I beg to move,
That this House
has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
I start by giving the apologies of Ian Mearns, who was intending to lead this debate. As the business has been rather squeezed, he has had to get back to his constituency to attend an urgent function tonight, so I will lead this debate on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee. I will first touch on some local issues that affect my constituency and constituents before discussing some rather more parliamentary and international issues that urgently need to be raised before the House goes into recess.
The first issue—I have raised this matter a number occasions in such debates—is the lack of step-free access at Stanmore station and Canons Park station. Both stations are on the Jubilee line and are in my constituency. There is no way of getting to the normal roadway from the station platforms, except via steep staircases or alternatively, at Stanmore station, through an almost inaccessible car park route. There may be good news on the horizon: the Department for Transport is conducting a consultation about disabled access at stations, although, as everyone will be aware, Jubilee line trains are matters for the Mayor of London. I am assured by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Paul Maynard that, given the failure of successive Mayors of London to remedy the situation, he is prepared to intervene if enough residents from my constituency respond to the consultation asking him to do so.
Work continues after my Adjournment debate on the scandal of the sale of the public asset of the Hive stadium to Barnet football club. There has been a succession of freedom of information requests to Harrow Council to itemise exactly how the scandal arose and to Camden Council to see how it is getting on with claiming the money back that it should have received as a result of the sale of the public asset at a vastly reduced rate.
I turn to police funding and activity in Harrow. There are concerns about the police station closures that the Mayor of London is intent on introducing. These closures will have a dramatic effect on the level of policing and the police presence in Harrow and many other boroughs right across London. It is quite clear that the Government have to stump up more money for the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism duties. They have to review the policing budget, so that the next year’s budget includes a three-year settlement for police funding at a requisite level, given that London is the capital city. I would like the Mayor of London to spend some of the £2.3 billion of unallocated reserves on policing, where the people of London want to see it actually spent.
I am working on two proposed free schools in my constituency. The Mariposa Primary School has been resisted like billy-o by the local authority but has the support of parents and many other people who want to see it brought into operation. The Department for Education and the Education Funding Agency have supported the proposal, but there is opposition from Harrow Council.
I am also supporting the Hujjat free school, which would be the first state-sponsored primary school for Muslim children in the borough of Harrow, and it is definitely well needed. I have been working with the sponsors for some time, and I am hopeful that we will have a site for it and that the school will be blessed with council and Department for Education approval in the immediate future.
Perhaps I could use this opportunity to place on record the concerns I have about schools in my constituency, particularly John Bramston Primary School and Ilford County High School, which are both in desperate need of refurbishment. Like the hon. Gentleman, I also want to see a free school application succeed—in this case, from the trust running Avanti Court Hindu Primary School, which wants to develop a secondary school. There is pressure across London, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so that I could put those parochial wishes from my neck of the woods on the record.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and he gives me the opportunity to make it clear that the first state-sponsored Hindu primary school and, indeed, the first state-sponsored Hindu secondary school are in my constituency. I wish him well with that application.
There are two other local issues I want to raise, and they follow on from the debate we have just had. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of unauthorised houses in multiple occupation in my borough. That is becoming a running sore, and it requires stringent Government action, and it requires local authorities to carry out their duties.
Equally, we still have the problem of casual labourers touting for work on Honeypot Lane outside B&Q and Selco. One solution I have suggested is that, as police station closures are going ahead and there would be no police presence on the ground in my constituency, the police could site an operation in B&Q or Selco. They could use their equipment there, and they could come and go, which would disperse the labourers at one fell swoop.
Let me mention two or three things in Parliament before I sit down and allow colleagues to have their chance. First, I was pleased, on behalf of the all-party parliamentary group for British Hindus, to hold a very well-attended Diwali celebration on the Terrace. A number of right hon. and hon. Members were present, and there was huge representation from across the Hindu community. The celebrations have been going on for some time; Keith Vaz led them originally, and he bequeathed it to me to continue their wonderful progress. When we celebrate people’s religions, it is particularly pertinent.
May I draw hon. Members’ attention to the fact that, last week, we beat the other place at bridge? Our team delivered a stunning blow for the House of Commons, and I was pleased to captain it. This year—finally—I managed to get a second actual Member of Parliament to join me on the team. They were from the SNP, which shows that we are truly becoming an all-party group. I invite Members from the other parties to come and join us so that, next time, we rub home our advantage against the Lords.
I was pleased to welcome Elmira Akhundova MP, who has just launched her triple-volumed biography of Heydar Aliyev, the former President of Azerbaijan. I would recommend this multitudinous-paged biography as a right riveting good read for anyone who wishes to read it. It does, of course, raise an issue that remains unresolved—the plight of the internally displaced persons who continue to suffer as a result of the illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions in the dispute with Armenia.
I sponsored early-day motion 483 on the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in human rights abuses in Iran. One of the things that continues to blight relations between the UK and Iran is that despite the attempts we are making to normalise those relations, human rights abuses continue in that country.
We have debated the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, but Rohingya Hindus have also fled in fear of their lives and are now in Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh have decided to introduce a voluntary sterilisation programme for the Rohingyas in their camps because of the exploding birth rate. This has been widely reported in the press in the UK and on the Indian subcontinent. I think that there is a sinister position on this, because what starts as something voluntary can very rapidly become compulsory. People who literally flee in fear of their lives may go down this route because they fear that they will not get help or assistance. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth will actively take up this issue.
We are celebrating the centenary of the Balfour declaration because of a historic decision by the British Government that I warmly applaud. The relationships between the United Kingdom and Israel grow ever stronger. This week Prime Minister Netanyahu visited this country—something that is very well worth celebrating. We also had the centenary celebration by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in Speaker’s House. I and many other right hon. and hon. Members attended that function, which was graced by speeches by those from all political parties, demonstrating the support that there is from Members right across the House. When we are trying to combat the rise of anti-Semitism in this country, it is vital that Members on both sides of the House and from all parties speak out about that scourge.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in allowing me to put a number of things on the record. I was not able to make it to the well-attended debate in Westminster Hall on the Balfour declaration, but I strongly support what he says. I was delighted to attend the Board of Deputies’ reception in Speaker’s House as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews. This country can be proud of the role that it has played in the creation of the state of Israel. We must now, along with the Israelis, the Palestinians and many others, turn our face firmly to the future and make sure that the future for Israel is a two-state solution that ensures a secure and viable Palestinian state alongside a secure state of Israel.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I trust that he will lean on his party leadership to make sure that they echo his views, because occasionally they do not appear to do so.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and Mr Speaker. I thank the brilliant staff of the House of Commons for the service we have had, and wish them a good short break. I wish my staff who work in my parliamentary office an opportunity to get on with work while I will not be here.
Lakshmi Kaul used to work in my office and has now gone off to work for the Confederation of Indian Industry: I wish her all the best in her new endeavours. I congratulate her on raising more than £14,000 towards the Nainika Tikoo Memorial Foundation and being nominated for a Just Giving award. For those colleagues who do not know, her daughter tragically died of an allergy, and she has spent a lot of time since raising awareness of this dreadful problem that confronts parents and children alike. It is a tribute to her that she has got on with doing that, so that other parents do not have to go through what she has had to go through.
It is a pleasure to follow Bob Blackman. I thank him, Ian Mearns and all members of the Backbench Business Committee for ensuring that matters that are important to Back Benchers are regularly debated in this House. I will be touching on such matters in my contribution.
Tomorrow, it will be five months since the general election. I have tried to continue to be a left-wing, anti-austerity Member of Parliament, and to serve the constituents of Glasgow South West to the best of my ability. Being a Member of Parliament is an honour and a privilege. It is a job in which we should highlight our constituents’ concerns and celebrate constituency successes, such as those set out in several early-day motions. Early-day motion 349 congratulates all involved with the Govan stones, which continue to win archaeological awards and are one of the six hidden gems in Scotland. The Govan stones are a unique collection of early medieval stones found in the Govan old church. Hon. Members are more than welcome in Govan, and I hope that they will all take the opportunity to see those stones.
The work of the Coming Home Centre is celebrated in early-day motion 499. The centre assists military veterans, providing practical advice, furniture and food, and it gives a daily hot meal to the hundreds of veterans in Glasgow who require assistance to adjust back into civilian life. The 50th anniversary of the opening of the Bellahouston sports centre is commemorated in early-day motion 459, and the awarding of the Glasgow Saltire award to young volunteers from St. Angela’s Participation Centre in Darnley is mentioned in early-day motion 411.
One seasoned parliamentarian put it to me that this debate is nicknamed the “moanfest”.
The Deputy Leader of the House shakes his head in disbelief. On the basis of that nickname, I wish to raise a number of issues, the first of which concerns the process for parliamentary questions. One of the frustrations of the job of being a Member of Parliament is that we regularly receive answers from Ministers that end with the catch-all phrase “disproportionate cost”. That often happens when information requested in a parliamentary question has already been provided under freedom of information procedures. In such cases, it is quite confusing to receive responses from Ministers stating that information can be provided only at disproportionate cost. I fear that if I were to table a parliamentary question to the Deputy Leader of the House asking how many parliamentary answers end with the phrase “disproportionate cost”, the response might very well be that that information can be provided only at disproportionate cost.
I also want to raise the question of the cost of telephone calls to Departments, which the Deputy Leader of the House will have heard me raise many times at business questions. As a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State say that telephone calls to his Department will be free by the end of the year. The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that I have raised that issue for more than two years. However, that does not affect other Departments, including the Home Office, which runs the spousal visa hotline. Will the Government explain how my constituent Amera Hussain, who has telephoned that hotline twice in the past month, has received a phone bill outlining that the total cost of those two telephone calls was £28.77? The Home Office says that the spousal visa hotline charges £1.37 a minute, over and above network charges, but it has also said in response to a parliamentary question I tabled that that should apply only to non-UK residents. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will ask the Home Office why UK residents are being charged such premium, astronomical rates to telephone a Department.
I want to raise a general point about enforcement, because there has started to be a real focus on that since the election in June. I will cite some of the figures revealed by the Government in answer to parliamentary questions. At present, 399 staff members are working in the national minimum wage compliance unit, yet it has 83 vacancies, and the Government have intimated that they have no plans to fill them. Is it any wonder that there are 200,000 workers in the United Kingdom who are not being paid the national minimum wage when there are so many vacancies in the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs compliance unit?
I asked Ministers yesterday to confirm whether there were 420 HMRC staff in the high net worth unit, which deals with tax avoidance and evasion. Last year, it was revealed that there were 420 staff in that unit, with 700 in the affluent unit. I have been told by the Government today that those two sections of HMRC have been combined, so I was expecting to hear that there were 1,120 staff working in the merged unit. However, I have been told that there are only 1,040 staff, so it seems to me that there has been a reduction in the number of HMRC staff dealing with tax avoidance and evasion. In addition to that, given the office closures, in 2017 alone HMRC will lose 17,000 years of staff experience, which will surely lead to a decrease in enforcement.
Such a reduction does not, of course, apply to chasing social security fraud. As I said in the House yesterday, the latest figures show that 3,605 employees in the Department for Work and Pensions are chasing social security fraud. I have been told today in a written answer that the figure for full-time equivalents is actually 4,045. If 4,045 employees can chase social security fraud estimated at £1.2 billion, just imagine how much money HMRC could bring in if it had 4,045 employees chasing tax avoidance and evasion.
We need to ensure the House is always pursuing how to help the most vulnerable in our society. Today’s Trussell Trust report exposes the real situation in our communities where universal credit has been rolled out, with food bank use up by 30% in those areas. I am clear that food banks are not and do not wish to be part of the social security system. In my constituency of Glasgow South West alone, there has been a 56% increase in food bank use in the past year. That is why my constituency office will now be a collection point for those who wish to make cash or food donations to my constituents.
Real poverty is on the rise and wages are low. As the Member for the constituency with the largest percentage of public sector workers, I hope that the Government will give such workers a real wage rise shortly. The job of all of us is to hold the Government to account, and I hope that they will, in the weeks and months ahead, address the many challenges that our people face.
It is a pleasure to follow Chris Stephens, who has demonstrated both his effective use of early-day motions and raised some constituency issues, although he did say he would not use the debate as a moanfest.
I am not going to use this debate as a moanfest, but as a celebration. I want to use it to recognise the very powerful and important contributions made by three exceptional sets of constituents in my constituency, whom I have met over the past few years in my role as Rugby’s MP. The common factor among them is that they have all faced massive adversity in their lives, but have turned it into something positive for others. I hope to be able to give a brief account of their achievements.
The first, and the one I met most recently, is a gentleman called Andy Martin. He has always considered himself an active and healthy person, but about five years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He has always been a keen rugby player—we josh each other about the fact that I used to be an Old Laurentian, while he used to play for Newbold rugby club—and he continues to play for AEI and Coventry Welsh. Once he was diagnosed, he decided that he wanted to do something to show that a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease was not a barrier to going out and achieving great things. He asked himself what he might do to raise the profile of the disease. He said that he could have curled up in a corner and hidden, but he chose instead to fight and to do something absolutely extraordinary. He told me that he had heard about Ian Botham walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End, and became determined to do that himself. He did, on his own, throughout the month of September 2017.
The journey entailed walking, on average, 35 miles a day, booking himself into a hotel or guest house, getting up early in the morning, and cracking on and walking another 35 miles. On occasion, because of the gaps between guest houses, he covered distances of between 40 and 45 miles. He achieved his goal in just 30 days. He needed a police escort as he went over Dartmoor because it was pouring with rain. He also had to travel on A roads entirely on his own, but he achieved his objective. It was a huge endeavour and an absolutely major achievement. He has shown that, despite suffering from Parkinson’s, he can still get on with his life and achieve a great deal. He has already raised £4,000 for Parkinson’s through a JustGiving page. He is planning to go one better next year and walk from his home town of Rugby to Amsterdam. I take my hat off to him. His achievement is magnificent, and something of which I am exceptionally proud.
Another constituent who came to see me very shortly after I became an MP was Peter Realf, who, with his daughter Maria Lester, has devoted his time to raising awareness of brain tumours. Peter himself endured his own battle with leukaemia from 2002 to 2012, but his condition has stabilised. I first met Peter in 2007 when he came to see me with his son, Stephen, who, at 19, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour while training to qualify as an RAF pilot. Very, very sadly, Stephen passed away in 2014 aged just 26.
In August 2015, Stephen’s sister, Maria Lester, started a parliamentary petition to commemorate the anniversary of her brother’s death and to promote awareness of brain tumours. On
“successive Governments have failed brain tumour patients and their families for decades.”
Peter has now become very involved with the all-party group on brain tumours here in Parliament, and there is a real move towards positive change.
We know that brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40; fewer than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years, compared with an average of 50% across all cancers. Thanks to the work that Peter and his family have done, Cancer Research UK has recently announced a new multi-million-pound investment in brain tumour research at the University of Wolverhampton and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. That has been labelled a “game-changer” by Sue Farrington Smith, who is the chief executive of Brain Tumour Research.
It is extraordinary how Peter, having suffered a huge loss—the loss of his son—has been motivated to put his time and effort into improving awareness of this disease so that others may benefit. I take my hat off to him. He has done a tremendous job.
I also want to draw attention to my constituents George and Giulietta Galli-Atkinson. I first met them in April 2012, when they came to tell me that they had moved from London to Rugby and I was now their MP. They asked me to get involved in their campaign to improve road safety and develop a series of awards in memory of their daughter, who was tragically killed in 1998 when a car mounted the pavement as she was walking to a ballet lesson. They founded the Livia awards, which began in 1999 and are being given this evening in the Attlee Suite in the company of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The hard work of Metropolitan police officers in investigating road traffic accidents is being recognised there.
George and Giulietta Galli-Atkinson did not just initiate the awards, but fought tirelessly for more appropriate punishment of those found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving. On both fronts, they have been incredibly successful. I was invited to join the judging panel of those who had been put forward for awards, and I read and heard accounts of police officers who had to attend the most harrowing incidents. It was interesting for me, as a provincial MP, to understand some of the challenges of policing in a capital as large and sophisticated as London. Often the people who have to pick up the pieces and bring families together are police officers, and we heard a great deal from family liaison officers. It gave me a window into a world that I would not otherwise have seen.
The Galli-Atkinsons have campaigned to make the penalties for causing death by driving more severe, and they have succeeded. There has been a long overdue change in the law as a consequence of their campaigning. They were assisted by the former MP for Enfield, Southgate—where they lived—David Burrowes.
George and Giulietta continue to campaign on road safety, and they have set up the Safe Drive Stay Alive initiative, which works with young people to make them aware of the dangers on the roads. It celebrates its 12th year this year. Although it runs predominantly in London, it is working its way through the country more widely, and I am delighted that it will come to Warwickshire next year. Again, they are two people whom I have met in my role as an MP, but perhaps would not have got to know in another walk of life. I have been incredibly moved by the amount of effort they put into raising standards in memory of their daughter. They turned great adversity into something for others.
I have mentioned three sets of constituents, whom I am immensely proud to have as my constituents. I am immensely proud that they are all in Rugby and making an impact on different sectors. They put their loss and grief to one side and their energy into making improvements for others. I am pleased to have had the opportunity this evening to recognise the work of Andy, Peter and Maria, and George and Giulietta. I hope that they all continue with their very good work.
I will spend a few minutes responding to yesterday’s Adjournment debate on the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967. It was a short Adjournment debate, and only the ministerial response was possible.
Criticism was made of a grant from the money raised by the tampon tax to the charity, Life. Since it was founded in 1970, Life has helped to house more than 12,000 vulnerable mothers and babies and provided help and non-directive counselling to tens of thousands more. Life was described in the debate as an anti-choice organisation. Far from being anti-choice, Life seeks to give women a genuine choice about whether to keep their baby and to offer them much-needed support if they choose to do so. The grant of £250,000 awarded to Life over three years was described in yesterday’s debate as:
“the largest sum from the tampon tax fund”.—[Official Report,
That, too, is incorrect. It was, in fact, only about the 10th largest. But that sum, so stridently objected to by some in the Chamber yesterday, is dwarfed by the amount paid to abortion providers. The sums are staggering. Over the past decade, hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have been paid to private sector abortionists. The Times reported that the head of Marie Stopes International, to which we pay millions of pounds to carry out abortions in the UK and overseas, received a phenomenal £420,000 in one recent year alone—four times the Prime Minister’s salary. Twenty-two of its employees were paid more than £100,000 each. What kind of charity is it that pays its staff these sums out of public money? Surely the Charity Commission should be investigating this.
On the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967, may I express my concern at reports resulting from Care Quality Commission’s investigations into the abortion practices of Marie Stopes International, which is described by some as an industry? Last year, the CQC’s inspection report identified a wide range of concerns about the way in which abortions are carried out by MSI, including criticism after finding dead, unborn babies in open bins. Again, what steps are Ministers taking to address these concerns? This is not just about me as one individual expressing concern, but the Government’s own regulator doing so.
We should also be concerned about another abortion provider and charity, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which describes itself as a not-for-profit charity but appears to be involved in lobbying to change abortion law, despite statements made by the previous Government that
“taxpayers won’t be made to foot the bill for political campaigning and political lobbying.”
“Taxpayers’ money”— must not be—
“wasted on the farce of government lobbying government.”
Yet I recently received a letter from BPAS, which included the following:
“I am writing today to ask that you consider defending and extending reproductive rights in the UK during the course of this Parliament...all Parliamentarians—regardless of their personal view on abortion—should support decriminalisation of abortion in the UK.”
The letter, dated
“I want to be very, very clear and blunt...there should be no legal upper limit”.
The campaign’s website states that it campaigns to see the 24-week abortion time limit “removed from criminal law.” What steps are being taken, both by the Government and the Charity Commission, to address lobbying of this nature by a government-funded organisation?
In yesterday’s debate, mention was made of Professor Lesley Regan from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who I understand supports decriminalisation and persuaded its council—but not the membership—to back decriminalisation in a ballot. I understand Professor Regan has argued that the practice of abortion should be no more restricted by the law than the practice of having a bunion removed. If so, I find this incomprehensible. In her response to the debate last night, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, reflected this when she said:
“I am sure that everyone in this House agrees that no woman undertakes a termination lightly. For many, it is extremely traumatic”.—[Official Report,
I agree. That is why there are protections within the current law, such as the requirement for two doctors to certify approval, and that, apart from in exceptional circumstances, late-stage abortions after 24 weeks should not take place. And the public appreciates this. I know that polling figures can be questioned, but it is interesting to note that very recent polling from ComRes shows that a massive 72% of people believe that, far from lifting the practice of abortion outside the current legal parameters in place today, such as the requirement of legal consent from two doctors, these parameters should remain in place.
That this message is not a fluke is underlined by an unlikely source: recent, extensive BBC-commissioned polling by ICM that clearly showed respondents supporting two doctors continuing to approve an abortion. It showed a clear rejection on the grounds of abortion due to disability and far lower support for abortion under other circumstances than may have been expected, and certainly would be expected if one listened only to the campaigning of those who are pushing for decriminalisation. As these polls indicate, that is not what the British public want. A ComRes poll from May shows that 70% of people want the 24-week time limit lowered—not surprisingly bearing in mind medical advancements in foetal viability over the last 50 years—and that 91 % want a specific ban on the practice of abortion on the grounds of a child’s sex.
It is important that we remember here that those who campaign for decriminalisation and the sweeping away of the safeguards that that would entail never mention that a modern and humane abortion law should consider and uphold the dignity and rights not only of the woman but of the unborn child.
Given the gravity of the headlines and the news in recent days surrounding abuse and moral questions such as tax avoidance, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the fact that the House recognises that these are serious matters and that changes are needed to ensure due process, but we also need to remind ourselves that, for our constituents, it is the day-to-day business of politics that has huge impacts on people’s lives and that it is our job to make laws, scrutinise the Government and in effect make sure that business continues to be done.
We must also keep sight of our priorities. In my constituency, in one of the wealthiest cities in the country, we have some of the worst pockets of deprivation in the country, with more than a quarter of children living in poverty, and some of the lowest higher education attainment rates of any constituency in the UK. We are now also faced with some of the biggest challenges to have faced British politics in a very long time: the uncertainty posed by the Government’s handling of Brexit, huge cuts to local government spending, the longest decline in real wages since records began, rising poverty and massive inequality. We have people unable to leave acute and specialist hospitals because of the lack of social care provision, which is leaving providers unable to continue and families in silent misery as they try to support their loved ones.
We as MPs of all constituencies will face daily questions on housing. This afternoon, we have had an excellent Backbench Business debate secured by my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, which contained some horrific examples of what is happening in our constituencies. Members have brought to us concerns about interest rate rises, the economic future of employers and the security of decent work that allows people to live in dignity and support themselves and their families. These are the daily challenges that people are facing, and it is for us to focus on them. That is indeed what colleagues have been doing over recent weeks and in today’s debate.
I pay tribute to the work of the Backbench Business Committee and its Chair in providing the House with a stream of interesting and valuable subjects for debate, particularly in the absence of Government business in the last few weeks. We, the Opposition, are resolute in attending the Chamber to do our job, and we will continue to press the Government for responses to urgent questions, for statements and on Opposition days—we are particularly enjoying winning every week on Opposition-day motions. We will continue to use every method at our disposal in parliamentary terms to ensure that this chaotic and crumbling Government are held to account for as long as they continue to last.
The Prime Minister started the Brexit debate by expressing a desire to have no running commentary and to avoid debate in this place. Opposition Members have made it clear that as we take back control it will be taken back to this place and not to some back corridor between Downing Street and Whitehall, with a couple of trusted Ministers and an army of civil servants, and my colleagues made that clear again by raising issues and questioning Ministers throughout today’s business.
The House will be in recess for just three days. I shall not be taking a holiday, although I want to express my gratitude to the Secretary of State for International Development, who has managed to make all future family holiday planning a great deal easier for me. Like many other Members, I look forward to catching up on constituency visits. I shall be visiting the Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group, meeting NHS leaders to discuss the sustainability and transformation plan, and visiting local schools.
The annual remembrance service in Bristol on Sunday, like others throughout the country, will again allow people to pause, reflect and remember the sacrifice of those who have given their lives so that we can engage in democratic debate and scrutiny in the House; and, as we leave this place for the next three days, we will also remember those who are currently serving to keep us safe.
This is, I think, my fifth opportunity as Deputy Leader of the House to close such an Adjournment debate. It is, in many instances, a pleasant opportunity to achieve cross-party consensus. I thank my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, who is a member of the Backbench Business Committee and who is present now, for what he and the Committee do and for organising the debate. We do not normally have such a debate before this very short recess, so this is, if you like, Mr Speaker, a bonus edition.
My hon. Friend spoke about—among many things—step-free access on the Jubilee line. I note that a consultation is taking place about that. My hon. Friend said that the Mayor of London would be listening to the responses, and I hope that that is true. The Mayor clearly has substantial reserves at his disposal—more than £2 billion.
My hon. Friend’s support for all sections of his community is recognised nationally and certainly in all quarters of the Chamber. He is rightly acknowledged and popular inside and outside his constituency as a result of the work that he does—and not just because he plays bridge better than those in the other place, although I noticed that he could not resist mentioning that. He is popular because of the hard work that he does for everyone in his community and in the national community.
My hon. Friend spoke about the centenary of the Balfour declaration and acknowledged the strong relationship between our countries today. He also referred to the celebrations in your House, Mr Speaker. He was right to mention the frightening rise in anti-Semitism: no doubt every Member will want to fight that scourge.
Chris Stephens began by saying that he did not want to embark on a “moanfest”, and he certainly did not do that. He spoke of Glasgow with pride, and rightly so. He invited everyone to come to see the Govan stones, and I should indeed like to do so, because he made them sound very attractive. He also mentioned other activities in his constituency, such as the Glasgow Saltire Awards. He talked about the friendly people of Glasgow and said that it was always worth a visit; I certainly acknowledge that. He is an effective Member who has campaigned doughtily on matters such as the cost of hotlines, about which he has spoken effectively many times in the Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the work of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Let me take this opportunity to praise those at HMRC who do so much work to recover the sums that are due to the Treasury purse. The Government have increased its resources substantially since 2010, and rightly so, because vast sums now come into the Treasury from that quarter. We want to make sure that all that tax, which is rightly due to the Treasury to fund our valuable public services, does come in. It is right that HMRC is properly funded for that purpose, so we want to continue with the work we have done since 2010 in that regard. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the sums coming in have, so far as tax evasion and avoidance are concerned, dramatically increased since 2010, because of the extra resources put into that.
My hon. Friend Mark Pawsey spoke very eloquently, and with pride, about several residents in his constituency. Their hard work and service to their community and the wider community is to be applauded, and I want to mention them again. He mentioned Andy Martin, who has worked as a campaigner on Parkinson’s disease and walked from Land’s End to John o’Groats in some 30 days, which is a substantial achievement, and has no doubt helped raise awareness, not least in this place, of Parkinson’s disease, which, sadly, afflicts too many people in our society.
My hon. Friend also mentioned Peter Realf and Maria Lester and their campaign on brain tumours. Sadly, that also afflicts far too many people of all ages in our country. They lost their son and brother Stephen at the age of just 26. It is crucial that we take these opportunities to promote awareness of these tragic situations and conditions. They raised 100,000 signatures for a petition for a very effective recent debate in Westminster Hall.
My hon. Friend also mentioned George and Giulietta Galli-Atkinson and their work on road safety following the tragic death of their young daughter in 1998 when walking to a ballet class. The Livia awards are being held this evening in the Palace of Westminster; they offer the opportunity to thank our police service, particularly police officers involved in road traffic duties for the extraordinary work they do in investigating road traffic accidents, including fatal ones. Officers are awarded for exemplary duty and service when, as detectives, they have either investigated the cause of an accident or many accidents throughout a career. We should take this opportunity to thank all those officers for their service, and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is coming to Parliament this evening to do just that. I am sure Members on both sides of the House will want to thank the police for their service, particularly, with these awards this evening, in the road traffic field. My hon. Friend is very proud of all his constituents, and so are we all.
My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce raised a matter close to her heart. Members know how passionate and committed she is to her constituents. She holds issues dear to her heart and has spoken on many of them before. She has also on previous occasions spoken passionately and eloquently about making sure children have the best start in life, which I know we all would support; we can all agree with that. I commend her on her hard work for her constituents in all these fields and in family life.
The shadow Deputy Leader of the House, Karin Smyth, to whom it is a pleasure to be an opposite number, mentioned some of the issues about which her party has concerns. I would gently point out that the economy of this nation is some 15.3% larger than it was seven years ago, that the deficit we inherited has been cut by some two thirds since 2010 and that we collected £55 billion in corporation tax just last year, which helps to pay for our treasured public services, including billions more for the national health service, which we all value and treasure so dearly. I point out that employment is up by some 3 million since 2010 and that the unemployment rate has not been lower since 1975. Income tax has also been cut for more than 30 million people, and there are some 950,000 fewer workless households. So there is a lot that is positive to refer to at this juncture, before the start of our very short Adjournment.
I want to take this opportunity—through you, Mr Speaker, if I may—to thank the wonderful, hard-working staff of this House. I want to thank you, Mr Speaker—not just because you are here in the Chair but because of the work you do—and your deputies. I want to thank the Clerks, the Doorkeepers and all the staff of this place. They work all year round to enable us to function in the Palace of Westminster as a Parliament and as a legislature in the effective way that I think we do. We thank everyone for that. I would like to give a special mention to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Lieutenant General David Leakey, who is retiring after more than five years’ service in the other place. I worked with him on the occasion of Her Majesty the Queen’s diamond jubilee, and I know that he will be missed in the other place.
On the subject of those to be thanked and perhaps congratulated, later this month is the 69th birthday of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. I know that his long and dedicated service, his philanthropy and his exemplary work ethic will be an example to us all, and I should like to take this early opportunity to wish him a happy birthday. Also later this month will be the 70th wedding anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. Although it is still a few days away, I would like to be one of the first to express my congratulations from the Dispatch Box and to wish them many more happy years together.
Perhaps I should close by remarking that this coming weekend is Remembrance Sunday. Members on both sides of the House will no doubt take that opportunity to commemorate the fallen in wars and conflicts that took place a long time ago and far more recently and the loss of life of so many over the generations that has affected so many families around the country. We shall have the opportunity to commemorate their service to this country and to the causes that this country and all the parties in this House hold dear: freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Those are the important matters in our lives, as we recognise on Remembrance Sunday those who have gone before us and who have given their all to serve their country.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for what he has just said and for the gracious way in which he has said it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.