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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier this week, as you may recall, I won the sympathy of Mr. Speaker when I complained about the tardy approach of the Home Office to making available documents due for debate in the House of Commons. I draw your attention to the fact that, in business questions yesterday, we were told that on Thursday 25 July the main business would be a motion to approve the Terrorism Act (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2006.
I came to the House this morning to obtain the order and any related documents, so that I could study them with other people this weekend, because the issue is important. That document is not available in either the Vote Office or the Journal Office; indeed, they have not seen the order at all, as it has not been tabled. That might not be breaking the rules of the HouseI understand that, in theory, it can be done right up to the eleventh hourbut it is the convention of the House to allow two weekends between the publication of major legislation to make it available to hon. Members and its being debated. The order is not a Bill, but nevertheless it is an important piece of legislation.
It is not unreasonable for the House of Commons to expect from the Home Office at least one weekend in which to study the order. I am desperately anxious, as this is not a one-off incident. Twice in one week, the Home Office has shown a blatant disregard for individual hon. Memberseven if it is not fit for purpose, they wish to be fit for purposewho wish to provide scrutiny and accountability, and who wish to study and prepare for legislation.
My final wordthis is a serious pointis that although the Whips expect me to support the order, lemming-like, next week, I have not had an opportunity to study it or take cognisance of its contents. I personally think that that is outrageous, and I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and perhaps Mr. Speaker, will intimate a similar viewin your way, of course, which is not quite the same as mineto the Home Office. We cannot go on like this, because it makes what we do in the House a charade.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. I have asked for inquiries to be made, and I have been informed that the order will be laid on Monday, although I regret that that means that the hon. Gentleman will not have the opportunity of reading it this weekend. It will be in the Vote Office on Monday, and his comments are, of course, on the record.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I ask your advice as the guardian of the rights of Back Benchers against the overweening power of the Executive? There have been two examples today of the Executive exerting their power to crush the right of Back Benchers to raise the vital issues of the environment and social justice as they bear on housing and planning development. First, in the course of debate on the Infrastructure Audit (Housing Development) Bill, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), one speech lasted more than 25 minutes and another more than 45 minutes. Those speeches were made by hon. Members whose constituencies were not directly affected by the provisions of the Bill. The Bill had extensive support and backing, and I exercised forbearance in my own speech to try to ensure that the Bill would reach Committee. Unfortunately, the Minister
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. There was nothing in the course of the debate that was disorderly. I must therefore ask him to resume his seat, rather than continue the debate on Second Reading.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it reasonable, when Ministers have intimated their personal support for my Bill, that the Whip on the Government Front Bench objected to a Bill that his colleagues have supported?
Peterborough has an excellent record of harmonious community relations, having evolved from a relatively small cathedral city of about 48,000 citizens after the second world war with an economy based on engineering, the railways and agriculture, to a diverse cosmopolitan city of about 160,000 people, according to the 2001 census. Although manufacturing has declined, service industries such as insurance and finance, retailing, transportation, warehousing and distribution have expanded significantly since 1991. Recently, the city has been an urban hub for agriculture and food processing.
The decency and tolerance of local people are marked by their willingness to welcome newcomers over the years: refugees from poverty and oppression, such as the Italian community to work on the Fletton brickworks after the war, Irish immigrants to work on the railways, and Pakistanis and especially Kashmiris in the 1960s and early 1970s. The latter are now third generation Peterborians and they contribute hugely to the business and civic life of the city of Peterborough.
Although the Pakistani community could be said by some to be socially insular, we have rarely seen the social antagonism, resentment and communal violence witnessed in other cities and towns in England, such as Oldham, Burnley and Bradford, between the white working class and Asian youth. Indeed, the Pakistani community is well led and moderate in its political outlook. It is proud of its historical heritage, well educated and politically engaged and values its hard won place as an integral part of the host community.
For instance, Pakistani residents make up 60 per cent. of the population of the Central ward. Across the whole of the unitary authority area, the non-white population is over 10 per cent. It is appropriate to add that the city also contains three wards in the bottom 250 most deprived wards in EnglandCentral, Dogsthorpe and East wardsand has a male life expectancy four years lower than that of Cambridge, as well as higher rates for infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, heart disease and strokes than the eastern region and England and Wales as a whole.
A series of events began in the 1997 Parliament that has jeopardised Peterboroughs enviable record as an exemplar of middle England accepting and embracing change for the common good. In 2000, Peterborough was designated a dispersal centre by the Home Office and the National Asylum Support Service. It was decreed without any proper consultation with the people of Peterborough or their elected representatives that the city should receive 80 per cent. of all the asylum seekers and their families dispersed to the eastern region. Despite efforts by officers of the city council, elected Members and others, including my predecessor in the House, the actual number of asylum seekers in Peterborough was never quantified and was
the subject of Government obfuscation, with the frequent citing of commercially sensitive contracts with private sector housing contractors such as Clearsprings as a pretext to hide the true picture.
In December 2004, the official figure for the number of asylum seekers in Peterborough was 255, which was still more than the figures for Luton, Norwich and Ipswich. However, sources within Peterborough city council estimated that the figure was much higherperhaps as high as 4,000. For no discernible reason other than self-interest, the unaccountable and unelected members of the East of England regional assembly colluded with that official deceit, much to their discredit. Other agencies such as the police and local health bodies preferred to take the path of least resistance rather than speaking out, either because of political correctness or because of collective cowardice. Predictably and contemptibly, any attempt to debate the policy in a rational and reasoned way was met with the cry of Racism to close down the debate.
The issues of immigration and asylum, as well as crime, quickly reached the top of the political agenda in the Peterborough constituency, which played a major part in costing the Labour party the parliamentary seat at last years general election. Many people were affronted by the high-handed decision by central Government and the lack of consultation. That said, there was a consensus across the political spectrum that community cohesion was at risk if the city council and local taxpayers were not financially assisted to deal with assimilation and integration and the burden they were placing on council tax payers. The then Home Office Minister, who is now Secretary of State for Defence, correctly surmising the gravity of the situation, made this pledge in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph on 15 December 2004:
The fact of the matter is that any charge asylum seekers place on local authorities, we in Central Government will meet.
After prolonged lobbying by the city council and other key stakeholders, such as the greater Peterborough primary care partnership and Cambridgeshire constabulary, the Government agreed in November 2004 to fund through the Treasurys invest to save budget the establishment of the new link project, which was set up under the auspices of the city councils asylum and migration service in Lincoln road in the Millfield area of Peterborough. It involved the amalgamation of nine key projects undertaken by seven voluntary and statutory agencies and was designed to help the integration of not only asylum seekers, but refugees and economic migrants. The scheme was awarded £2.2 million over three years to develop key projects in areas such access to information and training, volunteering, citizenship, English language courses, mediation, translation services, setting up community groups and research on new arrivals and cohesion.
At the outset, I was a sceptic about new link, but I am a pragmatist. My view is that it was necessary to support the work of new link to safeguard the long-term harmony and stability of my constituency and to prevent the resentment and alienation felt justifiably by many of my constituents against Government policy, which, incidentally, resulted in a
candidate standing at the general election as National FrontBritons not Refugees receiving 931 votes at last years election.
I was also impressed by the leadership of the projects manager, Leonie McCarthy, and her team at new link and by the experiences of some of their clients. Leonie has worked hard to make the most of a difficult situation and has steered clear of political controversy, preferring practical action to political posturing.
Some weeks ago, I was privileged to visit new link and launch the website of the newly established Peterborough African community association, which is a confederation of people from 18 African countries. I met its chairman, Dan Cissikho, an asylum seeker who was originally from Senegal, who is working hard to integrate new African residents in the city as a community leader and using his practical skills, which he obtained while running an IT business in his homeland, in order to help others.
The local police have also praised the work of new link. In particular, they have pointed out that its ongoing work helps to release scarce police resources, which are decreasing, to concentrate on other major crime problems in the city. In the jargon, new link is defined as part of the complex Social Cohesion jigsaw in Peterborough. Its work was recently recognised in the UK housing awards 2005, where it won an award for excellence in promoting community cohesion.
Do I applaud the Government funding? The answer is yes. Do I think that our work on community cohesion is finished? No, I do not. As we all know, every silver lining has a cloud. I intend to tell the House why I think that two policy decisions taken by this Government, discrete but interrelated, have the potential to destroy all the good work that new link has achieved since November 2004, and potentially to plunge Peterborough into a state of social dislocation and even civil strife, and to create a breeding ground for the emergence of the plausible racist bigots in the shape of the British National party.
Despite significant evidence that the work undertaken by new link is both valuable and cost-effectivethat was its raison dêtreand vital to maintaining community cohesion, the Government intend to end all invest to save funding for the project from March 2007. The Government envisaged across-the-board savings of £5 million on its £2.2 million investment. There is the important work in areas such as community development, training, learning, information and assistance. If that work is to continue, most of the burden will thereafter fall on the hard-pressed city council tax payers. A sum of certainly £1 million will be necessary to keep the work going.
Despite tabling half a dozen parliamentary written questions to Ministers over the past 12 months, I have yet to receive even the basic rationale for this short-sighted decision, which effectively will terminate one of the most successful projects of its sort in the UK. The Government seem to have closed their mind to any debate on this issue. The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality advised me on 19 June that there were no plans to discuss invest to
save projects with local authorities or other key stakeholders. He added that there were
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