Previous Section Index Home Page

Within weeks the county council broke that solemn pledge-given to the Government and given on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State gave a genuine observation and statement, but the pledge was wilfully broken by the county council within weeks, so I hope that the Government will insist that it sticks to its original promise. The Secretary of State did not deliberately mislead the House; rather, he and his officials were misled by Essex county council. I urge him to prevail upon the county council to fulfil the promise that it gave last year and to drop the closure proposals for Alderman Blaxill and Thomas Lord Audley schools.

There is clearly a problem of democratic accountability, with the passing of Government control to quangos, such as the Office of the Schools Adjudicator and Partnerships for Schools, the latter being responsible for Building Schools for the Future. Local residents and even Colchester borough council cannot get the schools adjudicator or Partnerships for Schools to look at what is clearly a miscarriage of the truth by Essex county council, so the Secretary of State and his officials must surely exercise powers of intervention. We are talking about politically motivated discrimination by the Tory-run county council, and that will be to the detriment of future children of secondary school age throughout my constituency. It will be a costly blunder, leaving others in a few years' time to pick up the consequences of the Chelmsford-based, Tory county hall vendetta against Colchester.

I do not object to investment in schools in my constituency. I am, however, opposed to wasteful expenditure. Essex county council says that £130 million will be invested from Building Schools for the Future.
16 Dec 2009 : Column 1017
During the consultation, however, the council quoted a figure of £100 million, and as recently as August this year official council minutes referred to £150 million. The county council has failed to give a breakdown of how it arrived at any of those figures, and Partnerships for Schools has not been given a breakdown, either. Can anyone really trust anything that Essex county council says? The people of Colchester do not. There is no guarantee that what the county council has promised the head teachers will actually materialise.

The Government have spoken about super-heads, but that is meaningless unless they take action. In Colchester, we have just such a person-the inspirational Mr. Jonathan Tippett, who has transformed Stanway school into one of the best in Essex and removed Thomas Lord Audley and Alderman Blaxill schools from special measures. Last summer he led Thomas Lord Audley to its best exam results in its history, with September's year 7 intake being the largest it has seen in several years, making nonsense of the county council's claims that it is a failing school with falling numbers. One man is running those three schools in such an inspirational way that the county council should let him get on with it, and the Government should insist that he be allowed to continue this overwhelming success story at minimal cost to the public purse.

In May last year, the Secretary of State informed the House that the three schools under Mr. Tippett's executive headship should go forward as a trust or a federation. Let us have happen what the Government were led to believe by Essex county council would happen as recently as last year. That would be the most cost-effective resolution to secondary school provision in Colchester. It would allow the communities of Shrub End and Monkwick to retain their local secondary schools while allowing a much better value-for-money injection of funds into secondary school education across Colchester, notably a new building for Sir Charles Lucas arts college at Greenstead, in preference to the county council's wasteful and otherwise unwanted proposals.

3.36 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), especially as he serves on the Home Affairs Committee. He is always able to bring important issues of concern to do with Essex, especially Colchester, here to the Chamber. I think the House would wish to congratulate him on being the runner-up in "The X Factor" competition-not he himself, of course, although he could be a rival to SuBo if he tried very hard, but one of his constituents, Olly, who was pipped at the post by this year's winner.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I believe that Olly came from my constituency, Braintree, rather than that of the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell).

Keith Vaz: I am so glad that the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber just to tell me that; I am sure we are grateful for the clarification. However, Olly is an Essex boy, is he not, so he and the hon. Member for Colchester can both claim a bit of him.

16 Dec 2009 : Column 1018

Recess Adjournment debates, either in the summer or at Christmas, used to be occasions where Members encouraged other Members to come to their constituencies. That has always been a feature of the speeches by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning). We were given such invitations, in a way, by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon). However, they then related tales of woe, one about the collapse of capitalism and the other about the vicious 12 years that the poor people of Cotswold have experienced. I do not think I can go to the Cotswolds this Christmas after that sad speech by the hon. Gentleman-I will simply stay in Leicester with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby).

These debates have always been an opportunity for Members to say that the House should not adjourn until it has been able to consider certain matters. We never have a vote at the end of the debate-partly, I am sure, because whichever Minister sums up is able to satisfy us that all our concerns have been met, so there is no need to prevent the Adjournment of the House. I live in hope that one day someone will oppose the Adjournment of the House just to see what would happen-that has not happened in my 23 years here. I hope that it does not happen tonight, however, because I am sure that we all have important constituency engagements to get to.

I wish briefly to raise four issues, the first of which concerns the case of Gary McKinnon. It is very important that we have some clarity from the Government as to precisely what they are doing in relation to that case. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton has been one of the champions of Gary McKinnon in his fight to be able to satisfy the legal authorities in this country rather than in the United States of America. She has campaigned strongly to enable his case to be dealt with here, as has his own Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes).

Of course, the Home Secretary has said that he has considered the evidence that Gary McKinnon's lawyers put before him, but that he is of the view that the extradition can proceed and that Mr. McKinnon should be able to be tried in the United States of America. Only yesterday, Mr. McKinnon's brave and honourable mother Janis Sharp led a protest outside the Home Office, which Members of all parties attended. She was urging the Home Secretary to think again about the matter. In this closing debate before the recess, I urge him to look again at the case and to do what he did a few weeks ago, which was to stop the clock on the extradition.

I know that the Home Secretary has said on a number of occasions, as he repeated to the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, that he feels that he does not have the power to intervene and that it is up to Mr. McKinnon's solicitors to make an application for judicial review. However, I wonder whether he will consider instructing different lawyers from those on whose advice he has reached his conclusions. A number of people, including Mrs. Sharp and the Select Committee, have seen legal advice from solicitors and leading counsel other than those on whom the Home Office relies suggesting that the Home Secretary does have the discretion to intervene in this case if he chooses to do so.

16 Dec 2009 : Column 1019

Surely a fundamental principle of how we are governed is that at the end of the day, Ministers have the power to intervene. There must be an inherent power that rests with the Crown and is exercised by Ministers, which ought to allow them to intervene in cases when they feel it is in the public interest for them to do so. I am sure that that applies not just to the Home Secretary but to other Ministers. When I was a Minister at the Foreign Office responsible for entry clearance, I was given largely the same advice as the Home Secretary on the matter of Ministers intervening in entry clearance cases. Because I was not satisfied with the advice that I received, I sought other legal advice. Lo and behold, the advice that I received was that of course it was possible to intervene in such cases.

I say to the Deputy Leader of the House that it is important that we pause and think about this case, which has a lot to do with the pride of the American Government. I understand that, and I recently met the American ambassador, Mr. Susman, who was recently appointed by President Obama. He was very courteous and respectful about the powers of this House and the remit of Select Committees, and I said to him that in our view, whether our Ministers could intervene was a fundamental principle. Interestingly, although the American Secretary of State has not intervened in the case of Amanda Knox-I take no view on that case, except that she has been convicted in a criminal court in Italy, and if we accept the rulings of EU courts she is guilty of her criminal offence-even the American Government are prepared to make supportive statements about their citizens. I hope that our Government, and the Home Secretary in particular, will be prepared to intervene in Mr. McKinnon's case, and I hope that he will think again about his decision.

The second issue that I wish to mention is the crisis affecting the health services in respect of diabetes. We are facing a pandemic of diabetes in this country. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have declared on a number of occasions the fact that I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Late diagnosis is a problem. I am now in my early 50s, and if that diagnosis had taken place earlier I could well have avoided becoming a diabetic. There are currently 7 million people in this country who have pre-diabetes. In other words, they have a disposition to diabetes, but have not been tested and therefore have not been warned, and they have the possibility of developing diabetes in later years.

There are many causes of type 2 diabetes. Stress is one, so any Member of the House probably has an immediate predisposition to diabetes. Obesity is another, although I do not cast any aspersions on any Member. However, type 2 diabetes is also related to the intake of sugar.

It is important that the health service understands the problem. The fact that we spend £1 million an hour on diabetes-£980 million a year on treatment for the condition-and that one in 10 people in our hospitals suffers from some form of diabetes should alert Ministers to the problem.

At the moment, 2.3 million have diabetes, and it is possible that some of our children, even those as young as two or three, according to university of California research, also have a predisposition to the condition because they have access to fructose, which is a sweetener sometimes used in children's products. If the predisposition is not checked, it will lead in later life to diabetes.

16 Dec 2009 : Column 1020

I know that you are a grandfather, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so you know a number of young children. The children of the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, attended the Christmas party only last week. I hope that he noticed that there was no food for those like me at the party-this is my reason anyway-because the food offered was very sweet. That would not have helped the children who were trying to fight a predisposition to diabetes. We have to be on the alert. Ministers should understand that spending money on preventive work now will mean that we save not only a lot of money in the long run, but many lives.

Thirdly, on policing costs, the hon. Member for Colchester will know, because he attended the Home Affairs Committee sitting yesterday, where he was able to cross-examine, with his usual forensic skill, the Home Secretary and the head of the National Policing Improvement Agency, that the Home Office has spent £400 million in the past four years on consultants-people who advise the permanent secretary how to run his Department better and how to get better value for money. The chief constable of the NPIA, Peter Neyroud, told us that last year, which was the year before his appointment, the NPIA, which exists to provide police forces with advice on how they can improve efficiencies, spent £71 million on consultants. He did not believe that that provided value for money for the NPIA.

The problem for those in positions of responsibility-the decision makers as far as the public purse is concerned-is whether to spend money on more consultants. The Home Office and the NPIA have spent nearly half a billion on consultants, and goodness knows what individual police forces spend on them. If we look at the amount of savings that must be achieved by every police authority in the country and at the constant desire of Members on both sides of the House for visible policing, we see where the problem lies. Our police budgets will face severe challenges next year. If we are looking to cut the overall budget for local police forces, which I am against-the Government say that they are not doing that, but a number of police authorities claim that they are-it is important to look at things such as the amount of money spent on consultancies and consultants and to try to reduce it.

My final point concerns Yemen, the country of my birth. I declare an interest-I recently visited the country, partly as a guest of the Yemeni Government, as I have done over the past few years as chairman of the all-party group on Yemen. I was born there and left with my sisters and mother when I was nine years of age. As I have gone back, I have seen a country that has developed in certain areas. However, at the moment, Yemen faces a crisis, and the problem is that al-Qaeda has decided that it wishes to occupy parts of the country and to act against the Government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The result is instability.

The American Government and our Government have sought to try to ensure that the Yemeni Government are supported. The US Government have sent people to train Yemeni troops, and our Government have done much to increase the amount of aid that the Yemeni Government get, but every day we read about problems in that country. It is the second biggest country in the Gulf, but it is often forgotten, because it is very poor. Everybody concentrates on Dubai, which is having its
16 Dec 2009 : Column 1021
great bubble-some say that it has burst, and others say that it has not-and it is a great holiday destination for British citizens, but it is important that we provide whatever support the President and Government of Yemen need to maintain the stability of that vital country.

For example, we have been trying for 20 years to get the Queen Elizabeth hospital-I was born there-rebuilt. We have gone to the EU to try to obtain resources to fund the hospital. South Yemen was part of the British Empire, eventually obtaining independence, and there is therefore a post-colonial tie between the UK and Yemen. We have a responsibility to help with projects that would be of benefit to the people of Yemen and we must reassert our support for that important country. I know that the recess is upon us and it will be difficult for Ministers to ring up the Foreign Office and get briefings on the issue, but I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will say something positive about our support for that important country. If anything happened to Yemen, it would seriously affect the stability of the whole Gulf region, and therefore of the world.

Finally, I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, everyone in the House and all the wonderful people who serve us in this magnificent Palace a happy Christmas and new year.

3.51 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): In a similar vein to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), I wish to raise several issues. This is the last Christmas Adjournment debate before we face a general election, and this has been a dreadful year. Labour has succeeded in destroying the country and it has destroyed this place. The place in which we work has been greatly diminished. We are seen as an irrelevance and no longer as an attractive ornament. What has happened in the past year is an absolute travesty.

Underlining everything, we have the terrible state of the British economy. We owe £178 billion and the Government are trying to kid us all that they have done a splendid job in running the finances and the problems are just part of the world phenomenon. Every Wednesday the Prime Minister used to come to the Dispatch Box and tell us that he had abolished boom and bust. Well, my constituents are puzzled about where the boom has been, and they are convinced that this country is bust. I lay the blame entirely at the feet of this Government.

As chairman of the all-party group for small shops, I spent the summer visiting every small shop in my constituency. My goodness, times are tough for them. The slogan "If you don't use 'em, we'll lose 'em" is true. They are having a very tough time in competition with the larger supermarkets, as several of my hon. Friends have mentioned. I hope that colleagues on both sides of the House will rally round at a reception early next year to support small businesses. I am very worried about the state of our finances, and we will not come out of recession until next year.

A related issue is the pay of public servants. The allowances and payment of parliamentarians have come under great scrutiny this year for several reasons. Many suggestions have been made about how we could save money. However, it is not clear how the pay of other
16 Dec 2009 : Column 1022
public servants, especially at senior levels, will be judged and scrutinised under the freedom of information legislation. Some of them seem to be completely impervious to such scrutiny.

The electorate employ us as Members of Parliament and they renew, or end, our contract at a general election. However, it has not yet been determined how other senior public servants and leaders of these umpteen quangos can be removed from office if the general public are dissatisfied with their performance. As long ago as 2000, I raised the issue of public appointments in South Essex health authority in a Westminster Hall debate. It was all about the merger of two trusts and how people with mental health problems would be regarded in the future. I mentioned the potential appointment of a chief executive, and I remember clearly how the then Labour Minister dealt with the issue. Basically, I was told that Southend and Thurrock would be merged, but it turned out to be a takeover by the Thurrock trust. The person to whom I referred in that debate was appointed as chief executive, and recently, under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been found that nine years on that gentleman is paid more than £200,000 and received a bonus of £17,500. This is absolute madness!

We hear constant reports in the press about Members' allowances, and quite rightly there will be changes to the proposed system, and of course there is the furore surrounding bonuses for bankers working for the financial institutions bailed out by the British taxpayer. Yet where is the scrutiny of public sector pay of senior people in, for instance, the health service and police? The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) alluded to that point. The payment of public sector executives is completely cut off from the harsh realities of the UK economic situation. The average family is struggling at the moment. The Government should pay more attention to that situation.

Over the past three years, Essex has had three chief constables. The first chief constable's contract was not renewed, the second took early retirement and a third was appointed this year. The third was apparently one of three candidates, but the other two dropped out of the competition. In other words, there was a choice of one, and he was appointed. I and, presumably, my Essex colleagues were never told of the appointment until 26 October, when I received a letter from the new chief constable's personal assistant stating:

There was no embarrassment at all. My goodness! When this place had some standing, on the appointment of a new chief constable, Members would, out of common courtesy, be sent a letter from that person informing them of the appointment. We have become such an irrelevance that we do not get any letters from chief constables-we are not even told that a new one has been appointed-and when we complain to Ministers, they simply say that they have no responsibility in the matter. It is disgraceful!

Next Section Index Home Page