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My last point concerns police pay. As the Deputy Leader of the House will know, following an evidence session with the Home Secretary last week, the Home Affairs Select Committee took evidence from Jan Berry, the chairman of the Police Federation and the chief constable of Nottinghamshire, Steven Green. We listened carefully to what the police had to say about the Government’s approach to the issue of police pay and I am on record as saying that the Government have
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made a mistake in not paying the full award as recommended by the police arbitration tribunal, from 1 September. I cannot understand why that is not being done, as it is very clear from what we heard earlier today that the 2.5 per cent. is within the budget of every local police authority.

I understand from the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price), whom I have just met in the Tea Room—I source this piece of information—that the chief constable of Gwent in north Wales has decided to honour the agreement and intends to find a means of backdating the payment to 1 September, which I think is a very good thing to do. However, I should say that the chief constable of Nottinghamshire said that he could not do that because he did not feel that it was legally possible.

Why are the police a special case? It is because for the last police strike, we have to go back to 1918. That is why the law was passed then, effectively preventing the police from going on strike again. They are one of a very small group of public sector workers who cannot go on strike, so if the Government go through a process of arbitration for those public sector workers, it is extremely important that they should be bound to accept the outcome.

Those familiar with the Home Affairs Committee will know that there are very different personalities on it from the different wings of the various parties, so it is often difficult to achieve unanimity in such a short time. On this occasion, we have had only two evidence sessions, yet at 1 o’clock today the Select Committee unanimously resolved to write to the Home Secretary to ask her to meet the pay award in full. We said that we did not accept that the police were in the same position as other public sector workers, because they cannot withdraw their labour in pursuit of any pay claim. We felt that it was incumbent on the Government to honour the recommendations of the independent tribunal, and we said that this was a question of trust. We need the police to carry out their proper functions.

Members will have received many e-mails and letters from members of the police force who are planning a very big demonstration in January next year to lobby Parliament. I believe that they are also going to Redditch to lobby the Home Secretary in her constituency. This is a problem that we do not need at the moment. The money is there and this Government have had very good relations with the police over the last 10 years. Law and order is at the very heart of our domestic agenda, and there seem to be no reasonable grounds why this claim cannot be paid. I understand and accept the Home Secretary’s argument that there must be an overall pay policy, but this will not breach such a policy because the money is, as I have explained, already there.

Let us send a very clear message that we value the work of the police. It is important not only to our law and order agenda but to our counter-terrorism agenda. We have rightly found an additional £15 million to put into counter-terrorism, so it is quite possible for the Government to honour this commitment. I realise that the Minister is not going to stand up at the Dispatch Box and announce that the settlement will be paid in full—if only that were the case! She will not say that, just as she will not say that Cheshire will not be divided
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or that Mr. and Mrs. Dyke’s central heating will be inspected tomorrow. What I would like her to do, however, is to pass my strong message back to colleagues, especially those in the Treasury and the Prime Minister, who I hope will meet the Police Federation shortly. That would be the right thing to do at the present time. As I wish everyone a very happy Christmas, I believe that this provides an opportunity for the Home Secretary to become Mother Christmas.

2.36 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): On Friday, I met Mr. and Mrs. John Burrell of Godshill, who came to my advice centre with a matter of the utmost concern. The Burrells have been married for 41 years and the family has lived on the Isle of Wight for five years. Sadly, Mr. Burrell was taken ill two years ago, or thereabouts, with renal cancer. His life may be prolonged by use of the drug Sutent. Although Sutent has not yet been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, it is prescribed in many PCTs—but not on the island. Across the Solent, in Portsmouth and Southampton, and in 60 other primary care trusts up and down the country, Sutent would be prescribed for Mr. Burrell or those like him. There appears to be a real difference between PCTs in terms of treatment available. Some, such as the Isle of Wight, are inflexible and others are more flexible and appear to consider whether use of the drug is appropriate.

The estimated cost for the initial treatment is between £4,000 and £7,000. The number of people on the Isle of Wight who may benefit from Sutent is as low as just two cases in two years, including that of Mr. Burrell. Mr. Burrell has been supported by Dr. Gabi Fritzsche, his general practitioner of Niton, and Dr. Kudingila Madhava, his consultant oncologist based at St Mary’s hospital in Portsmouth. Let me quote a letter sent by Dr. Madhava to the PCT, as reported in a front page article in the Isle of Wight County Press. Dr Madhava said:

But despite that plea, Mr. Burrell was rejected for Sutent by the Isle of Wight PCT—a decision confirmed by an appeal panel last week.

Dr. Jenifer Smith, director of public health for the Isle of Wight PCT, said:

In other words, its officers simply give effect to a national policy, whereas other PCTs consider the suitability of the drug for local patients.

The NICE policy makes it clear that local decisions are okay for medicines that have not yet been approved for national schemes, yet that does not seem to be happening on the Isle of Wight. Southampton city and Portsmouth city teaching PCTs confirm that they prescribe Sutent, judging each request on its merits, while the north-east strategic health authority approves it as the routine first and second treatment for 12 trusts. To take Dr. Madhava’s words into account, it is hard to see what argument for giving the treatment to
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Mr. Burrell could be more compelling. The only conclusion can be that a postcode lottery is affecting the island, to the great detriment of my constituents and their families. Furthermore, NICE is delaying approval in many cases. If no scheme is approved nationally, there is a stalemate when local approval does not come through.

Mr. Burrell is in an impossible situation. One cannot fail to be moved by his plight. I should be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House could raise the case with the Minister concerned and ensure that an explanation for this state of affairs is provided for Mr. Burrell and his family. Ministers must also ensure that NICE evaluates new and apparently effective drugs swiftly, so that all patients can benefit from them.

2.42 pm

Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in this Christmas Adjournment debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Christmas is a time for celebration and looking forward to the new year; however, a group of my constituents—the pigeon men and allotment holders of Ryhope—do not have that pleasure. Their Christmas will be very different from ours, because they face the arrival of bailiffs, eviction from the land that they have worked and the loss of the pigeons that they have cared for over many decades, often by members of the same family going back three generations. This brutal and unwelcome Christmas present comes courtesy of a dormant company—essentially a shell company—that does not appear to have any assets other than that piece of land, called Worktalent Ltd, which is based in a Newcastle firm of solicitors called Mark Gilbert Morse.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that Mark Gilbert Morse has form when it comes to persecuting former miners? It is the same company that I exposed three years ago, when it was deducting 25 per cent. of the compensation due to former miners and their families, not content with the massive fees that it was already being paid by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Kemp: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am aware of the work that he has done to get compensation for many miners and others. I also have a complaint against the firm with the Legal Complaints Service, because it has refused to correspond with me as an elected Member of Parliament; indeed, it will not even answer the correspondence that I send.

The directors of Worktalent Ltd are Messrs. Gibson, Owen and Mark. Mr. Owen and Mr. Mark are also partners, as well as directors, of the said firm of Mark Gilbert Morse. The company bought the land cheaply—we estimate for around £12,500—a little over a decade ago, and 10 years ago issued an eviction notice against the allotment holders. Those allotment holders fought a brave and honourable campaign. They won support locally, nationally and, as it happens, internationally, including from many Members of Parliament, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). The allotment holders also successfully lifted the eviction, and in the process managed to get
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one of their pigeon crees—a north-east colloquialism for what people often know as pigeon lofts—recognised as the world’s only grade II listed pigeon cree. I understand why we list many of our great stately homes, but working people’s culture and heritage ought equally to be celebrated, so it was a great tribute to the men to achieve that.

The company has now come back at the men and commenced proceedings to have them evicted. The company has offered them financial inducements if they assist in having the crees de-listed and in securing planning permission. The men—and some women, too—are not prepared to do that. I met with them last Saturday. The company’s offer was rejected 22-nil, despite the great stress that the men are under— four of the men have had heart attacks in the past few months and one has had a stroke. Although there will be many reasons for their illness, part of the reason has to be connected with the anxiety that they feel.

Simply put, the men are not prepared to sell out for financial inducement. They might not have very much—many of them are redundant miners or shipyard workers—but they know the value of community and the value of working with children in local schools. To those men, that does not come in bundles of pound notes; it comes from what they feel in their hearts. The land is essentially worthless: the city council does not consider it acceptable to grant planning permission for alternative use and it has a grade II listed building on it. The land has no real value other than what it does now. The reality is that the company—this shell, dormant firm—took a punt. It bought a piece of land hoping that it would receive planning permission, but it did not count on the fight that the men would put up. They are men who have dug coal and built ships, and they do not threaten easily.

The men’s greatest fear is not the arrival of bailiffs over the Christmas and new year period; rather, it is being denied access to the land in order to feed the pigeons that they care for. I will pursue animal welfare legislation if the men are denied access, in respect of the health and welfare of the pigeons on site. I will also contact the appropriate authorities today, including the police, to make it perfectly clear that anyone found responsible for any damage done to that grade II listed building will face a custodial sentence, as is the law of the land.

Despite everything, there is a way forward. I urge the company to accept a proposal that will be made today. Specifically, I urge the Sunderland property developer, a Mr. Russell Foster, whom I believe to be behind the company—people might ask why I believe that; the answer is that he has told me as much and that the company secretary, Mr. Owen, admitted in a conversation that was taped by the BBC that the company was Mr. Foster’s—to accept a generous and imaginative offer that will be put forward today by Gentoo Living, the community arm of the former Sunderland housing group, and supported by the city council. The offer is to purchase the land, so that it can continue to be used as allotments and so that the work done with local children, who come in and work with the men, learning how to grow food and how to tender and care for pigeons, can also continue. That would be the best and most realistic outcome to the problem

I have pledged to my constituents that I will work as hard as I can to ensure that, whatever happens, the building will never be de-listed and that the view of the
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city council on not granting permission will be upheld. The company has an opportunity to make a profit from the land that it got or, in these final days before bailiffs arrive on the Ryhope allotments, to consider carefully what is a realistic and imaginative offer to the company and to Mr. Russell Foster. I do not believe that the company, or Mr. Foster, wish to be remembered for eternity—to have as their lasting epitaph in Sunderland and in the north-east; indeed, throughout the whole of Britain—as the company, and the men, who evicted pensioners over Christmas and the new year from the land that they love.

These men do not ask for a lot in life; they do not cause any trouble to anybody. They simply get up on a morning and go down to this land to grow food and tend to their pigeons. In 2007, it is not unreasonable to demand that we should try to deliver that to a group of people who contributed a great deal to this country economically. The choice is on the table if the company wishes to accept it; otherwise, it will live with the reputation of being behind a callous and unnecessary act that communities in the north-east will never forgive or forget. I ask the Minister to convey that message to all the Departments that are relevant to the building’s listed status.

Let me end by thanking all Members of this House. I was genuinely encouraged by the fact that the early-day motion in support of the Ryhope pigeon men was signed not only by Labour Members but by Conservative and Liberal Members and by Members from the smaller parties. I was very grateful for that, and I know that the men would like to convey their thanks to the House for the support they have received. I ask the Minister to convey what I have said to the relevant Departments, including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as well as those responsible for planning.

2.51 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who, as we all know, had a very serious stroke some time ago. In his speech, he showed that he is still a robust spokesman for his constituency on the island despite recovering from that serious illness. Many of us are very pleased to see him here making those contributions.

This is one of those occasions when we can range over a wide number of issues, but there is often a consistency between our speeches. Several hon. Members have referred to post office closures. We have gone through several under this Government and although I accept that post offices close at various times—they always have and they will continue to do so—the lengthy uncertainty that has been experienced by the Post Office and the post office structure is something of which the Government should be ashamed. Initially, we were subject to the urban reinvention scheme, which led to four of our five post offices in Belper being closed, and now we have the rationalisation scheme. The right hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) talked about consultation. I have just gone through such a consultation on post office closures, and I think that we need a new definition
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of that word. I am reminded that I am in the House of Commons, so I will not repeat some of the words that I have used to describe that supposed consultation process in my constituency. I think that consultation now means, in effect, “This is what we’re going to do—give us your views and we’ll ignore them.” That is exactly what has happened as regards the post office closures that have been confirmed in my constituency. Elizabeth Hoosley, who runs the post office in Marston Montgomery, will be closing her business after providing a service to that village for 42 and a half years. She is not somebody who is there to make a profit, but somebody who is providing a service to the community, yet that post office has been earmarked for closure. The same applies to the post office in Kirk Ireton, about which the most representations in my constituency were made. Again, those representations were completely ignored by the Post Office and the closure has been confirmed. The Government need to consider the whole process much more carefully and consider whether they should continue with it.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that many postmasters and mistresses feel so browbeaten that their morale is at a low? That causes stress not only to them but to other people who now also fear losing their post offices. In the case of some of them, their morale has dropped so much that they rather wish that they could get away from those businesses. We should be praising them for the work that they are doing, not threatening them with losing their jobs.

Mr. McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation with which I agree. He is right to emphasise the general frustration and uncertainty felt by those who run post offices in areas that have not yet been subject to the process and who have been waiting for a long time to see what will happen to them. That is regrettable.

The Minister probably knows my constituency and its terrain better than most, because she attended Lady Manners school in Bakewell—a fine school. Let me therefore raise with her another issue that is causing a great deal of concern. We have a fantastic community bus service that operates in Bakewell and Ashbourne. It is vital, in rural and spread-out communities that do not necessarily have the access to public transport that is available in urban areas, that community buses, which provide a first-class service to people in remote villages, are not put at risk as a result of the Government’s scheme to extend free travel to all pensioners as from next April. I accept that the Government would not want that to happen, but that could be the unintended consequence of the legislation for community transport. I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport, and I hope that she can reassure me that my worries are groundless.

On 3 December 1997, I had an Adjournment debate in the House on the issue of Blackdale quarry. On 24 October 2006, I had a further Adjournment debate on the same issue in Westminster Hall, when I raised with the relevant Minister the problem that we were having with Blackdale quarry on Longstone Edge. That is an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Peak District national park, which is visited by more than 20 million visitors every year—far more than the millennium
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dome ever got, yet it receives far less money than the dome cost even to maintain after it had closed. One of the problems has been uncertainty about certain regulations. Last October, the Minister assured me, as he came to the end of his description of one of the problems:


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