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3.29 pm

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): I propose to speak briefly about three subjects: knife crime, tax credit problems and choice in health care.

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Although I am a Leicestershire Member of Parliament, in 1980, I stood for election to the Greater London council in London, not far from the constituency of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). I well remember driving back on Friday evening and seeing the whole of Brixton in flames, and the roads cordoned off. In subsequent years, I was at Oxford university researching, specifically, policing and public order in a multi-racial Britain. I looked at the Scarman report, and studied the Bristol and Brixton riots in some detail.

I raise this matter because I fear that the policing strategy and the general attitude to the knife crime wave in London, terrible though it is—I believe that 25 young lives have been lost so far—is slightly off-message. Members with long memories will recall that the key problem addressed by Scarman was the “sus” law: the blanket stop-and-search arrangements that had inflamed relations with the ethnic community. As I consider the strategy to deal with the present problem in London, I am concerned about the possibility that we will repeat the problems of the 1980s, when the perceived strong approach of the police involved targeting large numbers of people in the hope of finding a fairly large number carrying knives and did not involve targeting known offenders. I am concerned that such a strategy will blow up in our faces.

I do not believe that the police can maintain blanket stop-and-search arrangements for a long period. There must be a strategy for targeting the gang leaders. The police have a duty—I think it is in the Public Order Act 1986—to provide public tranquillity, and tranquillity is often enhanced by the presence of police. The new “half police officers” and special constables should be brought into play in that context. However, the situation is worrying: policing by consent is above all essential, and should be the main goal.

About 10 years ago, when we debated speed cameras in the House, the only basis on which Members accepted the proposal for cameras en masse across the country was the understanding that they would be clearly marked. I remember those debates well. I have noticed in the Metropolitan police district—I tabled some questions about this yesterday—new bi-directional speed cameras that are marked on only one side. That strikes me as dangerous. There is a general agreement that safety cameras—or speed cameras; call them what you like—are a good idea, but there will be problems if they do not command public consent. Moreover, I believe that the police are in breach of the guidelines that clearly state that the cameras should be marked on both sides. I could read them all out.

My next point concerns tax credit. What a nightmare! I cannot believe the amount of work that my local tax offices devote to dealing with it. It is generally those with the most problems whose problems are compounded by the lunacy of the Government’s overpaying them and then saying “We want it all back.” It is madness. I cannot believe the amount of time and misery that it has generated.

I referred a case to the ombudsman, who—not because of that one case, but because there are hundreds of such cases—produced “Tax credits: Getting it wrong?”, a scathing report on the Government. The problems are on almost the same scale as those produced by the Child Support Agency, which have bedevilled members of all parties over the years. The position is truly
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ghastly, and the least well-off generally suffer most. The tax credit system has put people in debt for the first time. People who have never entertained debt in their lives find themselves in debt, just like the wretched farmers—including some in my constituency—who are suffering at the hands of the Rural Payments Agency.

As I have said, Ann Abraham, the ombudsman, launched a scathing attack. How can it be that £1 billion was overpaid last year and a third of tax credit awards were overpaid by more than £1,000—25,000 by over £5,000? We must, I think, consider the way in which the Government have tinkered with tax and credit over the years. The current Prime Minister began by abolishing the family credit system, and then introduced working families tax credit, disabled person’s tax credit, child care tax credit and employment credit. He then abolished the married couples tax allowance, introduced a children’s tax credit, introduced a baby tax credit, abolished the working families tax credit, the disabled person’s tax credit, the children’s tax credit and the baby tax credit, introduced child tax credit, abolished employment credit and introduced the working tax credit that we now have. Is it any wonder that people are confused after 15 changes over the years, and that the ombudsman has taken an interest? It is a disgraceful record.

It is no secret among some of my colleagues that I have an interest in integrated health care and have been involved with complementary medicine over the years. I welcome the publication of a long-awaited report by the Department of Health’s steering group on the regulation of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. I am sure that this will interest the Deputy Leader of the House. The report, published on 16 June, recommended that the Government proceed with statutory regulation of acupuncture and herbalists through the Health Professions Council. There is a pressing need for such regulation because we must link our arrangements with European law by 2011, but there is another pressing reason.

What we have found in the whole field of integrated health care is that once there is statutory regulation—this was true of the Osteopaths Act 1993 and the Chiropractors Act 1994; I served on the Committee stages of both—doctors are prepared to refer people. One of our problems with integrated health care, including homoeopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture and aromatherapy, is that doctors do not want to refer people because they are not certain that those to whom they are referring them are properly qualified. If we can ensure that more such therapies are regulated by Acts of Parliament, many more people will be referred, which will be much cheaper for the national health service.

I hope that my points will be considered. I rest my case.

3.37 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): I want to say a few words about three subjects that are close to my heart. Following the comments of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about the great summer of sport that we are currently enjoying, I should like to say a little about cricket, and particularly the broadcasting of cricket. I should also like to say a little about beer, especially in the light of the alcohol strategy that the Government published today. Finally, I should like to say a little about Mongolia.

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Simon Hughes: Are the subjects linked?

Mr. Grogan: There could be links, which I shall develop in due course. That sets me a challenge. I did once play in a cricket match in Mongolia, and had a beer afterwards.

I fear that before the House returns in October the England and Wales Cricket Board, led by Giles Clarke, may well sign a new broadcasting contract for 2010 to 2013. It could be the second such contract allowing cricket, alone among all our major sports, no window on free-to-air television. There will be no live matches, but it is live matches that thrill the blood, so that will be a great disappointment.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned the test match between England and South Africa. I was lucky enough to be there on Saturday. Perhaps it was not the most exciting day of cricket, but it would have been seen by only about 300,000 people on Sky, compared with the up to 8 million who watched some of the terrestrial coverage. Next summer it will be the Ashes series again, yet cricket is still living off the heroes of the last Ashes series—names such as Pietersen and so on are well known. The next Ashes series will be live on free TV in Australia through the night, but not in this country.

There are two ways of progressing, the first of which is the listed events legislation. It is no accident that the Wimbledon final, which is listed and must be available free to air to all the population at a fair and reasonable price to the broadcasting companies, was enjoyed by 12 million people. Every pub, restaurant and club in the land could put it on, and people who were not at all interested in tennis watched it. I fear that if the cricket authorities do not put some cricket back on terrestrial television, Ministers may be persuaded at last that they have to look at the issue again—indeed, we are coming up to a review of listed events.

The second way in which cricket can return to free-to-air TV is simply through the cricket authorities recognising that although they have to make money out of Sky and other subscription broadcasters—Sky does a marvellous job—they can still insist in their contracts that some cricket be on free-to-air TV. Rugby league does that with the Challenge cup, which will be enjoyed on BBC television this weekend. The Football League recently did a broadcasting deal in which it insisted that 10 live matches from 2010 be on free-to-air TV.

There are ways of having cricket on TV and still retaining a good income for the sport. I hope even at this late stage that the English cricket board and the two gentlemen who are negotiating the contracts—I have mentioned Giles Clarke; the second gentleman is a constituent of mine, Clive Leach, who lives in Barkston Ash and is chairman of Durham, and to whom I appeal in particular as a constituent—will think again and see whether at least some cricket, such as part of one of the Twenty20 competitions that were announced last week, could be on free-to-air TV.

The issue is the subject of great debate in the English cricket board. Giles Clarke won by just one vote among the counties last year. In the first ballot there was a tie, at nine votes each, and his main rival and critic, Mike Soper, took a very different view on free-to-air TV. I appeal to the counties of England represented on the
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English cricket board to take an interest in the negotiations over the next few weeks and bring some cricket back to free-to-air TV.

Moving rapidly on to beer and the Government’s alcohol strategy, I regret the fact that there was no reference in the alcohol strategy announced this morning to dealing with the below-cost selling of alcohol—particularly beer, but other alcohol, too—in supermarkets, which is a concern across the House. There were some worthy measures mentioned. It is always worth remembering, by the way, that our alcohol consumption per head is falling, although that does not detract from the health dangers facing those who drink too much or the dangers to public order and so on.

The Government need to revisit the issue of alcohol pricing. They will not get away with dodging it. There are many pressures. For example, the Governments in Scotland and Ireland have said that they will legislate. The official spokesman for Her Majesty’s Opposition said that they would deal with below-cost selling—in an undefined way, but that is nevertheless a big step forward. Doctors and senior police chiefs are forming a loose coalition demanding action. Even Tesco has said that it would not object if the Government decided to act.

It is ridiculous when alcohol is sold for less than the price of water and when 60 cans or bottles are sold in some supermarkets for £20 or less. The Government need to revisit the issue over the recess. The Department of Health is publishing a study on the relationship between alcohol and price. I say gently to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that we cannot find ourselves in a situation next year where there will be one price of beer or wine in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Dumfries, yet over the border in Berwick, York, Manchester or Leeds—indeed, throughout the whole of England—there will be another. That would not be sustainable. As I have said, Ministers will not be able to dodge the issue.

Finally, as well as being chair of the all-party beer group, I am chair of the all-party Mongolia group, and I look forward to going there next week. The national hero of Mongolia is Genghis Khan, which makes it even more remarkable that Mongolia has developed a market economy and a democracy over the past 15 or 16 years. Given that its neighbours are China and Russia, that is a tremendous achievement. Tomorrow, the Khural, the Mongolian Parliament, will meet for the first time since the most recent election, when sadly, despite international observers saying that it was free and fair, there were some disturbances and five people were killed.

I am sure that the whole House will wish the Mongolian Khural, meeting tomorrow, success in the formation of a new Government and in building the democratic future that it took this House 1,000 years to build, but on which countries such as Mongolia have made remarkable progress in less than 20 years.

3.44 pm

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): I was scratching my head trying to think about any similarities between the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and Genghis Khan; perhaps they were both beer-drinking cricketers.

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I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I could speak about a number of constituency issues, but I shall limit myself mainly to two. The other topical issues would include the latest application to build a wind farm in my constituency, which I hope we will see off; today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government of her response to the regional spatial strategy, which eats up the green belt in the southern part of my constituency; the crisis in both social and affordable housing; the appalling misery experienced on the A350—the main north-south route—by drivers and those who live near the road; and the suffering of dairy farmers, as we are a hot spot for bovine TB, yet we have seen an almost complete lack of response from the Government.

The two main issues I wish to deal with are economic: one is about the rural economy and the other is about the technological and industrial economy. Although many people may not recognise it, North Dorset does have a technological and industrial economy.

Last week, the list of post offices to be closed in Dorset was issued and some eight in my constituency are on it, while another three are due to be converted to outreach services.

The technological issue concerns the aerospace industry and goes wider than just Dorset, as it deals with the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States.

Some of the eight sub-post offices in my constituency that are on the list for closure should not be included on it. I hesitate to mount a campaign, but I will be participating in a march from Milton on Stour to Gillingham next Sunday morning, and anyone who wants to join us would be most welcome. I want to mention the post office at Blandford Camp. When the man from the Post Office came to see me, he told me that the post office at Blandford Camp, which is the home of the Royal Corps of Signals, was on the list. I said that that was rather surprising as I had visited it the other day and it seemed to be very busy. He said, “Oh yes, but there aren’t enough people at retirement age, there are no benefit claimants and no pensioners.” I said, “Well, yes, it is a military establishment, so it is unlikely that there would be any of those categories of people.” None the less, I was told, this was part of the criteria, so we need to find some way of countering that sort of “logic”, particularly when that post office has an enormous amount of parcels business, for example, which supports our troops serving overseas. I feel that it would be a very sad loss if that post office were closed.

I mentioned Milton on Stour a few moments ago, and its post office is also due for closure. This is a thriving rural community very close to the town of Gillingham, but not in it. It has a very limited bus service, as do other areas with post offices on the list. There is a bus service, but anyone who uses it cannot get back the same day, which is rather illogical if one wants to go out to do some postal business. I implore the Post Office seriously to consider the logic of closing some of these post offices and I implore my constituents to make a very good case for keeping them open, particularly those in remote rural areas, and to write letters individually. Petitions are great, but they do not always do a lot here; individual letters will be more influential. If we can keep up the campaign, we may stand a chance of saving at least some of these post offices.

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Let me consider the technological and aerospace industries. Flight Refuelling, a traditional company, has been based in Wimborne in the south-east of my constituency for many years. It is now sometimes known by its parent company name of Cobham, after the founder of flight refuelling. It is the world leader in air-to-air refuelling and almost every aircraft in the world—whether a Boeing, an Airbus or a fighter aircraft—has some bit of refuelling or fuelling equipment that the company has supplied and that has been built in Wimborne.

Air-to-air refuelling is the key issue in which the company is currently involved. On 27 March, after much deliberation, the Government eventually signed the 27-year contract with the AirTanker consortium to provide 14 new Airbus A330 air-to-air refuelling aircraft, which will be worth a lot of money to the Cobham group in my constituency. They will be fitted out at Hurn airport just outside Bournemouth and we can all be proud of that state-of-the-art equipment. However, just a few weeks before that, the United States air force, which needed to replace its tanker fleet, announced that it would buy aircraft of almost the same configuration. That order dwarfs the RAF’s order because the US air force is in the market for 179 air-to-air refuelling tankers. That is worth about $1 billion to the company in my constituency.

The only problem is that the US Government Accountability Office, under considerable political pressure from Boeing and Congress, has thrown that very good order into touch, and the contract must be readvertised, despite the fact that the US air force says that it is the best aircraft for the job and that it wants the aircraft. I implore the Government to remind the US Government that we are a net buyer of US military equipment and that we should have a fair playing field for the supply of equipment across the Atlantic.

3.52 pm

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): The major road between Norwich and London is the A11. Over the years, it has been the butt of many jokes and much comment. For example, it used to be said in the 1960s that, as one entered Norfolk, one would meet the Romans leaving because it took so long to come down the A11. Nowadays, many comments are made about keeping “them”—those crooks from London who come up the main road—out of Norfolk. It is said that if one dualled the road, they would come back quicker. That argument was vehemently presented for the non-dualling of the road. Comments have even been made about the need for a drawbridge in Wymondham in Norfolk to stop people coming in. I cannot repeat what people in Norfolk say about the Chelsea tractors that arrive every weekend at second homes in Burnham, but those driving them would favour a faster road.

If one goes to dinner parties, as I do, with movers and shakers, the first comment that they always make about improving Norfolk is, “Dual the A11”; then they get around to discussing important matters such as creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and making and doing things. However, the A11 fascinates people and, when I am being mischievous, which happens rarely, I say, “Well, dualling is fine, but in California, it would have five lanes by now.” However, I dread that thought, with climate change so high on the agenda.

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