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A general theme that needs to be pursued across Telford is the introduction of street drinking bans. One thing that really deters people from going into local centres is the sight of groups of people—of all ages, it
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must be said—drinking alcohol at all times of the day. It puts people off and is particularly intimidating for older people who want to use the local facilities. Street drinking bans send out a clear message to the public that they should not consume alcohol in local centres as it creates an antisocial environment. Again, we need to move quickly. The council is going to consult on bringing in a street drinking ban in Dawley, after the major exercise that I carried out in which I received more than 1,000 responses from local residents. It is important that the council moves quickly, and that the ban in Dawley is seen as a pilot for other areas in Telford, such as Oakengates and Madeley, as well as local centres such as Brookside, Sutton Hill and Woodside, which could also benefit from having designated areas in their local centres where street drinking was banned.

Alongside the regeneration of those local centres, we also need to transform Telford town centre. I am extremely concerned about recent developments relating to the town centre. It was created to serve the new town and it has expanded over the years in a rather haphazard way, with new shopping arcades and other facilities being added on in a fairly piecemeal fashion. What is needed now is an overarching strategy to create a new, vibrant centre offering retail, entertainment and new housing. The strategy needs to involve all the partners in the town centre and to be led by the council, which is the strategic player.

Unfortunately, it seems that the council and the owners of the shopping centre, Hark Apollo, are not communicating. This has been made worse by the decision of the council effectively to rewrite the strategy for the centre by selling its civic offices to Asda, thereby drawing an anchor retailer out of the main shopping centre. I welcome the fact that Asda is committed to Telford, as it brings jobs to the area and retains jobs within it. However, the move by the council to lure it from the shopping centre is a serious concern. Hark Apollo has made it clear that this is a major threat to its shopping centre and that there has been a major breakdown of communication between it and the council.

I want to see a comprehensive redevelopment of the town centre with design continuity right across the scheme. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this right and the council should be co-ordinating the process, not creating a climate of crisis and recrimination. This project is vital for the regeneration of the borough and I will do anything I can to bring the parties together to talk. We should not be in this potentially disastrous position in any case. My message to the council is, “Get your act together. I will work with you and help you.” My message to Hark Apollo is also fairly blunt: “You need to review your parking charges, as this is one of the reasons Asda is considering moving out of the town centre”. I want the partners to come together; I believe in a strong partnership between the public and private sector. I believe that if we all work together, we can get this right and transform the centre of Telford.

The final issue I want to address is the review of health services in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin. I have to say that I am sick and tired of continual reviews of our local health services. We seem to have the same discussions year in, year out—and it must be costing a fortune. In the seven years I have been an MP— [Interruption.] Eight years, but in all those years, we seem to have been having the same conversation
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about health services in our county. It is not necessarily to do with the Darzi review or the latest trend in Government policy; we just seem to have a constant debate going on among health services managers about the structure of services.

The clinical leaders forum in our area is leading the current review process and it has come up with proposals relating to acute hospital services. In simple terms, local health bosses seem to want to do two things. First, they want to keep children’s assessment units at both the Princess Royal hospital in Telford and Wrekin and the Royal Shrewsbury hospital, but they want to put in-patient children’s services on one site. That, they say, is the safest option. They also want to develop a children’s care service at home.

Secondly, the bosses want to retain A and E service on both sites, but with one dealing with the most seriously injured and ill—those involved in multiple trauma road accidents, for example. Level 1 A and E would be provided as it is now at regional centres; level 2 A and E would be on one of the sites in either Telford or Shrewsbury; and level 3 A and E would be on the other site. At present, no decision has been made about which site should have which services. The clinical leaders forum has produced a long list of four clinical options for sustainable acute services. More work is being done now as part of the consultation process. The concept of a new hospital has now emerged, located between Telford and Shrewsbury, so that it could provide all the acute services to the county.

I have to say that this process has now become an over-complicated shambles. The public have no faith in the process and the recent interventions by the National Clinical Advisory Team have made the situation worse. Health bosses should go right back, in my view, to the drawing board—or perhaps they should take the drawing board away and leave us all alone. We should be designing health services for the people of Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin—not, I add, for mid-Wales, with apologies to colleagues from mid-Wales—and it is about time health managers got out from behind their desks in Shrewsbury and took a long look at the health needs of my constituents in Telford. A&E services in our county are often stretched to capacity at the moment between the two hospitals and many people still have to wait a long time to be seen.

The history of hospital services in Shropshire includes a long struggle to get the status of Telford new town recognised as it grew from the 1960s onwards. Telford is the largest population centre in the county and it is a growing town. By 2026, at least 26,500 new homes will have been built in the borough of Telford and Wrekin, and the current planning review suggests that figure could expand to more than 30,000. Telford could easily grow to become a town of more than 200,000 people in the next two decades, and we need hospital services to reflect that.

We have high levels of deprivation—worse than anywhere else in the county—and other social indicators show very clearly that hospital services need to be focused on Telford. Anyone can see the logic of structuring services around Telford. Services should not be based on how the county looked 50 years ago or even 10 years ago; they should be based on how it looks now and how it is going to look. On that note, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I wish you a happy Easter?

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1.15 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I thank the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) for expressing sympathy for the victims of the helicopter tragedy and for his support for the post bank—a timely idea taking forward many of our concerns about the Post Office, and an issue to which I shall return.

We finally debated the economy in Government time on Tuesday. In that debate, I raised issues connected with the oil and gas industry. Later today, we are having a statement about the G20, which will obviously be about the global impact of the world economy and any global action that can be taken to restore confidence in the economic situation. During the statement, we will have a chance to discover what has come from that G20 meeting. Although the crisis is global and there are definitely global aspects to the economic crisis we face, there is no doubt that there are also local and national aspects to it. The Government had a role in getting us into the crisis and they will have a role in how we come out of it.

On the banking system, we need to learn lessons and understand why the Canadian banks have not gone through the same crisis as UK banks. We must ensure that Government action restores the UK banking system. There is real frustration among the majority of constituents of the majority of Members that so much taxpayers’ money is being poured in at the top, without them necessarily seeing any outcome at the bottom. If we speak to local businesses trying to secure the cash flow they need from the banks to keep going, we find that they are very frustrated. They are frustrated that the announcement of so many Government schemes is not necessarily followed by delivery and they are frustrated in terms of communication in that the banks do not seem to be aware of what schemes are available to assist in supporting business. We need to see a real measure of impact from all this intervention so that banks finally get liquidity flowing in the economy again. If small businesses are unable to borrow, they cannot keep the business turning over to get them through the slump and out the other side.

One victim of the response that has had to be made to the crisis is people with savings, particularly pensioners who have been hit hard. To get cash flow going, interest rates have been slashed to near zero. That provides more liquidity for people with mortgages and other borrowings and reduces the burden on business, which is to be welcomed, but it also has a negative impact on savings and particularly on pensioners who rely on them.

One action the Government could take—and take quickly—to restore a sense of justice on this issue would be to look at the assumed income pensioners and others on benefits could make from their savings. To assume that they can get 10 per cent. on their savings when the Bank has cut the rate to 0.5 per cent. is simply not natural justice and it flies in the face of reality. In the long run, while we want people to spend where they can in the economy, we also need to keep a savings culture in the long term. If we are to penalise people for putting money aside for their old age by assuming that absurd returns can be achieved, we are going to damage that savings culture in the future.

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Another aspect of restoring confidence would be to embrace the post bank proposal quickly and efficiently and to roll it out. Many pensioners and people with small savings want real confidence that there is a traditional banking model available where people lend money to the banks, the money accumulates and real savings follow. People do not want fancy financial models that put at risk both savers and borrowers. The post bank could be a great way of restoring confidence in basic banking, and could provide new outlets for the Post Office. As the hon. Member for Telford pointed out, considerable effort has been put into saving, or at least reducing the damage to, the post office network, and the Government have invested a great deal. Now is the time to bring in new business to give vibrancy to, and take advantage of, the network that has been saved, to avoid further closures and to ensure a viable future for the service. Working with credit unions strikes me as a important way of building on something that already exists in communities.

The Government could take another step to restore savers’ confidence, and confidence in the financial system. They could respond to the continuing concerns of the ombudsman about the handling of the Equitable Life sufferers—the victims of the Equitable Life debacle. When there is maladministration, or a failure of administration, if we do not demonstrate that something will be done about it, people will not feel confident about the regulation of the financial system in the future. A stronger response from the Government, and a recognition of the ombudsman’s frustration over the handling of Equitable Life, would restore an element of confidence.

Responding to the economic crisis involves a role for the Treasury and the approaching Budget, but other Departments should be highly aware of the dangers of excessive regulation, and of regulation being introduced too quickly at a time when people are finding it most difficult to adapt. When I was a member of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry in the last Parliament, the point was made in evidence from the Federation of Small Businesses that while each regulation often stands up and makes sense, a wall of regulations all arriving at once places a great burden on business in requiring it to adapt and evolve. That applies during the good times, but when businesses are struggling to make ends meet and to cope with a real financial crisis, having to implement any extra bureaucracy or regulation that could be avoided imposes an unnecessary burden at a time when the other means of restarting the economy may not be working particularly well.

Earlier today, during questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we heard about the European Union’s proposals for sheep-tagging and the burden that that will place on many hill farmers. The Secretary of State spoke of a move to ease the impact. I think we need to know exactly how he expects that impact to be eased. When there are a large number of sheep on the hills, identifying them individually will involve extra bureaucracy, and having to work out, when a tag is lost from a sheep, which number was on it in order to replace it will mean an awful lot of extra work for a farming community that is also struggling with the financial crisis.

Another issue raised at question time was that of our high animal welfare standards. I want to reinforce what the Secretary of State said about sound and efficient
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labelling. Perhaps the Secretary of State could also reinforce what he said by ensuring that such a system can be delivered, so that consumers who have put pressure on us, as parliamentarians, to operate the highest animal welfare standards can support that pressure by buying products that meet them. There is no point in putting pressure on us to achieve high animal welfare standards, and then buying products from other countries that do not meet those standards and are therefore able to undercut products that do.

Another regulation is causing concern about the economy in my constituency. I must declare my interest in the oil and gas industry, as a Shell shareholder and a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the British offshore oil and gas industry. The group recently made a visit to a conference in Stavanger which was supported by oil and gas industry companies. I am concerned about the emissions trading phase III regulations, and the European Union’s proposal for 100 per cent. of electricity generation emissions trading permits to be auctioned.

Much of the power on the offshore oil and gas platforms is generated on those platforms. The aim of the emissions trading regulations is to encourage less use of carbon by promoting alternative sources of electricity, but the offshore platforms are not connected to the grid, and cannot simply switch to a renewable source. Buying the permits at auction will impose an extra cost on the industry, which means that, at a time when the industry is already facing difficulties, older platforms in particular may be tipped into being no longer profitable, and start to be decommissioned earlier than was originally intended.

If those platforms are decommissioned early, nearby finds will no longer be exploitable. If we decommission early in the United Kingdom we will produce less oil and gas, but that will not affect the level of consumption; it will merely mean that we import more. The carbon leakage regulations provide a strong case for the Department of Energy and Climate Change to make to the European Union. It should say that we need to take advantage of the rules of the EU system, and that because of the carbon leakage, the North sea needs to be protected from the full impact of the 100 per cent. auction.

Another bureaucratic nightmare for many constituents is the minefield of the IR35 regulations. Many people work in the north-east of Scotland work as contractors, and already feel the real heat of the economic crisis. It is unlikely that they would suffer a pay cut upfront if they were employed, but because they are contractors, it is easy to reduce their fee levels by changing the terms of their contracts. The additional bureaucracy generated by all the work involved in trying to comply with IR35 could be eased if the Treasury thought again about its impact.

I wish to reinforce my support for the case for an early inquiry into the circumstances of the Iraq war, our involvement in it, and the decisions that led to it. Such an inquiry must be wide ranging to enable all the lessons to be learnt, and it should be arranged on an urgent basis so that we learn the lessons as soon as possible in order to apply them to any future conflicts. It must consider the role of Parliament, the role of scrutiny of Parliament, and the way in which Parliament questions Government. It is clear that Parliament had an opportunity to prevent that war, but did not judge
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the information provided by Government in a way that would have allowed it to question the decision that was put before it, and to avoid the tragedy of becoming so heavily involved in Iraq in such a bad way.

I pay tribute to the troops who have served in Iraq. They have performed the duty that Parliament asked them to perform. However, it is important for those lessons to be learnt. One of the tragedies of our having allowed the United States to distract us into becoming involved in Iraq was the fact that we took our eye off the ball of Afghanistan. That has made our present task in Afghanistan far more difficult, because the job was not seen through at the time. Having supported the intervention in Afghanistan, I hope that in our negotiations with the United States, the US will recognise the burden that we have already borne there and the importance of its troop surge in helping our hard-working armed forces—who are taking such a high risk—to deliver a better life for the people of Afghanistan, and to protect our security here at home by trying to see through a job that was not seen through properly at the time because of the distraction of Iraq.

Finally, as the Easter recess approaches, let me take this opportunity to thank all the staff of the House who make it possible for us to serve in this place, and to wish everyone a happy Easter.

1.29 pm

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I want to draw attention to a proposal whose implementation would have a significant effect on my constituency: the Co-operative Group’s proposal to build an eco-town known as Pennbury. Although the town would be built just outside the boundaries of my own constituency, in the constituencies of Harborough and Rutland and Melton, the impact on my constituency and the people in it would be considerable, and I am anxious to record the strength of feeling among those local people before the recess.

At the beginning of my remarks, I should declare some interests. I have been a member of the Midlands Co-operative Society, with a £20 share, for some decades and a member of the Co-operative party for some 40 years, and my constituency Labour party, of which I am a member, has recently received a £200 donation from the Co-operative party. Members will be able to tell from those declarations that I am very sympathetic to the principles of the Co-operative movement.

I am also very sympathetic indeed to the concept of environmentally sustainable housing. During my 17 years as leader of the city council in Leicester, it was awarded the accolade of being Britain’s first “environment city”, and it was one of 12 communities worldwide that was invited to the Rio summit to give examples of communities that were seeking to grow in a sustainable way. I also have a long commitment to the provision of adequate affordable housing. I was a member of the then controlling Labour group in the city council in Leicester at a time when we were very proud to be building some 1,000 council houses every year.

Therefore, nobody can doubt the fundamental attitudes with which I approached the Co-operative society’s proposals to build this eco-town. I am also not unsympathetic to its desire to develop a part of its extensive landholdings to the south of Leicester for
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housing. When I was leader of the city council, we had a number of discussions with it about what were then its proposals for an area called Stretton Magna, not far from the Pennbury development of today, and when the Co-op came forward with this new proposal, I hoped I would be able to support it.

In the almost two years since the publication of the Government prospectus for eco-towns, I have had a number of meetings with representatives of the Co-op. I have also met city and county councillors and officers, and I have looked carefully at the Co-op’s publications and at the analysis of the proposals undertaken by the city and county councils in Leicester and Leicestershire. I have looked particularly carefully at the work undertaken by Halcrow, which has conducted a strategic assessment of the proposals that was published last December.

My initial sympathy for the proposals and the proposers has changed to alarm about the potential impact on my constituency and the city of Leicester more generally, and from that alarm to a general conclusion that were Pennbury to be developed, its impact on Leicester—and Leicester, South as a part of Leicester—would be devastating. During this period, I have been particularly disappointed that, rather than engaging with the concerns that I and others have expressed, the Co-op has chosen to dismiss our questions and to rubbish the many criticisms that Halcrow made of what it described as the Co-op’s “questionable assumptions”.

The Co-op’s latest glossy publication is full of inspirational pictures and fine words. That is typical of its responses to the criticisms, and I will draw on it to illustrate some of my points. In it, the Co-op dismisses its opponents as

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