Previous Section Index Home Page

Royal ASsent

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Appropriation (No. 2) Act 2009

Finance Act 2009

Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009

Political Parties and Elections Act 2009

Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.

6.37 pm

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): Neville Chamberlain once talked about

That could apply to the subject that I want to raise today-the recent military coup in Honduras.

People probably do not know much about Honduras, but the journal Business Week tells us:

President Zelaya was elected to lead the country in 2005. A member of the Honduras Liberal party, he was a wealthy rancher and a man of the centre or centre right. Under pressure of events, however, he began to change his politics and he implemented several progressive measures during his time in office. He raised the minimum wage by 60 per cent.-something that new Labour might note. He also gave out free school lunches and provided milk for babies and pensions for the elderly. He cut the cost of public transport, made scholarships available for students and forged alliances with the progressive Governments in the continent of Latin America such as those of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

President Zelaya also sought to institutionalise many of his progressive developments with constitutional change. The non-binding poll of the public that he proposed for 28 June was aimed at gauging support for a proposed constituent assembly to redraft the constitution ahead of a ballot in November. This is the translation of the question:

That step was too much for the military, and as a result, on 28 June-the day the ballot was supposed to take place-the President was kidnapped, bundled on to a plane and flown out of the country, and the military junta and the leading oligarchs in the country came together to form what is effectively an illegal Government.

21 July 2009 : Column 802

The Honduran junta has rightly been almost totally isolated. It has been rejected by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Organisation of American States and the European Union, among others. It is rare that I pay tribute to Ministers, but I pay tribute to the newly installed Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has responsibility for Latin America. He responded very quickly and efficiently and made a statement to put on record Britain's opposition to the coup. It is also important that the EU yesterday suspended more than $90 million in aid to Honduras in the wake of the coup.

However, such opposition has so far been ineffectual in restoring Zelaya to government and stronger action is needed. Obviously, that stronger action should come from America, because at the end of the day, it calls the shots in what is historically its back yard. There were hopes of real change with the election of President Obama, but we can see that there are tensions within the American Government. Clinton, the Secretary of State, is possibly somewhat enamoured of the new regime and does not want to take the action that others in America would like. If the US is to break with the past and work with people rather than against them, as President Obama told the conference of Latin American leaders it wants to, the steps that he must take are clear. The Honduran Government-or rather, the supposed Government-must be replaced and a democratically elected President must be installed.

We hear lots about human rights in the media, but since the coup on 28 June that installed Roberto Micheletti, the regime has unleashed a wave of repression of human rights. Protesters and political activists have been killed, 1,300 people have been arrested, and there have been curfews, widespread media censorship and the violation of other civil liberties.

That is important, because although we have joked in the past about banana republics and Governments being changed on a monthly or daily basis, most of Latin America has emerged from that darkness and the people have begun to take charge of their destiny. We have seen that throughout the Latin American continent, including central America. The military junta represents an attempt to turn the clock back to those dark, dark days. If those dark days return, it will mean real hardship for the millions of people in central and Latin America.

I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will re-confirm that the UK is absolutely and implacably opposed to the Honduran military regime, and that the UK will do all it can to restore the democratically elected regime.

6.43 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): The Isle of Wight shares many problems with the mainland, and has a few of its own. My time as the island's MP is often taken up addressing those matters and explaining their importance to the House and to Ministers. With that in mind, I should like to extend my thanks to certain Ministers for their help this year with issues that have affected my constituents.

Three months ago the right hon. and learned Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), then a Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate change,
21 July 2009 : Column 803
contacted me with news that Vestas was planning to close its operation on the Isle of Wight. Later I wrote to the First Secretary of State, Lord Mandelson, to ask for his support and advice. Vestas is a hugely profitable Danish company and has operations across the world. Until recently, it operated England's only wind turbine manufacturing facility, in my constituency. It was one of only two in Britain-the other was a small Scottish Government-funded operation.

Following announcements that Vestas was to shut its Newport operation, several meetings were held. The Minister for the South East, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), visited my constituency when he was looking into the matter and ensured that help was given to people seeking new employment. I thank him for his time.

I attended a private meeting with a delegation from the Isle of Wight TUC and others from the island, including the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate, Mark Chiverton. A public meeting was held and it attracted a wide audience from across the island and several people from the mainland. Needless to say, Vestas employees and my constituents generally were dismayed at the company's decision. Vestas announced record profits on the same day that it broke the news that it was closing its facility with the loss of 600 jobs. Vestas is not cutting jobs because of the recession or because of a need to downsize; it has decided that it will be more profitable to manufacture wind turbines in the United States and China, without a thought for the highly skilled workers that it leaves behind.

When it originally came to the island nine years ago it received a £3.5 million Government subsidy, which contributed to the costs it incurred moving from the mainland. Less than a decade later it is leaving, despite that sizable taxpayer-funded financial support. That is why, when public money supports private companies, it is important for it to be directed to companies and businesses that are firmly rooted in the local economy.

Since writing to Lord Mandelson on the matter, I have received no reply. I find it disappointing that he could not find time to speak to me about this important issue, especially when I see him on television daily. However, I believe in giving credit where it is due. I thank the Ministers whom I mentioned for their efforts to convince Vestas to remain open on the island. I understand that all avenues were investigated-even subsidies were offered-but with no success. Subsidies, it seems, were not what Vestas was after.

Only last week Lord Mandelson was congratulating himself on the launch of the new low carbon industrial strategy. I hope that he considers Vestas to be a serious loss to the future of our low-carbon economy. Government plans state that around 7,000 wind turbines are to be installed across Britain in the coming years. It seems unfortunate that such green technology will have to be manufactured overseas and shipped here.

The loss of those 600 jobs has been a body blow to the island's economy, especially during the recession. Since Monday evening, protesters against the closure of Vestas have been occupying the site. I understand their frustration and I am sympathetic to their concerns. Not only is Vestas leaving the workers high and dry, it is doing so with very poor redundancy packages. Those who have worked at the site for two years or more are entitled to only twice the statutory pay. Those who have worked for less time will receive less still. As I understand
21 July 2009 : Column 804
it, there were no negotiations with workers on the redundancy packages. I find that totally unacceptable, and it reflects very poorly on a company as profitable as Vestas.

The South East England Development Agency has arranged a series of open days for Vestas staff to help them to find suitable jobs. They are a highly skilled and capable work force and I am confident that they will find work in the near future.

On another matter, I must ask why the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property has failed to produce a full response to a letter from a constituent of mine concerning the Student Loans Company dated 22 April. In late June, via a parliamentary question, I asked when the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills planned to provide a substantive reply to my constituent's letters. Here we are in late July, and I still await a proper response to my letter. I received a brief reply on 5 July but it was in no way satisfactory. The matter is particularly pressing for the constituents concerned, and they cannot afford to wait any longer. I hope for a full response from the Minister as quickly as possible. The delay is unacceptable.

Finally-although I had planned to speak for much longer-I can tell the House that we are getting on with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its Ministers, and we hope that we will be able to deal with the problem of fallen stock on the island fairly shortly.

I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all right hon. and hon. Members a happy and productive holiday-although in my opinion it is too long.

6.50 pm

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I shall touch on a topic mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). He said that he would not speak for seven minutes, and I promise the House that I shall not speak for as long as that.

I want to lay before the House the difficulties I have experienced in pursuing an alleged case of fraud against the NHS. In September 2007 allegations were made to me that a local doctor was passing off his private patients as NHS patients in one of our local hospitals-Arrowe Park, part of Wirral hospital trust. I wrote to the trust to ask for a meeting, which was held in November 2007, when I requested the information held by the trust about its investigation of the fraud. I suggested simple steps that the trust might take to find out whether the fraud was more widespread and involved other doctors. Both my request and my suggestion were refused.

In January 2008, under the Freedom of Information of Act 2000, I asked the trust for information about the inquiries that it said it had undertaken. After some delay, the trust refused to give the information. In July 2008 I applied to the Information Commissioner for a ruling that I should have access to the trust's surveys of that case of alleged fraud. Almost a year later-to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle-the commissioner turned down my request, so I wrote to the Information Tribunal disputing that decision. The tribunal replied that it would of course receive my application, and that of course there could be a hearing, but if I lost the case, all the costs of the inquiry and the tribunal costs would land on my doorstep.

21 July 2009 : Column 805

I do not expect the Minister to reply tonight, but I would be grateful if one of her colleagues could look into that matter. Is there not a difference between us as private citizens wanting information under the Freedom of Information Act, and Members of Parliament wanting to pursue-as I am in this instance-an alleged case of fraud in which a national health service doctor is passing off his private patients as NHS patients? In terms of the costs, I think there is a real distinction to be made.

I shall pursue the case, although I have no idea what the costs will be. However, I hope that before then the Government will take the decision that people in public positions, such as MPs, who take cases on behalf of the public good, to protect public funds, should be treated differently in terms of costs from the litigious constituents who are to some extent clogging up the freedom of information process.

6.54 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): I start by reflecting on the fact that in the county council elections this year, the Conservatives took control of Derbyshire county council for the first time in 28 years. I congratulate Andrew Lewer, the county councillor for Ashbourne, on becoming leader of the council. The last time we took control of Derbyshire county council was in 1977, which was followed by the famous election victory of my noble Friend the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher. I hope that what we have achieved in Derbyshire is the precursor of an event that may take place in the not too distant future-whenever the next general election is held.

A few moments ago, Madam Deputy Speaker, you read out the names of a number of Bills that had received Royal Assent and had become Acts of Parliament. I want to talk about a Bill that was taken through the House some years ago: the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.

I have received a letter from the headmaster of Queen Elizabeth's grammar school in Ashbourne-before people draw the conclusion that that is a grammar school, I point out that it is, in fact, an 11-to-18 comprehensive school. The headmaster is concerned about the implications of the Act for hosting foreign students. He wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, from which I shall quote:

Only one adult needs to be checked. The letter continues:

Surely the Government cannot have intended that to be the case. The Act, like so many others, has unintended consequences.

21 July 2009 : Column 806

Much can be gained from foreign exchanges for schools, and I am concerned that the regulations being applied to local authorities and schools will rule out such things. We have several times heard the Secretary of State say that he wants to encourage such exchanges, because he believes they are good for the development of individuals. I believe that too, but unless the Government take some action to change the regulations, they will lead to the ending of all those foreign exchanges. As with so much of the legislation we pass, good arguments were made about the measure, but when we see the reality of its coming into effect we wonder how we ever allowed it.

The Government have treated the victims of Equitable Life disgracefully. The simple fact is that the Government have had the report for some time. Last November, the Prime Minister told us that we would have a statement on Equitable Life before Christmas. The statement came after Christmas and, as ever with the Government, time after time there have been delays. A lot of people are suffering great hardship because the Government did not move faster to deal with the problems. People who have done the right thing and invested for their future have been let down by the failure of the regulator. The victims of Equitable Life deserved to be looked after more quickly than the Government have pursued the matter.

My constituency has a huge rural area and we are suffering badly from bovine TB. The Government should pay much more attention to the subject. They have hung on for far too long; as the disease has spread through cattle it has cost the state more than £600 million. In West Derbyshire we have a specific problem with bovine TB. We have waited for reports, but the Government now have a huge number of them, and they need to take action urgently.

Time is short, so I have raised just three issues that are very important in my constituency. There are many other such issues, but I know that other colleagues want to speak.

6.59 pm

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I wish to raise the case of the prisoner, Ronnie Biggs. A fortnight ago the Secretary of State for Justice made a decision on his case. His son, Michael Biggs, invited me to visit him in prison, HMP Norwich. I applied to the governor to visit. I wanted to see if this 80-year-old was a threat to society. His son said that his health was frail, so I wanted to see what sort of condition he was in, and how that related to the Secretary of State's decision. My application to visit was turned down by the governor, which I think is quite exceptional.

I wrote to Ministers and I received a reply from the Justice Secretary, who wrote that the governor, Mr. Paul Baker, thought that

I was surprised at that. I still think it was the wrong decision, but the Secretary of State went on to say:

Next Section Index Home Page