Commons Gate

Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons

While speaking in the chamber of the House is a high profile activity for an MP, much other work is done elsewhere, in committee, as well as a large casework load for constituents.

A backbencher speaks for his constituents



In the House Current
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01/11/05 Pensions Act 2004
12/10/05 Tackling Climate Change
12/07/05 Tax Credits
08/03/05 Road Safety Bill
07/03/05 House of Commons Members' Fund (Discretionary Payments)
10/02/05 Flood Risks (Urban Areas)
19/01/05 Carlisle Floods
11/01/05 Flooding (North-West)
17/11/04 National Minimum Wage


Commons Hansard
1 Nov 2005

Pensions Act 2004

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I shall not keep the House long. Since we last appointed a retired Member of the House as a trustee, the retired Members association has been set up. In future, we should perhaps consult the association and more widely in order to establish who the pension trustee should be. As it stands, we could well be contravening the terms of the Pensions Act 2004. I do not ask that a change be made tonight, but I do ask the Leader of the House to take cognisance of my comments.

Mr. Hoon: With the leave of the House, I shall deal with the one point that has been raised. Nominations to replace retiring trustees have come forward in the usual way. In fact, there is no legal obligation to consult any particular organisation, but we do take account of that point when there are new regulations under the scheme. A retired Members association would be an appropriate body to consult in such circumstances. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) recognises, however, that the trustees' work is quite onerous. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and disagree with his modesty. He does understand these arrangements, as I have learned to my cost in correspondence with him. It is important that the House have such expertise available to it, and I pay tribute to him and to the other trustees who do such important work for us.

Given that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) set such a good example, I shall not detain the House any longer.

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Commons Hansard
12 Oct 2005

Tackling Climate Change

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I shall bear your comments in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Given the consensus in the Chamber and the view that we need a new political approach, perhaps the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) will withdraw his motion so that we will not need a vote. That would put the Government on the back foot and would certainly be new politics.

It is well known that I do not make great visionary speeches in the Chamber and talking about the problems of 2050 is something that tends to be lost on my constituents. I wish to speak about my experience of what I believe to be climate change. Those hon. Members who can remember past the general election know that Carlisle experienced horrendous flooding on 8 January. About 3,000 houses were flooded and two elderly constituents died a dreadful death by drowning in their homes. Some £500 million of damage was caused. Jobs were lost. It was a staggering blow.

The Government responded well. My hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who is responsible for dealing with floods, came to the constituency before it had stopped raining and £30 million was made available for flood defences. Six Ministers, four of them Secretaries of State, visited us. We dealt with the flood well. We also received an extra £30 million for our schools.

We thought that it was a flood that took place once every 150 years. It had happened and we could put it behind us. The Deputy Prime Minister came to the city and said that it should have a renaissance. We were to have a new fire station, new police station, new commercial centre and new civic centre, because they were all flooded. We were looking forward to that, but yesterday the rain started again. The storm clouds came over Carlisle, settled over Cumbria and we had 4 in of rain.

Those facts do not bear any resemblance to what really happens to people when they are flooded. I arrived home from London and someone said, "Do you want a boat trip round your house?" After the flooding went away, we went into the houses, took our personal possessions, which we had had for many years, and threw them into a big skip. But that was just the start. The builders then came in. They tore the house to pieces, ripped up floorboards and took down the walls. Massive heaters were put in the house to dry it out before it could be reconstructed. It was horrendous. Some 66 per cent. of the people flooded in my constituency in January are still not back in their homes. That is the reality of a massive flood - and of global warming.

It is global warming because the same thing has happened again. Fortunately, when I came to the Chamber, the rain had stopped, but last night my constituents lived in fear. I am not exaggerating - I am not prone to exaggeration - but they would not have slept. I was in London and I did not sleep. The curtains would have been open and they would have gone to the window every half hour to check whether it was still raining. The local bus company moved its £3 million-worth of new buses out of the area. I talked to senior managers at United Utilities today who said that the climate has changed and Carlisle is no worse than many other areas. My tale could well be repeated in other constituencies if we do not do something about the problem.

As I said, I am not a great visionary, but a practical politician. Some things we can do quickly. Although tackling emissions will take great debate by statesmen and wise counsel, we have to be ready for more floods. There is a commitment to provide flood defences, but they will not be up for a while. However, yesterday's problem was not with the rivers. The Environment Agency is in charge of those and they did not flood. The problem lay with the run-off of surface water, the drains and the sewers.

The practical difficulty is that the county council and the city council have different responsibilities for the different gullies. They argue about who should clean what and not enough are cleaned. The city council is responsible for the drains and United Utilities, the privatised utility supplier - privatisation does not help in this situation - is responsible for the sewers.

We therefore lack the necessary co-ordination to deal with the practical difficulties. If we do not get that right - I know that the Secretary of State is listening - we will fail to deal with future floods. Anyone representing a constituency with a flood risk should look at the reports about what happened in Carlisle, because they provide a blueprint for the way in which the Government should react as well as a warning about what can happen.

I sometimes think that our priorities are wrong. Many environmentalists in the Chamber have been in the vanguard, and have pushed for action on climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) raised the issue of sewerage and flash floods, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). United Utilities said that we must spend £3.5 billion in the next five years to improve environmental water quality in the north-west, but we have only £100 million to spend on improvements to the sewerage system. I live in the centre of Carlisle and when I look out of my windows I can see otters and kingfishers, which is tremendous. It may be necessary, however to reduce the £3.5 billion that we spend on water quality and put more money into improving the sewerage system. We need to reconstruct the drainage and the sewerage systems in most of our cities, as they were built at a time when people did not experience flash floods or intense rainfall. Another option is to increase costs to pay for those improvements, because United Utilities and the other privatised utilities will always seek a profit.

I hope that people will treat my warning seriously. We can introduce practical measures quickly, but we must resolve the underlying problems. Wind power has been mentioned. In my constituency, a local company, Pirelli, has received planning permission for a large wind turbine that will cut its costs by about £750,000 a year. I think that that was the right decision. Having had nuclear power in Cumbria for many years, I believe that we should keep an open mind about it. Environmentalists who say that we should have nothing to do with it are probably wrong, and might think differently if they shared my experiences. The Liberal Democrats cannot claim to build a consensus while ruling out nuclear power. That is simply not feasible.

I hope that I have warned the House about the practical problems of climate change. The right hon. Member for West Dorset would give a true sign of consensus if he withdrew the motion.

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Commons Hansard
12 Jul 2005

Tax Credits

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I have been listening closely to the hon. Gentleman, and I heard him say that he did not want to take any money away from single parents. Will he explain how the extra money would be given to couples to make up the difference?

Andrew Selous: Yes, with pleasure. We have to take into account the system that we have now, but in future, we should rectify the imbalance. That would probably mean adjusting the system, and I would be more interested in the family with children that is £22 below the poverty line than the family with children that is £66 above it, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be if such people were his constituents. We need to tweak the system in the future - we do not propose taking money away from anyone now - to create a genuinely level playing field. We would then not discriminate against children because of their family situation. That is the consequence of the present system, and there has not been nearly enough acknowledgement of that fact.

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Commons Hansard
7 Mar 2005

House of Commons Members' Fund (Discretionary Payments)

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): As a fellow trustee, my hon. Friend may recall that we recently advertised in a journal for former Members. We wanted to alert people who would not know of the fund. But I think that the proposed system would be very effective, and should operate annually.

Dr. Stoate: My hon. Friend is right, and I hope that the fund will continue to operate proactively as far as possible.

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Commons Hansard
10 Feb 2005

Flood Risks (Urban Areas)

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I thank my hon. Friend for visiting Carlisle and north Cumbria twice since the horrendous floods on 8 January. His words have been welcome, especially his comments on the new flood defences. However, there is an inquiry into the flood's consequences. Will he give me some indication of its time scale and perhaps its terms of reference?

Mr. Morley: Yes, I can. First, I reiterate my sympathy for the owners and occupiers of the 3,000 properties and businesses in Carlisle that were affected, which included the home of my hon. Friend. Having been there, I have seen how he has worked night and day to represent the interests of his constituents during this period. I was pleased, on my second visit, to see the progress that had been made on recovering from the floods. It is important to emphasise that business is getting back to normal in Carlisle; it is open for business and people should support it.

On the inquiry, after every major flood event, we expect the Environment Agency to produce a detailed analysis of its causes, so that we can learn from the event and feed that knowledge into future policy. That work is under way, and I am expecting a report on the Carlisle flood from the Environment Agency in March.

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Commons Hansard
19 Jan 2005

Carlisle Floods

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): If we can get away from elections and back to the reality of my constituents for a moment, I am conscious that my right hon. Friend is aware of the effects of the recent disastrous floods in Carlisle. The latest position is that thousands of people have been forced out of their houses, perhaps for at least eight months, and 260 businesses have been badly affected. So far, the Government's response has been good and I hope that that will continue. However, will he ensure that the new flood defences that were planned will be modified and that work on them will be started as soon as is feasible? Will he give a commitment that they will be of a standard that would have withstood the water that caused the recent flood?

The Prime Minister: I express my sympathy to my hon. Friend's constituents who have been affected by the flooding. I understand their concern, since more than 3,000 houses have been flooded and many more have suffered wind damage. The Environment Agency was already considering the options for a new flood defence scheme to give added protection to Carlisle. I note that, as a result of what has happened, it and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are considering how they can ensure that any new flood protection scheme tries to tackle the problem that has affected my hon. Friend's constituency. We understand the urgency of that. As I said when I spoke to him the other day, I shall take a personal interest in ensuring that that is done properly.

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Commons Hansard
11 Jan 2005

Flooding (North-West)

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I first ask you to pass on my thanks to Mr. Speaker for his kind words of sympathy and support for my constituents and myself yesterday? I also thank the Minister not just for his statement today, but for his prompt action in visiting Carlisle. I rang him on the Saturday, and by Sunday lunchtime he was there. That was greatly appreciated by my constituents. The Minister was able to answer many of their questions about Government support. As I said, it will not be forgotten.

Last Friday night and Saturday morning were horrendous. The Minister said that it was the worst flooding since 1822 and there is a mark on the Eden bridge to show that flood level. The recent flood went beyond it. It was horrendous. Within 36 hours, we had 9 in of rain. Tragically, three people died: Mr. Scott was killed by falling farm masonry, and two elderly ladies, Mrs. Threlkeld and Mrs. Porter, who lived in Warwick road in my constituency, sadly drowned in the incident. I want to offer my sympathy and condolences to the families of all those people, and I know that the House is with me on that. Another consequence was the flooding of 3,000 houses, and almost 100,000 people were without electricity, many for three nights. It has been a very difficult time.

I particularly thank the agencies involved in support. The police and the fire service did everything that they could, and more besides. We need to recall that both the fire station and the police station were under 6 ft of water, reflecting the seriousness of the problem. The city council and the county council were excellent, especially social services in looking after the elderly and the young. The reception centres were manned by volunteers - the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the Salvation Army and the Churches. The Minister and I visited them on Sunday and we saw the tremendous welcome that people were given at those centres. The community spirit in the city has been brilliant. United Utilities and the Environment Agency pulled people in from all over the country to get services back to normal as quickly as possible.

A special thank you should also go to BBC Radio Cumbria. Many people have told me that it was a lifeline. The telephones were down and there were no proper communications, so people listened to their car radios or battery-charged radios. It was the only way to get the information out. Without that, things would be have been even more intolerable for many people.

There should be further investigation of certain problems. I believe that the early warning flood system failed for some people, including myself. The local authority may also have been hampered by a shortage of sandbags. I am not convinced that the insurance industry has done itself any good, either. It was very slow to respond, especially at the weekend.

What of the future? Many industries and businesses in my constituency have been badly affected economically and I am sure that redundancies will follow. I hope that the Government will be generous in giving help. I want to ask the Minister to think about what more the regional development agencies could do to help us. He has already touched on helping local authorities. I have asked him to talk to the insurance companies to see whether they can lift their performance. Will he also ask United Utilities to do its best on the ground to get services back to normal? I understand that at this very moment, accountants are looking at ways to fiddle the compensation awarded to my constituents. It is very bad indeed to see people trying to wriggle out of their commitments. My constituents need every penny to get themselves back on their feet.

In conclusion, I thank the Minister and ask him whether he will come back to Carlisle in a few weeks' time when we know the full extent of the damage, in order to talk to the stakeholders in the area and move forward. Finally, I want to say how proud I have been of my constituents over the last few days.

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Commons Hansard
17 Nov 2004

National Minimum Wage

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many workers in Carlisle have benefited from the national minimum wage. [191604]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The latest low pay data from the ONS show that 1.1 million people in the UK stood to benefit from the October 2004 uprating of the National Minimum Wage. The DTI will provide estimates of National Minimum Wage beneficiaries by region by early December. It is unlikely that figures will be available for Carlisle due to small sample size.

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Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO

On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB