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Further to my earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker-thank you for the decision that you made then-may I ask for your help regarding the fact that,
last week, the Leader of the House, who is almost in her place, made entirely unwarranted and unfounded allegations about the noble Lord Ashcroft, who has entirely met all the promises-
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. I have been extremely fair in taking a lot of points of order and in trying genuinely to respond in detail to them. It is not right to abuse the procedure of making points of order to develop, extend or start debates. We have important matters to consider. May I just say that I have appreciated a lot of good humour, and I have also noted some bad temper, but that we really ought to have some regard in this House to the way in which we are perceived by the voters whose support we shall shortly be seeking and who pay our salaries? They do not want this House to behave in a disrespectful or abusive way, or to waste time.
Michael Fabricant: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you could explain something. If an hon. or right hon. Gentleman inadvertently misleads the House in the Chamber and subsequently admits outside the Chamber that he has inadvertently misled the House, how can that be put on the record? If something is not published in Hansard in detail, explaining what has been said and what was subsequently admitted to be wrong, surely it will be giving a misleading and wrong impression to the public whom we wish to serve.
Mr. Speaker: The difficulty with the hon. Gentleman's point of order is that he is expressing himself in hypothetical terms. [ Interruption. ] Order. It is not reasonable therefore for him to expect me to reply. [ Interruption. ] I have seen a letter on this matter, but I am not sure that it quite warrants the description that he has just offered. [ Interruption. ] Order. He should calm himself. What I would say to him is that if he is genuinely interested in exploring this matter further, it is open to him-and perhaps I encourage him-to write to me about it. I will study his letter with care and if anything disorderly has taken place, he will learn about that.
I was genuinely sorry to see the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness in a state of some angst and obviously feeling that he had a justified grievance. I do not think that he did have, but I am going to be fair to him. If he wants to have one more go, he can, but he had better not take any liberties.
I am extremely grateful, Mr. Speaker. That is most kind. You rightly ruled that Members of the other House should not be maligned in this place without a substantive motion coming before the House. When that happens, however, and it seemed to me that it happened last week to the noble Lord Ashcroft at the
hands of the Leader of the House, of all people, is there anything that can be done to rectify it? Perhaps I am being unfair, but it feels as though a Back Bencher such as myself would be fallen upon very quickly and very hard, but that the Leader of the House was able repeatedly to malign the noble Lord Ashcroft in, to my mind, an entirely unfounded and unwarranted way.
Mr. Speaker: Members of this House should use their privileges in a responsible way. What I said about the substantive motion stands. The hon. Gentleman will be the first to accept that I cannot rewrite or excise the record, and it would be totally wrong and improper for me to do so. I can only reiterate that people should behave in a proper way. If I intervened to stop someone from saying something, it was because I judged that the line had been crossed, but it is not always a straightforward, yes or no, black or white matter. Many things were said of which the hon. Gentleman might have disapproved but which were not disorderly. I hope that he will regard me as a fair-minded referee who is doing his best to protect the rights of Members of the House. I think that is enough said.
Ms Harman: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that it is in no way out of order for matters to be discussed in this House that are the subject of big controversy outside the House? Is it not the case that you have sought to make what we debate in the House more topical and better matched to issues of public concern? Is it not also the case that there is no way that this House, or any hon. Member in it, should be prevented from putting a question of fact to the House and talking about facts? Will you confirm that the facts that I put forward-that an assurance was given that tens of millions of pounds would be paid by Lord Ashcroft, and that it then came out that tens of millions of pounds was not paid-were matters of fact?
Mr. Speaker: Order. What I would say to the Leader of the House is that Members from the most senior in the Government to the most recently arrived Back Bencher are perfectly free to air their views and concerns about public issues, subject to two important caveats. First, they must do so within the rules of the House. Secondly, and relatedly, they must do so when the issue in question is a matter of Government responsibility. I said what I said last week, and I am not going to be drawn or inveigled by any Member into criticising a Member who spoke last week. I have not done that and I am not going to do that. I sense that some Members are trying to get me to take sides against particular answers that have been given, but I am not going to do that. I will judge matters on a case-by-case basis. I have no objection either to what the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness has said, or to what the Leader of the House has just said.
I think that there will be a general sense in the House, and certainly beyond, that we really ought to move on to other matters, and specifically to a very important matter-as is being chuntered from a sedentary position by the person whose interest it is. Mr. William Cash will present his Bill.
Mr. William Cash, supported by Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mr. Nigel Evans, Mr. Andrew Turner, Mr. Charles Walker, Sir Nicholas Winterton, Ann Winterton, Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. Brian Binley, Philip Davies and Mark Pritchard, presented a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act 1983 to extend the concept of undue influence; and for connected purposes.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the extension of Christmas Day restrictions on the opening of retail premises to Remembrance Sunday; and for connected purposes.
After what I can describe only as a very fractious hour, I hope that the modest proposal that I shall make to the House will unite us. Every week, in Prime Minister's questions, we all listen with sadness to the list of names that the Prime Minister reads out of those who have given their lives for their country in Afghanistan. What has happened in the past few years has given added significance to the annual commemoration of those who have laid down their lives for their country over the past century.
Remembrance Sunday looms large in the calendar and has real meaning for people throughout the United Kingdom, and it seems to me right that the House should recognise that. That there is a public feeling of wanting to recognise it is made manifest every time that sad procession drives through Wootton Bassett and people come and respectfully stand. I am bound to say, in parenthesis, that that is rather exploited by the media, but that is another story. That there is true feeling, true sadness and a wish to show how much we appreciate those who have made the supreme sacrifice is all too evident.
What I am seeking to do with this Bill is to put Remembrance Sunday on the same footing as Easter Sunday and Christmas day. Christmas day was given exemption in the Sunday Trading Act 1994, and a special status in the Bill introduced in 2004 by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). On whatever day of the week it falls, the large shops are closed.
I believe that this a very modest but very sensible proposal. It is extremely difficult for members of the British Legion in some towns and cities to organise their remembrance parades because of the clutter, hustle and bustle of the high street on Sunday. Many people who would wish to pay their respects by standing silently at the local cenotaph are local shop workers. This Bill has the very strong support of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, and I am delighted to be able to introduce it.
The Bill would not affect farm shops, pharmacies, petrol filling stations, shops at airports or railway stations, or shops at exhibitions that are specially staged on a Sunday. Rather, it would mean that large shops-those of 280 square meters, or 3,000 square feet, and above-would not be able to open on Remembrance Sunday. It would also mean that the loading restrictions in force for Easter day and Christmas day would apply.
When we first debated Sunday trading, I was one of those who strongly opposed the removal of all restrictions. I said in a speech then that, if we abolished all the restrictions, we would end up with a high street Sunday that was a replica of Saturday. Whatever view colleagues take of Sunday trading, no one can deny that that is what has happened. In all our major towns and cities,
the hustle and bustle and activity on a Sunday mirror that of the day before, the Saturday. Surely it is not too much to ask that only a second Sunday of the year-and, on those rare occasions when Christmas day falls on a Sunday, a third-should be set aside.
Christmas day is a great day of family celebration. Easter day is too and, like Christmas, it is also a great religious festival. However, there are very few families in the land who have not been touched in one way or another by the conflicts of the last century.
My mother died in 2000, at the age of 90. When I went through her papers, I was amazed to discover that she had lost no fewer than seven cousins in the great war. All of us have similar stories in our families. Today, young men and women are serving on the front line in Afghanistan, and a number of them will never come back.
Those of us who have been privileged to welcome our returning troops as they marched into New Palace Yard-with your permission, Mr. Speaker-have been deeply moved by the spirit, dedication, determination, bravery and quiet courage of those young people. We have also been moved by their eagerness to get back.
We have just gone though the war in Iraq, and we are still at war in Afghanistan. I really feel that we should set aside Remembrance Sunday, so that the remembrance ceremonies can be conducted with proper and due decorum, and so that the ringing of the cash till does not drown out the observance of the silence.
I hope that the Government will accept this Bill, and that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches and in the other parties will support it. I have based it on the one introduced by the hon. Member for North Durham a few years ago, and if the House gives me leave I will publish it later today. I shall name a day for Second reading that will make it possible for the Bill to be enacted in time for Remembrance Sunday this year.
We are preparing to enter an election in which we will debate with each other- perfectly honourably and honestly-on a range of issues about which we disagree. However, I believe that it is right and proper for us to come together over this measure, which I think will have widespread support throughout the country.
That Sir Patrick Cormack, Dr. Vincent Cable, Mr. Christopher Chope, Rosie Cooper, Mr. Nigel Dodds, Christopher Fraser, Kate Hoey, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Dr. Richard Taylor, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Sir Nicholas Winterton and Dr. Tony Wright present the Bill.
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2010, for expenditure by the Department of Health-
(1) further resources, not exceeding £969,893,000, be authorised for use as set out in HC 257,
(2) a further sum, not exceeding £606,272,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to meet the costs as so set out, and
(3) limits as so set out be set on appropriations in aid.-( Helen Jones.)
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): May I begin, Mr. Speaker, by saying how much I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate? You will be aware that we published a report on alcohol in January. We are about to get a response from the Government, although sadly not in time for this debate.
Most hon. Members will know that the problem of alcohol goes way beyond the Department of Health and into many other areas of Government. We expect the Government's response later this month but, given the election that is well on its way, it would have been wrong not to take this opportunity to debate the issue as it affects this country, in the light of the Health Committee's report.
I do not want to go into too much detail today, but anyone who has read the report will know how wide the Committee went with the evidence that it took and the recommendations that it made. I have been concerned for many years that the House has looked at alcohol from the point of view of antisocial behaviour. That is quite right, as that aspect is very important: communities and neighbourhoods are being disturbed by people who are binge drinking and having too much to drink, and that has a major knock-on effect, in families, communities and town centres.
It was right and proper for the Government to take action to prevent that, but I and other members of the Committee have been worried about the consequences of excessive alcohol over time. In the report, we looked at what is happening now, at the beginning of the 21st century, but we also went back to Hogarth's London and all the gin and so on that was drunk then. We took a look at the history of alcohol in this country.
There is no doubt that English drinking habits have been transformed over the last 60 years. In 1947, the nation consumed approximately 3.5 litres of pure alcohol per head; the current figure is 9.5 litres. General Household Survey data from 2006 show that 31 per cent. of men are drinking hazardously, consuming more than 21 units
per week, and that 9 per cent. are drinking harmfully, at more than 50 units per week. The figures also showed that 21 per cent. of women are drinking hazardously and 6 per cent. harmfully, although the House will be aware that the unit size recommended for women is lower than that for men.
Although the consumption of alcohol has increased, taxation on spirits has declined in real terms, and even more so as a fraction of average earnings. I want to put it on the record this afternoon-it is stated in the report-that rising alcohol consumption and its consequences have become an increasing source of concern in recent years. The consequences include those not only of binge drinking, which causes many serious accidents, disorder, violence and crime, but of long-term heavy drinking, which causes more harm to health.
The president of the Royal College of Physicians gave evidence to the Committee and told us that alcohol was probably a significant factor in 30,000 to 40,000 deaths a year. The World Health Organisation has put alcohol as the third most frequent cause of death after hypertension and tobacco. UK deaths from liver cirrhosis increased more than fivefold between 1970 and 2006. By contrast, in France, Italy and Spain, the number of deaths shrank between twofold and fourfold. This country's number of deaths from cirrhosis is now greater than that in all those countries.
The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), who is a member of the Health Committee, was a hospital physician for many years, and we once used a phrase in exchanges to the effect that 30 years ago cirrhosis of the liver was something that old men died of. We were talking about people probably between the ages of 60 and 70. Now we see in the media that young women and men in their 20s are dying of that disease, which is related to an accumulation of alcohol over time, or the quantities in their case. We as a country should not ignore what is happening to the health of those individuals. That disease-there are other similar diseases-is something that should concern us. It is not an old man's disease anymore.
In 2003, the Prime Minister's strategy unit estimated the total cost of alcohol to society at some £20 billion. Another study in 2007 put the figure at £55 billion. Faced by a mounting problem, the response of successive Governments has ranged from the non-existent to the ineffectual. In 2004, an alcohol strategy was published, following an excellent study of the cost of alcohol by the strategy unit, but I have to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that the strategy failed to take account of the evidence that had been gathered and was not implemented. The evidence showed that a rise in the price of alcohol was the most effective way to reduce consumption, just as its increasing affordability since the 1960s has been the major cause of the rise in consumption.
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