Christmas Adjournment — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:44 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 1:44 pm, 20th December 2018

Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, there are a number of points that I wish to raise. I will not sulk at this wonderful debate being downgraded—some might say—to Westminster Hall. It is not quite like having it in the Chamber; it is cosy and intimate, and we will just have to see it develops.

I recently met Chris Green, director of the Summer Camps Trust. Thousands of children benefit every year from the experience of summer camp, learning new skills, meeting new friends and enjoying the countryside. Many young people are also trained to be team leaders, giving them valuable skills for the future. I urge the Government to look into the wider provision of summer camps.

My local football team, Southend United, have broken their losing run. I am glad to say that, under their excellent owner and manager, we are now looking perhaps to reach the play-offs and have a stadium. I visited them in August, when they hosted the Community and Education Trust, which involved three teams of young people who were planning a social action project. I commend the National Citizen Service for providing opportunities for young people to give something back to the community in which they live.

Earlier this year I visited Heycroft Primary, an excellent local school, for a fundraising event in aid of mental health charities Young Minds and Mind. The wonderful organiser, Kelly Swain, educated herself about self-help wellbeing therapies, and her aim is to make a difference to families who suffer from mental health issues. The day was a great success, and I look forward to working with her in the future.

My constituent Mark Rice recently drove over a faulty manhole cover and sustained significant damage to his car. Apparently the local council are not responsible for this, and neither is the water company. So who is responsible for this? Mr Rice has had to pay for the repairs, and he is rightly concerned that this will affect his future insurance premiums. I encourage the Government and the water company to look into this case and see if we can get an answer.

Another of my constituents, Ms Pauline Morris, recently met me to discuss non-invasive prenatal testing. Such a test can provide the parents with indicators on the presence of Down’s syndrome. I thought that the usual amniocentesis tests was enough, but apparently it is not any more. Too many women have to go through the old-style test, which can, depending on the results, necessitate further and potentially dangerous tests. The solution is non-invasive prenatal testing. The chairman of the Southend clinical commissioning group has informed me that the test will be rolled out over three years. That is not soon enough, and I call again on the Government to see whether they can speed up this non-invasive testing.

A Southend lady called Sue Lesser launched a book called “Take a Poem with Breakfast”. The collection, written by her, is dedicated to all people living with dementia—it is really in honour of her mother, who suffers from it—and any profit will go to the Alzheimer’s Society. I hope that she sells out of copies of her book.

I spoke in a recent debate in Westminster Hall, when it was a pleasure for me to congratulate all the staff and volunteers at Southend University Hospital on the wonderful work they do. Del and Lindsay Rudd contacted me earlier this year to tell me about their personal experiences. I was not surprised to learn that the renal unit is, in the words of Del and Lindsay,

“a credit to the Hospital, the Town and the NHS.”

I could not agree more. Another constituent, Helen Prince, came to my surgery. She is an ambassador for the 70/30 Campaign, which is working towards a 70% reduction in child abuse and neglect by 2030. As a parent myself, I absolutely support her campaign and I hope that everyone in the House will sign up to it as well.

I have been trying to get some answers on behalf of my constituent, Carolyn Mason. Anyone can set up an employment agency—indeed, I used to run one before I became a Member of Parliament. I think the regulations are too lax at the moment. Ms Mason is a reputable owner, but there is some sharp practice going on in the industry generally.

Last week I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the stress and anxiety caused by scam telephone calls and emails. All of us, as Members of Parliament, receive them all the time. Sadly, my constituent Ben Giles recently lost half of his savings as a result of such a call—this is a highly intelligent gentleman. I cannot stress enough the importance of stopping this wicked practice.

I dread to think how many accidents happen when pedestrians cross busy roads. Another constituent, Cliff Short, is better placed than most to comment on the situation, as he has been a police officer and a taxi driver for some 30 years. After identifying zebra crossings as a point of danger—extraordinarily—Mr Short created “red zebra”. When pedestrians approach a crossing, the flashing beacon switches from yellow to red, alerting drivers of the presence of a pedestrian. It is a simple but potentially life-saving idea, so I hope the Department for Transport will look at it.

I am proud to be the president of the Leigh Orpheus male voice choir, which sang in the Palace of Westminster earlier this year. This is its 50th anniversary.

Recently, a number of my Essex colleagues went on a boat trip down the River Thames. A number of people might say that it was a pity it did not sink, but we successfully negotiated the way from Tilbury to Southend pier. The trip was to support Essex Port of London Authority, to learn more about planned infrastructure projects, and to look at the Thames crossing and a potential new Thames barrier. We heard about opportunities for the expansion of the port of Tilbury and the benefits to the economies of both Essex and Kent. I support both those projects. Essex PLA is looking at providing a commuter service from the end of Southend pier into the City of London.

Hippo Cabs is a wonderful organisation that ensures that elderly residents who are disabled actually have a life. It offers a first-class service. I very much support Mr and Mrs Biswas, who run that wonderful service.

We yet again had our annual centenarian tea party in October. I have worked out that, in 34 years, I will qualify for one myself if I am around then. It would perhaps be unique for a Member of Parliament to do that. The pupils of Westcliff High School for Boys did a splendid job of engaging with those centenarians.

At long last, at Fair Havens, our wonderful new hospice, we had a sod-turning ceremony in October. We are about £850,000 short, but it will be opened in February 2020.

Like the constituency of my hon. Friend Martin Vickers, Southend had a visit from the Taiwanese ambassador recently. It was a wonderful visit, and he said that he enjoyed it more than Cleethorpes. [Laughter.] He didn’t actually. He was shown the Forum, the Focal Point gallery, South Essex College and Ventrica, a local company. I hope there will be some trading opportunities opened up into the future.

We have a wonderful jazz centre in Southend. Digby Fairweather welcomed Sir Michael Parkinson to open it. I hope that people throughout the United Kingdom and the wider world will visit it.

Last month, I visited the local watch station of the National Coastwatch Institution, which provides a vital service in monitoring the coastal waters and keeping watch for emergencies such as overturned boats or fishermen in trouble—I do not know whether it would have helped the Essex Members if our boat turned over. Other activities such as surfing, diving and canoeing are also monitored. We should not take its service for granted.

We had a wonderful active ageing day in Southend. It reinforced the idea that if people keep active as they age, they will live longer.

Earlier, the House paid tribute to Les and his two colleagues, who have a combined 120 years of service to this House—absolutely fantastic. We are very grateful to all the people who help us go about our business in the House. They are wonderful.

I recently hosted a reception for the National Association of Boys and Girls Clubs. I was once patron of Basildon Boys Club, which does a fantastic job. Belonging to a club gives young people a great start in life, a place to go, things to do, and helps them develop positive relationships, so I really do commend them.

This November was complex regional pain syndrome awareness month. I met the charity Burning Nights and CRPS patients to hear about what more can be done to support those living with the painful condition. We laugh about people who have got a back problem, but it is not very funny to have one. The problem cannot be seen. In the UK, an estimated 15,000 people are diagnosed with the condition each year. There is some lack of awareness among GPs and others, so we need to do more to raise awareness about it.

I have been honoured to be the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on endometriosis. I would like to give a special mention to a local constituent, Carla Cressy, who has been instrumental in forming the group, which has a wonderful make-up. Through her charity, she has been campaigning for greater support for the 1.5 million women in the UK living with that dreadful condition. Raising awareness of endometriosis in schools and among healthcare professionals and employers is critical to ensuring patients get the right treatment and support. I look forward to the meeting next month with the Under-Secretary.

We were all invited to the reception in the House of Commons organised by the British Toy and Hobby Association, which does a very good job in raising awareness of unsafe and dangerous toys. Local charities in Southend were very grateful for the toys it donated.

Hollie Gemmell is a parish nurse and fitness consultant in Southend. She organises dance shows designed to help the elderly reminisce, exercise and have fun. Her shows are very popular. She really does a wonderful job for elderly people.

Last week, Southend Borough Council approved ambitious plans for building an exciting and prosperous future for the town. Looking forward to 2050, the plans set out a vision for Southend that will create a place to live, work and visit that we can all be proud of. It includes investment in our roads, regeneration for our High Street, which my hon. Friend Mrs Main mentioned this morning, and open spaces to help us flourish as a digital city. I welcome this opportunity.

I make no apology for thinking that it is obviously an oversight that Southend is not already a city. I will not desist from raising this issue in the House at every opportunity until we become a city.

In the Amess household on 25 December, the word “Brexit” is banned. Every time I leave my house, someone stops me and wants to talk about Brexit. When I go shopping, everyone wants to talk about Brexit. When I am on the train, they want to talk about Brexit. I am sick to death of hearing the word “Brexit”, so on 25 December, it will not be mentioned in our house. Regardless of what the House decides, I will be leaving the European Union at 11 o’clock on 29 March next year. I wish all colleagues a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous new year.