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Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

To report progress and ask leave to sit again.— [Mr. Blizzard]

Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.


Palestinian Community of Jayyous

7.37 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I beg leave to present a petition on behalf of Ms Cate Mowat, members of the Antonine Friendship Link, and others. It states:

Referendum on the EU Constitution

7.39 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Councillor Alan Wood and members of the Campaign for an Independent Britain who compiled the petition agree that it is in the interests of Britain and Europe to renegotiate our relationship with the European Union. They therefore felt it right to test public opinion in the Prime Minister’s constituency and the surrounding areas on the promise that the Prime Minister and nearly all Members of Parliament made, as a basis of their election to Parliament,
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to hold a referendum on the EU constitution, which is now being railroaded through, with inadequate and often no scrutiny on crucial matters, as happened today.

The constitution shifts powers from Parliament to an unaccountable and undemocratic EU, which is so corrupt and incompetent that, for the 13th year in succession, it has failed to have its accounts signed off—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot make a speech. He must deal specifically with the petition.

Bob Spink: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood the tradition to be that a Member was allowed to speak for about two minutes when presenting a petition.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Hon. Members must stick to the points that derive from the petition. They cannot make a general speech. Two minutes is generous, and the content must arise from the petition, not the hon. Member’s comments.

Bob Spink: I understand entirely and appreciate that you are always generous, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall therefore draw my comments to an end.

The petition, which I welcome and support, states:


7.41 pm

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I want to present three petitions on behalf of my constituents in Chorley.

The first deals with more funding for the hospice movement, and 800 people in Chorley constituency have signed it. They rightly believe that there should be extra money, direct from the Department of Health, to contribute towards funding hospices not only in Chorley but throughout the country. It is right to take note of the dedicated work of the hospice movement, whether for adults or children, and recognise that hospices are underfunded. We want to increase funding for hospices, especially Derian House in Chorley and St. Catherine’s hospice just outside Chorley.

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My second petition is about the military covenant, and it has been signed by 1,500 people in the Chorley constituency. They ask the Government to enforce the military covenant. The petition was begun by Chorley Royal British Legion, which rightly took the petition forms out on to the streets of Chorley. People have signed in great numbers because they respect and support our troops and their fight overseas. The people of Chorley support not only the Territorial Army from Chorley and C squadron, which is currently in Afghanistan, but all our troops who serve overseas. We ask the Government to ensure that the military covenant is upheld.

My third petition is on behalf of Bolton street post office, Chorley. It is an excellent post office and 1,500 people signed the petition on the premises. The strength of feeling about the possible closure of such a successful post office cannot be underestimated. People are appalled that the Post Office or Royal Mail is considering closing it. I stress that 1,500 people who use the post office have signed the petition. There is no other post office for three miles to the south. It serves an elderly population, the area needs it and its closure would be detrimental. The people who signed the petition asked me to present it to the House on behalf of the postmaster at the Bolton street post office in Chorley.

I would now like to present all three petitions.

Following is the full text of the petitions:


[The Petition of residents of Chorley and others,

Declares that hospices do an excellent job in looking after the terminally ill and their families and therefore should receive more funding from central Government.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Health to make it his policy to increase direct funding to hospices through the National Health Service.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


Support for Armed Forces

[ The Petition of the residents of Chorley and others,

Declares that British Service personnel should receive the necessary help and support they require, particularly medical support.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Defence to honour the covenant between Government and service and ex-service personnel in providing the necessary support and medical assistance they require.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


Post Office Closures (Chorley)

[The Petition of residents of Chorley and others,

Declares that Bolton Street Post Office provides an essential service to the local community and the proposed closure will be a serious loss to residents within the locality.

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The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business , Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to review the proposed closure of Bolton Street Post Office.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


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Police Escape Masks

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Blizzard.]

7.45 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of the procurement—or, as the case may be, not the procurement—of police escape masks from Avon Rubber. The matter affects the well-being of the company and that of my constituents who work in it, but it is also a matter of principle in relation to the moral obligation of Government to those to whom they look to provide them with the equipment that they need.

Avon Rubber is a famous manufacturing company situated just outside Melksham in my constituency. It currently employs a significant number of my constituents, as well as constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), who, I know, hopes to speak in this short debate as well. It manufactures specialised equipment, often for Government and Government agencies, which is how the current circumstances arose.

In 2005, through the police national chemical biological radiological and nuclear centre at Winterbourne Gunner, ACPO (TAM)—the Association of Chief Police Officers terrorism and allied matters committee—identified the need for a design for a protective hood to be used by police officers in the event of a CBRN attack. It asked Avon Rubber, which has been the supplier to the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence and security services for nearly a century, to help it to draft a specification. Once the specification had been approved by the team at Winterbourne Gunner under the direction of Inspector Allan Sneller, the Winterbourne CBRN escape hood, as it had become known, was handed over to for an international tender.

The tender specified a requirement for a basic form of respiratory personal equipment to prevent harm to emergency responders so that they were better able to escape safely from a CBRN attack, regroup, re-equip and then redeploy. That, the tender stated, would preserve our limited human resources and enable responders to take the necessary actions to ensure the safety of both the public and themselves, and is the first stage in the response of a CBRN incident. The tender specified a range of required numbers between 170,000 and 350,000.

Avon Rubber won the tender on 24 August 2006. The official acceptance letter read as follows.

—I stress those words—

The cost of the hoods stated in the e-mails referred to in that letter was based on a volume commitment of 170,000—140,000 for the police and 30,000 for the national health service ambulance service. As required by the contract, Avon Rubber then invested £2.2 million in establishing a production line, together with sufficient manpower to run two shifts. Thus the minimum number of units contracted in the first two years was to be 170,000.

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Soon after the award of the contract, the police national CBRN centre at Winterbourne Gunner was reorganised and most of its responsibilities transferred to the police national CBRN centre at Ryton, near Coventry. That, apparently and inexplicably, led to a change of attitude towards the escape hood. It now seems that the procurement and the contract were a sham, and that there has never been an agreement between the various police forces on a common strategy for rolling out the hoods. Indeed, the national co-ordinator for CBRN policing, Assistant Chief Constable Richard Stowe—who has since left the post after little more than a year—has told Avon Rubber that he sees no need for the numbers committed to in the contract.

After 20 months, the number of hoods ordered by the police amounts to 21,000 against the 140,000 promised, which would have equipped every officer in the country. There is now no pattern as to who has hoods and who does not. For example, the Scottish constabulary have ordered enough to equip every officer on duty. The Metropolitan police, having originally said no, have recently changed their minds and funded an order for 10,000. The ambulance service has bought its 30,000 so that every ambulance is now equipped. The Ministry of Defence has also taken 4,500 for its civilian contractors in Iraq. However, as a result of the change of policy with regard to the police order and the massively reduced take-up, the manufacturing line has had to be closed down and the work force reallocated or made redundant.

I and my hon. Friend are anxious to see this company, which employs our constituents, prosper. We feel that there has been a breach of good faith on the part of the Government, which is why I am raising this matter on the Floor of the House tonight. The principle to which I referred at the outset of my remarks is that where companies make investments because they have been asked to do so by Governments or their agencies, that must create at least a moral obligation on the Government to see, either directly or through its agencies, that the agreements upon which the request are based are subsequently fulfilled.

I have been to see the Minister in this regard and although he listened with courtesy, he later in effect washed his and the Government’s hands of all responsibility. I say to him in all sincerity tonight that he cannot wash his hands. The tender that led to this contract was accepted “on behalf of the Treasury”, which is an integral part of the Administration to which he, as a Minister, owes collective responsibility.

The Minister must see, as I do, that the shambles over this procurement could have far-reaching consequences. Why should Avon Rubber ever trust the police or the Home Office again? Why should it put any effort into supporting the design and manufacture of a vital product if in the end it is treated in such a cavalier fashion?

This goes wider, however. Increasingly, Government look to the private sector to provide for their specialist requirements. If they are to continue to do so, they must build a strong sense of trust with the private sector to ensure continuity of supply. In this case, that trust has blatantly been breached. As things stand, the message to other suppliers and manufacturers is that Government assurances upon which they are asked to
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make significant investment decisions cannot be trusted. That is a bad message to give.

There is another aspect. We live at a time of heightened security. I know, as does the Minister, that we can be anything but certain that there will not be further successful terrorist incidents. We might not know the nature of such incidents, but the possibility must be that they could well involve explosives, radiological material or chemicals or gas, or a combination of them. What would happen if, heaven forbid, there was such a serious incident? The ambulance crews would be protected by the hood—which, incidentally, has now been re-designated as an “emergency” hood. That would provide them with short-term protection at the scene of the incident while they helped victims, as well as the protection to escape. Astonishingly, they might have no immediate police back-up to support them because the police had no such hoods.

The Government owe it to the people to ensure that the services of law and order and the rescue services are all properly equipped to respond in a co-ordinated manner to such situations. Failure to do so could be culpable. I hope that the Minister will bang heads together in the national interest to reactivate the order. If he does not, he might have to accept responsibility for the consequences. What is certain is that he can no longer wash his hands of this.

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