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[1st Day]

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 7:56 pm on 21st June 2017.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West 7:56 pm, 21st June 2017

There is a habit of some in the Labour party of making personal attacks on Conservative Prime Ministers. They did it with Ted Heath, they did it with Margaret Thatcher, and some tried to do it with our current Prime Minister. I think she has the common sense, resilience and sense of humour not to worry too much about that. It is far better that we understand that the leadership of the party can be tested by what people do in action, and during her years as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister had no hesitation in coming to the House, picking up the most difficult issues, and finding ways forward that were supported across the House. I am pleased to back her in what she is trying to do with our Government.

On the Brexit theme—I do not usually discuss that as much as my hon. Friend Sir William Cash—I think it will take twice as much effort to make a success of leaving as it would have taken to make a success of staying, but the people made the decision that we should go, so the responsibility of someone in my position is to give the Government the support that I can while trying to make sure that problems are recognised and solved as far as possible.

May I wish the new leader of the SNP in the House good luck? His predecessor, Angus Robertson, will be missed, especially in the all-party group on Austria. I hope that as he is no longer in the House he will regard himself as an honorary member of the group. Much of what he has done is much appreciated by successive Austrian ambassadors, and I hope that his input will continue.

I think that the departing leader of the Liberal Democrats was treated unfairly. It is crazy that one answer to one question can come back to haunt someone. The question of someone’s view of other people’s behaviour, as long as it is held privately, does not really matter. We ought not to say that someone’s orientation or their answer to questions about what other people do should be a test of their political ability or leadership. I wish the Liberal Democrats well in finding a new leader.

To those who are arguing too much about the possible understanding between the Democratic Unionist party and the Conservatives, I remember saying a week ago on Monday, when the question first arose, and when 38 Degrees got everyone on its mailing list to write in saying that that was a frightful thing, that the alternative Government arrangement would be the Labour party trying to introduce an understanding with the SNP, the DUP, the Lib Dems and the Green party. The DUP would have to take part in that arrangement as well; without it, Labour Members could not be in government, so there is no point their pretending there could be an alternative Government by shaking their heads at the DUP. I hope that the DUP will read my description of the shaking heads on the Opposition side who want nothing to do with them. We are clear that the Government will come from this side and my party.

I mentioned 38 Degrees. I deplore how it pretends to be progressive but not partisan. At some other stage, I will refer the activities of 38 Degrees to the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner. I cannot say that it has committed an offence, but I cannot say that it is in the clear. On the last day of the election, it put out something inviting people to see which party was closest to them. If all someone’s answers were closest to the Conservatives, as the majority of voters were at the last election, there were then more questions trying to dissuade the person from thinking that they were what they thought they were. That is wrong. At present, the organisation is running its third campaign in a week and a half: there have been the DUP issue and fire regulations, which clearly will have to be reviewed following that terrible fire in Grenfell Tower, and today it is asking people to sign a petition about national health service spending. Such activity means that that it should be considered as a political organisation, and should meet the same requirements as political parties.

On housing, one of the big issues is leasehold properties. Up to 6 million residential leaseholders are exposed, by accident or design, to mistreatment by managing agents, some freeholders and, sadly, by some property tribunals and courts; I thank Heidi Alexander for her interest and help in this matter. If courts and property tribunals feel that they have to make a judgment that is clearly unfair but goes along with precedent or the argument of some clever lawyer, they should say in their judgment, “We find for this party, but we declare that this is an unjust decision.”

Mr Barry Weir, or his company, is the landlord of a park home site in my constituency who has used judgments and expensive lawyers to—in my terms—bully and intimidate. People spend £50,000 to buy a so-called mobile home on the basis that it is residential. It turns out to be for holiday use, and when Mr Weir or his companies get permission for it to be for residential use, he starts to claim another £1,000 a year. He takes people to court and they lose their £50,000. In my view, that is depriving people of assets that they ought to be able to keep. Through this House, I invite Mr Barry Weir to meet me so that we can sort things out person to person. If there is still a dispute, we will go to some outside tribunal and see whether the way he is treating people is right or fair.

The same applies to a freeholder called Martin Paine, who has given people extended leases but written the clause in such a way that even good solicitors fail to find the fact that he is doubling ground rents back to the start of a lease, not to the point at which they were extended. That would not be allowed as part of a formal extension of a lease; again, such behaviour needs exposing in public, and MPs can do that.

I return for a moment to the tragedy in Kensington. I first went to Golborne ward in the early 1970s, when I was setting up the second neighbourhood council in the country; the first was in Golborne. I have seen what has happened in some tenant management organisations. The question of responsibility is important, also in respect of the first reaction to the fire and how it was treated. The fire service will have lessons to learn and it will be happy to learn them. I think the tenant management organisations will do the same. Clearly, the building regulations are wrong: it should not be possible to put up that kind of cladding in that material. However, people should not regard cladding as just aesthetic. In my first constituency 25 years ago, people were spending £30 a week to be cold in a tower block; after the cladding was fitted, they were spending £5 a week to be warm. That £25 a week and the fact of being warm made a big difference to people. We have lessons to learn, we will learn them and I say to 38 Degrees that it should stop trying to wind people up.

There is a side of the Labour party that I admire. I used to meet Bill Hamling, my first Labour opponent when I stood for Parliament in 1974—he was Harold Wilson’s Parliamentary Private Secretary—at lunchtime on Saturdays. We would buy each other a drink and declare hostilities over until the Monday. He appears in many political plays, including “This House”. I ask the people behind that play to revise how they portray Bill Hamling: he was not a foul-mouthed person. They should also revise their portrayal of Carol Mather, a gallant gentleman and officer and my wife’s Whip—she was the first woman in his regiment. He is also portrayed as foul-mouthed, but he was not. People who knew them are still alive and we do not need that kind of dramatic effect.

I will campaign in my constituency for funds for a proper A27 that gives protection to local residents but makes it possible people to move through without traffic jams. With other west Sussex MPs, I will continue to fight for fairer funding for schools. If we had anything like the funding for schools in London, we would not have half the problems we have. I will work with anybody—parents and others—to try to make things right.

The job of those of us in political and public service is to try to reduce avoidable disadvantage, distress and handicap and improve wellbeing through a mixture of wealth and welfare. We can do it together. We should not have so many disagreements, and I commit myself to doing my bit.