Previous Section Index Home Page

Unfortunately, this is causing many of my constituents considerable inconvenience and has made their lives difficult because of restrictions on the up service from Sydenham and the down service from Forest Hill, requiring people to go to the other side of the station and back over the footbridge to get to the service they want. For people with buggies or luggage or with mobility difficulties, that is extremely inconvenient. Everybody understands
22 July 2008 : Column 699
why the new system is being brought in, but it cannot be right to inconvenience the law-abiding and ticket-buying majority in the hope of catching the fare-evading minority. My constituents certainly do not see it that way.

Fortunately, the elected mayor of Lewisham, Sir Steve Bullock, arranged for me and him to meet senior Southern Trains managers at Forest Hill and Sydenham stations last Friday and, more particularly, for the managers to meet a number of constituents—their customers, passengers, or whatever they are called these days—and to hear from them first hand precisely how difficult their lives have been made by the lack of co-ordination in introducing the programme. As I say, nobody disputes the need to reduce fare evasion and to improve security by ensuring that only genuine passengers have access to both trains and stations. My constituents would agree with that proposition.

However, as the full scheme can be implemented by the end of this year, we are asking Southern Trains—it has agreed to consider this—to revert to the original position of unguarded gates until such time as it can bring in the whole scheme. My constituents will then be able to have access to both the up and down platforms at all times of the day with minimum inconvenience. I hope and expect Southern Trains to respond positively in a short space of time.

The other issue concerns health in south-east London. The primary care trusts in Lewisham, Greenwich, Bromley and Bexley put together a review of acute provision within what they called “outer south-east London.” I grew up in south-east London and have lived there all my life so far. I have never heard of outer south-east London. However, I applaud the PCTs for taking a joint approach to planning important services in the area. The last time I spoke on this issue was at the start of the consultation period. Fortunately, within the last few weeks, that consultation has concluded. The one thing that became apparent beyond all others was that the people of Lewisham do not regard themselves as living in outer south-east London, whatever that might be. If services at Lewisham hospital are taken away, the people would be more likely to go to King’s in the west or Guy’s and St. Thomas’s in the north than they would ever be to go to Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, Princess Royal in Farnborough or Queen Mary in Sidcup.

I am delighted that the result of the consultation has been to underline, rather than undermine, the services provided by Lewisham hospital. It is good news for Lewisham residents. The confidence and respect of residents for University hospital in Lewisham has been confirmed by the exercise and by the PCT. The joint PCT accepted that it will continue with the world class maternity and, certainly, paediatric services, which are among the best in the country—as good as Great Ormond street, according to the Healthcare Commission, or better, as Great Ormond street does not provide a children’s A & E service but Lewisham does. There are many other arrangements—for example, the future of maternity services and collaboration with the academic health sciences centre, which is due to be set up shortly—which will be to the benefit not just of Lewisham hospital as an institution and a centre of technical and medical excellence, but to my constituents and the many others who use its facilities.

22 July 2008 : Column 700

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I should have warned the House that there is an eight-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches. I am sure that everyone was aware of that.

2.45 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I will also keep to eight minutes, as I know that a lot of colleagues want to get in.

Like the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd), I have the privilege of representing parts of south-east London, and in a second I shall mention some topics of concern in our part of the world. First, however, I shall mention some slightly broader issues.

We go into recess today with hope and a bit of encouragement that, at last, in Zimbabwe, which we have debated so often in recent weeks, there may be a glimmer of a possibility that things can get better. From these Benches, via the Deputy Leader of the House, may I offer the Foreign Office team our best wishes and encourage them to continue to do all they can, despite the difficult position of the UK, to encourage African Union member states in particular to work strongly and determinedly to bring to an end the illegal and absolutely oppressive Government and to move to a much more positive future in Zimbabwe?

There are two other places where the next few weeks will be crucial. The Deputy Leader of the House will know that, in a matter of days, talks resume between the President of Cyprus and the Prime Minister and President of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This weekend was the 34th anniversary of the Turkish invasion. Many people have seen false dawns in trying to find a resolution, but the election of the new President of Cyprus in February has raised a welcome possibility of new talks and proposals for peace. There are lots of difficult problems, including land, housing, property, disappeared people and so on, but on behalf of the whole House, I wish those initiatives well. It is important that the Government in Ankara understand that, whatever the internal problems of the governing party and the military, they have a huge obligation to seek with their neighbours and on behalf of the whole of Europe to bring Cyprus back to being one nation, with all its communities living together in peace. It is a Commonwealth country and an EU country, and we are a guarantor power. I urge Foreign Office Ministers to be proactive with a greater intensity than ever before.

The third Commonwealth matter that I shall mention is Sri Lanka, in which I have long taken a interest. I am aware that the Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations has just returned from Sri Lanka, and I hope with colleagues from all parties to meet him shortly to go through what he has learned. There are many people working hard under the radar to bring the parties together in Sri Lanka, including the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who is in his place, and others. There has been conflict in that country for far too long. Violence and terrorism are unacceptable. Unless everybody is brought round the table and engaged in the process—Sinhala and Tamil, all the faith communities, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian, and others—there will be no peace on that island. I sense that we have not
22 July 2008 : Column 701
played a proactive part. India has a huge part to play, as does the United States. I hope that an opportunity can be taken. If the Government in Sri Lanka still think that they can bomb the LTT into submission, they must realise that that is not realistic. As we know from Northern Ireland and elsewhere, unless we engage people, there will not be a solution. I am sure a solution short of separation and two states is possible.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): We should pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman himself for his work over many years. Does he agree that whatever happens in Sri Lanka should not prevent the British Tamil community from playing their full part in our democracy and from engaging fully with elected Members of this House?

Simon Hughes: Absolutely. A new high commissioner for Sri Lanka has just been appointed—I have not met him yet—and we must send a clear message that people from all communities in Sri Lanka who have settled here can express their views within the law as freely as other citizens. There must be no intimidation and no sense that the debate here about what is happening in Sri Lanka is being suppressed.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth scholarships, but there was a big setback this March, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office decided to stop funding a proportion of those scholarships. That decision was not met by a positive response around the Commonwealth—indeed, the reaction was to the contrary, and real anger persists. The former Member for Bristol, West, Valery Davey, who is now the extremely able chair of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, and colleagues from all parties are working with others to try to get the Government to think again. I want the Government to think again and to reinstate funding across the Commonwealth, so that postgraduates of excellence can come here and benefit by studying before going on to be friends of this country abroad.

On the domestic agenda, I have just come from a march from Great Dover street in my constituency to Downing street in memory of David Idowu, who died aged 14 after being stabbed by another teenager five weeks ago. There is a huge gathering of his family, his friends, his neighbours, local schoolchildren, local teenagers, representatives of the Churches and other faith groups, local councillors and so on. The march is about to go over Westminster bridge, and I hope to join it later at Downing street.

There are ways to deal with knife crime. As we are putting our case in Southwark, my specific plea is for the assets released by the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill to be released early to help existing organisations do more. For example, there is a youth club over the road called The Hub. It is open on some nights of the week, but it would like to open on all the nights of the week. The organisation XLP has a bus that it uses on estates, and it would like to use that bus all day, every day. Downside Fisher youth club, Rockingham estate play association and many other youth organisations would like to do more, which would lead to other people volunteering. Will the Government think again about whether they can fund more detached or outreach youth workers in all our local authorities, to work in the statutory or voluntary sectors? Youth workers could be
22 July 2008 : Column 702
out in the community as role models and support systems for individuals. If we had 50 of them in Southwark—25 men and 25 women—it would be a great advantage.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): In Brent, we have found that long-term sustainable funding is needed to work with deprived communities, but the constant changes in the different funding streams and changing priorities can make it difficult to build up trust with difficult-to-reach communities.

Simon Hughes: That is absolutely true, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House brings my hon. Friend’s point to the attention not only of her Cabinet Office colleagues, but of colleagues in other Departments.

I repeat my oft-heard plea—every London Member says this—for the Government to be much more ambitious about their social housing programme. Over the summer, I hope that the Government talk to the new Mayor of London to ensure that he is ambitious about not only one and two-bedroomed properties, but three and four-bedroomed properties, too.

We have had a great sporting summer so far, although the cricket is a bit risky. [ Interruption. ] We beat New Zealand and we still have a chance of beating South Africa, although it will take a better performance than in the past two tests. Wimbledon was fantastic, and there was some unbelievable tennis; the British Open was probably the most exciting of recent times; and the motor racing has been wonderful, with two grand prix successes in a row for Hamilton. We have great talent in this country, and there are some wonderful organisations that offer sporting opportunities particularly to youngsters. In Lambeth and Southwark, we have the sport action zone. Will the Government, working with local authorities, ensure that the message about what is available is communicated even better, and continue to support community and other funding initiatives? We are about to watch what will hopefully be a successful Olympics, and I hope that that inspires us to better achievement.

Finally, I want to discuss a local issue. The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and I share political responsibility for the Aylesbury estate. Earlier this year, the Minister for Local Government said that the Government would consider ways to support the regeneration of that huge estate, which was an iconic symbol for the previous Prime Minister when he took office in 1997. The council has an ambitious plan to rebuild the estate, to which the community has signed up, but the plan needs Government support and resources. That plan could make a great community for the middle part of Walworth and the middle part of Southwark, but the Government must be bold. Indeed, the Government need to be bold in all the matters that I have mentioned, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will be bold in telling her colleagues that.

2.55 pm

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): I want to raise a number of constituency issues that have implications for the Government and for legislation.

First, I shall discuss common land in Norley, which is a beautiful village in the middle of my constituency. It has recently come to light that a company has registered the leasehold of the common land. That affects 28 of
22 July 2008 : Column 703
my constituents, who fear that they will have to pay for access to their own homes. The lease is dated 25 December 1999 and is on land valued at about £40,000 with a £10 rent. The Land Registry registered the lease as a good leasehold, because at the time of registration the company that claimed to own the land was unable to prove that it owned the lordship of the manor of Norley and any land that lay within the lordship. My constituents are concerned that they will have to pay exorbitant prices for access to the land, even though the Government tried to resolve that problem in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, which gives people who have used land for access for 20 years a prescriptive right of access.

The Government have four important questions to consider. First, on what basis can a company acquire common land that has been designated as common land for hundreds of years? Secondly, where a company applies to register a leasehold on common land but does not produce the evidence to show that the lessor has the title to that common land, surely the Land Registry should consult local residents who are affected to let them know what is happening and give them the opportunity to get involved in the process, which is nearly 10 years old in this case? Thirdly, where prescriptive rights of access to common land have been acquired, I want the Government to make it absolutely clear that if the property is sold, the rights acquired are transferred with the sale, which would go a long way in allaying my constituents’ fears. Finally, where a company attempts to sell the freehold on common land, surely they must be able to prove that they own the freehold to the satisfaction of the Land Registry?

Let me now discuss the activities of United Utilities in my constituency. It is necessary to write to United Utilities at least three times in order to get an answer to the question one originally asked. This is only a small thing, but United Utilities promised that it would not change the way in which it charges park homes for land drainage; it made that promise three years ago, but this year it has introduced changes that mean that people in park homes in my constituency face an increase of between 85 and 183 per cent. in their charges. I had to write three times to United Utilities to obtain an explanation. It told me that the changes would be revenue neutral. When I pressed it on that point, it said that, based on the 2003-04 figures, it was £25,000 worse off, but it had managed to rebalance the books. When I asked it about the figures for the next three years, it said that it does not have those figures and that it would be too expensive manually to collect them. How on earth can United Utilities say that those changes, which are only small but which affect my constituents, are revenue neutral? That is an important question for the Government to answer, and it relates to my next point.

United Utilities has also decided to change the way in which it levies water charges on churches. Such charges are now based not on rateable value, but on the actual area covered by the church, including car parks and open spaces. Churches obtain their income from parishioners, and any money that United Utilities takes off them in increased charges for water will come out of the money that they spend on their communities, their churches, their parishioners and their work. I have
22 July 2008 : Column 704
pressed United Utilities to say whether it will maintain the 90 per cent. charitable discount for churches and places of worship, but it has not answered that question, which I have asked three times. Incidentally, I have also asked the Minister with responsibility for that matter that question, but he has not answered it, either. I need answers to all those questions from United Utilities.

I am rushing through the points that I want to raise. My next point is about NHS Logistics, which is based in four parts of the country. There is a depot in my constituency. The company supplies consumable goods to the national health service and, in September 2006, against my advice and that of other Members, the Government transferred NHS Logistics into the private sector. It was taken over by DHL and is now called NHS Supply Chain. At the time of the transfer, a written guarantee was given to NHS Logistics staff that they would be subject to “Agenda for Change”. On 1 April, “Agenda for Change” introduced unsocial working hours payments for everybody in the NHS except those working at NHS Logistics—or NHS Supply Chain, as it is now called. I wrote to the relevant Minister and asked that the written guarantee remain in force and that the staff at NHS Supply Chain benefit from “Agenda for Change”. What I got back were a lot of conditions and arguments about why “Agenda for Change” could not be given all across the NHS. This is an important point. I seek clarification from the Government on whether the guarantee, given in September 2006, stands.

That guarantee also contained a promise that the trade union recognition and activities available to workers at NHS Logistics in the NHS would transfer to DHL and NHS Supply Chain. Only recently, a union official at DHL-NHS Supply Chain was suspended for trade union activities, and at a disciplinary hearing was given a six-month warning about them. That is not consistent with the terms and conditions guaranteed in writing when NHS Logistics moved to the private sector. It was also promised that a service agreement should be written between the Department of Health and NHS Supply Chain about what trade union activities will go on; another issue is whether the agreement will be written and binding. The master service agreement has been written and I seek confirmation from the Government that that agreement, signed by DHL and the Department of Health, still stands and will be adhered to. I seek clarification on how the Government will scrutinise whether the agreement is kept.

The penultimate matter that I want to raise relates to the BBC and its trustees. The recently published BBC annual report shows that the BBC should pay tax on taxable benefits given to BBC non-executive directors. The report also confirms that private health care for BBC senior managers is being paid for from the BBC licence fee. We are now told that there is an issue about where BBC trustees live—there is concern that they are too London-centric. I should like the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to consider that matter.

Finally, I pay tribute to a guy called Harry Pyle, a very old friend of mine. Harry died on 29 June this year, aged 85. He lived an extremely full life. He was a committed socialist and a Quaker. He was a power for good in Frodsham and worked extensively in Africa. He did wonderful work with Oxfam and the Jubilee 2000 campaign. He belonged to CND and campaigned against the war on Iraq. Despite my views on that, Harry was a
22 July 2008 : Column 705
great supporter. I want to put on record my tribute to him and my thanks to him and his wife, Rose, for the work that they did in our community.

Next Section Index Home Page