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  • Apr 10, 2014:
    • Backbench Business - Easter Adjournment | Public Administration Select Committee | Commons debates

      Indeed. The hon. Gentleman raised a point about monitoring data no longer being published. I cannot provide any further information, but I will, as he requests, ask the Minister to respond.

      The hon. Gentleman mentioned a decline in police numbers in Harrow. The independent crime survey has identified that since 2010 the level of crime has gone down by 10%. That is something we can all welcome. I note the drop in the number of officers in his borough as a result of changes that have happened in London. I have seen a similar decline in the number of officers in Sutton. My concern is that people need the reassurance of police visibility. As a result of these changes, there is concern that the deterrent effect is not what it used to be. His concerns are on the record. The Mayor of London may wish, if he is following this debate, to respond directly to him on that point.

      My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) had the novel proposal, which I think we all wish we had thought of ourselves, of redirecting the Tour de France through every single road in his constituency, or at least the ones that are the responsibility of Essex county council, to ensure that all the potholes are filled in. I commend him for his initiative. He clearly has strong views on his county council and has used this debate to put them on the record. On the subject of potholes, he will be pleased to hear that in this financial year the Department for Transport is providing more than £1 billion to local authorities for local highways maintenance, which includes tackling potholes. There was, of course, £200 million announced by the Chancellor in the Budget for pothole repairs. I hope he welcomes the activity on this front. He also referred to an exchange around quarterly meetings of Essex MPs. I would hope that any local authority seeking to work with its Members of Parliament would not choose to do so in a way that gives favour to one party over another. I hope it takes note of this debate.

      The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) referred to the Co-op Group, which, as she knows, is going through a difficult time. The resignation of Lord Myners from the board after some directors criticised his review of the group's structure has created further instability, and the group is now facing losses of up to £2 billion. There is clearly a need for action, and she did a very good job of specifying the action that she considered appropriate. I am sure that the members of the Co-op Group will read carefully what she had to say. They clearly need to put their house in order-something that only they can do-and I agree with her that a period of calm reflection, building trust and confidence is required. I also agree with her that if we were to lose the Co-op, we would lose some of the richness and variety from which we currently benefit.

      The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) said that he felt that there was unintended bias on the part of the BBC. I suspect that, whatever coverage it had or had not given to Nelson Mandela, there would have been an issue: the coverage would have been too little for some, or too much for others. I am not sure that the BBC could ever have got everyone on board. What the hon. Gentleman certainly did, however, was reinforce the point that his constituency is key and should not be neglected at the expense of any other constituency in the country, especially given that it was so badly affected by a tidal surge. He drew attention-perhaps with some justification-to the difference between the coverage of the floods that hit the south and the coverage of those that hit the north.

      The hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) concentrated on the extractive industries transparency initiative, which the Government fully support. He praised the work that the Department for International Development is doing. I agree with him that the fact that the United Kingdom is the only large industrialised nation that is contributing 0.7% of its GDP to overseas aid gives us significant clout in discussions on these matters, and that much of our investment in developing countries benefits the UK as well. That cannot be stressed too often. The Government certainly would not want any actions involving the extractive industries to reduce investment in developing countries, because that investment, and growth in those countries, can make a far bigger contribution to their development than even the significant level of financial aid that comes from countries such as the UK. If the transparency initiative comes to fruition in three years' time-as the hon. Gentleman and I hope it will-we shall be able to learn a great deal from it about best practice which could be applied to other industries.

      I think we would all agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) that Parliament should be made more relevant to people's needs. I do not necessarily agree with some of the solutions he suggested, but I would certainly welcome a debate on the subject. One of the issues that we must address is the under-representation of different communities and women in the House. If we want Parliament to be more relevant to people's needs, we must ensure that there is a better representation of people from different backgrounds and genders. He may be right in saying that open primaries could be a way of achieving that, but there are a number of other things that we can do. Many of the actions taken by the Government since 2010, such as the introduction of the Backbench Business Committee -as well as the actions taken by Select Committee Chairs to raise the profile of Select Committees and election to them-have led people to believe that Parliament represents their views slightly more effectively than it used to, and some of the polls have confirmed that. Clearly, more can be done. For instance, there is a move to ensure that we enhance the handling of petitions within the online petition system, which I think members of the public will appreciate, too. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's contributions to ways in which we can ensure that Parliament reflects people's needs or is more relevant to them. I am not going to comment on whether there are too many Ministers in the Government, although I point out that in my case I am a Minister but at least I am not paid, so there is no impact on the payroll.

      The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) raised the issue of rail freight, which he campaigns on vigorously. He set out a scheme that is being put forward by the GB freight group at a minimal cost, he said, of £6 billion, which would enable freight to go from Glasgow to the channel tunnel and beyond to Beijing, which would be quite a journey. We would need to take lots of sandwiches and many flasks of tea to get from Glasgow to Beijing on that freight train, but that would certainly open up new markets to freight. I will pass on his interest in that scheme to the Department for Transport. He said Ministers in past Governments and, indeed, the current Government were supportive but he felt the blockage may be elsewhere.

      The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) raised the issue of housing. It was also mentioned by a number of other Members. I would like to put on record some of the progress we have made. Almost 420,000 homes have been built since April 2010. The new housing construction output is now at its highest level since the crash in 2008 and housing starts are at the highest level since 2007 as well. We are therefore making progress. We believe that by the end of this Government we will have more affordable homes than there were at the start of the Government, something previous Governments have not achieved. We expect to deliver 165,000 new homes in three years. That will be the fastest rate of delivery in the past 20 years. I agree with him that increasing house building can address many issues beyond those of homelessness, overcrowding and employment. He also raised the issue of the impact of immigration on the housing shortage. Clearly, the UK has seen substantial inward migration. That is something the Government are now starting to tackle, and clearly immigration does have an impact on housing.

      I had an interesting meeting a couple of weeks ago with an organisation called Pocket which is trying to develop, on a relatively small scale, on areas of land in London that are perhaps difficult for larger developers to use, and which would provide housing for those caught in the middle-people who will never be able to access affordable housing because of their income, but who in London at least are very unlikely to be able to afford to buy housing because of the level of house prices. That sort of initiative can make a contribution.

      The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out that cycling is not easy in rural areas. I agree: the distances might be greater and it may be hillier and windier. Those who advocate cycling, including me, do not all argue that everyone has to cycle wherever they live and whatever distances are involved. He rightly highlighted the issue of fuel costs and the impact they can have, particularly on people in rural areas. I know colleagues from all parties-particularly those from rural areas and places like Scotland-are very concerned about that. He welcomed the measures the Government are taking to address fuel costs and I know he would like us to go further, but the Government are aware of the issue and we are doing as much as we can.

      The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) referred to having the country's first state-sponsored Hindu primary school in his constituency, and said that it is now going to have the first state-sponsored Hindu secondary school. I wish the schools well. He also mentioned Anmer Lodge, and expressed concerns about the scale of that development. His contribution highlighted the difficulties that any area faces when trying to address the housing issue. As the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said, we need to increase provision but local residents need to feel that that is being done in a way that does not present a challenge to them.

      The hon. Member for Harrow East is clearly not going to be buying a season ticket for Barnet football club. Indeed, he probably would not be given one if he asked. Many Members will have football clubs in residential areas of their constituencies, and they can have a significant impact. I do not know whether that is the case in his

      constituency, but the problems can be exacerbated in that kind of environment. I am sure that his concerns will be listened to in the appropriate places.

      The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital, saying that he wanted the development of that centre of excellence to happen as soon as possible. He will have noticed that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) is in her place and that she heard his speech. That subject is on her agenda, and she is aware of his concerns. He also mentioned the difficulty of getting in and out of Stanmore station because there was no lift, and I understand his reasons for wanting action to be taken on that as soon as possible.

      The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) talked about a variety of issues. He mentioned the "Shaping a healthier future" programme. He and other Members will have received proposals with names that, on the face of it, sound positive but which might not be to everyone's satisfaction, given the impact they could have on the local health service. The Department of Health, NHS England and the trusts need to take into account the medical benefits of specialisation-as happened in London, for example, in relation to stroke services-as well as the possible disbenefit that can derive from a lack of access to local services. The right balance needs to be struck.

      The hon. Gentleman also referred to his campaign to oppose a third runway at Heathrow. As the Liberal Democrats' party spokesman on aviation back in 1997, I confirmed at the time that our policy was to oppose a third runway, and we have not deviated from that position since then. On housing, he referred to the refusal to respond to freedom of information requests relating to a wide range of issues. It is incumbent on all local authorities, and the Government, to be as open and helpful as possible in relation to FOI requests.

      The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) has apologised for leaving the debate early. I understand that he had to catch a train. He referred to the need to take action in relation to the missing link between the M4 and the M5. He also rightly concentrated on the importance of regenerating the city of Gloucester and the Greater Blackfriars area. From his description, the area certainly sounds ripe for investment and will provide an opportunity to deliver a vision for the city.

      Members will be pleased to hear that I have nearly finished. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) referred to the need for a maritime patrol aircraft. He explained some of the technical advantages of being able to see not only what was on the surface but also what was below it. That is an invaluable asset when dealing with submarines. He also said that we needed to work in partnership with our allies. That is something that I welcome, although there could be times when it is difficult to achieve. He will know that defence procurement is an area in which the Government have had to take action to address significant overruns. However, he could not have put his request for the maritime patrol aircraft more clearly, and I will ensure that those in the Ministry of Defence see his speech and respond to him on that point.

      Madam Deputy Speaker, I am on to my last note, which says "Thank you" at the top, so thank you for chairing this debate so ably. I thank also all Members who have taken part in what has been a fairly comprehensive

      tour, from butterflies on the A4 to the Maldives. I conclude by thanking my officials who have worked in supporting me today, and the House authorities for keeping us safe. I hope everyone has an absolutely fantastic Easter.

    • Backbench Business - Easter Adjournment | Public Administration Select Committee | Commons debates

      We have learnt two more stunning twitcher facts this afternoon. They will go down on the record and in years to come people will read my right hon. Friend's contribution and benefit from his expertise on bird watching.

      My right hon. Friend also explained that Malta was not on his holiday list until it addressed the issue of turtledoves and the wall of lead that birds fly into as they approach that island. He then went on to the subject of the Wildlife Trusts and the campaign it is running to save grasslands as part of our natural environment-something that I am sure we would all support. He referred to the Allerton project which is a farm that operates on a commercial basis, but takes its conservation responsibilities very seriously. That best practice should perhaps be more widely promoted, and I am pleased that DEFRA is aware of it.

      My right hon. Friend then talked about the modern slavery Bill, and I am sure that the Home Office will look seriously at the recommendations from the Joint Committee. I agree that modern-day slavery is an abomination. Members of Parliament all read their local papers avidly, and we can all spot the cases of modern slavery they contain, such as the brothels that have been closed down or the cannabis farms that can be found in all sorts of places, including neat, tidy and relatively affluent suburbs such as Sutton, Carshalton and Wallington. Cannabis farms are regularly found in houses, empty warehouses and empty blocks of flats. My right hon. Friend referred to early-day motion 1257. He does not normally support early-day motions, but this one was to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Anti- Slavery International, and we join him in congratulating that organisation on its anniversary.

      My right hon. Friend also mentioned his central library and the investment that has gone into it. He said that he was not being partisan in saying that the London borough of Hillingdon was brilliant in terms of its library provision, and I am not being partisan when I say the same about the London borough of Sutton, where we have also succeeded in investing in libraries, especially those that work jointly with sports centres and so on to maximise footfall and other benefits.

      My right hon. Friend plugged Northern Ireland as a holiday destination, and I agree with him that it is a place that everyone should visit. Great steps forward have been taken since the Good Friday agreement, but some significant issues still need to be addressed. We are all very pleased that he got a bat detector for Christmas. I hope he makes good use of it.

      The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) also mentioned the Wildlife Trust and praised its work. He touched on residents' associations. We all have effective residents' associations working hard in our constituencies. In my case, they are fighting against a proposal for a very large McDonald's on Stafford road. He referred to RAF Northolt, wanting to ensure that any consultation, for example on plans to increase the number of flights, goes beyond just Hillingdon council. I will pass on his concerns to the Ministry of Defence to ensure that perhaps a wider consultation is embarked upon.

      The hon. Gentleman referred to underrepresentation of black and minority ethnic people in the media. The Government are committed to black and minority ethnic diversity in TV, film and the arts, both on and off screen. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) recently met leading figures from these sectors to consider options to improve representation. I think we all support the idea that people who appear on our screens or on our airwaves should be fully representative of the population as a whole, and be in roles that do not stereotype.

    • Backbench Business - Easter Adjournment | Public Administration Select Committee | Commons debates

      I rather worried that the final sentence of my hon. Friend's intervention would be a requirement to respond in suitable detail to all the other speeches. I do not want to give away any secrets, but there are advantages to Members letting me know in advance what will be in their speech, because it perhaps ensures a slightly greater degree of detail in the response. Fortunately for me, however, my neighbour the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden raised an issue with which I am extremely familiar-the future of St Helier hospital, which is in my constituency-so I required no briefing notes from officials on it. I have been living, eating and breathing it for the past 25 years or so, and my wife had my children there.

      As the hon. Lady will be aware, £290 million was allocated to St Helier under the previous Government, which I welcomed, and that was confirmed under the current Government, which I also fully supported. As she said, a review called "Better Services Better Value" was put forward. Had the Surrey GPs not said that they did not support it, it would potentially have led to the closure of the A and E and maternity services at St Helier and Epsom, which I opposed. She referred to the 13,000 signatures on her petition, and I think mine currently has 19,000, so we are both raising awareness of the issue. She commended the supporters of the campaign in Merton, as I do, and a wide range of organisations in Sutton, such as the league of friends, that are campaigning on the issue.

      I must say, however, that I do not think it is entirely helpful to the campaign to try to make it partisan in the way that I am afraid some of the hon. Lady's fellow party members have. They have claimed that clause 119 of the Care Bill will allow the Secretary of State for Health to close any hospital anywhere in the country at any time if he decides on a whim to do so. That is clearly not what the clause is about. It is about scenarios such as Mid Staffordshire, where the way in which the hospital was run meant that more patients were dying than should have been the case. In a very limited number of circumstances-it has been used only twice-there is a need to take urgent action, and that is what the clause is about. It is not about a well run hospital such as St Helier, which is in category 6, the category for the safest hospitals in the country. I wish that that argument were not being deployed, because it does not add to the campaign, which is strong enough as it is. The hon. Lady and I, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who is also campaigning hard on the issue, will continue to run the campaign.

      The hon. Lady also referred to surgery schemes that have stalled. I am sure that her local clinical commissioning group will have noted her concerns, and I hope that it will respond promptly, and preferably positively. I will also draw the matter to the attention of the relevant Health Minister, to ensure that the Department of Health takes whatever action it can.

      The hon. Lady referred to GPs charging for letters. I am not aware of any other organisations that I contact that charge for providing a letter to assist a Member of Parliament in pursuing casework-I do not know whether any other Members know of any. It is regrettable that some GPs choose to do that. I should point out, however, that although GPs have a statutory duty to provide certain things for free, they may charge fees in some circumstances. I will ensure that her concerns are raised with the Department of Health and that it responds to her directly.

      My right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) said that the pre-recess Adjournment debates are one of the highlights of the year, and I agree with him. He referred to the butterfly supping on the nectar of a flower alongside the A40. I hate to spoil the picture that he built up for us, but I suspect that by now the butterfly has been demolished by a juggernaut driving along the A40. I heard on Radio 4 that this has been a slightly better year so far for butterflies, and I also felt rather guilty about removing a substantial amount of ivy from a tree when I learnt from the same programme that ivy is exactly what butterflies need in the winter and to provide nectar in the autumn when few flowers are available.

      My hon. Friend also talked about vultures and I think we all wondered for a moment what he was about to say. He then mentioned the European Union and I thought it would be one of those stories in which the EU is to blame for everything. In this case, it would seem that the EU is to be blamed for the deaths of European vultures. I will ensure that, if appropriate, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responds on the issue of bearded vultures as I know that my right hon. Friend identifies with those birds and wants to see their numbers grow-

    • Backbench Business - Easter Adjournment | Public Administration Select Committee | Commons debates

      It is a pleasure to respond to the pre-recess Adjournment debate. As is customary, I will do so at some length to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who opened the debate. Hon. Members who can see the Dispatch Box will notice that I have a significant number of notes relating to the points he raised-I will take them in no particular order-but I hope to leave time to respond to the points made by other hon. Members as well.

      My hon. Friend mentioned the Maldives and the double taxation and bilateral investment treaties. I will ensure that his comments are passed on to the Treasury, which is the lead Department on this issue. It is clearly important that action is taken to strengthen the Maldives economy. We hope that President Yameen will now work towards economic reform in the Maldives, in addition to considering the treaties.

      My hon. Friend also mentioned the Assisted Dying Bill. The Government believe that any change in the law in this emotive area is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide, rather than one for Government policy. The Government will take a collective view on the Bill in order to respond to the debate on Second Reading, a date for which has yet to be confirmed.

      My hon. Friend raised the issue of dog breeding-puppy farming-about which there is a significant petition. Legislation is already in place to control the breeding and selling of dogs. Local authorities have powers to grant licences for dog-breeding establishments, and have powers of refusal based on the grounds of welfare. Powers are also available to local authorities to investigate and enter premises in relation to allegations of poor welfare or cruelty.

      My hon. Friend referred to the all-party group on hepatology. The Department of Health is concerned by the increasing burden of liver disease-he said it was the fifth biggest killer-and the resulting premature mortality, much of which is preventable. Together with NHS England and Public Health England, the Department of Health will support local authorities and clinical commissioning groups in their responsibility to deliver improved outcomes in relation to liver disease.

      My hon. Friend mentioned the controversial issue of gender selection abortion. As I am sure he and other hon. Members are aware, abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal. The Abortion Act 1967 states that two practitioners must be of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the woman has grounds for an abortion according to the criteria set out in the Act. The chief medical officer has written twice to all doctors involved with abortion provision to remind them of the need to ensure that they work within the law at all times.

      My hon. Friend also referred to melanoma. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended Yervoy as an option for treating advanced melanoma in people who have previously received therapy. NHS commissioners are required to fund Yervoy if there is an indication that clinicians want to use it. NICE is currently developing guidance on the drug's use in previously untreated, unresectable stage 3 or 4 malignant melanoma.

      I hope I have addressed all the medical issues to which my hon. Friend referred, and I will now talk about Quilliam. In a previous guise, when I was my party's home affairs spokesman, I had knowledge of that organisation. He talked about the need to ensure that we address the promotion of extremism on the internet. Members will be aware that terrorist groups make extensive use of the internet to spread their propaganda, and we have seen how that can contribute to individuals becoming radicalised. A number of those convicted under the terrorism Acts were exposed to radicalising content that they found online, including Inspire magazine, sermons and bomb-making instructions. A number of people who have been involved in terrorist activity have admitted to accessing radicalising content online. Keeping up with the scale and pace of terrorist and extremist content online remains a challenge, so it is important that we have a balanced approach, including working with industry, law enforcement and the public. The police counter-terrorism internet referral unit is removing more illegal terrorist content than previously. Since 2010 we have taken down more than 29,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material.

      My hon. Friend referred to the work of Seetec recruitment in Southend, and he talked about South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. He previously talked about the trust's services in the pre-recess Adjournment debate in December 2013. He had an opportunity to discuss his concerns in Westminster Hall on 5 March this year, and I hope he secured suitable responses. It is crucial that all NHS care providers deliver care to the highest standard possible. As a local MP, he is well placed to help ensure that the trust is held to that high standard. I hope he will continue to engage with the trust, local GP commissioners and national regulators to that end, and I am sure he will.

      My hon. Friend raised the further health issue of thalidomide victims. He will know that on 20 December 2012 the Department of Health announced a new 10-year grant for the Thalidomide Trust. The grant will be paid on an annual basis, uprated in line with inflation, which means that over the 10-year period it will be worth some £80 million. The Department of Health currently has no plans to make representations to the German Government on compensation from Grünenthal to the UK victims of thalidomide, but the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who is responsible for care services, hopes to meet representatives from the Thalidomide Trust to discuss the matter further.

      My hon. Friend praised Westcliff high school for girls in his constituency, which has the second-best GCSE results in the country. I congratulate the school. In 2013, 100% of pupils achieved five or more A to C grades. The school cannot do any better, but it now has the challenge of maintaining that performance hereafter.

      My hon. Friend mentioned tongue-tied breastfeeding-it is very difficult to say "tongue-tied." I was not aware of the issue, and I do not know how many other Members were aware of it, but he is right to raise its profile, particularly as he has found that even medical practitioners are not necessarily aware of the condition. I hope there will now be greater recognition. He will be pleased to know that NICE has issued full guidance to the NHS on division of tongue-tie for breastfeeding. He asked for a meeting with Health Ministers, and although I

      cannot commit the diaries of other Ministers, I am sure he will pursue the matter vigorously. I am sure that the Department of Health will look carefully at the different health-related points that he has raised during this debate in case there are things that it wants to respond to him on directly.

      That might include the issue of FH. I will leave it at that, rather than spelling out precisely what it stands for. My hon. Friend may know that the NICE clinical guidelines recommend that health care professionals should use cascade testing to identify people with FH. Those guidelines represent best practice as they are based on the available evidence and developed through wide consultation. In view of their complexity and the different states of readiness for implementation in the NHS, clinical guidelines are not subject to the same statutory funding requirement as NICE's technology appraisals.

      My hon. Friend clearly has some strong views about the effectiveness of the Essex probation trust. I understand that he has corresponded with Ministers at the Ministry of Justice about rehabilitation services in Essex. I am sure he welcomes the changes that the Government are making to ensure that people who were not receiving support and assistance will do so. He has put his concerns on the record. I am sure that in any process of assessing individual bids, the competence of the organisations that submit the bids will be taken into account.

      My hon. Friend spoke about Bahrain. The Government remain supportive of the reforms that are under way in Bahrain. We commend the steps that have been taken by the Bahraini Government to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain independent commission of inquiry. Progress has been made in a number of areas, but there is more to be done. We encourage the Bahraini Government to ensure that the remaining recommendations are implemented soon.

      My hon. Friend talked about the importance of ensuring that drug treatment is tailored to the individual. I certainly support that. It must be the most effective way to help someone overcome their addiction and to reduce the health harms that are associated with their illicit opiate use. It is for NICE to decide when there is sufficient evidence to update its guidance and appraisals. It might be considering that issue at the moment.

      My hon. Friend spoke about the wine and spirits industry and wine duty. I am sure that he supports the steps taken in the Budget, such as the reduction in beer duty and, in relation to the spirits industry, the freezing of the duty on Scotch whisky. We all know that pubs are an important community asset where people socialise and consume alcohol responsibly. Supporting pubs through the reduction in beer duty was therefore a welcome measure. Ending the wine duty escalator will support pubs that have diversified away from beer. It also ensures that beer and wine duties remain broadly similar, as is required under EU law.

      The last thing that my hon. Friend raised was the issue of CCTV spy cars, which councils use in some circumstances to raise money by issuing parking fines. The feeling among drivers is that they suddenly receive a fine some weeks later, when they are not aware that they have committed an offence. Clearly, we do not propose to do anything to prevent a parking warden or police officer from issuing a penalty in cases of genuinely

      dangerous parking. We want to ensure that, particularly around schools, parking restrictions are enforced. Parents often request the presence of a CCTV car to monitor other parents who do not observe the rules and, as a result, might endanger the safety of children. I hope that I have dealt with all my hon. Friend's points.

      I now move on to my neighbour, the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh).

  • Mar 26, 2014:
    • Electoral Commission | Oral Answers to Questions - Prime Minister | Commons debates

      I beg to move,

      That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will appoint as Electoral Commissioners:

      (1) Ms Bridget Prentice for the period ending on 30 September 2018; and

      (2) Mr Alasdair Morgan for the period ending on 30 September 2016.

      The Electoral Commission was established by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 as a body independent of Government. The chair of the Electoral Commission and the other electoral commissioners are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, following an address from the House of Commons.

      The procedure for appointing electoral commissioners is put in place and overseen by the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission. Candidates' names are put before the House with the agreement of the Speaker. The Speaker's Committee follows best practice guidance from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in relation to commissioner appointments.

      Section 5 of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, which inserted new section 3A into the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, states that four of the electoral commissioners should be persons put forward by the registered leader of a qualifying party for consideration for appointment. Those commissioners are described in the statute as "nominated Commissioners". A qualifying party is one with two or more Members on the Floor of the House of Commons.

      The motion before the House asks Her Majesty to appoint Ms Bridget Prentice as the electoral commissioner nominated by the leader of the Labour party to succeed Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Mr Alasdair Morgan as the electoral commissioner nominated by the leader of the Scottish National party to succeed the right hon. Sir George Reid. Lord Kennedy and Sir George Reid have served the Speaker's Committee and the House diligently. I know that Mr Speaker and the other members of the Speaker's Committee would want me to place on the record their gratitude for the dedication of those commissioners to the work of the Electoral Commission.

      Ms Prentice's term will end on 30 September 2018 and Mr Morgan's term will run until 30 September 2016, as has been the practice for such appointments. Given that both posts are vacant, the terms of both candidates will commence following Her Majesty's decision to appoint them.

      The candidates who are named in the motion have extensive political and electoral experience, as is highlighted in the report that was published by the Speaker's Committee, which has been tagged as a document relevant to this debate. Ms Prentice served as the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East from 1992 to 2010, and as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice from 2005 to 2010. As a Minister, she was responsible for 14 areas of policy, including electoral administration. Mr Morgan was a Member of the House of Commons and the Scottish

      Parliament. He has demonstrated a deep knowledge of electoral processes and regulations. He also has a record of building consensus through chairing and convening a number of parliamentary Committees, including the Justice and Home Affairs Committee in the Scottish Parliament.

      The statute requires that the motion be tabled with the agreement of the Speaker. I confirm that Mr Speaker has signified his consent. I trust that the House will approve the motion, and I commend it to the House.

  • Mar 25, 2014:
    • New Clause 5 - Licensing: review of legislation | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      May I point out that local authorities may already act without such review or indeed legislation? My local authority, the London borough of Sutton, moved from a system where it had three different officers going into one business to check different standards to training one person to go in to a business once.

    • New Clause 4 - Housing revenue account | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      I am happy to put the hon. Gentleman right. There is a Liberal Democrat council in the London borough of Sutton. It has been Liberal Democrat controlled since 1986.

    • New Clause 3 - Mechanically propelled vehicles on unsealed roads: removal of burdens | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      The letter I will write is getting longer and longer with all the issues that the hon. Gentleman seeks to have included. I highlighted the fact that the stakeholder working group should come up with its own terms of reference. If it comes up with a solution to the problem, it may choose to look at the economic impact and conduct an economic assessment. However, it must be responsible for coming up with its own terms of reference.

      The new clause presupposes that the review will conclude that motor vehicle use gives rise to a burden and cost, which the new clause would provide powers to alleviate. We should not make such assumptions before a review is even started. We believe that the best way to review policy on the recreational off-road use of motor vehicles is for it to be based on the stakeholder working group model used for the other rights of way. That approach has proved to be successful, and mutually beneficial solutions have been arrived at through dialogue, negotiation and an exploration of all the viable possibilities and their likely consequences.

      That approach has proved successful, resulting in mutually beneficial solutions being arrived at through dialogue, negotiation and an exploration of all the viable possibilities and their likely consequences. Solutions arrived at in this way, based on agreement and mutual interest, will result in less conflict and less need for enforcement. However, such an approach cannot be effective if the process is constrained by a time frame of the kind that the new clause would impose. Moreover, the pre-supposition that the review will conclude that motor vehicle use gives rise to a burden and cost, and that the essence of the approach should be a legislative one, imposes a further constraint on reaching a mutually agreed solution. That is hardly deregulatory.

      The new clause would create new regulation and a new burden where it may not be necessary when the issue has been properly analysed and discussed. Furthermore, subsection (3) of the new clause contains a sweeping power to adopt some sort of measure to remove public rights of way by regulations. The Government believe that that is a use of delegated legislation too far and does not recognise that the best solutions to problems are often those that do not resort to legislation. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

    • New Clause 3 - Mechanically propelled vehicles on unsealed roads: removal of burdens | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      I agree. I do not want to be flippant about what the hon. Gentleman said earlier: he is right that this is a serious issue. One of the difficulties in trying to identify a solution is that there are serious problems in a relatively small number of places, and a small number of problems or no problems at all in other places. We must find a solution that deals with the areas that are badly affected and does not have a heavy impact on the areas where there is no issue or where motorised sports make a positive contribution to the local economy. It is important that we allow a stakeholder working group to emerge with a good balance of representatives from the different organisations and to come forward with a solution to the problem.

      The new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley seeks to place a duty on central Government to devise and impose a solution to the highly complex and partly ideological debate about the recreational use of motor vehicles on unsurfaced routes in the countryside-in particular, national parks. We sympathise with people's genuine concerns about the problems that can arise from the recreational use of motor vehicles on unsealed roads, but we do not believe that the new clause is the best way to deal with those concerns. We agree that this issue needs to be tackled and that some means of resolution must be found; the Government said as much in our response to the Joint Committee's pre-legislative scrutiny report. However, we do not believe that the Deregulation Bill is the right mechanism.

      The issue of recreational off-road motor vehicle use is complex, emotive and contentious. One person's pleasurable pastime is anathema to another person. I appreciate why it arouses strong feelings and why there is a clamour for something to be done. Motor vehicle use is often portrayed as a burden and a cost, but it is not always that simple. Research conducted in 2005 on byways open to all traffic found that although there are some acute cases of damage caused by recreational motor vehicle use, for the most part it is not a significant problem. Furthermore, not all damage to unsealed roads and tracks is caused by the recreational use of motor vehicles. Much of it is caused by farm vehicles, water erosion and poor maintenance.

      There is good evidence that the use of unsealed roads during organised motoring events, such as hill climbs, puts significant amounts of money into rural economies. Some groups of motor vehicle users voluntarily repair and maintain unsealed tracks, and often the use of green lanes by motor vehicles keeps vegetation in check and therefore keeps routes open for other users.

    • New Clause 3 - Mechanically propelled vehicles on unsealed roads: removal of burdens | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I suspect that he is trying to push me further on this subject than I would like to go today. Clearly we know that this is a controversial issue. We know that no stakeholder working group has been established, and it has therefore not had an opportunity to consider my hon. Friend's new clause. Once the group is established and its members start to look at the options, I am sure that they may well want to refer to his new clause and possibly use it as a basis for taking matters forward, but that is a matter for them. We need to let them consider this appropriately.

      My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak rightly highlighted concerns about the impact of such activities. The hon. Member for Luton North, in the true spirit of the confessional, said he had put forward a solution without thinking much about it. I commend him for seeing the light and acknowledging that this complex issue requires complicated decision-making processes.

    • New Clause 3 - Mechanically propelled vehicles on unsealed roads: removal of burdens | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      I will certainly endeavour to ensure that as much of the available information as possible is contained therein.

    • New Clause 3 - Mechanically propelled vehicles on unsealed roads: removal of burdens | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      I am happy to give way as long as it is not a brake joke.

    • New Clause 3 - Mechanically propelled vehicles on unsealed roads: removal of burdens | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      Oh dear. I am being encouraged to stray into a different direction, but I would like to confirm that when I was the party's transport spokesman, my surname was an issue on a regular basis.

      Thomas Docherty rose-

    • New Clause 3 - Mechanically propelled vehicles on unsealed roads: removal of burdens | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      I normally like to respond positively to the hon. Gentleman's interventions. This will be on the record, in that it will be reported and Members will be able to see precisely what is envisaged, but if he feels that he needs the additional comfort of a letter, I am sure that could be organised-although officials may not be particularly happy that I have offered to require them to undertake additional work. Clearly, what I have set out is how the Government intend this issue to be taken forward. It is one of the more controversial issues that can be tackled in the countryside, and we need to achieve the same degree of unanimity and compromise that was achieved through the existing stakeholder working group.

    • New Clause 3 - Mechanically propelled vehicles on unsealed roads: removal of burdens | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      Let me start by responding to a number of the points made during this short exchange. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley for tabling new clause 3. I am sorry that I will have to disappoint him. Had he achieved the critical mass achieved by the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire for his proposals, we might have supported him, but I am afraid that that will not be the case-I will explain why-although I welcome the fact that the new clause has created an opportunity for us to discuss this issue today. I would like to thank Pat Stubbs, from one of the organisations campaigning on green lanes, who sent me a video that set out in graphic terms the issues around this particular concern and the impact on green lanes.

      I suppose I should also declare an interest. I must admit that I have not been out on a motorbike on green lanes for 35 years, but there was a period when I might have done so-in a wholly responsible manner. More recently, I have run and cycled along them. Today I am a user of these excellent facilities, which provide access to our parks and green spaces around the country, as I am sure many others on the Committee are too.

      The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife raised the important point of where we go from here, and asked how we would take things forward if there is an issue. The proposal is that DEFRA will work with Natural England to organise the founding of a group with an independent chair and a secretariat, and invite stakeholders with the relevant experience and expertise to join the group. The group will contain a balance of interests and cross all sectors, and will be expected to come up with its own terms of reference. I hope that is helpful in setting out what the plans are.

    • New Clause 9 - Private hire vehicles: circumstances in which driver's licence required | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      The Law Commission will come forward with its proposals in April, but I am saying that there is not a chance to bring a Bill forward. There is no parliamentary legislative slot available for a dedicated taxi Bill in the last Session.

      To continue focusing on why we are taking these matters forward notwithstanding the Law Commission review process, we identified these changes and think they will have a beneficial impact on business. We have assessed the savings that will be derived from them and are satisfied that there will be benefits achieved by making these changes now. We do not think that the decision to proceed with them in any way undermines what the Law Commission review will come forward with.

      Safety has been a focus of the debate and I reassure all members of the Committee that local authorities have powers to suspend or revoke driver licences. They have those powers to do it with immediate effect in cases where there are serious safety implications. Nothing we are doing in this Bill changes that. As I stated earlier, it is the case now, and continues to be, that they can check the records of drivers every three years with the CRB or the barring service. We have also added a new process, a helpful development, where drivers opt to sign up for the disclosure and barring system update service, and then the licensing authority will be alerted to any new convictions during the currency of a licence. This is an additional safety measure that the Government have put forward.

      A lot of time was spent saying that subcontractors would in some way be a risk to passengers. Of course, the subcontractors have to comply with exactly the same requirements as the main contractor. So there is no issue that is exacerbated by safety because they comply with the same requirements as the contractor. On choice, we think that if passengers ring their preferred private hire vehicle operator asking for a journey to be undertaken and it has to be passed on to a subcontractor, perhaps because a vehicle is unavailable or the journey is a fair distance away from where the operator is, people should be allowed to make a choice. Labour Members seem to think that the choice is to call the preferred private hire vehicle operator, be told that, sorry, they cannot help, and then have them put the phone down. Clearly that is not much of a choice.

      The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead said that helpful contractors will say: "I cannot help you, but here is the name of another firm that might be able to." Perhaps some of them do that, but it still requires the passenger to undertake a further phone call, as opposed to being able to complete that journey with their preferred operator who will, I am sure, have ensured that they entered into subcontracting arrangements only with responsible subcontractors. The respectability of the preferred contractors will of course depend on their employing or working with subcontractors that are also good operators.

      I hope that I have addressed all the points made. The measures are discrete, sensible and a way of ensuring, first, that there is deregulation, leading to significant savings in the private hire vehicle industry, and secondly, that although there are no safety implications, from a passenger perspective there is a greater degree of certainty about people being able to ring an operator and get the service delivered to them there and then, as opposed to being passed off with another phone number that they will need to call. I commend the new clauses to the Committee.

    • New Clause 9 - Private hire vehicles: circumstances in which driver's licence required | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      What I am saying is that there is not an opportunity to bring forward a dedicated taxi Bill that would sweep up all the proposals from the Law Commission that the Government wanted to proceed with. Contrary to what the Opposition claim, this Government are running flat out and the Labour party will have the opportunity to scrutinise many challenging Bills after the Queen's Speech. There will be no down time in Parliament so there is no slack that would allow us to provide an opportunity for a dedicated taxi Bill.

    • New Clause 9 - Private hire vehicles: circumstances in which driver's licence required | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion. However, I think that what is fundamental about this is the enforcement aspect-ensuring that vehicles are checked-because of course even if there was a means of showing that a vehicle was or was not in use, that could still be turned on and off erroneously or illegally by someone who was not actually able to operate the vehicle, who was not licensed to operate the vehicle.

      Why are the Government doing this now? Apart from the fact that they are discrete measures, the Government do not intend to introduce a dedicated taxi Bill in the final parliamentary Session, so there is only this opportunity to ensure that we put in place some of the measures that we think will make a substantial contribution to reducing burdens on the industry and improving facilities for passengers. This is the opportunity that we have; we do not have another opportunity in this Parliament.

    • New Clause 9 - Private hire vehicles: circumstances in which driver's licence required | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      The hon. Lady has highlighted the risks associated with the measures, which implies that they are not discrete in the way that the Government are saying. But let us consider what we have in London, for instance; the hon. Lady referred to the biggest market anywhere. Many of these proposals have been tried and tested and work effectively in what is the largest market for taxis. That is why I think that her concerns about safety are not justified.

      Let us come to the substance of what the Government propose. Once the Law Commission has finished its review, which we expect to happen in April, we will of course listen to stakeholders' views.

    • New Clause 9 - Private hire vehicles: circumstances in which driver's licence required | Deregulation Bill | Public Bill Committees

      The hon. Gentleman has made my point for me, in that he wants to concentrate on the process as opposed to what the Government are actually proposing. The first line of attack from the Opposition was that there was not enough consultation. I pointed out that the Law Commission consulted on this for a total of four months. That included the three measures that we are talking about. These are very specific, discrete measures. I did not hear from the Opposition an explanation as to why they felt-despite the discrete nature of the measures, the consultation that had been carried out through the Law Commission and the further consultation with eight bodies, which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central mentioned, over 10 days in January 2014-that these discrete measures were such a risk to the public.

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