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If one of the major banks in this country says that it is not prepared to consider a request from someone in a business that has a good future, a good past and a good present, what chances do businesses that are less likely to put forward such a good, bankable case have? The person involved in the case I mention was also told that they could complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service if the bank had not given them satisfaction. No one wants to go to the Financial Ombudsman Service for that; they want to have banking arrangements in this country which mean they do not just get sent a letter.

The person involved in this case wrote to me saying:

That is the only other way the money could be found. The letter continued:

I invite the major banks that wish to consider an application in this instance to let me know, and I shall pass on the details to the people who are really experienced in this area.

I turn to another, larger example. Let us consider a business where there was a management buyout in 2002. Let us suppose that I and my fellow shareholders borrowed £1.4 million and that over the past six years we have not only paid back as we said we would, but we have paid back the loan notes in half the time that we originally agreed. In such a situation, we would not only have been meeting our obligations month by month, but we would have been doing better than that. Let us suppose we face the problem of losing a month’s cash
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flow because of the Government-imposed and Parliament-imposed regulation and we subsequently decide to expand our premises and take out another loan for that. Let us suppose that we make every single payment on time, be it for the management buyout loan, the regulatory changes loan, the loan notes loan, the moving loan or the computer equipment loan.

Let us suppose that there is no problem, but the bank then changes its approach and for several months this year it stalls and on the day of the news of the banking crisis, the account manager says he is leaving and the credit department says no to a request of ours. Let us suppose that when the business tracks down the replacement, they say that their predecessor never even made a request—presumably, because they had been told by people higher up that there was no point in their doing so—and there was no record of our dealing with him. Let us suppose the business resubmits the request and is messed about for a few more weeks, and that when it subsequently makes contact, a director of the bank tells the business he is sorry for what has gone before but the case is going through the formal complaints procedure again and the request would be expedited. Let us suppose that that was four weeks ago, and when contact was made again very recently the bank said that it had no money as the funding from the Government was conditional upon something that was not happening until the new year.

I know of a business in such a situation, and it told me that

That has happened to a business that wants to continue expanding. We know what the result will be: the business will have to reconsider the number of staff that it employs and whether to spend money on the refurbishment—a business that is profitable and doing well. That situation has happened several times in my constituency, and that can be multiplied by 630-odd constituencies around the country. Until that sort of thing stops happening, and until banks start saying that they want to take on bankable propositions, the liquidity squeeze will continue, and it will do as much to put people out of work as any major restructuring of the economy.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby was right to say that many industrial changes have taken place during his time in Parliament. One has been the taking of a lot of infrastructure spending out of the hands of the Government. For example, the privatisation of British Telecom led to a massive investment in the telecoms infrastructure and to competitors coming in. The privatisation of ports led to this country’s ports being resuscitated; that was the case not only for the non-public ports, but for the former public ports. The same thing happened to British Rail’s hotels, to the British Airports Authority and to British Airways itself. Leaving people free to do their own investment can lead to greater infrastructure spending and the benefits that we want. Deregulation that takes the hand of central Government away can do a lot of good.

This is the sort of speech that the hon. Gentleman would say did not have a theme, and he would be right. Let me turn to one little bit of good that we can do immediately in this Chamber. We could consider the
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welfare of the officials—the civil servants—who are stuck for hours in the officials’ Box. I do not think this has been considered by Members, because we have not tried sitting there for four hours during a debate with no knee room and no glass of water—they have nothing at all. The House authorities should consider whether they can do something to help those in the Boxes. We should consider whether they could have some more knee room and whether they could have a glass of water to keep them going while they listen to us.

I turn from that subject to the delicate issues relating to what has been referred to by somebody as the case of the Ashford One. I am talking about what happened when the police made a request to come to a Member’s office. My view is that the House made a mistake—I think that the other place may make the same mistake—of implementing the Tebbit report, which led to the Serjeant at Arms being brigaded not under the Clerk as before, but under the No. 2 Clerk. Most of the time, to most of us, the Serjeant at Arms was independent, having been appointed by the Queen. The new arrangement provides a much bigger gap between the exercise of authority and judgment.

If I may refer to something that I have read in the papers, Black Rod was reported to have had a stand-off with No. 10 about the Queen Mother’s funeral arrangements. I would like to think that Black Rod and the Serjeant at Arms—whoever holds those posts and at whatever grade—have the authority to be able to say, “No, that isn’t right” or “You should think about that again.” That requires playing a role rather greater than that of facilities manager. The role of the Serjeant at Arms is important for this House, as is that of Black Rod in the other place.

I do not say things in private that I would not say in public, and I have not said in either a word against Mr. Speaker during the years that he has been in the Chair. None of us is capable of getting everything right, but he is an honourable person who does a good job, and we can be proud of the way he does it. It may be different from how others might do it, but we should not focus our attention on the occupant of the Chair. Instead, we should have a system whereby everyone presumes—unless there is evidence of a really serious crime or a court order that cannot be resisted—that people in Parliament have a privilege on behalf of the public and that matters to the public. It does not matter to me a great deal if I am arrested, but it matters a great deal that everybody in my constituency has confidence that they can come to me—be they a serving police officer, a civil servant, working in a bank or the health service, or unemployed—and say, “I think you and others should know about this. What should be done about it?” That is not being an alternative news service to the Government or the health authority; it is about people having the confidence to come to me, my predecessor or my successor, whoever they may be. It is about how this country works. It is not formal British constitutional theory; it is what should happen, and people should know that it happens.

Someone asked me what I do in Parliament, and I said that I spend quite a lot of time trying to anticipate problems and giving people warnings about them. Two years ago, we revised the law on the health service and changed the system of public involvement in health. Community health councils had been abolished, and
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the system has been changed four or five times by the present Government. It is still not right, and I think it would have been better if we had kept CHCs, as has happened in Scotland and Wales. There are no particular problems there, and there would be none here.

Another health service issue is the training of doctors and what this House allowed the Government to get away with in that sphere. Many doctors and some Members, including me, tried to tell Ministers that modernising medical careers, and the computerised application service, would have perverse results. Ministers said that everything would be all right, but we ended up with a system in which a clinical PhD in a relevant subject was worth less than 150 words written on leadership—which was probably downloaded from a website in any case. It was a disaster and remedial action was required, but we cannot yet be sure whether that has worked reasonably well.

Several people warned of major problems with the NHS IT system, although some can be put right. In Worthing, our hospital was forced to have a system that meant that, up until two or three weeks ago, relatively simple things could not be done. A consultant could not, for example, transfer a patient to another consultant without wiping all the data and having to re-enter them. Lists of patients could not be printed for shift hand-overs three times a day by condition, by doctor or by bed—three simple requirements. It took a week’s programming, and it took a year to get it agreed. Once it was agreed, it was at least done fast.

We need a more reactive system. When people provide warnings, they should be heeded. When they suggest ways to help, they should be taken up fast. Our system should work through the interaction of the experience of MPs, Ministers, civil servants, administrators, computer experts and the like. We could reduce avoidable waste and increase well-being by making systems work. Legislation can help, but it is not always the answer.

My wife would call my next point an example of my “me, lovely me” approach, but I recall starting a programme to cut road deaths, which has worked very well—although not well enough. They are down from 5,600 a year to under 3,000. Welcome progress has been made, including during the past 11 years. However, we could save three times that number a year through abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. If men—it is a male problem—were screened at 60, we would know who had a problem and who would be clear until they reached 75. That could save 7,000 unnecessary deaths a year. Ministers rightly reacted when they saw a demonstration from the Vascular Society, and the faster progress is made, the better. We should have such screening within a year for everyone who qualifies and is willing to take it up.

The Queen’s Speech should have included the revision of freedom of information and data protection. If I were a diabetes doctor working in a hospital and seconded to a community education programme, funded by the primary care trust and subject to the NHS confidentiality agreement, I should be able to invite patients to it whom I thought would benefit—perhaps from a particular ethnic group—without being disciplined, sacked or referred to the General Medical Council for taking a list of names, addresses and telephone numbers and asking my secretary to ring those patients and invite them.
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That is the kind of disproportionality that gives data protection a bad name. I ask the health service, Ministers and all Departments, if they find examples of such disproportionate action, to send them to the Information Commissioner. We need more guidance on this, or a change in the law that would give people protection when they are trying to do something clearly in the public good but have made a technical slip. Such people should not be exposed to the worst kind of crisis.

My final point relates to the marine and coastal access Bill. We established a basic right to roam through recent legislation but, because of a court decision perhaps a hundred years ago, we do not have a right to use rivers. We have a right to use inland waterways and canals, but I cannot take my canoe on some rivers without getting the agreement of every person with an interest in the land on either side of the bank from the beginning to the end of my journey. It is not an issue of how I gain access to the water, but of passing down the river. It is as if I could take my horse on to a bridleway only with the permission of the people who owned the land on either side of it. We would regard that as ludicrous, although my horse might disturb birds. We accept people using bridleways and footpaths, and we are likely to accept coastal access rights. We should therefore introduce the same rights to the use of rivers in England as exist in Scotland.

I went to Scotland with the British Canoe Union and the Scottish Canoe Association and spoke about negotiating with landowners to obtain access to the water. Most canoeists are careful about spawning grounds in rivers and about anglers’ interests. We could incorporate access rights in the Bill, and if there are anglers who think that that would lead to serious problems they should talk to Scottish anglers about their experiences. We need to get rid of that prohibition, which is relatively recent, and give people the rights that they should have.

7.9 pm

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): I agree with the comments by the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) about Mr. Speaker, although on the economy I am nearer to the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) than that of the hon. Gentleman. As we have moved from a Milton Friedman approach to Keynesianism, there are new opportunities. As we seek to build on the stabilisation of the financial sector, we need more investment. In making that investment, we need to think carefully about the technology and to relate it to larger projects. I am talking about carbon capture and storage. It is a pity that the Government have not moved as quickly as they could have done on carbon capture and storage.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is sitting on the Front Bench, will know, the Government have already selected four projects that might become eligible for Government funding, but we will not choose the one company that we will fund until next autumn. That is much too late, because we have allowed others to get in front of us. The Chinese are already working on carbon capture and storage, as are the Americans and some Europeans. Our failure to move speedily—I believe that, had we had the will, we could have had a small carbon capture and storage unit running in 2003—means
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that we have lost the opportunity for exports. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the technology, because we require it for the future. We need to combine it with a grand scheme, and that is why I want the Under-Secretary to ask his colleague the Energy and Climate Change Minister to consider a project proposed by Yorkshire Forward.

Yorkshire Forward has a plan to develop carbon capture and storage on a grand scale. The project would capture all the CO2 from the power stations in the region and from large industry and it would then be pumped out in a series of pipes to be stored in the oil wells in the North sea, which are the nearest oil wells to the Yorkshire coast. I understand that Yorkshire Forward has been refused Government aid, yet the project would create some 50,000 jobs. It would stimulate the steel industry and the engineering industry in Yorkshire, and would give great opportunities to new apprentices, offering the kind of apprenticeships that we want. In developing that technology and relating it to the project proposed by Yorkshire Forward, we could stimulate employment in the Yorkshire region. I hope that the Under-Secretary will urge the Energy and Climate Change Minister to consider the Yorkshire Forward project.

A little earlier, we heard a good speech, which I did not agree with, from the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). I thought that it was a passionate speech, even though I did not agree with the economic analysis. Nevertheless, what he had to say about small and medium-sized industries was correct. On Friday, I visited such an enterprise in my constituency. It was a print works—Print City, which employs some 50 workers. I was told by the management that there are difficulties with the banks, particularly in relation to overdrafts, but the company basically works for the banks. Most of its printing is for the banks; for example, it prints the forms that they use. The managers told me that the order book goes well into the future. Business is coming in from the banks, and the only thing not coming in is the credit from the banks to facilitate the company.

Ensuring that the credit is available from the banks for small and medium-sized enterprises is important, and the Government must take up that issue. If they do not, small and medium-sized enterprises will close, and we have already been given examples from some constituencies. The hon. Member for Worthing, West referred to the closure of some factories in his constituency. We cannot afford that. Our economy has moved towards small and medium-sized enterprises; 60 per cent. of gross domestic product comes from such enterprises. It is essential, therefore, that we get an understanding from the banks that the credit must flow towards industry.

Let me move to the issue of protecting the public. I refer my hon. Friend the Minister to recycling projects around the country. As we move towards greater recycling, we find that there is no process that has really been thought out. In my constituency, and in a number of constituencies represented by hon. Members from all parties, we see windrow composting, where green waste is set out on a concrete base in lines to rot in the open. It is turned from time to time, and as it is turned organic dusts—or bioaerosols—tend to be released. Those bioaerosols can be quite dangerous to communities that are near at hand.

The Environment Agency sets a general rule that windrow composting should happen no less than 250 m from the nearest residential dwellings. Research that I
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have seen and that I have had carried out suggests that the distance between the composting process and the nearest dwelling needs to be far greater. In fact, the most up-to-date study that has been done, which was produced at Giessen university in Germany, suggests that the composting process should be at least 500 m from the nearest dwellings.

That problem is not the only issue to do with composting. We need to move composting to a vessel-type system rather than leaving it in the open, where bioaerosols present a problem to nearby communities. We need DEFRA to ensure that in protecting the environment and the public, particularly in rural communities, it considers whether we should use a completely different process. I refer the Minister to a process that is considered safe: anaerobic digestion, which treats biodegradable organic waste in an enclosed vessel using bacteria in the absence of oxygen. The process breaks down the waste, generating usable products that include biogas, which can be burnt to produce energy, fibre for soil conditioning and a liquor that can be used in a liquid fertiliser. We would be recycling in a meaningful and productive way.

Some of the windrow composting around the country to which I have been alerted produce a nauseating smell that, in some places, has caused the Environment Agency to intervene to close down the scheme. There is a danger that unless we grasp the issue, in two or three years’ time we could engulf the country in a nauseating smell that comes from recycling. We must grasp the nettle now and we must ask the Environment Agency to work with the Health and Safety Executive to decide on a process—I suggest the anaerobic digestion process—that will ensure public safety.

The Gracious Speech contains some very helpful proposals. One of them is the justice Bill, whose most important changes for my constituents will be the improvements to the coroner service and the process of death certification. The British Lung Foundation produced a report in 2007 entitled “An Unnatural Death”, which highlighted the problem that deaths as a result of mesothelioma cancer caused by asbestos are referred to as unnatural.

When a person dies in that way, there has to be a post-mortem investigation and a coroner’s inquiry. Often, that means that uniformed police in marked cars turn up at the home of an elderly lady because the gentleman who also lived there has passed away as a result of mesothelioma, and such visits can cause great but unnecessary concern. However, although coroners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland respond to mesothelioma cases and unnatural deaths in the way that I have described, the system in Scotland is different. There, people whose medical records show that they suffered from mesothelioma cancer are not considered to have died unnatural deaths. The fact that their deaths are considered to be natural means that the procedures that have to be followed are different from those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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