Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.—(Craig Whittaker.)
Before I call the first colleague to speak, I draw it to the House’s attention that a great many people wish to speak, that we have a limited amount of time and that, if colleagues wish to be courteous, it would be helpful if they spoke for no more than seven or seven and a half minutes. If everybody takes about seven minutes, all colleagues will have a chance to make the points that they wish to make. I realise that it is not fair because the first speaker has not had previous warning, but I am sure that he can tailor his remarks accordingly. I call Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I saw the way you looked at me and I realised that I was front gunner on this one. First, I wish you and all colleagues a happy recess.
This debate is always important. It is the one time of the year when Members can say pretty much what we like to try to get the points across. I will try to keep within the time limit, but I will fail dismally. Please forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I appreciate the chance to address the House on a matter of considerable concern to 35,000 of my constituents in West Somerset. Our local district council is in mortal danger. Three years ago, it was lured into a relationship with Taunton Deane. Now West Somerset could lose all its staff, its offices and above all, its pride. The relationship with Taunton is starting to turn abusive. I am sorry to say that that was predictable. Taunton Deane has a very bad reputation. It was always a grubby and unsuitable partner, and it has wanted only one thing. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) is not in her place—I understand that as she has a lot to do. Yesterday, however, she was singing the praises of Taunton Deane at Prime Minister’s questions, including talking about its house building record. There are certainly thousands of houses and plans for thousands more, but there is nothing in the way of infrastructure, schools or surgeries—there are just houses.
Taunton Deane is actually run by a builder, God help us, who offers a friendly nod and a wink to any other builder he knows. Left to his own devices, Councillor Williams would lay concrete all over Somerset. The suspiciously close relationship between the leadership and certain big players in this industry is legendary. When I first mentioned the names Summerfield and John Williams in Parliament some months ago, I got a quick response from both of them. It was a co-ordinated denial; they had obviously talked and responded in unison. Actually, they could almost be brothers with a genuine family connection—perhaps they are. They are certainly brothers in aprons, not that being a mason is a crime.
But it is curious how many big projects in Taunton Deane go Summerfield’s way. It builds a new premises for Taunton Deane’s direct labour force—a nice little earner. The latest wheeze is Nexus 25, next to junction 25 of the M5, designed to be a business park. Summerfield owns the land, which prompts the question: why did it buy it? For years building anything on that side of the M5 has been considered out of bounds; a very small amount of social housing was possible, understandably, but nothing else. Back in 2007 Summerfield bought the social housing arm known as My Home and applied to Taunton Deane to build an estate of affordable houses near Henlade. Then an upright planning officer looked at the plans and put his foot down: “Too big,” he said, “Too many houses. Make it smaller.” Oh dear. Summerfield refused to downscale; instead, it walked away.
It was not until around 2012 that a different housing association secured permission for a smaller development in the same area. But Summerfield probably never surrendered its interests in the land, and recently paid £1 million for a large plot of land near Henlade—which could never, surely, be built upon. It has no obvious access, unless, of course, Summerfield has already taken out options on land that adjoins it. I do not know; I would probably need to talk to a very well-connected land agent to find out. I wonder if, perhaps, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane knows of one.
Anyway, this Summerfield land is surely safe from housing unless a big dual carriageway ever gets built—and, abracadabra, yesterday my hon. Friend was on her feet going all gooey-eyed about the investment in the A358. I know that Highways England has proposed a scheme to upgrade the A358, and I also know that my hon. Friend has been publicly saying that it is the wrong scheme. She also mentioned Taunton’s record on unemployment; actually, it is a record regularly beaten by Sedgemoor. Yesterday the hon. Lady unfortunately failed to tell that to the Prime Minister, but never mind. I have seen the true face of Taunton Deane and its leader, and I do not like what I see. Why West Somerset fell for Councillor Williams and his smooth patter, I will never fully understand.
The leadership of my council would not consider taking help from any of our neighbours, including its nearest, Sedgemoor, which happens to be one of the best run councils in the United Kingdom. Sedgemoor has very healthy finances and would have helped sort out West Somerset’s problems and treated it with the respect my constituents deserve. But the old guard preferred to deal with Taunton. Now West Somerset risks being raped.
“Rape” is a strong word indeed, but it accurately describes what is happening in the relationship with Taunton Deane. The people of West Somerset have not been properly consulted, so Taunton can never claim it has had meaningful consent. Taunton Deane has muscled in like the bully that it is, and West Somerset has had to lie down and submit to a full-blown merger.
West Somerset is, I am proud to say, the smallest authority in England. The council has always found it hard to balance its books, because there are not enough people to pay the bills—I am one of the taxpayers. However, with intelligent planning and skilful cost cutting, West Somerset has made a budget that works—which is a great accolade to some of the councillors. They are on target for the budget to be properly balanced this year and probably next year, too. They do not need an abusive, aggressive partner.
Taunton Deane was—and still is—desperately short of money. It is squandering huge sums on a worthless head office and this week started procuring millions of pounds-worth of new computer equipment. It does not need either. Its mismanagement of money is a standing joke in local government. In the long term, I believe that Taunton Deane wants to get its greedy hands on the Hinkley Point business rates. For West Somerset this is rape followed by robbery, all planned by Taunton’s dodgy leader, Councillor John Williams.
Councillor Williams has a long and undistinguished record for getting everything wrong. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Southwest One, an appalling IT project that cost the taxpayers of Somerset £80 million and saved nothing. The regime he runs smiles on developers and reeks of shady deals. My constituents will not have the wool pulled over their eyes. They are not stupid; they can smell a rat—they know what one looks like, and, if they were given the chance, I am sure they would reject this half-baked scheme.
My hope is that the Secretary of State will opt for a sensible option and allow thorough independent scrutiny by the Boundaries Commission and a proper consultation with the public. My constituents want to keep their council—and so they should.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) and I eagerly want to visit his constituency to meet all these house builders with whom he is in dispute. I do not think they stand much of a chance, being up against the hon. Gentleman.
I welcome the presence on the Labour Front Bench of the new shadow Deputy Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), who will be making her maiden contribution in this debate, and, of course, the ever-present Deputy Leader of the House, who will be winding up. I have to apologise for the fact that, unfortunately, I have an unbreakable commitment in Leicester and might not be able to be here for the winding-up speeches. However, I will read Hansard with great care. I also had no idea I was going to be called so early.
I make no apology for starting this debate by talking about the situation in Yemen. Despite the catastrophic situation within the state, we are currently experiencing an even worse crisis. In the course of Yemen’s civil war there have been well over 10,000 civilian deaths, 19.4 million Yemenis are without access to healthcare, 3 million are now suffering from acute malnutrition, and over 3 million are internally displaced. One child dies every 10 minutes.
Last week the United Nations announced that there were 300,000 cholera cases in Yemen countrywide, in 22 of Yemen’s 23 provinces. If current rates of cholera stay the same, from the time we enter recess to when this House returns on 5 September, up to 225,000 extra cases will be added to that number. The United Nations calls this the worst cholera crisis in the world.
Along with the spread of the disease, there has been the chronic destruction of medical infrastructure caused by the civil war, which has exacerbated the crisis. Despite the assistance given by organisations such as Médecins sans Frontières, Islamic Relief, the Yemen Safe Passage Group, the UNHCR, and the Red Cross, the situation in Yemen is getting much worse. We heard only today that a number of journalists had been prevented from landing in Sana’a.
While we go to our constituencies to do the work that all Members have to do during the recess, we must not forget what is happening in Yemen. I hope that a message from the Front Bench will go back to the Foreign Office that we expect to see Ministers fully engaged in the crisis that continues to unfold.
This week I was elected chair of the new all-party group on immigration and visas, and I am delighted to see the vice-chair of the group here, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I am also very pleased that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) was elected as the secretary. The group’s purpose is to raise, on an all-party basis, issues of concern about the way in which our immigration and visa system operates. We all have critical constituency cases involving people who wish to travel, or whose relatives are not allowed to come into the country. For instance, the wedding of a constituent of mine is taking place at the end of August, but the best man is not being allowed to come here. Trying to convince officials who are thousands of miles away is extremely difficult.
I hope this group will, in a measured way, explore these circumstances, especially the role of the account managers and the issue of same-day service. I have a case of somebody who applied for a same-day visa, paid the fee of £500 on top of the fee of £1,000 for their visa, and six months later the situation has not been resolved. It is important that we look at these issues in a constructive way.
I hope that, over the summer, Ministers in the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Home Office will be trying to fashion a plan for the 3.2 million EU citizens living in the United Kingdom. We have heard the Prime Minister’s welcome assurance that they will be allowed to stay, but the process of issuing the necessary documentation could take a long time. There is now a backlog of 100,000 cases at the Home Office. Some of those citizens arrived here without passports because they could enter the UK with identity cards from EU countries. Getting them processed will be extremely difficult.
I hope that those Ministers will also look into the suggestion of a pilot scheme for allowing EU citizens to register at local level. They could take their passports along to the local authority and get themselves checked and registered. That information could then be handed on to the Home Office. The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), is a former member of the Home Affairs Committee, and he will be well aware of these issues. I hope that he will pass that suggestion on.
I want to make two quick constituency points before I end. The first concerns the continuing campaign being led by Amy Morgan, a young mother in Leicester whose son, Tyler, was stabbed to death a year and a half ago. Another of my constituents, Isaac Williams, was stabbed to death in April this year. We need to do more to tackle knife crime. I introduced a Bill to increase the length of time people spend in prison for carrying a knife. Statistics show a 24% rise in the incidence of knife crime. That is a huge increase, with 12,074 offences and 2,381 detentions last year. Secondly, I am hoping to organise a meeting in my constituency involving those who have control of our theme parks, following the death earlier this year of my 11-year-old constituent, Evha Jannath. It is extremely important that families who visit theme parks should be as safe as possible.
Speaking as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on diabetes, and as someone who has type 2 diabetes, let me end by issuing a challenge to Members. I want to commend the Pioppi diet, and I will write to the 100 Members who have the most diabetics in their constituencies about this. Of course, we all have diabetics in our constituencies, but the Library has provided me with statistics for the top 100. I think that Doncaster might be on that list, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall ask those Members to take up the challenge of the Pioppi diet, which is named after a village in Italy where people live on average to the age of 97 as a result of their Mediterranean diet. It involves getting rid of sugar, which is a killer, keeping away from potatoes—and, for me, rice—and concentrating instead on the good food that is available around the Mediterranean. We have wonderful farms and food makers in this country, but we do not spend enough time looking at what we eat.
We have a diabetes epidemic in the United Kingdom. There are 4 million people with type 2 diabetes in this country, and 500,000 more—some of whom are in this House today—who do not know that they have the condition. My hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is an officer of the APPG, and I am sure that he will be taking up the Pioppi diet challenge—
I know that all Democratic Unionist party Members would like to live to be 97, especially in the current climate.
I will be writing to those 100 Members, urging them to take up that challenge. I want to thank Dr Aseem Malhotra, the world-famous cardiologist, and Donal O’Neill, a renowned film-maker from Ireland, for writing the incredible book, “The Pioppi Diet”. I want everyone to take it up for 28 days in August and to see, when they come back, whether it has made a difference. With that, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to wish you, the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, all Members and all Officers of the House a happy and peaceful recess. We hope that nothing will bring us back during the recess, as has happened in the past. We want a bit of political stability so that we can enjoy our summer.
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, I wish to raise a number of points. Putting it mildly, the general election was not a great success for the party to which I belong. Against that background, there were also terrorist attacks that affected us all, and when we returned here, the Grenfell disaster happened. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) will ensure that the recommendations of the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group on the retrofitting of sprinklers, the reviewing of building regulations and the insistence that sprinklers are put into all new school buildings are acted on.
At the heart of my personal general election campaign was a local row about whether our accident and emergency provision had a future. I told my constituents that, just as I had worked with others 20 years ago to ensure that Basildon A&E did not close, this time I would work to ensure that Southend hospital would not be downgraded. I am pleased to tell the House that at 1 o’clock today, a press release was issued by the Success Regime stating that it was going to develop
“a revised model that would enable all three current A&E departments to continue to treat people who need emergency hospital care, including continuing to receive ‘blue light’ emergency patients with serious conditions.”
I thank all those constituents and others who came to see me in my surgery to make representations about this issue. I know that the news will also please colleagues in neighbouring constituencies. We were pleased to have a visit from the Countess of Wessex to the foetal medicine unit at Southend hospital. That was greatly welcomed.
I have a constituent who is suffering from the effects of asbestos. His health was damaged during his time working for the National Dock Labour Board a long time ago. As his Member of Parliament, I will not give up until we get justice from the board, because his health has been ruined.
Recently a constituent who is a music artist was verbally abused and mugged on a C2C train travelling from West Ham to Leigh-on-Sea. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will make representations to the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that we can have security on local train services.
Another constituent has contacted me about the situation in Venezuela. A Supreme Court ruling in March 2017 saw the Venezuelan Parliament stripped of its democratic powers, and the regime is attempting to introduce a new constitution without consultation. I hope that the House will unite behind the people of Venezuela, whose democracy is being absolutely ruined.
A number of parliamentarians gathered in Paris last month, and we attended a rally hosted by the National Coalition of Resistance to support its leader, Maryam Rajavi, who is asking for justice for the 1988 massacre of Iranian citizens and calling for an end to the ballistic missile programme in Iran. Those are pressing concerns there.
Two months ago, I went on a trip to Switzerland—it seems as though I am travelling the world, Madam Deputy Speaker—where I and other colleagues met representatives of the World Trade Organisation. We learned at first hand how the problems that are being shared among colleagues about the difficulty of our leaving the European Union and being unable to secure good trade deals are a lot of nonsense.
Locally, parents are concerned about primary school catchment areas. I regret the stresses being put on parents at Chalkwell School, in Leigh-on-Sea and in the west Leigh catchment areas. As a Conservative Member of Parliament, I believe that all schools should be able to expand if at all possible, and I hope that the heads and governing bodies will reflect on that. Three wonderful headteachers in Southend are retiring, having dedicated their lives to educating our young people. I pay tribute to Margaret Sullivan of Our Lady of Lourdes, Jenny Davies of Westborough and Margaret Rimmer of our very special Kingsdown School, where the wife of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) is the chair of the governing body.
Yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) urging the Government to fulfil their manifesto promise to lift the 50% admission cap on free faith schools, so that more excellent Catholic schools can develop in our constituencies. I am delighted that we now have a new school run by the Figure of Eight Education which works with local secondary schools to provide individual, personalised education for young people who are under threat of being permanently excluded.
I and other Members are absolutely sickened by the pay of certain senior employees at the BBC. I am absolutely horrified and would be happy to offer my services on a part-time basis to host any number of shows.
I am delighted to say that the Royal British Legion’s “Poppies: Wave” event was a huge success in Southend, with thousands coming to see it. I am also happy to say that Bob O’Leary, the honorary secretary of the local Royal British Legion, successfully applied for heritage lottery funding for a Southend schools festival of remembrance, which will be run by the not-for-profit organisation Blade Education. I know that it will be a great success.
I support local residents who are going to work together to restore our magnificent Grand hotel.
I hope that most people know that Southend is the alternative city of culture. Just before the general election, stilt walkers went non-stop from Southend to No. 10 Downing Street to ask for Southend to be made a city. Why we are not a city already I do not know—it must be an oversight. We had a wonderful fashion show in Priory Park recently, where wonderful models wore garments made from Buckingham Palace’s discarded tablecloths, curtains and so on. Southend carnival will be celebrating an event in August, which coincides with the 125th anniversary of the borough. If any colleagues want something to do, come to Southend-on-Sea.
N-Act, a theatre-in-education organisation, is doing a wonderful job providing interactive tours for schools and using drama to explore current affairs. The Kings Money Advice Centre is doing a wonderful job locally in Southend. Carillion has been responsible for providing about 3,000 people with Warm Front assistance, bringing many of them out of fuel poverty. Seetec is also doing a wonderful job of ensuring that young people in Southend secure suitable employment. The Village Green event in Chalkwell Park was attended by more than 15,000 local residents and was a great success.
Finally, I wish Mr Speaker, the Deputy Speakers, all colleagues and the wonderful staff who work in the House of Commons a great summer rest.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who chairs the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, of which I am the secretary. I am pleased that he managed to mention us in his contribution. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) to her place on the Opposition Front Bench; it is good to see her there this afternoon. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this debate, and I am confident that, like the hon. Member for Southend West, I will be able to finish within the seven-minute limit prescribed by Madam Deputy Speaker earlier. I want to discuss four issues: the Island Health Trust scandal in my constituency; leasehold reform; fire service duties, including approved document B; and the accountability of housing associations and registered social landlords.
Island Health Trust is the landlord for a health centre in my constituency. The trust’s main sources of income are the rent paid by the NHS and service charges paid by the doctors. From that, the Island Health Trust has accumulated a surplus of some £1.3 million. Despite those reserves, the landlord is charging the practice an unaffordable service charge, leading it to vacate the first floor of the health centre and a loss of services. The trust was originally managed by local trustees, and any surplus was used to fund local health initiatives through a modest grants programme. That changed on 1 April 2016 when the chair, Suzanne Goodband, appointed a new board of people with no local connection. Serious allegations have been made relating to the governance and business management of the trust, including trustees’ personal financial advantage. In 2015-16, the chair was paid £179,176 for consultancy services in a charitable trust with a turnover of just £270,000. Many believe that the health centre, the land upon which it stands and the £1.3 million reserves are public assets, that the trust should be run by local trustees, and that the £1.3 million should be invested to support patients and health services for local people. I have written to Health Ministers and to the Charity Commission asking for urgent meetings to discuss intervention to prevent asset stripping and personal profit by individuals who seem to be more interested in their own wellbeing than that of the NHS and local patients.
The Government have been sending some positive signals on leasehold reform. The housing White Paper and the Conservative party manifesto both refer to greater fairness and transparency for leaseholders. In reaction, several housing developers have voluntarily addressed the rip-off known as the doubling of ground rents and, to their credit, have changed their policies, but regulation is still urgently needed in this area. Other areas that need attention include a fairer land valuation tribunal system, rights for leaseholders against exorbitant service charges, events fees, refurbishment costs and so on, protection for pensioners in retirement homes, and protection against unfair forfeiture proceedings for vulnerable leaseholders. Those and many other matters rightly deserve Government action and the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and which now has more than 90 members, will welcome some progress. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s written statement this morning on “Machinery of Government Changes” included moving commonhold law from Ministry of Justice to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which seems a sensible step.
I commend the hon. Member for Worthing West on EDM 207 regarding commonhold reform, and I encourage hon. and right hon. Members from across the House to support it. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), who is the new vice-chair of the APPG. He has submitted a number of searching parliamentary questions on the topic, and his keen interest, along with that of so many other colleagues, is welcome.
Questions have arisen about the accountability of housing associations and registered social landlords. Accountability and transparency in this growing sector are overdue for examination. The Government’s drive towards mergers and takeovers of smaller housing associations is taking social landlords further from their tenants and residents. While there are some good example of RSLs, especially in my constituency, others are not so good, and I hope to secure a debate with other colleagues after the recess to discuss that with Ministers. Perhaps the Backbench Business Committee will be interested in supporting it. As an example of unwelcome new initiatives, I received an email this morning from a constituent saying that one RSL is now offering loans to residents at 99.9% APR. I am unsure whether that is an appropriate thing for RSLs to do and will explore the matter further outside the Chamber, but I would have hoped that social landlords would be more interested in promoting the credit union movement and helping to set up more local credit unions than becoming loan agents.
The review of the building regulations fire guidance contained in approved document B is well overdue, and the hon. Member for Southend West has been campaigning on that with the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group for some time. I will not bore the House with the history of these matters, which is well documented, but ministerial statements from 2011 promised that a review would be complete by 2017. The Lakanal coroner recommended that that happen, and there have also been more recent recommendations. The review will be required whatever the findings of the public inquiry, so the sooner it can be started, the better.
Finally, I repeat my view that the fire service should be tasked with a statutory duty to deal with floods. They play a key role in every flood that happens, and they should not only have their work recognised, but get resources from the Government to do the job properly.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, other colleagues, the staff of the House and those who look after us a very decent break over the recess. We all know that it is not a holiday, but we are entitled to a break.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick)—[Interruption.] Not right honourable? It is only a matter of time. He gave a typically robust and informative speech, demonstrating the value of these types of debates at the end of a parliamentary term. I want to raise several issues relating to aspects of parliamentary work that I have been and will continue to be involved in.
At the end of the previous Parliament, just before the general election, almost the last Act passed was the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which I had the honour of piloting through this House; my hon. Friend Lord Best piloted it through the other place. There are many measures that still require secondary legislation before the Act comes fully into force, which of course will be a revolution in the way homeless people are treated in this country. There is still a lot of work to do, including on statutory instruments that must be put before the House, but I trust that, even with the great repeal Bill and the forthcoming SIs, we will find sufficient time to ensure that the Act is brought to fruition, because many thousands of people up and down this country are desperately awaiting help.
There has been a flurry of annual general meetings of all-party groups in the last few weeks. I will just run through a few of the groups that I am involved with. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) referred to one group of which I succeeded in becoming vice-chair, following a hard-fought election. On the other groups, I am delighted, on behalf of the Action on Smoking and Health group, that the Government have at last announced the tobacco control plan. I congratulate the new Minister for public health, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), on doing something that his three predecessors could not do, namely publishing the plan so that we get control of the tobacco industry, with some very strong targets towards a smoke-free Britain, which will be warmly welcomed by all concerned.
However, there is a deep threat to smoking cessation services across local authorities. Therefore, we should reiterate our call that it is vital that those services continue, and continue to be funded by local authorities. In my own borough, there is a threat to remove funding from the smoking cessation service, despite the fact that in the last four years 1,751 local people have been able to give up smoking. Yet we still have a high prevalence of smoking in my borough and it would not be good enough if the service ceased.
Equally, the all-party group for justice for Equitable Life policyholders met recently. We have 185 members in this House. May I send a strong signal via my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons that we will not cease in our work until justice has been done for every single one of those individuals who suffered from this scam? We are not going away, and we are not happy that there is still a huge sum of money—£2.7 billion—owed to the victims.
The all-party group on Azerbaijan heard of the dreadful attack that took place in the hotly disputed and illegally occupied territory of Nagorno-Karabakh earlier this month. A two-year-old girl and her grandmother were deliberately killed by Armenian forces. The reality is that that is a war crime, which needs to be thoroughly investigated by the authorities, and the perpetrators should be brought to justice in front of the International Criminal Court.
There are several other issues that the Government need to bear in mind. The UN’s Human Rights Council will meet from 11 to 29 September, shortly after we return to this House. There are a number of issues for it to consider. I have mentioned Azerbaijan, but there is also the issue of justice for Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the absolutely outrageous and disgraceful genocide of political prisoners in Iran in 1998, which needs a thorough international investigation. I hope that there will be a debate in Government time before the UN’s HRC meets on the UK’s priorities for that particular body and its work, because we need to spread our message that human rights are vital. Under the last Government, it took six months for the Joint Committee on Human Rights to be set up in this House. It is a Government-appointed Committee and it is vital that it starts its work very soon and very quickly on an all-party basis.
When we come back after the recess, there will be an ongoing consultation—the Government have wisely enabled it to be extended—on removing caste as a protected characteristic from our equality legislation. I believe that consultation will now conclude on 14 September, having originally been due to conclude by the end of July. It is vital that the message goes out from this House that British Hindus have an opportunity to input to the Government consultation, so that the Government have the evidence they require to ensure we remove this ill thought-out, divisive and unnecessary legislation.
May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his re-election as chair of the all-party group on British Hindus? I share his concern about that part of the legislation, which is causing concern among the Hindu community, as Harrow and Leicester are very similar in terms of their Hindu population, and I pledge my support for the campaign he has launched.
I thank my right hon. Friend—I will call him that here—for that intervention and I trust that he can persuade the members of his own party, not only in this House but in the other place, to support the Government on doing what we want to see happening for British Hindus up and down the country.
The final area I will touch on is the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. I have tabled an early-day motion, which I believe seven other hon. Members have signed, in relation to the attack on innocent Hindu pilgrims in Anantnag by Lashkar-e-Taiba, an internationally recognised terrorist group, led by Abu Ismail. The UK must stand with India to combat this international terrorism and to prevent the situation from escalating still further. There have been attempts in this country to celebrate Burhan Wani, who died last year. He was a murderous Islamic terrorist and the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. There was an attempt in Birmingham to hold a demonstration about his death, which would have been a direct challenge to the UK’s values of harmony and tolerance. I am delighted that that demonstration was shut down before it happened, but the Government must do more to target all those who celebrate terrorists.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I wish you, your colleagues—the other Deputy Speakers and Mr Speaker—and all right hon. and hon. Members in the House a very happy recess? We will all be working in our constituencies, as has been mentioned, on behalf of our constituents, with—no doubt—a brief holiday in the next few weeks.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and I welcome his support for both smoking cessation and human rights around the world. I also thank Madam Deputy Speaker for the opportunity to make my maiden speech this afternoon.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Rob Wilson, who was our MP in Reading East for 12 years. He was the Minister for civil society and I thank him for his public service. I will also mention other former colleagues: Jane Griffiths, the Labour MP, who served before Rob; and Gerry Vaughan, the Conservative, who predated her. Other illustrious MPs from the Reading area include Martin Salter and Labour’s Ian Mikardo, who represented Reading in the post-war period. Going slightly further back in history, I am particularly proud to follow in the footsteps of the first Labour MP for Reading, the surgeon Somerville Hastings, who was elected in 1923, and whose ideas about the state funding of healthcare were an early forerunner of the NHS.
During its long history, Reading has changed beyond all recognition. Once home to one of the largest abbeys in England and the burial place of King Henry I, it later grew to become a light industrial town. Many years ago, our local economy consisted of brewing, biscuit-making and horticulture—the “three B’s”, as they were then known, with the word “bulbs” replacing “horticulture”.
While the terraced streets and Victorian town centre remain, in the late 20th century Reading became home to insurance firms, and more recently the IT industry. Several international IT and telecoms firms are based nearby and they play an important role, both in the local economy and in the economy of the UK as a whole.
We have a youthful population, with many young people and families moving to our area to make their home in the town. People come from across Britain, from across Europe and indeed from around the wider world.
Several issues loom large for our community, which is young and mobile: first and foremost, the need for properly funded public services; the desire to avoid a hard Brexit; and, as other Members have mentioned, the importance of affordable and safe housing.
Local people rely on and, indeed, expect high-quality provision of public services, and the general election was a resounding vote against austerity and poorly funded services—that was felt and heard very loudly in our part of the world. I remind the Government that parents were angered by the wave of school cuts, and parents in my area remain deeply concerned, despite the window-dressing offered by Ministers last week. Meanwhile, many other residents are fearful of the state of our local NHS, and they certainly have no time for the dementia tax.
Our town is proudly international in outlook, with significant numbers of residents from the EU and, indeed, from the Commonwealth. Reading voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, and many local people oppose a hard Brexit, including many who voted to leave. Our residents are not impressed by the Government’s cavalier approach to the negotiation with the EU, and they expect something much better, which I hope we will soon see.
Although it is well known that IT and science workers in the south of England command high salaries, house prices are also high and not all work in our area is well paid. In fact, many people exist on very modest earnings indeed. Reading, rather like London, regrettably suffers from considerable income inequality, which leads to even greater issues with housing affordability. As a result, there is a desperate need for more affordable housing: council houses, affordable homes to buy and, indeed, homes to rent. Our local renters particularly deserve a fair deal.
The Government’s record on housing is extremely poor. In recent times, George Osborne effectively stopped Reading’s Labour council building 1,000 new council houses, despite significant need in the area. More recently, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has allowed developers to reduce the proportion of affordable homes in new developments, which is an important point in an area with a lot of extra building going on. I am proud to say that Reading and, indeed, Conservative West Berkshire Council have taken legal action to oppose that reduction. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will note that, although I wish to work with the Housing Minister, the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), I will be holding him to account for matters relating to housing, particularly the local situation in the Thames valley.
As some colleagues may know, I have been campaigning to save a much-loved local secondary school that was threatened with closure, and we have had some good news this week. Chiltern Edge School is in Oxfordshire but, as in many urban areas, many pupils cross our boundaries. Earlier this year, I was shocked to find out that Oxfordshire County Council was planning to shut the school, which would have affected 400 Reading children. I have always believed that its proposal was both irresponsible and misguided, and I cannot understand why any local authority in an area—such as the south of England—with rising school rolls would want to consider a school closure at this time. The only plausible explanation is that selling off the land would have allowed the council to deal with short-term financial pressures caused by austerity.
However, after a great deal of work by campaigners, supported by me and the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), we have been successful and Oxfordshire County Council has now decided to shelve the plans. I am grateful for that decision, and I thank colleagues who signed my early-day motion opposing the closure and who have supported the “save our Edge” campaign. Although that is one small local campaign, I believe it shows something of great value: it underlines the importance of our public services; it shows how a well-fought local campaign can achieve results; and above all, it shows that real change is possible in our country.
I am honoured to represent my community, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. I look forward to raising other matters of importance when the House returns in September. I wish all my colleagues a very happy recess.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) on his maiden speech, in which he paid tribute to his predecessor—his predecessor was well known to Conservative Members—and to many other predecessors. I am sure we will be hearing much from the hon. Gentleman, perhaps particularly on the key aspects of Reading’s regeneration. Those of us who travel regularly through Reading appreciate the work that has been done on Reading station. Anything he can do to keep the station working smoothly will be much appreciated.
Ten years ago to this very day, 12 continuous hours of heavy rainfall downloaded 78 mm of rain in Gloucestershire during what our local paper, the Citizen, rightly called
“the worst natural disaster in the county’s living memory.”
It followed the wettest June and July since records began in 1766. It is worth recapping what happened, what has happened since and the wider lessons that we should have learned—I hope we have learned them.
I will start by recalling what happened on that day, which is as clear in my memory now as it was on the day itself. Some 10,000 motorists were stuck between junctions 10 and 12 of the M5. I remember afterwards meeting a deaf constituent who had been trapped in his car on the M5, and who did not hear the police when they came to ask everyone to move their vehicles. As so often in a crisis, a combination of accident, the situation at the time and a particular individual’s health resulted in a sort of comic-tragic misunderstanding, of which there were many during this extraordinary period of natural disaster.
Some 500 people were stranded at Gloucester rail station. Severn Trent’s Mythe water treatment centre lost power, and 350,000 people were without running water for 18 days. The Castle Mead electricity substation was overwhelmed, cutting power to almost 50,000 of my constituents. Some 4,000 houses, 500 businesses and 20 schools were flooded, and three people died.
There was a precedent. Curiously, 400 years earlier, in 1607, there was a great flood in Gloucestershire in which huge and mighty hills of water some 25-feet high swept up the Bristol channel, spread over 200 square miles of land and killed 2,000 people. The great Gloucestershire flood 400 years later, in July 2007, was different and resulted in much less loss of life, but its impact on all of us was huge, and it almost led to a national crisis. I make no apology for saying that what was important then—and is important now in Kensington—was to start with absolute objectivity in looking at what happened, rather than trying to use disaster as a party political opportunity.
The critical moment in Gloucester was when Severn Trent’s water was knocked out. The Army came in to deliver water and bowsers, and a number of us got involved in organising volunteers to distribute the water in the supermarket and other carparks. I organised a group of about 25 volunteers, and it all went fairly well. The council then asked me to organise taking water to elderly people at home, which was all set up and ready to start when somebody from the city council asked whether we all had Criminal Records Bureau checks. I said that I had no idea but that I would sign a bit of paper personally guaranteeing that no one in the volunteer group was either a granny basher or a paedophile. That was not good enough, and our volunteers had to stand down. I wondered then, and I still wonder now, at what point exactly in a civil disaster situation comes the moment when organisations drop the normal bureaucratic checks because something has to be done fast and we have to cut corners and accept some risk in order to save lives. Leadership at all levels in natural or other disasters is critical, as we have been reminded since the ghastly inferno at Grenfell Tower.
Meanwhile, down at the tri-service centre at Waterwells in Quedgeley, the then Chief Constable, Tim Brain, as Gold Commander, had powers to organise national and local bodies in one building. For the first time in a long time, the Army got seriously involved, particularly in sandbagging the electrical substation at Walham and delivering capabilities across the area. These Gold Command structures are crucial, but they work only if residents trust the lead individual and organisation. If that does not happen, the Government have to step in and bring in other individuals and organisations, as we have seen in Kensington.
After the floods, the Pitt review was undertaken to analyse the issue, learn the lessons and make recommendations on how to mitigate floods of the future. The Government of the day were slow to implement those, but much progress has since been made, with brooks and streams cleared; willows cut back; riparian responsibilities better known; Flood Re established to handle insurance issues; and Victorian sewers and drains replaced, notably in the city centre, in the wards of Westgate and Kingsholm, at a cost of some £13 million, absorbed by Severn Trent. Those are huge improvements and there has been no flooding in Worcester Street or Kingsholm Road since, despite two years of considerable new floods, although not on the same scale.
The major Government and county council-financed additional infrastructure is the new diversion lake close to Elmbridge Court, which is on the road towards the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), where surplus water coming down the Horsbere brook is automatically transferred. That has already successfully prevented flooding in Longlevens and Elmbridge twice since 2007, as well as adding a superb walk and birdwatching site to our city’s leisure facilities. Lastly, the Environment Agency has improved its mapping, modelling and communications no end, thanks to better technology. Anyone living near the Severn can now get regular email and text alerts, and I encourage all my constituents to do so; they just need to go on to the EA’s website and sign up.
There are things still to be resolved, such as the height of the wall protecting homes by the river at Pool Meadow, on the northern side of Gloucester—that has still to be sorted. We also know that, if extraordinary events happen again, such as the 1607 surge or mini-tsunami, Gloucester and Tewkesbury would once again be in the eye of the storm. Therefore, we must ensure that watercourses are kept clear, man-made defences are maintained, crisis planning is kept up to date, structures are reviewed, substations are protected and contingency plans are in place. We also need to be cautious about giving planning permission for homes on floodplains and to consider the remotest contingency, as who could have anticipated the events of 1607 or 2007? We may not have to wait 400 years for the next natural disaster.
It is worth highlighting the role of local media in providing brilliant information during crises of this kind, and I know that today all regional media will be running huge articles and reports on what happened 10 years ago. They will highlight the value of resilience; the power of communities; and the importance of everyone pulling together in a crisis. That is relevant to us all here, as parties, as constituencies and as a country. The Brexit negotiations are different from the Gloucestershire floods or the Grenfell Tower inferno, but for them and for all other crises we still need resilience, leadership and shared purpose, in order to get through the crisis. The word “crisis” translates as “danger opportunity” in Chinese. We have to deal with the danger and realise the opportunity to be much better prepared for the next challenge that life throws at us all. Today, across Gloucestershire, we will remember what happened, reflect on the lessons and pray that other communities do not face such natural disasters as the one we faced 10 years ago.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I join others in wishing colleagues time with their families and constituents during the recess, and in thanking all staff in Parliament for all their hard work and kindness, not least in looking after our security here.
May I welcome you to your post in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I believe this is the first time I have had the privilege of speaking under your chairmanship? May I also say what a pleasure it is to see the shadow Deputy Leader of the House in her place and welcome her to her position?
It is a pleasure to follow such excellent speeches, including the one made by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). Wakefield, too, was hit in those terrible 2007 floods. We had £13 million of flood defences put in and we have so far escaped further flooding. Resilience, citizenship and leadership—the things he mentioned—are all too alive and well in the minds of people in Wakefield today as we remember those floods. It was also a pleasure to hear the maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda). He will be a doughty fighter for his constituents. I certainly learnt something about Reading’s history; I thought it was just the prison, but brewing, biscuits and bulbs sounds like a sound base for economic development for his city.
I want to talk about CAPA College, an outstanding school in Wakefield but one that sadly will not be able to take lower-sixth students in September and whose future hangs in the balance after Ministers attempted to move the college to Leeds. What a sorry, sad tale this is.
CAPA College has been the sixth-form provision at Cathedral Academy, a Church of England secondary school in Wakefield, for the past 10 years. It is the only sixth-form in the city of Wakefield. It delivers 28 hours a week of specialist performing arts teaching, and it is unique in West Yorkshire and, dare I say it, in the whole of the north of England, for the standard of performing arts teaching it provides. I pay tribute to my constituent Claire Nicholson, CAPA’s director, and the brilliant, sublime production of “West Side Story” by 16-year-olds which I had the privilege of watching a couple of weeks ago. It was the most wonderful performance of that show that I have ever seen.
In September 2015, CAPA College and its sponsor, the Leeds diocese, through the Enhance Academy Trust, received permission from the Minister to open as a free school. A year later, the Department for Communities and Local Government made a conditional agreement for the sale and purchase of a site in Leeds city centre, and the Education Funding Agency agreed to provide two years’ interim funding to allow CAPA College to stay in Wakefield until the site in Leeds obtained the necessary planning permissions—the new free school could open in September 2018. However, documents that I obtained from Leeds City Council show that, after the planning application was submitted, it emerged that the building is on the route of HS2. Leeds City Council rejected the planning application because of concerns about road safety and congestion; it is not a suitable site for a school. We are talking about the former home of KPMG in Leeds. KPMG obviously got out; it sold it on to a German consortium. That consortium realised that it had perhaps bought a pup and sought to sell it on to someone else—and who better than the UK Government to know what the UK Government are doing!
The Education Funding Agency has rescinded its two-year funding offer to my local school until CAPA College has found a new building. That has forced the trust to inform potential new students that places will not be available to them; in effect, there is no year 12 student admission to CAPA college this year because of this building fiasco. The college has had to issue redundancy notices to staff, whose employment will end on 31 August. I know that the trust is working with Wakefield Council and the EFA to find a new permanent home for CAPA in Wakefield; we made it, we grew it, we developed it and we want to keep it. But why did the EFA continue with a planning application after being told that the site would have a high-speed rail line through it by 2032? Is this seriously a good use of taxpayers’ money? Why was another site for CAPA College not identified as soon as it was known that there was a problem with this one? How much has the EFA spent on this site? Has the EFA completed the sale, even though HS2 will run through it and Leeds City Council has refused the planning application? If so, how much has it paid, or has it pulled out of the contract—in which case, how much has it lost?
I wrote to the Education Secretary in March to seek answers to those questions, but I have not received a reply. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take my concerns back. The announcement this week of extra funding for England’s schools is based on the fact that money that will be taken from the budget for new free schools, so there may be less money to enable CAPA College to find its new home in Wakefield. The fiasco has left CAPA College on the brink of closure, and dozens of dedicated staff and students unsure about their future. I have received letters from distraught students, alumni, parents and grandparents. The closure of CAPA College would damage the life chances of young people in Wakefield who aspire to go into the arts and would mean the closure of the only sixth form in Wakefield city centre.
The alumni have the chance to go on to perform in west end shows and tour all over the world, and I do not want to see the dreams of young people in Wakefield turned to dust. This September, we will see the opening of the advanced innovation and skills centre in Wakefield to deal with the historically low levels of tertiary education—higher education—in the city. We do not want to see one door opening in Wakefield while another one closes. I would like a substantive reply from the Minister and firm action from the EFA, so that those excellent teachers and that outstanding provision can be kept.
I pay tribute to the headteachers of the four secondary schools in my constituency: Miriam Oakley at Horbury Academy; Alan Warboys at Ossett Academy; Elizabeth Ford at Wakefield City Academy; and Rob Marsh at Cathedral Academy. I also pay tribute to Clare Kelly, whose Dane Royd Junior and Infant School I visited recently. I wish all GCSE and A-level students good luck with their results when they come out in August.
I conclude by congratulating Simon Wallis, the director of the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield, which was crowned Art Fund museum of the year 2017. I think Wakefield is the only city to have had two Art Fund museums of the year—we also received the honour in 2013 for Yorkshire sculpture park, run by Pete Murray. Should Channel 4 consider a move to west Yorkshire, Wakefield stands ready with open arms to give it a warm, performance-related welcome. I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the staff and, in particular, the builders who are beginning to put up the scaffolding on the Elizabeth tower, a safe and productive recess.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), whose contribution highlights how useful these pre-recess debates can be for emphasising the important issues that face our constituents.
I want to highlight two or three constituency issues, but first I wish to raise a point of national concern, although it has sufficiently irritated a number of my constituents over the past 24 hours that they headed for their keyboards and sent me messages. I refer, of course, to the BBC and its somewhat extravagant use of licence-payers’ money. We would all acknowledge that talent has to be paid for, but I question some of the figures we have seen. For example, I normally watch “News at Ten” if I am at home. If I am a bit late home, I might watch it an hour or two later on the BBC News channel. It is the same news reports, but there just happens to be a different news reader who it seems earns tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands less than his colleague who read the news an hour or two earlier. I question the somewhat unconvincing responses from BBC executives that have been broadcast over the past 24 hours.
The same applies to “Match of the Day”, which I watch most weeks. Gary Lineker was an extremely talented footballer and could command enormous salaries when he was on the pitch. His latter-day role presenting “Match of the Day”, which he does perfectly well, is fine, but other Members who watch the programme will have noticed that occasionally he has a holiday and someone comes off the subs’ bench to present the programme. We see the same football and that person asks Alan Shearer or whoever exactly the same questions; does someone really need to be paid almost £2 million to do that when it is clear from the figures that somebody else is prepared to do it for £200,000 or £300,000, which would be a pretty well-paid job anyway? I have made my point, so I shall turn to some constituency issues.
Every constituency in the country has to contend with the issue of Travellers and their sites. Members from all parties will be well aware of how it irritates our constituents. It is not necessarily about the individuals themselves who, provided that they act responsibility and within the law, are perfectly entitled to their way of life; what annoys my constituents, quite justifiably, is that when they arrive on a site in Cleethorpes or wherever, the authorities leap into action to provide services for them that the rest of the community has to pay for. It comes down to the simple fact that council tax payers often pay enormous amounts of money for services that in recent years have been cut back for all the reasons of which we are well aware, but councils always find money to spring into action to provide services for those who in most cases are not contributing.
I have no doubt that the Minister will tell us that the Government have made improvements to the legislation over the past six or seven years, and I am perfectly happy to accept that, but I urge the Deputy Leader of the House, when he reports back to other Ministers, to at least draw their attention to what I think my constituents and others would appreciate, which is what I shall call a more robust approach. The Government should not just say, “Oh, it’s up to councils to provide a site and so on”; that is fine, but let those who use that site understand clearly that they must contribute towards the cost.
Having been somewhat critical of it, perhaps I can praise the Government for the northern powerhouse initiative. It may have its faults, and it is concentrated too much on Leeds and Manchester, forgetting some other towns and cities in the north, but a few days ago The Yorkshire Post carried a story about a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research and the law firm Irwin Mitchell that shows that in the past year or two northern cities have been growing faster than London. It praises George Osborne’s northern powerhouse, saying, for example, that the economy in Leeds has grown by 8% since the initiative was launched in 2014. It also mentions that Sheffield, York, Bradford and Hull have performed particularly well.
It is good news that, in the short term at least, our northern cities are contributing more and growing faster, but I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to convey to his colleagues that it is not only the cities in the north but the provincial towns and coastal communities that need help and support to grow. If they had a little extra help, I am sure that the northern powerhouse would be even more successful.
One way to make the initiative more successful for my constituency would be to provide us with a direct train service to London. With local authorities of all political colours, I have been involved in a long-running campaign on this issue. I recently met representatives from Virgin Trains, and I am hopeful that the new appraisal of the benefits to the economy that I hope the local authorities and local enterprise partnerships will produce will contribute to the overall goal. As we all know, better road and rail connections are crucial to the local economy. A little nudge from the Deputy Leader of the House, who is an influential person, could make an enormous difference. With that, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all staff and Members a happy summer break.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this summer Adjournment debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. As everyone else has, I wish colleagues and staff all the best for the recess. Of course, many of our colleagues—and their staff—who lost their seats might not have quite such a happy summer, as they face in some cases quite uncertain circumstances. I wish to say a little about the arrangements for non-returning MPs and their staff, and I hope it will command support from both sides of the House.
Before I do, though, I have always taken the view that an MP’s salary should be broadly in line with comparable professions and sufficient to meet the needs of living in two places—including in London, which is one of the most expensive cities in the world—but it should not be so high as to be the prime motivator for anyone seeking to become an MP. By and large, I believe, the current salary does that. The office allowance and travel arrangements are absolutely appropriate, and the allowance for staff should be sufficient to employ the correct number of caseworkers and other staff in our constituency offices. Again, since IPSA has given a rather generous increase to the staff allowance, that has most certainly been achieved.
Of course, the advent of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has, or rather should have, provided more certainty for people seeking election or to work for an MP when they give up careers, professions and trades to do that. It is also worth noting that the recent salary increase for MPs was combined with changes to the MP pension scheme and the removal of the old resettlement allowance. At face value that is all fair and reasonable and, for the most part, it is. The reality of how easily the terms of the Act were overturned casts a bit of a shadow over what happens in practice, particularly for those who lose their seats, in the event of a short Parliament.
Irrespective of the expectation of a five-year term for Members and staff, the reality in the last Parliament was that many MPs’ staff members were entitled to precisely nothing—zero—by way of redundancy because they were employed for less than two years. That was inevitable, given that the Parliament itself was barely two years old. That simply cannot be right. As one non-returning MP put it:
"My own staff position seems to be typical; I have five in my team of whom four are to be paid no redundancy at all. This is because they worked less than two years (in some cases missing the cut by only a few weeks.)…Many staff members gave up jobs, others gave up homes and moved to London, and some took out mortgages”
on the basis of a five-year contract made in good faith. They are now made redundant on terms that he says
“would disgrace the most unscrupulous private corporation.”
Indeed, were there to be another election before 2019, which is certainly not inconceivable, any staff employed by a new MP of any party elected for the first time this June would likewise be entitled to absolutely nothing if the MP lost his or her seat. I would suggest, and I hope that this would command support, that at the very least in future redundancy should be paid to staff as per the contract, in the circumstances of a short Parliament, as if the members of staff had been employed for five years, particularly as the circumstances of a short Parliament are outwith the control of the staff, outwith the control of Members—and, given what we now know, were outwith even the knowledge of half the Cabinet when the Prime Minister called the election.
Likewise, the decision to call an election within the five-year timescale has left a number of non-returning MPs in a very difficult position, with many new ones being entitled to less than £3,000. Although IPSA is right to try to put things on a par with other workplaces, where we have ended up with the terms of redundancy for MPs appears to bear absolutely no relation to any professional contract I have ever seen.
To put into some kind of context the combination of circumstances in which ex-MPs and their staff find themselves, I can tell the House what two have told me. One said:
“we are now trying to support staff who are receiving no help from IPSA—while not being paid ourselves to do so”.
He hopes that consideration can be given to finding the means to provide additional support to staff. Another said that he would not
“abandon my staff and former constituents, nor walk away from my responsibilities. But, it seems, that I am expected to manage my staff as their boss full time until the 8th August entirely unpaid. That cannot be right or fair.”
I am not arguing for a return to the old resettlement allowance regime, but the current situation must be changed. I believe it needs to be changed not just to help those who lost their seats in practical terms but to address a more difficult issue. If this situation continues and there is a series of short Parliaments leaving people in this position, massive limits will be placed on those choosing to stand for election or to work here. The huge strides all the parties have made to ensure that Parliament more accurately reflects society could be reversed, and that goes for staff as well as Members. If it is clear to those who might wish to come here that MPs who lose their seats after a short Parliament will come away with less than one month’s salary and their staff, in some cases, will come away with literally nothing at all, the only people who might seek election will be the independently wealthy or the kind of zealots who would do it for nothing. Nothing, but nothing, could be more different to society than a Parliament of MPs and staff drawn from such narrow groups.
Urgent action needs to be taken to ensure that staff redundancy is paid on the basis of a five-year contract, irrespective of how long a Parliament lasts, and MPs need to have a comparable professional termination package based on length of service but with a minimum safety net, not merely a few weeks’ salary. Let me repeat that I am not calling for the re-introduction of the old resettlement allowance, but the prospect of surrendering one’s career or trade to enter Parliament, losing one’s seat when it is not one’s fault and then being presented with less than one month’s salary will be a massive disincentive to others who would seek to do this public service. IPSA needs to be flexible.
Finally, a winding-up allowance of around £50,000 or so is available to each MP, but it appears from non-returned colleagues that there are huge restrictions on how that can be used. My judgment is that, with little imagination, IPSA could easily pay staff redundancy for those who serve less than two years in the event of a short Parliament. I am talking about a modest termination package to allow ex-MPs to fulfil their obligations to those staff and to adjust to life outside Parliament without any significant increase to the funds that IPSA already sets aside. This is not special pleading; it is a matter that can and will affect all parties. It is something that we must review and repair quickly, given that the fixed nature of our parliamentary terms is rather less robust than many of us had expected.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) who is a tenacious parliamentarian. He has used the opportunity of this debate very effectively and has raised some important issues that must be considered. All Members of this House—both current and former—have an obligation and a duty to their staff.
We have seen lots of variety in this afternoon’s debate. I wish to focus on one particular issue that is incredibly important to my constituents in Corby going into this summer recess. I am talking about the Corby urgent care centre, which many colleagues will know, because I have raised it in questions on many occasions in this House. When I went back through my speaking record, I was interested to note down how many times I had raised it in different contexts.
Let me provide some background: the Corby urgent care centre was first opened in 2012 under the coalition Government with a Conservative Health Secretary—I am incredibly proud of that. It is a flagship facility, class-leading, hugely popular and a beacon of best practice. It is also the envy of many other communities across the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who is in his place, would like to have exactly the sort of facility that we have in Corby at the Isebrook site in Wellingborough.
Perhaps most importantly, the biggest advantage of the Corby urgent care centre is the enormous impact that it has in relieving pressure on the A&E at Kettering general hospital, which, as we all know, has been under some strain in recent months and years. The urgent care centre makes a big difference. Let me give Members an idea of its impact. Last year, the urgent care centre in Corby saw more than 70,000 patients. Of all those who came, only 6% had to be referred to Kettering general hospital for further treatment. That shows how many people are dealt with in Corby that would otherwise have to go across to Kettering.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that such great alarm was caused by this press release issued by the clinical commissioning group. Issued on 13 July, it said:
“As has been reported previously, the contract between the Commissioners…and Lakeside +, the current provider of services at the Urgent Care Centre, expires on 30 September 2017.
In order to ensure service continuity and to safeguard the future of the centre, the Commissioners ran a competitive procurement inviting bids to continue the service for a further 12 months. Unfortunately, the only bidder in the process formally withdrew their bid yesterday and so the process has failed to generate any bidder willing to continue to provide the service.
In light of these developments, the Commissioners will be considering what options exist for the Corby Urgent Care Centre.”
Interestingly, that runs completely at odds with what I was told earlier in the year by the commissioners. We have known for some time that there has been a contractual dispute between Lakeside Plus and the CCG, and we have always known that the current contract with Lakeside Plus would finish at the end of September, so there has been plenty of time to plan for this.
The earlier reply that I received on 22 March said:
“I can confirm that Corby Urgent Care Centre is not closing. The organisation running the Urgent Care Centre, Lakeside Plus, have given notice that they wish to withdraw from their contract at the end of March, but it is not their role to decide whether the service comes to an end. That decision rests with the CCG as commissioners of healthcare for the people of Corby, and we will ensure that the service continues—with another provider if necessary. We are now working urgently to make that happen.
We have been expecting Lakeside Plus to continue the service until November, as stated in the contract notice issued by the CCG last year. We appreciate that this sudden announcement will be a cause of some disquiet for the people of Corby, who are always our primary concern. We therefore regret the alarm that is being caused by misleading suggestions that the Urgent Care Centre is to close, and would appreciate your help in putting people’s minds at rest.”
The statement issued last week is inconsistent with the reassurances that I was given earlier in the year. The current position is much more ambiguous, so I wrote to the commissioners on 13 July, seeking reassurance for my constituents and clarity on what the future might hold. Their reply was equally ambiguous:
“Following withdrawal of the remaining bidder for the caretaker contract, we are urgently considering the options available. It is therefore not possible at this stage for me to say exactly what services will be in place on October 1st, when the existing UCC contract expires. I realise that this does not give you the absolutely clarity you and local people are seeking, but it is very important for me to be honest with you. The CCG is facing an unprecedented situation, with a very challenging timescale and a highly restrictive legal and commercial environment.
As you know, the CCG is also looking at how the healthcare system in Corby can best meet the needs of the community. The CCG is in the process of engaging with the community on this issue.”
To my mind, that is wholly unacceptable. I have written again, pressing for reassurance, seeking details about the contingency plans, which earlier this year I was assured were in place should agreement not be reached by 30 September—I was told that it was all in hand—and requesting an urgent meeting. I am currently awaiting a reply.
People in Corby and the surrounding areas are very worried about this. With the summer holidays coming, people are coming together to campaign on the issue. I am going to meet the Save Corby Urgent Care Centre campaign group, which already has a huge social media following. We are working cross-party. Tom Beattie, the Labour leader of Corby Borough Council, and I are dusting off our joint campaigning attire and getting ready to campaign together on this, as we have done a number of times on the steel issue. I am grateful to him for being so willing to work together on this, because it is relevant to all our constituents, regardless of how they vote, or indeed whether they vote at all.
One of the points that Tom raised with me was the challenge of housing growth in our area. Our health infrastructure needs to keep pace. The Corby site is very relevant in the context of the hub-and-spoke model that Kettering General hospital is trying to develop, with a new urgent care hub at Kettering General, a hub in Corby and hopefully a hub in Wellingborough.
What needs to happen? We need urgent reassurance from the commissioners that the current service will be not only protected, but further improved in the years ahead, and that the quality that we have become used to will continue. We must always review our health infrastructure, but to my mind it is unthinkable that the urgent care centre would not be a key component right at the heart of our local health infrastructure. Given that the procurement for the new contract was for only 12 months in any event, surely it cannot be beyond the wit of man to sit down with the current providers and try to come up with an agreement—I have offered to help facilitate that process—or, failing that, to put in place the arrangements that I was previously told were available. What we need is a bit more dialogue, properly listening to local people, because local wishes are exceptionally clear on the matter. The CCG was set up to advance Corby’s cause. It represents only the borough of Corby—it is the smallest CCG in the country—so I would like to think that its key focus would be on listening to local people and putting them first without having to take into account the needs of wider north Northamptonshire.
Therefore, over the summer recess I plan to be—to use a variant of a phrase—a bloody difficult man on this issue. I am going to stand up for my constituents. I really hope that the commissioners will be listening to me this afternoon and to my constituents—please do not let us down.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), who I am very sure could be a bloody difficult man. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) on his thoughtful maiden speech.
I want to take this opportunity to raise three issues. The first is the closure of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs offices. Last week, we had a positive and upbeat debate in Westminster Hall about the future of the 30-odd new towns across the UK, but as I said then, one massive dark cloud hanging over the future of my new town—Cumbernauld—is the threatened closure of the tax office. It is not just Cumbernauld that is affected, and the situation is the same in towns across the UK. We are not talking about just trimming a small, obsolete office or two; we are looking at an extraordinary degradation in the HMRC estate, taking it from 170 offices to 13 regional centres and a network of many hubs, all with the loss of around 8,000 jobs.
Much has been said on previous occasions about why these plans are, to put it bluntly, absolutely bonkers. That includes the centralising of staff in expensive city centre accommodation, ridiculous assumptions about how far staff can travel, and the complete lack of any assessment of the effect of closing these offices on the local economy. Just prior to dissolution, the Public Accounts Committee published an excellent and comprehensive report on the subject, making not only the points I have made, but many more. Has HMRC listened? Not at all. Without addressing any of the concerns raised by the Committee, it has battered on regardless, even signing contracts for some of the new premises during the purdah period.
We need a halt to this closure programme, and we need an opportunity for this Chamber to debate the Public Accounts Committee report in full, as well as any response HMRC cares to offer. The 1,500 employees in my constituency deserve that, as do the 60,000 across the UK and the communities in which those offices are based.
The second issue I want to raise is the immigration rules relating to spouses, partners and their children. As Members will probably know from their own casework, we have among the most draconian family immigration rules in the world, with an extraordinary income requirement, and ludicrously complicated rules and ridiculous restrictions on how that income requirement can be met. Over 40% of the UK population would not be entitled to live in this country with a non-EU spouse were they to marry one; in fact, in some parts, including Northern Ireland, the figure would be over 50%.
The Children’s Commissioner for England wrote a damning report about the 15,000 Skype children, as she called them—there are probably more than 15,000 now—who get to see their mum and dad only via the internet, with terrible consequences for their wellbeing.
Back in February, the Supreme Court, while not striking down the rules entirely, did make it clear that applying them in certain cases, especially those involving children, could breach the right to respect for family life. A glimmer of hope perhaps? Actually, for five months, this has caused even more anguish for certain families, as the Home Office has told applicants that their cases are paused while it
“takes time to study the judgement”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister managed to insert a commitment into the Conservative manifesto to make the rules even more draconian, increasing the financial threshold and breaking up even more families—a strange way to try to win votes.
But today—surprise, surprise—on the last day of term, the Immigration Minister has made a written statement saying that changes to the immigration rules are to be tabled to implement the Supreme Court ruling. The rules were not made available until 2 pm, when this, the final debate of the term, had started, so I have had just the briefest opportunity to look at what really are 22 pages of gobbledegook. At first glance, I am afraid it does not appear that the Government have moved very far. The treatment of these families, and indeed their elected representatives, has been totally disgraceful, and I look forward to returning to this issue after the recess.
The third and final issue I want to raise is the refugee and migration crisis. As Brexit continues to dominate the agenda, it almost seems as if we have forgotten that the search for safety from war and persecution, and for opportunities that cannot be found at home, still drives millions of people to travel to other parts of the world, in many cases towards Europe. Over 2,300 people have already drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year, and over 100,000 have made the crossing successfully.
The SNP will continue to argue for the provision of safe legal routes, the extension of the Dubs scheme, expanded family reunion rights, and participation in EU relocation schemes. Whatever our views, and whatever our thoughts on the best way to tackle this crisis, we can surely agree that this is one of the most pressing and urgent issues of our time, and we should debate and scrutinise the response of the Government and the EU as a whole not just now and again, but week in, week out—otherwise, talk of global Britain will be empty talk.
With that, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, all right hon. and hon. Members, and all the staff of the House as restful a recess as possible.
Today I want to talk about how a Conservative Government with a Conservative Member of Parliament in Congleton and a Conservative-led council in Cheshire East are working together to deliver effectively for people in my constituency and the wider Cheshire East area.
Let me give as a first example this week’s Government announcement on school funding. I spoke in the Christmas recess debate, on this very spot, of how the Government’s proposed national funding formula would not serve well the school pupils in my constituency and the wider Cheshire East area. In January, I took a delegation of headteachers to meet the Minister for School Standards, and the leader of Cheshire East Council, Councillor Rachel Bailey, came with us. The Minister listened and asked what annual amount those headteachers considered would be needed to provide senior school students with the education they need and deserve. The answer they came back with was £4,800—exactly the amount that this week the Secretary of State for Education has confirmed will be provided by Government for our pupils. As she told me, this is a very good settlement for Cheshire. Ministers responded to our concerns, and I want to thank them, just as local headteachers have thanked me for this result, which shows a Conservative Government working with a Conservative MP and Conservative councillors to deliver for local people.
I turn now to planning matters, noting that 27 July is the date scheduled for adoption by Cheshire East of its local plan. This will come after one of the most lengthy and complex examinations in the country. It is true to say that in the past I have not held back in this place from saying that areas in my constituency have been blighted by developers keen to grab green space and agricultural sites for inappropriate development. However, now that the local plan inspector has found that a five-year housing land supply has been identified, that battleground should—and, I believe, will be—a thing of the past. This is a new day. I call on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to uphold the inspector’s view of a five-year Cheshire East housing land supply, and the terms of the local plan, together with the further several neighbourhood plans in place locally, and to reject any planning appeals to develop further greenfield or green space sites. This should now provide an effective means whereby inappropriate developments are stopped once and for all in my constituency and beyond.
I give credit to neighbourhood planning groups and town councillors such as Mike Benson in Sandbach, who have worked so hard, as I have here, to ensure that neighbourhood plans have a real impact. In Sandbach, where there is no housing need, there should now, in future, be the inference that no additional housing will be permitted other than in accordance with NDP—neighbourhood development plan—policies. Indeed, that is already happening. We need only witness the way in which the former housing Minister recently rejected a planning application for land to the rear of Park Lane and Crewe Road in Sandbach, directly on account of the need expressed in the Sandbach neighbourhood plan for an area of separation. Again, this shows a Conservative Government working together with a Conservative MP and Conservative councillors to deliver for local residents.
I turn now to the many transport improvements in the area. Let me first set the record straight once and for all: it was local Conservatives—MP and councillors—who obtained money to improve junction 17 of the M6, and not any other party or person. I know, because I was there at the very first meeting of the Highways Authority when I requested funding to prevent future accidents—in particular, for the southbound exit of the M6, which, as I clearly identified to the Highways Authority, was becoming dangerous. Action was taken and funding was provided. Similarly, a Conservative MP working with a Conservative council obtained from a Conservative-led Government £46 million for the Congleton link road—one of the highest road grants under that Government—thereby reducing congestion, reducing air pollution, and opening up employment land for new and expanding businesses. Work will start next year, with a planned completion date of 2020.
The same effective joint working resulted in £1.25 million being provided for the Middlewich eastern bypass business case. That extremely convincing business case showing wide economic and wellbeing benefits was produced by Cheshire East Council this spring. I need not go into further detail about that now, as I have spoken about it several times in this House. I am grateful to the roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) for meeting me again this week and listening so carefully as I pressed for funding from the Government towards the construction costs of approximately £56 million. That would unlock employment land for up to 2,000 jobs and support the reopening of Middlewich railway station for passengers, linking it to a Crewe hub for HS2, which, in turn, would be a springboard for wholesale economic development and connectivity across the region.
Cheshire East Council, together with the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership, is working hard to ensure that the HS2 hub is built at Crewe, but to ensure that it realises its full economic potential we need at least five trains an hour from London to Crewe. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), the Minister with responsibility for rail, is a good listener, and I am sure that he will take that on board, together with my oft-repeated request that the line to Middlewich be reopened to passengers. I thank him for agreeing to meet me and representatives from the mid Cheshire rail link campaign about the matter.
Ease of transport is essential for people’s wellbeing, and so Government funding has been provided to improve Cheshire East’s roads. No less than £92 million has been invested over the past five years to improve them radically, and they are now among the best in the country. On Monday 24 July, £1 million-worth of improvements in and around the pedestrianised areas of Congleton town centre will begin. Local councillors are delighted that Congleton has two new minibuses after obtaining £50,000 of national funding from the Department for Transport. A Conservative Government, working with a Conservative MP and Conservative councils at both county and town level, are delivering for our residents in real and tangible ways to improve their quality of life.
I finish by thanking the Government for the funding given to our local schools, most recently £1.7 million for improvements at Eaton Bank Academy and more than £100,000 to refurbish Havannah Primary School. Our schools merit this; 96.2% of them are good or outstanding, and they are in one of the top 20 authorities nationally. A Conservative Government are supporting well a Conservative MP and a Conservative council, working for the real-life benefit of residents.
As this is the first time that I have spoken when you have been in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I congratulate you on your election and wish you well in your new role? I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) on her appointment as the shadow Deputy Leader of the House. It is always an honour to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is a fantastic advocate for her constituency, as she proved by what she said today. I should also thank my new hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), who is not in his place at the moment but who made an excellent maiden speech. I think he will be a very caring and determined Member for the people of Reading East.
I want to talk first of all about the soft drinks industry levy that the Government plan to introduce, which is better known as the sugar tax. I have great reservations about the tax, and I believe that my concerns are not unfounded. In his Budget statement earlier this year, the Chancellor admitted that the estimated amount of income from the levy would be half that which was originally predicted. The Chancellor acknowledged the excellent work being done by the soft drinks industry to combat the level of sugar in soft drinks.
In other countries where such a tax has been introduced, such as France, the US and Mexico, the impact has been minimal. In this country, the tax is badly targeted; some of the most sugary drinks, such as milk-based and yoghurt-based drinks, as well as fruit juices, have been excluded. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested that consumers may even substitute some of those other products to get their fix of sugar. The levy does nothing to help to educate consumers on reducing sugar in their diets.
I commend the soft drinks industry—I do not have a soft drinks factory or anything like that in my constituency, but I feel it is important to say this—for the work that it has done so far to address the sugar content of soft drinks. In 2015, it was the only sector in the food and drink industry that had an ambitious plan to reduce calorie intake from its products by 20% by 2020. The sector has been particularly proactive in reducing the sugar consumed in its products through reformulation, promoting diet versions of drinks and smaller portion sizes—actions that have been acknowledged by Public Health England. More than 60% of drinks now have reduced or even zero calorie content.
Independent analysis shows that the levy will lead to more than 4,000 job losses across the UK and a decline of £132 million in the UK economy, predominantly in retail and hospitality, including pubs and corner shops. Although this is planned to be a long-term tax, it is massively unstable and the IFS expects that, by 2021, because of general consumption trends and the work done by manufacturers to reduce sugar in their drinks, there will be a huge black hole in the funding of school health improvement initiatives and sports dependent on income from the levy.
The McKinsey report on tackling obesity ranked a sugar tax as 12th of the 16 least effective options in tackling obesity. If the Government are serious about their child obesity plan, they must find a more certain and secure form of funding for the many activities it needs to support, rather than the ever-decreasing levy.
There are other ways to tackle obesity. I would like the Government to consider the review of the research on the impact of milk on children’s development carried out by Northumbria University, which suggested that milk consumption generally improves children’s nutritional status. Children who regularly drink milk have lower body mass indices, lower body fat percentage and lower waist circumferences than children who rarely drink it.
In a Westminster Hall debate earlier this year, I asked the then Education Minister if the review of the standards of the child obesity plan, which is due in September, could include a commitment that children will be guaranteed access to milk in school at least once a day. I ask for that commitment again today.
On a separate issue, I want to refer to four early-day motions that I tabled immediately after the Queen’s Speech to draw attention to issues raised by the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group, which I co-chair. EDM 20 called for the Government to publish their long-overdue drugs strategy, and I am pleased to say that they have finally obliged. Regrettably, however, they have yet to act on EDM 22, which focuses on the funding crisis faced by the drug and alcohol treatment sector. Consequently, they risk undermining the delivery of their new strategy. The strategy gives scant regard to alcohol misuse. Ministers should correct that by following the advice of EDM 18 to publish a bespoke alcohol strategy that protects and promotes treatment services and introduces minimum unit pricing.
Lastly, EDM 21 draws attention to hepatitis C, which is now completely curable, and calls on the Government to publish a strategy to help meet the World Health Organisation target of eliminating hepatitis by 2030. Perhaps Ministers will reflect on that next Friday 28 July, which is World Hepatitis Day.
I will finish by wishing everyone a wonderful recess. I hope we all get some rest, even though we will be quite busy I should imagine.
It is a pleasure to follow the pop and fizz of the soft drinks speech by the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), although I do urge caution. As a type 2 diabetic, I am sympathetic to not having too many sugary drinks, but there are lots of evils in those soft drinks that do not have sugar in them. When walking around my local Asda or another supermarket, I note the paradox that it is still possible to buy fizzy drinks cheaply, despite what the hon. Lady said.
I want to thank not only the staff of the House but all the personal staff in our offices, who do so much work. I have been immensely fortunate in my nearly 13 years in the House to have recruited an exceptional individual, Lucy Paton-Brown, who is sadly leaving me in September. She has done a fabulous job for me. I am particularly conscious that for one year a few years ago I was either in hospital or in bed at home, unable to do my job properly. Usually when that happens, a neighbouring Member of Parliament takes over the constituency burden and casework while the Member recuperates. Lucy managed to do all that work for nearly a year on my behalf. She will be sorely missed.
I want to talk about some campaigns in Southend. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) mentioned the very good news that clinicians have decided that, under the strategic transformation programme for the local hospital, blue-light ambulance services will continue to be directed to local hospitals in Southend, Chelmsford and Basildon to receive the best immediate care. The election came in the middle of a big consultation on the matter, but political campaigners who were more interested in garnering votes than the quality of our local health service used A&E scurrilously.
We were told locally that Southend hospital would close, then that A&E would close, then that A&E would be downgraded and then that there would be nothing more than a nurse with a first aid box. My hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) and for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and others reassured the public, but that message did not entirely get through and lies dominated the campaign.
Some key organisers in the campaign perpetuated the lies. I feel for Opposition Members who have to put up with some of the more disreputable elements of Momentum. Many decent, honest people were involved in the Save Southend A&E campaign, but it was misused by Momentum, which was aggressive and tried to intimidate. There was a public meeting outside my house, with someone using a loudhailer, to try to intimidate me—the tweets asking people to go there specified that—into backing down from saying that all decisions should be clinically led. The circumstances were appalling. I am sorry for Opposition Members because sometimes the wrath that leads to “red on red” is even fiercer than that which causes “red on blue”.
I want to talk about a train. I will not go all “Thomas the Tank Engine” on hon. Members, but all trains should be like the 7.18 from Shoeburyness to Fenchurch Street, travelling from the sea to the city in under 60 minutes. It gets in after 58 minutes. If it did not stop, the journey could be made in 32 minutes. That would transform the local economy.
When I was first elected in 2005, Southend airport covered one destination and had 40,000 passengers. It now has 30 destinations and 1.2 million passenger movements, which will increase to 2.5 million in 2018, with more than 40 destinations worldwide. That will regenerate the area. We need to do more to work with the surrounding community and business parks to get businesses around the airport.
Time is short, so I thank everybody for brevity in the debate and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your early days in the Chair.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) has taken her rightful place on the Front Bench. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) on his maiden speech. He spoke with great sincerity and knowledge about his constituency and the challenges facing it, particularly pressure on housing and public services.
I wish to raise just one subject—leasehold—which affects not only a number of my constituents, but many other people throughout England and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) has already touched on it. I spoke about it in the Chamber last December, when I described the emerging leasehold scandal as the PPI of the house building industry. However, having seen more of the serial failures, deceptions and obfuscations, I believe I may have understated culpability right across the board. The developers, of course, are public enemy No. 1, but the lenders, the solicitors and even the Government all have to take some share of the blame for a scandal that has the potential to fundamentally destabilise the housing market if it is not tackled soon.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, I am now vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, which he brilliantly chairs alongside the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). They have been superbly assisted by the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership in bringing the matter to the attention of parliamentarians. There now seems to be some consensus across the House that these abuses need to be tackled. I understand that the Government will be coming forward shortly with plans to tackle some of the abuses in the leasehold sector, but it is vital that they create not only a clear and fair framework for new builds, but a strategy to deal with the rotten mess that developers have created.
There at last appears to be some self-awareness by developers that leasehold homes are becoming toxic, with many now pledging voluntarily not to sell any new homes on a leasehold basis. But that will not assist my constituents who have already bought their homes and have been quoted extortionate sums to buy their properties, obtain permission to alter the property, or even ask a question of their landlord, nor will it assist the many who are already trapped because they have onerous leases that purchasers are no longer interested in signing up to, and that some building societies will no longer lend on. It will also not assist us in holding to account the guilty men and women who must have known that creating this second lucrative income stream for developers would ultimately be at the cost of their customers.
Developers are beginning to acknowledge their responsibility. Taylor Wimpey voluntarily announced in April that it was going to set up a process whereby those with the most onerous leases had the opportunity to convert them into new leases where the ground rent would increase by only RPI, instead of doubling every 10 years. Sadly, however, that announcement is where the credit stops, because three months on, progress has been painfully slow. In the intervening period, I have been contacted by at least one constituent whose ground rent has doubled since the announcement was made, which means that if it ever does get converted to an RPI lease, those RPI increases will be applied to a ground rent that is twice what it could have been. This has ongoing consequences should my constituent ever be in a position to purchase the freehold outright, and if she does try to purchase it, she will still have to negotiate with the owner of the freehold, whoever that is, and navigate the fiendishly complicated and lengthy process currently in place.
The lease may still contain other punitive clauses aside from the ground rent, which, as we have seen from some examples, can include charges of up to £3,000 just to get permission for an extension. This is all before we consider those who are not covered, such as second-generation purchasers where Taylor Wimpey are not the freehold owners. Where do they stand? There is going to need to be an active Government strategy to deal with everyone affected by this scandal.
The Government have a financial interest in sorting this out. At the end of March 2017 the number of Help to Buy purchases on leasehold properties stood at just over 28,000, of which 11,641 are houses. Some 23% of all Help to Buy purchases are on leasehold properties, and given concerns about the drop in value of some of the properties with the most onerous leases, there is a real question whether the Government will get all their money back eventually. To my astonishment, there has not yet been any suggestion of an outright ban on Help to Buy funds being used to purchase leasehold houses.
Let us be clear: sorting out the immediate consequences of onerous leases must be the start of the process, not the end of it. We need to learn the lessons, and if necessary legislate, so that the worst excesses of capitalism that we have seen here are not allowed to infect our society again. There needs to be a much easier, quicker and cost-effective way, so that people can purchase their freehold outright, and then we need to bring in an outright ban on houses being sold on a leasehold basis.
But there also needs to be a long, hard look at how we got into this position in the first place. I would like there to be a full Select Committee inquiry into how this practice developed. At the moment, we do not even know the extent of it. Developers must be required to give evidence about why this systematic duping of their customers was allowed to start in the first place. Who were the authors of those leases that now nobody will sign up to? How many properties were made leasehold needlessly? How much profit have they made out of this scam? And who exactly are the beneficiaries of the leases now?
These properties are being passed around from one company to another. Some are based outside this country, and there is secrecy about who the ultimate recipients are of the substantial incomes coming from the leases. There is an old saying that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but it now seems that an Englishman’s home is in fact a revenue stream for an offshore company operating from a tax haven.
What is very clear to me is that when people bought their houses they thought they were doing just that—buying a home. What they never contemplated for a moment was that actually the true owner of their home would be someone they might never know the identity of, who can sell on their interest in the property to somebody else without their knowledge or consent. It sounds like something out of feudal society, not 21st-century Britain.
That brings me to what I would like a Select Committee inquiry to look at: the legal profession. Speaking as a former solicitor, I know that mistakes are made, but it seems incredible to me that so many people make the same complaint about the advice they received at the time of their purchase. I surveyed my constituents in leasehold properties and a staggering 80% of them did not know the true nature of what they were buying. I think those figures demonstrate that there is a compelling need for further examination of the advice that was provided. I have heard of developers offering incentives to use particular solicitors. Why would they do that, and what led to such a collective failure in the legal profession?
What advice was given to the lenders, whom solicitors also have a duty to? We now know, for example, that Nationwide will no longer lend on properties with doubling ground rents. That rather raises the question of what their and other lenders’ exposure is and, crucially, why they granted mortgages on these properties in the first place. None of the developers will tell us how many properties they have built with these onerous clauses attached. We need to know the scale of the problem; the stability of the housing market rests on the back of that.
I hope I have demonstrated the range of issues that need to be dealt with in respect of this scandal. A full Select Committee inquiry is the way ahead. This has not happened by accident and we need to know why it started.
Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you, all other Members and, in particular, all the staff who work so hard to keep this place running smoothly, a restful and peaceful summer.
We have had some excellent speeches, including a great maiden speech from the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda). I was at university in Reading, and I spent a lot of time drinking pints in The Nob, going to the kebab shop and eating Champ’s burgers. I studied chemistry and food science, and I think I took the food part a bit too literally. We have also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who raised the issue of BBC salaries. Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) talked about Derek Thompson’s salary. Doctor Who is now a woman. It is only in the world of the BBC that a nurse gets paid more than a doctor. But I am not going to talk about the fictional hospital in “Holby City”. I want to talk about a real hospital: my local hospital, St Helier.
Just before the election, I brought the Secretary of State for Health to St Helier. I was pleased that he took me up on my invitation to come to see the best and the worst of the hospital. He saw that we have the best A&E in London in terms of achieving its targets. He saw the fantastic work of the staff there, and the award-wining fracture unit. He also saw how the multi-disciplinary patient reviews are setting a really good example for other hospitals.
However, the Secretary of State also saw the hoarding around the back of the building, which is crumbling. The hoarding is there not because of construction work but because we cannot rely on bits of masonry not falling off. When a building has the ability to make people more ill, that is not a good thing. There is a fantastic renal unit at St Helier, but the area with the sickest patients is dysfunctional because the lifts do not work properly. A modern-day hospital bed does not fit inside the lifts, so the trust is paying something like £10,000 a week for ambulances to move people from the back of the hospital to the front. This is a building that predates antibiotics, and it will never be what most people would think of as a modern-day healthcare facility. We really need to find a solution to this.
I am delighted that a solution is starting to present itself. We have had review after review, but now, for the first time, the trust has been allowed to engage with the public on an option that does not include St George’s in Tooting. There are six MPs whose constituents are served by the St Helier and Epsom hospitals and they disagree on a lot of the detail, but they do agree that people needing A&E or maternity services should not have to go to Tooting. St George’s is already overloaded, and it is also incredibly difficult to get there in the rush hour as it involves heading into London. The option is to build a specialist acute unit on one of the three sites that the trust owns. It could be at St Helier or at Epsom, or it could be a co-located site involving the Royal Marsden, which could add extra benefits to the services provided there.
Apart from reacquainting myself with the family and trying to get a bit of rest, I will be spending the summer back out on the stump speaking to as many people as possible, because what we need at this stage is for people around Sutton to be asking the NHS to support the trust’s vision and saying, “Yes, we want that level of investment.” The work will cost between £300 million and £400 million. Trying to extract that sort of money is not easy, but we have to find the local will to start talking about where to locate the specialist acute facility and about how to get the money, which could come from the Treasury or from loans, or we could leverage money from pension funds. My local council’s pension fund invests in at least three shopping centres, so why not invest that money in local infrastructure? However expensive the project might be, I think we can all discount PFIs, which have been discredited over the past few years.
In engaging with the public, the trust has ruled little out, but what it has ruled out is really significant: it has ruled out closing St Helier hospital. We have had lots of campaigns to save St Helier, but its closure has been ruled out. The trust is spending £12 million on refurbishing the back of the building, and it has applied for grants to get more money. The trust has asked for about £80 million to cover costs, £40 million of which—if secured—will help to keep St Helier open for at least another 20 years. That has to be good news for the people of Sutton.
The trust has also ruled out doing nothing. I have said that the building is crumbling and that it cannot be turned into a modern facility, so I know that the trust will do what it can to make the hospital last, but we have to do something for my constituents, for the boroughs of Sutton and Merton and for the surrounding areas. The trust has also ruled out building on the land that it solely owns on the old Sutton hospital site in Belmont, because it is too small. That is why the trust is looking at co-locating with the Royal Marsden hospital, the benefit of which is that extra facilities will be added for the Royal Marsden, which does superb work in cancer treatment—having an acute facility right on the doorstep will be good news.
In conclusion, I will be going around speaking to as many people as I can, and I hope the constituents will look at my website, come and speak to me and really get involved. By the time we get back after the conferences, we will hopefully have completed the first stage of getting new healthcare facilities in Sutton. Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you and everybody else a very restful summer break.
It is always a pleasure to speak in these Adjournment debates, and I look forward to each one. People say that I always speak in Adjournment debates, but there you are. In the past, I have taken this opportunity to talk about Northern Ireland’s history and culture, and it is important to get that in Hansard. I have spoken about the Apprentice Boys and the Orange Order, but today I want to speak about the Royal Black Preceptory. People will know about 12 July, which is a bank and public holiday in Northern Ireland. It is a celebration of our culture, history and heritage and, for people who may not be aware, it is important to those who wear a collarette and walk down a certain street. I want to speak about why members of the Royal Black Preceptory put on their collarettes and hold their head high and walk at parades in the so-called marching season.
The Royal Black Preceptory, or the Institute of the Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth, was formed in Ireland in 1797, two years after the formation of the Orange Order in Daniel Winter’s cottage, Loughgall, County Armagh. Its headquarters remain in Lurgan, County Armagh. It ran on an informal basis until 14 September 1846, when the Royal Black Institution was placed on a permanent basis through its reconstitution at a meeting held in Portadown.
From that point, the institution was infused with new life, vitality, inspiration, discipline and a foundation, which has helped it to stand the test of time and to expand to the worldwide membership that exists today. The tiered structure of the institution has its foundation in the local preceptory. Each preceptory has a unique number, which is allocated by the governing body when a new warrant is issued. The preceptory elects officers, who represent their membership at the next tier, namely, a district chapter. Officers from the various local district chapters come together and form a county or provincial grand chapter. My Royal Black Preceptory is number 675, Ballywalter Crimson Arrow. I have been a master and a district master and am currently the register.
The officers of the various county or provincial chapters constitute the membership of the governing body known as the Imperial Grand Council. One of the institution’s most colourful and well-attended events is the annual demonstration at Scarva in County Down, which is traditionally held on 13 July. Preceptories from Portadown, Newry, Tandragee, Markethill, Banbridge, Rathfriland and Lower Iveagh take part along with many national and international visitors.
Exceptional numbers of people turned out this year. I believe that across the whole Province there has been more interest in our culture and history this summer than ever before. The numbers who attended and took part in the demonstrations or parades have been phenomenally larger than normal.
Other demonstrations attended by the majority of preceptories in Northern Ireland are organised on the last Saturday in August each year, usually across six different venues. A demonstration is also organised for the second Saturday in August in Fermanagh, attended by preceptories from Fermanagh, Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. There is also one in Scotland, attended by all Scottish preceptories.
I will quote the official website of the Royal Black Institution:
“At the beginning of the 21st century, the Royal Black Institution is poised to continue its valuable role in maintaining its witness for the Christian Reformed Faith and fostering friendly relations among people of a common heritage on what is truly a worldwide scale.”
The basis of the Royal Black Institution is the promotion of scripture, the principles of the Protestant Reformation, and religious freedom, democracy and liberty for all. The Royal Black Institution has preceptories throughout the world, mainly in the major English-speaking countries, and is particularly strong in Newfoundland, Canada. The society is also popular in Scotland—I see that some of my colleagues from Scotland are here today—where 60 preceptories exist, organised into 11 districts across the country. In Glasgow alone, 26 marches by the Royal Black Institution took place in the year 2009-10.
We walk on the last Saturday in August. This year, the demonstration will be held in Comber, which is in my constituency, for the whole of County Down. For those who love marching bands, the preceptories demonstration always brings an exceptional quality of bands. The Royal Black Preceptory members are well turned out, in suits, ties and in some cases bowler hats.
The society is formed from Orangemen and can be seen as a progression of that order, although they are separate institutions. Anyone wishing to be admitted to the Royal Black Institution must first become a member of an Orange Order Lodge, and many people are members of both. The Royal Black is often referred to as
“the senior of the loyal orders”.
The Black’s foundations are scriptural and it does not involve itself in politics or take “political” stances that sway towards one particular political party or another, while the Orange Order has traditionally been seen to play a more prominent role in Unionist politics. When people talk about “political rallies”, that is why many Black preceptory members do not associate with such rallies.
I am a proud member of the Royal Black Preceptory 675, along with my brother Keith, and I walk proudly, understanding that when I walk I carry with me the weight and history of our nation. The fact is that the underlying principle of the Black is religious freedom, which I greatly appreciate and often speak about in this House. It means a lot to me and to all the other people whose fathers and grandfathers have proudly stood under the scriptural banners of the lodges. Although there may be some on either side of the divide who seek to make such walks a political action, as a politician I can proudly say that that is not my purpose when wearing my collarette. My purpose is to declare that I hold to the tenet of religious liberty for all, and cling to the right to express and celebrate my heritage and culture as a man who loves God, loves scripture, loves his community, loves culture and loves our marching season.
I will give a note to anyone in this House—right hon. Members or hon. Members— who invites me to any events on 12 July or the Black Saturday. For some reason, I will not be available. On those two occasions back home, I have a long-standing engagement of celebrating who I am. Although I really appreciate such invitations, I am sorry that I will not be able to take them up.
I thank Mr Deputy Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and Mr Speaker, and the staff of this House, for their kindness to all of us as right hon. and hon. Members, including the catering staff, the security staff and especially Hansard, who often translate my Ulster Scots into English, which I appreciate very much; Hansard does very well. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members a very relaxing and peaceful holiday. They deserve the break. What a privilege it is to come to this House to represent our constituents. We are very privileged to do so and I thank the people of Strangford for giving me the chance to do that again.
It is a pleasure to follow all the hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who have expressed their passion and commitment to their constituencies today. As a new Member of this House, who has been here for only a few weeks, may I also express my thanks for the kindness and advice that everyone has offered me. Members from all parties and the staff, particularly in the Lobby but also elsewhere, have helped me. Every time I look a bit lost, someone comes to my aid and directs me to the Tea Room. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all so much.
Before we go into recess, I know that some Members may be thinking about deck-chairs and warm prosecco, but I will not. Those pleasures will have to wait, because in Redditch my constituents are working, thanks to the record low levels of unemployment, which are now at a 42-year low. That means people in Redditch are working hard.
I pay tribute to our fantastic entrepreneurs in Redditch. I have made it my priority to back small businesses, and I have already visited two in my constituency—Ubi-Tech and Heartbeat—that are creating jobs at a record rate, which I welcome. We have seen unemployment in Redditch fall to a low of 2.1%, which is lower than the national average. That is fantastic news for all the residents who are taking advantage of opportunities to progress themselves and fulfil their potential.
I want to go further. I want to help everybody in Redditch who wants to get on in life, so I will be launching my Redditch mentor scheme over the summer recess. The scheme will be an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to work in schools and colleges to further young people’s skills and raise their aspirations, and I am pleased to have already had some support from local businesses.
Young people sometimes face barriers to getting on in life, and we all need to do more. We talk a lot about mental health in this House, and I support and applaud those efforts, but we know we need to do more on the ground. I am also making it a focus to visit the wonderful organisations in Redditch that work so hard to help the vulnerable people in our communities, notably: the Where Next Association, a charity that works with young people and older members of society with learning disabilities; Victim Support; Boys2Men; and the Sandycroft Centre. They are doing fantastic work on the ground, and I look forward to helping them join those efforts together so that everyone in our society can take advantage of the opportunities on offer.
We have seen our economy creating jobs at a record rate, and we have seen what happens when the economy does not work for everyone. We see youth unemployment across the rest of Europe spiralling out of control and blighting lives, so I welcome our Government’s work to keep youth unemployment down, which helps all young people get a good start in life.
As other colleagues have said, fake news has sometimes blighted our election campaigns—the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) also alluded to this point. During the election, I struggled with a campaign to save the Alexandra, our local hospital. In truth, the Alex has never needed saving. The Alex is a fantastic hospital, and it was a very difficult issue for us to address in the election campaign. I call on everyone to stop using the national health service as a means to gather votes, because it does not help the hard-working doctors and nurses who have to deliver health services for patients in Redditch. It does not help them to address the issues that they are tackling admirably.
I thank the Secretary of State for Health and his Department, which yesterday announced that it would support our health services in Redditch and across Worcestershire by investing £29 million. That will help our hospital in Redditch to proceed with and deliver the results of the consultation that the clinical commissioning group decided on. I, like many others, was not happy with the consultation, which went against the wishes of Redditch people but continued for five years. There was so much uncertainty hanging over the people of Redditch that we now need to move on. We need to see the new services and investment delivered into our hospitals, which will ultimately see better care and better treatments for people in Redditch.
Finally, I say to all the EU citizens working in our national health service in Redditch, “You are welcome here, and we value the work that you do in treating our citizens in Redditch. We know you will be able to stay in this country after we leave the EU. We want you to feel welcome. We know that only 5% of NHS workers are from the EU, but you make a very significant contribution, so thank you for all the work you do.”
I wish everyone a very peaceful recess.
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the new Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) for an eloquent and informative maiden speech.
The issue I want to talk about is the Government’s consultation on “Driving offences and penalties relating to causing death or serious injury” by dangerous driving. The consultation began in December 2016 and concluded on 1 February 2017. This year’s snap election has resulted in many casualties, one way or another, and it would seem that this consultation is yet another. In response to a written question I tabled on 21 June 2017, asking when the Ministry of Justice planned to publish its response to the consultation, I received the following reply:
“The government is now considering the consultation responses. Any announcement will be made in due course.”
Dissatisfied with that response, I raised the issue at business questions last week. The Leader of the House appeared to share my concern and promised to write to me, but as yet I have not received a letter—I am sure it will arrive at my office soon.
I raise this issue because of the tragic death of my constituent Joseph Brown-Lartey in November 2014. Joseph was killed, at the age of just 25, by a 19-year-old uninsured, unlicensed driver in a hire car who ran a red light at 80 mph in a 30 mph zone. He hit Joseph’s car. The impact was so great that the car was cut in two and Joseph was killed instantly. Just the previous day, that driver had posted a picture on Snapchat of his speedometer at 142 mph on the M62, with a boast that he had driven from Leeds to Rochdale in just 11 minutes. He was sentenced to just six years’ imprisonment, of which he is likely to serve three. He will very probably soon be released, but Joseph’s family are serving a life sentence with the loss of their beloved son.
I wrote to the Attorney General on behalf of Joseph’s family, asking for this sentence to be reconsidered, but the ruling was that it was in line with current guidelines and was therefore not considered to be “unduly lenient”. It is the belief of Joseph’s parents and myself, and many other affected families, that these guidelines are outdated and that the penalty does not match the severity of the crimes committed by dangerous drivers. The maximum sentence is 14 years, yet it is very rare that even this maximum sentence is imposed. Joseph’s parents, Dawn and Ian, have campaigned tirelessly under their “Justice for Joseph” campaign, championed by local radio station Key 103, to try to ensure that other families do not suffer the same sense of burning injustice that they have. They have handed in a petition, signed by more than 20,000 people, to 10 Downing Street, calling for tougher sentences for dangerous drivers. They have given the wreckage of Joseph’s car to Greater Manchester police, and it is being used to educate drivers, particularly young drivers, about the dangers of driving dangerously. Members may have seen the car outside Parliament in July last year and may, rightly, have been shocked to see it split completely in two. The road safety charity, Brake has given its full support to the campaign and has launched its own parallel campaign, “Roads to Justice”. Gary Rae, from Brake, has said:
“There are too many families who suffer the double trauma of losing a loved one in a sudden and violent way and then witness the judicial system turning its back on them.”
There was relief when the Government finally announced in December last year that a consultation was to be held, with the possibility of life sentences for those causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving. However, it is now July 2017, we are about to go into recess and still there is no sign of the outcome of the consultation. In the meantime, many families sadly have been and continue to be affected by this gross injustice.
At the launch of the “Roads to Justice” campaign, I met a constituent of the Prime Minister. Mark Hollands’ daughter Bryony was tragically killed by a drunk driver who came off the road and struck her while she was walking along the pavement. Bryony’s killer was given an eight-year sentence, of which he will serve four. Bryony was a 19-year-old music student. Since her death, her father has campaigned tirelessly for tougher sentences and raised funds for the music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins, in his daughter’s memory. Bryony’s father contacted me today to say that the family should have been attending her graduation ceremony in Sheffield this very afternoon.
In Aldershot in November last year, two young runners, Lucy Pygott and Stacey Burrows, were killed by a drunk driver while out training. Their killer, a soldier, got just six years, of which he will serve three. As Lucy’s mother said:
“The British Army trains soldiers to kill—this man killed with his loaded weapon of a hot-hatch car.”
Sadly, the list goes on and on. I recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice to ask for information on the progress of the consultation, and I highlighted two more cases. One was in Oldham; two young girls aged 11 and 12 were killed, yet the driver, who fled the scene, received a sentence of just four years, of which he will serve two. One was in St Helens in May this year; a four-year-old was killed and her grandmother seriously injured by the driver of a stolen car that mounted the pavement at speed, with the driver also fleeing the scene. When he was finally arrested and charged, he received a sentence of nine years, of which he will serve four and a half.
While the Government delay, the families who lose loved ones in such horrific and entirely avoidable circumstances should not be made to suffer the added injustice of such lenient treatment of the killers. I am keen for the Government to make clear their intentions as soon as possible, for the sake of the victims and their families, who have suffered enough. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to raise this hugely important matter today.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), not only for that moving speech, but for showing a lot of fight on behalf of the victims in those terrible cases. I pay tribute to her campaign for justice, which I hope she continues with; we will all support her in that endeavour.
I wish to raise the case of a constituent, Mr Chris Francis of Constable Road in Sudbury. He contacted me almost a year ago today to express his concerns about a large metal barrier that had been erected across the garden gate at the rear of his property. When I first heard about it, I thought it was perhaps just another constituency case, but he explained that he is blind and used the gate to safely and easily access his property with his guide dog, Nimbus. Central to his concern about the barrier was the fact that he would no longer be able to use his back door as an exit in an emergency—I emphasise that we are talking about an emergency. Mr Francis was not notified or consulted by Calibre Homes, the company that erected the barrier.
I went out to Constable Road to see the houses, all ex-council houses that back on to an estate called Suffolk Court. The company that manages the estate had erected the barriers outside rear gates that had been used for many years. Suddenly, the residents of these houses woke up to find that they could not open or close them. The barriers were covered in anti-burglar paint, they were ugly and, in my view, the way they had been built was aggressive.
In November, I went back to see Mr Francis to update him on the progress of his case, or lack of it. I had been telling Babergh District Council that I thought the residents had a right of way, and asked the council to help me to prove that; the council was going through the inevitably slow legal process of doing so. When I went to see Mr Francis in November, I was shocked to discover that he had suffered a severe stroke—a right-sided total anterior circulation infarct. Mr Francis is 62 and, as I said, blind. He is a Royal Air Force veteran: he was a parachuting instructor in the RAF for 10 years. He then set up his own parachute school. He was a very active man and has lived a brilliant life.
When I saw him that day, he was in a most distressing state. His sister, Anne, who has been a stalwart by his side, explained to me the circumstances of his stroke. She came to Mr Francis’s property to find that he had collapsed at the front door. She could not go through the front door because his key was in it, so immediately called the ambulance service, which tried to access the house from the rear.
The report states that
“the delay in getting into the property was due to a tall metal fence, which obstructed their ability to get through to the back of the property. It was in fact so high it was unsafe for them to climb over to gain entry. Therefore, they requested the attendance of the Police to gain access.”
The police report states:
“There was no safe entry point to the front of the property as the male had collapsed by the front door. Efforts to get to the rear of the property to assess an entry point were severely hampered by the large fencing. I was eventually able to scale it after using a wheelie bin to get some extra height. Not all officers would have been able to do this…In relation to delay, I would say the fencing added about 10 minutes to police gaining entry…This would have removed a delay of medical attention by about 30 minutes as Ambulance on arrival would have been able to go straight into the property.”
In other words, if the barrier had not been there, there would have been an extra 30 minutes for an ambulance to attend to this man suffering a stroke. Everyone in the Chamber will know that the NHS has an acronym for treating stroke, and that is FAST, because the speed of treatment is critical. My constituent suffers from significantly reduced mobility, speech and wellbeing. He relies on considerable assistance from his sister and family and requires a wheelchair.
My main reason for raising this case is that I believe that Calibre Homes—I have corresponded with the company and it has shown no willingness to remove the barriers, has been unable to justify them and, in my view, has been most aggressive—has in effect contributed to the severity of the stroke suffered by my constituent, a blind veteran. That is absolutely shocking. In fact, it has continued with that rather belligerent attitude. Anne Francis, the sister of my constituent, has been in communication with Calibre Homes, pleading for the removal of the fence to help him have a better quality of life. Indeed, the Suffolk County Council occupational therapist has reported on access possibilities, stating that
“the front wheelchair access is not practical in part due to the shared porch and part the gradient required…I would think they have a strong case if disability is the issue, and the rear is the only wheelchair access” .
Mr Francis requires an electric wheelchair that needs to be housed outside but requires rear access. We have asked Calibre Homes, which has refused to grant this permission or remove the fence.
I ask Members to bear in mind that, in my view, that barrier is unjustified because those residents have a right of way. They had been walking out of the back of their homes for donkey’s years and suddenly they woke up to find these things straight out of an American penitentiary centre stuck in the concrete at the back of their houses, covered in burglar paint. It is absolutely reprehensible.
I want to finish with a point about Calibre Homes. I have been in correspondence with the company. It is aggressive in the way that it writes, it could not care less about my constituent and it has shown not a shred of humanity or compassion for someone who is suffering severely and has served this country. I wish Mr Francis well in his recovery, I will work with Babergh District Council to try to prove the right of way for those residents and I will fight his corner. He is vulnerable and needs me to do that. I will fight for him and my constituents against this company, which has no scruples.
I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) about the warm welcome that has been extended to new Members. I pay particular tribute to our staff in the SNP Whips Office, who have supported me in my meteoric rise to deputy assistant junior Whip.
I want to mention the proposed closures of Parkhead and Easterhouse jobcentres within my Glasgow East constituency. These proposed closures are ill-thought-out and will have a deeply damaging impact on some of the most vulnerable communities in Glasgow’s east end where access to transport and digital connectivity are major barriers. Ministers on the Treasury Bench would do well to come to Glasgow and see for themselves the havoc that these proposals would cause to an already fragile community. My main subject today is a difficult and deeply upsetting one. I must confess, I even thought twice about whether to speak about it at all, but it is incumbent on me to speak up because those who I want to speak for cannot speak up for themselves. They are the children and babies with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions, children who never live long enough to go to nursery or school.
Many right hon. and hon. Members will have experienced the joy of becoming a parent. Most, if they are lucky, will have a trouble-free pregnancy and a safe delivery. Some of us have gone through a difficult pregnancy, and the child is born prematurely or in dangerous circumstances. My own son Isaac was born prematurely and spent the first two weeks of his life in an intensive care and special care unit. We are indebted to the staff at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde for all of the care, love and support they provided to him during that time.
Isaac eventually left hospital, and he is a happy, if cheeky, little boy. However, on or before birth, some parents have to face the sobering, tragic reality that they will outlive their children, which is utterly unimaginable, yet, sadly, a reality for the families of approximately 50,000 children on these islands.
In preparing for this debate, I was incredibly grateful to my constituent and friend, Louise Gillan from Springboig, who shared with me her personal experience of having a child with complex health needs. Her daughter, Erin, was diagnosed with a rare condition at the age of two.
Across the UK, there is a mixed picture when it comes to the funding of children’s palliative care. Together for Short Lives quite rightly wants the UK Government to follow the lead of the Scottish Government, who have allocated £30 million over five years to children’s hospices, so that there is parity of funding with adult hospices. Children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland deserve the same recognition, opportunity and support as those in Scotland.
At this juncture, I want to pay tribute to the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) for speaking so personally and movingly about their own experiences of being bereaved of a child. The hon. Gentleman did excellent work in the last Parliament to build interest and momentum around the concept of parental bereavement leave, which both Labour and the Conservatives included in their election manifestos. I am pleased that, in the past 24 hours, the Government have committed to introducing bereavement leave and supporting the private Member’s Bill of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake).
The main issue I want to raise today is the cruel anomaly of not paying the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance for children under three years old. This has been dubbed the baby benefit bar. Children under three with life-shortening conditions often depend on ventilators and large equipment to stay alive. Some babies and children have permanent wheelchairs, as they are not able to use buggies suitable for well children of the same age. The wheelchairs are heavy because of the equipment needed to secure them to a vehicle.
All this leads me to conclude that exclusion from the mobility component of DLA is as inherently unfair as it is illogical. Calling on the UK Government to include the under threes in the mobility component of DLA is a small ask, but it is one that could enormously support and transform the lives of the families of children with short lives. These additional mobility needs are already recognised in other areas of Government policy. Children under three who depend on bulky medical equipment, or need to be near their vehicle in case they need emergency medical treatment, are already eligible for a blue parking badge, so excluding them from the DLA component is clearly an anomaly.
What we are talking about here is the difference of just £58 a week, which is a drop in the ocean for the Government when we consider just how few families this will affect, but it will have the potential to move some of those families away from unnecessary poverty.
I want to share with the House this testimony from a parent of a child receiving palliative care. They told us:
“My daughter has had a tracheotomy with a ventilator attached 24/7 since the age of eight months. She needs these for an undiagnosed neuromuscular condition. She cannot support herself at all. Carrying her, her vent, her suction machine, her oxygen, her emergency equipment to our car and back for two years was extremely difficult. We ended up selling our family car and purchasing a wheelchair accessible vehicle privately as it just became too hard to carry her as she grew.”
Time is not on the side of these families. The best that we can do is to be on their side.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. One person who must be looking forward to the recess is the speech writer of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is sadly no longer in his place, given the number of contributions that the hon. Gentleman makes in Parliament. He is probably busy writing an intervention for tonight’s Adjournment debate. It was certainly interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
I have three issues that I wish to raise. Hopefully, they will be the subject of some attention before we return in September. The first is the school funding formula. It was great to hear the announcements that were made earlier this week, which reflected much of the lobbying that had been done by Torbay schools. The next part is ensuring that we get the detailed figures for what it means per school, especially as it will mean that we can rebut some of the stuff that has been put out on the internet. I am looking forward to seeing the figures, and I know that many schools in Torbay will appreciate having the certainty that they will represent.
The key issue that I hope will be worked on over the summer relates to transport issues in my constituency. The first is around finally sorting out the remaining funding needed to deliver the first new station in Torbay for decades—at Edginswell. There is a strong business case, with local enterprise partnership support and £4 million in match funding, and the council has been told that delivery would be relatively easy, with planning permission in place and a site that is ready to go. I hope that the Department for Transport will decide to cut at least £1.5 million off the total cost of delivery by insisting that Network Rail covers the costs of realigning the track, which locally we suggest is a maintenance task.
The project has gone through all the GRIP—governance for railway investment projects—stage 3 documentation for Network Rail. The moment there is an announcement on funding from the new stations fund, a start could be made. I know that the council is keen to invest and the operator is keen to provide services. It would send a huge message about our ambitions in the bay, not least in developing the business park at Edginswell and supporting the nearby hospital, which has had numerous staff access issues, because a convenient train service would make a real difference. New housing estates are being built nearby, so the station would open up opportunities for residents to find jobs in the bay and slightly further afield. I hope that we can take the project forward when we return in September.
I also hope that by the time we return in September there will have been some progress on CrossCountry’s proposals for a new train timetable. The initial proposals produced last year were nothing short of disgraceful. CrossCountry attempted to portray them as an “improvement to your services”, even though that poster was on a platform at Torquay station from which all the services would be scrapped. I was pleased that those proposals were withdrawn, but discussions are still ongoing. I hope that by September we will have received confirmation that Torbay will definitely stay on track. I hope that families coming to the bay for a holiday will not have to change trains with their luggage at a busy Exeter St David’s station to what is joyfully called a “metro service” but is actually a commuter train that is likely to be overcrowded at particular times of the day and on which seats cannot be reserved.
One of my priorities over the recess will be to campaign with local residents on another transport issue: reinstating the bus services that were lost when Local Link, a local operator, ceased all its local routes back in April. Many have been reinstated—I am thinking of the No. 60, in particular—with a community bus operator or an alternative operator, but residents in Torbay Park, Ellacombe and the Lichfield Avenue area of Barton are still waiting. Given the topography of Torquay—the town of seven hills—someone might not be all that far from a bus route as the crow flies, but if that journey involves walking up a steep hill, for many elderly residents their bus pass becomes almost useless. If getting to the bus stop is fine, coming back might not be. I have started a petition, which I hope to present to the House in September. It is vital that we campaign for the return of those services, particularly given the information I have received that a route on a not-for-profit basis could well be viable. It is about sorting out capital funding for a new bus that would allow the service to be delivered.
Politics in Torbay is always at its best when we are talking about policies and delivery, not bickering about structures and personalities. That point will have particular prominence today back in the bay, given a meeting that is going on. I hope that all those elected to serve the most beautiful bay in the UK will remember that that must be the focus of their time and energy, and I hope that people see that it is the focus of my energies in this House.
I am conscious of time and know that other Members wish to speak, so I will draw my remarks to a close. I am looking forward to the recess because, as some Members will know, I got married on 10 June. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Thank you. Many things had to be cancelled because of a decision made by the other woman in my life—Mrs May, not Mrs Foster. For example, my stag night ended up being an election count, Hazel’s hen night was cancelled and our honeymoon was postponed. Hopefully we will find some time over the recess to have our honeymoon—as Hazel pointed out, the trip up to London this week to cover my office for a couple of days was not really what she was looking forward to. Recess will certainly be busy. I wish everyone in the House, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker, a very enjoyable and productive break.
May I, on behalf of all the House, start by warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) on his wedding and wish him a very happy honeymoon, whenever that takes place?
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to raise a few issues that can be crowded out in the ordinary course of busy parliamentary business. In doing so, I will unapologetically focus on Cheltenham, because one thing I have learned over the last two years is that, for all the cynicism about our democratic process, Parliament does, indeed, remain the forum in which we can seek effective redress for our constituents and speak truth to power. We saw that in action with the Government’s welcome decision last week to allocate more frontline funding for our secondary schools, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and I saw it in the last Parliament, with the passage of legislation to extend the maximum sentence for stalking, following the terrible ordeal of a Cheltenham GP.
I would like to take the opportunity at the outset to congratulate all the students who are receiving awards at the National Star College leavers award ceremony in Gloucestershire. The National Star College, for those who do not know it, is an independent specialist further education college for people with physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries and associated learning difficulties. It is an extraordinary place; no one who visits it can fail to be moved by what is being achieved by staff and students alike.
What I want to talk about specifically today is Cheltenham General Hospital. We in Cheltenham value our hospital greatly. Members might think that that is a truism, but it is particularly the case in a town of 115,000 people. Only this morning, I received a message from a constituent, who referred to Cheltenham General, stating:
“My wife has been admitted there four times in the past two years—three times for surgery—and on each occasion—from the first visit of the paramedics to the A&E staff and on the various wards she has received the most wonderful attention—professional, kind, caring and patient.”
What a wonderful tribute, and it is not unusual. It is echoed by the findings of the recent Care Quality Commission report. Inspectors describe staff as “committed, caring and compassionate”. They also observed “exceptional teamwork”, particularly when a department was under pressure.
However, there is an issue about our night-time A&E. In 2013, Cheltenham General’s A&E service was downgraded. Blue light services were diverted to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Although night-time A&E notionally remained, and indeed remains, open for GP referrals and walk-ins, the reality is that a major service change took place. The emergency nurse practitioners, who do a magnificent job of holding the fort, do not have doctor support to assist them. That is important, because in the CQC report I referred to a few moments ago, medical and nursing staff raised concerns with inspectors about medical cover at night. To their great credit, consultants regularly work longer hours to support their junior colleagues. The CQC was not convinced that that was sustainable, and nor am I. That is notwithstanding the fact that the care that has been delivered is co-ordinated and multi-discipline.
What needs to be done? There is a clear problem with the recruitment of middle-grade doctors in A&E not just in Cheltenham but across the piece—the trust has made that clear, and the evidence bears it out. That is why I have called for a debate on the issue in this place, and I take the opportunity to raise it now.
Improving incentives for middle-grade A&E doctors is a crucial part of the long-term solution. In the short term, I welcome the fact that the trust is looking closely at providing an urgent care centre at Cheltenham General Hospital—something that was reported in the local paper, the Gloucestershire Echo, in March this year. Only today, we heard my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) extol the virtues of urgent care centres, because they provide urgent care, as the name might suggest, and, crucially, divert patients from accident and emergency—something we all have an interest in. An urgent care centre would see emergency nurse practitioners supported by GPs, which I welcome. However, that will take place only if we as a country increase the pipeline of GPs in our surgeries, and that means addressing the issue of rising GP indemnity—or insurance—premiums, which I have referred to previously.
The key point is that the people of Cheltenham want Cheltenham’s A&E to be preserved and enhanced. I have made that point in the past and I will continue to make it. Some have raised with me a concern about whether the downgrading of night-time A&E was simply the thin end of the wedge that would presage the end of A&E in Cheltenham. After my election in 2015, I met representatives of the trust to make precisely that point and to raise precisely that concern. I was given a clear assurance regarding A&E’s future; there was no suggestion of its demise. That was also the case in the following year, 2016, when I met the then chief executive, who described rumours of A&E closing as “blatant scaremongering” and confirmed:
“What we said to you on 5 June 2015 still stands and the board has not changed its position on A&E at Cheltenham General.”
I welcome that robust commitment to A&E. It must remain in place. Crucially, it must remain in place notwithstanding the recent finding of financial mismanagement at the trust—which, I should stress, predates the appointment of the current chief executive and chairman, who are doing an excellent job in uncovering these problems.
Retaining and enhancing A&E at Cheltenham General must remain a service priority. I say that because the idea that a resident in Battledown, Oakley, Charlton Kings or Charlton Park to the east of Cheltenham can readily get to A&E at Gloucestershire Royal hospital, having to travel all the way down the Golden Valley bypass and the A40 in a big traffic jam, is for the birds. Those of us who live there know that that is not a realistic or optimal solution.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to two constituents of mine, Lynda and Philip Hodder. Mr and Mrs Hodder are the parents-in-law of a young Australian woman who, in June of this year, was, very sadly, killed in Borough Market in the terrorist atrocities. The young woman who was killed was referred to by some as “the angel of London Bridge” because of the way that she sought to aid others who were coming under attack. The dignity, fortitude and courage shown by my constituents has been enormously humbling. It is what has fortified me in making the representations that I have made about how we go about addressing the issue of those who are suspected and even convicted of terrorist offences in this country.
The point that my constituents have made to me, with a power that only people in that position can, is that while of course in a free society we rightly take account of the human rights of all people who come into contact with our criminal justice system—and yes, that must mean people who come into contact with it for terrorism offences—let us never forget that the most fundamental human right of all is the right to life of people who are innocent, decent, hard-working, law-abiding members of our community doing nothing more than going about their business, whether at Borough Market or anywhere else. Their rights must always be put first.
It is a huge privilege to be able to raise the concerns of my constituents in this great place, and to seek redress on their behalf. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to do so. I wish you and all Members of this House a very happy and restful recess.
Tail-end Charlie. [Laughter.] Me, not you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
We have heard some powerful speeches here today, especially from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). I, too, lost a constituent, at the Manchester Arena. We need to do a lot more to support the families of those who survive after the loss of loved ones. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) made a brilliant speech. If she wants to go to see any Ministers about increasing the sentences of these killers in motor vehicles, there are a lot of Conservative Members who will go with her to give support to that. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) and I have a lot in common. He said he had a meteoric rise; I had a meteoric fall. I know which one I would prefer. I wish him good luck in his new job.
I have just two issues to raise. First, I am sure everyone in the Chamber was sickened by the news of the death of Cecil the lion two years ago, and today the news has come out that the son of Cecil has been shot by a trophy killer. What is wrong with the people who get any pleasure whatsoever from killing these beautiful endangered animals? If they want to shoot a lion, they should use a camera, and future generations would then be able to enjoy these wonderful creatures. I hope the Government will bring pressure to bear on the Governments of countries that allow such killers into their countryside to kill these beautiful creatures.
The second issue I want to raise is exactly the same as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders)—the leasehold freehold scam in our country. What is going on in Ribble Valley was brought to my attention before the general election. I do not know whether it is a north-west thing or is going on throughout the entire country. People are being recommended by builders to solicitors who then do not, funnily enough, point out or indeed emphasise the fact that the ground rents they will pay, which may start off at a relatively modest amount, will double every 10 years for the next 50 years, so at the end of that period they may be paying £10,000 a year in ground rent to live in a house that they have paid for. It is an absolute scandal.
This is blighting the properties that people are now trying to sell. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that some building societies will not touch them or lend anybody money to buy them. Even worse, when people are about to buy a property, they are told, “Oh, you can buy the freehold later on. Don’t worry about that.” What has happened in the Ribble Valley? People went to Taylor Wimpey and said, “You said we had two years to buy the freehold. Well, we’d like to buy it.” They were expecting to pay £4,500, but they were told that the leases had been sold on to another company for a sum of money, and we are now talking about a considerable sum of money that the people wanting to buy the freehold will have to pay to an independent, third company. They were not told by Taylor Wimpey that that would happen.
I want to give one vivid example, which is the test case of Trevor and Margaret Knowell, who live on Calderstones Green in Whalley. They bought their property in 2011, when they were informed that they had a two-year window within which to buy the property’s leasehold. They contacted Taylor Wimpey’s legal team before the two years had expired, and they were told they were unable to purchase the leasehold because the negotiations with a third party were “too far gone” to halt and the leasehold was then sold to E & J Estates for £7,000. Having contacted E & J Estates, Mr Knowell bought the lease for £38,000, just months after the lease had been sold for £7,000.
I say to the Government—our manifesto said that we would get some reforms in this area—that this scam must be made illegal. We have to protect people unknowingly and unwittingly buying these properties who are then left wide open to being fleeced by a third party. The developer does not appear to care at all about putting people in an invidious position, and in any case should they really suggest solicitors to act on behalf of people who are buying their properties? That should also be made illegal, so that people get proper, independent advice. Had they been warned about this in the first place, such people would not have touched these houses, and the developers would not have been able to fabricate a scam that is now inflicting misery on so many people around this country.
I am pleased to be making my first appearance at the Dispatch Box as the shadow Deputy Leader of the House. I am very grateful to Members on both sides of the House for their kind words. I look forward to playing my role in continuing to ensure an open, modern Parliament, and one that reflects the priorities of the many in this country, not the few.
This is an important moment for our country and our democracy, and indeed for Parliament. Clement Attlee once said:
“Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking.”
The interim Prime Minister tried that with her call for “no running commentary” on Brexit, but this Parliament and the people who send us here have been clear that we will discuss, debate and vote on the most significant change to legislation our country has seen in the past 40 years in this Session. Where it is in the interests of those we are proud to represent, we will be very pleased to work with Government Members. Our duty in this place is not yah-boo, but can-do. If by collaborating we can improve the lives of working people, that is what we must do.
I know from my own experience of working with Ministers since I came to the House two years ago, on issues such as the safety of towed trailers and improving apprenticeship opportunities, that we can make progress together. Where we have common ground, we must and will continue that approach. Since last we recessed, we have our new permanent memorial to our friend Jo Cox here to remind us that we do, indeed, have more in common.
Although hon. Members will be taking a vacation this summer, the daily struggle of millions of people to pay the bills knows no summer break. That is why colleagues from all parts of the House will, I know, be working hard to continue to help constituents.
We have heard this afternoon from many hon. Members about the issues that are close to their hearts, and it has been a pleasure to listen to Members from all parts of the House. We have had a magnificent maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), who talked about austerity and its effect on Reading, and the need for a good relationship for the people of Reading as we leave the United—[Laughter.] That would be a step too far; I meant the European Union. I am a very collaborative person. My hon. Friend also spoke about the need for more affordable housing, particularly in the south of England. I am delighted to have another Labour colleague further down the M4, as we repopulate the M4 corridor with Labour Members.
We have heard a number of excellent speeches. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) talked, as he does so eloquently and regularly, about Yemen and the effects of cholera there at the moment. He is sending us all away on the Pioppi diet for the recess, and I am looking forward to partaking of that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) talked about the NHS trust in his area and leasehold reform. He was joined in the latter by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), who described what is going on with leasehold reform as
“the PPI of the house building industry”
and pointed out that if it continues, an Englishman’s home will no longer be his castle; it will be a revenue stream for offshore companies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) spoke eloquently about the CAPA provision for sixth-formers in her constituency, and I hope that she will be able to ensure that the dreams of the young people of Wakefield are realised. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) talked about the sugar tax and the need to combat the obesity epidemic. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) spoke very movingly, as I have heard her do in other debates, about the need for justice for people who are severely affected by dangerous driving. I, too, look forward to the Government’s consultation on that important issue.
If there was a theme among the many speeches that we have heard today, it was austerity and its impact. Several Conservative Members talked about urgent care centres and the impact of austerity on A&E departments, which is also a serious concern in my constituency. The hon. Members for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), for Corby (Tom Pursglove) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) talked about those matters. I welcome the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) to the House. She talked about the importance of EU citizens in her constituency.
As we head into the summer recess, it is worth reflecting on the contrasting nature of the weeks ahead, and comparing Labour Members with Conservative ones. I suspect that Conservative Members may be in for a more torrid and turbulent time. While I and my Labour colleagues will be returning to our constituencies to prepare for government—[Interruption]—focusing squarely ahead on the priorities of those we represent, Conservative Members will be looking over their shoulders for the next leadership bid, the next denial of ambition or the next briefing against, while perusing the latest betting odds that might tell them who to back in the inevitable contest.
Hon. Members who have spoken in previous summer Adjournment debates have offered sage vacation advice. Indeed, we have been invited to Southend to join in this year’s carnival. My constituency of Bristol South is not known as a tourist destination, but if colleagues find themselves there, they might find time to visit the excellent Windmill Hill city farm and the splendidly rebuilt Ashton Gate stadium, where they could watch quality championship football when Bristol City kick off against Barnsley on 5 August. It will be the first step, I am told, in this year’s promotion quest.
Finally, I wish hon. Members, the men and women who protect us, and the staff who serve us so well in these Houses a peaceful summer, and thank them for all that they do. In particular, may I congratulate and thank all those involved in suddenly closing down Parliament for the election and then resuming the services for continuing and new Members? It was a massive management and operational task. We should be grateful to them and I wish them some well-earned rest.
It is always a pleasure to be under your jurisdiction, Mr Deputy Speaker.
May I start by warmly welcoming the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) to her position as shadow Deputy Leader of the House? I look forward to working with her on those collaborative and common-ground issues on which we can work together. I am sure we will continue to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) started this afternoon’s debate. He puts his views extremely powerfully on the record. I am not going to say anything more about that.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) spoke once more about Yemen, an issue that is very close to his heart. He is a doughty campaigner, a powerful advocate for a wide variety of causes. He is not in his place because he has business elsewhere. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is fully engaged on the issue of the appalling cholera epidemic in Yemen and, of course, this Government are honouring the 0.7% GDP commitment to international development. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his newly elected position on the new all-party parliamentary group on immigration and visas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) spoke about a very wide variety of issues, from a visit from Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex to his belief that the BBC would be somewhat cheaper if he had a presenter’s job. I think that is probably true, and maybe he should consider making an application. He always thanks and congratulates a wide variety of people in his constituency, and I know that they will very much appreciate being mentioned in this House. He is such a superb representative of his constituency and works very hard to represent everyone there.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) spoke next. He too is a powerful advocate, especially on the issue that several Members mentioned—leaseholders and freeholds and land rights. He is a doughty force as co-chair of the APPG on leasehold and commonhold reform. He does a powerful job as an advocate in that area, and I congratulate him on his work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) was, of course, responsible for the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. He got it on the statute book, which is a great accolade and a huge credit to him for his work in that quarter. He spoke about his fight for a smoke-free Britain and about war crimes, the importance of human rights and the issue of caste. He speaks regularly on issues that cross party divides—issues that we can all understand and support. I know that he is widely admired and respected by all quarters of society in his constituency, particularly those of the minority ethnic community, who very much appreciate his powerful representation on their behalf.
The hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) gave his maiden speech, on which I congratulate him. I welcome him to this place. He spoke proudly of his constituency and spoke very well of his predecessors. I wish him well. I am sure that he will be an asset to his party. One of his predecessors whom he did not mention was none other than Rufus Isaacs, whose priorities, although more than 100 years ago, also included land reform, before world war one, as well as the legal standing of unions. He was a Liberal Member, but history remembers him very kindly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) spoke powerfully about the flood disaster in 2007. Everyone remembers it as an appalling incident. He described how he organised a group of people to help his community and we thank him for that. He encouraged people to sign up to the Environment Agency’s text alert system, and I join him in that. He spoke of the importance of local media. As constituency Members of Parliament, we all know how important our local media are. My hon. Friend spoke of resilience, communities sticking together, leadership and a shared purpose. I support him and second his comments.
The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) spoke about a performing arts school in her constituency and how she had greatly enjoyed a production of “West Side Story”. She spoke so compellingly about it that I wish I had seen it. I have looked into the matter that she raised and she should receive a reply. She said that she had not received one and I shall follow that up. I will also forward her concerns to the Department for Education. I note that she said that she would welcome Channel 4. I hope her area could pay salaries commensurate with what might be expected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) also spoke about BBC salaries. That is, of course, a matter for the BBC, but there is disappointment about apparent gender disparity. Lord Hall has said that it was not where they wanted to be. My hon. Friend also spoke about Travellers and acknowledged that the law has dramatically improved in that area, but he wants a further robust approach and I think that many people in and outside his constituency would support him in that.
It was typically kind and considerate of the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) to think of the staff of Members who were not returned at the election. There is a unique contractual situation in this place for those staff—it is not the most secure position. Of course, it is the responsibility of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to keep those matters under review and I encourage him to speak to IPSA. He made some points with which I saw colleagues from different parties nodding in agreement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) is a frequent and powerful contributor in the Chamber. He spoke about the Corby Urgent Care Centre, where there are 70,000 patients, only 6% of whom needed to be referred on to hospital. The centre clearly does a good job. I am concerned that my hon. Friend is worried about it. I strongly recommend that the clinical commissioning group in the area meet him and that they work together. He is another doughty campaigner and he should get the support of everyone in his community in working for the wider interest there and the valuable urgent care centre.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) spoke about the refugee crisis around the world and issues that are important to his constituency, including HMRC and immigration rules. Doubtless, many will have noted the power of his comments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) was full of praise, rightly, if I may say so, for Ministers—I think it was for Ministers in other Departments, not for me—as regards school funding. She said that there was more for schools in her constituency. There is more for other constituencies across the country, thanks to this Government. She is working with other Conservatives in her area to achieve a great deal for her constituency.
The hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) was complimentary to the soft drinks industry for the work it is doing on a plan to reduce sugar. There is always more that can be done, of course, as I am sure she would accept. She is right to fight against the problem of obesity, which is life-limiting and has an adverse and deleterious effect on the health of young people—on the health of people of all ages. No doubt she will continue her fight in that quarter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) spoke very fondly and movingly of Lucy, his staff member. I would like to mention her from this Dispatch Box as well. I do not know her, but I have no doubt that she has done a wonderful job for him. He also spoke of the aggression and intimidation he has received in his constituency. I know that that will not succeed against my hon. Friend. He is a powerful advocate for everyone in his constituency, and will no doubt reject and completely oppose those who use aggression and intimidation to try to get their way. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) proposed some radical reforms to leasehold, and no doubt he will pursue his cause with the passion that I know he has in this quarter. We will have to see where that takes us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) spoke about St Helier Hospital, and said it had the best A&E, with wonderful staff, I am sure. He spoke of the fracture and renal units there. I take this opportunity to thank the staff at that hospital and all our NHS staff around the country for the work they do to help those who need medical attention. There is work to do for that hospital, my hon. Friend said, and I am sure he will be a powerful advocate for it.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about the Royal Black Preceptory, which was formed in 1797, and is apparently often called the senior of the loyal orders fraternal societies. I know that all Members in this House would want to wish everyone and all the communities in Northern Ireland all the very best.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) is a new Member and I welcome her to this place. She says that her priority is to support small businesses, and rightly so. The unemployment rate in her constituency stands at 2.1%, so she is obviously doing a good job. She also spoke about fake news. We have to stop false or fake news reports worrying voters unnecessarily. Other Members also mentioned that. I know that my hon. Friend will be an advocate for her constituents’ interests in this House, hopefully for many years.
The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) spoke very movingly about the death of Joseph and many others. There was an appalling collision in Joseph’s case and in other cases. Understandably, she is concerned about the apparent disparity between the sentencing and what those in society whom she is campaigning with would see as right. My heart goes out to all the families she mentioned, and there are so many others. Law changes take time. She is a powerhouse of a campaigner, and I am sure she will continue her work. I understand that a response to the consultation is hoped for soon.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) spoke about an important piece of constituency casework. I recommend that Calibre Homes conduct themselves with appropriate care when it comes to my hon. Friend and have respect for his role as Member of Parliament for his constituency.
The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) spoke movingly and powerfully about children with complex needs. I know that Her Majesty’s Government are working with Motability on the particular point that he raised. He also spoke movingly about his son. His family must be proud of him for being here, and it must be difficult for him to be some distance from Glasgow East when he is serving his constituents in this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) had a list of local issues. From his speech, it will be obvious to anyone who did not already know it that he is an active local representative. He spoke of the beautiful bay that he represents and mentioned the fact that he was married on 10 June. I congratulate him and wish him well. I presume that his being here today is part of his honeymoon. I hope that he will be keeping an eye on his emails in the weeks ahead. I wish him all the very best.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) was one of a number of Members who spoke passionately about their local hospital. He is fighting for, and with, Cheltenham General Hospital. His is a powerful voice, and he is a hard-working Member here. He says that he has been given repeated assurances about his hospital. He also spoke about the dignity and fortitude of the relatives of people who have been killed, particularly in terrorist attacks. I endorse what he said, and I offer the respect of everyone in the House for those family members. Our hearts go out to them in these difficult times.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) said that, as the last Member to speak, he was the tail-end Charlie. Others have called him other things, but one thing he certainly does is speak powerfully in the House. I know that millions will agree with what he said about Cecil the lion’s son being killed by a poacher. We all hope that the maximum force of the law will be applied to those who kill wildlife and endangered animals in that way. My hon. Friend also spoke about ground rent issues. I would say that those he is up against in his constituency and elsewhere ought to be careful, because he is one of the men in grey suits who are spoken of apocryphally and who get things done in this place and elsewhere. In all seriousness, the scams that are perpetrated on our constituents must be dealt with.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I should like to take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers, as well as all the staff—the parliamentary staff, the constituency staff and the civil service staff—and I wish everyone all the very best for a peaceful summer.
I, too, wish everyone a very safe recess. Please take your safety and security seriously over the summer, and we look forward to September. I thank all the staff involved in keeping us safe, fed and looked after in this House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I should like to associate myself with what you and the Deputy Leader of the House have said in thanking everyone for looking after us. I have a question on a bit of procedure. It is a shame that Mr Speaker is not in the Chair, because he might have been able to give me a slightly more forceful answer. You have just put the Question to the House at the end of our debate. I understand that when more people are in favour, you say, “The Ayes have it, the Ayes have it”, and when more are against, you say, “The Noes have it, the Noes have it.” What happens if there are equal numbers on each side? Would you say, “The ties have it, the ties have it”?