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Finally, I want to consider the problem of electricity prices. I have a chart illustrating the estimated prices in 2015. I cannot hold it up, because we cannot do PowerPoint stuff in the Chamber, but the best estimates show that the cost per megawatt-hour delivered in Germany will be about €50, and in the United Kingdom €70. In the United States it will be €35, in the Nordic countries €45 and in France a bit less than in Germany, maybe €48. Those are estimates, but we—by “we” I mean our steel industry—pay higher tax on electricity than the United States or our main European steel-making competitors.

I understand the desire to reduce our carbon output and the Treasury’s perfectly reasonable desire to get what tax it can from whatever source it can. I know that my speech could be described as special pleading, but the comparators with most other countries show that the British steel industry remains fundamentally disadvantaged by the higher cost of electricity, which is needed for melting steel. It cannot be done with a Bunsen burner or by putting the gas cooker on, it needs 2,000° C to 3,000° C-worth of electricity delivered fast and hard.

David Mowat: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that every Member should spend some time looking at a blast furnace. The one that I saw was in Port Talbot. It is quite an emotional experience.

The right hon. Gentleman is making a case about high energy prices, and it is a fact that they destroy jobs and value in industries of the type that he is representing today. However, I am not quite so clear about what his solution is, given everybody’s apparent desire to have more windmills.

Mr MacShane: It is to invest in a mixture of energy sources, and I would focus on nuclear. We simply need a wider national debate about what is important, including maintaining a steel and manufacturing sector as part of the broader economy. It is reducing in size and will never generate millions of jobs again, but we need a debate about whether it is worth while, particularly in the part of England that is getting less and less attention from this very southern-focused Government. The hon. Gentleman made the point that if Newcastle were knocked out of the rugby union premier league, rugby union would become an entirely southern-based sport. I want more balance in our economy and our sport, much though I am delighted that Chelsea beat the Germans on Saturday.

I will finish by quoting Karl-Ulrich Köhler, the managing director of Tata Steel here in the UK. He praised the Budget, saying:

“The Chancellor is rightly aiming to reward work”,

but he said that it

“did little to ease the additional unilateral energy costs that UK industry must bear. The benefits to industry pale into insignificance against the costs imposed on them from existing energy and climate change regulations, which are rising alarmingly in the UK.”

That is “Made in Britain” regulation. It has nothing to do with the EU. I am going to sit down now, but I could make the case that the European model of manufacturing, steel and energy prices is much more intelligent and co-ordinated than ours. If we had the same model, it

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would hugely benefit manufacturing, particularly the steel industry. I urge Ministers to pay particular attention to the matter.

I would get on my knees to say that even if we have much better and fairer electricity prices, we can make all the products we want, but while we have a recession-focused Chancellor who seems to draw some weird pleasure from the British economy shrinking, there will be no money to buy those products and the firms of Rotherham will face a very bleak future. That goes not just for our huge steel industry but for every firm that needs a decent level of demand in the economy, which is currently being denied the UK.

3.30 pm

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I ended my speech in the Christmas recess debate by saying:

“I am amazed that the leaders of the Christian faith around the world, whether the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, through the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Pope, have remained silent. It is time that the Christian leaders spoke up for the people of the holy land.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 1292.]

Five months of silence has followed. Collectively—with certain significant exceptions—the Christian Church has abandoned not only the holy land but the indigenous Palestinian people. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury might like to check precisely what the parable of the Good Samaritan is about.

Hunger strikes by hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons have gone barely noticed by the British media. One thing is certain: the holocaust of 70 years ago was not the fault of the Palestinians. It seems, however, that Europe’s collective guilt for what happened is represented by the collective repression and punishment of the Palestinians.

The preamble to the UN charter states that the UN was created, among other things,

“to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights…to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained…to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”


“to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”.

It specifically states that

“armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”

and refers to

“the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.

Article 1, chapter 1 of the charter refers to the need to

“develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take…appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”,

and to the need to encourage

“respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.

Mr MacShane: The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech, and I do not dissent from some of the points he makes. The puzzle is that in 1948 Israel was allowed to be created by the UN, so why was the Palestinian state not created then, with East Jerusalem as its capital and including the west bank and Gaza? Why did Palestine not come into being at that time?

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Sir Bob Russell: I can answer that only by saying that in the year of my birth, the state of Israel did not exist, but today, maps of the middle east show that it occupies virtually the entirety of what used to be Palestine.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the state of Israel should exist?

Sir Bob Russell: My view is that those who reside in Israel and Palestine should live in peace together, regardless of faith, whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jewish people or people of no faith. History is on my side and time will prove me right.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Vis-à-vis Israel and Palestine, does the hon. Gentleman believe in a two-state solution in the middle east?

Sir Bob Russell: Sadly, the attitude of the state of Israel is such that the probability of a two-state solution being achieved is moving rapidly towards zero.

The UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, adopted on 13 September 2007, states

“indigenous people should be free from discrimination of any kind”.

It also makes reference to

“the urgent need to respect…their rights to their lands, territories and resources”.

Sadly, there is one country with which this country, every EU country and the United States have strong links but which practises policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against its indigenous people. I refer to the state of Israel.

On 11 September, the Israeli Cabinet decided to pursue the plan to resolve the long-standing issues faced by the country’s 200,000 Arab Bedouin population living in the southern Negev desert. The plan, known as the Prawer plan, will result in at least 30,000 people losing their homes. The Bedouin are Israel’s indigenous people, as accepted by the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, but the Israeli Government refuse to accept it. Israel wants to move tens of thousands of Bedouin from their homes and villages into Government townships that are already overcrowded and have a large range of social and economic problems.

Last year, I had the privilege of visiting Palestine and Israel, the west bank and East Jerusalem. I witnessed at first hand those policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories—a separate matter from that of the Arab Bedouin. We have heard today about the Arab spring, but I am referring to the Arab winter. Palestinian children are being arrested, ill treated and, it is arguable, tortured. Some are being detained in Israel in violation of article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention.

I have raised concerns about the Israel-Palestine issue on numerous occasions in the House, most recently yesterday at International Development questions, when I again asked about ethnic cleansing and apartheid. On 11 January, I put my point directly to the Prime Minister. In response, he said that the United Kingdom was

“a country that should stand up for clear human rights and clear rights and wrongs in international relations. This Government have been very clear that we do not agree with the Israeli Government’s

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practice on settlements…and this Government will continue to act and vote on illegal settlements.”—[

Official Report

, 11 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 178.]

I also raised these issues on 15 December at business questions. On 16 May, in a written question, I asked the Foreign Secretary

“what representations he has made to the EU not to renew Israel’s special trading status in view of its continued occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in contravention of UN Resolutions”.

In response, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), wrote:

“We support closer ties between Israel and the international community… The EU has been very clear that no progress can be made on upgrading the wider EU-Israel relationship until there is substantial progress towards a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a position the UK supports.”—[Official Report, 16 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 200W.]

On 15 September, I asked about the illegal settlements, and on 28 February, in an oral question to the Foreign Secretary, I raised for the first time the serious possibility of an Israeli armed attack on Iran. I asked the Foreign Secretary for a clear guarantee that the UK would not support Israel, militarily or diplomatically, should such an attack take place. He replied:

“We are not calling for or advocating a military attack on Iran, and at this moment we advise others not to do so. But we also believe that it is important to keep Iran under pressure and that no options are taken off the table.”—[Official Report, 28 February 2012; Vol. 541, c. 149.]

I have asked numerous other questions on human rights and the occupation.

Another interesting subject is how Israel ignores international law on the freedom of shipping in international waters. I tabled a written question about that last month, to which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, replied:

“The most recent incident of which we are aware”—

which suggests that there is more than one—

“is that relating to the HS Beethoven, which was boarded by the Israel Defence Force on 22 April 2012.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 1350W.]

So there we have it: international law and United Nations resolutions can, it seems, all be ignored by Israel without any retribution or action by this country, the European Union or the United Nations.

I am grateful to Ted from Liverpool, who has sent me some background information. He ends his message—the subject of which is “War War not Jaw Jaw is Israel’s way”—with the words:

“End the Occupation, then there will be Peace.”

He says:

“Many of us worry that Israel will drag us into a war with Iran… We now learn”—

the Foreign Secretary’s answer tended to confirm this—

“that Government Ministers are considering how we might be involved in the event of an Israeli strike and an Iranian response. America has already stated its own position in a Bill, HR 4133… Texan Representative Ron Paul, the only one to speak out against it, has said ‘...the objective is to provide Israel with the resources to attack Iran, if it chooses to do so, while tying the US and Israel so closely together that whatever Benjamin Netanyahu does, the US “will always be there”, as our president has so aptly put it.’…the vote was 411 to 2 in favour”

of the Bill.

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Incidentally, just as a throwaway line, I am advised that the Olympic games organisers have listed Israel as a country in Europe.

Ted writes that recently in the other House,

“Baroness Brinton spoke of an Israeli army order to demolish 1,500 olive trees in Deir Istiya… the Foreign Office, whilst condemning Israel’s abuse of human rights in its Human Rights & Democracy Report for 2011, merely remonstrates with Israel over its abuses and at the same time rewards it with favoured nation treatment and trading agreements.”

Eric of Ipswich tells me:

“we are well used to Israel ejecting Palestinians from their own homes, for demolition… It is also normal for Israel to destroy Palestinian farms and land, to prevent the local population feeding itself”.

In fact, I have witnessed that myself on the west bank, where a priority for some of the illegal Israeli settlements is to stop up watercourses, depriving the indigenous population of water to grow crops, because the water is needed by the settlers for their swimming pools. Eric continues:

“in Yatta, Rateb al-Jabour…Israeli soldiers accompanied by policemen and members of the Israeli civil administration raided the area with heavy machinery and destroyed six tents housing over 30 people.”

The object of the Israeli demolition was

“to empty it of…local residents to expand the nearby”

illegal settlement of Sosiya. Israeli forces recently

“demolished an animal barn… south of Hebron,”


“Israeli bulldozers demolished…a 600-square-meter chicken hut, built 30 years ago, in…a village southwest of Ramallah”.

In the other House, the Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell was challenged over the destruction of Palestinian olive groves, to which, I am led to believe, he responded by saying, “Well, there are two sides to an illegal invasion/occupation,” which is an extraordinary statement. We have to ask the question put to me by Eric of Ipswich:

“How many more people have to die and suffer, before Israel is made to obey international law?”

He concludes:

“The one and only problem is the illegal occupation. Please use your position to put an end to the misery, require Israel to live in peace with its neighbours instead of attacking them all, and allow Palestinian farmers of olives and other crops and livestock, to earn their living and feed their people.”

In conclusion, I should like to draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 57, tabled by me, on the Co-operative Group’s Israeli boycott. I hope that all will support it. Sadly, Tesco does not do so: it continues to sell produce grown on land stolen from Palestinians by Israeli settlers. However, the Co-operative Group is banning all Israeli goods from the occupied Palestinian west bank. The motion

“calls on all other supermarket chains and suppliers to follow the excellent lead of the Co-operative Group; recalls that it was such boycott policies which helped end apartheid in South Africa; and calls on the Government to make representations to the EU to urge that all member states issue similar boycott measures and to end the special trading status which the EU has with Israel.”

Mr MacShane: Does the hon. Gentleman know the German term “Kauft nicht bei Juden”? If he does not, he can look it up when he reads Hansard tomorrow.

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I was in South Africa, where the minority white Government behaved abominably. I could not meet a black friend in an hotel. I worked with the black trade unions there. I share many of the hon. Gentleman’s criticisms of Israel, but the last time I was there, I could meet Arab Israeli parliamentarians and Arab supreme court judges, and I saw Arab women and their families swimming alongside Jews in the sea off Tel Aviv. The apartheid comparison is there for one reason only: an apartheid state cannot exist; it has no right to exist. Those who call Israel—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. With respect, the right hon. Gentleman spoke for 20 minutes, and he knows full well that interventions must be brief. A lot of Members are still waiting to speak, and I will need to consider imposing a time limit if speeches do not get a little shorter.

Sir Bob Russell: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am unable to comment on what the right hon. Gentleman has said, as I have no personal knowledge of the points that he made.

I shall conclude by reading part of early-day motion 9, which

“calls on the UK Government not to support Israel in its continuing acts of breaches of international law and UN resolutions in respect of illegal action in international waters and in the illegal occupation of the West Bank and the annexation of East Jerusalem.”

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I should like to expand on my previous comment. We need to arrive at the wind-up speeches by 5.30 pm at the latest. If each Member who has indicated that they wish to speak takes approximately 10 minutes, they will all have the opportunity to participate. If that does not happen over the course of the next couple of speeches, I shall have to resort to imposing a time limit, but I am sure that I can trust all Members to watch the clock and make their points succinctly.

3.48 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. First, may I say that I entirely agree with everything that the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) has said? My subject is completely different, however.

An historic event occurred on Tuesday this week. A freight train carrying full-scale lorry trailers from the continent through the channel tunnel arrived at a freight trans-shipment terminal at Barking, on the north of the Thames and to the east of London, for the first time. This was a simple demonstration of what should be the future for the millions of tonnes of freight that are carried every year on our roads. They can and should be carried by rail. The train that arrived at Barking could carry those lorry trailers no further, however, as the loading gauge on Britain’s rail network is too small to accommodate such traffic. We shall not see that massive modal shift from road to rail until trailers on trains can be carried the length and breadth of our country. I should point out that carbon dioxide emissions from heavy road freight are 12 times higher per tonne-mile than those from rail.

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There is a scheme to build a dedicated or freight-priority line from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, linking all our major conurbations with each other and with the continent of Europe and beyond. I have been involved with the scheme for a decade or more, but I must point out that I have no pecuniary interest in it whatever. I work closely with the other members of the team, who include two railway engineers and Ken Russell of Russell Transport, the second-largest haulier in Scotland, which operates the Barking terminal.

The plan is to build a 400-mile line on unused track bed and under-utilised lines, with only 14 miles of new track route for the entire length. There will be a series of terminals—to the north-west of London, in the east midlands and west midlands, in south Yorkshire, south Lancashire and in Scotland. It will have an extension to the north-east and later to the south-west and south Wales. It is designed to work with road hauliers so that they can tractor their trailers to their nearest terminal and dispatch them by rail for transport to a terminal near their final destination. In its early stages, it will, as now, use the channel tunnel rail link—High Speed 1—but a separate line through Kent is incorporated in the final design. It will be built to a gauge to accommodate double-stacked full-size containers.

A large-gauge rail freight network is already well ahead on the continent of Europe with tunnels through the Alps and a 28-mile tunnel through the Brenner pass. There is also the Betuweroute, already built and running between Rotterdam and the Ruhr. If we do not build our new line, Britain will simply be left as a peripheral, antiquated and inadequate provider of rail freight, with consequent damage to our economy—a withering branch on the international railway tree.

Under our scheme, Scotch whisky could be delivered by rail to Berlin, Rome and points east reliably, efficiently and in an environmentally beneficial way. It would save thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions every year and overcome the problem of road congestion and drivers’ hours constraints that currently affect road haulage.

Our team and I have met successive Transport Ministers, and we are hopeful that it will not be long before the Government give us the green light. We are assured that, with a nod from the Government, bank finance would be forthcoming very quickly. The scheme will be cheap to build and self-financing when up and running. We anticipate that it would take 5 million lorry journeys off our roads every year, and take most of the freight traffic from the west coast and east coast main lines, freeing up that capacity for more passenger trains.

Based on HS1 costings, we calculate that the whole route will be constructed for less than £6 billion—a fraction of HS2, if I may say so. Indeed, one of the rail constructors suggested to us that it could do it for less than £4 billion. We have wide support. The supermarkets are keen; Eurotunnel is enthusiastic; the rail constructors are interested; and AXA, the insurance giant, has said that it is interested in investing in the terminals—it currently owns the freehold of the Barking terminal.

Under the last Government, I led a team of all the supporters to meet the then Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon. It seemed that the only concern was that our line along the old great central route might take up the route required for HS2. The fact is that

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there is a stretch of only a few miles for which HS2 and our freight route would need run side by side, and it would cause no problems.

This rail scheme is desperately needed, and I believe that its time has come. It just needs a positive nod from the Government. I emphasise that I have no pecuniary interest—just a passionate belief that this scheme is vital for our country.

3.52 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee, of which I confess I am a member, on providing this opportunity for debate. I have observed that some colleagues have used it extremely well, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who spoke so movingly. I congratulate her, too, on bringing the military wives choir to Portcullis House yesterday.

I wish to raise a number of points on the Whitsun Adjournment. First, I have three early-day motions, which I urge colleagues to sign before we rise for the recess. The first congratulates West Ham United on being promoted to the premiership, despite some poor management and over-inflated ticket prices. The second congratulates Chelsea on beating Bayern Munich. The third, with which I suspect Conservative Members might be pleased, condemns the behaviour of some of the people attending the Police Federation conference. I thought that their behaviour was disgraceful, particularly the way they tried to bully and intimidate the Home Secretary. I thought that, for them, it was a public relations disaster.

I shall turn now to online newspaper comments. I am increasingly concerned with the whole system whereby people can publish material in electronic newspaper articles without supplying their names and addresses. This is totally unacceptable. There are swear words and expletives, but there seems to be no legislation to deal with the problem. None of us really has the money to fight cases through the courts, even if that were possible. I know that whenever an article is written about me in one local newspaper—which I do not send to it—the abuse is endless. It is water off a duck’s back for me, but for some people who are rather close to me it can be a little bit offensive. I welcome the Defamation Bill, but I think that there should be much stricter controls. It is absolutely gutless not to force those who wish to say abusive things online to leave their names and addresses.

Public anger has recently been directed at the high pay received by private sector bosses, most notably those in the big banks, but what regulation is there to deal with some public sector executives? In 2009, 31 council bosses earned more than the Prime Minister, which is crazy, and chief executives of public bodies can take home more than £250,000 a year. I am not satisfied that there is proper scrutiny of public organisations, including some in Essex such as the probation service and NHS trusts.

I find it less than acceptable that a Member of Parliament should have to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to confirm, after a number of months, that those who were consulted on the closure of Leigh police station lived miles away, so effectively there was no consultation. It has taken me two years just to confirm that the present chief constable of Essex was chosen from a shortlist of one. That is outrageous.

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Apparently the other candidates had withdrawn on the day. When I asked who had made the decision not to re-advertise the position, I was told that the decision had been made in the first instance by Essex police authority. That says it all. In 30 years, Essex police authority has never engaged with me, as a Member of Parliament. As I have said, there needs to be much greater scrutiny. Anyone can get rid of Members of Parliament after—now—five years, but some public bodies seem to be a law unto themselves.

I must admit that one of my children had an unfortunate experience recently with a private clamping company. We are dealing with it through the small claims court, and I am determined that we will win. To charge someone £480 and then intimidate and bully them is totally unacceptable. I understand that the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 will outlaw wheel-clamping on private land, and I welcome that, but I think that private clamping companies should be much more tightly regulated.

Kelvin Hopkins: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Amess: I think that I must accept your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. Some of us have been here since 1 pm, and I know that you are very keen to give everyone a chance to speak. I apologise for not giving way on this occasion.

I am dismayed that victims of the Vioxx disaster are still struggling to obtain compensation. Vioxx was the biggest drugs disaster in human history, killing more than 100,000 people worldwide and leaving many more suffering horrific side effects. With that in mind, I find it unbelievable that victims are still fighting legal battles. So far, the United States of America is the only country in which a Vioxx settlement has been won. Attempts at settlements have been made in Canada and Australia, but we do not seem to be progressing too well in this country.

I am also concerned about the impact of drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. All of us with children know that the biggest challenge we face is bringing them up, but I am very worried about something that has been brought to my attention by a constituent, Mrs Stephanie Lister: the fact that children with behavioural disorders are being described as having ADHD. Very young children are often issued with powerful treatments such as Ritalin, and Mrs Lister wondered whether the damage that they might cause had ever been considered. Children often complain of chest pains, vomiting and even total memory loss as a result of taking medications for behavioural conditions. Such prescriptions provide big business. In 2010 the NHS spent £48 million on ADHD drugs. The number of prescriptions has increased steadily over the past decade, and is currently at about the 750,000 mark. That is quite extraordinary.

I am very concerned about the political situation in the Maldives. The resignation of President Nasheed in February caused great turmoil. Last week the Speaker of the Maldives Parliament came to see me. Its Parliament is in deadlock, while the Speaker was barred from entering the state opening ceremony. He wisely chose not to intervene with force. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to do as much possible to help with the situation in the Maldives.

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We in Essex are very upmarket, so we talk about children, not kids, but two weeks ago the “kids count” awards took place on the House of Commons Terrace, and it was a privilege to be there. I presented one of my constituents, Stephanie Migliorini, with the “kids count” award for the most inspirational young person. It was a wonderful evening. Various celebs were present, including Tony Hadley, the still-great singer, and Darren Campbell, the still-great runner. Seventeen-year-old Stephanie has two older brothers with tremendous challenges, and she has looked after them magnificently.

I am proud to have been given a new book written by one of my constituents. Simon Sear has written the inspirational “Kencho: the Art of Happiness”—which, of course, we all chase. He is the husband of Juliet Sear from the popular local bakery, Fancy Nancy. The book outlines a personal transformation programme, drawing on psychological tools and Simon’s personal experience, and its focus on happiness reinforces the social messages of the current Government. I recommend it to all colleagues as a good bedtime read.

I was delighted that one of my hon. Friends mentioned the comments made by the managing director of the International Monetary Fund only this week. Some Opposition Members must be suffering from amnesia: for 13 years we had a Labour Government. For 13 years that Government had an opportunity to transform our nation’s prospects, but, started off by Tony Blair and then finished by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), our country was left in a dreadful state. No wonder the managing director of the IMF said she shivers to think what would have happened without the fiscal consolidation implemented by our new Government. I hope they stand firm on our current policy.

Last Thursday, Southend was blessed with the arrival of a new cultural centre on the end of what is the longest pier in the world. It is the first new building to be constructed on the pier since 2000—that is because, unfortunately, we have had three fires over the last 50 years. The building weighs 170 tonnes and it was carried by boat down the river Thames. I think it will be an icon for the eastern region, and I urge all Members to visit it.

Everyone is looking forward to the Olympics celebrations that will take place throughout the country. The arrival of the Olympics torch in the south-west has been absolutely marvellous, and I congratulate those who have made it possible for 95% of the population to be involved. Of course the highlight will be when the torch comes to Southend on 6 July. Mark Foster has been announced as one of the torch bearers, and the torch will be met by a choir of 2,000 people. It will be a wonderful occasion, and I am advised that there will also be some flash-mob dancing.

Next week, we will have the jubilee celebrations. In fact, we have the jubilee party in Westminster Hall this evening, and I know that many hon. Members will be on the Terrace on Sunday 3 June. Southend has had 67 applications for street parties, so we are certainly going to celebrate 60 glorious years of the sovereign reigning over us. I also just wish the House and all our officials a happy Whitsun recess.

4.5 pm

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I will endeavour to speak succinctly on one issue. I rise as a Back Bencher, and I am aware that many of us make suggestions to the

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Government about policies that usually have the characteristic of costing money. I am delighted to say that the proposal I am going to outline will save the Government about £30 billion per annum. The case I wish to make is for the abolition of tax relief on pensions. If we were to get rid of that relief, it also would enable us, if we so wished, to increase the basic pension by between 50% and 60%, and to reverse the tax raid that resulted from the previous Government’s changes to private pension arrangements. Private pension arrangements in this country are a disaster.

The question might arise as to who would lose from this proposal. They would not be the people who are saving for their retirement, because the industry with which they have saved has failed completely to enable them to do that. I will develop that point a little further later. As far as I am able to make out, the only significant losers from this proposal would be estate agents in Kensington and Chelsea, which is where the supernormal profits from the industry that is supposed to look after our retirements are going.

In broad terms, there are two models for pensions. One is the one we have, whereby tax relief is given, people are encouraged to save in their own right and they then have their pots, which they can use at the end. The other model is that used in most of the rest of Europe, whereby the state has a much higher position in helping and the consequence is higher basic pension provision by the state. In general, I would prefer our model, if it worked—it would be a model that I am more comfortable with. It is a market-based model that encourages people to do the right thing and then have more money in retirement. Unfortunately, it has not worked and is not working, and there is a real policy issue to address for Governments of whatever type.

Let me give some evidence of the failure: approximately 50% of people have a poor view of the retirement industry; one third of people in the private sector do not save at all for their pensions; and another third who do save have an average pension pot in the order of £35,000, which will buy them a pension of about £1,500 per annum. The further evidence of failure in this area is that the Government, rather than reforming the current system, are introducing compulsion, because people will not save under the existing structures.

All this has happened because we have a market failure. As I say, I would prefer a market-based solution. We have a market that is too complex, in which there is no transparency and, most seriously, a massive asymmetry of information between the suppliers of these financial products and the people buying them. Punters need to demonstrate a massive degree of intellectual self-confidence in challenging the people who are selling pensions, the fund managers and so on. That is not going to be fixed by better financial regulation, although the situation could have been fixed with better advice—that is really what should have happened. The difficulty is that the advice industry of individual financial advisers was entirely hijacked by the pension fund provision industry in terms of commission, trailing commission and all that goes with that. As a result, independent advice has not been available and that has compounded the issue.

I want to say a couple of things about charges. The Financial Services Authority estimates that 31% of private pension pots go in charges. That does not include the so-called churn charges, which are the cost of buying

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and selling shares at differing rates and the equity within that, as the average pension fund churns every seven months. If we take churn charges into account, it is nearer to 50%.

Over the past decade, at a time in which pension funds have been increasing in size, one would expect economies of scale to have taken down the average pension percentage charge. In that decade, charges have risen because of the market failure. Significantly, a lot of academic research says that the difference between the pension fund industry in this country and that of the US is about 100 basis points a year—1% a year in extra charges that are almost certainly going on supernormal profits. That is the money that the Government are providing through pension tax relief.

I am keen not to take too long, so I would like to leave my hon. Friend on the Front Bench with a figure for the savings, with a description of how I got to that number. In broad terms, the fund industry in this country is worth £2.5 trillion a year. So, the funds under management are £2.5 trillion and if we accept—it is pretty clear that it is true—that 1% of that represents the supernormal overcharging caused by the market failure that I have described, which does not exist in other countries, there is a supernormal profit of £25 billion to £30 billion a year. Conveniently, that is pretty close to the amount of money that we give the industry in tax relief. I do not think that the industry expects it to continue, as it is as astonished about it as many of the rest of us are.

It is not good enough for the Government to make proposals for compulsion through auto-enrolment when they are superimposing them on the rotten industry, which continues to fail, rather than reforming it. The reform could take place through caps on charges, which the Government introduced for the stakeholder industry and will not do for this. The National Employment Savings Trust, the Government’s own provision of auto-enrolment fund management, could then be given a higher profile. Some of the restrictions on NEST should not remain, either.

I leave the Deputy Leader of the House with the thought that my proposal offers £30 billion to £35 billion and I do not even want any commission.

4.12 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who has been very active in the Chamber this week. I am sure that he is active every week, but he has been on his feet and successfully been called every day that I have been in the House, and I have been in on each of the past four days. I congratulate him on his activity.

I am conscious of your admonition to be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall try to rattle through a number of issues. It is a pleasure to see the Deputy Leader of the House in his place and my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) in hers and I look forward to their responses in due course.

As an east London MP, it would be wholly wrong of me not to start my comments by referring to the Olympics. Sometimes my classic cockney accent confuses people, but my constituency is in docklands and we are looking forward to the Olympics very much. My wife,

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Dr Sheila Fitzpatrick, and I attended a test event two weekends ago and the excitement at Stratford—at a test event—was palpable. As we have all seen on the television this week, the arrival of the Olympic torch has shown that excitement is building. Clearly, there will be much to enjoy this summer and we wish for successful outcomes for the British athletes and Olympic team. We hope that transport arrangements in London work as effectively as they ought to and I am sure that under Peter Hendy, the chief executive of Transport for London, that will be the case.

On the subject of TFL, we are desperate for another river crossing—at least one. I know that the Government and the Mayor of London are committed to two, and we want to see them as quickly as possible. The area east of Tower bridge is now lived in by almost half of London’s population and we have only four crossings. West of Tower bridge, there are 20-plus crossings. We need extra crossings on the Thames, or else east London will gridlock and the driver for this great capital city for the next generation or two will be stalled.

As a former Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household, I look forward to the diamond jubilee and to the celebrations of that, which will be a portent of those that will follow during the Olympics.

I want to mention the ten-minute rule Bill proposed recently by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on the labelling of food, particularly halal food, in relation to animal welfare. That debate was sidetracked and ended up being presented as an attack on the Muslim and Jewish communities. My support for that Bill was based on animal welfare grounds. It has subsequently been publicised that the percentage of halal meat in the UK coming from animals that were stunned is around 90%. The debate about meat labelling in relation to animal welfare therefore ought not to be about whether meat is halal or kosher but about whether the animal was stunned or unstunned, because the vast majority of people want to buy food that is labelled accurately and honestly, and animal welfare is a huge issue for many people. This is not an attack on Islam or on the Jewish community; it is about promoting the best animal welfare standards. I give credit to Mehdi Hasan for his very insightful article in the New Statesman, which clarified these issues and demonstrated that we should be promoting this not as an issue of prejudice but as an issue of animal welfare.

Let me address an issue of increasing significance in east London—leaseholders’ rights. Whether leaseholders are former council or social landlord tenants who have exercised the right to buy or whether they are private tenants who have bought a leasehold property through a mortgage, there can be a hike in service charges and insurance charges, and there is a gap in protection in relation to management companies, particularly disreputable ones. I am talking about a lot of professional people in east London—lawyers, doctors and architects—who have bought very expensive properties and are then paying tens of thousands of pounds in parking charges, service charges and insurance charges. There is a gap in the protection available to people from those who have the freehold of land. Once someone signs a leasehold agreement, they are basically at the mercy of the freeholder into the future. This issue needs to be addressed.

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In today’s papers, there was a story about the lady who was, sadly, bitten by a dog and is suffering from rabies. I had a meeting this morning with the World Society for the Protection of Animals, which is seeking support from the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Development. The WSPA has an initiative called “Red Collar” under which it is immunising dogs in third-world countries against rabies. Our citizen, who was bitten when she was in a foreign country, might well have benefited from that programme, and I encourage DFID and DEFRA to support the WSPA’s “Red Collar” campaign.

The main issue I want to raise is that of housing benefit. I supported Ken Livingstone in the mayoral campaign, but I have to give credit to the Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson for certain comments that he has made in recent months and years. In October 2010, he told BBC London:

“The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs”.

He went on:

“I’ll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together…We will not see and we will not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London.”

He concluded by saying:

“On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.”

This Tuesday morning, I had a meeting with Jobcentre Plus officers from east London, as a result of which I have come here today to raise this issue. For two years I have been going to the Table Office to bid in the draw to ask a question in Prime Minister’s questions, but I have been spectacularly unsuccessful. I have bid again for our first week back in June and if I get a chance to ask the Prime Minister a question, it will be about the housing benefit cap, which will result in the forced eviction of hundreds of families from my constituency. Jobcentre Plus told me that there are 900 households in the constituency of Poplar and Limehouse whose benefits exceed the cap that the coalition is bringing in by an average of £200 but that some exceed it by £800. Those people are getting letters this week and next week in which they are basically being told that on 1 April next year they are going to be evicted from their home. Nobody supports scroungers or benefit cheats. There are many hundreds of decent people in those families who have not been able to secure employment, through no fault of their own, and they are trying to do their best. The members of those families who will be punished are the children. That is not fair.

Many Government Members are concerned about the issue and London coalition MPs have raised it with the Government. I encourage them to continue to do so. If the plans go through, hundreds of families in my constituency and thousands more across inner London will be forcibly evicted. I cannot imagine what that will do for the future of the children.

My last point is about Bangladesh, although I do not want to encroach on the Adjournment debate to be introduced at 6 o’clock by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe). He will be raising the abduction and disappearance of Mr Illias Ali, a senior member of the Bangladesh Nationalist party.

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Between 20% and 25% of my constituents are Bangladeshi. The Labour party and the Government party in Bangladesh—the Awami League—have strong connections, and I am a big supporter of the Awami League Government. However, there are noises from Bangladesh about civil society there. The USA Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, expressed concerns when she visited Dhaka recently, and the Foreign Secretary has been raising the issues, and I have written to him, the Bangladesh high commissioner and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh about them.

As everyone knows, Bangladesh is one of the five poorest countries in the world. Its population is twice the size of Britain’s in a land mass two thirds the size of England. A quarter of the country is under water for a third of the year. There are massive problems.

Bangladesh is a young democracy. We are an old democracy, but we still make mistakes. In Bangladesh, some mistakes are made. When the Bangladesh Nationalist party won the previous general election, Awami League Members boycotted Parliament for a year, and I criticised them for that. When the Awami League won the election, BNP Members boycotted Parliament for a year and I criticised them too. We need to support Bangladesh and the Awami League Government and to give every assistance to make sure that the people who disappeared are found, and that there is justice and transparency in civic society. Through the Department for International Development, we also need to give support for the economy, which is growing at 6%—unlike the British economy, which shrank by 0.3% in the last quarter—so that Bangladesh continues to make progress.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise these questions, and I look forward to the responses in due course.

4.22 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). There have been some interesting, fascinating and moving contributions, although I have to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess). He said that the highlight will be the Olympic torch going to Southend; in fact, the highlight will be on 26 June when the torch arrives in Cleethorpes.

The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) spoke about the high cost of energy to our high energy using industries. Many of them are along the Humber bank in my constituency, and many of my constituents work at the Tata steelworks in the neighbouring constituency of Scunthorpe. Energy costs are of considerable concern.

The main focus of my contribution will be on the town of Immingham, but first I want to talk about static caravans—an issue ably raised earlier by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid). I remind Ministers that the imposition of VAT on those caravans will be extremely damaging for local economies such as Cleethorpes. For many people, their caravan is a second home, but for others it is their first home. The caravans are occupied for up to 10 months a year, which extends the season, providing jobs for those who are dependent on seasonal work. The caravan sites are not just in Cleethorpes; there are many small sites in rural areas, such as Barton-upon-Humber and other locations in my constituency.

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Many Members will have heard of the Venerable Bede, but they may be unaware of Imma, who was someone Bede wrote about. Imma was a thane in the service of the King of Northumbria. As the House will probably realise, he gave his name to the town of Immingham. Immingham, in partnership with the port of Grimsby, is by tonnage the largest port in the UK. It will celebrate its centenary this year on 22 July, 100 years after the official opening by His Majesty King George V. Prior to the establishment of the modern port, Immingham had many maritime connections. Many of the pilgrim fathers set sail from the town, an event commemorated there by a magnificent memorial.

Since then, Immingham has grown from a village to a town of which the residents are rightly proud. Unfortunately, like many smaller towns, it has suffered as a result of increasing centralisation by both public and private sector organisations, and it is the public services that have caused most concern. Northern Lincolnshire, as a whole, has a low-wage economy and towns such as Immingham find it difficult to sustain many of the services that larger towns take for granted. Leisure centres, sports facilities and the like cannot be provided profitably by the private sector and local authorities find it increasingly difficult to fund such projects.

It is essential that Immingham and similar towns are not forgotten, so help and support for alternative provision must be explored. Very small amounts of public funding can attract other funding streams, as was the case with the recently opened skate park. The consultation, funding and local community leadership that came together to achieve the skate park are a model of how such projects can be achieved. All involved deserve praise and the thanks of the local community.

The arrival—soon, we hope—of a new Tesco store and the associated regeneration of the shopping centre will provide a major boost to an area that has an extremely bright future if the new developments associated with the offshore renewable energy sector can be successfully established in northern Lincolnshire. On that matter, I once again stress the urgent need for statutory agencies to work at the pace required by the commercial demands of potential investors. Much has been done and I appreciate the Government’s changes to the planning system, but time is of the essence if the UK is to attract the investment that multinational companies could easily direct to our continental neighbours.

The Able UK development, which is just a couple of miles from Immingham, promises thousands of jobs. The Government recognised that in establishing the largest enterprise zone in the country but, as I have said, speed is of the essence. Page 45 of the Budget’s Red Book states that final decisions on the Able marine energy park are needed within a year. It states:

“the Government will reduce unnecessary cost and delay to developers by: setting up a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit; streamlining guidance; setting clearer standards for evidence; and changing the culture of statutory bodies.”

That is something that I hope will proceed apace.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the Government announced additional funding for the preparatory work for the much-needed upgrade of the A160, which provides access to the Able development and Immingham docks, a clear indication, I hope, that construction work will begin by 2015 at the latest.

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Another plea is that much of Immingham, Habrough and Stallingborough, which are major industrial areas, lack adequate broadband capacity, so urgent attention is required to correct that, and I commend the work of One Voice Immingham in pushing forward with its campaign to highlight that. While on matters digital, it would be remiss of me not to comment on the success of the Channel 7 local community TV station, the only successful station remaining of the original stations established about 10 years ago, which has been based in Immingham for much of that time.

In conclusion, Immingham docks are an excellent and key driver of the local economy and, under the management of John Fitzgerald, Simon Brett and their management team, have continued to expand and play an important role in the community. Like many of our ports, Immingham was begun by the railways, in this case the Great Central Railway. During world war one it was a submarine base, and for a time during world war two Lord Mountbatten used it as a shore base and the docks played host to HMS Kelly. His lordship stayed at one of the town’s most notable establishments, the County hotel.

In more recent years, the docks have developed to the extent that one quarter of the tonnage of freight moved in the UK by rail starts or finishes in Immingham, and last month it was my pleasure to be present when a former Member of this House, Michael Portillo, travelled to Immingham to name a locomotive, “The Port of Immingham”. I also commend his TV programme, to be shown next January, documenting a journey from Portsmouth to Immingham.

Immingham, like all communities, has its share of social problems, but if some or all of the potential developments come to pass it has a bright future. We look forward to celebrating its centenary over the weekend of 20 to 23 July. If any Cabinet Minister would like to attend, I am still looking for volunteers.

I have mentioned just a few of the organisations and individuals who play their part in the community of Immingham, and I place on the record my thanks to them. Immingham has seen many ups and downs over the years, but it has a bright future, and I shall welcome any Member who pays the town a visit on its centenary.

4.31 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, partly because it comes after a productive Session for the Government in terms of passing legislation, and partly because we are on the threshold of an interesting year of future legislation.

I am also pleased that we have the opportunity to talk sensibly about economic growth, because that is one of the key issues that underpin all our activities in this House, especially at this time. One or two Opposition Members have today criticised the Government’s economic policy, but in truth we have to address the deficit problem, and that goes hand in hand with paving the way for economic growth. The two have the same role and responsibility in providing economic recovery, so I reiterate how important it is that we stick to our strategy of cutting the deficit and paving the way for rebalancing the economy, something I shall talk about in the first half of my speech.

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It is very important that we ensure that manufacturing and engineering are promoted. In my constituency, almost one in five employees are in manufacturing or engineering, so it is a significant part of my constituency’s economic activity, and that is one reason why I held a festival for manufacturing and engineering back in April.

The festival had several aims, one of which was to highlight the success of existing firms and businesses, of which we have many, in my constituency. Recently, Advanced Insulation won the Queen’s award for enterprise, and we should celebrate that. It is emblematic of the firms in my constituency, and a strong illustration of the kind of firm we need more of, not just in Stroud, but throughout the country. Celebrating what we have is, therefore, part of the process of shining a spotlight on manufacturing and saying, “This is the sector where we are doing well, and we are going to do even better.”

The second objective of my festival was to engage young people in manufacturing and engineering, and to say to them, “This is an opportunity—a place full of opportunities—for employment, your career and your progress.” During that week, we managed to engage almost 300 students directly in firms that support my initiative to do exactly that. I noticed that the more engaged they became, the more interested they seemed to be in manufacturing and engineering.

We in this country have to stop talking about the less attractive aspects of manufacturing and engineering and start pointing out that it is a modern, clean, interesting working environment where technology is at the core of successful firms that are making progress in adding value, exporting and simply generating new ideas, and that that is really good place to be. We must get that message across not only to the general populace but to young people in schools and colleges so that their engagement with manufacturing and engineering is more intense and therefore more reflective of their own needs and requirements. It is important that we put down a marker for a continued thrust towards engagement between schools, colleges and businesses.

The third objective of my festival was to make sure that we understand the opportunities for investment in business and in new ideas. We need to think about firms’ strategic planning in terms of how they develop their capital, ideas and technologies. We were able to draw on the experiences of many firms in my constituency that are already doing that, including successful small and medium-sized enterprises such as Renishaw, Delphi and Nampak.

We need to create a culture that will turn the debate from one in which we say “We must rebalance the economy”—because we are already doing that—into one in which we say, “We’ve got to focus on what is important in terms of the real economy.” As Sir John Rose has noted, economic growth is all about growing something, digging something up or making something, and our focus must be on the latter.

There were several aspects that I covered in my festival, such as the role of banking and the need to be more flexible in our attitudes towards it, not only in terms of banks being less high street-oriented and target-driven but through firms thinking about different ways of seeking finance, attracting equity and planning their financial strategies.

Supply chains have been mentioned a few times in this debate and in Business, Innovation and Skills questions, and that is not surprising, because they are very important.

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They are becoming increasingly complex and dependent on a work force who are flexible, adaptable, well trained and embrace all the manufacturing and engineering skills that are needed in an advanced economy. Airbus, which is not far from my constituency, sucks in a huge amount of its materials and component from all over the south-west, including my constituency. The success of Airbus therefore has an immediate impact on the people of my constituency. We must ensure that our supply chains are properly supported, that the infrastructure is in place for them to work properly, and that there are opportunities for local firms to get connected to them. BIS is doing some useful work in that context, and I applaud that. All those of us who are interested in the real economy need to be more vigorous in our exposition of what a supply chain is and how supply chains really matter to our constituencies.

On engineering, we need to bring together what is being done across many Departments. We need to say that engineering matters to the future of the British economy. Perhaps we need a chief engineering adviser, like we have a chief scientific adviser, to put the spotlight on engineering, because it is a big subject. Making things is a big subject, but the engineering aspect is especially important. We must bring together all the component parts of the world of engineering. I would like the Government to move in that direction.

The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) rightly spoke about energy, its cost and the hunger for it in industries such as steel and manufacturing. We have to think carefully about energy supply and the way in which we create energy. I am pleased that the Government are introducing an energy Bill to look at the market and the mechanisms, and at how we can attract the right infrastructure.

We need to think more carefully about energy and electricity storage. We have too many peaks and troughs, and our energy system is too dependent on a grid that loses energy. We can argue about how much energy is lost through the grid, but energy is lost. We can also argue about the technologies that we use to create energy, but we need to start talking about the storage of energy as well. There are some interesting ideas. Liquid air, which has being advanced recently by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, is the kind of energy storage system that could be really useful. It is similar to existing technologies, so it would not be a great leap. We need to provide a market framework for such technologies. I hope that that will be proposed in the energy Bill.

I want to ram home my three points. First, manufacturing and engineering are imperative for economic growth and I am excited about them. Secondly, it is critical that we have the right market framework to provide that boost and to put a spotlight on engineering. Thirdly, there must be links between schools, colleges and business.

I will change subjects briefly, because there is something else on my mind that deserves to be raised in this debate: school governance. I have set up the all-party parliamentary group on education governance and leadership. We need to consider the accountability of schools as academies become more numerous. There is a live debate about the links between the Department for Education and our schools. School governors have a role to play in that.

There are some 230,000 school governors, but there are also vacancies on governing bodies and there is an issue with recruitment. It is critical that we put this subject on the agenda. The Government must consider

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how we can ensure that governors have the right skills and the right questions to ask of their head teachers and principals—of course, governors are also pivotal in further education. We must come up with a mechanism that ensures that there is strategic leadership and accountability at a local level in our schools through our governing bodies. Members can expect to hear much more from me on that subject over the next few months.

4.44 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on his comments and particularly endorse his remark that the way in which the Government are handling the economy is absolutely right. We have to reduce the huge deficit that we inherited from the Labour party to increase growth and stabilise the economy. The International Monetary Fund endorsed that only this week, and it is essential that we keep to that path.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) has left the Chamber, but he was right that the Government need to consider very carefully their policy of levying VAT on static caravans. The number of caravans bought will probably fall by about a third, affecting not only those manufacturing the caravans in the north of England but the caravan sites down in my constituency. If the Chancellor is looking for growth, he needs to be very careful about that policy.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) has also left the Chamber; no, I see that he is next to the Chair. I agree entirely with him about the slaughter of animals. We need to target the practice of animals not being stunned before being killed. We need clear labelling stating, “This animal was not stunned.” That would in time reduce the amount of meat needing to be labelled in that way. I have always said that animals do not choose how they are brought into this world, reared and slaughtered, and it is up to us to ensure that their welfare is respected all the way through their lives. The House needs to revisit the matter, because we have probably got it wrong at the moment.

I was not going to speak about the middle east and Israel today, but comments made in the House earlier were so one-sided that I feel I need to put the record straight. I believe that the state of Israel should exist. Its Iranian neighbours may be producing, or about to produce, nuclear weapons, and Iran’s President has previously said that he would like to wipe Israel off the face of the map. I suggest that we would take that seriously if we lived in Israel, because nuclear weapons can do precisely that. We need to be careful about taking one side of the argument in the middle east.

I would go further on the subject of democracy in the middle east. I very much welcome what is going on in Egypt and Libya, and eventually we need to see some democracy brought to Syria. However, I suggest that in the past 40 or 50 years, the only beacon of democracy in the middle east has been Israel. That needs to be made abundantly clear.

My main reason for speaking this afternoon is that my constituency is rural, with a lot of farming and food production. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud talked about manufacturing industry, which needs to be supported hugely and is of great benefit to this country, and the same is true of food production and processing, which have been a success story in the past few years.

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For perhaps 20 years, it was considered that farming was not really necessary, that we could import the food that we needed and that future food security was not an issue to consider. As food prices increase throughout the world and we reach the birth of the seven billionth person and more, we need to be absolutely certain about where our food will come from. We need to ensure that we have high-quality food produced to high welfare and food safety standards. This country’s farming and food processing industries are doing an extremely good job, and the UK can produce much more of its food. We are currently reduced to probably not much more than 60% self-sufficiency, and we can do much better on many products.

Interestingly, agriculture’s contribution to the economy as measured by gross value added increased by some 77% to £8.8 billion between 2006 and 2011. The value of UK food and drink exports rose in 2011—for a seventh successive year—by 11% to more than £12 billion, making the sector Britain’s fourth largest. The farming and food sectors employ some 3.5 million people, and the total number employed directly in farming increased by 10,000 between 2010 and 2011.

Farming also delivers for the British countryside and the environment. Seven million hectares of farmland in England and Wales are being managed under agri-environment schemes. The schemes are good for the environment and the countryside, but they are also good for tourism. What do tourists come to see when they travel through the Deputy Leader of the House’s constituency to get to Devon and Cornwall, which are much prettier? The west country has great countryside and is a great environment, which draws in tourism, which is of huge value. Were that countryside not managed as it is, we would not have as many tourists in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and the many parts of the country where farming and the countryside are important.

The Government have introduced more apprenticeship schemes, and the farming and food sectors could be important in producing the extra jobs that we need. We need growth. Employment throughout the economy has increased, but there is much more to do, including on youth unemployment.

On the future of food production, cattle and beef production in this country has declined by 30% in the past 20 years. In the US, cattle numbers are at their lowest for 60 years—the herd in America stands at 29.9 million head. Even the cattle herd in Argentina has contracted by nearly 20%. As the world’s increasing population eats more food, we will need more food to be produced.

In China in 1960, people ate on average 5 kg of meat per year; this year, they will eat 50 kg. There are 1.2 billion people in China, so by my arithmetic, if they eat 1 kg more of meat, we need 1.2 million tonnes more tonnes of it. An increase in production throughout the world is therefore important. Global warming means that it is essential that northern Europe and Britain produce our fair share of food. I am delighted that the Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has responsibility for agriculture, is returning from China as we speak. He has done much to increase the trade to

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China of pigmeat and the fifth quarter—the meat we do not like to eat ourselves, but that the Chinese find amazingly tasty.

There are green shoots in the economy in agriculture, food production and manufacturing. We must be more positive about what is happening in the economy. We have problems, but if we carry on talking ourselves into ever greater gloom, we will not pick this economy up. The Government have put in place the right policies. For example, we have ensured that lower-paid workers get more money in their pockets by reducing their rate of tax. We can also make it more cost effective for companies to provide employment. We need to consider the regulation of, and employment law regarding, small and micro-businesses, so that they can take on people. It is nonsense for there to be so many laws and rules in place that a small company or business finds it impossible to take on an extra worker. That needs to be dealt with.

My final point is one that many Members have made this afternoon. I am unashamedly royalist, and in the 60th year of Her Majesty the Queen’s reign, I must say that she has been an example to us all. She has provided this country with a dedication to service that we have not seen in the past and which we are unlikely to see again. She is probably the greatest expert on the Commonwealth. We, as politicians, like to think we drive this world forward, but the number of Prime Ministers the Queen has seen come and go is an example to us all. I add my congratulations to her on her 60th year on the throne.

4.56 pm

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my third-floor Parliament street colleague and hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). It was a real education to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who amply and ably demonstrated that it is possible to fit quite a lot into a short space of time. I am not at all surprised that wherever he goes he is greeted with flash-mob dancing. I hope that, as he moves around his constituency over the jubilee weekend, he meets many more flash-mob dancers. In the spirit of my hon. Friend, I want to raise some subjects of concern to my constituents and to pay tribute to some local organisations in Tamworth and the people who run them.

In the past few days, Members might have received a glossy letter from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme extolling its virtues and claiming that it has

“helped millions and paid billions to consumers with nowhere else to turn”.

That might come as a surprise to my constituent, Mr Bill Shackleford from Hopwas, who applied to the FSCS last November for restitution, having lost £32,000 in a failed investment vehicle called Greenfield International. Mr Shackleford is retired and not well off. About 240 other people in the west midlands also invested money in Greenfield and lost it, and I believe they have also applied to the FSCS. I wrote to the FSCS on Mr Shackleford’s behalf, but after seven months, we have still heard nothing. It is still processing his compensation claim and has now outsourced it to Capita. I will be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House can advise me and my constituents on how the FSCS may be encouraged to move a little faster and help more people to receive restitution.

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Another matter that, as Mr Speaker might say, has already been well ventilated in the House, but which I think needs further airing, is the exceptional hardship scheme for High Speed 2. It was set up in 2010 to help people who were in particular hardship and whose homes were blighted by the prospect of HS2 to move home. Recognition is growing that the scheme is not fit for purpose.

Six of my constituents have applied to the EHS and been turned down for arbitrary and bizarre reasons. One constituent has been told that she was turned down because she does not have a pressing health need, despite the fact that she has a doctor’s certificate to say that she has a pressing health need to live in a bungalow and not in a farmhouse. She has been told that she has not reduced the value of her property sufficiently, even though she has reduced it by 20%. She has also been told that there is no proof that she is blighted by HS2, even though Green and Co., the local estate agent, has been told by potential buyers that the reason they are not buying her home is the prospect of HS2.

I must say that the Secretary of State for Transport has been helpful to me in this matter. I should also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who have taken an interest in these matters. However, I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will use all his artistry and all his eloquence to prevail upon the Secretary of State and the Chancellor—we know that all power resides in the Treasury—to ensure that the enhanced hardship scheme, which is to replace the current scheme, recognises that people who have a reasonable desire and need to move ought to be able to move and to be helped if they cannot sell their homes. I hope that they will consider a property bond scheme, which is a fair, transparent and equitable way of ensuring that people can sell their homes and get the property market moving.

I also want to pay tribute to an organisation in my constituency that helps soldiers. The Injured Soldiers Holiday Appeal does exactly what it says on the tin: it helps soldiers who have been injured and their families to go for a holiday—away from the hospitals, the clinics and all the hullaballoo—to help them to readjust to their new circumstances. My constituent Paul Mason, whose son is a serving soldier, set up the charity. He has already done a great deal to help 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and Help for Heroes, and he has now set up this new charity, which is commendable. I trust that other Members will encourage their constituents with an interest in such matters to set up similar helpful charities.

I also pay tribute to a growing organisation in my constituency, Community Café. It was set up two years ago by Lee Bates, one of our local councillors, with Steve Hodgetts, Lisa and Andy Powers, Bernard and Carol Gee and others to span the generations and people’s backgrounds by providing a community café, in a place called Wilnecote, where people can come and have a drink, a chat and some food. The kids can come as well—there is something there called a Wii, whatever one of those may be. The concept has grown throughout Tamworth. We now have a community café in Belgrave fire station—our new, state-of-the-art fire station—and in Amington, and we have just set up another café in the Torc vocational centre in Glascote. That is the sort of volunteering that all hon. Members like to see in their

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constituencies. I pay tribute to those who have given up their time and money to make Community Café in Tamworth such a success.

I will end simply by saying that June is going to be a bumper month in Tamworth. We have the jubilee weekend: I shall spend time in Stonnall, Little Aston and Fazeley, where I shall attend a big jubilee lunch, along with other places around Tamworth. I am also looking forward to seeing the jubilee beacon being lit atop our SnowDome. If that was not enough, at the end of the month, on 30 June, the Olympic torch, which other hon. Members have mentioned, moves through Tamworth—the high point of its progress around the country before it arrives in London for the Olympics. I shall be there to cheer on the townsfolk of Tamworth, who will be cheering on the torch.

We have a wonderful sense of history in Tamworth. We have some wonderful facilities—the SnowDome, the castle, and the French and German markets. If any hon. Members, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker, are passing through Staffordshire in June, drop into Tamworth and bring your wallet with you. We will be pleased to see you.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I may bring Mr Bob Stewart’s wallet with me.

5.4 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), who represents 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment. In the next few months, we are going to witness some spirited debates on what might be cut from the Army. They will be particularly important to those Members who might lose regiments in their own constituencies, so as a warm-up I should like to explain my view of the regiments and the regimental system, and tell the House what they mean to me.

We all know that the Army is designed to fight for us, if directed to do so by the Government. The way in which it is organised, and its esprit de corps, are crucial determinants of how it works when it deploys. The Army is obviously a martial profession, and none of us present will have any doubts about what might be the ultimate requirement for our soldiers. Napoleon correctly identified the morale of his soldiers as the crucial ingredient of their success. He called morale “the sacred flame”, saying that it mattered more than anything else. In that respect, he also insisted that

“morale is to the physical as three is to one.”

In short, high morale can compensate for many other deficiencies, including numbers.

I saw that when I had the privilege of commanding my regiment, 1st Battalion The Cheshire Regiment, in Bosnia during 1992 and 1993. Often in conversation with the commanders of the various factions and armies, I would be asked the same question: “How many men do you have under your command?” Obviously, I would not answer; instead, I would say something like, “Lots and lots,” but then I would ask them how many soldiers they thought I had. The answer was invariably between 3,000 and 4,000. In fact, I had 800. The point is that the soldiers of my regiment gave the impression that they were far more numerous than in fact they were. It was their esprit de corps, their morale and their regimental pride that gave that impression.

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Organisation and numbers are of course important to military success. The strategic defence and security review has determined that the Army is to be reduced in size, down to as few as 82,000 serving soldiers. Many definitions of an army suggest that 100,000 should be its minimum size, so what is the future for our Army? Some people have suggested that it might more correctly be dubbed a defence force. I shudder at that thought. One thing is clear: we are going to have to cut down some units from what the Army calls its teeth arms. Regiments, or parts of them, in the infantry and cavalry are going to be disbanded. All teeth arm units are formed into regiments, and we are likely to lose some historic and highly valued names.

Quite rightly, the British Army’s regimental system is respected, and sometimes copied, worldwide, but what exactly is that much-rated regimental system? The term “regiment” started in Britain in the mid-17th century when retinues that followed a certain leader were organised into some form of standing military force. Such regiments were normally named after the colonel who commanded them. For example, my own regiment, which is now called 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment—the old Cheshires—was first formed in 1689 on the racecourse at Chester. It was then called the Duke of Norfolk’s Regiment. Later it became the 22nd Regiment, after its precedence in the order of battle, and later still it became properly linked to the county of Cheshire. A similar process happened to most of our great infantry regiments.

Under this regimental system, each regiment became responsible for recruitment, training and administration. It developed its own style, which in turn derived strength and purpose from the regiment’s history and traditions. Even today, the colonel of each regiment still has the right to select his officers. In the past, and sometimes today, it was usual for a soldier—and many officers, too—to spend their entire careers within their own regiment. They frequently served with men they had known since birth. For example, at the time of the Ballykelly bomb in 1982, I was commanding officer of A Company 1st Battalion the 22nd Cheshire Regiment when six of my soldiers were killed, and over five days in mid-December 1982 I attended their funerals. All six were buried within the borders of the county of Cheshire. Amazingly, at these funerals, several mothers put their arms around me, saying that they fully realised my sorrow, too. It is because the regimental system is so emotive that it often seems like a family.

In fact, infantry battalions take great pride in using the words “the regimental family”. That is literally true, as when I was commander many soldiers in my regiment were in the fourth, fifth or even sixth generation serving in their family regiment. That sense of family is vital in battle. When they are very frightened, soldiers are often sustained by what they see as a greater fear—that of letting down their friends and their family. It gives them what I regard as another offshoot of the regimental system—the so-called “black humour” so often found among our soldiers.

As the incident commander at the time of the Ballykelly bomb in 1982, I was devastated to find four of my own lance corporals together in a crumpled heap under tons of concrete. One had been killed immediately the bomb

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exploded, another died shortly thereafter, a third lingered in agony for several hours, and the fourth was trapped by his legs on top of his dead friends. After four hours, the decision was made that he would have to have both legs amputated where he lay trapped by concrete—the threat of gangrene was growing and it might have killed him regardless. I told the badly wounded Lance Corporal William Bell, whose brother was also serving and whose family went back generations in my regiment, that we would have to cut his legs off. His incredible reply sums up what the regimental system is all about: “No legs Sir! One hell of a way to get out of the Pearson trophy tomorrow, isn’t it?” The Pearson trophy was the regiment’s weekly cross-country run. All ranks do it and it is universally loathed—especially by someone like me! But that ruddy awful run was part of the regiment’s style and ethos.

The strategic defence and security review has directed that the Army is to lose perhaps four or even more battalions from Army regiments. In the next weeks and months, we in this House will be debating and arguing exactly which ones will be affected. Some have suggested that no regimental cap badge will be lost. They argue that so-called large regiments—formed in the past by pushing small regiments together into a new grouping—will remain. That happened to my own regiment last time, when the 1st Cheshires were amalgamated to become 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment. The 2nd Mercians came from 1st Battalion the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, while the 3rd Mercians were formed from the 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment—from the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth. All those battalions within those regimental groupings keep their own regimental histories and their own pride, despite coming under the umbrella title of the Mercian Regiment. It might seem easy to cut, say, the 3rd Mercians or indeed the 3rd Royal Anglians—

Sir Bob Russell: Rubbish! We should have kept them.

Bob Stewart: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. After all, the big regiment survives, does it not, whether it be the Royal Anglians or the Mercians? Two old regiments, however, would disappear by so doing. If the 3rd Mercians go, in the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, it will mean that the Staffords are finally dead; and if we say goodbye to the 3rd Royal Anglians, in the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), it will mean saying goodbye to the last relics of that historic and gallant regiment, the Essex Regiment.

Sir Bob Russell: I regret to say that the 3rd Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment, the successor to the Essex Regiment, disappeared a few years ago. The 3rd Battalion that we have today is a Territorial Army battalion. We are very grateful that it is there, but it is not the Essex Regiment as it was.

Bob Stewart: I thank my hon. Friend for that correction, and I hope that he will forgive me for my slight inaccuracy. The principle remains the same,

I know that what I am talking about may seem parochial and somewhat petty to some people, and I accept that it can look like that to those who do not understand the regimental system; but to so many who

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have served, or whose family members have served, such cuts will mean another very sad day for British military history. The regimental system is a tremendous bulwark for frightened men in battle, and supports others like Lance Corporal William Bell of A Company, 1st Battalion The Cheshire Regiment, who was sustained and could even laugh at his predicament when he might have been in total despair. Truly the regimental system is a band of brothers, and I for one hope very much that it will not be damaged further by what is about to happen as a result of the SDSR. It is highly unlikely that, once gone, any regiment will live again.

5.16 pm

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): It is a pleasure to join in this pre-recess debate at the end of a long day. You know, Mr Deputy Speaker, and my constituents expect, that when I speak in the House it will be above all on behalf of Gloucester, and that I will speak about local issues in a national context. Today’s carrying of the Olympic torch across our city rivals the claims made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) as the most important part of its journey across our country. On this occasion, however, I want to raise a wider issue, and to make a case which I hope will be, at the margin, in the interests of my constituents and many others across the world.

In 1976, Commonwealth day was established on the second Monday of March. It is famously celebrated with a great service in Westminster Abbey, with the flags of the 54 Commonwealth nations flying in Parliament square, and with a Commonwealth address by Her Majesty the Queen. Here in Parliament, however, the occasion has not once been celebrated in the 38 years since its establishment. I believe that—as the Parliament of the host country for the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Royal Commonwealth Society and more than 100 other Commonwealth-branded organisations, and as a nation whose Government celebrates the Commonwealth through the name of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office— we are missing a trick by not commemorating the Commonwealth on the second Monday of each March.

However, I also believe that today we have an opportunity to correct that omission by saying that the Government agree with the Backbench Business Committee that a debate should be held on the second Monday in March in 2013, and annually thereafter, on issues that relate to the Commonwealth. If that were agreed, the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association could submit the precedent to the Parliaments of all the Commonwealth nations for consideration at their September meeting. This could become a new tradition, and, above all, a new chance to focus on the values, challenges and opportunities that are shared among those 54 nations. I will therefore be delighted if the Deputy Leader of the House gives us his thoughts on the possibility of this happening, and on whether the Government will support the commemoration of Commonwealth day in this House with an annual debate on Commonwealth issues.

5.19 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): We have had an excellent debate. First, I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who gave a very eloquent and compassionate account

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of the sudden and unexpected death from epilepsy of a 10-year-old child in her constituency. Her account of that tragic event moved us all.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) is known for her expertise on international issues. She spoke about the women’s rights records of many countries in the middle east. In what was an excellent speech, she also outlined her continuing concern about the torture, imprisonment and suppression in Bahrain of those demanding democratic rights, and she talked about similar situations in other middle-east countries.

There is a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) for the work he does on business and industry. He talked about airport development in the south-east, and the proposal for an airport in the Thames estuary. His constituency borders Heathrow, so this issue is of great importance to him and his constituents. He gave an excellent speech, in which he made it clear that the ongoing debate about a Thames estuary airport is a distraction from the real issues concerning aviation and its potential contribution to economic growth in the UK.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) has long campaigned on issues relating to freight and the railway system. He talked about the plan for a freight route from the south to the north of England. In his usual enthusiastic style, he pointed to the logic in securing, in the medium or long term, a modal shift in our freight capacity away from the road network and on to the railways.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) talked superbly about the potential impact on London of the Government’s housing benefit policy. He referred to the Mayor of London’s view that there is a real possibility that the poorest in London and housing benefit claimants will be pushed out to the suburbs, in effect achieving a separation—a ghettoisation —of the poor and the better-off in our great capital city.

My hon. Friend also talked about animal welfare. I have worked with him on animal welfare issues. In the previous Government, he served as a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister with responsibility for animal welfare, and I can testify that he was an excellent Minister. I worked with him on dog control in particular, which is an ongoing campaign. Today, however, he talked about the labelling of meat to make it clear whether the animal was stunned. Leaving aside the religious issues, he made an excellent case for the labelling of meat and for clarity in respect of animal welfare standards.

My hon. Friend also talked about the Olympics, as did a number of other Members. It is a great event, and there is mounting excitement. He mentioned the torch’s journey around the UK. The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) rightly boasted about the Olympic torch being carried through his constituency. I will just put on the record the fact that the torch will be going through my constituency, when it will be carried in the great city of Sheffield by Lord Coe, who is a Sheffielder, and we are incredibly proud of that. The hon. Gentleman, with his usual charm, also put on the record West Ham United’s promotion and Chelsea’s victory last Saturday night. I wish to put on the record the promotion of the great club Sheffield Wednesday to the championship

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this season; it is well on its way back to the premiership. I am sure that I will be standing here at the end of next season celebrating the promotion of Sheffield Wednesday to the premiership.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) gave us a history lesson, informing us that Immingham’s name comes from a thane from the kingdom of Northumbria called Imma. I would like to inform the House that Grimsby, the neighbour of Immingham, was named after the legendary fisherman who features so strongly in the famous mediaeval poem “Havelok the Dane”. So it is now abundantly clear to the whole House that north Lincolnshire has been the centre of the universe in terms of mediaeval folklore and history, and that is something of which the hon. Gentleman is very proud.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) was incredibly moving in his tribute to Alan Turing. He got this afternoon’s debate off to a superb start, and I echo his sentiments about Alan Turing. Not long ago, I watched an excellent Channel 4 documentary about the life, the achievements and the tragedy of Alan Turing. It remains a stain on British justice that that man still stands convicted of crimes which, of course, now no longer exist, and we need to find a way of clearing his name and marking what he achieved for British history and for British industry and technology.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) was eloquent in his opposition to the caravan tax, and of course I congratulate him on putting himself so firmly on the record on the matter. I am sure that his constituents will carefully watch how he conducts himself on this issue in the House over the coming weeks and months. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), in a wide-ranging speech, talked about the importance of the aerospace and nuclear industries to British manufacturing and, in particular, to the north of England. He related that contribution to the importance of the supply chains in both those industries. He made particular mention of British Aerospace in the north-west, with its strong relationship with military manufacturing, and of the great significance of the nuclear industry to the north-west, with Sellafield in Cumbria. I can only echo his sentiments, given that both those industries are also crucial to the economic future of south Yorkshire. People will not realise that steel manufacturing is heavily involved here and is crucial to the aerospace industry. Most of the aircraft that fly over UK airspace probably have a tiny bit of my constituency’s manufacturing capability within them, because components for landing gear and for the Rolls-Royce engine are made in my constituency. So I can only echo my hon. Friend’s comments. Sheffield has a great ambition to be part of the supply chain for the nuclear industry, but its ambitions to develop that capacity were severely damaged—I make no apology for mentioning this once again—by the decision to cancel the £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, which would have helped to secure the development of that very important supply chain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn also put on record the fact that there has been a 232% increase in unemployment in his constituency since 2010 and went on to describe the impact on his constituents of the continuing austerity programme set in place by the

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coalition Government: the unemployment; the increase in the number of food banks; the pressures on and cuts to Sure Start, despite the fact that the Prime Minister says repeatedly that he understands the importance of investment in the very earliest years of children’s lives; and the increasing charges and pressures on adult social care services. The price we are paying for austerity is unacceptable. What is it achieving? Nothing but a double-dip depression made in Downing street.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) nailed that issue when he pointed out that today the ONS has once again downgraded the growth figures for the first quarter to minus 0.3%. He talked about the potential impact of the double-dip recession on the steel industry in his constituency, in mine and in all constituencies across the UK where steel manufacturing is dominant. Steel is obviously at the heart of most manufacturing processes—in construction, in aerospace, you name it, steel is at the heart of our manufacturing industry. My right hon. Friend talked about the lack of demand and about the pressures of costs, particularly energy costs. We could feel the passion with which he spoke about the manufacturing process and steel, and as the product of many generations of steelworkers I must say that people probably need to have it in their blood to understand the passion and excitement that can be generated by a big basket of scrap metal being fired up and converted into molten steel. As my right hon. Friend said, it is one of the most impressive sights that anyone is ever likely to see in manufacturing.

I want to comment, too, on the northern hub. It was mentioned earlier and it relates to our position as an economy and the Government’s handling of economic and investment matters. Earlier, it was claimed that the northern hub had been given the go-ahead. As I put on the record earlier, it has not. Let me quote what the Chancellor said in his Budget statement:

“I confirm today that Network Rail will extend the northern hub”—

not complete it, not give it the complete go-ahead, but extend it—

“adding to the electrification of the trans-Pennine rail route by upgrading the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield”.—[Official Report, 21 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 797.]

Network Rail has made it absolutely clear that that does not mean that the Hope Valley route is to be electrified and it is not the green light for the northern hub. We await that in the high level output specification statement, which we hope will be made later in the summer.

Once again, the Chancellor gave the impression through his Budget speech that he was doing one thing when he was doing another. He was slipping through, creating the impression that he was doing more than he was. We had other examples in that Budget of measures that he would rather we did not know about: the granny tax, the caravan tax and the pasty tax. It was a desperate Budget built on desperate measures by a Government who do not know how to deal with the fact that they have a double-dip recession on their hands that they have created and that they do not know how to climb out of. The Government only know plan A, they do not recognise the importance of plan B and the electorate is becoming increasingly disenchanted with their economic record, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn pointed out.

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I pay tribute to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown). She spoke movingly about breast cancer and its impact on women’s lives. She pointed out that the previous Government’s investment has improved survival rates for women with breast cancer, with eight out of 10 women still alive after five years, but that we still have a long way to go. It is important to have earlier detection and diagnosis and the increased and consistent use of advanced radiotherapy techniques across the country if we are to have the kind of NHS that the country really needs. The point that my hon. Friend was making was that there is no sense among Opposition Members that the health reforms delivered in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which passed through the House only a few weeks ago, will help us to deliver the approach to health that we need, with prevention of disease, early diagnosis and effective early treatment when people fall ill. Nothing in the Act will help to advance those very important agendas. The best way of reducing demand for expensive health care is to prevent ill health in the first place, but that legislation will not deliver that approach to health in the UK.

5.36 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): Yet again, we have seen the value of these free Adjournment debates. I was very disappointed that we did not have one before the Easter recess and I am particularly pleased to have secured this one. I greatly welcome the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) to the Backbench Business Committee and even though he has not quite joined yet, he allowed the Committee to take the credit for this debate. Actually we put it on, because the Committee has not yet started its work this Session and I am glad that we have given Members this opportunity to raise important issues about their constituencies or more widely.

I want to correct what seems to be a widespread misapprehension among colleagues on both sides of the House about the Olympic torch. They seem to think that the highlight of its journey will be its visit to their constituency whereas the highlight has already passed, this Tuesday, when it went to my constituency. It entered and went around Somerton—I was there—and then left my constituency. That was a highlight. But then the Olympic torch relay organisers realised that my constituency was too good to leave and the torch came back into Frome later on the same day, so we had another marvellous occasion. I know that all Members will welcome the event when it happens in their constituency.

Let me quickly go through hon. Members’ various contributions. I know that I cannot do justice to all the speeches and answer all the questions that have been raised, but I will make sure that hon. Members have a proper reply from the relevant Department to any questions that I cannot answer.

We started with the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), and I agree with the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) that he made a moving and valuable contribution to the debate. We should recognise the huge contribution that Alan Turing made to our country’s future and our security during the war. The centenary of his birth is an appropriate time at which to do that. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, a posthumous pardon was considered in 2009, and as a result the then Prime Minister made an

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unequivocal apology for the treatment that Mr Turing had received, which the then Prime Minister accepted was horrifying and utterly unfair. I think we all believe that those successful prosecutions and convictions for what should not have been a crime would have been cruel and deeply inappropriate for anyone, but particularly for someone who had served the country so well.

The hon. Gentleman knows that there are difficulties with providing a posthumous pardon and Lord Sharkey has raised this issue in the context of legislation in another place. We know that those particular offences are now to be disregarded for those who were convicted and are still alive, but there is currently no mechanism for doing that for others. However, discussions continue and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join Home Office Ministers in looking at whether there is a way of achieving that objective.

The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) raised a number of issues. I thought he might have expressed a little more pleasure about the fact that a brand-new £1.6 billion contract had just gone to BAE Systems. I would have thought that that was worth celebrating, but it seems not. He also raised other matters that are properly for the local authorities in his area. One of the things the Government are keen on is to make sure that responsibility lies where it should—with locally elected members for the decisions they take. I have no idea whether Lancashire county council is fulfilling its responsibilities, but if not those elected to the authority are answerable to their electors. That is the right way of doing things.

I was a little surprised by what the hon. Gentleman said about early years investment. The Government have actually invested a lot more money in early years. We have built on the previous provision and I am pleased about that.

The one thing I cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with is his comment about rural broadband. He chose the wrong Minister when he said that rural broadband did not matter, and that it was just faster internet shopping for millionaires. I am sorry, but it is not. If we do not invest properly to allow every member of every community in the country to have access to broadband, we shall have failed. The hon. Gentleman is deeply mistaken on this subject.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) talked about development on the green belt in her constituency. She knows the Government’s position; it is clearly set out in the national planning policy framework. It might be useful for her to have a conversation with the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). He is the Minister for decentralisation, so he can explain exactly what Government policy is and perhaps communicate that to local authorities in her area. I will happily arrange that meeting if I possibly can.

The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) raised a number of human rights issues—in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Burma and Syria. She was joined by the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), who talked about Sri Lanka, and the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who spoke about Bangladesh. We must never forget the importance of human rights or the influence that Britain can and should bring to bear in countries around

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the world. That is very much an emphasis both for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development in everything we do in those countries.

My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) talked about the beauty of his constituency and pointed out that it attracts a lot of tourists. At one point, it sounded as though he was listing all the songs that have extolled the beauty of places in his constituency. He made the very valuable point that many Government policies are supportive of small businesses, and he is absolutely right about that. I would also refer to tourism.

My hon. Friend raised what he saw as the difficulties in correcting the anomalies in relation to static caravans. He knows that the Government have extended the consultation period, and that in due course they will come forward with a view based on the consultation. There is nothing wrong with correcting anomalies, but as we all know, sometimes when we correct them we introduce new ones. We have to take all the evidence and then come to a decision.

The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) talked about breast cancer, and I agree with the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge that she did so movingly. It is pleasing that survival rates are now better, and if we can reduce the level of mortality from all cancers, and certainly from breast cancer, it will be a significant step in the right direction. One of the keys to that is early diagnosis. The hon. Lady talked about the extent to which early diagnosis in the borough of Newham lags behind that in some other parts of the country, and that worries me. One of the benefits of the new legislation is that it brings local authorities who know their area well into the issue of public health and they may be more responsive to the needs of local inhabitants than the health authorities, which were rather more remote. I hope that will improve provision in her area. I also accept what she said about the new, less-invasive therapies that are available. That is something the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence must take on board; that is why we have that independent advice for medics on the most appropriate types of treatment.

We heard a very moving contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who talked about her constituents, Mr and Mrs Burns. I am sure that all Members of the House will want to extend their sympathy to them and to Isabella for the tragic loss of Charlie. Let us be clear that deaths from epilepsy are not common. With unexpected deaths, one of the problems is that it is often very hard to understand what signs and symptoms people should be looking for. Public awareness is critical, so I was pleased by what she said about the charity that is working to extend public awareness of sudden death from epilepsy and the fact that nocturnal seizures are one of the signs that people should look for. I think that she did a marvellous job in raising the issue today and hope that people will hear what she has to say. I know that the Department of Health will do everything it can to back that up with information.

The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) talked about the custody suite in Harrow police station, and I understand his point about the loss of custody suites. One of the knock-on effects is that we lose the

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police officers, who are arresting officers, who must then transport people somewhere else and so cannot police the streets. He talked about the proposal for an airport in the Thames estuary. We await the consultation on the aviation industry and the consequences of that. I know that many people are not persuaded of the virtues of such an airport.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about something very close to my heart: London Welsh. I played against London Welsh a few times when I was with Saracens and always enjoyed my visits to Old Deer park. I understand why they would be miffed at the idea that, if they beat the Cornish Pirates—it is not necessarily the case that they will—they cannot then progress. The rules are a matter for the Rugby Football Union, but it is important that, literally, there is a level playing field between those in the premiership and those who aspire to be. I will draw his comments to the attention of the Minister for Sport.

Appropriately, we then moved on to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), who talked about graduated driver licensing. I am pleased that he recognises that the introduction of the drug-driving legislation will be an advance. He knows that he is yet to persuade the Department for Transport of his case, but I know that he will be persistent. What we need is an evidence-based approach to whether graduated driver licensing would succeed in reducing injuries and accidents, particularly for young drivers, which is something the whole House wishes to see.

The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) talked about steel, and I recognise and understand much of what he said. I just wish that he had not then lapsed into caricaturing the positions of members of the Government on that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is made in Yorkshire and knows perfectly well what heavy industry is about. The right hon. Gentleman might have mentioned the fact that the blast furnace at Redcar steelworks, which was closed under the previous Administration, has been reignited under this Government. That might have made his contribution a little more balanced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) talked about Israel and Palestine, a cause he has been so committed to for so long. He knows that the Government’s position is to support a two-state solution in which both Israel and Palestine can live in security and peace. That is what we need to achieve, and it is not assisted by illegal settlements or some of the activities he mentioned.

The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) seemed to advocate a very exciting scheme, and I hope that the business case stacks up, because a modal shift from road to rail for freight is extremely important. I do not know why he singled out Scotch whisky as its main cargo, as there are probably other uses, but it was a useful contribution.

The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), with the breadth of his contribution, gave his usual bravura display on such occasions, from the art of happiness to the cultural centre of Essex, which I am advised is certainly not an oxymoron under any circumstances. He ranged over online publications and the pay of chief executives in the public sector, and he knows that the Government are very much bearing

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down on the salaries that are within our control, but the same should apply in particular to local authorities, where there is concern.

The hon. Gentleman talked also about his local police authority’s lack of engagement with him, which as a former chairman of a police authority I found very surprising. He also referred to clamping, on which he knows we have introduced new legislation that will take effect this autumn.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Vioxx, a matter that is still before the courts, and he talked about his constituent Mrs Stephanie Lister and the drugs, such as Ritalin, that are used on young children. He will know that the Deputy Prime Minister has launched a significant initiative to improve mental health facilities for young people and to find better therapies for them.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Maldives, and his constituent Stephanie Migliorini and the award that she won. As always, he covered a great deal of ground.

The hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) talked about changes to private sector pensions and came up with a scheme that would save the Government, he told us, millions and millions of pounds. Anything that saves the Government millions and millions of pounds is something that we want to consider very carefully, and although I do not feel qualified to give an opinion, I shall ensure that somebody who knows the subject much better than I do gives him a reasoned response.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) talked about the Olympics, which must be a matter of huge excitement in his constituency, and the need for further Thames crossings. As someone who has always lived in east London when in London, I recognise what he said.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the sensitive issue of animal slaughter, and we need to look further at it. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is doing that to see how it can sensitively reconcile animal welfare with religious practices.

The hon. Gentleman talked about leaseholder rights. He also talked about rabies—and thank goodness it has not been a problem in this country for so long. If there are ways of reducing its incidence abroad so that we maintain the safety of not just our citizens but others, that would be worth while.

The hon. Gentleman also discussed housing benefits, and I understand his point. It is a concern that has been expressed on both sides of the House, and we must get it right, so that we do not give huge amounts of money—well beyond what a household on normal earnings can possibly achieve—to people. Nevertheless we understand that when we are talking about families, we are talking about people.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) talked about Immingham, and we learned a little about its early history, but he talked about its development plans, too. I had not really appreciated that Immingham and Grimsby are, as a complex, the largest port in the UK, and that is a declaration of ignorance on my part, but I did know that the area has enormous economic and strategic importance, so the way in which we maintain its infrastructure—whether its development plans, road connections, broadband or all the things that he mentioned—is enormously important.

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The hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) talked about manufacturing and engineering and pointed out that they are not just oily-rag trades nowadays. It is so important to our future economic success that we attract the brightest and best to engineering and manufacturing, because of not just the initial product, but the supply chains that he mentioned, which affect my constituency as well in terms of aerospace, in particular, and avionics. He welcomed the energy Bill and the things that we are doing to try to attract young people to the world of industry and bring them into it through the apprenticeships scheme and similar measures.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman talked about school governance, and I look forward to hearing more from him on this subject. We put an enormous amount of work the way of governors, who have an enormous responsibility on their shoulders. All the help that we can give them represents money well spent in enabling them to do their job in the best way possible as that is so crucial to our schools and colleges across the country.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) tried to upset me by suggesting that people travel through my constituency only to get to his. Of course, the better class of people do not—they stop in Somerset, as he well knows. I know where he comes from, and so I know where his heart really lies, but I understand that he has to say these things because he is now in foreign parts in Devon. He talked about the importance of agriculture and about agri-tourism. We used to dig for victory and then forgot how to, but we now have to remember again because food security is so desperately important.

I was fascinated by the community cafés mentioned by the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) and by his injured soldiers holiday appeal. He raised two rather more negative matters regarding his constituents’ inability to get satisfaction in claims on failed investments and on blight by HS2. I will contact the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Transport and hope that we can resolve those outstanding issues for him.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) talked about the regimental system and its importance to esprit de corps. I have always been very attached to the idea of cap badge loyalty. I have some experience of this, not in the armed forces but in the police, where I always felt that it was important to be able to identify with the body in which one served. In Somerset, we regret the fact that the Somerset Light Infantry is no longer a regular Army regiment. I think the fact that we have no Army footprint in my county has been detrimental to recruitment. The hon. Gentleman drew on his own experience and his distinguished record, and I know that he will be heard by Defence Ministers, who have not yet reached their conclusions about the final structure and deployment of the Army but are working on that at the moment.

Last but not least, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) talked about the importance of the Commonwealth. I entirely agree. It is wonderful that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are currently mounting guard on Horse Guards parade; it is the first time that a non-military unit from another Commonwealth country has done so. It is not in my gift to arrange a debate on Commonwealth day each year; that is in the hands of the Backbench Business Committee. However, if he

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applies to the Committee and it thinks it a good idea, the Leader of the House and I will do everything we can to assist.

We have had an excellent debate in which Members have managed to cover a huge range of subjects. I will make sure that those whom I have not answered properly get replies from the Departments involved. I hope that Members are able to use this short Whitsun recess effectively in their constituencies, but also to celebrate, as several of them said, the jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. I have seen people’s enthusiasm for the Olympic torch, and the amount of red, white and blue bunting around our constituencies at the moment is terrific. It makes for a jollier place, and I welcome it. I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all the staff of the House a pleasant short break, after which very brief period we will resume business as usual.

Question put and agreed to .

Resolved ,

That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I wish all Members and staff a superb diamond jubilee. It is an historic, once-in-a-lifetime occasion to celebrate the glorious 60 years of Her Majesty’s reign.

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Ilias Ali

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

6 pm

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I am delighted that Mr Speaker has given me the opportunity to raise this important subject, and that the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) are here to discuss it.

I applied for this debate following a meeting in Bradford with members of the Bangladeshi community. While they wanted to discuss the current political crisis in Bangladesh, which I will come to shortly, their immediate concern was for the safety of llias Ali, a former member of the Bangladeshi Parliament and a key activist in the main Opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist party. His family and friends are also concerned about his disappearance.

Mr Ali disappeared with his driver, Ansar Ali, less than a month ago on 17 April. Unconfirmed eye-witness reports suggest that they were pulled from a car at gunpoint and forced into a black minibus. The disappearance of Mr Ilias Ali is not the first such incident in recent months in Bangladesh, but it has been the catalyst for widespread protests throughout the country, including a number of general strikes. During the disturbances and protests, there have been further reports of deaths and disappearances at the hands of the police and security services.

Since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971, politics in Bangladesh has been marked by brief periods of democratic government, but all too often they have been ended by military intervention, followed by a period of military rule. Although economic and political corruption have been rife, Bangladesh’s economic growth rates have been among the highest in Asia, and significant progress has been made in education and health policy under former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of the BNP and the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League.

The political rivalry between the leaders of the two main political parties has dominated Bangladeshi politics since the 1970s. However, in 2007, following yet another state of emergency and the formation of a military-backed caretaker Government, both leaders found themselves under arrest on charges of corruption, along with more than 100 other politicians. Both leaders were subsequently freed by the High Court and allowed to lead their respective parties into the general election in December 2008. The Awami League and its coalition, under Sheikh Hasina, won a landslide victory in an election that international observers reported to be largely free and fair.

Following that election, and the attempts to eradicate corruption and clean up politics, there was optimism that a period of political stability would see the emergence of a truly democratic and pluralist Bangladesh. However, the recent political turmoil has put paid to that optimism, and there is concern that it could lead to another suspension of democracy in Bangladesh. The anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, recently warned that a “growing partisan political influence” was

“eroding the capacity of the state to promote rule of law, justice, equality and basic human rights of the people”.

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Although the disappearance of Ilias Ali has largely been the cause of the recent disturbances, it is unfortunately not an isolated incident. On 4 February, two student activists, Al Mukaddas and Mohammed Waliullah, went missing. They have not been heard from since. On 2 April, two BNP activists, Iftekhar Ahmed Dinar and Junaid Ahmed, were taken from their homes by plain-clothes police officers. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Two days later, on 4 April, a prominent trade union activist from the garment industry, Aminul Islam, went missing. He was found dead a day later.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I have one question for clarification. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Bangladeshi Government are deeply involved in the kidnappings?

Mr Sutcliffe: I am not suggesting that. That is precisely the difficulty that exists in Bangladesh at the moment: there is no clarity about who is responsible, on one side or the other. I just want to highlight the fact that these people are missing, whatever the circumstances. It is the duty of the Government of Bangladesh to investigate those issues. I hope that the Minister—I am delighted that he is here—will exert some pressure, or at least tell us what we can do, because we have a large Bangladeshi population in the UK. I do not want to place blame on any particular body.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, for securing the debate and for the measured tone in which he is conducting it. This issue is one of concern to many of us who have a large number of Bangladeshi constituents, but also to parliamentarians who had the honour of meeting Ilias Ali when he came here in August 2011. It is absolutely right that it should be raised in this Chamber given the historical ties between the UK Parliament and Bangladesh.

Mr Sutcliffe: I thank my hon. Friend, who is quite right. I know that other colleagues met Mr Ali when he was here. He is right also to mention the links that there have been between this country and Bangladesh for many years. We have supported it when it has been through problems such as drought and floods. I hope that, in difficult circumstances, that relationship will offer our Government an opportunity at least to press the Bangladeshi Government on the current issues. The huge Bangladeshi population in the UK and its contribution to our society warrant our taking those issues seriously and doing whatever we can to highlight them.

Some of the Bradford-based business people and entrepreneurs from the Bangladeshi community have said to me that they want to go back to Bangladesh and invest there, but feel that their ability to do that is being threatened. Surely that must be a concern.

I acknowledge that many colleagues have raised concerns about the situation in Bangladesh, and the specific case of Ilias Ali, with the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) and the hon. Member for Bedford have both done so.

I do not want to get into giving out blame, but some people are blaming the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion for the disappearances and killings. The RAB was formed to tackle corruption and organised crime, but it is increasingly being linked with political abductions and,

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worse still, political assassinations. I hope that we can get to the bottom of that, because it is causing concern. I do not want to point the finger of blame, but the RAB has been mentioned a number of times when people have raised the issue with me.

Tonight’s debate is about trying to find out what routes our Government can take. I know that it is difficult for them, but I ask the Minister to highlight what action they have taken so far to raise the matter with the Bangladeshi Government, what diplomatic pressure can be brought to bear and what further action our Government can take.

I particularly urge that political and diplomatic pressure be brought to bear to achieve the following. First, we need to establish the immediate whereabouts of Ilias Ali and Ansar Ali, in the hope that their safe return to their families can bring some stability to the current crisis. We need to establish the whereabouts of the other activists who have disappeared, as identified by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. We need to try to find a way to get a truly independent inquiry into the recent deaths of protesters and an immediate end to the forced disappearance of political activists, and we need to help the Bangladeshi Government and others re-establish the rule of law and freedom of expression and respect the independence of the judiciary.

It is estimated that there are 500,000 Bangladeshis living in the UK, and I know that the Minister will appreciate how concerned that community is about the situation that is developing in the country. I hope that he can assure them that the UK will bring to bear whatever pressure it can to ensure a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis.

6.8 pm

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I join the thanks to the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) for securing the debate, and I thank him for his kindness in giving up time so that others may speak.

I met Ilias Ali for the first time six years ago, and I last met him in Sylhet 14 days before his disappearance on 18 April. The hon. Gentleman talked about the larger political issues, but I would like to talk on more of a personal level. I am greatly saddened by Ilias Ali’s disappearance and greatly frustrated by the Government of Bangladesh’s inability to identify what has happened to that Member of Parliament. Like many other Members, I call on our Government to do as much as they can.

I wrote to the Prime Minister on 17 April and was grateful to receive his reply. He stated: