I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
Unfortunately, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), had to return to his constituency earlier and has asked me to lead off in the debate.
I kick off by sending the sympathies of the whole House to the Chairman of Ways and Means and his family at this time of terrible tragedy. We hope that he has as peaceful a Christmas and new year as is possible under these dreadful circumstances.
I wish to begin with the matter of homelessness. I make no apologies for pointing out to the House that my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, almost the last Act given Royal Assent before we broke up for the general election, is yet to enter fully and finally into law. It becomes law on 1 April 2018. The Government have just concluded a detailed consultation on a 180-page document on the advice given to local authorities on the implementation of the Act and how homeless people are to be treated in this country. The Select Committee on Communities and Local Government is making representations to that consultation, and I look forward in the new year to the Government coming forward with recommendations to amend the consultation document slightly to make it far more user friendly for the people who need help—the people who are homeless.
The Act was the longest private Member’s Bill in history and the most expensive. It is quite clear, therefore, that this will be a revolution in how homeless people are treated in this country. The secondary legislation required to bring the Act into full force will come before the House in February, I believe, so clearly there is still work to be done to get this in place as required.
I commend the hon. Gentleman’s amazing work on this important legislation. I was with an amazing group of people at the Shelter office in Birmingham yesterday and, in particular, spoke to peer workers, who had been through the experience of street homelessness and could provide incredible and important support. They raised the issue of how sanctions in the benefits system are applied to street homeless people, many of whom suffer from mental ill health and have addiction issues, and who, with the best will in the world, have no way to ensure they attend a benefits meeting a week or fortnight hence. They miss the meetings and then have no money for a month or longer. This, surely, is something we have to address in terms of the civilised treatment of these people.
Clearly, people who are street homeless—actually sleeping on the streets rough—have chaotic lives and do not work to the same sort of timetables as everyone else. It is clearly wrong in principle, therefore, that they be penalised when, through no fault of their own, they fail to attend such meetings and have their benefits taken away. We have to do far more. We know, above all else, that every single person who is homeless is a unique case and therefore should be treated as such and sympathetically.
This is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Crisis. One of my political heroes was the late Iain Macleod, who helped to fund and start Crisis. It started off as Crisis at Christmas, but has gone on to provide services throughout the year. All Members have an opportunity to make a difference. The Crisis Christmas single, a re-recording of “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell, commemorates its 50th anniversary. It features the Crisis choir and Annie Lennox as guest vocalist. All Members and members of staff can download the single, for 99p, and we can aim to make it the Christmas No. 1.
If I cannot convince Members to buy “Streets of London”, they could download Phil Ryan’s Christmas single. He has worked with Lord Bird, the founder of the “The Big Issue”, for 26 years, and has launched a self-penned single, “Walking Down this Lonely Street”. Homelessness and loneliness are two things that go hand in hand. It would be great for all Members to download and support those singles.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the great many churches that do a huge amount to provide night shelters at this time of year. My own church, Christ Church in Collier’s Wood, is part of a group of churches that provides a hostel from November through to January. As a person of faith, it is great to see that action, but it is also a desperate thing to be happening.
At this time of year we should commend all those volunteers who give up their time at Christmas, and throughout the year, to help homeless people. FirmFoundation does a brilliant job in my constituency, and I am sure every constituency has such groups of people who come together to help people, and particularly the street homeless.
We had two successes in the Budget that we should celebrate. The help to rent proposals will help upwards of 20,000 families to get together a deposit for a rental property, and the funding of three Housing First pilots is a good start, although we need to see it rolled out right across the country.
Equally, in the Budget we had a huge win on the staircase tax, which was going to affect 90,000 businesses across the UK, following the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Valuation Office Agency to levy rates individually on offices that are on separate floors or corridors. One campaigner in my constituency came to see me about it. I lobbied the Chancellor—I am pleased that many Members on both sides of the House did so, too—and he listened to what we had to say.
There is some unfinished business that needs to be concluded in Parliament. First, the Government conducted a long-awaited consultation on removing caste as a protected characteristic in equality law. There were thousands of responses from the British Hindu community, and we now await the Government introducing legislation to remove this ill thought out, divisive and unnecessary legislation from our statute book.
Equally, we have the plight of Equitable Life policy- holders. I am the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on justice for Equitable Life policyholders. An outstanding debt of £2.6 billion is still owed to those people who invested their money after listening to advice and were victims of a terrible scam.
We recently had the 99th anniversary of the great union of Romania, with Romanians gathering to celebrate the joining of Transylvania to Romania. As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Romania, I had the privilege of attending the national celebration at the embassy, and I wished some 10,000 of my constituents a happy national day.
This time of year would not be complete without raising some local issues. There is what I can only describe as the north face of the Eiger at Stanmore station. As one arrives at the terminal after travelling on the Jubilee line, one is met by 49 steps to reach street level. There is no lift—the lift was taken out of the plan by a previous Mayor of London—but the Department for Transport has held a consultation. Hundreds of my constituents have campaigned for lifts at Stanmore and Canons Park stations, and I look forward to the Department coming forward with the necessary funding to make that happen.
We have also had the scandal of the Hive sports ground, which Harrow Council sold to Barnet football club for a relatively small sum of money. I led an Adjournment debate on the subject. Barnet football club, having acquired the whole land, has now submitted planning applications to overdevelop the site in a way which residents are objecting to in huge numbers. I trust we will see those planning applications duly rejected, as they should be.
People often think of rural areas as having problems with broadband, but I suggest they come to Stanmore in my constituency, where the various providers refuse, point blank, to provide high-speed broadband to residents, even though many of them desperately need it. We look forward to the providers being forced to provide high-speed broadband in the way they should.
I have continued to work to encourage the opening and development of free schools in my constituency. The proposed Mariposa and Hujjat free schools are both strongly supported by local residents but objected to by Harrow Council. I trust that those objections will be removed so that we can see first-rate schools being set up for the constituents I have the honour of representing.
There are three other important local issues. I attended the opening of the DiscoG coding academy, a new facility in Belmont in my constituency that supports young people to learn to write code. They learn how to write computer code from the age of five, which is an excellent way of ensuring that our young people are getting the type of education they need to complement what they learn in school.
At this time of year, although we are celebrating Christmas, it is of course the festival of Hanukkah, too. I had the honour last week of attending the lighting of the menorah at Stanmore Broadway, as we brought together members of the public from all faiths and none to ensure we all recognise the multiculturalism of London, and particularly of Harrow.
Harrow Mencap is doing brilliant work, and it has now formulated a function that can only be called “connecting communities.” I said earlier that we should concentrate not on people’s handicaps but on the things they can do, and Harrow Mencap is a prime example of that. Although the organisation works with people who have profound disabilities, it gets the best out of them and ensures they have the opportunity to live a full and active life, getting a job where appropriate. Harrow Mencap brings people together from across the communities, many of whom are very isolated indeed.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, Mr Speaker, your fellow Deputy Speakers and the whole House—all Members and all members of staff—a happy Christmas and a restful break. We look forward to 2018 being a happy, peaceful, prosperous and, above all else, healthy new year.
On behalf of the whole House, I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for his kind words. It is a great pleasure to wish everybody a happy and peaceful Christmas.
I am afraid that my first consideration has had to be to put a time limit on speeches because, as the House knows, we are quite limited this afternoon. We begin with a time limit of seven minutes.
It is a great pleasure to follow the wide-ranging speech of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). He mentioned the Christmas No. 1, among other things, and I just want to mention three things that all have a Christmas link.
The first is the near-complete absence of trains on Boxing day in the United Kingdom outside Scotland. This situation does not exist in the rest of Europe, where a comprehensive train service is provided throughout the Christmas holiday period. In the UK, outside Scotland, if anything, the situation is worse this year than in previous years.
The great airports of Heathrow and Gatwick are served by buses this year, rather than trains, although Stansted does have some trains. The only other line in England that has a train service is Marylebone to Oxford on the Chiltern service, aside from in the enlightened area of Merseyside, where Merseyrail for the past three years has run a service—not to all stations but to selected stations. Each year that is going from strength to strength. For example, this year, Liverpool football club are at home at Anfield in the early evening on Boxing day, and a service will run well into the evening to allow fans of Liverpool football club not only to get to the game, but to get home. They are almost unique among English football fans in being able to do that.
The House of Commons Library tells me that it was not always like this in Christmases past. Until 1975, a Sunday service was provided on most of the rail network, but that was gradually run down until it all but disappeared in 1980. Members may well ask why this is a particular problem. It is because it means that some people cannot go home for Christmas; people who have to be at work first thing on 27 December would have to travel back on 26 December and they just cannot do that.
I have already mentioned sporting events. On Boxing day, I will be at my beloved Valley Parade watching Bradford City take on Peterborough, but in my charity bet in my constituency I have gone for an accumulator of Bradford City, Leeds and Burnley all winning that day, in order to cover all my bases in the constituency. As well as the sport, the sales are taking place, as are all sorts of events—at theatres and so on. We also often talk in this House about loneliness, so we can see that closing down this network for nearly 60 hours is just too long—that is to leave aside what this does for the environment.
There is, however, some hope in the north of England. In its rail franchise, Northern will have to provide 60 services on Boxing day 2018.We hope that those will be the first trains in Yorkshire on this day—I suggest they be on the Airedale and Wharfedale line—since 1980. TransPennine Express is also obliged to make suggestions to the Government on Boxing day services, which it has done. I hope that the Government will discuss funding those with TransPennine Express, and that with the necessary funding in place Manchester airport will be served for the first time ever on Boxing day. That is its busiest day of the year and there should be trains running. If it is good enough for Stansted, it is certainly good enough for Manchester.
We need to stop the blame game between the two Front-Bench teams on this issue. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they drew attention to it, and now my beloved Labour party draws attention to it around 26 December each year. Whether the railways are in public or private hands, the House must unite in insisting that a basic service is provided on Boxing day.
Let me quickly move on to discuss food. I am looking forward to my Christmas dinner, but can we trust the food on the table? We have seen a report by The Guardian and ITN about chicken processing plants, particularly those of the 2 Sisters Food Group, which initially came out in September. It suggested that standards were well below what we should expect at the group’s West Bromwich plant. There was chicken on the floor and production was suspended. But the situation has got even worse in recent days, with ITN and The Guardian having now revealed that Tesco gave a red warning to 2 Sisters Food Group about another of its 12 plants, the one at Coupar Angus, in Scotland, at about the same time—this was in September or October. In that case, the labelling was almost non-existent in some cases. Some chicken had been condemned as unfit for human consumption; it was not clear what had happened to it. It is extremely worrying that Tesco knew this, yet its chief executive, David Lewis, no less, did a press conference in October and, when he was asked whether he had any knowledge that the problems extended beyond the West Bromwich plant, he said that Tesco
“didn’t find anything that would indicate that what was seen in West Bromwich was present in any of the other factory sites”.
Yet Tesco had just given a red warning to the Coupar Angus plant. Mr Lewis has some explaining to do. Why did Tesco not provide this information to the public or to the Food Standards Agency? All supermarkets should definitely do that in future. There should be CCTV in all cutting plants, as there is in abattoirs, so that at Christmas time and throughout the year we can trust the food on our table.
We have already heard a couple of references to the importance of churches at Christmas. In Yorkshire, we are particularly proud that the live midnight mass on BBC 1 this year comes from the Catholic cathedral in Leeds, which has a magnificent choir. In recent years, Members from different parties have occasionally been critical of the BBC’s commitment to religious broadcasting. In the past few days, the BBC has responded with a rather good report. I commend it to the House. I think it is recognised that the BBC alone of the public service broadcasters now has a responsibility to bring religious broadcasting to the country. Among other things, the BBC has committed to having a religious affairs editor backed by a religious team. I commend that report to the House.
All that remains is for me to wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the House a merry Christmas and, having mentioned my football bet, to reveal that I placed my accompanying charity bet at Ladbrokes in Keighley on Thistlecrack in the King George VI chase, the big horse race on Boxing day and another part of sporting Christmas.
I cannot follow the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan) on anything except, of course, wishing everyone a merry Christmas. The trouble is that his sporting interest has a round ball, whereas I prefer the one that is slightly tweaked at the ends, and most of the teams I support wear black only.
I wish to raise just one issue, which is, unfashionably, a men’s issue. It is well known to the House—and to The Sunday Telegraph—that I am a very part-time dentist. I am also chair of the all-party group on dentistry and oral health. As one can anticipate, the profession pushes me on various causes. This is one that I wish to raise: I would like the Government to extend the human papillomavirus vaccination to boys as well as girls. I raise this issue because it might be timely, as I understand that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is about to report on this issue to the Secretary of State for Health.
There are a number of HPV viruses, two of which are very nasty. Girls are vaccinated against the virus to stop cervical cancer. HPV viruses also cause penial cancer and genital warts. Slowly but surely, because of the vaccination programme for girls, there will be a reasonable herd immunity. I say reasonable because the vaccination reaches far from 100% of girls; many start the course but do not complete it, while many others do not even start it.
My specific interest is in the fact that these nasty viruses cause between 35% and 70% of head and neck cancers, depending on the anatomical site. For example, 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV. Treatment of head and neck cancers is often debilitating, disfiguring and destructive of the patients and their self-esteem. Frequently, radiology and/or surgery is required, involving the face, the jaw and teeth, the neck, the tongue, the pharynx, the larynx, the oesophagus or combinations of them. Physical disfigurement is common, and speech and eating can be significantly impaired.
In the global ranking of cancer deaths, head and neck cancers rank fifth. Furthermore, the prevalence of head and neck cancer is markedly higher in males than it is in females, with a ratio of 2:1. It is a men’s problem. In the UK, the frequency of head and neck cancer is increasing at one of the fastest rates of all cancers. The cost of treatment to the NHS is astronomical.
Vaccination programmes can eliminate, or virtually eliminate, certain diseases by producing herd immunity—the polio campaign is an example. The HPV vaccination programme for adolescent girls in the United Kingdom has had considerable success, but it is not producing full herd immunity.
We recently had a Westminster Hall debate on HPV vaccination for men who have sex with men. With HPV vaccination, I do not think that who is having sex with whom is relevant. I contend that heterosexual men—there is still a proportion of us left in this community—are very vulnerable. The estimate is that 10% of young UK girls do not get the full vaccination cover. Research suggests that 20% of 16 to 24-year-old men have had 10 or more sexual partners. Statistically, one of those partners has not been vaccinated.
Vaccination programmes for girls and boys would stand a reasonable chance of producing effective herd immunity. I understand that the cost would be another £22 million a year, but set that against the £58 million for treating genital warts and way over £300 million for head and neck cancer. What is important is not who is having sex with whom, but the need for that herd immunity. If Australia, Austria, Canada, Israel, Switzerland, the United States and even New Zealand can manage this, then we can, too. To put it simply, it is not fair, ethical, or socially responsible to have a public health policy that leaves 50% of the population vulnerable to HPV and head and neck cancer.
I will be brief. I believe that one of the best uses of time in the future in this Parliament would be a thoughtful consideration of how the devolved Administrations and the UK Parliament can work best together to benefit constituents, particularly constituents in my vast and far-flung part of Scotland.
I shall touch on three subjects this afternoon. I apologise to Members because they have heard me mention them before, but I do feel duty bound to bring them up. The first is broadband. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) was quite correct to raise the issues in his own constituency, but, clearly, when someone is dealing with distances as vast as mine, the matter presents particular challenges. In the past, not so very long ago, we saw a bit of backwards and forwards between hon. Members on both sides of this Chamber about whose fault this is. I do not want to get into that, but it does seem to me that, if one could have a get together, a meeting of minds between both levels of government, perhaps we could work together to tackle the issue.
As everyone in this Chamber knows, I am a remainer. Whatever form Brexit Britain takes, we will absolutely need connectivity in the future if we are to compete in a world market. I hope that we can all accept that. Equally, I have mentioned universal credit many times in this Chamber, but the problem that universal credit presents to my constituents is that many of them cannot go online to access it. That is enough said on broadband.
In the north of my constituency is the former nuclear power station, Dounreay, which is being decommissioned. We have a skills base there which is second to none. The challenge for me and for everyone who cares about employment in the far north of Scotland is to see how to utilise those skills in the future in that area. At the Scottish Government level, we have the Highlands and Islands Enterprise trying to encourage development, but we also have the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is very much a function of Westminster. The more joined up—I know that it is a clichéd phrase—that we can be, the more I can say to the working people of Caithness that we are doing our very best to look to their future to see what we can do.
The temptation for me here in this Chamber is to go down the health route. I am sure that Members of the Scottish National party would yawn if I did that, but I will not do so because I have already covered the subject in some detail. However, what I do want to mention is energy and the production of energy. Today, I have received a letter from a constituent, Mr Murray Threipland, who owns and runs a business in Caithness, Dunbeath Engineering. He has recently got planning permission to build a turbine, which will cost him just short of half a million pounds. That is great; he has got the go-ahead. However, due to problems with the local electricity grid, he cannot export the surplus energy that he is going to make. He is faced with buying a large number of electric heaters and, at night time when he does not need the surplus energy, heating up the night air of Caithness. A nice idea, people may think—it might help get rid of the midges or keep the odd poacher warm, but it does not achieve much else.
We need energy in this country. We need to make as much energy as we can and to do it as efficiently as we can. Again, a joined-up view of government both north and south of the border would be hugely helpful. I take the view—perhaps in slight contradiction to other colleagues here—that the UK is here to stay. Things such as broadband and energy do not respect national boundaries; they are for the good of the UK. The same goes for how we decommission nuclear sites, how we use the skills and how we approach the future.
That is really all I have to say, except, like others, I should like to thank people for all that has been done in this place. I am no longer a new Member—I have been here for six months—and want to say something that is personal to me. I have been touched by the kindness, support and advice that I have received from all parts and all parties of this Chamber. How this place works strikes me as being very, very special, and I am deeply grateful for it.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I wish the merriest Christmas to Mr Speaker, you and all the other Deputy Speakers, every Member in this House and in the other place as well—not that I frequent it very often—and everyone who works here? Thank you.
Happy Christmas everyone, especially to my friend the hon. and brave Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who sometimes speaks in such debates on the subject of hysteroscopy procedures, which far too many women have had to undergo without pain relief. I wish to put on record my full support for her campaign to sort that out.
Personally, I would like today to raise the matter of central Government funding on behalf of my constituency, Beckenham. We live in the London Borough of Bromley, which is represented in this place by three Tories and one Labour MP. In 2017-18, Bromley had the fifth smallest settlement funding of the 32 London boroughs, but it has the seventh highest population. Actually, Bromley is the largest London borough by geographical size. It also has one of the highest proportions of older people and, most certainly, the most extensive road network. Yet the associated cost implications of these factors are not reflected in our settlement funding, which is the second lowest per head in London, despite which Bromley has dealt with its finances extremely efficiently. Our council tax remains relatively low considering the local services provided and our low central Government funding settlement. But it has not been easy.
Bromley Council has been hugely innovative in tackling its tasks: it has created as low a cost base as possible, pioneering many measures to balance cost, value and outcomes; it has outsourced whenever that makes sense and, within reason, where it gets most efficiency at a low cost; and it has created leisure trusts that work. It does all this by maintaining relentless cost control measures on all its activities. However, most of the cost-saving measures that many other boroughs have yet to take have already been implemented in Bromley. The obvious implication is that there is little scope to achieve many more savings. Our flexibility on further cuts is hugely constrained without reducing our statutory requirements.
Bromley’s core finding has been cut more than the London and England average continuously since 2010. This will have been reduced by 75% in real terms over the decade. By 2020, Bromley’s central Government funding will have been reduced in real terms to a quarter of what it was in 2010, although I accept that it has new methods of raising money. Bromley has managed to generate savings of £90 million since 2010, but, as is obvious, the mid and low-hanging fruit cuts have now been taken. Bromley Council, with reluctance, has no choice but to put its statutory requirements in the firing line.
By 2030, Bromley’s population is expected to increase by considerably more than the national average, but future funding is unfortunately not currently assessed on population growth. Using Greater London Authority central estimates, the population of over-65s in Bromley is expected to increase by about 44% between 2017 and 2037, and the population of over-90s is expected to increase by 123%, with an overall population increase in Bromley of 18% during that period. Surely, that must be considered when looking at central Government funding.
It is now widely recognised that, in all areas of England, there is an urgent need for a fairer system of central Government funding. It seems that decisions on this issue may be delayed until 2020 or 2021. In the meantime, Bromley could be punished for being an ultra-efficient council. That is not only unfair but wrong.
For their part, councillors in Bromley feel that our efforts at keeping costs down and making efficiencies are largely unrecognised by the Government. The efficient running of local government should be encouraged, not penalised, so I ask the Government to reconsider the situation in Bromley, recognise what has been achieved and ensure that the borough is properly supported in the interim with another transitional grant of the kind the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has previously provided to help us out.
I repeat: happy Christmas to everyone—in this Chamber and throughout the land.
As is customary, I wish everyone in the House a happy Christmas.
I want to raise an unseasonal tale of big infrastructure and small business, which affects the Park Royal chunk of my constituency. Park Royal was once Europe’s largest industrial estate. They built things such as planes for both world wars and munitions; the Heinz factory was there, and Guinness emanated from Park Royal, but now Park Royal finds itself on the receiving end of the heavy-handed High Speed 2—that is the big infrastructure. In Ealing Central and Acton, we are blessed: we have a lot of these big infrastructure projects. The planes going to Heathrow fly over us—we are on the flight path. Crossrail is coming to link east and west to our part of the world, and there is also HS2.
However, in this season of good will and good faith—I voted in good faith for the HS2 project, and I like the idea of high-speed rail, connectivity and all those things—a bunch of small businesses in the Park Royal industrial estate feel that they have been shafted. Sorry, that is perhaps unparliamentary language; these businesses have been ill treated by HS2—at this time of year—and they wanted me to raise their plight.
I am doing that in this forum because, talking of good will, Robert Goodwill—sorry, I cannot remember his constituency.
That’s it. He’s a good Yorkshireman, isn’t he?
I remember raising HS2 issues with the hon. Gentleman in the House, and it worked for a time, so I want to see whether it will work again. In 2016, when he was the Minister for rail—he is now the children’s Minister—he came to Park Royal. I asked him to see for himself what was going on.
Park Royal used to be a place of big businesses; now, the businesses are much smaller. We have Mediterranean food manufacturers, prop hire, laundries and all sorts of small family businesses, so families, livelihoods and that sort of thing depend on the area. Park Royal has been named in The Independent as a sort of mini-Beirut, which sounds quite scary, but a lot of middle eastern food manufacturers come from the area. If Members have Baklava in a west end restaurant, it is likely to have been made in my constituency.
A number of these small companies were initially told that when the HS2 project happened, they would be given six months to relocate. There was no assurance about when that would happen, and these companies are having compulsory purchase orders put on them. So the Minister came with me, and we saw that assurances were received that people would have a relocation grant and be given good time in which to get their businesses up and running again. One of the companies is a prop hire business—probably no one in this House has ever been to one of those. It covers acres and acres, and has vintage telephones, whalebone corsets, ’70s cereal packets and all sorts of things, and it is not easy to relocate those things. Superhire props is the business I am thinking of.
The Minister said there would be a £250,000 disturbance payment, which is a strange phrase describing what happens when someone is forcibly moved elsewhere. However, these payments have not been forthcoming. The thing is that HS2 is very clever: it can operate within the letter of the law, and we are talking about assurances, not legally binding guarantees.
Three hundred employees and their families have written to me. They are facing Christmas with a very uncertain future, because they are about to be CPO’d on 10 January. Some of them have two premises now, so they are paying for two lots of rent, leases and staff. One of them was on BBC London recently. The workers have downed tools and gone because they are not being paid since the advance payment from HS2 has not been forthcoming. When the ghost of Christmas past—the Minister—came to visit and saw what was happening, he gave those promises in good faith, I believe.
Something has gone wrong with HS2. It seems to be haemorrhaging CEOs, and the project has run over time and over budget. Hon. Friends whose constituencies are further into London—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq)—opposed it. I did not, but I am losing patience with HS2.
There is also what HS2 does to residents. Three roads in my constituency—Shaftesbury Gardens, Midland Terrace and Wells House Road—face 10 years of works 24/7. Imagine a child born now getting to its 10th birthday and only knowing living on a building site! The only assurance that these residents have been given is for secondary glazing on one side of one of those roads. That is just not good enough.
When I raised this with the Secretary of State for Transport, he said, “My door is always open.” I have written letters and submitted written questions, but I feel a bit like I am banging my head against a brick wall. When we had the initial chink of light after I raised this with the Minister, I saw that it worked to raise these matters in this House, so that is why I am trying again.
It seems as though people are negotiating a Kafkaesque web of bureaucracy in order to get these payments. For a big business with a turnover in the millions, £250,000 is a drop in the ocean. The relocation costs will be much more than that. They feel that the number of hoops they have had to jump through is insupportable.
Old Oak, which Park Royal feeds into, has been identified by the Mayor of London as a super-development opportunity area. There will be 26,000 new dwellings and two tube stations, as well as Crossrail and HS2. There is a lot of promise there. The marketing spiel says that it will be an incubator for new business, but the old businesses that have been built up over years—family businesses—are facing a very bleak Christmas this year.
HS2’s mission statement says that it will give
“sufficient liquidity…to be able to make satisfactory arrangements for relocation”.
That is not the approach that is being taken. This is undermining public confidence in the project. I have been voting for it and trying to defend it, but my local residents and businesses have had enough of HS2.
It is very disappointing that this has come at this time of year. As I say, assurances are only assurances—they are not legally enforceable. They are not worth the paper they are written on, quite frankly. As for Christmas future, I hope that in the new year, which is only next week, we will have better news for the businesses and residents who feel that they have been done over by HS2.
Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, there are a number of points that I wish to raise.
A constituent of mine, a former model, Carla Cressy, suffers from endometriosis. The condition was diagnosed in January 2016. She is doing everything she can to launch a campaign to make 14 to 18-year-old girls aware of this disease. I am going to do everything I possibly can to help her to raise awareness.
We have debated the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign and the WASPI women time after time in this House. I am still getting many letters from constituents who claim that they were not made aware of the changes. I know that this will be a difficult one for the Government, but I really do think that we will have to look at this situation again.
In November, I met the Institute of Fundraising. We have many wonderful charities in Southend West, and they brought to my attention the potential difficulties posed to them by the Data Protection Bill and the General Data Protection Regulation. This is good law, but it creates a number of difficulties for charities.
In the new year, my party will launch Diversity2Win. I am very honoured to be a patron—together with Baroness Jenkin, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), and the Prime Minister—of this initiative to make our party even more diverse than it is at the moment.
In October, I was very privileged to be present at the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which was received by two magnificent local charities that help people with mental health issues and those in other very difficult situations. I pay tribute to Crossing Boundaries and Growing Together. The voluntary sector thrives in all our constituencies, but particularly in Southend. Southend Association of Voluntary Services is delivering a National Lottery-funded project called Volunteering-on-Sea. It is an exhibition curated by people aged between 10 and 20, and it helps those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Of course, we again had our centenarians’ tea party. It was an absolute privilege to welcome the wonderful gentlemen and ladies who celebrated reaching the age of 100 or more. The Hive enterprise centre is a wonderful project in the centre of the constituency, and it offers state-of-the-art business opportunities.
I raised phone scams recently in the House. I am sick to death of getting calls from people telling me that I have been involved in an accident, and all that nonsense. It really has to be dealt with by the Government.
In 2000, I was very successful in getting on to the statute book a fuel poverty Act. The matter has to be looked at again, so next year I will introduce a new Bill, which I hope will get the House’s support. That aims to bring fuel-poor homes up to Energy Performance Certificate band C by 2030, and to ensure that all homes meet that standard by 2035.
I see that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) is present, and I congratulate Hull on being the city of culture this year. Southend-on-Sea was the alternative city of culture, and it has been an absolutely triumphant year for the town that I am honoured to represent. Our wonderful charity, the Music Man Project, performed at the London Palladium, and in 2019 it will perform at the Royal Albert Hall.
The marvellous British Legion, which celebrates its 80th anniversary, organised a wonderful collection of ceramic poppies that was displayed along the cliffs of Southend. It has been a wonderful year, and the best Christmas present that Southend residents could receive would be for us to be declared a city. I am in discussions with the Minister for the constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), about organising a contest, if there has to be a contest, for city status next year. I think we could have it around the occasion of the royal wedding.
I am very close to the organisation that wants people in Iran to enjoy democracy; that is not the case at the moment. I have lobbied the United Nations and the Nobel peace prize committee, and I also addressed a conference on the issue earlier in this Parliament.
The Southend citizens advice bureau has recently brought to my attention further issues regarding universal credit. These include difficulty in submitting online applications, inaccurate calculations and delays in both the claiming process and payments to constituents.
It has to be explained why petrol prices are going up as quickly as they are at the moment. Something is wrong there.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you were chairing proceedings when we had a debate on stroke. Mechanical thrombectomy is a treatment that I hope will be rolled out throughout the UK. On diabetes, a constituent told me that there is not enough provision in schools to help children who have diabetes.
The University of Essex, which has a campus in Southend, received its highest ever ranking in The Times university guide. Anglia Ruskin University has a wonderful medical centre, which is being developed.
This year, I was privileged to enjoy the very successful event held by Essex Boys and Girls Clubs in Hadleigh Park. I absolutely support the efforts of Project 49, an award-wining service in Southend for adults with learning disabilities. I also support the efforts of those involved in the active ageing community event organised by Southend Older People’s Assembly earlier this year.
This has been a difficult and challenging year for parliamentarians in all sorts of ways, and there has been much sadness. I hope that everyone will focus on something good and positive that has happened in their life. We thank all the staff of this place, who support us. I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as well as Mr Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers, a very happy Christmas and a wonderful and joyous new year.
As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, I often use this debate to talk about women’s health matters in a way that can make grown men wince. I have to say that he and other hon. Members on both sides of the House have been very generous in their support for the hysteroscopy campaign. I am very happy to report that, following a meeting this week with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price)—it was a very good meeting—I really hope some progress can be made. I thank him and others for their support.
Is the progress that the hon. Lady mentions pain-free for ladies who have to undergo this treatment?
The woman Health Minister I met has read the women’s testimonies I presented to her, and she was horrified by them, as the House has been when I have read them out on previous occasions. She and I are very clear that this is about choice—informed choice—and about making sure that women get what they need, rather than what is cheapest. I do not want to put words in her mouth, but I think we are both on the same page, and it was a very happy meeting. I therefore have only three, not four, issues that I want to raise today.
First, NewVIc—Newham Sixth Form College—is a great further education institution that regularly sends more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to university, including to Russell Group universities and Oxbridge, than any other sixth-form college in England. Newham is a massively deprived area, and research tells us that 13 out of 20 children in Newham live in poverty, and that it is currently second worst of all local authorities in England for social mobility. The fact that our young people are doing massively well at our FE institution is therefore testimony to them, their teachers and their parents. However, NewVIc’s budget has been cut by £770 per student, and that includes £200 per student from the deprivation allocation. How on earth can that be justified?
I would be very grateful to the Minister if he liaised with the Department for Education on my behalf to secure a meeting about this with NewVIc and me so that we can help NewVIc to continue to be a much-needed engine of social mobility in my community and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms).
I have had a nod.
My second issue concerns a mental health condition called depersonalisation disorder. At least one of my constituents is a sufferer, and she has asked me to share her story with the House. Since she was 18, my constituent has lived for years in a continuous state of detachment. The world and her own life do not feel real. She lives in a dream, performing actions on autopilot, and she sometimes does not even recognise herself in the mirror. It is terrifying.
The disorder is under-researched and very poorly understood, and it can take eight to 12 years to get the right diagnosis. The consequences of a misdiagnosis can be dreadful, because anti-psychotic, anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications do not help and can make the condition markedly worse. As one sufferer, Sarah, has explained:
“Relationships…lose their essential quality… You know you love your family, but you know it academically—rather than feeling it in the normal way.”
I would genuinely find it very difficult hard to live if I had this disorder; I know I could not do so.
With swift diagnosis and specialist treatment, patients can have a real hope of remission, but existing NHS provision is woefully inadequate. There is only one specialist unit, based at the Maudsley Hospital, and many patients wait years for funding to attend it, while others are refused funding. The service is anyway only for adults, even though the condition typically begins in a person’s early teens. May I ask the Minister for a meeting with the Department of Health to discuss this further? Again, I would be very grateful to him if he helped that request on its way.
Finally, I wish to mention fixed odds betting terminals. As we have established in this debate, without any contradiction, Newham is a borough with high levels of deprivation, yet it also has one of the highest numbers of betting shops in any borough, with 81 in operation, and 12 on one street alone. Newham Council estimates that £20 million of residents’ money was lost to fixed odds betting terminal in just one year. I and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) have called for a reduction of the maximum stake to £2, and I welcome the Government’s consultation on that issue, which rightly suggests that a £2 limit will help to stop problem gambling. Such a limit would be a great, if belated, Christmas present to the children of Newham.
In conclusion, I thank the staff of the House for their unfailing kindness, professionalism, and service to us all. I know I will not be the only person in the Chamber today who is thinking of our Deputy Speaker and sending him our love and prayers. I am also thinking of the family of Jo Cox, Brendan and the children, and about the family of our own PC Keith Palmer, as they face their first Christmas without him. We all know that that will be massively hard.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all hon. Members, the happiest of Christmases, and the very best of new years.
Following what the hon. Lady has just said, the Chairman of Ways and Means is very grateful for all the messages that he has received. Hundreds of Members have sent him very kind messages, and he has found that a great support at this sad and tragic time. I will pass on to him, once again, the good wishes of the whole House.
May I associate myself with your comments, Madam Deputy Speaker, and those of the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown)?
What a fantastic opportunity and innovation these debates are—seven minutes to talk about pretty much anything we would like. I am surprised that the Benches are not overflowing with colleagues, but that leaves more time for the rest of us, so I am pleased. I wish to say two or three things by way of a thank you, then express a concern, and hopefully end on a positive point.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, but it is sad that not many people are here today. The information we had was that this debate was massively over-subscribed. I would like to go back to the old tradition where we had a proper Adjournment debate in which we could properly explore the issues that are important to our constituents, without having to contain that within a four, six or seven-minute speech. I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to say that.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point that I am sure others were listening to.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I heard the representation from the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown)—she is also an hon. Friend. The Backbench Business Committee allocates the time and there were supposed to be three hours for this debate, but unfortunately because of statements our time was compressed. However, I will take that as a representation from the House, so that when the Committee considers the next recess Adjournment debate we can look for a full day’s debate.
I am happy to have facilitated that discussion.
I wish to thank you, Mr Speaker, and your entire team, and indeed everyone who looks after us—and I do mean looks after us—in this place. From security, the cleaners, and those in hospitality, everybody does a very good job and they do not always receive the praise that they deserve. I also wish to thank my family who go through quite an ordeal living with me, particularly given the lifestyle that we all lead, and I thank my constituents for re-electing me this year, for which I am grateful. I am sure I speak on behalf of all hon. Members when I say that although we are grateful to those who voted for us, we also represent those who did not. All Members across the House take that very seriously, and we do our best to represent the breadth of opinion, although that is sometimes overlooked.
I would like to say a special thank you to three people who have inspired me this year. I am very proud to have got to know them very well. Tracey Hemming runs the Freedom Day Centre and the Freedom Disco in my home village of Badsey. What an inspiration she is. She had an idea about 18 months ago to set up an event for disabled children and those with mental health challenges, and she has done the most fantastic job. I have managed to visit her several times. She is an amazing lady and deserves credit. Diane Bennett runs Caring Hands in the Vale, in Evesham, and runs the local food bank. She is an inspirational lady who I have got to know very well. Up in Droitwich, in the northern part of my constituency, a fantastic gentleman called Patrick Davis is doing a great job of reinvigorating salt production in Droitwich. I am very honoured to live in an area where volunteering and community engagement and involvement is at the heart of people’s day-to-day activities. They are very busy with their jobs and families, but the volunteering is incredible. I have never known anywhere—I have lived and worked abroad for many years—with that degree of dedication. It is an honour to be associated with so many of them.
The issue I would like to raise is something we are not seeing in the Chamber today: intolerance. I am increasingly concerned about the intolerance, abuse and intimidation happening at the extreme ends of both the far right and the far left of British politics. It is not representative or reflective of the day-to-day activity in this place, where we generally get along. We have a lot of banter. We disagree, sometimes vehemently, but I think we all know that having strongly held opinions does not necessarily mean that we are right. We have the self-awareness to realise that we can sometimes be persuaded and that the opposition can be right. We know it is perfectly valid and fair to look at the same data points and have different views and opinions on policies that may come out of them. We have those debates in this place all the time.
Unfortunately, the public do not always see that. At the moment, particularly online, we are seeing an era of really disheartening abuse, vitriol and hatred that does not exist in this place. It is, however, the responsibility of us in this place to say loudly and clearly that that is not acceptable in British politics. If it is associated with any of us in any way shape or form, if somebody uses our name, hashtag or Twitter account to make really vile comments, we must stand up and say, “No, not in my name. I distance myself from those comments. I do not want to be associated with them.” We must be active. Yes the social media companies have a lot to answer for and, yes, do we as Members of Parliament, as do those making the vile comments in the first place, but we must stand up and be counted.
The hon. Gentleman should not lose hope. He is right and I absolutely endorse what he says. What we have seen in recent days and weeks has been extremely unpleasant, but three years ago north of the border—I think we can agree on this—it was very bad on both sides of the Scottish independence referendum debate. Since then, however, things have improved and we have worked at it. Progress can be made.
I do indeed have hope, but we have a responsibility to try to lead. It is very unfortunate, but I think we all get people insinuating about our motivations when we disagree on policy. Very occasionally in this place, it is very disheartening, as well as being downright rude, to hear people insinuate that because I am a Tory I must therefore wake up in the morning wanting to hurt poor and disabled people. That is so far from the reality that it is downright offensive and wrong. If anybody believes that, I feel really sorry for them. What kind of mentality must one have to believe the absolute worst of the people one deals with on a day-to-day basis in one’s workplace? That needs to be called out, too. My main concern is not what happens in this place, but what happens online. We really need to work closely to focus on that and I know there is a cross-party consensus.
I said I would end positively. I am very pleased and proud that I am a Member of Parliament for the Conservative party. We do not get everything right, but we listen and we make changes where necessary. I am proud that, for example, we recognised that mistakes had been made with universal credit. We looked at the data, we listened to people—to our constituents, and to other Members of Parliament—and we amended policy. I think that that was right, and I am glad that we did it.
However, we have also got many things right in the first place. I am glad that, as we go into the Christmas period, we are seeing the highest spending ever on the NHS, and more operations than ever are being carried out in the NHS. We are also seeing the highest spending ever on pensions and pensioners, more children in good or outstanding schools than ever before in the nation’s history, and more people than ever before going home with a pay cheque every week and with the decency and honour that comes with earning money. Moreover, unemployment is at a record 45-year low. This has been a difficult and challenging year, but it is not all bad. Let us look at some of the positive developments.
I will play my part in continued cross-party co-operation on all the issues that we care about and our constituents care about, and I look forward to doing that over the next year. In the meantime, I wish a happy Christmas and a happy new year to everyone.
The House will now be treated to a second dose of Gapes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. A merry Christmas to you, to all the Deputy Speakers, to your panel of Chairs and to all the staff of the House. May I also send special best wishes to my friend the Chairman of Ways and Means? I know how hard it is for him at this time.
I am going to concentrate on one issue, and in doing so, I wish a merry Christmas to all the British people living in this country and the 5 million British people who are living in other countries, including 1.2 million in the European Union, because in the last few years we have not given the views and representativeness of those people the weight that they deserve.
In September 2014, the then chairman of the Conservative party pledged to end the 15-year rule applying to the eligibility of British people living overseas to vote in our elections. That commitment was made very firmly. He said:
“Being a British citizen is for life. It gives you the lifelong right to be protected by our military and Foreign Office, and to travel on a British passport. We believe it should also give you the lifelong right to vote.”
The manifesto on which David Cameron and the Conservative party won the 2015 election included that pledge. Subsequently, the Government issued a consultative document, and a commitment to introduce a “votes for life” Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech on 27 May 2015. The Bill did not materialise, but in October 2016 a policy statement was published, setting out how the removal of the 15-year rule would come about. British citizens who had lived in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Estonia, Lithuania or elsewhere in the European Union for more than 15 years were not eligible to vote in the EU referendum. As a result, although their rights had been more affected than those of any other British citizens by the decision made in 2016, they had no say in it.
It is a notable feature of the EU negotiations in which the Government are involved at this moment that, although the rights of EU citizens in this country now seem to be protected, British citizens living in other EU countries will have inferior rights because those rights will exist only in the countries where they are currently resident; the rights will not be passportable because those people will lose the right to freedom of movement between other EU countries. That is a very important point: whereas EU citizens in the UK can move back and go to any other EU country, as things stand, British citizens in the EU will only be able to reside in that particular country and will not have the rights of free movement elsewhere in the EU. That needs to be looked at.
I wish to declare that I am the honorary president of Labour International—at least until Momentum gets rid of me. [Interruption.] I am not joking; it has been suggested. I am speaking because I am aware of the concerns of so many—not just people in the Labour party but Conservatives internationally. Clearly, there was an excuse: we had a general election this year, so the Bill that might have come through from the 2015 election has not been produced. Therefore, I have been pursuing the matter with some questions.
I tabled questions in November asking the Minister for the Cabinet Office
“what plans the Government has to extend the voting rights of UK citizens who are resident overseas in UK elections and referendums”,
“if he will bring forward legislative proposals to guarantee votes for life in UK elections and referendums for all UK citizens living abroad.”
The answers referred me
“to the reply given to the Member for Halifax (Ms Lynch) on Thursday 7 September 2017”.
The answer that my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax received, to a question asked on 4 September, was:
“As outlined in our manifesto, the Government is committed to legislating to scrap the 15-year rule and will do so in time for the next scheduled parliamentary general election in 2022.”
That is not good enough. They were working on a schedule for 2020 and an early general election meant that people could not have a vote in that election. There is absolutely no guarantee in the current political climate that the next general election will be in 2022; it could be before then.
This is not a partisan point; there will be those across the parties who disagree with extending that democratic right to all British people living overseas. But in the modern age, with digital systems of voting, checking or registration, we need to modernise and extend democracy to all those British people, particularly given that we are bringing about significant change not just in this country, but all over the world.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), and I will come on to the point he made a little later in my remarks.
I also extend to all those working on our behalf over Christmas and the new year, whether in the private sector or public services, my grateful thanks. They give up their family time on our behalf. In my constituency of Stafford, I particularly think of the workers at General Electric, some of whom are facing an uncertain future, with a consultation going on over the loss of 500 jobs. I assure them of my commitment to see that, if there are other opportunities locally or regionally, they are made aware of them and that all support possible is given to them.
I want to tackle three subjects, the first of which is health and social care. I have spoken often on this subject, particularly in respect of Stafford Hospital, now County Hospital. It is great to be able to say that the care at County Hospital, formerly the Stafford Hospital, has improved tremendously over the past few years. I pay tribute to the workers there, who have gone through a very difficult period, both at the time of the Francis public inquiry and then at the time of the trust special administration—the only trust special administration under the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend. He has worked tirelessly to sort out that hospital, and he has been a great advocate of getting it fixed.
I am most grateful, but I think my hon. Friend perhaps exaggerates my own part in this. It is really the workforce at the hospital who have done it, but I accept his thanks on behalf of all those at the County hospital and in Stafford who have fought for it.
I want to talk about the forthcoming Green Paper on social care, and my remarks will include both health and social care. It will provide a really important opportunity for us to change things in health and social care for the better and for the long term, but it will need cross-party working. The area of social care and health has been blighted too often by infighting between the parties. We also need to take an integrated approach.
We score highly, internationally, in regard to people’s opinion of their access to good healthcare. In a survey carried out not so long ago, 35% of people in the USA said that they did not have good access to good quality healthcare. In France, the figure was 18%, in Germany it was 15%, and in the UK it was only 4%. That is the glory of our national health service: by and large, it gives people access to high-quality healthcare, whatever their income and wherever they live in the United Kingdom. However, it is also generally accepted that more money is required. I do not have time to go into the detailed figures, but something between 1% and 2% more GDP needs to be spent on health and social care. The question that needs to be asked in our contributions to the Green Paper next year is: how is that money to be raised?
I have always said that we need a ring-fenced health and social care levy, on top of our present budgeted expenditure on health and social care. It needs to be a broad-based levy, and it needs to be income based, so that it is fair across the country and the population. Such a levy would not provide for everything that we need to do, but it would help to ensure that the £10 billion to £20 billion of additional resources that we need to put into the health and social care system as a minimum in the coming years, on top of what we already spend, was available. What is more, I think that it would be accepted by the general population. If the money were ring-fenced for health and social care, they would know that it would be spent on things that they really cared about and needed. Let us not forget that the national health service is one of the biggest sources of cohesion in our country; it is something that we all rely on.
I want briefly to touch on the European Union negotiations, which are incredibly important to all of us. The Prime Minister has said that she wants the best possible deal, and I absolutely support her in that. We need a unique, long-term deal that is the best possible for our jobs and tax revenues, and also for bringing back control to this country in certain areas. The deal must include goods and services—not just goods—and it must be frictionless. It must fully respect the Belfast agreement. It must also respect the people of Gibraltar. It must cover security, aviation, data and many other areas, including agreements with other countries, of which there are dozens.
There has been discussion over whether we should be closer to Norway or Canada—mention has been made of “Canada plus-plus-plus”—but I simply make the observation that geographically, and probably in spirit, we are closer to Norway than to Canada when it comes to this type of agreement. I urge the Government to look closely at that matter. I also suggest that we look at the European Free Trade Association. It is not perfect, and it might not be something for the near term, but I believe that in the medium term we cannot stand on our own. We need to work together with other like-minded nations, which might include Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and perhaps others. When it comes to negotiating agreements and working together on trade, it is better to work with a number of countries rather than just on our own.
We also need to consider the idea of associate European citizenship, on a voluntary basis, for all those United Kingdom citizens who want to retain strong close allegiances with our friends and neighbours in the European Union. It has been raised as a possibility by Guy Verhofstadt in the European Parliament and by others. Let us take it into consideration in the negotiations.
Finally, but in some ways most importantly of all, I want to touch on humanitarian work. There are possibly more refugees across the world now than at any other time since the end of the second world war. Whether from Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Burma or Burundi, there are possibly up to 50 million refugees, not including the people who are suffering within their own countries.
I welcome the recent news about Hodeidah in Yemen, and the fact that the port has been opened up for a minimum of 30 days for humanitarian and relief supplies. I pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government for their work on that, but we must keep an eagle eye on the situation over this Christmas and new year recess. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1.7 million have had to flee their homes this year—more than in any other country in the world—yet it sadly receives hardly a mention in the news and even in this place. Four million people have been displaced, and 7 million people are struggling to feed themselves. In 2018, it is absolutely vital that the UK maintains the work that it is doing all over the world on humanitarian affairs, in which we lead in so many cases. With that, Mr Speaker, I wish you a very happy Christmas.
I am going to start by sounding a bit “Bah, humbug”—I will save my felicitations for the end—but I want to raise an important subject. It relates to the Delegated Legislation Committee that I was in on Tuesday, which was considering both the new date for disclosures about donations to the Northern Ireland parties and treating such donations in the same way as donations to other parties. It is a long-running issue that was first suggested a decade ago, but successive Ministers have kicked the issue down the road over the years.
The revelations about the large donation to the Democratic Unionist party for Brexit campaigning, made from Scotland through Northern Ireland, presumably to avoid the usual reporting restrictions, forced the hand of the current Government, and the secondary legislation that we were considering on Tuesday was presented. That donation was £435,000 from the Constitutional Research Council. The organisation is based in Scotland, but none of us in Scottish politics had heard of it before. However, I note that it has links to the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who I believe received some thousands of pounds on behalf of the European Research Group—the Conservatives’ extreme Brexit wing.
During the proceedings on Tuesday, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), told the Committee that she had consulted the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, as she was obliged to do, and she gave the impression that the commission was in agreement with the Government on the date of commencement. She said:
“I hope that the Committee has found that summary of the provisions helpful. As hon. Members know, the Electoral Commission will be responsible for implementing the arrangements set out in the draft order. The Government have fulfilled our statutory obligation to consult the commission about the draft order; I place on the record my thanks to the commission and its staff for their close co-operation and constructive input into the drafting process.”—[Official Report, Third Delegated Legislation Committee, 19 December 2017; c. 5.]
My office contacted the commission yesterday and was told that it remains of the opinion that the start date for open reporting should be 1 January 2014, rather than the new date of 1 July this year. That is important because the commission still wants the appropriate date to be the one that is in legislation passed by this Parliament. That legislation was intended to normalise the reporting of donations and loans to Northern Irish parties and to make it difficult to channel money secretly into politics.
We are all well aware of the need for transparency in politics and of the need to avoid corruption and to be seen to be avoiding corruption, and we trust the Electoral Commission to do its job and ensure that the rules are followed. Its staff are the experts in this field, and while I am aware that experts are not in favour in some parts of this House, we can surely agree that we should take the advice of the Electoral Commission on matters pertaining to donations and loans to political parties.
It is unfortunate that the Minister gave the impression on Tuesday that she had the commission’s agreement, when it is clear that she did not and does not. I hope that she will take the opportunity to clarify the situation to the House and for the record. Meanwhile, since it is clear that the commission remains opposed to the new date presented in secondary legislation and since the regulations have not yet been presented on the Floor of the House for approval, I wonder whether the Minister might reconsider her position and defer the introduction of these regulations until the Government have had sufficient time to consult properly on the most appropriate date for the proper and full reporting of donations and loans in Northern Ireland to start.
Reporting was originally supposed to start from 2007, and a Government consultation in 2010 showed that more than three quarters of respondents in Northern Ireland wanted it to go ahead, but I am afraid that it was fudged. It was deferred and put back on the shelf, and eventually new legislation, the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, set a new date of 1 January 2014. We should see that date honoured.
I hope that the Minister intends to address the wrongful impression given to the Committee that the commission agreed with the new date and that she will withdraw the regulations presented and take time to undertake a proper and full consultation on them, so that we get a date that satisfies the intent behind the legislation. We must avoid corruption and any danger of leaving the impression that there might be something to hide. It is vital that a debate on this issue be scheduled in the House in the new year.
On that rather sombre note, I would like to wish everyone in the House, all the officers, you, Mr Speaker, and the Deputy Speakers, who have been so helpful to us all throughout the year, “Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ùr”, which is Scottish Gaelic for, “Merry Christmas and happy new year.” I particularly want to send my thoughts and best wishes to the Chairman of Ways and Means. I am fond of the gentleman and was very sad to hear of his difficulties. I wish him and his family all the best.
Thank you very much.
A very experienced Member of Parliament said to me recently that the “MP” at the end of our names does not just mean “Member of Parliament”; it also means “must persevere”. I want to speak in this debate because I want to tell the House again about the contaminated blood scandal, and I will persevere in my view that justice delayed is justice denied.
It was great news on 11 July when the Government announced an inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal, the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. We know that at least 2,400 people have died and that others still live with the effects of HIV, hepatitis C and other viruses they got through contaminated blood products. I put on the record again my personal thanks and the thanks of the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood for the Prime Minister’s decision to hold that public inquiry, as announced on 11 July, but it is now 21 December and sadly we have not seen the public inquiry established, we do not have the name of a chair and we do not even have draft terms of reference for people to be consulted on.
We are in this pickle because, unfortunately, despite the good intentions behind the announcement in July, the Government held on for far too long to the idea that the Department of Health had to lead on the establishment of the inquiry. Despite near unanimity in the community of those affected that the Department, as a party implicated in the scandal, should have nothing to do with the public inquiry, it took until 3 November for the Government to say it would be moved to the Cabinet Office. We welcome that—it is a positive development— but it took far too long. It took the involvement of the former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, to help get the message across to the Government that the Department was not the appropriate body to lead on this.
Many people did not want to get involved with the consultation because the Department of Health was at its centre. The Cabinet Office took control of the inquiry on 3 November, which we welcome, and it said there would be an update before Christmas on what will happen next. We were hopeful that a chair would be announced by today. I find it a little galling that this is the last day before we rise for Christmas and, although a written ministerial statement was on the Order Paper when I looked at 8.30 am, it took until 2.13 pm for us to see exactly what the Government propose.
The Government have now said that they will have a judge-led inquiry, which I understand from the people who engaged with the consultation earlier this year was the wish of the overwhelming number of people. That is positive, but today’s statement gives no indication of when we will get the judge’s name. What concerns me, as I started off by saying, is that people are living today with HIV, hepatitis C and other conditions, and people are dying today because of what happened to them. We are now five and a half months on from that initial positive announcement, but we still cannot see the start of the public inquiry. Can the Minister enlighten us on when in the new year the name might be announced?
In the light of what recently happened with Grenfell—where a judge was appointed and the community raised concerns about not feeling part of the inquiry—whoever leads the inquiry on contaminated blood has to ensure that the families and those affected are at its very heart, feel included and are able to contribute as fully as possible. My only reason for raising that is that the judge-led Penrose inquiry in Scotland did not deliver in the way we wanted for the people of Scotland who have been affected by this scandal. Part of the problem was the judge who was appointed. We need to make sure that whichever judge is appointed has not only the requisite legal and forensic skills to do a good job, but the ability to understand what has happened to the people who have been so badly damaged by the contaminated blood scandal.
We are grateful for the involvement of the former Bishop of Liverpool, Bishop James Jones, in interceding with the Government in the summer on the involvement of the Department of Health. His skill, wisdom, knowledge and ability would be well used in some capacity in the inquiry that we hope will start next year. I hope that the Government will take that on board.
The Government could also take steps now to try to alleviate some of the suffering that this group of people is experiencing. First, the Government have introduced a new financial scheme—not compensation but limited financial support—but the scheme in Scotland is more generous in some regards. I ask the Minister to take it to his colleagues to see whether we can agree to have a scheme in England that is no less generous than the scheme in Scotland, with the anomalies in the English scheme being ironed out.
Secondly, the Government could also take action now so that people affected by the contaminated blood scandal are passported through the benefits system, so that they do not have to have constant assessments for personal independence payment and employment and support allowance, and everything else.
Thirdly, as in the Irish settlement, priority for NHS treatment should be given to people affected by contaminated blood. Again, the Government could introduce that positive measure now.
There are three remaining would-be Back-Bench contributors. The Front-Bench winding-up speeches must begin no later than 4.27 pm. Members can do the arithmetic for themselves.
I commend the perseverance of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) in pursuing this contaminated blood scandal. Like others, Mr Speaker, I wish you and everyone a very happy Christmas, but the topic I wish to raise is a bit less merry.
Jobcentres are evaluated on the basis of benefit off-flow. Plaistow jobcentre, which was, until its closure in October, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who is in her place, had a poor record. A new manager, Tony Sutton, appointed in May 2013, and a new deputy, Nazia Goci, were determined to raise benefit off-flow. A very troubled employee at the jobcentre, a constituent of mine, came to see me in September 2013. She described “awful working conditions”, and “unfair benefit sanctions” harassing people off benefits. I alerted the Department, and a senior official visited the jobcentre in October. I was grateful for that, but I understand that staff were banned from expressing concerns to him. He reported that everything was fine.
I was told that it was common to ask people to sign on for their benefit claim at irregular dates, in the hope they would forget to do so one week and their claim would then be closed; and that advisers were told to sanction a claimant if they called them on their mobile twice and they did not answer. In June 2014, I met for the first time my constituent Nasima Noorani, a personal adviser at Plaistow jobcentre, and Jannat Mirza, a team leader. They had been sacked from Plaistow the month before. A number of former staff there, not those I have mentioned, told me of a practice introduced by the new management. It was designed, in particular, to avoid people reaching 52 weeks in their jobseeker’s allowance claim, because at that point they would have had to be referred to the Work programme. There was immense pressure on staff to stop this happening and to stop referrals taking place. The procedure, which I am told was used repeatedly from mid- 2013, was that as people approached a deadline they would be taken off benefit and paid instead the same amount of cash from the flexible support fund for a couple of weeks, on a pretext—for example, to pay for a travelcard to get to a non-existent job—and then signed back on to JSA again a short time afterwards. Claimants got the same amount of cash and benefit off-flow went up by one.
However, claimants’ housing benefit was affected. One of the people on the receiving end of this, whom I know, complained about it. As a result, Naseema Noorani and Jannat Mirza were sacked. The claimant who complained, and all the staff I have discussed this with, are quite clear that those two employees were not the guilty parties. Naseema Noorani was the adviser who initiated the flexible support fund payment, but she only saw that claimant that morning because a colleague was late. It was made clear by managers that this was what she should do; the FSF payment was specified in a post-it note already on the claimant’s file. Jannat Mirza had no involvement at all. She merely authorised the use of a form for a slightly different purpose from usual. No action was taken against other staff who specified how much should be paid and who authorised the claim; nor against the managers. Naseema Noorani and Jannat Mirza were clearly scapegoats to cover up malpractice by more senior colleagues.
Jannat Mirza, unable to afford representation, lost an unfair dismissal claim. The tribunal seems to have done a cut-and-paste job on the Department for Work and Pensions’ submission, and made no serious attempt to address what had really happened. Naseema Noorani did not even try to claim. Since 2014, nobody has been able to tell me any possible gain from the fraud to the staff who were sacked. Others, however, had a clear career incentive to boost benefit off-flow. I have pursued this for three and a half years. Unable to remedy the injustice—and one of the two women is still out of work after more than three years—I simply want to place on the public record an account of what really happened.
Poorly designed numerical targets gave big incentives to managers, and in this case, as has perhaps occurred in others, they succumbed to temptation to bend the rules for their own advancement. As well as holding the managers to account, Ministers need to reflect on what went wrong and on the very high price paid by wholly blameless employees and large numbers of benefit claimants.
This time last year, my single, a Band Aid cover named “National Living Rage”, rocketed up the Christmas charts, highlighting the plight of workers and the national scandal of low and unfair pay in Britain. There are many matters of sincere importance to be discussed before the forthcoming Adjournment, but this Christmas there are perhaps few as critical, heartbreaking and lamentable as the fact that 128,000 children will wake up homeless on Christmas morning. I cannot help but wonder how closely my two recent Christmas campaigns are linked, because more than half the homeless households in London are in work.
It would take a heart of stone to consider childhood homelessness on any scale to be acceptable. I was simply astonished to hear the Prime Minister seem to justify this crisis in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday by remarking that these children are not rough sleepers. Maybe not, but these children will wake up on Christmas morning in B&Bs, in hostels, or in the heart of a working industrial estate in my own constituency of Mitcham and Morden.
I have not seen children sleeping rough, but I have certainly seen children under the age of 12 in hostels that churches run to keep people off the street. For me, that is the lowest level “roof over head” that there is. It is not a big step away from sleeping on the street.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Consider Sarah’s family, who live in temporary accommodation in Mitcham. They will not have a Christmas dinner because they have no facilities to be able to cook one. They will not have a Christmas tree because their room does not fit anything other than the bed that the four of them share. They will not have any presents because every penny possible is being put aside so that one day they will have enough for the extortionate deposit that is the golden ticket needed to enter the private rented sector. In fact, I will be amazed if Father Christmas is even able to find Sarah’s family, because hers is one of the 22,000 families that have been moved out of their home borough, often without the receiving local authority being made aware of their arrival. When that happens, I am in no doubt that their safety cannot be guaranteed.
Recent freedom of information requests by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England have astonishingly discovered that almost a quarter of temporary accommodation is inspected by local authorities only once tenants have left. Worryingly, nearly two thirds of local authorities said that they did not even seek advice from their safeguarding service when they placed families in B&Bs or temporary accommodation. These are the realities faced by the 79,190 families in temporary accommodation in England today. Of course, those figures do not even account for the 9,000 rough sleepers on the streets of our constituencies, or for the 56% of 16 to 25-year-olds in the UK who say that they have family or friends who have sofa-surfed.
There can be no doubt about the responsibility for the country’s deplorable housing crisis. The report published yesterday by the Public Accounts Committee stated explicitly that the Department for Communities and Local Government has had an “unacceptably complacent” attitude to the reduction of homelessness. The Department’s current plans to tackle the issue were said to address only the tip of the iceberg, and there is an unacceptable shortage of realistic housing options for the homeless. Of course, most of us knew that already.
The last time that the Government target of building 300,000 new homes in one year in England was achieved was almost half a century ago, in 1969. The difference back then was that councils and housing associations were building new homes. But a solution is right here, in our hands: we must give councils the right to build as well as the right to buy. The private sector has never reached, and does not have the inclination to reach, the Government’s targets. For example, last year, only 121,000 permanent dwellings were completed by private companies; meanwhile, just 1,840 were completed by local authorities.
If the Government target of building 300,000 new homes is to be achieved, councils simply have to play their part, which is why I am calling on the Government to grant local authorities the right to build and the right to buy so that housing can be let to families on low incomes at social housing rents. A home to live in should appear on no child’s Christmas wish list. Father Christmas is simply not in a position to influence the budgets of local authorities, but the Government are, and on behalf of the 128,000 homeless children across the country, I sincerely hope that this will be their last Christmas morning without a place to call home.
As always, it is a pleasure to be called to speak. Just as an introduction, let me quickly focus on the real meaning of Christmas. It is about not the actual date, but the remembrance. The very word “Christmas” means a Christ celebration. This is a time that has been set aside for people around the world to remember the fact that Christ gave up his divinity to come to earth in human frailty as a baby, to grow up tempted and tested, as each and every one of us has been, and ultimately to be the key part in God’s plan of salvation for every person on this planet through his death and resurrection. There is no point in Christmas if we do not have an Easter, and I am very pleased to celebrate them both.
This is a time when people of every nation, tribe and tongue have time to recognise not a date, but a promise fulfilled; not a time of birth, but an offer of a new birth to all who believe and accept Christ; not a birth certificate, but a plan from a loving God to a most beloved people. That is what Christmas is really all about. I love Christmas as a time to remember what the Lord did for us. I know that Christians throughout the world are joining me and others to thank God for the real meaning of Christmas.
At this time of year, we must also remember those across the world who, due to persecution and deliberate verbal and physical abuse, cannot go to their church and worship God as we can. I urge people inside and outside this House to pray for those people and to keep them very much in their thoughts.
In the short time that I have, I will mention a scripture text that I received, “Labour for the night cometh”. I thought very much about what I wanted to say. I know others have talked about this, but I very quickly want to focus on the volunteers and say a most sincere thank you to the people in our communities who work day and night, week day and weekend, sacrificing themselves nine-to-five, indeed a lot more, to provide help and assistance to people throughout the UK. They will not be able to spend the whole day at Christmas with their family, as they will be taking care of other people’s families. I am also thinking of NHS staff, healthcare staff, auxiliaries, porters, cleaning staff, GP services, lab technicians, and members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the police services, and the intelligence agencies. They do not sleep in their beds so that we can sleep in ours. I am also thinking of the fire service, the prison officers and all the staff in the road services. There are also those in uniform, whether in the Royal Navy, the Army or the Air Force. People posted in other parts of the world will not be close to their families. We should take a moment to think of all of them.
I also wanted to take this time to highlight the fact that our nation would not work the way that it does without the help and support of the literal army of volunteers who daily give their time and energy to make a difference and help people throughout this land. We simply could not live our life without them.
We live in a nation of givers: people who give charitably and generously throughout the whole year. It always makes me feel very, very proud to be British when I think about our giving mentality. I know that people in Northern Ireland perhaps give above the national average, but everybody, in all regions of the United Kingdom, gives and we should keep that in mind.
I am also very conscious of the fact that I should mention a few charities. I do not have time to go through them all, but let me mention very quickly the food banks and the people who work for them. There are 1,235 Trussell Trust food banks and 700 independent food banks. Staggeringly, volunteers do almost 3 million hours of unpaid work each year. That is equivalent to a basic wage of some £22 million. That is what the volunteers in the food banks do for us. We should consider that, as well as having this mainly volunteer-based support, this one sector has thousands who donate to food banks to help people in their communities. We all make a contribution to that.
At this Christmas time, I want to express my sincere thanks to all those who, throughout the year, have volunteered and helped out in churches and community groups in my constituency of Strangford and in the rest of our great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Our society simply would not work without people going out of their way to help others. That selflessness is so clear at Christmas as we hear of people donating to the food banks, of churches providing gifts, of people carol singing to the elderly and of people inviting neighbours and relatives to eat with them.
Christmas is very much about families. Mr Speaker, you will have your family with you at Christmas time, and I wish you every enjoyment with that. All of us will hopefully have our families around us as well, but there are those who do not have families, and we should be ever mindful of them.
I offer my most sincere thanks to everyone who has played a part in making someone’s life better this year—whether that is the Salvation Army helping individuals or the homelessness organisations that hon. Members have mentioned. We all have a focus on people, because we all try to work on behalf of our constituents.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your patience with us all in this House. It is quite something. I know that I have said this many times, but I do say it with sincerity. In fact, you probably show more patience to me than to anybody else. Next year, I am really going to try not to use the word “you”. I will endeavour to make that happen; it has only taken me seven years to remember and I will try to remember it in the year to come, if we are spared.
As other hon. Members have said, the right hon. Member for Chorley (Mr Hoyle) is very much in our thoughts. We keep his family very much in our minds and our prayers at this time.
I thank the other Deputy Speakers, who—like you, Mr Speaker—treat us very fairly, with so much patience and kindness. Mr Speaker, you are very much a champion of the Back Bencher. As a Back Bencher who has no aspirations to be anything other than a Back Bencher, I particularly enjoy the opportunity to participate in the debates in this House.
I thank the Hansard staff, who have been able to understand my accent and my Ulster-Scotsisms, which have actually been quite challenging for me at times, so they must be much more challenging for anybody else. I also thank all the staff, including security, who look after us in the House.
I hope that all hon. and right hon. Members in this House, Her Majesty, the Prime Minister, Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. I also publicly wish my constituents in Strangford, who I have the privilege to represent, a merry Christmas, and a happy and blessed new year.
The hon. Gentleman has spoken in the spirit that we have come to expect from him, and it is hugely appreciated.
What a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has been a real source of encouragement in his fellowship to me since I joined the House; I pay tribute to him.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate before the Christmas adjournment. Before doing so, I would like to express my best wishes to the whole House, particularly the staff of the House, who have been incredibly welcoming to new Members. I hope they have a very happy and peaceful Christmas.
When I volunteered to sum up this debate for the Scottish National party, I was not quite aware of what I was letting myself in for. We have heard 16 Back-Bench contributions, from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Keighley (John Grogan), for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), for Southend West (Sir David Amess), for West Ham (Lyn Brown), for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and, of course, for Strangford (Jim Shannon). This has been the most wide-ranging debate that I have ever seen in this House. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Southend West, who managed to get 25 or 26 different topics into six and a half minutes, which will be a real challenge for me next year.
I also place on the record my sincere thanks to my constituency staff—Derec, Carolann, Emily, Ross, Laura, David and Michelle—for all their hard work since my election in June. Their support has been invaluable and I am truly indebted to them.
Mr Speaker, the turn of the year is normally an opportunity for us to reflect on the year just past. However, with your indulgence, I want to look forward to 2018, particularly to some of the major challenges coming down the track for my city of Glasgow. On Friday last week, I had a meeting with Easterhouse Housing and Regeneration Alliance, which is a coalition of eight independent, community-based social housing providers in Greater Easterhouse. Before going any further, I pay tribute to the staff and directors of those eight housing associations, because our housing associations in the east end of Glasgow are more than just that: they are the backbone of the community, and go well above and beyond the role of a registered social landlord. It is important that that point is placed on the record and that our sincere thanks are expressed to all housing associations, which are so often the glue that holds our community together.
When I met EHRA staff last week, they expressed some serious concerns about changes emanating from the Department for Work and Pensions next year that will, quite frankly, be a hammer blow to the city of Glasgow—and a double blow at that. Ministers have already signalled their intention to close half of Glasgow’s jobcentres, with three out of the four jobcentres in Glasgow’s east end due for the axe. As is stands, jobcentres in Easterhouse and Parkhead, as well as in Bridgeton, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), will all be closed and relocated to Shettleston. Nowhere in the UK is being as disproportionately impacted by jobcentre closures as Glasgow’s east end—an area that has an unemployment rate double the UK national average.
I am afraid that, despite countless written questions, correspondence and a face-to-face meeting at Caxton House, the Employment Minister has repeatedly failed to take account of the profound concerns expressed by myself and the whole community in Glasgow’s east end. That includes our three east end Tory councillors, who also oppose these closures.
As my hon. Friend says, the jobcentre closures are affecting the whole city of Glasgow. Is he particularly concerned, as I am, that Ministers have not been very reassuring on whether this will be the last round of closures, and that there is a real risk that, further down the road, the city could lose even more of its jobcentre provision?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right. The fact that Ministers have not clarified that point should be sounding alarm bells in our city, and I very much join him in expressing that concern.
However, it is not too late for the Government to drop these plans. They should conduct a full equality impact assessment. When they do, they will see for themselves the profound challenges posed by sanctions, poor transport connections and the deep-rooted issues of territorialism and gang violence that still exist in our city.
The second issue of concern expressed to me by the EHRA relates to universal credit. The social destruction that is universal credit is due to be unleashed on Glasgow next year, and it is crystal clear from the debates we have had in the House that it is simply not working. More than that, it is fundamentally flawed, and the tweaking around the edges that we saw during the Budget simply is not enough. Major concerns still exist—among not just politicians on both sides of the House but housing associations in the third sector—as to how universal credit is due to be rolled out, particularly in Glasgow.
Every day, evidence is mounting that universal credit is creating social destruction as it continues to roll out across these islands. The reduction from six weeks to five weeks, although welcome, is not enough. The wait for the first payment of universal credit is pushing people into rent arrears, debt and crisis, and we know that 25% of claimants are even waiting longer than six weeks—and that is according to the Department for Work and Pensions.
I am afraid that the manner in which the Tories have rolled out universal credit is completely opposed to their stated intention of making it mirror a salary. The refusal to halt the roll-out is nothing more than arrogance, and we see that the Conservative party is wedded to this ideological flagship welfare cut, despite the misery it is causing in our local communities.
Citizens Advice Scotland has said that evidence from five bureaux in areas where universal credit has been fully rolled out has shown an average 15% rise in rent arrears issues, compared with a national decrease of 2%, and an 87% increase in crisis grant issues, compared with a national increase of 9%. Citizens Advice Scotland has also analysed over 52,000 cases it has seen and has concluded that those on universal credit would, on average, appear to have less than £4 per month left to pay all their creditors after they have paid essential living costs—that is not something we should be condoning in the House.
Finally, the Trussell Trust has reported seeing a 17% increase in food bank usage in areas of full universal credit roll-out—more than double the national average. My own local food bank—Glasgow NE Foodbank, run by Tara Maguire—is already at breaking point. The full universal credit roll-out in Glasgow could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That is why I am very much calling today for the roll-out of universal credit to be halted and abandoned entirely in Glasgow.
If there is one thing I have learned in my time in this House, it is that the Government have difficulty listening. We see that with Opposition day debates and with the power grab they are trying with the Brexit Bill. So if I may, I would, in the spirit of Christmas, urge Ministers to come back to the House with a new year’s resolution to listen and to act in the interests of our communities. They can start doing that by abandoning the proposed closure of Glasgow’s jobcentres and halting the universal credit roll-out in Glasgow.
I did promise the House brevity, as I am aware that colleagues will want to return to their constituencies and families for Christmas and, indeed, to start some Christmas shopping—those of us who have not managed it. I spotted some Ministers in the House of Commons shop this morning, so I know we are all a little behind.
With the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Trade Secretary and the Business Secretary all in Poland, and with the First Secretary resigning, I wonder whether my opposite number, the Deputy Leader of the House, feels that he is here starring in the remake of “Home Alone” this Christmas. I enjoy working opposite him; he has been very supportive. I wish him well in his endeavours. I think the Government are in safe hands with him in the coming weeks.
Brexit is the biggest issue of our time, and it is right that we have concentrated so much of our time in this place on that subject. We have had over 64 hours of debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Over 300 amendments have been tabled and there have been 14 reports by 10 different Committees. There have been 43 votes in total, and we have won one—but a very important one. As many colleagues have said previously—you have endorsed this, Mr Speaker—it is crucial to the functioning of our parliamentary democracy that all Members vote according to their judgment of the best interests of their constituents. The outcome on amendment 7 has therefore been reassuring for all democrats.
I would never have thought that I would be pleased to be surrounded by so many eminent lawyers and scholars of “Erskine May” in the past few weeks, but it has been very interesting. I have found it quite a treat to witness colleagues pursue so ingeniously every legislative avenue to take back control to this place. I have learned a lot. I have learned about Humble Addresses, and I am now almost clear on the difference between a sectoral analysis and an impact assessment.
You could make a lot of money out of that.
I could have done if I had chosen a different career.
We owe many right hon. and hon. Members who have pored over every detail of the Bill, their advisers, and, indeed, the Clerks of this House a huge debt of gratitude. I sincerely hope that they have some lighter reading over the Christmas period.
While we have been talking a lot about Brexit, Members have participated in debates on other really important subjects here and in Westminster Hall. We have heard from colleagues, particularly here, about the roll-out of universal credit, which has been discussed again this afternoon. This policy is having a huge impact on families struggling to make ends meet, whom we particularly think about over this Christmas period. All of us, regardless of party, have a huge number of constituents who are affected. I know that my colleagues will share a commitment to do all we can to help mitigate the impact of this when the House returns in the new year.
During this interesting debate, many hon. Members have raised issues close to their own hearts and their own constituencies. It has been a fairly sombre debate with so many important issues being raised. It has illustrated the fact that regardless of which side of the House we sit on, our constituents often face the same issues, and we do share work and support each other across the House to make things better for people.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (John Grogan), the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and finally—well volunteered—the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden): they should have told you what you were letting yourself in for.
We have heard about a huge range of subjects. I did not know that it is the 50th anniversary of Crisis, which the hon. Member for Harrow East talked about. The theme of transport occupied my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley and for Ealing Central and Acton. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley made an excellent point on behalf of sports fans, workers, shoppers and theatre-goers travelling on Boxing day. Like me, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton is well advised on transport matters by a son who is very keen on these subjects. She made a good point about the impact of welcome infrastructure projects on her constituency with regard to HS2, and the importance of small businesses.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham again demonstrated the range of passionate campaigns that she has pursued in this place. She is held in huge respect across the House for that work. We heard about three of the campaigns that she will be pursuing. She has already managed to elicit some response from the Government Front Bench on that work.
I first heard my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South speak at a Labour party event when I was a young child in the late 1980s—he talked about defence and international affairs and was hugely impressive. He is hugely knowledgeable on these subjects. Today he spoke, again with great passion, about British citizens here and abroad. Long may he continue to do so, on behalf of the people of Ilford South.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North is the embodiment of the phrase “must persevere”. I remember being here to hear the good news that she shared about the campaign in July, and I am shocked to hear that she has had to pursue the work down every single avenue. As she said eloquently, she will persist on behalf of those families.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham—he is very knowledgeable, and I always listen attentively when he talks about these matters—raised some terrible accounts of activities that are going on in Plaistow jobcentre. I know that he will pursue the matter with Ministers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden reminded us of the production last year of her record, which we all very much enjoyed. She is pursuing relentlessly another Christmas campaign on behalf of homeless children, for whom she has been working so hard. She is another dedicated campaigner, who has been a constant source of good advice and support to me and to many other hon. Members.
I am sure everyone will join me in thanking all those across the country who, despite enormous pressure on local services, continue to work so hard over this period to provide the vital services that our communities need. To our servicemen and women, to those who keep our public places clean and to all public servants I express heartfelt thanks for all that they do. If I may, I would like to touch on my own constituency, Bristol South, and pay tribute to all the GP surgeries and to the staff at South Bristol Community Hospital, who will be providing vital care to people over this period.
In keeping with the Christmas tradition, let me say that the red, red robin keeps bob, bob, bobbing along, and I take this opportunity to say well done to Bristol City on their 2-1 win last night against Manchester United at Ashton Gate. Never have I met so many fans of not wanting Manchester United to win as I did in the Lobbies last night. I am not a regular football fan, although I enjoy going to the occasional game and watching. But I work very closely with the club, which is based in my constituency and which makes a huge contribution to the local community. We have heard about how many other football clubs across the country do similar work. Well done to Bristol City, and I hope that they have some rest over the period before the next game with Manchester City. It is a shame that the draw did not turn out differently, Mr Speaker, because I would have enjoyed welcoming you back to Bristol South to watch the game if Arsenal had been drawn.
I am looking forward to spending some family time in Bristol, and I am sure that my family will be pleased to see me. As the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said, this job is not easy, and our families support us very well. I hope that many hon. Members will have time with their families. I will be catching up with “The Crown”. I am a huge fan of the series, and I am hoping that I might be able to polish my accent a little bit by the end of it. I am hoping to catch up with “The Last Jedi”, which I have not seen yet. If any hon. Members have not seen “Paddington 2”, I would thoroughly recommend it. It carries some heart-warming messages about the importance of being an inclusive and caring society that we could all take away with us.
Bristolians will have the opportunity to visit my constituency to watch “Beauty and the Beast”, which is being performed in the Tobacco Factory theatre. It is a reminder that in the often cruel times in which we live, beauty and, indeed, beastliness are only skin deep. On that note, I wish all my colleagues, and colleagues from across the House, a safe, happy and peaceful Christmas. I look forward to continuing to work with them all in the new year and, of course, welcoming in a new Labour Government.
The hon. Lady’s speech was going so well until that last point; I really do not think that that is likely to happen.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments. She started by mentioning how many Ministers from Her Majesty’s Government were abroad in Poland at the moment. May I assure the House—and you, Mr Speaker—that I am not the only one left, as you can see from the Front Bench? I think the stock markets may still be open, so I do not want to alarm them. I am not in charge.
I hear shouts of “Shame” from behind me. They will no doubt be kindly noted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) spoke as passionately as ever about his constituency. Before doing so, he made reference to the right hon. Member for Chorley (Mr Hoyle), who is the Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker of this House, and the tragedy that has befallen him. Our hearts go out to the right hon. Gentleman—our friend—at this time of tragedy.
My hon. Friend referred to his work on the Homelessness Reduction Act, which is soon to come into force; it will do so on, I think, 1 April next year. He mentioned that it is the longest and most expensive private Member’s Bill ever, which is impressive, but what is important is what he has achieved, and that wonderful achievement recognises that we all have an interest in reducing homelessness.
My hon. Friend also spoke about events in his constituency and organisations such as Mencap, the body encouraging children and young people to work on computer code and the charity Crisis. I know that he is referred to by the Hindu community in his constituency as Bobbhai, a term of affection, and he is recognised throughout his constituency of Harrow East as a representative of all his constituents.
The hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan) spoke about the train service, or the lack thereof, on Boxing day. He also spoke about his sports teams; he wished them well, and we join him in doing so. A number of constituency Members will no doubt recognise the issue of the absence of train services on Boxing day, and I am sure he will pursue it. He finished by mentioning a horse race in his constituency, the King George VI chase, which takes place on that day. He will no doubt be there to enjoy that race; at least, I am making such an assumption.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) made a passionate speech about the HPV vaccination for boys as well as for girls. He clearly speaks with considerable expertise, given his dental background, and he made a powerful case. I have no doubt that he will want to raise this matter with the Health Secretary. What he said was clearly well informed. I can say that, since 2010, survival rates for cancer have increased year on year, and it is true that the statisticians have calculated that some 7,000 people are alive today who would not have been alive without those year-on-year increases. There is, however, much more work still to do.
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) spoke about the importance of broadband in his constituency in Scotland. I have to say that, since 2014, the Scottish Government have had the funding, but have not started on this important matter and Scotland has fallen behind England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As a consequence, the next generation of broadband funding will not be going through the Scottish Government. On the local full-fibre networks programme and the 5G programme, the United Kingdom Government will work directly with local councils, because it is very important for broadband to be provided to his constituents and those throughout Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) spoke about settlement funding. He spoke very passionately about the efficiency of Bromley Council, which clearly has a powerful advocate in him. Other organisations, such as our armed forces, also have a very powerful advocate in my hon. and gallant Friend. He is a powerful advocate for his constituency, and he spoke about the efficient running of his local authority. I have no doubt that the Department for Communities and Local Government will have heard what he said.
The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) spoke about HS2 and the Park Royal area in her constituency. She was clear about the value of small businesses, so I know she will want to congratulate the Government on the fact that the United Kingdom has, for the first time, been ranked first in Forbes’s annual survey of the best countries for business. I have looked into the matter she raised about the compensation for small businesses in her area, and I understand that the first date under law for such compensation is 10 January 2018—I have been told that it is on time—and that there are discretionary payments of up to £250,000 to help with cash flow. I have also been told that the Minister for Rail, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), has written to her. The letter has been posted today, so I hope she will receive it soon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) spoke, as he has done previously, about the painful condition of endometriosis. I know that he will continue to highlight that painful condition that affects hundreds of thousands of people around the world, including many in the United Kingdom. He also spoke about Volunteering-on-Sea, an organisation in his constituency that looks after 10 to 20-year-old disadvantaged young people. He said that he had attended an event with a number of centenarians. He still has a long way to go before he becomes a member of that particular club, but I know how well he looks after people of all ages in his constituency. I know he is still keen to see Southend declared a city. He mentioned the pending royal wedding, and I would be remiss if I did not at this point offer congratulations to His Royal Highness Prince Harry, and wish him well for that. As to whether Southend will be a city by that date—well, my hon. Friend will have to consult people other than myself.
I was pleased to hear that the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) had a productive meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), about the painful condition on which she has been passionately campaigning for so long. She has support from across the House on that subject, and I am pleased that the meeting with the Under-Secretary of State went well. She also spoke about the fixed odds betting terminals and machines that are a feature of this day and age, and she will no doubt be pleased that a consultation has been launched by the Government on that issue.
The hon. Lady also focused on depersonalisation disorder, and she knows an individual in her constituency who suffers from that. There will no doubt be many others, and sometimes diagnosis is very slow for that condition. She wishes to meet a Minister from the Department for Health. I am sure that we can help to arrange such a meeting, and if she writes to me we will certainly help in any way we can.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) spoke about volunteering in his constituency. He said that we have seen a prevalence of intolerance in British politics that he thinks is not acceptable—I think we would all agree. As he said, and as I can confirm, most Members across the House are able to chat and disagree professionally, while still getting on well and socialising, and all Members will agree that abuse, threatening behaviour, insulting conduct, leaving coffins outside the offices of MPs, and the like, is to be deprecated in the strongest possible terms. My hon. Friend said that he is proud of the Conservative party. May I just say that the party is proud of him?
The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) spoke about people in the European Union, and elsewhere around the world, who lose their power to vote once they have lived outside the United Kingdom for 15 years. I am pleased that he is in favour of reforming that, but I think it was a previous Labour Government who reduced the level from 20 years to 15 years. I am pleased that he is speaking about the rights of UK citizens living in EU countries, and I have certainly heard Conservative Members speak about that subject repeatedly. As has been agreed, the intention is to scrap that rule before the next scheduled general election in 2022.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) can claim a personal success in his campaign on the hospital in his area, which I know he worked on a great deal. He spoke about the NHS, and like all of us he is so proud of the national health service. According to the Commonwealth Fund, the NHS has been rated the best health service among the 11 developed countries, and that is something of which the NHS, and all its staff, can be very proud. My hon. Friend wants—as do we all—the best possible Brexit deal for this country, and no doubt he and many others will join me in expressing great confidence that the Prime Minister will deliver just that. He also spoke, as he often does and will continue to do, on humanitarian work and the 4 million displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) made allegations that she will no doubt want to raise in the proper place. Members are open to considerable scrutiny and I invite her to declare any information she may have on that subject to the appropriate authorities.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has been a passionate campaigner on the contaminated blood issue. She is to be commended and congratulated on her work. She said that she was grateful to Her Majesty’s Government because in the summer the Prime Minister agreed to hold a public inquiry. There is more to be done. I understand that today’s written ministerial statement indicated that it would be a judge-led inquiry, and that there would be a further statement in the new year regarding the name of the judge and the fuller composition of the inquiry.
The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) spoke about a particular jobcentre issue in his constituency, which was concerning to hear about. I suggest that, if he has not already done so—I suspect he has—he should raise it with the relevant Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions. He made a powerful case, as he often does.
On the issue raised by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), Her Majesty’s Government are dedicating over £1 billion to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, and to support the Homelessness Reduction Act. I am running out of time, but if I may I will just say that 1.1 million additional homes have been delivered since 2010—over 357,000 affordable homes, with 217,000 last year. That is the highest for all but one of the last 30 years. There is more work to do—there always is—but housebuilding starts have increased by more than three quarters since 2009. Over 432,000 households have been helped into home ownership through Government schemes such as Help to Buy and right to buy.
We finished with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who spoke of the true meaning of Christmas. I remember him doing so last year at this time. I thank him for and congratulate him on his work. He spoke passionately about volunteers and the giving mentality, which I know he himself has. He spoke of the wonderful people of Northern Ireland and his constituency. I can absolutely agree with him about that, not least—I should declare an interest—because my mother was born in Northern Ireland. He is a doughty champion in this place for the disadvantaged and dispossessed around the world at this time of year. He is a powerful advocate for those good causes. He spoke of Mr Speaker as the champion of the Back Benchers and I know Back Benchers would certainly agree with that.
May I take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, the Deputy Speakers and the staff of this House for the work they do all year round? I thank not only those who protect the security of this House and serve it in myriad ways, but those who protect the country here in the United Kingdom and around the world. Her Majesty’s armed forces serve around the world, so many will not be with their families over the festive period. I take this opportunity to thank them from the Dispatch Box for their service to this country. I thank everyone here and wish them all a very merry Christmas.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House, the shadow Deputy Leader and all colleagues for their speeches this afternoon and, in particular, for their expressions of gratitude to my colleagues who sit in the Chair and, above all, to all those who serve us in various capacities with great ability and commitment in this House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.