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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
First, may I put on the record the sad death today of Johan Cruyff, one of the most brilliant footballers I have had the pleasure of watching and one who will be ever remembered for the Cruyff turn?
This is the time of the festival of Purim, which, as Jewish Members will know, commemorates the delivery of the Jewish people from the Persian Haman, who attempted the first genocide against the Jews but failed. This week was also the anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, where he inflicted the holocaust on the Jewish population and the world. We will forever remember those evil atrocities in Germany.
On a brighter note, today is the second day of the festival of Holi, the festival of colours, when we commemorate Lord Krishna dancing, playing and throwing colours around, and the delivery of Prahlad from the fire and from his wicked aunt Holika. I wish Hindus, Sikhs and Jains everywhere a very happy Holi. If I may, I will recite the key words spoken during Holi: “Bura na mano”.
I will now talk about some of the issues I want to raise in the debate. The Government have done a lot of work, but there is much more to do. Locally, I come back to the absolute requirement for a lift to be installed at Stanmore station. I hope that Keith Vaz, who is a Stanmore resident, will concur on this desperate need. This has been going on for more than 10 years. Residents face the north face of the Eiger when they arrive home at Stanmore station in having to climb 39 steep steps—[Interruption.] Yes, it is “the 39 steps”! Transport for London calls this step-free access. This has been going on ever since the former Mayor of London deleted the lift from the budget. I trust that whoever is elected Mayor of London on
Equally, Stanmore faces another challenge in that Hertfordshire County Council wishes to cancel its subsidy for the 142 and 207 bus routes, yet these services are a key requirement for people travelling between Watford, Brent Cross and elsewhere. I trust that Hertfordshire County Council will see the justice of allowing a subsidy to enable its residents to travel to these areas, which is vital. Without that, key bus services to Watford will be dramatically reduced.
In the Budget we heard the welcome announcement that Crossrail 2 is getting the go-ahead. I trust that Crossrail 2 will listen to the key business case that we have put for an extension to Harrow and Wealdstone station as part of the massive Crossrail 2 redevelopment, which is welcomed across London.
I shall continue to agitate on the redevelopment of the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore. This is a brilliant hospital whose medical professionals perform such brilliant work in ridiculously and outrageously bad conditions.
That is great news, but could not the hon. Lady have saved that point for her speech? I am bothered about time at the moment.
We are on the cusp of the hospital’s redevelopment. We require the trust development authority to sign off the business case, and work will start on the orthopaedic hospital immediately, with the demolition of existing buildings, the building of a brand-new hospital, with a private hospital alongside it, and the creation of 300 new homes, which are desperately needed in Harrow. This is clearly being held up by NHS bureaucracy. The Chancellor granted the money back in 2010, yet we still await the start of the project.
On housing, my Harrow constituency has seen some 400 new starts, while there have been 560 new home completions in the last year alone, bringing new homes for my constituents. I am delighted that in the autumn spending review, the amount of money spent on housing is being more than doubled, which is something we should applaud.
Locally, we have heard some good news about schools. Park High School, St Bernadette’s, Canons High School and the Krishna Avanti school will all receive additional funding for massive improvements—almost complete rebuilding in some cases. There is also the Aylward school, which is in desperate need of new facilities. We have also had the go-ahead, thanks to this Government’s enlightened view, of Hujjat Primary School, which will be the first Muslim state-aided school, certainly in my constituency, and I strongly support it. Avanti House School will be the first state-aided Hindu school for secondary-aged children in the country. This is something of which we can be proud. It is being delivered in our multicultural society, and we are providing parents with the choice of education that they want for their children.
There is bad news, however. Harrow council has introduced the garden tax as part of its savings proposals. It is charging the princely sum of £75 for the service of collecting garden waste, and collecting it only once every three weeks. That is the highest charge in London. It is a scandal, because it is a monopoly service. So far, virtually no one has registered to use the service, but it is due to start on
It is indeed shocking. The council should get its act together and clean up Harrow for the benefit of everyone—although its failure to do so would make it even easier for the incoming Conservative administration of 2018 to deliver.
There is, however, some further good news, which concerns Bentley Priory Museum. Bentley Priory is the site from which RAF Fighter Command delivered victory in the second world war, at the Battle of Britain. The Chancellor has given us £1 million for an education centre on the site, so that children and young people—and those who are not so young—can come and see for themselves what happened during the Battle of Britain, and how close we came to defeat. The fact that the few delivered victory for us is a tremendous thing, and we must ensure that people, young and old, understand and remember how close it was.
An issue that I have raised in the House on numerous occasions is the plight of the disabled when it comes to securing blue badges for parking in Harrow. Every day I learn that someone who is clearly disabled, and unable to walk any reasonable distance, has been prevented from obtaining a disabled parking permit. That strikes me as outrageous, and as a problem that we must overcome.
I want to make just one or two more points before I sit down and give the floor to others.
During the Budget debate, I raised the plight of the Equitable Life policyholders. It is to the eternal credit of the Chancellor and his team that we honoured our election promise in 2010, and delivered a scheme to compensate the victims of that scandal. However, there are still some very vulnerable people—the pre-1992 trapped annuitants—who have received only a small fraction of the money that is due to them in comparison with the loss that they suffered. I believe that we owe a debt of honour to those people, and that we should honour that debt by delivering 100% compensation to them.
Moreover, nearly a million people in other categories have not received full compensation, and I believe that they are also owed a debt of honour. We need to ensure that more money is provided so that those people can lead a proper life in retirement, because they had saved for their retirement and, through no fault of their own but as a result of a scandal, were then deprived of a reasonable income. The all-party parliamentary group for justice for equitable life policyholders now has more than 200 members, and we will continue to battle until such time as the Chancellor sees fit to let us have some more money for those people who are due compensation.
Another all-party parliamentary group of which I am a member, the all-party parliamentary group on primary care and public health, recently released a key report about the signposting of people in the NHS. Far too often, people who are ill arrive in accident and emergency departments when they should be seeing someone in the primary care sector, such as a GP or a nurse. We must do more to ensure that that happens.
I want to raise another health-related matter, namely stopping smoking. I warmly welcome the Chancellor’s decision to continue to increase the tobacco tax by 2% above inflation, with a 3% increase in the rate for hand-rolling tobacco. That is a good move, and it should continue. However, I think we should go further. Given that the Chancellor has now talked about a sugar tax to drive behaviour, let us have a tobacco tax to do the same. By increasing the tax on tobacco by just 1p per cigarette, we would deliver £500 million a year that could be invested in smoking cessation services.
This year, I had the honour of paying my first visit to India. My visit to Jammu and Kashmir cemented my view that that country, and above all the people of Jammu and Kashmir, should be reunited as part of India. They should have the right to be integrated, and the Pakistani forces should leave Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. I also had the opportunity to visit the world cultural festival. We talk about the brilliant work that was done at the Olympics, but I saw at first hand the festival’s 165,000 participants dancing and performing. Nearly 2.5 million people attended. We talk about the grand schemes that we organise, but just imagine what it would be like to put a festival like that together.
It was indeed deeply cultural.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all the staff of the House a very happy Easter. I trust that you will have a chance to take a break. I just want to mention one more thing that I am concerned about. On Easter eggs now, we never see the word “Easter”. They are just chocolate eggs. The “Easter” has been taken away. It is time that we restored the “Easter” to Easter eggs.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I must now introduce a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
It is a huge pleasure to follow Bob Blackman, who is a great champion of the ethnic minority communities. He has managed to mention every festival that has occurred in every community, and he has even spoken Hindi in the House. I am surprised that it has taken him so long to get to India, knowing his huge friendship with the Hindu and Indian communities. I agree with what he said about Stanmore station, although it is actually quite good for me, as someone with type 2 diabetes, to climb those 39 steps at the end of every day.
As the hon. Gentleman is here, may I also ask him to take up the issue of the traffic on Brockley Hill? We will not wait for the Minister’s response, but the traffic there is getting very fast. We miss having Mike Freer as the leader of Barnet Council, because I know that if he had still been there, he would have sorted this out. I hope that he will have a word with Dr Offord to see what can be done to reduce the traffic flow on that road.
The hon. Member for Harrow East mentioned anniversaries and festivals. I have a very sad anniversary to report to the House.
Since the start of the conflict a year ago, 8,800 civilians have been killed or injured and at this moment 3 million children are out of school. Access to medication in besieged areas such as Taiz has become virtually impossible. I am pleased to note that the UN-sponsored peace talks have been rescheduled for
Yesterday, the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen, which I have the privilege of chairing, heard about the problems still occurring in the country from Médecins sans Frontières, Amnesty International, and several freelance journalists. The situation is a catastrophe, and it is important that we work hard to resolve the conflict. I commend the other members of the APPG who attended the meeting: Mrs Drummond and my hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, both of whom were, like myself, born in Yemen, the hon. Members for Charnwood (Edward Argar), for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn and Baroness Uddin. All of them took time out of their busy days to attend the meeting at which we heard these terrible updates.
The Budget has been the subject of controversy in the House, but I liked one particular aspect of it: the introduction of the sugar tax. Easter is not a good time to talk about not having too much sugar and not eating too many chocolates, but I congratulate the Chancellor on taking the brave decision to introduce the sugar tax, and the Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison, and the diabetes tsar Jonathan Valabhji on what they have done. We should not wait two years for the tax to be imposed; Government Departments can act swiftly now. Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, decided in February this year to impose his own 20% sugar tax across the NHS in England. Boris Johnson, before funding the lift that Bob Blackman wants so much, has imposed his own sugar tax in City Hall. We need to do this rapidly and we could even do it in the House. When we get to the counter in the Tea Room to pay for the bananas and apples that I am sure we all buy, do we have to be confronted by Club biscuits and Coca-Cola in the fridge? Let us make an effort to ensure that Members are not seduced by those who would rather allow us to have products full of sugar.
This week, the Government announced their national diabetes prevention programme, on which 100,000 people will be offered places to prevent them from developing type 2 diabetes. I am extremely pleased that the east midlands has been selected and that one of the areas will be in my constituency of Leicester East. I am concerned, however, by the recent decision of the local health authority and the clinical commissioning group to move the DAFNE services from the Leicester Diabetes Centre to a private pharmaceutical company to ensure that type 2 diabetics get support. Such services ought to be provided by those who invented the schemes. DESMOND was invented in Leicester and has been rolled out across the country. The DAFNE scheme, which is specific to type 1 diabetes, is now under pressure. I will certainly be raising DAFNE and DESMOND when we get back after the recess. They are essential to ensure proper services for those of us who are diabetic and to those of us who want to ensure that diabetes is kept under control.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for mentioning the Tiffin cup when she spoke earlier today. Sir David Amess is one of its great champions. I think he has nominated somewhere every year since the cup has been in existence—I am sure for reasons involving low-fat food. I hope that Members will get their nominations in over the Easter holidays.
I echo what the hon. Member for Harrow East said about Johan Cruyff, who was a great footballer. I want to end by mentioning my football team and the momentous season of Leicester City football club, which has led the premier league since before Christmas. Leicester City is a bastion of multiculturalism. It is owned by a Thai, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. We have an Irish chief executive in Susan Whelan and an Italian manager in Claudio Ranieri. We also have players from all over the globe: Riyad Mahrez from Algeria, Kasper Schmeichel, who is the great Dane, Robert Huth from Germany, Ngolo Kante from France, Shinji Okazaki from Japan, Marcin Wasilewski from Poland, Jeff Schlupp of Ghana, Ulloa from Argentina, and our own Vardy and Morgan. We have lots of home-grown players, too.
It is marvellous to see a team like Leicester City, which I have supported for all the 29 years I have been a Member of Parliament, not far from your constituency in North East Derbyshire, Madam Deputy Speaker, breaking the monopoly of the big four. The sports agent Charlie Stillitano argued for a closed European champions system, saying that only the big four should be able to get to the Champions League every year. What Leicester City has shown, whatever the results at the end of the day—obviously, I hope we will go on to lift the premier league trophy—is the importance of having teams like Leicester being able to compete at the highest level, and indeed being at the head of the English premier league, the greatest football league in the world. With seven games left, we are five points ahead, and so I look forward to a very interesting two weeks. I hope that even for those whose team is Spurs or Arsenal and they want them to win the league—
Before the House adjourns for the Easter recess, I wish to raise a number of points. If Take That were here, they would probably sing “It’s good to be back”, at least as far as the Easter Adjournment debate is concerned. Now, c2c was the happy line but it has returned to being the misery line, although I was delighted to hear from one of our Ministers this week that the Department for Transport will waive the clause in the franchise agreement that states that 95% of trains must stop at Barking, West Ham and Limehouse. That would be the first positive move towards restoration on the timetable changes that have upset so many people. I must say shame on National Express for writing to the chairman of the Conservative party complaining that I was representing my constituents—it has not heard the last from me and it has no chance now of getting the franchise for the Greater Anglia railway.
I have the privilege of being the chairman of the all-party group on fire safety & rescue. We had an excellent meeting this week and we would very much like the review of the guidance to building regulations, whose origins are in the last century, to bring about a change, and we want the relevant Minister to look very carefully at the regulations. We also had an excellent meeting with the Minister for Schools about sprinklers being installed when new schools are built. It is crazy that that arrangement has stopped since 2007, but I am very optimistic that he will change all that. The third issue I wish to raise, which hon. Members will be aware of, is the arrangements for police and crime commissioners under the Policing and Crime Bill. The all-party group remains concerned about the impact those might have on the ongoing arrangements for fire safety while building regulations remain under the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Like many other Members, I am absolutely, as the Kinks might have sung, tired of waiting for the Chilcot report. This has gone on and on and on, and the latest information is that its publication will be delayed until after the EU referendum. That is not good enough and the families deserve far better than that.
I had the privilege of introducing a ten-minute rule Bill on
As most colleagues know, Southend will be the alternative city of culture in 2017, and we are very excited by that. Hull has decided to have four seasonal events, but Southend will be having an event every month. The Secretary of
State for Culture, Media and Sport visited Southend recently, when he saw the wonderful work of Metal—we have the first digital exhibition in a local park. We have also seen the opening of our wonderful new library, The Forum, and had the opening of a branch of the National Jazz Archive, a project headed by the wonderful local jazz musician Digby Fairweather. I also attended wonderful concerts by Southend Vox, Southend Festival Chorus and the Southend Youth Orchestra. I urge all colleagues in the House to head to Southend next year and they will receive a royal welcome.
The Chairman of Ways and Means was the winner last year of the first responsible pet ownership competition. In fact, he had about a dozen pets there, including a parrot and a huge tortoise. The second event, which I hope that as many colleagues as possible will attend, will take place in July on the green by Victoria Tower. Pets should never be acquired as a fashion accessory, and breeders should do more to make buyers aware of the duty of care to their pets, including microchipping and neutering.
I had the honour of sponsoring salt awareness week, which sort of ties in with sugar. I was shocked to discover that many of our staple products, such as bread, cornflakes, tinned tomato soup and Cheddar cheese, contain high levels of salt. Under the Food Standards Agency and the Consensus Action on Salt and Health, the UK led the world in salt reduction and prevented unnecessary deaths. That excellent work now needs to be reinvigorated by the Department of Health, and we need to look again at setting up an independent agency to regulate the amount of salt that manufacturers add to their foods.
Recently, I met representatives from Safer Medicines, an independent group, which aims to change the way that medicines are tested, so that they are safer for patients. It is an absolutely excellent idea. It wishes to end the testing of medicines on animals not necessarily because of animal cruelty issues—although that is a very serious concern— but because animal testing cannot predict safe medicines for humans.
Let me turn now to meningitis. Recently, in my constituency, the head girl of a local school tragically died at the age of 17. I do not know how her family can cope with that tragedy. Vital work is being carried out by the Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now. I understand that 800,000 people recently signed a petition, calling for the meningitis B vaccine to be given to all children up to the age of 11, and there will be a debate on that in this place on
Recently, I held two health summits in Southend, bringing together all the health providers. My feeling is that those providers are not necessarily working that well together. Certainly, senior management in one or two areas needs to do far better than it is doing at the moment. I hope that, from the health summits, the quality of patient care and the delivery of health services in Southend can improve. We need all local healthcare providers and the local authority to work more closely together on that work, as was shown by the Mid and South Essex Success Regime.
I raised the matter of fuel poverty this morning, and I did a 30 second appearance on “Panorama” this week. I piloted the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill through the House some 15 years ago, so it is a bit disappointing that fuel poverty has still not been eliminated. I urge Ministers to do everything they can to change that situation.
Like all Members, I have some wonderful local companies in my constituency. Planet Leasing, an independent vehicle brokerage company, has been trading for nearly 10 years and now employs 25 staff across four branches. I recently visited its newly refurbished offices, which is an indication of its confidence in future growth. The company has received an Employer of the Year award and an apprenticeship award for the work that it has done with local young people. I also attended the opening of a new office for Peglers Removals, a family business, and celebrated 40 years in business for the company, Just the Job. I am absolutely delighted that, in one popular measure in the Budget, the Government changed the business rate on small outlets. That will certainly make a huge difference to those firms.
Recently, I went with an all-party delegation to the Maldives, which was sponsored by the Government there, to see at first hand not what celebrities are telling us is going on in the Maldives, but what is actually happening. We went everywhere, including to the prison in which former President Nasheed is being held at the moment. The all-party group had a meeting yesterday, a report was published and I hope that the Government will look very carefully at its findings.
I am also the chairman of the all-party group for the Philippines and was able this week to meet a wonderful woman called Luz Bador, founder of the National Rural Women’s Coalition. She was instrumental in playing a key role in responding to the terrible disaster in the Philippines. The Government have done an excellent job on that and I urge full support for the world humanitarian summit coming up in Istanbul this May.
I am delighted that Chase High School, Westcliff High School for Girls and Eastwood Academy are getting lots of money.
I end by joining everyone, I presume, in celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday next year. We had a president from 1997 to 2010—well, for 10 years anyway—and it was not a great success. The Queen is absolutely fantastic and I congratulate one of our colleagues whose idea it was, I think, to have the Clean for the Queen project. My local councillor, Meg Davidson, led a group in doing that last week. The Queen set an example to each and every one of us when she made that broadcast saying that however long her life was, she would do everything she could for our nation.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and everyone else a very happy Easter.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for securing this debate, particularly Bob Blackman. I am especially grateful that this is a general debate, if only because we did not hear at Christmas the canter around Southend West and elsewhere from Sir David Amess, of whom I am reminded almost every week when I cross my constituency and pass the Croes Lan post office, run by his excellent cousin, Ms Janice Pocock. The hon. Gentleman spoke on many issues, but I am going to speak about just one, an issue of concern to me and to one particular constituent of mine, Mr Michael Affonso. It concerns his dealings with the UK Border Agency and my dealings, on his behalf, with the Home Office. It is a personal, unresolved story and I shall use my time to tell it.
Mr Affonso was born in Tanzania, has lived in this country for more than 30 years, is married to a British national and has had protracted concerns over the status of his citizenship, which are, as yet, not satisfactorily resolved. I believe there are other cases of British nationals with spouses from overseas who have been seeking British citizenship for many years and perhaps do not fit into the conventional mould of immigration cases.
Michael Affonso was born in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in 1969. Not long after his birth, he was taken in by a lady who brought him up as her own child and he lived happily with her and her family for the first 15 years of his life in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. In 1984, his biological mother visited him, their relationship was rekindled and they came to Britain. She was married to a British citizen. Michael remembers his arrival in the UK and being questioned by Border Agency officials at the airport. He then moved to Kettering and was established with his biological mother’s family and with her new husband, though the adoption by his new stepfather seems never to have taken place.
Despite the challenges of moving to a new country he settled in, but around 1986 problems emerged in the family and through no fault of his own he was taken into care under Northamptonshire social services. He recalls telling the court at the time that he wanted to return to Tanzania to be with the lady he saw as his real mother, but the court said that as he had never been legally adopted he had to stay in the country of his biological mother—that is, this country—despite being removed from her care.
Michael then spend some time at a children’s home in Kettering and was subsequently sent to foster care. At the age of 18 he moved out and spent several years living independently, starting college, gaining an NVQ in painting and decorating, and living in that area for many years. Some years later, the lady who had brought him up in Tanzania moved to the UK and settled in Wales, where he moved, settling in the village of Llanwnnen in my constituency. By 2008 he had met his future wife Sîan, and they set up home together in Aberarth, also in the Ceredigion constituency.
The troubles arose when the couple decided to get married. As Michael had entered the UK from Tanzania as a minor, he held no official paperwork himself. He recalled a birth certificate and a Tanzanian passport, but while living in Kettering, many years before the move to Wales, a fire at his flat had destroyed any paperwork, including his passport. Sîan and Michael were unable to get married without proof of his nationality, and that is where I first became involved in his case.
We struggled to find any information from anywhere—any official documentation about Michael’s life. We made inquiries of Nottinghamshire social services to find out whether anything had been done, or not done, about citizenship under their care. We spoke to the Tanzanian embassy to inquire about his passport. We used various freedom of information requests, but kept hitting brick wall after brick wall. There is little, if any, information about Michael. There was an account of his being taken into care in Northamptonshire, but no information as to the date or where he was sent. That lack of information was subsequently acknowledged by the Home Office.
It seemed as if the couple’s aspiration for marriage would not be realised, but rules did mercifully change, with an EU ruling that made it against one’s human rights to be denied a marriage, so in October 2011 the couple were married. All seemed well. Life settled down in the village of Aberarth; the couple bought a home. Michael became heavily involved in our community—a very much valued member of the community, now an elected community councillor. Indeed he is, I would suggest, the identikit community activist.
Michael pursued a change of career and became manager of the British Red Cross shop, first in Cardigan, then in Aberaeron and then Carmarthen. At that point problems emerged as, not unreasonably, he started to get requests from the human resources department to prove his eligibility to work within the UK—something he had not come across in all the previous years. As a non-British citizen, he requires a biometric residency card. He contacted the Home Office and was told that he needed proof that he had resided in the UK with no lengthy times away. Of course, he had not been away because he had no passport, although for someone who was unaware of that stipulation it was very difficult to prove. However, we had some successes in finding some information in the health board in Northamptonshire and my local health board, the Hywel Dda health board, in Ceredigion, and Michael had been assiduous in keeping records—P45s and P60s.
Michael then set about the process of application for a no time limit application. The couple paid to go to a premium service centre, the nearest one being in Cardiff, on
The couple met with some sympathy from the UK Border Agency when they showed the UKBA copies of letters that I wrote on their behalf in 2009 on their wish to be married—proof that the couple had sought to resolve the issue. They were offered an alternative to the full naturalisation process: Michael would have to reapply for leave to remain every two and a half years—the next occasion being in 2017—at a cost of £500 each time, until he had 10 years’ worth of visas. After 10 years, in 2024, he might be entitled to apply for British citizenship. However, he would be unable to have any recourse to public funds, which was confirmed to me in a letter from the Minister for Immigration, James Brokenshire, in July 2015.
This man has paid national insurance contributions and tax for 30 years. He has been entitled to jobseeker’s allowance in the past. He is now denied an automatic right to benefit unless special circumstances emerge. I have to say that Mr Affonso feels incredibly let down by this state of affairs and it has taken a serious toll on his health, compounded by the fact that despite being seriously ill and so unable to work, his biometric residency card states that he has no automatic recourse to public funds. The Home Office to date has been reluctant to look into this matter in great depth and seems intent on sticking by its original decision that Mr Affonso may have to wait until 2024 to achieve full citizenship.
Much of the debate on immigration these days is, not unreasonably, about people needing to come to this country. We have all worked on many such cases in our constituencies, but this case is different. It is about an injustice that has been perpetrated against someone who is already here and who, through no fault of his own, has faced many challenges. He came here as a minor, and the various agencies that were charged with his care did not address the issue of citizenship. He is a highly valued member of the community and now in adulthood he is trying to right a wrong, and aspires to do the right thing, but has faced a real problem in trying to trace his own identity.
The letter I had from the Immigration Minister last year said:
“I am sure you will understand that it is not possible” to agree to indefinite leave to remain for somebody who does not hold the necessary documentation. The Minister refused to meet me to discuss the matter further. I understand what the Minister said and I think it represents a great injustice.
In this case the lack of documentation has not been the responsibility of my constituent, the aggrieved individual. I implore the Deputy Leader of the House, on my behalf and on behalf of Mr Affonso, to pursue this matter with the Home Office and to ask it to look again at this case, not just at the issue of the recourse to public funds in the case of illness, but at Mr Affonso’s right to remain in the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Williams, who outlines a case typical of many that all of us face and typical of the bureaucratic complexities that we all have to deal with.
Keith Vaz, who is no longer in his place, referred to Leicester City and the team’s good fortune this year. As someone who has always had a soft spot for Arsenal among the premier league teams, I am somewhat reluctant to praise Leicester, but as Arsenal is almost certainly not going to get the top spot, like most people I want to see Leicester triumph. That gives me an opportunity to talk about the triumphs of Grimsby Town. Melanie Onn is nodding. Last Saturday the team secured a place at Wembley in the final of the FA Trophy, when yet again the players will march towards what were the twin towers. We hope for victory.
Grimsby Town—not that Members need reminding—play in Cleethorpes, which is in the headlines yet again. We have even more culture than Southend. We are the premier resort of the east coast. Cleethorpes pier has just been named as pier of the year. It is worth putting on record our congratulations to Bryan Huxford and his team at the pier, who have just carried out a multimillion-pound restoration, which has been a great addition to the resort. It secured some resources from the regional growth fund, so we have all made a contribution to the renewal of Cleethorpes pier. We can compare the recent multimillion-pound investment with the £8,000 that it cost to construct the pier, which opened in 1873.
The main part of my contribution is, yet again, about transport connections in northern Lincolnshire, highlighting a recent report produced jointly by the Department for Transport and Transport for the North. It is entitled “The Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda, One Economy, One North”. The problem is that it does not seem to refer to northern Lincolnshire.
I have been a great supporter of the northern powerhouse initiative. Ministers have repeatedly emphasised that northern Lincolnshire and the Humber estuary are very much a part of that. In particular, the Humber is referred to as the energy estuary and it is important to the economy. As we are reminded time and again, in order to maximise local economies, good transport connections are needed.
Devolution is fine, and I have been a great advocate of it—particularly the Greater Lincolnshire deal that has been secured recently—but the problem is that, although the Government have many ideals, they are reliant, as those ideals cascade through the system, on organisations such as Transport for the North, local authorities and health trusts, which may have slightly different priorities.
“Creating the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ of economic growth, driven by a flourishing private sector and supported by innovative local government requires us to harness and unify the people power of our city regions and the wider North…The North has many centres of excellence increasingly recognised on the global stage”.
The report goes on to list those, beginning with Liverpool and ending with the Tees Valley, but there is no mention of Lincolnshire.
When Sir David Higgins took up his post as chairman of HS2, he said that
“there is huge untapped potential for much more trade and commerce across the Pennines”
We hear repeatedly about trans-Pennine connections that emphasise the northern trans-Pennine route, but my constituency, in northern Lincolnshire, depends on the southern trans-Pennine route. We are served—on the whole, reasonably well—by TransPennine Express, although the word “express” is used loosely, I think, since it takes three and a half hours to get from Cleethorpes to Manchester. Covering the 50 miles from Cleethorpes to Doncaster—as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and I have to every week to get our connection to King’s Cross—takes one and a quarter hours, which, in 2016, is quite a long time.
The report says that transforming city-to-city rail connectivity east to west, as well as north to south, is one of the main aims of Government policy and of
Transport for the North. However, to maximise that connectivity, we need much better rail connections. I have campaigned repeatedly for a direct service between Grimsby, Cleethorpes and London King’s Cross. An application to run such a service has been with the rail regulator for two years now, but—I talked of bureaucracy earlier—does it really take two years to assess whether it is viable? I realise that the problem facing the rail regulator is that open-access operators such as Alliance Rail, which made the application, have to show that they are creating new business, rather than taking business away from the main franchise holders, but I urge the rail regulator to come to a speedy conclusion. Even if it is negative, we can then move on and renew the campaign through a different route.
Road connections fare slightly better in the report, which acknowledges the importance of access to our ports. The port of Immingham is, measured by tonnage, the largest in the country, and 25% of rail freight starts or ends there. Yet, when it comes to road connections, we have struggled, in as much as the M180 ends about 20 or 25 miles from the port. We urgently need an upgrade of the A180 to motorway standards. We need to improve the road surface, which causes no end of problems. The A180 has one of those awful concrete surfaces, and it is possible to sit in the front rooms of people in villages two miles away and hear the constant rumble of vehicles on the road. I have been campaigning on that issue—indeed, my predecessor and her predecessor campaigned on it—and it really does need urgent attention.
The report refers, quite reasonably, to the upgrade of the A160, which provides new access to the port of Immingham, but I have to tell the House that that upgrade is almost complete—it will be completed by August or September—so this is hardly a vision for the future.
The report also states:
“Many rail journeys in the North—particularly east-west—are too slow and take far longer than journeys of equivalent distance elsewhere in the country”.
As I said earlier, a three-hour journey from Cleethorpes to Manchester cannot exactly be described as a trans-Pennine express.
May I urge my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to pass on my comments to the appropriate Ministers? I look forward to a detailed response from them in due course.
It is a pleasure to follow Martin Vickers.
I have tabled early-day motion 1235, praying that the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Regulations 2016, which affect frozen pensions, be annulled. To date, it is supported by 93 Members from eight parties represented in the House, including members of the governing party. It is a pity that the Government have yet to concede to a debate on the matter, and I wonder how many Members will need to sign that praying motion before they will do so.
The uprating regulations that deprive overseas pensioners of the uprating adjustment to their state pensions are being forced through this House without a proper and full debate. The decision to freeze pensions for a further year will come into effect in early April, when this House will be in recess. I believe that the House should have the opportunity to debate the matter, which not only leaves 550,000 UK pensioners facing hardship, but discourages many UK citizens living in the UK from returning to their country of origin, as many wish to do in their retirement. I should also like to add that the United Kingdom is the only country in the OECD that freezes pensions in this manner.
There is no consistency in how overseas British pensioners are treated. Due to historical bilateral deals, pensioners living in many countries, including the US, get an uprated pension. Those who live in the US Virgin Islands will get a UK pension at the full rate, but those living in the British Virgin Islands will have their pension frozen.
The Government argue that pensions are uprated for those living in countries where the UK has a social security agreement. The UK does not need an agreement with any country to pay a pension. Other countries do not pay a pensioner any extra money; it has nothing to do with them if a UK citizen receives a pension. How own earth can the Government substantiate that?
Let me give three examples of how pensioners are affected. Abhik Bonnerjee, now 73, moved from India to Glasgow in 1960. He worked in the UK for 38 years, in shipbuilding, steel manufacture and the food industry. He also owned an Indian restaurant for six years. Abhik returned to India in 1997 and reached the state pension retirement age in 2008, when it was paid at £87.30 a week. Having made all the required national insurance contributions, if Abhik were still in the UK today he would get £115.95—28% more. The decline in his real-term income has left Abhik concerned about losing his home. He now feels that he may have to move back to the United Kingdom.
Rita Young, who is 78, lives in Peterborough in the UK. She retired in 2002, aged 67, having enjoyed a long career in market research and as a community volunteer. Rita’s son moved to work in Australia some time ago and now has a family there. Since being widowed, Rita has wanted to join her son and grandchildren in Australia but has felt unable to do so because of the prospect of a frozen pension. As she gets older, Rita finds daily life increasingly difficult, especially as she does not have family around her. She is deeply saddened that she is not able to be with her family during the later stages of her life. It does not seem fair that the Government can stop uprating just because someone says, “I want to be with my family.”
Lastly, former college lecturer Anne Puckridge, now 91, lived and worked in the UK all her working life, paying mandatory national insurance contributions throughout that time. In 2002, aged 77, she finally retired and decided to move to Canada to be with her daughter and grandchildren, who had moved to Calgary. Fourteen years on, Anne, who served as an intelligence officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service in the second world war, is struggling to live on a frozen pension of £75.20 a week. Anne now feels that she will be forced to move back to Britain because her pension will no longer cover day-to-day expenses, and she is increasingly reliant on her daughter to get by. That cannot be right or just. As she has said,
“It’s the small things, and the injustice, that is really getting to me. I value my independence, but I can’t go on living on the breadline and I don’t want to inflict this on my family. As well as ever-increasing poverty, I feel a sense of stress and shame, which is affecting my health.”
We must also consider the implications of the upcoming EU referendum. There are 400,000 UK pensioners living in EU countries. The question of those additional people facing the potential freezing of their pensions is, in my opinion, a matter worthy of debate. We need some answers from the Government as to what would happen in the event of Brexit. Will those 400,000 pensioners also face the freezing of their pension? I hope when we return from recess that the House will have the opportunity to debate the matter fully, to give the Government the chance to reflect on this injustice. The Government ought to withdraw the measure and pay UK pensioners at home and abroad their due state pension, with the same uprating adjustment, in the interests of fairness and equality.
On that note, I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all in the House a happy Easter. I hope that our pensioners, wherever they live, will also have a happy Easter and that this injustice will ultimately be dealt with.
It is an honour to follow Ian Blackford and all others who have spoken. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for organising the debate, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for Southend West (Sir David Amess) for their commitment to this institution; I am glad to see that it has been reinstated.
My thoughts and prayers as we approach Good Friday are with all those around the world—from Belgium to Turkey, from Syria to Jordan and Iraq, and in so many other places—who are suffering from mankind’s capacity for evil. At the same time, I believe, as a Christian, that evil will not triumph, as a result of the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.
Earlier this month, colleagues on the Select Committee on International Development and I met in Abuja several hundred people from Borno state who had been driven from their homes by Boko Haram. They were in a makeshift camp, and they were being helped not by international organisations but by ordinary Nigerians, Christians and Muslims, working together. My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce was there alongside me. A school had been set up, and there was a church. Those people were far from home, but they had hope that they could soon return to their homes in Borno.
Our visit to Nigeria also showed why our country’s commitment to international development is so important. Kano is a city of many millions, and it has a long and distinguished history, but it has suffered greatly in recent years from terrorism. Its people, though, are full of spirit, and the UK is right there with them, supporting schools, the training of midwives, economic development and the battle against neglected tropical diseases, malaria and many other ills. We met a group of girls and women and asked them how things were compared with a year ago. Spontaneously, they replied that things were much better, and they had real hope for the future.
We visited a primary school—the largest in west Africa, with 13,000 students—and saw committed teachers teaching a strong curriculum that had been developed with the support of the United Kingdom. We also went to an Islamic school, which, with UK help, had started teaching maths, English, science and other subjects to girls and boys together. It was delightful to see that one of the songs chalked up on the blackboard for the children to learn was the “Hokey-Cokey”. In the midst of the serious matter of educating the next generation in Kano, there was time for play and song.
That brings me to the importance of play and sport in my constituency. Last weekend, the Stafford half marathon and fun run had more entrants than ever, and the number of people taking part in sport continues to rise. Stafford Town FC, under the dynamic chairmanship of Gordon Evans, has 31 teams and a waiting list. I have the honour of being involved in the club as honorary president. The club will soon start to install a 3G pitch, which will be a welcome improvement.
Elsewhere, we face a serious loss of sports facilities. The sale of the large Staffordshire University campus to an investor from China for education purposes means that the sports centre, which is used by thousands of my constituents every week, will close to the public this summer. Pitches may also be lost. We have written to the new investor and the university to urge that the sports centre and pitches be kept and continue to be made available to the public. I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, who has responsibility for sport, for her support to ensure that that happens in this Olympic year.
Even more recently, we found out that the handing over of the Shugborough stately home and estate by the county council to the National Trust may mean the loss of cricket and football pitches, which are used by several teams from the villages of Haywood, Colwich and Milford and elsewhere. The National Trust wishes to return the field, which is a very small part of the estate, to 18th-century parkland. I am a member and a fan of the National Trust and I know that its stewardship of Shugborough will be in the estate’s best interests, but our heritage must be a living heritage. After all, the west coast main line passes right through the middle of the estate. It was constructed with the permission of the then Earl of Lichfield, who saw no problem in combining 18th-century Capability Brown parkland with 19th-century steam trains; it is now combined with 21st-century Pendolinos. I am sure that the estate workers played football and cricket, so why not let those sports, whose histories are considerably older than Shugborough’s, continue on the site? I urge the National Trust to think again.
When the Earl of Lichfield allowed the railway to pass through the Shugborough estate, he did so on one condition, which was that the railway should not be visible from his home. A cut-and-cover tunnel was therefore constructed, and it is still there today. The builders of the railway were wise and they acted on the concerns of local residents—in this case, the Earl of Lichfield. If railway builders in the 19th century could listen to him, I am sure that in these more democratic days they can listen to me and my constituents. HS2 passes through the villages of Great Haywood, Ingestre, Hopton, Martson and Yarlet. It does so because of the unnecessary lust for ultra-high speed and therefore the requirement for an arrow-straight route. If the route cannot be changed—I firmly believe there are alternatives that would easily meet the passenger forecasts—my constituents and I want considerably more tunnelling to protect them from the worst of the impact, as the Earl of Lichfield was so protected 200 years ago. Yet in the latest proposal, the one short tunnel proposed, in Hopton, has been removed. There is plenty of opportunity for tunnelling in the Stafford area, as is shown by the depth of the proposed cuttings. Our UK tunnelling expertise is world class, so I urge the Government to listen to us, as their predecessors listened to the Earl of Lichfield.
It is now almost a year and a half since Stafford hospital, now the County hospital, was brought together with the Royal Stoke hospital as part of the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust. I want to pay tribute to all the staff who helped to make such a difficult transition as smooth as possible. It is a tribute to their dedication and professionalism that we have in Stafford a hospital that offers high standards of care.
For many months, the A&E department has been one of the best performing in the country. Until recently, it regularly achieved the four-hour target for 95% of patients. It is now under more pressure, as the numbers attending have risen to an annual rate of nearly 50,000. As many are now seen in 14 hours as were previously seen in 24 hours. That shows just how essential it is to maintain the consultant-led A&E at the County hospital. Let us not forget that one of the proposals in 2013, against which my constituents and I argued strongly, was to remove consultant-led A&E. Thank goodness that common sense prevailed. I still maintain, as does the Secretary of State for Health, that a return to 24/7 emergency opening has to come. I understand the constraints and safety concerns, but I welcome the fact that the refurbished A&E department will be capable of 24/7 opening, because I believe that that will be essential.
At that the same time, we lost our in-patient paediatrics and consultant-led maternity care. They have been replaced by an emergency children’s department and a stand-alone midwife-led maternity unit. Although there is great sadness at the loss of the larger services, my constituents who use the new units have been full of praise for the care that they and their children have received from the staff. I want to work with the trust gradually to build back up these services.
The investment in the County hospital, which has already taken place and will continue to take place, is welcome. I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his support for that. We will have refurbished wards, operating theatres, dialysis and chemotherapy suites, A&E and the children’s emergency centre. The new MRI scanner—a first for Stafford—is already in operation, as is a state-of-the-art endoscopy unit. We will in effect have a new hospital in an old building, without the burden of a private finance initiative. I thank the Government for this investment, but buildings are nothing without people. As always, we must continue to put the care and safety of patients at the forefront, and I pay tribute to the staff for doing just that.
Businesses are thriving in Stafford with employment at a record high. General Electric and Alstom is building a factory on one of the two new business parks. Perkins
Engines and Bostik continue to invest, and I am proud that JCB now has a strong presence in my constituency after its purchase of Broadcrown in Hixon. Mid-sized manufacturers such as Mec Com, Biomass, Landons, Rail-Ability, and many others, show that what would be called the Mittelstand in Germany is alive and well in Stafford. The digital economy is expanding, with companies such as eg solutions, risual, Connexica and iProspect recruiting almost continuously—so much so that a group now meets regularly to see how we can improve the digital economy in Stafford.
The advent of 1 and 16 Signal Regiments to MOD Stafford to join 22 Signal Regiment and the RAF’s tactical supply wing means that nearly 2,000 servicemen and women are now based in the town. They are already making a great contribution to life in Stafford, and they tell me that they appreciate the warm welcome.
Let me mention the road infrastructure in and around Stafford. We have seen improvements, such as the four lanes of the M6 from junctions 10A to 13, but we need the western access road and many other small and large improvements to the road network, to provide for the growth that Stafford is seeing. Finally, I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, a very happy Easter.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy, whose sincerity in serving his constituents and his concern for the poorest across the globe, particularly in Africa, is unparalleled in this place.
I want to speak in support of the wonderful town of Middlewich in my constituency, and to champion its irrefutable claim for Government funding for a bypass—a bypass that has been 20 years in the waiting, and for which planning permission was first granted two decades ago. If traffic was pressured then, one hardly needs to imagine how much more pressured it is now. Travelling through Middlewich—not just at peak time—one can justifiably describe the congestion as chronic. It is the worst in my constituency by far.
Middlewich has an exceptionally strong community spirit and a high level of volunteering among its residents, as demonstrated by a whole host of community events that take place throughout the year. The annual FAB —folk and boat—festival attracts up to 25,000 visitors in a week, almost doubling the town’s population. It is the largest event in the country that celebrates canals and their narrowboats, and the surrounding heritage, music and culture. That is just one of many grassroots events promoted by the Middlewich townspeople. Others include a festival to celebrate the town’s Roman heritage, an annual Oscars ceremony to celebrate local community champions, the Good Neighbours scheme, the classic car and bike show, the national town crier competition, a cider festival, the Scribe literary festival, heritage open days, and the nationally recognised Middlewich Clean Team of more than 200 residents, who are regularly out keeping the town tidy. I consider myself to be a privileged member of that team, and it was heart-warming to see the huge number of residents out recently to make the town of Middlewich “Clean for the Queen”.
Middlewich is an aspirational town, and St Michael’s church—a hub for community activity—is embarking on a £1.2 million regeneration scheme that will open it up for even greater community use. Community leaders across the town have recently concluded a new town branding scheme, and Middlewich High School is fortunate to have a visionary headmaster in Keith Simpson.
However, over recent decades, Middlewich has simply not received the investment that it deserves from wider authorities to enable it to realise its substantial untapped potential. There has been a huge amount of grassroots energy and commitment from local townspeople, and they deserve greater support. There is space for enterprise and development to grow in Middlewich, and it wants and would welcome such growth and development, including housing development. It is essential to have greater investment for Middlewich, and I have campaigned for that since my election in 2010. I am pleased to tell the House that Middlewich’s potential to make a substantial contribution to local and regional growth has now been recognised more widely. I am delighted that not only the townsfolk of Middlewich but Cheshire East Council and the local enterprise partnership now see Middlewich as a key town for development, with the potential for growth. That is important. The Government’s Transport for the North report, “Northern Transport Strategy” which was produced this month, states:
“It is important to ensure economic benefits are spread across the North to deliver the vision of a Northern Powerhouse…and development opportunities are better connected to contribute to and benefit from” key towns. If the aspiration of the northern powerhouse is to be realised, it is essential that Middlewich receives greater investment, and that means the Middlewich eastern bypass.
If I may, I would like to unpack just why the bypass is so important. The Middlewich eastern bypass is a major highway scheme. It would support the building of more than 2,000 new homes in and around Middlewich, thereby making a considerable contribution to facilitating the much-needed completion of the Cheshire East local plan. It would be a boost to existing businesses, which employ 4,500 people in Middlewich, and, according to figures from Cheshire East, enable the creation of a further 6,500 new jobs. That is why it is so important for the Government to consider supporting this major highways scheme by allocating funding from the Government’s £475 million local majors funds. Local areas were invited by the Chancellor in his Budget statement last week to make further bids. I am recording a request now, on behalf of Middlewich, for funding from that fund, with the support of Cheshire East Council and the local LEP. The fund is for large local transport schemes, too big for the regular local growth fund. That applies to this bypass: it is a £30 million project. It is now a high priority for our principal authority and for our LEP.
In addition to helping to solve serious congestion issues locally, the bypass would also solve many regional transport problems. Cheshire East Council states that Middlewich is the worst pinch-point on the A54 corridor, which runs from the M6 across to Cheshire west. A bypass would help to relieve the pinch-point, and tackle a number of road safety issues in the town that have been a cause of great local concern for many years. If the bypass scheme involves, as I believe it should, local improvements, that would help to address and improve challenges along Lewin Street, Nantwich Road, the Newton Bank Gyratory and the junction of Leadsmith Street and St Michael’s Way. Those improvements are essential to protect pedestrian safety and to improve pedestrian access to the town centre.
A bypass would provide better routes for heavy goods vehicles and a greatly improved link to the M6 Smart Motorway, which is now under construction. There is no point in making that very considerable investment to relieve congestion if vehicles find themselves stranded and stationary when they move off the M6 and on to the route to Middlewich. The route will also improve access to the HS2 Crewe hub when that opens. I am informed that the work required to develop the hub will involve considerable additional vehicular construction traffic. The construction of the bypass is essential if the region as a whole, not to mention Middlewich as a town, is not to be blighted by the HS2 construction traffic that will continue for very many years.
This week, the Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend Brandon Lewis attended the international property conference in Cannes to launch the northern gateway development zone prospectus. It sets out very ambitious growth proposals for south-east Cheshire and north Staffordshire, arising from the Government’s decision to have a station at Crewe on the new HS2 line. These exciting proposals will deliver significant benefits to the local economy and have the potential to unlock major new growth and investment opportunities. These could deliver more than 100,000 new homes and 120,000 new jobs by 2040 by creating a growth zone at the gateway between the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine—the area is situated directly between the two.
Middlewich is an important focal point within the development area, but although the proposals are exciting and will deliver significant benefits to the economy, I understand from the LEP that the amount of traffic travelling through Middlewich, which already experiences high levels of congestion at peak times, could rise by up to 90%, if the plans are developed. The LEP is concerned, therefore, that its growth proposals will not be achieved unless the issue of congestion is addressed through investment in local infrastructure—and that means the Middlewich eastern bypass and improvements to local roads. I ask Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport to do some joined-up thinking and improve connectivity, not just for Middlewich but for the region, by funding the bypass.
It is a pleasure to be called in this debate.
Keith Vaz mentioned the sugar tax, alongside the city’s wonderful football team. The issue of burning off energy from sugar is important. In my constituency, diabetes is a concern. Eastleigh has the second most diabetes-related amputations, and many of my residents are concerned about plans for two new fast-food outlets and a car showroom on the site of the old council buildings and courts area. I ask the local council to reconsider whether, given the need for new homes, this brownfield planning application so close to two secondary schools is sensible.
That said, Eastleigh is a fit area. In fact, this weekend saw the 32nd Eastleigh 10k. Sadly, a toe injury put paid to my running this year—[Laughter.] I do not joke. I ran last year; it was much warmer then. Some 2,800 runners took part—a record field—and I enjoyed giving out the medals to the littler people after their 2k.
The women’s was a fast race. In fact, it was a women’s record, with Laura Whittle recording a time of 32 minutes, which is about how long it takes me to run a 5k at the moment. I was really impressed. The race was once again covered by the excellent
Steve and his team are local and loving it. They go to absolutely everything. They are a small gang of locally connected journalists who give the people of Eastleigh an opportunity to say what they feel, as was particularly the case with its coverage of the old council buildings.
It has been an extraordinary few months for the people of Eastleigh. After the election, we laid out our Conservative vision for the constituency, and I am enjoying holding the Liberal Democrat council and Ministers to account once again and making important points about local infrastructure. Our roads, like those of fellow MPs, are in dire need of investment. A focus on this is vital. Were Members to meet anyone from my constituency, they would hear about the never-ending traffic queues blighting the area. I am delighted to support the air pollution work in the House because areas such as Hamble lane and right outside the council buildings are places of air pollution concern. I will therefore be backing the air quality Bill.
We have heard about the local majors fund, which is very welcome in areas such as mine, where we have long been awaiting the Chickenhall link road. All MPs could probably argue over whose area has been waiting the longest for a bypass or link road, but we have been waiting 25-plus years for Chickenhall. Does anyone want to raise me? It was important, therefore, that that was mentioned in the Budget. It will unlock more prime land for economic growth, boost the area and continue the recent successes of Southampton airport. I was delighted to visit the airport this month in connection with the new route to Cork. It is just £29 from Southampton to Cork for a weekend; if anyone would like to join us, it is one of four new routes that Dave Lees and his team are bringing to the south coast. I am delighted to see this new road, alongside other manifesto promises, coming to fruition. We will see them delivered through this majority Conservative Government.
I made some local visits, including to Mount Industries earlier this week and to Aggregate Industries, at which we heard about the importance of jobs, infrastructure, dealing with air pollution and ensuring that we get the Conservative action we need. This will lead to more local jobs and better prosperity. Two different industries based around Chickenhall Lane mentioned the importance of the new road to them. Its inclusion in the Budget is a great boost to Eastleigh, and I am very proud to see this brought forward to the community, meeting our promise.
We have made progress, too, on the much needed Botley bypass, which has been in the pipeline since 1988. I am told that a planning application is imminent, and we have been working positively with the local enterprise partnership. I congratulate Botley parish council, which has done everything it can to get the diggers closer to the ground. I can tell Members that it has been a real local campaign, with the parish council and the local community doing something to make the Botley community better, alongside producing a local parish or neighbourhood plan. It is much needed when there are, frankly, none in my constituency. In 2012, the Daily
Echo reported that the Botley bypass would be shelved for another 20 years. I am thus delighted that, as a result of Conservatives working together with the LEP and Hampshire County Council, work on this site will soon commence. That just shows that when the people of Eastleigh vote blue, they get the investment, the roads—hopefully, two—and the jobs that the area needs.
We heard a lot in the Budget debate about the next generation, and jobs and prosperity are key to our young people being successful. I recently met at Eastleigh college during national apprenticeship week Ricky from KA Watts Plumbing; Paul from WH Rowe, a local aluminium foundry; Ashley from Gasworks, which carries out gas maintenance; and James from First Call Heating. The college is so successful at bringing forward so many apprenticeships. What we heard is that people are striving to work with some of the smaller businesses that are bringing forward really key apprenticeships, particularly in the foundry area.
One of the problems that blights our lives, even when it comes to delivering apprenticeships in Eastleigh, is good old health and safety rules. I take this opportunity to say that if we want to get our people work ready and give them the work experience, we must make sure that 16 and 17-year-olds get that opportunity to start out in a new career. The employers I met were very keen to see old apprentices given a new opportunity and the best chances.
Over the last few months, my constituency has seen some serious challenges. St Luke’s surgery in Botley is hugely important to the community, but is now in crisis. I thank the Minister for Community and Social Care, my right hon. Friend Alistair Burt for meeting me—we have another meeting coming up—to discuss how to help sort out the GP problem in my constituency. People in Botley are waiting up to eight weeks for a regular appointment, which is clearly not good enough. St Luke’s is understaffed and worried; it wants to provide a better service. Well resourced and well staffed local GPs are crucial parts of every community, and I am certainly fighting for St Luke’s.
I want to thank my hon. Friends and others for their support and help on International Women’s Day. We had a fantastic turnout of girls—73 of them—from across the country, who came to their Parliament for a day of events to raise awareness of inequality. It helped to motivate our youngsters to get campaigning. I was delighted to see what a diverse range of issues were raised.
Returning to more local issues, the lack of a local plan blights my local residents. I would like to thank the Stokes Residents Association in Bishopstoke, which is trying so hard to support the environment, keeping it rich and diverse and ensuring that there is no needless destruction, which is what happens when the brownfield sites in Eastleigh are ignored. It really is time for the Government to allow us to step in and impose plans in areas where legislation is not being used, in order to support residents’ ideas.
This will not be a quiet Easter for me. I shall be attending the Eastleigh Lions Club fashion show; I shall be visiting and helping Angela Coaches, which is hoping to find larger premises; I shall be visiting Solent TV; I shall be enjoying a meeting with the Eastleigh Borough Council race and equality forum; I shall be heading to Age Concern Eastleigh, and visiting carers at Voyage Care; I shall be touring the Swan shopping centre; and I shall be working with the Chandlers Ford women’s register. I shall also be holding surgeries in Bursledon and Eastleigh, where I will hear from residents who are concerned about local sewerage issues such as flooding, and the impact on local services of the lack of a local plan.
It has been a delight to take part in this important debate. I wish you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House a restful Easter, and I promise to get many more Eastleigh campaigns into my questions when I return.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This has come rather unexpectedly. I was still writing the introduction to my speech.
Let me begin by thanking the Deputy Leader of the House for the guidance and support that she has given me during my first few months in the role of shadow Deputy Leader of the House. She has assisted in discussions of such unusual matters as the arrest of Members, the Members’ benevolent fund, vellum, and some of the vaguer operations of this place. Dare I mention English votes for English laws? Perhaps I should move on. Anyway, she performs her role with very good grace. Earlier today, she and I, along with our SNP equivalent—Ms Ahmed-Sheikh—were photographed to commemorate the first all-women business questions. We called the photograph “The Three Graces”.
We have had a fantastic debate this afternoon. It has been wide and varied, and a real treat. Many Members have come here to champion their constituencies. Bob Blackman referred to the 10-year delay in the provision of a lift at Stanmore station. I am sure that he will continue to campaign assiduously. I was interested in his “Thirty Nine Steps” reference. I wonder whether the book is about that station. The hon. Gentleman also talked about investment in Crossrail, and I felt that that was relevant to my own constituency. Martin Vickers mentioned transport as well, drawing attention to the lack of mention of any future transport plan in the south Humber area. As for the £75 garden waste charge in Harrow, perhaps the hon. Member for Harrow East should relocate to north-east Lincolnshire, where the council charges only £30.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about Equitable Life. I took part in the debate that he initiated, speaking in support of my constituents who lost out as a result of the scandal. I wonder whether his views on Equitable Life reflect his views on the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign. Those women, also through no fault of their own, are losing out financially and in terms of their quality of life. I think that parallels can be drawn.
Much has been said today about potholes, road quality, bypasses, link roads and the like. It was interesting to hear Keith Vaz issue a plea to his own Member of Parliament in London for assistance in improving the roads in that area. Most striking, however, was his mention of the first anniversary of the conflict in Yemen, and the atrocities that have affected 8,800 civilians so terribly. The fact that 3 million children are not going to school reaffirms the importance of our international development fund. The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Tiffin Cup, which I think is well known throughout the House. I shall certainly be speaking to the proprietors of the Spice of Life and Masala Indian in Great Grimsby, and seeking their participation.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Leicester football club. Leicester Tigers gives rugby training to young people in community classes. The team will be slightly closer to my constituency in the summer—at Market Rasen, in Lincolnshire—and I believe that my son will be joining in that activity.
Sir David Amess is certainly standing up for his constituents over National Express. He could never be accused of failing to stand up for his constituents in this place, and I am sure that they expect nothing less. It was interesting to hear that he is trying to establish an alternative city of culture. He might not be aware that I have been trying to bring next year’s city of culture slightly south of the Humber towards Grimsby and Cleethorpes to get some of the benefits that the Hull city of culture will enjoy. The citizens of Hull have not been too impressed with my attempts, but I would be happy to pass the hon. Gentleman’s details on to them. Perhaps they will contact him rather more frequently than they are contacting me at the moment.
It was interesting to hear about the health summits. I wonder whether some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised relate to the fragmentation of the NHS and the increasing privatisation within our health services. If that were not happening so quickly, perhaps those health summits would not be necessary. I entirely recognise his support for the world humanitarian summit, for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations and the keep Britain tidy and Clean for the Queen activities. One of my own councillors in the Freshney ward actively participated in that event to support keeping Britain tidy.
Mr Williams highlighted some terrible tangles of bureaucracy. These things could be so simple, and I really hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will pass that message on to the relevant Minister. I have to believe that the Minister will want to assist in the matter more thoroughly than is currently the case.
I congratulate Martin Vickers on winning pier of the year, and I thank him for mentioning the fact that Grimsby Town will be coming to Wembley for the FA Trophy. We have an incredibly strong contingent of away fans, and I am sure that Wembley will be delighted to see such an influx of Grimsby residents coming to London to support their team. I hope that we will win and that we will not have to be subjected to the terrors of a penalty shoot-out, which do not serve us well.
The hon. Gentleman was also right to raise the issue of transport. I know that he has reprised his role on the Transport Select Committee, and that he is a considerable enthusiast for the railways, particularly in our area. He has been an assiduous campaigner on that front. I personally raised the issue of the lack of consideration for transport in the area south of the Humber with the chief executive of Transport for the North at this week’s meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. I thoroughly support the suggestion that there should be a direct train from Cleethorpes and Grimsby down to King’s Cross. Also, the state of the road on the A180 means that I am completely unable to hear our local radio station, Compass FM, over the rumble. We really need to get on with sorting that out.
Ian Blackford discussed the important issues of freezing pensions and the uprating for UK citizens living overseas. He also talked about the impact of Brexit, were that to happen, and I support his call for a debate on that matter.
Jeremy Lefroy expressed his concern over the potential loss of important sporting facilities in his constituency. I wish his campaign to retain those facilities well. His constituents are clearly very active people. I also recognise his tributes to local NHS staff.
Fiona Bruce raised the important issue of the Middlewich eastern bypass. She is clearly a keen advocate for the issues affecting that area of her constituency. I was particularly impressed by your recollection of all the roads and interchanges, which demonstrated your intimate knowledge of your constituency—
Mims Davies mentioned the celebration of the 32nd running of the Eastleigh 10k. I am sorry that she did not get to participate this time. I also want to highlight the Great Grimsby 10k on
Finally, I want to take the opportunity, which I failed to do this morning, to wish everybody a very Happy Easter.
I particularly commend Mr Williams, whose birthday it is today. That he is here shows his dedication. My hon. Friends the Members for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) will also be celebrating their birthdays over the weekend.
I welcome the return of the pre-recess Adjournment debate—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] It is a splendid tradition and I am delighted that people can come here and raise a wide variety of issues. It was ably started by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, affectionately known as Bobbhai. He is one of several apprentices to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West in that he tried to cover as many topics as possible. He will recognise that the lift at Stanmore station is a matter for the Mayor of London, our hon. Friend Boris Johnson, and Transport for London. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has raised the concern with TfL many times, so I suggest that he grabs the Mayor in the Lobby when we vote on the Finance Bill on the Monday we return. The station’s ramp for wheelchair users technically meets the requirements for step-free access, but I appreciate that it is steep.
My hon. Friend was right to praise the redevelopment of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, which does great work. I understand that the trust’s board will, I hope, approve the plans, which will then be submitted to NHS Improvement for review. It is very much a priority project for the Department of Health and NHS Improvement. I was pleased that he paid tribute to the rebuilding of several schools; it is good to see that the Government are investing in the future of children in Harrow. He made particular reference to the first voluntary-aided Hindu school, which parents will welcome.
My hon. Friend also talked about the blue badge scheme. The criteria for obtaining a blue badge have been tightened significantly. It is not based on a particular kind of disability, but if someone’s disability means that they cannot walk a certain distance and their walking is sufficiently affected, they should be deemed eligible. I am sure that he will work with his constituents on that.
As for the tobacco tax, the price of a typical pack of cigarettes already contains over £5 in duty. In Budget 2014, it was announced that the escalator of RPI plus 2% would continue into this Parliament. The Treasury is also taking action to reduce the gap in duty between hand-rolling tobacco and cigarettes. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome both those measures because high duty rates are a proven way of reducing the prevalence of smoking and help to meet the objectives of protecting public health.
Keith Vaz mentioned Yemen, which certainly matters to this country. The emerging Daesh in Yemen and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are exploiting the current situation. The Government are not prepared to stand back and let that continue, but they believe that a political solution is the best way of bringing long-term stability to Yemen. There are encouraging reports of co-operation between the Saudis and the Houthis, who have agreed a cessation of hostilities on the Saudi-Yemen border, improved humanitarian access, prisoner exchanges and mine clearance. Last week, the Saudi Arabian-led coalition said that it intended to scale back military operations in Yemen. In the same vein, I applaud and support the work of the UN special envoy for Yemen, who says that he is ready to relaunch political talks in the coming weeks. The UK effort should be focused on supporting the UN, and encouraging the parties to engage constructively and implement the commitments made.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to aspects of the sugar tax and the availability of products in this place, and I suggest that he may want speak to the Administration Committee. I am sure that there are a lot of cheers for the momentous season that the Leicester City foxes have had so far, and I am sure they would be a popular winner of the premier league if they were able to continue their great success. I have to say that they are doing much better than my team, Liverpool. He referred to a specific situation relating to diabetes programmes in Leicester. I am not aware of the details of that, but I am sure he is capable, as he has shown in the past, of taking that up appropriately with the Health Secretary. May I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the Tiffin cup? This is the first year that I will be making a nomination, and I hope we will be successful.
Let me move on to the tour de force that is my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West. He is a class act, and other Members are starting to learn from him. He finished his contribution with a tribute to Her Majesty the Queen in the year of her 90th birthday. I can assure him that there will be ample time in this House to pay tributes in due course, but activities such as “Clean for the Queen” have been very successful.
On c2c, the Government accept that the December timetable changes have had a big impact on c2c passengers and their journeys. As my hon. Friend said, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Claire Perry, who has responsibility for rail, asked c2c to undertake a review of the stopping pattern of the services into London. I want to assure him that officials in the Department for Transport will continue to work closely with c2c to ensure that appropriate changes are delivered and that an appropriate balance is achieved in respect of crowding and service levels.
On fire safety, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend James Wharton wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West recently, explaining that he is considering a number of the issues that he had raised about building regulations. I am also pleased that he has had the chance to speak to the Minister for Schools about automatic fire sprinklers in schools.
I am aware of the concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has about the potential change in responsibilities involving police and crime commissioners, but I want him to be assured that those matters will be considered carefully if any changes are made. On Chilcot, we have all been waiting a long time for that report, and I hope it will not be too much longer before we have it. Sir John Chilcot and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister exchanged letters in October. My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend is exceptionally frustrated at how long this has taken, but it is an independent inquiry and an independent report, and the Government cannot direct when it will be published.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West on piloting a private Member’s Bill successfully through this House. It just shows that a good, sensible piece of legislation that does not try to achieve too much but does something that matters and can successfully gain the support of the House. In this case, it was a deregulatory measure and I wish it well in the Lords, with the hope that it will receive Royal Assent.
On the alternative city of culture, I think that, as has already been alluded to, Grimsby is trying to become the fringe zone for it—I think it is stretching it a little far in terms of getting to Southend. Knowing my hon. Friend and the people of Southend, they will not let anything stand in the way. It sounds as if they have a really exciting programme, which I may well take advantage of next year. I am hoping to go to Southend in the near future—I must admit that it will be to campaign for my friend Alex Bright, who is running in the Southchurch ward. I say friend, as he is that, but he also works for me as my secretary, and I am sure he will do well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has a long history of championing animal welfare, and he will be aware that there are already laws in place that enforcement agencies can use to ensure the welfare of pet animals. However, the Government accept that the legislation needs updating, and there has been a consultation, to which we received about 1,500 responses. They will have to be analysed before any decisions are made, but this is not just about changing the law; it is also about working with key stakeholders to improve people’s understanding. He then tackled a number of issues connected with health, including the health summits. I should point out that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is the competent authority in this area, and although the Government may wish to encourage particular thoughts along certain lines, the agency is independent and needs to come up with appropriate evidence.
On salt, the data published this week by Public Health England showed that adult salt intake in England has decreased by more than 10% in the past decade. My hon. Friend is right that the UK is leading the world on salt reduction, and I will work with industry on voluntary reductions in salt levels by up to 50% in everyday products, such as ketchup, bread and baked beans.
On meningitis, my thoughts are with the family of my hon. Friend’s constituent. I recognise that this is a serious disease. He referred to the e-petition, and I know that the matter will be debated further in April.
Fuel poverty is a really important matter, and I recognise that my hon. Friend piloted a private Member’s Bill on to the statute book when he was in Opposition some years ago. The Government are serious about helping vulnerable people to heat their homes, and the Department is putting in place measures that are needed to meet our ambitious target for fuel poverty, requiring us to bring as many fuel-poor homes as reasonably practicable up to the band C energy efficiency standard by 2030.
My hon. Friend was right to praise what happened in the Budget on business rates. With regard to the Maldives, the UK is not alone in its concern about the sustained decline of democracy and judicial independence, but I am sure that he will make his points directly to the Minister.
The upcoming world humanitarian summit will provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the global community to come together and agree on how to serve those most left behind by conflict, extreme poverty and environmental change. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary has placed support for women and girls at the heart of her Department’s work, and the UK supports proposals to ensure that women are involved in planning and decision-making during responses to humanitarian emergencies.
Mr Williams raised a challenging case. I will not pretend that I can give him any assurances here today, but I will refer the matter to the Home Secretary to see whether there is anything that can be done.
I am sure that my hon. Friend Martin Vickers and Melanie Onn will be going down Wembley Way together singing, “We’re on our way to Wembley”. He referred to the Greater Lincolnshire deal and Transport for the North. I think that there is a real opportunity with that devolution deal to make some of the changes to which he refers. I recognise his points about rail connectivity, and he was generous in accepting that work will be undertaken on the A160 and the A180, which will help Immingham, but I will pass his comments to the Department for Transport and ask Ministers there to reply.
Ian Blackford referred to early-day motion 1235. I am not aware that the usual channels have yet been activated for a debate on the statutory instrument to which he refers, so he may wish to take that up with Mike Weir who also has a birthday today. Specifically, UK state pensions are payable worldwide and uprated abroad where we have a legal requirement to do so—for example in the European economic area or in countries in which there are reciprocal agreements. That has been a long-standing policy of successive Governments for about 70 years, and the Government have no plans to change the policy.
My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy started with a strong proclamation of his Christian faith. I want to flag up the fact that I am delighted that he and his colleagues on the International Development Committee had a successful visit to Nigeria. DFID is committed to drawing 1 million more children into education in northern Nigeria by 2020. He referred to the sports fields at Shugborough Hall. He should recognise that Sport England is a statutory consultee on all planning applications affecting playing fields, and he may wish to approach it himself. In relation to the Hopton tunnel, there is a proposal to replace it with a false cutting. When compared with the green tunnel, the proposed false cutting would bring a substantial reduction in the footprint required to construct and operate HS2, as well as a reduction in the height of the structure.
My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce was exceptionally eloquent in her proposals for an eastern bypass around Middlewich. It is good to hear that she is working with her council and the local enterprise partnership. She made a compelling case in her bid for the local majors fund, especially recognising the access to Crewe. She is due to meet the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend James Wharton, but I strongly recommend that she meets the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Mr Goodwill. I hope that she succeeds in her compelling case for housing—as I hope that I will succeed in the case that I will put forward—[Interruption.] It is for the Suffolk Energy Gateway bypass.
Finally, my hon. Friend Mims Davies covered a wide range of topics. To get results, she urged people to vote blue to get green. She is right; she is an excellent MP, making that difference. She talked about apprenticeships, and I will pass on her comments to the appropriate Minister, and I know that she has already met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health about GPs. In terms of International Women’s Day, it is right that she gets the credit.
Finally, it has been a pleasure working with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, and I thank her for that. I thank all the civil servants for helping in this debate, and I wish everybody a happy Easter.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
Before I call the Whip to move the motion for the Adjournment debate, I want to place on the record my appreciation and, I hope, that of all Members of the House, of more than four decades’ service to it by Alda Barry, who is spending her last day in the Serjeant at Arms’s chair. Alda will leave the service of the House to retire, extraordinary though it might seem, at the end of this month. It has been a career of outstanding public service and, Alda, we want to record our thanks.