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Guildford is further concerned about uncertainty over the treatment of housing windfall sites. Historically, Guildford has provided much of its development on such relatively small sites, as has Waverley, and there is no sign that they will arise less frequently in future. However, the Governments new planning policy statement 3 does not want those sites taken into account in the housing planning numbers, except with laborious justification. The south-east plan inspectors were more
realistic. Clarification of the Governments attitude on windfall sites is much needed, so I would appreciate it if the Deputy Leader of House could address that or get an answer on it for me.
Both Waverley and Guildford are alarmed at the scale of development proposed in the inspectors panel report, which is likely to undermine the character of the area on which its economic success is founded. Its residents feel that the inspectors underestimated the constraints on development and that their proposals will lead to huge and unavoidable congestion, as well as a deterioration in the quality of life of all our residents through the inadequacy of infrastructure. There will also be a significant impact on the local, and indeed the national economy. It would be nice to have some clarification. A recent letter from the relevant Minister says that he will
continue to protect robustly the land designated as Green Belt.
Many Members mentioned post offices. My constituency, which is heading towards a consultation at the end of January, is in the same position as many others, and there is considerable concern locally. Our post offices are our lifebloodthe social glue that holds our communities together. In Guildford, that applies not only to the rural areas but to the communities that sit outside the town centre. We often hear about the impact that closures will have on elderly, more vulnerable and disabled people, but it is important to remember that in my area they will also have a significant impact on small businesses, including mail order companies, many of which operate from small premises, sometimes from home, and rely heavily on their local post offices. Although Guildford town does not look far away on the map, getting there is a significant consideration in terms of loss of time.
The next matter that I want to mention is my local hospital trust. I was delighted this year when Surrey primary care trust acknowledged all the local concerns about cutting services at the trust. We are now continuing with a three-trust option in west Surrey, with some improved services at Royal Surrey County hospital. There are proposals to merge Frimley Park and St. Peters hospitals, but they are at an early stage. Part of that success was down to the cross-party, cross-community campaign that we fought. I pay particular tribute to Professor Chris Marks, who headed up the campaign in a clearly independent and robust manner. However, to secure the hospitals future, it is important that it gains foundation status. Indeed, the Government agree. In the online document, Achieving balance in the NHS, they say that they are
committed to offering all NHS Trusts the opportunity to apply to attain Foundation Trust status by 2008.
That is clearly what they want hospital trusts to do, but on the road to that end, someone, somewhere is blocking the application. Royal Surrey County is one of the best-performing trusts in the country. It is financially secure and achieving financial balance, it has some of the best mortality rates in the country, and accident and emergency waiting times are among the best in the country, yet the primary care trust or the strategic health authorityit is not entirely clear whichis trying to block the application. It is vital that Royal Surrey County gets foundation status. That would also be an
opportunity for the Government to demonstrate just how much a hospital trust can achieve. I have asked the Minister concerned to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), and I look forward to a positive outcome from that request.
The last subject that I should like to mention is local government settlements, which have been grim in Guildford and Waverley, as throughout Surrey, with a 1 per cent. increase in local government funding, 0.3 per cent. going to Surrey county council, and an equally bad settlement for the police under a very unsympathetic funding formula. Surrey is the single biggest financial contributor to the Governments coffers and I am afraid that I, like many residents, am getting sick and tired of our being used as a cash cow. Local residents expect their local councils to provide good services, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so when the Government are starving them of much-needed cash. People in Guildford, in Waverley and across Surrey feel that they are being punished by central Government. That is not the only cut. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), who is not in her place at the moment, my local theatre, the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford, has just discovered that it is to lose its Arts Council funding. It is early days, but there is no doubt that the theatre is under significant threat. Middle England pays and middle England gets punished.
I am sorry to sound angry because I enjoy the company of the Minister. We have a little bit of a laugh in the corridors. I am sorry to spoil the rather light mood of the House today, but south-east Surrey in particular and my constituency are a significant contributor to this Government: we are net contributors, I believe, to the tune of £5.5 billion. It is easy for the Government to dismiss us as not of any political significance, but they would be unwise to dismiss us as not of any financial significance.
When my hon. Friends raise issues that are important to our constituents, the Government all too readily dismiss our concerns and talk about how wonderful everything is under their administration. We have been rather flattered by the cries recently of, What would you do? I think that the Government should start to listen to the voice of ordinary people who are raising the money that the Government are spending. They should rise to the real challenges of Government and trust local people. Stop the Stalinist top-down dictatorial approach that is making my residents so angry. The Government may have found the past four months slightly sticky, but I assure them that things can get a lot worse.
Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): It feels like this has been a long time coming, so I had better make the most of it, but it is always a great pleasure to listen to so many excellent speeches, in particular the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who represents her constituents so effectively.
It is now just a week until Christmas, traditionally a time of giving and joy for families throughout the country. Obviously, I wish the staff in the House, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker and your colleagues, and other hon. Members across the political divide a very happy
Christmas and new year, but I would like to focus on those who are left behind at Christmas: people who are perhaps forgotten at this time of year.
I want to talk about a club in my constituency called the Sun club, which caters for young people with learning disabilities in the eastern part of my constituency. Every Friday night, that club offers a place where vulnerable young people can have what equates to a genuine social life, and where young people with severe challenges in life are able to be safe and happy and to take part in all sorts of wonderful social activities, including outings, sports and meeting up with friends. Many of those friendships have developed over decades from the time of primary school. That is why the young people love the club so much.
I am told that there is no similar provision for young people with learning disabilities anywhere in Reading borough. In my two and a half years as an MP, I have certainly not seen anything similar. The service also offers a welcome respite for parents and carers for a few hours a week, from 6 to 9 pm on a Friday. They benefit not only because their child is happy and safe in that environment, but because they get a short break each week from what is a lifetime of caring. The House is only too well aware of the massive financial and emotional burden of caring that many families take from the state each year.
I visited the Sun club and spoke with parents and users. They genuinely cherish the service. You would think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the local authority would, too, but you would be wrong. Reading borough council wants to close the club because it does not appear to fit neatly into one of its budgetary boxes. The Sun club is currently funded by the youth service, which is supposed to be for 13 to 19-year-olds, but is also for those up to the age of 25 who have learning disabilities. Apparently, the club has a few members who are over the 25-years age limit.
Parents understand the councils dilemma and wish to work with it to find a sensible solution, but the actions of the local authority have been bordering on the heartless. In August, the local authority wrote to parents to inform them of the budgetary problem but promised to manage the situation
sensitively and in consultation with parents...I will be writing to inform you of further progress, inviting you to a meeting to discuss this in full.
Many letters to the local authority from parents have simply gone unanswered. Answers that I have received from the local authority to my inquiries on their behalf have been at best inaccurate in describing the current situation. Worse, the local authority is now taking disciplinary action against the member of staff who raised concerns on behalf of parents about what was happening. It is always difficult to comment on matters going through due process, but I would say to the local authority that what it is doing will look very unpleasant and wrong to the outside world.
Those thinking that we all have to work within constraints and budgets are right, but the astonishing thing is that the cost of the club is a mere £5,700 a year.
This money could be found from a £0.5 billion annual budget if there was truly the will to do so.
By way of advice to Reading borough council, I would say three things. First, stop trying to bully parents and instead work with them, as it said it would from the outset, to find a solution for these young people. This club is worth supporting. Secondly, drop the disciplinary action against the youth worker, which reflects extraordinarily badly against the local authority. Thirdly, reflect very carefully on the special educational needs support in Reading. There are huge problems even for those children in schools, but for those over 18 the gaps in provision are absolutely enormous. Where there is a success, such as the club, do not set out to destroy it simply because it cannot be made to fit into a particular budgetary pot.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent point and showing what a compassionate and caring Member he is. May I share with him that I have the same problem with Essex county council?
Mr. Wilson: I have heard about the problems with Essex county council. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. As he knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) sat on the Education and Skills Committee during our inquiry into special educational needs.
The second issue that I should like to raise is the tragic death of my constituent Tyson Brown, who lost his life in 2005 and whose family feel badly let down by the way in which the case has been handled by the police, the Health and Safety Executive and the coroner. The family believe that each of those organisations has made mistakes that have made it much more difficult for the evidence to be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service to enable the case to progress to court.
The death of a son is never easy to cope with, yet my constituents familys tragedy has been compounded by the fact that the individuals they believe responsible for their childs death have never stood trial. On 12 August 2005, Tyson Brown, a 16-year-old boy from Woodley, drowned during his lunch break. He was attempting to swim across a flooded quarry where he had been working after accepting a challenge to do so from his employer. That is right; an employer, at his place of work, bet his employee to swim across a dangerous flooded quarry, exposing a young man to considerable danger.
The police attended the scene and quickly dismissed the death as a tragic accident. Health and safety officials said that as it took place at lunchtime, it was not a matter for them. The police, based on a short telephone conversation with the Health and Safety Executive, seemed to have come to the conclusion that there was very little to investigate. I find that quite extraordinary. Indeed, a civil casewhere, admittedly, the burden of evidence is lowerthat the family brought against the employer resulted in a £10,000 compensation settlement, although that is not much for a young life.
The family have been fighting to get at the truth for two years and have not been treated in the manner they should have been by the police, the HSE or the coroners court. They have raised a number of concerns about the way the police investigated the case and they are dissatisfied
with the responses they have received. Despite a number of letters sent to the police, I, too, have failed to receive completely satisfactory answers to questions, such as why the boss, Mr. Edwards, was allowed to leave the scene before being interviewed, why his statement was not recorded properly and on the correct witness statement forms, why he was not asked to attend the inquest as a witness, and why the police waited more than three hours before informing the family of the death of their son. That raises concerns about whether justice has been seen to be done in this casewhether the police have carried out a thorough investigation, whether the HSE made a rash and ill-informed decision about the nature of the incident, and whether the coroner was given all the information required before coming to a conclusion.
I believe that it is reasonable to interpret that the duty of care an employer has for their employees is not set rigidly by the hours of work; rather, it should also be determined by the influence an employer exercises over their employee and by the environment in which it is exercised. It is reasonable to expect that an employer should be held accountable for their influence if it can be shown that risk to an employees health and well-being directly resulted from that influence and would not have occurred otherwise. Considering this case in particular, it is therefore reasonable to expect that the influence Mr. Edwards exercised as a boss over Tyson Brown would have extended over the lunch-break period. It is also reasonable to expect that Tyson Brown, particularly considering his age, would respond to requests by his boss even at lunchtime in a way that he might not have done if Mr. Edwards had held no such superior position. Finally, it is reasonable for Mr. Edwards to foresee a risk to Tyson Brown by encouraging him to enter a flooded quarry without safety measures in place.
It is not for the House to rule on the interpretation of the facts in this case. Equally, I do not believe that it is for the police to make such a judgment, but I do believe that we need an independent adjudication of the circumstances of this case. There is no doubt in my mind that mistakes have been made. I therefore do not believe that Tyson Brown has received justice. After two years, it is time for this matter to be properly settled and I hope that the Minister will use her good offices to help in that.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): First, I wish to thank all the Members who have spoken in the debate and to compliment them on their excellent contributions. We have heard about a wide range of subjectsfrom those that concern Members constituencies to national issues and some that address the international perspectiveand I very much hope that where the Deputy Leader of the House is unable to provide answers she will ensure that the appropriate Ministers provide full and proper replies to Members.
The debate began with a powerful speech from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who gave a strong critique of the reorganisation in Cheshire. She raised a number of serious issues for the relevant Secretary of State, but we subsequently heard a speech from the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) in which he more or less disagreed with everything that
the hon. Lady saidalthough to be fair to him he also covered a number of other issues, including a possible review of police pay.
The contribution of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) touched on the closure of post offices, a subject close to the heart of many Membersit affects many of us and we share his concerns. The right hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) spoke on a point echoed in respect of many other Members constituencies: the future of local hospitals, and in her case of Chase Farm hospital. She was somewhat scathing about the consultation process. My advice to her is to join us, the next time that there is an Opposition day debate on a health issue, in criticising her own Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) drew attention to the possible closure of the Northcott theatre. It is particularly noteworthy that there is cross-party support locally for that very worthwhile venture, and I certainly wish her well in her campaign. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) made a very valid point when he criticised his own Government for trailing well in advance todays written statement on visitors to the UK. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House has taken that on board.
How welcome it was to see my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) making such a valid contribution in this place today. He made a very moving speech concerning his constituents, particularly Mr. and Mrs. Burrell and the formers need for treatment with the drug Sutent. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will ensure that the statement that my hon. Friend requested from the relevant Minister will be forthcoming as soon as possible.
The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) made a thoughtful speech on the future use of a particular piece of land and the future of the pigeons on it. I hope that the situation is quickly resolved. In passing, I understand that the matter was covered on the Today programme this morning. We are used to hearing Ministers trail their comments on that programme; I am sure that the Whip in charge will note that Back Benchers are following that practice.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) spoke passionately on behalf of his constituents and rightly pointed out the difficulties experienced by his beef and lamb producers. I agree entirely with him when he says that it is high time that we had a debate on agriculture in Government time; it is long overdue. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) gave a knowledgeable speech on his local train services. That, we all acknowledge, is always a difficult subject, but I am sure that his constituents are grateful for his efforts in raising it in the Chamber.
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