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Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Service Complaints Commissioner’s report for 2013 reveals that complaints about bullying, harassment and discrimination account for 43% of Army allegations, and that bullying was up by a third. Complaints are made disproportionately by female and ethnic minority personnel. Equality and diversity training in the Army consists of an initial two-hour training course and a half-hour refresher every year. May we have a debate on the report and on how to tackle an embedded culture of bullying, harassment and discrimination that is blighting the lives of many in our armed forces?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady raises an important point. I saw the Service Complaints Commissioner’s report. It is important that we further strengthen the role of the commissioner and raise awareness of all the issues to which she refers. I will, if I may, ask my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence to respond, but I assure her that I know, from my conversations with colleagues, that these issues are taken very seriously.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we have a debate on the use of public money in murder cases, so that the House can consider whether it is appropriate for legal aid to be spent on paying for an appeal by one of the murderers of Drummer Lee Rigby? The public are rightly outraged by this and believe the money would be better spent on providing a fitting memorial for Fusilier Rigby.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes his own point. What happened in Woolwich last year was a sickening and barbaric attack. Our thoughts remain with the family of the victim and with the community. They are grieving for someone they love. They have lost a brave soldier. On legal aid, my hon. Friend will know that legal aid is available for all criminal cases in the Court of Appeal. However, a judge has to grant leave to appeal and the court can also grant legal aid.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Momentous changes are taking place in the housing market: the private rented sector has grown enormously and has now overtaken the social sector; owner occupation is in decline; and supply is not matching demand. I challenge the figures the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on this matter. Homelessness is on the increase. May we have a debate in Government time on this important subject? It is critical to my constituents and to constituents in every area of the country.

Mr Lansley: It was under the last Government that the number of social houses fell by 400,000. It is this Government who are investing and planning to build 180,000 additional affordable homes, and housing waiting lists are currently falling. Those are important steps. However, we need to build more houses, and, in doing so, recognise the need for a vibrant private rented sector and a strong social housing sector, as well as the support for owner occupation that we are providing through the Help to Buy scheme.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I encourage the Leader of the House to call the bluff of the shadow Leader of the House and accept her application for

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more Opposition day debates? Indeed, may I encourage him to allow the Opposition a whole week of parliamentary time? Opposition day debates are badly argued and poorly attended, and demonstrate very bad preparation. If we had a whole week of them, the incoherence and inadequacy of the Opposition’s alternative programme for government would be plain for the world to see.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend tempts me, but there is a lot of business for us to accommodate before the end of the Session. In any case, I think that what he has said is not only true, but was amply demonstrated during the Budget debate.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), may I ask the Leader of the House to answer another question? According to Generation Rent, which represents the interests of private tenants throughout the country, half those tenants believe that they are paying too high a rent, and two thirds of them believe that they are insecure in their assured shorthold six-month tenancies. Does the Leader of the House not think that it is time for the Government once again to review their whole policy on the private rented sector, given the excessive charges and rents and the deep insecurity that many private tenants feel? Can he not ensure that we bring some justice to the people—nearly 4 million in England alone—who are living in the private rented sector?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman made the same point, rather more briefly, to the Prime Minister, and I agree with what the Prime Minister said. We cannot start trying to distort the market or control rents, because that would destroy the private rented sector. The availability of private rented accommodation creates diversity in the housing market, and enables people to be more flexible in relation to housing supply. That is very important, not least because—as our country’s economy, unlike many other European economies, has demonstrated —housing markets can help to provide flexible labour markets.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): When I opened the Harrogate beer festival last week—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Yes, it was an arduous task. When I opened the festival, I was told by local brewers Eric Lucas of Daleside and Simon Theakston of Theakston that the recent beer duty cuts had galvanised the industry into increased confidence. One of the effects of that has been the stimulation of export activity, and both companies are reporting very encouraging trends. However, the overall picture in this country is of a big food and drink deficit. Please may we have a debate about food and drink exports, and about how we can help this important sector to grow?

Mr Lansley: I am delighted to hear about the optimism among brewers in Yorkshire. My hon. Friend has also made a good point about the food and drink sector, which has reported export sales of £19.4 billion in 2013. That is a very big contribution to our economy and our exports. I cannot promise a debate about the sector immediately, but it would be good to have such a

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debate, because I think that this country has a great deal to offer the world through its food and drink exports.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I am sure the Leader of the House will be concerned to learn that the insurance premium of a small business that was flooded during the December tidal surge in Hull has been increased from £1,100 to £6,500, as a result of which it is unlikely to remain viable. May we have a debate about why the Government chose not to include small businesses in the coalition’s Flood Re scheme, and about what other support can be given to small businesses that may flood in the future?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady will know that in the debates on the Water Bill we were very clear that if we were to include businesses in the Flood Re scheme, the nature of the scheme would mean that the cost of that subsidy would have to be met out of other insurance premiums, and that would have taken the insurance premiums for everyone else on domestic premiums above £10. We have set out the reason why we are not doing that, therefore, but, as it happens, we will I hope have an opportunity soon to consider the Lords amendments to the Water Bill. That might give the hon. Lady an opportunity to debate this issue.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The Football Association has launched its inclusion advisory board which is working to encourage more involvement in football by women and the minorities community. May we have a debate on that, and on what other sports are doing to address this? By way of a declaration, I should mention that I am a parliamentary fellow with the Football Association and prior to that with Sport England.

Mr Lansley: I have noticed that Members often ask for debates on matters relating to football and I agree with my hon. Friend that that is another important and interesting issue that would merit debate. We had a debate recently about participation in non-league football, but I think there is an as yet unmet need for debate about the governance of football and many other issues relating to football.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): The Prime Minister told the House last week that Labour’s manifesto proposed the selling off of Royal Mail. As this is not correct, please can we have a statement from the Prime Minister setting the record straight?

Mr Lansley: What the Prime Minister set out is that the Labour party before the last election was very clear about its commitment to bringing private capital into the Royal Mail. If we were going to deliver a successful Royal Mail, it was absolutely essential that its investment programme should be funded by private capital, and what we have achieved has done that—and the Labour party, after years of failing to do that while recognising it was essential, should just recognise that fact.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I welcome the £200 million announced by the Chancellor in the Budget for pothole repairs, but is my right hon. Friend aware that on the 125 miles of road in Harlow the number of

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defects has increased? There were 632 individual potholes in the first quarter of 2014 in Harlow alone. May we have a statement regarding any extra support being provided to local authorities to tackle potholes on our roads and to make the lives of Harlow motorists easier?

Mr Lansley: I did not know the precise number, but I am not surprised. I think many Members will know, as my hon. Friend does, how difficult the consequences have been of the very unusual—exceptional—weather we experienced this winter, and, indeed, the previous winter, both of which have had a substantial impact on the quality of our roads. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer provided the additional £200 million to address the problem of potholes, £168 million of that being made available to councils in England. I would just remind my hon. Friend and the House that that is additional to the over £1 billion provided to local authorities this year for tackling highways maintenance. Of course local authorities must decide their priorities, but much of that money will go towards repairing the quality of these roads.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): The Department of Health confirmed this week that in Halton the ratio of patients to GPs is much higher than the English national average. May I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for a debate so the Department of Health can tell us what it is doing to increase the number of GPs in disadvantaged areas such as Halton?

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise a debate immediately, but I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department of Health to contact NHS England about that. One of its responsibilities is to commission those primary care services, and it has a statutory requirement to try to secure equal access to services, so equal access to general practice is one of the central objectives it has to meet.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Last January the Government committed to legislate to introduce a statutory code of practice for the large pub companies. The following consultation showed that 67% of those responding want the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s market rent-only option, which is also backed by the majority of MPs in this House. Considering that there has been something of a lack of Government business, it seems very strange that we have had no announcement. Will the Leader of the House tell us what is stopping the announcement of this legislation coming forward and who is stopping that happening?

Mr Lansley: I must take issue with my hon. Friend on one point: there is no lack of Government business. We have three carry-over Bills that have just completed their Committee stage, for example. We have not yet been able to schedule an opportunity for them to come back to the Floor of the House. We have also had consideration on the Floor of the House of the Wales Bill and the Finance Bill, and the Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill has

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now been scheduled. A substantial amount of business is still being dealt with in this Session. In response to my hon. Friend’s question, we have had a consultation and we are considering the results. It will not surprise him to learn that I am not in any position to pre-empt the contents of the Queen’s Speech, in which the issues relating to future legislation will be clarified.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): The first industrial city, Manchester, is proud of its trade links right across the world. They were established in the 19th century by the ship canal and are being continued by Manchester airport. Today, Manchester Airport Group announced the first direct flights for 16 years to south-east Asia, with Cathay Pacific flights to Hong Kong. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the all-party support for this development, which has come from the chamber of commerce, the combined authority, the local enterprise partnership, the Manchester-China forum and my predecessor, Paul Goggins, who fought hard for it. Will the Leader of the House also talk to the Secretary of State for Transport about arranging for some time in the House to make this announcement?

Mr Lansley: I am delighted to have this opportunity to join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating that new route and acknowledging all those who contributed to making it happen. I remember my own experience of working with the Manchester chamber of commerce, when I was with the British Chambers of Commerce, and I know what a remarkable institution it has been for bringing people together, from the 19th century right up to the 21st century, and for looking outwards. That is what we need to do: we need more exports, and we need to win in the global race. We have the businesses, the capabilities, the innovation and the skills, not least in a great city such as Manchester, and this is an opportunity for Manchester to go out there and sell.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on the decline of overseas student numbers, on how that is affecting the local economy, and on how Parliament and the Government can increase our educational exports?

Mr Lansley: That is an interesting issue, but I cannot promise an immediate debate. It is important to look at the statistics, which have shown variable results. Many universities in this country have successfully expanded their overseas student numbers in recent years, for example. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister for Universities and Science have made it clear that there is no bar on universities taking students from overseas for legitimate courses. We have clamped down on abuse, but there is no limit on the number of students they can take. Indeed, the numbers coming from many countries have grown. There is clearly a problem in relation to India and Pakistan, however, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary went there recently to make it clear that there is no limit on those countries’ students coming to our universities for their higher education.

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Police Recorded Crime Statistics

Public Administration Select Committee

Mr Speaker: We now come to the Select Committee statement. The Chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee will speak on his subject for up to 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I—or the occupant of the Chair, whoever it is—will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement and call Mr Jenkin to respond to these in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions, and they should be brief. Members on the Front Bench may of course take part in the questioning. I call the Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, Mr Bernard Jenkin.

11.58 am

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for this opportunity to launch the Public Administration Select Committee’s report entitled “Caught red-handed: Why we can’t count on Police Recorded Crime statistics”. The Daily Telegraph has already described our report as “devastating”. That is because this is not just about inaccurate numbers; it is about the long crisis of values and ethics at the heart of our police force.

Crime statistics are central to our understanding of the nature and prevalence of crime in England and Wales. They provide crucial information for the police, without which they would have no way of knowing how to deploy their manpower and resources. We found strong evidence that the police under-record crime, particularly sexual crimes such as rape, in many police areas. Lax supervision of recorded crime data means that the police are failing in their core role of protecting the public and preventing crime. The main reason for this mis-recording is the continued prevalence of numerical targets. They create perverse incentives to mis-record crime, so a police officer is presented with a conflict: does he or she record “attempted burglary”, as was originally reported, or subsequently downgrade it to “criminal damage” in order to achieve the burglary target? That creates conflict between the achievement of targets and core policing values. We deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms. But most police forces are still in denial about the damage that targets cause both to data integrity and to standards of behaviour.

The Home Office must accept responsibility for the quality of police recorded crime statistics and do more to discourage the use of targets. As a result of PASC’s inquiry, the UK Statistics Authority has already stripped police recorded crime data of the quality kitemark, “National Statistics”. The Home Office, the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority have all been far too passive in addressing this problem, even though they have all known about it for years. Leadership by targets is a flawed leadership model, and that is what really must be addressed, because poor data integrity reflects the poor quality of leadership within the police. What does the institutional dishonesty about police recorded crime say about their compliance with the core values of policing, which are meant to include accountability, honesty and integrity?

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That comes on top of all the other controversies that have raised questions about the values and ethics of the police and their leadership: Hillsborough; Stephen Lawrence; the attempt to hide the cause of Ian Tomlinson’s death in the G20 protests; Plebgate; Operation Elveden, about the police accepting payments from journalists to leak unauthorised information; just last month, four police officers under investigation for allegedly getting a burglar to confess to 500 crimes he apparently did not commit; and many other instances.

I yield to no one in my admiration and respect for so many police officers. They put their lives at risk in the line of duty while they serve our communities. We see them around this Palace, ready to throw themselves between us and the terrorists if the need arises. Yet these same officers are deeply cynical about the quality of their leadership and its honesty and integrity.

That is why we recommend that the Committee on Standards in Public Life conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the police’s compliance with the new code of ethics and, in particular, into the role of leadership in promoting and sustaining those values.

The most depressing part of our inquiry is the way in which the Metropolitan police have treated my constituent, PC James Patrick, who was our key witness. He says he has been forced to resign from the Metropolitan police. Acting as a whistleblower, he tried to highlight serious concerns about police recorded crime and the target culture. We record the fact that we are indebted to PC Patrick for his courage in speaking out, in fulfilment of his duty to the highest standards of public service despite intense pressure to the contrary.

I am pleased that the Minister for Crime Prevention has now written to me—he is on the Front Bench at the moment—to say that the Home Office is looking at a range of what he calls radical proposals to strengthen the protection of whistleblowers within the police. But this has all come too late for PC Patrick. By a quirk of the rules, police offices are denied what is called “interim relief” in constructive dismissal cases, so he will cease to be paid from 6 June while he awaits his tribunal, which will not be until August or September.

We are calling for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to investigate the Metropolitan police service in respect of the treatment of PC Patrick. We do not believe that the Metropolitan police service has treated him fairly or with respect and care.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): I have a brief question, but first may I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and PASC for a forensic report which charts a long-standing and deep-seated problem? Sir Andrew Dilnot said in evidence to the Committee that the more accurate crime statistics become, the more likely they are to show that crime is rising. Now that we have the Committee’s verdict that we can no longer rely on crime statistics, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be most unwise, until such time as the system has been changed in the way the Committee recommended, for Ministers to rely on the crime statistics to assert that crime is falling?

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his compliments, but I am not sure that that is quite what Sir Andrew said. What the Office for National

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Statistics has said is that crime may not be falling quite as fast as police recorded crime suggests, but the crime survey for England and Wales, which is a survey not a recording system, does corroborate the fact that crime is falling. That is the figure the Labour party relied on when in government and it is the figure the Government of any party are entitled to rely upon.

On the substantive point that we need to improve the auditing of police recorded crime statistics in order to make them a more reliable source of data, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.

The Minister for Crime Prevention (Norman Baker): May I, on behalf of the Home Office, thank my hon. Friend and his Committee for the serious work they have done? We will, of course, give a proper response in due course to his recommendations. Would he accept that some, but not all, of the issues he has raised are, fortunately, slightly historical in nature? We have taken action to discourage central targets. We have also taken action to ensure that the independent Office for National Statistics is responsible for crime statistics, and we asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary last June to carry out an audit of the quality of crime recording, so we are taking action at the Home Office.

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Yes, this is historical, but I am afraid that makes all the more damning the fact that police recorded crime is still being misrecorded in this country. Yes, the Home Office has handed this over to the ONS and the UK Statistics Authority, and the Home Office has ceased to set its own targets, but the Committee does recommend that the Home Office, which collects the data and gives them to the ONS, has an obligation to ensure that those data are recorded correctly. We lament the fact that HMIC has not been doing regular audits. Where a regular audit was done in the Kent polices there was an immediate increase in police recorded crime. We probably need to look forward to increases in certain categories of crime, as that would confirm that such crimes are now being recorded correctly. That should be regarded as a good thing, so long as we can corroborate that with the crime survey in England and Wales still showing a fall in crime. The Home Office has overall accountability to this House for the quality of police recorded crime statistics. So the Home Office, along with the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee, the UK Statistics Authority and the ONS, has a responsibility to ensure that the police recording of crime is improved, and overall the Home Office is accountable to this House for ensuring that the police recording of crime is of better quality than it is now.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I commend the hon. Gentleman and the Committee for their work. I have long since stopped trusting police statistics; propaganda banners in the centre of Hammersmith tell me that my constituents are safer because there are 42 extra police, but when I go to the Mayor of London’s website I am told that there are 158 fewer police and police community support officers than there were at the time of the last general election. What his Committee said about how this situation

“erodes public trust in the police and…the…confidence of frontline police officers”

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is absolutely right. However, we do need accurate statistics, as well as to address the ethics points he talked about, so what can be done to ensure that we have accurate statistics in the future?

Mr Jenkin: There are three steps to take to ensure more accurate crime statistics. One is regular audit. The second is to abandon targets. Many police and crime commissioners have abandoned targets altogether, because they recognise that they have a distorting effect on behaviour and attitudes. The third is that the police themselves need to emphasise the core policing values of accountability, honesty and integrity so that police officers at desks recording crimes recognise that, above everything else, recording the crimes effectively is a microcosm of the honesty, integrity and accountability that they must carry throughout their entire policing profession. It is these values that have been subverted by the target culture. That is the responsibility of both parties over a long period—it is not a partisan point. Our key witness told me that the Metropolitan police is still full of target junkies. It will take a long time to change the culture of leadership throughout our police forces in England and Wales—this also applies to Scotland, although we have not inquired into Scotland—but it has to be done.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): It is never easy to be a whistleblower, but I cannot imagine a much tougher environment to be a whistleblower in than the police service. What practical measures of protection does the Committee recommend to safeguard the interests of people such as my hon. Friend’s brave constituent PC Patrick in the future?

Mr Jenkin: We recommend immunity from disciplinary proceedings while a whistleblowing process is under way. That is standard practice in the financial services industry, nuclear industry, aviation sector, transport sector and many other industries, and it should be so in the police as well. I am pleased to say that, in a letter sent to me by my hon. Friend the Minister, a number of possible options have been included. They are:

“Anonymity for the whistleblower from the point at which the allegation is made…‘sealed’ investigations so that, for a set period, no-one under investigation knows that it is happening …immunity from disciplinary/misconduct proceedings… financial incentives for whistleblowers, for example a share of recovered criminal assets from the case…protection against vexatious or malicious allegations.”

All those options would have made life very different for my constituent.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): As a member of the Select Committee, I was pleased to have taken part in the work on this first-class report. I congratulate the Chairman on his strong leadership in bringing forward the report and on his statement today. The issue of no-crime rates for rapes and sexual offences is a most serious matter. Although I fully support the recommendation for research, is the matter not so serious that the Government should act now to seek to ensure that all rapists are brought to justice and that women and indeed some men can feel safe from such attacks in future?

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his work on the PASC and for his question. I refer to chart 3 on page 17 of the report, which shows a remarkable

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divergence in the average no-crime rate reported for rape incidents. It is important to understand that no constabulary sets a target for rape. That lesson has been learnt, but the culture of downgrading rapes to lesser offences is embedded in the culture of the police. Generations of police officers have learnt that it is a good thing to downgrade the importance of crimes to make the figures look better. The result is a 20% variation across forces in how often they downgrade a rape to a lesser offence. That shows that there must be a very wide divergence of practice across police forces, and it demonstrates why an investigation into this question is necessary, particularly for such a serious offence. I expect the same applies to many other offences, such as domestic violence and violence against women and some of the less fashionable offences that we have difficulty talking about.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I declare an interest as a special constable with the British Transport police. In my brief career with the police, I have never come across any instance where a police officer has knowingly downgraded a crime. Nevertheless, I strongly commend the Chairman for his hard-hitting report, which pulls no punches and which is clearly an example of how Select Committees in this place should report and not be frightened of dealing with these difficult issues in a forthright way. So serious are the conclusions in the report that, if I were the Home Secretary, the matter would be right at the top of my in-tray. What indications has the Chairman been given by the Home Office about when the Home Secretary will come to the House to respond to the conclusions in his report? The conclusions are so serious that I believe they should be discussed at Cabinet level, and this House should be informed promptly of what the Government will do to ensure the integrity of the recording of crimes by our police forces, which is a hugely important issue for all our constituents.

Mr Jenkin: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Sadly, I must tell him that there is not a single police officer on the streets or around the Palace who has expressed the least surprise about what we were told in evidence by PC Patrick and many other witnesses. They all knew that this was going on, and everybody has known that this has been going on in many police forces, possibly most police forces, for very many years. The fact that my hon. Friend has not been exposed to it is intriguing; I will say no more than that. Let me reassure him that I am immensely reassured that my hon. Friend the Minister is in the House today and has indeed participated in these proceedings. I have already had a meeting with the Home Secretary at which we have had a preliminary discussion about the report. My hon. Friend is tempting me to apply for a fuller debate on the report so that Ministers can give a fuller response. Perhaps that can happen after the Government have responded in full to our report.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Is not the most egregious example of the waste and futility of target setting what happened in the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime? In seeking to set three targets for reducing crime, reducing costs and improving morale, it decided

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to have targets of 20%, 20% and 20% in what was an obvious way of headline chasing. Is the Chairman shocked by what we heard in evidence to his Committee and to the Home Affairs Committee? Although the Met has men and women of integrity in it who are entirely free of any corruption and are entirely honourable, the surprise is that, going back to the murder of Daniel Morgan 27 years ago, there are elements in the Met that are institutionally corrupt.

Mr Jenkin: Our recommendation is that MOPAC should abandon targets. If it has slogans, they should be aspirations, not targets. The hon. Gentleman, who is on the Committee and for whose work I am grateful, is right that there are aspects of this that raise very serious questions about the ethics and values of the leadership of the police, particularly the Metropolitan police.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on this matter. May I draw Members’ attention to paragraph 39 which says that

“misrecording of sexual offences is deplorable, but especially so if this has been brought about by means of improperly persuading or pressurising victims into withdrawing or downgrading their report.”?

That particularly affects children.

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.

Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): As a member of the PASC, may I, too, congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee on his effective leadership and tenacity in this inquiry? Will he explain to the House why the flaws in the recording system were not picked up through external inspection?

Mr Jenkin: In our evidence, we heard that there was not enough internal or external inspection. When Kent police were specially audited a year or two ago, it turned out that there was substantial manipulation of crime statistics. Whether it was advertent or inadvertent, it was happening. The result has been a much cleaner bill of health for Kent. Regular audit and inspection is one of the things that must happen, and HMIC must make that a priority every year.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): In Lincolnshire during this Parliament, we have had an absurd spat between the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, which resulted in the chief constable being suspended for a time—not for anything operational, just some rubbish about political correctness. Meanwhile, while all this money and time wasting is going on I, speaking personally as an ordinary member of the public, have been a victim of crime twice in Lincolnshire and I have to say that the response of the police was completely underwhelming, with no follow-up and nobody caught. People are increasingly fed up with members of police forces, particularly at the top, who pay themselves quite well and seem to be enmeshed in empire building, political correctness and form filling. What we and the public want to get back to—this is why this report is so good—and what I want my hon. Friend to comment on, is old-fashioned community policing, with the police in our communities, the old bobby on the beat, walking

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around, knowing everyone, talking to people and not just sitting in their headquarters having these absurd spats—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am sure that there must have been a question somewhere in that great rant, and I am sure that Mr Jenkin will be able to pick out an answer.

Mr Jenkin: I am interested to note that Lincolnshire is one of the outliers in the table of the average no-crime rate for reported rape incidents that shows the downgrading of rape. As I look at the table, I cannot remember instantly whether that means it is very good or very bad—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) says that I should turn it upside down. The hankering after practical policing based on common sense outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) suggests that the police would be well advised to lead according to common-sense values and the values in the ethics code. If they do the right thing on the day according to those values, their leadership should back them.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Last but certainly not least, I call Tim Loughton.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I, too, commend my hon. Friend and the PASC for this forthright and uncomfortable report. Is he aware that the figures are being distorted further by the police’s increasingly arbitrary use of police information notices? When an individual perceives that harassment has taken place, often devoid of a common-sense test of whether a complaint has substance or is vexatious, according to Sussex police, at least, there is no need for them to follow their own guidance as it is only guidance. Even more worryingly, complaints about comments made in this House by hon. Members can be registered as a hate incident by police despite our parliamentary privilege.

Mr Jenkin: The case that ended up in court as a result of the incident concerning my hon. Friend—

Tim Loughton: Not in court.

Mr Jenkin: It did not finish up in court—that was the point, wasn’t it? It was privileged. I thought the incident was bizarre and showed an extraordinary lack of understanding of where the police sit in the constitutional framework of this country. It seemed to me to lack common sense and I agree with my hon. Friend.

I should say for the record that Cleveland, Surrey and Lincolnshire had a far higher no-crime rate than the national average when it comes to reported rapes. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough should be asking his police why they record rape and then downgrade it so much more often than the vast majority of constabularies.

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Backbench Business

Easter Adjournment

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I remind Members that we will follow the usual procedure of speaking for about 10 to 15 minutes.

12.23 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I beg to move,

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

I wish to raise a number of issues before the Easter Adjournment and I will try to get through them as quickly as possible so that the 16 Members who wish to speak all have equal time.

I was on the Select Committee on Health for 10 years and am still very interested in a number of health issues. One is a genetic condition that causes high concentrations of cholesterol in the blood and therefore significantly increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease from a young age. It is known as FH, or familial hypercholesterolaemia, and affects one in 500 people but only 15% have been formally identified or treated. However, it is possible to make improvements to this rate and I am asking the Deputy Leader of the House to suggest that, as the cardiovascular disease outcomes strategy for England includes an aspiration to diagnose and treat 50% of causes of FH, the Health Department considers establishing a national programme for FH that features a dedicated network of health care professionals, nurses to roll out the cascade screening process and a UK-wide patient register and database.

Melanoma cancer is something of which all Members of Parliament are only too aware. I recently had the privilege of meeting Gill Nuttall, who founded the charity Melanoma UK. It is the most serious form of skin cancer and each year more than 2,000 people in the UK die from the disease. It disproportionately affects young people and patients are often of working age with young families. It is absolutely devastating. The present treatment is dacarbazine, but that does not have a high survival benefit so I am asking the Deputy Leader of the House to pass on to the relevant Department the fact that the drug ipilimumab can be a life-saving treatment for some patients whose survival is inhibited by late access to the treatment. I am advised that on 23 April the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s appraisal committee will hold its second meeting to give a recommendation about that drug and I hope that it is approved.

I am the chairman of the all-party group on hepatology and we recently produced what I shall brazenly call an excellent report on liver disease, called “Liver Disease: Today’s Complacency, Tomorrow’s Catastrophe”. It is about improving outcomes in liver disease and is a wake-up call to the nation. I do not know how many people realise that liver disease is the fifth greatest cause of death in the UK and that about 11,000 people die each year as a result of it. The report made many recommendations and I hope that the Government, the NHS and Public Health England will work together to

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create a national approach to preventing fatalities from liver disease. A meeting with the Minister responsible for public health would also be extremely useful.

The drug treatment strategy interests us all. National guidance from the Department of Health and NICE clearly recommends that all patients treated for opiate addiction should receive a comprehensive assessment and that the treatment provided should be tailored to their needs, yet according to the results of the largest survey ever carried out into drug addiction across 10 European countries, published in 2012, treatment in the UK might often not be optimised to the individual patient’s obvious needs. In this country we have one of the highest levels of heroin addiction, so I hope that the Department of Health will work to implement the NICE technology appraisal on drug treatment options, TA114, and put a monitoring system in place to ensure that every patient is assessed and offered the safest and best treatment to enable them to recover.

Thalidomide used to be mentioned regularly in the House, but recently I was shocked to learn that justice has still not been served after all these years. Most Members of Parliament might still have one or two thalidomide victims in their constituencies, but in cases in which the pharmaceutical company Grünenthal was not the licensee, thalidomide victims did not receive a penny from either the German Government or the manufacturers. In other European countries where thalidomide was marketed, the victims have received financial assistance from Grünenthal and the German Government. I am asking our Government to turn exploratory talks into formal negotiations to assist with funding the health needs of those who suffer from the effects of thalidomide. Italian, Swedish and Spanish MPs are asking their Governments to do likewise. I hope that our Government will take the matter seriously.

I am the chairman of the all-party group on maternity and I was totally unaware of tongue-tie in breastfeeding. As we all know, if mothers can do it breastfeeding is the best possible way to nurture children, but tongue-tie is very upsetting for new mothers. The diagnosis is not fully recognised, but when it is discovered early on, treatment is usually quick and straightforward. I am advised that specialists can perform a simple snip of the tie with scissors, often without even an anaesthetic. The National Childbirth Trust has received communications from many mothers describing their experience of tongue-tie, and it seems to be an issue that needs to be addressed. It is concerned that diagnosis of tongue-tie can sometimes take weeks or months, which is very upsetting for a new mother. One mother says:

“Both my children were tongue tied and in both cases the professionals failed to identify it. Due to unacceptable waiting times I felt I had no option but to pay for private tongue tie division. I went to hell and back on my feeding journeys because of tongue tie.”

This is something that we need to improve.

I remember debates in the House many years ago on gender selection abortion when I was reassured by the Minister that that would not happen. Unfortunately, 4,700 girls are missing in the UK owing to sex selection abortion, which is disgraceful. A growing body of anecdotal evidence proves that gender abortions are taking place in this country despite the assurances many years ago

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that that would not happen. There is a need to clarify the law on sex selection. The Department of Health interprets the law as saying that sex selection abortion is illegal. The head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service says the opposite. The Abortion Act 1967 requires two doctors to form the opinion in good faith that continuing with the pregnancy risks damaging the mother’s mental or physical health. In a situation where a woman might suffer abuse as the result of bearing a girl, as has unfortunately been the case in some minority communities, it is quite conceivable that sex selection abortion would meet the Act’s criteria. The Department of Health proposes non-binding guidance to solve this problem, but that is not good enough. I want the Secretary of State for Health to consider bringing forward regulations under the powers conferred on him by section 2 of the Abortion Act to make gender abortion explicitly illegal, as we were told many years ago that it was.

Assisted dying regularly rears its head, perhaps not in this Chamber but in the other place. I ask only that when the matter is raised again there will be a genuine free vote on it in the House. The Prime Minister touched on the issue of abortion yesterday, but I hope that there will be a genuine free vote on euthanasia.

More than a month ago in Westminster Hall, I raised my grave concerns about mental health services in south-east Essex. I told the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), that I was totally unhappy with past and present management, and he promised me a meeting. A month has gone by. I am ready, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will ensure that his hon. Friend will quickly make arrangements for me to have the meeting with him, because the complaints are endless.

I am pleased that we are to reform the probation service. I have been critical of the probation service in Essex, so I am horrified to learn that its chief executive and his staff are thinking of reinventing themselves under the auspices of a mutual. There is no point changing the probation service unless it is under new management.

I was privileged to be part of a delegation to Saudi Arabia, and we are to have a meeting with the Foreign Office Minister later this afternoon. The development of our relations with Saudi Arabia is interesting. It has been a reliable ally of ours for more than 100 years, but we might be missing out on some trade opportunities. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will continue to nurture good relations with Saudi Arabia.

I am the chairman of the all-party British-Maldives parliamentary group, and after some controversy over the election, at long last there is a settled President there. I very much hope that we will facilitate a double taxation treaty and a bilateral investment treaty, reduce the air passenger duty and make student visa applications more accessible for young talented students from the Maldives to travel here to study at our excellent academic institutions. We could certainly do more to encourage business links between our two countries—after all, it was a British protectorate. The British high commissioner, John Rankin, has agreed to visit the global green city project, a fantastic project that aims to create a safe, serene and spacious environment with huge economic potential for the citizens of the Maldives. I want British businesses to enjoy some of the business opportunities there.

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I recently became chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for democracy in Bahrain. I did not initially realise that it was a controversial all-party group, and I simply say that I hope that the Government are looking seriously at the further complaints about torture.

Quilliam is an organisation that deals with online extremism. Last month, I was reunited with a former constituent, Maajid Nawaz, whom I last saw when I visited him in an Egyptian prison some 10 years ago. He has been on an incredible journey. Having been a former member of an Islamist revolutionary group, and spending five years in a prison in Cairo, which was a little like “Midnight Express”, he then had a complete change of heart, transformed his life and started the anti-extremism organisation Quilliam.

Quilliam has just finished the most comprehensive report to date on online extremism, and it will be published shortly. The issue was raised in the counter-extremism taskforce set up after the Woolwich attack, so it is important to consider it carefully. Quilliam’s research has found that negative measures of dealing with online extremism, such as blocking or censoring, which have previously been suggested, would be both ineffective and counter-productive. It instead identifies seven other ways that action should be taken to counter online extremism, including the promotion of positive measures, such as developing counter-extremist content and popularising online initiatives that fight against extremism, as they are much more effective in challenging extremist ideologies; and the establishment of a central body that offers seed funding and training for grassroots online counter-extremism initiatives. When we went to Saudi Arabia, we visited a facility that tries to deradicalise people. I hope that all hon. Members will look at the views of Quilliam if they have the chance.

My constituent went to Westcliff high school for boys, and I am delighted to say that Westcliff high school for girls has been judged to be the second best school in the country, and it is a state school.

In March, I visited Seetec and met some of the staff of one of the UK’s major providers of training and employment services. It does a wonderful job. It has been in existence for 30 years, and I congratulate it on all that it has done.

Like many people, I am not very pleased with the work of spy cars, and I support the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in his endeavours to have them scrapped.

I am pleased with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer did in the Budget for the wine and spirits industry. However, wine duty has already increased by 54% since the escalator was introduced in 2008, and it has now been increased by another 2.4% in line with RPI inflation. That will harm the UK, so I hope that next year the Chancellor will have a look at that duty.

My final subject is puppy farming. I know that there is bid before the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on the issue, and in June there will be a mass gathering of people who feel very angry about puppy farming. I urge the Government to tighten up the legislation on the welfare conditions required to allow the sale of puppies and kittens, and to consider a total ban on their sale in pet shops where the mother is not present.

I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and everyone who supports us in this House and outside, a very happy Easter.

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12.39 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Last month I had an Adjournment debate about the ongoing threat to the future of my local general hospital, St Helier. A huge banner covering the front of the hospital that said, “Coming soon—We’re spending £219 million on a major development of St Helier hospital”, had just been taken down. The £219 million had been on the table since early 2010, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) announced that the 1930s-built hospital would be completely renovated, with new wards, single rooms to cut down on infections, and improved patient privacy, as well as numerous other improvements to bring it into the 21st century. Initially, the scheme was backed by the coalition, but it was not long before St Helier’s future was put at risk.

In 2011, the local NHS said that the Government had told it to

“deliver £370m savings each year…around 24% in their costs.”

A new body called Better Services Better Value was set up to close accident and emergency and maternity units across south-west London and Surrey. Predictably, BSBV recommended that St Helier should be one of the losers and that we should also lose our intensive care unit, paediatric centre, renal unit, and 390 in-patient beds. But thankfully, post-Lewisham, the local Save St Helier campaigners fought off the worst of these plans, largely thanks to the backing of doctors in Surrey, where Epsom hospital was also threatened. Two weeks ago, I handed in a petition to save St Helier that had been signed by more than 13,000 of my constituents. I was proud to stand alongside campaigners like Sally Kenny, who set up the Lower Morden Save St Helier campaign; Mary Curtin, who for many years has run the local lunch club, Friends in St Helier; Stan Anderson, a Lower Morden resident and local councillor who has fought tirelessly to keep St Helier open; and Stephen Alambritis, the leader of Merton council, who has done all he can to help. Thanks to them and all the other Save St Helier campaigners, BSBV has been wound down and the immediate plans to close services at St Helier have been shelved.

However, the threat still hangs over us. The reason I am here to speak about this again is that since last month there have been further developments. First, the local NHS has voted to bring in a new strategic commissioning group that will be led by one of the people at the forefront of the plans to shut services at St Helier, Dr Howard Freeman, who is also the chair of Merton’s clinical commissioning group. Many of us are concerned that St Helier will now see the level of services that had been commissioned from it decrease, which would seriously undermine the viability of our hospital. That is consistent with a letter from NHS England which says that not going ahead with the closure of services at St Helier and Epsom hospitals

“carries significant and unacceptable risk, both financially and clinically”

and calls for “a coherent strategic plan”. Interestingly, it also points out the obvious—that people will interpret this approach as

“planning for clinical and financial failure in some of its providers.”

That is true. We are all worried that NHS England will deliberately plan for hospitals such as St Helier and Epsom to fail. Without the £219 million renovation,

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and without getting the full range of services commissioned from the local CCGs, they will not be allowed to become foundation trusts. They will wither, and the forces lined up against St Helier will get the outcome they originally wanted—the closure of A and E, maternity, and numerous other services. It might not happen straight away, but slowly and surely, perhaps within two or three years, we will find that we no longer have the hospital we now enjoy.

It makes matters worse that in the past month we have seen the spectacle of local Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs voting for clause 119 of the Care Bill. Everyone who supports the Save St Helier campaign is furious about that. Whatever the merits or otherwise of clause 119, campaigners believe it is nothing more than an attempt to thwart campaigns like theirs as revenge for the success of campaigners in Lewisham and a way of closing hospitals that are well run and have wide support. Last week, Merton council passed a motion condemning the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) for betraying Merton residents when he voted for clause 119. Since then, the leader of Merton Conservatives, Councillor Oonagh Moulton, has angered campaigners even more by proclaiming in the local Wimbledon Guardian:

“St Helier Hospital has been saved”.

Given the track record of people like Dr Freeman, I do hope those words do not come back to haunt her.

The immediate threat may have been fought off, but just as secret plans were drawn up to close St Helier back in 1996, I am sure that its enemies are planning for it to fail even as we speak. I do not believe that this Government are committed to St Helier. The £219 million was withdrawn; the strategic commissioning body has been set up; clause 119 has been passed; savings have to be made; and the local NHS has been making plans to fail. Slowly but surely, St Helier is being strangled. Our best hopes lie with campaigners like Sally, Mary, Stan, and Merton’s councillors. We need to win, because if St Helier loses its A and E, 200,000 people will face longer journeys in an emergency, neighbouring A and Es will struggle with the extra workload, and millions will suffer.

I ask the Minister to say today that he agrees with the Save St Helier campaign, that he will instruct our local NHS to spend the £219 million, that it must not reduce the work it commissions from St Helier, and that it must respect the people of Lower Morden and St Helier who depend on our hospital.

I would like to raise some other NHS concerns. In the transfer from primary care trusts to CCGs to NHS England, two schemes to provide new GP surgeries in my constituency have stalled. First, there is Colliers Wood and Lavender Fields surgery, a GP practice based on two sites that are more than 1 mile apart and in desperate need of updating. The practice has found it very difficult to find alternative accommodation in such a built-up urban area. A couple of years ago, it identified a site on the first floor above the local library—a building owned by a company called Crown Properties. A price was negotiated, heads of terms were agreed, and a lot of the preparation work began. The local pharmacist had already moved into a building nearby in preparation for the new surgery. However, it now

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transpires that somewhere in the transfer from PCTs to CCGs to NHS England, the project fell off the radar. In the meantime, Crown Properties has gone into receivership, and its receivers, Knight Frank, are backing away from the deal. They have applied for a change of use that would turn the offices into flats rather than a GP surgery, thereby jeopardising the prospect of the surgery moving. I would welcome the assistance of the Minister to find out where the scheme is and to help me secure a meeting with the receivers to discuss how much this surgery is needed by people who live locally.

Secondly, for the past seven years we have had the prospect of a new location for Rowans surgery on the former Rowans school site. In 2007, as part of a section 106 agreement on a new residential development, it was agreed that a new surgery would be built and would have a reduced rent for six years. When the property market slowed in the recession, the deal was put on hold. Now this long-standing scheme continues to await approval from the new NHS England. We are desperate to hear from NHS England as to the hopes for a new surgery. This surgery has some of the worst problems in the constituency as regards patients obtaining appointments, and more GPs and more space are desperately needed.

Finally, I would like to mention a bugbear of mine as a constituency MP—the practice of GP surgeries in charging MPs for letters about their constituents. I would be interested to hear other Members’ comments about this. Like all MPs in the House, I hold a weekly advice surgery. I often see my job as making sure that people present their cases for housing or other benefits in the best possible light, and that sometimes includes obtaining medical information to support those cases. I find it difficult to understand, morally, that a GP practice could want to charge an MP £40 for a letter on behalf of a child who is disabled or an elderly person who is vulnerable. I assure Members that this is perfectly legal. It is part of GPs’ contracts and they can do it, but it is wrong that Members should be frustrated by these charges in their attempts to support their most vulnerable constituents. The people concerned are often the least able to meet the charges and the ones who most need help and support.

I would be grateful for any assistance from the Minister and his colleagues in the Government in raising this issue. Undertaking casework is a vital part of the MP’s role and we should be allowed to contact GPs, whose primary function, I thought, was to assist their patients in an holistic sense, rather than just in the medical sense. We all know that housing and support from social services can assist people’s health as much as individual medical care. I ask for the support of all Members in respect of those charges.

12.50 pm

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess). I have always regarded these recess Adjournment debates as one of the highlights of the parliamentary Session. They give us all an opportunity to raise a variety of issues, perhaps ones that would not merit the length of an Adjournment debate in the Chamber or Westminster Hall, but which are matters that we care deeply about.

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Listening to my hon. Friend as he went from subject to subject, as I shall probably do, I was reminded that the spring sunshine had brought out some butterflies, which many colleagues may have spotted. Yesterday I saw the first orange tip butterfly of the year, which is always a highlight for me as it is one of the marks of spring arriving. I saw it in a most unusual place—on the grass verge by Hanger lane on the A40, not exactly the rural idyll that one might associate it with. I thought to myself, “Shall I be like that butterfly as I flit from subject to subject, gently sipping from the flowers of the various issues?” I leave it to hon. Members to decide whether they see me as a butterfly, gently floating.

On the subject of the wildlife world, I should like to raise two important matters that impinge on the European Union. The first concerns vultures, which I have always been very fond of. That predates my time in the Whips Office by a long way. Vultures have had a tough time both in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa, mainly as a result of a drug called diclophenac, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory used in veterinary treatment. Unfortunately, one of the side-effects is that it is a lethal poison to vultures. Animals in Africa or the subcontinent that have been treated with the drug die and as the vultures feed on the carcases containing the drug, they are killed. The vulture populations in both areas have almost been wiped out.

In India, Pakistan and Nepal, diclophenac was used regularly in the 1920s. A lot of work has been done on the subcontinent and the drug has largely been banned. I was distressed to read the other day that the EU has authorised its use on domestic animals in Italy and Spain, where 80% of European vultures live. This is a backward move and sends a poor message to countries in Africa, which we are trying to persuade to ban the use of the drug. Four species of vulture are commonly found in Europe, none of which has brilliant populations and some of which are very threatened, chiefly the bearded vulture, with which I feel a certain empathy. We need to be aware of the problem. I hope the Government will raise the issue at various EU opportunities.

While the Government are on the subject, they should raise another matter. One of the EU states, Malta, has a derogation to allow spring hunting and the shooting of birds. This badly affects turtledoves, which are in decline all over Europe and especially in Britain, and quail. All the migratory birds that we are beginning to see coming into the country face a battery from hunters in Malta. It is time the practice was looked at. I say to the Maltese people that theirs is one country in Europe that I have no interest in visiting while the practice continues. Despite their heroics in the second world war—I have always been a great admirer of the George Cross island—such behaviour is no longer acceptable in the 21st century.

We must be careful not just to point out what is wrong abroad. We have problems here. I am pleased to support wildlife trusts in their campaign to save our grasslands, which are rapidly disappearing, and support wide biodiversity. I was lucky a couple of weeks ago to visit a commercial farm in Leicestershire called the Allerton project, which is run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. I was impressed by the ability to show how a farm can be commercial, but also aware of its conservation and wildlife responsibilities. I recommend to any Member who has an interest and to officials of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,

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who I know go there, to visit the project and look closely at it as it is doing very good work. I was shown around by Professor Chris Stoate, who impressed me with his knowledge and his love of the subject.

In the past Session I have been rather busy as a member of the Joint Committee looking at the modern slavery Bill that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has, with a great deal of passion, brought into being. We reported only a couple of days ago. It is going to be a very important piece of work. I hope the Home Office will study our recommendations seriously. It is an opportunity for the House and the country to be a world leader in combating a modern-day abomination, yet sadly something that most people do not know about. I urge every right hon. and hon. Member at any opportunity, when they are speaking to constituents or organisations, to raise the subject, because until the public know that it is happening in their midst, in their streets and in their towns, we will not get as much action as we would like.

I have been lucky enough, if one can use that expression, to talk to victims—the men and women who have been slaves in the modern era. Anyone who speaks to such victims will find that their lives change and they are not able to rest easy until they have done something to try to help. On that subject, I draw the attention of the House to early-day motion 1257. Having not been able to sign early-day motions, I have found that I can exist in life without them and I am not a great fan of them, but I did notice this early-day motion on the 175th anniversary of Anti-Slavery International on 17 April 2014. Despite us all thinking that slavery was abolished 200 years ago or more, there were people who recognised that it still existed. That work, 175 years on, is still extremely important and the organisation should be commended.

Having raised a rather grim subject, I now want to be positive: the sun is coming out, so I think my sunny disposition should start shining through. Earlier this week, I attended the reopening of Uxbridge central library in the London borough of Hillingdon. I can still clearly remember getting my first book out of the old Uxbridge library with a great deal of excitement about 50 years ago. Books have given me a great deal of pleasure over the years and it distresses me whenever I hear that libraries in many areas have suffered cuts and generally seem to be going slightly out of fashion.

I am old enough to remember—everybody present is much younger than me—when Boots the Chemist had a lending library. When it finished, the books were sold off and I still have some at home. Those interested in nostalgia might like to know that they have a little green shield-shaped sticker on them.

I want to be as unpartisan as possible, but the London borough of Hillingdon has been brilliant. It has put the residents first and it is a pleasure not just to be a resident of the borough, but to be its Member of Parliament, because I experience relatively few problems with my local authority. I know that that is not always the case for MPs, even when their local authority is run by their own party, but mine is exemplary. Hillingdon is a little hidden treasure on the west side of London, although it is still in Middlesex, of course.

The library reopened on Monday. The London borough of Hillingdon has spent £10 million on all 17 borough libraries and they are vibrant. New libraries with new

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ideas are being opened. Uxbridge library has six floors, a ground floor café and an atrium for art exhibitions, drama and dance. I was particularly pleased that it was opened not just by Councillor Ray Puddifoot, who is the local authority leader, but by a wonderful gentleman called Philip Colehan, who is 92 and used to be the borough librarian. In 1964, he opened 10 libraries and his passion for public libraries and the services they provide meant that he could see back in those days—before anyone had even come up with the idea of a one-stop shop—the opportunities a library can give. It can be a community hub.

If Members pop down to the end of either the Metropolitan or the Piccadilly line—Uxbridge is well served by both—they should have a look at the library. They could compare it with their own public libraries and local authorities and see that Hillingdon has got it absolutely spot on. Our libraries are able not just to exist but to flourish.

Given that it is coming up to the Easter break, the public and the press will all say that we are going to be off on a long holiday, but we know that we are going to be very busy with all the constituency stuff we do. I hope colleagues will take a little time off. If anybody is thinking of taking a break, I will give a little plug to Northern Ireland, which I visited last weekend. I went to watch my rugby team, Saracens, beat Ulster. According to the Ulster fans it was a controversial victory, but that is because they lost.

The hospitality and atmosphere were wonderful. Londonderry/Derry is a very interesting city and it was a pleasure to visit it. The countryside is wonderful, as are the Giant’s Causeway and the Bushmills distillery. I am now on the wagon, but the people there were absolutely wonderful. I recommend a visit.

I like a bit of continuity, so I will end by noting that in our previous pre-Adjournment debate just before Christmas, I cheekily mentioned what was on my Christmas present list. Mrs Randall read Hansard, as she does every day, and I was lucky enough to receive a bat detector. All I can say is that I am looking forward to getting that bat detector out in the next few days and using its radar and locator. Perhaps I will pop down to where HS2 is planned to go through the borough of Hillingdon. There are some very interesting bats there and I want to hear and see them for myself so that I will be able to mention them in a debate when we return.

Finally, I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers, Mr Speaker, all right hon. and hon. Members and, in particular, all those people who serve us so well in the House a happy and restful Easter—and don’t overdo it on the eggs!

1.5 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow my parliamentary neighbour, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall). I have always thought that he wears the trauma of living next door to the greatest constituency in the UK—that of Harrow West—extremely lightly, given that he will never have the chance to represent it.

I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s praise for the Wildlife Trusts, and in so doing I would like to take this opportunity, as president of the London Green Belt

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Council, to praise the contribution of so many residents’ associations across London that defend the green belt and green open spaces in London with great passion and commitment. I am thinking in particular of those in the London borough of Harrow, such as the Harrow Hill trust, the Pinner association, the Headstone residents’ association and the Hatch End association. I pay tribute to their work.

The right hon. Gentleman and I also share an interest in what happens at RAF Northolt. I gently ask the Deputy Leader of the House to ensure that, in future, whenever the Ministry of Defence consults on any plans to change the number of flights in and out of RAF Northolt, it will consult Harrow and Ealing councils as well as Hillingdon council and Hillingdon Members of Parliament. There is substantial concern in my constituency about the significant uplift in the number of flights the MOD is going to allow into RAF Northolt and about the lack of discussion with Harrow MPs and the local council.

I also want to ask the Deputy Leader of the House for his assistance on the issue of policing. The latest figures from the Mayor of London’s office show that, in January, Harrow had 344 police officers and just 38 police community support officers—a total of 382 officers. In March 2010, however, Harrow had a total of 519 police officers, made up of 403 police constables, sergeants and others, and 116 PCSOs. Harrow has therefore seen a 27% fall in the number of police officers since the general election—part of the 3,000 or so police officers axed from the London streets since 2010.

I understand that London has 30,036 police officers, despite the Mayor of London’s promise that he would maintain police numbers at or about 32,000. Indeed, the Deputy Mayor for policing, Stephen Greenhalgh, said last year that it would be a “doomsday scenario” for policing in London if the number dropped below 31,000, but that is what has happened. Over the same period since the general election, the Metropolitan police has lost almost 2,300 PCSOs, which is a 50% cut since 2010. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House is willing to try to secure from the Home Office a timeline for when Harrow will again have the same complement of police officers, including PCSOs, as we had back in March 2010. In particular, my constituents are concerned that there are not enough police officers in our part of Harrow. Despite the Mayor’s promises, there does not yet appear to be any sense of when we will get back to the numbers we once had.

The last issue I want to raise relates to one of the responsibilities of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I take this opportunity to congratulate the new Secretary of State, who also has responsibility for equality, the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), on his appointment. I hope that he will take a particular interest in the implementation of section 27 of the Communications Act 2003, and the extent to which Ofcom is meeting its responsibilities for promoting equality of opportunity among those employed by providers of television and radio services.

One of Ofcom’s predecessors, the Independent Television Commission, required those it licensed to carry out equality monitoring. The ITC published data in tables every year, along with a critique and any other action that companies were taking on equality. However, Ofcom no longer publishes any such data. Although it has a

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duty to encourage equality of opportunity in the arts, it is not using the key available tool—public scrutiny—to encourage improvement. Indeed, Ofcom has resisted—sadly, successfully—freedom of information requests to release the data.

The House should be concerned, because surely our TV programmes and the organisations funded by Arts Council England should, in relation to those they employ on screen and on stage, reflect the very diverse nature of the communities that many hon. Members represent. I have received a number of representations from communities and from actors from particular ethnic minority backgrounds, who do not feel that they receive appropriate coverage or access to key media, particularly TV and theatre. For example, I rarely see Tamil actors and actresses on our TV screens, which is disappointing given the size of the Tamil community, particularly in my constituency. British east Asians are the third largest minority ethnic group in Britain today, but that is simply not reflected on our screens and stages.

To provide more evidence of that point, in nearly 30 years, “EastEnders” has had only one regular east Asian character, a young female DVD seller who lasted just six months. Given that the east end of London remains one of our most ethnically diverse areas, it is a little odd that Albert square has not had so much as even the proverbial cliché of a Chinese takeaway. “Coronation Street” also has a disappointing record. It waited until 2011 before it had an east Asian character, who lasted just four months. Hospital dramas such as “Casualty”, “Doctors” and “Holby City” are similarly disappointing. Given the number of east Asians working in our hospitals, including in senior roles, that is somewhat at odds with the reality of the very diverse work force in the NHS. Actors have told me that they worry that any east Asian actor who is unable or unwilling to embody a stereotype will simply be unable to build any kind of career, given the lack of opportunity to play appropriate and non-stereotypical roles.

Figures suggest that the number of black and ethnic minority staff in companies receiving Arts Council England funding is dropping. I therefore hope that the new Secretary of State might, in addition to all his other duties, encourage Ofcom and Arts Council England to take a greater interest in equality monitoring. I want what I watch on TV, in films and on stage to reflect the community I live in, and surely that is not an unreasonable ask. Sadly, it is now far from clear whether Ofcom is fulfilling its responsibilities under the Communications Act. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House is willing to take my plea for a little more action from Ofcom to the new Secretary of State, and to deliver a suitable response in the usual way.

1.15 pm

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I have a cunning plan to get potholed streets in Colchester filled in: I will invite the organisers of the Tour de France to hold one of the stages of this great cycling event in Colchester, which, created in 49 AD, was Britain’s first city and the first capital of Roman Britain. That would guarantee that the potholes in Colchester—wilfully neglected by Essex county council, by contrast with other parts of Essex—are attended to, at least on the route taken by some 200 of the world’s leading racing cyclists.

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I know that that is true because regional television this week featured the part of rural Essex to which the Tour de France is going this year. Every inch, every foot, every yard, every furlong of rural road that the cyclists will speed along—probably without noticing the wonderful scenic beauty of the Essex countryside—has been surveyed for potholes. By the day of the race, every pothole will have been filled in, even those that Essex county council highways department would elsewhere deem to be of insufficient depth to need filling. The county council clearly considers that cyclists from around the world are worthy of greater attention and safety consideration than the residents of Essex whose council tax will go towards the cost of making the Tour de France route safe. It would not look good if professional cyclists toppled from their machines because of an Essex pothole.

Talking of looking good, some say that the picturesque village of Finchingfield is the most attractive village in Essex. It is assumed that the world’s media will regard it as a good place to photograph and film cyclists speeding through. It is not a question of filling in potholes there—oh no—because the patchwork quilt appearance of the road surface might spoil the photographs, so at great expense the whole road has been resurfaced to ensure the kind of pristine surface that is rare in most of Essex. If I can get the Tour de France to come to Colchester, it would ensure that our potholes were filled in. I am sure that my constituents could design a route to maximise the number of roads and potholes to be attended to in their area. For example, on the Monkwick estate, I would nominate a route that included Queen Elizabeth way, Prince Philip road, Prince Charles road and Coronation avenue.

Behind my mockery, there is a serious point—namely, the performance, or lack of performance, of highway maintenance in Colchester under the auspices of Essex county council. I raised that at Communities and Local Government questions on Monday, when I got an encouraging response from the Secretary of State. Like me, he is an Essex MP, and thus fully aware of the shortcomings of county hall at Chelmsford, where favouritism rules.

Until a few years ago, Colchester borough council was responsible for highways maintenance and street lighting, but then the county council grabbed the work. The result is that our roads and pavements are the worst that I have ever known, and the county switches off our street lights at midnight. Although there is a case for tackling light pollution, most of my constituents do not want a total black-out. I have tried to get a meeting with the cabinet member responsible, but he will not reply to my letters. Indeed, he is on record as saying that when he gets a letter he disapproves of, he throws it in the bin. That is democratic accountability in Conservative-run Essex county council.

Complaints about highways maintenance make it the biggest local issue that residents currently raise with me. When Colchester borough council looked after highways, pavements and street lights, complaints were few and far between. It all changed and got worse when Essex county council took over, and it has got even worse—much worse—during the past two years, following the county council’s decision not to continue with nine contracts covering different parts of Essex, but to lump them together in a single contract worth £3 billion over

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10 years from 1 April 2012. That contract has been awarded to national company Ringway Jacobs, whose headquarters is in Sussex.

While the Government and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government promote localism, which is a concept that I support, Essex county council has centralised highways to a devastatingly negative degree. In the good old days, when Colchester borough council’s highways depot was opposite where I live, potholed roads and damaged pavements would be attended to in a matter of days; it is now months—if you are lucky. If we are serious about localism, let us return to how it used to be, with the local council using local people with local knowledge, people with pride and a personal commitment to the area, to undertake that important work.

I have personally reported five times to Essex county council’s highways department the dangerous condition of the pavement outside my constituency office. It is a narrow pavement to a through-traffic route used by a large number of vehicles, many of them travelling too fast for the conditions. My office has witnessed, via CCTV cameras, four occasions when youngsters on mini-scooters have tumbled after hitting a pothole. Fortunately, each youngster fell forward. My concern is that on another occasion a youngster might topple into the road and under the wheels of a passing vehicle. On two occasions I was in my office when a youngster toppled from their scooter with the resultant tears. On one occasion I administered first aid to a three-year-old boy’s bleeding knee. I have reported the dangerous pavement five times. Earlier this year, I managed to get two people from the highways department to visit. The result? Nothing. My fifth letter, subsequent to their visit and following a further incident involving a little four-year-old girl, was acknowledged but, weeks later, the potholed pavement still needs attention.

Having described Essex county council’s appalling highways record, I will now draw attention to another matter: the way in which the county council engages with the 16 MPs who represent constituencies in the administrative county of Essex. I am the only MP who is not a Conservative, which clearly rankles at county hall. On 21 February, I received a letter from the council’s chief executive that was headed: “Improving our correspondence and communications with Essex MPs”. The letter referred to

“the recent Essex MP quarterly meeting”.

That surprised me because I had no knowledge of quarterly meetings with Essex MPs. I submitted a freedom of information request to the chief executive. In due course, albeit later than the time specified in the Freedom of Information Act, I received a response from the person in charge of the incredibly named “your right to know” office. I am not making it up; that is what the office is called. It appears, however, that the right to know does not necessarily apply to the MP for Colchester. In the reply sent to my office on Monday, in response to my eight questions of 25 February, reference was made to

“quarterly meetings between Essex County Council Cabinet Members and Essex Conservative MPs.”

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I note that the letter I received from the council’s chief executive made no mention of any party political affiliation and simply stated “Essex MPs,” of which I am one, albeit the only non-Conservative MP in Essex.

I have no problem with Essex Tory councillors having meetings with Essex Tory MPs. That is not the issue; the issue is that what are purported to be occasions for the county council to engage with the county’s MPs have deliberately excluded an MP from another party, yet the council tax payers of Essex are footing the bill and council officers are being sent to what are clearly party political meetings. In cobbling together a response, county hall cannot seem to give a consistent line to justify that arrangement. Using council officers, who in accordance with the local government code of conduct should be politically neutral, is wrong. Even though the cost to the public purse represents only a fraction of the £500,000 blown by the council’s former leader, Lord Hanningfield, on his political advancement within the Conservative party, it should not happen. I trust that the district auditor will investigate.

The FOI response states that “quarterly” meetings with Essex Tory MPs commenced on 17 October 2012. There were only three meetings in 2013, on 16 April, 4 June and 3 September, and there has seemingly been just one meeting so far this year, on 14 January. The FOI response tells me that

“the meetings are informal and not minuted”.

But that does not accord with the chief executive’s letter of 21 February, in which she refers to

“the recent Essex MP quarterly meeting when a number of concerns were raised”.

I assume that was the January meeting. She goes on to detail how such concerns will be addressed in future. After detailing action points, she tells MPs:

“I would like to invite you to provide feedback on these improvements which can be discussed at future Essex MP quarterly meetings.

Your concerns are recognised and I hope our intended actions assure you of our commitment to improve the current service we offer MPs.”

Sir John Randall: I am distressed to hear of my hon. Friend’s situation, but I have thought of a practical solution. If he joined the Conservative party, he might be able to get in on the meetings.

Sir Bob Russell: My right hon. Friend has a reputation for being a bit of a joker, but on this occasion, although some of my Labour opponents in Colchester feel that I have become a closet Tory, I am light years away from being a Tory of any sort, as my speech has indicated.

Having been rumbled, it will be interesting to see whether Essex county council will continue its policy of politicising its dealings with MPs in the administrative county of Essex. Post-Lord Hanningfield, I hope that what I have disclosed today will warrant investigation by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association and the district auditor.

I join colleagues in thanking all who work on the parliamentary estate. Their dedication to assisting Members is greatly appreciated. They do so much for us.

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1.26 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I shall talk about the future of the Co-operative Group. I am proud to be a Labour and Co-operative MP.

We have seen a lot of turmoil in the Co-operative Group recently, and the resignation of former chief executive Euan Sutherland, following the revelation of the scale and nature of his total remuneration package, carries a stark warning to the remaining Co-operative Group leadership, who must now reflect carefully on what that means for the future. Lord Myners resigned overnight, although I understand his review of the Co-operative Group and its management continues.

The new leadership came in without experience of the co-operative or mutual sector, and must understand the importance of maintaining strong relationships with the rest of the co-operative movement. There is scant evidence that that has so far been considered important, and the swift decision dramatically to reduce funding for Co-op organisations such as Co-operatives UK will dismay long-standing co-operators further now that the hypocrisy of the executive pay policy has been laid bare.

The immediate response to the fresh crisis has been to accelerate the agenda for reforming the Co-operative Group’s structure. That is continuing even following the departure of Lord Myners from the board. No one, active co-operators least of all, doubts that governance changes are needed. Much has been said about the weakness of non-executives, although few have benefited more from that weakness than the current executive team. Rather than rushing headlong into irreversible changes, however, we and the Co-operative Group’s board should take a breath and calmly reflect on the issues.

Eminent as Lord Myners may be, it is not credible to base the Co-operative Group’s future governance on the views of one man. To date, all seven regional boards have now rejected his plan, and the response has to be one of calm reflection and compromise. There are three immediate actions that should be taken to steady the co-operative ship and set a fresh course that will begin to build trust and confidence between the Co-operative Group’s leadership and members.

The first is one about which I have received a lot of correspondence from members and customers across the country. There is no place in a consumer-owned co-operative business for unearned executive bonuses, and 100% retention payments should be scrapped. How those payments came to be requested by management, and then approved by the board, must be explained. Equally, no member of the current executive will carry the membership’s confidence if they do not immediately and publicly declare that they will not accept such payments.

Alistair Asher, who is now the Co-operative Group’s general counsel, was formerly a partner at Allen & Overy, where he was involved with building society demutualisation. He may have worked on demutualisations in the past, but the Co-op does not want to demutualise. Another member of the team is Nick Folland, the director who deals with communications. Both those men have been given a retention package of more than £1 million this year and next year that is not performance-related. I repeat that such gross, over-inflated handouts must stop.

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There are other costs of this misguided approach to altering the way the Co-op runs itself. The “Have Your Say” consultation with customers cost £1.5 million.

Sir Bob Russell: The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech about the co-operative movement. Will she confirm that the Labour party was established some 60 years after the establishment of the Co-op, and that it is therefore in the best interests of the Co-op to embrace people of all political parties?

Meg Hillier: Up and down the country, co-operatives embrace people of all parties. The Co-op party has a sister arrangement with the Labour party, but that is not the thrust of my comments. I am talking about the Co-operative Group, which is ratcheting up costs at a high rate.

The Kelly review is costing £2,000 a day and the current total is £3.5 million. Millions of pounds have been spent on a new office next to the stock exchange, despite the Co-op Group having a brand new head office in Manchester.

Secondly, an eminent co-operators group should be established to advise and support Lord Myners in the valuable work that still needs to be carried out. The current leadership of the Co-op Group should reconnect with the wider co-operative movement. The best way to do that would be to establish a panel that can provide advice and support as the group goes through its reform process. Ideally, it would be chaired by someone like the former chief executive officer Sir Graham Melmoth or the former chairman Keith Darwin who have the credibility, experience and ability to provide candid advice to help steer the group to the next phase in its co-operative future.

Thirdly, an interim chief executive should be appointed who has mutual sector experience. The next chief executive will be perhaps the most critical person in the Co-op Group’s 170-year history. It is important that the recent errors are not repeated. It is critical that the new chief executive officer has a track record in the mutual sector. Confidence among member owners will simply not return without the trust that that would bring. The individual must understand the Co-op Group and be able to work across its diverse range of businesses.

We would do well to remember that the most successful CEO of recent years was Graham Melmoth. He was not a trader, but managed a team of skilled executives who ran the individual businesses while he oversaw the corporate strategy and provided leadership in line with the Co-op’s core principles. Such an approach would ensure that there was appropriate expertise in each division, while militating against the excessive micro-management of recent years.

The next few weeks will bring new challenges for the Co-operative Group. It will succeed through this period only if all its members and managers pull in the same direction and co-operate. Without an active and successful Co-op Group, our economy will lose a richness of choice and be the poorer for it. Members and customers up and down the country have been in touch with me to say that they are concerned about “our Co-op”. The management need to understand that feeling. They must listen to members. The Co-op is not just a brand; it is about mutual benefit and the sharing of profits among members. In my view, the Co-op is worth fighting for.

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1.33 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): It is always a pleasure to speak in these end-of-term Adjournment debates. They provide a fascinating insight not only into the many parts of the country that are represented here, but into the characters of other hon. Members.

I will raise two issues that are important to my constituency. Interestingly, two of the speeches that we have heard have spoken of community identity, service and pride. The first issue that I will touch on relates to community identity. I want to talk about unintended bias in the broadcast media and, in particular, on the BBC. Although it is unintended, such bias results in the build-up of an anti-Government feeling. That could happen to any Government. The sequence of events that I will outline is but one example.

On the night of 5 December, my constituency was severely affected by the tidal surge that flooded hundreds of homes and businesses on the Humber estuary. At the outset, the coverage on BBC Radio Humberside and the regional TV news programme, “Look North”, was excellent. However, on national TV, there was nothing. Nelson Mandela died on the same evening. Mr Mandela was a great world statesman, so it was right and to be expected that his death would lead the news bulletins and that there would be special programmes covering his contribution to the fight against apartheid. However, almost nothing else was reported. The impression that was given to my constituents was that they did not matter.

The tidal surge was the largest ever recorded—larger than the devastating events of February 1953. As I have said, hundreds of homes were flooded and businesses were forced to close, including the hotel in Barton-upon-Humber where, less than a year earlier, Government agencies led by the Environment Agency, local authorities, the emergency services and others, including the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), gathered to mark the anniversary of the 1953 tragedy and to report on all that had been done to prevent a repeat of that year’s flooding. The irony is that that very hotel was flooded on the night of 5 December and has been forced into liquidation. Part of the port of Immingham, the largest port in the country, was also put out of action.

North Lincolnshire council responded very well, as did the Environment Agency, the emergency services and voluntary and community groups. Within 36 hours of the surge, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was in Immingham to receive reports from me and all the agencies involved. He had previously visited Boston and he went on to Hull. Did that figure in the main BBC news that evening? Not at all.

My constituents were given the impression that they had been ignored. I was asked, “Where were the Government? What have they been doing to help us?” I was able to reply, “Actually, a Cabinet member was here within 36 hours.” There followed numerous occasions on which my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and I questioned Ministers and met the Secretary of State. I was fortunate enough to secure an Adjournment debate in which the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) gave a full outline of the Government’s response.

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A few weeks later, floods hit the south of England. It was headline news for days on end. News editors at the BBC would no doubt say that that was because Christmas was approaching and news was a little thin on the ground, but it strengthened the view among my constituents that a north-south divide exists. They said, “Only when the Thames valley is flooded do Ministers take any notice.” That is untrue because, as I have said, the Secretary of State was in my constituency within 36 hours. However, if the BBC does not report it, it passes almost unnoticed and the entirely incorrect impression is given that one part of the country is more important than another. If the BBC management want proof of the local feeling, I suggest that they rerun the edition of “Question Time” from a few weeks ago, when it was broadcast from Scunthorpe. The first question expressed the sentiments that I have set out.

I am not just being charitable in describing it as an unintended bias; I regard myself as a critical friend of the BBC. Regional and local reporters are, in the main, well qualified to express the views of local people. Dave Burns, who presents a daily programme on Radio Humberside, is a local institution. Viewers of the edition of “Look North” that is put out in east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire will know that Levy and Hudson figure alongside Morecambe and Wise and the two Ronnies as entertainers. They are very much a part of the local community. However, generally speaking, the BBC has a very London-centric, metropolitan culture.

The flooding coverage is just one example of how news coverage can have a significant impact on political opinion. More thought is clearly required of organisations such as the BBC that are charged with the responsibility of being politically neutral.

The other topic that I would like to raise is local, although it has a national perspective. North Lincolnshire council is Conservative-controlled and North East Lincolnshire council, the other authority that serves my constituency, is Labour-controlled. I suppose that Members may well expect that I would favour the former, but I am always reluctant to criticise either authority publicly. As Members will appreciate, we have to work with the councils that serve our area, irrespective of their political colour. However, North East Lincolnshire council has recently made a decision that I think is particularly mean-spirited.

Police specials have traditionally been granted a discount on their council tax, but North East Lincolnshire council has decided to abandon that benefit for a saving of just £9,600. In contrast, North Lincolnshire council has retained it. The change comes at a time when the excellent local police commissioner for the Humberside force is embarking on a recruiting campaign for 100 additional police specials. I wish to send the message that given the small amount of money involved, North East Lincolnshire council should rethink.

1.41 pm

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Ind): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I and every other Member is on a permanent quest for knowledge and self-improvement. I thought I would help that along by saying a few words about the extractive industries transparency initiative, for which I sit on the multi-stakeholder group in the UK.

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I am happy to say that the Government signed up to the initiative last year, which will mean that in three years or so the UK will be a member of it. All the extractive industries companies based in the UK that operate here and elsewhere will have to declare to the Government the payments that they have made to the UK and to any country that signs up to the EITI. The Government will then make a statement of the payments they have received. That will not solve every problem of money going astray in developing countries, but it will move us a little way towards ensuring that the money that Governments receive from contracts and licences to exploit oil, gas and minerals, particularly in Africa but all over the world, does indeed find its way to those Governments and that they can account for it in their public expenditure.

The initiative is chaired by Clare Short, a former Member of this House, who also co-founded an all-party group called “Trade Out of Poverty”, now chaired by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), who is not in his place at the moment but who I believe will be coming back into the Chamber. The emphasis of that group, along with the all-party extractive industries group, of which I am a member, is to help developing nations encourage investment despite sometimes potentially risky contexts, particularly in minerals and mining, rather than having to rely on aid, as we often imagine they do—wrongly, actually.

I digress slightly from the EITI, but it sometimes feels as if political and public dialogue in the UK about developing nations is always about aid—the spending of 0.7% of gross national income and so on. I sometimes think that the bar for investment in those countries is set too high. Some worthy non-governmental organisations make the wrong judgment in being too critical of where Department for International Development expenditure goes, such as when it makes it more feasible for companies to overcome substantial risk and invest in developing nations.

There was a demonstration outside DFID a couple of weeks ago involving a couple of people in black tie and a waiter with a bottle of champagne and glasses. It was all about DFID paying money to various projects in the developing world. My first instinct was that the protest might have been by someone such as the Daily Mail—I do not necessarily want to be critical of it, but that would be consistent with its normal editorial line. However, it turned out to be a protest by the World Development Movement. It struck me that it was shooting itself in the foot by helping to bring DFID expenditure into unjustified disrepute. Its concern was that money was being spent to help companies operate in risky countries. However, there is great potential benefit to those countries in future, and I thought it was a great shame that that NGO had missed the point and wanted to discourage companies from the UK and across the world from examining prospects in some countries.

To return to the EITI, in many ways its role is similar to the one that will be played by the EU accounting directive, about which the Government have just issued a consultation document, although it is a little different and certainly has a different purpose. The US is currently going through legal proceedings that have held up its own equivalent, but importantly, it has signed up in the past week as a candidate country for the EITI. The relevant part of the Dodd-Frank Act is being held up

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because some extractive industry companies are concerned about the emphasis being placed on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Congo-Kinshasa to some. The concern is that it will effectively encourage people who want to get certain products from the earth to go to Australia and other countries, so the effect of legislation designed to make things more transparent could be to discourage investment and development in the DRC. I do not know whether that is right, but the process is being held up in the United States. It is really important that we carry on with our own process in Europe, which is the accounting directive—as I said, I am pleased that the Government have launched the consultation document—and the EITI.

I do not want to bore Members for too long about the EITI, although it is an important matter that quite a few Members will know little about. However, I wish to add that the tendency until recently was to encourage developing countries to sign up to the EITI. We have Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which is pretty effective—some people might argue about that sometimes—and we pretty much know who is paying tax on what, so it is hard for money to go astray. We can just to go HMRC and it tells us companies’ tax figures. It is therefore hard to get involved in corrupt practices in the UK. Developed countries have tended to say, “The EITI is not really for us. It is only for developing countries where money tends to disappear.” The effect has been that big developing countries, and middle-income countries that are wealthy in gross terms, such as Brazil and India, have said, “We’re not going to sign up to it, because none of the developed nations has. It is a bit patronising expecting only developing nations to sign up and not the US or UK”. Only recently have developed nations begun to sign up. It might seem a bit strange that we have not signed up to it before, but it is essentially because the context was different. We have now accepted the point that it is difficult to ask developing nations to sign up to a transparency project without signing up ourselves.

The EITI has been going on quietly in the background, but it is important to get it on the record because it will be important when it comes to fruition in about three years. Officials at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister in charge, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson)—she ostensibly chairs the meetings, but of course she is on maternity leave at the moment—have put a lot of time into it, as have the businesses that have signed up to the multi-stakeholder group, on which the relevant NGOs and the Government are also represented. A lot of work is going on to ensure that we achieve candidacy status in about 18 months. It is a commendable, broad cross-party effort, and there is no dispute about the objective. As I said, the EITI is chaired by Clare Short, who obviously has a particular political perspective, but has a sound perspective on the extractive industries.

From time to time we have had some difficulties, with a degree of purism creeping in—I am trying to choose my words carefully—from NGOs with substantial control over interests in developing nations. It sometimes feels as though strings are being pulled and wires being tugged to get certain outcomes. For example, it was very difficult to get Ethiopia made a candidate country. It finally happened a week or two ago, but there was enormous lobbying against it. That was a great shame,

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because Ethiopia was very keen to sign up, and so were the Ethiopian NGOs. Everyone agreed, but western-based NGOs were keen to stop it happening, for various reasons. I understand the human rights issues, but I think that Ethiopia will eventually qualify for membership.

It is a shame when western-based NGOs in very developed countries—whether they are based in London, Washington or New York—sometimes seem to look past the interests of nations that we want to help to develop economically and reflect their own interests in getting stories or increasing their membership and funding. I know that that is contentious, but that is how it seems to me. The stewardship of the EITI has been very sound in dealing with that in the last few weeks. People who know about the EITI will know that Ethiopia has been a contentious issue, but I am pleased to say that it is now a candidate country.

Various things are going on quietly in the background, although full agreement has not been reached. The UK Government are actually leading on the issue of beneficial ownership transparency. That is part of the EITI and we hope that the outcome in three years’ time will be that the UK signs up. We do not think that there is corruption in the UK, but if we sign up to a strong, gold standard EITI—without unnecessary bells and whistles—it would set a good example for all the other nations we would like to see sign up to it.

I shall conclude by wishing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all Members and officials of the House a nice Easter.

1.52 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow a fellow member of the House of Commons rowing team. Every summer we try to raise some money for charity.

It is a great privilege to be a Member of the House of Commons. I was thinking that as I was standing in the Division Lobby and looking at the marvellous architecture and reflecting on all the good work we do here. Let us be honest, however, and recognise that some of the publicity we have had this week has not been the best.

I speak as the chairman of the group of MPs that liaises with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—I served on the group with the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), for a while—and I want to talk about how we can make Parliament more relevant to people’s needs. We should not be too negative about ourselves—I also serve on the Council of Europe and I look at how other parliamentarians around Europe operate, and our debates are still much more relevant and spontaneous. For instance, I only decided to speak today in the light of events this week. That spontaneity in Parliament is very important, but we have to accept that we have a problem with our image in the eyes of the public, on expenses and much else, including whether we are relevant to the lives of ordinary people.

We have seen some publicity today to the effect that it is rather sad that we have no mothers in the Cabinet. I share that sadness: after all, half the population of the country are women, and we all have mothers. Even those women who work, and work very hard, often

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define being a mother as the most important thing in their lives. I do not blame the Prime Minister, because there may be all sorts of reasons—perhaps there are no suitable people—but I do not want to get into all that. However, we need to make this place more attractive and diverse. We have not yet succeeded in attracting as many working mothers to this place as we should have done. It is our fault because of the nature of our work, our expenses regime, the salary and much else. Would a general practitioner and mother working in, say, Newcastle find becoming a Member of Parliament attractive? Her salary would probably be halved, but people are prepared to take enormous salary cuts to work in this place—it is a wonderful privilege and many of us would work here for nothing. But people have to live their lives and support their families. We now have an arcane expenses system that makes our job very unattractive to many working mothers in particular.

I have made that point to IPSA many times as chairman of the liaison group. I have said that we want a decent salary. IPSA is independent and it should set the salary properly. It is setting about the task fairly, and trying to average out the salary in real terms over the last 110 years since Members of Parliament have had a salary. It has come up with a reasonably fair figure, but we have told it again and again that if we are to attract people who are juggling different family responsibilities, it would be better to have a flat-rate transferable allowance, rather than the arcane and complicated expenses system. It would have to be voluntary at first, because many people are locked into the expenses system, but it would enable people who are juggling family responsibilities to do so in the knowledge that they could come here and perform their public service. If we carry on with the present system of complicated expenses, I fear that these scandals will go on and on, year after year, drip by drip, affecting the credibility of Parliament.

We can make Parliament more interesting and more effective in other ways. The power of Back Benchers to hold the Executive to account could be more pronounced. I am a great fan of recent moves to bring in open primaries in the selection of Members of Parliament. One of the best new Members of Parliament is my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). She was elected on an open primary and she is a marvellously independent MP. I would even be prepared to move eventually to the system that operates in other countries of open primaries not just for candidates standing for a parliamentary constituency for the first time, but for sitting Members. If we had that system, Members of Parliament would be much more accountable to their constituents and their views, and much less accountable to the views of the Whips Office. I have nothing against the Whips Office—I see a Whip on the Front Bench and she is a delightful lady colleague for whom I have great respect—but Parliament would be a better place if Members felt that their careers depended more on their constituents than the vagaries of promotion and the opinion of the Whips Office. Having an open primary system would be a very interesting development.

I cannot speak for the Labour party—perhaps it is making more progress—but we have started this process in the Conservative party. We undoubtedly have a problem with our local parties, which is an important constitutional point. Local Conservative parties—I suspect it is the

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same for the Labour party—are getting smaller and smaller. Local parties have probably always been fairly small in the Liberal Democrats. The problem is getting worse. Local parties are getting so small now that they could be in danger of takeovers from extreme minority interests, sects or odd bods. In that sense, they are becoming less representative of people who do not take a lot of interest in politics. That is not entirely the fault of political parties. All such groups are having difficulties and getting smaller, so we have to think of creative ways of engaging with the public. Many MPs use social media creatively, but the concept of widening our accountability beyond our local parties to the wider public through a primary system is interesting.

We need to keep working to increase the power of Select Committees and Back Benchers generally vis-à-vis the Executive. Select Committees have gone from strength to strength. I have served on many Select Committees in my time, starting with the Defence Committee and then moving on to the then Agriculture Committee, the Social Security Committee and chairing the Public Accounts Committee. Ultimately, however important Committees are in gaining publicity and publishing interesting reports, they are only scrutiny committees. In no way do they have anything like the authority and power of congressional committees. We have constantly to develop ways of increasing the authority of Select Committees.

We have to develop an alternative career structure for Members of Parliament. There are 650 MPs and there can only be 50 or 60 Ministers. There are too many Ministers. The number of Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries seems to increase relentlessly, sucking more and more people from the majority party into the Executive. That is a wholly unhealthy way of conducting a free Parliament. We need to build the Select Committee system up to make it more powerful and attractive. We need powers and authority over appointments and even, in certain circumstances, policy. For example, the Defence Committee could have power over procurement, as the armed forces committee does in the United States. All these ideas should be investigated continuously to make Back Benchers more relevant and free, and with more control over the Executive.

The primary system opens up the relevance of MPs to their own people. This is not an appropriate moment to talk about the issues I sometimes mention, but everybody knows that I may have my own views on gay marriage, overseas development and wind farms being put in my constituency through a very generous subsidy system. I may also have my own views on planning in villages and HS2. I do not need to weary the House by detailing them all—Members probably suspect where those views are coming from—but I hope and I suspect that, whether on planning, wind farms or overseas aid, I represent a certain strain of opinion in a conservative rural constituency in the east midlands. I hope that my views are not completely out of kilter with many of the people who live in my constituency. Indeed, I believe it is my job to speak up for middle England. There is nothing wrong with that. Plenty of people speak up for other parts of England, Scotland and Wales and for other viewpoints. I sometimes think that the conservative voice of middle England is not adequately spoken up for.

Following on from the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), many people in the east midlands and northern England—my

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constituency is a northern seat—feel that there is a metropolitan bias in our whole system, whether in the BBC, the Cabinet or at the top of political parties. I have been an MP through many Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition and they are all the same: they tend to promote their friends. My great good friend and the first leader I worked for, Margaret Thatcher, was just as bad as the rest, so this is not a coded message attacking the current Prime Minister or anybody else. However, there is the view in northern England that there is too much emphasis in our public life on the liberal metropolitan elite, and that there is not enough hard-hitting, robust debate. That debate does not necessarily have to come from the right; it can come from the left too.

This is where I will finish, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I think I have made my point. I hope the reforms I have talked about result in a more varied, robust and independent Parliament.

2.4 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): It is a great and rather unexpected pleasure to speak this afternoon, and a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). We may have different views on a range of subjects, but I support the idea that MPs should stand by their principles, speak up for their constituents and be independent-minded, as well as being broadly in line with their own party’s philosophy. I think I am very much in line with my party’s philosophy, but I cannot speak for everybody in my party on that score. The Labour party membership card states:

“We are a democratic socialist party”

and I say, “Hear, hear” to that.

I have come here to talk about an entirely different subject: rail freight. In business questions this morning, I raised with the Leader of the House the serious issue of air pollution and diesel particulates, and their effect on health in cities, particularly in London. London is a difficult place for people with asthma, chest complaints and so on at the moment, as air pollution is causing serious health difficulties. We have to do something about diesel. A significant measure should be to shift a lot of road freight on to rail. For heavy freight, road freight produces up to 12 times more CO2 and other emissions than the same tonne-mileage taken by rail. Even for lighter freight, there are still substantial multiple emissions. Shifting a substantial amount of road freight to rail would make a real difference, particularly in cities. If we could get the lorry through-traffic in London on to rail, we would be doing a tremendous service to the people of London and the rest of the country.

Rail Ministers big up the amount of freight on rail, but it is actually puny. Half of it is internal freight for Network Rail—ballast, rails and so on—so we are not doing well, especially in contrast with the continent of Europe, where there is heavy investment in a big freight rail network. To see a modal shift in rail freight capacity, we have to build new rail freight track with a large gauge capacity to take lorries on trains. It is only when we can carry lorries on trains that we will have the shift I want to see.

Regrettably, our Victorian forebears, fine people though they were, who built wonderful railway lines, decided to build to too small a gauge. On the continent of Europe,

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they chose a larger loading gauge. I am not talking about the track gauge, but the loading gauge—the size of the wagons that travel on the track. Across the continent, dedicated freight lines are being built. That will make a massive difference to the amount of freight on rail. Tunnels are being built through the Alps that are 35 and 38 miles long, and will be capable of carrying trains with lorries and double-stacked containers. These will be vast cavernous tunnels that we just do not have.

The cost of converting all our existing rail network to carry lorries on trains is prohibitive—it is just not possible. What we need is new capacity, and there is a scheme that would achieve that. I have spoken about the scheme previously in the Chamber. I am personally involved: I am a member of a team supporting the GB Freight Route. I have no pecuniary interest; I am committed to the scheme because I believe in it passionately. If we are to make progress, we have to have this scheme. It is a first-class scheme that would solve so many of the problems that new rail capacity exhibits.

The GB Freight Route would overwhelmingly use old track bed and under-utilised existing track. The line would go from the channel tunnel all the way to Glasgow, serving the west midlands, east midlands, south midlands, south Yorkshire, south Lancashire, the north-east and Scotland. It needs only 14 miles of new track, nine miles of which would be in tunnels under the Thames and elsewhere, so it would not cause any serious planning difficulties. No houses would need to be knocked down and there would be no environmental degradation. It would not cause any problems. I think there is one pig farm on the whole route, but I would hope that we could deal with one pig farm. Generous compensation to pig farmers is the way forward.

The route is very precise, having been worked out by dedicated British Rail-trained engineers with long experience. Also on our team is Ken Russell, a major road haulier from Scotland. He now runs the Barking freight terminal, which takes lorries on trains from the continent of Europe through the channel tunnel and along HS1 as far as Barking, where the lorries are lifted off. They cannot go any further, because the track cannot take lorries on trains. Continental hauliers and logistics companies who have said “We want you to go past Barking” have been told “We cannot go past Barking, because the track cannot accommodate lorries on trains.” We need to do something about that.

As I have said, the scheme is very detailed, and has been designed very precisely. Every mile of the track has been examined carefully by engineers, and we know exactly what we are doing. I have travelled along most of the track and seen it for myself. There are no planning problems, there will be no environmental degradation, and there are no houses on the route. We have already demonstrated that it works. Trains have come from Antwerp and Poland with lorries on them, and the lorries have been lifted off by Ken Russell’s firm, Russell Transport, at Barking. The terminal is owned by Axa, but is operated by Russell Transport. I must emphasise again that I have no pecuniary interest in the scheme, and never will have; I just believe in it.

Even now, freight trains are running from Poland to China. Once we have crossed the channel, not just Europe but the whole of Asia is open to us, and

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eventually trains will be able to run trains from Glasgow to Beijing—if we can travel from Glasgow to the channel tunnel. In order to do that, however, we must have that crucial ability to put lorries on trains at the terminals in our great economic regions, which would breathe new life into those regions as well. There would be a direct and easy route. Once a lorry had been lifted on to the train at a terminal, it could be delivered to Dortmund or Rome the next day. We have demonstrated that that would work.

We have a great deal of support. The supermarkets, for example, have said that if the line is built, they will offer 10,000 lorry loads a week in the first instance, and much more after that. We have the support of hauliers such as Eddie Stobart, the Malcolm Group and our own firm, Russell Transport. We also have the support of Eurotunnel, whose deputy chief executive has met us on a number of occasions. He is a good friend. There is a huge amount of capacity in the channel tunnel, which is, of course, very under-utilised. There will never be enough passengers to fill its capacity, so that capacity must be filled by freight. Hundreds of trains can go through the channel tunnel every week, and scores can go through it each day. They can run quite quickly one behind the other, provided that there is nothing on the track to restrict them.

We have met rail constructors who have boasted that they can build the line more cheaply than even we have suggested, although our figure is very low. Our figure for the whole scheme, which is based on the out-turn figures for the cost of HS1, is £6 billion. Just £6 billion for a massive addition to the rail network! That is about a third of what we are spending on Crossrail. The reason it is so cheap is that we have no planning problems. We are using under-utilised old track routes and unused track bed.

Moreover, there will be no conflict with HS2, if it goes ahead. Whatever we think of HS2—and I happen to think that the money would be better spent on a number of other railway schemes—the fact remains that there will be no conflict. There is a six-mile stretch in the midlands where the two lines would have to run side by side, but providing four tracks rather than two for those six miles would not be a problem. I shall say no more about HS2, because I do not want to open up that great can of worms at this particular moment.

We have political support from all sorts of interesting people. One of those who are actively supporting us is my noble Friend Lord Prescott. We are currently looking into the possibility of a link between Merseyside and Humberside, so that there can be roll-on/roll-off traffic from Ireland to Merseyside and across the Pennines to Humberside—and from there to the continent of Europe if necessary. Of course, certain conditions would have to be met. We must think about how we can engineer the track from Sheffield. Our terminal there would be at Tinsley, which is a big rail freight depot that will be well known to those who are familiar with the area, and which has plenty of capacity.

The scheme has some crucial elements of which the Government will have to be aware if we can get them behind it. The only hold-up so far has been caused by the Department for Transport. Everyone else seems to be in favour of the scheme; even the Mayor of London has given us the nod. The problem has constantly been with the Department for Transport, although not with

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Transport Ministers, some of whom have been very supportive. Not only a previous Labour Minister but Ministers in the present Government are privately sympathetic to the scheme. One has visited the track with our engineers. Given that the scheme is so obviously what, in modern parlance, is described as a no-brainer, I do not understand why the Department does not jump at the idea.

We estimate that the scheme could take 5 million lorry journeys off the road each year, It would take all the north-south freight traffic on the west coast, east coast and midlands main lines, and free up those lines for passenger traffic. The idea that passengers should be taken off the north-south lines and on to HS2 in order to free them up for freight is constantly being thrown at us, but the problem is that the trains cannot transport lorries. Until that can be done, there will be no serious modal shift. I suspect that in future we will travel by train more and more as global warming takes hold and it becomes more and more difficult to travel by road. Railways are indeed the transport mode of the future. The west coast, east coast and midlands main lines should be used to the maximum for passenger traffic, and the freight should be shifted to our dedicated—or freight-priority—line.

I know that the Deputy Leader of the House, who is present, has experience of transport matters. He may be aware of the Barking-Gospel Oak line in London, which is currently being used for very limited passenger traffic. There is talk of upgrading it and making it a bit more useful, and that will be part of the scheme. Getting through London is the difficult part. An upgrade of that line so that it can link Barking with north-west London is crucial. I hope that when the Government proceed with the upgrade that they have promised, that upgrade will include enabling the line to take lorries and not just full-sized but double-stacked full-sized containers. We are talking big stuff here.

That is the first of two vital components. The second is the four-mile Woodhead tunnel, which goes through the Pennines and has not been used for decades. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) knows it very well, because it is in her constituency. It is a beautiful tunnel, which was built on a very large scale. A single track down the centre would be required to provide sufficient height, but that would not be a problem for a four-mile section of track. If we are to enable traffic to go from Merseyside across the Pennines and further north to Scotland, we will need the Woodhead tunnel. There has been talk of its being handed to the electricity grid so that cables can be put through it. I do not know whether that is happening yet, but it would be an utter waste. If it has not yet happened, I suggest that the old parallel tunnels next door to the Woodhead tunnel should be repaired, and the cables should be put through those. The repairs would require a small amount of money. Even if the cables have already been put through the Woodhead tunnel, I think that they should be relocated to the smaller tunnels, so that the big tunnel can be freed up for the line.

My right hon. Friend Lord Prescott is very keen on the cross-Pennine route, taking traffic off the M62, and this would be the way forward. Having Humberside and Merseyside linked for Irish traffic in particular would be a tremendous addition. Every major economic region of the country would have a terminal nearby, even the south-west, although that would be the last, and of

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course coming along the M4 and on to our scheme at the north-west London terminal would not be difficult. We do propose, however, a link from Birmingham down to the south-west and a terminal in the south-west in a later part of the scheme.

I have outlined, and made the case for, the scheme. I want the Government to take it seriously and I hope very much that they will be persuaded, perhaps after I have made the case on a few more occasions.

2.20 pm

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I want to discuss a subject that strangely we often shrink from discussing in any depth: the housing shortage in this country, its consequences, its causes and its cures. Reflecting over the years on both the social and the economic problems of this country, it strikes me that almost all the social problems and many of the economic ones are either caused by or aggravated by a shortage of housing. This is true not just of homelessness, overcrowding and the huge housing benefits bill—the fastest rising benefit bill and one of the largest components of the Department for Work and Pensions budget; it is also true of the benefit trap and the resultant disincentive to work, in that so many people have housing benefit even if they are in work and consequently suffer a loss of benefit when their earnings go up, and of family breakdowns, single parenthood, declining home ownership, and the inability of young people to leave home. All these problems are aggravated by the housing shortage. Now the average age of first-time buyers in London is the late-30s, which is dramatically different from a generation ago.

There are also economic problems: the level of debt, the diversion of lending from business to mortgages, and the mortgages cycle. They, too, are all aggravated by this housing shortage.

The causes of our having the highest prices and the highest rents in Europe and ever-longer waiting lists are simple enough: the number of households is outstripping the pitiful level of new house building. There are two main factors accounting for that. First, there are smaller households. Over the years, the average size of households decreases by roughly 0.5% as people live longer; often there is one of a couple living in the home; or the children might have left home so there are just the parents living in the home. The average size of households is declining, therefore, and, sadly, family breakdown adds to that trend. We would have to build a 0.5% addition to our housing stock every year just to cope with that factor, and we are barely doing that.

The other factor we are strangely reluctant to discuss is the fact that we are now a country of mass immigration. Since Labour took the brakes off immigration in the late ’90s, between 2 million and 3 million additional people have come to this country. For centuries this country was a net exporter of people. Rather bizarrely, now that we are one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, we are a net importer.

I find it strange that many people argue that immigrant numbers are not the problem so long as we have the right sort of immigrants. They say that so long as we exclude scroungers and the unskilled and so on, numbers do not matter. The situation is almost the reverse, however, because the sort of people we have had are

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overwhelmingly decent, hard-working, law-abiding people who come here to make better lives for themselves. The idea that they are qualitatively wrong is nonsense, insulting and racist. It is numbers that matter. It is numbers that have contributed and added to, and aggravated greatly, the housing shortage in this country. Very few people come to this country to claim benefits, although that is the focus in the discussions we have in this country, but all of them need homes, and all of them are going to occupy homes that otherwise would be available for the people already here.

I wrote a pamphlet back in the early part of this millennium entitled “Too Much of a Good Thing?” I hope that title makes clear my view of immigration: immigrants are basically decent, nice people—fellow human beings, children of the same God, people we should love as our neighbours when they live next to us. But we are foolish to invite too many people into this country. I was caused to publish that pamphlet by looking at the housing shortage and the reason for the rising demand for house building in this country, and I was immediately labelled a racist and an attempt was made to shut off the debate. I hope we can stop doing that, because we will never solve the problem if we do not understand its cause.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman that this subject is important, and it is the subject I am going to speak about, but I disagree with everything he is saying about it. There are 50,000 new homes being built in my constituency—a small, densely populated constituency—over the next 20 years. The majority of them will be sold off-plan to overseas investors, not to immigrants to the UK—not to people who now have British citizenship or are acquiring it. They will be sold in that way for a profit because mainly Conservative councils do deals with developers to sell them in that way. That is the root of the housing crisis, in London at least.

Mr Lilley: The hon. Gentleman is simply factually wrong. It contributes to the housing problem, but to a small degree. I advise him to read an article in City A.M. last week which got the figures for the number of such new unoccupied houses in London, and it is very small. It contributes to the problem, and if it is bigger than I think, I entirely agree with him that we ought to tackle it , but to suggest that it has anything like the impact of allowing 2 million or 3 million extra people, and every year an extra 200,000 or quarter of a million, into this country is simply to try to divert people’s attention from the self-evident realities. Let us deal with all the problems, including the problem the hon. Gentleman identifies, but we should not try to pretend that there would not be a problem if that issue were to go away.

The only answer in the long run is to build more homes. We cannot pretend that we can solve the housing shortage by manipulating house prices or house rents or mortgage interest rates. Whatever the price of a bottle, we cannot get a quart into a pint pot. If we have more people here, we have to build more homes here. I am not suggesting that we undo history. The history means there are more people here, and we have got to build more homes if we are to overcome the social and economic problems that result from a housing shortage.