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The firemen were uniquewell, no, they were not unique because others have taken risks of that sort, but they are unique in my mind because they stand out as having gone against the grain in the past few months. I hope that they will be remembered for many years. Their families should bear in mind the fact that they did not die in vain; apparently they arrived at the scene and charged in, thinking that there might be people in
the building who could be saved. No doubt there will be an investigation and no doubt we will all say that it must not happen again, but in some waysI hope that the House will not misunderstand this eitherI hope that it does happen again; I hope that some time in the future, human beings, wishing to save the lives of other human beings, take risks that are against the rules and against our health and safety culture. In so doing, I hope that they live, but if they do die trying to save the lives of others, they will not die in vain.
I am disappointed that there is nothing in the Queens Speech to curtail the excesses of the Health and Safety Executive and to reduce the litigiousness of our society. I have my criticisms of Sir Ian BlairI think it is time that he stepped down for the mistakes that the Met madebut it is an absolute farce that the Metropolitan police were tried for the de Menezes shooting by the Health and Safety Executive in a health and safety trial. If the Met had to answer questions on the matterand there were very serious questions to answerthat should have taken place under the auspices of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is the proper body to operate police complaints procedures and to make judgments on the suitability of the commissioner, or the culpability of any other officers concerned.
Until this country does something about the constant litigation that prevents schoolteachers from taking children on proper trips, and until the Government bring forward legislation that enables us once again to become a risk-taking societywithin sensible limitsrather than a risk-averse society, we will not be the economically successful nation that we aspire to be. We heard wonderful speeches today on why children are not performing well at school, or want to leave school, or are fed up with school. In schools, we see part of that pervasive culture: we avoid children taking risks, we avoid judging them, and we do not challenge them too hard. We have to get back to being a risk-taking society.
I am disappointed that there is no Bill to give teeth to the Competition Commission or the Office of Fair Trading. After 18 months of intense investigation, the OFT came to the conclusion that when it came to milk, our supermarkets were screwing farmers ruthlessly: the supermarkets give farmers about 18p a litre for milk and sell it for 54p, and 18p in the middle disappears somewhere. The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs discovered that two or three years ago, after a few months investigation. Now that we discover, through the OFTs big inquiry, that supermarkets are doing what we have known about for some time, what is to happen next? Of course farmers have had a few pence more per litre in the past few months, but that is not because the supermarkets have suddenly developed a guilty conscience. It is not because they have decided that they must pay the primary producer more. It is thanks to India and China buying up vast supplies of dry powder and milk on the world market. If farmers in our country are one day to receive a proper, decent price for milk, it will not be because of any action taken by the Competition Commission or the OFT; it will be because of China and India and their insatiable demand for dairy products.
Nothing in the Queens Speech gives the OFT power to take action when it finds problems. There is nothing to deal with the outrageous, unfair banking practices that our consumers are faced with. There may have been some unwise lending by the banks, but we know how they will claw back some of the money: through unfair bank charges, unfair credit card charges and unfair payment protection insurance. Recently a constituent recommended a wonderful website to me called moneysavingexpert.com. I must practise what it preaches more often. All parties in the House are concerned about the massive amount of private debt. That excellent website is geared towards consumers. It tells them how they can save money and deal with some of the malpractices of the banks.
We can appreciate the size of the debt problem if we consider the fact that the website has had 4.3 million downloads by consumers of a document on how to reclaim unfair bank charges. There is a template letter written by the excellent Martin Lewis, who runs the website. There have been 107,000 downloads of information on the payment protection insurance scam operated by banks, and 35,000 downloads of the template on how to reclaim unfair credit card charges. There is a huge problem out there, and I see nothing in the Queens Speech to deal with the aspects of it that I have mentioned.
I urge the Government, through the Lord Chancellor, to remind judges not to close down current legal cases against banks in which customers are reclaiming unfair credit card charges. On 27 July, the OFT agreed a test case on bank charge reclaiming, and that has put a halt to all other cases in which unfair bank charges are being reclaimed. That halt does not apply to unfair credit card charges and payment protection insurance, which in millions of cases was probably unsold; but apparently many judges are saying, No, you cant go ahead with that claim because the OFT has a test case, and it is all closed down. That halt relates only to bank charges, and I hope that the Government, through the Lord Chancellor, will urge judges to let the cases go ahead. I come back to my earlier point: let us have legislation that will give the OFT and the Competition Commission the teeth that equivalent bodies in America have.
My final point on banking is that at least the chief executive of Citibank had the decency to resign when the problem hit the fan. There were no such resignations from chief executives in Northern Rock; they were no doubt sustained by their friends on the Government Benches.
I regret that there was no Bill to simplify recycling in the Queens Speech. I am passionate about doing my recycling. I find it more difficult, with dodgy legs, to carry all my different boxes, bottles, glass and papers to the recycling heaps in Eden or Carlisle in my constituency. In the Westminster area, we are blessed with multi-recycling: one bin takes all, apart from polystyrene and garbage. I encourage other councils to do likewise. It makes it simple. Westminster boasts that it has an 80 per cent. recycling rate. Admittedly, a large part of what is collected is burned for fuel and power in electricity stations, but I might take into account the extra hot water and Fairy liquid that I use when washing all my little bottles and plastic jars to make sure that I have practically sterilised my rubbish that is going into the recycling tips. As for other people doing
the same, when I see the Liberals driving to the recycling bins in their Volvos, I wonder whether we have got the economics of the matter right. However, I believe in recycling. I also believe in cutting waste and in ensuring much more home insulation. We must do all of those things, as well as recycling.
It is grossly unfair of councils to impose charges on people for not putting out the correct bins on the correct day with the correct boxes and bags, and to refuse to take some of the things that we are given, such as Tetra Paks. If they will not recycle Tetra Paks, what are we supposed to do with them? What am I supposed to do with the polystyrene that was wrapped around my last computer monitor, if the councils refuse to take it? Rather than the Government encouraging councils to impose penalty charges on people who put a chip wrapper in the wrong box, they should say to councils, You have a three-year deadline in which to allow the public to put all recyclable material into multi-purpose bins. Perhaps they should say to supermarkets and goods suppliers, You also have three years to make your packaging materials easily recyclable. That would mean no compositesno more Tetra Paks of cardboard, plastic and foil stuck together, which cannot be recycled. Suppliers should not sell products in polystyrene if no one will recycle it.
The burden has been passed on to the innocent. I started off as a highly ignorant consumer; I thought that all plastic was plastic was plastic, but now I discover that in the areas covered by my local councils there are about 20 different kinds of plastic. I have to run around popping it in different holes in different bins on different days of the week.
David Maclean: If I try to do so to obey the lawand I am certainly not an anorakno wonder thousands of my constituents give up, save it all up, stick it in the back of their estate car and dump it in the commercial refuse site, instead of going through the hassle of recycling. If the Government want to meet their Kyoto targets, they should make it simple for consumers to recycle. I may introduce a Bill myself to do so.
I believe in recycling and in reducing the amount of power that we consume. We must have better home insulation. I believe in renewables, but I believe, too, that it is time to push the nuclear buttonas far as domestic energy consumption is concerned. That is the view of people in Cumbria, where we are rather good at the nuclear industry. I accept my partys view that nuclear must be the last resort, but I believe that we are at that stage. If my constituents and I thought that by sticking giant wind turbines on every beautiful hill in the Lake district we could solve our energy crisis and save the planet then, God help us, we would do so. However, if we stuck 50,000 of those 300 ft-high giant steel tubes on the finest landscape in the country, comparable to the Scottish highlands, we would still not close a single power station. We would still need 10 nuclear power stations, or the lights would go out.
I am glad that the Prime Minister could boast that today he was giving the go-ahead to a 300 MW or GWwhatever it isthing in the Irish sea. Good: I am happy to have some more turbines in the Irish sea, and
I am happy for the Severn barrage to be exploited. However, I caution the Government against meeting their renewables targets by destroying Englands backyard by sticking those turbines on the Lake district hills or any other hills and mountains where it is scenically inappropriate to do so.
As for the housing and planning Bill, we have been gagging for housing in Carlisle, in Penrith, and in the Eden area in Cumbria for the past five, six, seven or eight years. We are constrained by the policy invented by the previous deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who decided that no new houses should be built in Cumbria until the north-west region had disposed of the 10,000 surplus houses which, apparently, are to be found in Manchester and Liverpool. I know that there are big arguments about whether some of those wonderful terraced houses should be destroyed, but in the name of God we cannot say that we should not build houses 150 miles away in Carlisle because there are surplus homes in Manchester and Liverpool. That is the policy that we have had. In Penrith, in the Eden valley, we are allowed 100 homes per annum. I have been told that that may be increased to 200, and we may even be allowed 300 per annum in future. That is nonsense: I do not know how many we need, the planners do not know and the councillors do not know. It is probably 400 or 500 per annum, but the market should decide.
House prices have gone through the roof in my area, and we have a huge problem with first-time buyers who cannot afford housing. We do not need Government controls to try to release Government land so that we can try to build a so-called affordable housewe just need to free up all the possible land on which housing can be built. We should not build giant estates in my constituency but a house here and there. Two houses could be built in one village, five in another, and 50 in Penrith. We can solve the housing problems in my constituency by letting district councillors, whether Tory, Liberal Democrat or independent, decide the issue for themselves.
Mr. Evans: I represent a north-west constituency, and suffer from those insane housing policies. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that an unintended consequence is that even brownfield sites such as Barkers nursery in my constituency are unkempt, overgrown and unsightly? The nursery is at the entrance to Clitheroe, and while houses could happily be built there, unless they are social housingclearly we want to include that in the mixas dictated by the Government, the site will remain undeveloped.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, we need more social and affordable housing. In my constituency, the average wage is £15,000 but starter homes cost £150,000. Even if they are stripped to the housing association bare minimum, with equipment supplied in a social home, prices are still way beyond what kids and young married people can achieve. We need more social housing, but the price of such housing has gone through the roof, just as the price of private housing at all levels has done. We have headmasters who cannot find a house for £200,000. We have business men who will not move in, because they cannot find a house for £400,000. A detached house in
a little village outside Penrith is on sale for £500,000. That is the first time in our lives that such things have happened in the area. We can cut through the problems that the Government have created in housing by letting councils in my area decide housing applications for themselves. We should let them build what they need in the right style and design, and in the right place. They know bestI do not. They are the councillors and planners, so they should do it.
I am deeply sceptical about raising the age at which children can leave education. Those kids deserve the chance to do what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) talked about in his excellent speech, and get out and get a proper apprenticeship in a worthwhile industry. I commend the right hon. Gentleman on taking up engineering as his calling. It is a noble calling, but so are plumbing, carpentry and all the other technical trades and skills that we need. Unless the Government plan to push 16-year-olds into proper apprenticeships, I do not think that their proposal will work. I am not sure what my Front-Bench teams policy is on vocational education, as I have not studied it, but I cannot support any policy that keeps children in school until they are 18, letting them out for an apprenticeship or vocational training for just one day a week. That is not nearly enoughthey will be bored and disillusionedand the net result will be 18-year-old kids, totally bored, disillusioned and untrained. We may wonder why the 19-year-old Polish plumber has got the work instead, but in Poland, 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds are not sitting in school, with only one days release to a further education college. Poland and the Czech Republic are turning out peoplemany hon. Members are worried that they have taken our jobs; I am not, because they give the country an excellent serviceand we should emulate some of the things that they do. We should emulate the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central, who left school at 15, got a proper apprenticeship, became a skilled engineer, and then became a Member of Parliament.
Mr. Kevan Jones: I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but was he not a member of the Government who did away with the training board and the levy, which was imposed on industries that provided the apprenticeships that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) and others took up? His Government replaced that arrangement with the complete nonsense called the TECSall they produced was hairdressers.
The hon. Gentleman does a great disservice to hairdressers. The country depends on thousands of good hairdressers, and on others whom the training and enterprise councils turned out. The apprenticeship system had to be reformedthe hon. Gentleman knows thatand it was in decline before we looked at it. Apprenticeships were too long. People did not stick with them, and employers would not take on youngsters at the wages demanded for a five-year period, so the system had to be changed. Now, however, we have nothing. Doing away with the levy was not the problem, as it was sensible to do so. Companies became involved in the training of young
people [ Interruption. ] Let us wait and see what the Government introduce. I repeat my claim that if it is a system to keep kids in school four days a week until they are 18, with only one day on release for an apprenticeship, it is a waste of time. It is worthless, and the children will not do it.
I am disappointedthis has been commented on already, but it is my turn to say so, toothat there is nothing in the Queens Speech to deal with the constitutional outrage we face in the House whereby there are two classes of MP. It is not good enough for some Government Members to say that if Tory policies were enacted, there would be a second class of MPwe have that already, and it is called the Members who sit for England, whether they are Tory, Labour or Liberal. We are second-class citizens in this House. We have no say on Scottish mattersperhaps we do not want to have a say on Scottish mattersyet Members from Scotland can participate in todays debate and vote through measures that affect my constituents in England but do not affect their constituents in Scotland. This Parliament is unbalanced, because all of us in this Chamber should work under the principle of equal pain. If I vote through higher taxes, I should face my constituents, who can complain about it. If Members from Scotland vote through higher taxes in England, however, they do not have to face their constituents in Scotland.
Members from Scotland can vote through measures in England on tuition fees or health reforms that do not apply in their own country. When they go back to their constituents, they do not have to explain or justify one iota why they have imposed penalties on people in Cumbria or London, and they are getting off scot-free.
Michael Connarty: The right hon. Gentleman can allow his blood pressure to come down while he listens. Is he really suggesting that I have less concern than him for the education of the children of my brother, who lives in the south of England, or less concern than him about health provision, when, for example, some of my constituents have to travel to London for specialist operations? Will he apologise for stating that taxes are levied in this House on the basis of England or Scotland, because, as we all know, they are levied across the whole of the United Kingdom? I was not elected in another country, because the United Kingdom is as much my country as it is his.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is concerned for friends, relatives and constituents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, just as I am concerned for my relatives in the north of Scotland. However, those people do not vote for me, whereas my constituents do, and my primary obligation is to my constituents, who do not have a say. My constituents have no say on health care at Raigmore hospital in Inverness or on what goes on in Dumfries and Galloway, but, by God, they are paying for it. The hon.
Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) and the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) can determine health care in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). They can determine the level of tuition fees for our constituents in England, but we have no say on those matters in Scotland.
I do not want to have a say on Scottish matters, which are up to the Scottish Parliament, but it is therefore utterly unfair for Scottish Members of Parliament to come here with additional rights to dictate terms and conditions on taxes to my constituents that they do not have to suffer themselves.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect in most circumstances, for giving way. Will he throw his mind back to the introduction of the community charge/poll tax, which was trialled in Scotland for a year before it was imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom? If the vote on that policy had involved only Scottish MPs, does he think that it would have gone ahead? Did English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs not impose something on Scotland that would not affect them in that particular period?
David Maclean: The point is that the poll tax was applied to England. It started in Scotland one year early because Scotland had revaluation one year early, but it applied to the whole of England. We are discussing measures that apply to England and not to Scotland at all, because the Scottish Parliament has the power not to impose them.
David Maclean: We are not equal in this House, because the hon. Gentleman has infinitely more rights than mehe can impose things on my constituents, which I cannot do to his. I think that I have made that point about Scotland, to which we will need to return again and again until we rebalance this House of Commons with equal rights for everyone.
Before someone says that I am in an unholy alliance with the nationalists, I must say that I despise, in the nicest possible way, what the nationalists stand forI despise nationalism. I respect the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), as I respect all other hon. Members, but I despise nationalism and separatism. Scotland and the Government are going down a very rocky route, which will lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom.
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