children, the elderly and disabled people, must come above convenience for the motorist, especially around schools and shopping areas and where fast roads must be crossed. I pay tribute to Mrs. Johnson and each of the 400 or 500 signatories to her petition, which states:
Declares that we the residents of Canvey Island and surrounding areas wish to formally record our concerns regarding the lack of safe crossing points on High Road, Canvey Island for pedestrians, particularly the elderly, disabled and those with children.
The Petitioners therefore call on the House of Commons to urge the Government to impress upon Castle Point Borough Council the need to install a new pelican crossing on High Road, Canvey Island, as requested by the Member of Parliament, to improve safety for all pedestrians.
Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): I want to raise the case of Omid Farivar and his family, who are asylum seekers from Iran living in my constituency. Over the years that I have been in the House, I have dealt with many hundreds and probably thousands of asylum cases. Some have been distressing, and some disturbing, but probably none has been worse and more worrying than this one. I have therefore written to the Home Office and the Minister on a number of occasions, and have asked for a meeting with the Minister, which he refused. I am therefore bringing the case to the Floor of the House to try to draw the Minister's attention to this case's extremely distressing features, which inspire compassion, in the hope that I can get him to reconsider.
All of us who deal regularly with asylum cases know that there has been a continuing hardening of attitudes in the Home Office in recent years, and a growing unwillingness on the part of Ministers to use the discretion given them by Parliament to deal with cases that truly arouse compassion. I still find it hard to believe, however, that any UK Minister, let alone one who claims to be a Labour Minister, can possibly refuse this case. If I do not achieve a reconsideration by the Minister, my concern is that the doctors of my constituent's 13-year-old daughter fear that she is unlikely to reach the age of 14 and extremely likely to commit suicide. I will come to the evidence of that in a moment. In addition, her father, if returned to Iran, is very likely to be executed.
I should stress that I am anxious not to identify the family too closely. I have given the name of my constituent, and I hope that that will not cause ramifications. The obvious reasons for my hesitation are those of privacy and concern for the mental health of the daughter, but also that the family are fearful of any consequences of publicity here for their family in Iran. My regional television company, Central television, was anxious to take up the case and interview the family. Although that might have helped them, they refused, because they fear what might happen at home if they draw attention to themselves.
My constituent is a graduate in chemical engineering. For a time, he was a lecturer, and then became a development and research manager in a substantial factory. His wife is also a chemical engineering graduate, production manager and part-time chemistry teacher. Obviously, the family are highly educated and were living comfortably in Iran.
In February 2003, however, my constituent was involved in a road traffic accident in which a child was seriously injured. That was obviously a tragedy, but it turned into a nightmare for the family, because the boy was the son of a high-ranking member of an Islamist group referred to in Iran as Hizbullahias I understand it, all such groups are fanatically supportive of the Government, but this particular group is especially fanatical, tends to enforce Government rules, and is known as Feshar. My constituent tells me that its members are hard-line militant enforcers of Islamist rules.
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After the accident the police went to the scene, talked to witnesses and took my constituent to a police station, where he was held for three days. The father of the boy then went to the police station and claimed that my constituent had knocked the boy over on purpose. He kicked and beat him. At first the police were inclined to stop that, but when the political-activist senior figure said that my constituent had knocked the boy over on purpose they joined in, and he was beaten very severely.
On the second day, my constituent was asked to sign a confession. He resisted, but was beaten more and then gave in. The confession stated that he had deliberately injured the boy because he was trying to harm the father, and that he had been drinking alcohol. That was all completely untrue, but he signed the confession because he was beaten. He was then taken to court, and was detained while they waited to see what would happen to the boy. He was in prison for two to three weeks; then the boy sadly died.
My constituent's family experienced great difficulty in getting any solicitor to represent him because of the political position of the boy's father, but eventually they found a solicitor who secured his release from prison on bail. When the boy died, however, he was detained again. The court then ordered him to pay blood money or be executed. Obviously he accepted the order to pay blood money, but in such cases the offended party must agree. The boy's family would not accept blood money, but said they would agree to accept it and would not demand execution if my constituent agreed to engage his 11-year-old daughter to the brother of the boy's father, a 42-year-old. The boy's father also went to see my constituent, and said that even if my constituent was executed he would follow his family and take the life of a young person to pay for the life that his own family had lost.
My constituent then talked to his wife and father about what he should do. He thought that perhaps he should accept execution to release his family from the pressure that they were under, but they said "No: agree to the deal. Then at least we can get you out of prison, and try to find a way forward." He therefore accepted the deal and paid the blood money, which he tells me was 15 million toman. I have no idea how much that is, but I imagine that it is a substantial sum.
Then the daughter was engaged to the brother, but whenever the man called at their house she would shake in fear. Her father felt absolutely dreadful, and decided that he could not do it: she was too young. Then his father paid a people-smugglerone of those people who now run the asylum system of the worldto take the family out of the country. But the smuggler was arrestedI do not think that it was to do with this caseand put in prison, so the money was lost and that plan did not work.
The fiancéthe 42-year-old brotherkept calling at my constituent's house to see his daughter. My constituent said that he could not accept it any more. He dismissed the engagement, and returned the presents that the fiancé had brought.
Before the engagement, the family of the boy who had died in the accident had come to my constituent's house, broken windows and harassed and threatened the family. All that stopped when the engagement was on, but after it was broken off the attacks started again.
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That led to an invasion of the house. The invaders found the satellite television, which is illegal in Iran. They also claimed to have found political books and alcohol. My constituent tells me that he did have a satellite television, but did not have political books or alcohol. He was not involved in any political activity in Iran. However, the allegations were being made by a political faction, which made him into a political prisoner.
My constituent was then taken to the fanatical group's own prison, which he tells me was very nasty, like a cage, with sharp needle-like pieces of metal embedded in the cement of the floor. He was there for 10 to 12 days. There was no light, and he did not know whether it was day or night. He was taken out of the cage and beaten, then put back, many times. He was then released, because his father had paid a lot of money for him to be released, and told to report to the group daily. He tells me that there are special courts to deal with political offencesIslamic revolutionary courts.
Given the doubts of the regrettably misinformed adjudicator in the case, let me say that Human Rights Watch is very clear about the fact that there are political courts in Iran: there is no question about that. My constituent was not politically active, but he was accused by a political faction of being politically motivated, and was therefore treated as a political prisoner.
My constituent's father, having got him released from prison, looked for a way to get him and his wife, son and daughter out of the country. They found and paid a people-smuggler, who got them false visas on their real passports. By now, they were not staying at home but moving between friends and family. Then, they got the message to go to the airport very early on a fixed day. The smuggler gave them their passports and told them which passport check-line and door to go through. My constituent assumes that people were bribed to let them through. They did not know until that morning where they were going. They had no motivation to get to the UK; they just wanted to get out of the country and the danger that they were in. They were given tickets and told to rip up their passports on the plane and to apply to UK authorities when they arrived, which they did. My constituent knew nothing whatsoever of asylum or any asylum seekers before he came to the UK.
Since the family have been in this country, the daughter has had constant nightmares and will not eat. Her doctors have written medical letters to me; indeed, they are so worried about her that they have even come to see me at my advice bureau. They are extremely fearful that she will commit suicide. I have provided the Home Office with copies of those letters. Dr. Usha Jayarajan, clinical psychologist, and Dr. Irene Lampert, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, of Birmingham Children's hospitala fine and prestigious hospitalsay that the girl
"has difficulty sleeping, waking frequently from frightening nightmares where she sees the cyclist who died in the accident in Iran, covered with blood and chasing her with knives in his hands, threatening to kill her and her family."
"she reports finding it difficult to think about anything other than the events that led them to flee Iran and how terrible their situation is now, compared to the comfortable life that they had prior to the accident."
As if that were not bad enough, since the family has been in the UK the son has developed leukaemia. A letter from a consultant paediatric haematologist at Birmingham Children's hospitalI have sent a copy of it to the Home Officedated 7 June 2005 states that the son
"was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia at the beginning of March 2004 and he received intensive chemotherapy until August 2004. He is currently in remission and on regular follow up. He is not requiring any active treatment at present although there still does remain a significant risk of disease relapse, particularly over the next two to three years . . . treatment was quite intensive and we are continuing to monitor him in the Outpatient Department for any sign of toxic effects following this treatment. He does have a significant risk of relapse and if this occurs he will need intensive further treatment and bone marrow transplant. Were he to return to Iran it is unlikely he would get the sort of follow up that would pick up complications following his
Since they have been in the UK, they have kept in touch with the father and mother of my constituent. Their house has been invaded twice by that fanatical group and they have been beaten on both occasions. After the second invasion, the mother had a heart attack, but is still alive.
My constituent is a very intelligent, calm and reflective man. There is no doubt about the sincerity of his beliefI have been to their house and spoken with them at some lengththat if he is sent back he would be sent before a political court, because he has been accused of political activity, and probably executed. His children would also be targeted, as was threatened.
I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister and asked for a meeting. His letter of 6 March relies on an adjudication that turned down the family's case. Some of the medical evidence that I have given today was not put before the adjudicator, but the adjudicator simply did not believe the story. There is no doubt in my mind that the adjudicator was simply wrong. The reason Parliament gives Ministers discretion is so that they have the right to overturn a decision when the adjudicator gets it wrong.
It is notable also that in October 2003, before the adjudication, the Home Office argued that the general human rights situation and freedom of speech in Iran were improving, and the country was in a state of transition. I hope it is acceptedit is certainly the rhetoric of our Governmentthat since the 2005 elections and the appointment, in particular, of Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi as Minister of the Interior, that is emphatically no longer the case. He was previously involved in a decision to execute thousands of political prisoners in 1983, an event that Human Rights Watch considers a serious crime against humanity under international human rights law.
That is the case that I am bringing to the Floor of the House and before the Minister tonight. I am sure that he is very busy and has many cases to consider. Perhaps he has not in the past had time to consider all the details of this case, but I ask him to please, please use his discretion to allow the family to remain in the UK on compassionate grounds because that would save their lives. They are a very nice and highly educated family and, if allowed to stay, I am sure that they would be very good citizens of our country.