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15 July 2009 : Column 310

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): In welcoming his excellent statement, may I ask my right hon. Friend the following? Will he examine how the large energy and engineering companies and vehicle manufacturers can partner smaller would-be developers, which are sometimes in the academic world and sometimes just small venture companies, to ensure that we maximise the national advantage to jobs and so on and get the maximum commercial advantage out of the exciting revolution that he proposes?

Edward Miliband: I am glad that my hon. Friend raises that point, because there are proposals in the low-carbon industrial strategy about how Government can work better on electric vehicles. I believe that an office is being set up to tackle the matter in the Department of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills. We need to bring together the incentives, the charging infrastructure and the huge opportunities in the UK for the production of such vehicles.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent statement. He will know that the Severn is designated a Natura 2000 site by the European Union. Given his announcement of the publication today of the shortlist of tidal proposals, can he advise the House of the progress that has been made in identifying the alternative ecosystems that we would have to provide under the Natura 2000 provisions in order to proceed with de-designation?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks with great authority on these matters. My understanding is that we have now published the shortlist, and that the process that will now take place will include an examination of all the different aspects, including the environmental pros and cons for climate change and local environmental habitats. I am sure that that will be taken into account.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I take points of order, given my exhortations about brevity I would like very warmly to thank hon. and right hon. Members from the Back Benches, and those speaking from the Front Benches, for the fact that they have taken heed of them. Aside from the Front Benchers, no fewer than 33 hon. and right hon. Members spoke from the Back Benches. It shows what can be done.

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Points of Order

1.26 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek to invoke your help to improve ministerial accountability to the House. Paragraph 9.3 of the ministerial code states:

However, we all know that every single July we have a plethora of 30 or 40 written statements on the last day before we go into recess, including a whole lot of bad news that is being buried together. I have raised the matter with the Prime Minister on a number of occasions through written questions. Most recently, I asked him what steps he would take to ensure compliance with paragraph 9.3 of the ministerial code, to which he replied:

That was all there was. What steps can you take, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that next week we do not have 30 or 40 statements on the last day as usual?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has made his views very clear, and I am grateful to him for doing so. I think that he will understand, and I hope the House will appreciate, that it is not for me to rule or adjudicate as between one orderly method of giving information to the House and another. I think that Ministers are aware that there is a widespread appetite for oral statements, and it would be helpful if, to a greater extent in the future than in the past, that appetite could be met.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is well aware of your concern to ensure that parliamentary questions are answered promptly. I am concerned that there seems to be a practice in some Departments of answering on time on the required date by merely saying that they will write to the hon. Member concerned at some point in the indeterminate future. That indeterminate future can often occur during a recess. Is there anything that you can do to require Ministers, when there is sufficient time and a clear possibility, to give a clear written answer within the timetable required by the House?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. The answer to his question is that I can certainly reiterate today what I have said on previous occasions and indicated in writing to the Leader of the House, who I know takes ministerial responsibility for these matters extremely seriously-namely, that replies to written questions should be timely, and that they should also be substantive. It would, I think, represent a breach of the spirit of the principle that I have set out, if not of the letter, if Ministers were simply to reply with what I suppose the hon. Gentleman would call a holding response. What is needed is a substantive reply, and it might interest the House to know that I requested of all Ministers a matter of a fortnight or so ago that the backlog of written questions should be cleared, with substantive replies, before the summer recess.

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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I congratulate you, Sir, on the speed of the previous statement? It is much appreciated that all Back Benchers got in. Unfortunately, that was not the case at Prime Minister's questions, during which fewer than half the Back Benchers with questions on the Order Paper were reached. The Prime Minister appeared to me to be very long-winded and even to make a mini-statement. I wonder whether you could help Back Benchers get in at Prime Minister's questions.

Mr. Speaker: I am very sympathetic to getting Back Benchers in-I served as a Back Bencher for rather a long time myself, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I know that he would not for one moment try to draw me beyond what I have already said on the matter. For the avoidance of doubt-it is important to be balanced-I said during Prime Minister's questions that, exceptionally today, in rather exceptional circumstances, questions and answers from the Front Bench were notably longer than usual. I would like some economy in those matters so that more Back-Bench Members get to ask questions of the Prime Minister.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance about procedure on a pressing matter. Today, I sent an urgent fax to the Secretary of State for Health, which needs a reply and his intervention today, about the shameful behaviour of NHS Leeds towards the family of Dr. John Hubley, who tragically died under its care. NHS Leeds is now trying to overturn the coroner's report, deny its culpability and-outrageously-threaten the family with liability for legal costs. There is no other way of holding it to account, so is there a way, Mr. Speaker, that I can raise the matter, or another way in which I can insist on a response and intervention from the Secretary of State today? Tomorrow will be too late-the deadline is today.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has made his point, which is firmly on the record. Frankly, I am not sure whether what he has just said constitutes a point of order, but to be helpful to him and the House let me say that, if memory serves me correctly, the hon. Gentleman raised the matter at business questions last Thursday, and he was promised a ministerial reply-when the Leader of the House responded to him, that promise was given. Let me gently say to those on the Treasury Bench that if an hon. Member is promised a reply on the Thursday of one week, failure to deliver it by the following Wednesday is below par.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will have heard earlier the disappointing news from Jaguar Land Rover that it is cutting car production along with jobs. Part of Jaguar Land Rover's statement referred to the fact that it is still waiting to secure funding of some hundreds of millions of pounds from the European Investment Bank. That is a matter for negotiation with UK Ministers, and may now put the company in jeopardy. Given the urgency of the situation following Jaguar Land Rover's statement, I wonder whether you have received any indication that Ministers intend to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us about the European Investment Bank loan?

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Mr. Speaker: I have to say to the hon. Lady-I know that it will disappoint her-that I have had no indication from any Minister of an intention to come to the House and make a statement on the matter, and I am not in a position to require one. However, she has made her point with her usual force and alacrity.

Bill presented

Personal Responsibility

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Norman Baker presented a Bill to place upon the individual a greater responsibility for the consequences for him of his own actions and of any failure on his part to use common sense; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 134.)

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Protection of Elderly People (Unsolicited Mail)

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.33 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): I beg to move,

By chance, we have a debate later today on care for the elderly, so I am particularly pleased to introduce this ten-minute Bill. A Government Green Paper on paying for care for the elderly was also published yesterday. I want to consider another way in which the House should care for elderly people, however, because I believe that we can judge a society by how it looks after its old people.

I want to consider the all-too-common situation facing some old people. They will probably live alone. Typically, they may be old women, who are possibly widowed. Through their doors, piles of mail pour daily-I have such a pile here-to be read by a person who was raised in a gentler and more honest society than ours. Of course, many old people are busy and active with friends, and understand what to do with junk mail-namely, throw it away. However, others are lonely and perhaps confused and bored. They have time to read the junk mail, and an industry has been created that preys on them.

A constituent first alerted me to the problem. Since then, the personal experience of my 89-year-old mother has revealed the problem in all its detail-and she is registered with the Mailing Preference Service. However, I am not making a personal plea. Only today, I spoke to a journalist who had the exactly the same experience with his old father before he died, and I have also read a three-year-old article from The Guardian, which believed in September 2006 that the Office of Fair Trading would introduce a solution.

The problem has two sides. The first is less serious and involves mail from charities, many of which have laudable aims. Mailshots are an accepted and possibly important way in which to raise to money, and many people are employed by charities to do mailshots. I am sure that that raises money for what one hopes are good causes. However, I suggest that all charities examine their consciences and the aims of their work and consider whether they should target old, confused and lonely people, tugging at their heartstrings to get money out of them. Let me give a few examples. I have a pile of letters from animal charities, including Animals in Crisis; the Dogs Trust; Compassion in World Farming; Spana, which is about animals in Spain; World Horse Welfare; Network for Animals; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I also have letters from human charities, including St. Christopher's Fellowship; VSO; St. Mungo's; Feed My People; Medical Mission International; Ethiopia Aid; Christian Blind Mission and-most perversely-Help the Aged. All those begging letters arrived in one month. Indeed, Help the Aged wrote to an 89-year-old woman, pointing out that she had cancelled her direct debit and asking if she would like to reinstate it. Such a charity could have applied a little common sense.

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I do not doubt the good intentions of many of those charities, if not all of them, but I question whether they should bombard elderly people in that manner. I suggest, first, that charities should have a box that over-75s might tick to indicate their age, and then a voluntary code, providing that they will not send further begging letters to over-75s. I also suggest that they employ common sense. If an elderly person is subjected to constant direct mail, the charities should be somewhat ashamed of themselves. The worst example is from IFAW. I have several letters that suggest that an elderly person has won £20,000. We all know that that is not true, but IFAW and its chief executive, Mr. Fred O'Regan, send elderly people letters, which say that all they need to do is register to be entered into a fantastic prize draw: "Red Hot Cash Payout-£35,000 of prizes to be won." It states that if people follow the rules, cash prize funds will be paid to winners. IFAW should be ashamed of itself.

However, the second element is much more pernicious, and there is nothing laudable in the motives of those responsible. Direct mail is being sent to elderly people-and, I suspect, others-pretending that the recipient has won money. All the recipient has to do is buy something useless and worthless or send money to receive a huge cash prize. I have here a large pile-too large to hold in one hand-of one month's largely unopened junk mail. Some letters come from something called "Our Life" in Greenford. There is another from the "Department of Information", again in Greenford, which states: "You have won £20,500". A letter from Biotonic, also in Greenford, states exactly the same thing, except that some Biotonic and Star Shopping letters say:

Interestingly, all those documents state that people cannot write to Greenford but have to send their money to Anderlecht in Belgium or somewhere else in the European Union. I can see that the post office in Greenford is extremely busy. Spookily, most of the entities have the same postcode.

There is also something called the "Skills Testing Unit", which tells elderly people that they have an official cheque for £34,000 waiting. Better yet is the
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prize of £9.492 million, which will be paid directly to the person who responds. All people have to do is register for the Australian lottery. I suggest that there is only a small difference in scale between that and the e-mails that we have all received, usually from Africa, telling us that if we help Mr. X get his £20 million out of some dodgy country, he will split it with us 50:50. Riches beyond the dreams of avarice apparently await us: we need only send the details of our bank accounts-many people each year do send them-and we will be set up for life. It sounds too good to be true; and, of course, it is too good to be true-it is fraudulent and criminal.

The question that I would like to ask about the sort of letters to which I have referred is this: why are those people not prosecuted for fraudulently trying to obtain money from vulnerable people? Surely the people who send such letters are behaving in a manner that should require, at the very least, questions to be asked by the Office of Fair Trading, the police, trading standards or others. What loopholes are those people exploiting? Why do the Government or another authority not close those loopholes and pursue such companies?

A ten-minute Bill, as everybody here knows, is just a way of raising an issue. I am not, in fact, proposing new laws or even new regulations. Instead, I am calling on the conscience of charities, and for them to work on a simple code of conduct, so that they do not exploit the elderly to help their causes, which may or may not be deserving. At the same time, the Government, the police and other authorities should give serious attention to preventing fraudsters and near-fraudsters from sending unsolicited mail to elderly people and taking their money on a dishonest premise. Such people are making the elderly, for whom we all share responsibility, the victims of blatant scams.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Andrew Robathan present the Bill.

Mr. Andrew Robathan accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 October and to be printed (Bill 135).

15 July 2009 : Column 317

Opposition Day

[16th Allotted Day]

US-UK Extradition Treaty

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Before calling the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) to move the motion, I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has decided to exercise his discretion and waive the House's sub judice rule, to enable passing reference to be made to the case of Mr. Gary McKinnon in relation to the principle of the motion. Members should not, however, discuss the details of the case.

On another matter, the House will be aware that Mr. Speaker is seeking to increase the opportunities for Back Benchers to contribute at Question Time, on statements and in debates. In the Opposition day last week, he was conscious that the Front Benchers absorbed a disproportionate share of the time available for the debate. He hopes that that will not happen again.

1.43 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I beg to move,

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