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The items on the agenda for the meeting with the Minister last week were very focused. Mr. Pasternak is concerned, and I share his worries, about the export
credit insurance support arrangements, which have been put before the House and are now being implemented, because they are largely focused on the domestic trading of UK manufacturing. The cashmere sector is a huge export earner and needs support for its exports, but it has not been given any, so I hope that the Minister will re-think that policy.
Mr. Pasternak re-emphasised the point that many right hon. and hon. Members have made in the House countless timesthe need for companies to access good banking facilities. Many have growing order books but see their credit shrink before their eyes, and many do not get credit because they cannot get trade export insurance. We now own those banks, which are on the front line when it comes to lending decisions, so I urge the Minister and those in the Treasury to go into those banks, examine the decisions and understand why world-class businesses with good order books may be throttled because of the lack of available cash.
Mr. Pasternak also highlighted the need for product development support, along the lines that the Italians and others on the continent of Europe have offered to their local businesses. He echoed a point that many business men and women in the borders and elsewhere have put to methe need to focus on skills and skills retention. Many in short-time working could be put into good, productive training if there were the support for it, so I hope that the Government will finallybelatedlysee sense.
Mr. Pasternak said that his industry was in a crisis moment, and I echo that point. I do not want to meet that constituent again and have her tell me that more job losses have affected her family. I want us to put a stop to that, and I urge the Government to take urgent action before it is too late.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): Thank you very much for calling me to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is always a delight to take part in such Adjournment debates, and it is excellent to see so many people here tonight joining the regulars.
I wish to raise several constituency issues before the House adjourns. The first is about compensation for former Icelandic water trawlermen. In Hansard today, it was announced that an estimated £10 million is being made available further to compensate 1,000 men, or their families, who lost their livelihoods as a direct result of Government action following the cod wars. The scheme will open on 31 July and the first payments should be with people before Christmas. I raised the issue in previous Adjournment debates, and it only goes to show that if we are persistent in raising such subjects, we do get through to the right people eventually.
The second issuethis is the one where I want Ministers to listenis about business rates in ports. Port-based businesses in my constituency are being asked to pay business rates backdated as far as 2005, following the Valuation Office Agencys revaluation of their businesses. However, the firms say that they have already paid business rates, via a cumulo system, to Associated British Ports. Some companies are being asked to pay literally millions of pounds in backdated rates, and it is threatening
jobs in my constituency. Thankfully, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has met MPs who represent port areas and finally his officials are speaking on behalf of port businesses to legal representatives. I hope that at last we will be able to reach a solution to the problem before too many jobs are lost.
My third issue is the east coast main line. As everybody will appreciate, following all the shenanigans that have gone on, the line is likely to be taken into public ownership later this year. That gives me cause for concern because National Express had promised to run a direct rail service between Grimsby and Cleethorpes and London Kings Cross. We do not know now whether that will go ahead. It is important for there to be such improved transport links, to maintain the economy and encourage investment in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area. During a Westminster Hall debate on the matter, a Minister confirmed that services from London Kings Cross would be extended to Lincoln. But I want them to go the extra 50 miles or so to the coast, to Grimsby and Cleethorpes, so that our economy can benefit from those direct links.
I turn to the Humber bridge tolls. There was an inquiry into them in March this year. The bridge board wanted to put up the tolls, but local MPs are saying that we do not want that to happen and that the tolls are already far too high. The Minister has received the report from the inquiry. I want to say on behalf of all the business representatives, councils, other MPs and residents that we do not want the tolls to go up. We want Ministers to agree to have a year-long trial of reduced tolls, involving a token charge of about £1 to cross the Humber bridge. That is the decision that we want from Ministers when we come back after the recess.
People would think that free school meals for all primary-aged children in North East Lincolnshire was a good-news storybut, oh no, it is not. Our area was among those selected to bid to be a pilot project for free school meals for all primary-age children. However, the local authority said that it could not find enough match funding to put in a bid to go ahead with the policy. Yet that same local authorityNorth East Lincolnshire councilinvested £7 million of public money in Icelandic banks days before they collapsed. Every inquiry into the councils activities has criticised it, and there has been a vote of no confidence in its Liberal Democrat leader. Yet he continues to wend his merry way, saying that he is not resigning, that it had nothing to do with him anyway and that it was all the officers fault.
What strikes me as odd about the situation is that a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition used to run the council. But the Conservatives are doing what I call a bit of a Dallasthey have forgotten the past five years, when they were in coalition with the Lib Dems and all these things were going on, and they are saying, Thats nothing to do with us either, guv. Frankly, they were all in the cabinet together and lost £7 million of public money. That has affected investment projects in our area, and it is shocking.
Finally, I turn to early-day motion 1829. It was tabled by my hon. Friend the Members for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby), and my hon. Friend for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) was one of those who supported it. I encourage people to look at the early-day motion, which is about protecting our war memorial heritage and making sure that the
architecture and memorials are not threatened by development and that we preserve them for the future of this country.
I wish everybody a most wonderful break. If people want to visit the British seaside, they should know that Cleethorpes has the most wonderful beach and the best fish and chips in Britain. Please come to Cleethorpes, which is wonderful. I hope that everyone enjoys their holidays.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I commence by paying tribute to our brave armed forces, who, while we sit in comfort, safety and security, are in the fields of Afghanistan defending our freedoms and ensuring that that nation does not return to being a failed state in which the Taliban can regroup and from which they could re-emerge on the streets of Europe, including this country. It is sad that today we have again lost one of our servicemen, from the joint service explosive ordnance disposal units. Our thoughts and prayers go to that mans family, and we salute his courage.
When we send our forces into harms way, it is incumbent on us all to think carefully about whether we should do so in a way that raises questions about the kit and equipment with which they are sent into battle. In the past few weeks, there has been a debate about helicopters; it may now have moved off the immediate front pages, but it is a fact that our armed forces need more helicopters. It is also a fact that our NATO allies are not providing the support that they could. I hope that more nations will look at their own helicopter support for allies on the ground, and for British troops in particular.
However, the issue is about not only helicopters, but armoured vehicles. Although some of our armed forces prefer to use Snatch Land Rovers, weapons-mounted installation kit Land Rovers or other forms of lightly armoured vehicle, there is no doubt that there is a call for more heavily armoured, albeit mobile, vehicles as well. I hope that the Minister will give some assurance this evening that those issues are being taken seriously.
Of course, there is also a need for more troops on the ground. If we win the space, we need to hold the space; if we do not hold the space, those who have lost their lives in winning the space might have died in vain. None of us would want that. The families of those who have died would certainly want the victories won on the ground to be sustained. They would want the space in which we have won victories to be enlarged.
I also hope that the nations surrounding Afghanistan will do all they can to ensure that there is no increased threat to our personnel. For example, there have been reports that Chinese nationals have been found in Afghanistan. The Chinese Government need to ensure that the border with Afghanistan is secure and that any fundamentalist seeking to cross it is intercepted and dealt with appropriately.
Furthermore, this Government have the responsibility to ensure that any British nationals found to be shooting and targeting our armed forces personnel in Afghanistan are dealt with appropriately. If, for example, DNA profiles from improvised explosive devices or bomb fragments match known DNA profiles on the British database, it is only right that the Government should give an account of what action, if any, is taken to bring the relevant British subjects before the courts.
In the brief time that I have, I should also like to pay tribute to General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff. He has dedicated most of his adult life to serving this country and Her Majestys armed forces. It is regrettable that some Ministers have been briefing against him; that does not assist our armed forces on the ground and it does nothing to help morale. The Prime Minister promised that such briefings from other people should be dealt with severely. I hope that if Ministers are caught briefing against any senior members of the military, they will be disciplined accordingly. Our armed forces on the ground want a Government and a senior military, yes, to engage in discussion, and yes, perhaps occasionally to disagree, but they certainly do not want Ministers briefing against the head of the Army while we are at war.
Finally, I should like to touch on the defence training reviewthe largest private finance initiative in British history. It was originally costed at £12 billion; within the past 12 months, the cost has risen to £13 billion. As I have said previously in the House, this is a privatisation too far. I am not against privatisation of some elements of support services for the military, but it needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis. It is clear that RAF St. Athan in Wales is not in a position to deliver the type of training that is currently delivered on other sitesfor example, at RAF Cosford in my constituency. It is no good the Government driving ahead with this project, the cost of which is increasing week by week, with £100 million in direct and indirect subsidy even within the past nine months. Ministers need to look again at this project to ensure that they do not endanger Her Majestys armed forces training for the future, particularly given that we are in a time of war.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): May I associate myself with the tribute that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) paid to our armed forces? Having spent a year with the armed forces parliamentary scheme, including a trip to Afghanistan, I was massively impressed by our young people in the armed forces here, and that was exceeded only by seeing them in action in Afghanistan, where the work that they are doing is in our national interest. All the lives that have sadly been lost there will have served to make the world a freer and a better place. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must ensure that those enormously brave young people are properly equipped and that there are enough of them to do the very important job that they have been given.
I wish to talk about a planning issue that particularly affects my constituency. By the time we come back after the recess, the consultation will have been completed and decisions will have been taken, and plans that will shape my constituency, and those of my neighbours, for many years to come will practically be at the point of going off to the regional office. West Northamptonshire joint planning unit is drawing up proposals for many thousands of new houses and industrial units for Northampton, and it proposes to turn the town into a city. I have spoken to my neighbour, the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) about this, because
a number of the plans affect his constituency as much as, if not more than mine. We are both extremely concerned not only about the proposals but about how they are being dealt with.
I want to raise three concerns and ask three questions of my hon. Friend the Minister. First, the number of proposed units should be reviewed. The requirements need to be reviewed in the light of the recession and the fact that several sites already zoned for development have not been developed, while a large number of industrial and commercial sites in the town are empty. Secondly, infrastructure should be provided before new units are put in place, particularly schools, hospitalswe very much need a new hospitaland transport services. That subject was raised at a packed and lively meeting in my constituency.
Thirdly, and most importantly, there should be proper consultation about the proposals. Usually, when a policy proposal is discussed, we are used to having three months consultation. Arguably, a major emerging plan will affect individual people much more than a general policy proposal, and yet there is to be only six weeks consultation. That would be bad enough, but the six-week period starts on 28 July. Most people would understand that residents associations, parish councils and all the other local groups that need to have meetings to consider these plans do not meet during August, and one cannot rely on their meeting in the first week of September. If the planning unit holds local meetings and asks people to go to them, many will be unable to do so because they are on holiday or tied up with children on school holidays.
Although it is said that this an emerging plan that sets out only broad principles, many of the broad-brush proposals for where the developments should be sited are based on actual plans that property owners have put forward, and are therefore about more than broad principles. If the land allocations are agreed, fairly well-worked-up plans could come forward fairly quickly and people could see things change equally quickly. We are being told that the time limit for the consultationapparently six weeks is okay legallyhas been set on the basis that the plans have to get to the regional office by November. Unfortunately the planning unit, which has not been particularly competent in going about its work, has missed a number of deadlines and is now up against the buffers. It is completely wrong that people who will have to live with the consequences of this development should pay the price for the fact that the organisation producing the plans has not been able to get itself organised to produce them in time to have proper consultations.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister relay to her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government queries about revisiting some of the development proposals, numbers, and regional and local strategies in the light of the impact of the recession? Can we have some genuine assurances about the provision of infrastructure before any development takes place? Most importantly, will serious attention be given to the consultation so that local people have a chance to put their views, well before the decisions are taken, on developments that will affect them? The Liberal Democrats are driving the timetable on this, which is shocking. We should not
come back from our holidays to find that my constituents, and those of my neighbours, have lost their right to control or have a say in the use of the land around them, and that the plans are on the brink of going off to the regional office for final approval.
Nicky Avery, 27, became the youngest man ever to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. His mother is a constituent of mine, and I very much hope that the Government will raise awareness of this disease among young men.
The Proprietary Association of Great Britain has advised me that the top 10 minor ailments account for 75 per cent. of consultations. I agree with that organisations view that we need to have increasing responsibility for taking care of our own health by treating minor ailments in the knowledge that the NHS is really there for more life-threatening and serious conditions.
I have in my constituency the greatest number of centenarians in the country. I hope that this autumn we will again be successful with the Guinness Book of Records attempt at the greatest gathering. Many of these elderly people are in care homes, which are dependent on residential fees. Have the Government taken into account the fact that many elderly widows, for instance, are unable to sell their homes because of the recession?
Last week, I was privileged to attend Belfairs high schools prize giving. There was a young lady there called Jo-Jo Cranfield. She was born with her left lower arm missing and she is a remarkable athlete. She missed out on going to Beijing by 0.06 seconds and she is the second fastest swimmer in her discipline in the country. She has a place at Millfield school, but she desperately needs funding, so I greatly hope that someone, somewhere will come up with assistance for hernot least the Government, who say that they will do everything they can to support gifted and talented athletes.
An organisation called PERA has advised me that numerous companies in south Essex, including Ford in Dagenham, have been preparing to deliver training to 1,700 peoplemore than 100 are in Southend, Westonly for the Learning and Skills Councils financial collapse to bring a halt to the programme. I hope that the Government will intervene on the matter.
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