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24 Oct 2007 : Column 289

The Prime Minister: I think that my hon. Friend will agree that we have led the way on climate change and will continue to lead the way. Yes, we will review the feed-in tariff proposal that she puts forward, but I must say that our decision to have a renewable obligation on the companies has been one that is yielding results and that will continue to yield results in the future. I do not hide from the House the difficult decisions that will have to be made about how we reach our targets on renewables. People will have to face up, as she has said, to the need to use wind turbines both on land and on sea.

Q9. [160152] Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The Health Secretary has made the welcome announcement that if local communities have concerns about a hospital reconfiguration, he will routinely allow an independent review. Frenchay hospital in my constituency is faced with the threat of closure and the local community and the local authority have asked for an independent review, so that it can be looked at in a balanced way. Will the Prime Minister allow us an independent review?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman’s hospital issue predates the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Health. However, when an appeal is made to the Secretary of State it is looked at on medical grounds. There are medics who look at the specifics of any appeal that is made. If that appeal comes, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be looked at by the medical experts.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will recall the misery that resulted from the collapse of the Independent Insurance company a few years ago. Will he welcome the conviction yesterday of Michael Bright and Dennis Lomas in that case, and will he assure the House that the failure of reserving that took place in that company could not happen again in the market today?

The Prime Minister: The Financial Services Authority looked into the matter, as I recall. It has to satisfy itself, as it is the insurance regulator, that insurance companies have sufficient reserves. If my hon. Friend has any further evidence to bring to me, I will ensure that the FSA looks at it.

Q10. [160153] Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Last week, the Secretary of State
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for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wrote to me with his estimate of the losses suffered by farming and rural businesses because of the foot and mouth outbreak. His best guess was £100 million, but that differs sharply from the figure that emerged from a meeting in my constituency last night, which suggested that the sheep industry alone would lose £520 million. The outbreak is fundamentally different from previous outbreaks. The Government are responsible for this outbreak because they licensed the premises—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Prime Minister has got the point.

The Prime Minister: We have set aside additional money to help farmers. We have also reduced the amount of regulation that farmers have to undertake. We have also slowed down the demands from the Inland Revenue for taxation from farmers. We have done what we can, in consultation with the National Farmers Union, to help farmers. I realise that this is a difficult time, especially for sheep farmers and hill farmers, but we will do everything in our power to help them..

Q11. [160154] Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be unacceptable for rapists to be released from our prisons because of a capacity issue? Will he look at releasing and deporting foreign prisoners first, and also ensure that we build more prison places to achieve fairness and justice for the victims?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that this matter comes under the Parole Board and it will not release rapists who are in any way likely to harm the community. We are building more prison places and we are continuing the prison building programme at a faster rate than before. This year, we will deport 4,000 foreign national prisoners. Two years ago it was only 1,500 and last year it was only 2,500. We will deport 4,000 foreign national prisoners and we will do more, by signing agreements with countries such as Jamaica, which has 1,400 nationals in British cells; Nigeria, which has more than 1,000 nationals in British cells; and Vietnam and China, which have 400 and 300 nationals in British cells. We will sign agreements with those countries so that we can return prisoners from our cells as expeditiously as possible. We will increase the number of foreign national prisoners who are deported from our country.

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Points of Order

12.33 pm

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this point of order, of which I have given you prior notice. It relates to the important matter of the House’s ability to scrutinise the Executive. I see that there is no meeting of the Committee of Selection today. That means that it will not be possible to nominate Members to the three new Select Committees necessary following the machinery of government changes made by the Prime Minister in June.

The intention of the orders that the House passed on 25 July was to ensure continuity of scrutiny. The Leader of the House said on that occasion:

Those three Departments are, of course, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and—from my own point of view as Chairman of the outgoing Trade and Industry Committee—the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Can you advise me, Mr. Speaker, what options are available to Back Benchers on both sides of the House who are concerned about the problem to put it right, preferably in this Session, to ensure complete continuity or, if that is not possible—as I fear—at least to ensure that the matter is brought to a speedy resolution in the new Session?

Mr. Speaker: I thank the Chairman of the Trade and Industry Committee for giving me notice of his point of order. I am aware that his Committee comes to an end at the end of this Session. It is for the Committee of Selection to nominate the members of the successor Committee. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman takes the matter up with the usual channels, and once again I thank him for giving me notice of his point of order.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that it is both out of order and unparliamentary language for one hon. Member to accuse another of misleading the House, as the Prime Minister clearly did to the Leader of the Opposition during Question Time? Should not the hon. Member involved then apologise and withdraw the remark?

Mr. Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman will have heard me call for temperate language to be used at all times. However, to help him, I have consulted the record and I am satisfied that the Prime Minister has said nothing unparliamentary.

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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can I therefore take it that it is quite in order for Members of Parliament to accuse another Member of Parliament of misleading? If so, we will bear that in mind when we come to challenge the Government on so many occasions. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Skinner, I am sure that you are not going to help me. I can tell the Opposition Chief Whip that I understand his anxiety. All I can say is that he should read the Hansard record tomorrow. [ Interruption. ] Order. I ask the House to bear my words in mind. I have consulted the record, and I am satisfied that the Prime Minister— [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members must understand that I am in the Chair and that it is a rolling situation— [ Interruption. ] I have tried to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have consulted the record and am satisfied that the Prime Minister has said nothing unparliamentary. I am inviting the Chief Whip of Her Majesty’s Opposition to read the record, and tomorrow he is welcome to come back to this matter. He is of course always entitled to come and see me, as he does on a regular basis.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. That is very helpful to the House. Would it be possible for you to ask the Clerks, in consultation with the Editor of Hansard, to listen to the record and then give you advice, if necessary?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I already have the record. The hon. Gentleman, who is a very fair individual, knows that I have consulted with the Clerk. I have given a perfectly good offer to his Chief Whip to look at the record tomorrow. Of course, we have a day to look at things calmly.

Mr. Skinner On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I hope, Mr. Skinner, that you are going to be helpful.

Mr. Skinner: Would I be right in saying that, if anybody said that another hon. Member or right hon. Member was using the phrase “deliberately misleading the House”—and I see that the Clerks are nodding all together, in unison—that person would have to withdraw the remark? I have been around a long time, and I have tested the market several times— [ Interruption. ] And it is called experience, and it is worth a guinea a box!

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman does not have to use a point of order to tell us that he has been around a long time. Don’t I know that? I used to sit with him below the Gangway.

We now go to the ten-minute Bill. I call Mr. Ian Cawsey.

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Grandparents (Rights of Access)

12.39 pm

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): I beg to move,

There are 13.5 million grandparents in the UK, including your good self, Mr. Speaker. They make a vast contribution to family life and nowadays, when most parents work, grandparents are probably more involved with the care of their grandchildren then ever before.

Let us consider some of the facts. Eighty-two per cent. of children receive some care from their grandparents, and 60 per cent. of child care is provided by grandparents. Nearly 5 million grandparents spend the equivalent of three days a week caring for their grandchildren and nearly half of grandparents make financial contributions towards expensive items for the family. More than 90 per cent. of first-time mothers have help from their mother, so close bonds are established at an early stage that become important for the child’s development.

If all that is true, why do we have a family legal system that recognises none of it and gives grandparents no rights of access in law? It is a sad fact that this year 150,000 children will be affected by the break-up of their parents. Even in cases where the split is handled as amicably as possible, it is a traumatic experience for the children. In cases where the break-up is difficult access can be a big issue, with the absent parent having limited contact with their children and the grandparents on that side of the family having no contact at all.

Given the increased role played by grandparents these days, withdrawal of access can be devastating for both children and grandparents, who can go from spending hours together to no contact at all. How bewildering and upsetting that must be for children already struggling to come to terms with what is happening to their family.

The law gives no rights to grandparents, which is not to say that grandparents cannot apply to the courts for access, but the process is difficult and expensive, with no guarantee of success, and thus limited to grandparents who are lucky enough to have the means to pursue it—a limitation that must be unacceptable to Members. As a result of that situation, it is estimated that 1 million children are denied contact with their grandparents. How sad that so many children cannot spend time with their grandparents, with all they bring to the family. My Bill would address that.

I pay tribute to my constituent, Dorothy Fagge, who brought all this to my attention at one of the summer shows in my constituency that I attend with my touring surgery caravan. She told me about her problems of access to her grandchildren, some of the tragic circumstances involved and her long legal battle to change things. She finally had some success in court, but it cost her more than £20,000 and, as she is only too aware, that is beyond the means of many families. When I asked her what she thought the law should be, she said that grandparents should have the same rights in law as absent parents, which is not to say that there will be access in every case. We can all accept that sometimes it would be inappropriate and not in the best interests of
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the child, but there should be a presumption that, all things being equal, access is normally granted for grandparents to see their grandchildren.

When the well-being of children is being considered, the role of grandparents should be part of the process. At a time when parents may be struggling with the stress of a break-up and difficulties in their relationship, grandparents can play an important stabilising role for the children: visits to their grandparents’ home can feel normal and safe when the rest of their world seems to be turned upside-down.

Such access is a simple request, which would require only simple legislation, yet it could make a huge difference to family life in this country. I am sure that the Bill, if successful, will not create heaven on earth; there will still be issues to overcome. Every Member deals with constituents who are struggling just for parental access—let alone access for grandparents—and we see how devastating that is for those involved. Family breakdowns can be complex and difficult and the courts are not perfect, but I believe that it is our duty to create a framework that gives hope and equity to all grandparents so that access is in the interests of the child and the family, and not something open only to those who can afford it.

One million children are denied access to their grandparents; today we can begin the journey to putting that right. I hope that the House will support this motion so that we do.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ian Cawsey, Nick Ainger, John Bercow, Jeff Ennis, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. John Heppell, Shona McIsaac, Mr. Eric Martlew, Mr. Elliot Morley, Laura Moffatt, Kali Mountford and Mrs. Linda Riordan.

Grandparents (Rights of Access)

Mr. Ian Cawsey accordingly presented a Bill to give grandparents rights of access to their grandchildren in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed [Bill 166].


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (7) (Programming of Bills ),

Question agreed to.

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Legal Services Bill [ Lords]

Lords message considered.

Clause 15

Carrying on of a reserved legal activity: employers and employees etc

Lords amendment: 4A.

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