Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet









Representations heard in Public

Questions 1 - 17



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Taken before the Backbench Business Committee

on Monday 29 November 2010

Members present:

Natascha Engel (Chair)

Jane Ellison

John Hemming

Philip Hollobone

Ian Mearns

Annette Brooke, Nic Dakin and John Hemming made representations.

Annette Brooke: Do you want me to begin?

Q1 Chair: Yes, please. We have your motion.

Annette Brooke: I appeared briefly before, when there was a pressing debate on IPSA, but I made the point that this issue was about some of the most vulnerable people in the country. I am suggesting a motion that could be tabled for debate. I really want to explain how some elderly-and obviously not the wealthiest-people are intimidated, harassed and bullied and, without a doubt, some are victims of fraud.

I circulated a brief summary of a few cases that show how a park home site owner can interfere with the sale of a park home. In a recent example in my constituency, a home sold on the open market, as you’re allowed to do, for £90,000. The site owner has the right to request a meeting with the prospective buyer. You can see the sense of that, because the buyer has to be able to pay the lease and the rent on the site and so on. Then, the site owner trumps up all sorts of stories. You hear that repeated over the whole country, which has quite a spread of park homes.

In the briefing, I reproduced an answer to a parliamentary question, just to give us some idea of the scale. In 2009, it was suggested that there were about 1,800 park home sites, and we’re probably talking about 84,000 residents. Of course, there are some very good site owners, but as it stands, the legislation permits these appalling practices. I would further like to draw the Committee’s attention to a case in my constituency that went to court last Monday. I have the newspaper cuttings if people would like to see them.

Q2 Chair: If you leave those with us, that would be great. We really want to find out what you are applying for. You are obviously applying for a Chamber day because you have a votable motion. How long do you think the debate should be? Three hours? The full six hours?

Annette Brooke: Definitely not six hours. I think that it needs to be at least two hours given the number of people who would want to come and talk. That would be the scale of the debate.

Q3 Chair: How many other MPs have you got signed up to this?

Annette Brooke: Not including myself or anybody else in this room, I have 14 people definitively signed up.

Q4 Chair: Has that got a cross-party spread?

Annette Brooke: I do have two people from the Labour party. As I explained when I came before, park home sites tend to be in constituencies that have a rural element. One person from the Labour party is a shadow spokesperson, but they are from the south where there are a lot of problems with park home sites. There is a spread, and I have certainly e-mailed across the board. There are probably more Labour people with whom I have not yet had face-to-face talks.

I’ve also got Conor Burns here, and somebody else who might like to say something about this.

Chair: He’s here for Europe.

Nic Dakin: Yes, I am.

Chair: Does anybody have any questions for Annette Brooke?

Q5 Jane Ellison: Just a quick follow-up to the point about the numbers. Depending on timing, would you be fairly confident that if the slot was for the last two hours on a Thursday, or something like that, people would stay and sustain the debate?

Annette Brooke: We now have a very active group of park home owners. They will be lobbying their MPs intensely to make sure that they are here. They are beginning to get quite good at that. That’s the best guarantee I can give, knowing what Thursday is like. People power is now out there.

Q6 Chair: Is there a time limit to this? It is obviously an issue that has been ongoing for a while. Is there any reason why you have to have the debate before a certain time-could it be before Christmas, or after?

Annette Brooke: There is no need for me to say that I need the debate before Christmas. Obviously, it would be a good start to the new year, with all the pressurising that we need to do. I only emphasise the issue, which is that legislation is not currently protecting these people. It’s all too easy to sit back and say, "Oh, it’ll be all right eventually", but we know that it won’t be. As I said, I have just won this court case-it’s great when a local authority takes a site owner to court. The point is that the people living on the site will have a terrible time because there will be even more bullying and intimidation now that he has been fined in the court and found guilty.

Chair: Thank you very much. You are very welcome to stay for the rest of the session.

Annette Brooke: Stephen Lloyd is here, too.

Q7 Chair: Thank you for coming. Your support is noted.

Hello, Nic. Are you clear about the format of this?

Nic Dakin: No, give me some clarity. I have been before.

Chair: You have, yes. It is exactly the same. It is just a brief pitch.

Nic Dakin: It will be very brief and succinct. I have come to the Backbench Business Committee today to ask you to consider having a debate on European matters prior to the European Council meeting on 16-17 December. I understand that it has always been the practice of the House of Commons to have debates on Europe prior to the Council meetings. The issue has been raised with the Leader of the House in the last two sessions of business questions. There are concerns across the House that we should be able to hold such a debate prior to the European Council meeting. The request is supported by Bill Cash, who is Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and it is for half a day’s debate.

Q8 Chair: Is it a debate for the Chamber or Westminster Hall, because we have no days allocated to us in the Chamber before the European Council meets?

Nic Dakin: I think, pragmatically, it needs to be a request for Westminster Hall as that is the only space available for such a debate. The important thing is for the House to have the opportunity to debate the matter before what may turn out to be one of the most important European Council meetings in December.

Chair: Any questions?

Q9 Ian Mearns: Nic, are you aware of anyone else, apart from yourself and Bill Cash, who is promoting this?

Nic Dakin: If we go back to business questions, it was raised by a wide number of Members from across the parties. You can go back and consult Hansard. My interest in the urgency of this has been fairly recent.

Q10 Chair: Basically, it will be Westminster Hall, where the maximum time will be three hours.

Nic Dakin: The important thing is for the House to have the opportunity to debate the matter prior to the European Council meeting. So, if the only opportunity is in Westminster Hall, that would be a pragmatic way forward.

Chair: Thank you.

John Hemming: I am looking for two different substantive motions to address two important issues. We don’t have time before Christmas, so this is obviously an issue for us to consider for after Christmas. Because I am a member of the Committee and cannot participate in the discussions, now is a good opportunity for me to present evidence and talk about the issues. At a later stage, the Committee can consider the matter without me being present. Obviously, if you need me for the quorum, this proposal cannot be put forward.

I am sure that colleagues are aware of the problem of bullied constituents, and I have two particular cases-that of Andrew France who has been threatened by Birmingham City Council and was told that his daughter will be taken into care if he continued to talk to me; and that of Noreen Akhtar, who has also been very badly treated by Birmingham City Council. The City Council threatened one of my constituents and her sister that if they continued talking to me about her case, which is in the Court of Protection, they would be jailed themselves. Both cases are dreadful. I’ve circulated information to many hon. Members about this, and a number have come back to me, expressing concern because they, too, have encountered situations in which constituents have been threatened in an attempt to stop them talking to their MP. Jim Dobbin also had this with a family court case. Another colleague told me today about a family court case in which the local authority said, "You can’t talk to your MP." Richard Bacon had this with a different sort of case. They are working quite closely with me on these issues.

I would like to put forward a substantive motion to refer both the France and Akhtar cases to the Standards and Privileges Committee. A discussion on this issue has been going on for some time. What I’m talking about would take only 15 minutes, so a large amount of time is not required. I’m now doing a petition in support of this around the House and so far I have about 40 responses in support, without trying particularly hard. I’m working towards getting majority support from the House to achieve this.

That’s the first matter. Would you like me to tell you what the second one is before I-

Q11 Chair: Yes.

John Hemming: I’ll explain the second one. Noreen Akhtar is a good example. This is a lady who has mild learning disabilities, and when I looked at the court paperwork, it was clear that the Mental Capacity Act 2005 hadn’t been followed. These are all historic decisions. There is an element of there being future decisions on this case, but the historic-

Q12 Chair: John, as you know as a member of the Committee, what we’re really interested in is a pitch for what it is that you’re after, because we have the motion here.

John Hemming: What I’m after is setting up a committee to investigate secret prisoners, because there are a lot of secret prisoners in this country, in various categories. You get those who are jailed for criminal offences but whose names are not allowed to be revealed, such as Martin McCabe, who has now been released. You get those such as Yvonne Goder who are jailed for contempt of court in the Court of Protection. You get people, such as Noreen Akhtar and Matthew Hawkesworth, whose liberty is removed for care reasons. These processes are not properly held to account and it is Parliament’s job to do that. If we establish a parliamentary committee-a committee of investigation-to look at these issues, we can hold the system to account properly.

Q13 Chair: So the representation that you’re making to the Committee now is for a short debate?

John Hemming: A motion and a short debate on secret prisoners, to establish a committee of inquiry for us to look at secret prisoners, in the various categories.

Q14 Chair: Which other Members are supporting you?

John Hemming: On that issue, I would have to do a bit more work. I thought that now was a good opportunity to mention this matter-even though, obviously, we can’t do anything until the new year-simply because there aren’t any other people at the Committee. I think the issue of people being jailed in secret and the banning of the reporting in the media of what’s going on and why they’re in prison-why their liberty has gone-is one that Parliament should look at. I am well aware of other hon. Members who are concerned about these issues. I intend to circulate information and find out who else would wish to sit on such a committee.

Q15 Jane Ellison: As you know, one of the questions we ask people is whether they have sought another route. Would the issue of secret prisoners not be appropriate, potentially, for a select committee inquiry?

John Hemming: The difficulty with a select committee inquiry is that if the Ministry of Justice wanted, say, to look at the Official Solicitor’s office, it can’t look at individual cases, and the Official Solicitor refuses to respond to correspondence from me on individual cases. His argument is that he’s not accountable to Parliament. So it needs the collective authority of a committee to get answers from the Official Solicitor.

Q16 Chair: Have you put in for an Adjournment debate on this?

John Hemming: That wouldn’t achieve anything, because it’s just a debate and we need a committee of inquiry with the ability to send for papers.

Q17 Jane Ellison: But you are the master when it comes to procedure. I’m surprised that you think that we could have a debate and pass a motion setting up a new committee. I’m obviously a new Member and I don’t know, but I would have thought that you needed to do that through other channels.

John Hemming: No, it is done through a substantive motion. I’ve drafted the form of words. It’s based on the form of words used for the committee of inquiry into the arrest of Damian Green.

Chair: Is there anybody else who wants to ask a question? No? Thank you very much.

John Hemming: I presume that goes into the pending box until I’m not here.

Chair: That concludes the representation session.