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I wanted to get those points on the record today, as this debate provides a useful opportunity to do so. There will be many debates in the next year in which we
will consider the economy as a whole, public spending in particular, the impact of Government debt levels and so on.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The hon. Gentlemans point about Scottish MPs, and perhaps even Welsh MPs, not voting on English issues has been made many times. While we still have the Barnett formula, decisions on expenditure on health and education made in England have an influence on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is therefore perfectly proper that we should have an interest in those decisions and the way in which they are made.
Stewart Hosie: Yes, they have an impact. Because of the way in which the formula works, if budgets for an English Department are cut, the cuts can be more severe in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We know that there is an imbalance in spending, and because of the massive deficits that the Government are now carrying, the potential for more and better investment in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is likely to be reduced and curtailed in the next few Budgets and pre-Budget statements. When we look at how we allocate funding in the future, we should look more accurately at how we can move to a position of full fiscal autonomy, rather than being entirely dependent on rises in the English base line and thencertainly in Scotlandbeing subject to the Barnett squeeze. That would be a far more honest and healthy approach.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, Mr. Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and the Officers of the House all the very best for the festive season. I hope that the Minister will tell us when she sums up how the Government are going to rein in the hyper-expensive PFI regime on which they have embarked, so as to free up the cash to ensure that we have not only proper investment in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but a fair share of investment in the English regions, some of whose spending is considerably less than that of London and the south-east.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I have only one issue to raise this afternoon, but it goes to the very heart of our representative democracy. It is the issue of politicians changing their allegiance and switching parties without reference to the electorate. I know that we live in an era of big tent politics, but I hold to the traditional view that, if someone is elected to represent a particular party and then reneges on that commitment, he or she should stand down. Here at Westminster, over the years, there has been constant traffic between the two sides of the House, but those involved should stand down, resign and stand again.
That is even more the case in the European Parliament, where there is no fiction about people being elected as individuals. There, they are elected on a party list. Of course, peoples views change over the years. I have witnessed that here myself; I have seen peoples views changing almost imperceptibly so that they end up with a completely different political outlook from the one that they had five or 10 years earlier. With others, however, the change can be so immediate and abrupt as to leave us gasping. I want to talk today about one such conversion.
I want to talk about Sajjad Karim. He is a solicitor and, in 2004, he was the first British Muslim to be elected to the European Parliament. He was helped, supported and fast-tracked by his friends in the Liberal Democrat party, and he ended up in Brussels. Astonishingly, three weeks ago, he decided that he was a Conservative, changing his politics in the way that some people change their shirts. I pondered this matter, and wondered why he might have done that. I reflected on the fact that, in the internal elections in the Liberal Democrat party, Mr. Karim did not come top. The number of seats in the north-west region is also to be reduced as a consequence of the enlargement of the European Union, so cynics might say that Mr. Karim made the calculation that, under the list system in the next European parliamentary elections in 2009, he might not get elected.
Why am I interested in this case? When he was elected in 2004, Sajjad Karim opened a huge constituency office in the shopping centre smack bang in the middle of the biggest town in my constituency, with the Liberal Democrat logo along the top. It was impossible to miss that office. It has been closed for three weeks since the defection, and my prediction is that it will not reopen. It will be reopened somewhere elseperhaps in Cheshire or somewhere like thatbut not in Pendle.
I am also interested in Sajjad Karim because of what he did to my constituents, which beggars belief. He treated his employees badly and he was disloyal to his friends and colleagues in the Liberal Democrat party. I say to the Conservatives that he will be an unreliable friend to them. The Conservatives are about to select their candidates for the European elections in 2009 and it beggars belief that someone like Karim could be preferred over a lifelong Conservative who wants to represent the party in Europe.
Karim sacked the people who worked in his constituency office and I would like to say exactly how he did it. He sacked those who worked for him by text message. This is what Karen Ashworth, the mother of one of his staff, told the local newspaper, the Nelson Leader, a few days after the sacking:
While working on Monday I was horrified to learn that my daughter had been fired from her job. Her employer did not have the courtesy to tell her in personinstead, he simply sent her a text message asking her to pick up a letter from a firm of Solicitors in Nelson. It seems she was only sacked because her employer, Sajjad Karim...had decided to change his political allegiance. My daughter is not a member of any political party and had worked hard and loyally for Mr. Karim. To rub salt into the wound, when I returned home, I found a leaflet from the Conservatives behind my door, asking me to rejoice in what had happened.
Astonishingly, Mr. Karim told the BBC on 26 Novemberjust a few days after he had decided he was a Conservativethat this was not a snapshot decision, as he had been thinking about it for some time. I looked at his website, because I knew that he was a great blogger who had been blogging for years, and found that he was very critical of the Conservatives and the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). It now transpires that he expects the world to believe that he did not write those blogs, which have now been wiped clean from cyberspace. Apparently, it was a disloyal employee who wrote the blogs on his behalf and he had
to discipline and sack that employee for inventing them. That is amazing and literally incredible, in the dictionary definition of the word.
As I said, Karim let down his friends in the Liberal Democrat party. Tony Greaves, a councillor in Pendle and a Liberal Democrat peer in Westminster, was Karims mentor who brought him on as he wanted to see more ethnic minority representation in the European Parliament. This is what Lord Greaves said, which I want put on the record:
I would say this is a very deep personal betrayal. He has done this with no discussion at all with people who thought they were friends, and I personally feel very betrayed indeed. The way he sacked his staff
at his North west office in Nelson without having the courage to tell them face to face is disgraceful. He has not been taking calls from any of us for several days. If this is the way he treats friends and colleagues, the Tories are welcome to him.
The house was full of light and both cars were there. I knocked on the porch door and after a while a small shadow appeared near the door and retreated. I knocked again and no-one came to the door. So I went and stood on the pavement outside and stood looking at the house for about half a minute to see if I could see signs of movement (and so anyone looking outside could see who it was). Suddenly all the lights started going out and the house was left in darkness. I came home.
stripping away...human and civil rights.
Cameron attempts to paint a glossy image of a gay friendly party in the UK while desperately trying to get into bed at European level with Polands homophobic Law and Justice Party.
were trying to make political capital out of the human rights of the Kashmiri people.
the Tories have adopted...an untenable position on animal welfare.
The public have seen through his stunts
and the trust of the Liberal Democrats on green issues has only increased.
Having comprehensively slagged off the Opposition, Sajjad Karim has also been slagging off his colleagues in the European parliamentary group. He thinks that they are lazy and totally useless, and on 10 August he criticised the groups
poor efforts in the North West
Between them, the three Tory MEPs representing the North West have asked a miserly total of only 18 questions since 2004 compared to the 216 that I have tabled. And they do not fare much better when it comes to making speeches in Parliament with only 29 speeches...by the North West Tory contingent compared to my own 43 speeches.
I am afraid that the Liberal Democrats have lost their way and are no longer a serious force in politics. I am here to serve the people of the North West and I think I can only do that now as a Conservative.
Mr. Prentice: He does not suit the Tories. When the Conservatives select their candidates for the European parliamentary elections in 2009, I ask them to select Conservatives, not people who switch parties because it suits them. I have said it before, but that kind of behaviour degrades and contaminates our politics. We should not have anything to do with Sajjad Karim. I do not know whether he is a Conservativeonly the Conservatives will be able to find that outbut I do know that he has to submit his CV for consideration by the north-west selection committee by 4 January. I hope that that CV is published.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). All I know is that I am a Conservativealways have been, always will beand that is what is important to me. Also, it would be churlish not to congratulate the Liberal Democrats on having a new leaderone has emerged, Pope-like, this afternoon. The process was a bit like two bald men fighting over a comb; none the less, we wish them well and look forward to the next election, perhaps in another couple of years.
I want to give all hon. Members here a Christmas gift, which is that I intend to speak for only eight minutes. That is the sort of generous guy I amit costs me nothing, but it is far better to offer that gift than any other, which might have cost me a bit of money. I want to talk about two things before the House adjourns for Christmas, because it is important that we have the opportunity to do so, notwithstanding all the other issues that hon. Members have raised, particularly nitrate zones, on which I hope to secure an Adjournment debate in the new year, so that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can answer that important point.
I am chairman of the all-party group on identity fraud. It has become quite apparent that the money that we ought to be spending on making people aware of ID fraud is not being spent. One of the biggest advertisers in the UK is Her Majestys Government, who spend a fortune on advertising all sorts of things, telling people how wonderful they are on every issue under the sun. That is not so when it comes to combating ID fraud. We need to invest a lot of money in tackling that. It cost the UK £1.7 billion last year, and it is one of the fastest-growing crimes.
I wish to raise one particular aspect given the time of year. Everybody is busy Christmas shopping, and a lot of peoplea record number this yearwill be shopping
online. When they are online, and busy doing their e-mails as well, they receive e-mails which they believe to be from their bank, credit card company, PayPal, or whatever, and which look authentic, to all intents and purposes. They have all the symbols, and it looks as if they have come from the institution that they are pretending to come from, but they have notthey have come from fraudsters saying, Your online account has been suspended: please put your user name and password here and it will be reactivated. Of course, I do not know what happens if people do that, because I have never done it. I was alerted to it initially because I was sent one by a bank that I do not have an account with, so I knew that my online account could not have been suspended. However, many people who get one of these e-mails and it happens to be from the bank that they bank with, and who have never come across the concept of phishing, as it is called, may accidentally or in a hurry fill in the details and send it off, and it then goes directly to a fraudster who will attempt to use it to get the money from their account.
Shona McIsaac: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. In the past couple of weeks, I had such an e-mail from the bank that I bank with, including the correct logo. I knew that it was a fraud and a scam, but it was so genuine looking that I can see how people get sucked in. He is right to alert people to that.
Mr. Evans: That is part of the problem. I am not saying that people give those details because they are foolishthey do it because they genuinely believe that the e-mail has come from their financial institution, PayPal, or whatever it happens to be. The fact is that those institutions would not send such e-mails.
Sir Robert Smith: I am a customer of the Royal Bank of Scotland, but not through online banking. When I got one of those e-mails, I obviously knew that it was a fraud, but when I contacted the Royal Bank of Scotland so that it could attempt to alert its customers to the fact that that was happening, it was extremely difficult to find anyone who cared about it and was interested in following it up. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the institutions should be more proactive in warning their customers, especially if they have been alerted to the fact that something is happening?
Mr. Evans: Absolutely. The Government should be doing more, and so should the financial institutions. Every statement that they put out should say, This statement should either be filed away or properly destroyed or incinerated. They should also tell people that in no way would they ask for that sort of information. It is clever little ruse that is being operated, and I can understand why people may be providing this information, so my message would be that institutions will not be asking for it. PayPal tells me that if anybody receives a fraudulent e-mail, it has a team who look to trace it back. That is what all the institutions should be doing, including the Royal Bank of Scotland. They should all have teams of people investing money in trying to track down those fraudsters.
If anybody has filled in one of these things and now thinks that it might be fraudulent, they should get in touch with their financial institution so that at least
their account can be flagged up and if there is any unusual activity it can be nipped in the bud. If they are really worried, they should change their account numbers and passwords. This Christmas-time, I would say: For goodness sake, beware. Everybody is busy, but we do not want to make the fraudsters Christmas and ruin our 2008 by being lax and giving our financial information away.
I promise that I will not take the injury time that has been added on, but I want to make a suggestion, also in the spirit of Christmas, about the modernisation of the House. As the topical debate that we have on a Thursday sort of works, and the topical questions certainly work, on a Monday morning we should have, from 9 oclock to half past 12, a debate in this Chamber entitled I read it in the Sunday paperssurely it cannot be true. I do not know what other hon. Members are like, but my blood pressure goes through the roof by the time I have got to page five of The Mail on Sunday, never mind The Sunday Telegraph or all the other newspapers. We read those stories and if there is anyone else in the room we say, Have you read this? This certainly cannot be true. They wouldnt be doing this, would they? This Sunday was no different from any other. I had to sit down and have a cup of coffee as I thought to myself, This story cannot be true.
Mr. Evans: That is why I thought I would throw just a few at the Minister. She can reassure us as we go into the recess that we can have a happy Christmas knowing that all those stories simply cannot be true.
There was a story about prostate cancer in The Sunday Times. As Members know, it is one of the biggest killers of men. Ultrasound therapy, which helps to prolong peoples lives if it can be used early on, is proving to be very successful. However, although NICE gave permission for that treatment over a three-year period, it has now decided to overturn its own approval and has said that people will not be given that therapy. Surely that cannot be right.
Then there was the cancer patient who wanted to supplement the cancer treatment that she was receivingI raised the matter today with the Secretary of State for Healthby taking an additional drug that is not approved for prescription. Clearly, that would cost her a bit of money, which she was prepared to pay, but she was then told by the trust that if she did that, she would have to pay for all her drug therapy, which would cost £10,000. Surely that cannot be right.
Brussels has named its first ambassador to Africa, even though the constitution has not been ratified, albeit that part of it provides for the establishment of a diplomatic corps. Nevertheless, Brussels has already announced that a Belgian is to be the first ambassador for the EU in Africa. Surely that cannot be right.
A number of illegal immigrants are now being encouraged to go home, at a cost of £4,000 a pop£1,000 towards resettlement, and £3,000 towards setting up businesses. People are setting up all sorts of businesses, including beauty salons and ostrich farms. That has cost £36 million to date. If they are illegal immigrants, should they not just be deported? Surely that cannot be right.
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