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5.37 pm

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): I, too, thank all those who have taken part in this afternoon’s debate. We have heard a number of excellent speeches, ranging in content from local constituency matters to national issues. We have also covered some international matters.

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The hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) began proceedings with a detailed speech. The House will share his concerns about the fact that many blind people do not have access to television, despite the fact that technological advances mean that they can partake of it. I have to say that the arguments he made in attempting to claim that he did not really vote for post office closures when we all know that he did were disingenuous to say the least.

The point was aptly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) when he said that such behaviour contributes to the cynicism about all those who work here and does not help our cause in trying to establish that we are a reputable profession and people who are trying to do the best for their constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) rightly pointed out that the fact that the hon. Member for Telford happens to be Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury may have had something to do with his about-turn, by which I suspect his constituents will not be convinced.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) spent the first seven minutes of his speech talking about matters to do with the fact that the recess does not match the school holidays. He seemed to be under the impression that the debate was a continuation of this morning’s business questions. I have to take issue with his point about long summer holidays. He may be taking a long summer holiday between July and October, but the majority of his colleagues in the House will be doing constituency work. I have sympathy with Mehdi Kazemi, the Iranian gentleman whom he mentioned, and I hope very much that the Deputy Leader of the House will have taken on board the concerns that were raised.

The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) said that this debate was an opportunity for Members of Parliament to speak about constituency matters and get things off their chest, and for his sake I hope that he was able to do both those things and that he feels a lot better for it. He touched on the issue of Iraq, and I hope again that those points were noted, and he also spoke of the funding for a walk-in medical centre in his constituency, arguments that were well put, and I am sure that his constituents will feel well served by him in today’s debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) gave a typically forceful speech, and I have every sympathy with his arguments on Chelmsford Crown post office. He rightly put into perspective the difficulties now experienced by people who visit the post office compared with when it was in a stand-alone building. He said that that was unacceptable, and I agree and wish him well in trying to resolve the difficulty that his constituents face. I also agree that the Government should review their road-funding programme.

I take this opportunity to wish the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) a very happy birthday—a day which I hope was made all the happier by her speech of great diligence. Her constituents will have noted that she has aired their concerns about the inconsistencies in bus travel passes, and I am sure that they will be grateful to her for having put on the record the blip in the historical records of the connection between Immingham and the Pilgrim Fathers.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) gave a typically wise and thoughtful speech, with a touch of humour thrown in for good measure. He too rightly talked of post offices and mentioned the elderly and vulnerable people who will be particularly affected by their closure, and also referred to their being a useful community resource for those who use and live around them.

I endorse wholeheartedly my hon. Friend’s point about encouraging more sport for ladies. Women have enormous talent in this area, and it is not being nurtured as well as it could be. We should look to ensure that sponsors of sport take note of the comments made in today’s debate and give good consideration to making sure that we have more female sports on television. At this point, I should say that we need more role models, such as Charlotte Edwards, the captain of the England ladies’ cricket team. It is my privilege to have her as a resident in my constituency. As my local newspaper The Hunts Post said, she is

Long may she continue to be successful, having clinched the Ashes for England in February 2008.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) gave a masterful and eloquent performance, and I very much hope that Devon county council will deal with the problem of the tide encircling the landfill site, the consequences of which will be dangerous for the local community. I hope also that he will have some joy in trying to get broadband for the residents of St. Giles on the Heath and some other villages. It is a problem that those Members with a rural element to their constituencies understand all too well.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) gave a measured speech, and I hope that his plea to have more access to motorcycle test centres has been heard by the Deputy Leader of the House, and that she will pass the message on to the relevant Minister. The House will have noted his welcome to the new grocery supply code of practice and his urging that it be put in place as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) made a wide-ranging speech, and the House will have noted the economic circumstances of his constituency, including the issues concerning drug misuse. We cannot fail to have noticed his observation that the police have to double up to do social work. Their position is not in any way assisted by the fact that they also have mountains and mountains of paperwork to add to their workload.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) made a broad speech that covered a number of issues. I suspect like many Members, I agree entirely with him that the answers that Ministers provide are often very inadequate and that there is a discrepancy between different Departments in respect of the efficiency with which questions are answered. Many of us share that concern. The House will have been staggered by the revelation that Felicia Cantone, the brave 10-year-old girl in his constituency, cannot get a prosthetic leg because she is deemed to be too young.

Mr. Amess: Will my hon. Friend allow me to intervene—just for a few seconds?

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Mr. Vara: Very quickly.

Mr. Amess: I just want to tell the House that when I got back to my office, the phone had been ringing. A number of people have decided to contribute money to help the young lady. That is fantastic news.

Mr. Vara: Clearly, my hon. Friend has been well served by his comments in this debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, my constituency neighbour, raised a number of issues. I have considerable sympathy with much of what he said. I echo his arguments on the closure of local post offices and add my support to the efforts for more funds for Flag Fen.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) gave an excellent speech that rightly touched on the problems faced by a number of constituencies in respect of house building. He rightly drew a link between immigration and the need for new homes. I hope that the Government and others have taken note that when people talk of such a link they are not racists. When my right hon. and hon. Friends and I talk about restrictions on immigration, we are not being racists—it is called good governance, and I suggest that the Government take that on board.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I conclude by wishing a very happy recess to you, all Members and their staff, and all the staff of the House—particularly those in the security arena, who do so much hard work to make sure that we have a safe environment in which to work.

5.47 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): It is a great pleasure to take part in this April Adjournment debate. As always, it is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara).

I want to begin by commenting on the remarks that have been made about post offices. That issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright), the hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) and for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley).

I do understand that the proposed closure of post offices is a real problem in many communities because 12 of the 48 post offices in my constituency are proposed for closure. The Government recognise the social and economic benefits of the post office network; that is why they are spending £1.7 billion on subsidising the Post Office. As all hon. Members must acknowledge, that is a large sum and it should be possible for the Post Office to support a proper network with it.

Hon. Members said that they were frustrated by the quality of the consultations. I remind them that, until now, between 10 and 15 per cent. of the proposals have been changed as a result of representations. That emphasises the importance of hon. Members taking part in these consultations and encouraging their constituents to do so. Earlier today, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House promised to take back to the
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Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform the request to share information about individual post offices and their commercial strategies, along with all hon. Members’ remarks, which we will submit to the Minister responsible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford spoke about audio-description in his excellent speech. I do not know whether he is aware that the Communications Act 2003 sets minimum targets for audio-description, and it is the responsibility of Ofcom to ensure that they are met. He also spoke about Ironbridge, the world heritage site. I can remember visiting that as a child and seeing a coracle, which only goes to show that I am much older than he is. I understand that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and regional Ministers have set up a group that is looking into how to protect Ironbridge. He also spoke about manufacturing in the west midlands and the importance of inward investment in creating new jobs.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey rightly spoke about the importance of the timing of recesses. I will undertake to update the work that we have done on that by reviewing which local authorities hon. Members send their children to school in so that next year we can take that into account when we set the timetable.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about an important site in his constituency and the importance of getting a sensitive development there. He went on to talk about the case of Mr. Mehdi Kazemi, an Iranian. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of this, but the Home Secretary has agreed that that case should be considered in the light of representations that were made by the House of Lords, because every case must of course be considered on its individual merits, and people’s human rights must be taken into account when decisions are taken. That is the policy that the Home Office follows. The hon. Gentleman also talked about electoral under-registration, which is, as he knows, very significant. I will forward those remarks to the Ministry of Justice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) spoke about the costs of the Iraq war. He cited an extraordinary figure, which I have checked. The Government estimate that by the end of 2006-07 the conflict will in fact have cost the British taxpayer some £5.5 billion, which is considerably below his figure. He raised the reasonable point that we should have more discussion before sums of money are committed to. I know that the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury have discussed improving the scrutiny of estimates. In addition, next year we will have a debate when the spending announcement is made in recognition of the significance of this issue. My hon. Friend also talked about the decisions of Norfolk primary care trust with regard to walk-in services, and I hope that he will take part in that consultation.

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford spoke about the A12. I understand that the Highways Agency is aware of the issues and is trying to manage the traffic flows better through electronic messaging and so forth. I realise that his request was for more investment, and I will pass that message on to the Department for Transport. However, I would like to defend the allocation of funding around the regions and remind him that grants are made in the light of circumstances, not politics.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) proved what a hard-working Member she is by coming in to make a speech on her birthday, and I would like to join others in congratulating her on that, as well as congratulating the people of Immingham on the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers. I would also like to congratulate North Lincolnshire council on its excellent implementation of the bus pass extension. What sounded particularly good about its scheme was the flexibility involving trains.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge raised a number of issues, including the size of the Marine Bill. The Bill is as large as it is because it includes a plain English version so that more people will be able to read and understand it more easily. He spoke about his daughter, who is a very good rugby player. The Government take the issue of women’s and girls’ participation in sport seriously, which is why Kelly Holmes is the national school sport champion; she also chairs something called the GirlsActive service.

The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon spoke about the serious problems faced by his hill farmers and of the coastal erosion of the Burrows. I would remind him that spending on coastal erosion has doubled, and by 2010 it will be £800 million. He made a wide-ranging speech, which I felt in the end became a rural version of Monty Python’s “I lived in a shoebox” sketch. I found that I could not reconcile the number and severity of the problems that he raised with my picture of Bideford, which I know to be an exceptionally beautiful place where my parents-in-law met. I would also remind him that the decision on bovine tuberculosis is one that will be taken in the light of scientific, not sentimental interests.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute spoke about the problems his constituents have in taking motorcycling tests. His constituents have an exceptionally long journey to take, and I understand that that is a problem for them. I will take his concerns to the Department for Transport, although I am sure that he will understand that in rural areas and in western Scotland, access will not be as close as it is for those in large cities. He asked about the delay in the shipbuilding contract, and I refer him to a parliamentary answer given in the Lords last week, which explained that the main manufacturing contract for the aircraft carriers will be made when the commercial arrangements and the work schedule have been completed.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) spoke about his constituency. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) is to be congratulated on having made the most efficient speech of the afternoon, raising 14 issues in 10 minutes.

The hon. Member for Peterborough and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden talked about immigration. I would like to point out that this Government’s policy is not to have uncontrolled immigration, which is why we are introducing a points-based system. We are also investing in skills and training for people in this country so that they can benefit from economic opportunities. All those policies on increasing participation in higher education and increasing the number of apprenticeships were opposed by Conservative Members.

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It only remains for me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to thank you and all the members of staff who work for us so assiduously throughout the year, and I wish everybody a very pleasant and restful April recess.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Perhaps I might be allowed to reciprocate the many good wishes that have been directed to the Chair and the officials of the House. I hope that everyone has a very good Easter break.

It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.


Post Office Closures (Bristol)

6 pm

Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): I, too, wish you a happy recess, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This petition is specifically about post offices in the city of Bristol. Post Office Ltd recently announced the closure, or consultation on the closure, of 12 post offices in the city of Bristol, four of which are in my constituency. They follow many other closures in recent years. In the Bristol, West constituency, it is proposed to close the Alma Vale Road post office in Clifton, the Derby Road post office in St. Andrews, the Redcliffe Hill post office in Redcliffe and the Wellington, West post office in Henleaze. There are petitions about all four closures, but the one that I am presenting is specifically about the Derby Road post office. At the point when it was given to me on Sunday, it had been signed by 1,209 people.

The petition states:

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