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23 Oct 2008 : Column 465

Chris Bryant: This could well be a subject for a topical debate, not least because I know that many Welsh MPs would like to take part in such a debate and to inform the one that has already been going on, to some degree, in the Welsh Assembly. If the Severn barrage were to go ahead, although some environmental issues and issues of relevance to people on either side of the Severn would clearly have to be debated, it is probable that significant jobs would be involved, and we would like them to go to local people.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Does the Deputy Leader of the House accept that it is not a trivial matter when the Government announce outside Parliament that there has been a considerable under-reporting of violent crime in a number of police areas, and that that has led to a 22 per cent. increase in violent crime this year? Does he also accept that the situation confirms to members of the public, who know that crime is rising, that the Government have been hiding these facts? Should not a statement be made today, or at the very least on Monday, by the Home Secretary about this very serious issue?

Chris Bryant: The right hon. Gentleman asserts that people know that crime is rising. They know no such thing; the truth is that crime is falling. It has fallen by 6 per cent. again this year, and by 39 per cent. since 1997. Violence against the person has fallen by 7 per cent. over the past year. I do not think that he should cast aspersions around in that way. It is obviously important that announcements are made to the House, and I shall look into precisely what arrangements have been made. The Home Secretary was in the House earlier this week on two occasions. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman will restrain himself, I would be happy to look into the matter on his behalf.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Can we have an urgent debate on the role of the media in clarifying Government policy? Such a debate would give the Home Secretary an opportunity to explain to the House why she has barred her immigration Minister from appearing on “Question Time”. An appearance on that programme would have given that Minister the opportunity to clarify a contradiction between his statement in The Times last week that

with the Home Secretary’s statement in the House the following day that UK borders are

Surely we need that opportunity either in the House or on “Question Time”.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the immigration Minister was in this House, and answered the debate, earlier this week. I recall that it was the shadow Home Secretary who was not prepared to speak in the debate and ended up resorting to bobbing up and down like a man on the wide ocean.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Will the Deputy Leader of the House follow up the progress of two internal reviews that the Department for Transport is carrying out at the moment? They relate to freedom of
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information requests on Heathrow airport expansion; in one case, it took seven months for a response to be given, and I am sure he will be concerned by that. I want to ensure that the internal reviews are undertaken quickly, because, as he will be aware, his Government are taking an important decision on Heathrow in the next few weeks. If I provide him with the details, will he be prepared to follow things up with the Department for Transport?

Chris Bryant: If hon. Members want to bring things to me so that I can chase them up with other Ministers, I am always prepared to do so. All the hon. Lady has to do is find me in my room around the corner.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Today, the Royal British Legion celebrates the launch of its poppy appeal. Can we have a topical debate before 11 December to celebrate the work done by the Royal British Legion and the other veterans’ charities, and to celebrate our veterans at this time, when we are all thinking of those who have given so much to our country?

Chris Bryant: I think that the hon. Gentleman meant 11 November, but yes, that is a very good idea for a topical debate, and I shall pursue the matter. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude; my constituency sends a lot of young men and women into the Army and the other armed forces, and we should pay tribute to them in a much more regular and sustained way in this House.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May we have a statement soon from a Health Minister on the abuse of public money by the South Central strategic health authority and Southampton City national health service primary care trust in relation to a consultation about fluoridation, which is due to affect Southampton and parts of my constituency? The strategic health authority has issued a very one-sided consultation document, and the PCT must have spent thousands of pounds of public money on producing reply postcards where first-class postage is paid. I am holding one of the postcards, which state:

It is clear that those bodies have made up their minds and that this consultation is a sham, and a Health Minister needs to step in quickly.

Chris Bryant: I do not know whether I want to get my teeth into that issue. [Interruption.] There needs to be one bad joke every week, does there not? The important issue is that although I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a statement, the subject would be very suitable for either a topical debate or an Adjournment debate. Obviously, I shall ensure that his comments are taken into consideration by the Secretary of State for Health.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on the siting of incinerators? My constituents are reasonable people who accept that there is a role for incinerators, but does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that companies such as SITA UK need to accept the view of local people in places such as Muxton, Sheriff Hales and Priorslee in my constituency that incinerators should not be sited close to schools and residential areas?

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Chris Bryant: Obviously, I do not know the details of the precise siting of the incinerator to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I know from historical issues in south Wales that the siting of incinerators can cause many families a great deal of concern and worry, and that if incinerators are placed inappropriately, they can lead to major health concerns. I think it is important that the views of local people are taken into consideration, but I cannot promise him a debate.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): May we have a debate on the impact on the housing market of home information packs? Since their introduction, at an average cost of £400, 1.5 million houses have been put on the market for sale, only 500,000 of which have been sold. That means that £400 million has been wasted on HIPs, which buyers do not want, at a time when high street estate agents are struggling to remain viable.

Chris Bryant: I know that the hon. Lady has always been opposed to the home information packs, which we debated when the legislation went through. I am not sure that now is the right time for another debate on the issue. Obviously she is free to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall, where the Minister concerned would be able to provide her with fuller information.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday was a huge embarrassment for the Leader of the House. The previous week, she had promised plenty of time to discuss the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and that there would not be a statement. That did not happen yesterday; the Leader of the House was lent on by the Prime Minister. I hope that the Leader of the House is in fact unwell and recovers soon, and that the reason she is not present is not that she is considering her position today.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman let himself down towards the end of his question. I am sure that he does not hope that the Leader of the House is ill and that he was not questioning whether what I said earlier was true. As he knows, I was here last week when the Leader of the House said that she would prefer not to have a statement yesterday—

Mrs. May: Except in an emergency.

Chris Bryant: Except in an emergency, as the right hon. Lady says. There was a call for a statement in the House of Lords. I believe that it would be inappropriate for a statement to be made in the House of Lords without its being made in the House of Commons, which I believe to be the primary Chamber.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): The Deputy Leader of the House will no doubt be aware of the deeply worrying statistic that 36 pubs in this country are closing every week. Clearly that is bad news not only for those small businesses, but for the communities in which they are based. Bang on cue, the Department of Health has produced a new consultation that threatens considerably to add to the regulation on pubs and brewing companies, causing the chief executive of Shepherd Neame, a family brewer in my constituency, to write to me to say:

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Can we have a debate on the future of the pub industry because of the effect not only on small businesses, but on the small communities in which they are situated?

Chris Bryant: There is a complicated balancing act here. Many communities know the problems alcohol abuse, especially by young people and under-age drinkers, many of whom buy alcohol not in pubs but in off-licences. It is right that local authorities have the responsibility to make sure that there are not places where under-age people can get alcohol and that they work closely with the police to close down pubs that enable young people to do that. Yes, there are difficulties for all small businesses, including pubs, at the moment, which is why we have tried to make sure that the banks are recapitalised so that loans are available to small businesses. We have tried to make sure that every small business is —[ Interruption. ] I can hear the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) chuntering about regulation. I presume that she is now trying to say “Deregulate, deregulate, deregulate.” That is what she said for 11 years until she realised that the banking industry needed a little bit of adult supervision.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Can we have a debate on housing, and in particular on the Government’s failure to provide adequate infrastructure for new housing developments? I campaigned long and hard for “I before E”, or infrastructure before expansion in Milton Keynes, and the Government’s response was to introduce a Milton Keynes tariff, where £18,500 is paid towards local infrastructure for every new house built. Unfortunately, with the economic downturn, not many houses are being built. With hindsight, does the Deputy Leader of the House think that any policy based on economic growth was probably slightly shortsighted?

Chris Bryant: It strikes me that the hon. Gentleman has probably not looked at the policy of “Sharing the proceeds of growth”, which seemed to be based entirely on the presumption of growth into the future. We want to make sure that the economy continues to grow, but the most important point is the local issue and it relates primarily to local government in his area. That subject would be entirely appropriate for a debate in Westminster Hall.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): A coroner yesterday ruled that 10 servicemen including Flight Lieutenant Stead—a talented pilot whose parents live in my constituency—were unlawfully killed and accused the Ministry of Defence of systemic failures, including the failure to fit protective suppressant foam on their Hercules, which was shot down. Will the Deputy Leader of the House arrange for a Defence Minister to come to the House to explain why there were these systemic failures and why the Ministry of Defence is putting at risk the lives of people who should expect top protection from the Government? In an age when the Government have gone for health and safety gone mad in local authorities, why do they have such a cavalier approach to the safety of our servicemen?

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Chris Bryant: Obviously the sympathy of the whole House goes to the families of those who died in the crash and we need to make sure that everything that can possibly be learnt from what the coroner came up with yesterday is learnt. The MOD has made it clear that it pays tribute to the work of the coroner, who it thinks has done a very thorough job in this case, and it intends to do precisely as I said. The hon. Gentleman quite often criticises health and safety legislation. Sometimes health and safety legislation does save lives.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Every year hundreds of children are injured by fireworks, and while there is strong support for organised firework displays, there is growing concern about the antisocial use of fireworks and the distress they cause to both people and animals. With bonfire night approaching, could we have a topical debate or a debate in Westminster Hall on the Government’s legislation with regard to the control of fireworks?

Chris Bryant: This matter comes up annually and every Member will have large numbers of constituents getting in touch with them to ask whether there should be further legislation on fireworks. When I was elected in 2001, there was practically no legislation on fireworks; it was pretty much an unrestricted market, except for the precise circumstances in which they could be sold. We have moved some considerable way. I find it slightly difficult to be an ardent repressor of fireworks because I rather like them.

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Point of Order

12.26 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On a number of occasions you have expressed your concern about the use of amplifiers by protestors in Parliament square, and we had a meeting with representatives of Westminster council on this issue some months ago. We were told that the licence for the use of loudhailers would run out at the end of January this year and that we would be informed if any application was made to renew it. Evidently no such application has been made and yet the use of the loudhailers goes on persistently, incessantly and at unreasonable volume. Will you please consider writing to Westminster council and urging it to enforce the law, irrespective of the fact that the Government will bring forward new legislation that may affect this matter in the future? That has not happened yet, but the law of the land is as it is and should be enforced.

Mr. Speaker: I promise the hon. Gentleman and the House that I will look into this matter.

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Topical Debate

Work and Skills

12.27 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move,

I am very pleased that we are debating this extremely important issue today. I am conscious that I have taken up the post of Employment Minister at a time when the labour market faces great challenges as a result of the instability affecting the global economy, but I have already been struck not only by the important role that the DWP plays—in particular with Jobcentre Plus—but by the progress there has been in the services provided through the Jobcentre Plus network, in helping people to move away from dependence on benefits and into work, and by the range and complexity of the issues that it addresses daily.

I am also keenly aware that topical debates are principally for Back Benchers, so half hours from me, from the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and from the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) probably will not do. I do not want to take up too much time by way of introduction.

I know that Jobcentre Plus operates in each and every one of our constituencies. Helping people into work and supporting them while they find it is the reason why it exists. We know that the continued success of Jobcentre Plus will be central to our ability to help those among our constituents affected by unemployment to get back into work as quickly as possible. I am very clear that the active system of support developed over the past couple of decades—I am happy to acknowledge that it came partly from the previous Government, but it has been greatly strengthened and deepened since 1997—puts the country in a far stronger position to deal with the consequences of the storms that have been affecting the world economy in recent weeks. However, we also need to be ready to do more and to respond quickly and flexibly to the new issues and challenges that we surely face. I want to spend what little time I have elaborating on the future, rather than on where we have come from.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The Minister and I are former Harrow councillors, and I remember discussing unemployment in that area with him several years ago. Rising unemployment was a problem then as it is now. Will he look again at an issue that I raised when I served on the Work and Pensions Committee? Before the Government close Jobcentre Plus offices, will they look at the unemployment rate in the area? Does it not make sense that Jobcentre Plus offices should be retained in areas where unemployment is highest?

Mr. McNulty: That is a fair point. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making it clear that we served on Harrow council together, as the last time he mentioned it he talked of us being at Harrow together, with all the wrong connotations that that has. I am clearly not an old Harrovian.

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