Previous Section Index Home Page

The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) raised a very relevant point, given that it is the festive season, and he was supported in his comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). Both spoke of the need to ensure that Christmas is called Christmas, and not “Winterval” or anything else, by the political correctness brigade. I entirely agree with those comments. If one were to ask members of a minority religion—to ask, say, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or the Jewish community—to change the name of their religious festival because it was felt that it offended those who are not from that faith, there
18 Dec 2007 : Column 813
would rightly be outrage from those communities. Yet there are people in this country who are quite happy to rename Christmas “Winterval”. [ Interruption. ] Labour Members are saying “Where?” I suggest that they look at some of their own local authorities, where they will find the answer. It is wrong to have one rule for the minority religions, yet for those who are part of the mainstream majority religion in this country to find that Christmas is to be renamed. I hope that the political correctness brigade will take note of that.

Mr. Robathan: Let me help my hon. Friend and those on the Labour Benches who have very short memories. It was the Labour authority in Birmingham that determined that Christmas would be called “Winterval”.

Mr. Vara: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for specifying which authority it was, but I am sure that he will agree that there are other such authorities, most of which are run by the governing party.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) spoke passionately about a number of issues, including the need for a referendum on the European Union—the Government pledged that in their manifesto. He rightly said that when Governments renege on their manifestos that reflects badly on politics for all of us, and that the Prime Minister has lost his moral compass.

The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) gave a considered speech on Norfolk matters, making particular reference to special educational needs. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) gave a learned speech on various financial matters, in particular the Barnett formula, Scottish financing, English spending and so on. I am sure that this House will return to those subjects in future.

We heard an interesting speech by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). He spoke of a Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament defecting to the Conservatives. I urge the hon. Gentleman’s Whips to keep an eye on him and inquire why a Labour Member is particularly excited about a Liberal Democrat MEP defecting to the Conservatives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) subsequently made a passionate speech. He spoke about the need for increased investment in tackling identity fraud. Given the time of the year, when a lot of expenditure takes place, that is a particularly relevant point.

The hon. Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) raised a number of points in a serious speech. He asked a number of pertinent questions about the British National party, and a lot of answers are required. I hope that the issues will be looked into by the Electoral Commission and the police.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) spoke appreciatively about one of Britain’s strong success stories—the Open university. Its great achievements have taken place both in this country and abroad.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) spoke with considerable care and concern about the serious issue of equality for women. She boasted about her Government’s achievements in that
18 Dec 2007 : Column 814
particular area. May I remind her that it would have helped the cause of the former Minister for women and equality if she had been paid the proper ministerial salary when in post, rather than the salary of a Back Bencher?

We then heard a fast-paced speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). He made a number of points, concluding with the good news of the unveiling of the easy access disabled buses.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) also made a number of points, including her wish for better fire services for her local community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) covered various important points for her constituents, including the tension between house builders, inadequate infrastructure and the green belt.

The final speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson). He spoke about the people who Christmas perhaps tends to forget. His thoughtful speech covered the threatened closure of the Sun club, which caters for very vulnerable people in his constituency. I know that he is a strong and committed campaigner for his constituents, and I wish him well in his campaign to save the club.

All that remains for me to do is to wish you and all the staff of the House a happy Christmas and new year, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I also extend season’s greetings and Christmas greetings to all the members of the security team, who look after us so well, and to the staff of the Members? I wish everyone a happy Christmas and new year, and look forward to seeing everybody again in the new year.

6.19 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): It is nice to be able to respond to an afternoon of debate that has been so lively and marked by so many contributions. The first was of course the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She made a powerful speech in which she was strongly critical of the local government reorganisation in Cheshire. I am sure that her arguments will be heard beyond this Chamber. It was interesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) disagreed with much of what she said. In County Durham, we have gone through a similar reorganisation recently and I know that such processes can raise strong feelings, because the way in which local government is organised has an impact on public service delivery.

The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) spoke initially about rural services and, in particular, his concern about post office closures. His points about the significance of the post office were echoed not only by those with rural constituencies, but others. They included my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). All were concerned by post office closures and the method of consultation on those closures. I will certainly draw that to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

18 Dec 2007 : Column 815

The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine went on to talk about the importance of broadband extension, especially for rural communities. I will draw his points on that issue to the attention of colleagues in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. He talked about the switchover from analogue to digital television, but I am afraid that he went way beyond my understanding in the description of the technology. I think that he was saying that support for vulnerable groups needs to have a longer lead-in, especially for people who are blind or dyslexic. I will draw that point to the attention of Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The hon. Gentleman went on to make a complaint about the level of the winter fuel payment, which I did not think was wholly justified, given the high expenditure that the Government have put into Warm Front of some £800 million, benefiting 1.6 million people. That needs to be taken into account when considering fuel poverty, which has become much less prevalent in the last 10 years. He also talked about North sea oil and gas and expressed particular concern about future development. He said that for a long time the Treasury had taken a short-term view of it. In a former life, I was the civil servant on the North sea desk, so his suggestion that that was a longstanding problem made me rather uncomfortable. In any case, I do not think that it is a problem now.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman made the suggestion that the Leader of the House should announce business two weeks ahead. Sometimes we do announce business more than one week ahead, but I will take his suggestion away and we will consider it.

Bob Spink: I congratulate the Government on the £27 million stop-gap funding for children’s hospices this year and I request an early statement on funding for 2008-09. I also request an early debate on the Floor of the House on the holistic palliative care of children, as I was promised such a debate by the former Leader of the House, now Lord Chancellor, some six months ago.

Helen Goodman: I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) spoke about Chase Farm hospital. She is an energetic campaigner on behalf of her constituents and her speech described the many years that she has spent in such campaigning. She was especially concerned to preserve accident and emergency and maternity services in the hospital. She was concerned about the quality of the consultation that had been carried out. My understanding is that such decisions are for the local NHS, and that all the PCTs agreed that it was option No. 1 which should be considered. Even so, my right hon. Friend made a powerful case, and I shall draw her remarks to the attention of Ministers in the Department of Health.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) spoke about the closure of the theatre in Exeter. She will understand that that is a decision for the Arts Council of England, which is an arm’s length body. I can draw the matter to the attention of Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but I cannot be terribly optimistic about the upshot.

18 Dec 2007 : Column 816

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton also spoke about the problem that arises when consultants prescribe drugs that, for financial or other reasons, are not available to patients. She suggested that an unfair funding arrangement enabled people in Scotland to get drugs that are not available to people in England. I hope that she heard the speech made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), who explained to the House that Scotland received no real-terms subsidy under the Barnett formula.

The hon. Lady went on to talk about the operation of HIPs. She said that she supported energy certificates, but she also made some complaints about the administration of the HIPs scheme. She said that she had written to Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government in the middle of October, and I shall impress on them the importance of giving her an early response.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East spoke about post office closures in his constituency, and then about the site at the junction of the A46 and the A6 where GE Thorn used to have a plant. He is worried that the site could become derelict, and wants the company and the council to look into its future use.

My right hon. Friend welcomed the proposal to change the rules on immigration and visitors, and said that he supported the proposal to reduce the length of visits from six months to three. I was glad that he was able to find something in the Government’s programme to support, because he then went on to make some criticisms of the Home Secretary’s decisions in respect of police pay. In that, he was supported by the hon. Members for Blaby and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), and by my hon. Friends the Members for Weaver Vale and for Cleethorpes.

Of course, the Government recognise the vital and hard work performed by the police, but the public sector pay policy must be maintained. There is no need for me to advise my right hon. Friend on how to make his case to Ministers, as he is clearly perfectly capable of doing so.

I should like to take this opportunity to express my pleasure at seeing the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) back and in his place this afternoon. He made a very good and characteristically clear speech in which he described the case of a constituent of his who has cancer. I understand that the local NHS was not prescribing the drug that would have helped his constituent, and I want to make it clear that it is not acceptable for NHS organisations to refuse to fund treatments simply because they have not yet been appraised by NICE. However, PCTs in different areas will have different priorities, so unless we have a completely centralised system, about which Members on both sides of the House would be critical, there will difficulties in meeting all needs and priorities.

Several hon. Members talked about cancer care in their area. Over the last 10 years the extra spending and concentration on cancer has brought mortality rates down by 17 per cent., and a new cancer reform strategy is being developed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) made an excellent speech about his constituents in Ryhope and the importance of pigeon fancying and allotment holding. My constituency
18 Dec 2007 : Column 817
is only 25 miles from my hon. Friend’s, so I know how important pigeon fancying is for the large number of people who derive great enjoyment from the sport. Some of us even wondered whether it could be made an Olympic sport, but I understand that that will not be possible. My hon. Friend also pointed out that the Legal Complaints Service refused to correspond with him. I shall refer his point to the Ministry of Justice, as that situation seems completely unacceptable.

The right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) spoke about post office closures. I was surprised that he did not mention the Barley Mow in Kirk Ireton, because when Mary and Tony Short contacted me, I told them to get in touch with him about their post office. I will draw the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about community bus services to the attention of the Department for Transport. I was surprised by what he said, because the Department is trying to encourage more community bus services and more social enterprise where big bus companies do not find it economic to operate. I very much hope that the framework in the new transport legislation will go some way towards helping people in his rural constituency.

The right hon. Gentleman also talked about Longstone rake and the difficulties with minerals regulations. He asked when the consultation would take place and said he was not sure that the Planning Bill would help to speed up the process. I shall refer his comments to Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government. He went on to talk about agriculture, and upland farmers in particular. I echo his remarks, as there are many hill farmers in my constituency and the recent outbreak of foot and mouth has been problematic for them. I shall take his call for a debate on agriculture as a request for a topical debate.

The right hon. Gentleman complained about the fact that council taxes were rising by 4 per cent. while rises in incomes were tied to inflation, but he needs to look at the wider context. Opposition Members sometimes forget the state in which pensioners were living 10 years ago. I remind them that we have lifted 2 million pensioners out of poverty over the last 10 years.

Mr. Robathan: Complete rubbish.

Helen Goodman: It is not. The hon. Gentleman may be uncomfortable with them, but those are the facts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) spoke about the East London line extension. He has made an extremely careful and thorough analysis of all the technical documents and has been involved in the campaign for 35 years. I will draw his concerns about the future development to the attention of the Department for Transport. He also made some points about health services in his area. Again, he was concerned about the quality of consultation, which was an issue that came up in the speeches of several hon. Members. I will draw that point to the attention of Ministers in the Department of Health.

The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) spoke about the threats from international terrorism, and in particular, he expressed his concern about the Libyan regime. He was concerned about the arms trade and how it can feed into the situation. I understand
18 Dec 2007 : Column 818
from the Foreign Office that, while it is aware of the situation and does not condone it, it believes that the relationship with Libya has improved significantly. I will draw his remarks to the attention of Foreign Office Ministers. He also raised the issue of the destruction of Orange halls and said that some 200 had been lost in recent years. I shall write to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) spoke about the reorganisation of local government in Cheshire. He went on to talk about two planning issues, one in an area where there has been overdevelopment and another on a greenfield site. He made a specific recommendation—we will pass it on to the Department for Communities and Local Government—that local authorities need stronger enforcement powers, because without those powers, there are not sufficient penalties to provide incentives for people to abide by the planning regulations. He spoke of his concerns about the effectiveness of the Criminal Records Bureau, and about the rehabilitation of offenders. I will pass his concerns on to the Home Office.

My hon. Friend also spoke of two children who had been killed on the motorway in his constituency. He is absolutely right: road safety is the most significant issue of risk to children in this country. He will no doubt have noticed that the children’s plan, which was published a few days ago, addressed the issue of road safety. I will draw what he said to the attention of the Department for Transport and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) gave a wide-ranging speech covering police pay, post offices, pensions, farmers and his desire to have an EU referendum. I am not going to suggest that we are going to have an EU referendum. As he knows very well, the document is not a new constitution. It is a treaty and the House will have many weeks to examine it in the new year.

Mr. Robathan: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Helen Goodman: No; the hon. Gentleman will have plenty of time in the new year.

I felt that the hon. Gentleman made a more reasonable point when he spoke about the importance of ensuring that dairy farmers were well treated. I draw his attention to the inquiry by the Competition Commission into the behaviour of supermarkets.

Mr. Robathan: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Helen Goodman: Yes.

Mr. Robathan: May I take the hon. Lady back to the referendum? Did she endorse and support the Labour party manifesto on which she stood in May 2005?

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. It is not that the Government have changed their mind; it is that circumstances have changed.

Next Section Index Home Page