I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) sends his apologies; the time taken by the urgent question meant that he could not stay but had to leave to attend to constituency business.
I wish to concentrate my remarks on some local issues and matters concerning this House that might benefit from a mention. I am pleased to report that during the recent London mayoral election in Harrow East, we managed to secure an overwhelming majority for our mayoral candidate, our constituency candidate and the party vote. Regrettably, the rest of London did not follow the same line. I am also pleased to say that we secured a strong majority vote in my constituency to leave the EU, which was of course echoed across the country.
On transport, the dreadful performance of Southern Rail was mentioned in business questions this morning. This affects my constituents as well. The service from Harrow and Wealdstone station to Gatwick airport and Brighton has already been cut, and now Southern proposes to cut the service to Croydon. I wrote to the outgoing Rail Minister about this, and I trust that there will be strong action from the new Secretary of State and the Rail Minister to combat this disgraceful service.
Flooding is a particular issue in my constituency. Many Members from rural constituencies might not realise this, but constituencies like mine have seen deep pools of water and sewage emerging as a result of recent flash floods and heavy rainfall. I have had consequential correspondence and held a series of meetings with the council, Thames Water and the Environment Agency, and it is a great source of frustration that none of them is taking any action to remedy the problem. As a result, many homes have been flooded unnecessarily, which has caused immense problems with insurance.
I had hoped to report today a satisfactory outcome to the ongoing saga of the redevelopment of the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital. This has been going on since before I was elected: my predecessor and his predecessor attempted to get the hospital rebuilt. The only thing that seems to have changed is that the NHS Trust Development Authority has changed its name to NHS Improvement. Still the bureaucracy continues and still the £20 million funding that is required is being “considered carefully” by the bureaucrats. I trust that the Health Secretary and his team will reduce these levels of bureaucracy and that we can get a reasonable and quick decision on a proper, business-like service. This is a service on which we all rely.
I am receiving complaints about the planning service in Harrow. The local authority is struggling to deal with enforcement notices and the grey areas around permitted development and retrospective planning approval. I warned about this when the Government changed the rules and regulations on planning. It is now causing immense problems, not only in my constituency but throughout London.
I have also received numerous complaints about the rejection of legitimate visa applications submitted for weddings, religious ceremonies, education and other visits to this country. My office is referring every case either to UK Visas and Immigration or the Immigration Minister. We are seeing mass rejections of visas for families travelling to my constituency for legitimate reasons. This needs to be rectified.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. At their advice surgeries, many MPs see people complaining about legitimate entry clearance applications being refused. At the same time, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the high commission in Islamabad recently granted entry clearance to two hate preachers, including one Muhammad Qureshi? Why does he think that permission is being granted to people who are seriously dangerous to our country yet not to those who are not?
It is quite clear that the problems in the visa system need to be resolved. People who want to cause harm and damage to good community relations in this country should be barred from entering. The new Immigration Minister has a task to review this process. I have proposed that visitors from India have the option of a two-year visitor visa, just as visitors from China do. It might be possible to consider other countries as well, but if we have friendly relations with countries, we should allow people from there to come and visit on a reasonable basis. We should also bar those we do not want here, and that includes barring from our mosques messages from hate preachers who preach over the internet or via satellite television. That causes religious and other concerns.
I wish to take up the vexed issue of the garden tax in Harrow. The council decided in 2015 to charge for the collection of garden waste. Having contacted every London borough, we have established that Harrow is charging more than any other borough in London, and probably the country, for garden waste collection. Residents were rightly outraged by this imposition, but the policy has been approved and 10,000 addresses in my constituency have now been registered for this tax. We have had 168 complaints of poor service and 3,080 missed collections out of 128,000 since the service was introduced. The service is poor yet the most expensive in the country. It is outrageous.
I was pleased recently to visit Bentley Priory museum, where we were buzzed by a Spitfire as part of the celebrations of our winning the Battle of Britain. I also received an interesting request. After successfully securing from the Chancellor a £1 million grant towards an education centre for the museum, I received an email asking for an invoice for £1 million and details of the person to whom the cheque should be payable. I had to check that it was not coming from Nigeria or some other country, rather than a civil servant. I am pleased to say that I was able to pass it on to the relevant people and to make sure they got the money they deserved.
I am pleased to say that the first state-sponsored Hindu Secondary School in this country has now received planning permission. It will be built in my constituency and will open as soon as possible. I look forward to the new Secretary of State for Education coming to open it in due course.
After the break, I will be introducing a private Member’s Bill on homelessness reduction. It is supported by national charities such as Crisis, Shelter and St Mungo’s and by the National Landlords Association and other local charities in my constituency, such as the FirmFoundation night shelter charity and Harrow Churches housing association. Although we cannot eliminate homelessness, we can try to reduce it as much possible. The Communities and Local Government Select Committee will be publishing a report on measures to combat homelessness across the country. My Bill will go through pre-legislative scrutiny by the CLG Select Committee, which I understand will be a first for any private Member’s Bill. This may be an ordeal for me and others.
I would like to tell Members wishing to support my Bill that Second Reading is on 28 October. I look forward to gaining cross-party support for the Bill, and I have already secured co-sponsors from Conservative, Labour, SNP and DUP Members, but unfortunately I could not find a Liberal Member to help. No doubt the Liberals will also support it, however.
I raised the issue of caste legislation at Women and Equalities questions this morning. The all-party parliamentary group for British Hindus is actively lobbying to repeal clause 9 of the caste legislation as it approaches the end of its sunset clause. The consultation time with communities has been fully exhausted over the last two years, and now is the time to take a decision. British Hindus deeply resent this unnecessary, ill thought out, ill-considered legislation, which was foisted on us by the other place. I look forward to its being repealed as soon as possible.
I had the privilege of celebrating the second international day of yoga this year. We had a very well attended meeting here with researchers, practitioners, parliamentarians and representatives from the NHS. The key point is that the NHS is considering putting yoga into the wellbeing aspects of the health service. I would recommend it for all Members. I start my day with a short period of yoga exercises and stretches and meditation, and it has served me extremely well. I thus strongly recommend it for all colleagues—[Interruption.] No, I will not demonstrate it here and now! I have held two meetings with the Minister of AYUSH— Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy—in India. The aim was to get Indian Ministers to inform the Government here and all who would like to listen that this can be utilised to assist people’s wellbeing, as well as ensuring that people can relax and live a proper, decent and long life.
This morning I also raised the plight of religious minorities in Bangladesh. I would like to highlight early-day motion 351 for Members to sign if they so wish, with the aim of ensuring that we get some action. At the moment, we spend £157 million on overseas development aid to Bangladesh, and I am proud of the fact that this country spends 0.7% of its gross domestic product on overseas development. It seems to me that at a time when religious minorities are being victimised and persecuted in Bangladesh, we should spend more of that money on improving security over there for all people of all religions rather than on some of the areas where the money has actually been spent.
I have also raised the plight of Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir. This is an integral part of India, and it shall remain so. The area illegally occupied by Pakistan must be repatriated to India. I have spoken on a regular basis against the continued attacks on Hindu minorities in Kashmir. As a result of the assassination of the terrorist Burhan Wani, the situation in the valley has erupted, with Pandits and Government establishments attacked by Kashmiri Muslims and other terrorists.
I visited Jammu and Kashmir to gain a first-hand understanding of the situation. I met many members of civil society, politicians, lawyers, traders and residents to understand the situation in both Jammu and Kashmir. I met senior cabinet Ministers in Delhi, and it is quite clear that there are huge opportunities for tourism and infrastructure improvements and for the whole of society to come together, provided that the terrorism ceases.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for telling us about his experiences in Jammu and Kashmir. I have been there, too, and I would like to say that the terrorism runs both ways. It is important for us to acknowledge that. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there is a long way to go, and that there are opportunities to be had for creating greater community cohesion. It is important to register the fact that the acts of terrorism, as I say, go both ways. I have seen that at first hand myself.
The reality is that under UN resolutions, Pakistan is illegally occupying part of Kashmir—and it should leave. I am also concerned about the link-up between China and Pakistan on the illegal silk route that is being followed, and the threats to security that result from it.
Let me deal now with the costs to the NHS that come from smoking. At the moment, treatments for people who choose to smoke amount to £2 billion a year, while smoking causes 79,700 unnecessary deaths every year. Smoking rates still remain stubbornly high, but I am delighted that the numbers of young people taking up smoking are dropping considerably, which is good news for the longer term. I shall be hosting a round table event in September to discuss progress on the tobacco control plan, and I urge the new Health Minister to ensure that this control plan is introduced as quickly as possible. Our meeting will bring together key stakeholders interested in the development of the plan, and is intended to ensure that we give appropriate recommendations to the Department of Health on this issue. This has been delayed over the summer, and the change of Ministers might bring a need for further consideration, but I urge the Department to get on with this quickly.
In conclusion, I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all members of staff, who serve us so well, a very happy recess. Personally, I shall be working in my constituency on behalf of my constituents, as well as having a very short and brief holiday to allow me to recover from this year.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a number of important issues on behalf of my constituents. Next Wednesday, I shall join residents of the Horn Park estate in my constituency to lobby the clinical commissioning group to urge it not to take the decision to cease funding of The Source, which is a nurse practitioner-led health centre on the estate. We do not want to lose any form of health service provided locally. The estate has no pharmacy and no GP practice. In fact, the nearest GP practices are almost two miles away.
One of the reasons given for taking this service away is that many of the patients treated by The Source, which is funded by Greenwich CCG, are patients of Lewisham doctors. I campaigned against the closure of the GP practice on this estate 25 years ago, when it first lost its practice. As part of the single regeneration budget 5 funding, in 2007 facilities for the introduction of a nurse practitioner-led service were funded, but now, because public health has been separated off from the previous primary care trust, the service falls between two stools. Local GP practices refer people to this service, and they appreciate the quality of it. No one disputes the fact that it provides good value for money, but because of this split in the funding between public health and primary services funded by the CCG, no one is prepared to continue funding it.
Last year, this service treated 5,332 patients, and 4,489 in the previous year. The annual cost is about £142,000, which is minuscule in the scheme of things. The average cost per visit is about £26.63. This is really good value for money. Everyone recognises that it is really good value for money, and everyone recognises that this is a deprived community which needs direct access to health services, but because of the bureaucracy, people are being penalised. Although all those people are Greenwich residents, some of them were forced to join Lewisham practices because the estate was on the border, and now they are being penalised. Having lost their own general practice years ago, they are now being told, “We are not prepared to fund this service”, because a fifth of the people who use it are Lewisham patients although they are Greenwich residents.
That is completely unacceptable, and I will be there with my constituents lobbying very hard for all the health managers—general practices, the CCG and the local authority—to come together and maintain the service on the estate for my local residents. It provides vaccinations and treats people who need dressings renewed, so that they need not undertake arduous journeys to other places. It has been said that many of those services will be replaced by home visits, but at a cost of £26.63 per visit to the centre, it cannot be cost-effective to travel all the way to the far end of the borough to treat people in their own homes when those people are asking for the service to be maintained because they use it for many purposes. I hope that a health Minister will hear my appeal and intervene, bang some heads together, and ensure that we do not lose that vital service on the estate.
Another issue that I want to raise is the quality of service that is being provided by Southeastern. It is utterly appalling. We have had some truly hot weather this week, for the first time this summer, and what has it resulted in? A minor change in the weather for a short time has resulted in major disruption to the service. It seems that no matter what sort of weather we have—whether it is heavy rain, severe cold, a bit of snow, or some hot weather—Southeastern cannot run the trains. We in south-east London do not have direct access to the London underground, and we rely heavily on those rail services to travel to and from central London.
According to a recent survey conducted by Passenger Focus, passenger satisfaction is going down sharply. In autumn 2012, 83% of passengers were satisfied with the service, and punctuality stood at 91.4%; in spring this year, the satisfaction rate was down to 70%, and punctuality stood at 87%. That is just not good enough. According to a Passenger Focus survey of Southeastern passengers, only 53% were satisfied with its services. It was one of the worst performers.
One problem that confronts my constituents is overcrowding. Our platforms have been lengthened to accommodate 12-car trains, but we have yet to see those trains. We know that rolling stock will become available when the Thameslink upgrade has been completed, and that existing rolling stock will be available to Southeastern if the Government give their approval. Let me appeal to the Government again. We have lengthened the platforms, and we have told people that they will have longer trains. We have no underground, we rely heavily on those train services, and we must have that additional rolling stock to improve the quality of the service.
I have only a few moments left, but I want to raise one more issue. I have written to the Minister about a planning application for the site at the Gaelic Athletic Association. The planning inspector has recommended approval, but I urge the Minister not to set such a precedent. There is a viable plan for that sports ground, and we should not be building on it.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate and to have an opportunity to welcome my colleagues on the Front Bench, who are serving—I think for the first time—as Deputy Leader of the House and duty Whip. I congratulate them on their new responsibilities.
In a summer when a decade seems to have passed in the last month—indeed, so much has happened since the ghastly murder of Jo Cox that it seems a long while ago, although in reality it was a very recent tragedy—and at a time when Brexit and the how, when and in what way we leave the European Union seem to be the dominant theme of so much media focus, I want to concentrate on issues over which we have always had complete control in this country. At this time, the emphasis is on the need for us—Government, Members of Parliament, local government and other agencies—to come up with answers and deliver them, so that life in our country and our constituencies, in my case the ancient city of Gloucester, gets better from year to year.
Let me begin with transport, because that is how we Gloucester residents travel to and from our city, how visitors arrive, and how our investors gain their first impressions. Two improvements could be made at Gloucester railway station—in the frequency of the trains and in the infrastructure. It still seems extraordinary to me that Arriva CrossCountry’s inter-city service between Birmingham and Bristol, which runs 63 trains a day, stops only three times at the city of Gloucester. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) worked on that problem diligently when she was the trains Minister. I hope that the new Minister will pursue with the same enthusiasm the business of enabling more CrossCountry trains to stop at Gloucester as the Department for Transport completes its programme for a new franchise in the west of England.
As for the infrastructure, Great Western Railway is making good progress with a new station car park, which will open up the southern side of the station for the first time in its 150-odd years of existence. However, there is more work to be done. I hope that the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will look favourably on the bid from the Gloucestershire local enterprise partnership, which includes a significant amount of money for a general station infrastructure project that will undoubtedly be one of the drivers of growth in our city in the future.
Of course, it is also important for our bus, road and cycle infrastructure to be in as good a state as possible. Our new bus station is well under way, and I know that the city and county councils will ensure that it is delivered on time and within budget, but the road situation is more complicated. The so-called missing link on the A417 between the M4 and the M5 is a major blockage to growth, not just in Gloucestershire and in the city of Gloucester but more widely, between the south and the north of the country. I hope that my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Transport will take the same interest as his predecessor in ensuring that the first spade goes into the ground for that important new project before April 2020.
As a keen cyclist—only marginally put off by a promising black eye, which those with keener vision will spot, resulting from an incident this morning—I hope very much that the county council’s £3.5 million project for a new cycle lane between Gloucester and Cheltenham will receive approval from Highways England in due course. I am also separately pursuing longer-term improvements on the towpath between the city centre and Quedgeley. I can tell colleagues who have never had a chance to visit Gloucester that that is a wonderful cycle journey. They would be excused for not realising at any stage, even before visiting the Pilot Inn at the end of their journey, that they were cycling in the middle of a city rather than in a particularly glorious bit of the English countryside, because that is, in fact, what they would be doing.
Finally, I want to refer to two education projects which, in the longer term, will make a huge difference. First, there is the bid that we are preparing for a new Gloucestershire health university technical college, which will serve the people of our county and, possibly, people from wider afield who could travel by train from Swindon or even from Worcester. It will give 14 to 18-year-olds great opportunities to gain BTEC qualifications in either health or care, and also to gain significant work experience with the three NHS trusts in the county, as well as in the private sector. It is to me quite wrong that we should need 400 new nurses a year and that we are only training about 120 and are having to import them from as far afield as the Philippines. Excellent though our nurses from Portugal, Spain, the Philippines and elsewhere are, we should be training them at home; we should be giving them those opportunities to take up the 12,000 jobs in the health sector in Gloucestershire and training them in our own county. I hope very much that that bid goes ahead and is successful.
The other education bid we are making is for a new RAISE academy, which will be for excluded pupils from our secondary schools. This is also important. Everybody deserves a second chance and the opportunity to get back into learning and get the qualifications and skills they need to get good jobs later on, and I hope very much the Department for Education will look favourably at that.
I note what my hon. Friend says about the great training going on. Does he agree that with over 300 different careers in the NHS, that new training establishment for excluded pupils might do well to see if there is a place for each one of them in our great NHS?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that. She has experience of the NHS herself as a doctor, and it is right to point out that there are huge opportunities both on the technical level and the care side and on the course she took through university.
I should finish my contribution today by drawing attention to two exciting things happening in Gloucester during this great summer period. The first is our summer of music, art and culture, which is already well under way. The world’s longest running and I think longest festival of all, the Three Choirs festival of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester, starts on Saturday. There will be spectacular concerts for the next couple of weeks around that. We will then come to the Gloucester history festival, which I created with many other friends and partners some six years ago, and this year is looking to be even bigger and better than usual. That will be in the first two weeks of September, immediately after Gloucester day, when we celebrate the moment when the city of Gloucester refused to open its gates and surrender to King Charles I, thereby preventing the King from succeeding in his mission in the civil war and ensuring the supremacy of Parliament, which I am sure we all celebrate, as I wish all colleagues a very happy summer recess.
The vote to leave the EU a few weeks ago is a great indication that there are millions of people in our country who feel that they are being left behind, not sharing in the growing prosperity of others. And they are right.
Unemployment may be down according to certain definitions, but poverty certainly is not. For one of the first times in UK history, low wages mean most of Britain’s poor families are in working households. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that two thirds of children living in absolute poverty have at least one parent in work.
Even the introduction of the new national living wage, intended in the words of the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), to give Britain “a pay rise”, has fallen short. It has become a vehicle for reducing the take-home pay of thousands of long-standing, loyal employees in the retail, hospitality and care sectors.
Back in February of this year, I was approached by an employee of B&Q who had been given proposed new terms and conditions and thought he might be worse off as a result. In these new contract terms, the employee’s basic per-hour pay was going to be increased, but his overall pay would be reduced by £2,600 per year. This is because B&Q planned to cut Sunday and bank holiday pay, as well as other discretionary bonuses—in short, everything that made B&Q an attractive employer and allowed it to retain its staff.
I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) was able to speak in my place during the debate on the national living wage in this House back in April, where dozens of Members voiced their concerns regarding B&Q’s plans. I was pleased that after the press attention in the debate, a great deal of lobbying, and a meeting between me and the B&Q CEO, the company extended its period of compensation for employees for two years, promising that no one would lose out for the next 24 months. But B&Q is just one of many.
Over the course of my campaign, I have been approached by employees from around the country, and from all sorts of different companies doing exactly the same thing. There were the factory employees working for subsidiaries of Samworth Brothers in Lincolnshire who are facing cuts to their overnight pay. I was delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) met with Samworth workers to hear their concerns. There were young baristas at Caffè Nero and EAT whose free lunches had been scrapped. Most recently, there are 7,000 staff at Marks & Spencer who will be losing out by thousands of pounds each year because the company is cutting overall pay to fund an increase in basic pay.
I have had well over 100 M&S employees from around the country coming forward to me with M&S’s new proposals, with staff terrified for their futures. M&S is cutting Sunday and bank holiday pay, redefining unsocial hours and scrapping its pension scheme, leaving staff with over 20 years of experience at M&S significantly worse off.
Let us consider Elizabeth, whose story was reported yesterday in the Evening Standard. Her name has been changed to protect her identity. Elizabeth used to have great wages and perks at M&S, which she was proud to work for, but now she says:
“Everything is being taken away from us. I wanted to see my kids through university but now I’m not sure I’ll be able to. It really frightens me.”
In a meeting with its head of retail, M&S confirmed that 2,700 M&S employees will lose over £1,000 per year, and 700 will lose over £2,000 a year. Some of the employees who have got in touch with me are going to lose—this is hard to believe—up to £6,000. To be clear, that is after their basic pay is increased.
M&S maintains that this is just a proposal. It cites its “compensation package”, which compensates staff members for 30% of their projected losses not including how much they will lose in terms of pension cuts. From the paperwork I have seen and the experience at B&Q, I think M&S’s plans are a foregone conclusion. To be clear, it is not as if head office staff are getting the sort of pay cut they are dishing out to long-standing shop- floor staff.
There were a number of options M&S could have pursued. Other companies have invested in skills to improve the productivity of their employees. Ultimately, M&S has decided to offset a basic pay increase for some staff by cutting the pay for others.
There are many more examples of UK industrial policies letting down hard-working loyal employees. Just consider the recent discovery of Hermes, the delivery company, using self-employed workers and paying them less than the legal minimum wage, and HMRC’s investigation into Sports Direct’s working practices. Both companies are undermining the integrity of Government policy. These are huge institutions we are talking about, not small local businesses; their profits are in the millions of pounds, and they employ thousands of people.
I was delighted that the Chancellor committed to look very carefully into the case of M&S earlier this week, but I want to tell the Minister today that it is not good enough to introduce a policy like the national living wage without policing it. If Britain has been promised a pay rise by this Government, then Britain deserves to get a pay rise.
Will the Minister write to the M&S chief executive, Steve Rowe, to express the Government’s concerns, calling on M&S to reverse its plans? I absolutely endorse the Prime Minister’s commitment to building a UK economy that works for all, and her Government must start by addressing the causes of low wages. People who work hard and play by the rules need a defender in national politics. Both the Government and those on these Opposition Benches have a responsibility to be that champion.
Like many Members who have already spoken, my contribution centres on rail services, in particular the recent decision by the Office of Rail and Road not to approve an application for direct services from Cleethorpes through to London King’s Cross.
To provide historical context, I happen to have an Eastern Region timetable for 1964, and Members should be aware that there were at that time two direct services from Cleethorpes to London King’s Cross. But before Opposition Members get excited and say, “That was in the nationalised British Rail days,” I should also point out that actually in 1992 British Rail announced it was scrapping the direct services from Cleethorpes.
Since then, although the service has improved in the sense that it is more regular, it does involve a change. The Government have repeatedly pointed out that if we are to improve the local economy and extend growth, we will need greater transport connectivity. The Humber region has the largest port complex in the country and it is developing the offshore renewables sector. Calls for regular direct services are supported by business and industry, the chamber of commerce and the two local enterprise partnerships to which the local authorities belong.
Two years ago, GNER lodged an application with the regulator to operate four daily trains between Cleethorpes, Grimsby and King’s Cross via Scunthorpe and Doncaster. I recognise the need to regulate capacity on a network that is already overcrowded, but I question whether the rules and regulations that govern the regulator actually work in the best interests of passengers. Perhaps they work more to protect the market share of the train operating companies.
The direct line to London from Cleethorpes that my hon. Friend has mentioned, which was scrapped in 1992, ran through Market Rasen in my constituency. Since 1992, therefore, the good people of the town of Market Rasen and its catchment area of nearly 60 square miles have had no direct service to London at all. Is it not incumbent on the Government and the rail regulator to consider the interests not only of the big operators but of the local people? Can we have a delegation to the new Secretary of State to try to impress on him the need to serve rural lines?
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his intervention. He has stolen one of my lines: I was going to conclude by asking for a delegation to go to the new Secretary of State and to the rail Minister.
The rail regulator operates under criteria set down by the privatisation legislation, which state that the regulator must promote improvements in railway service performance, protect the interests of users of railway services, promote the use of the network for passengers and goods and promote competition for the benefit of rail users. The criteria go on to state:
“We would not expect to approve competing services that would be primarily abstractive of the incumbent’s revenue”.
In other words, it is there to protect the market share of the big franchise holders such as Virgin East Coast. I understand that the franchise holders pay an enormous fee to the Government for the privilege of operating the east coast main line or any other line, but I question whether the present criteria operate in the best interests of the passenger.
The regulator, in its decision letter, goes on to state:
“We have a long-standing policy of not approving new open access services that we consider are ‘primarily abstractive’”—.
that is to say, services that would abstract funding from the main operator. I repeat that this sounds far more like protecting the operators than providing better services for passengers. In the decision letter, the regulator refers specifically to the application to run services to Cleethorpes, stating:
“These financial impacts would have been reduced had the application focused on serving…just the Cleethorpes line”.
Because the application included additional services into Yorkshire, serving the Bradford and Halifax area, that would have impacted too greatly on other operators. The letter continues:
“On balancing our statutory duties, particularly those to promote improvements in railway service performance, protect user interests and promote competition against our duty to have regard to the Secretary of State’s funds, we saw the abstraction as a significant adverse impact for this option.”
New rolling stock is coming into the network, thanks to the improvements and investment that the Government and the train operators are making in the coming years. That will release rolling stock that is currently in use elsewhere for use on secondary main line services. Services through Market Rasen and Lincoln going through to Grimsby and Cleethorpes suffer because they are not part of the electrified network, and there is only a limited number of diesel units available to serve those routes. However, some new bimodal units are becoming available that will be able to run the last few miles under diesel power. This is an ideal opportunity to extend services to places such as Cleethorpes.
Hints from the rail regulator suggest that it sees the difficulties in the present system and would like to accept more open access operations, but as I have said, the criteria are restricting it at the moment. The new rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), successfully campaigned for direct services to his Blackpool constituency, off the west coast main line, so he ought to be sympathetic to the requests from my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), me and others in northern Lincolnshire for improved services.
When the Secretary of State for Transport introduced the privatisation legislation in 1992, he said:
“Our objective is to improve the quality of railway services by creating many new opportunities for private sector involvement. This will mean more competition, greater efficiency and a wider choice of services more closely tailored to what customers want.”
I think that that has been achieved in part. As I have said, the services into my area have been vastly improved compared with the British Rail days, but we have a long way to go. Customers are rightly demanding more and better services. I urge the Department for Transport to drop its opposition to new long-distance open access services on routes that are not currently served by direct services. We need not only better access to the London network but improved east-west connections, and I urge the Minister to pass my concerns on to the Secretary of State for Transport and tell him that it is time to put passengers ahead of the train operating companies.
I should like to start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for the return of this popular general debate. I want to emulate the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who always gives us a tour of his constituency in these debates. It is good to see him in his place. Most importantly, I want to welcome the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), to his post. Behind every great Prime Minister stands the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that he will do a fantastic job.
I want to raise the concerns of my constituents, and my themes today will be Walstead Road, Great Barr and the Broadway campus of the University of Wolverhampton. They might not mean anything to other hon. Members but they mean a lot to my constituents. Walstead Road is a long, leafy road in Walsall South, and in the summer of 2012, Walsall Council decided to have a consultation to see whether the residents wanted humps on the road. Many people were concerned that they had not had an opportunity to respond, and they raised their concerns with me. The council interprets a non-response as a response in favour, so let that be a warning to everyone: always respond to surveys! As a result, the road is littered with humps.
The council is not listening to the residents. One of the residents, Tracey Clifford, undertook a survey and found that 73 households, out of the 97 responses she received, were having difficulty in dealing with the humps. They had problems when they were exiting their drives, there were personal injuries and their cars were damaged. I have had three meetings with the council, and I am coming up against a brick wall. When I asked for the evidence that speeds were being reduced, I was given a pile of traffic logs 2.5 inches high from 2014 to go through. In 2015, the residents spoke to a police officer who said that people were exceeding the speed limit of 30 mph.
According to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002, as amended in 2011, a repeater sign cannot be placed in an area when the lamp posts are situated within 200 yards of each other. I was not aware of that, and I think it is slightly strange. The residents have asked for a watchman sign, just like the one on Sutton Road, so that drivers can see their speed flashing up on the sign. Ideally, my constituents on Walstead Road want what the Faculty of Public Health has recommended. Cutting the speed limit to 20 mph cuts road deaths and injuries and is safer—the perfect solution. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will agree that residents should be listened to, and that the speed limit should be cut to 20 mph to make them safer.
The other great saga is that of Great Barr park and hall, which has been going on since 2014 and relates to a planning application on green-belt land that goes against both local and national policy. The former Planning Minister, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), wrote to Members on 7 July, stating that the Government had put in place the strongest protections for the green belt, and that the green-belt boundary should be adjusted only in exceptional circumstances through the local plan process and with the support of local people.
There is no demand for housing at Great Barr, and yet residents are left with this planning application and planning officers have to sift through mounds of paper to decide whether it should go through—despite the whole thing going against local and national policy. It should either be refused or withdrawn. Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that my constituents require certainty about this application? Otherwise, they will have to wait until the council decides whether it will have a meeting and then push the application through without residents knowing about it.
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) mentioned nurses and the importance of nurse training, which leads me on to the third big issue in Walsall South—the Broadway. The University of Wolverhampton has been told by the council that it must build a road costing £1 million to provide an exit from its Walsall campus on to the Broadway, leading to two sets of traffic lights within 50 yards of each other and then an exit on to one of the busiest roads in Walsall South.
What was the evidence for building the road? At every meeting that I have had with the University of Wolverhampton, it has said that the council is insisting on the condition, but the council says that no officer has said that they want it. Following the first consultation, the evidence to the planning committee included 22 letters of objection and a 67-signature petition against the proposal. After the re-consultation, there were 60 letters of objection, a 450-signature petition and just six letters of support. However, the council decided that the condition should be imposed. The £1 million should be spent on the nurse training that the university does so well, and on providing bursaries to invest in local skills, not concrete.
I want to end on rubbish. Some hon. Members may think that that is what I have been talking all the time, but it really is an issue in my constituency. I was at Caldmore Green on Saturday and saw the detritus of takeaways, bottles and paper, but just one bin. Members may not remember the Keep Britain Tidy campaign, but it was started by the Women’s Institute and had that lovely logo of a person with pointy feet and arms putting litter in a bin. Will the Deputy Leader of the House kindly ask the Government whether we may restart that campaign? Many people who visit this country or form part of new communities—and even those who live here—are not aware of the law on litter. We need to keep Britain tidy.
I wish you a great recess, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank Noeleen Delaney, who is retiring, for looking after us Members in the Tea Room. I thank all Members, the Library and everyone else. It has been a momentous, historic time, and I hope we all have a good rest.
I thank the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) for her well-made points. I absolutely believe in keeping Britain tidy and would be happy to join any such movement. I am lucky in my constituency and applaud the Friends of Bushy and Home Parks. Everyone knows that they should always take their litter home when out in the parks over the summer—rubbish is particularly damaging to the parks’ wildlife. I am grateful to those in the community who do regular litter-picking in addition to the good job done by the council. I also welcome the new Deputy Leader of the House to his post.
Like the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) and my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I have concerns about rail services. I absolutely agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes when he said that passengers must come ahead of rail companies. I have had many meetings and have been in communication this week with South West Trains. I note that the franchise is coming up for renewal, and when I met South West Trains and other bidders I made clear what standards are expected at the eight stations in my constituency, including Twickenham, and on the network.
The problems are both chronic and acute. The chronic problems include the lack of regular and frequent trains at all our stations, which is appalling considering that many passengers travel into London to work. That lack has economic consequences. Trains are not frequent enough at any of the stations on Sundays. This is the 21st century and we should be appreciating passengers and the different lifestyles that require regular services every day of the week. Unfortunately, every single station in my constituency suffers from cancellations and delays and from overcrowding. Those are the chronic problems between the temperatures of 5° C and 25° C.
We are in the 21st century and have predictable weather. We were all told about the high temperatures this week—one does not have to be a climatologist—and that leads me to South West Trains’ acute problems. This week, the line has not been functioning properly and conditions have been unhealthy. When the temperature is over 25° C, a code of conduct should apply—I hope the new Rail Minister will take that on board—and adequate supplies of water must be given out free on platforms when there are delays or overcrowding. We can predict temperatures for the next few years—the next generation—and they will persist, so there must be a plan for air-conditioned trains on our suburban network for people who regularly travel into London.
The previous Mayor of London, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), introduced the Oyster card system into my area, which is great for commuters who do not have much time, but there must be a way of refunding to Oyster cards following delays. Like many of my constituents, the service that I experience when getting home is not good enough—sometimes 2 hours instead of a 40-minute journey—but it is impossible to navigate the website to try to get a refund, and it is even harder when using Oyster. Like most people, if I cannot do it within two clicks, I give up. There must be a way of putting the passenger first and making refunds easy.
There must also be a better way of communicating. There was no information this week on the platforms or at station information points about the duration of delays, which is critical for people if they have medical problems, are tired or need water.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important point, as more and more people will be getting rid of the Oyster and so we also need a tap-and-refund system there, putting the passenger first.
If Ministers or any of their family are travelling by air over the summer—I will not be, but I know many people will—I ask them to give a thought to the three quarters of a million people suffering from levels of more than 55 dB Leq or to the quarter of a million people suffering from levels of 57 dB Leq. I ask them to give a thought to the fact that if there is expansion of Heathrow, it will particularly affect my constituency; more people under that flightpath will be affected than are affected around the Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Frankfurt and Madrid airports combined. On a medical level, I do not think this Government wish to inflict that on their residents. I hope that Ministers, including Transport Ministers, will be aware, every day during the recess, when the nitrogen dioxide levels are above European Union or World Health Organisation standards—I do not mind which are used, because both show this is unhealthy. We need a better, not a bigger, airport for such a populated area.
Nevertheless, I wish everybody a peaceful and well-deserved recess. I shall be spending it in my constituency, because we have the best parks and the best stretch of the River Thames; people do not need to go away to have a wonderful time.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you and I played a part in the creation of the Backbench Business Committee in its early days. I am very proud of that and I hope you are, too. I am equally proud that it has restored the ability of Back-Bench Members of all parties to raise issues of concern to their constituents that other people may often think go unremarked. Even more importantly, when Members of Parliament are berated and abused regularly for failing to do their duty or for not doing what they should do, members of the public watching or reading these debates can see the absolute variety of work that Members of Parliament do which is unsung but vital in their constituency.
This debate is therefore very important, particularly for someone who represents one of the five most deprived constituencies in the UK, where there are very low incomes. This is not a competition, but Members in those constituencies have a high number of cases, and those cases deserve to be brought into the cold light of day so that people understand how many others live. I say that without any side, but it may be more difficult for some to understand the impact on individuals and on families of economic crises and of the swathe of policies and politics we discuss in here; it is much harder to ignore that when one represents a constituency that has very great difficulties if we get it wrong in this House.
I want to talk about a number of constituency cases, but one thing I ought to get on the record first—I do this without delving back into an issue decided in the recent referendum—is why people vote the way they do. I can hazard a guess about how some of my constituents voted. Of course they were concerned about the European Union and many were concerned about immigration, but many also used the vote in the referendum, as they rightly use votes in general elections and local elections, almost as a cry for help; they were almost saying, “We have problems. You need to look at us. You can no longer ignore us.” People do that in different ways. I am not saying that that influenced the outcome of the recent referendum, but I am saying that we here, and the people in and around constituencies like mine—people in the city of Nottingham, in my case—ignore that cry for help at our peril if we continue to feel that people can be marginalised or alienated from our politics and our politicians. That will not apply to many Members in here now; by definition, they are assiduous constituency Members by the very fact that they are here for this debate. I hope very much that we all take that lesson to heart; there is a divide in our society and in our country, and it is incumbent on all of us to do something about it.
I wish quickly to raise three cases to demonstrate the breadth of the things that Members of Parliament deal with and as an excuse to thank people who have been involved, as we all know, in helping us on our casework and helping us to be good Members of Parliament. Like everyone, I want to thank my staff, both in Westminster and in the constituency; across the House, these people make us the Members of Parliament that we are. I want to place that very much on the record.
I wish to highlight one particular case. My constituency staff worked incredibly hard to help a young man called Max Buxton, who has a severe hearing impairment. He was on an apprenticeship, and his employer made glowing comments about Max’s energy and dedication at work, but, in order to progress, Max had to climb the apprenticeship ladder. To do that, he had to pass an English qualification. Unfortunately for Max and for many other young men and women, their first language is British sign language, and it is very difficult for them to understand English, particularly written English. At my request, my staff raised this matter over and again with the relevant Ministry. I will not go into all the details of the case, but, after many months, it fell to me to do something that has changed the rules around qualification for climbing that apprenticeship ladder. After a visit to the Minister recently, he said that he would look at, and indeed change, the rules around British sign language so that it is equivalent to the English qualification.
That is wonderful news for Max Buxton and for colleagues in other constituencies who have similar problems, and that is the way that we work. When you—if I may use that expression, Madam Speaker—and colleagues around the House win a case for a constituent, they are also winning it for many other constituents, particularly when we help Governments of all colours to see the light and change the rules.
By working closely with people from another constituency—it happened to be Hull—I helped children in my own constituency to take up the free dental check that is there for all children. It was something that we had tried to do locally, but found that we could not do it as well as we wanted to, so we used an example of a practice called Teeth Team. Chris Groombridge and his team came to help us, and are still helping us. The moral of this story and this brief intervention is that if we continue to work together in this House, across parties, on the big issues and on the small, we can change our society and the lives of our constituents for the better.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and to hear in this case—forgive the pun—how he has been getting his teeth into his local constituency issues for the good of us all.
Today, I would like to speak for my constituents of Norwich North on the subject of exiting the European Union. Brits have just taken part in a giant democratic exercise about that relationship, and I thank people for that, however they voted, and whatever lies ahead. The result was clear, and hard work now has to follow to put the country’s wishes into practice. We all want what is best for Britain, so we should all work together in a calm and thoughtful way.
Our membership of the European Union is a fundamental constitutional question, and one that could not have been ducked forever. I am a democrat first and foremost, and it was right to use a referendum as the means to settle that kind of question. The result does raise arguments about what it means for the future of our parliamentary democracy. If we can hold a referendum on this, then why not on everything else? Do we even need a Parliament? There is a very clear distinction to be made, though, as there are fundamental constitutional questions. In such cases, it is right to put those decisions directly to the people. The detail and practical implementation of the decision is then the job of the Executive, scrutinised by Members of Parliament. The majority wish in this referendum is a clear instruction to Parliament.
Like many MPs, I have had hundreds of people getting in touch since the referendum, reflecting on the result. Most of my constituency mail comes from those who voted remain and who are understandably worried about the future. Norwich voted by a majority to remain, but that refers only to the Norwich City Council area. My own constituency is not the same as that area. It is never a simple maths job to speak in this place for all constituents on this or on any other issue. Before the poll, most constituents who got in touch wanted to persuade me to vote out. After the poll, I am hearing most from people who want to persuade me to vote against going out. It is funny how that happens, but it reminds us that there is a silent majority that never gets in touch with its Member of Parliament. Counting all those people who have been in touch on either side of that debate still numbers only a few hundred of the 67,000 I represent.
I welcome any tool, such as a referendum, that encourages so many more voices to be heard. However, it is clear to me that the point of a referendum is that the whole electorate counts together—in this case, the whole of the UK. As an MP, first, it is my job to support the best for Britain after this clear instruction, and secondly, it continues to be my job to work for everyone I represent in Norwich North, whichever way they voted on this issue or any other.
Some of my constituents are reflecting on how the poll was run, concerned that just a simple majority was used to define the result on a complex question. There is clear precedent here. Referendums are decided on simple majorities. Consistency is important and allows a legitimate process. In a healthy democratic society both sides accept the result, recognise the concerns that the other side might have, and then come together in unity. I recognise this in my constituents. While some are celebrating, others who have been in touch are unhappy. What we cannot do is deny the result or denigrate fellow citizens.
Norwich is a proud and old city, but with a youthful population. Some constituents share my own deep concern in particular about the generational rift exposed by the referendum. What happened, in age terms, at this referendum is quite clear. A large majority of younger voters opted in, and a large majority of older voters opted out. Bluntly, the younger generation was outvoted, and many are now contemplating the result with some concern for their future. But, again, democracy is democracy. We live by it and we accept the result.
I am always concerned by turnout rates, in which younger people generally vote less than their elders in Britain. Never mind whether this is a new or an old battle, a new or an old issue, what we are seeing is that younger voters are not coming out in sufficient numbers to fight any battle. Democracy works thanks to those who take part, so if people care about something, they simply have to be there. There are not many excuses in a major democratic event, and considering that many people around the globe still literally die for one person, one vote, we should appreciate the robust lesson that politics actually means something.
I therefore call on the next great reforming Conservative Prime Minister to heal this division. The health of democracy depends on all being represented, and it must balance the needs of different generations. It is the duty and the opportunity of the new Government to reach out to young voters now and offer them a future.
The hon. Lady knows that I look seriously at all these issues. Indeed, I have chaired that APPG and helped to produce a report that goes into that option and a number of others for ensuring that as many people as possible are registered to vote. I know that that is an issue that the hon. Lady has worked on in some detail.
Let me press on to the situation of EU nationals in my constituency—that is, several thousand constituents, friends, colleagues and family members. I welcome the Government’s early reassurance that there has been no change to the rights and status of those people, and confirmation that when we do leave the EU, the Government fully expect their legal status to be protected, alongside our goals for our citizens living in the other European countries.
I very much welcome the contribution made by immigrants in Norwich and across the UK to our economy, history and society. Norwich is a friendly and welcoming city. I was concerned, like many in our city, by an arson attack on the shop and home of a Romanian. It is still too early to rush to any conclusions about the motives for the attack, but whether it was racist or just plain criminal, it is hateful behaviour and it has no place here. The response of the community has been impressive. Norwich does not welcome racism or any form of aggression. Let us be clear that those who have made Great Britain their home are respected and valued.
Looking ahead, the referendum result provides a clear instruction to the Government that the majority wish is for a change in the way that Britain handles immigration from Europe. However, leaving the EU must not mean leaving behind a strong economy or a strong cultural exchange. In the east of England, almost one in every 10 jobs is linked to trade with the EU. We want to build on that, not to lose it. The case for remain, perhaps, was to maintain the rules for half of our global trade, and we need the best deal possible for that half. The case for making a success of leaving involves looking now to the other half, and I welcome the early appointment of the relevant set of new Ministers who are focused on that.
Norwich, in particular, needs a good deal on financial services. The financial services sector makes the largest single contribution to the economy of Norfolk and Suffolk. Norwich is the largest general insurance centre in the UK, with a heritage going back more than 200 years, and it is going strong today, employing thousands of people. Firms will now be looking for a technical environment of regulation that allows them to thrive in the UK and to thrive outside London, too.
In Norwich, we expect to be able to do the same in our exciting digital and technology sectors so that we can attract investment and talent. We also enjoy an ambitious science sector, a thriving cultural scene and a strong tourism industry. All of this requires an outward-looking attitude. Britain must remain a successful economy—jobs and livelihoods in my constituency depend on it.
Following on from the comments of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), I want to raise an issue that is of extreme importance to my constituency.
Gillies hill is a beautiful area of woodland to the south of Stirling. Its spelling gives a clue as to the origin of the name—it is the gillies hill, and its historical association with the battle of Bannockburn gives it its heritage importance. It is reputed to be where the gillies—the sma’ folk who followed the Scottish army to the battle behind the enemy lines—were camped. At the turning point in the battle, that was where they rattled their pots and pans. They acted as if they were reinforcements coming down the hill, and the English army turned and broke. I will leave it for historians to argue about the truth of that, but the hill has been called Gillies hill for 700 years, and that in itself says there must be something in this tale, and it is extremely important.
Why is the hill controversial now? An application for quarrying of Gillies hill has been made. Regrettably, there was quarrying of a large chunk of this historic and spectacular area in the 1980s, and it was controversial then. I remember well, when I was growing up in the village of Cambusbarron, which is on the side of Gillies hill, that massive trucks would carry the aggregates away on a daily basis, driving up and down through the village. There were instances of bits of rock landing on people’s houses and causing damage.
The quarrying stopped in the early ’90s. We understood that permission was to finish in around 2007 or 2008—that was when the extent of the permission would be up. It was therefore really disappointing when, in January 2007, as I was out knocking on doors down in Causewayhead in my constituency, we felt the ground shake—literally—because of test blasting about five miles away for renewed quarrying. What had happened was that the local council—Stirling Council—had extended the permission to the 2040s because of a new European directive, and nobody was aware of the change. In essence, virtual permission had been granted right through, and we had the prospect of this historic, spectacular hill being destroyed, as a large chunk of it already had been.
Planning legislation is now devolved to Scotland. The original quarrying planning legislation—and indeed some of the stuff that is still enforced in Scotland—is Acts of this Parliament, because it goes back a number of decades. So, yes, strictly speaking, planning is now with the Scottish Parliament, but most of the Acts of Parliament on which these things are based were formed down here.
That is not intended to be a criticism of this place. Quarrying has its place, and it is important, but this hill is the wrong place for it, and there is a massive local community campaign against it, involving hundreds of people. For example, just a few weeks ago, I joined the march of the gillies, an event in which several hundred people walk from Cambusbarron to the Bannockburn battlefield to protest against quarrying of this area.
I am sure that Members will be very interested in the Save Gillies Hill website—savegillieshill.org.uk—which gives information about why the campaign is important. It outlines the history of the hill and gives information about the flora, many of which are endangered species. Protected wildlife such as red squirrels, badgers, pine martens and peregrines also live on the hill, and it is used heavily for pleasure and recreation, including running, bikes, motorbikes and even horses. It is a fantastic resource. From the top of Gillies hill, people can look down on Stirling castle several miles to the north and over the castle to the Wallace monument. That will give anyone who knows Stirling an idea of what I am describing.
The campaign is ongoing. I want to highlight two things in the time remaining. Unfortunately, a planning application has been made for permission to begin the re-quarrying of the site, which would take a huge further chunk out of it. That will have to be dealt with in the usual way. An appeal has been made to the Scottish Government on the grounds that Stirling Council did not determine the application—which is regrettable, to put it mildly—and it has been referred for that reason. That process is ongoing.
When I was a local councillor I was very concerned about the issue, for the reasons I have given, and we investigated every avenue we could think of to find a way to stop the quarrying of this historic and significant area. We considered using the provisions of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 to designate the area as a local nature reserve, which would prevent quarrying from taking place there. Two years ago, I tabled a council motion, which was unanimously agreed by all parties, asking the local council to come back with options and the costs involved, because a compulsory purchase order might be required for all or part of the hill in order to make it a local nature reserve and give it the protection it needs. Two years later, I am a Member of this place and not of the council, which, unfortunately, appears to have taken no action, which is a matter of extreme regret.
I have asked the council to get the information to the councillors so that the wider public can be made aware of what would be involved in granting Gillies hill the protection to which it is entitled. I hope that the council will take my remarks on board and acknowledge that it has been asked by every council member from every party, unanimously, for that information. I hope that it will be made available sooner rather than later, particularly given that the live planning application will be determined later this year. Given that the council has had two years to get the information to the councillors and, therefore, to the public, I very much hope—in fact, I demand—that it puts the information in the public domain so that we can have a proper debate in the time that we have left.
The good thing about the planning application is that designating Gillies hill as a local nature reserve would not impinge on it—it would stand separate from it—so it is something practical and tangible that we could do to offer Gillies hill protection. I hope that that happens and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to raise this important issue for my constituency.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson). Given that Staffordshire is often used as the quarry for much of the midlands, I very much sympathise with him. It is also a great honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who made a very thoughtful speech.
On Monday, I saw two reasons why there is great hope in Stafford for the economic future. One was the almost-completed General Electric factory on the Redhill business park, which Staffordshire County Council set up a few years ago and which will be an extremely important source of employment and innovation for the future. General Electric will base its automaton division there. The second was Biomass Power, a manufacturing and design company that makes biomass equipment. I visited its gasification plant, which will assist the Bombardier works in Belfast in Northern Ireland. That will help Bombardier reduce its energy costs, which is one of the reasons why it will be successful in Belfast. As a result of these and many other initiatives, the percentage of jobseeker’s allowance applicants in Stafford has fallen from 3.2% to 1% over the last six years. During that time, we have welcomed two new Signals regiments, 1 and 16, and they are already playing a major role in the life of our communities. They have been a welcome addition to our community.
A new retail development is due to open in the coming two months on the edge of the town centre, and we need to ensure that it does not suck the life out of the middle of our town centre. The borough council is working with many people, including me, to see what we can do to bring more life into our beautiful town centre.
Stafford is a great centre for volunteering. The proportion of volunteers per head of population is one of the highest in the country. One of our excellent local volunteering organisations is Staffordshire Women’s Aid, which has just opened a new refuge. I very much hope that a Home Office Minister, or my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who is a Staffordshire MP, will come and open it formally at some point.
Stafford is building large numbers of houses. We have an excellent local plan, which means that the houses are, by and large, being built in the right place, but I would like to point out the problems that speculative development brings. With a good local plan, there is absolutely no need for speculation, because we have planned the number of houses that we need. Speculative development simply wastes everybody’s time.
I thank my hon. Friend for his support following the closure of Rugeley B power station. Will he join me in trying to get all parties—national and local government—to do everything they can to get the site redeveloped as quickly as possible?
Of course. My hon. Friend has done incredible work on that and I will support her in whatever way I can, because the site is on the boundary of my constituency as well.
I want to make two other quick points about housing and planning. First, I have already raised in the House issue of the lack of enforcement. It is so important to ensure that when planning permission is given, development is carried out in accordance with it, and that developers do not try to take bits away or add bits that have not been approved. Secondly, could we find a way of ensuring that the new roads that are put into new housing estates are quickly available on maps, especially electronic maps and satnavs? For many months, if not years, those roads do not appear on such maps, so people do not know how to get to the new houses that are being built.
I want to talk briefly about health. The county hospital, about which I spoke many times in the previous Parliament, is now doing well. The accident and emergency department is seeing more people in 14 hours a day than it did in 24 hours a day at its peak, although I continue to urge the restoration of a 24-hour service, which I believe is vital. Many of the wards in the hospital are being refurbished. The stroke unit—a rehabilitation ward—is under review. Many of my constituents have pointed out how important it is. It is all very well talking about helping to rehabilitate people at home. If that is best for the patient, that is fine. In many cases, however, such patients are better served by going to the rehabilitation ward as day cases or for a few hours in a day.
I raised this morning with the Leader of the House the question of drug and alcohol treatment in Staffordshire. We face a cut of up to half in the funding for such treatment and the closure of some excellent units. That cannot be right, and it has to be stopped somehow. I have also raised the question of health visitors. The amount of money dedicated to health visitors is under review, if not being cut. Health visitors play an absolutely vital role in Staffordshire, as they do across the country. Reducing their numbers will be counterproductive, and it will lead only to more pressure on acute hospitals.
The funding of the NHS is a long-term issue, which is why I have joined the right hon. Members for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and for Birkenhead (Frank Field) to look at the ways in which we could have a much longer-term funding picture for the NHS and social care. It is quite clear that after 2020, even if the current plans go ahead—I fully support them—we will have some major holes in health service funding.
On transport in our area, I asked about the four-lane running of motorways in questions to the Leader of the House last week. The Transport Committee wrote an excellent report on that, and I ask the Government to look at this matter most carefully. I believe that some of the four-lane running is dangerous. It has now been proposed for junctions 13 to 15 of the M6 in my constituency. Before that goes ahead, I want the Government to look at the system that operates on the M42 smart motorway, which is much better than the permanent four-lane running elsewhere.
As far as rail is concerned, the Norton Bridge viaduct has been put in at the junction on the west coast main line, and it is bringing great improvements. I am very much in favour of that, just as I am against HS2. I continue to be against HS2 because, in my opinion, there are much better alternatives. I am in no way a nimby on this, but there are alternatives that would be cheaper and would provide greater connectivity to far more cities across the country.
Finally, there is a proposal for a massive rail freight interchange in my constituency, which would take up many acres of the green belt. We must look at that most carefully. The proposals brought forward by the developers consortium are simply not acceptable at the moment, and they must be looked at very carefully. This is a national issue, and I urge Ministers to look at this most carefully to see whether there are not alternative sites for this rail freight interchange.
I wish to speak about a very important matter that affects many people in Scotland. It is certainly not the first time the issue has been raised in this place, but, unfortunately, in the light of the circumstances, it needs to be brought to the Government’s attention again.
Yesterday, when giving evidence to the Defence Committee on naval procurement for the Type 26 frigates, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Tony Douglas, replied in response to a question on when the Type 26 design would be approved, “I can’t give you a time or a date. It could be next year.” This suggestion could in effect place the Type 26 programme on the Clyde on an indefinite delay. That would be wholly unacceptable and nothing short of a betrayal of the workers on the Clyde.
The Ministry of Defence needs to come forward and be absolutely clear, open and honest about the level of uncertainty that the Type 26 programme faces. The new Minister with responsibility for defence procurement, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), could give none of the assurances on the future of the contract that were promised to the Clyde shipyards. Yet again, the future of the programme has been cast into very serious doubt.
That news came less than 48 hours after the Tories trooped through the Division Lobby—accompanied, unfortunately, by many of their allies on the Labour Benches—to vote en masse for the renewal of Trident. A blank cheque has in effect been written for weapons of mass destruction. On Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) asked the Defence Secretary whether the massive expense of Trident and the recent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing that UK GDP might be reduced by up to 3.5% as a result of the Brexit vote would result in a black hole in the public finances of up to £40 billion in 2020, and what that would mean for defence procurement. The Defence Secretary could not give an answer.
It does not matter what the figure is; we are going to spend up to £205 billion on a weapon of mass destruction that could kill hundreds of thousands of people worldwide—it is based in Scotland—so I am sorry, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman.
The UK’s nuclear weapons programme has a major knock-on effect for the rest of the defence procurement budget. Other massive projects are in the pipeline, including the Type 26 frigates, but the ring-fencing and generous contingencies for Trident are no doubt affecting that project. The workers on the Clyde appear to be paying the price for the obsession on the Government Benches with Trident and Brexit.
I cannot stress enough how much of a betrayal this represents for those shipyard workers, their families and the communities that depend on this work. They have had assurance after assurance from the UK Government, both in this place and from the Scottish Tories, but are now suffering from the continuing uncertainty over and mismanagement of the Type 26 programme. Every penny spent on Trident is a penny less for conventional defence, including the Type 26 frigates.
GMB Scotland organiser Gary Cook admitted in April that £750 million had been removed from the Type 26 programme’s budget. On several occasions during Monday’s debate, the issue of jobs was brought up—when we voice our concern about weapons of mass destruction we are told to shut up and be grateful for the jobs. Without doubt, those jobs come at the expense of other people’s livelihoods. It seems the Government care about defence jobs only when it suits their agenda.
Leaked emails have shown that delays in the delivery of the Type 26 global combat vessels will cost the taxpayer more money than proceeding with the work would. The Type 26 frigates were due to be built by BAE Systems, with work beginning in December. The Ministry of Defence then asked for savings of £500 million over five years, refusing BAE’s Systems’ offer of saving £275 million while still beginning work on time. The delays have put jobs at risk, and the suggestion in the leaked emails that those delays will end up costing the taxpayer more money in the long term has been echoed by former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West. The delays show the Government’s ideological obsession with making cuts, no matter the cost. By going back on the original deal and rejecting BAE Systems’ offer, the Tories have confirmed that they are prepared to put jobs at risk and waste taxpayers’ money by pursuing cuts across all sectors of Government.
The point that shines through all this is that assurances were given to workers on the Clyde in 2014. Promises were made that have been betrayed. In a week when we have committed to a 40-year programme on Trident, it really sticks in the craw that those workers are still waiting for the promises made in 2014 to be delivered.
My hon. Friend takes the words right out of my mouth. I was just about to say that Scotland has come to expect cuts and broken promises from this Government. We remember the pledges that were made just a couple of years ago. The Tory Government told us during the independence referendum that jobs in shipbuilding would be safe if Scotland voted no. If the very clear promises made to workers on the Clyde by the UK Government before the referendum were to be broken, it would be an unforgivable betrayal of that workforce, and people in Glasgow and across Scotland would not be quick to forget.
Now that I have got that out of the way, on a lighter note, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr Speaker, his deputies and all Members of the House of Commons a very enjoyable, relaxing and safe summer recess. I thank all the estate staff, including those at the Table Office and the House of Commons Library, the Doorkeepers, and all the people who serve us in the Tea Room and other cafeterias, including Noeleen, who I wish all the best. A special thanks must go to the Clerks and staff who look after me and other hon. Members on the Scottish Affairs Committee—I wanted to get that on the record. I will be spending my time during the recess as we all will, back in my constituency, working hard. However, we have to have a break to recharge our batteries before returning to Parliament in September. I wish everyone a happy summer.
A little over a year ago I had the privilege of delivering my maiden speech, during which I set out my pledges to my constituents. I emphasised that the point is not where people come from but where they are going, and that our duty in this House is to create opportunities. I would like to use this debate to discuss the engineering skills gap and the work I have done to open up opportunities in my constituency.
One of my key pledges was to back businesses—to help them to create and retain jobs and to encourage more apprenticeship schemes—and ensure that local people, young and old, are aware of the fantastic opportunities available in Wiltshire. I also want to inspire them with the knowledge that we have some leading companies, such as Siemens, Hitachi, Good Energy and the Moulton Bicycle Company—the list is endless. In the past year I have visited more than 100 local businesses to learn more about what they need and what the Government can do to support them.
Despite the importance of this House, I must stress that it is the businesses that are the job creators that put food on the table and money in the pockets of local employees, not the politicians. We are blessed in Wiltshire with record levels of high employment, boosted by the figures that were released yesterday, and record numbers of apprenticeship schemes, but there is still a lot more to do to make sure that our disadvantaged get opportunities and to tackle the problem that we have with long-term unemployed.
The real issue in the Chippenham constituency is found by looking a little deeper. The real problem is the skills gap in technical, design and engineering roles. In September this year I will hold the inaugural Wiltshire festival of engineering, with more than 40 local manufacturing, design and engineering companies. They will meet more than 1,200 local school pupils, with the aim of addressing the local science, technology, engineering and maths skills gap, inspiring the next generation to consider those career options and dispelling any misconceptions. It is also designed to showcase the impressive array of businesses I have mentioned across the region and highlight the fact that Wiltshire is a hub for this sector.
I pledged also to address the infrastructure problems that we have locally, to help to tackle our skills gap. Owing the time constraints, I cannot explore the issues of Corsham station, how I have worked to protect the TransWilts railway service, or what I have done to address Bradford on Avon’s long-term traffic problem.
I will, however, explore the topic of the letter sent to the new Prime Minister and Secretary of State today, signed by me and 86 colleagues from both sides of the House, about a slight tweak to the English baccalaureate that we believe would dramatically improve the qualification. I have developed a reputation in the House for banging the drum on—some might say, banging on about—this topic, but it is crucial. The campaign is for the inclusion of the new, vastly improved design and technology GCSE in the English baccalaureate qualification. It is supported by the James Dyson Foundation, the Design and Technology Association, the Royal Academy of Engineering and a host of other businesses and organisations across the country.
Earlier this year, I had a Westminster Hall debate on the topic, which was well attended and supported. Many of our constituents suffer from the skills gap that threatens our businesses and fuels the local and national productivity crisis. The UK faces several challenges, with the annual shortage of 69,000 trained engineers and only 6% of the engineering work force being female. As I have stressed, businesses have told me that they cannot recruit adequately. That means that they might leave not just Wiltshire but, potentially, the country and that would turn our market towns into dormitory towns, threatening the very fabric of our communities. It is, therefore, the Government’s responsibility to ensure that our education system serves our businesses and our economic needs, as well as ensuring that students are encouraged into areas that can actually get them jobs.
Despite the fact that the EBacc has been reformed, its current form still threatens to undermine any progress being made and does not address the stigma associated with careers in engineering and STEM. There has been a massive drop in the uptake of design and technology courses, and in the schools offering them. Students do not have the opportunity to taste such careers, so how can the stereotypes be dispelled to let them understand what such careers are all about?
There has been a great deal of investment in design and technology as a course, and the new course will be launched in September 2017. It has been designed over years in partnership with business. It is robust, science-based, academic and a valuable option as a GCSE. However, it comes a little too late and will not really stop the growing trend of high uptake of EBacc subjects and five more, meaning that the credible design and technology course will be squeezed into a single or double subject option box. I hope the new Prime Minister and the Secretary of State will bear that in mind. There is currently a unique opportunity to include the new robust and rigorous design and technology course within the English baccalaureate certificate as one of the science qualifications, and as an either/or with computer science. This opportunity must be seized. The skills shortage is a ticking time bomb and we must get to grips with it if we are to remain at the forefront of global product design and tackle our productivity crisis.
We have a duty and an economic need to plug the skills gap on both a local and national level, and to address our productivity crisis. It is also, as I have said, threatening the very fabric of the market towns in Wiltshire, as well as the country as a whole. I have touched briefly on what we can do to improve the situation in just a few areas, in particular reforming the EBacc to include design and technology. We must address this issue to encourage and enable opportunities. If we do not, rest assured that the ticking time bomb will one day explode.
Today at the High Court, a group of junior doctors asked the Government to clarify their position on the implementation of the new contract for junior doctors. The High Court decided that the Secretary of State may have a case to answer and has given them more time to prepare their case. As if this situation could not get any worse, yesterday the Secretary of State for Health demanded £150,000 in legal fees from those junior doctors.
Hon. Members may ask themselves why the new Member for Tooting, in the three weeks since she was sworn in, has been jumping up and down to speak on this subject. This is not an issue of party politics; it is simply about doing the right thing. Not once has the Secretary of State for Health had the best interests of patients or doctors at heart. His seven-day-a-week proposal has been fundamentally flawed from the start.
Surely the Secretary of State for Health is thinking of the patients when he says we ought to have a seven-day-a-week NHS and the ability to see a doctor seven days a week? He is surely thinking of the patients. One may disagree with him, but that is the case.
Not once has the Secretary of State for Health had the best interests of patients or doctors at heart. His seven-day-a-week proposal has been fundamentally flawed from the start. The Secretary of State will not be let off. The junior doctors’ dispute will not be brushed under the carpet. The facts in the dispute remain the same and he cannot charge me £150,000 if I speak out, so I will make the facts known in this House again and again.
Our hospital departments are terribly underfunded. Staff morale is low. The Government are hellbent on breaking them. I have met hospital doctors who have finished night shifts after working 12 hours and gone straight on to the next day shift simply because there have not been enough staff to cover. I will answer the question from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). If you are a doctor in 2016, you are constantly faced with a decision: finish your night shift and go home, leaving your already overstretched team and risking patient safety; or stay and work the extra shift, knowing you will be working dangerously long hours without a proper break—again, risking patient safety. I say to the hon. Gentleman that that is not putting patients first.
The procedures set out by the Department of Health are not being followed. The rule book set up to safeguard the women and men working on our NHS frontline is not being followed. What will it take for the Government to realise the NHS is already in crisis? The imposition of the new contract will turn the crisis into a disaster. From the very outset, the junior doctors’ dispute has been based on a false premise with a lack of robust evidence. If the Secretary of State for Health goes into any hospital this weekend, he will notice it is already open and providing the best possible service that resources will allow. When I was working as an A&E doctor at St George’s hospital in Tooting, I worked night shifts and weekends. My department operated seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Many of us left very young families at home to serve our communities. I want to put on record my appreciation and admiration for all the doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, receptionists, admin staff and hospital porters who work hard to make this happen, and who already keep our hospitals open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Government are attempting to open more NHS departments at the weekend—something most of us would support. What we do not support, however, is the attempt to create a fully seven-day NHS with a stretched five-day team. The type of seven-day NHS being advocated cannot be delivered on a cost-neutral basis. That is a fact. It will overstretch staff, leaving dangerous rota gaps in the week, and significantly undervalue the evening and weekend time of our junior doctors. If the Secretary of State goes ahead with imposition without adequate resource, it will be patients who will pay the dangerous price. He expects the current pool of staff to fill a bigger rota, but the rota already has significant gaps, and they will only worsen, but in the week instead of at weekends.
Before changing everyone’s contract, the Secretary of State must look at the recruitment and retention crisis. The NHS already struggles to recruit doctors into acute specialties such as mine—emergency medicine. Young doctors start full of high hopes and then leave, and imposition of the contract will only exacerbate the situation. Junior doctors want protection from their employer and to know they can report illegal working hours before they become fatal, but they still do not have that, because the new guardianship role outlined in the contract means they would be expected to report to the very people who can influence the progression of their training and who might be applying the pressure to work longer and more dangerous hours, thereby putting patients’ lives at risk. Overseeing this process is Health Education England, a group not covered by employment law in the UK. Until this changes, junior doctors will fear speaking up.
The Secretary of State, by his own admission, thinks that gender equality can be sacrificed to meet a manifesto commitment. Not only does he not acknowledge the deep sacrifices made by parents who leave their own young families to serve others on the frontline; he wants to further punish those who do. How much more must they endure? I was a junior doctor for 10 years. I have worked in an acute specialty, leaving behind my own babies to go and help other families in times of need. This is not a political soap box upon which I stand. I am talking from experience and representing all those who choose to serve in our NHS. The Secretary of State should have the guts to face me and answer my questions.
On a different topic, I am proud to come from and represent Tooting. The extension of Crossrail 2 to my constituency would bring huge regeneration and economic development benefits to Tooting Broadway—Tooting High Street, Mitcham Road and Tooting Market, in particular, would reap the benefits—including the creation of new jobs in the local economy and the opportunity to build hundreds of genuinely affordable homes. The latter would help the many local residents who, like me, have to rent because they cannot afford to save for a deposit to buy their own house.
Balham has already seen many regeneration benefits. It has a strong local economy and local residents have voiced many concerns about the upheaval that building a new station would create. I have spoken to many businesses in Balham and Tooting Broadway and I am clear that Crossrail 2 needs to come to Tooting Broadway. I will do everything I can, as MP for Tooting, to ensure that this happens. The transport benefit would be greater in Tooting Broadway. Building the station there would enable direct access to Wimbledon and Clapham Junction and offer many new routes into central London. I call on the Mayor of London and the Department for Transport to bring Crossrail 2 to Tooting Broadway.
I wish everyone an enjoyable summer recess.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House on his new role.
To start with, I will stick with the theme of trains this afternoon. I recently joined council leaders and the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who is not in her place right now, at an event looking at the progress of the Chase line electrification. I have to say that the engineering works in Walsall town centre are truly impressive—I have been amazed at how they have been undertaken under the shops in such a way that the shops did not have to close—but while they are due to be completed, as planned, by the end of 2017, it has recently come to light that the class 323 electric trains required for the line might not be available for up to a year. This news emerged following various questions and letters I had been writing. I was somewhat concerned about the gap in time between the completion of the electrification engineering works and the trains being run on the line. Once the electrification of the line is up and running, it will mean faster trains and a more regular service, which will alleviate many of the problems faced by current passengers, particularly overcrowding. Without the 323 trains, however, passengers will not be able to enjoy the benefits of a faster and more regular service.
I recently wrote to the previous Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Mr McLoughlin), about this particular issue. As a former Cannock resident and councillor, he is very familiar with the Chase line and has always been incredibly supportive of the electrification project. I hope that the new Secretary of State for Transport will be equally supportive, although I doubt whether he could possibly know the name of every bridge along the line, as his predecessor did. I will, of course, raise specific issues with the new Secretary of State because I want to ensure that Chase line passengers can enjoy the benefits of the electrified line soon after the engineering works are complete.
I have spoken several times about Rugeley B power station, including mentioning it once this afternoon. Last month saw the end of electricity generation at Rugeley B. My immediate priorities have been about helping and supporting the workforce to find new jobs. I was particularly pleased to see so many people at my jobs fair last month, and I do hope that everyone working at Rugeley B is successful in finding new roles.
One of the other consequences of the power station closure is the loss of business rates to Cannock Chase District Council, equating to around £1 million a year—not an insignificant sum for a council of its size. Although, in time, this gap will be met by the income from the new Mill Green development—for those who do not know, it is a designer outlet village, similar to those in Bicester and Chester Oaks, that will be coming to Cannock soon—the council faces a short-term financial problem, with a gap to be filled. I recently attended a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and leaders from the council. We called on the Government to provide some transitional funding to help manage the short-term problem; I take the opportunity to put that on the record.
With the phasing out of coal-fired power stations by 2025, and with several announcing closure or part-closure in the coming years, Cannock Chase District Council is unlikely to be the only one facing financial difficulties as a result of the loss of business rates. I urge the Government to consider ways of financially supporting councils that are affected by the closure of coal-fired power stations.
I would like to make one other point, slightly flippantly. For generations of soldiers, that power station has been vital to learning the art of resection, or working out where we are. The power station can be seen from miles away, so soldiers can take a bearing on it, go on the back bearing and work out where they are. It will be sad not to have that aid for teaching our soldiers how to map-read.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Those iconic cooling towers can be seen from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and right down to Tamworth and Lichfield, although we do not necessarily all agree about their beauty.
Finally, I shall move on from power stations and talk briefly about the fantastic work of the Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children—a charity in my constituency that provides specialist equipment for disabled and terminally ill children across the UK. Last week, I was proud to sponsor its incredibly impactful exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall.
New Department for Work and Pensions figures show that the number of disabled children has risen dramatically to roughly 1 million—an increase of 20% over the last 10 years. For some time, the Government have been calculating public funding for the provision of paediatric equipment on the basis of the outdated statistic of 0.8 million. I support the calls from Newlife for the Government to review the statistics that they use to calculate public funding, and I look forward to raising the issue with the new Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work when we return to the House in the autumn.
Let me say one last thing. My office manager will not forgive me if I do not mention Watchman V. Watchman V is the Staffordshire regimental mascot, and is also the Staffordshire MPs’ entry to the Parliamentary Dog of the Year competition. I urge everyone to vote for Watchman V.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling). As the proud owner of a collie-Staffie cross, now sadly deceased, I wish Watchman V well.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about something that happened today, and to which I alerted the House earlier in a point of order: the Government’s announcement, via a written statement—alongside 29 other written statements—of major increases in tuition fees for the year 2017-18. I want to speak in particular about the impact that it will have on students who either study in my constituency or come from my constituency and study elsewhere.
I think that the way the Government have dealt with this matter is thoroughly reprehensible. Only two days ago, we spent five or six hours in the Chamber debating the Higher Education and Research Bill. We engaged in a vigorous discussion of whether it was right to link fees to the Teaching Excellence Framework, but at no time during that process did Ministers take the opportunity to say anything about the issue. Today, however, it has been announced that from 2017-18, students at universities and colleges that pass a test, which I shall say more about in a moment, will pay £9,250 a year.
That underlines the fact that, as I said in the debate on Tuesday, the Teaching Excellence Framework is being used as a cash-in coupon. It demands no evidence of excellence in year 1; instead, it demands that providers achieve a “rating of Meets Expectations”. I think it would be mangling the English language to say that “Meets Expectations” is the same as achieving excellence, which is what the Teaching Excellence Framework is supposed to be about.
The Minister himself—the Minister for Universities and Science—spoke about the potential for increases in the debates on the Queen’s Speech:
“I can confirm that the rate of inflation applying to maximum fees for institutions demonstrating high-quality teaching is 2.8%.”—[Official Report, 25 May 2016; Vol. 611, c. 559.]
I am not suggesting that the Minister has been economical with the facts, or that the statement has been economical with the facts, but I think that making the link in that way could be regarded as being economical with the truth.
I said that I wanted to talk about the impact that the increase would have. It is not just a question of increasing the fees; it is also a question of increasing the loans by 2.8% to match that increase in the fees. That will, in due course, hit all the students from disadvantaged backgrounds. There are about half a million of them in the country, of whom nearly 34,000 are at further education colleges that provide higher education courses. Those colleges include my own excellent local college, Blackpool and the Fylde, whose higher education institute was built in 2008 with funds from the Labour Government. More than 2,800 students are now studying at the institute. Those students are now going to be hit by a double-whammy: not only will they have their grants taken away—and future students will as well—from 2017-18, and have to pay, as they knew, a fee of £9,000, but they are now going to have to pay 2.8% on top of that. If we are interested in getting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education, and in getting their contribution to local regional economies like the north-west’s, this is not the way to go about it.
Let me quote some other figures about students doing HE at FE colleges: there are 1,800 students in that position at Blackburn college, and 1,000 at the Manchester group of colleges. With regard to universities catering to large numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, there are 14,000 students in this position at Manchester Met and 8,000-plus at Manchester University.
I have chosen those examples because they are all within the catchment area that young people in Blackpool who might not be able to go to a university or FE college further away are likely to choose. It really is not satisfactory to proceed in the way the Government have done. Apart from anything else, it will tarnish the reputation of the Teaching Excellence Framework, and it is not good for this House’s processes. This should have been discussed and voted on—it will be eventually—later in the year. Instead, the Minister had a golden opportunity to discuss it on Tuesday but failed to do so. Clearly, the Government did not feel that they had a very strong case.
I ask Members to reflect on not only the damage this is going to cause to the sorts of young people I am talking about, but the dangerous slope that we go down, and which we went down earlier this year, when major issues that are going to affect people are dealt with by statutory instrument. That is what is being indicated in the small print of the Government’s statement today.
Is my hon. Friend aware that another announcement sneaked out by the Government today was the decision to abolish the student nurse bursaries, which again is going to have serious implications for social mobility in higher education and the health service?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent and very germane point, because the abolition of NHS bursaries in the round and their replacement by loans will have a similar dampening effect on social mobility, particularly in the north-west where there are large numbers of students and institutions—Edge Hill University and others in Chester and elsewhere—where students have been turned out very successfully for the benefit of our national health services, including in Blackpool. I can think of one member of my constituency Labour party who has gone down that route.
I want to end by juxtaposing all those issues and lives and careers I have talked about with the necessity to do proper process in this House. If we are going to make decisions like this, they should not be sneaked out in a written statement when Ministers do not have the opportunity to deal with any discussion or debate for at least six weeks.
I put this on the record to the duty Minister on the Front Bench: when this matter comes to the House for proper decision, I and, I am sure, many of my colleagues will expect it to be dealt with on the Floor of the House, not squirreled away in some statutory instrument along the Corridor.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) on becoming Deputy Leader of the House. There are a number of issues I wish to raise before the House adjourns for the summer recess.
London City Airport has been a great success, and I urge the Government to approve the City Airport development programme. The CADP will result in 32,000 extra flight movements and 2 million more passengers, and will double the airport’s contribution to the national economy.
I recently met Ferrero UK to learn more about its sport and move programme, and the work in partnership with local football clubs like mine in Southend, Southend United. So far it has been responsible for 200,000 hours of activity and education in over 250 schools over the last school year. I support its activities—and its chocolates are delicious.
A 12-year-old boy called Oliver King suffered a fatal cardiac arrest during a swimming race in March 2011. A trust was set up in his name, and, as a result, more than 800 defibrillators have been placed in schools and other organisations. We have one in Southend. I do hope that colleagues will support the Oliver King Foundation.
About 54% of the population of the United Kingdom experience a skin condition in any 12-month period, ranging from eczema to skin cancer. I urge my colleagues at the Department of Health to ensure that a dedicated lead for dermatology is appointed within NHS England to address the training of general practitioners and nurses in this vital area of healthcare.
The Fit For Work UK Coalition recently came to meet with me to discuss its work in helping people with long-term conditions such as arthritis to return to work. I support its work.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has revealed to most colleagues in the House that every year more than 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. It should therefore be a matter of great concern to us that screening rates are falling. We need to do something about that.
I recently visited Edinburgh zoo because I had had complaints from a few of my constituents about the way in which the animals were being kept. I am delighted to report to the House that I thought Edinburgh zoo was absolutely marvellous and that the animals are very well kept there.
Southend University Hospital rheumatology department is a centre of excellence, and I recently had the privilege of being shown round it. I was told about the tragic consequences for people with a condition called giant cell arteritis—GCA—not being diagnosed. I am delighted to say that the department has devised a fast-track pathway for the diagnosis and treatment of this devastating condition, which will prevent people from losing their sight.
I recently re-opened a business—if that is possible—in Leigh-on-Sea. It started up in 2004, and I am going to make the claim that it is the best fitter of kitchens in Leigh-on-Sea.
Over and over again, we in the House talk about what we are going to do for people who suffer from mental health difficulties. Many people are placed in the invidious situation of having to get a loved one sectioned, and it is a very upsetting process. Rather than just saying that we are going to do something about this, we really need to improve the care of people with mental health conditions. As a Member of Parliament, I certainly see many more people with such conditions than I used to.
I hope the House already knows that Southend will be the alternative city of culture next year. We had a launch on my balcony overlooking Westminster Square last week, and it will be the best gig in the country next year.
I have said in the House on a number of occasions how disappointed I am about the re-timetabling of trains run by C2C. More needs to be done, and we need new rolling stock.
Last week, we held our second responsible pet ownership competition on the green by Victoria Tower, and I am delighted to say that it was won by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) and her lurcher, Milo.
There have been too many instances of dogs’ food being poisoned in Southend. Apparently it is because the dogs’ owners are not picking up the mess. I hope that we can turn that round.
I am delighted that this country voted on 23 June to leave the European Union, but my goodness, aren’t there some sour grapes? I really hope that the country will come together and make the most of the opportunity we have been given.
I am disappointed that the Chilcot report has been overshadowed. I look forward to the Scottish National party’s Supply day debate, because there must be consequences as a result of the Chilcot report.
Last weekend I was in Paris for a rally in support of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. I hope that Madam Rajavi will be allowed to come and speak in this country.
The Conservatives took back control of Southend Council a month ago. We have inherited an absolute shambles, particularly in the area of waste management, and something needs to be done. The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) also mentioned waste management.
All Members have a nightmare with school catchment areas. I do in Southend, and I hope that the new Education Secretary can provide some guidance.
I am not very happy with Atos assessments, which are very poorly conducted and need improvement.
I am disgusted with National Grid for deciding that it will undertake all sorts of roadworks in Southend, gumming up the town.
I hope that the national lottery will give some support to the wonderful Southend Festival Chorus.
I am not very happy with South Essex Homes, which should certainly allow the King’s Money Advice Centre to remain.
Finally, I visited the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths on Monday. It does fantastic work.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am very surprised that he said “finally” without having mentioned that our football club West Ham United will move into the Olympic stadium and play its first match there during the recess. I am sure he will want to wish them well for the seasons and years ahead before he sits down.
I absolutely do; not to have done so would have been a great faux pas. I meant to say that London City airport is a wonderful supporter of West Ham United. Our old manager is now running the England team—good luck with that one!—but I very much hope that West Ham will win the premier league next year after the wonderful achievements of Leicester.
I congratulate the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, which is a fantastic livery company—one of 12 in the City of London—with a charter that dates back to 1327. It gives a huge amount of money to charity and is excellent on apprenticeships.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, Mr Speaker, the other two Deputy Speakers, all the people who work in the House and colleagues a very happy summer.
There have been several notable contributions today, many of which have touched on the issues that I want to raise, so I hope that mine will match the quality shown thus far. I intend to talk about what I consider to be the holy trinity—not Law, Best and Charlton, but three of the most important pillars of my politics: jobs, homes and health. I believe that if people are confident that they have security and fairness at work, that they will have a roof over their head and that they will be cared for if they fall ill, we have the essential preconditions, foundations, and building blocks for creating a fair and equal society. I should make it clear that those principles are only the start and that there is clearly so much more beyond them, but I want to address them today because we cannot hope to address anything else unless we get the basics right.
I have said previously that a jobs policy does not just mean aiming for full employment; we should value the quality of the jobs that are created. Jobs must be permanent, secure and properly paid. We saw during the EU referendum campaign that telling someone on a zero-hours contract or in agency work that there is a risk to their job from Brexit just did not cut it. There is a culture in this country that views employment as a flexible, disposable concept, with people not knowing from one week to the next how many hours they will work or whether they will work at all, and yet some still wonder why millions of people chose to reject the status quo.
Even for those who have secured permanent employment, this country’s workplace protections are pathetic. How can someone give nearly two years of their life to an employer, not putting a foot wrong, and still find themselves cast aside without reason and without recompense? How can we build a country in which people feel confident enough to plan their life and for the future, if we have such a casual attitude towards the means by which they can build that future? I want a country where people have the security of knowing that if they do a good job and if their employer runs the business well, they will be rewarded properly and are likely to stay in work. What we have instead is a hire-and-fire culture in which workers are seen as disposable commodities—figures on a spreadsheet—rather than real people with lives that matter.
The prospect of replacing people with machines has always been with us, but the future looks bleak for the millions of jobs that are set to become automated. Artificial intelligence will decimate skilled jobs, and we have the ever-present threat of jobs being exported to lower-wage economies. I am sorry to say that many politicians see that as progress and others are blissfully unaware of what the future will bring, but nobody has yet come up with a compelling strategy for how to respond to what amounts to a huge challenge for every country in the western world. If we do not start thinking seriously about how to tackle the problem, the wave of resentment that led to the Brexit vote will look like a small ripple in a pond.
Turning to homes, in every surgery I hold there will always be constituents who cannot get on the council waiting list, cannot afford private sector rents and, because of their circumstances, cannot countenance owning a home of their own. Even those in secure employment find themselves unable to match that with a secure home of their own. Successive Governments have failed to address this issue, but the current Administration seem determined to decimate social housing in this country. My constituency has plenty of sites where planning permissions have been granted for new homes, but almost every one of those has, at one stage or another, been amended to remove the obligation to build affordable housing. The situation is unsustainable, and insecurity at work being matched for many by insecurity at home is leading to the resentment I have referred to being magnified.
The final pillar of the three that I wish to talk about is health. It may be trite to say it, but we are incredibly fortunate to live in a country where no matter who you are and no matter what your means, you can be assured that if you fall ill you will receive, free of charge, some of the very best medical treatment in the world. But the Labour party’s proudest achievement, the NHS, is in mortal danger under this Government. In what has been the most unpredictable time in recent political history, with so many resignations, sackings and job changes, some would say one of the biggest surprises of this whole period is that the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) is still in his job as Secretary of State for Health.
“The NHS is in a mess”
and there have been
“five years of decline on all of the things that people would worry about.”
Those are not my words, but the words of the chief executive of NHS Improvement, Jim Mackey. The NHS is arguably facing its biggest challenge since its creation. It is failing to meet key performance targets month after month. NHS trusts and foundation trusts had a combined deficit of £2.45 billion in 2015-16, and the situation continues to deteriorate, yet the Secretary of State is still in his job. I know I have talked about employment security today, but that is surely taking things a step too far.
Only this week the Health Committee confirmed what we knew all along: the Government's claim that they are putting an additional £10 billion into the NHS does not stand up to scrutiny. The Committee put the actual figure at less than half of that and went on to say that “accounting devices” are being used to “balance the books”, which
“give a false impression that the current financial situation is better than it is.”
These devices include moving hundreds of millions of pounds from an already stretched capital budget to plug holes on the revenue side, depriving the NHS of the infrastructure investment it urgently needs and storing up problems for the future. They also include moving funds over from the public health budget, a move the Health Committee describes as
“a false economy, creating avoidable additional costs in the future.”
In addition, there is a workforce crisis, with 15% of clinical posts vacant in some parts of London and a shocking £3.3 billion spent in the last year on agency staff, a situation that will only worsen with the announcement sneaked out today about the abolition of nurse bursaries. This toxic cocktail is only going to get worse. How long before we see a Minister say that the current situation is unsustainable and the principle of free treatment at the point of use has to be sacrificed? If that is taken away, one of the pillars critical to a stable and just society is taken away.
I consider the three pillars needed for a decent society that I have described to be crumbling at an alarming rate. My party will be spending much of the summer discussing the relative merits of our two leadership candidates, but I hope that there will be an opportunity during this debate to consider how we tackle the challenges ahead that I have referred to, so that at the end of the process we are able to present to the country a united front and a compelling answer on these issues. If we can do that—if we can look and sound like a Government ready and waiting to rebuild our fractured society—we will have half a chance of actually being able to do that.
I warmly congratulate the Deputy Leader of the House on his well-deserved appointment to his Front-Bench role. After a rollercoaster few weeks in UK political history, this is a wonderful opportunity to come together to talk about the needs and concerns of our constituents; it has been a great pleasure to have a canter around the UK visiting many constituencies this afternoon.
I represent an expanding new town built on the historic east Shropshire coalfield. It is the birthplace of the industrial revolution and, throughout its proud history, it has embraced change and made the most of every opportunity that has come its way. It is a fantastic place to live and work, and it continues to attract new investment. It is fair to say that it is playing its part in the fourth industrial revolution with relish. With its unique urban and rural mix, Telford has an identity all of its own. It has a spirit of determination and aspiration and it always makes the best of the cards that it is dealt.
Naturally, Telford faces a number of challenges—they range from a lack of basic infrastructure to pressure on doctors’ waiting lists and school places, and issues relating to broadband—but they are often seen in any rapidly growing new town,. Back in early 2013, when I first set out my stall to be Telford’s next MP, I pledged to bring down youth unemployment, which was blighting the future of Telford’s young people. I was as delighted as anybody here by yesterday’s job figures, which show, according to the House of Commons Library, that Telford’s youth unemployment claimant rate continues to fall to record lows.
I also pledged to fight to get Telford better connected with improved rail services and adequate mobile and broadband connections, which are essential to ensure that those involved in investment and in buying new homes can go about their business. Another pledge was to fight for a new critical care centre to be located at the Princess Royal hospital. A further one was to protect green spaces.
One pledge that was particularly dear to my heart was the challenge to keep Telford moving. We have a plethora of traffic lights at roundabouts that have sprung up overnight when no one could see any need for them, causing frustrations and delays. In the past few years, there has indeed been progress in almost all of those areas, and I am very proud to keep on chipping away at these local issues that really impact on people’s lives. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) so eloquently said, that is what we are here to do.
One area that I can safely say is of the most importance to my constituents is the future of healthcare in Shropshire and what is to become of the A&E at the Princess Royal. I have long championed a new critical care unit to join the existing women and children’s unit, and it is, regrettably, the one issue in which there has been no progress. As time has ticked by, there has been one missed deadline after another and no explanation for the delay. A final decision was due to be taken in November 2015. That was deferred to June 2016, and now I learn this week—July 2016—that it has been deferred again to some unspecified date.
Back in November 2015, NHS England was brought in to keep the project on target, but to no avail. The whole process seems to have become paralysed, with clinical commissioning groups and clinicians completely unable to make a decision. By failing to act, they are, in effect, choosing to do nothing about the future of healthcare in Shropshire, and that is no answer for my constituents who have told me time and again that this is the most important issue to them. While residents worry that they might lose their A&E provision, services deteriorate and there is a negative impact on the morale of healthcare workers in the hospitals affected, not to mention the £3 million of cost that the Future Fit programme has absorbed as a result of this inability to come to a decision.
In Telford, we have a rapidly growing population, and we also have extreme health inequalities. People come to Telford all the time, and it is absolutely right that, when they save up and buy their new dream home, they should expect fundamental services to be available to them. There has been great progress on broadband and on train services, and fantastic news on jobs, but we also need a healthcare provision that is fit for our thriving new town. I want to use this debate to highlight my constituents’ concerns and frustrations that they write to me about on a daily basis. We need a clear timetable for the completion of the Future Fit programme and we need an absolute determination to stick to it. If NHS England cannot make that happen, surely the next stop must be the Secretary of State.
I am looking forward to my summer in Telford and the opportunity to spend time with my constituents whom I am so proud and fortunate to represent. I give huge thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for enabling all of us, on both sides of the House, to come here today to focus on our constituents. After all, that is what we all do every day of the week, but perhaps we do not talk about it quite as much as we should. This is a fantastic and very welcome opportunity to highlight that.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you a wonderful holiday. I hope that everybody here can get some rest from what has been a frantically busy period in all our lives.
I welcome the Deputy Leader of the House to his new position and wish him well for the times ahead. We look forward to working with him and speaking to him on many issues.
I am going to bring something completely different to the House on this occasion. I want to speak about some of the history of Northern Ireland and, in particular, the Loyal Orders, and one of those especially. Those not associated with the Loyal Orders will immediately think of the Orange Order, and as it is the largest fraternal Protestant association in the world, that is understandable. However, there is more to the Loyal Orders than meets the eye. We have other associations, some linked to and some not linked to the Orange Order. The Loyal Order that I wish to speak about in order to enlighten Members and anyone watching about its illustrious and too often unknown history is the Apprentice Boys of Derry, of which I am a member and have been for 39 years. I am also a member of the Orange Order and of the Royal Black Preceptory.
The Apprentice Boys of Derry is not linked to the Orange Order. However, membership overlaps, as indeed it does in my case. The Apprentice Boys of Derry has a membership of some 10,000 in Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, England and Canada, with supporters and affiliates in many other Commonwealth countries. The institution seeks to commemorate and celebrate the siege of Derry, recognised as the longest siege in British military history. It goes back to the Glorious Revolution. It is called the Glorious Revolution because, as many people know, it was a rather bloodless revolution. In that revolution James II was ousted from power by Parliament in 1688, and Parliament subsequently offered the English throne to James’s daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange. In Scotland, the then ruling body, the Privy Council, asked William to assume responsibility for the Government in January 1688, and in March that year King William and Mary assumed the throne.
The different situation across the Irish sea is what ultimately led to the siege of Derry, the creation of the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the famous battle of the Boyne. In November 1688, there were two garrisons in Ulster that were not loyal to James. They were Enniskillen and, of course, Londonderry. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson), who referred to the gillies. He said they were small in stature, but when the Earl of Antrim was trying to recruit some soldiers, he went to Scotland because he wanted men who were six feet-plus. He managed to get a force from Scotland, the Scottish Highlander Redshanks, who set off for Derry. On their way they made sure to strike fear into the hearts and minds of the resistance by being merciless to any opposition.
On 7 December 1688, as the King’s forces approached the city of Derry, they were met not with the welcome that they expected, but with shots and cries of “No surrender”. The Brave Thirteen, the 13 apprentice boys, as they were, are one of the central pillars of symbolism and significance within the institution to this day. In April 1689 hope arrived, in the form of reinforcements from England led by Colonel Cunningham, a native of the maiden city. The governor of that city, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy, called a meeting with his most loyal supporters to discuss the surrender of the city. News of the meeting spread, however, and the citizens were furious. Lundy had to flee the city in disguise with his supporters. The impact of Lundy’s betrayal is that Unionists and loyalists across Ulster and in Scotland to this day refer to a perceived traitor as a “Lundy”. His name went down in history for the wrong reason.
On 18 April the Jacobite army reached the city, expecting the inhabitants to be overwhelmed by the presence of the king and to admit them to the city. James repeated his attempt to enter the city three times, but on each occasion he was refused with cries again of “No surrender” and with many shots. Hamilton’s forces on behalf of King James rounded up hundreds of Protestants from nearby villages, proclaiming “Let your fellow Protestants in or let them die.” The act horrified King James himself, because he had given no instruction for that to happen and in no way approved.
On 28 July two armed merchant ships, the Mountjoy and the Phoenix, sailed towards a boom protected by HMS Dartmouth. The Mountjoy rammed and breached the boom and the ships moved in and relieved the city. After 105 days the siege was over, with some 8,000 of the 30,000 inhabitants dead. The Mountjoy, like those who oversaw the siege, has become iconic in the remembrance of the siege in the Apprentice Boys and in wider loyalist and Unionist circles. Today, the siege is commemorated by the Apprentice Boys of Derry, named after the Brave Thirteen.
We have in Londonderry a week-long Maiden City festival, which culminates in a parade around the city by members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry. Our colours are crimson red, commemorating the blood of the 8,000 who died in those battles. The institution is now widely commended for how it conducts parades, which have been peaceful and successful over the years. The parade this year will be on the second Saturday of August, which is 13 August.
What is good about the parade is not just the history, but the fact that this is the one place in Northern Ireland—well, there are lots of places in Northern Ireland—where there was contention before, and now there is not. The agreement to parade in the city of Londonderry is a catalyst for other parts of the Province to have a loyalist parade in a mainly nationalist city and to have the tolerance that is needed to make that happen. If Members want an example of how things can happen in Northern Ireland, that is the example I would give, and that is why I wanted to speak about it today.
The parade has become a tourist attraction for many people. People from Northern Ireland, from the Republic and from across the world come to watch the historical enactment that takes place on that day, and I would like to commend the Apprentice Boys of Derry for all they have done to make that happen.
In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank you, the other Deputy Speakers and the Speaker of the House for your kindness to all right hon. and hon. Members in giving us a chance to participate in debates in this Chamber. I would also like to thank the Backbench Business Committee, which also makes it possible for us to come here and speak in debates. I am told I have a season ticket for the Backbench Business Committee, and whether I have or not, I am very pleased to participate in the debates in this Chamber and in Westminster Hall. I thank the House staff for all their kindness to us, and I thank the Hansard staff, who have told me they can now understand my accent and my writing, and they do not need any more help with what it should say. I thank the people of Strangford for giving me the privilege of representing them in the wonderful political and democratic institution we have here in the House of Commons. It is a pleasure to be here, it is a pleasure to represent Strangford and it is a pleasure to have so many friends in this Chamber.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am very pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—I call him my friend despite having been on different sides of the argument earlier, and despite having been brought up in Glasgow, where the Apprentice Boys and the Orange Order were not as affectionately remembered by my community—as it was, my maternal grandfather was a member of the lodge and the order. My hon. Friend brings to the Chamber an important message about the tolerance, understanding and mutual respect of the peace agreement in Northern Ireland. That is really important, and we need to make sure it is absolutely solid. If there is anything we can do to help, we ought to do that.
I have welcomed the Deputy Leader of the House to his place. I welcome the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) to his new place as well, and I wish him success in his role.
I want to raise a few issues. The first is London’s new cruise terminal, which is very welcome as part of London’s tourist infrastructure. It is being built at Enderby Wharf in Greenwich, and it is causing a bit of controversy. One of the big issues in London, as we know, is air quality, and Mayor Sadiq Khan has made it a priority of his administration. The one deficit in the planning application for the cruise terminal in Greenwich is that there is no shore-to-ship power supply, which means that cruise ships will be parking in Greenwich, in the middle of London, and having to run their big diesel engines 24/7 to provide their electricity. There is no planning requirement or planning regulation in that respect from the Port of London authority, the London boroughs, the European Union or the UK Government, although other European ports do make it a requirement and Southampton would want it.
I had a long-standing meeting planned for Monday with the then Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), but I got an email from the Government on Sunday saying that the Minister had been reshuffled and that the meeting was postponed. I would therefore be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House would feed back to DEFRA that we really need that meeting to be reorganised as quickly as possible.
There are a whole number of major issues on leasehold reform. England is one of the few countries in the world that still have leasehold—it does not exist in Scotland—resulting in unfair ground rents, excessive service charges, retirement home rip-offs, restricted lengths of leases and expensive dispute resolution procedures. It took us two and a half years to get the Department for Communities and Local Government to recognise that there were not 2.5 million leaseholders in Britain. It has now recalculated the number at 4.1 million, but the leasehold reform MPs who are active in the Chamber think there are more like 7 million, and those people are being ripped off.
This area of legislation urgently needs reform, and I am grateful to the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership—the charity campaigning on this area—which helps the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and me. We are forming an all-party group on the issue in September, and I invite all colleagues to join it to ensure that we can put pressure on the Government and get leasehold reform.
Bangladesh was raised during business questions by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). He may have raised it again during this debate, but I missed his speech. There is great concern among many friends of Bangladesh in this House about the recent terrorist activity and murders of secularists, intellectuals, academics and bloggers. The hon. Gentleman organised a very good meeting earlier this week about attacks on members of minority communities. I would be grateful if the Government could do all that they can to help the Government of Bangladesh to address the question of terrorism and intolerance in that country.
On the Chennai 6, I commend the work of the all-party group, especially its chair, the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), which recently held a meeting in Portcullis House. I am wearing my shipwrights tie—I am a member of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights—and, as a former shipping Minister, I know a thing or two about shipping. There are six Brits in jail in India. They were armed security guards protecting a ship against piracy when it left India, but they breached security regulations. The courts in India cannot make up their minds—they were convicted, freed and then convicted again—and they have been languishing in jail for 1,000 days. I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to impress on the Foreign Office the need for it to redouble its efforts to get them released. The Mission to Seafarers and Rev. Canon Ken Peters have been working really hard to look after the families.
I have already mentioned West Ham United playing their first game in the Olympic stadium. Like the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), I wish them well in their new home. They will go from strength to strength.
I congratulate the 31 Tower Hamlets air cadet training corps in Mile End. I am its honorary president. Lieutenant Rex Nichols and his volunteers have been responsible for another fantastic year for the young people in the air cadets.
Secondary schools in Tower Hamlets were on the floor 20 years ago, but they are now all punching above the national average in the educational performance league tables. That means that our young people in east London, who are as bright and smart as kids anywhere else in the country, are having a great start in life. East London is sharing in the wealth of this great city for the first time in history, and a very important generation is coming through.
I congratulate all of my constituents who received honours in either the new year’s honours list or the Queen’s 90th birthday honours list on their achievement, especially Dr Sheila Fitzpatrick, who I declare happens to be my wife, on being awarded an MBE for her work as a national trustee of the Marine Society and Sea Cadets and as a trustee of the Sreepur village orphanage in Bangladesh, as well as for other activities. That is obviously very important to her and to me. I am very proud of what she has achieved.
In conclusion, I wish you, Mr Speaker, and your team, as well as every other colleague and all the staff of the House, a very restful recess. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.
It is heartening to end on a climactic point and to congratulate Mrs Fitzpatrick on her award. This has been a splendid debate. It is one of the joys of Parliament that we have a day on which we can discuss these matters. It is politics in miniature, as we discuss matters that are of protozoan importance nationally, but of vast, gigantic importance in our constituencies.
I have the pleasure of welcoming the new Deputy Leader of the House to his post. We have jousted together on the Home Affairs Committee, where his ferocious skills as an interrogator terrified witnesses, who were subject to a cross-examination that would be worthy of a mass murderer in the High Court. Many of them, when they left the Select Committee room, went out seeking the number of the Samaritans or a trauma counsellor.
The hon. Gentleman has already reached the peak of his parliamentary career, which he cannot overtop. During our debate to congratulate Her Majesty earlier this year, he told an anecdote that will live long in the legends of this House. It concerned the vital matter of the positioning of a chain around the unicorn’s neck in the stained-glass window in Westminster Hall. This anecdote was described in The Daily Telegraph, by a writer who uses the traditional and admirable English gift for understatement, as
“the single most boring anecdote of all time.”
I ask you—where can he go with his career after that major achievement?
We have had a fascinating list of possible holiday destinations laid before us today. For anyone who is interested in yoga, Harrow is the place to go; it is the yoga paradise of the world. But they should watch out, because it is a hellhole for those who accumulate garden waste; it has the highest collection charges in the whole of the United Kingdom. We have heard about the joys of the Gillies in Stirling. Gillie is the Gaelic word for a servant, and we heard about the magnificent occasion when the Gillies came out and banged their saucepans and drums and convinced the English Army that reinforcements were on the way. We have heard about the joys of Bushy Park in the constituency of Twickenham, where, we were told, the airport should not be bigger but should be better. And for those with exotic tastes, there is a festival of engineering in Chippenham, which will set all our pulses racing.
A theme that ran through the debate was transport, and at least seven Members bemoaned the deficiencies of the privatised rail service. I commend to all of them a report on privatisation, published in this House in 1993 on the advent of privatisation, under the great parliamentarian Robert Adley—who tragically died on the Sunday before the Wednesday on which the report was published—which forecast in minute detail the problems that we are talking about today. Of course, Robert Adley was a great expert on railways, and I believe that is the supreme report of any published by a Select Committee in my time in the House. We are seeing the legacy now. The problems that we face spring from the difficulties of privatisation, rather than from any disputes that have taken place.
To his great credit, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) cleverly used the debate to point out that today the Government have published 29 statements, which cannot be scrutinised in the House. He brought attention to the very important increase in the level of fees, and ultimately loans, that students will suffer, and to the withdrawal of bursaries for student nurses. Those vital matters are the subject of just two of the 29 statements that have been published today—in order, presumably, to bury bad news.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made an impassioned plea on behalf of those who are suffering from Government policy on poverty. We often talk about the state of the economy generally, but she talked about what happens at the level of the family—the difficulties that they face. I think that we will all read her speech with great interest and learn a great deal from it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) raised the crucial problem that worries us a great deal: the alienation of young people post Brexit. We realise that we have a legacy from the referendum and the deficiencies in our electoral system, for which we will pay a high price unless we tackle them with major reforms.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) raised, quite legitimately, the problems of the defence budget. Spending on conventional weapons is being delayed, while spending on the useless symbol of national virility has, sadly, been approved by this House.
I offer great congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan). I noticed from her maiden speech that she has the good luck to be married to a Welshman, which is rather like being upgraded on a plane. She made the very powerful point that what the Government are doing with their plans for the health service is trying to stretch the funding for a five-day health service over seven days. She pointed out that key weakness, and spoke about this matter with great knowledge and experience. Again, she is a great asset to this House, and I am sure she will have a great career. It is disappointing that the former Prime Minister’s forecast that she would be in the shadow Cabinet within a day has not been fulfilled, but perhaps it will come true during the next few weeks.
I thank everyone for what they have said today. I cannot go into all the details of what was raised, but I am sure this is Parliament at its very best—doing the work not on the great issues we pontificate about, but the bread and butter issues that concern our constituents. I believe all the issues raised will have the attentive ear of the new Leader of the House and his Deputy, and we look forward to instant results before we return in September.
It is a pleasure to make my first appearance at the Dispatch Box before you, Mr Speaker, and opposite the shadow Leader of the House. I believe the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) is also the shadow Deputy Leader and holds other positions. I am very reliably informed that he holds no fewer than four shadow positions. I am reminded of the classic film “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, in which Sir Alec Guinness played all the different roles. I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider taking on more responsibilities, because the main character in that film ended up as a duke. He alluded to Her Majesty’s 90th birthday—I did not know he was a royalist—and if he does want to hear any more about heraldry and the story of the unicorn, when he next has a couple of free days I will give him more details.
We have heard a lot from Members in this debate, which has clearly been a very good opportunity to expound on constituents’ and constituency activities, and the issues and difficulties they face.
May I add my congratulations and those of other members of the Home Affairs Committee on the hon. Gentleman’s ministerial appointment? Two former members of the Select Committee are at the Dispatch Box opposite each other today and, as he says, occupying six jobs between them. Through him, may I also congratulate the Leader of the House—whom I first met when he was chairman of Cambridge University Conservative Association over 40 years ago? He was destined for high office, and he has got to the Cabinet at last.
If it were not for the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee we would no doubt still be in our original positions. Where we will be in due course is another matter altogether. I thank him for his support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) spoke about flooding in his constituency, which is clearly of considerable concern. He raised the difficulties involved with flash flooding and sewage coming through, and I know his constituents will be very grateful to him for doing so in this place. He is very impressive in his representation of all communities in his constituency, and he is well known and recognised for that in the House.
On a lighter note, my hon. Friend also spoke about the advantages of yoga. I know you, Mr Speaker, have often recommended Members to take up yoga in certain circumstances. I do not know whether you and my hon. Friend would like to get together on that subject, but we await further developments with interest.
The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) spoke about the problems on Southeastern trains. He was not the only Member who spoke about train issues. There clearly are some issues, and the fact that he has raised them will have been to the satisfaction of his constituents and of others’.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) spoke about the railway station and the fact that there are insufficient rail services. He also mentioned his cycling expertise. I had noticed that he has a rather painful black eye, which I was sorry to hear about, but I am reassured that the Whips had nothing to do with it. I hope he is well. I know that the summer of music, arts and culture is coming up in Gloucester. People will no doubt want to visit for that.
The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) spoke of her success in dealing with B&Q, and I congratulate her on that. Reducing wider remuneration packages and blaming the national living wage would be short-sighted and would yield only a one-off gain. Doing so is not in the spirit of the national living wage, and I am sure that B&Q and others are acting accordingly.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) that ultimately open access decisions are for the Office of Rail and Road to determine, and we respect its independence in doing so. However, I recognise the potential benefits that open access competition can deliver for railway passengers and others.
I understand that the Queen’s handbags are made in the constituency of the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz)—so another quality product from Walsall. The hon. Lady indicated that the local authority was not listening to her or her residents about road humps. No doubt that authority will want to be rejuvenated, shall we say, in its attention to her representations. She also spoke about litter, a topic that resonated around the House, with Members on both sides speaking about it. It is a major problem. She wants to restart the Keep Britain Tidy campaign, and I will ask the relevant Department to write to her about that.
One could hear the medical expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) coming through in her remarks. She spoke about the importance of having water provided on platforms when it is too hot on crowded trains. She also spoke about aircraft noise and other pollution issues. Her expertise brings a great deal of richness to the House.
I think I am right in saying that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) helped to create the Backbench Business Committee, so it is apposite to credit him with that this afternoon and say how much we appreciate it, as so many Members have taken part in the debate. He spoke of disadvantaged areas in his constituency and the casework that he deals with. I was struck by the way in which he thanked his staff and by the wonderful success that he and they have achieved for Max and, no doubt, many, many others. I congratulate him on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) spoke about Brexit. I know that she is particularly alive to the issue of young voters, and is on the all-party parliamentary group on voter registration. The value of her work in respect of young voters is recognised in this House, and that issue will not be forgotten about. It is very important indeed.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) spoke about quarrying on Gillies hill. I wish him well with his lobbying on that. It is a devolved matter, but he will no doubt get the requisite attention from the local authority. The wooded area he described sounds very pleasant indeed.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for welcoming the military regiments he spoke of which have come to his area. He spoke also of the county hospital doing well. The House knows him to be a powerful advocate for his area.
We also heard from the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), whom I had the pleasure of debating with in Westminster Hall yesterday. I can tell her that the Type 26 warships are certainly not indefinitely delayed. My information is that that is not correct. It struck me that she took particular care to thank the Clerks and staff on the Scottish Affairs Committee and to wish them well over the summer recess.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) spoke of the engineering skills gap. The Wiltshire festival of engineering that she is arranging in her constituency sounds very impressive, and I know that there are wonderful opportunities in Wiltshire. She said that she had visited 100 local businesses in the past year—what a superb ambassador for job creators in her constituency.
I welcome the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) to her place and congratulate her on her by-election success. She was a vocal advocate for junior doctors in her remarks, but I can assure her that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health cares deeply about the national health service, its patients and its staff. No doubt the hon. Lady will agree that legal action is expensive, unnecessary and unwarranted, and we hope that the matter can be resolved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) spoke about Rugeley B power station, and some allusion was made to its beauty or otherwise. That is no doubt a matter for extensive debate, but she did indicate that she had held a jobs fair in her constituency. No doubt that was welcomed by those who worked at the Rugeley B power station and by many others. I was also interested to hear about Mill Green, Cannock’s own Bicester village in the making, and look forward to my invitation. She also mentioned Watchman V who is, I believe, the dog of the year. We wish Watchman V well as the mascot in her constituency.
The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) spoke about tuition fees. I am pleased to be able to reassure him that the statistics show that more disadvantaged young people are now going into university education than ever did under the Labour Government. I would have thought it right to welcome the written statements that have been released today, because Members will have a considerable opportunity over the next six weeks to study them and to return to the matters fully refreshed in the autumn.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) gave his usual extremely impressive performance. He mentioned dozens of separate items, and, if I may, I will write to him about his remarks. I was not able to write them down fast enough by hand. I will, if I may, send my best wishes to his mother, who is 104 years of age. He mentioned Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, and I am sure we are all fully supportive of its work raising awareness of cervical cancer and the importance of cervical screening—just one of the matters that he mentioned, among many other important subjects.
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) was concerned about housing, employment security and the NHS. He will be reassured, one hopes, to hear that this Government have built more housing than Labour did in its 13 years in government. This Government also introduced the national living wage and are supporting the NHS to the tune of £10 billion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) spoke passionately about her constituency. It is an expanding town, and she is rightly proud that youth unemployment is now at a record low. So much is being done to continue and ensure business investment in the town. She did say there were too many traffic lights, certainly at one junction. No doubt many Members will have some sympathy with that.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) can be reassured that not only can Hansard understand him but so can everybody in the Chamber, too. He spoke passionately about the history of Northern Ireland and the Orange Order. It was a fascinating, if brief, history lesson. No doubt we will hear more in due course.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) spoke of the air quality in London, which Members from across the country no doubt take an interest in, as we in the House of Commons are subject to it. It is not quite as bad as the great stink in the Victorian period, when the curtains of the Palace of Westminster had to be draped in lime to try to disguise the aroma, but there are still pollution issues. No doubt he will continue to be alive to those issues and to represent his constituents accordingly. I will ask the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to write to him about the rescheduled meeting. He will appreciate that, with the changes that have occurred in recent days, his meeting had to be postponed. That is regrettable, but it can be rearranged. He mentioned the Company of Shipwrights, of which he is a proud member, and made a very important point about those who are detained in India. I will ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to write to him about that.
I take this opportunity to wish everyone well over the summer recess, in particular the staff of the House, you and your Deputies, Mr Speaker, and the Chairs of all the Committees—not only the Home Affairs Committee, although perhaps with particular good wishes to that one. Like many other Members, I would like to send my best wishes to the retiring member of staff, Noeleen Delaney. I understand she is approaching the thirtieth anniversary of her employment here. She has, no doubt, served generations of Members of Parliament with the same excellence, warmth and kindness of spirit throughout the past three decades. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
It is an honour and privilege to serve in this House. It is a duty that is borne with great humility and service by everyone on all sides. To be a servant of this House and to appear at the Dispatch Box for the first time is a great honour for me. I thank everyone for their good wishes. I wish everyone well over the recess.
I am grateful, on behalf of the House, to the Deputy Leader, whose warmth and good grace have been hugely appreciated. The same goes for the shadow Leader. It seems a fitting conclusion to our proceedings and I wish everybody a very relaxing and revitalising summer break.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.