Whitsun Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:26 pm on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 2:26 pm, 23rd May 2019

Before the House adjourns for the Whitsun recess, I wish to make a number of points. I am so glad that we are having this debate, because the previous one was cancelled. Unless I get a stare from the Chair, I am probably going to take a little longer than I normally would, but I assure the House that I will not squeeze colleagues out—I know that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would intervene.

The first thing I want to say is about this place. I am very worried about Parliament—indeed, I am frightened about it. I realise that everyone else knows better than I do, but since I have been here I have never seen this place in such disarray. As we work here, we have our own view, but this is playing very badly with the general public out there—every minute, every hour, every week and every month, damage is being done to our democracy. I have never seen incompetence at the level that we are experiencing at the moment, with Ministers coming and going—it is a complete fiasco. We all know that the terrible 2017 general election messed everything up, but we have had tight results before and we have legislated—we have been here, done our work and got on with our job. That is not happening at the moment.

I say to colleagues, perhaps those on my side, that very few human beings have what it takes to be a leader of a party and indeed a Prime Minister. That does not mean to say that someone is a wonderful person because they end up as Prime Minister; I am just saying that few people have the qualities needed. So many of us seem to be unaware of our own limitations. Since I have been here, I have seen colleagues become more and more ambitious. They think, “Oh, forget the constituency, it is a just a vehicle to get here. I want to lead my party. In fact, I even wanted that before I was elected.” That is how ridiculous the situation is at the moment, and it plays out there very badly indeed.

We have the poorest set of world leaders I have seen in my lifetime. I struggle to point to someone whom I think is at the top of their game. Let me say something to the House, although it will not take a blind bit of notice of me—after all, who am I? I am of no importance; I am a has-been. I want to say this: this is a really serious crisis and I hope that on Sunday, when we get the results of today’s vote, we will get a grip on this place, because we need to reassure the general public that the democracy that was hard fought for means that it is worth going out to vote. That ends that Victor Meldrew rant.

Ambassadors continually visit Southend, and why would they not? We have had ambassadors from Taiwan, the Philippines and Qatar, and we are shortly to have visits from the Indian economics Minister and the German ambassador. They all arrive in Southend and just cannot understand why we are not a city.

On 5 March, I hosted a meeting with our excellent Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb, and the headteachers of secondary schools in Southend to discuss the thorny issue of school funding. The meeting was constructive and I believe it helped both sides to understand the difficulties. We will have a similar meeting with primary school headteachers in July.

For those who were there—I was delighted to be present with my right hon. Friend Mr Francois, the Secretary of State for Defence and other colleagues—the wonderful Music Man project really put life into perspective. When I first became an MP, I had never seen anyone in a straitjacket before. It was fantastic to see the pride on the faces of the families as they saw these people with learning difficulties perform so wonderfully well at the Albert Hall. The musical was called “Music is Magic in Space”, and the performance followed the one at the Palladium. The founder of the project, David Stanley, has been awarded the Winston Churchill fellowship, which will allow him to travel to America in November to study similar projects. That is why the show will be taken to Broadway. That is definitely going to happen next year. I am sure that Essex colleagues—I see my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris on the Front Bench—will have constituents who took part in the project.

I recently had a meeting with our former colleague Helen Clark, who was the Member for Peterborough, and she had some wonderful ideas on children’s mental health. She met me with a lady called Monika Jephcott and a chap called Jeff Thomas, who were from Play Therapy UK, and we discussed proposals for a new approach to child mental health, including work to put the interests of children at the centre of the mental health Bill that we have been promised.

There may be a divide in the House on the governance of independent schools, but the past nine years have seen a huge shift in education, and specifically an increase in independent schools. As far as I am concerned, it is imperative that the leaders of independent schools are held to account, especially by the Independent Schools Association, because it is at school that children learn human values and life lessons. Independent schools cannot be allowed to get away with substandard conduct.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Southend resident and fibromyalgia campaigner Billy Mansell. More than 2.7 million people in the UK live with fibromyalgia, yet the condition is little understood. Billy is leading the way and I fully support his efforts to raise awareness and the understanding of this chronic condition and to ensure that patients throughout Essex get the right support.

Some people think I am obsessed with animals, but I know that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, have even more animals than me. The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and its wonderful co-founder Lorraine Platt continue to work hard on spearheading campaigns to improve the lives of animals in the United Kingdom and around the world. There has been lots to celebrate this year, with Lucy’s law having brought an end to puppy farming and Finn’s law getting Royal Assent, but there is still a long way to go on live exports, trophy hunting and the fur trade. I look forward to working with Lorraine and her colleagues on many more successes. We had a wonderful gathering in the Attlee suite, with all these wonderful dogs and many colleagues. It is good to see that the House has reacted well to issues of animal welfare.

On the same subject, more than half of all pets in the UK are exotic species. Unfortunately, 90% of exotic fish and 75% of exotic reptiles do not survive their first 12 months in captivity as domestic pets. There are numerous reasons for those sorry figures, but the pet labelling scheme is a series of proposals that seeks to address the problem. The hope is that by providing a labelling scheme to promote informed decisions at the point of sale and evidence-based guidance on husbandry and inspection, the number of pets dying will be reduced.

The House of Commons is sometimes parodied as a place where one can get alcohol in abundance. I recently chaired a meeting of the all-party group on liver health at which we were given some shocking figures. We were delighted to learn that the steps that have been taken relating to hepatitis C and alcohol are now beings looked at seriously, but I wonder how many colleagues realise that the most common cause of liver disease in England is a person having had too much drink. One person dies every two hours because of alcoholic liver disease—it kills more people than diabetes and road deaths combined. This under-reported problem costs the national health service £3.5 billion a year. There are so many ways to address the problem. The issue of alcohol labelling needs to be looked at again, as does pricing and NHS support. The good news for colleagues is that in a few months we will host a parliamentary drop-in event, which colleagues will be able to attend and, without any embarrassment, get their livers tested.

For 20 years I have been dealing with a constituent called Mr Nicholas Markos—this is a true story; he comes regularly to my surgeries. He lived with his mother, Milica. The issue was that his neighbour shifted the fence three and a half inches over their property line. That resulted in a horrendous legal situation. I am sure the House will be shocked to learn that the person who moved the fence got away with it all while Mr Markos lost everything, including his house—his mother is now in a home and he now lives in a car—because of the legal fees and bad advice. I am not going to stop Mr Markos coming to my surgery, but it costs the taxpayer a huge amount of money when I write to Ministers and get the same old thing passed backwards and forwards from the legal profession. Of course, Mr Markos cannot even get legal aid because it is so complicated. I am pretty determined and am not going to give up until we get justice for Mr Markos and his mother.

I continue to support Edwin and Janet Woodger as they try to resolve a dispute with the Co-op. My constituents have been reasonable throughout the process and I hope that the matter can be brought to a resolution at the earliest opportunity. The financial ombudsman is currently trying to help.

Many of my constituents are unhappy with the roll-out to the private sector of IR35 rules on off-payroll working. I know that the Minister who was dealing with it, my right hon. Friend Mel Stride, is apparently now the Leader of the House, but I hope that he will brief whoever has taken on his previous job. It is a significant development, and although I am glad that the Government appear to have been interested in the views of stakeholders thus far, I urge the Treasury to continue to work with small businesses to ensure that any unnecessary damage to individual’s livelihoods in the transition is avoided.

Sir Jack Petchey—I see Jim Fitzpatrick nodding away; he represents a part of London near my old home town—is in his early nineties and is an absolute legend. Rather than sit on all his largesse, he has given his money to an organisation called Speak Out. I think that some constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point are involved in this wonderful organisation. I pay tribute to Sir Jack Petchey.

Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 is a significant piece of legislation. I recognise the need to support tenants, but I also acknowledge the impact that the proposed changes will have on landlords. I take this opportunity to call on the Government to ensure that landlords and tenants alike continue to be consulted on the changes. I realise that it is a difficult issue.

I voted against the way we have proceeded on the restoration and renewal of this building—we lost by 17 votes. No one told us that the work would start immediately, meaning that every time we turn up here there is more scaffolding going up and more wires to trip over, and we cannot go down into the Crypt or up to the top of Big Ben. I should tell colleagues, though, that along with another colleague I went to the top of Big Ben three weeks ago and the restoration of the clock face is absolutely fantastic. After the Notre Dame disaster, we obviously have to address things in this place. My colleague on the all-party group on fire safety, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse will agree that fire safety is imperative. It was mentioned in business questions this morning. It is imperative that as many colleagues as possible click on the link and go through the fire safety procedures. It does not take long. When I mentioned it last time, several colleagues complained that it was not working properly, but it has been fixed now.

Fresh information has recently come to light on the so-called Prittlewell Prince, a discovery of major significance to the history of the United Kingdom. The body is thought to belong to a prince or aristocrat, and archaeologists are calling it the UK’s answer to Tutankhamun. And where do you think it is, Mr Deputy Speaker? It’s in Southend. It is yet another reason Southend should be declared a city.

Anna Baldan, a constituent of mine, lost her husband, Alessandro, after he fell from his mobility scooter and sustained fatal head injuries. Now Mrs Baldan wants laws to be re-examined regarding mobility scooter safety. Specifically, she would like it to become a legal requirement for all mobility scooter users to wear a safety helmet. Perhaps the Department for Transport could look at that.

Dr Zaidi is an outstanding local GP. The Kent Elms health centre is an established primary care site that has just gone through a major redevelopment. They have kindly asked me to open the centre. The development supports the principles of the NHS 10-year forward vision in providing more accessible high-quality services, and it is hoped that these newly refurbished premises will encourage newly qualified medical professionals to remain in Southend. I pay tribute to Dr Zaidi and his wonderful wife, who is also a GP.

I cannot for the life of me understand the way the local authority—whatever political party has been running the council over the past years—has overseen the Kent Elms improvement road safety network. I cannot seen any improvement, and now they have put back that huge monstrosity over the road, even though there are now traffic lights. It is incredible.

Angela Halifax is a lady who provides assisted living. Such places play a fundamental role in local communities, but she is concerned that the recent increase in service VAT will prove detrimental to those individuals who are most vulnerable. Angela would like Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Treasury to re-examine their decision to bring forward this change.

My constituent Colin Baldwin has pledged to cycle 1,000 miles to raise £10,000 towards the rebuilding of St Stephen’s church. The £1,000 by 1,000 initiative— 1,000 people raising £1,000 each over two years—hopes to raise enough money to rebuild the church.

I turn now to Network Rail and c2c. A number of Essex residents are fed up with the situation at the moment, with the maintenance works going on morning, noon and night. I do not understand it at all, and suddenly we are told that the trains are not running from Fenchurch Street and one has to scoot down to Liverpool Street. It is going on and on. These people do not seem to be accountable to anyone. The latest fiasco is that the old system for buying tickets whereby passengers put their credit card in has been changed and the queues with the new system are endless. It is ridiculous.

Alan Hart, a local constituent who has now become a Leigh town councillor, has been corresponding with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other stakeholders about water companies and other organisations that he believes should re-examine the use of rateable value to determine water bills.

In February, the Kings money advice centre in my constituency, led by the wonderful Rev. Gavin Dixon, celebrated its 10th anniversary. I pay tribute to the wonderful support it gives to people in enormous financial difficulties. The Salvation Army centre recently reopened its day centre in the area I represent. It does a fantastic job on behalf of the community. As I am always telling people, they are not just wonderful at Christmas; whatever they do, they always have smiles on their faces. It does not cost anything and it raises spirits.

I am sure that all colleagues will agree that we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our veterans. We heard much about that at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday. Unfortunately, my constituent Darren Turner has not been receiving the support he deserves from the Department for Work and Pensions. I expect the Government to support former servicemen and women in any way they can, and I would ask the relevant Minister to re-examine the specific case.

I come now to what is a terrible tragedy. A constituent of mine, Mrs Rayner, came to my last surgery. In March 2018, the body of her grandson, who I had met—wonderful chap—was pulled from a river after he had been missing for three months. She and the mother of this poor boy are in meltdown. In August of the same year, the autopsy was completed and as it stands there is still an open verdict, which is obviously very distressing to the family. I believe the case needs to be looked at.

What is awful is that Mrs Rayner has been told by the DWP that she is not suffering from bereavement and as a result her personal independence payment has been reduced. This is absolutely ludicrous. It was clear to me that my constituent was suffering and I know that her GP agrees. The DWP needs to look at this case urgently. Adam’s mother, Clare, is hopeful that all future missing persons cases will be treated equally and that the parents of missing individuals will be listened to. I very much support the family.

Many colleagues say, “David, we’ve been to Southend airport. Isn’t it fantastic?” It is, but the residents whose houses adjoin it did not expect these huge jets now to be literally at the back of their fences pouring out noxious fumes. Recently on “The One Show” residents of Wells Avenue complained about having these jets with all their fumes in their back gardens. The dialogue with the airport authority goes on and on. It has reached a point where they might as well have a compulsory purchase order, buy the whole road of houses, give them a decent return and settle the matter. The airport is suggesting the installation of a noise barrier and other such things, but I do not think that any of us, over what I am sure will be a beautiful summer, would want to sit out in our garden with a jet at the back ready to take off.

Now is the Time for Change is a company set up by an inspirational constituent called Kelly Swain. As she continues her personal journey, she is working with colleagues to ensure that local people, especially children, have access to the wellbeing and mental health services they need. I am going to see her at the weekend. We were all encouraged by a meeting that recently took place with the mental health Minister, my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, and we now look forward to meeting the chairman of our local clinical commissioning group. It is about time we had a meeting with José Garcia.

My constituent Robert Hubbard recently attended one of my constituency advice surgeries. His daughter-in-law, Lucianna, lives in Mombasa. When she has spent time in the UK, she has always obeyed the conditions of her visa. She is now looking forward to obtaining a visitor visa to come and see her children, but the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration have not granted the application. I have received assurances that Lucianna would obey all the conditions of her visa, and I call on the Home Office and the Immigration Minister, with whom I am in dialogue, to re-examine the case.

Mojo and the The Vine are two shops that have been converted into bars, and they are causing mayhem. When I was canvassing in the area during the last local elections, I turned around and a car pulled up with its lights on, even though it was during the day. An electric window was lowered, two chaps appeared and a plastic container was passed over—drugs. Nothing is being done about Mojo and The Vine. I want action from the council and the police on this matter.

I was very surprised that in the elections for two of the wards of Leigh-on-Sea Town Council, there were 153 spoiled ballot papers that had “Abolish Leigh Town Council” written across them. In another ward—these are very small areas—there were 50 spoiled ballot papers bearing the same words. We do not talk about what is written on spoiled ballot papers, because it is usually something offensive about the local Member of Parliament, but on such occasions we need to reflect on what is going on.

It was a great pleasure to attend the 50th anniversary of Southend and Leigh bridge club this year. To keep any club going for 50 years is truly amazing.