As usual, we have had local, regional and national issues, as well as touching on some international matters. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) started off by telling us of his struggle with the chief
executive of the Highways Agency. It is a matter of concern that the Highways Agency held no public meeting before it started work. Indeed, it was even more concerning that the chief executive was not happy to have a meeting with the hon. Gentleman at the site where the work is taking place. I suspect that that fight between the hon. Gentleman and the chief executive of the Highways Agency will continue, and I wish him well in that regard. The hon. Gentleman also raised an interesting point that was subsequently picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), when she commented on the power that quangos have. Ministers will sometimes keep quangos at arm's length, so that they do not have to get involved in difficult issues.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) raised a number of local issues, among which was the fact that there is concern at the withdrawal of funds for council housing in his area. That is an issue, Mr. Deputy Chairman, on which I suspect many of us in the Chamber can sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, because it is one that we have all felt acutely in our postbags, given the current economic crisis. I speak as a Member representing Cambridgeshire, where there has been a cut in funding for housing.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) made a timely and thoughtful speech, particularly given what is happening in Copenhagen at present. I was particularly interested in her visit to the small Pacific nations, which do not regularly have a powerful voice; in fact, often they simply do not have a voice on the international scene at all, let alone regularly. I am sure that the House will have taken on board what she said about the fact that no Pacific nation will be able to avoid the consequences. Even more startling, however, was the fact that climate change is already beginning to affect some of those nations, particularly Tuvalu, where, as she mentioned, salt water is contaminating fresh water and water is already being rationed. In the light of what she said, we can only hope that the conference in Copenhagen, which is now turning into a summit, will prove fruitful, for the benefit of mankind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who is a veteran of these recess Adjournment debates, will be sorely missed. Let me put it on record that she has been a powerful advocate for her constituents throughout her time as a Member of Parliament, and her successor will have to do a powerful job in trying to match her. I very much hope that one of the first things that her successor will do is to remember that they must come to all the recess Adjournment debates and give a plug to the local tourist industry, because that is something about which my hon. Friend has been diligent. My hon. Friend also covered a number of other subjects, including the need for reform in this place. As the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, I have taken them on board, as I am sure the Deputy Leader of the House has, too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), too, mentioned that he was stepping down, and we were sorry to hear that. He, too, has a proud record of service to his constituents-[Hon. Members: "Distinguished!"] I have been corrected. His record is not only proud but distinguished. Again, his successor will have quite a job to do in following him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington made a powerful contribution, in which he pointed out the fact that the world is arranging itself into groups and clusters, and said that that was all the more reason for Britain to be part of the European Union if it is to have a powerful voice on the international scene. I thank him for his contribution.
The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) gave a typically robust and spirited performance. He certainly spoke well in support of British manufacturing. He had a message for Lord Mandelson about the Royal Mail's refusal to try out the new hybrid trucks. Of course, Lord Mandelson is the de facto Deputy Prime Minister. He does not listen to a lot of people, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman's message will get through to him.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) made a speech based on education, and spoke of the disparity in educational attainment in different parts of the country, as well as describing the specific features in his own constituency. I have to say that I did not agree with all that he said, but I was reminded of the occasion when Mahatma Gandhi said-I shall paraphrase the quote-that if we educate a man, we educate an individual, but if we educate a woman, we educate a whole family.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) made a powerful speech about the adverse effects of 12 years of Labour rule that his constituents have had to put up with. His speech had considerable support on this side of the House-but given the response that many Labour Members will have received on the doorstep recently, I imagine that some of them were minded to agree with him as well, quietly if not publicly. I am pleased that he will be getting his new hospital, and that Network Rail is carrying out a feasibility study for the new railway station. Also, it is only right that the Government should start to think seriously about supporting the National Star college. A society is judged on how it treats its disabled people, and I very much hope that the Government will take that on board.
The hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) made a detailed speech on the present economic crisis. I disagreed with much of what he said, but I can certainly agree with his point that the banks are not lending money to businesses and individuals. His points about bank charges and about banks abusing their authority were echoed by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson).
The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) made a typical Lib Dem speech. It was full of political point scoring and light on substance. Perhaps a friend of his will take him to one side and point out that the woes of the country are due to a Labour Government, and have nothing to do with a Conservative Administration.
The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) always contributes to these Adjournment debates. He rightly spoke about the serious matter of Gary McKinnon, with which I know he has been involved. He also spoke as a determined advocate on the subject of diabetes, and pointed out that prevention is better
than cure. I have some sympathy for him, given that his constituency has a large Asian element to it. Asians are renowned for giving considerable quantities of sweetmeats to everyone who visits them, particularly Members of Parliament, and he must find it quite tempting to eat them instead of giving them away to his children.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) gave a powerful speech, raising a number of topics. He rightly raised concern about the cost of quangos and public sector salaries. I certainly wish him well in achieving some stability as far as chief constables in Essex are concerned. He also spoke passionately about Tony Blair's comments on the invasion of Iraq-a theme subsequently taken up by other Members. It is fair to say that we all await with considerable interest the outcome of the Chilcot inquiry. My hon. Friend is right to point out that at Christmas-time, people should not give unwanted pets to children-or indeed adults-who may subsequently be unable to take care of them.
The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) spoke as a former member of the Audit Commission and questioned the balance of a report that described Leicester. I am glad that he was able to put his views on that issue on the record.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) spoke with considerable feeling about the families of service personnel at Christmas. I am sure I speak for the whole House in saying that we certainly agree with his sentiments. He also praised the work of the Royal British Legion, spoke about the impact of defence spending decisions-or indecisions-and criticised the UK Border Agency for its handling of many immigration cases. As the number of immigrant cases being handled is uncertain, I am not surprised that there is so much uncertainty about how the Border Agency deals with those cases.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) gave a moving speech. He spoke of the need to remember those who are no longer with us. He rightly mentioned the bravery of Olaf Schmid and the courage of his widow. We also heard about the work of George Miller. My hon. Friend also mentioned his late father, Sam Lewis, this year being the first anniversary of his death, and we heard how he managed to wave to him when he was in the Strangers Gallery. In my maiden speech I not only managed to refer to my parents but to give them a wave-and got away with it. I was subsequently told that we can get away with most things in our maiden speeches, but thereafter we cannot.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), a constituency neighbour of mine, spoke about the proposed closure of Peterborough Land Registry and the possible loss of 302 jobs. I share his concern and agree wholeheartedly with his campaign to try to save those jobs-a campaign of which I am also part.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) gave a passionate speech on Iraq. A lot of questions were asked, and we certainly hope it will not be too long before answers are provided. He also covered local issues such as funding for the local police and the underfunding of local services.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) spoke at length on educational matters, and was quite keen to praise the Government for their achievement in that area. I am sorry to say that I do not agree with that
praise; in fact, it was noticeable that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), who spoke after her with no party perspective, did not agree with the Government's education policies either. While the hon. Lady spoke glowingly about the funds given to her local educational establishments, I have to tell her that it is a pity that some of that money could not come to the Great Gidding primary school in my constituency, which was promised £4 million for a new school, which was then stopped just weeks before work was due to commence. There is now no prospect whatever of that new school coming over the horizon.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire raised a number of issues, but I shall focus on a couple of the good ones. She rightly spoke about Equitable Life. The Government's handling of the ombudsman's report is shameful; they gain no credit for the way in which they have handled this whole affair. The hon. Lady also spoke about the reform of Parliament and a debate that took place in Westminster Hall only yesterday-a debate noteworthy for the fact that the Government completely failed to say where they stand on the Wright report.
Thanks are due to the last three speakers for the brevity of their comments, and my own comments about them will also be brief. The hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) raised some strong issues concerning the BBC, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) spoke of the need to review the furnished holiday letting rules, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) was able to record his views on the proposal to reduce the number of days on which private Members' Bills can be debated.
Finally, let me take this opportunity to wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker-along with all Members, all Members' staff, and indeed all staff of the House-a very happy Christmas and happy new year, and to send a particular Christmas greeting to all our armed forces serving abroad.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): I, too, thank all Members for their contributions. We have heard from 23 Members on subjects ranging from the demise of neo-liberalism to the apparently terrible years in the Cotswolds. We have heard about climate change and decent council homes, about allotments and aircraft carriers, about speech and language therapists, and about inspirational head teachers. The Essex Members have fought over Olly from "The X Factor", and we have heard that we should go to Devon but probably not to the Cotswolds. We have also heard Members' views on Sri Lanka, the Yemen, and the role of Europe in the world. I think that that is about as wide-ranging as we were able to become, but in addition we almost heard the flower duet from "Lakmé"-as well as something about Rod Stewart which I shall gloss over very quickly-and a version of "While Shepherds Watched" sung to the tune of "On Ilkley Moor Baht 'at". We have been very seasonal.
First and most importantly, let me join all the Members who have paid tribute to our armed forces: those serving in Afghanistan, those who have fallen and their families, and those who have been injured. Let me mention in particular Simon Annis from Salford, of 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who died earlier this year trying to save an injured colleague. Let me also express support for the fire, police and health service staff and the coastguards who will help us to get through the Christmas season.
Let me touch briefly on events that have taken place in the House since the last pre-recess debate. The Chamber was opened to the UK Youth Parliament on 30 October. There were five debates, and I am sure that Members in all parties will agree that the young people conducted themselves very well. I hope that that may become a more regular event in the House.
Members touched on the fact that, following the crisis that engulfed the House in connection with the way in which in which some Members had used their allowances, we had passed the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which was given Royal Assent on the day of the last pre-recess Adjournment debate. We have now established the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which has a chief executive, a chair and other board members. It is preparing to make changes which I trust will restore the credibility and standing of the House in the face of what has been a critical period for this place. The need for that was raised by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson).
Very late the other evening, we established the London Regional Committee. Let me take this opportunity to wish its members well in their work. There have been other achievements, but I shall pass over those.
Some Members used their speeches to engage in what the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), described as political point-scoring-he was right: we heard quite a lot of that today-rather than raising issues that required a response from me. Others raised entirely local issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) mentioned 13, which I think must be a record for him. I am afraid that I lost count of the number raised by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), but he did his usual sterling job.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is not in the Chamber now. However, I have already told him how much I sympathise with his difficulties with the Highways Agency. I consider it intolerable that his constituents were not informed of the work before it started, particularly the removal of tree screens. I shall work hard to try to help my hon. Friend. I understand that he has a contact for meetings, that the chief executive of the Highways Agency is now willing to meet him, and that the Secretary of State for Transport will write to him shortly.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) raised a number of issues. He will understand that I cannot comment on the outcome of Ofsted inspections because that is a matter for an independent inspectorate, but I will ensure that the chief inspector writes to him. He also mentioned credit unions. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced the creation of a social investment wholesale bank and further support for credit unions, but I will write to him about the issues in his constituency.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman met the Homes and Communities Agency and the relevant Minister last week, to discuss his concerns about funding for decent homes. This is a difficult issue. Other Members have talked about the need for new council housing, and to meet that need there are to be 22,500 new council homes. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of the Government's work in Sri Lanka. Several other Members talked about that subject. There is still concern in the Chamber about this matter, and I shall get a response to the specific issues raised.
In this week of the climate change conference, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) made an important contribution-as she always does when she speaks in the House. She knows that this is a critical period for securing a deal at Copenhagen, and the Prime Minister is working on achieving that today. She will also know that the Prime Minister proposed a Copenhagen launch fund of $10 billion to assist developing countries-such as those she mentioned- to deal with climate change, with a €2.4 billion contribution from the European Union.
My hon. Friend also referred to the boiler scrappage scheme, which did not get a fair press when it was announced in the pre-Budget report, and national grid tariffs for people in fuel poverty, and I shall pass her comments on to the relevant Ministers. She made a very strong case on that.
On the contribution of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), I have already said that we should all go to Devon over Christmas, and I am sure that I would if I could. The hon. Lady has had a distinguished 18-year career. Recently, since I have been a Member, she has been vice-chair of the all-party group on carers, of which I was also vice-chair. It does vital work.
The hon. Lady discussed the reform of the House, and I am pleased to hear of her change of heart on the use of Westminster Hall. She also talked about the number of quangos and the importance of supporting disabled people going back to work. She might know that there is an independent review of the work capability assessment, which is due to report in 2010. Clearly, her own meetings at local level will be of help, but she may want to contribute to the review as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley touched on so many issues that I will not be able to discuss all of them. Among them were sheltered housing, British manufacturing and new technologies, support for service families-we have rightly heard about that time and again in this debate-local farming and child care vouchers. He also mentioned the awful attack on Jessica Knight, and I will pass on the compensation issue he raised.
On the electrification of the north-west railway line, my hon. Friend is right to say that both his and my constituents will benefit from that greener and more comfortable and reliable mode of travel. My hon. Friend also mentioned a local shop. I shop at the Unicorn co-operative, which is in Chorlton, not Chorley, but, like Booths, it has good policies on local buying and not selling products brought in by aeroplanes from far distant places.