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23 Jun 2010 : Column 100WH—continued

I said in response to the previous debate on the subject that I would be prepared to explore potential legislative options, and I am happy to reaffirm that commitment. There are two particular aspects of primary legislation that have been identified by highways authorities as being in need of review. The first is the so-called advance payments code, to which my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans referred, which forms part of the Highways Act 1980. The original purpose of the code
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was to allow highways authorities to secure a payment or security from developers to cover the cost of making up the road to an adoptable standard, in the event that a developer failed to do so. The payment or security would be available when a development reached a certain stage, at which point the frontagers could require the carrying out of street works and the subsequent adoption of the road. In effect, the deposit or security covers the liability of the owners of the new homes for the cost of making up the street that would otherwise fall to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering was concerned that funds under section 38 cannot be accessed by the highways authority unless the developer goes bust. We understand from the local authorities with which we have discussed the matter that they have difficulty accessing funds deposited by developers, and we will examine that issue with authority representatives as part of our review of section 38 and other elements of legislation. I hope that is helpful to my hon. Friend.

Currently, under the Highways Act 1980, there is a six-week window in which the highways authority can request a deposit or security. I am aware that the usefulness of the code is weakened because, in many cases, there is no longer any reliable mechanism to make the highways authority aware of the start of works on a particular development, particularly in a two-tier arrangement. As a result, the authority will not necessarily become aware of the need to request a deposit or security until after the six-week window has passed. I think that there is a good case for extending that window, but I am advised that unfortunately that would require primary legislation to amend the Highways Act 1980. That has become the issue, rather than the assessment of the applicability or suitability of the existing condition.

Before I move on to my conclusion, I will refer to the second aspect of legislation that is in need of review, which is section 38 of the Highways Act 1980.

Mrs Main: Before the Minister moves on, may I quickly intervene?

Norman Baker: Very briefly, as I have only two minutes left.

Mrs Main: Is it possible for guidance to be issued, if there is no wish to amend the primary legislation?

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Norman Baker: We will look at how far we can get down the track. We want to get as far down it as possible, including through changes to legislation, if we can make them. Certainly we will do what we can short of introducing legislation, if that approach is necessary.

Section 38 of the Highways Act 1980 is a well-used mechanism that can be very effective where a developer is prepared to commit to making up new roads to an adoptable standard. I am aware, however, that the existing arrangements place no obligation on developers to enter into such an agreement, even if the authority is clear that that would be squarely in the public interest. In the debate on 10 June, I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering that I was exploring that matter with the Department for Communities and Local Government to see whether we could have

We have had initial discussions with representatives of the Department for Communities and Local Government on the subject. They were not unsympathetic, but the issue, both in that case and with regard to advance payments under the Highways Act 1980, is simply finding a window for legislation. Both my hon. Friends will be aware that the coalition Government's commitment is to give priority in legislation to the elements that were included in the coalition agreement, so that we can be seen to be delivering properly on what we promised the public. It is a question of how much traffic one can get on the bridge at any time. That does not mean that action will not happen, but it means that the issue will have to take its place in the queue. We will do our best in our Department to try to find a way to progress the matter, either through primary legislation or through some other means that helps move matters forward in a productive way.

The Department for Transport had a constructive meeting earlier this year with council representatives from the Kettering constituency, which was helpful in establishing the nature of the concerns and providing an initial view of some potential solutions. I am now keen to move forward by inviting-

Mr Joe Benton (in the Chair): Order.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Cumbrian Shootings

[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): The events of 2 June will never be forgotten by my community. An ordinary day in England's most remote and, in my opinion, outstandingly beautiful constituency ended with the senseless loss of 12 members of a remarkable community-the community into which I was born and where I was raised and still live.

Nothing that I or anyone in the Chamber can do or say will undo the wrong done to my community. Nothing can, perhaps nothing should, ever erase the memory of those events. The west Cumbrian community will be defined more by its response to those events-indeed, it is already being so defined-than by the events themselves. The collective response that is sweeping across west Cumbria is, I believe, to those in many other parts of the country, an enviable response.

A number of lessons are to be learned from the events of 2 June, and we will by no means hear an exhaustive summary of them today. One of the most remarkable lessons-it is a source of the greatest pride for me and other west Cumbrians-is that something that we have always known can now be seen by the rest of the country. It is that our area, our community, our home-the towns of Egremont and Whitehaven, and the villages of Seascale and Boot-represent the kind of Britain that much of the rest of the country longs to be like. That view is strongly shared by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and by a number of the media commentators who have written about the events of recent weeks. This is not false sentimentality. Many communities outside the metropolitan areas of the United Kingdom are very much like that.

I have touched on the fact that the purpose of today's debate is not to rake over the facts. They are not yet exhaustively understood, and will be examined in due course. However, given what we know at the moment, I wish to learn what the lessons of the tragedy are for my community and our country. There may be lessons for the police, the emergency services, local authorities, and Members of Parliament as legislators-but it does not necessarily follow that there will be.

Parliament will not serve my community or the country well by rushing to make judgments because of the need to be seen to be doing something in response to the tragedy. Equally, should clear lessons require us to act, in the form of new legislation or practices, the House would betray my constituents and the people of this country by not acting swiftly, decisively and in concert.

My community has shown itself at its best in recent weeks-in truth, we usually do at such times-and it is time for Parliament to follow our example. That means acting with solemnity, dignity and purpose. As Tony Parsons, the author and Daily Mirror columnist put it, my community is trying to "understand the senseless". So, too, must the country. In trying to reach that understanding, we must learn from the destructive behaviour demonstrated by so many in the print and broadcast media over recent weeks.

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Communities dealing with the aftershock of seismic tragedies such as that which took place on 2 June are the worst places to be invaded by the media. In such situations, there is no place for the media's invented exclusives, its prurience and voyeurism, its mawkish brutality and its cold-blooded pursuit of profit at the expense of the families of those most affected. Everyone expects intense media coverage of tragedies such as that which affected Cumbria, but do people really expect the news to give way to entertainment? I wish to talk about the behaviour of much of the media in recent weeks, and the anger and dismay that it has caused among my community.

May I say how grateful I am to the Minister who is to reply to the debate? These are not exclusively Home Office matters; I have some sympathy for him, as his brief cannot cover them exhaustively.

I return to Tony Parsons, and to reflecting on the piece to which I referred earlier. It was printed under the headline "The haven of decency that will remain unbroken". He wrote that west Cumbria

I cannot describe the effect that those words have had on my community, how grateful we were that we had been seen as we see ourselves, and that our culture and our values had been recognised. How fitting it was. It was a small way of remembering those who had been taken from us. I can only hope that those words helped to fetch some comfort for the families of those who lost family members.

Parsons observed that when Cumbria

He continued:

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments that my hon. Friend expresses. In Barrow and Furness in southern Cumbria-I have the huge privilege of being the new Member for that constituency-I see that spirit every day. Barrow and the surrounding area was once considered part of Lancaster, and many in the area still retain a great affinity with Lancashire. Indeed, if we were to ask, some would say that they would like to move back to being part of it. Does my hon. Friend agree that the tragedy and the many difficulties that the Cumbrian people have experienced in recent months underline the fact that there is a Cumbrian spirit and a Cumbrian community? Indeed, such ties bind my constituency with his and the people of that great region.

Mr Reed: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has been a Member for only a short time, but I know of the huge esteem in which he is held by his constituents.
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I am personally grateful to him for making the trip to Whitehaven on the weekend after the shootings to pay tribute, on behalf of his constituents and everybody in the Furness region, to people 40 miles to the north. We were standing shoulder to shoulder. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about community spirit and community values. One of the lessons that we need to learn is that that spirit and those values do not come about by accident; there is a deep cultural purpose to those values, but they are supported, helped and strengthened by policy decisions taken by the House. There will be a time to address such matters, but it is not now. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.

Tony Parsons continued his article by saying:

That is the spirit to which my hon. Friend alluded. Perhaps most fittingly, Parsons gave us-or at least me-a simple phrase that encapsulates not simply the area but those whom I represent. Home to England's deepest lake and tallest mountain, he wrote that we have

When that was read out in church on the Sunday after the tragedy, I am told that it had a remarkable effect on a usually stoic congregation. It certainly had a remarkable effect on me, and I will always be grateful. Why is it important? It is because the media, perhaps the most important force in our society-more so even than politics and politicians, even those in the Chamber today; we kid ourselves if we say that that is not so-have the ability to achieve so much good. We all know that the truth will set us free-it is a well-known phrase and a cliché, but it is true-so why do the media turn their collective back when they have the capacity to achieve so much good, so readily and so often?

The media local to the tragedy-the Whitehaven News, the News & Star, the North West Evening Mail, Border television, BBC Radio Cumbria and "Look North"-reported the tragedy with a care and diligence entirely different from that of the national media. That is because they are rooted in the area and care about the people about whom they are reporting. They understand the power of their roles and the effects of carrying them out in particular ways. The Whitehaven News was particularlyimpressive, as just one week before, it had reported the tragic deaths of Kieran Goulding and Chloe Walker, constituents who were killed in the Keswick bus crash. Like the News & Star, the Whitehaven News understands the role that it plays in my community and how it can help the community's healing process-not the families' healing process, perhaps, but certainly the community's. To give a parallel-I know that this is a difficult issue-certain national newspapers have elicited feelings in my community similar to those that were elicited in Liverpool by the way that the Hillsborough tragedy was reported.

The first lesson of the tragedy is that communities such as mine have a lot to teach other parts of the country about the power of community, cohesion, social justice, compassion and solidarity. Social policy must protect and strengthen those values and virtues. The second lesson is not to seek to curb the freedom of the press or broader media, but to seek a better, enforceable code of conduct for the media. Certain desperate, spiteful journalists have written some dreadfully inaccurate copy simply because members of the community would not
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speak to them on learning that they were journalists. That reflects badly on those journalists; naming them would surprise nobody and so serves no purpose today.

I come to the second lesson. One price we pay for a free press is its freedom to write such misleading and opinionated bile. However, press intrusion is not a price anyone has ever agreed to pay. Nobody ever agreed to have journalists camped on their doorsteps while they were in the immediate aftermath of bereavement; to have friends and family members offered money if they spoke to, or obtained a photo of, a distraught relative of one of those who died; or to have six-figure sums paid for exclusives, or smaller sums paid to them if they could tell the whereabouts or movements of certain individuals, even if those individuals would be going to school that day.

If the west Cumbrian community demonstrates just how far from being broken Britain really is, then behaviour like that from certain sections of the media demonstrates just how dysfunctional and broken the media's values are, and that their attempts to infect decent society with their values are iniquitous and wrong. I know journalists who have had their stomachs turned by the actions of some in their fold-they are far from being all the same-but surely such behaviour cannot be sanctioned and must be stopped. To that end, I will write to the National Union of Journalists and the Press Complaints Commission to seek meetings, and to discuss how the issue can be taken forward and how professional codes of practice can be improved significantly. I have spent so much time talking about the media because the activities of certain sections of them have weighed particularly heavily on the community in recent weeks. They have caused particular distress, anger and concern, and I feel duty-bound to articulate those concerns today.

The third lesson, so far, of the Cumbrian tragedy will be to review gun law; that is now essential. It does not necessarily mean that gun law can, will or should change; we must await the full facts of the case before we can assess them through the prism of the gun ownership laws. If any changes to the law could have prevented this tragedy, reduced its chances of happening or mitigated its effects, then it is a reasonable proposition to expect those changes to be made. Certainly, those are the views of some of the family members of those who lost their lives on 2 June. However, we do not yet know if changes are necessary.

The fourth lesson-this is imperative-is that the Government should release the £100 million pledged by the previous Labour Government to rebuild the West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven. The cheque for the new development was in our hands on election day but taken from us when the new coalition Government were formed. The hospital is the fulcrum of my community and the entire west Cumbrian community, and demonstrated its worth again and again in the days and weeks that followed 2 June. Halfway through the general election campaign this year, that hospital saved my life, and it has saved countless more since. When my community needed it most, it was impeccable. The Prime Minister saw for himself just what a remarkable and valuable group of professionals there are at the West Cumberland hospital. I ask the Government again today to please release the funds required without any further delay.

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Demolition of the old hospital has commenced in anticipation of the new-build programme, and any delay beyond September will have serious consequences for the project, for service configuration and for the entire community. Please return to my community the money given to us by the previous Government. The Government must acknowledge the importance of the matter and act in the only human, compassionate way imaginable by returning this money as soon as possible.

There will be other lessons-about the value of GP practices, retained fire fighters, the civil nuclear constabulary, the Church and the essential role played by voluntary agencies. Those lessons need to be brought before the House, and I expect that they will; that should happen soon. I am grateful to the Home Office for the interest it has shown and the time that it has taken to address the issues so far. I expect a full and frank inquiry, the terms of which should be determined principally by my community and the families of those affected.

I expect that the Select Committee on Home Affairs will want to undertake its own investigations, too. I am particularly grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), for visiting my constituency earlier this week to speak with Cumbria constabulary and Copeland borough council about their experiences in recent weeks. That was extremely beneficial and welcome. For the benefit of all those affected, inquiries should probably be undertaken sooner rather than later, but not in an immediate rushed sense.

It is imperative that no inquiry should begin with the purpose of attributing blame. The conclusions of the Association of Chief Police Officers investigation that is currently under way should be placed in the public domain as soon as it is completed. The Cumbrian constabulary has nothing to hide and is a source of pride among my community. It performed fantastically on 2 June as events unfolded, and I know, through my conversations with it, that it is determined for the full facts of the investigation to be known by the public. No price can be placed on the truth-that is what we seek before anything else. We do not want inquiries that seek to validate opinions or theories; we want the facts, and those facts must be acted on. Other issues, such as the support services in place for the bereaved and applications to the criminal injuries compensation scheme must be addressed, but those are not issues for today. Fundamentally, the concern of politicians must remain once the cameras have moved away.

Finally, none of us will ever forget Michael Pike, Garry Purdham, David Bird, Kevin Commons, Susan Hughes, Kenneth Fishburn, Jane Robinson, Darren Rewcastle, Jennifer and James Jackson, Isaac Dixon and Jamie Clark, and this House owes it to their memories, their families and my community to understand and act on the lessons of 2 June. They deserve nothing less.

Several hon. Members rose-

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