Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.—(Guy Opperman.)
I wish to discuss Derby City Council’s decision to close the cattle market in Derby with one week’s notice. There has been a cattle market in Derby since the 12th century but within one week, with no consultation with anybody, the council has decided to close it, depriving local farmers of the opportunity to bring their cattle calmly and sensibly to a market close by. Once this market has closed and been demolished—that is what the council plans to do—people will have to go to Leek, Newark or further afield. The cattle that go to this well-used market will face additional stress and longer journeys, and farmers will have much greater fuel costs. As the Deputy Leader of the House knows, farmers struggle to make a living as it is and the extra fuel costs will cause some of them to cease farming. Some people have been going to the cattle market since the more recent one opened.
The problem is that Derby City Council has spent years and years not investing—it does that with many of its buildings—so it is now trying to say, “It will cost £190,000 in lost revenue, and we cannot afford this because of Government cuts.” However, this is actually about good housekeeping in Derby. The council claims that £2 million-worth of funding will be required to bring this market and the wholesale market up to scratch, but that is because it has not bothered to look after it for many, many years. That is a failure of Derby City Council’s local government strategy of downgrading everything and not spending money on proper investment and good housekeeping, but spending money on its pet projects.
I have received representations from farmers and from local people on this issue, and councillors feel very aggrieved that nothing was said before a week ago. Last night, the council voted to close the market without any more ado. The council is not only going to close it; it is going to demolish it and sell the site off for business units. I am not against business units, but we need a cattle market in the area. The problem we have with Derby City Council is that it wishes to ignore what the countryside is about, because it has only one farm within the city boundary and it does not care about farmers and what they are doing. This closure is a retrograde step, because Derby is the centre for many rural communities who come into Derby to bring their cattle. The auctioneers have been there for many years and this market is a centre of excellence—or it was until the council decided to close it. It does not have to close until next year, when the leases run out, so the council could have undertaken a better study in order to decide on its viability or whether there were alternatives and other people would be prepared to invest in it.
As I have said to the Deputy Leader of the House before, Derby City Council does not care about anybody outside its boundary. The council does not care that this is the centre for the farmers, it does not care about the welfare of the animals and it does not care about the people’s livelihoods that it is a affecting, because it says that this is nothing to do with Derby. The council is riding roughshod over these interests. The Government should be looking at this and saying, “You cannot just blame it on Government cuts.” That is what the council does, but this is not down to Government cuts; it is down to very bad housekeeping. I would like this House to examine this at some point in the future to stop councils riding roughshod over the will of the people.
Derby City Council does not do the same thing with other buildings. Buildings such as Allestree hall in my constituency have been going to rack and ruin for many years because the council has not invested in it. It has a golf course attached to it and the council could sell it off; it keeps promising to sell it off but it does nothing. The trouble is that when somebody eventually buys it and develops it, they will have to spend two, three, four or perhaps 10 times as much as they would have had to spend 10 years ago. Can we examine how we can make local authorities make good housekeeping decisions about the buildings they own, now and in the future?
My elation at being called first from the Opposition Benches is matched only by the slight annoyance that I felt yesterday when I spent six hours in here without being called. But I am delighted and really grateful to be called to speak today.
In the first of my three brief points, may I ask whether it is possible, in this day and age, for the Procedure Committee to consider having a list of speakers for a debate on the back of the Speaker’s Chair, so that colleagues can have some way of managing their day sensibly? Although Members will obviously be in the Chamber well before they speak and well after they speak, they will be able to plan their days more effectively.
That is an absolutely excellent point. In a modern Parliament, there should be no reason why we cannot have more control over who speaks and when they speak. I wish to put it on the record that I am delighted that the Deputy Speakers are not hiding the lists as well as they may have done in the past. At least we can get some information, but having a list on the back of the Speaker’s Chair will be even more helpful.
Indeed, that is a welcome development. Communication channels, even informal ones, should be established. We could take this a little further and ensure that this place attracts Members more seriously, rather than have them undergo this sort of endurance test before they can make a point of importance in a debate.
Going from the micro to the macro, my second point is about English devolution. Colleagues in the House—I look to some of those on the SNP Benches—will no doubt vouch for the fact that I have served my time on the Scotland Bill and I hope I made some helpful contributions. For me, that was really a warm-up for English devolution, which affects an even larger number of people in the Union than the Scotland Bill, important and essential though that is.
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is in the other place at the moment. It has been scrutinised carefully on the Floor of the House, which means that everyone has been able to contribute to what is, arguably, the most important Bill that will come before this House over the next five years.
I do not wish to get sidetracked on to English votes for English laws, which is a relatively straightforward and perhaps minor procedural matter that has very little to do with the devolution of power to the localities, cities, regions and councils of England. The proposal is misnamed. It is in fact English MPs’ votes for English laws, which is yet another Westminster bubble issue. Devolution is about how we all exercise power in the localities and about how electors and members of the public can see that they are in control of their politics. That is where we need to get to. I hope very much that the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill will come to this place briskly in September, that colleagues from all parts of the House will consider it and work on it, and that it goes as far as we have gone with our Scottish friends on the Scotland Bill.
What is good about devolving power to Scotland is that Scottish people can rightly take control of their own destinies and lives as much as is humanly possible within a Union and a federation of nations. I would welcome that 100%. I have sat through the proceedings on the Scotland Bill to learn all the lessons. One of the lessons for England is to do with financial devolution. We need to ensure that there is income tax assignment so that local government—whether it is based on combined authorities, regions or whatever people in England wish it to be—can go forward and people can take control.
What unites Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish people and their representatives on this issue is the fact that Whitehall has had its day. It is a massive over-centralised beast that tries to control everything. Unless we put it beyond change or entrench it, which is one of the many issues that I raised in the debates on the Scotland Bill, it will inevitably get sucked back to the centre. The gravitational pull of one Government or another to control will be so strong that unless we are clear about entrenching it—and there are lots of way to do that—we will find that the power that we would like to give will inevitably go back to the centre. That is why Labour’s posture going into the 2015 election was not adequate. Suggestions of beefing up the amount of money that the centre gives to the localities and creating super local enterprise partnerships rather than genuinely devolving power to England meant that people felt that we were not differentiated from other parties, and we paid a very dear price for that.
If we are not clear about what we stand for in 2020 and beyond and if we do not have a vision, then those who do—even if it is a vision with which I do not necessarily agree—will seize our territory in England as certainly they have done in Scotland. It is a lesson for all of us. Essentially, to EVEL I wish to add DEVIL—devolved English voices in local government. Let us have more DEVIL about our debates and a little less EVEL, because then we will have all four nations of the Union being able to master their own fate—not in a way that is decided by Whitehall. We do not want Whitehall saying, “You have got to do it this way; otherwise we won’t let you.” No, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland need organically to grow how they wish to devolve and exercise power. There is that most beautiful concept described by the ugly word, “subsidiarity”—doing these things at the most appropriate level. Ultimately, there must be a federal answer, which will also lead to federal parties within the United Kingdom. That is my hope and my aim. Indeed, along with other colleagues in my party, I have written to the four leadership challengers to ask their views on that, so that we can learn the lessons and have devolution in England.
My last point is more specific, and relates to the fact that I am a Member of Parliament for the constituency that sends the fewest number of young people to university in the United Kingdom. We all have great records that we wish to boast about; this is one that I bear as a cross and think about every single working day of my life. The young people in my constituency deserve as much of a chance as anyone else, but, because of the demography, that is rather difficult to achieve. We can do stuff about that.
On that point, the whole House knows the wonderful work that my hon. Friend has done on early intervention. Does he agree that the biggest thing that we can do to help more young people from his constituency, and other disadvantaged young people, is to concentrate on the early years and early intervention?
I am trying to be brief, because I wish to retain my place in the pecking order of being called early, so I am keen not to go into a topic that is very dear to my heart. Obviously, the idea of helping every baby, child and young person grow up with social and emotional capability is the key to everything—to relationship building, getting a decent job, and avoiding drink, drug abuse and all the rest that comes with that. My hon. Friend is very generous in her comments about a matter that is dear to my heart.
When young people get to the point of thinking of going to university, particularly when that is not in the culture and tradition of their area, they need a bit of a hand. I have to say openly in this Chamber that having gone to work after school, I would not have gone to college and then to university had there not been a full grant to get me there, and many other people can say that. I am one of those who benefited from that system. Over recent years there has been a fantastic effort by people, especially headteachers, in my area, my city and my locality, Nottingham North. Although Nottingham North is way off the pace—an outlier from all the other areas—we have closed the gap massively, but still the rate of young people going to university, instead of being one in three, which is the average throughout the United Kingdom, is one in eight in my constituency.
I finish with one final point related to that, and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your generosity. Just last week, those who have worked night and day—the headteachers, the teachers, the parents and those young people who are in a minority in trying to get to university—received a devastating blow in the Budget, which said that low income families who get a grant to help those young people take that first step on the higher and further education ladder will no longer get it. As my area is quite a low income area, 93% of families in my constituency, according to the last figure, can get a full or partial grant.
That was ended by the Chancellor last week. I am sure it looked okay when he was going through the list of things that might save a little bit of money here and a little bit there, but it is a devastating blow to the motivation, the drive and the aspiration that the Government talk about so much. I will raise this issue again in full if I secure an Adjournment debate. I will not take the time of the House to go through it all now, but I hope very much that, amid all the billions and billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at his disposal, the Chancellor will allow people in my constituency who, perhaps as in my case, will not be able to go to university without that small help.
It is no good replacing the grant with a loan when dealing with families who regard the current sum of £45,000 as a mountain to repay. If the figure goes up to £55,000 or £60,000, it will not be in their compass even to consider helping their young daughter or their young son go to university. I ask the Chancellor to think again, and I ask colleagues across the House to support any move that we can bring forward to restore the grant to low income families, so that people who are capable of going to university are not prevented from doing so by a lack of funding.
Before the House rises for the summer recess, there a number of issues that I wish to raise and I will rattle through them as quickly as possible, so my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, who is making her debut responding to the debate, need not panic if she cannot get the answers to everything.
Terrorism is a great issue for each and every one of us to face. There are no easy solutions, but it is not helpful to keep calling the dreadful people who were responsible for the attacks in Tunisia a state or Islamic. Let us call them Daesh.
I am appalled that we have spent a huge amount of money on the Chilcot report and waited a huge amount of time for it to be published. The gentleman is paid £799 per day for his work on that. I want the report published as soon as possible because, as someone who voted for us getting involved in the war in Iraq, I want to know whether I was misled. The Independent will shortly publish an article which will highlight my concerns on that issue.
I am honoured to be the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the Philippines. We are celebrating 70 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. I will be attending a conference in London later this year. It is wonderful how that country has picked itself up following the devastation caused by the tsunami.
We have heard a lot about Iran. I shall not bore the House with my views on that, but recently, with a number of colleagues, I attended a conference in Paris. Those who attended it feel increasingly frustrated that the PMOI—the People’s Mojahedin of Iraq—is still, disgracefully, a proscribed organisation. That is absolutely ridiculous, and Mrs Maryam Rajavi is still not allowed to visit this country. That is crazy.
Every colleague says, “David, it’s wonderful to fly from Southend airport.” Some of my constituents experience challenges if their property is under the flight path of the aeroplanes. Owing to the formula for recompense for noise pollution, a constituent has found that he is unable to claim for 50% of the cost of insulation, despite the fact that his own readings show noise levels of 88 decibels or higher. That is much more than the statutory limits of 63 to 69 decibels. The legislation on that needs to be looked at.
On grammar school funding, we have four grammar schools in my constituency—Westcliff high school for boys, Westcliff high school for girls, Southend high school for boys and Southend high school for girls. The funding for grammar schools is not fair. It is done on the basis of funding per pupil, rather than per qualification, which has led to great difficulties in running our grammar schools. I hope that colleagues who have grammar schools in their constituency will make sure that we get fair funding for our schools.
We have great grammar schools in Lincolnshire as well. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the things the Government need to do is remove the ban imposed by the Labour Government on new grammar schools opening and on existing grammar schools supporting the opening of new capacity where it is required within their own county?
I am in complete agreement with my hon. Friend. As a boy supposedly born into poverty, grammar school gave me the opportunity to make the most of my life. It was a great shame that another party decided that we should not continue to support grammar schools.
On mental health, there are tremendous funding challenges and I am totally dissatisfied with mental health services in my area, so I am glad that the Care Quality Commission is carrying out an inspection. I hope that while CQC is doing so, the people running our services are not going to cook the books.
I was delighted that the Conservative party manifesto said that my party would do something about banning wild animals in circuses. That was wonderful news. When is it going to happen?
On public sector pay, I am sick to death of senior management being paid ridiculous salaries. I was appalled to discover, for instance, that my local hospital paid £343,000 for three people to walk around the hospital for three months asking people what was wrong with the hospital. Absolutely ridiculous! Given that my hospital originally had a £7.8 million deficit and now has a deficit of £9.8 million, it is not acceptable for money to be squandered in that way.
I have the highest regard for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with him in what he is trying to do about the BBC. I read the letter that was signed by a number of people who work for the BBC—absolute icons, but they have a vested interest in that they tend to be higher earners. It is right that this House makes sure that senior management figures in the BBC do not continue to be paid the ridiculous salaries that they currently receive.
On national health service agency staff, before I became an MP I owned an employment agency, so I am not against the amount of money that employment agencies make from placing staff, but the amount of money spent on agency staff in our hospitals is ridiculous. As someone who served on the Health Committee for 10 years, where we had many inquiries, I think it is crazy that do not now have the number of permanent staff that we need.
On 9 September Her Majesty the Queen will become the longest reigning monarch ever, which we should all celebrate. I know that she does not want a fuss, but I hope that when we return in September this House will allow half an hour or an hour for us to pay our tributes.
Southend-on-Sea will be the alternative city of culture in 2017. We have a wonderful museum. I am very keen that we should have a marina. I congratulate Southend United on being promoted to league one. Southend deserves to become a city, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will pass that message on.
All Members of Parliament are subject to lobbying; some good and some bad. I was delighted to be lobbied recently by Results UK, which told me that our country is by far one of the most generous donors of international aid, ensuring that valuable taxpayers’ money is spent in places that truly need support. We should be proud of the money that has gone to help people in Kenya, for example.
The Optical Confederation is encouraging opticians to move outside hospitals, which can lead to tremendous savings in the work they do. I hope that colleagues will get involved in that.
I was pleased recently to meet the chief executive of Essex Community Fund. The funds are built up by philanthropic people who are unsure about whom they should donate their money to. Rather than leaving it to cats and dogs homes—there is nothing wrong with that, of course—they can leave it to Essex Community Fund, which will be delighted to receive it.
I am looking forward to attending a night shift with St Mungo’s Broadway, a charity in my constituency, although I do not think that I will be sleeping overnight on the pavement. As a party for one nation—I know that is controversial, but I think we are a one nation party—we must do all we can to show our concern for those who have fallen on hard times and to help them get back on their feet.
The National Deaf Children’s Society is a wonderful organisation. I have 104 deaf children living in my constituency, so I was interested to hear the organisation’s ideas for allocating Ofsted inspectors who have experience of the needs of deaf children. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Education should evaluate whether that proposal should be taken forward.
I recently had the privilege of meeting Lady Cobham, the chairman of VisitEngland, which used to be called the English Tourism Council. I understand that the money for tourism in Scotland is quite good, but apparently in England we are a little short of money to spend on that organisation. It is crazy that 39% of tourists come to London but only 16% go elsewhere in the UK. We should redress that balance, including by encouraging people to visit the wonderful country of Scotland.
Many countries across Europe have invested in a universal vaccine for hepatitis B, and I wonder whether the Government should consider doing the same here.
I very much support the endeavours of the Thames Estuary Partnership, because the Thames is the jewel in the crown, given everything that happens on the river.
Roche has brought to my attention its concerns about how quickly the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends medicines to be made available on the NHS. We all know that the pharmaceutical companies complain about NICE delaying matters, but I do think that it could speed things up a little.
The final issue I want to mention is a depressing one: funerals. I am a member of the all-party group on funerals and bereavement, which has existed for over a decade. As we all know, two things that are absolutely certain in life is that we are born and that we die. They are very important events. The all-party group has undertaken an inquiry into delays between death and burial or cremation, following concerns raised by our late colleague Paul Goggins. The group hopes to publish its report shortly. On funeral poverty, the social fund provides vital support to the poorest in our communities seeking to hold a decent funeral for their loved ones. However, the cap on “other funeral expenses” from the social fund has remained at £700 since 2003, which is absolutely ridiculous, because all the costs have risen.
I end my remarks by wishing Mr Speaker, the Deputy Speakers and the officers and staff of the House a very happy summer. For my own part, at the end of this debate I shall be dressing up in armour, getting on my horse and preparing for my investiture at Windsor castle tomorrow.
Today we have an opportunity hopefully to bring some closure to issues that have been with us over the Parliament. It was announced during business questions that the Backbench Business Committee is about to restart. I hope that Members will take the opportunity when leaving the Chamber today to go down to Dining Room A, where, because of my interest in Parkinson’s, motor neurone and kidney disease, I have brought in a lobby group to talk about bladder and bowel problems, particularly continence issues. I would welcome Members coming along to find out how prevalent this is in all our constituencies. Hopefully they will support my application for a Back-Bench business debate on an important issue that affects all our constituents.
Today, having waited since July 2014, I received a response from the Home Office about an application from my excellent Bridgend college. In July 2014 it applied for a tier 4 general sponsor licence to allow it to take overseas students. It was promised that the application would be dealt with by October 2014. I have since been writing letters and asking parliamentary questions, but answers have come there none, until today. Today’s letter told me that I would have an update in two weeks. I do not want an update in two weeks; I want a decision.
Can we at least move things forward? We have heard a lot about the vital role that universities have played in bringing people to this place. I have an awful lot of young people in my constituency for whom further education colleges are the gateway to a change in their life and opportunities, and many people decide later in life that they want to extend their capabilities and skills. Granting the licence to Bridgend college would allow it to move into a different league of operation. I hope that the Home Office will give me a decision in two weeks, not an update.
In January 2015 I secured a Back-Bench business debate on open-cast mining—I know that you have a great in interest in this, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you oversaw the Backbench Business Committee’s decision to allow the debate. We talked about the great crisis we have across the United Kingdom with orphaned open-cast mines, where private companies have ripped up the landscape, made huge profits and then disappeared, leaving sites desperate for finance—often many millions of pounds are needed to restore them. The companies make themselves bankrupt and then disappear.
In that debate I asked for a meeting with the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), then a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. He said that he would meet me. I repeated the request in a Welsh affairs debate in March, during which I talked about the problems at the open-cast mine at Parc Slip in Cynfigg hill. I finally met the Minister on 18 March and was promised that during the recess work would be undertaken by the Department to look at how we can fund the restoration of such sites. I was also told that companies making themselves bankrupt did not mean that they did not have to face up to their financial responsibilities.
When I returned to the House after the general election, I started emailing the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who had taken over as Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise. I had meetings with her and was assured that something would move forward quickly. Then I received a note out of the blue informing me that responsibility for the matter had moved to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I again started to ask for meetings. Today I received a promise that I will have a meeting on 3 September.
For the people of Cynfigg hill, and for the people of Cefn Cribwr in the Ogmore constituency and the people of the Aberavon constituency, this issue cannot keep being dragged out. We have a mile and a half-long scar on the countryside of south Wales, with a huge open-cast mine, and the company that owns it, Celtic Energy, has walked away from its responsibilities. It is a large void with severely steep sides that fills up with water. At the moment the water level is low, but that makes it even more dangerous because children still see it as somewhere fun to go and swim. Motorcyclists still see it as somewhere fun to drive their bikes. People have even said, “Ooh, wouldn’t it be great to have a boating lake there?” I am fearful that someone will decide to take an inflatable boat into that void. It is highly dangerous—deep and steep-sided. There is a fear of one of the walls collapsing and the water cascading into my community of Cynffig Hill. The water quality is highly suspect, and we need to tackle this.
Mining was started at Parc Slip in 1985 under British Coal, and privatised under the Coal Industry Act 1994. Celtic Energy bought 13 sites in Wales, including Parc Slip. When mining finished in 2008, the Serious Fraud Office attempted to prosecute Celtic Energy, the company that had responsibility for Parc Slip. Further planning permission to continue mining had been denied, and it was time for Celtic Energy to fulfil its obligation to restore the site. At the Serious Fraud Office hearing, Mr Justice Hickinbottom described how at this time some of Celtic Energy’s directors and executives came up with a plan called “the big picture” arranging for the creation of a series of companies and parent companies in the British Virgin Islands. The ultimate owners and financial beneficiaries of these companies were the men themselves. It was arranged to sell to one of them, Oak Regeneration, the land and the attached responsibilities for restoration.
After the sale, many of the provisions for restoration that Celtic Energy had held in accounts—about £135 million —were released by the auditors. Six members involved in planning the transaction were awarded large bonuses. The sale to Oak Regeneration must have seemed strange to the auditors and non-executive members of Celtic Energy’s board. A fee of £10,000 was paid for legal advice from Stephen Davies, QC, who advised that it would not be a successful way of transferring the restoration responsibilities to another company. After another fee of £250,000 for further advice from Mr Davies, it was said that the sale would in fact be a successful way of transferring restoration responsibilities. The fund was reduced to £67 million, and Celtic Energy now claims that the money does not even exist. It says that the figures are “provisional” for liabilities on the balance sheet and do not represent any assets in any form, cash or otherwise. During the course of the Serious Fraud Office investigation, it was not clear whether the transactions were effective.
We need Government advice as to whether Celtic Energy remains responsible. One of the problems is that it claims that when it bought the land for £100 million, that gave it no responsibility for restoration. We were told that the question had been answered. The Minister told me at the meeting in March that responsibility for restoration still rested with Celtic Energy and was not removed by the bond-free period.
The people of Cynffig Hill deserve to know what is going on. The Serious Fraud Office case failed purely on a point of law; it had nothing to do with the case. Mr Justice Hickinbottom said that
“conduct that some may regard as morally reprehensible is not open to be set aside, let alone be the possible subject of criminal sanctions, because Parliament has determined that those sanctions should not apply in those circumstances”.
It was a nit-picking point of law that prevented the people of my constituency and the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) from having justice. We need a decision.
Unfortunately, when my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon tabled a question asking what decision would be made, the answer was that the matter would not be within the purview of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I am looking forward to the meeting in September. However, I need to be sure about this. I need to be able to go to my constituents and say that responsibilities rest with this Government in helping to make sure that the site is restored and justice is finally done, and that a company cannot use dubious legal and accounting practices to hide money and to take it away from restoration, while avoiding meeting its responsibilities for that restoration. This is a blot on the landscape that is dangerous to children and to people who, sadly, see it as a recreational opportunity but not as the dangerous site that it is.
It is an honour to follow the thoughtful speech by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) on behalf of her constituents. I cannot match the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) in rattling through so many issues in such a short space of time, but I will do my best. I want to use this opportunity to raise a number of unfinished business items that the Government need to pick up, and possibly some local issues if time permits.
The first issue is compensation for victims of the Equitable Life scandal. I am delighted that the Government have managed to pay out, overall, more than £1 billion to the 900,000 policyholders who are victims of this scam. However, the fight is not yet complete. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced the closure of the compensation scheme at the end of this year to new applications for compensation. I am delighted that the Treasury has agreed to open up applications to ensure that the people—136,000, we believe—who have not yet registered a claim on the account can do so, and that we will use national insurance numbers and all means to trace those individuals so that they can register that claim.
Of course, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced further compensation for the people who have not yet received full compensation, but that is limited to the individuals who were on pension credit. On the Government figures alone for what has been agreed, £2.8 billion is still owed to nearly 1 million policyholders who have not received their full compensation. I can assure the House that the all-party group on Equitable Life policyholders, which I am privileged to co-chair—we have over 200 members—will continue the work until such time as all those policyholders receive full and fair compensation.
The second issue that I want to discuss arose in the previous Parliament. Tacked on to a piece of legislation in the other place was a move to enact highly divisive caste discrimination legislation without proper consultation with the Hindu community. It has caused immense concern within that community. Despite the fact that it was voted down by this House and returned to the other place, the other place insisted on its clauses and sent it back. Then, unfortunately, our coalition partners gave way on the issue instead of removing it from legislation. Now that we have a Conservative-only Government, we clearly need to remove that divisive legislation from the statute book completely.
In general, we would all want to ensure that any form of discrimination is outlawed, but as soon as legislation is introduced in the sensitive area of caste, one of the problems is that it then has to be monitored. I can imagine the scenario were this legislation to be enacted, with children returning home to their parents and asking, “Mummy, Daddy, what caste are we? My teacher has asked me to find out what caste we are so that we are not discriminated against.” Caste, particularly in the Hindu community, is in many cases a thing of the past, given intermarriage and so on, so it is wrong to create a problem in relation to something that is slowly desisting. One step the Government should take is to introduce legislation to remove that from the statute book for good and all.
The third area is one of my great passions—stopping people smoking and preventing young people from starting to smoke. I have just had the honour of being elected to the chairmanship of the all-party group on smoking and health. The coalition Government gave local authorities substantial funds for public health, which was due to be ring-fenced, to encourage people to give up smoking and to prevent people from starting to smoke, as well as for connected purposes. My particular concern is that the funds are not being used for their intended purpose, and that, as a result, we are not getting the action we need to ensure people are assisted to make the health decision to give up smoking.
In my view, whether to start smoking is one of the key decisions that a young person makes in life. If they start smoking, they quickly become addicted, and the big tobacco companies have them for life. The fact is that tobacco and cigarettes are the one product sold world wide which, if you use it as it is intended to be used, will kill you. The reality is that we must encourage people not to smoke. We need to ensure that local authorities use this opportunity to make sure that smoking becomes a thing of the past. I still believe that smoking is a matter of free will, so I do not want it to be banned completely. I do, however, want to make sure that we do not encourage anyone to smoke in the first place.
The next area I want to raise is my great disappointment that Chatham House has decided to invite Bako Sahakyan to speak. No country, not even Armenia, recognises the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. That area is illegally occupied by Armenia, which has resulted in more than 1 million people being displaced from their homes to refugee camps. I do not think it is right that a body should bring into this country, and give a platform to, someone who is perpetuating injustice to that community. There have been United Nations resolutions galore about that, yet none has been implemented. It is the constant complaint of people from Azerbaijan that while resolutions are agreed at the United Nations and immediate action follows, in their case they have been waiting more than 30 years for justice.
On a lighter note, I await the result of the judicial review of the application of VAT to bridge clubs. When that result is announced, I hope that the Government will ensure that mind sports, such as bridge and chess, are properly funded by Sport England so that young people get the opportunity to learn not only the physical aspects of competitive sports, but the mental ones. I hope there will be the opportunity for such sports to be promoted in this place and elsewhere—in schools and beyond—so that clubs can operate under and get grants from Sport England to ensure that the mind as well as the body is trained to perfection.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as well as Mr Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and all the staff of this place a very happy recess. I shall be running a work experience programme in my constituency so that a number of young people can learn about the joys of being involved in politics and learn something about the hard work that we all put in.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). This is my first opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) on her appointment as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons. I saw her on television last night and she is in the Chamber again today, but her marathon stint is much appreciated.
The issues I want to raise in this summer Adjournment debate centre on transport and roads. The three main issues affecting the lives of my constituents are the roadworks on the M6, the state of our roads and the campaign that I want to launch for a 20 mph zone around schools in Walsall South.
Transport, and particularly local transport, are key to people being able to get about in their daily lives. Whether goods need to be transported or people need to get to work or to their leisure activities, transport links such as cars, buses, trams and trains are vital. At the moment, however, my poor constituents in Walsall South are spending an inordinate amount of time in traffic jams, which affects not only their wellbeing and quality of life, but their productivity. In 2013, productivity in the west midlands fell to 11.8% behind the national average.
As Members will remember, just before the election we all received a letter from the Department for Transport stating that the Highways Agency would be renamed Highways England. Even though it is still an arm’s length body, it is wholly owned by the Government, with the Secretary of State as the sole shareholder. I am finding it difficult to get a response from the Secretary of State and Highways England, which was responsible for closing the slip road at junction 9 on the M6. The slip road enabled local traffic to bypass the motorway, but my constituents and others who come to the west midlands now have to follow a four-mile diversion to junction 7, and my constituents have said that it takes them an hour to do what is effectively a two-mile journey.
I raised that matter in a question to the Leader of the House almost two weeks ago, and I was informed that I would get an answer. My letter to the Secretary of State, copied to Highways England, was sent on 16 June. Not only have I not received an answer, but I have not actually seen anyone working on the slip road. Several times, when I have been past on returning to my constituency, I have seen absolutely no one working on it and no one working under it. That sounds a bit like “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. It is a flyover, so someone could be working under it.
Worse still, a press release dated 20 May said that the slip road was due to open on 13 November, but the bulletin on the Highways England website said on 15 June that it would open on 30 July. There is not only confusion in Highways England, but confusion all round. We know that the work on the motorway needs to be done, but it is not clear why the slip road needs to be closed. I would appreciate a response on that, because the slip road seems to be as silent as those from whom I should be getting a response.
The closure of the slip road not only affects what is happening on the motorway, but has led to congestion on local roads. Since the roadworks began, there has been congestion past junction 10, and that has led to congestion on the black country route from Wolverhampton to the M6 at junction 10. Wolverhampton Road West is one of the roads affected. It runs parallel to the black country route, and because of the congestion there, people are using that road instead. Cracks are appearing in the tarmac and there are now potholes. One evening, one of my constituents who lives on Wolverhampton Road West counted 125 lorries going down it, which is totally inappropriate for that road.
Bescot Crescent is also affected, with potholes, and cracks to the road surface and to the fairly old speed humps. It is one of the main roads leading to Walsall Football Club and to local businesses. Members will be interested to know that the council’s response to me states that many people and councillors have raised the issue. The letter said that the road could be
“argued to be in need of resurfacing”
but bizarrely it then stated that the road’s condition is not sufficiently severe to warrant inclusion in the 2015-16 programme. I am concerned because when I mentioned the resurfacing of Oxford Street—the one in Walsall South, not London—nothing was done until just before the election, and then somebody else took the credit.
My biggest difficulty with local roads is Walstead Road, where a safety scheme has been put in place. Residents told me that a short consultation was held over the summer, but because there were no responses, that counted in favour of the proposals as if there had been a positive response. Many other councils do not do that. What might the residents of Walstead Road now have to put up with – speed humps, traffic islands, or speed humps near traffic islands at various random places on the road such as right in front of people’s drives so that they cannot reverse out? Residents were not consulted on a solution, but I held two meetings and people came up with some good solutions, two of which—sequencing of traffic lights and signage at Birmingham Road to stop people going down Walstead Road—have been taken up by the council.
The alternatives to speed humps were not even considered, even though residents provided the council with solutions. We know that speed humps cause a lot of noise, as well as damage to cars. When I have travelled down that road it has been painful—I had to clutch my neck, so there are personal injuries issues as well. The speed humps seem rather large, and I have arranged for them to be measured. They come right up to the limit of 100 mm, but because of the heat—or for some other reason—they seem to be concaving, so they are clearly higher than the maximum height allowed.
Drivers will not go down Walstead Road, so they now use Delves Crescent and West Bromwich Road. Constituents from both those roads have contacted me to speak about the effect of the humps on Walstead Road and the lack of proper traffic calming measures. Walstead Road could do with a watchman sign such as the kind that flashes up speeds and number plates. That seems to work for Sutton Road, which has large detached houses, so I do not see why it cannot work on Walstead Road.
My third point is about the 20 mph speed limit, which was first mentioned by the parents of pupils at Bentley West primary school. Monmouth Road is quite narrow and cars speed down it—it is like the straight at Silverstone. One resident said that they can hear motorbikes speeding round, and they are just waiting for the thump. The school is on the corner of the road and there is a park nearby where people walk their dogs. There are a lot of pedestrians in that area.
Let me give the House an interesting statistic: pedestrians hit by a car at 20 mph have a 1.5% fatality risk, compared with an 8% fatality risk for those hit by a car at 30 mph. Those figures are from a report published in June by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
In Hull, there is widespread use of 20 mph zones in residential areas, and approximately 25% of its roads make up 100 separate zones. That is the largest number of 20 mph zones of any local authority in the UK. Interestingly, between 1994 and 2001, personal injury accidents in the 20 mph zones in Hull dropped by 56%, and fatalities by 90%. We can see that it works. Bristol city council is about to implement a blanket 20 mph speed limit that will apply everywhere apart from major roads. The pilot for the scheme was successful in reducing traffic speeds by using only 20 mph signs without additional traffic calming measures. In the pilot area, average speeds dropped to below 23 mph. The London borough of Islington has had a blanket 20 mph speed limit on all roads apart from those managed by Transport for London since 2012.
Implementing a 20 mph zone does not cost money. It is merely a traffic regulation order passed by the local authority after a consultation, but it saves lives. Walsall metropolitan borough council will be receiving more than £12 million for the maintenance and repair of local roads over the next five years. I flag up the fact that roads in my constituency also need resurfacing, and I hope the council will listen. I have put in a freedom of information request to ask how much has been spent in Walsall South because I travel around the area and see that some constituencies have better roads than there are in Walsall South—I should not have had to put in that FOI request, but I hope nevertheless that some of that money comes our way. I also ask the Transport Secretary and Highways England to respond to my correspondence and give reasons for why that slip road remains closed.
It is amazing: we have new horizons and can see the face of Pluto, but we cannot come up with a creative solution—even though my constituents have come up with some sort of a solution—to find alternatives for the speed humps. Pluto leads me neatly to Professor Brian Cox, because I was present at the opening of the education centre. That amazing centre will make a huge difference to our constituents and children from our schools. Professor Cox opened the centre, which is a tribute to Mr Speaker and the parliamentary education service. Children across the UK will be able to see how Parliament works, and what a difference we will make and the seat of democracy will make to their lives.
When I was in Australia, I discovered that the Australian Government pay for every child to travel across Australia to go to the Parliament so that they can experience how democracy works in their country. Would it not be wonderful if train companies in Britain could do the same, because the cost of transporting children from poorer areas such as my constituency mean that many never get here?
There is a travel subsidy, but because it is over-subscribed, I think it is for those outside the M25. It would be nice if that was extended to everyone, but many schools have benefited from that travel subsidy.
Finally, I thank the House staff, the Library, the education service and everyone else, and I wish them a very happy recess.
It is somewhat daunting to follow experienced colleagues such as my hon. Friends the Members for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), but I shall do my best. The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) mentioned the M6, and as someone who uses the motorway—even though it has been improved with the toll road—I know that travelling with three children often results in tears of anger and frustration, and that is just from me. I wish the hon. Lady well in her efforts.
As a new Member I shall begin by thanking everyone in the House staff, the Speaker’s office and the Doorkeepers for the warm welcome that they gave us. I particularly thank my buddy, Charlotte Blythin, who helped me in the first fortnight. The way that the induction programme was run gives the lie to the idea that this is an archaic workplace. In fact, compared with my experience at a City law firm, this place is positively 22nd century!
Right hon. and hon. Members may be aware that the statistics in England for one-year survival rates for cancer are lower than those of our European neighbours, largely because of late diagnosis. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), as chair of the all-party group on cancer, for his work on this issue. Diagnosis and prognosis for breast cancer is so much better than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but there are still about 12,000 of our fellow countrymen—mainly women, but some men—who die of breast cancer every year. It was the case in my constituency of a father and a daughter who were diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time and felt very badly let down by Southport hospital, which closed its breast cancer unit without a proper consultation, that has spurred me on to become a breast cancer ambassador for Breast Cancer Now.
I am sure all hon. Members will have had in their inboxes an invitation from Breast Cancer Now to become an ambassador. Breast Cancer Now is the merger of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Its aim is to eliminate the disease by 2050. I think about 178 right hon. and hon. Members have become ambassadors, but I urge even more to do so, particularly hon. Gentlemen. Men are not just affected as husbands, fathers and sons when their wives, girlfriends and daughters get breast cancer. As the case in my constituency shows, men are also victims of the disease. We need to carry on the efforts of this campaign and eliminate it by 2050.
South Ribble is a wonderful place to live and work, but in one respect our statistics are slightly worse than the national average: the number of older people who live alone. Social isolation is the objective measure of how many contacts a person has, and loneliness is how an individual feels. They can both exacerbate a plethora of health problems, including hypertension, sleep problems and, in particular in the society we live in today, dementia. People are becoming more conscious of this issue, and national and local government are beginning to take measures to deal with it. I draw the attention of right hon. and hon. Members to the “Hidden Citizens” report from the Campaign to End Loneliness. I am sure many colleagues will have heard, particularly when talking to councillors and local groups in their constituencies, how difficult it is to identify very isolated older people, who are literally hidden behind doors. I am sure all of us, in March and April in particular, found those people on the doorstep. They were the ones who were really keen to carry on speaking to us, because they are so isolated and perhaps have only one or two conversations in a fortnight.
The report considers this vast problem and highlights factors intrinsic to loneliness, including gender, sexuality, ethnicity and temperament. It is on extrinsic factors that we in this place can make a difference. How do we build our towns? How do we plan our healthcare? How do we think about travel in the future? I would be very interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has to say on what the Government are doing in this area.
Finally, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on being part of the team that secured the nuclear deal with Iran. Right hon. and hon. Members may know that, as the first British Iranian in this place, I take a particular interest in that country. I know that on all sides of the House there are worries about what will happen in the future, but my right hon. Friend laboured for many years, with his P5+1 colleagues, and I hope very sincerely that this is the beginning of a new era of reconciliation and contact between our two peoples. As we saw on the streets of Tehran, the vast majority of Iranians—including many in the Iranian Parliament and Government—are open to the world. They want to turn their faces to the world and have a new era of peace. It is in Britain’s interests, in terms of security and trade, that we engage with Iran going forward. Let us hope the deal does not unravel over the recess and that when we meet again progress will have been made on lifting the sanctions.
It is a pleasure to follow the new hon. Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), whose performance was really assured. I have been in this place quite a long time and I am slightly worried that I will not be quite so assured, but I do wish to raise an issue of great importance to me and, I believe, to Members on both sides of the House—that of social mobility in the UK. By that, I mean the ability of children, wherever they are born, whoever they are born to, to get on in life and have access to the opportunities, the education and the careers that they would wish to have, regardless of their background.
I acknowledge that we live in an amazing city that has brought hope and opportunity to generations of people from all over the world. That was never brought home more to me than when watching my late, wonderful father lean over the balcony in the House of Lords to see my sister ennobled.
My dad was one of 14. He was brought up in two rooms in a bog in the middle of the west of Ireland—a beautiful and wonderful place, but a place that could not give him work, could not allow him to feed himself or to feed his family. So he came to London in 1947, like a generation of others—no different, no more exceptional—and he built our roads, and he built our offices. He never asked for anything but the opportunity to work. He met a wonderful woman, my mother, who in ’47 came to be in that first generation of nurses. Together they had two daughters, not exceptional in themselves—and I am by far the less exceptional of the two—who have had the opportunity and the honour to become the Member for Mitcham and Morden, and to become a Member in another place. A wonderful opportunity, a wonderful city and a wonderful country.
I had parents who bestowed on me the complete and unwavering desire to work hard, believing that nothing came but from work for those of us who were born to nothing—believing that work enables you to support yourself and your family, but it is also a moral duty to help your community. Also, as we now know, work helps us stay healthy. But what worries me is that for the generations that come after me—particularly, I am sad to say, the white working-class kids in my constituency—the doors that were open to me are closing.
By most measures, the UK falls behind other countries on social mobility. Alan Milburn’s recent report on the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that we are trailing behind most developed nations, and there appears to be a stronger relationship between parental background and children’s future income in Britain than in any other country in Europe. The report also found that top jobs in Britain across a range of sectors go overwhelmingly to those educated in the private sector: 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior armed forces officers, 55% of permanent secretaries and 50% of Members of the House of Lords all attended independent schools.
I do not have with me the figures showing what those percentages are in the media, but I know that they are even more concentrated on groups of more privileged people. That is why I am delighted that my great friend Michael Foster—who was the Labour candidate in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle—after seeing the riots on TV a few years ago, became aware of how few black and Asian reporters there were on our TV screens and set up Creative Access, a charity to find work experience and internships for black and Asian young people that paid £16,000 a year. Eighty per cent. of the hundreds of black and Asian young people that he has got into work are now in permanent jobs in the media. Michael is now extending that, understanding how low is the representation of white working-class young people in our media, and he is piloting projects in our sixth forms in London, including, thankfully, in my constituency, from next year.
Although these great initiatives happen, we are lagging so far behind. At times when professions desperately need to reach out to people from different backgrounds and be more representative in order to be most effective, the doors are being closed. Take the example of the police force. It took me weeks and months in the previous Session of Parliament to make hon. Members from all parties understand that currently, any young person wanting to apply to join the police force has to undertake a course, with private tutors, costing £1,000. That is the certificate in knowledge of policing. Being in a police force used to be an opportunity, in the main for working-class men, to get on, get a job and move up the ladder. Today the doors are being closed to those who want to become police officers. The bobby tax probably deprives us of great people who could make connections in their own communities to help policing and bring down crime.
We also know about the number of employers who ask for work experience when assessing job applicants. Parents often tell me that their children want a job but cannot get on the job ladder without that experience. Too often they cannot get the work experience they need unless they have contacts and the money to work unpaid. On and on it goes, round and round in a circle.
I started a work experience scheme in my constituency when I realised that more young people from outside my constituency than inside it were applying to work with me. I have had the great opportunity to get more than 60 local employers together and put together a booklet of opportunities, which I send to all my local young people. Only today, when I visited Benedict primary school, I met Safira Hassan, who told me that she had taken up one of the opportunities in that booklet and as a result is now working full time as a teaching assistant for challenging children. She hopes to go on to be a drama therapist. Helping individuals in that way is the real excitement of having this job.
Some sectors are particularly restrictive in the number of obstacles that they put in front of those from less privileged backgrounds. Alan Milburn’s recent report found that just 7% of new medical students came from the bottom three socioeconomic groups, partly due to the difficulty that those without family connections have in accessing work experience in the sector. Many bright young people come to my advice surgery asking me to help, and I am grateful to Professor Field, the director of research at south-west London elective orthopaedic centre, who regularly gives me the opportunity to enable young people in my constituency to get work experience.
We all know that the cuts to careers advice services in schools under the coalition Government further widened the gap between those who have the knowledge and contacts to get on and those from less privileged backgrounds who have great potential. The rapid expansion of unpaid internships is another factor restricting opportunities. The Sutton Trust has found that a third of graduate internships are unpaid, and that three-month internships in London in which expenses are provided cost about £3,000 to complete. We cannot allow it to be the case that only those who can afford to work unpaid end up being able to get their foot on the first rung of the ladder in many careers. What if a young person who might go on to discover a cure for cancer cannot afford to do an internship with a cancer research charity, or cannot get the work experience needed to apply to medical school?
Much of a child’s opportunity is, of course, determined by the quality of their education at a young age. There has been discussion in recent years about the stark correlation between economic inequality and low educational achievement. Of course, there are huge challenges facing many disadvantaged groups of children, but the below-average achievement of white working-class children remains static. Last year, just 31% of white children on free school meals achieved five A* to C-grade GCSEs. I am extremely proud of the work that the last Labour Government did to close that gap, and I will for ever be grateful to Lord Harris of Peckham, a peer not of my political persuasion but one who has taken two of the most underperforming schools in my constituency and transformed them, particularly for young people on free school meals.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am really sorry, but I will not; I do not want to go on too long, because I know a number of Members are trying to get in.
In 2009, only 28% of students at Harris Academy Morden—then Bishopsford school—achieved five A* to C grades including English and maths. By 2013, that had doubled to 57%. In 2007, only 28% of Harris Academy Merton students achieved five A* to C grades, but by 2013 that had nearly trebled to 75%. That means real chances and opportunities, and I do not understand why the Conservatives want to make schools that are already achieving become academies. We should concentrate on those schools that are underperforming, because they will have children from the most-excluded groups.
I have so much to say, but I do not want to deny other hon. Members the right to contribute. We all as individual Members have a role to play in helping people get on the ladder, but Parliament and the Government have nothing less than a moral imperative.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). Before I talk about some issues on behalf of my constituents in this Adjournment debate, I want to mention the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy). I think all the existing Members have been surprised by the fantastic quality of all the new Members on both sides of the House, and how quickly they have got to grips with this place.
My hon. Friend made a particularly insightful speech about breast cancer. I remember the Christmas eve when my mother told me she had breast cancer, and how scared and worried I was. For the whole Christmas, all we really talked about was how we could lose her. I am delighted to say that she is now well and has enjoyed a long and happy life since that Christmas. It is such an important disease, and I am now proud to be a breast cancer ambassador. It was an excellent speech and the issue was well worth raising.
In my constituency, rural businesses are succeeding, such as the Wellbeing Farm in Edgworth, but lack of broadband is a huge issue for such businesses, rural homes and towns. It stops many businesses flourishing as they should. Across Lancashire, 80% of homes and businesses are now connected to superfast broadband because of the work that the last Government did. Constituency figures are not available, but I am sure that the reach is not 80% in my constituency. That is not good enough, frankly, and I hope that the Government will continue to work with me, British Telecom and Openreach to ensure that we have a real plan to get all rural businesses and homes in Rossendale and Darwen connected to superfast broadband by 2020. In other areas where superfast broadband is not available, such as Lower Darwen and Whitworth, we are plagued by “not spots” that have no 3G or 4G available on mobile phones or tablets. That is a really big issue, and at business questions a few weeks ago I asked whether the Government would make a statement on what progress they intend to make in tackling “not spots”. There has to be more we can do in terms of encouraging mobile companies to share bandwidth and masts to ensure that across my constituency, and other rural areas, we provide mobile broadband at least, and superfast broadband as soon as possible.
In our work as Members of Parliament, we get to do lots of visits, and I recently visited Blackburn hospital. It is just outside my constituency, but it serves people from both Rossendale and Darwen. The hospital has been put into special measures, but it has made huge progress. It was a real privilege for me, as a local Member of Parliament, to go and speak to occupational therapists, doctors, nurses and managers in that hospital and talk to them about the long journey they have been on.
I want particularly to highlight the hospital’s plan to put a GP surgery at the front of its accident and emergency department. It is an excellent idea, because it will mean that my constituents who go to Blackburn hospital’s A&E department with the worst injuries or illnesses can be seen quickly. Some people who go to the A and E department need to see a GP. They should not be there in the first place, but if they are there with an ailment that a GP can look at, they will be diverted to the hospital’s GP practice. That is an excellent initiative by Blackburn hospital, and I think it is worth drawing to the attention of other hon. Members. The special measures regime can bring new ideas and different thinking to hospitals, and it can improve them.
I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made £8 billion available to the NHS in this Parliament to ensure that such great ideas, and our fantastic NHS staff, have the money they need to serve my constituents. On that £8 billion, it is hugely important that all MPs engage with their local GP surgeries, clinical commissioning groups and NHS Trust—for me, it is East Lancashire Hospitals—to ensure that we have a fantastic service for the people we represent, because making sure the NHS is there for my constituents is and always shall be my top priority.
In my constituency we have some delays at the moment on the railway line between Darwen and Manchester. That has not caused too much disruption, but it is a great sign that the work we have been promised—to double the track between Manchester and Darwen—is now under way. We are going to move to a half-hourly service for trains all day, which will be a huge boost to people who live in Darwen but work in Manchester.
We have also been promised some new trains for our lines. We have Pacers, which are no longer fit for purpose, and I hope and believe that as part of re-franchising the Northern Rail franchise the Pacers will be phased out. We have been promised some new trains with wi-fi. I hope that over the summer people who live in Darwen, who will suffer delays while that work goes on, will think it is worthwhile and that we have delivered on the promise of improved rail links.
In Darwen we also have the A666. It is not the devil’s road, as some people have called it, or even the road to hell. It is a road that goes through the centre of the town of Darwen, and at the moment it is the scene of severe travel disruption, because Blackburn council has installed a new set of traffic lights. I hope that over the summer the council will listen to the literally thousands of my constituents who have signed an online petition asking it to turn off those lights. People are contacting me all the time, saying, “It is taking me over an hour to visit my family”, “get to work” or “drop my children at school.” We all support road improvements in our constituency, but the traffic lights scheme on the A666 has not been and is not working. The local authority should never be afraid to step back, turn the lights off and think again.
In Transport questions today, I mentioned a problem on Bacup road, which is being dug up for the third time in fewer than 18 months, causing severe disruption. I hope that over the summer people will not be too badly affected. Despite these transport improvement works and transport problems, I hope that Members from all parts of the House will not be put off visiting my constituency during the summer. In particular, they should go to the town of Bacup, where we have £2 million of Townscape Heritage Initiative investment in the town centre, restoring some of its 120 listed buildings.
I was reminded, after I finished my advice surgery at the newly restored library in the centre of Bacup, of how much the town has come on by the opening of a new antiques shop called The Shabby Elephant. I must admit that I have been suffering from a fit of desire since I went to The Shabby Elephant, because it had a rather splendid Raleigh bicycle, with a leather seat, mudguards, chain guard and three gears. If people do not get there before me, I may go back and buy it this weekend, and try to get fit over the summer.
In Rawtenstall town centre—again, really worth a visit—we have plans for a new bus station. I met the local authority this week and am delighted that it is thinking again about these plans. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape our town centre, but when we have fantastic historic mill towns we must make sure that any development reflects that heritage. The people of Rawtenstall need to be front and centre in terms of the design of, and the changes that need to take place to, the bus station plans before they go ahead. I am pleased that the council will do that over the summer, and the bus station work should start later this year.
I want to finish with some good news, about HAPPI—not the Pharrell Williams song, which we may all be listening to as we get in our cars and go back to our constituencies for the recess, but a community group in Haslingden, which has worked tirelessly for the last couple of years to reopen Haslingden pool. I had some wonderful news this week, because the pool should be reopening. Unfortunately, for parents who live in the village of Helmshore, where I live with my wife, or who live in Haslingden, the pool will not be open for this summer holiday, but it will be for the next set of school holidays. It just shows what a fantastically driven and well organised community group can do. It is no small feat to take a pool that has been closed for 18 months, sort out the building’s refurbishment, persuade the council to hand over some money and get it reopened. I am absolutely delighted, and it will certainly get my recess started with a splash.
Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for allowing me to participate in this end-of-term debate.
I wish first to put on the record my thanks to Mr Speaker and all the Deputy Speakers. As a Back Bencher with no thoughts of ever being anything else, it is good to have the opportunity, which they give us, to participate in debates and ask questions. I also wish to thank the staff of the House for their courtesy, kindness and assistance. We could not do our job without them. This is my second term in the House, and I have appreciated all their help over the past few years, as well as the guidance that the Speaker and Deputy Speakers provide.
I want to bring before the House an issue of importance to me and my constituency. I did a quick headcount before I got up to speak: about half those Members present were elected back in 2005 or before, and about half are first-time Members. Some of those present, therefore, will have heard me talk about the importance of country sports, which is a subject of particular interest to me. Particularly in the light of the postponement of the debate on the Hunting Act 2004, it is important that I at least put down this marker. I feel I must raise this topic, and I hope that many will agree on the importance that country sports play in our society.
Perhaps it is difficult to imagine the contribution of country sports when the subject is raised in this wonderful House, located, as it is, in the centre of the hustle and bustle of London. As we walk around this vast city, we are surrounded by busy suits hurrying to their next meeting, and the sheer noise of the cars and buses is often overwhelming—not to mention the often cramped and often pushy conditions of the rush-hour tubes. If Members will allow, I will transport them to my wonderful constituency of Strangford. I hope they will use their imagination so that we can focus on the importance of country sports.
I need not remind Members how beautiful is my constituency, as those who live there or have visited it will know. I am sure that many others feel they know it already. For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting, however, let me say that we are fortunate to have a happy mix of towns, villages and countryside, all in one. Right on doorsteps of the towns, and often just a short drive or walk away, are loughs, rolling green fields and beautiful forests and parks. There is no better constituency for country sports. Those who know me will be aware that I am a country sports enthusiast, particularly when it comes to shooting.
I suppose it is no shock to anyone here that someone from Northern Ireland should be interested in shooting, but I have to say it is legitimate, legalised shooting, and I have a licence to prove it. For me, shooting is a way to relax, although with present commitments, I cannot pursue it as much as I would like. Some Members will remember my maiden speech in June 2005, when I said that the ducks and the pheasants of my constituency would be relieved to have two or three days a week when they did not have to worry about me chasing them, because I would be in this House.
Shooting and fishing contribute so much to society in terms of revenue, jobs and conservation. As a keen shooter, I find myself a dedicated conservationist. Back home on the family farm on the Ards peninsula, I am always thinking of new ways to conserve the natural habitat for animals and birds. I have planted on the farm some 3,000 trees, I have dug and excavated two duck ponds, and I always ensure the hedgerows are maintained and that land is set aside where wildlife and fauna can excel.
I am not alone in carrying out such conservation work. Anyone who enjoys shooting or fishing tends to do the same, and it is really great for wildlife. It not only preserves natural habitats, but encourages new habitats: in recent years, I have seen the return to our farm and district of the yellow bunting, which has been missing for many years. That they are back in numerical strength is an indication of the good work being done on our and our neighbours’ farms.
Birds of prey also abound, and I have no doubt that that is the result of good conservation work. Each year, I hold a few shoots on my land and on neighbours’ land, and it is proving to be a huge success, bringing together friends and relatives for a day of relaxation and good company—and hopefully a few birds at the end of the day for the purpose of the plate.
Conservation must go hand in hand with shooting; we must get the right balance between them. That means people who want to conserve can do so, and people who want to shoot can do so. However, for me, it is not possible to have one without the other.
In Strangford, we are inundated with places to fish and places to shoot. In fact, Northern Ireland is often described as one of the finest places in Europe to fish because all types of angler are catered for—whether it be coarse fishing, game fishing or sea fishing. My constituency has the largest coastline of all the Northern Ireland constituencies, with seawater access. Not only that, we are surrounded by various loughs and lakes that prove extremely popular with anglers. Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a fly-fishing festival in Killyleagh in my constituency—and what a fantastic day it was! I was pleased to see so many people in attendance.
I am always keen to get more children and young people involved in country sports because of the potential for real family occasions. Shooting was passed down to me, and I have passed down my love for that sport to my own sons and my granddaughter, Katie-Lee, a six-year-old. I believe we have another generation of shooters coming through, even at that young age. There are many shooting estates and syndicates at Rosemount and Greyabbey, at Dunleath estate in Ballywalter, Carrowdore castle, Mount Stewart estate in Greyabbey, the Rademon in Crossgar, the Demesne in Saintfield and also at Portavo and Donaghadee.
I thank my very hon. and good Friend for giving way. I know him so well and am sure that he or someone else will eat every single thing he shoots—so there is a good purpose in shooting.
If it is edible, yes, I would probably have a go at it. I cannot say that I eat everything I shoot, because some things are not edible. There is nothing quite as tasty as “duck à l’orange”—for those who are unsure, that is duck in orange. Pheasant is good, but my favourite bird for eating is a pigeon. I have a great appetite for pigeons because when I was a wee boy in Ballywalter, my cousin, who shot up in West Tyrone in the ’60s and ’70s—this is a true story—used to send pigeons by post down to Ballywalter, which is from the west to the east of the Province. Sometimes they arrived at Ballywalter in the Ards peninsula—perhaps not in the best of condition, but we cooked them anyway. I had a love of pigeons, and I still have it today. Yes, pigeon is my favourite bird—two-legged ones, with wings!
Shooting plays a large part in the UK economy—worth £2 billion, and it supports the equivalent of 74,000 jobs. In these uncertain times, this sector is proving its popularity and its importance to its participants. On goods and services, it is estimated that shooters spend £2.5 billion each year, while shoot providers spend around £250 million each year on conservation. The Public and Corporate Economic Consultants estimate that shooting actually manages 10 times more land for conservation than the country’s nature reserves. Undoubtedly, then, for so many, country sports play an integral part in society.
Despite this issue being raised on a fairly regular basis here, I feel that we still need to raise awareness of country sports and show just how important they are—not just for the love of them, but for the money they generate, the jobs they provide and for the conservation that comes off the back of them. With more than 600,000 people across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland participating in shooting sports alone, I do not feel this is something that can be ignored, and I would like to see more done to encourage people to get involved with local country sports clubs—perhaps at country fairs. I had the opportunity last month to open an event at Shane’s castle, one of the great country fairs of Ireland. There is one fair at Shane’s castle in Northern Ireland and one at Birr castle in the Republic. Such events provide an opportunity to bring together people from all communities and encourage them to participate, whatever their gender or age.
I want to record my thanks to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Countryside Alliance and Game Conservancy USA for all the work that they do to help the shooting community, as well as farmers and landowners. They try to make young people’s involvement a reality, and they certainly have my support in that regard. However, I want to see more done for young people in schools. Most secondary schools in Northern Ireland offer a huge range of sports clubs, and, in many instances, equestrian clubs. However, rarely do I hear of fishing or shooting clubs, and, in the light of the figures provided by PACEC, I do not think that that is due to a lack of interest. I fear that it is due to the reputation that country sports often seem to carry. Because this is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, we are changing the existing legislation to lower the minimum age at which people are allowed to shoot—under supervision, of course. That is good news, because it means that more young people can be introduced to shooting and enjoy it.
I hope that today’s debate will help to ensure that the general attitude to country sports is raised from toleration to celebration. We must do more to improve the situation in the years to come.
It was very interesting to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). If the hon. Gentleman has not yet sorted out his holiday reading, I recommend the autobiography of Sir Peter Scott. He too was a shooter, but he put his rifle down to become of the world’s top conservationists. Who knows? The hon. Gentleman might change his mind.
I am quite well acquainted with the author to whom the hon. Lady refers. There is a bust of him in one of the wildfowling clubs in Comber, which is in my constituency. He started off as a shooting person, and he enjoyed that, but he became a conservationist in the end. I do not think I shall ever be like that. I shall continue to be a shooter.
I will lend the hon. Gentleman my copy of the book if he cannot find it. Sir Peter Scott talks of the thrill of conservation being equivalent to the thrill that he had achieved while shooting. That is what persuaded him to—literally—put down the gun. So the hon. Gentleman can always change.
I want to talk about a resident of my constituency, Wadih Chourey. He has lived in Twickenham for 18 years, but he is originally from Beirut. He also has a learning difficulty. His parents died in Lebanon in 2010, and he is being looked after by his brothers, who are also resident in Twickenham. I met one of them, Camil. They run a café and patisserie, and they are important members of the community. Wadih works in the café and patisserie as well. He has so many supporters that the petition asking for him to be allowed to remain in the United Kingdom has tens of thousands of signatures.
That petition came about because Wadih Chourey applied for leave to remain in the United Kingdom. His application was originally refused by the Home Office. Wadih then appealed, at some legal expense. The family were very stressed by the process, but the appeal was successful. The community—and, obviously, the Chourey family—were very happy. However, the Home Office then appealed against the successful appeal. The saga continued, with the family again having to invest in legal opinions, and more stress for the family and the community. The family then applied for permission to appeal against the Home Office’s appeal against their own original appeal. The situation right now is that we do not know whether Wadih can stay. His family has been granted permission to appeal, and the case might go to the Court of Appeal.
I urge the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) to raise this matter with the Home Office and to follow up my plea to the Home Office to stop this sorry saga. This is a family who are wanted in the community. Wadih is an important member of the community and we want him to stay. Please, please end all the horrible legal expense, as well as the stress for the family, for Wadih and for me by stopping this sorry saga.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate, in the custom of making my maiden speech. I pay sincere tribute to my predecessor, Michael McCann, who worked diligently as deputy leader of the council before becoming a Member of Parliament from 2010 to 2015. Prior to becoming an MP and working for the council, Michael McCann worked as a trade union official, a path that I have also trodden in my journey to this Chamber, having been a union representative in health for 14 years. I wish Michael McCann well. I am sure, given our backgrounds, that we must share a similar belief in workers’ rights and representation, even though we come from different political persuasions.
I am extremely proud to be here, having been elected to represent the constituency in which I was raised, attended school, trained and worked in the NHS as a psychologist. My job has always been a conversation stopper. In fact, it has been known to empty rooms. People quieten, then back off, worrying that I might be analysing them, but rest assured: I have been far too busy for that recently. I am pleased to say, however, that all your assessments will soon be in the post!
More seriously, I can attest that coming to this House is a psychological journey for any new MP, so I wish everyone success in adapting to its landscape. There are still some days when I wake up with Paul Simon’s words ringing in my ears: “How did I get here?” On reflection, however, I know that I am here for three key reasons: to represent the interests of my constituency, to influence those issues that I hold dear and to give Scotland a stronger voice.
My constituency of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow is diverse. It includes Scotland’s first new town, East Kilbride, which afforded hope and opportunity to families who had moved from the city, including my own. It is known fondly as the polo mint city, due to its keenness for building roundabouts. It is therefore a terrifying experience for all learner drivers. East Kilbride is an amazing place to visit. It has also had many important residents over the years, including Lorraine Kelly, Julie Wilson Nimmo, Ally McCoist and the House’s own Liam Fox.
We also have beautiful rural landscapes, around the market town of Strathaven and the surrounding villages of Chapelton, Stonehouse, Auldhouse, Sandford, Drumclog, Glassford and Jackton—I hope I have not missed any out. To the south rest Blackwood, Kirkmuirhill and Lesmahagow, all affording wonderful scenery alongside historic links to traditional industry or farming.
There is affluence in my constituency, too, in Thorntonhall, which has previously boasted the most expensive street in Scotland and has been home to footballers and personalities. The latter include Andy Cameron, whom I used to pretend to be related to when I was at school. Members will be pleased to know that I have never pretended to be related to any other famous Cameron, but I can inform the house that I have spent much of the past two months answering emails from interested American and Canadian citizens clarifying whether there was a connection.
Distressingly, in my constituency there is also considerable growing poverty, which needs to be addressed, not solely by individual aspiration, but by collective enabling. Psychologically, few people aspire by having their crutch kicked from beneath them and being left to crawl, but most can be enabled, through opportunity, support and encouragement, which eventually teaches you to fly. Proudly, my constituency enables others, with a strong public sector workforce, and also, importantly, reaches out across the world, via the Department for International Development, to assist those vulnerable to inequality, climate change and poverty. In my role as climate justice spokesperson, and as a member of the International Development Committee, I am delighted to be able to directly support this crucial work.
In terms of the issues I hold dear, having worked as a doctor in trauma and mental health, and with patients who have learning difficulties and developmental disorders, including autism, I want to champion continued investment in those areas of health, often previously viewed as the poor relation. Having served as an expert witness in cases of trauma, I understand only too well how crucial it is that survivors of childhood abuse, rape and domestic violence have a system that meets their needs and that ensures that justice prevails. Issues of institutionalised abuse must be dealt with transparently to ensure that survivors’ voices are heard. As a society we can never stand by in silence.
It is true to say that so far I have had some frustrating days in this House, but I have also been heartened by small things that I did not expect. An unexpected influence has been attending Prayers prior to the sitting of the House, where we are reminded daily of our responsibility to improve people’s wellbeing. That is the litmus test of why we are here, and we must question ourselves and whether our policies improve people’s lives. I believe we are here to make a difference.
Fundamentally, alongside my 55 Scottish National party colleagues, we are also here to give Scotland a stronger voice. It is clear that change could never have come from within the system and so change had to be sent here, by the people. We are here to try to make a difference to people’s lives, and we are here for the devolution of powers that raise revenue, growth, jobs and productivity—powers that also protect those most vulnerable and that deliver social justice. These ideologies can and always should, in a progressive society, go hand in hand.
It is a great honour and privilege to follow the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) after such a powerful and eloquent maiden speech. I fear that she is going to have spend some of the next five years here teaching me how to pronounce all the names in her constituency. She stands in a long tradition, in that I think it took the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) at least five years before I started to get the name of his constituency right. I know that she will be a valued Member of the House, not only from that contribution, but from the fantastic work she has done in her constituency in her profession before she came into politics. On behalf of the whole House, I would like to congratulate her on such a fantastic speech.
These are, of course, the debates before the summer recess and I shall try not to detain the House for too long, but I hope I can be forgiven for making one observation about the procedure of the House. These debates previously took place in a way that permitted Ministers from across the whole of Government, by Department, to respond to the concerns of hon. Members that were raised before the long break and fell within their particular areas of ministerial responsibility. Although it is an enormous pleasure to see my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the Front Bench, and although he and the Deputy Leader of the House will take the concerns of the House back to each individual Department, the transition that we have made so that the Leader or Deputy Leader of the House now responds to this debate and individual Ministers do not do so is one that should be looked at by the Procedure Committee. It is, in my respectful observation, a change that does little to enable the concerns of Members to be brought to the forefront of Ministers.
I wish to detain the House briefly on two matters. The first of those is one that troubles me greatly, as my right hon. Friend knows. I have campaigned on it in the past and I intend to campaign on it in this Parliament: it is the effect of corruption across the world and what it means for the people of this country.
The House debated the matter recently in an Adjournment debate, and there have been other opportunities to raise it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that this is an issue that must be tackled not only by this Government, but by the international community. It is a fact that very many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people have their lives touched to a considerable degree, and not in a way that is good for them, by the corruption that is rife, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world. The effect of that is devastating for those who live in appalling conditions, as many do in the developing world, but it also has an effect on all of us in the United Kingdom, because while that corruption takes place, our security is threatened. It is the thing that drives economic migration to Europe and drives people to take the desperate measures to try to cross the Mediterranean to look for a better life in Europe, albeit illegally. It is also the thing that runs the risk of driving the terrorist threat not only in this country but in all the countries that are allied with us. It is therefore something that the Government are rightly focusing on in this Parliament.
I wish to hear not only that this matter is a priority for the Government—the Prime Minister has rightly said that it is—but more details on the anti-corruption seminar that the Prime Minister intends to run in this country next year for all UN nations and, indeed, what is intended to be achieved by that summit. Although we have a framework that is principally centred on the UN anti-corruption convention and to which many nations are signed up, it remains the fact that very little effort goes into monitoring and enforcement. As I have said, that is something that not only affects those in the developing world—some of the most vulnerable and poor people to whom we owe a moral responsibility—but threatens our security here.
I thank my hon. Friend, who is also a very good friend, for giving way. It has always struck me in so many nations in the world that, when the leader of a country takes up the reins of power, far too many of them believe that every single thing in that country belongs to them, which leads to the suffering of the people.
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The trouble is that corruption permeates in many of these countries from the top to the bottom. The view that previously held sway in much of the developed world was that there was nothing that could be done about it, and that it was, if not a desirable thing, something that we had to put up with because there was no way of getting people to enter public service—given the rates of pay on offer to them—unless they could subsidise their income through corruption. I hope that that view has largely disappeared, but it is something that must be stamped on. We in the developed world need to take action and tackle this scourge of corruption throughout the developing world—and in the developed world where we see it as well—not just because it is our moral responsibility, but because it affects our own security. I hope that I will hear something on that matter from the Deputy Leader of the House.
I want to touch on a very far-flung corner of this land—perhaps not as far-flung as the constituencies of some of those on the Scottish National party Benches, although having talked to civil servants in Whitehall, I could be forgiven for holding the belief that they seem to think that the part of the country that I am about to come on to is even further away than Orkney and Shetland. I speak, of course, of God’s great county, Lincolnshire, in which my constituency lies, as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who I see is in her place.
Contrary to popular belief in Whitehall and, dare I say it, among some Ministers not only in this Government but in Governments of the past, Lincolnshire does not lie somewhere in the North sea. It is only an hour and 20 minutes or so from King’s Cross station or perhaps two hours’ drive up the A1. It would be rather nice if we could see Ministers and, perhaps more importantly, civil servants occasionally taking the trip to Lincolnshire so that they could see for themselves not only what a wonderful county it is, but quite how much we are affected by some of the spending decisions made here in London. I have in mind two particular areas that I want to focus on.
The first of those is Lincolnshire police service, which is now the poorest funded police service in the country per capita. That is notwithstanding the fact that our population is as sparse in many ways as the population in some other areas of the United Kingdom, such as those in Scotland. The result of the underfunding of Lincolnshire police, which has been going on for decades, is that the police service in Lincolnshire is now stretched so thin that no further cuts can be made other than on the front line, and if that happens, the service received by people in Lincolnshire will be even worse than it is now.
The permanent secretary in the Home Department came to the Public Accounts Committee this week and I tackled him—quite feistily, it has to be said—on the past settlements which have been made in relation to police funding in Lincolnshire. He effectively admitted what we who live in the county have all known for far too long—that we have been on the receiving end of a very unfair funding formula which, thankfully, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice is now looking at. I hope we will get a new funding formula by the end of the year.
That discrimination, which is what it is, against the rural folk of Lincolnshire has been going on for far too long. What I would like to hear from the Deputy Leader of the House is something about the timetable for the introduction of the new funding formula, even if she has to write to me about it, so that I can go back to the police commissioner and the chief constable in Lincolnshire in due course and tell them precisely when we can expect the police service in Lincolnshire to be properly funded.
It is not, of course, just the police. My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) raised as recently as this morning in Transport questions the gross underfunding of our road network, about which the House has heard from Members on all sides during this debate. That, too, needs to be tackled.
The other area on which I want to focus is local authority funding and, in particular, the funding of Lincolnshire County Council. As matters stand, Lincolnshire County Council is facing a 55% reduction in its grant funding over the next four years. That is, in effect, a £68 million reduction for one of the largest counties in the country with one of the most difficult areas to serve because of the sparsity of its population and the fact that we have ribbon development along many of our arterial and other roads. At the same time as that reduction, budget pressures will fall on the county council, which mean that in 2015-16 alone approximately £31 million will have to be found just to cover inflation and an increase in adult social costs.
The funding formula for local government, not just for Lincolnshire but for many rural counties, has been unfair for far too long. Many of us argue in this House year after year that rural English counties need more money, yet very little ever seems to change. I hope that as a result of this debate the Deputy Leader of the House will go back to colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and make it clear that this inequity, which results in public services—which cost just as much to run in rural Lincolnshire as they do in rural Scotland—being underfunded, has to be brought to an end. Staffing numbers are already reducing, and many programmes that the county council has been running, including, for example, in relation to public health, which we all trumpet in this House, have already had to be cut. Our libraries budget has had to fall, to the great detriment of those who use them, and the same is true of children’s centres. The number of firemen on each fire engine has fallen from five to four, which I understand is the absolute minimum allowed by statute.
All these matters indicate that counties such as Lincolnshire—it is Lincolnshire that I am concentrating on, of course—have been at the thin end of the wedge for far too long. Far too much funding has gone into urban areas and perhaps, dare I say it, to the devolved regions. That has to be remedied. It has to be a task of this Government. It has to be something we tackle, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle would agree. Unless we tackle it, there will be a real problem with rural England continuing to feel that it is discriminated against at a time when more money is being ploughed into our towns and cities and to the devolved regions, and at a time when every single public service in Lincolnshire for which local authorities are responsible has been cut to the bone.
It is a privilege to have an opportunity to raise an important constituency case in this debate. I would first like to echo the tributes to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for her excellent maiden speech. Not only did she talk appropriately about her high regard for her constituents—and evidently her constituents’ high regard for her—but I was particularly touched by her reference to Prayers, when we are reminded daily that, whatever our political standpoint and whatever manifesto we were elected on, our first priority is always to our constituents. Having listened to her speech, I know the dedication she has shown already to her constituents. I wish her well in the months and years ahead.
I want to talk about an issue that I have spoken about in the Chamber on four occasions over the past three or four years: namely, the mis-selling of interest rate swap products by the commercial banks and the effect that has had on some of the small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency. I will focus, in particular, on fixed-rate loans, tailored business loans, sold to constituents of mine by the Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank, whose motto is, “We care about here.” Over a period of time, these loans were peddled by overzealous relationship managers, who managed to cause havoc to a large number of SMEs in Aberystwyth, the largest town in my constituency. The asset-rich farms, hostelries and shops of my agriculture and tourism-dependent constituency were deliberately targeted by greedy salesmen.
In that context, I want to talk today about one constituent in particular, Mr Mansel Beechey, who I believe to be a victim of mis-selling by Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank, and the difficulties he has had in seeking redress from the authorities. Aberystwyth’s Hen Llew Du public house is a long-established and successful local family business. Mr Beechey has owned it for 30 years, and his family have worked hard to create a popular, lively and iconic Welsh social hub that welcomes locals and students alike.
In 2008 Mr Beechey decided to expand the business by buying another pub with a restaurant for his daughter to run. Having identified suitable premises in his home village of Llangrannog in the south of Ceredigion, he was offered what was talked up as a straightforward loan by his relationship manager, a local man known well to Mansel for many years. The Beechey family borrowed money from the bank on a variable rate basis to purchase their new business. The loan was to be partly secured by their pub in Aberystwyth. However, unbeknown to Mr Beechey, approval for the tailored business loan was granted based on an incorrect interpretation of his accounts. None the less, on or around 28 January 2008, Mr Beechey signed a variable rate loan agreement with Clydesdale bank to borrow £700,000. His facility letter stated:
“The Borrower may at any time prepay all or any part of the Loan.”
There was no mention of any form of fee, cost or penalty for early pre-payment or repayment of the amount of the loan, nor was there any reference to any of the following terms that might indicate a possible cost for early repayment.
Mr Beechey drew down the bulk of the loan in early February to complete the purchase of the second business and immediately began extensive refurbishment work. Once the project was under way and the Beecheys began repaying capital on the loan, it became clear that there would be issues of affordability. At that point, Mr Beechey discovered that the friendly and trusted bank manager had submitted figures that showed a far larger net income from the Yr Hen Lew Du pub in Aberystwyth than was actually the case.
Then there was a second bombshell. The Beecheys were told that National Australia bank, of which Clydesdale is a part, was withdrawing from the UK hospitality sector, and owing to a stated technical breach of the loan, which the Beechey family disputed, the bank was demanding that they came up with a strategy to repay the entire loan within just a few weeks. Against a difficult economic background, with falling property prices, the Beecheys realised that the rapid sale of the new pub and restaurant that they had only just bought was unlikely to raise enough money to repay the entire loan, so their suggested strategy was to sell the new business and restructure any remaining debt. However, Clydesdale told them that if they repaid even part of their loan before the end of a 15-year term, they would incur a “breakage fee” of some £200,000—a not insubstantial amount for a small family-run business—even though it was the bank itself that was forcing early repayment. I repeat term 3.1 of the facility letter that the family received:
“The Borrower may at any time prepay all or any part of the Loan”.
The Beechey family were never warned about the potential scale of any early repayment charges. They have since discovered that instead of the simple fixed-rate loan that they thought they had, their tailored business loan had an embedded, or hidden, interest rate hedging arrangement, or swap—a complex derivative product that would protect the bank against interest rate fluctuations during the term of the loan. They now know that this would have been established during the phone call to fix the interest rate with the bank manager’s “colleague”, who was almost certainly a registered derivatives trader—not that that was known to the Beechey family.
Mr Beechey first came to my office in December 2012 about this problem. He had already, in April, made a complaint to the bank through his solicitor about the mis-sale of the TBL—an unregulated product. Appallingly, it took Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank over six months to respond to that formal complaint. We are talking about a business operating on the margins it needs to survive. This cloud should not last; it needs to be dealt with. Having taken six months to respond to the initial written complaint, to this day the bank has still not fully addressed it, despite my office facilitating meetings with its most senior personnel.
Mansel Beechey had always made it clear to his relationship manager that he wanted a loan that was flexible, sustainable and affordable. He is an experienced businessman, and he was shrewd enough to know that if things did not go to plan in the new venture, he would need a loan that he could repay or pre-pay at any time. Indeed, that is exactly what was said in one part of what turned out to be a complicated agreement. Yet three weeks after taking out the loan, over the course of three days and three telephone calls with what turned out to be bank treasury officials, the seemingly straightforward loan had morphed into the now infamous Clydesdale and Yorkshire tailored business loan—the fixed-rate loan with hidden swap. Two years into the loan, the Beechey family found themselves in an impossible position. They could not afford to pay the increased interest charges and so could not service the debt, and nor were they able to sell the business and repay the loan because of the huge break charges that they were initially unaware of.
The name “tailored business loan” was given by National Australia bank to a new type of loan designed to look like a traditional fixed-rate loan but with traditional penalty charges for breaking the loan replaced with an open-ended break cost. Of course, Clydesdale and Yorkshire was not the only bank to provide such loans. It issued, on its own admission, 8,300 of them. The Financial Conduct Authority has disclosed that 69,738 were issued across a range of banks. There has been at least a suspicion that the Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank manufactured these loans to avoid regulation.
I was very interested in the Treasury Committee’s inquiry into these matters at the end of the last Parliament. It took evidence from David Thorburn, the chief executive officer of the Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, and Debbie Crosbie, who bears the rather promising title of executive director for customer trust and confidence. Their impression of what needs to happen and what the bank will do to put matters right when a customer is mis-sold one of their products is very different from the reality experienced by constituent.
When Ms Crosbie appeared before the Treasury Committee last summer, she said of fixed-rate TBLs that
“the customer gets a fixed payment for a fixed period of time and that payment will never change as long as the customer does not want to terminate the agreement early.”
Yet the Beecheys’ payments were increased more than once, since the bank was simply able to vary the margin that they paid on top of the fixed rate. Mr Beechey never envisaged that that might happen. He understood that a fixed-rate loan meant what Debbie Crosbie had described. Indeed, her boss, the chief executive, David Thorburn said:
“This is a product which does what it says on the tin.”
I remind the House of the evidence that Ms Crosbie gave to the Treasury Committee last June. To his credit, the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), the Treasury spokesman for the SNP, asked the fundamental question about the sales process:
“If a customer is able to identify that that process did not happen, that that warning was not explicit, that would count as a mis-sell would it…?”
Ms Crosbie confirmed:
“We believe that once you examine that process, and find that it had not been carried out in accordance with what we had agreed is appropriate, we would absolutely redress a customer and we have done so on a number of occasions.”
I do not doubt that Clydesdale has addressed these matters on a number of occasions, but not in the 8,300 cases; and the other banks have certainly not addressed all 69,000 cases. The few offers made to people such as my constituents are derisory and have been made only under acute pressure. Only a portion of the overcharged interest is offered to be refunded, and no consequential losses are considered at all.
Over the past two or three years, we in this House have travelled a great distance in seeking justice for SMEs that have been mis-sold interest rate swap products. We have moved some way, but we are nowhere near where we should be. The public and the businesses I am dealing with find it confusing and frustrating given that evidence to the Treasury Committee last year shows that the banks all too often wittingly knew what they were about when they sold these products. They were delaying responses to complainants, denying the existence of the problem and diluting the seriousness of the complaint by not voluntarily offering full disclosure of information.
I am mindful of your stipulation about the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, but let me cover this quickly. Mr Andy Keats of the Serious Banking Complaints Bureau has commented that
“the largest complaint by far is that there is no access to bank held documentation… The bank relies on concealment of your central file, committee meeting reports and minutes, internal and external valuations of your property”.
That has been my constituent’s experience.
In the past six months, during which my constituent has put in simultaneous requests to both the Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and the Financial Ombudsman Service, I have seen transcripts of conversations between my constituent and officials that are quite different from those initially provided in response to the first subject access request made to the bank. I have seen three different credit reports and three different sets of credit figures, and, worryingly, none of the figures was correct. Things seem to have been changed at the stroke of a pen. That is a serious but deeply concerning allegation. The Treasury Committee has exposed great misconduct, yet we cannot move forward unless we have complete transparency in the process.
I believe that the process of redress is not working as well as it needs to. The issue has been approached in a far more positive way in New Zealand. An arrangement has been made between the New Zealand Commerce Commission and a New Zealand bank, ANZ, under which the bank paid compensation of 18.5 million New Zealand dollars. Those funds will be distributed to affected customers who complained to the regulator. That has been done in New Zealand and it needs to be done here.
Above all, my plea is for the Minister to look mindfully at the suggestion that she will hear from the all-party group on interest rate mis-selling—the Bully Banks group —which is ably chaired by the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), to push for a new, fair banking Bill that will regulate all products and services for commercial enterprises. I hope that we can push for fruition soon so as to benefit my constituent, Mr Beechey and, I believe, many others across the country.
The 2014 publication of the United Nation’s Commission of Inquiry report into human rights violations in North Korea was a defining moment. No longer was the suffering of the North Korean people overshadowed by nuclear weapons, political stalemates or sensationalist media stories. Instead, human rights rightfully took centre stage as the world became fully aware of a theatre of unimaginable horror situated in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. Detailing evidence that shocked even those of us who have sat with countless North Korean refugees and listened to their testimonies, the UN report documented the most egregious abuses of humanity in the modern era: state-sanctioned starvation, the prolific use of torture, endemic sexual violence, the use of political prison camps, and public executions as tools of social control.
I have spoken on this issue a number of times in the House, but new Members are present so I will give just a few examples of the kind of horrific torture and treatment that people in North Korea experience. Lee Hee-ho gave evidence to the Commission of Inquiry—she later became the First Lady of the Republic of Korea, following the experiences that she suffered with her husband. She told of how supporters of democracy were
“Deprived of any clothing and mercilessly pummelled with wooden bats, deprived of sleep, and had water poured into their nostrils while hanging upside down like so much beef hanging from hooks in the slaughter house.”
Another piece of evidence received by the North Korea all-party group described one woman who was arrested for her faith and
“assigned to pull the cart used to remove excrement from the prison latrines…the guards made her lick off excrement that spilled over”.
Children are kept in classes in prison camps, and there is a story of how one child who had picked a few grains of wheat from a field on the way to class was accused of stealing by her teacher. She was murdered by that teacher—beaten to death with a wooden stick that day. A teenager working in the prison camp accidentally dropped a sewing machine. As a punishment he had one finger cut off. I could go on.
I am proud that the UK, EU and European states were instrumental in the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council resolution that mandated that Commission of Inquiry, and for which our all-party group hosted testimonial sessions. A General Assembly resolution, co-written by the EU, acknowledged the Commission’s findings as crimes against humanity, and encouraged the UN Security Council to consider targeted human rights sanctions and to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court—no fewer than 111 countries demanded that, following the publication of the report.
The COI report has placed human rights on to the Security Council’s permanent agenda, ensuring ongoing scrutiny, and it is clear that since its release, Governments and non-governmental organisations have devoted much thought to how the international community should respond. I am pleased that one recommendation of the Commission—the establishment of a field office in Seoul to monitor human rights violations in North Korea—opened on 23 June. We must press for all the other recommendations in the report to be implemented.
The international community must do more. Momentum must be maintained because every day people in North Korea suffer the most indescribable atrocities in prison camps, in what can only be described as today’s holocaust. We must look for tangible means to improve the lot of the ordinary North Korean, at new forms of diplomacy that can transform North Korean society, and to untrodden paths that lead to unfettered engagement with ordinary North Korean citizens.
We must consider whether the decade plus of on-the-ground engagement inside North Korea, pursued by the international community and commonly termed “critical engagement”, has been enough. Is there any evidence that our engagement policies to date have transformed North Korean society for the better, improved human rights, or compelled North Korean decision makers to alter their violent course? In the wake of the horrific contents of the Commission of Inquiries report, the short answer must be no. North Korean officials continue to commit crimes against humanity in spite of our ambassadorial presence in Pyongyang, and in full knowledge of international human rights law. As Justice Michael Kirby noted in the final page of his COI report the North Korean Government
“has for decades pursued policies”—
indeed, for 60 years—
“involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community.”
Like my colleagues in the all-party group on North Korea, I am a firm advocate of engagement with the North Korean Government and the North Korean people, but engagement is not analogous to appeasement. Engagement with the North Korean people should not be confined to a small, hand-picked group of elites and outer-elites encountered by our engagement projects. There are 24 million North Koreans who have their substantive rights violated on a daily basis. We must reach those North Koreans.
Our engagement with North Korea in the post-COI era should not simply be renewed, it must be revised. Cracks in North Korea’s façade are appearing: a burgeoning unofficial economy; normative changes in society and an elite group of decision makers who operate without checks or balances, all point to opportunities of influence. We should not set out to collapse the DPRK, but embassies and Government should work to affect tangible change and not just pursue engagement for its own sake. The question is what next, after the publication of the COI report? I do not have all the answers, but here are some.
The international community should invest greater time and resources in understanding how North Korea organises its power structures. How is power transferred all the way from Kim Jong-un to a local party secretary who allows the abuse of women and children? Closer working with non-governmental organisations and others to facilitate the exchange of information with North Korea should be supported. In addition, the foreign policies of concerned Governments should work in a more co-ordinated manner to exhibit increased energies to address human rights atrocities suffered by the people of North Korea. This should not be exclusively, or even primarily, occupied with the nuclear threat. Emphasising the importance of human rights should be a thread of steel running through all diplomatic engagement.
China should be pressed to end immediately its practice of the forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees. It should be called on to permit refugees to travel to neighbouring countries, and it should allow international observers to look into the conditions in which North Korean refugees live in China. Any future six-party talks should ensure that pressing for human rights improvements are a prominent element of negotiations. Further accountability measures should be pursued through UN Security Council channels. There should be fact-finding missions. A UN General Assembly resolution could determine the creation of tribunals to try North Koreans, possibly even in absentia, and other alternative justice mechanisms to complement the International Criminal Court process.
The North Korean Government must be challenged when reports reach our ears, such as those recently published by John Hopkins University that anthrax and other biological agents have been tested on disabled people in North Korea. Every effort should be made to ameliorate the desperate plight of the North Korean people themselves. We should pursue ever more creative ways of breaking the information blockade that new technology such as DVDs, mobiles and USBs provide, and urge radio stations, in particular the BBC World Service, to broadcast directly into the Korean peninsula.
Finally, we should support the provision of aid through reliable NGOs, such as UNICEF and the Red Cross. UNICEF is warning of North Korea’s worst drought in 100 years. This is critical in a country that is already utterly malnourished and where the Government are incapable—indeed, often unwilling—to provide even the most basic sustenance to many of their people. During its last drought in the 1990s, millions of people were reduced to eating grass and bark as they starved to death. Let us respond to the call from UNICEF and provide this basic help to the people of North Korea.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my first speech in the House. First, I want to thank all of the staff here for their invaluable help. Without them, I literally would not be here. I have never before been guided so gently to where I should be, or given so much advice, and encouraged all the time to drink water, keeping me on the right road. I am truly grateful.
However, my main thanks today must be to my campaign team, led, ably and wonderfully, by my husband and agent—and we are still happily married, an achievement in itself. I was supported by a wondrous team, full of talent and ability and of every age and faith—a real mixter-maxter, as we say—who made the campaign fun and who watched over me like angels.
I know that there are some hon. Members in this House who have spent their whole adult life in preparation for being here; I haven’t. I have lived a full and rather enjoyable life—in fact, I want to go on doing that—but I am, or have been, a wife, a mother, a granny, a teacher, a local councillor, a trade union official, an auditor, a bookkeeper, a housewife, a student in the swinging sixties, the chairman of the parent-teacher association and a secretary of my local community council. Each of these jobs and responsibilities has taught me a little bit about myself and a wee bit about the world around us. I know how to knit a jumper, although it has been suggested that as a deputy Whip I should, perhaps, consider knitting some other suitable accessories for the job. I can persuade a lazy 16-year-old to turn up to class on time, I can negotiate a fair pay deal for my colleagues and I know how to balance a set of books—a declining skill around here, I believe. [Laughter.]
I know that some of my colleagues’ youthfulness has attracted a bit of attention here in the Chamber—and beyond. I hope to complement their great strengths by bringing my experience and skills to bear on our work. Too often I hear that those of us with more life experience are overlooked. I promise to make my experience count, and to stand up in this place for the grannies, grandads, retired and never-going-to-retire, wordly wise men and women across the country. We have a lot to offer our communities and this place.
But four years after I retired for the first time, the people of my own community gave me an opportunity to use my skills and experience here, as their first female non-Labour MP. That is what I fully intend to do. I was voted here in record numbers, with a 38% swing and a majority of 11,898, as a declaration by the people of Motherwell and Wishaw that they wanted change, not the austerity policies ideologically driven towards deficit reduction which relegate the dignity of human beings behind the priority of the balance sheet. They want an end to the persecution of those least able to care for themselves and their families through misfortune and disability.
I want to remind the Labour hon. Members who shouted at me on my first day in this Chamber, “Why are you here? You don’t even want to be here,” of my response to them and to this House. I am here because I was democratically elected. And no—some sort of strange virus has not gripped the people of Scotland; they voted for change, and for a stronger voice for Scotland. And to those on the Government Benches I say, I was elected to be a full Member of this House. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am charged with the hopes and aspirations of the people of my constituency, who want better from this place.
I am very proud to come from the area that elected the first ever Scottish National party MP, Dr Robert McIntyre. He was elected in 1945. I also come from a place in Scotland where the majority of people voted yes to independence for Scotland last year. Every single one of the 27,295 votes I received from the people of Motherwell and Wishaw in this election is a reminder to me that I have a great responsibility to all of my constituents, not just those who voted for me. I fully intend to do my best to deliver the change my constituents want to see.
I am very proud of the industrial heritage of my constituency and the roots we have in steel and coal. The announcement earlier today of the threat to 720 jobs in Rotherham will be felt in my constituency, where so many jobs in steel were lost. It was fantastic to see the recent unveiling of “The Steelman”, an inspirational sculpture by Andy Scott, set as a memorial to those who left to work in heavy industries and did not come home.
I know that this subject was close to the heart of my predecessor, Frank Roy. I know from his kind and gracious words to me on the evening of the general election that he was and is proud of the people of the constituency, as am I. I want to wish him and his family well for the future.
I asked my constituents through Facebook what was great about our community. The answers came in thick and fast. There is a real sense of social justice in Motherwell and Wishaw, and the people want a fairer and more equal community—one reason why my constituents voted so well in the referendum was that they are really committed to social justice.
The people are the best thing in my constituency, someone said on Facebook, as they try to regenerate from the devastating loss of all the major industries in the area. The children in the local schools are fully engaged politically, and they are a strong future base. It is about adapting to change, I was told, and having hope, and now we must not let those children down. I was also told, and I know, that the constituency is the best of both worlds—minutes from Glasgow and minutes from the Clyde valley; only an hour from the beach, and 45 minutes from our capital, Edinburgh. It is an ideal location.
Motherwell was famous for Olympian swimmers. Sir Alexander Gibson, founder of the Scottish national orchestra, was born in Motherwell. You can walk to New Lanark and Glasgow along the Clyde walkway and take in Baron’s Haugh, the RSPB reserve, which is a great place for twitchers—I do not see many here today. It is an area once rich in natural resources, which was of interest to the Romans, who built a bath house in what is now Strathclyde Country Park. The park was also the site of other aquatic spectacles—in last year’s hugely popular Commonwealth games, the triathlon and the rowing competitions took place there. One of my constituents is Charlie Flynn, “The Mailman”, who won a gold in boxing at the Commonwealth games. We are very articulate in Motherwell and Wishaw—Charlie more than me, it has to be said. Strathclyde Park also contains Scotland’s theme park—culture, sports and dodgems in one place.
The former Ravenscraig steel mill is now the site of a sports hub, the envy of many other places, with a full-sized indoor football pitch, and a new town is slowly being built on the site.
Did Members know that if they buy a kilt anywhere in the UK, it was probably made in Motherwell by Glenisla Kilts? Gallant Members who served in Scottish regiments would have been dressed by that company too, as it makes all the kilts for the Army. It has also worked with Vivienne Westwood on cutting-edge designs. The Dalzell works, now owned by Tata Steel, still rolls steel, and there are many enterprising businesses throughout the area.
I have to say, I was disappointed not to see Mr Speaker’s comments on my Facebook page, as I know that he had his own happy month living across the road from where I now live when he was a candidate in Motherwell and Wishaw in 1987. He was taken in by the people living there, and my constituency has long taken in folk from afar: Irish refugees after the famine, Lithuanians after the first world war, Congolese refugees more recently, and Polish families, who all add to our society.
When some people talk about the communities in Motherwell and Wishaw, they define us by what we once were, not what we are or could be in the future. Our job is to look to the future. I agree with the bard, not Rabbie, but the English bard—Shakespeare, I think he is called. He wrote that
“what’s past is prologue; what to come, In yours and my discharge.”
My community, my constituency and my country have fantastic assets and attributes. The people are the centre of that. It is not where people are from but where they are going that matters, and our job is to lead the way. To quote my national bard, in his “Epistle to a Young Friend”, he cautioned him to “better reck the rede”—in English, to take advice. I would advise the Government to take heed. The people of Scotland are holding them to account and they sent 56 representatives here to remind the Government to give us what was promised in the vow. We want that, and we want to be full Members of Parliament.
I promise that in my time here over the next five years I will work hard to realise my constituency’s fantastic potential, and be a hard-working and approachable local MP. I am looking forward to it.
It is very nice to follow the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). I wish her all the best in the Parliament. We all bring different attributes and experiences here, and she was very down-to-earth in describing herself as a mother, a teacher and a bookkeeper. All those attributes will be very useful here in Parliament. She also said that she very much wants to represent her constituents and, irrespective of our political party, that is something that we really value. Our constituents will definitely hold us to account when it comes to the next election. I welcome the hon. Lady and hope she enjoys her time here. I will not go into great detail on some of her political points, because it was her maiden speech, but I congratulate her.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this recess debate. We have just heard from a Scottish Member, but if we look at the south-west we see that the borders of Tewkesbury are three miles closer to the Scottish border than they are to Land’s End. That shows how big the south-west is, and how necessary it is for infrastructure to get there. We often talk about rail being electrified to Bristol, but it needs to be electrified all the way to Cornwall, because there is a lot of west country in between. The Government are focusing on getting the infrastructure right, but we need to do more because that helps our constituents and businesses—generally, it creates the economy that we all want.
The A303 being dualled from Stonehenge to Ilminster, along the A358 to the M5, is right, but there is a stretch between Ilminster and Honiton that needs serious improvement. I really want to see proposals from the Government to make sure that we do that. We have agreement from the area of outstanding natural beauty that the road can be built, and we need to get to grips with that.
On broadband, we need to ensure greater competition. BT is a great company, but it has almost a monopoly when it comes to rolling out broadband. In some areas, it moves in, delivers broadband to a few properties and then the rest of the properties are missed out, which makes it difficult for other companies to come in to provide it. I would love to see Ministers come forward with a voucher system, especially in the areas that are hardest to reach. If we cannot get connected through BT, let us get it through wireless, as we are deciding to do in Exmoor and Dartmoor. We have got to get our constituents broadband—not only individual constituents and residents, but businesses. It is very much part of the infrastructure that we require, and I look forward to it being delivered throughout Devon and Somerset and beyond, but we need greater competition so that BT does not dictate to us exactly what we should have.
My final point, as I promised to be brief, is that I have been very fortunate to be elected Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. We are very keen to start looking into what is happening with the single farm payment, making sure it is delivered on time; and to ensure that TB is eradicated from this country, with the necessary measures taken not only in testing cattle, but in making sure that wildlife is clear of the disease as well. There is much to do in the farming world, because prices are poor, and we need to help with that. We also need to look at flooding, and at having more internal drainage boards so that more local people and more local knowledge can be used to deliver a much better drainage system at a much more competitive price. So, there is much to do, but we are more than up to doing it.
I am sure that Members throughout the Chamber will join the community in Wood Green in mourning the loss of Mr Erdogan Guzel. Our condolences go to his wife and two children, who lost their beloved father and husband. Mr Guzel was fatally shot last Friday while sitting outside his friend’s bakery on Lordship Lane on a sunny afternoon. Mr Guzel was gunned down in a drive-by shooting with a sawn-off shotgun, in a tragic case of mistaken identity. Ms Sonya Gencheva was also injured and is today in a critical but stable condition in hospital—another innocent passerby caught up in that appalling crime.
Gun crime is terrifying, and I am pleased that the police have moved quickly to apprehend a number of suspects. I wonder whether it will be possible to debate, in the autumn session of Parliament, what increased measures can be taken to prevent gun crime in our cities, among worryingly increasing levels of violent crime. After today’s debate, I am going to hold a special debate about this issue in my community. I was keen to take the wishes of the whole House to the community of Wood Green, who are still reeling in shock as a result of this terrible crime.
It is a great pleasure to reply to this debate, and I congratulate the two hon. Members who made their maiden speeches. We heard from the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is a local lass made good. She pointed out that our analysis reports are in the post—monitoring 649 subjects for the next five years would keep anyone busy—but, as she also pointed out, she is already busy representing her constituents. She talked about how her constituents helped others, through public services and the work that Department for International Development civil servants do in her constituency. I am sure that she is very proud of them, and they will be proud of her today. I can honestly say that “polo mint city” is a better description than Basingstoke’s, where my first job was, which was known as the doughnut—again, the reference being to roundabouts.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) was right to praise her family’s support during the election campaign—I am sure that she will continue to have a happy marriage. I am really impressed that she is already a Whip; that is fast promotion, indeed. I was a Whip in the previous Parliament.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow denied any relationship to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I am sure that together they could each wear the tartan made in the constituency of her hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw. You never know: one day we may see a kilt or two in the Chamber, even if it is worn by you, Madam Deputy Speaker, with one of your beautiful scarves.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw also mentioned her life experience and referred to balancing the books in her professional life. I gently point out that that is what we are seeking to do, with our long-term economic plan, as we move from deficit to surplus, because at the end of the day we have to balance the books; every accountant knows that.
I will do my best to go through the speeches in turn. In starting the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) rightly brought to the House’s attention the council’s closure of the cattle market, which is to be demolished, with barely a week’s notice, and she pointed out that Derby City Council had not invested in the facility. I have heard this about other councils. It is a great shame that county towns do not recognise the heritage or the living countryside that surrounds them. It is important that county towns act for the entire county, and I suggest that she considers approaching farmers to see whether they could apply to make it an asset of community value, so that if the opportunity to buy the site comes up, they would have the option of doing so. The only other advice I can offer is that she follows this up with our colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to see whether there are other options. In addition, the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, who has just spoken, will have heard her point or will read it in Hansard.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who is not in his place, referred to having a list of speakers at the back of the Speaker’s Chair. The traditional reason for not having one is to ensure that people debate, rather than just read pre-prepared speeches. The very good debate yesterday was an opportunity for people to make different points, rather than necessarily repeating the same ones. I understand that Members all have busy lives, but I particularly enjoy sitting in the Chamber and listening to our debates—I know that you do a lot of that as well, Madam Deputy Speaker. The issue, however, is probably a matter for the Procedure Committee to consider, alongside the review I hope it will conduct into our proposals on Standing Orders.
On English devolution, the hon. Gentleman suggested that because the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill was taken on the Floor of the House, so too should that of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. The Scotland Bill covers not one particular legislative area, however, but the transfer of general areas of responsibility from this Parliament to the Scottish Parliament. I am not convinced, therefore, that it is necessary to take the other Bill on the Floor of the House, but as always all Members will be able to contribute on Report, even if they were not selected for the Committee. On financial devolution and income tax assignment, he seems to have missed the fact that the coalition Government achieved a lot with the Localism Act 2011. The powers are out there and deals are being done, so I encourage him to work with his local authority in Nottingham and the Greater Nottingham area to take advantage of that.
The hon. Gentleman said that his constituency had the lowest number of people going to university, and I think he mentioned the removal of the maintenance grant. When we made our changes to fees in the last Parliament, it was said that the number of young people going to university would collapse and that people from poorer backgrounds would simply not go, but that has not proven to be the case. What matters, as the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) said, is ensuring that children have access to good schools and are not frightened of going to university. In that respect, the early-years preparation she mentioned does matter.
I now move on to the marathon speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). It was quite a canter. In fact, Southend seems to have everything except a racecourse, although I bet he is going to tell me it has a greyhound track. I do know, however, that one gets plenty of exercise if one even attempts to walk up and down the pier, which I think is the longest in the United Kingdom—but most normal human beings take a train from one end to the other.
I want to say something about the Chilcot inquiry. The inquiry, which is completely independent of Government, is examining a range of complex and difficult issues concerning events that ran over a period of about 10 years. Sir John Chilcot wrote to the Prime Minister on 15 June updating him on the inquiry’s position. Since January, the inquiry has received a large proportion of the responses expected from individuals who were given the opportunity to respond to provisional criticisms—something referred to as the Maxwellisation process. The responses have been constructive, and in some cases they have opened up new issues or highlighted evidence not seen before by the inquiry but which the inquiry is now considering with care.
In the Prime Minister’s reply, he said that he was disappointed that the inquiry was not yet able to provide a timetable for completion of its report; and as soon as Maxwellisation is completed, the Prime Minister expects to receive an update from Sir John on the timescale for the urgent completion of the inquiry. The civil service continues to be under instruction to provide every assistance to the inquiry, and Sir John agreed to meet Sir Jeremy Heywood in accordance with the Prime Minister’s wishes. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are very keen to see this report published. I know that many around the House are as impatient as he is to get it.
My hon. Friend made a number of different points. On Southend airport and his constituent’s problems with noise pollution, I suggest that if he has not already done so—I am sure he has, as I know he is an assiduous Member—he should contact the aviation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill).
On the point about the National Deaf Children’s Society and the allocation of Ofsted inspectors who have experience of the needs of the deaf, the training and allocation of the inspectors is, of course, a matter for Her Majesty’s chief inspector, but I know that this chief inspector takes very seriously the need to ensure that inspectors have the appropriate skills and knowledge to perform their role. I understand that those who inspect specialist provision will have had previous relevant experience in teaching and leadership, and will undertake additional Ofsted training. I am also aware that where a school has a specialist unit for deaf children, inspectors will establish in the pre-inspection conversation with the school whether a British sign language interpreter is required when meetings pupils.
When it comes to mainstream schools, a requirement for all inspectors to have experience or specialist training in respect of people who are deaf or hearing impaired was seen to raise very significant cost and efficiency issues, as well as practical ones. For that reason, I understand that Ofsted has no plans to make further changes to its arrangements at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West referred to the wild animals in circuses Bill. He will know that there was a commitment in our manifesto, and the Government are committed to bringing in this legislation when parliamentary time allows. I am sure he will be pleased to know that the interim licensing scheme is ensuring good welfare for the 18 wild animals being used by the two travelling circuses.
On the NHS agency staff bill, my hon. Friend will be aware of the action already taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. It is an important issue that probably affects every health trust in all parts of the United Kingdom, so my hon. Friend is right to raise it on behalf of his local hospitals.
My hon. Friend referred to the promotion of Southend United. I congratulate the team on that. The last time I saw Southend United play was when I was a parliamentary candidate for Wrexham, and I am afraid Southend lost to Wrexham in the Johnstone’s Paint trophy. All I can say is that Wrexham ain’t anywhere near where Southend United is in the football league nowadays.
I hope I have covered a good number of the points that my hon. Friend raised. He is right to talk about VisitEngland and to want to improve tourism outside London. I am sure he will welcome the fact that as we speak many tourists will be heading up to my constituency to enjoy the Latitude festival. I hope that the weather stays good for them. The sun always shines in Southend, and it usually does in Suffolk, too. I am sure, finally, that other hon. Members will join me in congratulating my hon. Friend, who I am sure will enjoy his investiture at Windsor castle tomorrow.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) raised a number of points. She mentioned open-cast mines. I understand that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, met Carl Sergeant of the Welsh Assembly Government today to discuss issues relating to open-cast mines, including the Parc Slip west site. My hon. Friend has agreed to have further conversations about options to deal with the site and possible sources of funding.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of continence. I do not know whether the event she mentioned is still happening as we speak—possibly not. I recognise the need for nationwide improvements in continence care. This has led to the continence care programme, which is aligned with the national compassion in practice strategy. NHS England is leading a national programme of work in this area. I am not aware of what is happening in Wales in that regard, but the hon. Lady will appreciate that she can have direct conversations with the appropriate people in the Welsh Assembly Government.
I understand the hon. Lady’s frustration about tier 4 student visas, because there is a similar issue in my constituency. As I am sure she will recognise, acquiring student visas used to be one of the main ways in which people managed to overstay, and I understand that very careful deliberation is taking place about all the different applications that are being made. Nevertheless, I hope that the Home Office will move as quickly as possible to satisfy her local college and, indeed, mine. I am sure that my Home Office colleagues have noted my issue as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) asked about Equitable Life. I was proud to be part of a governing party that ensured that compensation was provided, and that further compensation was given to those on pension credit. I understand the point that my hon. Friend made, but I am not aware that the Treasury has any plans to extend the compensation regime any further.
My hon. Friend also expressed concern that the public health funds given to councils were not being used for their intended purposes. Public Health England continues to issue targets against which councils are measured, but one of the purposes of giving councils public health funding was to address local needs and ensure the provision of not only immediate but long-term public health benefits, and I think that that should be respected. If my hon. Friend wishes to raise any specific local issues, I am sure that he will be able to do so directly, either with my colleagues or with councils themselves.
The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz)—or, as she accurately said, “hon. Friend” outside the Chamber —was right to highlight problems relating to traffic jams and productivity. Having checked on my phone earlier, I know that, as we speak, there are just big red lines on the southbound section of the M6 in her constituency. I grew up in Liverpool and some members of my family still live there, while others live in parts of north Wales, so I am a regular traveller up the M6. I share the hon. Lady’s frustration, which is why I do not use that road any more.
According to the Department for Transport, the entry road at junction 9 has been closed to help to prevent gridlock on local roads in Walsall. If the road were kept open, traffic would have to queue to access the M5 link road, which currently has only one lane available owing to vital repair work on the carriageway. Queues would build up quickly and result in heavy congestion on the M6, which would back up into other roads in Walsall—although the hon. Lady seems to think that that is already happening. I understand that Highways England has discussed the matter in depth with Sandwell and Walsall councils, and that they understand the need to prevent needless congestion for local drivers.
The hon. Lady said that no work seemed to be being carried out on the entry road, and she was absolutely right. The road has been closed not so that repairs can be carried out, but with a view to preventing gridlock on the M6 and local roads around Walsall. However, I am sure that the authorities will take careful note of what she has said today, and will look at the issue again.
The hon. Lady mentioned traffic-calming measures in Walstead Road, and the need for a 20 mph zone in Monmouth Road. As she knows, her local council must tackle the issue, but she is has plenty of experience in that regard, and she was right to raise it on behalf of her constituents today.
As for the education centre that the hon. Lady mentioned, I agree with her that it will be a great result. I was not invited to the opening of the centre, so I feel a bit left out, but I shall be sure to go and see it on Monday.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the travel subsidy. Unfortunately for me, it is for those outside the M25. Children from Suffolk do not benefit from the subsidy, and I assure the hon. Lady that those in Lowestoft, which is not in my constituency but 130 miles away, do not benefit from it either. As a result, not many schools in my constituency come here. However, I am sure that the excellent new centre will help.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) spoke passionately about her role as a breast cancer ambassador. She was right to do so, on behalf of her constituents, but also because of the need to continue to raise awareness. The independent cancer taskforce has developed a five-year strategy for cancer services with the aim of improving survival rates and saving more lives. The strategy will recommend improvements along the cancer pathway, and is expected to be published later this month. We will work with the NHS, charities and patient groups to deliver that.
My hon. Friend also referred to the Iran nuclear deal. After more than a decade of tough negotiations, we have reached an historic agreement aimed at ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme is and remains exclusively peaceful, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be grateful for her praise. She also raised the important issue of the number of older people living alone and the isolation that many of them feel. I am not aware of exactly what we are doing on that, but I am sure that her concerns can be addressed in future Question Time opportunities.
The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden spoke passionately about the need for social mobility. She referred to the parental link, the privileged professions and the link to private schools. She mentioned early years provision in an intervention on the hon. Member for Nottingham North. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of education published the annual report on the early years sector for Parliament on 13 July—just a few days ago. It shows a positive picture overall, welcomes the Government’s major new investment in free childcare for working parents and highlights the fact that the quality of all types of early-years provision is at its highest ever. We are absolutely committed to continuing to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is why we offer 15 hours of completely free childcare.
On the question of social mobility, I can tell the hon. Lady that one of the things that drives this Government is ensuring that every child has a good early start and goes to a good school. We are passionate about keeping that going, because it matters. We only have one chance of being a child and getting that education, and she is right to champion that issue. I can assure her that this Government are on the side of those who want to get on and do the right thing.
The hon. Lady talked about the certificate in knowledge of policing now costing £1,000. It is my understanding that special constables, certainly in the Metropolitan police, do not need the certificate. The Met is also open to providing interest-free loans. I do not particularly want to become a tax lawyer at the Dispatch Box, but my personal experience would lead me to expect that people who see the benefit of investing in such a certificate would be able to deduct the cost as a fully allowable expense.
Does the Minister not appreciate that the group of young people I was talking about would not have any knowledge of tax relief? They are people who want to become police officers but who have neither the time to arrange such things, because they are working, nor the ability to say to their parents, “Can I have £1,000 so that I can train and apply for this job?” The certificate simply allows them to apply; it does not guarantee them a job.
I recognise what the hon. Lady is saying. Perhaps the way out for some people would be to train as a special in the first place. She also mentioned unpaid work experience, and I recognise the points she made. I am pleased that HMRC is cracking down on unpaid internships; that is the right approach for us to take.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) also covered a wide range of subjects. He talked about broadband “not spots” and the sharing of masts. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary made a breakthrough in March in his negotiations with the phone companies, and it is important that that progress should continue. I hope that my hon. Friend is also benefiting from the mobile infrastructure programme.
My hon. Friend was right to praise the staff at Blackburn hospital for making progress since it received the perhaps not very helpful but nevertheless accurate assessment outlining what needed to be done in the interest of its patients. I also welcome the idea of having a GP surgery at the entrance to the A&E department, to which patients can be sent, if necessary, following triage.
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s part of the northern powerhouse will feel the benefit of half-hourly trains. I wish I could get the same service for Suffolk; it would be a good thing if we at least had trains coming through. I welcome the fact that the pool in Haslingden is reopening thanks to the work of the community group known as HAPPI. I think I misheard him at first, but he did refer to Pharrell Williams, and “Happy” is one of my favourite karaoke songs. I am sure that HAPPI will be able to think about some of the town centre improvements to which my hon. Friend referred. It is vital that we improve our market towns if we are to have prosperity and great places to live and work, and I am sure that he will be a strong champion of the towns in his constituency.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is no longer in his place, mentioned that he was a fan of country sports, including shooting and fishing. You may have missed this, Madam Deputy Speaker, but he announced that he has a licence to shoot, so I guess we are going to re-christen him 007. He was right about the important role of country sports in not only conservation but jobs for local people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) raised the case of one of her constituents in respect of the police and the Home Office, so she should follow it up with the Home Secretary via the usual routes. It would be inappropriate for me to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) highlighted the case of his constituent and mis-selling. He rightly paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for the work he has done. I believe that a substantial amount of action has been taken by the Financial Conduct Authority and reviews are under way. Some £1.9 billion has been paid out so far. I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says about consequential losses, and he will not be the only Member who has constituents affected in that way. He is right to press on this point and I am sure the Treasury will be listening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) raised the important issue of the violation of human rights in North Korea, a subject that she has championed regularly, and, as she is co-chair of the all-party group on North Korea, I am sure she will continue to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) talked about many rural issues, including the A303, the BT monopoly on broadband—that is what he suggests—and flooding in internal drainage boards. I am sure that now he has been elected as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs he will be able to bring his additional weight to bear on these matters. It is right that we focus on ensuring that rural parts of our country not only get a fair deal but get access to the services and infrastructure we need.
I wanted to answer a point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips). I will not pretend that I know Lincolnshire very well, although I have family who came from there. I know it is a sparsely populated county, and other rural counties will face similar issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government takes seriously issues relating to how rural funding has been addressed. I know that some additional funding was given in order to do that, and I appreciate the campaign to continue that approach. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will be tenacious on this, as I know he is. On fair funding for the police in Lincolnshire, we know that the current model for allocating police funding is complex and out of date. That is why we are undertaking a detailed review of the formula and will be launching a consultation on reforming the current arrangements for allocating funding before the end of next week.
On my hon. and learned Friend’s point about corruption, we are applying pressure to our international partners, and that is at the heart of this matter. We are working on the UN convention against corruption in partner countries, and with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on strengthening financial action taskforces around the globe. We have been taking real leadership in these areas, and DFID works with other G8 and G20 members, and through the UN, to strengthen the international architecture to combat corruption and illicit financial flows. I remind the House that the UK took the lead when we chaired the G8 in 2013, implementing a number of measures which have put the UK in a leadership position.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), who is no longer in her place, was right to raise the worrying events in her constituency last week. Madam Deputy Speaker, it was kind of you to allow a few people to speak who were not here at the start, because it really matters that people have the opportunity to use this Chamber to raise issues on behalf of their constituents. It is my great pleasure to speak to this Chamber. It is only just a year since I joined the Government, and I want also to thank those who have been—
I was about to conclude, so if the hon. Lady does not mind, I will not give way.
I want to thank everyone who has helped all new Members to settle in and the rest of us to settle back into life. It is a great privilege to be a Member of this House, and I believe that only one person has yet to make their maiden speech. People of the pre-2015 intake are delighted at the number of new people who have joined this House and at the quality of the debate that they are bringing to it. I also want to thank the people who work for me in my constituency and my staff, those before the election and the ones now. Without all our staff, we would not be in a great place in order to serve our constituents in the way we do.
On that note, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you a great recess, when I am sure you will be working hard in your constituency of Epping Forest, too.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it be appropriate to ask to put on the record the thanks of everyone who has taken part in this debate for the very full and thorough reply that we have all received from the Deputy Leader of the House. To be honest, I have never heard such a fantastic response from a Minister at the Dispatch Box, and we all owe her a great thank you.
It would not strictly be in order as a point of order to the House, but I am very pleased that the hon. Lady has used that device to make that point. I was about to make it myself on behalf of the House, but I am very glad to have a unanimous congratulations to the Minister for her very full, thorough and thoughtful response to this important debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.