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3.40 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am delighted to participate in this debate, although I am sure that it will not be as exciting as the previous debate and the comments from both sides of the House. I want to raise two local issues and one international issue relating to Lebanon.

On the local front, I am concerned about the latest plans of the Leicestershire health trust for the downgrading of the pathway project. Two years ago, the University of Leicestershire health trust decided to rebuild our three hospitals in Leicester—the Leicester general hospital, the Leicester royal infirmary and Glenfield hospital. They were to be completely rebuilt at a cost of about £761 million. A few weeks ago, we were told in Leicester that because of the cuts that had been decided on, the project would be downsized to a cost of approximately £500 million. The result is that Leicester general hospital, which is in my constituency, will not be rebuilt.

Obviously, we are delighted that one of the Leicester MPs is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Although she cannot intervene on local matters, because she is in charge of our hospitals all over the country, the fact that she is a Leicester MP makes her more aware of the issues that concern people in the city.

My plea is that the local health authority understand that downsizing the project, and thereby not rebuilding Leicester general hospital, will cause enormous difficulties in the future. Instead of a rebuild, we have been promised a refurbishment and the use of modular buildings. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) and I went to look at a modular building. Such buildings have a life span of only 25 years, and although they would be newer than other parts of the hospital, they would have to be dismantled at the end of that period and a new extension constructed.

In a 21st-century health service, it is vital that we have the buildings to support its services. I agree with the fundamental principle that services matter and it is important that local people have access to excellent health care, but if they do not have buildings in which to provide it, they will suffer in the long run.

The second issue concerns my constituent, Malde Modwadia, who many years ago was falsely accused and convicted of theft. The conviction was quashed and under section 133(4) of the Criminal Justice Act he applied for an assessment in respect of loss of income and the compensation due to him for false arrest and conviction. I have had much correspondence with at least five Home Office Ministers requesting a meeting to discuss the principle of the case.

Clearly, the situation affects Dr. Modwadia, his career, his reputation and the livelihood of his family, and it is important that others in a similar position—who are falsely accused and convicted and whose convictions are quashed on appeal—should have the proper level of compensation.

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With the current system, under section 133(4) of the Criminal Justice Act, it is not possible to appeal against the decision of the assessor. In this case, the assessor was Lord Brennan, a member of the other place and a distinguished lawyer who clearly understands the way in which the legal system operates. However, despite the eminence of Lord Brennan, the fact remains that if an assessment is wrong—according to Dr. Modwadia, his assessment does not take into consideration his loss of earnings over the past 20 years; he was a qualified doctor and by now he would have been a very senior consultant in a hospital in the United Kingdom—it is extremely important that somebody else should have the opportunity to look at that assessment. Under the current law, no one can do so. I had a private Member’s Bill—a behind-the-Chair Bill—before the House, which has now fallen. It is extremely important to ensure that Ministers are aware of the gap in the law, in relation not just to Dr. Modwadia but to other people in similar situations, and that we have a right of appeal against an assessment that has already been made.

My final point is about Lebanon and a call that I received yesterday from a person who operates a glass-making factory on the road between Beirut and Damascus. Two days ago, he evacuated his employees from the factory, because he feared that bombs might fall on it. The day before yesterday, four Israeli missiles hit the factory and razed it to the ground. There is absolutely nothing left. His concern—and the concern, I am sure, of others involved in similar cases—is what will happen about compensation for British citizens who have property in Lebanon. I rang the Lebanese ambassador, who was not available. I then had a lengthy conversation—it was a bit heated—with the deputy ambassador for Israel. He explained why Israel was doing what it was doing. I have enormous sympathy with the comments made recently by the Minister for the Middle East; I agree with everything that he said about the disproportionate nature of the Israeli attacks—but I put that to one side. My concern is what happens to British citizens whose property is being destroyed.

Clearly the Foreign Office is fully engaged in the cases of those who are trying to get out of Lebanon, and I pay tribute to Ministers and officials, who have moved extremely fast to make sure that as many British citizens as possible are removed and brought to the safety of other countries. However, the worry for my constituent and others is that they have nowhere to register their loss of property. Obviously, the people who worked in the factory no longer have jobs, because the factory is no longer there. We cannot register that with the Israeli authorities, because they have no mechanism for doing so. I hope that, in his summing up, the Minister will be able to give some indication to the House of what should happen to those who are in such a situation. I look forward to hearing his full response to the three issues that I have raised.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I should have reminded the House that there is an eight-minute time limit on all Back-Bench speeches. However, it is quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman was already aware of that.

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3.48 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): Unlike my colleagues on the other Front Benches, I will not be able to respond to the debate, because I will have the pleasure of listening to it after I have spoken. I want to speak on three issues and, like others, to address constituents’ concerns; then I look forward to listening to the contributions of others. The three issues concern the licensing laws and how they are being implemented, planning policy guidance and how it applies to and impacts on my constituents, and finally, funding for the voluntary sector in the provision of health care services and the relationship with the NHS.

I shall first deal with the temporary event notice, a mechanism that allows for the temporary licensing of premises. It was introduced in November 2005 under the Licensing Act 2003. Recently a number of my constituents contacted me after a local pub, the Angel in Angel Hill, started playing music in its garden into the early hours of the morning. Residents who had made representations to the local licensing authority to ensure that the pub’s licence restricted the playing of music outside at certain times were, not surprisingly, rather put out by the fact that it seemed that licence conditions were being broken.

After further inquiries were made of the pub, the local council and the police, my constituents were told that the pub was operating under a temporary event notice, and that none of the normal conditions of the pub’s licence applied. The approach taken under the Act is referred to as “light touch”, and the question is how that applies to personal licence holders. At the moment, they simply apply for a temporary event notice and make the council and police aware that they are doing so. There are no grounds for refusal by the council, and there is no mechanism for consultation with local people. In effect, it is a process of rubber-stamping. Today I want to focus on the administrative arrangements for that.

The Government justify that light-touch approach with what they think are highly restrictive conditions applied to the use of TENs. The notices can take effect for only 96 hours at a time, and can be issued only 12 times in a calendar year for any one premises. The consultation undertaken by the Department stated that such notices were intended to apply primarily to representatives of schools or church groups. The TENs were a way of lightening the administrative load on them so that there was not so much paperwork. The problem is that that cosy picture does not really tally with my constituents’ experiences. The reality is that the notices are being used by pubs to avoid the conditions of their licenses. Figures from my local authority, the London borough of Sutton, show that nearly 25 per cent. of notices issued between November 2005 and June 2006 were issued to pubs, so the Angel is no isolated case.

The simple fact is that the temporary event notice mechanism creates a loophole in the licensing laws that smart licensees use to get round the conditions imposed on them after public consultation. I do not blame the pub or its landlord for using the loophole; I blame the Government for not foreseeing that get-out clause in the new regime. As a result, for up to 48 days a year the
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licensing laws and the conditions set under them can be set aside and ignored. That is not light-touch licensing but soft-touch licensing, and action is required before the recess.

I have spoken in this House about the problem of predatory developers who apply to build housing on back garden land. Residents in my constituency are running a campaign to protect back garden land from such developers and are asking the Government to change their advice in planning policy guidance. I strongly support that campaign. Current advice under PPG3 designates back garden lands, which is the

as previously developed land. If the back gardens in my constituency and many others like it are designated brownfield land, it becomes ripe for development.

Crucially, that designation fails to take account of factors such as the biodiversity offered by back gardens. A study undertaken by scientists at the university of Sheffield states that urban gardens are a significant source of biodiversity. In fact, their study found that in our gardens there are nearly as many plant species as the total number of native species of flora of the British Isles—that is not just plant species imported from elsewhere, but genuinely native plant species. Back gardens are an important lifeline for the diversity of our ecology.

There is also the issue of the security of back garden land, and developers breaking into it and putting up flats undoubtedly undermines that. In my borough, between 1994 and 2004, an average of 46 new dwellings per hectare were built. That has significantly increased the number and density of homes in my constituency, and put pressure on local infrastructure. At a time when Sutton and East Surrey Water has obtained a drought order, the impact of all that increased development on water supplies cannot be overestimated.

That is only one of a catalogue of problems caused by such overdevelopment. There are more cars on the road, more people trying to use local schools and health services, and a gradual decline in the architectural heritage of the area. Those are all problems springing directly from the designation of back gardens as brownfield sites. A planning system that fails to strike a proper balance between conservation and change is not fit for purpose. As a result, it is losing public support in my constituency.

However, help is at hand, in the form of the private Member’s Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), the Local Government and Planning (Parkland and Windfall Development) Bill, of which I am a sponsor. I hope that the Government will still find time in this Session to provide the protection that the Bill would give to back garden land by returning the designation to what it should be—not brownfield but greenfield land.

My final contribution to the debate is about my concern for one of the valuable and well-regarded voluntary organisations in my constituency, which is losing some much needed funding. For four and a half years Age Concern in Sutton has run a hospital discharge scheme to support those leaving hospital. The scheme is aimed at people returning from hospital who are judged not to require personal care, and who are therefore not covered by social services care packages.

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The principal issue is eligibility, and how different authorities draw up eligibility criteria. The scheme co-ordinators visit the home of an individual leaving hospital to assess any financial, nutritional or safety needs, and take steps to ensure that those are met. Volunteers from the scheme then make weekly visits to the home of the discharged patients, helping with shopping, financial affairs and cleaning. Without this service, those people would have no support once they had left their hospital beds.

Until recently the scheme was funded by a pooled arrangement between the Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust, the London borough of Sutton social services department, and the Epsom and St. Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. However, earlier this year—I think this is driven by financial pressures—the Epsom and St. Helier NHS Trust began to question the value of the scheme, despite the clear support of patients who had benefited directly from it and health care professionals working for the trust.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the pressure on primary care trusts to fund only core NHS matters, so as to meet financial targets, often runs counter to the Government’s objective of linking health and social care? For example, in Brent the PCT has had to cut the money provided to Brent citizens advice bureau, which provides an outreach service at GPs’ surgeries to try to prevent extended consultations there, and it is also cutting grants to organisations funding carers’ activity, which may be counterproductive in terms of the long-term aims, and not cost-effective.

Mr. Burstow: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which many hon. Members in the Chamber today will probably want to make, about the impact of budgetary pressures in the NHS leading to false economies and short-sighted decisions that result in a reduction in services, which will store up further costs for the NHS and lead to poor services being experienced by many of our constituents.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The hon. Gentleman anticipates a phenomenon that is likely to display itself in the course of the debate. Is he aware—he certainly will be when I have finished my intervention—that the Vale of Aylesbury primary care trust is, disgracefully, saying that it is closed to new entrants if they are children with speech and language disorders? Is this not a classic case of a conflict between the Government insisting on the merits of early intervention, and the cost cutters preparing to damage, perhaps irrevocably, the life chances of vulnerable children, in the name of penny-pinching?

Mr. Burstow: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and I look forward to hearing him expound on those points in greater detail if he catches the Deputy Speaker’s eye. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), too, will have the opportunity to detail the consequences for constituents of the difficult financial circumstances that many NHS organisations are grappling with.

My point is about a voluntary organisation that is doing extremely good work, but which has been notified that its funding will be withdrawn in the course of this year. Without that organisation in place, hundreds of
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vulnerable people will leave hospital with no support, which will in turn increase pressure on hospital beds, because those people will not be able to leave hospital as promptly as the NHS increasingly wishes them to.

There will also be an increase in emergency readmissions as a direct consequence. People who have been inappropriately and too hastily discharged will end up having to go back into hospital because their home was unsafe or ill suited, or because they were unable to get out to get the necessary food to provide themselves with a decent meal during their recovery and convalescence. All those matters will increase the direct cost to the NHS, which is why that decision by the local NHS is a false economy. It is a short-sighted approach, and it will lead to long-term costs and consequences.

Adjournment debates such as this are an opportunity for all hon. Members to bring their constituents’ concerns to the House. Those are just three of mine, although I have many others that I would have welcomed the opportunity to air today. I end simply by wishing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all hon. Members a good summer recess, and I look forward to listening to the rest of the debate.

4 pm

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): In the time allotted I hope to raise four issues that are constituency based but have implications for national legislation.

The first case is tragic. In the last two years, two baby girls living in adjoining properties in my constituency have died of acute myeloid leukaemia. We have tried to understand the epidemiology of that cancer, which is rare in young girls, and it has been established that the houses in which they lived were built on a landfill site. There is clear evidence that methane has seeped out from that site and there may also have been traces of benzene, which is a very dangerous chemical.

I suggested to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that it would be a good idea for tenants considering properties that have been built on landfill sites, reclaimed land or brownfield sites, to be told the history of the land so that they can make an informed choice about whether to take on the tenancies. So far the Government have declined to take that up, but I want to press the Minister on it today, because it is a good suggestion, which would allow prospective tenants the opportunity to make decisions about where they live in the knowledge of the conditions in which their properties have been built. If my hon. Friend the Minister cannot deal with that matter when he replies, I should be grateful if he passed it on to the appropriate Department.

The second issue that I want to raise concerns wheel clamping. Last year, a constituent of mine in Northwich had his vehicle clamped, he thought illegally. The Private Security Industry Act 2001 placed regulatory controls over wheel clamping companies and the Security Industry Authority implements the regulations. I was advised that for a vehicle to be legally clamped, the owner had to be issued with a receipt bearing the name and signature of the operative, the date and location of the clamping episode, and the registration number of the person doing the clamping. If the receipt does not contain the registration number of a clamping operative, the clamping is illegal and the owner of the vehicle can insist on the clamp being removed.

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