Christmas Adjournment — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:29 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 2:29 pm, 20th December 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The reality is that a certain number of days are given over to the Backbench Business Committee in a year. However, this is a two-year Session, and the Government have refused to increase pro rata the number of days in the main Chamber provided to the Backbench Business Committee.

I am also a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. We have inquiries ongoing into the future of the high street, which is very topical, and leasehold reform. What house builders are doing to sell out freeholds to finance companies from under the feet of people who bought leases on properties is a scandal. We also have ongoing inquiries into fracking; the tragedy of Grenfell, which continues; building regulations and fire safety in general, on which there is much to do to ensure that people’s homes and business are safe; and social housing law across the country. Our Committee’s work is very topical and relevant.

During the year, I have been engaged in setting up three new all-party parliamentary groups. The first is the APPG for Council of Sri Lankan Muslim Organisations UKCOSMOS—which seeks to combat the prejudice and quite disgraceful antics of the Sri Lankan Government against Muslims in Sri Lanka.

The second concerns the holocaust memorial, which will go alongside Parliament. It will be a long-standing memorial to the horrors of the holocaust, and the education centre will educate people of all ages about what happened during the holocaust and why we must never allow it to happen again. The former Chief Rabbi said that Jewish people in this country fear that what is going on now is similar to what happened in Germany in the 1930s. For Jewish people in this country to feel that way is a tragedy—a tragedy for them and for all of us. In 2019, we must redouble our efforts to combat all forms of antisemitism and send a signal to all people that, whatever their religion, they have the right to celebrate that religion in this country. We must do that on a long-standing basis.

The final all-party group I set up was the APPG on building communities, which aims to encourage the building not just of new housing but of communities. That is something that has to be developed.

As many colleagues know, we had London elections during the year. I pay tribute to my colleague Manji Kara, a long-standing councillor in Harrow East. He chose to leave his safe ward and fight a much more difficult one, and as a result stepped down from the council after 14 years’ exemplary service. Even more importantly, I pay tribute to Christine Bednell, who stepped down as a councillor after 47 years, only because of her ill health.

I will spare Members my prepared notes about all the contributions I have made to debates since September. Apparently there have been 32 of them, so I am sure everyone is grateful that I will not refer to them. However, I will mention some important faith-based activities. First, we have a long-running campaign for Jains to be able to record their religion in the 2021 census. I support other groups, such as the Sikhs, who want to ensure that they have the right to record their religion, but Jains at the moment have to tick, “Other”—there is no measure in the census of whether they celebrate their religion. That needs to be changed.

We had the good news this morning that legislation will be brought forward next year to remove caste as a protected characteristic from the Equality Act 2010. We expect that long-standing provision to be repealed by the summer. That is positive news, which will be warmly welcomed by the Hindu community across the country. The Government’s proposals in that respect are very positive.

My constituency is the most multi-religious and multicultural in the country, bar none, so I have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in many activities with faith groups in the past year. I visited 10 temples on Hindu new year’s day, and over the Christmas period I shall celebrate with the Jewish community at one of our local synagogues. I will be visiting the Muslim community shortly after the new year and celebrating with the Hindu community on new year’s day itself, as well as visiting churches. It does not end at Christmas—the Greek Orthodox Church in my constituency starts the new year two weeks later, with its Christmas celebrations, so I shall join in with those, too.

The casework I am dealing with at the moment stems predominantly from Harrow Council’s failure to provide the service it should. I criticise it perennially for a number of things, but one of the key problems is its failure to communicate with local residents when they have complaints. According to our statistics, we are dealing with more than 30 cases a week where the council has simply failed to respond to reasonable requests from the local authority about the service that it should be providing.

In the new year we have some good news coming up, which I have raised on many occasions. The new building at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, in my constituency, opened a couple of weeks ago and the patients and staff—medical and non-medical—moved in, which is positive. I have been pushing for this for 12 years and I am delighted that it has come to fruition. I congratulate the board and everyone who has made it possible. There will be a royal opening in March, which the local community will celebrate.

In my constituency, we recently opened the first state-sponsored Hindu secondary school. The Secretary of State came to open it, which was positive, and it demonstrates what can happen when local people come together and demand the right for a faith-based school, if that is what they choose.

There are two new developments coming on stream: the Elysian retirement community is being built alongside Stanmore station and Jewish Care is setting up a care facility for newly retired people, which will lead on to live-in care in Stanmore. These are two positive measures that are going to be warmly welcomed in the local community.

This year homelessness and the problems of people sleeping rough have been particularly important. My Homelessness Reduction Act became law on 1 April and the duty of public authorities to refer became law on 1 October. Those things are already having a dramatic effect on combatting homelessness. Some 58,660 households were assisted in the first three months that the Act was operational. I take the view that just one person sleeping rough is an absolute national disgrace, but without this change in the law it would have been much worse. We must prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place; under the legislation that has been extremely successful. I am glad that we have the Housing First pilot initiatives. They will enable rough sleepers to be housed and to be given the level of support they need to put them back on the straight and narrow.

I urge my hon. Friends in Government to make sure that we are building the homes that people need, at prices they can afford, both around cities and beyond. It is no good building homes that people cannot afford and for them to feel envious of the people that have them. At this time of year, when many people are generous towards the homeless, we must remember that homelessness happens not just at Christmas, but every single day. There are 320,000 people across the country who are homeless, sleeping on sofas or rough sleeping. It is our duty as politicians to make sure that those people have a home of their own that they can rely on.

Mr Hanson, I wish you, all the staff, all colleagues and especially the staff in my office a very merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful, prosperous and, above all, healthy new year.