I am proud that there are people in my community who are not registered. They should never have been in
the industry in the first place. I am glad they are out of it and will not get back into it. Those who are in the industry can now join a union and get better pay and training. The training system is recognised. There is security in the industry. Those working in it have a skill and can be respected. Many of those who work in it, particularly door security people, are good, skilled and knowledgeable. Unfortunately, on occasions they face violence caused by drink or other factors. Because the industry has been cleaned up and because these people have skills, knowledge and a clean record, the industry as a whole will flourish. I am pleased about that, as I hope the hon. Gentleman is.
Mr. Bone: I agree with the Minister. My point was that the regulation and the administration of the regulation were poor. Two of my constituents were just as the Minister described the right sort of people to be registered yet their forms were rejected because apparently they had not signed in the little box. In fact, they had. My point was that the resources were not there to implement the scheme properly.
Mr. McCartney: The resources are there. Mistakes are made on occasion, and the hon. Gentleman, who has been in the travel industry, knows that. My God, many a holiday has been spoiled by a technical mistake. I hope that the hon. Gentlemans constituents have now registered and have a career. I am sure that they have. Over the years many of my constituents have just had to say goodbye to their holiday. We will come back to that because there is a good tale to tell about that industry too. Mistakes can and do happen, unfortunately. We have lots of regimes so that whenever there is a mistake, there is a remedy for itnot just a legal or financial remedy. The big issue is getting cultural change within business systems and organisations to prevent mistakes in the first place. Rather than a remedy afterwards, prevention is always the best policy. Where that breaks down because of human or business frailty, whether public or private business failure, there must be a remedy. In my speech today I have tried to set out a framework, showing the Governments ambition to make this a world-class regime. I hope that if we take step by step, that is exactly what will happen.
The hon. Gentleman raised a number of other issues. On the national health service I can well remember coming here and agitating on behalf of constituents who were waiting for heart operations or cataract operations, not for 18 months, but for two years. Across the country constituents were waiting for nine months, 12 months, 18 months or two years. There was chaos. An average wait in hospital during the winter months under the Conservatives could be 20, 21, 22 or 24 hours. Take your pick. There have been substantial changes in the NHS. It is a good news story. Thank goodness we won the last election. The hon. Gentleman supported a manifesto to take at least £1 billion a year out of the NHS and hand it as a subsidy to those who already had private health care.
The Government have an absolute commitment, and I hope that the Conservative party will do a flip-flop and support it. We have promised, end to end, 18 weeks
from seeing your GP to having a successful operation. We have made that promise, and it will happen. In the interim, across Britain, you now have a choice to go to another hospital if you cannot get the service at your local one. That includes if necessary attending a private hospital as an NHS patient, receiving treatment free at the point of use based on your medical need. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford may complain and grumble, but his hon. Friends raised the matter on the basis that NHS patients are consumers
Mr. McCartney: I am the consumer Minister, and thank goodness I am. Any job I do, I will make a success of it. I may be a small man, but I am a bigger man than the hon. Gentleman in all respects. He can take that how he likes.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) said that citizens advice bureaux did not receive any direct Government funding. That is not correct. Earlier I announced that we will be giving £45 million to fund debt advice services and £16 million will go to projects led directly by Citizens Advice. It will also receive a share of the £22 million going to projects run jointly with other advice agencies. So we are giving substantial funding.
When I was a Minister in the Cabinet Office between 1999 and 2001 we gave substantial assistancemillionsto the CABs to invest in infrastructure so that they could interconnect on advice, services and training. They welcomed that. Local authorities also support the CABs. It was to the eternal shame of the Conservative Government that they substantially cut resources to the CABs. We have not only put them back but bettered them, and rightly so.
Mr. Bone: I appreciate that this is the consensual part of the Ministers speech. He would not want to misrepresent me. I said that no money went directly to the local CABs. Government money goes only to the national organisation, as I understand it.
Mr. McCartney: I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying to get himself off the hook he put himself on, but Citizens Advice is the citizens advice bureaux. It is a national network linked to the local one. It is one and the same organisation. It is true to say that there is some local independence of services, but it is a national organisation, and we are funding it. It welcomes that funding. It also receives funding from local authorities of all political persuasionsrightly so.
In the past few years the CABs have run services directly for local authorities in relation to unclaimed benefit or employment issues. They provide better services that are value for money. I welcome that. We will continue to invest in the CABs and I, and the Government as a whole, will continue the partnership arrangement. I thank the hon. Member for Wellingborough for his
comments. I am sure that the next time we have a dateI mean a debate. I said a date there, I do apologise. Och, you are over 21.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough suggested a different way of funding risk in the package travel industry. I will be honest with you. This may be a good idea; it may be a barmy idea. When I have read Hansard, I will write to the hon. Gentleman about that. In the meantime, I will give you some information that may or may not help you, but it is information that I want to put on the record.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I have restrained myself for a long time with regard to the language used by the right hon. Member. When he reads Hansard perhaps he will notice how many times he has incorrectly used the term you.
Mr. McCartney: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is the second time that I have been pulled up today. I explained earlier that I was a bit ring-rusty but that I hoped to have a bit more oil in my body by the end of the debate. I am nearly there, and I hope that you do not have to call me to order againbut you have to admit, it is good stuff. We have livened up what could have been a very dry debate and I hope that consumer magazines and newspapers will join the discussion. In that way, they will give information about the services that the Government are providing and the investment that we are putting in.
Mr. Prisk: While the Minister is preparing his release for the trade press, I want to return to the important point about the difference between local citizens advice bureaux and the national organisation. The people who work in my local bureau, for instance, worry that money given by the Government is often held at the national association level. Some support is given with computer systems, for example, but my experience is that many local bureauxwhich are funded by local authorities of all political persuasionsrarely see the benefit of that money, even though they bear the burden of the work. Does the Minister understand the distinction between the local bureaux and the national organisation? They are not the same thing.
Mr. McCartney: I understand the hon. Gentlemans point, but I stick to what I said. All the new local bureau services being rolled out across the country are funded directly. The national organisation redistributes the resources that the Government make available, according to where the money is needed. No one would expect the Government to meddle in that. The partnership agreement requires that the national organisation distribute resources and provide services in a way that achieves value for money, but local funding is provided, by agreement, where that is deemed to be more suitable. We are committed to the massive new local investment that I described, and the organisation has made it clear that it is delighted at the
huge increase in its capacity to deal with clients in local communities and to help vulnerable people who get into unnecessary debt.
I know that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford has to be able to tell the people in his local CAB that he has put their case. I accept that he makes a genuine point as, from time to time, I have to put the case for my local bureau with my local authority, but I think that I have responded to it. The Government are spending millions of pounds at both local and national level, and will continue to do so.
I shall not read out the stuff on package travel for the hon. Member for Wellingborough, as I got diverted. However, I shall write to him with the details, which I shall place in the Library for other colleagues to see.
Finally, I turn to my [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) makes a remark from a sedentary position, even though he has not contributed to the debate. I am trying to answer the questions that have come up. I know that he thinks that I have been here too long, but that was an unfair comment to make.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) raised a number of issues. I can assure him absolutely that I and the Government are absolutely neutral about how the review of Sunday trading should be conducted. If he reads Hansard, he will see how complex the issues are. I have made it very clear that the Government want to be pro-business, small or large, and that we also want to be on the side of the people who work in those businesses.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central asked about service workers. I used to be one; I know that service workers need to be properly respected by employers and customers alike, and I have supported the campaign to secure that respect. Millions of pounds are going into training these vulnerable workers through the trade union learning fund and other training services provided by the Government. The national minimum wage has been a big boost to service workers and will continue to help them.
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and the GMB, which was at the conference yesterday, are part and parcel of the core groups that we are consulting over the future of Sunday trading. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central that USDAW held its first awards ceremony for service workers at the Radisson hotel in Manchester airportI am always pleased to get in a plug for that airportand I participated in the presentations there. It was a wonderful occasion, because many ordinary men and women do extraordinary things, but are never recognised. They are not film or sport stars, but each and every day they go to work with a smile on their face to provide a service. Sometimes they get abused, so thank goodness USDAW has the skill, the guile and the knowledge to recognise these extraordinary people for their huge contributions to the community and the British economy.
The United Utilities company has been transformed over the last few years. I recognise what was said about some of the difficulties, but United Utilities has recently announced a multi-billion pound investment
programme on sewer water flooding, for example. John Roberts, the chief executive who has just retired, transformed the company and I am assured that the new chief executive will further transform it, improve customer services and invest its capital and revenue resources to do so. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central will recognise that.
In conclusion, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford raised a number of questions and I assure him that he will receive replies. Any replies that are non-specific will be placed in the Library, so all hon. Members attending the debate will be able to assess whether the responses that I have given are accurate.
After a very good debate, I want to stress the positive point that the Government intend to create a world-class regime by the date that I set out. It will benefit business and consumers and will make it clear to those who want to operate scams that we will deal
with them. We will deal with those who want to carry out illegal money lending; we will deal with those who want to damage communities by their activities.
I hope that, after our debate, a consensus will emerge on the road that we are taking. A country with appropriate regulation can ensure that business grows and that when it does, it is not hindered by cowboy organisations. If any cowboys are providing services in which consumers are badly treated or ill informed, the Government and the state will be on the side of consumers. That is my final point. However long I am in this job as Minister with responsibility for consumers, I am going to be on the consumers sidenot just on Monday or Tuesday, but seven days a week, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, including leap years.
David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): I am delighted to have secured a debate on a subject about which I could speak at great length, although the House will be pleased to learn that I do not intend to do so. We have an opportunity to debate on the Floor of the House a matter of great concern to my constituents in and around the Muckle Toon of Langholm and the Eskdale valley in Dumfriesshire.
I raised the matter in my maiden speech and have previously raised it in the Scottish Parliament. It was also brought before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament. I have already met the Minister to discuss it, but it remains unresolved, so I welcome this opportunity to record the concerns of my constituents about the imposition of rod licences on the Scottish section of the Border Esk and to look for a way forward that commands the support both of my constituents and the Environment Agency.
I am, however, already reassured about Parliaments role in this matter of great import, for no sooner had I secured todays debate than I had proactive contact from the Environment Agency for the first time. This morning, I was pleased to receive a fax from the Minister of a letter responding to a letter of 30 November 2005. Let no one say that debates in the House do not produce action.
The matter has a long history and has been raised previously in the House, in particular by one of my predecessors, Lord Monro of Langholm. I pay tribute to him for his assiduous pursuit of the issue over the years, and I thank him for his help as I prepared for the debate. I first became involved as a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the South of Scotland region. I was pleased to welcome members of the Esk and Liddle improvement association to the Scottish Parliament and to support their petition about the inequity of the Environment Agencys imposition of rod licences in 2003.
The Scottish Executives failure to get involved at that time was disappointing and lacking in backbone. Their failure to stand up for the interests of my constituents was a clear dereliction of the duties and obligations expected of them by people who supported the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Instead, the Executive simply kowtowed to the wishes of the Environment Agency and allowed it to go ahead with the rod licensing regime. If the Scottish Executive had spoken out against the introduction of rod licences on the Esk, I do not believe that the Environment Agency would still have gone ahead. That failure to act is consistent with many of the disappointments that people in my constituency have endured since the setting up of the Scottish Parliament.
I shall not dispute the background to the regulation of fisheries on the Border Esk; as the Environment Agency points out in its briefing for the debate, there has been regulation under English fisheries law since the 1860s. That has never been in dispute, although the agencys responsibility for the Border Eskand,
indeed, the responsibility of the Scottish authorities in various guises for the Tweedis not based on any scientific fact, but merely reflects the historical need to come to a sensible resolution of cross-border issues. That is why I find it hard to accept the inflexible and unhelpful approach adopted in recent years by the Environment Agency, which, regardless of everything said by Baroness Young and people from the Environment Agency, is wholly contrary to the undertaking that Lord Sewel gave the former MP for Dumfries, Lord Monro, in a letter of 16 November 1998 after Lord Monro had raised the issue during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998.
Because of local circumstances, the Environment Agency has never enforced its legal obligation in this area and as I indicated has no intention of changing that situation.
No satisfactory explanation has ever been proffered, only some bureaucratic nonsense that all rivers must be treated the same and therefore that the Scottish section of the Border Esk must be brought into line with the rest of the rivers within the responsibility of the Environment Agency.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentlemans constituents, who clearly feel aggrieved, but is there not a quid pro quo? Although the Tweed flows in England and would be subject to Environment Agency rod licensing in normal circumstances, anglers are effectively exempt from paying for that licence, as a quid pro quo for the similar but converse situation in Scotland. Is that a balancing factor in the debate? I am genuinely interested, and I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can inform the House.
David Mundell: I can inform the hon. Gentleman on two points. First, as has been confirmed again today in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Executive have no plan at all to introduce rod licences in Scotland on any river for which they have responsibility, including the Tweed. Secondly, even though parts of the Tweed are physically in England, people fishing on those parts of the river are not required to pay for rod licences. The hon. Gentleman highlights the important point that an accommodation has been reached to avoid an incredibly complicated situation where different regimes might apply to either bank of a river. That accommodation has been put in statute in some ways, but it is mostly informal and there is no particular reason why it should not apply the other way around. It probably dates back to some border reiving activity, which is probably the ultimate historical origin of the choice of which authority covers which river.
Martin Salter: Particularly in salmon rivers in Scotland and elsewhere, it is common practice to wade across the river to fish a pool on the other side and back again, so the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the difficulties of enforcing a different administrative regime on either bank. Does he have a set of proposals to which my hon. Friend the Minister could respond that would not involve imposing a different administrative regime on either side of the river? I am sure that he would agree that anything other than that would be utterly unenforceable.