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8 July 2009 : Column 988

Point of Order

1.32 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. About 350 passengers, some of them my constituents, on the cruise ship the Marco Polo, which is now berthed in Invergordon, have symptoms of norovirus, the vomiting bug. NHS Highland is considering moving passengers to London on dozens of coaches—a 10-hour journey without sufficient toilet facilities—or on a train. Passengers generally want the ship to return to Tilbury as soon as possible; most are being cared for properly, in their cabins, and NHS Highland could put nurses and doctors on board the ship to help. How can we in this House ensure that the matter is dealt with properly and in the best interests of our constituents, the passengers?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I am sorry to hear what the hon. Member has to say, but it is not a point of order for the Chair. Nevertheless, he has been able to express his concerns about many of his constituents.

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Care Homes (Domestic Pets)

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.33 pm

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I beg to move,

In addition to the subject of the title of the Bill, I propose to discuss sheltered accommodation. I am pleased to be able to present this Bill today and delighted to have received so much cross-party support for what it outlines from colleagues, including the shadow spokesmen for animal welfare and for elderly people. The issue touches every constituency throughout the UK and, given a growing elderly population, will need to be addressed.

Superficially, the issue appears to be about animal welfare, and I should say that I have been involved in animal welfare organisations for even longer than I have been a member of the Labour party, which is 40 years. Indeed, Alexander Solzhenitsyn once made the relevant connection, saying:

Separate from that, however, I see the issue as one about the right of elderly people to live their lives as they wish, without too much well meant regulation of every detail from the moment that they leave independent accommodation to the moment that they move to sheltered accommodation or care.

The problem is simply stated: when people move into sheltered accommodation or into care, there is no consistent policy allowing them to take a pet with them. As a direct result, in the most recent year for which statistics are available, 38,000 healthy pets had to be put down and a further 100,000 had to be given up by their owners. Many of those pets will have been put down after an attempt to re-home them.

Moving home is stressful for anyone. Moving from one’s long-standing home into sheltered or care environments is often traumatic, as one separates oneself from independent life. If we add to that having to part from one’s pet and, even, having to order it to be put down, we add distress and guilt, and there is a very clear case for Parliament to help in avoiding that if it can.

Practice varies enormously throughout Britain, but there are numerous examples of successful schemes that allow pets to remain with their owners, and that should be the norm for sheltered housing. The fact that one is now living in a warden-aided flat should not remove one’s right to make the choice to keep a pet. Pets provide an important source of physical, emotional and social support for many older people, and there is extensive evidence of improved cardiovascular and mental health and other health benefits from the relationship with a familiar animal. It mitigates the loneliness of many people in old age and provides an avenue for nurturing, caring and taking responsibility for others, and maintains the sense of still feeling useful.

I have discovered that many older people find that when it is time to move into care, there are wildly
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different practices throughout the country, making for a postcode lottery if one wants to keep an animal. There are no legal obligations on residential homes in that respect, and that is in stark contrast to other countries, including the USA, Germany, Greece, France and Switzerland, all of which have introduced legislation to ensure that older people have the right to keep or maintain contact with animals, whether those people live independently in the community, in sheltered accommodation or in long-term homes.

As far back as 1970, France legislated for pets to be allowed in all public and private housing, provided that the pet is properly cared for and not causing a nuisance. In 1983, the USA passed a national law permitting older and disabled people to keep pets in housing that received federal funding. The Society for Companion Animal Studies, supported by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, both of which have been extremely helpful in preparing the Bill, has published research to assess the scale of the problem in the UK. It found that 65 per cent. of care homes have no formal written policy whatever. Of those that do, 29 per cent. permit pet ownership, but more than half—54 per cent.—specifically exclude cats and dogs.

I know from correspondence from constituents that there are genuine concerns about pets going with their owners into shared or nursing care accommodation relating to pets not mixing well and about adequate exercise for dogs; responsibility for the payment of veterinary care when it becomes necessary; and the fact that older residents might be frightened of or allergic to animals. I am not arguing for a blanket policy, stating that every pet, from an anaconda to a Rottweiler, has to be admitted; I am arguing for a basic presumption that pets be permitted—subject to appropriate discussion about all the eventualities that can arise, and provided that they do not cause a nuisance to other residents.

Care providers would be understandably and rightly concerned if an extra burden was placed on them. However, evidence from experience is that an intelligent policy allowing animals actually reduces the burden on staff; residents who would otherwise make frequent demands on staff time often focus on their companion animals for much of the day.

Best practice guidelines are available for any authority that changes its policy. Wandsworth council has been proactive on the issue; its previous policy effectively ruled out pets in its accommodation, but its current policy makes the keeping of pets normally permissible. The feedback has been entirely positive. The council has told me that it would be glad to advise other authorities that might be considering a similar change. Organisations such as Help the Aged, Age Concern, Pathway and the Anchor Housing Trust have recommended guidelines that can help.

The Cinnamon Trust has gone beyond that and produced a comprehensive publication of pet-friendly homes; it gives ratings to the top 500 establishments visited by the trust’s assessors. I was delighted to visit Elm House nursing home in my constituency of Broxtowe. It has a five-star rating for the criterion “Welcoming any owner and their pet with caring, friendly staff”. I saw the dramatic effects that the home’s cat, budgerigar and visiting pets have on the lives and reactions of long-term residents with physical and mental disabilities.

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The Cinnamon Trust also has a national network of more than 10,000 community service volunteers who provide practical help when day-to-day care is an issue. Volunteers from another group, Canine Concern, bring in formerly homeless dogs that they have adopted as individual pets to visit patients. The animals are a positive therapy in recovery; as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recognised, that can often be the case.

In preparing the Bill, I have been helped by many colleagues with personal experiences. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) tells me that her mother was allowed a visit from her dog only once after she went into care, and would have liked so much to have had more contact with her companion from the years before. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) was a social services manager in an area where one Sue Ryder home regularly brought in a much-loved cat to cheer up the residents.

My Bill will address a problem that remains general. Today I met Brenda Eustace, an elderly resident in London who was unable to find a home willing to take her small pet dog and who, as a result, could not go into care. We need to end the postcode lottery and to come to the aid of elderly people faced with this trauma. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Dr. Nick Palmer, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. Ian Cawsey, Mr. David Blunkett, Meg Munn, Andrew Rosindell, Mrs. Linda Riordan, Paul Flynn, Mr. Denis MacShane, Mr. Roger Gale, Ann Clwyd and Judy Mallaber present the Bill.

Dr. Nick Palmer accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October and to be printed (Bill 129).

8 July 2009 : Column 992

Finance Bill

Further consideration of Bill, not amended in the Committee, and as amended in the Public Bill Committee.

[Relevant document: The Twentieth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Finance Bill; Government Response to the Committee’s Sixteenth Report of 2008-09, Coroners and Justice Bill (certified inquests), HC 882 .]

Clause 17

Rates of air passenger duty

1.44 pm

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): I beg to move amendment 1, page 11, line 32, at end insert—

‘(4) The Treasury shall, no later than the date of the Pre-Budget Report 2009, bring forward plans to replace Air Passenger Duty with a per-plane tax.’.

Let me start by outlining the Opposition’s overall approach to air passenger duty. We believe, and have said repeatedly, that the duty should be levied on a per-plane basis, not a per-passenger basis. That allows a stronger link with emissions and other environmental impacts; after all, we are talking about what is, or should be, an environmental tax. Furthermore, levying on a per-plane basis allows the possibility of including freight and corporate aircraft, which have environmental impacts that can be as severe as those of commercial airliners, as well as transfer passengers, who are currently exempt from APD.

We also note the Government’s proposals for huge increases in APD this November and next. We regret that at a time of big rises in APD, the Government have not, thanks to their ineptitude, found the time or inclination to reform air passenger duty in its entirety. Instead, the only real reform—the new division of the world into four bands, based on the location of a country’s capital city—is a botched job, drawn up by someone in the Treasury armed only with a drawing compass and no common sense. I shall return to the Government’s four-zone plan.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those arbitrary zones have created a number of unfair anomalies? Most notably, people travelling to the Caribbean will have to pay a higher tax than those travelling further—to Hawaii, say, or to other areas around the west coast of the US. People in this country feel angry about that.

Mr. Hands: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and she is absolutely right. I have had considerable correspondence on the issue and have met a Jamaican delegation, including the Jamaican Prime Minister, that came to see us at the all-party Caribbean group. What the hon. Lady has mentioned is a real and serious concern among people in the Caribbean, especially those who fly to and from the islands visiting friends and relatives—the VFR flight community, as it is known. I shall come to some of the anomalies in the system, but I can say now that the Caribbean is probably the biggest loser from the Government’s four-zone plan.

8 July 2009 : Column 993

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If a per-passenger duty were imposed on cars, it would be paid four times if four people using a car pool system went in a car together, but only once if a single person used a car; we might end up with four cars, rather than one, on the road. That is the parallel, and it makes nonsense of the Government’s position.

Mr. Hands: My hon. Friend is right. That is why our amendment 1, a much more logical and environmentally friendly alternative, would mean that air passenger duty was charged on a per-plane basis. The per-plane duty would also see the early demise of the brave new quadripartite world that the Government have described in schedule 5.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I understand the environmental arguments that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward. However, can he tell us of any studies of which he is aware, or which the Conservative party has commissioned, that show the economic impact of proposals for a plane duty on regional airports and what a plane tax would do to the air cargo industry?

Mr. Hands: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He raises two very reasonable questions, which the Government considered in their response to their consultation. Unfortunately, their response did not put forward any reasonable arguments against a move to charging on a per-plane basis. On regional airports, a lot depends on how we would assess the per-plane tax and how the administration would be run. I believe that a system could be designed that did not discriminate against regional airports.

Graham Stringer: The studies carried out by Manchester airport and other parts of the industry show that it would be extremely difficult for the major regional airports to attract long-haul passenger flights if this were done on a per-plane basis. They also show—I am speaking from memory—that 80 per cent. of freight business in regional airports would go into deficit and would, in effect, be unable to trade for a profit. Will the hon. Gentleman consider that?

Mr. Hands: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am perfectly willing to look at any papers that have been produced by anybody on this subject. I just think it is a pity that the Government failed in their own consultation to give proper consideration to those questions.

Let me try to explain why the Government have not seen fit to opt for a per-plane duty. At the beginning of last year, they appeared to agree with the Opposition that taxing per plane would be a better option to penalise flights that run near-empty and a better means of recognising that the plane causes the emissions, not the people. A per-plane tax might also allow tax incentives to be given for more environmentally friendly planes, which could never easily happen with a per-passenger tax. The Government then got into problems of their own making on questions of definition and administration, so the 2008 pre-Budget report ran up the white flag. Nevertheless, when they originally launched their
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consultation in January 2008, the policy was absolutely clear. According to the consultation document, they would

In case of doubt, the document went on:

The document described as a “principle” the need to provide

We entirely agree with those sentiments as laid out by the Government last year. The Finance Act 2008 provided for certain powers to proceed in that direction. This time a year ago, Ministers again committed to a per-plane tax, with only the final details open to change—yet six months later, the change was total.

The Government’s U-turn was set out in a document entitled “Aviation duty: response to consultation”, which was published with the pre-Budget report last November. It makes for interesting reading, and offers sorry excuses where they are provided at all. We can agree that member states’ decision in October to include aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme was a significant development, but the Government have acknowledged the ongoing case for a UK tax along the lines of the ETS. So the response document was left claiming that the U-turn in November was

It was certainly not consistent with the Government’s previous environmental analysis, but one might infer from the talk about supporting business that it was welcome within the industry. However, one struggles to see how. Every airline and every travel company has condemned the proposed changes; meanwhile, environmental groups attack the abandonment of the per-plane alternative.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I hope that this intervention is factually accurate. I have been told that in 2006—which is, after all, in the lifetime of this Parliament—the head of the Conservative transport policy review called for air passenger duty to be increased to £20 for short-haul flights and to £100 for long-haul flights. How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that position with the position that he is taking, or is this a reasonably recent conversion on the part of the Conservatives?

Mr. Hands: There has been no conversion at all. That was the view of a transport policy group, but for as long as I can recall being involved in these matters it has been the official policy of the Conservative party to back a per-plane tax.

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