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I am willing to give way once more, but each time I have tried to debate a point with my hon. Friendincluding all the way through the Second Reading debateI have found him unwilling to answer the particular problems that I have raised. I am happy to give way on the issue of expense, but before I do so let me say that he raised the question of the expense involved in the procedure. I want to remind people of the expense involved in
trying to deal with pedlars who are illegally street trading. I set out on Second ReadingI will not bore you or stretch your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by doing so againhow terribly expensive it is to cope with a street trader hiding behind a peddling licence. I raised that point in discussion with my hon. Friend, and not once did he reply to my point. I hope that this time he will do so.
In conjunction with these responses
it should be noted that some local authorities showed a tendency to conflate rogues, illegal street traders and pedlars into a single group, and/or use inflammatory or pejorative language in association with pedlars: Pedlars regard themselves as untouchable and are often quite rude if challenged,
hit and run merchants who come from nowhere and disappear again into the night. They may be selling counterfeit goods,
and so on. Such statements have been made too often in the course of the proceedings on this Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that it is wrong to conflate the street trader, the lawful pedlar and the rogue.
Mr. Brazier: My hon. Friend has repeated his allegation again, so it is clearly on the record twice. To establish his point, he needs to show a point where one of the promoters of the Bills has conflated the two things. There is no point in going back to the Durham report for it. The plain fact is that all the way through these proceedings the MPs supporting the promoters of these Bills have sought to explain that nobody wants to attack genuine pedlarspeople who go from place to place, selling their wares. He has accused us again of conflation, and the record will show that, but the problem is pedlars who act as illegal street traders and can hide behind their pedlars licences. The kind of inflammatory statement that he quoted from the Durham report may well be dug out in relation to some councils, but I have heard nobody in the various debatesI have been here for them all, except for part of the last onewho has conflated the two groups in the way that he suggests.
I have spoken for longer than I intended. The plain fact is that legitimate businesses will go to the wall because of the activities of such people, and I urge the House to allow all four of these Bills, not just the Canterbury City Council Bill, to be carried over.
Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) (Lab): I shall be very brief. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred to the fact that the sponsors are not speaking for these Bills. May I make the point, so that it is on the record, that all the Nottingham MPs are here tonight to vote for the Nottingham City Council Bill and the other Bills covered by the motion? We have not spoken because the hon. Gentlemans machinations have meant, as we know, that to speak could do harm to the Bill.
I shall say no more, and hope that other Members will be as brief as I have been. The Bill was a good Bill when it started. The machinations of the hon. Member for Christchurch have not made it a bad Bill. The will of
the House is that the Bill should be revived, and I hope that it will be revived, along with the other three Bills.
That the promoters of the Canterbury City Council Bill, Leeds City Council Bill, Nottingham City Council Bill and Reading Borough Council Bill, which were originally introduced in this House in Session 2007-08 on 22 January 2008, should have leave to proceed with the Bills in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of bills).
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I wish to present a petition to the House of Commons on behalf of more than 30,000 people across Northern Ireland. It relates to the Presbyterian mutual society. The petition is as follows:
To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
The Humble Petition of the Presbyterian Mutual Society,
Sheweth that the Prime Minister should provide similar governmental guarantees to UK mutual societies as for banks; notes that the catalyst for the financial difficulties experienced by the Presbyterian Mutual Society arose after the Government applied their existing guarantee under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to a number of UK Banks and Icelandic Banks; notes that this resulted in a large number of investors with the Presbyterian Mutual Society withdrawing their deposits; and acknowledges that with Government intervention the Society could be returned to its sound financial footing.
We note that in the case of the Dunfermline building society in Scotland, there was Government intervention. We hope that Presbyterians in Northern Ireland can be treated with the same degree of generosity by a Presbyterian Prime Minister and his Government. The petition continues:
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will urge the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to extend the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to include the Presbyterian Mutual Society and seek to secure appropriate intervention from the financial sector to provide a basis on which all members will be able to recover their investments in full.
I thank colleagues in the House from Northern Ireland constituencies, including my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell), and the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), both of whom have supported the cause of savers with the Presbyterian mutual society. The petitioners pray that the House will come to their aid in this matter, and the petition concludes:
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): I am delighted to have the opportunity in an Adjournment debate to talk about Mr. Paul Buchanan. This is a short debate with a short title, but I am here to tell the House of some extraordinary events in the life of an elected councillor for the county of Somerset.
Mr. Buchanan is not a constituent of mine; nor, by any stretch of the imagination, is he is a supporter of my party. He is a Liberal Democrat, so we ought to be classified as sworn political enemies. However, sometimes there are bigger things in life than party loyalty, and when a man is made to suffer without good reason and has no right of redress, it matters not a jot what his party loyalties may be.
I became interested in the case of Paul Buchanan partly because his own political leadership disowned him. It puzzled me that a man should have a grievance that nobody was prepared to hear. Even his local Member of Parliament refused to take up the case. I am pleased to say that this House has a long and proud tradition of defending the weak and standing up for those who have no voice. Parliament, after all, is supposed to be the highest court in the land.
Tonight I bring before the House the strange case of Paul Buchanan. His world has been turned upside down, his career prospects have been badly damaged, his political ambitions in local government have been ruined and his good name has been rubbished, all because of the actions of one highly placed, highly paid and quite unscrupulous public officialthe chief executive of Somerset county council, Mr. Alan Jones. This is a true story. Mr. Jones is guilty of deliberate deceit and victimisation. He deliberately set out to destroy Paul Buchanan. The tactics that Jones used make Damian McBride look like an angel.
I have the evidence right here. To his credit, Mr. Buchanan has at no time broken any confidences to me. All my information has come from available transcripts which were deemed by the Adjudication Panel for England to be in the public domain. The documents that I have collected were part of recent hearings against Paul Buchanan. I attended one of the proceedings.
The evidence against Alan Jones is damning. On 4 April 2007 Alan Jones composed a six-page letter of complaint about Paul Buchanan and sent it to the Standards Board for England. At that time Mr. Buchanan was deputy leader of his party and hoped to be the new leader. Without the intervention of the chief executive, he would probably have succeeded, but with a very poisoned pen Jones totally undermined him.
The letter is a bizarre piece of writing. Jones attempts to play the reasonable father-figure, describing Mr. Buchanan as young, able and enthusiastic. Then the venom starts to flow. Paul Buchanan is accused of secretiveness, undermining staff, aggression, threatening behaviour, rudeness, intimidation, anger, disrespect, fraud, sexism, racism, homophobia, and abuse of his office as an elected councillor. There is barely concealed hatred
of the man in every sentence. It is the ultimate hatchet job. Indeed, if there was a prize for the black arts, Alan Jones would win it, hands down.
Jones did not want the Standards Board to investigate. He wanted an instant political execution. He asked for Buchanan to be suspended there and then. I can only hazard a guess at the reaction when his letter was received. The Standards Board would have been forgiven for thinking that Paul Buchanan was an unstable nutcase with homicidal tendencies. In fact, the really unstable character was the one who made the complaintSomerset county councils most senior officer. Unfortunately, the Standards Board does not investigate complaints against officers; there is a gaping hole in the justice system. It is manifestly unfair that no legal process has yet been created by which officers can be independently investigatedunless, that is, they commit actual crimes. I invite the Minister to comment on that vital general point when he responds, and to see whether he can do anything to help.
The Standards Board had very few options. It was obliged to launch a full-blown inquiry into Mr. Buchanan, even if it doubted the wild complaints about him that Alan Jones had brought. The board went about its task relentlessly for two years. It conducted literally hundreds of interviews and produced thousands of pages of transcripts. When it rejected Alan Joness first batch of complaints, Jones wasted no additional time disputing its findings. I sympathise a little with the Standards Board; it was dealing with a deranged obsessive. The first investigator, or ethical standards officer, as the board calls them, retired halfway through the tortuous processprobably exhausted. Lawyers came and went, and it dragged on. Heaven only knows what it costand the result? Eventually, 16 of the original complaints were rejected completely and four others were referred to a higher courtthe Adjudication Panel. That meant more delay and more uncertainty for Paul Buchanan.
The panel, with a bench of barristers in tow, finally met in Somerset over recent weeks. Key witnesses were called to give evidence againremarkably few, actually, because most did not want to have anything to do with it. The panel had access to all the original documentation and threw out three more complaints. One tiny charge was upheld. Paul Buchanan had been heard swearing under his breath. He was deemed to have been a little careless and ticked off with a censurethe mildest possible sanction. That is mad. Frankly, after two years in limbo, my language would have been extremely fruity and very loud indeed.
My fascination with the case, however, is with what really lies behind it. Why on earth did a chief executive, earning £160,000 a year, with 17,000 staff and huge responsibilities, go to so much trouble to make complaints about a young, ambitious councillor? Mr. Joness explanation was beyond belief. He said that Mr. Buchanans behaviour was
capable of damaging the councils continued improvement and external reputation.
That statement would stack up only if the charges against him were proved, but they were not. Paul Buchanan has been acquitted of everything serious. Let us remember the allegations: secretiveness, undermining staff, aggression, threatening behaviour, rudeness, intimidation, anger, disrespect, fraud, sexism, racism, homophobiaand, I suspect, leaving the toilet seat up.
It is not credible that Alan Jones made an innocent mistake in complaining about Buchanan. Mr. Joness charges were too specific, and they were backed up with too much detail and too much personal bile. It was a wholly personal vendetta. It is open to anyonefellow councillors, council employees and ordinary members of the publicto make complaints to the Standards Board, but Jones extracted statements from junior staff who were perhaps too scared to go against the boss.
So, why on earth did Jones want to get Buchanan? And, what had Buchanan got on Jones? I am sorry if it sounds conspiratorial, but there is a big hint of conspiracy in all this. Mr Buchanan unfortunately knew too much for his own good. Back in 2005 there was gossip about Alan Jones having an affair with a member of staff called Jenny Hastings. Everybody at county hall knew about it; it was no secret. What Buchanan did not know, however, was that when the affair came to an end, Ms Hastings made very serious allegations of harassment against Alan Jones.
Obviously, engaging in such harassment is a sackable offence. The allegations had to be dealt with by a confidential panel of elected members, including Councillor Cathy Bakewell, the lady who led the council at the time. The panel did not reach a quick conclusion; everything was delayed because Mrs. Bakewell was taken seriously ill halfway through. These things happen. Paul Buchanan was then deputised to take on many of her responsibilities, but Cathy Bakewell never told him about the Alan Jones inquiry. Alan Jones, however, did tell himand in lurid detail. Perhaps he wanted to curry favour with the man most likely to be the next leader of the county council. Until that moment, Paul Buchanan was unaware of any allegations and did not know about the confidential panel either; he was not even on it. Jones pleaded with Buchanan to help. Buchanan rightly told Jones that he could not. Big mistake: Alan Jones has a long memory and, as we will see, bears grudges.
By the time Councillor Cathy Bakewell returned to work, it was deemed too dangerous to punish Jones by sacking him. At that time, Jenny Hastings was threatening an industrial tribunala very public way of exposing the antics of her erstwhile lover. Meanwhile, the Audit Commission was due to inspect the council. There is nothing like a four-star sex scandal to scupper a councils chances of an excellent four-star rating. Behind closed doors and with the help of ACAS, a deal was sealed to buy off Ms Hastings. It cost £140,000 of taxpayers moneyslightly less than Alan Joness annual salary. Somerset county council thought that it had got everyone involved to sign a confidentiality agreement, but it carelessly left at least one person off the list, which is why I know how much she was paid. There were also some very large extra payments. In the next couple of years, millions of pounds were spent on mysterious staff restructuring at Somerset county council. Did any of that money help buy the silence of those on the inside who knew the gory details? Were those in the know given golden goodbyes when they retired?
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