6.12 pm

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Mr Deputy Speaker, may I take the opportunity in this eclectic Christmas debate to wish you, your colleagues and all right hon. and hon. Members, as well as all parliamentary staff, a very happy Christmas and all the best for the new year?

I want to raise a topic of constitutional importance to a Government who have embraced parliamentary and constitutional reform with great enthusiasm: the West Lothian question. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all I want for Christmas is a West Lothian commission. I know that the Government share my enthusiasm to set up such a commission, because they have referred to it on many occasions. I think the first occasion in this Parliament was when the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) said in July 2010 that he anticipated that the commission would be set up by autumn 2010. That was confirmed again later that July by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who said that he would bring forward proposals in the autumn.

However, by October we heard that, in fact, the aim was to announce plans for a commission by the end of 2010. Then, when I raised the subject in last year’s Christmas Adjournment debate, I was assured that we would get the announcement in the new year. When I asked whether that meant 2011, I was assured that the Government were happy to confirm that that was the case. Imagine my excitement, then, when 2011 arrived,

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and when we were told, in March, that the commission would shortly be established. As time progressed throughout the year, a debate on the West Lothian commission took place in Westminster Hall, at which the Parliamentary Secretary confirmed that, in referring to “this year”, he did indeed mean 2011.

I was therefore very excited when a written ministerial statement was made on 8 September to assure the House that the commitment in the coalition’s programme for government to

“establish a commission to consider the ‘West Lothian question’”

would result in a commission being established after the conclusion of a

“short process of consultation and further deliberation. I expect that this will be in the weeks after the House returns in October.”—[Official Report, 8 September 2011; Vol. 532, c. 28WS.]

In the debate on my private Member’s Bill on 9 September, we again heard that the Government were keen to address this thorny constitutional topic as soon as possible. It is a problem that could become quite serious if it is not addressed.

It has taken 100 years to get this far towards establishing a commission on the West Lothian question, and we must welcome the enormous progress that has been made. I was delighted when the Deputy Leader of the House was able to confirm last week that the announcement was to be made shortly. I am therefore pleased to be able to give him this additional chance today, while we are still in 2011, to embrace this issue with the enthusiasm that I know he shares and to announce the establishment of the West Lothian commission. So, without further ado, I shall sit down and eagerly await that announcement.

6.16 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): I wish to raise a matter that is of particular concern to the logistics industry. That industry is something of a Cinderella sector whose contribution to the UK economy is often not recognised. It has had a tough few years, not least as a result of high fuel prices. Despite that, it has continued to deliver the goods for the UK, and our economy depends on an efficient, successful supply chain getting the right goods to the right places.

The logistics sector is of particular importance to my constituency, because Rugby enjoys an ideal location in the centre of England and at the crossroads of the motorway network, an hour away from the M25. As an aside, I should like to say that the industry and I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving the Catthorpe intersection at junction 19 of the M1. It is at the crossroads of the motorway network, and the scheme will improve a junction that currently suffers from considerable delays and accidents.

The issue that I wish to raise is the proposed EU regulation on the height of commercial vehicle trailers. The EU is seeking to restrict such trailers to a height of 4 metres through a directive known as the whole vehicle type approval scheme. The EU claims that this will ensure safety on our roads, but I believe that it is an example of the EU bringing in standardisation for standardisation’s sake.

I doubt that many Members will be aware of the directive. I was unaware of it until I had a meeting with representatives of a company based in my constituency. Lloyd Fraser Contracts is a large logistics company,

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among whose many contracts is one with Mr Kipling cakes. At this time of year, it spends much of its time delivering mince pies, among other things. These are relatively light, fragile products that are packed in boxes of very little weight. It is important to get as many boxes as possible into the trailers, and one way for the company to do that is to make its trailers taller to maximise the available space.

In response to the EU’s claim, Lloyd Fraser told me that it knew of only two instances in which the height of a trailer had been an issue in an accident. It was put to me that self-regulation has worked effectively in recent years. I was also told that when issues of wind speed are involved, the company takes a decision to take the high-sided vehicles off the road. It sees no reason for legislation. However, 4.9 metres seems to have been adopted within the UK as the maximum height of a trailer, but the company is now using double, triple or even quadruple decks on its lorries. In doing this, British businesses gain extra cubic capacity, while fuel consumption and exhaust emissions per tonne of product are dramatically cut. There is a strong business case for allowing British distributors and logistics companies to do what they have been doing.

In this matter, I want to refer to research published by Professor Alan McKinnon in October 2010. It showed that between 2004 and 2008 there was a 57% increase in the amount of freight moved in double-deck trailers. If the EU regulations are implemented and the UK is not granted an exemption, this directive would see road haulage costs rise by roughly £305 million, with CO2 emissions increasing by 64%—equivalent to having 151,000 extra cars on UK roads.

This is a potential problem for the UK, but I understand that work is going on behind the scenes between the Government and the EU. I welcome some of the meetings that have taken place with representatives from the industry. I very much hope that this will bring a successful resolution for all. It is important to champion the freight industry for keeping this country’s economy on the move. When it comes to the negotiations, I hope that common sense will prevail.

Finally, I extend to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to all Members and to staff a very happy Christmas.

6.21 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is an honour to speak in the final debate before Christmas. I want to talk about manufacturing engineering. We have a large number of successful manufacturers in my constituency, notably in the engineering sector, but in a wide range of products. I believe that we should celebrate these successes; it is time we put the spotlight on them. I am organising a festival for manufacturing and engineering to achieve exactly that.

First, I want to thank all the firms and organisations, especially the schools and our local college, for the massive support I have received in organising this week-long festival, which will focus on a wide variety of manufacturers and engineers.

I want to organise the festival for three reasons. First, as I have already said, I want to celebrate the success in my constituency. Manufacturers make a lot of innovative products and they export them across the globe. That is absolutely fantastic, and we need to say so.

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Secondly, we want more investment—much more investment—from outside as well as inside, because that will further drive the success of these businesses. To that end, I aim to ensure that investors come to Stroud to see what we have on offer in terms of the infrastructure and the people already there, and the opportunities.

The third reason I am organising this event is to make sure that young people see manufacturing as a pathway towards their own careers or a pathway to develop their expertise in manufacturing and engineering—to see it as a way to spend their lives in a working environment. It is so important to encourage young people to think about manufacturing and engineering as places to work.

Those are my three reasons, and I believe the festival will be a success. It starts on 23 April. I have brought on board a large number of people—beyond those supporting it through sponsorship and provision of other forms of support—because the initiative strikes at the heart of what we need to do.

Several things need to be done better, however, to make sure that manufacturing and engineering succeed in the long term. One is making sure that the banks start to understand how these firms really work, what they aim to do and how the banks can help them. We have to be more subtle and more sophisticated at analysing the requests for additional funds, especially in the small and medium-sized enterprises sector. We need, too, to go beyond simply managing debt towards equity funding. The Government should encourage that as they move towards implementation of the Vickers report. I look forward to contributing to those debates, but I want to put down a marker now: we must ensure that that is done.

Secondly, I think that we must be more aware of the length and sophistication of manufacturing supply chains. That is equally important in the context of Gloucestershire as the town that contains my constituency and in the context of Gloucestershire as part of England, and indeed that of England, Britain, Europe and the world. Supply chains are critical. I welcome the Government’s investment in them so far, but we must ensure that our attitude to economic policy takes account of that important element of manufacturing and engineering. Obviously, I shall want to draw particular attention to what happens in Stroud.

Finally, I want to emphasise the importance of skills and apprenticeships. It was good that we debated the subject yesterday, but we still need to find ways of encouraging young people to think about small businesses as options for apprenticeships, and encouraging small businesses to see apprenticeships as a way forward for them. We focus too much on the restrictions that deter them from employing young people. I know that we are reducing those restrictions, but we must also start to talk positively about the role that young people can and should play in small as well as medium-sized businesses. Those are facts, and they are important in ensuring that our economy thrives.

I want 2012 to be a happy and successful year for manufacturers, and I wish all Members of the House and the officers who support it a first-class Christmas.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I must reduce the speaking time to four minutes so that all Members have a chance to speak.

6.26 pm

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I am going to speak about Portsmouth football club. I warn the House that there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is that fans have come together to set up a supporters trust. I declare an interest as a proud member of that trust: like so many others, I pay a £5 subscription, which goes towards funding community projects and, potentially, safeguarding the future of the club. I pay tribute to all who brought that about, in Portsmouth and at Supporters Direct.

Now for the bad news. It is often said by enthusiasts—although we in this House would disagree—that the mark of a good referee is that he goes unnoticed, letting the game run its course. Sadly for fans of Portsmouth, the financial referee has been too much in evidence in recent years. Yet again, Portsmouth has been let down by one of its owners. At about the time when we were debating the problems with the European arrest warrant, one such warrant was issued for the Russian owner of the club so that he could answer charges of money laundering in Lithuania. His company, Convers Sports Initiatives—or, rather appropriately, CSI—was placed in administration, and the hunt for another new owner is under way.

Fans and the club staff are right to feel disappointed after the extraordinary amount of work that has been put in by so many people over the last 18 months to avoid closure and rebuild the club. The sense of despair is all the more acute given that the “fit and proper person” test was supposed to weed out unsuitable owners. I am keen to hear the Minister’s views on the situation, and to be told what he can do to support the club in its latest challenge. Needless to say, I have a few suggestions.

I think that the Minister should be anxious for the vetting of prospective club owners to be done well, and I should like to hear his assessment of the process that led to CSI’s being allowed to buy Portsmouth. I was very pleased both by the report on football governance by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and by the Government’s response to it. The social value of the game is very much recognised in this place.

Those who invest in football clubs as a means of making money would do well to recognise that they have put their money not just into a vehicle for profit, but into the collective identity of communities—the bonds shared between generations of families. It is that simple enjoyment of the game and love of the club for its own sake that makes supporters clubs appropriate participants in club governance. Their sole interest is the club, and without them there would be no club. In my view, that is the most compelling argument for supporters trusts to have a governance role.

Like the Portsmouth supporters trust, I think that the option of supporter involvement via a financial stake should be considered for Portsmouth, and I am helping with the production of an assessment of the amount that could be raised. The professionalism with which the trust has conducted itself has been hugely impressive. The core working party is composed of knowledgeable and skilled individuals with the financial and legal

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expertise to develop this proposition. However, they have been faced with a series of improbable but all too real barriers. They do not yet have access to the financial information any prospective buyer would be entitled to see. There appears to be a bias against them—a suspicion that they are not serious, and an assumption they do not have the funds and that they are not competent. We will demonstrate, because we can, that all these prejudices are unfounded, but it should not be necessary to go to such lengths. I would be grateful if the Minister made it clear to the administrators that in taking such a stance they are not acting in anyone’s interests. Discrimination is not the better part of valour. The administrators should be left in no doubt that this House and the Government believe in supporter involvement and that the Portsmouth supporters trust should be both treated and judged on a level playing field.

I would be grateful if the Minister took an active interest in this latest episode of Portsmouth football club’s life, and for anything the Minister could do to support the trust and the fans in safeguarding their beloved club’s future.

Finally, I wish colleagues a happy Christmas.

6.30 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): First, may I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker and all the staff and officials of the House, as well as the security officers, for all they do in making the work of Members easier than it would otherwise be? I also want to thank my own staff—those currently working for me, and those who have moved on—for all their support in helping me represent Suffolk Coastal.

I want to highlight three topics. The first of them is the high fuel costs of people who live in off-gas-grid houses. I first raised this issue just over a year ago, when we were in the middle of a bleak mid-winter—the current winter has been much milder, of course. Last year people were paying just over 70p a litre for heating oil, and this Christmas the price is 60p, but that is still a huge amount of money, and the price is 50% higher than it was two years ago. I want to publicise the all-party group that was set up yesterday. I am sure that all the Members who have worked so hard on this issue will flock to join it. I also want to thank the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), for all the work he has done in helping to move this cause along. I hope that 2012 will be the year of success, when we can finally hold our heads up high on behalf of our constituents, many of whom are suffering fuel poverty. I also commend the community foundation networks for establishing the “surviving winter” appeal. When they are looking for people who really need their help, I ask them to look to the households without access to gas, as they are spending a lot of money to keep warm this winter.

Turning to rural post offices, I will keep up the fight for my local post offices in Wangford, Walberswick and Blythburgh. Unfortunately, the outreach service is no longer working properly, but it is important that such services can be accessed. The Post Office is working on that, but it is important that communities are supported, rather than face constant frustration.

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On broadband, I am keen that the people of Suffolk show their support for the procurements that will happen next year. It is vital for our county that both fixed and mobile broadband are successes, in order to make Suffolk Coastal a great place not only to come to for the weekend but to work, rest and play all year round. I am also encouraged by recent comments by Ofcom about mobile broadband, and I am confident that the voice of the House will be listened to in ensuring that coverage of at least 98% will be achieved next year.

I thank all the people of Suffolk for raising more than £3 million towards the Treehouse appeal. I also thank the brave soldiers and officers of 23 Engineers, who are based in my constituency at the Rock barracks near Woodbridge. I specifically thank the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Frazer Ross. He has shown great leadership to that regiment. I am very sad that he will be moving on to his next post early, but I wish Frazer and Sandra well. Incidentally, they are moving to within a mile of where I used to live in Hampshire.

I also thank Siobhan Jordan from Ipswich hospital for getting through the second Care Quality Commission inspection, and I wish Carole Crocker, director of nursing at James Paget university hospital, the best of luck; I hope we manage to pull through.

Finally, local enterprise partnerships were established only this year, and I pay tribute to the new Anglia LEP and Andy Wood, who has been its chair. He has been a great driver of growth and I hope that continues in 2012.

6.34 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): To cut straight to the point, happy Christmas; there is not much time to say anything else.

I want to draw attention to the trial of Bradley Manning, a young US soldier with a Welsh mother who is standing before a pre-trial hearing in a military court in Washington at the moment. In April 2010, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange publicly released the Iraq video “Collateral Murder”, which shows a US army attack in Iraq in 2007 that left 12 innocent civilians dead, including two employees of Reuters. The disturbing Iraq footage proved to be just the start of a series of WikiLeaks releases that included US military incident reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, and tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables.

In May 2010, a young US Marine was arrested while serving in Iraq on suspicion of being the source of the WikiLeaks revelations. Just a few months earlier, Hillary Clinton praised the use of the internet—praised blogs, e-mails, social networks and text messages—which she said has opened up new forums for exchanging ideas, and created new targets for censorship.

The pre-trial hearing that is now under way will determine whether Bradley Manning will face court martial. He is charged with aiding the enemy and violating the espionage Act, and if convicted could be sentenced to life imprisonment. Manning has appeared in public for the first time since being confined under maximum security for one and a half years. For much of that time he was held in conditions so harsh that the UN rapporteur on torture felt compelled to express concern after being denied unrestricted access to Manning by the US Government. The US Government’s treatment of Bradley

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Manning in these conditions has been discussed by me and others in this House previously, and it was international pressure that got him better prison conditions.

I believe that Bradley Manning is carrying the can for repeated mistakes by the US military. He should never have been sent to Iraq in the first place. He should have been discharged from the army, as was originally intended. The people who should be on trial are those who ignored the medical evidence. They sent a vulnerable young man to deal with sensitive classified information. They were negligent. It is clear now from the evidence coming out in the court that this was a troubled young man who should never have been given access to classified information. Those who allowed this access were grossly negligent and have only themselves to blame.

I believe that Bradley Manning’s actions have served as one of the sparks for the emerging Arab spring and the dramatic changes across the middle east. I hope that this House agrees with me that Bradley Manning should have a fair trial, that it should be held in proper conditions and with him being given access to the people he needs to see, and that his defence counsel should be able to call the witnesses they want to call. At the moment, those witnesses have not been called—that is being denied by the court—but all the prosecution witnesses have been allowed to be called by the prosecution.

6.38 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Mr Speaker, welcome to the Chair. Because I believe in crawling to people in authority, may I wish you a very happy and merry Christmas and thank you for your delightful Christmas card?

This is a wonderfully eclectic debate—from ponds in Devon to dictators in the Congo getting 99.8% of the vote. I want to deal, like my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), with local issues that relate to Lincolnshire. He mentioned the extraordinary railway line that connects our two constituencies, and there are only three trains a week, which all run on Saturdays. However, there is a much more important railway line that runs from Grimsby and Cleethorpes down through Market Rasen, in my constituency, to Lincoln and then on to London. We used to have a direct service and my hon. Friend referred to resurrecting this vitally important service; but I say to him that we want it to go through Market Rasen and Lincoln, and not through Doncaster. I am sure he will be agreeable to that, and I expect the Minister to make a commitment to that effect when he winds up this debate.

What I really want to talk about in the remaining two minutes or so of my speech is an important project in Gainsborough that is in danger of closure but must not be closed. This is about the big society, which the Prime Minister was right to launch. He was right to change the emphasis from big government to families, individuals, neighbours and local people. In my constituency there is just such a big society project. It was founded in 2007 and is called YaSiG—Young and Safe in Gainsborough.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) talked about the power of history and the importance of history teaching, but many people fall out of our school system and YaSiG provides for them.

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It provides for people between the ages of 13 and 24 who have fallen out of education and it co-ordinates a number of facilities for young people. It gives them a safe place to meet and socialise. It runs, among other things, a very successful motorcycle maintenance course, which I have visited, operating outside the classroom and providing just the sort of training opportunities that many young people need. YaSiG covers subjects as varied as sports, catering and horticulture. It emphasises building social skills, and it improves confidence and the ability to work with older people. There is no doubt that this project, which operates in one of the most deprived wards in England, Gainsborough South West, is already making a big difference.

The project was set up with money from the previous Government, under the community asset transfer programme, but it was not thought through. There were adequate funds for the capital injection but not for revenue maintenance, and the project simply cannot be sustained now. I urgently call—this should happen over the next 24 hours—on Lincolnshire county council, West Lindsey district council and the Government to co-ordinate their efforts to save this vital project. At the very least, West Lindsey district council should give the freehold to YaSiG, so that it can borrow against it, and should waive its indemnity of £45,000. If we really do believe in projects that further the big society and provide for the most deprived people in our community, we cannot let them go out of business. We should co-ordinate efforts to save them and to help our young people in the future.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Mel Stride.

6.42 pm

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and a very happy Christmas to you.

I rise to speak on the subject of speaking—on the way in which we organise debates in this House. I have some simple but radical ideas which, if implemented, would improve the efficiency of Members and the quality of debate in this Chamber. Vitally, they would also increase the level of communication that this House has with the wider public and, in particular, with the young people we are so importantly trying to reach nowadays.

If we put in to speak in a debate such as this, we write, quite rightly, to the Speaker. The Speaker and his assistants then put together a list, we appear in a certain order on it and that information is held fairly tightly to the Chair. We may become privy to it as the debate progresses, but it is not widely disseminated in the Chamber or in the Palace of Westminster, or to the wider general public. There would be a huge advantage to us all if we were to publish that information—the order in which people were due to speak and roughly when they would be expected to speak—and it was on electronic boards in the Chamber, on the annunciators around the Palace of Westminster, on the internet, and if we allowed it to go out on apps on telephones, mobile devices and so on. Members of the public would, thus, know, for example, that the hon. Member for Central Devon was going to speak in approximately 30 minutes’ time and so would be able to tune into the Parliament channel to see his brilliant performance.

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Such an approach would meet a number of important objectives. First, it would mean that Members would know roughly when they were due to speak in a debate, which would allow them to plan a little more thoroughly. Secondly, it would raise the quality of debate, because Members in the rest of the Palace of Westminster could come into the Chamber at a particular moment knowing that somebody was about to speak and they could then intervene on them, and because somebody speaking in the Chamber would know which Members were likely to speak subsequently, they could therefore invite them to comment, or otherwise, on something that they were saying.

The most useful part of such an approach would be that it would engage those outside this Chamber, as the public would be able to establish exactly when a particular Member was due to speak. We all have constituents who will often say to us, “I always watch the Parliament channel and sometimes I see you, sometimes I do not. I would love to know when you are actually speaking.” My proposal would be a method by which they could do that.

It would be particularly appropriate and effective for younger people, who could use an app on their telephone. My telephone, for example, has an app that can tell me when any bus in London is about to reach any particular stop, as it uses real-time information, and there is no reason why the information on when Members of Parliament are due to speak should not similarly be made available. I believe that that could engage young people, who could receive that information and, by tapping an app, could actually see us speaking in this Chamber.

I believe, quite rightly, that this is a highly impressive, wonderful and venerable institution. It is the mother of all Parliaments, but I believe that if we are to move with the times and keep that important link between ourselves and the general public—the electorate of all ages—we should make such a change. For those who fear change, I suggest that we could take a gradualist approach, introducing it bit by it. It could be experimental, in that we could try it for a short time and then reassess it. Of course, we could maintain some of our rules about being present for the opening speeches, the wind-ups and so on.

With that message, Mr Speaker, I wish you a happy Christmas and thank you for this opportunity to speak.

6.46 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): At this time of year, it is appropriate that we should pay due tribute to our excellent emergency services: our doctors, nurses, ambulance crews, paramedics, firefighters and, of course, our wonderful police. They do a magnificent job, keeping us safe in our homes and healthy. When many of us are enjoying ourselves, they will be working, as they do 365 days a year. It is right that we should pay tribute to those excellent people.

I also want to place on the record the actions of the four brave police officers who laid their lives on the line just a month ago when they were stabbed. They were Harrow police officers, but were operating in the neighbouring constituency. They are now at home, recovering with their families, and I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that our thoughts

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are with them and their families, wishing them a speedy recovery and a return to active duty as soon as they can do so.

I also, however, want to refer briefly to some reforms that are possible within the police service. The four police officers who were stabbed were wearing the official uniforms given to them by the police service as well as stab-proof vests. Despite that, they were stabbed, so it is appropriate that the police service should review the quality of the equipment issued to our police so that they are not placed in danger.

We could also improve the procurement policies pursued in the police service. The Government estimate that £300 million a year can be saved through more positive procurement. Let me give one or two examples of where I think it is going completely wrong at the moment. In the Metropolitan police, for example, if someone’s computer goes wrong and they call out an engineer, the call-out charge is £200. Equally, the maintenance for a single printer is £85 a year. Of course, for £85 a printer can be bought to replace it in a local shop rather than maintaining those they already have. It is a shocking fact that, in our police stations across the capital, if someone’s light bulb goes out of action they have to call someone else and the cost of getting that light bulb replaced is £200. Members of the police service could, quite simply, replace them themselves, but they are not allowed to. It is complete and utter nonsense.

I also think we need to consider reviewing the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. At the moment, our police are forced to handwrite statements and police community support officers are not allowed to take witness statements from members of the public. Clearly, at a time when we can use technology, it is appropriate that we should do so. Our police officers have to keep multiple forms, most of which are not used at all. Custom and practice has built up, however, that that data should be collected and brought to police stations, where nothing seems to happen to it.

I also want to raise the issue of ethnic monitoring. It is absolutely crucial that we monitor our services to make sure that we provide them appropriately, but it is nonsensical that when someone is arrested, they and the police officer arresting them get the right to say to which ethnic minority the person arrested belongs. That does not seem very sensible. As we build up to the Olympics, the police are still suffering from the overload resulting from the riots last summer; there have been 12-hour shifts and all holiday was cancelled, and the pressure on the police is growing.

Mr Speaker, I end by wishing you, all Members of the House and everyone associated with Parliament a happy Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, and a peaceful, prosperous and healthy new year.

6.50 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) said that this was an eclectic debate; “eclectic” does not begin to describe the task that lies ahead of me as I try to respond, in the next 10 minutes, to hon. Members who have spoken. As she has so many times raised the issue on which she spoke, and has not been given satisfaction from the Dispatch Box, I will deal with her

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point first and give her the statement that I think she was hoping for; the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), would perhaps have given it earlier, if he had had the opportunity. The commission on the West Lothian question will start work in February 2012, and will report by the end of the Session in spring 2013. My hon. Friend will make a further statement on the commission in the new year.

A spate of points were raised about foreign affairs. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd), and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) talked about various aspects of world affairs relating to what we loosely group together as the middle east, the Sahel and the Maghreb, as if that were all an amorphous mass, which it clearly is not. There are many countries there with different issues. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester raised the issues in Israel to do with the Bedouin in the south Negev desert. What brings those issues together, as far as the British Government’s position is concerned, is our commitment to human rights and developing democracy, and our wish to extend friendship, particularly to the new Governments forming in those areas, and to help them in any way that we can to achieve those objectives. Where they stray from those objectives, we might perhaps constructively point out that there are better ways of doing business. The hon. Member for Manchester Central raised the issue of Bahrain; it is very good that the King of Bahrain has appointed a commission to look into the issues, but the test is what happens to the response. Those matters were well worth raising.

The hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce), who I do not think is in the Chamber at the moment, talked about the Democratic Republic of the Congo—a long-term interest of his—and expressed concerns about the elections there. The good news from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is that there were elections, they were largely peaceful and there was a high turnout, but clearly there were problems, which were identified by a number of observers. Those are matters that the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo need to look at.

The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) talked about the case of Bradley Manning, which is before the American courts; it is right for us to express concern and state that he should have a fair and open trial in the United States on the matters on which he was arraigned.

The hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) talked about teaching history—a subject that I raised in Adjournment debates when I was in opposition, because it is desperately important for our young people to be given a sense of history—not just national and world history but local history, so that they have a sense of identity and of the place where they live. That is a matter that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Education are looking at in the context of the curriculum review. The hon. Member for Kingswood made his point extremely well.

The hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) spoke about how we conduct our business in the House. It is not for me to respond to that. Perhaps it is for

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Mr Speaker to respond, or the Procedure Committee, but the points that the hon. Gentleman raised were sensible suggestions that ought to be considered.

Many hon. Members talked about local issues in their area. I have a great deal of fellow feeling for some of them. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) talked about fuel poverty, a matter with which, as she rightly said, I have engaged myself over the years, particularly the difficulties of people in rural areas who often do not have access to mains gas, are reliant on fuel oil or LPG and find themselves in considerable difficulties because of the increasing costs. The Government are very aware of that.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) pointed out some successes in his constituency, in both schools and hospitals, and said something very important in support of the public sector. It is important that from the Dispatch Box we say how much we appreciate what people in the public sector do. The role that they play in society is an extremely positive contribution. I am very pleased about the successful resolution of those discussions that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced in his statement earlier today.

The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) spoke about two things. The first was high-speed broadband in his area, which he is right to say is crucial. That is why the Government are engaged in the programme, and why the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) has insisted that local authorities have a draft local broadband plan by the end of February, and have it agreed by the end of April, in order to secure matched funding. I hope the hon. Gentleman will now be able to make significant progress. Secondly, he spoke about antisocial behaviour, and was able to report progress in his area. As a former chair of the Avon and Somerset police authority, I am particularly pleased, as we share a police authority area, that Chief Constable Colin Port has been in contact and has taken such a supportive view.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) was guaranteed my full attention when he talked about flooding in the village of Feniton, with which he knows I am more than familiar—not with the village, but with the concept of flooding in my constituency. He went on to talk about quarrying. My constituency is the most densely populated quarrying area in the whole country. The points he raised about the aggregates sustainability fund would be echoed by many communities in my constituency.

The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) has, I hope, guaranteed that he will be mentioned in the Sittingbourne News Extra editorial next week. From his contributions to these debates, I feel that I know an awful lot more about Sittingbourne and Sheppey than I did a year or two ago.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) said that he has an airport, he has docks, he has 10 stations, and then had the temerity to expect trains to stop at his stations. He wanted the roads, including the A160, to be improved, and he also spoke about Humber bridge tolls. I think that his views were compatible with those of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), who also spoke about roads. I think they have neighbouring constituencies, so it is good that they are working together. The hon. Member for Gainsborough

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also mentioned Young and Safe in Gainsborough, an organisation he obviously believes does very good work. We must hope that it survives its current difficulties.

The hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) clearly has an exceedingly good company in his constituency, but spoke about the 4 metre height limit that has been proposed by the Commission. The Government agree that the 4 metre height limit is inappropriate and continue to press the Commission not to implement it. The hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) talked about the importance of manufacturing in his constituency and he is absolutely right. He also spoke about the importance of apprenticeships. I am very pleased that we have had 442,700 new apprenticeship starts in the past year, compared with 279,700 the previous year. That is a real commitment to young people getting the skills that they need.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) talked about Portsmouth football club. As a former rugby player, I have to say that I am not a great expert on football, but she demonstrated the difficulty that the football authorities face in implementing the owners and directors test, which is a self-certification test based on a series of objective criteria, rather than a subjective test of individuals.

The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) talked about efficiencies in the police service, and clearly improvements can still be made in modernising the police service. The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) included everything in his contribution, as he always does. He is a regular on these occasions and gave a superb performance.

I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all Officers and Members of the House a very happy Christmas. In particular, I

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wish to put on the record our appreciation of Eddie McKay, who was appointed to the House in January 1988 and is retiring this Christmas. We wish him every success and happiness in his retirement.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House and reciprocate his good wishes.

7 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3) , and Order, 1 November ).


Planning (Woodside Close, Walsall)

7 pm

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): The petition is from the residents of Woodside Close, Walsall and others. It has been signed by 263 people.

The petition

Declares that the Petitioners object to the proposed redevelopment at 1 Woodside Close, Walsall WS5 3LU, planning reference 11/1217/FL, involving the demolition of existing buildings and construction of 14 two bedroom apartments, on the grounds that the Petitioners believe that the redevelopment is an overdevelopment, incorporating a third storey in the roof, out of character with the area, and that the development is in an unsustainable location, with insufficient parking together with parking on the frontage, as shown on the plans, along with inadequate amenity space.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to encourage Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council to consider the objections of the local residents.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.[P000993]

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Abduction of Lydia Hunt

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Bill Wiggin.)

7.1 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this, the final debate of the calendar year. Lydia Hunt is the first child of my constituent Jonathan Hunt and his wife Irma Obregon Guerrero. Lydia was born in June 2006. At Easter 2008, shortly before Lydia’s second birthday, the family travelled to Mrs Hunt’s native Mexico for a holiday with her family. Mr Hunt returned to the UK in May for work commitments, and the plan was that his wife and Lydia would follow a couple of weeks later. Some time later, Mrs Hunt called her husband to tell him that there would be a delay. She first said that she was unwell and then that her father was entering a land deal and that she needed to sign some papers in connection with it. She noted that the slow-moving legal system in Mexico meant that she would have to stay for at least a month.

The plan was that Mrs Hunt and Lydia would accompany Mrs Hunt’s parents to the UK in August, where they intended to spend a holiday, but on 16 August 2008, at 1 o’clock in the morning, Mr Hunt received a call from his wife to inform him that they would not be coming and that she did not intend to return at all but instead planned to remain in Mexico with Lydia. To date, Lydia remains in Mexico with Mrs Hunt. Their whereabouts are officially unknown. An arrest warrant for Mrs Hunt was applied for some time ago and finally confirmed in July this year after numerous appeals and delays, but it has not been acted on. When asked for a reason, the Mexican authorities say that they are still investigating.

Mexico is a signatory to The Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction of 1980. This requires the determination of abduction cases involving minors within six weeks from the date of commencement of proceedings. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Minister, who is in his place on the Government Front Bench, for the personal interest that he has taken in the case. He has raised it on a number of occasions with his Mexican counterpart, and I know that the Foreign Secretary also discussed Lydia’s abduction with the Mexican Foreign Minister on a recent visit to the UK. I am very grateful for those interventions, but Lydia has not been returned and Mexico has still not met its legal obligations. This evening, I should like to press the Minister on the further specific actions that the UK Government can take to secure her return.

I am keen to underline two points: first, the length of time it has taken for Mr Hunt’s case to be dealt with—three years and counting; and, secondly, the wider issue of the non-compliance of a signatory to an international treaty. On the first point, let me set out a little more detail on the case.

Under The Hague convention, when a child has been removed abroad from its habitual residence, they have first to be returned to the country of habitual residence for the courts in that country to start determining custody. That is the basis on which the convention works. Three days after Mr Hunt’s wife made her bombshell telephone call announcing that she was not coming back—that is, on 19 August 2008—Mr Hunt filed a

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convention request for the Mexican authorities to return Lydia. Before that date, Mr Hunt knew nothing at all about The Hague convention, which requires that such requests be complied with within six weeks—that is, in this case, by the end of September 2008. In fact, more than three years later, it has still not been complied with.

Lydia was made a ward of the High Court in London in January 2009, so any major decision about her has to be made by the High Court. After a delay of almost a year, the Mexican court issued a return order for Lydia in December 2009 with immediate effect, and that judgment correctly followed the terms of The Hague convention.

In the following March—that is, March last year— Mr Hunt’s wife filed for an amparo, a Mexican legal procedure that is intended, I understand, to protect the constitutional rights of a Mexican citizen. It appears in practice—at least in this case—to give almost unlimited scope for frustrating the execution of international law. As a result of the amparo, The Hague order and the arrest warrant for Mrs Hunt were both suspended.

In May this year, an amparo hearing was held. The judge ordered that the original notice was not executed according to local domestic law, and that the entire process should start again. Mr Hunt was advised at the time by his very experienced lawyers in Mexico that that conclusion was wrong. It certainly was not consistent with international law, and his advisers pointed out that the judge, in his ruling, did not refer at all to The Hague convention and overlooked several aspects of amparo legislation as well.

On 11 August this year, Mr Hunt’s lawyers submitted an appeal to the federal court. The appeal panel of three federal judges in San Luis Potosi upheld Mrs Hunt’s amparo on 11 November on the grounds that she was not notified of the return order made by the first family judge under the terms of The Hague convention 1980. Of course, she was in fact well aware of the order: she had been engaged in challenging the initial judgement, and she would not have been in a position to do so if she had been unaware of the order.

Mr Hunt has now been told that a new Hague hearing will be scheduled for 26 March next year in San Luis Potosi. He is understandably worried that, although a date has been set, there is nothing to stop his wife from once again embarking on a series of amparos and appeals, as the previous three years of litigation have been rendered null and void by the court’s decision. If legal proceedings were to stall again, there would be an argument that Lydia was by now settled in Mexico and any enforced return would be detrimental to her welfare.

It may be appropriate that the amparo process gives rise to limited delays, but in this case the process has continued for more than three years, and it is now set to last even longer, even though it clearly makes a nonsense of Mexico’s obligations under The Hague convention.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): As chair of the all-party Mexico group, I am pleased to support what my right hon. Friend is doing and compliment him on the huge amount of work that he has done—and, indeed, the Foreign Office on the pressure that it has applied in the case of the Mexican Government. He and I are due to meet the ambassador in January, when we will obviously press the ambassador to insist that Mexico adhere to all its obligations under The Hague convention.

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My right hon. Friend is making a most serious point—that a further delay in the amparo at San Luis Potosi in March will mean that it could be argued that this child is a normal resident of Mexico. That is the danger. This is, bluntly, a case of abduction. We look to our friends in the Mexican Government and Mexican judiciary to adhere to international conventions and law and to allow this child to be returned to this country. She is, after all, a British national.

Stephen Timms: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for the support that he has given in this case. I very much look forward to the meeting with the ambassador in January. The fact that that meeting has been put in the diary is in no small part thanks to my hon. Friend’s intervention. He is absolutely right, of course.

The heart of this debate is Lydia’s welfare and well-being. She was two when she was abducted. I have no idea what she has been told about the whereabouts of her father or about what became of her former home in the UK. She has had no contact at all with her father for more than three years. There has been no effort to enable her to meet, or even to speak, to her father throughout the whole of that period. The preamble to The Hague convention states that signatories should be

“firmly convinced that the interests of children are of paramount importance in matters relating to their custody desiring to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence as well as to secure protection for rights of access”.

Signatories to the convention are required to consider the interests and the welfare of an abducted child as being of paramount importance. That has clearly not happened in this particular case.

One consolation to my constituent would have been if a welfare check ordered by the British Embassy had been carried out. That check has not been carried out because of a number of difficulties in trying to do so, and despite an intervention on the part of Bob Geldof. My constituent has not only not had the chance to see or to speak to Lydia in the past three years, but has not even been able to establish whether she is safe and well.

Mr Hunt’s hopes were raised when his wife failed to “ampere” a criminal charge, which meant that an arrest warrant could finally be executed. That would have allowed the police to locate her and require her, by the terms of bail, to give an address where she lives with her daughter. Unfortunately, the warrant has still not been executed. The whereabouts in Mexico of Mrs Hunt’s family are known to the police. The family well knows where she and Lydia are; and the police could, if they chose, quite readily find out from the family where she and Lydia are. It seems highly unlikely that they do not know where she is, but the warrant, for whatever reason, has not been implemented.

Obviously, the British Government cannot interfere directly with the legal processes of another country. However, the fact is that despite Mexico’s having signed The Hague convention, Lydia has yet to be returned. The website of The Hague Conference on Private International Law describes the convention as

“a multilateral treaty, which seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return”.

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The convention has clearly been flouted in this particular case. Many abduction cases are resolved promptly, but some cases, such as this one, are held up because countries refuse to comply with the terms of The Hague convention, even though, like Mexico, they have signed it. A flagrantly non-compliant country can still press other treaty partners to fulfil their obligations and return children who have been abducted from their own country.

A disappointing aspect of my involvement in this case is that it has not yet been possible for me to meet the Mexican ambassador. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) for his intervention. I am pleased, as he said, that we now have an appointment with the ambassador in January.

Child abduction is becoming more common. Reunite International child abduction centre, which has been working with Mr Hunt over the past three years, tells me that until September this year, the number of abduction cases reported to its advice line was up by 46% compared with the same period last year. The number of prevention cases went up by 35% in the same period. The problem of non-compliance will be suffered by many other parents in the future—parents who, like Mr Hunt, have had their children abducted to countries that signed The Hague convention only to find it time-consuming and expensive to pursue a return, as has Mr Hunt. My constituent has so far spent more than £80,000, mainly in legal costs, in attempting to secure his daughter’s safe return. It could well be that he will have to find a similar sum again, given that it appears that we are back at square one as a result of the most recent court decision.

I noted recently that a Republican Congressman in the United States, Chris Smith, the long-serving representative for Robbinsville, New Jersey, has sponsored a Bill on this topic. The International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Bill proposes the establishment of an office on international child abduction, which would report regularly on progress in individual cases and on the compliance of countries with their obligations under The Hague convention. The Bill would vest powers in the President, allowing him to impose specific sanctions to increase pressure to end cases of non-co-operation. Perhaps we should consider something similar in the UK. That initiative in the United States Congress underlines that, as a signatory to The Hague convention, the UK is not alone in struggling to ensure that non-compliant nations meet their treaty obligations.

I will finally pose three questions to the Minister. First, what assistance can the British embassy provide to the Mexican authorities in their search for Mrs Hunt? I know that a letter was sent by the attorney-general in San Luis Potosi to the attorney-general in Mexico City asking that he instruct the police, who are under his jurisdiction, to locate Mrs Hunt and arrest her. That would, in turn, allow the British embassy to conduct the long-awaited welfare check on Lydia. Mrs Hunt must be obliged to give recognised contact details, which would enable the process of returning Lydia under the terms of The Hague convention to get under way.

Secondly, can the Minister assure me that he will continue to raise this case with the Mexican authorities, as he has on a number of occasions, and to impress on them the importance of meeting the obligations that they have signed up to under The Hague convention, which they are not currently fulfilling? I was pleased to

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learn that Lord Justice Thorpe, who leads on these matters for the UK judiciary, has offered his assistance to the Mexican authorities in complying with their obligations under The Hague convention, and that he plans to raise this case in The Hague next month at a meeting convened for the purpose.

Finally, what steps can be taken against countries, such as Mexico, that are non-compliant in this way? It is clearly not right for a treaty partner not to fulfil its obligations as set out in an international treaty that it has signed freely, and which it will be able to take advantage of when it wishes to do so. What recourse is available when a signatory to an international treaty—this one or others—does not fulfil its obligations under that treaty? What specific action can the UK Government take to address Mexico’s non-compliance in this particular case?

7.19 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the final debate of 2011, Mr Speaker. I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on securing it, and I hope that my response will satisfy him on at least some of the questions he asked. He has pursued the case extremely diligently over an extended period, and of course he is always welcome to get in contact with the Foreign Office. I am very pleased that he and the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) have secured a meeting with the Mexican ambassador next month.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Ham for raising the case of Lydia Hunt, who, as he said, was abducted by her mother and taken to Mexico in 2008. He has provided considerable support to Mr Hunt, and I appreciate his efforts to achieve progress for Mr Hunt in such difficult circumstances. As he is aware, I have personally followed Mr Hunt’s case with considerable interest and have every sympathy with him in his sad and difficult situation.

Before I comment specifically on the case of Lydia Hunt, I should like to provide a brief background to the wider issue of international parental child abduction. Unfortunately, there has been a considerable rise in reported cases over the past few years. The figure I have is that last year alone the Foreign Office’s child abduction section dealt with 643 active cases and saw a 10% increase in new cases on the previous year. I sympathise greatly with parents who face difficulties in working through unfamiliar systems, cultures and languages.

The British Government therefore strongly encourage other countries to sign The Hague convention. We regularly lobby on the issue at ministerial level and consider the convention to be the most effective route to return children abducted from their usual place of residence. In general, cases of child abduction are more likely to be resolved promptly when they occur between countries that operate the convention.

I can understand the immense frustration and distress that Mr Hunt must feel at still having no resolution to his case, despite his having submitted a Hague convention application for Lydia’s return in 2008. That might seem inconsistent with Mexico’s signing an agreed international framework for the prompt return of abducted children,

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but it is worth bringing to the House’s attention the fact that The Hague convention provides for a country to operate it within the guidelines of its own domestic legislation. How the convention is applied varies from country to country, and in Mexico it is not uncommon for the legal process to be lengthy, perhaps lengthier even than we are used to here in Britain.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his acknowledgment that as Mexico is a sovereign state the British Government cannot interfere in its legal system, just as we would not expect the Mexican authorities to interfere in courts in this country.

Jeremy Corbyn: Mexico is obviously a signatory to The Hague convention, and it is up to the federal Government of Mexico to adhere to it. From the points that the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) have made, it appears that the Government are hiding behind the state laws in San Luis Potosi as a way of avoiding implementing the arrest warrant, which is what the convention requires of Mexico.

Mr Browne: We expect signatories to The Hague convention to operate within it, but we accept that it permits a degree of flexibility because different countries apply the law in different ways. That does not exempt them from their obligations, and we continue to make that point to the Mexican authorities.

In answer to one of the right hon. Member for East Ham’s questions, I can tell him that the British Government participate fully in meetings to review and enhance the operation of the 1980 Hague convention organised by The Hague Conference on Private International Law. I am pleased that he is in contact with my noble Friend Lord McNally, the Minister of State for Justice, who takes a direct interest in the process.

I turn to the specific case before us. I was very saddened to hear that Mr Hunt did not secure the result that he was hoping for when Lydia’s mother’s amparo was upheld in November. I was, however, pleased to hear that he has been given a date for a new Hague hearing in March 2012. I know that he will have concerns about the process, given the lengthy proceedings that he has already faced, so I encourage him to work with his lawyer to mitigate those concerns through the appropriate channels.

As well as the legal process, Mr Hunt is anxious for news of his daughter’s well-being. I can only imagine his worry and frustration at having no contact with Lydia for so long. This aspect of the case has been a priority for the FCO. We would like to be able to reassure Mr Hunt by conducting a consular visit to check on Lydia’s well-being, but, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we require the permission of Lydia’s mother to do so. We have persistently and regularly requested consular access to Lydia, but to date we have not received her mother’s permission. The UK Government have no enforcement powers in Mexico to force Lydia’s mother to allow us to see Lydia. Further, as we all sadly know, we do not yet have any indication of Lydia’s whereabouts. We will of course act on any new information related to Lydia’s whereabouts to continue to seek consular access to her, and this may be a point that the right hon. Gentleman could raise with the Mexican ambassador directly when he meets him next month.

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We have discussed with Mr Hunt the arrest warrant for Lydia’s mother. I share his hope that the execution of the warrant will subsequently assist with locating Lydia. Our consular staff will continue to request updates from the Mexican authorities on the progress of this aspect of the case. Beyond this, we cannot involve ourselves in criminal proceedings and cannot assist in the search for Lydia’s mother, which is the responsibility of the Mexican authorities.

I am grateful for this opportunity to reassure Mr Hunt that we have done and will continue to do all that we can to support him and his daughter. We very much hope our extensive efforts will contribute to a positive outcome for him, but we are limited in the scope of our powers as we are operating in the jurisdiction of another sovereign country. We have provided Mr Hunt with consular assistance at every possible juncture and in every way we properly can, in line with our consular policy. The Mexican authorities are acutely aware of the case and I am satisfied that they are handling it in line with their judicial process. I am also confident that they will inform us as soon as they have any news. Britain has a strong bilateral relationship with Mexico and I hope that relationship will have a positive influence on the outcome of this case. It would be harder if we were dealing with a country with which Britain has difficult diplomatic relationships, but it is hard enough as it is, with a friendly country.

We have worked closely with the Mexican authorities successfully to return children to the UK this year under the convention. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the way the Mexican authorities have acted swiftly upon the conclusion of the judicial process to resolve such complicated cases with a great deal of sensitivity and professionalism, and my hope is that the same will apply in this case.

Mr Hunt’s case, however, remains unresolved. I recognise the distress he must be feeling after more than three years of separation from his daughter. I hope it is clear that we continue to treat Mr Hunt’s case as a priority and are working to get a resolution. I have met the right hon. Gentleman and Mr Hunt to discuss the case, and I have spoken to or written to the Mexican Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister or Federal Attorney General about Mr Hunt’s case on eight separate occasions since July 2010. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware,

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the Foreign Secretary also raised it directly with his Mexican counterpart in June this year. Furthermore, our consular officials and ambassador continue to do all they can to raise Mr Hunt’s case with their Mexican counterparts. It was apparent during my visit to Mexico in October this year that our representations have ensured a high level of awareness of Mr Hunt’s case and our concerns. When I raised the case with Ministers, they were aware of it just on the basis of Mr Hunt’s name, even before I had the chance to go into any details.

Our efforts have not yet helped to produce the resolution Mr Hunt is looking for, but we will of course continue to raise his case where possible and appropriate. However, we should only do so if it is likely to help to resolve Mr Hunt’s case. I am therefore keen for us to remain in close contact with Mr Hunt’s lawyer and be guided by her on when any efforts by our consular staff and ambassador to engage with the Mexican authorities would be most effective for the case. Our ambition is a successful resolution; we have no other ambitions beyond that in this case.

In closing, I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman again for raising this difficult case and to recognise the diligence with which he has pursued it on behalf of his constituent. I can assure him that we will continue to do all that we properly can to support Mr Hunt. However, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in essence, this is a legal matter in Mexico, although I sincerely hope that Mr Hunt receives some positive news soon. Being out of contact with one’s child must cause unimaginable stress. I strongly support Mr Hunt in his case and in any legitimate course of action that he feels will help him to be reunited with his daughter.

On that note—that sad note, I am afraid—let me say that it is a privilege for me to finish the proceedings in the House of Commons this year. I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all your staff a happy Christmas.

Mr Speaker: Those good wishes are reciprocated, and I thank the Minister of State.

Question put and agreed to.

7.30 pm

House adjourned.