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No written statement has yet been made, so I wonder whether the Deputy Leader of the House will give us an update when he sums up. Will there be a Treasury statement? What are the Government doing to press the Icelandic Government to honour their commitments and compensate those who are affected?

In Treasury questions, I raised the depressing issue of unemployment and the 85 jobs going from Flexible Ducting in my constituency. Woolworths also employs more than 30 people in Kirkintilloch in my constituency. The Government could take a leaf out of President-elect Obama’s book, by investing in a green jobs revolution. They should also put much more investment into installation for homes, which would cut energy bills and help people to save money. We need to use this opportunity to create those jobs and help people to cut their bills.

It is not only the national Government who should be making their mark; it is local government as well, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) pointed out. His council—along with Islington and, I am sure, others as well—has reduced the payment times for small and medium-sized businesses in its area to just 10 days. I very much hope that my local council will adopt such a policy. Indeed, I wrote to it earlier this month asking it to do so, but sadly there has been no response so far. The urgency of the situation means that action is required now from local authorities, and I hope that East Dunbartonshire council will act to
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do this. Other councils have shown that it is possible, and it is an essential way of assisting businesses during the economic downturn.

I want to turn to an issue of great concern to a particular town in my constituency. The Low Moss area of Bishopbriggs, one of the biggest towns in my constituency, was chosen as a temporary site for a prison more than 40 years ago. The term “ temporary” is an interesting one because, 40 years later, the prison is still there. Recently, against the wishes of the local community and the local council, the Scottish Government decided to build a new prison facility there. Despite the fact that it has been called Low Moss prison for 40 years, we have now discovered that, to add insult to injury, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service are now planning to call the new facility Bishopbriggs prison. Indeed, they have confirmed to me in writing that HMP Bishopbriggs is its working title. No reason has been given for this change.

Bishopbriggs is a cheerful and friendly town with a great community spirit. It has produced such esteemed figures as the politician Thomas Muir of Huntershill and, more recently, the talented musician, Amy Macdonald. Understandably, the people of the town do not want the first thing that people think of when they hear the name Bishopbriggs to be a prison. I have started a petition against the name change, and hundreds of people have already signed it. The strength of local feeling could not be clearer: the name HMP Bishopbriggs simply must be dropped.

I want to talk about the possibility of speeding up Parliament’s entry into the 21st century. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House has taken an interest in online matters. Indeed, I remember that, before his promotion to the Government, he was often seen asking questions in business questions to the Leader of the House about whether we should have more e-tabling of signatures for early-day motions and such like. More and more MPs are now using the internet to connect better with their constituents, and Parliament should also embrace this new technology, whether through social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, or through interactive forums, encouraging comments on websites, podcasts, video logs—known as v-logs, they are small videos that can be uploaded to sites such as YouTube—or, indeed, a new website launched today called It aggregates all the mini-blogs or “twitters” of those MPs who twitter regularly. I declare an interest, as one of the five MPs identified as those who use this service. The others are the hon. Members for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) and for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone). This is an example of a way of connecting more immediately with our constituents, and I would encourage other hon. Members to make full use of the advantages that the internet offers, particularly in relation to the younger audience, who would not normally declare a huge interest in politics.

I have noticed some reticence in the House, however, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will be able to press this issue forward. I have found it difficult to make progress on a couple of issues in a particular.
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One is the campaign that I have been running to persuade the House authorities to allow Members—and, indeed, members of the public—to upload clips of what happens in the Chamber on to sites such as YouTube. At the moment, we are allowed to upload them on to our own websites, which is helpful in some ways, but we do not have the opportunities that other sites afford, such as forwarding and sharing these clips easily between like-minded people; posting them on to social networking sites; and rating them and commenting on them so that particularly popular clips can be flagged up through the sites for a wider audience.

Yes, most people can watch the BBC Parliament channel, but they probably do not do so. They see Prime Minister’s questions on television, and I have to say that I shudder to think of their response to it, because I do not think that it portrays the House at its best. If perhaps little nuggets of this House’s holding the Government to account by asking questions or of various other parts of parliamentary business could be distributed among like-minded groups and individuals, I think that it would be a great advantage for democracy. I know the Administration Committee is looking into this and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will also take it up.

I also urge the Deputy Leader of the House to take up the “Free our Bills” campaign. My early-day motion 221 has been signed by 72 Members so far. It is intended to change the way in which we tag legislation electronically to make it easier for people to follow where we are in the Bill process and make comments, which can only increase people’s engagement.

Finally, I echo the thanks of other Members to the staff of this House and to those working hard in our constituencies. I hope that the House will allow me a little indulgence to say a special thank you to my researcher, Nick Hutton, who has been a member of my staff since I was elected three and a half years ago. I have to say that he is an absolute star, but sadly he will be leaving in the new year to take up a new job. He will be greatly missed.

Merry Christmas to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to everyone in Parliament.

3.46 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): In these debates, Madam Deputy Speaker, our whole life almost passes in front of us, but I want to concentrate on a serious issue that has come up in my constituency about the care of the residents in the residential homes owned and managed by the company Southern Cross. The story goes back two years when I was approached by relatives of parents who lived in Southern Cross care homes in my constituency and across the London borough of Hillingdon.

A range of concerns were raised, including poor standards of care and cleanliness in the homes, lack of staff, lack of management, poor diet and lack of stimulation. I heard anecdotes of elderly people slumped in their chairs while the television was blaring. I heard about lack of respect as well as lack of care, as elderly people were spoken to in a demeaning manner. I heard about hectoring and even a bullying atmosphere was described. Anxieties were expressed at that stage about
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the physical security of the elderly and about the heavy manhandling of elderly people.

I took up individual complaints with the London borough of Hillingdon and the local primary care trust, but the frequency of the complaints worried me. In June 2006, I wrote to the then chief executive of the Hillingdon primary care trust to arrange a meeting with relatives to discuss the standards of care. We sat down and went through the issues together. I attended local meetings of the carers association and the Alzheimer’s Society and listened to similar concerns.

We were informed at the PCT meeting that our views would be listened to and fed back to the local council as well as the PCT itself. Despite that, I continued to receive in subsequent months individual complaints and expressions of concern about standards of care. I thus wrote to the director of social services at Hillingdon and to the chief executive of the Commission for Social Care Inspection. I enclosed a copy of a constituent’s letter that outlined examples of the concerns.

As I have said, I was still contacted too frequently by relatives of elderly people who express their concerns and I said at that stage that I was extremely worried that these people were vulnerable. I asked for the director’s views on the standards of care, I told the commissioner that I was extremely worried and I suggested to the director of social services that we should have an independent review. I welcomed the commission’s involvement and offered to meet Hillingdon council and the commission. I received no response from the London borough of Hillingdon, but I liaised with the commission to set up a meeting at the House of Commons at which relatives and representatives of the carers association could explain their concerns.

We were told at that meeting that the Commission for Social Care Inspection would be inspecting Hillingdon in 2008 and that there would be an attempt to bring the inspection forward. At that stage at least, I thought that we were making some progress. I was relieved that we had at least engaged. The CSCI inspection took place in early 2008 and its report was published in March. It concluded:

and it continued like that.

Although the report is clearly damning on the issue of safeguarding the elderly, others as well as me found it fairly superficial. It offered a weak approach and it lacked a follow-through. The commission was too willing to accept excuses, unwilling to follow through improvements and unwilling to confront providers themselves with their weaknesses. Nevertheless, I thought that we were moving on again and were on the right path to raising standards. Six to nine months later, regrettably, constituents’ complaints keep coming. The examples are just the same as before: lack of physical care, lack of nutrition and so forth. One person’s father was losing weight yet the home did not even have the scales to measure it.

Because of the lack of consistent improvement, I approached one of the local councillors, Councillor John Major, who has been assiduous in raising these issues. He approached the leader of the council. We suggested an informal meeting with relatives, the carers
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association and Age Concern to have a chat to ensure that the leader of the council understood the concerns. The leader of the council is the council’s champion for the elderly. Unfortunately, he declined the meeting. I received a note from Councillor Major saying that the leader was discussing the matter with a fellow cabinet member. It appears that the meeting that was proposed as a way forward was not the way in which they wanted to deal with the situation. I was disappointed by that response.

Having got nowhere in securing redress through the leader of the council, three weeks ago I met the chief executive of the Hillingdon primary care trust with my neighbour, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), and I raised the concerns at that meeting. In contrast to the council, the PCT provided me with a detailed briefing note on what was happening in the individual homes. We were informed at that point that all admissions to the homes had been suspended.

As a result of one serious incident on 30 October, the police were called in. I will not mention individual homes because I do not want to worry my constituents any further, but in each of the homes at some stage admissions seem to have been halted by Hillingdon because of various concerns about the standards of care. There had been a litany of complaints throughout the year which had to be investigated, and when they had been investigated, further complaints arose. In one instance there were allegations that notices had been put up warning staff not to whistleblow to the Commission for Social Care Inspection.

There seems to be a typical pattern of behaviour. When a complaint is made, the company reacts by putting in a manager from another home. Intensive efforts are made to improve the standard of care. The improvements last a few months and the manager is pulled out. At the same time, the home where the manager worked previously deteriorates. The cycle has been going on year after year. While I was being briefed by the primary care trust, local Councillors Anthony Way and John Major insisted on a briefing from council officers. That reiterated exactly the same complaints—lack of staff, lack of training, lack of record keeping, lack of respect for the elderly, health care issues and lack of communication throughout.

The question for me is why the situation of continuous complaints has been allowed to happen, with the evident risk to elderly people. One reason, I have discovered, is that the council did not have the staff in place to commission and monitor the contracts awarded to Southern Cross. I have had sight of a letter from a council officer that confirms that there should have been five staff in place. Last year there was only one. The council recruited four staff, but two of those took redundancy, so there are only two members of staff. The council did not have the staff to monitor the contracts, find out what was going on, decide on appropriate action and take that action.

A second reason is that the council let the contract for residential care for the elderly on such a scale to Southern Cross over a 10-year period that Southern Cross has a virtual monopoly in Hillingdon. The council closed down its own homes and has very little alternative accommodation in the private sector, so Southern Cross has the council over a barrel. Southern Cross has become one of the largest providers of care for the elderly in the
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country. It is ruthless in the pursuit of profits. To gain a market share, I believe it has introduced loss leaders and maximised its profits by cutting staff, cutting wages and failing to invest in the basic services of those establishments.

I read a recent report in The Times on Southern Cross standards, which was informed by numerous comments by employees and former employees confirming the report’s headline, “filth and abuse in care home.” Earlier this year the company was on the point of financial collapse and I believe it made even more cuts in its service delivery. I pay tribute to the hard-working staff in those homes. They are underpaid and lacking in managerial support, yet they do their best in that environment.

There is a third reason why the scandal has been allowed to persist for so long. It is the one that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) mentioned: for too long, the needs of the elderly in our society have been ignored. They are swept to one side. The elderly do not count as much as others in our society. That must end. One small way in which we could demonstrate that they do count is by tackling Southern Cross in our local area, the London borough of Hillingdon, and nationally. I wrote 10 days ago to the Secretary of State for Health asking for Ministers to intervene as a matter of urgency in Southern Cross in the London borough of Hillingdon.

I also think there is a need for a wider review of the way in which we treat and care for the elderly, however, particularly in the privatised sector. We cannot sit back and let elderly people be put at risk in this way. There has been case after case in my constituency of what I consider to be severe neglect, and as I said, the police have been called to one home to investigate the physical abuse of an elderly person by the staff.

Members have mentioned the case of baby P, which has caused distress to the nation as well as throughout the House. I give this warning: unless we take decisive action fast on the care of the elderly and elderly care standards, we shall inevitably be faced with a granny P or a granddad P. It is coming; indeed, it may well have happened in our own area as a result of the activities of Southern Cross as a poor provider of residential care for the elderly. I urge my hon. Friend the Leader of the House to go to the Secretary of State for Health and say that this is an urgent matter that needs to be addressed locally and nationally.

3.55 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): As always, it is a great privilege to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). What he has said is absolutely right. As soon as possible after Christmas, I shall try to arrange a meeting between us and the leader of the authority, and we will also take up the issue with the Department. We are all very concerned about the care of the elderly, and I am afraid it is true that all too often elderly people seem to be somewhat forgotten.

According to today’s headlines about the ambulance and health services, they are at a critical point. I want to pay tribute to the ambulance service, because only last week my mother, who is 89, was taken to hospital by ambulance—thankfully, she is out of hospital now. I
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saw for myself the problems experienced by Hillingdon hospital, such as trolley waits. The ambulance personnel, for whom I have the highest regard, were having to wait with their charges until they could hand them over to the nursing staff, which meant long delays. While they were there, they could not be out doing what they wanted to do, and they were not taking breaks. I saw a variety of things that filled me with admiration for the work that they do, and, of course, for the staff of Hillingdon hospital.

That experience also made me realise that, despite everything, there is still a long way to go in relation to care. Most of the people whom I happened to see in the hospital were elderly, and very frightened. Many of those who arrive there do not have relations or friends with them. The situation is very worrying, and we must look into it.

When I was on the hospital site I met the chief executive, Mr. David McVittie. I have been very impressed by him on a number of occasions. He is always out there, walking the wards. As a retailer myself, I would describe him as a floorwalker. Staff members told me that he knew most of their names, which I considered very impressive. So it is a shame that, having said what a wonderful bloke he is, I must now say something that will irritate him slightly.

Hillingdon hospital wants a rebuild. It is working towards that, and the Government are considering it. RAF Uxbridge is being sold off, and it would be a wonderful site on which to rebuild the hospital for not only my constituents but the whole borough of Hillingdon. In fact, it would be better for the constituents of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd). We heard this week that a new college was to open in Uxbridge, with 500 nursing students. I cannot help feeling that the two establishments should be next to each other. May I suggest to the Deputy Leader of the House—whom I welcome to his position—that at some stage we should get the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence together to discuss what I think is a wonderful opportunity? I have been told that it is not possible to use the RAF Uxbridge site for reasons involving foundation trust status and all sorts of interesting financial things, but I cannot help feeling that we must work around that.

I want to say something about the RAF, because personnel from RAF Uxbridge and RAF Northolt are currently serving overseas. I am thinking of 32 Squadron in particular, but there are others serving in the Falklands, Turkey, the middle east, Afghanistan and Iraq. I pay tribute to them and their families.

I was contacted recently by a wonderful serving warrant officer, who told me the one thing that he was concerned about while serving was the appalling state of accommodation at RAF Uxbridge. Principally because it is going to close down, there has not been much movement on improving it, but I am going to see it—I have spoken to the relevant Minister, and he has given me permission to do so. I am sure that hon. Members will want to hear about the situation there, and it is to be hoped that something can be done, because it is appalling if, while members of the armed forces are serving abroad, often in dangerous operation areas, they are worrying about the conditions their families are living in. That is a very sad state of affairs.

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