We have had two experiences of TSAs. One was under the National Health Service Act 2006, which affected Lewisham, and the other was under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which affected Stafford. We should look at the matter carefully, because there will be others in the future. Indeed, we need to assess whether the whole process of a company-like administration is

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the best way to cope with a failure in the hospital context, and I am pretty sceptical about that. Perhaps we can use our mutual experience to consider that.

I want to return to the enormous support of the community. It was exemplified in two marches in April and then again in September. There were also rallies, at which I had the honour to speak. Indeed, at a children’s disco in Stafford, which was organised by the Support Stafford Hospital group, more than 200 children and their families came together to show their support for the paediatric services offered by the hospital. We have come a long way since the beginning of the year with our support for the hospital and, more importantly, for the services for my constituents, but we have much more to do.

I want to touch on a number of other areas that affect my constituents. We have already heard today at some length about High Speed 2. I will not go into too many details other than to say that the railway line runs straight through four villages in my constituency. I understand the national need for increased capacity, but I do not think that this is the right solution. I wish that the approach to HS2 and rail capacity had been similar to that of aviation. Instead, what we seem to do with railway capacity is to come up with a solution and then look around for problems for it to address. With aviation, we are doing it the other way around, although I know that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and others might not necessarily agree with some of the solutions. On rail, we need to look again at whether this line drawn on a map is the right line.

We also need to consider mitigation measures and compensation. It comes back to what I have said time and time again to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport: we need to be reasonable and fair in our compensation, as the French are with such schemes, not miserly. I am afraid that I have seen instances of my constituents who were dealt with in a less than generous manner when their whole life was affected. We are talking about a railway whose construction is not due to start in my constituency until 2026. That means 30 years of blight and waiting for this thing to happen, if it ever does.

I also want to mention Staffordshire university. It has an important campus in my town, but it is considering moving away perhaps partially and perhaps fully. That would be a major error. The university is very good for Stafford and Stafford is very good for the university. When it was a polytechnic in the 1960s, it was one of the first in the country to introduce a course in computing, through English Electric. It has produced many fine graduates over the years. I will continue to support tertiary education in Stafford with all my might and I hope that it will continue to be provided by Staffordshire university.

Let me also raise the question of a western access road in Stafford. I was talking to somebody from a neighbouring village last night who said that they never come to Stafford because of the congestion and traffic. That is partly because of the popularity of the town, but it also shows that the road network—the town has two rivers, a canal and two main line railways, the one from Birmingham and the west coast main line, that merge—has an infrastructure problem. The western access road, for which we need £25 million, would help

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in some way to alleviate the congestion and make Stafford an even more attractive place for people to come to.

Many good things have happened this year in Stafford. The unemployment rate for jobseekers has fallen to 2.2% from about 3.6% three years ago. The number of apprentices has more than doubled in the past two years. Two new business parks are being built. I apologise to my constituents for the problems with traffic congestion that those roadworks are causing, but the parks will result in many hundreds if not thousands of highly skilled jobs being created for the area. We had the great news earlier this year that two more signal regiments will come to Stafford from 2015, with 1,000 servicemen and women and their families. Stafford is a very loyal town that is tremendously supportive of the armed forces and we will welcome them with open arms.

We also have a town centre development that will, I hope, start fairly soon. A brand new Marks and Spencer, a brand new Debenhams and many other shops will be coming to the town centre. We are also seeing housing development. I am not someone who believes that we should not build many more houses—we need more houses for our young people and families. However, they need to be the right kind of houses. We need to ensure that they are fit for older people, who might want smaller properties, less of a garden or a bungalow that it is all on one level. We need to build houses that enable families to have a side room or side apartment to care for relatives. We need to be imaginative.

Sir John Randall: My hon. Friend is making a very good speech about his constituency. As he is talking about house building, may I make a plea as someone who might well have to go out in delivery vans with furniture in the next few days? They make the doors smaller now and it is impossible to get a three-piece suite through them.

Jeremy Lefroy: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have been out with the Staffordshire furniture exchange twice in the past two years and I have the same problem getting furniture through the doors.

I also welcome the new care village being built in the north of Stafford, with different levels of residential care. That is being pioneered by Staffordshire county council and I would welcome any hon. Member who wants to come along and see what is being done there. I believe that it is a template for the future.

That brings me to the subject of our local councils: South Staffordshire district council, Stafford borough council and Staffordshire county council, led by Brian Edwards, Mike Heenan and Philip Atkins respectively. They have all taken some difficult but far-reaching decisions over the past few years in difficult times and have been able to balance the books and to maintain and improve services.

While we are on the subject of housing, I want to bring up one matter that has proved contentious in politics in the past few months—that is, the question of the spare room rent, the spare room subsidy, the bedroom tax or whatever one wants to call it. There has been a lot of understandable debate in the House and I believe that we will need to consider the issue quite carefully. The principle of it is based on what the previous Government introduced in the private sector, and I

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believe that that principle is probably right. However, the percentage of rent that has been introduced at the beginning results in genuine difficulty in many parts of the country. Eventually, a decision will have to be taken on whether it will result in a no-eviction policy or in evictions.

I urge the Government to consider how, without getting rid of a policy that has real merit in helping people to move into other accommodation, they can deal with the fact that the cost of 14% or 25% of rent is far too high for most people at the beginning, particularly when there are no other properties for them to move to. I will leave that one in the air as it is slightly off my subject of Stafford, although it affects my constituency and those of other colleagues.

Let me conclude—I can see that you are impatient for me to do so, Mr Deputy Speaker—by talking a little about the international scene. As a member of the Select Committee on International Development—I am honoured by that membership and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) for his excellent leadership of the Committee—I have been privileged enough to see some of the excellent work that the Department for International Development has been doing around the world. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development for her work.

I was glad to see that yesterday the UK announced strong support for the International Development Association, the World Bank fund for the poorest countries in the world. Under the previous Government, the UK was, rightly, the largest and second largest donor at various times and we have maintained leadership in that regard. It is an extremely important multilateral fund that was given a great deal of praise in the multilateral aid review produced by the Government in 2010. It is vital for tens of millions of people around the world, whether it is helping them to access better health care, better education or better sanitation—all those matters on which this House rightly places such importance.

In my role as chairman of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I commend the Government for the tremendous work they have done, following on from that of the previous Government, to support work in malaria research and intervention around the world. Indeed, they have increased the amount provided for the neglected tropical diseases that blight the lives of some 1.4 billion people around the world, which can often be tackled for a limited amount of money—sometimes less than $1 per person per year.

Recently in the House we have had some excellent debates on religious persecution. I commend all those who have spoken on the subject and brought it to the attention of the House. I believe that it is something that the House needs constantly to consider. Indeed, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has spoken eloquently about it in recent days. I believe that this House has a leadership role to play not just in this country but internationally.

At this time, we should not forgot those who are suffering—irrespective of their faith or indeed if they be of no faith—particularly in Syria. It is vital that we do not accept the situation in Syria as if it were somehow normal. We must not allow this killing, which goes on

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day in, day out, to be viewed in the same way as Biafra, Vietnam and all the other seemingly endless crises were when I was a boy. We almost became immune to them, but let us never become immune to this horror. Unfortunately, we are seeing it in the Central African Republic and the killing has started again in South Sudan. Whatever else this House does, it is vital for it to bring these matters to public and international attention time and time again. If we do not do it, often nobody else will, including other Parliaments around the world. I truly believe this is vital.

I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, your colleagues and all House staff for the work they do; I wish all a very happy Christmas, and thank you for your indulgence.

2.31 pm

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who has entertained us with a very thoughtful speech this afternoon. I am going to follow up the health theme, but my discussion of it is going to be a little more graphic. If any hon. Ladies or hon. Gentlemen wish to leave, I shall not take it as a personal affront. They might find it more comfortable to go off and get a cup of tea.

I want to talk about hysteroscopy, particularly when undertaken without anaesthetic. This topic was brought to my attention by my constituent, Debbie, who lives in Plaistow. She was diagnosed with womb cancer or uterine cancer last year. She contacted me because the process of diagnosis, rather than the cancer itself, caused her

“the most distressing and painful experience”

of her life. Debbie underwent a procedure called hysteroscopy, which looks inside a patient’s uterus and is used to investigate symptoms such as pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding and infertility. Biopsies are often taken and tissue is often removed. The patient’s vagina is opened with a speculum, as during a cervical smear test, and a hysteroscope is inserted. A hysteroscope is a thin tube with a light and camera on the end, as well as any other instruments that might be needed. As I am sure I need hardly point out, this procedure is highly uncomfortable and clearly has the potential to be very painful indeed.

At present, the NHS Choices website explains

“a hysteroscopy should not hurt, but women may want to take a pain killer such as ibuprofen beforehand”.

As well as a hysteroscopy being an out-patient procedure, the NHS website says that

“the procedure can also be carried out under general anaesthetic, which may be recommended if your surgeon expects to do extensive treatment at the same time or if you request it.”

So far, this sounds fairly reasonable: it will not necessarily be pleasant, but there are options and the procedure can be carried out with or without pain relief and with or without local or general anaesthetic.

Let me tell Debbie’s story in more detail. Through Debbie, I have also heard stories from other women across the country. Debbie told me:

“I was in absolute agony. The consultant who performed my procedure knew I was in pain but carried on regardless. A nurse had to push me back down on the bed as I stiffened like a board. She had to hold me there and had hold of my hands too as I was trying to reach down and stop the procedure. All I could think

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was that if I made the consultant stop, I would have to come back and endure the whole thing again. This procedure, without anaesthesia, is barbaric. It is absolute torture. It needs to be stopped. At the very least, the patient should be informed that it could be extremely painful and have options explained and open for her. That way, she can make an informed decision as to whether to go ahead without anaesthesia.”

Bob Stewart: That sounds absolutely horrific. The hon. Lady did not explain whether Debbie was asked whether she would like a general anaesthetic. I presume that she was not asked and that the procedure went ahead without it.

Lyn Brown: Her very next sentence explains that:

“I was given no options. I have complained to the PALS department and to be quite honest I am not happy with their reply. At one point it mentions that the hospital gets more money for the procedure to be done as an outpatient! Is this what it boils down to? Money? Disgusting!”

Jan from Cheshire said:

“I had a hysteroscopy in Cheshire. This hospital is a private hospital but I was there as an NHS patient, as it was the hospital that my doctor could get me into the quickest, for investigations into abnormal bleeding. I saw the consultant in September of 2011, and was given an evening appointment to attend for a hysteroscopy, and was told that the procedure would be done under local anaesthetic. At the evening appointment, I was given a local anaesthetic, but after several attempts at performing the hysteroscopy, the consultant apologised and said that she was unable to perform the procedure and did not want to attempt it again under a local anaesthetic as, in her words, ‘it would be inhumane to continue under a local’. I was sent home and told to take co-codamol for pain relief, and that I was to return the next day for the procedure to be done under a general anaesthetic. I have got to say that even though I had a local anaesthetic”—

if Members have been paying attention, they will know that my constituent Debbie was not offered that—

“the procedure was still very uncomfortable and painful. I have to say that I think offering a hysteroscopy without any form of anaesthetic is barbaric.”

Jo from Chesterfield said:

“I had already had biopsies done in clinic with no anaesthetic, done like a smear with swabs but going through the cervix. I had found this painful but nothing prepared me for what was to come. I had been given a leaflet to outline the procedure but it mentioned nothing about pain or discomfort. I was asked to go behind a make-shift cubicle in the corner, take everything off and put on a gown. I was then asked to sit in a contraption that looked like some Victorian birthing chair, it was very uncomfortable and awkward to sit in. I felt so undignified…I have never felt such pain. I felt like my whole abdomen had been blown up, the pressure was so intense, then sharp prodding pains, I had tears in my eyes, the nurse did come and hold my hand. I just looked at the ceiling and held my breath, praying for it to be over.

When he’d done, the doctor asked ‘did you find that a bit painful?’. I replied ‘no it was excruciating’, he just remarked that most women are fine with it but perhaps I had a low pain threshold and that if I were to need further treatment I would need a General Anaesthetic as I was sensitive. I was quite gob smacked and in so much pain I didn’t really reply. I struggled to my car and drove home, I was in agony for days. I felt almost like I’d been violated, like a piece of meat, but thought perhaps it was just me, perhaps I was being a wuss. It wasn’t till I spoke to other ladies that I discovered it needn’t have been this way. My treatment on a whole I feel was done very wrongly, cutting corners and saving money, at my expense. The hysteroscopy should not have been done this way, it’s almost inhumane.”

Katharine from Bath said:

“My GP referred me for day-case hysteroscopy under local anaesthetic…He told me to pay for a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to lower my Blood Pressure to qualify me for NHS

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day-care surgery as opposed to more expensive NHS inpatient surgery. During the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy the psychologist told me to go straight to the gynae-oncology surgeon at the hospital and have my persistent inter-menstrual bleeding properly investigated. My GP was furious at this suggestion but eventually gave in. The gynae-oncology surgeon told me that ‘you’ve had it for so long it won’t be anything sinister’. He eventually agreed to an inpatient hysteroscopy under General anaesthetic. I waited months for the operation. It showed late stage womb cancer which had spread to the lymph nodes. I had a radical hysterectomy and a long course of external radiotherapy”.

Jenny from Barnsley said:

“I went into the clinic and was given an ultrasound and very quickly was approached by a senior registrar who said I had a very thick womb but they could do a biopsy there and then.

My GP had mentioned that this procedure can be difficult but they would give me a local anaesthetic.

To be honest I was in such shock. I was led into a room where there was a very nice sister and nurse. I sat in a chair and the senior registrar began by filling my womb with water.

Then the hell began when they inserted whatever and did the biopsy. I have not experienced such pain even in childbirth and I told her so. I also said my GP had said they would give me some local anaesthetic and then she asked if I wanted some. Rather like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. It was too late then as they were in there.

The sister told me she nearly stopped the doctor. They were very caring then but only offered me one paracetamol. They said to me don’t let the woman who is waiting outside see you or it might put her off.”

The 21-year-old sister of Michelle, from Scotland, went for a hysteroscopy after noticing some bleeding after intercourse. The gynaecologist asked a nurse to assist while he proceeded to perform a rather forceful examination, and then carried out the hysteroscopy with no warning or pain relief. Michelle received a phone call from her distraught sister, who had gone into shock in the car park, had passed out next to her car, and was bleeding.

Gillian in Leeds said:

“Before the procedure, I received a leaflet with my appointment letter—no mention of any general or local anaesthetic, but after what the doctor had told me I wasn’t expecting it to be too bad”.

She said that the nurse

“managed to get the hysteroscope through my cervical opening…when she took each sample—6 in total—my pain level shot through the roof.

“What...infuriates me most is the fact that SOME people are given pain relief as a matter of course at their hospitals…why the hell should I, and others, have to suffer just because of which hospital we went to?”

Patricia from Fife said:

“I was offered no pain relief and the Dr. who did it didn’t get enough in the end so I had to go under general anaesthetic to get it done again.”

The procedure that she experienced, while conscious,

“was very traumatic and painful…I felt them cutting away the biopsy inside…afterwards the nurse who had held me down said to me ‘I wouldn’t have let them do that to me without a general anaesthetic’ so why did she let me go through it?’”

Maureen from Norwich said:

“The letter…advised I took either ibuprofen, or paracetamol about two hours before the appointment. The scan showed something abnormal, so I waited and then saw a very nice lady doctor. I then went on to endure the procedure, it took about fifteen minutes and it was certainly a lot more than uncomfortable.”

She felt very sick, and was in pain, but

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“the nurse who was there kept saying how well I was doing. I was at the limit of my endurance, only the thought of having to go back again stopped me from asking the procedure to be stopped.”

I have received so much correspondence about this issue, via my friend Debbie, that I could speak at length and give many more examples, because what I wanted to do today was give those women a voice. However, I think that the House will understand the direction in which I am going.

Some women have received no pain treatment at all—no anaesthetic to dull the pain. Some have received a local anaesthetic, but, given the severity of their conditions, a number of them have found that that is not enough. Others have received a general anaesthetic, either on request or because their doctors were aware that the procedure involved might be more extensive than had been expected. A study of a group of women conducted over five years in Melbourne established that over 10% of the group would not accept a local anaesthetic again, because of the pain and the need for the procedure to be repeated owing to a failure to secure a biopsy sample.

I have found it difficult to obtain information about this issue, but I think that certain facts are clear. Some women are being given no pain relief options at all. That aspect is not being explained to them by the doctor when they get to the hospital. Some feel that they are not being treated with compassion and respect, and that very little or no consideration is given to their dignity or their well-being. Some are experiencing a procedure that fails and needs to be repeated. One has to ask how often that happens, and what the cost is to the NHS.

Some women are clearly receiving treatment that is not in line with the guidelines issued by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which acknowledges that

“outpatient hysteroscopy can be associated with significant pain, anxiety and embarrassment”.

While the RCOG’s guidelines emphasise throughout that it is possible for women to have an acceptable out-patient experience, and some women do, there is clearly a serious problem, in that the current standard practice is failing a significant group of women very badly. It is appalling that, in some cases, no pain relief is even offered. I have read a range of the information leaflets that various hospitals offer to support their hysteroscopy out-patient clinics, and I am glad to note that local anaesthetic is mentioned in almost all of them, but they are not open enough about the pain that women may experience during and after the procedure, and there is inadequate reference to the option of undergoing the procedure with a general anaesthetic.

Bob Stewart: May I ask what percentage of women feel no pain whatsoever? Is there such a percentage, or does everyone experience pain—in which case, we must sort the matter out?

Lyn Brown: I honestly cannot answer that question, although I can say that at the different times in my life when I have had internal examinations the pain has varied, and that as I have got older, the examinations have become more painful. I have been told by some

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women who have had babies—which, sadly, I have failed to do—that they have found the examinations less painful after their pregnancies. However, some have told me that they become more painful with the menopause. Indeed, when my mother had a similar examination, she told me that it had been excruciating, and that was when she was quite old.

I am not sure that there are any research findings out there that would answer the hon. Gentleman’s very sympathetic question—certainly I have not found any—and I think that this is something that we need to know more about. However, a study published by the British Medical Journal in 2009 concluded that a local anaesthetic injection was the best method of pain control for women undergoing hysteroscopies as out-patients.

I have struggled to decide what I need to ask the Government to do in order to ensure that women receive the best possible care and treatment while undergoing this procedure. It is difficult for me to know that, because I am not a medic. However, I do think it is reasonable to ask the Government to use all the influence they have over policy in this area to require the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to work with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to issue authoritative guidelines. I also think the Care Quality Commission may well have a role to play in ensuring that best practice is delivered locally at each hospital.

Bob Blackman: I have listened with horror to these terrible experiences suffered by women. Is the hon. Lady aware of any other such treatments to either men or women where anaesthetics are not provided yet people are in such pain on such a general basis? That would clearly be a matter of the whole health service not doing a proper job, compared with a narrow field that we can possibly deal with very quickly.

Lyn Brown: I have not heard from others but my guess is that, should this debate be heard outside these walls, we collectively in this Chamber may well hear from our constituents who have endured similar experiences.

John McDonnell: A fair amount of survey work was done in respect of the all-party group on endometriosis, which produced very similar findings of inconsistent practices and practices that were incompatible with the well-being of the individuals.

Lyn Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and I will look at that research if he signposts me towards it.

I promised Debbie that I would make her voice and the voice of other women who have had similar experiences heard today, and I hope I have done that, but merely hearing the voices is not enough. This Government have the mantra of no decisions about me, without me, and that policy needs to be adopted in gynaecological procedures so that I and other hon. Members do not have more Debbies coming to our surgeries to tell us about their horrific experiences. I am hoping that the Deputy Leader of the House will take this to the Department of Health on Debbie’s behalf and on behalf of the other women, and I would hope that I will receive some communication from it in the new year telling

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me that Debbie, Jan, Jo, Katharine, Jenny, Michelle, Gillian, Patricia, Maureen and the many other women I have heard from will be well and truly heard.

May I thank hon. Members for staying in the Chamber for my contribution this afternoon and may I also wish everyone, including the staff of this House, a happy Christmas and a very happy and prosperous new year?

2.51 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown). Last night I endured the great pain of West Ham inflicting a second home defeat on Tottenham in a season, which has not been known since I have been alive. At the beginning of her speech, I wondered whether the pain that the ladies she mentioned were going through was anything like the emotional pain I felt last night, but my pain pales into insignificance compared with what women are being put through at the hands of the NHS, and I thank her for bringing that matter to the House’s attention.

It is the great benefit of these debates that we can bring matters that otherwise would not be aired to the Chamber. At this time of year, when we often think of ourselves, our parties and our families, we should also think of those underprivileged people who are less fortunate than ourselves. I shall concentrate on the private rented sector, the overuse of beds in sheds and the massive overcrowding in many parts of the country, which is a growing menace to the whole of our society.

It is a fact of life that 9 million people now rent their homes right across England. That is fine and people make that choice—or alternatively, they have no choice. In my own borough of Harrow there are now twice as many privately rented homes as there are homes in the entire socially rented sector, whether it be council or housing association properties.

I am a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee. When we looked at the private rented sector, one of the problems highlighted in the evidence we received was that the poorer quality of the private rented sector housing damages the health and well-being of the people who live in those homes. The English housing survey conducted earlier this year shows that properties in the private rented sector have the lowest proportion of the three standard insulation measures—cavity wall insulation, good loft insulation and full double-glazing—and they are most likely to fall into the lowest energy efficiency bands. Over a third of private rented homes are not classified as meeting the decent homes standard. We would not expect people to live in socially rented accommodation of that standard, and the number of private rented homes is almost double that of socially rented homes. At the same time, almost one in five fail the housing health and safety tests, compared with just 9% of social sector dwellings. Also, damp is more likely to be found in private rented sector accommodation than in any other type of housing, and it is less likely to be dealt with by landlords. That is a scandal that must be addressed.

There are currently few requirements on landlords, and few ways in which tenants can complain about a property and get things put right. Tenants often refuse to complain about the quality of a property because the landlord could evict them rather than fixing the problem. These problems often befall those on the lowest incomes,

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who have the least choice about where to live. They and their families therefore have to live in unacceptable conditions. Landlords often evict tenants without reasonable cause, and the tenants have no right of redress, even when they have not caused a problem. Tenants do not have the rights that they probably should have.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech with interest. I intend to follow much the same theme when I speak later. Does he agree that one of the many problems associated with the private rented sector is the six-month assured shorthold tenancy? It gives the landlord no incentive to respond to a tenant’s demands and, because the tenant has no security of tenure after the six months, they are unlikely to complain. Also, the tenant has no incentive to do anything in the community because their prospects of remaining in the area are so limited.

Bob Blackman: When we were gathering evidence for our report, the Communities and Local Government Committee went to Berlin, where people have much longer tenancies and where a partnership approach is taken between the tenant and the landlord. That is a much more appropriate way of dealing with these matters. Unfortunately, the use of six-month assured shorthold tenancies has grown in this country, more often than not to protect landlords by giving them the right to evict a tenant and recover the property if they so choose. These concerns clearly need to be addressed. We need longer tenancies that give greater assurance to tenants and place greater responsibility on landlords. It would also be helpful if landlords became members of the housing ombudsman service. In that way, they would be more likely to carry out the necessary work and the tenant would have a means of complaining if that did not happen.

I am sure that all hon. Members have houses in multiple occupation in their constituencies. When five or more persons form two or more households in a building, it is a requirement for the landlord to register that property as an HMO. Unfortunately, there can be all sorts of issues involved, including whether fire safety standards are being met. It is a fact of life that, under the terms of the Housing Act 1985, the maximum penalty for operating an unlicensed HMO is currently £20,000. In my borough, there are 89 registered HMOs. I encountered a case three weeks ago in which a three-bedroom semi-detached property was found to be housing no fewer than 11 adults, none of whom was connected in a family sense. They were sharing bedrooms and all the other facilities, and they were each paying £160 a week in rent. That was a nice little earner for the landlord. The property was not registered as an HMO. There are now 100 such cases under investigation in Harrow, and I believe that they represent the tip of a very large iceberg.

Lyn Brown: I recognise much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Those problems are certainly replicated in Newham. During the last Parliament, I tried to get HMOs reclassified according to the actual occupancy, rather than to the size of the house. Does he agree that such a reclassification would be very helpful?

Bob Blackman: I agree completely that that is one remedy we have to take on board.

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I cannot speak about what is happening outside London, but in London the charges for HMO applications vary: Harrow council charges £1,200 for an application, which lasts for five years, and then there is an £850 renewal fee; Brent, our near neighbour, charges between £800 and £1,200, depending on the licence length; Ealing charges £970 plus £30 per habitable room; and Lewisham charges £180 per unit of accommodation, up to £1,800. Non-London authorities seem to charge much less. The fee seems to be discretionary and a council could drop it to encourage registrations, thus enabling properties to be examined and tenants to be protected.

As we have seen, we also face a challenge on beds in sheds. The Prime Minister was taken this week to a property in Southall that would have disgraced a third world country, yet a number of individuals were being forced to live in incredible conditions there. The Government have taken some action to try to close down beds in sheds, but often we are talking about illegal immigrants in accommodation tied to a job they are undertaking, which is provided through gangmasters and the equivalent. In addition, service providers such as local authorities and the health service are being forced to provide services without any income coming in; these properties will attract a certain amount of council tax, but not the sort of sum they should, given the number of people living in them.

Last May, £1.8 million was given to nine councils to tackle the problem of beds in shed: Brent, Ealing, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Newham, Peterborough, Redbridge, Slough and Southwark were all given money. The trouble is that that addresses only the tip of the iceberg; it does not address all the other boroughs where the problem is occurring. Ealing subsequently stated that it had carried out 4,500 site inspections in a year, in addition to unannounced fortnightly raids, but unfortunately the landlords were running rings around the officers.

In February, a BBC “Inside Out” investigation found two high street estate agents renting out beds in sheds without residential planning permission, including one in Willesden Green, in Brent. Rent payments of £1,000 per month were being taken. It was noted that the owners often claim that these converted buildings are more than four years old and so cannot have planning enforcement taken against them by the local authority.

Some actions have been taken across England on this issue. Slough borough council spent £24,000 on conducting a heat map across the borough during the early hours of the morning. That identified 6,139 properties where it was believed that beds in sheds were operating—that is just in one borough, which shows the extent of the scandal. The hon. Member for West Ham referred to Newham, and the Communities and Local Government Committee has taken evidence about the action that its mayor and council are taking to identify and take enforcement action against the outhouses that are being put up without planning approval. I believe that that work has been extended to tackle other illegal activities by landlords. I understand that over the past year the council has taken 80 enforcement actions on beds in sheds, but a further 230 are still pending against properties in multiple occupation, which shows the extent of the problem in one London borough. We might have extended

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negotiations with landlords, but it seems as if these rogue landlords, who give other private landlords a bad name, need to have stringent action taken against them.

We must also consider the fire risk. The London fire brigade has estimated that over the past four years there have been 341 fires in buildings that appear to have had people living in them when they should not have been. Those blazes have caused nine deaths and 58 serious injuries.

I have mentioned the fact that illegal immigrants are often in such properties. We might reason why that would be. Migrants who are not here legally are often given low-paid jobs, are paid in cash and have insufficient income to pay the normal rents for accommodation, so they take accommodation from the employer or gangmaster in order to maintain their presence here. They also want to be able to send money home to their families. They are kept in poor conditions, under threat of being reported to the authorities and sent home. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of people traffickers accommodating their victims in illegal structures, particularly in the London borough of Ealing. Furthermore, if the trafficked victims escape and get work as undocumented migrants, they may resort to living in illegal structures anyway because the rents are often lower and more affordable from their low earnings.

Lyn Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about Newham. The action that the council has taken over the past couple of years has been important and effective in probably saving lives. We had a death in a shed from a fire way back before 2010. Local schools tell me anecdotally that people who are here legally and who have status are not necessarily aware of their rights. People who have come from abroad and are living here on very low incomes are exploited by the unscrupulous landlords he has been talking about.

Bob Blackman: Clearly, as the hon. Lady says, people who are here legally and have the proper status are often not aware of their complete rights and therefore are exploited by unscrupulous individuals acting as landlords.

One of the consequences of the changes in housing benefit has been to encourage young people under the age of 35 to go into shared accommodation because that is the only rate of housing benefit they will qualify for. I welcome that as a move towards ensuring that accommodation is used properly, but as more and more people share housing in the private rented sector, there is the unfortunate consequence of overuse and overcrowding of such properties.

Under the right circumstances a local authority may be able to force a landlord to repay rent or housing benefits if an HMO is unlicensed. Unfortunately, it appears that this is not well known among the public or even among London authorities or councils outside London. If it were known about, it would immediately dissuade landlords from taking in vulnerable people on benefits and exploiting them.

What do we do about the problem? It is up to local authorities to enforce the rules. If a landlord is operating an HMO—I have written to my council about a huge number of properties that I suspect are HMOs but are unlicensed—appropriate and stringent enforcement action needs to be taken to fine the landlord and to make sure

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that the properties are brought up to a decent standard. A clear attitude should be adopted towards rogue landlords who give good landlords a terrible name.

Proper advice needs to be given to people who rent properties so that they understand their rights, what they can demand and what they can take on. There should be accreditation and licensing for private landlords, particularly those that choose to operate HMOs. It should be for Government and the Department to ensure that tenants and landlords are educated about their rights and responsibilities.

There is hope on the horizon. There was a case in which a landlord, who happens to live in my constituency, was operating a property empire in the neighbouring borough of Brent, where he put 28 flats into four houses. He was prosecuted and ordered to pay £303,112 under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. This demonstrates that local authorities can use their power to stop rogue landlords in their tracks and take appropriate action. Rogue landlords will listen to only one thing: losing their income and assets. We must ensure that the people living in those properties are given decent facilities to live in.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman is making an important contribution. Does he agree that it would be a good idea to have much better co-ordination between London boroughs, perhaps through the Mayor’s office, on chasing down rogue landlords and, as the Select Committee recommended, to have a much simpler form of harmonisation for all the regulations so that landlords and tenants know their rights within the existing law, never mind those that might be introduced in future?

Bob Blackman: I completely concur with the hon. Gentleman. We must rationalise the regulations to make them simpler and easier to understand and to ensure that the responsibilities are clearly understood. We must co-ordinate action across the London boroughs in particular, but the whole of England—and beyond, I suspect—is affected by those activities. Whether that co-ordination is done through London Councils or the Mayor’s office, for example, should be determined outside this Chamber.

However, it is equally clear that one of the problems is the level of bureaucracy. The mayor of the London borough of Newham pointed out that a landlord has to fill out a form for each property when registering, which seems to make no sense for the landlords who operate a good service, compared with the rogue landlords, who ignore the rules anyway. We need to identify those landlords and the properties that are not properly registered and ensure that the rules, which should operate for everyone’s benefit, are implemented thoroughly and appropriately. I think that there is a potential for doing what the London borough of Brent did last year when it enforced the rules on a particular rogue landlord to ensure that all the others understand their responsibility and know that they will not get away with it.

In my borough I have called on the council to operate a similar heat map so that we can identify, in the early hours of the morning, all the properties that do not have planning permission and are not registered as HMOs but appear to have people living in them. Anecdotally, I know that in many parts of my constituency homes have been built in gardens. Of course, they have

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been built as garden huts to shelter lawnmowers and other items of garden equipment, but uniquely they have kitchens, bathrooms, beds, windows, curtains, central heating and double glazing. That is clearly an affront to the planning rules. It means that the council is losing council tax income and that people are frequently being forced to live in substandard properties.

It is clear that this is the tip of an iceberg. It needs Government action now. I welcome the fact that they have undertaken to fund a few local authorities that have a problem, but we need to encourage every authority that realises it has a problem to take enforcement action to end it and to bring the people causing it to justice.

I conclude by wishing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the staff and all hon. Members a merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful, prosperous and above all, particularly from my perspective, healthy new year. I trust that we will all have an enjoyable time over the recess.

3.13 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): That was an extremely helpful speech from the hon. Member for Harrow West—

Bob Blackman: Harrow East.

John McDonnell: I am sorry—how could I?

I hope to re-launch our housing campaign in Hayes and Harlington in the new year, and many of the themes the hon. Gentleman set out are echoed in many constituencies across London. Some of the solutions he set out—particularly the engagement of local authorities—are critically important. I welcome the Government’s additional money for Hillingdon, but it did not go far enough. A much more serious approach is needed.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) made a terrific speech, which needed to be made, although it was excruciating to hear about the pain that women have gone through. If she needs support in campaigning on any of the issues she raised, I am sure that she secured it across the House today.

I wish to raise a number of issues as briefly as possible. It would be remiss of me not to mention the threat to my constituency from the proposed third and fourth runways at Heathrow. Many of my constituents, particularly in Harmondsworth and Longford, will be sitting down this Christmas faced with the threat of their homes being bulldozed. We saw what happened with the original third runway proposal for Sipson, where a compensation scheme was introduced and BAA bought up virtually all the properties. People are living in those properties, but the life of the village—some have described it as a shell; I do not think it is that bad—is somewhat different from what it was. We are engaging the new residents in community life as best we can, but the blight caused by the threat of a runway being built over their homes has resulted in the loss of a large number of residents who had lived there for generations.

The threat now extends across to Harmondsworth and Longford, and beyond into West Drayton, which was represented by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) in former years. A population of 10,000 to 15,000 people now face an overall threat to their accommodation and from noise

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and pollution. Parents are sitting down at Christmas thinking that their home is going to be demolished some time in the future. They are planning their children’s education knowing that two of the best schools in our area—Heathrow and Harmondsworth primary schools—would be bulldozed as well. It looks as though other schools, particularly along the M4, perhaps Pinkwell and Harmondsworth primary schools, would be rendered unusable as a result of noise and air pollution.

The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip talked about Cherry Lane cemetery becoming an issue again. The last time we had this misfortune, the BAA documents that were leaked to us demonstrated that the road network that would service the new runway and the expanded airport ran through Cherry Lane cemetery. In particular, it ran through the children’s area of the cemetery, and that of course caused immense distress within my community. That threat will return with the road structure that would be proposed for the new third and fourth runways.

I am also worried that Harmondsworth village will be obliterated, and that includes St Mary’s church and the mediaeval barn. Linked to St Mary’s church is the graveyard, which is still being used. Ironically, Keith Dobson, one of the prime campaigners with me over the past 40 years against a fourth terminal, a fifth terminal and a third runway, is buried in St Mary’s churchyard. It would be a tragedy if we had to disinter the bodies of our relatives and friends as a result of this.

Sir John Randall: There are also a number of war graves in St Mary’s churchyard, and that is something else we have to consider.

John McDonnell: The right hon. Gentleman will remember that in our previous campaign, John Wilkinson, who was the Member for Ruislip-Northwood and served on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, raised that very point. It was one of the key issues that was raised at the time of our very broad-based campaign against the expansion of Heathrow airport.

I want Members to go away and think how devastating the announcement from the Davies commission is for these families. However, I am optimistic, as I think the right hon. Gentleman is, that we can defeat this. Any Government who sought to expand Heathrow airport, which would impact on perhaps 2 million people in terms of noise and air pollution, would face opprobrium. The political impact would be significant; I think it would determine a shift in a number of seats. On that basis, I cannot see any Government politically sustaining the policy of expanding Heathrow airport.

Just in case anyone tries, let me give this warning: we will campaign on a scale that this Government and previous Governments have never seen before. It will be a campaign in which we mobilise local residents, but because of the impact across London, it will unite communities across London. There are already plans for a march all the way from Harmondsworth through every constituency affected—all the way through west London and into central London—which will garner support as we go along. It will be a crusade that will march right the way through west London and pick up hundreds, if not thousands of people in opposition to

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the Government. There will also be support from green campaigners who are concerned about the impact of the expansion of Heathrow airport on climate change. There will be direct action campaigns by environmentalists.

Last time this happened, a climate camp appeared in my constituency: 1,000 people turned up overnight, built a village and launched a direct action campaign, which contributed to influencing the Conservative party to change its policy. I warn the Government that people will not lie down and let their homes be bulldozed and their schools demolished, and they will not be threatened with having to dig up their dead from the cemetery. People will fight back, and as part of that fightback I will convene a meeting at Heathrow primary school on 16 January. I encourage Members to come along, because it will be the first discussion among local residents on the implications of the Davies announcement.

On the HS2 link, which the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip has mentioned, ours is the only area in the whole country that does not yet know where HS2 will go. We have been denied the opportunity to engage in a consultation on the route, because the Government will not reveal the route into the airport. That has resulted in uncertainty in the community. It will be a blight on the area and, to be frank, the community is angry, because it no longer trusts politicians or Governments on any issue of infrastructure in our area. I do not mean this as a party political point, but for the Prime Minister to explicitly say,

“no ifs, no buts, there will be no third runway”,

only for us now to face not only a third but a fourth runway, does not inspire confidence in the Government’s attitude to any infrastructure development in our area, including HS2.

I urge all parties in the House to agree that the decisions on the options for runway and aviation expansion and for the HS2 route into Heathrow airport should not be delayed beyond the next election. The Davies commission was politically and strategically timed to report after the next general election, to get every political party off the hook. The electorate will not find that acceptable. They will see it as another politician’s ploy not to be honest with the people who will be affected by both schemes.

It behoves all political parties to come to an agreement that the final report of the Davies commission should be published before the general election, and individual political parties should go into that election explaining honestly to the electorate their position on aviation expansion. They also need to explain to my community their position on the link between HS2 and Heathrow. It will be seen as fundamentally dishonest of all the political parties if they do not state their case and demonstrate to the electorate their position on aviation expansion. If they do not make their position clear, people will see through them and they will get angry, and when people get angry with politicians and feel that the democratic and parliamentary process is not working for them, they will take to the streets. It will encourage even more direct action and more disillusionment with politics in this country.

I also want to address the Fire Brigades Union dispute, which my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) has mentioned. We face potential strikes by firefighters on Christmas eve, new

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year’s eve and beyond. None of them want to take action and go on strike; they want a resolution. The dispute stems from the previous Government’s proposals to increase the retirement age of firefighters under the pension scheme. The Williams review submitted evidence to the Government of concerns about the physical capacity of firefighters undertaking duties beyond a certain age. That was ignored by the Government, and they went ahead.

My hon. Friend mentioned the argument made with regard to other jobs, as did the hon. Member for Harrow West—

Bob Blackman: East!

John McDonnell: I am so sorry. I have a directional problem: I am lost once I get north of the A40, I am afraid.

It was proposed that those firefighters who were incapable of completing all of their duties could be moved to other roles, but then, unfortunately, the cuts took place and we identified that, in one year, there were only 15 vacancies to which front-line firefighters could be transferred in way that would enable them to continue in work and to pay into their pension and earn a wage. The reason for the disputes was that employers and the Government refused to recognise that there was an issue about the capability and fitness problem faced by firefighters. A strike took place, which at least led to a breakthrough in that employers recognised that there was an issue that had to be addressed. Negotiations took place on eight points, but they basically foundered on two main ones.

The first, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse, was the risk of having no job and no pension. Firefighters find that they physically cannot do the job, which all the evidence points towards. To be frank, I do not want a geriatric firefighter coming up a ladder to rescue me, and all the evidence demonstrates that as firefighters reach 55 or 60, their capability goes down. In addition, there is further evidence about the—short—longevity of firefighters after they retire.

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend referred to the Williams inquiry. Williams said that estimates were that from 20% up to 90% of firefighters would not be able to work until 60, so there is a big demand for alternative employment for them or for their pensions to be honoured.

John McDonnell: I thought that the FBU was fairly reasonable in simply asking for some guarantee to take back to its members about their having either a job or a pension. It is as simple as that: the problem is that people cannot be in the situation of having no job and no pension. As I have said, the employers and the Government accepted that there was an issue to address, but how were firefighters to gain such a guarantee? That is the problem of the dispute at the moment.

In the negotiations, the fire Minister eventually offered a change to the national framework so that there is guidance to employers that some form of security should be given to firefighters in the form either of a job or of a guaranteed pension. The problem about the national framework is that it is guidance; it is not legally enforceable. The FBU has brought cases, so there is case law, and

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Lord Justice Rix has clearly demonstrated that the framework is guidance that employers can ignore. It is as simple as that. One problem with Ministers coming and going is that when Ministers give guidance, some employers perhaps abide by it for a period, but Ministers come and go and Governments come and go, and employers eventually interpret the guidance as they see fit.

The FBU put forward a draft proposal that instead of guidance, the fire Minister should adopt regulations linked to the pension scheme. If he had accepted that, one of the main points of the dispute would have been resolved, but that was refused. The FBU has warned of further strike action. It has balloted its members and received overwhelming support for strike action. As a result of the legal process that unions have to go through, it has now had to call the dates for the strikes. The Minister wrote yesterday to say that he was willing to meet it again, but as I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse, the FBU is willing to meet any time, any place—wherever the Minister wants—but the talks have to be meaningful, not just another round of public relations stunts or spin.

I have a lot of time for the fire Minister, but given the seriousness of the dispute, I would say at this point that the issue has reached Secretary of State level. As happened in the last fire dispute, the Secretary of State has to come to the table to start negotiations. In the last fire dispute under the previous Government, I remember the Prime Minister getting involved at one point to try to hammer out the issue so that people were not put at risk. We are within days of another dispute leading to another strike, and the Secretary of State needs at least to get involved in starting off negotiations. His coming to the table would demonstrate a seriousness of intent.

The other issue, which I will not go into in depth, is that of contributions. That was mentioned by my hon. Friend, who gave the figures in percentage terms. Under the new pension scheme, there will be an increase in contributions each year for four years: for members of the 2006 scheme, contributions will go up from 8.5% in 2011 to 12.6% in 2015. A firefighter on a salary of £29,766 will pay more than £4,000 a year for their pension alone if those increases are imposed. That is a significant increase for people who are on a relatively modest wage for professionals in this field.

I urge all Members, because the onus is on all of us, to ensure that we lay the path for negotiations to head off the current dispute. I think that the Secretary of State needs to come to the table for meaningful discussions to resolve the matter. I am happy to assist in the discussions at any time and to try to get people together. The FBU has made it very clear over the past 24 hours that it is willing to talk, but that the talks must be serious.

Another staffing issue that I want to raise relates to staff in this House. The dispute of the Commons Tea Room staff has still not been resolved a year on. To make Members aware of what happened, let me say that elements of the new management decided to reinterpret the contract that some of the Members’ Tea Room staff had been working on for more than 20 years. They decided that the old contract had been misinterpreted by the previous management and introduced what was effectively a reduction in pay and conditions. The dispute

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has gone on and negotiations have taken place, but it has not been resolved. I am told that the next stage is that the individual members of staff are getting together as a group to meet management again.

We are well served by those staff. They work incredibly hard, sometimes with demanding Members coming in at all hours and wanting all sorts of foodstuffs. They always serve us with a smile. I think that they deserve a bit more respect than they are getting. Trying to tear up their conditions of service when some of them have been working there for two decades is just not acceptable.

Last week, I met the security staff here who are members of the Public and Commercial Services Union. I am chair of the PCS parliamentary group. New rosters were imposed on the security staff earlier this year. There was a strike, but it did not resolve the issue and the rosters were still imposed. The new rosters reduce the flexibility of the work and impact on carers. Those people are largely women, because they tend to be the carers in society, but it affects parents generally and other types of carers. The staff have demonstrated to management that the new rosters are costing more than the old ones because of the high levels of overtime that have to be paid and the lack of flexibility.

The security staff are employed by the Metropolitan police on a contract. That contract is up for renegotiation in 2015. The staff are worried that they are being set up for privatisation. They want to enter into negotiations with management so that staff are able to continue with that contract or, if the Metropolitan police do not want the contract, the staff can be brought in-house. If Members have the time, they should speak to the security staff, because they are unhappy and disgruntled. They are worried not only about their terms of service, but that their service is not good enough because they do not have the flexibility that they used to have, that it is costing more and that their position will be undermined in the longer term.

I want to make two last points. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) spoke about the Metropolitan police. I am anxious about what is happening in the Met. A range of cuts are feeding through. Safer neighbourhood teams were one of the best policing reforms that were undertaken by the last Government. It is good to have a local sergeant, two police constables and a couple of police community support officers located within the ward and to have the guarantee that they will not be pulled out of the ward for other extraneous duties. The cuts that are coming through now are undermining safer neighbourhood policing in our areas. There are not sufficient PCs, the recruitment of PCSOs is not happening and safer neighbourhood teams are being combined. That is breaking down the local connection.

The retirement of a large number of officers who had long service means that we have lost a lot of experienced police officers. When we lose that experience we also lose the supervision, and I am anxious about that. In my constituency, as in many across London, we are losing police officers and their visibility on the streets is being reduced. At the same time—I agree about this with the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and we share the same borough—the quality of

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policing we receive is superb. The police work extremely hard under extremely difficult circumstances and with reducing resources.

Finally, I will refer to one happy piece of news. The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain is a small trade union that has been running a campaign to secure the living wage for cleaners, particularly in central London and the City. One employer that has been a difficult nut to crack is a company called MITIE. The union organised its workers and there have been disputes and demonstrations. MITIE issued a letter to all its staff, basically saying that any appearance on a demonstration related to the living wage would be interpreted as gross misconduct and they would be dismissed. After a short campaign by the cleaners and an early-day motion in this House, and thanks to the hard work of the union organiser, Chris Ford, negotiations have taken place over the past couple of days. MITIE is now in negotiations with the union about the living wage in relation to the contract. It has withdrawn its threatening letter to the staff and even sent out a letter apologising to them. I congratulate the IWGB—in particular the organiser, Chris Ford—on that success, and also the employer for seeing sense and coming back to the negotiating table. I hope that will send a message to other employers.

We all sort of glamorise John Lewis as a wonderful mutual—apart, that is, for the fact that it has outsourced its cleaners who are not part of the mutual system and not paid the London living wage. Again, the IWGB has been running a campaign on that, and I have been on the picket lines, trying to urge that company to recognise that its cleaners should be part of its mutual structure and paid properly. The other group of workers who I think will be mobilised over the coming period are fast-food workers. They are largely not unionised and many are on the minimum wage with poor employment conditions. We have convened a meeting in the House of Commons next year to bring together all those unions, and others who want to campaign for the rights of fast-food workers in the new year.

In the spirit of Christmas, I wish hon. Members a happy Christmas and a determined and campaigning new year.

3.37 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is good to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). He made a powerful case about ensuring proper consultation on HS2 and the new runways at Heathrow, and I understand his concerns. Perhaps the issue does not cause me quite so much concern representing Tiverton and Honiton down in Devon, but I can see his concern and that of his constituents.

I want to raise a particularly difficult case that concerns the struggle of one of my constituents to obtain compensation for serious trauma caused to him back in the ’80s. I will give a brief background to the case. My constituent was living on an Army base in Cyprus in the late ’80s with his father, a GCHQ employee. My constituent experienced serious sexual abuse at the base from the age of 12 to 17 from a paedophile gang of military personnel from both the UK and the United Nations.

My constituent is seeking compensation for the serious damage caused to him while living on that Army camp in Cyprus, but I understand that he is not eligible for

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compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation (Overseas) Scheme because his father was not military personnel, even though he was attached to the Cyprus base. There is a UK national Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, but my constituent is excluded from that because the offences took place outside the United Kingdom. There is also a Europe-wide scheme, but again my constituent is excluded by reason of the offences taking place prior to the implementation of that scheme. My constituent is excluded from other possible avenues for compensation. He is at present without a remedy for the grievous harm he has suffered. I understand that GCHQ comes under the jurisdiction of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so it might be thought reasonable for it to implement a matching scheme to provide compensation for those in my constituent’s position, or, alternatively, to offer a one-off compensation award under the same principles as the overseas scheme.

I have met Ministers and military police. I think and hope that in 2013 the case has been dealt with much more sympathetically and in a much better manner. The military police dealt with my constituent’s case in a very high-handed and ineffective way, and I want very much for him to have closure in this matter. We need to find some form of compensation, whatever it is, just to say that somebody has owned up to the fact that it was not dealt with properly, and that the abuse he sustained all those years ago still affects him now. I have met him several times. I do not know whether the Deputy Leader of the House can help in any way, but I seek help from him because this is a very serious matter.

Moving on to other constituency matters, I would like to talk about the A30/A303. I hear in this House huge problems for the Government in trying to get HS2 going and the trouble with Heathrow airport. I assure the Government that they would have much less trouble dualling the A30/A303.

John McDonnell: I don’t suppose the hon. Gentleman would like a runway, would he?

Neil Parish: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the idea that we could have a runway for Heathrow, but I think we are about 180 miles away. That is a long way away, but I understand his sentiments.

Returning to the A30/A303, from Exeter to Honiton the A30 is all dualled. It then goes from Honiton to the Somerset border, where it is not dualled. As it gets towards the Somerset border it splits off, with one part going on to Yeovil and the A30 carries on and goes into the A303. I want to see this part dualled in particular, and not just because it is in my constituency. Believe it or not, I am not just making a plea for my constituency, because it then travels up through Somerset and into Wiltshire. Of course, it passes by some rather interesting stones—I think they are called Stonehenge. How to pass them—whether we should build a tunnel and so on—has always been a thorny problem.

I think that, in all, nine sections of the A30/A303 need to be dualled. As a Government, we need to start picking up and running with these individual schemes. The greater the amount of dual carriageway on the road, the more we will have a second arterial route into the west country. Devon and Cornwall in particular, and Somerset too, rely a lot on tourism. Our businesses

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are hugely affected by the speed of travel. If the M5 is blocked, there is just carnage because traffic cannot get through.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I was not expecting to intervene, but as my mother-in-law lives along the A303—not that I necessarily want to rush to get to my mother-in-law’s—I know the road has congestion points that create huge tailbacks, particularly leading back from Stonehenge towards London. I sympathise with my hon. Friend, and I am, of course, very much looking forward to seeing my mother-in-law on Boxing day.

Neil Parish: I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. On this occasion, it being Christmas, I am sure he will be delighted to see his mother-in-law. To be serious, he is absolutely right. Travelling the A30 down into Cornwall, one finds large tailbacks on every long stretch of non-dualled road, but on short non-dualled roads, there is always much less of a tailback. I hope we will get a dual carriageway, tunnel or something past Stonehenge, but if not, at least a lot more dualling on the road would speed up the process. The other day, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced a pipeline of funding, so I asked him to turn on the tap. I am looking forward to the tap being turned on and that road being built.

On a third constituency matter, Feniton is a village on the outskirts of Honiton that was flooded many times last year and which has been under threat this year, yet several planning applications have been made for 200 homes in the village. These proposed homes have been refused by the district and parish councils, and the local population oppose them hugely because the infrastructure is not there. These homes will create more surface run-off and cause more flooding. I want the Planning Inspectorate to consider that point. I understand that the planning Minister is issuing guidance to planning inspectors to ensure that the infrastructure of a village or town is taken into consideration when appeal decisions are being looked at. It is imperative that this matter be treated in that way, because Feniton could be swamped by these homes and the infrastructure—the roads, the sewerage system and the schools—would be overloaded.

On a general point about flooding throughout my constituency, we are on an alert even as we speak. We must learn the lessons of flooding. No, we cannot stop it raining, and no we cannot stop flooding, but we can ensure that our rivers and tributaries are dredged and we can enable more local management of waterways so that the people who know exactly when the rivers are too high, when sluices need to be opened and when drainage points are blocked can do that work. The result would be a lot less flooding. It is good that the Government are negotiating Flood Re with the insurance companies. That means that my constituents should be able to get insurance at a reasonable cost. I also want to emphasise the fact that sometimes the Environment Agency’s flood-prevention schemes can be very expensive, but local people could help bring that about and do a lot of self-help.

On a final issue, we are about to agree yet another reform of the common agricultural policy. Under the new settlement, money will be taken for so-called capping or modulation, although we do not know whether it

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will be 9%, 12% or 15%; we are waiting for the Government to say exactly how much. I make this plea: we must make good use of the money we take from farmers and put in place good environmental schemes that will help not only agriculture, but the environment, grasslands and hills, such as those in Devon.

Mr Newmark: I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me another bite at the cherry.

Last Friday, I met my local farmers, and they raised with me a good question about the modulation that my hon. Friend could put to the Secretary of State or Ministers. According to many farmers, 15% is an extraordinarily high figure, and some justification for why it is not 9% or 9.5%, as in other EU countries, would be useful.

Neil Parish: I had better be quick because, Madam Deputy Speaker, you are looking me very sternly.

Yes, 15% is very high. We must use this modulated money to put in place environmental schemes that are necessary. We must not take money from farmers unless we know exactly what we are going to do with it. In the end, the family farms in Devon and across the country are important, not only to farming, but to the countryside itself.

I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr Deputy Speaker a happy Christmas. I also thank all the staff throughout this building for their good work this year and wish them a happy Christmas.

3.49 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. Sadly, I start with a complaint. Although I welcome the opportunity of a Christmas Adjournment debate and the fact that a Member can raise any issue they want, the system that we have had in other times when there have been themed debates with a Minister replying is a far more satisfactory way of dealing with parliamentary business. I do not doubt that the Deputy Leader of the House will report in great detail to each Minister concerned and ensure that we get an answer, but the whole point of the House of Commons is to hold the Government and Ministers to account rather than using it as a sounding-board Chamber where anyone can raise anything they like and it then disappears into the ether.

I strongly compliment the staff here—as I am sure does everyone else—for their work, loyalty, and sympathy to both Members and the public. They often do a difficult job, and I admire them enormously and want to put on record my thanks to them. As a Parliament, we should value them a lot more. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, the treatment of the staff in the Tea Room, their change of contracts and deteriorating working conditions are simply not good enough. We should be much better employers and we should value the service and the loyalty that those staff give us. We need to remember that we should provide a good example of employment practices and not work on the basis of gross exploitation of people. Indeed, we should not be losing our very good and experienced staff. We should reflect on that.

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None the less, in the same spirit as everyone else, I wish all the staff here a good Christmas and new year and thank them for the work that they do.

Like the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), whom I compliment on his contribution, I want to raise the issue of housing in London. I represent an inner-city constituency, which has somewhat different characteristics from those of Harrow. Nevertheless housing is a huge issue. Roughly speaking, my borough divides 40:30:30—council and housing association houses and social rented accommodation make up about 40% of the borough’s housing; private rented houses about 30% and owner-occupied houses 30%. The owner-occupation rate is well below the national average, and falling very fast. The private rented sector is well above the national average and rising very fast. The social ownership section is increasing a bit through the work of the housing associations and the council’s commendable building programme to try to provide homes for people who desperately need them.

The problem we have is an enormous housing list of people in often desperate housing need. The chances of them being housed in a council-owned house or a housing association place are very limited, so the council fulfils its obligations to them in the only way it can, which is by placing them in the private rented sector. Many of those private flats are not in the borough; they are some distance away. That in itself creates a problem. The applicants accept the accommodation because they have no choice. They aspire to return to the borough, so the large numbers of families who are placed outside the borough make very long journeys to ensure that their children maintain a place at the same school, which is important from the point of view of the continuity of education for primary school-aged children.

The other issue is that the benefit level cap on housing expenditure, the housing allowance, is way below the average rent in the private sector. The transitional money the Government approved on the introduction of the cap is drying up and disappearing. Frankly, what we are going through is nothing more than a process of social cleansing from inner London, as families on benefit—sometimes in work, and sometimes not in work, as it affects them almost equally—can no longer remain in the borough and must therefore be accommodated elsewhere. That exacerbates the whole problem.

We have a high degree of housing stress among those families. I meet families all the time and I am very worried about the impact of such a degree of housing insecurity on a whole generation of children as they grow up. Members of this House all earn a good salary, have reasonable accommodation to live in and do not feel a sense of housing insecurity. We should try and put ourselves in the mindset of young parents trying to bring up children in the private rented sector knowing that they have no security of tenure and could lose their flat within six months. If they complain, they are likely to find that their tenancy is terminated. The effect on the parents is extreme stress, but the effect on the children is great uncertainty about their place in life and the ability of their parents to provide for them. We are damaging a whole generation of people through the housing policies that are being adopted in this country.

I am not making a partisan point, because my party, when in government, certainly did not do enough to build the necessary new housing. It certainly did not do

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enough to bring in much tougher regulation of the private rented sector any more than this Government have. I applaud what my council is trying to do by developing new council properties of a good and high standard and what it has achieved through the decent homes standard. The estates are in a much better condition than they ever used to be. Nevertheless, we live in an area where property prices are rising fast. I think I am right to say that more than 80% of the borough does not earn enough money to be able to buy a property within Islington, so the only option for those people is the private rented sector.

There are areas in which the sector must be reformed, and quickly. I have with me a copy of the report by the Communities and Local Government Committee on the regulation of the private rented sector, which is an interesting, well-written document that calls for the simplification of the regulation of the private rented sector and better education of both landlords and tenants. I agree with all that. Sometimes, the report’s proposals are a bit too timid but I agree with the general thrust of what it is trying to say.

We must be a little bolder. I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on the subject, and I want to see fundamental change in three areas of the private rented sector. The first is the role of the letting agents. At the moment, there is almost no regulation of letting agents. Anyone can set up a letting agency, there are no checks on them whatsoever and anybody can claim to be a letting agent and start renting out properties. I think they should all be regulated so we know who is working where, so that they have to provide proper information to all prospective tenants, and so that they are not allowed to introduce arbitrary and often totally unfair charges such as search fees, which are always non-returnable and often expensive. There should also be much clearer explanation for prospective tenants of what they are getting into.

Agents are also often deeply discriminatory. A sign in a window that reads “No DSS” shows first of all that they are deeply out of date with the structure of the social security system in this country—it is now the Department of Work and Pensions and it is a housing allowance, not DSS as it was about 20 years ago—and also fundamentally discriminates against somebody who is perfectly legally claiming what they are entitled to from the DWP. Why should they not be allowed to rent because they are claiming? The investigation by “Panorama” showed the race discrimination and racial profiling by the agencies, which are a scar on our society that deeply disfigures people’s lives and life chances. Discrimination is wrong in any aspect, whether it be financial in respect of benefit claimants or racial discrimination as operated by some agents. We must have proper regulation of these agencies.

A number of London boroughs are actively considering setting up their own letting agency to manage the number of people they place within in the private rented sector and offering the service to landlords and tenants alike. I think that would be a wholly good thing—it would be properly run, properly managed and probably a lot cheaper for everyone concerned than the present system.

The second area relates to points raised by the hon. Member for Harrow East about the condition and maintenance of private sector properties. Yesterday, I

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met an interesting gentleman from the Electrical Safety Council, who told me his concerns—they were held by the fire service and many others, too—about the lack of regular electrical checks in the private rented sector. It can often be an extremely dangerous place to be. There are supposed to be gas checks and all kinds of checks, but they are often never carried out.

I have had experience of tenants in the private rented sector making wholly legitimate complaints about the condition of their flat—the lack of insulation, the poor quality windows, the high energy bills they incur because of all that and infestation by vermin. They usually find that nothing is done about that, and if they contact the environmental health service, they might find their tenancy terminated at the first possible opportunity by the landlord. It is scandalous that if tenants try to exercise their rights, they lose their property. Although that might mean that environmental health can enforce better conditions for the next tenant, it is not much help for the tenant who has been evicted for having the temerity to try to exercise their rights.

The third area is probably the most controversial—the question of the rent levels charged. If I look across the whole country, I realise that the rent levels charged in the private rented sector vary enormously, often over quite short distances. The rent levels in central London are massive; if we move a short distance towards the outer London boroughs, the rent levels are a bit less; if we move a bit further out of London, they become much less; if we move to other regions in the country, the rent levels might not be the main problem, but there could be other areas of regulation.

My private Member’s Bill—I have no notion of whether it will ever become law; certainly not in this Parliament, although I hope the idea will become law at some point—is not only about empowering local authorities to set up letting offices and agencies, but about requiring simplified advice to be given to landlords and tenants about how the properties will be operated. Authorities will also have the power to impose a level of regulation on the rent levels charged in the private sector.

In that respect, a number of formulae could be adopted. One would be simply to take a figure and declare it to be a reasonable rent for the area. Rent levels could be based on the capital value of the property and the cost of maintaining its value if money has been borrowed to purchase it. Alternatively, because the structure of the private rented sector is changing fast, we could require large private sector landlords—there are some of them around nowadays—to provide at least 50% of their properties for rent at an affordable level, as we would require for any new large housing development.

If we do not regulate the private rented sector, we are condemning, in the case of my borough, a third of the population to a life of insecurity—and the numbers of private rented properties are likely to rise considerably over the next few years. All the predictions are that while it is around 17% nationally now, it will probably be 25%, if not more, by the end of this decade. Other countries manage to have a pretty fully regulated private rented sector. The hon. Member for Harrow East referred to the Select Committee visit to Germany, which has a very regulated private rented sector—often, interestingly, with much larger landlords, who often manage the properties a lot better.

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One of the problems in my constituency is that it contains a large number of very small landlords who only ever think of the headline return in the form of the rent. They never think of the cost of maintenance, the cost of repairs, or the cost of simply managing a property. We need to devise a much better system. The Select Committee report was a good start, but the Government’s response was more than disappointing. No doubt we shall return to the issue in the future.

Let me end with this thought. We all want to enjoy a nice Christmas—who doesn’t?—but we also want to enjoy a degree of security in our lives, and I think that we should consider for a moment the very large number of people who live in the private rented sector. Not all landlords are bad; some are good, decent, generous people who look after their tenants in the way in which we would all want to be looked after ourselves; but, unfortunately, not all of them are like that. There are some terrible rogue landlords, and some terrible practices. We used to say awful things about Rachman and what he did in winkling secure tenants out of north Kensington all those decades ago, but there are very few secure tenancies now. Landlords no longer need to winkle people out. They can end assured shorthold tenancies after six months, move another tenant in, and charge the new tenant a higher rent—and so the whole situation continues.

If we are to maintain the social and cultural diversity of London, and indeed other cities, we must maintain the diversity of housing, and of housing options and opportunities. Like all Members, I visit hospitals, Royal Mail sorting offices, police stations and fire stations. I always ask people where they live, and I find that fewer and fewer of them can afford to live in central London. They are commuting for longer and longer distances, at greater and greater cost to themselves.

We must address the housing issue. Yes, we can do that by building more houses and providing greater security and better conditions, but what is crucially and urgently needed is proper regulation of the private rented sector, so that we can provide the sense of security that we would all want for ourselves.

Bob Blackman: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of my speech, I inadvertently failed to draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. May I correct that through your good offices, and apologise to the House?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I think that the clarification is already on the record.

4.7 pm

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I want to begin, rather than end, my speech by wishing all the staff of the House, and the police, a happy Christmas. They serve all of us here in Parliament extremely well, and I hope that they will have a relaxing Christmas holiday and a happy new year.

I also want to thank certain groups in my constituency which I know will be working very hard over Christmas. The Salvation Army does a tremendous job in looking

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after the homeless, not just in Braintree but, I believe, in all our constituencies, and Braintree Foyer looks after young people very well when they have nowhere to go. Then there are the church groups, which serve our food banks incredibly well. As we know from our recent debate on the subject, the use of food banks has increased—there is no denying that—and many of the church groups in our communities are playing a leading role in that regard.

Let me now issue a plea to everyone in my constituency, and to all who are listening here. Many elderly people will be alone this Christmas, and if someone can spend just one or two hours with an elderly person, it will make a very big difference to that person at this very important time of the year.

I promised that I would be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I will be, but I want to raise one constituency issue. I want to talk about two aspects of infrastructure, the first being trains. Unfortunately, we in Braintree are not well served by trains. There is a main line to Witham and then onwards, and there is a branch line from Witham to Braintree. As a branch line, we only get one train an hour. That causes enormous problems, and ever since I became a candidate in 1999—long before I was an MP—I was calling for a loop to be put in between Braintree and Witham because that will allow more people to travel along that line rather than waiting the one hour, as they have to, or getting in their cars.

The big problem is that Braintree has grown enormously even in the past 15 years that I have lived in the area. As a result, when people get on the train at Braintree they find that it is already at capacity, so by the time it reaches Cressing or White Notley, let us say, on the way to Witham it is often totally full. That creates huge problems, and one way to alleviate that pressure is to build a loop between Braintree and Witham.

I ask Greater Anglia and Abellio, who are the controllers of the train line, to think about these three Cs: capacity, cancellations and communication. With capacity, the issue is that the trains are often full at peak times, as I have mentioned, so it would be very useful for them to think about investing in that loop which I and others have been asking for. That will take people off the roads and on to the trains, and as they will be using the train services more, it will make the loop more economically viable.

The second C is cancellations. In the past month or so there have been three cancellations of the 6.45 am train. If someone is planning to catch a train at Cressing and they have a meeting in London that morning, and the 6.45 am train is cancelled and they do not know about it in advance, they have a big problem. The bigger problem is that, unfortunately, Greater Anglia has not put on any other services, such as a bus service, to take them to Witham, and it might not even inform passengers that there is a problem.

That brings me to my third C: communication. It is very important that Greater Anglia communicates with passengers, explaining that there is a problem, rather than passengers simply standing on the platform and seeing the train whizz past them. That can be extremely frustrating if they have a morning meeting in London or elsewhere.

I therefore ask Abellio and Greater Anglia to think about those three issues of capacity, dealing with

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cancellations with care and efficiency, and communicating with passengers. That is extremely important. They should think seriously about building a loop between Braintree and Cressing, because I think that will deal with a lot of the problems they face. I know from having talked to Braintree district council and Essex county council that they would be willing to put in some money to try to get this loop between Braintree and Cressing, as would local businesses. So again I make my plea to Abellio and Greater Anglia to think about building this loop, and perhaps the Secretary of State for Transport—the ex-Chief Whip and my ex-boss—will also consider that plea of mine.

My second infrastructure point is to do with the A120, and it relates very much to something my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) was saying. Drivers come up the M11, let us say, and then get on to the A120 at Stansted and have a beautiful two and three-lane highway all the way to Braintree, but when they get to Braintree they hit Galleys corner, which is known as cholesterol corner for two reasons: first, because of the KFC, the McDonald’s and the other fast food outlets that are located there, and secondly, because a major traffic blockage forms there.

While I appreciate that when the new Secretary of State took up his post he generously gave us a little over £300,000 to deal with the little pinch-point at Galleys corner, unfortunately that only dealt with a tiny piece of the problem. What we really need to do is dual the road the eight or nine miles between Braintree and Marks Tey in order to alleviate the blockage. I want Members to imagine a fast road that goes all the way from London through to Stansted and then on to Braintree, and then suddenly it stops. For eight or nine miles, there is a single-lane carriageway, the A12, to Marks Tey, at which point the road becomes the A120, and a dual carriageway, again, and continues all the way to Harwich.

Alleviating the pinch-points along this transnational, perhaps trans-European, network is important. Many groups in Braintree have campaigned for this to happen, including the Braintree business council, the Braintree business forum, Councillor Siddall, who is in charge of businesses on Braintree district council, and my friend Malcolm Hobbs. They have all have campaigned for the dualling of the road.

I do not deny that this would be an expensive project. It could cost up to £300 million, which is an enormous amount. However, time is money, and if people are stuck in their cars, that can be expensive for them. There are local groups in Braintree that are willing to invest in the project, and we could form a public-private partnership to achieve this. Essex county council, Braintree district council and various local businesses have all said that they would put in some money to alleviate the problem.

I make a direct plea to the Secretary of State for Transport and even to the Chancellor himself, who has been extremely generous in giving money to other infrastructure projects around the country, to alleviate this minor road block by putting some money into this project. It would create jobs locally and alleviate pressure and blight in several areas.

I shall leave the House with those two thoughts: a rail loop between Braintree and Witham, and the dualling of the road between Braintree and Marks Tey. Achieving those two goals would make me very happy and, more

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importantly, it would make my constituents who are trying to use the roads and public transport very happy. I shall also take this opportunity to wish everyone, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker, a happy Christmas and new year.

4.17 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): There is quite a lot to respond to, and I hope to be able to touch on most of the points that have been raised. I shall certainly respond to those Members who are still in their place. I was perhaps hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) would not reappear, because the duration of my speech would have been halved if I had not needed to respond to all the points that he raised. He has returned to his place, however, so I shall respond to him for starters.

My hon. Friend raised concerns about certain House matters, including Tuesday sittings, Prime Minister’s questions and the fact that the Press Gallery was always empty. Those are things that the House can discuss, and Members will be able to tell us whether they are happy with the Tuesday sittings and whether they are content to keep Prime Minister’s questions as a half-hour slot on a Wednesday, rather than reverting to the two 15-minute slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

My hon. Friend also expressed concern that there were too many quangos, but I hope he welcomes the fact that the coalition Government have got rid of a substantial number of them. He asked about the Chilcot inquiry. If he is familiar with its website, he will be able to look at the latest exchange of correspondence on that matter and to see where we are at. Obviously, we want the inquiry to publish its findings, and we should not try to pre-empt their content.

My hon. Friend also expressed concern about some aspects of freedom of information. He then went on to talk about air pollution, describing it as a hidden killer. I agree with him on that. The fact that people do not visibly drop dead from air pollution means that it is not treated with the same seriousness as heart attacks and strokes. He was right to say that its principal source, apart from industry, is the tailpipes of the cars and other vehicles that we all drive around in. The Government take the issue seriously and we are working towards the legally binding pollution limits set out in European Union legislation. My hon. Friend also rightly highlighted the importance of alternative fuels, such as liquefied petroleum gas, and the fact that they can make a big difference to air quality. He went on to touch on the issue of fire safety.

Jim Fitzpatrick rose

Tom Brake: I will give way when I have finished this point. Again, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we all learn lessons from fire incidents and that best practice is spread effectively. On that point, I give way to someone who knows an awful lot about these matters.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I was going to pick up the point on pollution. European regulations require air quality to be up to a certain mark, but London is failing on so many counts that we have a five-year derogation. If

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fines are levelled against the UK, will they have to be paid for by the UK Government or the Mayor of London?

Tom Brake: I wish I had not given way, because I do not know the answer to that question. However, I am sure that we can secure a written response for the hon. Gentleman, who has highlighted the fact that we have significant air quality issues to address in London. The Mayor does need to tackle them firmly. I know that he has launched certain initiatives, but the impact of vehicles is significant and we need to examine wider measures to try to tackle the problem.

My hon. Friend then discussed the Disclosure and Barring Service, which was previously the Criminal Records Bureau. I suspect that many hon. Members will have encountered issues with the CRB and the DBS relating to turnaround times. Often it is not clear where the delays are occurring, because sometimes they are in securing a response from the police. He touched on the issue of school governors, and I think we can all agree that they play an essential role and make a substantial contribution. I suspect that many hon. Members will have been, or may still be, a school governor. As he stated, they need specific skills, and he identified finance as an area where we perhaps need more people coming in. I encourage them to do so.

My hon. Friend touched on the issue of blue badges. He, like me, and I am sure other hon. Members, has experienced some issues relating to the changes that have taken place with that service. I am sure he represents very effectively his constituents who are experiencing difficulties because they were in receipt of a badge but now are finding that it is not available to them.

My hon. Friend mentioned hepatitis. The Department of Health recognises the public health importance of tackling viral hepatitis in England; it imposes a significant burden on the NHS, so he was right to highlight the importance of tackling it. He referred to the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services, expressing some concerns about that. Clearly I am not going to refer to any individual cases, but I hope that one thing he would take as a positive step forward is the fact that the Government and the Minister who leads on these issues have been strong in pushing for parity of esteem; in other words, people with mental health issues should be treated in exactly the same way as we would expect people who need to go through the acute health service to be treated. They should get identical quality of care and should see pathways that operate just as effectively.

My hon. Friend also touched on the exotic pet trade, which is a serious contributory factor to the threat of extinction faced by many endangered species. The UK Border Force is responsible for dealing with that, and we need to ensure that anyone dealing in that particular trade follows the rules and completes the right paperwork to ensure that everything is above board.

My hon. Friend mentioned Ray Woodcock, a great granddad who has just broken a Guinness world record, jumping 384 feet down into a flooded quarry. I will make sure that the Chief Whips hear of that, because it may have other potential uses for MPs who misspeak in this place.

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Finally, my hon. Friend talked about Southend’s city of culture. It brought a smile to my face when he identified Southend as the alternative city of culture. That is something we can all smile about and welcome. I am sure we will follow developments carefully. I thank my hon. Friend for opening the debate. That leaves me a little bit of time to respond to the other contributions.

The first point that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) raised was about Afsana, a constituent of his who is stranded in Dubai. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has had the support that he needed from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the consular staff, although I understand perfectly why the family will feel that that is not sufficient, given the very serious predicament that their family member is in. I am pleased to hear that a meeting with the Minister has already been agreed, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will pursue the matter as assiduously in that meeting as he has done previously. I am sure that the FCO and consular staff will do everything in their power to help resolve the problem, although all of us who have had experiences of constituents abroad dealing with other legal systems know that that is one of the biggest challenges any Member of Parliament can face in taking up issues on behalf of constituents.

The hon. Gentleman touched on the issue of firefighters’ pensions. He obviously has extensive knowledge of that, which he brings in a very positive way to the Chamber this afternoon. He highlighted some aspects and recognised that it is a good scheme for firefighters. He will know, and I know as a result of a chance meeting with a firefighter while I was out canvassing at the weekend, that the contribution that firefighters make to their pensions is quite significant. The figure that I was quoted was £900 a month as a pension contribution. I am aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), has stated his willingness to engage with the Fire Brigades Union, and I hope that will be pursued, as it is not in the interest of the FBU, the Government or the wider public for strike action to go ahead. If there is a possibility of the talks finding a resolution, let us pursue that option.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) is in his place. I wish him every success in seeking out that plum role in panto. That was everyone’s cue for “Oh no, you don’t”, but they were too slow. My right hon. Friend referred to HS2 and the third runway. It is clear that, particularly in relation to HS2, there will be many opportunities to discuss that further in the months and years to come.

My right hon. Friend dwelt at some length on his interests. From the trip that we both undertook to Venezuela and Brazil some year ago, I know about his interest in environmental matters, wildlife and especially bird life. I recommend that he does not walk around Clapham common in the dark with his bat detection material. He may want to choose another location. He spoke about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and concerns there about its wildlife park. I agree that that is a significant issue, but the DRC has a much wider range of issues that we need to contribute towards resolving, as well as that concern. My right hon. Friend raised the issue of upland habitats here. He may have

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the opportunity at DEFRA questions on 9 January to raise that and other environment-related matters that he referred to.

There are a couple of issues that I will draw to the attention of the Ministry of Justice—vicarious liability and the changes to legal aid, which my right hon. Friend flagged up. He finished by thanking both the Metropolitan police and the staff of the House, and I join him in that. We all know as Members of Parliament that unfortunately the activities of a very small number of people tend to rub off on the activities of others who have no involvement in inappropriate activities.

The hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) raised the serious issue of eating disorders. It is something the Government take very seriously, particularly among young people. We know that those most affected are young people between the ages of 14 and 25, and there might be as many as 1.1 million people—a substantial number—in the UK directly affected. Since April the relevant services have been commissioned by NHS England, so Members who represent English constituencies should raise concerns on the matter with it.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who is no longer in his place, raised a large number of issues. He wanted us to remember 3 Mercian, which we will do. He referred to the role of the trust special administrator at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. I think that he was pleased with some of the outcomes of the process but had concerns about others. I echo those concerns in relation to my local hospital, St Helier. It is a category 6 hospital, so one of the safest in the country, and the best in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for dealing with hip fractures, yet it is proposed, as a result of a clinician review, that its A and E and maternity departments should close, which I will fight very hard.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of other health-related issues, which he might want to raise in health questions on 14 January. He also touched on HS2. Given that today we had Transport questions, in which HS2 featured prominently, followed by a statement from the Chair of the Transport Committee, I do not think that there is anything further that I could add. Finally, I was pleased to hear him speaking up for the Government’s position on international development. Following the actions of the previous Government, we are ensuring that we deliver 0.7% of GNI for international development. That gives us credibility around the world when we are talking about the subject. We are recognised internationally for that.

Like other Members, I winced and shuffled in my seat when the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) described the painful process of hysteroscopy. I hope that she, on behalf of us all, will thank her constituent and the other women for providing that information. I think that we need a considered response from the Department of Health. Perhaps more guidance could be issued, whether for patients or doctors, because clearly she has identified a pattern with that procedure and I think that it needs a detailed response.

The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) talked about beds in sheds. Members will know that the Prime Minister has visited Southall to look at that issue. We heard other contributions this afternoon on the private rented sector. It was clear from the cross-party consensus that emerged that something needs to be done. I am sure that the Backbench Business Committee

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would respond positively to a cross-party request to discuss those issues, because clearly it is unacceptable that people are living in sheds. It was noted that in Slough there were just over 6,100 houses where people were potentially living in sheds, although I suspect that some of them were cannabis farms, because of the heat generated. He also highlighted the number of fires that had happened over a three-year period—just under 350, with nine associated deaths. This not only has a very negative impact on the people who are having to live in those conditions; sometimes the consequences are significantly more serious.

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has yet responded to the housing Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who has written to him to say that he would be happy to meet him to discuss his concerns. He set out in his speech some possible solutions that I am sure the Minister would want to hear. Other Members made some important points that I am sure the Department for Communities and Local Government would appreciate hearing about.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raised the issue of the third runway. On behalf of his local community, he has been an articulate and consistant advocate of not building that runway, under the coalition Government and under the previous Government. He also discussed HS2, the Fire Brigades Union dispute, and staffing in the House of Commons. He then talked about safer neighbourhood teams. As a London Member of Parliament, I think that unfortunately the changes that have happened mean that there is less visibility on the streets, and people are raising that in terms of the profile of the police. That is an area that we need to monitor. On the living wage, he highlighted the more positive developments in relation to MITIE and flagged up the actions that John Lewis might like to take in this respect. The Government are very supportive of employers who want to take that route, although one could take the view that some employers might find it difficult to provide the living wage.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) referred to a very difficult case of abuse involving UK and UN personnel that occurred many years ago and did not comply with or satisfy any of the compensation schemes that were available. I can understand why his constituent and he would want closure on the issue. I will certainly draw it to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence in terms of possible solutions.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned an infrastructure proposal regarding the A30 and the A303 and a bid for dualling, although he did not offer it up as an extremely long runway for Heathrow. He then talked about the village of Feniton and his concerns about flooding and the impact of housing development. There may be an opportunity for him to raise those issues as soon as we get back, because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will respond to questions on 9 January and the Department for Communities and Local Government will respond to questions on 13 January.

The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) complained that we were not having a themed debate today. He may or may not be aware that the Backbench Business Committee discussed the matter and felt that today’s debate should be in this format. Perhaps next

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time it will feel that it should be in the previous format, with themes. Perhaps housing could have been a theme for today’s debate, or fire brigade disputes—who knows what would have been appropriate? We have a Member here who will feed back the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and we will see what decision the Committee makes for future pre-recess Adjournment debates.

I echo the hon. Gentleman’s praise for the contribution that the staff in this place make to the way in which we work. He then dwelled on housing in London, picking up the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East. He described the particular challenges faced in a borough like Islington—which I know about reasonably well having lived there some years ago—as regards the cost of housing and the need to build more affordable homes. I am not sure whether the Government would want to follow the hon. Member for Islington North down the route of regulating letting agencies, but he has identified an issue with private landlords that requires a solution. I will make sure that the proposal in his private Member’s Bill is drawn to the attention of the Department for Communities and Local Government to see whether it can provide a solution. Given that we have had substantial contributions on the issue of housing and the private rented sector in particular, the Backbench Business Committee may look favourably on a request for a debate early in the new year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), who has just left his place, thanked organisations in his constituency, including the Salvation Army and church groups. I am sure we would all want to echo those remarks. I will visit my local Salvation Army tomorrow to pick up some gifts for me to give to a family who cannot afford presents this Christmas. The Salvation Army is making a positive contribution at this festive time of year, as are church groups by organising lunches for people who might otherwise be alone.

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My hon. Friend also referred to a couple of transport infrastructure projects and I will make sure that the Department for Transport is made aware of those two bids. I do not intend to visit cholesterol corner—it does not sound like a nice place to go—where people can get their arteries blocked in more ways than one: from KFC and McDonald’s to the traffic congestion at the junction.

I believe that I have touched on most or even all of the points that have been raised. In conclusion, I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Clerks, the Door Keepers, the shadow Deputy Leader of the House the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), every Member who has contributed to the debate, and the civil servants who have provided support to ensure that I and others were well briefed, as well as our constituency and Westminster staff. As Members of Parliament we are uniquely privileged in the positions we hold in this House and none of our work would be possible without the contribution that a whole range of people make to our lives.

I will finish with a big smile on my face, just to dispel the notion that I might be auditioning for “Grinch 3”. I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Before I put the question, may I thank all the Members who took part in the debate and wish everybody who stayed behind all the best for Christmas and the new year? I also thank all the staff of this House, wherever they work in it, for their efficiency and for making the lives of all Members so much easier. I also thank the public who visit this rare House of ours. Right, let’s put the question!

Question put and agreed to.


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

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Criminal Justice (North Wales)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(John Penrose.)

4.43 pm

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this evening, Mr Deputy Speaker. I echo your festive greetings and wish you, your family and everyone in the House a merry Christmas. I also thank all the staff who have worked so hard for us over the past year. I would also like to extend Christmas greetings to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), to whom I apologise for detaining him this evening. He has only recently been installed—or should I say reinstalled?—in Government and it is a pleasure to have him back, but I am afraid that some of my remarks will be critical of his Department. I am sure that things will start to look up because of his appointment.

I should first declare an interest as a non-practising solicitor. I have not worked in private practice since I was elected in 2001, but I bring previous experience of working in the criminal justice system in north Wales, as well as in Merseyside and Cheshire. I have many connections, which I maintain, with people working in the criminal justice system in north Wales, including solicitors, barristers, magistrates, magistrates’ clerks, probation officers and police officers.

I have never known such a state of flux in the criminal justice system in north Wales and, even more worryingly, such a lack of information for the community as a whole about the Government’s justice policy and how it will operate in future. It is creating enormous uncertainty for court staff, businesses connected to the courts and magistrates who commit time and substantial energy to the service, as well as for court users generally.

Magistrates courts and criminal justice are important to their communities. Summary justice is hundreds of years old, and it depends upon local input for effectiveness. It is indeed ironic that a Government who purport to promote localism appear determined to erase local justice from the map. What is this Government’s agenda for north Wales?

Magistrates and solicitors approached me early this year, when Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service in Wales issued a consultation document on the review of local justice areas in North Wales, the gist of which was to merge six magistrates court benches into three. When I read it, I was struck by the fact that none of the reasons given for that proposal referred to court users, but instead focused on issues such as

“a more cost effective and viable financial base”,

and “reduced administrative burdens”, as well as

“improved flexibility in the listing of cases within larger justice areas”.

In my town of Wrexham, there is real concern about the proposed merger of the local bench, which has been established for hundreds of years, with Flintshire. That would enable Wrexham cases to be listed in Mold, which would have a substantial impact on defendants, witnesses, lawyers, probation officers, magistrates and clerks. It would be the latest in a long line of changes to court work in north Wales that have centralised fine enforcement, road traffic cases and TV licensing work, taking local work away from courts in an effort to centralise.

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The effect in Wrexham might be even more profound, as North Wales police currently intend to move custody facilities from the town centre to Llay, which is situated between Wrexham and Mold. The current custody facilities are immediately adjacent to Wrexham magistrates court, but I am concerned that if they move to Llay and the Ministry of Justice succeeds in its bid to merge magistrates benches, the combination of both factors will form part of a future case for moving magistrates’ business away from Wrexham completely. We might be seeing the start of a process that ultimately leads to the closure of the magistrates court in the largest town in north Wales.

I know from speaking to north Wales parliamentary colleagues from all parties that there is real concern across north Wales about the Ministry of Justice’s courts agenda. In response to the consultation earlier this year, I lodged a detailed submission on 21 April 2013, five days before the closure date. I made various points about the usage of the courts, and I raised issues relating to travel, impacts on local businesses—they have expressed their concerns to me about the proposal—and the additional cost to the public purse from increased travel costs. I concluded:

“I would also welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with Wrexham Magistrates.”

I heard nothing for some time.

It is striking how remote the criminal justice system is from Members of Parliament in north Wales. There appears to be no willingness to engage with us on the part of the Ministry of Justice or Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. That contrasts with our relations with the police force, the chief constable and even the new police and crime commissioner. The Ministry of Justice seems to be pursuing various agendas, thick and fast, without any consultation with the local community. What is the policy on courts and probation, and where is it leading? Even on the issue of Wrexham prison, where more information has been given, we still do not know whether it will be run by the public or private sector.

The roaring silence in response to my submission on court mergers continued. I wrote chasing e-mails. Eventually, on 22 May, I was informed that the consultation had been withdrawn

“as there was insufficient support from amongst the magistrates for a merger to proceed at this time”.

I was then astonished to be informed by local solicitors that the court service had cancelled the sittings in Wrexham on Mondays and that they were to be heard at Mold. It appeared that the proposals that had been envisaged in the consultation document were being taken forward despite the consultation and despite the reasoning that had been given by the local justices’ clerk for the withdrawal of the consultation. The proposals were proceeding without anyone bothering to have a consultation and expressly against the wishes of the local magistrates, who had not supported them.

The court is crucial to Wrexham. It is the biggest town in north Wales and a population centre. It is served by bus routes in a way that Mold is not and it supports small and larger solicitors practices that employ my constituents. Moving the magistrates court is of such importance to various groups in the town that they contacted me—something that they do not do often. They have asked me to look after their interests and the

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interests of the town. However, the court service has still not met me, despite my request, to tell me what is going on. I am willing to meet it, but I feel excluded.

Not everyone is excluded from the consultation. A lot of private discussion has been going on, from which the public and other interested parties have been cut out since the withdrawal of the public consultation document. On 2 July this year, the Secretary of State for Justice attended a political meeting of Wrexham Conservatives. In a report to Wrexham magistrates in August 2013, Sally Kenyon, the chair of the Wrexham bench said:

“I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Grayling…in Wrexham in July. I raised our concern that Wrexham is to lose the police cells adjacent to the court building”.

There is then a substantial passage setting out the views of the Secretary of State on his plans relating to the Ministry of Justice estate in north Wales. It quotes extensively, but selectively, from correspondence with the chair of the Wrexham bench. The Secretary of State concluded his correspondence by saying that

“there are no firm plans in relation to the relocation of criminal work to Mold.”

When I wrote to the Secretary of State subsequently for information on his discussions concerning Wrexham courts, he said:

“The purpose of my visit to Wrexham was for a private luncheon, rather than Departmental business”.

It is very clear, however, that departmental business was discussed at that private luncheon. In his letter to me of 10 October, on Ministry of Justice notepaper, the Secretary of State concludes with the same phrase that he used in his letter to the chair of the Wrexham bench:

“there are no firm plans in relation to the relocation of criminal work to Mold”.

In a letter to the Minister, I asked to meet him to find out about the agenda of the Ministry of Justice for the courts in north Wales. I am still waiting for a reply. A series of written parliamentary questions on the issue were answered with obfuscation and avoidance. I have, therefore, secured this debate.

Will the Minister please confirm that the Secretary of State conducted departmental business at what he described as a “private luncheon”? In particular, will he confirm that the Secretary of State discussed Wrexham magistrates court and Wrexham police cells with the chair of Wrexham bench? Will he release the full text of the Secretary of State’s letter to the chair of Wrexham magistrates bench so that the public can have confidence in the process, and so that all magistrates can see the full text of the correspondence? Does the Minister think it appropriate that the people of north Wales should be excluded from discussions on the future of criminal justice in north Wales? Does he think it appropriate for privileged access to the Secretary of State to be given to individuals because of political connections?

Will the Minister please arrange a briefing session for north Wales MPs to tell us, openly and honestly—as I am sure he will—what HM Courts Service intends to propose for north Wales? We had a consultation that was withdrawn as long ago as April, and actions have been taken by HM Courts Service to bring together services since then without any consultation or anyone having the opportunity to make representations. Does

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the MOJ have any intention to consult the people of Wrexham and, more broadly, of north Wales, on its proposals for courts in north Wales?

The way this issue has been handled to date is, quite simply, the worst I have encountered in 12 years as an MP. It has been conducted evasively, incompetently and, quite bluntly, with secrecy. I hope that the Minister will now open up the process so that MPs and the people of north Wales can be consulted about the criminal justice system in our area, and so that we know what is going on and can make appropriate representations.

4.57 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): I thank the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) for the kind comments he made at the outset of his remarks about my appointment. I assure him that it is no inconvenience for me to be here today, notwithstanding the fact that it is the last debate before the Christmas recess. I congratulate him on securing this debate. It is an important issue—all the more reason why I am pleased to be here—not only for the hon. Gentleman but for his constituents. That is evident from the number of parliamentary questions he has submitted, the correspondence in which he has engaged, and the fact he has secured this debate.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues, and I hope that during my speech I will address some of his concerns. I apologise that the letter he wrote to me received a reply that was sent by e-mail only yesterday. As a colleague, I appreciate how many e-mails we all get, but it is somewhere in the system and I apologise for the delay, which should not have happened. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has had difficulty trying to arrange meetings with local judicial staff and, as far as I am able, I will try to assist to facilitate that meeting for him and his colleagues.

It is important to recognise two issues. We are talking about the potential merger of two benches, which is a matter for the judiciary. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that constitutionally, the judiciary is independent of the Executive. A potential merger of benches is a matter for the magistrates to come to a conclusion on, working with the justice clerk. The management of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service falls within the Ministry of Justice, so there is departmental responsibility at our end. As I proceed with my remarks, I hope I will address some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Let me be clear at the outset: the delivery of criminal justice is a crucial priority for the Government. That is why, among other measures, we are investing in the digital courtroom, as part of the strategy and action plan for reform of the criminal justice system. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that effective magistrates courts are the cornerstone of our justice system. They deal with 95% of the criminal cases that go through the courts in England and Wales.

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(John Penrose.)

Mr Vara: The work that magistrates do in north Wales and across the court service is absolutely vital. The partnership between the magistracy and officials who manage the courts is an essential prerequisite for

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the successful operation of our magistrates courts. In the case of magistrates courts, this partnership is built up through regular meetings between bench chairs and officials, providing the opportunity to discuss the conduct of court business, including listing arrangements. It is therefore to be expected that the chairs of Wrexham and Mold benches would discuss the potential arrangement of local justice areas in north Wales during meetings with officials.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the local justices issues group concluded in late 2012 that the reorganisation of local justice areas, including the merger of the Wrexham and Flintshire local justice areas, would provide the most efficient framework for the administration of justice in north Wales.

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman took the time and trouble to respond in detail to the consultation. However, as he will be aware, the consultation was suspended when it became clear that the wider proposals for north Wales no longer had the support of all the bench chairs, as had been previously understood. Following further consideration, the proposals were withdrawn. I hope the hon. Gentleman will take away from that the fact that the voice of the people who took the trouble to take part in the consultation was heard. This is a decision based on views taken in by outsiders, and not on decisions taken at the top.

Ian Lucas: On that point, the difficulty is that steps were taken subsequently, in terms of the transfer of business between the two courts, that seem to pursue the agenda suggested in the withdrawn consultation.

Mr Vara: I appreciate where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but the listing of cases is a matter for the judiciary to decide as it sees best so that it can get the business done and hear as many cases as possible. It is important to recognise that distinction. As far as the consultation is concerned, it was pulled. I understand that there is talk among the magistrates—not at the Ministry of Justice end, but among the magistrates—that there may be another consultation, but that is a matter I hope he will be able to address in direct communications with them. As I said at the outset, I will try to facilitate a meeting for him.

It is important to appreciate that any new proposals to merge local justice areas in north Wales would be subject to a consultation. I am aware that the bench chairmen for Flintshire and Wrexham are keen to consult on mergers, because they believe they will result in a more efficient and effective structure for the magistracy in north-east Wales.

If a consultation does go ahead, all local magistrates, local authorities, members of the local criminal justice board and other interested parties—including, of course, all local MPs and other locally elected officials—will be able to comment. It would be for the justices clerk and the local justices issues group to consider the responses to the consultation and, should there be a case for merger, they will then formulate their final recommendation in respect of the new structure.