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8.15 pm

Following up the meeting with my right hon. Friend, we had a further meeting with our good friend the Secretary of State. That meeting—again—came down to the question “Can we afford it?” We said that we had to afford it. When we left his office that day, I think that the words that were ringing in his ears were “If we need to go to the Treasury as a delegation, we will go there to make the case for the funding to make this happen for people.”

I have attended a number of events organised by the RNIB. On one of those occasions, I was told that there was a message for me. The message came in the form of a compact disc from a constituent of mine, a lady called Charlotte Bennie, whom I had met a couple of times. There were a number of different messages for different Members of Parliament, but the message to me was clear, and I listened to it as I travelled across my constituency one day. It took the best part of 40 minutes. The message described the difficulties that Charlotte experienced in life, getting around, and the difference that a little additional money would make.

Along with many others, I attended the lobby in October. I was honoured to be able to address it, and I was honoured to address the massive gathering in the Methodist Central Hall a little earlier.

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Let me make a comparison. I ask Members to think of the difference that they could make to people’s lives. I look back to the early 1990s, when I served on Dumfries and Galloway regional council. At that time, as a minority administration, we introduced free bus passes for the elderly, which was ground-breaking stuff in those days. It opened up a new world to so many elderly people who had been confined to their homes. The small sum that is now being not just requested but—I must say this to my hon. Friend the Minister—demanded this evening may open up other areas that have been forgotten by those who are partially sighted and blind.

I hope that the Department has listened, because I see this as the last chance saloon. Notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), there is a great fear among Labour Members that should my party be defeated at the next election—although I will not be defeatist in that regard—and should we not have secured what we seek tonight, it may not be delivered by those on the Conservative Benches. I think that, in 2009, there could be no more appropriate celebration of the bicentenary of Louis Braille than a Labour Government’s agreement to what is being requested. We all wait to hear what our good friend the Minister has to say.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): This has been a very good debate, which has encapsulated the excellent campaign by the RNIB. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) on tabling the new clause. I well recall his eloquent words in Committee. Then as now, he was able to grasp and express the sense of injustice felt by many blind people in the absence of this important benefit. I am also grateful for what was said by many other Members, with which I shall deal later. They put forward compelling arguments in favour of making this important change.

As the House knows, the campaign to extend the higher rate mobility component has been running for well over two years now, and throughout that time I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire)—the former Minister—have been engaged in numerous and fruitful discussions with the RNIB to see how we can progress this measure. Those discussions have been enormously helpful and have greatly assisted us to come to a shared understanding of what it would mean to extend the higher rate mobility component of the disability living allowance to severely sight-impaired people. For many, it can be very difficult to get out and about and to enter work. That means that thousands of people can become socially isolated—unable meaningfully to become independent, unable to indulge in the normal social pursuits non-disabled people take for granted, and unable to enter work or actively seek work.

Through working with the RNIB, we have been able to come to a shared understanding of how we can define those with the most severe visual impairments such that they have no useful sight for orientation purposes. I am also grateful for the help and assistance we have received from numerous other organisations and professional bodies. In particular, I would like to thank the medical experts we have consulted such as ophthalmologists and optometrists, as well as Moorfields hospital, for the valuable professional and statistical advice and information they have been able to give us. I
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should also like to thank more generally the many thousands of people—many of whom have no sight difficulties—who have written, through their Member of Parliament, to me as the Minister for the disabled. This House has spoken with a consistent voice, as has been articulated by many Members this evening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West began his remarks in moving this new clause by saying it was supported by the most popular early-day motion in this Parliament. Potentially then, I could perhaps become the most popular Minister. I am looking at my boss, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; if that were to be the case, he could do my Adjournment debates and sign all my letters. He is not looking very enthusiastic, but there we are. That early-day motion had an extraordinarily high number of signatures from Members of different parties. My hon. Friend also rightly mentioned the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill), who is not in his seat at present, and the support he received from him and their working together.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) spoke in his usual way, setting out clearly for the House the difference this would make for blind people. Obviously, nobody in this debate is in a better position than him to inform us of such matters.

The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) talked about the cold temperature in Westminster Hall even though, as other Members have said, many of our constituents made the difficult journey to come and lobby us. It is a journey people have to make every day, and he brought that home to us.

I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling. It is an honour to follow her in holding this ministerial post. The work she has done on this issue, and on many others, will stand the test of time. She is held in high regard in this House and among all those involved in disability issues. She worked very hard on this issue, and her hard work has made my work load that much easier. I thank her for her work.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West has a proud and honourable record of campaigning on these matters. He talked about the lower rate mobility component having been introduced and the untapped pool of talent among blind people. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) reminded the House that 70 per cent. of blind people are not in work. Not only is their not being in work their loss, it is the rest of society’s loss—not just for social reasons, but for economic reasons as well. That applies among people with all the ranges of disabilities. We need to do more, working with businesses to ensure that that untapped pool of talent can be fully utilised; that must be done for the business case, as well as for the social case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South spoke of the clarity of the RNIB’s argument, and I think all colleagues would agree with her on that. The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) spelled out in his usual way how important it is for blind people to get this extra benefit, and the difference it would make to their lives. He also talked about the active campaign that has been run in Northern Ireland, and we are grateful to him for his contribution.

The House recognises that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) has been a champion for disabled people for a long time, not just when it becomes
17 Mar 2009 : Column 854
a fashionable cause and many people seek to latch on to it. [Interruption.] As an individual, however, he is extremely fashionable of course—far more so than the hon. Member for Northavon, and I am sure my hon. Friend can recommend a good tailor. My hon. Friend has a proud record, and he talked about the barriers that people face. He talked about how the mobility component was not just a social justice issue, but that it was necessary for employability. Members will know that we have increased the access to work budget that helps people to get a firm job offer or get into work. Obviously however, they need to do the round of interviews in the first place, and this measure would help.

Social justice and employability go hand in hand. They are part of this Government’s programme, and run through all the welfare reforms we are debating in this House this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said the £29 was not a massive amount, but he challenged the Opposition to say whether that was a massive amount when it came to providing millionaires and billionaires with tax cuts. That is, of course, about priorities, and shows which side of the argument we are on.

8.30 pm

I want to illustrate that point and refer to the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), who is a nice man. If the House will indulge me, I am going to provide a quote from the Committee stage—and it is a quote from me. I wish to do so not because it was a particularly good speech or contribution, but because it illuminates the Conservative position and how that has perhaps changed tonight. I said:

That information was provided in answer to a written parliamentary question. I continued:

He replied:

I replied:

That silence was the pause from the transcript. I continued:

Well, it is not amateur dramatics, as the hon. Gentleman says; this is about trying to assist blind people and it depends on what side of the argument one is on.

Mr. Harper: What the Minister is not saying, of course, is that I listened very carefully to what he said in Committee and that just two weeks ago he made it very clear that the Government did not have the funding to support this—as I said in my remarks, as late as yesterday they did not have the funding to support it. So I hope that he tells us what has happened between now and then, and exactly how they are going to fund it. I said that if they are able to fund it, we would be pleased to support it—two weeks ago, he was not able to offer that guarantee.

17 Mar 2009 : Column 855

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman has a policy on inheritance tax—he has made it clear that he wants to give millionaires and billionaires tax cuts. He is not prepared, however, to offer his view on this—he is not prepared to say whether this is the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do. I will provide him with the answer to his question shortly. If he purports to be a member of a party that wants to govern, he must demonstrate leadership and, on this issue, get off the fence that he has been on for a long time. He did not come to the Westminster Hall meeting that was described tonight by the hon. Member for Northavon—the Liberal Democrat spokesman came, and I spoke at it as did the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West—and neither did the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman. The Government have made our position clear: that we want to introduce this measure and it is a case of how and when we will be able to do so. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean has not been able to tell the House until this evening—we still do not think he has—whether he has a view on this.

In my role as Minister for disabled people, I have also been able to voice my support for this measure. Indeed, when I spoke at the lobby that I mentioned, I gave an unequivocal nod towards the Government’s commitment to it, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State equally demonstrated his support for the measure when he said on Second Reading:

In the past I have said that progress was not a matter of if, but when and how. The “how”—in terms of who may be within the scope, which we have discussed this evening— has been largely worked out. As I explained in Committee and on the Floor of the House, the “when” has been about how we finance this important measure, given that we are in the midst of an economic downturn. In Committee, I explained that we did not have the resources to fund this measure but were committed to this important change. I said:

The costs are not inconsiderable and a commitment to change must be taken in the broader context of stabilising the economy and helping people remain in, or return to, work. We have considered this measure in the context of these issues, and recognise that it will bring about considerable economic and social benefits to severely sight-impaired people. I am therefore delighted to announce today that we are now in a position to agree to fund this proposal, and I take great pleasure in accepting new clause 10, as tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 4 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 10

Mobility component of disability allowance

‘(1) Section 73 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (c. 4) (mobility component of disability living allowance) is amended as follows.

17 Mar 2009 : Column 856

(2) In subsection (1), for paragraph (b) (together with the “or” at the end of it) substitute—

“(ab) he falls within subsection (1AB) below; or

(b) he does not fall within that subsection but does fall within subsection (2) below; or”.

(3) In subsection (1A)(a), after “paragraph (a),”, insert “(ab),”.

(4) After subsection (1A) insert—

“(1AB) A person falls within this subsection if—

(a) he has such severe visual impairment as may be prescribed; and

(b) he satisfies such other conditions as may be prescribed.”.

(5) In subsection (11)(a), after “subsection (1)(a),”, insert “(ab),”.’.— (John Robertson.)

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 1

Schemes for assisting persons to obtain employment: “work for your benefit” schemes etc.

Amendment proposed: 11, page 1, line 11, leave out ‘imposing on’ and insert ‘offering to’.— (John McDonnell.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided: Ayes 76, Noes 396.
Division No. 75]
[8.35 pm


Baker, Norman
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Brooke, Annette
Burgon, Colin
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Caton, Mr. Martin
Clark, Ms Katy
Cook, Frank
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Cummings, John
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, Mr. Dai
Dobson, rh Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Mr. Don
George, Andrew
Goldsworthy, Julia
Grogan, Mr. John
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Mr. Dai
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hoey, Kate
Holmes, Paul
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Hunter, Mark
Jones, Lynne
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Kramer, Susan
Lamb, Norman
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Mason, John
McDonnell, John
Moore, Mr. Michael
Mulholland, Greg
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Price, Adam
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Rogerson, Dan
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, David
Taylor, Matthew
Teather, Sarah
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Winnick, Mr. David
Wood, Mike
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Neil Gerrard and
Kelvin Hopkins


Afriyie, Adam
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baird, Vera
Baldry, Tony
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barker, Gregory
Barlow, Ms Celia
Baron, Mr. John
Battle, rh John
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brennan, Kevin
Brokenshire, James
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Browning, Angela
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burnham, rh Andy
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Davis, rh David
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dobbin, Jim
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Donaldson, rh Mr. Jeffrey M.
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Nadine
Dowd, Jim
Duddridge, James
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farrelly, Paul
Field, Mr. Mark
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Gilroy, Linda

Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Healey, rh John
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Heppell, Mr. John
Herbert, Nick
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Horam, Mr. John
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Howell, John
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Glenda
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. David
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Key, Robert
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Lepper, David
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Loughton, Tim
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Main, Anne
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
Mates, rh Mr. Michael
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Mundell, David
Munn, Meg
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Murrison, Dr. Andrew

Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Ottaway, Richard
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Prentice, Bridget
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Purnell, rh James
Randall, Mr. John
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, John
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Scott, Mr. Lee
Seabeck, Alison
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Ussher, Kitty
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walley, Joan
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Phil
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Jeremy
Wright, Dr. Tony
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:

Chris Mole and
Helen Goodman
Question accordingly negatived.
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