Whitsun Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 3:41 pm, 23rd May 2019

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for being given the appropriate title, but that was a commentary on the familiarity of the Toon Army. You just cannot teach some people—[Laughter.] No, I should not say that.

I am grateful for the excellent support from my hon. Friend Ian Mearns and so many other colleagues in the House who have been pressing the Department for Education on the BSL GCSE. We hope that we will follow Scotland and be able to deliver it in due course.

I chair Fire Aid, which offers fire and rescue service and fire industry support for emergency services in 50 other countries. I know that the Department for International Development recently reviewed its policy on support for small charities such as ours that do invaluable, life-saving work, but we cannot deliver more without revenue support, which DFID will not provide. I hope to meet the appropriate Minister soon to discuss the matter. I know how difficult it is to get revenue support from the Government, but small charities and soft diplomacy can deliver for UK plc, so the Government and DFID need to review the situation.

What a disappointment it is that the opening date of Crossrail—the Elizabeth line—has been put back by at least a year. Canary Wharf Group took responsibility for the construction of the station at Canary Wharf in my constituency, and it has been ready for some years. If the rest of the line had been constructed with the same speed and efficiency, Crossrail would have opened on time.

There is an ongoing issue with the Charity Commission and the Island Health Trust in my constituency. Charity commissioners have been monitoring the charity’s governance and financial administration since February 2017, when concerns were raised about the use of the charity’s funds and the potential private benefit to one or more of the trustees. The then chair, Suzanne Goodband, was paid nearly £350,000 through a company of which she was the sole director, with that amount representing 68% of the charity’s income over two years. At the same time, GPs and the health practice were being priced out of their building through rent rises. I secured an Adjournment debate in March last year and have been in regular contact with the charity commissioners, but after 18 months, the Charity Commission still cannot provide a final timetable for when it will publish its findings. I hope that we will get something within the next week.

The Secretary of State for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government made a welcome announcement on 9 May about funding for the removal and replacement of defective cladding on private tower blocks. The all-party group on leasehold and commonhold reform, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, the National Leaseholders Campaign and many other stakeholders have been tirelessly campaigning for a resolution. Questions about the scheme remain unanswered, including what the money will cover and how to apply for it, and a number of letters have gone to the Housing Minister to seek clarification, but I commend the Secretary of State for his decision. I know that he had to give direction to civil servants, which demonstrates his personal commitment, and we look forward to more information soon.

That brings me on to the governance and regulation of housing associations. The current position would benefit from more transparency than exists at present. Post-Grenfell, the Government have engaged in a complete overhaul of much of the regulation of housing tenure, and the focus on leasehold is welcome. However, a review of housing association accountability would be equally welcome.

On leasehold reform, there is growing anticipation that something is about to arrive after 30 years and various attempts by both main parties to improve rights and protection in regulations for leaseholders. I thank the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee and campaigning organisations for their reports. The Committee’s excellent recent report has been welcomed by the Government, and I look forward to their response and to a debate, either in here or in Westminster Hall, before the summer recess.

The 52:48 result meant that Brexit was never going to be easy, and diametrically opposing views—from hard Brexit to wreck Brexit—have only exacerbated the situation. I said in the Chamber on 11 December that I was moving to support the Government’s deal, and I eventually did support it when I felt that the Labour’s five points were met—first there were six, but then it was five. We wanted a customs union—not the current customs union—a trade arrangement, protocols for security, protection for the Good Friday agreement, and an implementation period, and all that had mostly been met by the Government. From that point, there should have been closer alignment between the two Front-Bench teams, but that has not been the case. Now, with the spectre of a second referendum being much stronger for Opposition Members, 31 October looms. That is not a good position to be in, and hopefully the Prime Minister, or the new Prime Minister, will be able to move on and avoid a no-deal scenario, which is the worst of all positions as far as I am concerned, and as my hon. Friend Nic Dakin articulated earlier.

The Government have announced the fair funding review. My local authority, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, has lost £148 million—64% of its revenue—since 2010. Mayor Biggs, Councillor Ronald, Chief Executive Tuckley and their colleagues and staff are doing an excellent job of trying to provide services, but they need resources to do the job properly. I hope that the Government will look again at support for urban local authorities and not just for the English shires.

I commend Tower Hamlets for its efforts to keep the borough clean. I congratulate Victoria Prentis—I apologise for not informing her that I would be mentioning her—and Keep Britain Tidy on the Great British spring clean, which is an excellent initiative. Support has been growing exponentially among local authorities, and I look forward to supporting her again next year. Keep Britain Tidy’s strong work continues, especially on fly-tipping.

Jesse Norman, as Minister for road safety, had been expected to make a renewed road safety statement soon. The fall in the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads has stagnated for a number of years, and the new statement is anticipated eagerly. It has been promised for some months, and it is certainly imminent. We look forward to it.

I have notes of congratulation on two retirements. Colonel Dick Harrold has served as governor of the Tower of London since 2014, and he ends his service next year. The Tower of London is in my constituency and forms its western boundary. I could not have a stronger redoubt than the Tower of London to protect me from the rest of the capital. Dick Harrold has done an excellent job, and I wish him every success and happiness, and a long retirement.

I also congratulate Philippa Helme, one of our Clerks. Many tributes were paid to her earlier. She stopped me in the corridor this morning to wish me well on a piece of work I have been engaged in for a number of years, and it is a measure of her kindness and generosity that she wished me good luck. She is going to sail around Britain for the next three months with her husband, and I wish her every happiness in her retirement and safe sailing.

Philippa Helme is escaping at a good time. As Sir David Amess said, the House is not a very nice place at the moment. This is the longest Session since the 17th century and the least productive since 1926, according to recent media reports. I am reassured by his comments that it is not just me, because I do not think this is a good place to work at the moment. I have loved my job more than I do at present, just as I loved my job at London fire brigade. The stress, the pressure and the expectations on all of us are very great. Relationships are fracturing and there are all kinds of fallout. I think we are letting down our citizens, and we need to do better.

I somewhat echo the words of Stephen Kerr in saying that good governance is not assisted by pointing our finger at others, whether that is within our parties or across the Chamber, or whether we are blaming somebody else. We are paid to sort out these problems, and we are not doing our job, which reflects badly on all of us. Perhaps when we come back after Whitsun—I mean no disrespect—the Conservative party and Parliament will sort themselves out and we can provide the leadership that this great nation needs and that we are currently failing to deliver.