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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab):
I really welcome the emphasis in the statement on young people having a say. I know from consultations I have run in Slough, and in this House, how much sense and imagination they have to offer. In those consultations, however, young people whose families are most chaotic, and failing to support them because of drugs, alcohol or health issues, tend to get missed out. I am anxious that the positive programme she has advanced might not connect to that group of young people. Will she consider whether we could establish some sort of social work or emotional information network in primary
schools to refer young people to activities out of school while they are still there for most of the day, before they drift into being out of school more often than they should be?
Beverley Hughes: I welcome the support from most hon. Members for the importance of recognising that this strategy must identify and reach the most disadvantaged young people, because that is my starting point, too.
On my hon. Friends point, the work going on to extend the range of activities around the school day, with various enrichment activities, is an important part of the extended school programme, as is the use of the school as a hub for the referral of young people to more specialist services and the identification of young people who might otherwise miss out. As she knows, we announced yesterday a further £1.1 billion to enable all schools to offer those extended services, including the link to specialist services. That will greatly help what is available in the locality with regard to positive activities and support for children and young people.
Dan Norris (Wansdyke) (Lab): I welcome the Ministers statement, particularly when I contrast it to my professional experience working in child care 15 or 20 years ago, when staff were being made redundant, budgets were being cut and there were certainly no new buildings. Could I ask the Minister whether she has made any provision for rural and semi-rural communities in her plans? Deprivation is clearly a difficult issue wherever it is, but it is particularly challenging when it is compounded by isolation.
Beverley Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for his question because I know that he has great expertise in these issues. We do not want local authorities to make all the provision themselves; we want them to work with the voluntary and private sectors. I have seen some great schemes in which there has been substantial involvement from the private sector. However, it is important that local authorities take the strategic lead because it is through that route that the characteristics of local problems, whether in urban or rural areas, can be identified through the participation of young people, and solutions can be found. Obviously, transport is a particular issue for youngsters in many rural areas, and it is important that local authorities talk to passenger transport authorities and to young people in order to find solutions to access problems.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you tell me whether either you or Mr. Speaker have had any indication from Ministers about a policy for distributing White Papers to Members? I refer to the White Paper entitled Delivering a Sustainable Railway, a personal copy of which I received from the House of Commons Members post office, doubtless along with 645 other hon. Members. A perfectly serviceable summary accompanied it and it was possible to get a copy of the full report from the internet. For hon. Members, there was the possibility of a small amount of exercise by walking from one side of the Members Lobby to the other to pick up a hard copy of the full White Paper, if they needed it, from the Vote Office.
Given that I suspect that approximately 500 to 600 of the individually delivered copies found their way straight into the recycling bins, is it not wasteful at a retail rate of £25 a copy for Ministers to insist on sending personal copies of the publication to hon. Members when it is unnecessary to do that?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The way in which Departments produce and distribute White Papers is a matter for them, not the Chair. The hon. Gentlemans point is firmly on record and will doubtless be noted by those who are responsible for such matters.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am delighted to participate in the summer Adjournment debateI shall do so briefly in view of the many hon. Members who want to speak. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the Front Bench and, indeed, the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara). The hon. Gentleman and I have an engagement to attend together at 6.30 this evening, so I am confident that the debate will finish on time.
I want to raise three issues. The first is the pathway project in my constituency. I am proud that we have a Labour Government who have allocated more money to the health service than any other Government in history. I am proud that the amount of money that we have spent trickles down to local communities. We have several impressive local improvement finance trust schemes and new doctors surgeries, and waiting times have been cut.
Imagine my disappointment and that of other hon. Members who represent Leicester and Leicestershire when the hierarchy of the health authority came to see us last week to announce that the pathway projecta £700 million project to rebuild and refurbish our three major hospitals in the city of Leicesterwas to be shelved. The reason given was that Triskelion, the private sector partner, had decided to increase the price of the pathway from £711 million and to charge the health authority an additional £201 million. The chief executive of the health authority, Peter Reading, and the chairman of the strategic health authority decided that it was far too much to spend and that it would not represent value for money.
In the spirit of all-party consensus, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and I went to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), who was then Secretary of State for Health, a few months ago because of our concerns about the delays in the completion of the pathway project. It is a tragedy that the rebuilding and refurbishment, which would have transformed health services in Leicester and Leicestershire, will not now take place. It is a tragedy because, for seven years, local Members of Parliament and the public were presented with a vision of what underlay the pathway project. I am disappointed because we have no firm commitment from the health authority and those who advise it about future plans for redeveloping our hospitals.
I hope that Ministers will understand the concerns of not only the local Members of Parliament but the local communities about what appears to me to be a misuse of public funds. We want especially to know what has happened to the £23 million of taxpayers money that went towards paying for the consultants and others who have produced no hospitals and no new health service.
I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies, she will give me three assurances about the pathway project. First, we want to be assured that the £711 million that was originally allocated will remain in the health service in Leicester and that there is no question of it going elsewhere. Secondly, we want to be assured that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) will meet Members of Parliament from the Leicestershire area in the next few weeks. I appreciate that it is traditional when we are in recess for Ministers to take their holidayrightly; they deserve itand for Members of Parliament to be busy with constituency and other parliamentary business. However, I am prepared to return to Westminsterand I know that that applies to my colleaguesto meet the Minister because, having been told about the decision, we feel that it is important to know what will happen in future. Thirdly, I hope that we will find out what has happened to the money that has already been spent on the local health service. Where has the £23 million gone? We can then justify to local people what has happened to their money.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for mentioning the joint meeting that we held with the former Secretary of State for Health not long ago. Will he let me know when he manages to arrange the meeting with the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) because I should like to join him? Will he also remind the Parliamentary Secretary that my constituency has been affected by the collapse not only of the pathway project but of the Market Harborough hospitals project, and the consequent waste of money? The latter is on a much smaller scale but is none the less a waste of public money.
Keith Vaz: Absolutely. I will keep the hon. and learned Gentleman informed. He will recall his comments at the meeting when we were told that the hospital project might be downsized and that perhaps a floor would be taken away. He said, We hope its not the ground floor. It is important that the matter is tackled on an all-party basis because I believe that we have the best health service and we have let down those who have contributed to its success in Leicester and other parts of the county.
I have raised my second point, which is about video games, on many occasions in the House. Since we last had such a debate, I am delighted that the British Board of Film Classification has banned Manhunt 2, the sequel to Manhunt 1, which was produced a few years ago and caused so much controversy. According to Giselle Pakeerah, the mother of Stefan Pakeerah, the young Leicester boy who was stabbed to death in a park in Leicester when aged only 14, the 17-year-old killer copied exactly scenes from Manhunt 1 to lure Stefan into the park and stab him 17 or 18 times with a knife.
Manhunt 2 is even worse because it shows graphic scenes of violence, including people being syringed in the eyes and bludgeoned to death. I was delighted when the BBFC decided to ban it. However, having banned the first video game in 10 years, it is important that the Government react much more proactively. I know that
my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is the mother of a young child. My children are 12 and 10 and I cannot supervise them every moment of the day. I see them at their computersobviously, since I became interested in the subject, I check what they are doing there. However, peer groups of which young children are a part may result in their watching videos that are inappropriate for their age because they have access to those games.
A partnership between the retailers, the producers of the video games and the Government is therefore important to ensure, first, that labelling is clear. It is still about the size of a 10p piece, which is far too small. The content of some games is so serious that a warning should be splashed on the bottom that clearly states the age limit so that those games will not pass the retailers who sometimes sell them because inexperienced people operate cash registers and do not know that they should not sell them to someone who is under 18. Such labelling also means that, if such a game is lying around a house, people can see that it is inappropriate.
I welcome what the Government have done and the statement that Tony Blair made just before he resigned as Prime Minister. He said that there is a wider social responsibility, beyond the notion that the publishers should be able to make profits out of such games. A huge amount of money is made out of the production of such games, for which we have become the centre of Europe, but there is a wider social responsibility, too. I therefore hope very much that something can be done to ensure additional research. The Government can do that immediately, without having to wait for the publishers, although they ought to contribute towards the cost of the research.
My final point concerns one of my constituents, Mr. Abder Razak Filali-Tomouh, a British citizen who went abroad for a weekend trip to the continent. He came back with the legal limit of tobacco in his car, with his whole family. There was no question of his being above the limit provided for by the Treasury and mentioned by the Customs and Excise people. He was within the limit, but he was stopped on his arrival and asked why he had brought that amount of tobacco in. He explained that it was for his use and that of his family for the foreseeable future. Having committed no crime, he found that the contents were impounded and that, worse for him, so was his carthe car in which he had driven to and from the country. He came back and lost everything, but no criminal offence was committed.
My constituent has not admitted to doing anything wrong and no evidence has been found that he has done anything wrong. He just had a lot of tobacco with him, but within the legal limit. This gentleman has lost his car and can no longer go about his normal business in Leicester. No real explanation has been given for what has happened, which, as I found out from a letter from the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, is standard practicethat is, that HM Revenue and Customs has the power to take peoples cars away from them, even though no offence has been committed. That is draconian and bizarre. There ought to be a right of appeal, allowing people the opportunity to challenge the decision.
My constituent cannot afford legal representationas we know, the Government have cut legal aid over the past few years for people in same position as my constituentso his only recourse is to come to his Member of Parliament. I have written on his behalf, I have received a standard reply from the Exchequer Secretary and apparently that is the end of the matterhe cannot do anything to get his car back. We need to look at the situation, which would never have come to my attention but for my constituent coming to me at my ordinary weekly surgery, because I do not regard myself as an expert in such matters.
Please let us look at the law, and in particular at peoples rights of appeal in such circumstances, especially for citizens who are not experts in that area of law and who become totally bewildered when one day they have a car to drive and the next they do not, and there seems to have been no court process in between. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will give me some reassurance that at the very least that case will be examined again and that at most we will examine the law to see whether we can exercise rights of appeal.
Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I should like to draw attention to yesterdays written ministerial statement, from column 68WS of the Official Report onwards, on the Governments determination on the bids that they have received for councils to receive unitary status. I deplore the fact that the Government have made a written statement and that the Ministers concerned did not come to the Floor of the House. Contained in the statement is the fact that the Government are minded to implement the bid on behalf of Exeter city council to become a unitary authority.
I and other hon. Members, on a cross-party basis, met Ministers during the consultation periodin fact, we had a constructive meeting with the Minister concerned. I want to draw attention to the five criteria that the Government have set themselves in deciding what would and would not qualify for unitary status, which are listed at column 69WS. The first criterion states that the bid
must be...supported by a broad cross section of partners and stakeholders.
whether it is her policy to approve unitary status only for those councils which command broad stakeholder support.
I will answer this question shortly.
I do not know how long shortly means in the House, but today is the last day on which we are sitting and the question should have been answered on Tuesday. I checked the letter board before coming into the Chamber and found that as yet I had received no reply.
However, the issue is pertinent in respect of the criteria that have been named yet again in the ministerial statement, because I do not believe that the bid for Exeter commanded the full support of the community that was consulted. In fact, when I receive my reply, I anticipate that the statistics will show that 83 per cent. of the responses that the Government received, including those from members of the public, were against the city of Exeter being made into a unitary authority and that only 14 per cent. were in favour. If that is a true reflection of where the figures lie, there is an obvious reason why the Minister has delayed answering a straightforward question, in the light of the ministerial statement. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House, whom I welcome to her position on the Front Bench, will make it a matter of urgency to ensure that I receive that reply in terms before the close of play today.
deliver value for money and equity on...services.[ Official Report, 25 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 69WS.]
The Government considered bids for unitary status in Lancashire, a large rural county, by both Burnley and Lancaster, but because of the impact on the rest of the county, the Government reckoned at the timeand I think have failed to implement unitary status for this reasonthat those bids did not deliver equity on public services. Exactly the same argument can be deployed for the county of Devon, a large rural county with two moors that are national parks, where Torbay and Plymouth already have unitary status.
If we take Exeter out of the Devon equation, we are left with a difficult situation for Exeter, which is far too small to be sustainable as a unitary authority in its own right, not least because there has just been a major restructuring of education in the city of Exeter, which was three-tier and is now two-tier, the cost of which is being borne under a private finance initiative county-wide. If Exeter is given unitary status, the city and the ratepayers of Exeter will have to pick up the long-term implications of that enormous PFI project. I am not just raising the issue from the point of view of a Member of Parliament representing a peripheral rural part of the 600 square miles of my county that abuts the city of Exeter. However, I am particularly concerned about the impact on the whole of Devon, which, if we take Exeter out of the equation is sparsely populated with a population of 93 people per square kilometre.
We must also consider the economies of scale that can be achieved in some of the important services that have to be delivered, especially the complex care services delivered by the primary care trust across a rural area. Economies of scale of expertise can be pooled by the city of Exeter and the rest of the county, and there is clearly a question mark not only over the financial implications of taking Exeter out of the equation but over the subsequent ability to deliver acceptable, good quality services, particularly in an area with a large number of elderly people.
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