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I draw the House's attention to an article, which appeared in The Times on 6 July, about chief constables' salaries. Senior police officers apparently receive off-book payments and secret perks, which total hundreds of thousands of pounds. The House has come under great scrutiny, and I welcome the fact that all sorts of other publicly funded bodies are coming under scrutiny. Our local chief constable in Essex was paid slightly more than the Prime Minister. Yet again, we have a chief constable taking early retirement in Essex. We have had several senior officers; it is like a merry-go-round-one minute, one person is in place, the next, someone else is there. If police authorities are to be worth their salt,
there should be much greater scrutiny. The Independent Police Complaints Commission should also be given more teeth.
It is a shocking state of affairs when police constables come to MPs' surgeries, complaining about their treatment by the police authorities. That illustrates their powerlessness. Mrs. Katie Greatorex-she said I could name her-has suffered the most appalling harassment, including death threats. She has been arrested and bailed without evidence and she came to my surgery with a long-serving police officer. Her ex-husband is a serving police constable. A proper investigation has not taken place, despite forensic evidence, so I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will pass that on to the Home Secretary.
Seat belts were once debated at great length in the House, and many hon. Members were against their being compulsory-they were mistaken. The fine for non-compliance used to be £30. I have tabled several questions about that and I shall take credit for the fine's increase to £60. I also support the fitting of seat belt reminders on all new cars.
A disgraceful incident took place recently, whereby a community nurse parked her vehicle in a development at the end of Hamlet Court road because she was treating a terminally patient-incidentally, the patient died-and was charged £483 by LBS Enforcement Ltd for her car's release. I am currently achieving nothing with that.
I heard the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) about Southend airport. It is a difficult issue and I am glad that the owners of the new airport are meeting local community representatives. They must convince them that any increase in flights must mean quieter flights than at present and that the road changes will take place without disruption.
I was recently made chairman of the all-party group on the Maldives. The high commissioner said that no funding has been received from the Department for International Development and that she cannot get a meeting with the relevant Minister. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can pass on the message.
There has been controversy about slow answers to questions. I received an answer from a Treasury Minister, dated 1 July 2009, responding to a constituent's inquiry on 30 September 2008. An apology is not sufficient.
The House is in a state of drift, there is confusion about swine flu and we have heard about difficulties in Afghanistan. The sooner we have a general election, the better. Before then, I wish all my colleagues and all those who serve the House a very happy summer.
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I wish to speak about a despicable act of vandalism perpetrated on the homes and lives of thousands of my constituents. Some 3,500 families, the majority in Shepherd's Bush and some in Hammersmith and West Kensington, face demolition of their homes and uncertain futures.
Let me be clear from the outset: we are talking about good quality homes, built to a high standard, modernised at the cost of tens of millions of pounds in the past few years, thanks to the Decent Homes programmes, in
neighbourhoods in which people are proud to live. They are on the White City, Batman close and Wood Lane estates in Shepherd's Bush; on Ashcroft square and Queen Caroline estate in Hammersmith, and on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in west Kensington. The last two are outside my current constituency, though in my prospective constituency. I have had the honour of representing the area for 20 years on the council and they are all areas that I know well. The homes are designated "not decent" by Hammersmith and Fulham council, which has, in the most disparaging terms, condemned not only the buildings and the areas but the residents. It is the nastiest piece of social apartheid in this country for many years.
A year or so ago, rumours, which were hard to credit at the time, began to circulate that the relatively newly elected Tory council in Hammersmith and Fulham planned to pull down the seven estates. Freedom of information requests were dodged and answers to questions were evaded-there was nothing in writing at the time. Plans were held up because of the continued presence of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London, but when Boris Johnson was elected last year, the council moved swiftly ahead, first by dropping all plans for new affordable housing, by accelerating small-scale demolitions, by designated sales and by handing back hundreds of affordable homes to developers, saying that they were unwanted.
However, last month, as a consequence of a document called the local development framework core options strategy, the seven estates were named as requiring complete redevelopment and demolition, even though some will have Decent Homes work done, at a cost of millions of pounds, next year. The plans are to replace them with luxury housing and commercial developments such as conference centres. That has already been extensively reported in the Evening Standard and I am grateful to it for featuring the story as a double-page spread the week before last, to the Daily Mirror, which did an excellent editorial on the subject, and to The Guardian and other newspapers.
The leaseholders and freeholders will get a price, which will not enable them to buy equivalent accommodation in the area, and they will have to move considerably further out. The tenants have an uncertain future. At least a third fewer units of housing will replace existing affordable housing. The replacement affordable housing will be registered social landlord housing: typically, it will be half the size, more expensive to run, and the rents will be 50 per cent. more. For many tenants, the only option will be to move out of the borough-Barking, Dagenham and Thamesmead have been mentioned as destinations for them. Many are elderly people, who have lived on the estates since the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when they were built. The greatest irony is that those estates are already mixed communities. Half the flats on many estates are leasehold-they contain many professional people and many people in employment on average wages or above.
The side effects will be on the local waiting lists. For 20 years of the redevelopment strategy, nobody will move on any other estate or RSL property in the borough. In the meantime, as the estates are developed-it has happened elsewhere-there will be complete neglect. Flats will be boarded up, there will be temporary housing and infestations, and only health and safety repairs will
be done. All that was confirmed to me by not only the published document but by the assistant director, Lyn Garner, whom I saw for an hour and a half the week before last. She admitted to me for the first time face to face that all those things would happen.
I have given notice to the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) that I would refer to him. He represents four of the estates. He needs at some point to correct the record because earlier this month, he said that the plans
"'to demolish the estates and force everyone to move'"
"wholly untrue."-[ Official Report, 29 June 2009; Vol. 495, c. 42.]
However, that is not the end of the matter; it is the beginning. We are not talking about just an attack or gerrymandering that goes far beyond anything that Shirley Porter tried in her time. We are talking about something that was designed by the leader of Hammersmith council, who is the head of the Tories' local government innovation unit, as a blueprint for the rest of the country. How do we know that? We know it because he published a document earlier this year called "Principles for Social Housing Reform". We also know it because, at the council's expense, he held a round-table discussion with Tory Front Benchers, other senior Tory politicians and, shamefully, local government officers on 3 March that agreed to the most extraordinary blueprint for the future. Market rents for all housing; no security of tenure; no right to buy; no duty to house the homeless; no capital investment at all in social housing-is this really the future for housing under a Tory Government?
I believe that what happened was unlawful-the involvement of local government officers, the employment of Tory activists to carry out the work and the funding of Tory think-tanks by a local authority-and a complaint is being made to the district auditor. More importantly in the long run, however, we are talking about the destruction of communities for political advantage and in the interests of warped social engineering of a kind I had hoped I would never see a mainstream party in this country support. It is now up to the Tory Front Benchers to dissociate themselves entirely from what is being done in Hammersmith and Fulham. If it really is a right-wing fringe taking such action, let them say so; but if they wish to endorse such appalling attacks on the lives and livelihoods of my constituents, let them say that also.
The first concerns a children's hospice in my constituency called Naomi House. It does amazing work for children, as I am sure hon. Members know all hospices do, and not just in Hampshire but in a much wider area. Unfortunately, Naomi House was involved in the Icelandic bank affair and has consequently lost £6 million of its funds. As one can imagine, that has had a devastating impact on the organisation, particularly as it was just about to build a new wing-Jack's place-that had been designed specifically for teenagers.
My concern is that the Government have not been as supportive as they should have to a children's hospice. I totally understand their argument that it would have been impossible for them to help all the charities and organisations that have lost money in Icelandic banks. I also understand that the Government have, quite rightly, been supporting compensation schemes for charities that have lost money. Bluntly, however, Naomi House has not been allowed to apply to those compensation schemes because it is regarded as having far too much money-it has lost too much money and cannot make a claim under those schemes.
The Government have also said that they would not bail out charities. In one debate, the Minister concerned said, "Look, how do we decide which charities to support?" For example, a lot of people say that the Government should support the Cats Protection league, given the money that it has lost. In my judgment, a children's hospice should be regarded as being in a different category from a cat lovers' charity. The argument is compelling, and it is this. Charities that do the work of the Government should be seen in a different light. By many people's benchmark, hospices provide the kind of service that should be funded by Government money in the first place. In fact, Naomi House takes £300,000 of Government money, so the Government recognise that they should be supporting it.
I ask the Minister to take the issue back to the Department of Health and to think carefully about the consequences of not supporting the hospice. Taking £6 million out of that service will mean an enormous demand from sick children will have to be met in the NHS, because Naomi House may not be able to fulfil its responsibilities. Surely it makes sense to support a children's hospice in some way. After all, it was not Naomi House's fault that it lost money in the Icelandic bank concerned.
The second issue that I want briefly to raise is the problem of so-called bogus universities. I understand that there have been grave concerns about the number of false universities being set up and the difficulties that they have caused with individuals coming to this country. However, one of the consequences of the Government's new scheme to crack down on bogus universities has been the number of student visas that can be issued under the new tier 4 proposals. I declare an interest: I lecture at Wroxton college, which has a number of American students.
Students who come to this country are worth around £6 billion a year to the economy. We do education well in this country, and many people want to come over to participate in it. However, the consequence of the new changes to try to crack down on the number of bogus university places has been to hit that industry to such an extent that applications from individuals who want to study in our universities and colleges are falling dramatically. Students are having their applications for places turned down because of the new regime. Indeed, I tabled a parliamentary question about that and discovered that of the applications from students received so far this year from India, 49 per cent. have been rejected. We are not seriously saying that almost half the applications from students from India are connected with terrorism, are we? The figure for American students is 21.3 per cent. Just over one fifth of American students who want to come to this country have had their visas refused under the new scheme.
I understand the need to address bogus universities and tighten up the system. There have been problems, but those that we have created by putting in place the new scheme are having a very detrimental effect on an important industry in this country. The figures speak volumes. Under the new regime, we are in danger of turning away a lot of good students whom we would want to come here and study.
The final issue that I wish to raise concerns the new guidelines on helping individuals with mild or moderate depression. Depression affects many people in this country, and it is welcome that we have at last recognised that we need to tackle it. However, to date, doctors have had little power to refer individuals to counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, all of which are now recognised by the Government as useful tools.
As we face the economic downturn, there is strong evidence that more people will suffer from mental health problems and depression as a result of what is taking place in the economy. The problem is that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines have made a judgment about which kind of support should be available for mental health problems. Again, I declare an interest, in that I am on the board of a mental health provider, Mental Health Matters. My concern is that the Government have narrowly said that the only form of support that should be available under the guidelines is cognitive behavioural therapy. Superb and excellent as such treatment is-I declare an interest: I have seen a counsellor at times in my life and have received enormous support by undergoing that process-the professionals argue that making CBT alone available is not good enough.
Individual cases are very different, particularly those involving child abuse which need a much longer form of therapy. CBT teaches individuals how to deal with day-to-day pressure and how to cope with their depression, but it does not necessarily provide the kind of course and time needed to get to the underlying reasons. That needs to be done through professional psychotherapy, but at the moment the NICE guidelines do not allow that to be included. That is a great shame, so I would like to ask the Minister to report back to the Department of Health. If we are serious about tackling mental health issues, we need to allow the professionals the right form of support and not narrow it down to the one that is currently in the NICE guidelines.
The first concerns further and higher education and the Government's stated wish to have more university places and more young people going to college when they leave school or sixth-form college. I strongly support that, and would like this country to get somewhere up to the European level. I would also like to see much wider access to universities, so that children whose parents did not have the opportunity to go to university, and who perhaps did not do so well in school themselves, have the chance to go into higher education.
My local university is London Metropolitan university, which has a good record on widening access to higher education, a wide variety of courses and high levels of student participation. However, it has got into enormous
funding problems because of a disagreement about the method of counting student numbers. As a consequence, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has ordered the university to repay £39.5 million, which will obviously have a seriously devastating effect on its finances.
In addition, the HEFCE has also told the university that its annual funding will be cut, resulting in a loss of about 5,000 student places. As a result of all this, 550 jobs at the university are to go, through redundancy. The voluntary redundancy figures have not been met, so it is not clear what the university will do now. The situation is therefore grim. The university faces the possibility of the loss of more than 500 jobs, the closure of a number of courses and a reduction in student numbers in the long term. It cannot be the Government's intention that so many people should lose the opportunity of going to university or that so many experienced, effective teachers should lose their jobs.
I have raised this matter in an Adjournment debate, in parliamentary questions, in early-day motions and in correspondence with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and with the relevant Ministers of State. They have all referred me back to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. How very convenient! Well, I am sorry, but that is just not acceptable. This House decides the annual Budget. It also holds Ministers to account, and we expect Ministers to intervene in a situation such as this to prevent jobs from being lost and to protect courses and student numbers. I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House could assure me that she will quickly and firmly pass this matter on to the Secretary of State and ask him to look into the situation during the recess and intervene to protect those jobs, courses and student numbers. The future of higher education demands that that be done.
There are two other items that I wish to raise. As the House knows, I represent Islington, North. That includes Finsbury Park station, which is one of the busiest underground stations outside central London. It is a transfer point between Network Rail, the Victoria line and the Piccadilly line. It is a very old and crowded station, and, crucially, it has no disability access whatever. After many years of argument and campaigning, moneys were found by the previous Mayor, Ken Livingstone, for the complete refurbishment of the station, including step-free access throughout. That was welcomed, and we looked forward to the rebuilding of the station so that we could, at last, get ourselves into the 21st century and people who use wheelchairs, people with pushchairs and those who have difficulty in walking could actually get on and off the trains, rather than having to descend a lengthy spiral staircase from the mainline platforms to the underground, which was obviously unsatisfactory and dangerous.
Then the new Mayor came along, re-examined all the funding priorities of the previous Mayor and decided that the step-free access at the station would be postponed-until, I think, 2016. Network Rail, which is responsible for the mainline platforms and the mainline services running above the underground station, has decided that it will go ahead with its bit of step-free access, however. So we now have the ludicrous position in which a lift is being installed to connect the mainline platforms to the street, but not to the underground station underneath it, because that is someone else's responsibility. That is absurd beyond belief.
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