It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. In the time I have left, I will do my best to do justice to everyone who has taken part in the debate. Christmas and the new year are a time to look backwards and a time to look forwards. Every year, Opposition Members are given the gift of hindsight, which is denied to Government Members—if only we had that hindsight. We might even get crystal balls this year, who knows? They could be rather cloudy though, as who knows what might happen in the future?
As many Members have indicated, we are currently grappling with themes of great importance and complexity, so it is worth remembering that our ability to engage in such deliberations arises from us having a mandate from our constituents. What we have heard today reminds me that what goes on in each of our constituencies gives us the insight that enables us to participate in the much more momentous and wider debates that are now taking place in the Chamber. We have also heard about the rich tapestry of voluntary activity and third-sector organisations across all our constituencies. At this time of year, more than ever, they deserve our praise.
I am grateful to Ian Mearns, not just for chairing the Backbench Business Committee, but for being so assiduous in seeking time for Back-Bench business. I share the view of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman that we should have more of it, and that it should be protected when we do have it, so that it is not squeezed by the unexpected and shifted into less sociable hours. I wish him well in that endeavour.
As ever, my hon. Friend Sir David Amess delivered on all our expectations. I think it is fair to say that his speech was exhaustive, if not exhausting—not just for him, but for those of us who had to listen to it. I repeat my offer that if he wants Southend to get city status, I will support that if he returns the favour and backs Blackpool for city status. We can have a two-for-one. That is only fair. His comments on the girls and boys club were absolutely spot on. Blackpool has a fine girls and boys club that does so much across the town as a whole and deserves far more recognition than it sometimes gets. As for his centenarian tea party, the reason it has so many attendees is because Southend is the happiest place in Britain, and people who are happy live longer. If someone wants to be a centenarian, clearly they should move to Southend.
On a more serious note, Siobhain McDonagh and many other Opposition Members expressed concerns about homelessness and universal credit. I think the two are to a certain extent brought together. She was right to comment on rough sleeping. I know she was in the Chamber for the urgent question earlier today. We talked about some of the Government’s approaches through the rough sleeping strategy. From my constituency, I know some of the challenges that those who are homeless have accessing universal credit, for example. There is a need to get people from the Department for Work and Pensions into our homeless hostels to ensure that people can sign up and access the benefit, as well as set up the bank accounts they need. The accessibility of basic bank accounts is a problem I have been trying to tackle with the Department. The new Secretary of State, far from standing idly by—I gently observe that—is trying to ensure that the benefit rolls out as effectively as possible. I recall a time when the Labour party supported the principle of what universal credit is trying to do.
I entirely recognise that Opposition Members will want to pressure us over how we deliver and roll things out—that is entirely right and proper—but representing a seaside town with a seasonal economy, I know that UC gives us an opportunity to ensure that people do not need to keep signing off and on each time their job situation changes. That they can have more secure access to benefits remains the right principle. We have to redouble our efforts to ensure that we deliver it appropriately.
I agree with the hon. Lady on many of her comments on homelessness. Mr Sweeney cited figures on life expectancy that always shock me whenever I hear them and bring home to me why the situation is so appalling. As politicians, we obsess about rules, regulations, structures and delivery bodies. The essence of our decision making should be the dignity of each and every person. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East mentioned, one rough sleeper is one too many in any civilisation or society. He is thanked so much by the House for his work on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 that it almost becomes commonplace, but the figures he cited show what a difference it made. We should be grateful to him for that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Bob Stewart for educating me about isotretinoin and I am grateful for his input. I know he will keep on campaigning on that issue. We will ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care gets to hear about it again.
Rugby league never gets enough coverage in this place or the wider world. I was watching “North West Tonight” the other week and learned that Red Star Belgrade has started a new rugby league team. I am sure John Grogan will share my delight at that. The tentacles of rugby league are stretching far and wide of late. I have met Vicky Beer. Perhaps I can brief him later on how I found the experience, rather than say it at the Dispatch Box. We will leave that there. I agree with him about Boxing day trains. The spirit was willing when I was rail Minister, but the flesh was very weak. One more push from Rachael Maskell might help deliver that. When we discuss Vicky Beer later, perhaps the hon. Member for Keighley can also explain what he thinks the UEFA nations league is actually about. I still do not understand the consequence of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East spoke powerfully about religious freedom, as did my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy. I learnt more from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East about the various religious calendars of the world’s religions than I ever did as a good Catholic boy—holy days of obligation only! I am grateful to him for that educational activity, if nothing else.
I am also grateful to Martin Whitfield who spoke about nature issues. I had not really thought about the Scottish wildcat until today, and he has broadened my sum of knowledge. I am also grateful to him for mentioning, even briefly, the issue of invisible disabilities. It was one of the key things that I wanted in the transport accessibility paper I did at the end of my time as rail Minister. He may wish to look at that paper to see what he can borrow to implement in Scotland. We were trying to be as fertile as possible with our ideas.
I am so glad that my hon. Friend Martin Vickers is now tipping his constituency to be the queen of the east coast, because there is no vacancy for the best seaside resort generally. I say, as the MP for Blackpool, that that was a sensible move on his part. He has reminded me that my time as rail Minister has a long legacy, as we have only just heard from the Office for Rail and Road about its sudden new-found enthusiasm for open access rail. Actually, that has taken about 10 years, rather than the one since I was the Minister. My new ombudsman was launched last week, which I am keen to point out in the one time I get to be at the Dispatch Box.
The hon. Member for York Central reminds me of what I have been missing since we last sparred in debates, which we did all too often. I might actually start to agree with her, because I had a Crown post office in the heart of Blackpool, and it too was moved into a WHSmith. That was not just into a corner, but into the basement where no one had a chance of seeing it, and there were accessibility issues. I urge the hon. Lady to keep fighting on that one.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford rightly spoke about drones, which are an issue he was so perspicacious in debating a year ago. We all get the sense of urgency on the issue, given what happened at Gatwick. I was also delighted to hear about the high-speed washing machines that he referred to. All my constituents know that if they want to find me, they have to visit the local Costa Coffee. Now, when I am sitting in there, I can think of the washing machines whirring away behind the scenes to make sure I have a clean cup each time.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North East has been reviewing his statistics as he finishes his first full year. As someone who used to do that, can I warn him that the tyranny of TheyWorkForYou.com can be an unpredictable guide to future activity? The further he shins up the greasy pole, the fewer his opportunities to participate might be. As Scottish MP of the Year, he is clearly destined for great things, and he will perhaps find that he has fewer and fewer opportunities to speak. I was trying to decode his tie—tartan fading into grey. Is it some hidden message to the SNP? I do not know. I was trying to work it out.