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Shockingly, 64 per cent. of elder abuse takes place within the family home. One individual who suffered unimaginable cruelty was Margaret Panting, who died in 2001 with 49 injuries to her body, and who was living with relatives in Sheffield. No one was prosecuted for those actions. Despite calls for new laws to protect people like Margaret Panting, nothing has happened. There is a bias towards children and victims of domestic violence in our safeguarding systems. Parliament has rightly legislated to tackle child abuse and domestic violence, but Governments have not followed the logic of that and legislated to protect adults who, through circumstance, become vulnerable. That lopsidedness in the system is graphically revealed in the staffing ratios
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for child and adult safeguarding. For example, in one primary care trust there are 10 members of staff covering child protection for every one responsible for adult protection. That may be a stark example, but I fear that it is far too typical. Legislation is essential to ensure that all the agencies involved in safeguarding adults really collaborate.

If the tragic death of baby P could happen when social workers had a right of entry to his mother’s home, what horrors are being perpetrated by adults on other adults when professionals can still be turned away on the doorstep by a person’s supposed carer? We have to worry about that. I am not suggesting that legislation is a panacea that will instantly correct such terrible wrongs in our society. Humans will always err, and mistakes will happen, but we must ensure that our systems are as robust and resilient as possible, and are subject to rigorous testing.

Just as I fear that Ofsted’s drive towards light-touch inspection needs to be rethought, so too does the light-touch approach of the Commission for Social Care Inspection and its successor, the care quality commission. The laws on domestic violence brought about a shift in public attitudes on that issue; in the same way, it is time to give vulnerable adults and older people—a group to which we all hope to belong one day—the protection that they so rightly deserve.

Another group that finds itself powerless and forgotten is those who come to this country seeking refuge from the conflict and unrest in some of our world’s most troubled places. In particular, I want to highlight the situation in which some of my constituents have found themselves; I am sure that the situation is replicated across the country. Mandy Dube is from Zimbabwe, and has been living in the UK for the past 12 years. She applied for asylum in 2006 and she is, like thousands of others, still waiting for the outcome of that application. Yet in the meantime the Government have told Mandy that she is not entitled to work, and she is therefore left in limbo, waiting indefinitely, unable to earn the money that she needs to maintain a minimum standard of living.

Similarly, another constituent, Pathmarajat Rajanaygam, a Tamil from Sri Lanka, has been suspended from his supermarket job because of a delay in determining his application. He is eligible to work under the terms of his leave to remain, but because he does not have the specific document that indicates that fact, his employers have suspended him pending the update in his status. In both cases, the UK Border Agency has left my constituents in legal and employment limbo. That may leave them destitute, and with little option other than to enter the black economy, where they risk being exploited.

My Tamil constituents as a whole have a broader complaint to make to the Government. They strongly feel that not enough is being done, or has been done, to force the Singhalese Government to end the murder of innocent people, respect human rights and secure a peaceful settlement in that war-torn, troubled country. We in this country have a special responsibility, given our past colonial involvement in Sri Lanka, to seek a fair and just end to the conflict.

I want to end my contribution by paying tribute to just some of the people in my constituency who make a difference to the lives of others. Clearly, time does not
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permit me to name everyone whom I should like to name, but in light of the comments that I have made about refugees and those seeking leave to remain in this country, I want to pay tribute to the work of Refugee Network Sutton. Its small group of volunteers work unstintingly to help people, not only when they first arrive in the area—they give them essentials such as groceries, cleaning material and bedding—but afterwards. They give people ongoing support with their integration into the community. English classes, drop-in centres, and Christmas and Eid parties are just some of the ways in which that dedicated Sutton-based group is transforming lives. I applaud what it does.

I must also mention a few individuals. First, Marilyn Gordon-Jones, whom I nominated as a volunteer hero this summer and who came to the House to be recognised as such, has for many years given dedicated service at the Sutton Lodge day centre, Age Concern and Sutton Nursing. Her faithful commitment to and affection for those with whom she works rightly deserve our applause. Secondly, Shaun Whitehead commands the air cadets in my constituency. His huge personal commitment to the squadron is extraordinary. Young people so often get a bad press these days; it is great to see a youth leader with so much passion and commitment and young people who clearly get so much out of what he is doing.

Thirdly, I want to acknowledge the tireless work of Heather Shaw, who took on the chairmanship of Sutton neighbourhood watch two years ago in difficult times. Her energy and enthusiasm have opened doors and the organisation’s fortunes have turned around as a result. Finally, I should like to mention Melodie Shelbourne, who sadly died in January this year. She was the chief officer of Volunteer Action Sutton. She was a fantastic leader and motivator in the voluntary sector and she touched and changed the lives of many in my area. Everyone who knew her was the better for it, and she is sadly missed.

Those are just a few of the people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting in the past 12 months and for many years before that—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order.

Mr. Burstow: I wish everyone a happy Christmas.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Every speech can be extended by such Christmas greetings, although we do appreciate them.

1.41 pm

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): I start on a point that I have raised in previous Adjournment debates; it was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. The point relates to United Utilities, which has changed how it bills for surface water drainage and highway drainage. Previously, the billing was done on the basis of rateable values, but the company has now brought in a fixed price based on the size of the curtilage of the property or domestic dwelling. That has had the sad and difficult unintended consequence of increasing bills for places of worship, scouting organisations, hospices and other charities, which previously enjoyed a zero rating for the purposes of paying rates. Now they have been brought into the new charging system and
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will see huge increases in what they have to pay for drainage in the next three years. I have raised the issue with United Utilities on a number of occasions, and its representatives always tell me two things: that the new system is revenue-neutral for the company, and that Ofwat has demanded that it should treat each of its customers in the same way and bill them fairly for the services that they receive.

That is all well and good, but it does not take into account the contribution that places of worship, scouting organisations and hospices make to the communities that they serve. Every penny that such organisations have to spend on additional water rates—to the profit of United Utilities—is a penny less for the services that they provide. United Utilities has said that the new billing system was demanded by Ofwat and was a requirement of the Government, so for some time I have been seeking a meeting with the Minister responsible. Due to the Government reshuffle, that meeting has not taken place.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Name him!

Mr. Hall: It might be a “her”.

Keith Vaz: Name her!

Mr. Hall: I am not going to. I am going to ask the Deputy Leader of the House whether he will use his good offices to do two things. The first is to ensure that the meeting takes place in the new year. The matter has been raised on both sides of the House and in various different places, and we need that meeting to take place. I also ask my hon. Friend to make sure that the Government take an inter-departmental look at the problem to see what we can do to bring relief for places of worship, scouting organisations, hospices and other organisations that have been caught by the change in policy. It would also be helpful if United Utilities produced figures that demonstrated beyond any doubt that the policy is revenue-neutral. You will not be surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to hear that I have been visited by lots of organisations that are paying more, but by no one who is paying less.

That leads me to my next concern. It is a sad shame that the former Member for Crewe and Nantwich, my good and honourable friend the late Gwyneth Dunwoody, cannot be here, because she would be about to see me eat humble pie. Some time ago, we had an exchange in an Adjournment debate about whether there should be unitary local government in Cheshire. Gwyneth made a powerful—and, I thought, misguided—speech about why she opposed it, and I spent some of my time telling her why I thought that she was wrong. It may turn out that Gwyneth was far more right than me, and I shall explain why as briefly as possible.

One of the first things that the new Cheshire West and Chester shadow unitary authority did was advertise for a new chief executive with a salary of £173,000—as close as it is possible to get to the Prime Minister’s salary, although the two jobs are significantly different. I have a local government background and do not object to local government officials being paid the rate for the job; I just do not think that £173,000 is such a rate—it is far too much.

The next decision taken by the shadow authority concerned special responsibility payments. In local government, the tradition is that if a person is entitled
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to more than one such payment, they take the highest but do not take the second or third. The shadow authority decided that people can take as many responsibility payments as they have been awarded, which is wrong. When I was the leader of a local council, there were no special responsibility payments, although that is not the issue as I do not disagree with the system. However, when council tax payers’ money is spent, it should be spent fairly and properly.

I was also very much in favour of unitary local government, because I thought that it would bring service delivery closer to communities and improve services, but I have been proved wrong again. From 1 April, we will have a two-tier refuse collection service in the new unitary authority. The rubbish bins of the residents of Chester will be emptied once a week, and those of the residents of Vale Royal will be emptied once a fortnight. When I first asked the chief executive what the unit cost per household would be in 2009-10, he said that he could not tell me until September 2010. That, of course, was nonsense. He has now given me some indicative figures, which show that fortnightly household refuse collection in Vale Royal will cost £46.37; the weekly collection in Chester, however, will cost the princely sum of £46.48. For 9p extra, the residents of Chester will have their bins emptied once a week, while bins in Vale Royal will be emptied once a fortnight. I am not sure whether those figures compare apples with apples—the figures given by the chief executive may not compare like with like—but if the difference is only 9p, I do not see why, in a unitary council that starts on 1 April 2009, there should be a two-tier refuse collection. Refuse collection is one of the services for which householders pay their council tax. If it is right for there to be weekly collection in one part of the new authority, it should be right in another.

I am also very concerned that the shadow unitary authority has decided to reduce the number of programme area boards from eight to five; the whole purpose of bringing democracy closer to people was that there would be those area boards. The three towns in Vale Royal—Frodsham, Northwich and Winsford—are being put into rural area boards, when they should have boards of their own, so that they can be involved in the decision-making process. That was in the “People and Places” consultation document that we took forward during the debate on the unitary authority, and that is what I would expect the authority to implement.

I move on to incineration, another controversial issue in my constituency. My constituency has three proposals for waste incinerators; none of them is in my constituency, but three are on its borders. One at Weston Point has already been approved. It is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg). It was wrongly approved; it should have gone to a public inquiry, but it did not. It has now been decided that it will go ahead. Another incinerator is proposed for Ince Marshes, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller); it went to a public inquiry and a decision is awaited. There were very strong grounds for that application to be refused, as it is not in the Cheshire waste management plant, but on a greenfield site designated specifically for the expansion of the petrochemical industry. It is the wrong location, and we await the result.

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The third proposal is for an incinerator in Lostock, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne); it is on the boundary with Northwich, which is in the southern part of my constituency. I have contacted Cheshire county council about its proposals, but it is not prepared to give me information of any substance on the basis that it is in negotiations with four preferred bidders about its waste strategy for the next 25 years. The discussions are taking place in secret, and the council does not want to inform me about what is going on. I have been in touch with one of the preferred bidders, the Waste Recycling Group, which brought forward the proposal for the incinerator at Lostock. It has confirmed that waste incineration is an integral part of its plan and that Cheshire county council has said that it wants a self-sufficient approach to the disposal of its waste.

If Weston Point incinerator is built by INEOS Chlor, it will take all the waste from Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire. There is no economic case for a second or third incinerator on the periphery of my constituency. I am concerned that Cheshire county council has not yet grasped that point, and that it is still proposing to go ahead with a policy of waste incineration and will announce the two preferred bidders in February. It will then be for the new unitary authority, with Cheshire East unitary authority, to decide how to proceed. I am strongly of the opinion that the proposed incinerator at Lostock is totally unnecessary and economically unviable, and that if it were to be built it would have to import waste from elsewhere, which would break the Stockholm convention and pose a threat to public health in the area. I wanted to put my thoughts about that on the record.

I want to move on to an issue that has been a great cause of concern to me—the outbreak of measles in my constituency. I would not call it an epidemic, but there has been a massive increase in the number of my constituents and their children who are suffering from measles, which is the overspill from the now discredited campaign to discredit the MMR jab. My area of Cheshire has experienced the largest outbreak of measles outside London. The Health Protection Agency contacted schools and parents to try to encourage them to have the jab. We now have teenagers who are susceptible to contracting measles, which is a very infectious disease. Most people who were involved in the campaign to discredit the MMR jab, including those who demanded of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that he say whether his son Leo had had the MMR jab, share responsibility for the outbreak of measles in my constituency. We must now give a positive message on MMR, encourage people to take up the vaccinations that are available and contain that very contagious disease once and for all. I hope that in the weeks and months ahead parents in my constituency will feel confident that they can now go to their GP or nurse practitioner and say, “We want our children vaccinated with the MMR jab. We know that it’s safe and there are no contingent health risks, and it will benefit the health of our children.”

I think that Members would be disappointed if I did not give them an update on progress at Daresbury science and innovation campus in my constituency.

Meg Munn: We are all agog.

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Mr. Hall: I am sure that that is so, because this week at Daresbury we have had a European first. There is a prototype machine there called ALICE—accelerators and lasers in combined experiments. Alice is of course part of the “Alice in Wonderland” story, and Daresbury is where the Rev. Dodgson lived and wrote the stories, so that is a nice connection. The people there have accelerated electrons to 99.9 per cent. of the speed of light and minus 271° C, which is as close as possible to absolute zero. They have demonstrated that we can now look at chemical experiments as if we were making movies or videos in real time. That will take science on to the next level—it is a major breakthrough.

It is even better than that, though. By generating the energy that is needed to accelerate the electrons as closely as possible to the speed of light so that they can be peeled off in straight lines through X-ray machines, they have demonstrated energy recovery, so all the energy that is put into accelerating the electrons can go back to the start, and we can start all over again at a reduced cost. Those electrons are going to be accelerated at about 11 million V. It is absolutely dynamic science. That is not the end of the project, as some people might think. Now that we have proved that the experiment works, the scientific possibilities are endless. The new light source, which I hope the British scientific community will take on, has been proven at Daresbury, and the intellectual possibilities of the prototype should be exploited to the full.

I want to finish on an unusual note. Last Friday—this is most unusual for most Members of Parliament—I opened a post office. In the Northwich part of my constituency, Mr. and Mrs. Asif have opened a post office in the high street. They invited me along to do the opening, and the shop was absolutely full of customers taking advantage not only of the services provided by the post office but of other services. They have innovative ideas about how they are going to make this post office succeed, and I was delighted to be part of that opening. I hope that the venture is a huge success and that my constituents have a fantastic benefit from it.

Finally, I wish to refer to my constituent, Mr. Bert Dyson, Member of Parliament— [ Interruption. ] I am sorry—Member of the Order of the British Empire. However, Bert would make a very good MP. In the past 25 years, Bert has been behind a project with Helsby golf club to raise money to purchase powered wheelchairs for severely disabled children. In the years that Bert has been doing that work, enough money has been raised to purchase 259 powered wheelchairs, which have transformed the lives of the children who have had them. Bert has had to retire because of ill health and has passed the reins on to another member of the committee, although he will still be involved in fundraising. I thought it appropriate to mark the occasion of Bert’s retirement by mentioning him in my speech and congratulating him on the excellent work that he has done to improve the quality of life of young children with severe disabilities in my constituency.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I say to hon. Members that they do not have to take 15 minutes? If each succeeding speaker does so, not everyone will get called. That is just a hint.

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