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The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) raised a series of issues, including one about planning. I have learned one thing in life, which is to try never to get
18 Dec 2008 : Column 1340
involved in a planning or a parking issue, but the hon. Gentleman raised two issues on which I hope I shall be able to help him. The first was about the bailiff service for the Isle of Wight—he may have said “baillie”, but I think the word is “bailiff”. He asked questions about funding from the Ministry of Defence, and I shall follow them up and make sure he gets a proper answer as soon as possible.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the fallen stock collection service on the Isle of Wight and made various suggestions about how it might be addressed. I shall take up those issues with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on his behalf.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) made an important point about preventive medicine and referred to his type 2 diabetes and to the sweet nature of Christmas. He does not want the health service to deal with people only after they have contracted an illness, but to try to prevent them from contracting illnesses. He urged Members to take the type 2 diabetes test. I ran the London marathon this year for something that affects many men—the men’s cancers, from which many still die, in particular prostate cancer. It is important that all men aged over 50 take the proper tests.

My right hon. Friend also spoke about mobile phone masts. When I worked at the BBC, we found that that issue was nothing by comparison with those related to television masts, yet we rarely hear complaints about them.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell is no longer in the Chamber, but he made his apologies earlier. He spoke about the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), and raised the issue of whether there should be a reference to the Standards and Privileges Committee. As I am sure he knows, that is a matter solely for the Speaker so I do not want to intrude.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) said that trawler men would be getting compensation. We are tidying up that issue for the relatively small number of people who have received no compensation and I am glad that Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform have been able to make progress on that. Then my hon. Friend started talking rubbish—the confusion over rubbish collection in the constituency next door to hers.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton—or Dame Edith, as we now know her—spoke about the spatial plan. She was most distrustful of regional development bodies—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] All right. All I can say to the hon. Lady and to all Members who just said, “Hear, hear” is that I look forward to their applications to sit on regional Select Committees. Even if they voted against them, we should be absolutely delighted to see them on those Committees so that they can bring a degree of accountability to regional development bodies.

I heard what the hon. Lady said about the Gas Act 1986 and I shall make sure that she has an answer. There was another issue, which I have forgotten, but I shall seek an answer for her about that too.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) made an important speech, I think—although obviously I disagreed with him somewhat about renationalising the railways. He made an important
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point about social and human investment— [ Interruption. ] Oh, he is not in the Chamber—I shall not talk about that point at length then.

I am afraid that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) talked a whole load of rubbish about tax credits. My experience is that one of the things that has rescued more people from poverty in some of the poorest families in the poorest communities in my constituency is the system of tax credits, which has also made it possible for many families to get into work. Yes, there have been difficult moments, when sometimes the scheme has not been as generous as it might be, but the hon. Lady talked down the scheme in an unfortunate way.

The hon. Lady said something sensible about “Free our Bills”, however. We want to ensure that the changes happen so that our presentation of legislation in the House is easier for Members to understand, in particular online so that they can research properly before they go into Committee. The changes will ensure, too, that all members of the public have a clearer insight into what we do in this place. That is why I am working very closely with the House authorities to ensure that we publish online in a way that is easier for the public.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made a very important speech about the abuse of the elderly. In particular, he told us some horrific tales of problems with Southern Cross in his constituency. I will ensure that the meeting that he was seeking happens and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health replies.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge, from the shop workers’ union, USDAW—actually, I do not know whether he is unionised—paid a tribute to shop workers. He was right to point out that we often talk about the armed forces, the police, the security services and people in the health service and so on working through Christmas, but my first job was in a rather “Are You Being Served?” store in Cheltenham— [ Interruption. ] I know where hon. Members are going with that, so I shall say no more about it. He also said that he was quite prepared, in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, to stand in front of a bulldozer, and I suspect that he would win. We all pass on our regards to his mother and hope that she is getting better.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy) made a very important speech about welfare reform and pointed out that Karen Matthews is not typical. Labour Members believe it is absolutely vital in the poorest communities in this country that we have a welfare system that does not keep people in poverty, but gives them opportunities in life, and that does not keep them on benefits, but gives them an opportunity to work. That is why, particularly in single-parent families, the opportunity to work is a really important thing that we need to advance as a socialist cause.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) spoke of pensioners and how many of them do not claim all their benefits—he has moved seats, which is unfair—and he makes a very good point. It is incumbent on us to ensure that we do better at that. However, he also urged the House to drink Burgundy, which seemed a rather unpatriotic thing for us all to do at Christmas.
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There are perfectly good English wines and, indeed, some wonderful Welsh wines—such as Cariad—so I hope that he will desist from doing so.

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) said that he did not want me to reply to any of the issues that he raised, so I am not going to.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) raised the issue of HMRC jobs in Wales. He makes a fair point, which I will pass on to Ministers, and I hope that they will have an opportunity to reply to him.

The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling)—who has moved as well, and with whom I was at university, incidentally—called for another platform. I suspect that that is unlikely to happen in Croydon, but I will pass on his message to the Secretary of State for Transport.

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) referred tellingly to the middle east, and I wholeheartedly agree with the points that he made. It is interesting that this year, for the first time, many more pilgrims or tourists will be able to go to Bethlehem. It would be nice to see a Holy Land that could be genuinely visited by anyone.

The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) made a speech at a phenomenal pace—it sounded a little as though it was being read into the record—but he did so very ably, and I am not entirely sure what it was about.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) talked about proportional representation, and Herr Flick—my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley—has told me that I am not to agree with him. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) referred in similar tones to what his leader said earlier today on Iraq. I disagree with him, and I hope he will understand that hon. Members can honourably disagree with one another.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) made a very important speech about the Congo. Lord Malloch-Brown has been engaged very vigorously in that issue from the moment that we could act on it.

I should like to pay some tributes: first, to the staff of the House—the Clerks, the Doorkeepers and, in particular, to Gladys in the Tea Room and to all the cleaners. I thank my private office and constituency office—this always sounds a little like the Oscar awards—but, probably on behalf of all hon. Members, I thank our spouses and partners, because they often have to put up with an awful lot of rubbish from us.

I think that what we have learned today is:

That is why the House today rightly expressed its concern for the vulnerable, the elderly, children, the homeless, the lonely, people in Zimbabwe, the people of the Congo, the unemployed and people in the middle east. We should always go further, and we should seek to abolish child poverty so that every child has an opportunity in life—the opportunities that we have.

6 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

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Immigration and Citizenship

6 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I have the honour to present a petition on behalf of 100 families concerning their views on the Green Paper “The Path to Citizenship: Next Steps in Reforming the Immigration System”. It states:


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Sri Lanka

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Ian Lucas.)

6.1 pm

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to you for selecting this subject—a matter of great import—for debate. It is the first debate of the Session on the important issues facing Sri Lanka. I am also grateful to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), for attending today, at the end of this parliamentary term. Our last debate on the subject was in Westminster Hall, where the right hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) spoke about the issues of concern.

I am grateful to the very large number of Members who are present this evening. It is not normal for the House to be so full at this time, it being so close to Christmas. I am also grateful to the 32 Members who signed early-day motion 58 on this important subject. I know that there are Members who wished to be here but have clashes, particularly the hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) and for Orpington (Mr. Horam). I regard myself as being here to facilitate matters for all those who wish to be involved in the debate; I shall be happy to give way to Members liberally.

Many of us have attended protests on the outside, in Parliament square. Some of us spoke to some of the 25,000 people who attended the Remembrance day event at ExCeL. It is important that we recognise the difficult task that Her Majesty’s Government have in trying to promote peace and harmony on the troubled isle of Sri Lanka, but we urge the Government to redouble their efforts to ensure that good work is done there.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Pelling: I am pleased to give way.

Mr. Love: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need not just a United Kingdom effort, but an international effort that brings together India, which has an important role to play, the United Kingdom, for obvious historical reasons, the United States and the UN? Only by that sort of concerted action will we get movement.

Mr. Pelling: I am grateful for that intervention. I have a number of questions to pose to the Minister at the end of my speech, and will give way less at the very end. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Dismore rose—

Mr. Pelling: I give way to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn).

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous. This is an important issue. Does he agree that a crucial part of the process
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must be a permanent UN human rights monitoring mission, based on the island, that can travel freely without let or hindrance, take up any causes that it wishes, and monitor any process or political agreement that takes place?

Mr. Pelling: That is an important and fundamental point, particularly given how the Norwegians and our own representatives have been treated by the authorities in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most important issues is that all roads should be opened and that food should be allowed through to vulnerable people? What does anyone want but a roof over their head, safety and the opportunity to live their life in peace and harmony? Does he agree, and should we work towards that?

Mr. Pelling: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which highlights some of the problems to do with the road to Jaffna and how many people have been living in starvation—or living outside, having been turned into refugees.

Mr. Dismore rose—

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD) rose—

Mr. Pelling: I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow).

Mr. Burstow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for introducing this important debate. Does he agree that we also need more independent and genuine news coverage that genuinely exposes what is going on in Sri Lanka? All too often, we do not get such coverage. Does he agree that that issue is important as well?

Mr. Pelling: That is right. Obviously, in conflicts information is sometimes used as a weapon. I have been impressed by what I have seen of the Defence Watch provision, which tries to give some balanced consideration.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD) rose—

Mr. Dismore rose—

Mr. Pelling: I give way to the hon. Lady.

Susan Kramer: I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is being very generous with his time. With my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), I met 400 Tamil people from our community. They presented evidence from relatives of what was happening in Vanni province. There is an immediate crisis and a need not only for a long-term solution, but an immediate one—particularly for those deprived of even the most basic medical supplies and of support from United Nations agencies.

Mr. Pelling: I appreciate that intervention, which leads me to say that many of us Members of Parliament meet so many constituents whose relatives have sometimes been abducted or have disappeared. We all feel that keenly as Members of Parliament.

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