On 19th May, I took the Oath of Allegiance and was sworn in as a Member of Parliament. It is a great honour to represent Dover and Deal again. I'm looking forward to serving our community again and helping to make Dover and Deal all it can be.
I have also been appointed to the Government's Whips' office. This means I will be tasked with ensuring the Government follows through with its manifesto promises and makes the positive change our area and the country needs.
By convention, Whips do not speak in the House of Commons. However, I will continue to fight for Dover and Deal and speak up for our community with Ministers and behind the scenes.
I took part in the debate on the Finance Bill. Top of the agenda were taxes and the deficit.
I made the point that borrowing under a Labour Government 2010-15 would have added an extra £200 million to the British Government's National Debt. This would have been disastrous for our economy.
The debate and my contributions can be found in full at this link.
A Labour Government would need the SNP - they would be forced to dance to Alex Salmond's tune.
Charlie: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware of representations that there should be a tax on family homes in London and the south-east to pay for nurses in Scotland? Does he agree that we need to have a fair Union and a strong Government, not a weak Government dancing to the tune of, and held to ransom by, the Scottish National party?
Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): I certainly agree that in the same way as it would be very ill-advised to put the UK Independence party in charge of Europe, it would be very ill-advised to put the SNP in charge of a country it wishes to pull apart.
On property taxation, as the hon. Gentleman knows we have a property tax system, the council tax, which rather eccentrically ends at a certain level. My party therefore believes it is logical to extend the principle of banded taxation for properties higher up the value chain, both here in the south-east and elsewhere.
In the debate on the Budget, I welcomed this Government's record on boosting jobs and getting Britain back to work. Labour like to claim that most of the new jobs are on zero-hours contracts, low-paid or part time and are only going to London. These are myths. The reality is most of the new jobs since 2010 are full-time and every region of the UK is benefitting.
Charlie: It is a great privilege to follow Mr Clarke. My experience is sharply different from his, as I represent Dover and Deal. Before I was elected to Parliament, under the last Labour Government the number of unemployed claimants in my area went up a shameful 50%. Under this Government and their clear plan, which has been implemented and is working through, the number has fallen dramatically by nearly 40%.
The right hon. Gentleman told us about his constituency experience, but I have looked at figures indicating that the difference was even sharper there. In the previous Parliament, the number of unemployed claimants in his constituency went up by 100%. Since this Government came to power, the number has fallen by 40%. This picture does not apply only to Dover and Deal or to Coatbridge; it applies across the country. We have seen a jobs revolution, which I put down to sticking to our long-term plan....
In Justice Questions, I asked about how our legal aid budget compares to other countires around the world. I also asked about reforming Human Rights to keep our country safe from terrorists.
Charlie: Can the Minister tell the House how our legal aid budget compares internationally?
Mr Vara (Justice Minister): As I said, we compare very favourably internationally. We have one of the most generous legal aid budgets in the world, and that is after the cuts have come through.
Charlie: Is the Lord Chancellor aware of a report by the Henry Jackson Society that shows that at least 20 foreign terrorists have used the Human Rights Act to prevent their deportation from the United Kingdom? Does that underline the need for modernisation and reform of the Human Rights Act, and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights?
Chris Grayling (Lord Chancellor): Absolutely it underlines that requirement. All of us in this House will, I suspect, be debating these matters in a lively way in the next few months. I believe we need to reform. I think the people of this country need reform. It is a matter of surprise to me that the other parties in this House do not appear to agree.
I called a debate on Transport Management in Kent. For too long, gridlock in Dover has been ignored. Any time there are problems at the Port of Dover or the Channel Tunnel, it is the people of Dover who pay the price. I called for the isse to be made a national strategic priority and for a number of solutions. My speech can be found below:
Charlie: It is a pleasure to have the debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I am bringing before the House the issue of gridlock in Dover recently and the wider problems on the M20 and A20 through Kent.
The most pressing matter for my constituents is the gridlock in Dover. In January and February 2015, and indeed today, Dover has been experiencing a serious rise in gridlock on the roads through and into the town. Tailbacks and gridlock have been a constant problem for many years, but they have become more serious recently. They have the following effects: residents are unable to travel around my constituency or Kent in general; local businesses are hurt as visitors stay away or cannot access businesses in the town; access for emergency vehicles is restricted, as is access altogether to some parts of Dover, in particular for the long-suffering residents of Aycliffe; and vast amounts of rubbish and litter are left along the A20 by the drivers of parked heavy goods vehicles. Some of that rubbish is unhealthy or contaminated waste and does not belong on a roadside....
Charlie: What plans he has to introduce penalties for financial advisers who promote aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion schemes.
Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury): This Government have been relentless in cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion. We have introduced a tougher monitoring regime and penalties for high-risk promoters of tax avoidance schemes, and the unprecedented common reporting standard will mean that by 2018 more than 90 countries will be exchanging information on offshore accounts automatically, helping Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to find and pursue offshore evaders successfully.
Charlie: I thank the Chief Secretary for that answer. Does he agree that more has been done on tax avoidance in the past five years than was done in the previous 13, so craven were the previous Government before big business and big tax avoidance? Will he welcome the Financial Secretary's announcement yesterday of further action on tax avoidance-promoting schemes?
Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury): The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in both things that he says. The Financial Secretary's announcement was very important further progress, but if we look back over the past five years, we see that the relentlessness of our pursuit of measures to crack down on avoidance, be it the general anti-abuse rule in the tax system, the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes regime, the monitoring regime that we are putting in place or the measures to increase prosecutions for tax evasion, has made it clear that there is absolutely no tolerance for aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion in this country.
The Government's Troubled Families Programme helps turn difficult families' lives around. It helps to tackle problems such as anti-social behaviour, drug abuse, worklessness and truancy.
Charlie: I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his vision, persistence and leadership in seeing through this very important programme that helps to change lives and transform people's prospects. Will he tell the House how many children have benefited from this programme and will now be able to fulfil their true and fullest potential?
Eric Pickles (Local Government Secretary): Time will tell how many children will benefit in the end. Getting children back into school and attending three successive terms makes a big difference. In my hon. Friend's area, the total number of families we would describe as troubled is 2,560. Some 80% have been turned around. So far, just short of £10 million has been expended in that process.
We need to have strong oversight of facilty time for trade union officials to ensure value for money for taxpayers.
Charlie: Will the Minister join me in congratulating the TaxPayers Alliance on its important work which shows that £100 million of public money is wasted on facility time? Does he share my concern that a PCS-Unite merger would undermine our democracy and mean that the Labour party would be even more bought by the unions than it is today?
Francis Maude (Minister for the Cabinet Office): I make the point again that the perception of political impartiality in the civil service is fundamental to our system of government. That should not be imperilled in any way. My hon. Friend is completely right to draw attention to the much wider scale of facility time and the cost borne by the taxpayer—money that would be better spent in the delivery of front-line public services on which vulnerable people depend. That is something that all public authorities should be looking at.
I asked the Home Secretary to consider human rights reform and a Communications Data Bill to help us tackle terrorism.
Charlie: Given that many of these terrorists represent a clear and present danger to our country, our national security and the security of individuals, is it not important that we offer our intelligence services more powers, particularly through human rights reform and a communications data Bill, to ensure that we can secure our nation properly?
Home Secretary (Theresa May): My hon. Friend makes an important point about the impact that human rights legislation has sometimes had, for example on our ability to deport certain individuals who pose a threat to us here in the UK. I am clear that we need to reform our human rights legislation and introduce a communications data Bill, and a Conservative Government after 7 May will do just that.
We have great grammar schools in Kent, giving so many young people a world class education and start in life.
Charlie: May I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement on extending grammar school provision in Kent? Does she agree that grammar schools are an important part of the diversity in our education system that gives parents the best possible choice of the kind of school that suits their children?
Nicky Morgan (Education Secretary): I agree with my hon. Friend that parents being able to make the right choice for their child is exactly what we want to see, because they know their child best. I should make it clear that the Department is currently considering the proposals that have been put to us by a school in Kent, and I expect to reach a decision in due course.
I took part in the debate on bankers' bonuses. These tripled Under Labour and are now a fifth of what they were. This Government has acted to regulate the banks and increase competition. The permanent bank levy introduced by the Conservatives is expected to raise £2.9 billion in 2015-16.
SPEECH - Charlie: It is a pleasure to follow Helen Goodman, as I did last week. I hope that there will also be sufficient time to allow my hon. Friend David Mowat to follow me. I shall therefore try to ensure that my remarks are more to the point than they might otherwise have been.
I have always been a strong believer in having diversity and competition in the banking system, and I share the concern expressed by many that we have an oligopoly in our system. That is not healthy; there is not enough choice or competition. We need more competition, and I personally would be quite radical and ensure that the banks were separated up to a greater extent than they are today. It is also a concern that the establishment of the banking system in this country has meant that the banks are too big to fail. We could cure that by having depositor preference, because it would then be a matter for the bondholders, who would be much more interested in ensuring that the banks behaved and did not overpay bonuses.
What will not work is Members of this House pontificating about bonuses and what the bonus levels should be; waving a magic wand and saying that they should be this, that and the other; and trying to micro-manage banking business from afar. What makes it even worse is the way the previous Government carried on and the shameless hypocrisy of the Labour party that we have heard today. Let us not forget that the forex and LIBOR scandals happened under the previousLabour Government. Our Government have sorted out the regulatory system and have been cleaning up the mess. Under the previous Government bonuses tripled in four years and £66 billion of bonuses were paid out. The Labour party wishes to forget that. Fred Goodwin became Sir Frederick Goodwin then, and honours, baubles, bonuses and bag slaps were scattered around happily in those days. Labour now wishes to forget that. Under our Government bonuses are now a fifth of what they were then. The rest of my sppech can be read at this link.
We must act to suport Ukraine against Russian aggression and military threats.
Charlie: May I support the Defence Secretary's warning about the danger that Russia poses to world peace? We should look at supporting brave Ukraine before Mariupol is put under pressure or falls.
Defence Secretary (Michael Fallon): We have increased our assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces. Following the start of the crisis in spring last year, we have provided non-lethal support, including personal protective equipment and other supplies. We are helping with defence reform and modernisation. We are considering providing further non-lethal assistance to enhance the capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces to reduce casualties and fatalities and to build their resilience, for example through further training.
The Armed Forces Covenant is vital to supporting members of our Armed Forces. In Defence Questions, I asked how we can strengthen the Covenant further.
Charlie: What progress he has made on strengthening the armed forces covenant.
Anna Soubry (Defence Minister): I am incredibly proud of the fact that it was this Government who enshrined the covenant in law. We should all be extremely proud of that, and of the work we have done.
I wrote to all the local authorities that signed the covenant. I have been overwhelmed by their response, and by the outstanding work that many are doing in delivering on their pledges. We must now ensure that that work continues throughout the United Kingdom.
Charlie: Some people leave the armed forces suffering from mental health conditions. What action has been taken by the Government as a whole to help people who are suffering from those debilitating conditions?
Anna Soubry (Defence Minister): We have invested an extra £7.4 million in precisely that sort of work. I pay tribute to Stockton-on-Tees borough council, which—along with other councils in the north-east—has been doing outstanding work, and whose chief executive has written to me. Councils are working across the piece, bringing together all the relevant bodies and people, and delivering good mental health services to veterans in particular.
I made a speech in the debate on tax avoidance. I made the case for reform of our tax system to clamp down on avoidance and ensure companies pay their fair share.
Charlie: It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who always makes such fascinating and interesting speeches and observations. Indeed—and colourful, as well.
I want to draw attention to the incredible amount of historical revisionism we have seen in the debate. It is worth looking back first at what happened in the 13 years before the Government came to office. In those years, the Labour party was very taken with its prawn cocktail offensive and allowed a culture of industrial-scale tax avoidance to grow. We can see it in the figures. During Labour's time in office, income tax rose by 81% whereas non-oil corporation tax receipts rose by just 7%. Under the previous Conservative Government, between 1986 and 1997, income tax receipts rose by about 79% whereas non-oil corporation tax receipts rose by a stunning 144%. If anybody wants to see more receipts and more money coming in from business, they should send for the Conservatives. We have seen that happen again in this Parliament. Income tax receipts have gone up by 11% whereas non-oil corporation tax receipts have gone up 16%. Again, business tax receipts have outstripped income tax receipts....
There have been management problems at the East Kent Hospitals Trust. We need a culture of openess and transparency to ensure problems don't get covered up and improvements are made quickly.
Charlie: Does the Secretary of State recall that the Care Quality Commission found that in East Kent hospitals senior management and the front line were disconnected, there were problems with bullying and harassment, and people would not say how things could be improved, including in terms of clinical risk? Does that not indicate that this is not just about whistleblowers, but that it is important that management sets a culture of openness, and listens and hears the staff voice?
Jeremy Hunt (Health Secretary): My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his interest in his local hospitals and his campaign for them. In the end, culture comes from the top. When people start a job they look at the values of their direct line manager and they copy them, because they think that is what it takes to get on, and the line manager looks to the chief executive and the chief executive in the end looks up to the Secretary of State, so it is very important. I grant that that may not be the best thing. It is important that right from the top we set the right example about these issues.
The Labour Party wasted money on a gargantuan scale in Government. They left a budget defcit over £150 billion. This Government has halved this deficit. Our transparency agenda is the best safeguard against the massive waste and wild spending in the future.
Charlie: Another aspect of the transparency agenda is showing how taxpayers' money is being spent. Does the Minister agree that that is the best way to safeguard against the massive waste and wild spending we have seen in the past and to avoid ballooning deficits and flat-lining public sector productivity in the future?
Francis Maude (Minister of State for the Cabinet Office): I am proud that the UK is now ranked as having the most transparent Government in the world. It undoubtedly has an effect in driving efficiency and savings. The ability to benchmark and compare spending in different parts of Government is a hugely powerful driver of efficiency and savings, and we intend to continue down that path.
Under Labour, income tax receipts went up massively, while corporation tax receipts stayed almost flat. Labour were obsessed with courting big business and allowed corporate tax avoidance on an industrial scale. I made this point in the debate on tax avoidance.
Charlie: Is the Minister aware that in the years up to 2010, income tax receipts rose by 81%, while non-oil corporation tax receipts rose by 6%? Does he agree that an industrial-scale tax-avoidance culture arose, fanned by the prawn cocktail offensive, whereas this Government's actions have helped to close the tax gap?
David Gauke (Financial Secretary): As a Government, we believe in low and competitive rates of corporation tax, but we also believe that those taxes should be paid. That is why we have strengthened the capacity of HMRC, why we are introducing the diverted profits tax, and why we are leading the way in international reforms of the corporate tax system.
In Prime Minister's, I raised the problems at the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel which have caused gridlock in and around Dover.
Charlie: In recent weeks, Dover and east Kent have suffered gridlock due to problems at the port of Dover and the fire in the channel tunnel. Will the Prime Minister support the finding of a long-term solution to the problem? Will he consider making this a national strategic priority and using lorry levy funds to help to pay for it?
Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to raise this question, and I know how hard he works for people in Dover and across east Kent. I understand that he met with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) about this, and as a result we have ordered an urgent review to look at the contingency arrangements for the M20/A20 and for the M2/A2 in the event of severe disruption at Eurotunnel and the channel ports, taking account of the recent congestion. It is important that we learn the lessons from this incident, and if the report comes up with good suggestions, we will look at them very carefully.
Property Boundary Disputes can be extemely costly, cause much heartache and often end up in court. The process should be reformed. I made this case in Justice Questions:
Charlie: What steps his Department is taking to promote mediation and the use of independent experts to reduce the number of boundary dispute cases coming before the courts.
Simon Hughes (MoJ Minister of State): The coalition is committed to reducing the number of property boundary disputes that come before the courts, as we are to reducing pressure on the court system more widely. I pay tribute to the work my hon. Friend has done, particularly his Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill. We published a scoping study on 15 January, and I hope that will provide a basis for agreeing a way forward that will lead to greater use of mediation and expert determination.
Charlie: I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that when neighbour property boundary disputes reach the courts, the legal costs often rack up, making it harder to settle the case? That is why I have been making the case for compulsory fast-track mediation, as in the party wall legislation, to make it easier to proceed and to avoid this problem.
Simon Hughes (MoJ Minister of State): I am absolutely persuaded that costs mount as people go to court, and I want to see the pressures and costs on our court system, as well as on individuals, reduced. We have taken steps over the past year to increase the use of mediation in the family courts, which has been successful. That should be applied to other disputes, including over property boundaries, and experts should also be used, but whether it is right to go down a mandatory route is the difficult question. I will work with my hon. Friend to see if we can reach agreement on how to move forward.
In a debate on healthcare, I made a speech on healthcare in Dover and Deal. We have come a long way in the past five years in getting a fairer share of healtcare.
When I was first campaigning in Dover and Deal, I found that the previous Government's legacy was that they had run down the much-loved Buckland hospital in Dover. Wards had been axed one by one; services had been withdrawn one by one; and the hospital had been decimated for more than a decade. There had been talk of plans to build a new hospital, but they had gone nowhere for the better part of a decade. It was a total disgrace; we did not get a fair share of health care in Dover and Deal.
In addition, an agreement appeared to have been made by the hospital trust in 2006 to take away the out-patient services at Deal's hospital. There were claims of a consultation with the then MP and the then elected representatives to withdraw those out-patient services. So when I was elected I faced a situation where the hospital trust wanted to axe out-patient services and people were very concerned that Deal's hospital was so undermined that it would be lost altogether. That was unacceptable.
What did the Conservatives do about it? Thanks to our funding of the NHS—the amount of money we have put in and the increase in spending in real terms—we managed to get a new hospital being built and it opens in March. That is a real achievement, ensuring that we will have a fairer share of health care back in Dover. After the years of going backwards, we will go forwards, and people in our community will be able to be seen and cared for in our community. Rather than have Deal's hospital being run down and closed, as people feared, because Labour left it teetering on the edge, we campaigned hard. I undertook a large survey across the whole of Deal and I listened to people's views. Thousands responded and we had hundreds in a meeting in a church to listen to the doctors and put the case for keeping the hospital, and now the clinical commissioning group, using its
new funding powers, is ensuring that that hospital is safeguarded for the future. In that way, under the Conservatives, we have safeguarded Deal's hospital and we are getting a new Dover hospital.
We also had difficult times in our local hospital trust—the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust had the CQC come in and investigate. In the past there would have been a cover-up and things would all have been swept under the carpet, just as they were in Staffordshire. That was the disgrace under the previous Government; theshadow Health Secretary oversaw that shameful episode. This Government have been open, honest and frank about the situation, and have ensured that special measures are taken and that we will have more nurses, more investment and better health care as a result. That is an important milestone. It shows not only that we have a new Dover hospital and that we have safeguarded Deal's hospital, but that we have a better trust thanks to the reforms the Government have put in place.
But I think we should go further. I want to see five-star health care in Dover and Deal, so that rather than the cold wards of old, we should have new individual care and recovery suites, which can enable flexibility. People could be there for short-time observation; for step-down care for a week or two, rather than blocking up the acute hospital; for re-ambulation over a two to three-month period; or for much longer-term palliative care or perhaps end-of-life care. I am working with Kent county council, the local CCG and other health stakeholders to examine how we can bring forward that sort of innovative proposal. It will help with NHS funding because it will save money lost through bed-blocking; it will save money because its beds will be less expensive than elsewhere in the NHS; and it will provide a better experience for patients because they will be able to get better and recover within the community.
We need to rethink A and E more generally, by having more local emergency centres. My plan is that at the new Dover Buckland hospital, which opens in March, we should see a local emergency centre being used as an out-of-hours base for the doctors and CCG. It should be beefed up so that it has a much more emergency flavour to it, rather than a minor injuries one, so that more people use it, more people have trust and confidence in it and fewer people will inappropriately admit themselves to A and E down the road in Ashford. In that way, we will be able to get the right kind of cascading, the right level of treatment and the right places, given how our health system works. Such an approach would allow simpler stuff to be carried out more locally in our communities, whereas the more complicated accident and emergency problems would be dealt with in a more centralised A and E unit. That kind of modernisation in how we deal with out-of-hours care and A and E-type care is something I hope we will think about and see more of in future. I do not see this as a left/right issue, just as I do not see community hospitals, which I believe in, as a left/right issue. I see it as being about people who are concerned about localism, and the localisation of health care and bringing it closer to the patient and to the community. That is the way we should be building the future of our NHS. It is a great shame we have seen so much politicisation and weaponisation.
The full debate can be read at this link.
Employment is up to record levels. Unemployment is down in Dover and Deal. Now real wages are rising as our economic recovery continues.
Charlie: Does the Minister not agree that it is important to note that real wages are rising, real disposable income is rising, child poverty is down and inequality is down under this Government?
Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury): It is very important to note all three of those facts, but it is also important not to be complacent. There is a lot more to do to ensure that we continue to deliver the successful growing economy that is creating jobs, because ultimately getting into work is the best route out of poverty for families.
In Prime Minister's Questions, I welcomed the fact that unemployment is down and the British economy is growing.
Charlie: The Leader of the Opposition will not, but will the Prime Minister welcome the International Monetary Fund saying this week that Britain has the "fastest-growing advanced economy" in the world? Will he welcome today's announcement that unemployment is falling in Dover, Deal and across Britain, and does he agree with President Obama that we "must be doing something right"?
The Prime Minister: I thought it was very kind of the President of the United States to make that point about doing something right, and the IMF is absolutely clear. It said:
"The UK is leading in a very eloquent and convincing way in the European Union. A few countries, only a few, are driving growth:".
That is what the IMF thinks about the British and American economies. Obviously that is helping in Dover where the claimant count is down by 28% since the election, but we should not be satisfied until everyone who wants a job in our country is able to get a job in our country, and until our employment rate is the best in the G7. That is what I would define as achieving what we want, which is full employment in our country.
Under Labour, gas bills doubled, electricity bills went up by 15% and fuel poverty trebled. Now their price 'freeze' will actually stop prices falling. This Government is rolling back green levies to provide real help to cut energy bills. Labour's plans are just a gimmick that could actually stop prices falling.
Charlie: The longer this debate goes on, the clearer one can see why, under Labour, gas bills doubled, electricity bills went up by 15% and fuel poverty trebled. Labour Members like to talk the game when it comes to lower prices, populism and easy answers, but the reality, as we saw when they were in office, is that their measures are ineffective and often counter-productive.
Let us take their current price freeze idea. If Labour's policy had been implemented when it was announced, energy consumers would have lost out. Today's consumers are better off with the Conservative/coalition policy that has been pursued. It is clear that Labour sources realise this and provide quotes that admit it. A Labour source spoke to The Sun and "Mail Online", so let me acquaint Labour Members with this for the better understanding of their own policy. This Labour source said, and Labour Members should listen carefully:
"The freeze was announced at a time when energy prices were rising inexorably—nobody was talking about prices coming down, or even thinking about it. Obviously, if bills are coming down at the election there may have to be a bit of rebranding to make it clear it will operate as a price cap instead."
What we are seeing, and what this debate is all about, is the screeching of brakes and the squeal of tyres as the Labour bandwagon puts into effect another mad U-turn that is ill thought out and entirely chaotic, as the freeze is rebranded as a cap to take advantage of the reality that petrol, fuel and energy prices are now falling.
The rest of my speech and the full debate can be read this link.
The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris were an assault on freedom of speech and who we are as a society. To assist our own security in Britain, we need to promote intergration, not multi-culturalism. We also need to ensure our broderns are safe and secure from foreign terrorists and criminals.
Charlie: Does the Home Secretary agree that if we are to be serious about our internal security and the safety and security of our borders, including at Dover, we must promote the unity of integration over thedivision of multiculturalism? It is important to ensure that our borders are properly strengthened and that security is maintained, including at Calais.
Home Secretary (Theresa May): My hon. Friend is right, and as I indicated in my statement in immediate response to the attacks in Paris, the Border Force and others at our borders took appropriate steps to increase security and intensify the checks taking place. It is right that we maintain an appropriate level of security at our borders, both in the UK but also at juxtaposed controls elsewhere.
It is also important to recognise that within the United Kingdom there are people of a variety of faiths and of no faith. We must all accept people of different faiths, and recognise that people have different beliefs. If we disagree with them, the way to deal with that is through discussion. It is important to allow people the freedom to worship as they wish and follow the faith they wish to follow.
The Labour Party crashed the British economy. By 2010, the Labour Government was borrowing one pound in every four it spent. The Conservatives have a plan to turn Britain around and ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
I support the Charter for Budget Responsibility to ensure that public spending does not go out of control again and made this case in the debate,
Charlie: Is it not obvious that the Labour party is stuck in the past, talking about things done years ago and frightened to talk about the future? Did the Chancellor hear Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies say on the "Today" programme that borrowing would be higher under a Labour Governmentand that debt would be higher in the long run? The IFS says it; the Labour party ought to admit it.
The full debate can be read at this link.
Since the EKHT went into special measures in August 2014, we have seen good improvements at the Trust. There are more doctors and nurses at the Trust and there is a now culture of transparency
Charlie: What assessment he has made of the level of improvement made by East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust since it was put into special measures.
Health Secretary (Jeremy Hunt): I am pleased to report that East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust has started to make good progress since it was placed in special measures last August. That includes improved incident reporting rates, a revised policy enabling staff to raise concerns, and the creation of a cultural change programme.
Charlie: Does not the Secretary of State's answer highlight the fact that the best way of dealing with long-term and deep-set problems is to put patients first and ensure that there is a culture of transparency? Does that not contrast sharply with the denial and cover-ups that we have seen too often in the past?
Health Secretary (Jeremy Hunt): Absolutely. I think that what shocks people is Labour trying to make political capital out of winter pressures in the NHS, and then sweeping the poor care that happened on its watch under the carpet. We are making great progress at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust: there are 82 more nurses, and more than 100 more doctors. That is because we are facing up to the problems, not running away from them.
We need a new car park at Dover Priory Station. Unfortunately, the project has been stalled by Network Rail. I asked the Transport Secretary about speeding up rail infastructure projects.
Charlie: Does the Secretary of State agree that this issue is not simply about late-running engineering works and engineering blockades but important infrastructure such as Dover Priory railway station car park, which is even more late-running than the engineering works we have seen? Does that not underline the need to look at the wider structure of Network Rail, the incentives for efficiency and excellence, and the delivery of projects on time?
Patrick McLoughlin (Transport Secretary): Does the Secretary of State agree that this issue is not simply about late-running engineering works and engineering blockades but important infrastructure such as Dover Priory railway station car park, which is even more late-running than the engineering works we have seen? Does that not underline the need to look at the wider structure of Network Rail, the incentives for efficiency and excellence, and the delivery of projects on time?
Charlie: What recent discussions she has had with the French authorities on border security at Calais.
James Brokenshire (Immigration Minister): It is in the interests of both the UK and France to work together to tackle migratory pressures at Calais. The Home Secretary last met the French Interior Minister on 5 December. We continue to work closely with the French authorities on all matters of border security and cross-border criminality to maintain the integrity of our joint border controls.
Charlie: Can my hon. Friend confirm that the £12 million in the agreement will be spent on bolstering security and not on a welcome centre at Calais? Will he also reject representations from UKIP that the border controls at Calais should be scrapped and brought back to Dover?
James Brokenshire (Immigration Minister): I am very pleased to underline the points that my hon. Friend makes. We are not providing financial support for any day centres. Our financial support is focused on security at Calais and on confronting the organised criminality that seeks to take advantage of those trying to come to the UK. The juxtaposed controls absolutely benefit this country and we have no plans to change that.
We need a fairer share of healthcare in Dover. Upgrading Dover's Minor Injuries Unit to create a local emergency centre will help get better healthcare for local people.
Charlie: In Dover, we are looking at ways of reducing the pressure on A and E through the Prime Minister's "8 till 8" challenge fund, and at upgrading the minor injuries unit to create a local emergency centre. Is that not a more fruitful thing to do than simply revelling in the winter problems in the NHS, as the Opposition have been doing?
Jeremy Hunt (Health Secretary): My hon. Friend is right. The NHS wants to know that it has a Government who have a long-term plan for the NHS, who are prepared to fund that plan and who have thought about the long-term solutions. Better access to GPs is one of the key things, as is access to a GP who actually knows about the patient and their condition. Sadly, we lost named GPs following the changes to the GP contract in 2004, but I am proud to say that, from next April, we will be bringing them back.
Many of my constituents are concered about gas exploration in Shepherdswell. It is near an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I asked the Minister to restate the strong guidance about gas extraction near these areas.
Charlie: The villagers of Shepherdswell in my constituency are concerned about plans for onshore gas exploration there. They are adjacent to an area of outstanding natural beauty, so will the Minister restate the guidance on that matter?
Matthew Hancock (Energy Minister): Absolutely. My first act in this job was to strengthen the planning guidance and rules on the extraction of onshore oil and gas in national parks, AONBs and other places. That is an important reassurance to those who live in the most beautiful parts of our country that planning considerations for onshore oil and gas will be extremely tight.
Charlie: What steps is the Department taking to reduce the number of refugees attempting to flee their home countries?
Justine Greening (International Development Secretary): We rightly use development assistance to build up the institutions and the conditions that minimise the types of conflict, instability and state failure that lead people to becoming refugees and internally displaced in the first place.
We need Human Rights reform to stop endless immigration appeals and ensure our borders are safe and secure.
Charlie: May I tell the Minister that my constituents in Dover and Deal feel that the level of immigration and asylum appeals that are being made undermines our border security? They want to see human rights reform to ensure that our borders are safer and more secure.
Shailesh Vara (Justice Minister): As I said, that is a debate that we shall have very forcefully with the British people and the other parties in the months ahead.
The Leader of the House, William Hague, made a statement on devolution to England and English Votes for English Laws.
Charlie: My constituents feel that we should have a fair Union, which means a fair deal for England. They say thatlaws that apply only to England should be voted on only by English MPs, and that anyone who does not subscribe to that view does not speak up properly for England.
Shailesh Vara (Justice Minister): My hon. Friend's constituents are representative of opinion across a wide swathe of England, which is why so many people in England want to see this issue addressed and the injustice that has emerged put right for the future.
Charlie: My constituents in Dover and Deal are very concerned about border security and the situation that we have seen in Calais this year. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that, while we have acted, the European Union should take more responsibility for people trafficking and the problems of Schengen open borders, and that it should make Italy take responsibility as the first country for asylum claimants on the island of Lampedusa?
Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): Of course I understand what an important issue this is for my hon. Friend and his constituents. I agree with him that it is a problem shared and that therefore the solution needs to be shared as well, across the European Union. That is one of the reasons why I have always been an advocate of cross-border co-operation in the EU on issues concerning people who cross our borders. We cannot act on our own. I agree with my hon. Friend that, whenever possible, the European Union should act effectively and together.
This Government has a good record on cutting business taxes. Corporation Tax has been cut from 28 pence in 2010 to 21 pence now, giving us one of the lowest rates in the developed world. Our Corporation Tax receipts have increased. We now need more action to tackle tax aviodance and ensure businesses pay their fair share.
Charlie: What estimate he has made of corporation tax receipts in each year since 2010; and if he will make a statement.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs publishes annual corporation tax statistics every August. They show that revenues from corporation tax, excluding the ring-fenced oil and gas regime, were £35 billion in 2010-11, £33 billion in 2011-12, £35 billion in 2012-13 and £36 billion in 2013-14. The Government have delivered major cuts to corporation tax, but increased growth and investment in the UK mean that revenues from the main regime were higher last year than in 2010.
Charlie: Is my hon. Friend aware that non-oil corporation tax receipts have risen 16% over the course of this Parliament so far, compared with a rise of just 8% over the entirety of the previous 13 years? Does that not show that if you cut the rate, you up the take? How will the diverted profits tax work?
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): It is right that we have reduced the corporation tax rate. Next year, it will give us the lowest rate in the G20. That is resulting in greater investment in the UK. It would certainly be a mistake to reverse that policy, as the Labour party intends. In terms of the diverted profits tax, I would point out that it will help to deal with aggressive tax avoidance. We will publish the draft legislation on that tomorrow, setting out the full details of how it will operate.
Many in our community have been deeply saddened by the tragic death of Luke Somers.
Charlie: May I condemn this foul murder by terrorists and record my condolences to my constituent Penny Bearman, Luke's stepmother, and to all his family? It is perhaps inevitable that the family are left wondering whether Luke might still be with us today had this operation not taken place. What comfort can the Minister give the family that it would have been undertaken only in the most extreme circumstances in which there was no alternative?
Tobias Ellwood (Foreign Office Minister): I reiterate our condolences to the family. I know that police liaison officers have been in touch with those members of the family living in Britain. If there is anything more we can do, the Government stand ready to provide that support in this difficult time. In difficult and dangerous circumstances a call had to be made, but I know that it was made in the knowledge that Luke's life was in danger.
The Chancellor gave his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons on our economy and the state of the nation's finances. The Conservatives have a long-term economic plan. I made the point that Labour's economic policy is confused and muddled.
Charlie: The Chancellor used to receive representations that he was doing too much, too fast, but now Labour Members think he did not go quickly enough. Given its muddled and confused position, if we were to adopt a plan from these people, what would be the implication for interest rates in particular and economic policy and growth in general?
Chancellor of the Exchequer (George Osborne): Of course, Labour economic policy would increase unemployment, reduce GDP and potentially put Britain back into recession. We know that its feeble commitments on borrowing would allow at least £26 billion of extra borrowing every single year, and as has been demonstrated over the past hour or so, every Labour MP actually wants to spend more money and increase welfare bills. That is the real Labour party, and of course it would bankrupt the country again.
After four years of Conservative Government. Britain is back on the right track. Unemployment is tumbling and our economy is growing faster than any other developed nation. Why would we want to go back to where we were less than five short years ago under Labour?
Charlie: This morning, more people went to work than ever before in the history of our nation. Is the Prime Minister aware that in Dover and Deal unemployment has fallen by 37%, thanks to our welfare reforms and thanks to our long-term economic plan? Why would we ever return to where we were less than five short years ago?
Prime Minister - David Cameron : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In Dover, the claimant count is down by 24% since the election. Across the south-east, the number of people employed is up by almost a quarter of a million. We have record levels of employment. Anyone getting a job is someone else who has the security and stability to provide for their family. At the same time as this increase in employment, we have also seen the pay gap between men and women, particularly under 40, reduced to its lowest ever level. We are seeing a strong and solid recovery. As the Chancellor will explain in a moment, there is no room for complacency. We have to stick to the long-term economic plan and deliver it.
This Government has a great strong on the economy. A record number of people are in work. The UK economy has the fastest growth in the G7. Unemployment has fallen sharply. This economic record forms a strong part of the case for a Conservative majority Government in May 2015.
I took part in a debate on economy. The full debate can be read here. I made the following points.
Charlie: This morning, 30.8 million people went to work—a record in our country's history. That is no mean feat after Labour's crash. With the storm clouds gathering again in the eurozone, why would we ever want to go back to where we were four and a half short years ago?
Charlie: Let me point out not only that a record number of people went to work this morning, but that both long-term unemployment and worklessness rose under the Labour Government. Thanks to this Government's welfare reforms and long-term economic plan, long-term unemployment has fallen by 99,000, and worklessness has fallen dramatically. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the Government's long-term economic plan and welfare reforms have worked extremely well?
Charlie: Our welfare reforms have resulted in a jobs revolution that means that it is morning again in Britain. If we look out from Dover across the channel, we see the sun rising over the white cliffs but we also see the storm clouds over Calais and the rest of the eurozone. Does the Minister agree that the biggest risk to our recovery would be a Labour Government and their crazy spending plans?
Under Labour, hospital problems were covered up. I asked the Health Secretary what can be done to change this culture.
Charlie: After all the cover-ups of the past, what is being done to ensure that the culture of the NHS is always improving, particularly in that patients are treated with dignity and respect and always have the highest standards of safety?
Jeremy Hunt (Health Secretary): I thank my hon. Friend for his question. After the Francis report, we now have 5,000 more nurses on our hospital wards. The scores that patients themselves are giving for whether they are treated with dignity and respect are up by 10%. We want to put poor care behind us and behind the NHS. It is time that Labour got on board with this agenda instead of constantly saying that we are running down the NHS by sorting out poor care.
We need to do everything we can to promote small business. One way of doing this is to promote small businesses in Government procurement. I made this point in Cabinet Office Questions.
Charlie: What is being done to encourage innovative SMEs to get in on public procurement, and will the Ministerupdate the House on the effectiveness of the mystery shopper tool?
Francis Maude (Minister of State for the Cabinet Office): We have enabled suppliers who suspect that a procurement is being done in the old-fashioned way that we inherited to raise it directly with my officials in the Cabinet Office, who can then intervene with the public sector procurer-commissioner to ensure that it is done in the modern way, which does not exclude small businesses from supplying to Government in the way that was routinely the case in the past. We have made a huge amount of progress, but we still have a long way to go.
In Justice Questions, I argued Wwe need to take more action to tackle hate tweeters and trolls who abuse and threaten people online.
Charlie: What progress he has made on reforming sentencing for people convicted for making threats on social media.
Mike Penning (Criminal Justice Minister): The Government take seriously the offences on the statute book that cover threatening behaviour online, which includes abhorrent imagery that people do not want to see.
Charlie: We live in a world of constantly changing technology, and it is hard to keep up. In view of that, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we take the battle to the hate tweeters, the trolls and the people who make threats and make other people's lives hell?
Mike Penning (Criminal Justice Minister): We would all agree—and the law agrees—that the offence is the same whether face to face in public or on the internet. That is right and proper. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is being considered by the other place, will amend the Malicious Communications Act 1988 to provide a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment. That is the sort of thing we are doing, and people should listen and stop this abhorrent activity.
European Human Rights are too often a charter for criminals and undeserving. A future Conservative Government will reform human rights and restore trust in the system.
Charlie: Talking of European matters, does the Minister share my concern that 75% of the British people consider European human rights to be a charter for criminals and the undeserving? Is it not time we reformed it to restore trust in the human rights ideal?
Chris Grayling (Lord Chancellor): I very much share my hon. Friend's view and concerns. In my view, this needs to change. Unfortunately, neither of the other two major parties in this place agrees with us. I thus hope that we will have amajority Conservative Government after the next election to deliver the change that the public want so much.
This Government has done great work in cutting rates for businesses. 580 shops, pubs and restuarants in Dover and Deal have had help with their business rates.
Charlie: How many small firms and shops in (a) England and (b) Dover have been affected by the reduction in business rates.
Kris Hopkins (Communities Minister): Our £1 billion business rates support package includes a £1,000 discount for smaller shops, pubs and restaurants. That will benefit more than 300,000 premises in England, including 430 in Cherwell and 580 in Dover. We are also doubling small business rate relief for a further year, which will benefit about 575,000 businesses, with 385,000 businesses paying no rates at all. That will help 1,100 small businesses in Cherwell, and 1,300 small businesses in Dover.
Charlie: May I welcome all the Government have done to help high streets such as that of Deal, in myconstituency? Will Ministers condemn the Local Government Association group leader who has been going up and down the land telling councils to hike taxes and business rates, which will devastate our high streets and increase the cost of food?
Kris Hopkins (Communities Minister): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work to promote Deal high street, which has been a tremendous success. Most recently, Deal topped the polls as Britain's best coastal town as voted for by readers of The Daily Telegraph. The instinct of the Labour party is to tax businesses, ours is to encourage and grow local businesses by offering tax breaks.
People in Dover have been deeply concnered by the threatened clsoure of Dover Medical Practice. More than 800 residents presented me with a petition to take to the House of Commons to stop the closure. I was proud to present the petition on behalf of residents.
Charlie: I rise to present a petition organised by my constituent, Susan Fox, and supported by 800 residents of Dover to protest about the closure of the Dover medical practice. They demand that NHS England put patients first and that primary health services are secured for the patients. The patient list should be kept together as a whole. For a large number of people, English is a second language, so translation services are important to them. Many patients have particular health needs related to their background, for which specialism is required. For this reason, the petitioners demand that if a practice is to close, there must be an orderly transition of the patient list to a practice set up to cope with the health and support needs of this group of people—my constituents.
The petition states:
The Petition of residents of the UK,
Declares that the Petitioners believe that Dover Medical Practice, situated in Dover Health Centre on Maison Dieu Road, should remain open; further that the Petitioners believe that it is the duty of NHS England to make sure all existing services continue to be available to its patients and to ensure that there are adequate staff for this to happen; and further that a local Petition on this matter in the Dover constituency received 803 signatures.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to ensure that Dover Medical Practice will not close; and further that the House of Commons urges the Department of Health to guarantee that NHS England continues to provide the present staff and services at the Dover Medical Practice for the benefit of the local community.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
This Government has a great record on cutting income tax. When we came to office, people had to earn £6,500 before they paid income tax. This has been raised to £10,000. This is an income tax cut for 25 million Britons. I took part in a debate on the Government's record on income tax.
Charlie: If Labour went down the route of a 10p tax band in place of the £12,500 personal allowance that Government Members want to see, surely that would leave people on £11,000 worse off.
Charlie: Will my hon. Friend confirm the position on the change in receipts? It looks to me from my studies of Inland Revenue statistics, which are frequent, that the receipts from this additional rate seem to have risen from about £40 billion to £49 billion.
David Gauke (Treasury Minister): I will turn to the analysis done by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which is at the heart of the debate, but there is no reason to believe that that has proven to be inaccurate, or that suddenly there is this huge stream of revenue that is available to the Exchequer that we have forgone. The truth is that there are much better ways of raising money from the wealthiest than a 50p rate that proved to be ineffective.
There was a statement in the House of Commons about allegations of political corruption in Tower Hamlets. When I was a councillor in South London 20 years ago, I pledged to fight corruption in all its forms. The fight goes on.
Charlie: Some 20 years ago, I was elected to Lambeth council on a mandate to fight corruption. In that struggle, I found that it is a many-headed hydra and that these cultures are long in the making. Mayor Rahman has been running Tower Hamlets since 2008. Is it not right that there should be accounting as to how long this has been going on and how widespread the problem is?
Eric Pickes (Communities and Local Government Secretary): One certainly wants to root out corruption, no matter where it took place and how long ago—that is fundamentally important. But the priority, should I decide to act, is to give the people of Tower Hamlets the opportunity to make a proper informed decision about their council and the mayor whereby, first, their votes would count, secondly, their voices will be heard and, thirdly, fairness will be there.
In Treasury Questions, I welcomed the Conservative efforts to clamp down on tax evasion and ensure that all businesses pay their fair share of tax.
Charlie: Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that under the previous Government the tax gap grew and that all the running in this Parliament on ensuring that businesses pay their fair share of tax and cracking down on tax dodgers has come from our side of the House, and that this Government have made the case internationally as well?
David Gauke (Treasury Minister): The tax gap as a proportion of tax receipts was higher under the previous Government than for every year under this Government. We have introduced something like 40 measures to close loopholes, one of which, on disguised remuneration, let us not forget the Labour party opposed.
In questions to the Prime Minister on his meeting at the European Council, I called for more action to stop human trafficking and stop migrants travelling across Europe to Calais.
Charlie: I welcome the agreement entered into between the United Kingdom and France to tackle the chaos at Calais, where the mayor has lost control of the streets. May I urge him to initiate a pan-European push to tackle the evil of human trafficking, which is so often organised, and to tackle countries such as Italy—which is the first safe country for treaty purposes—rather than allowing people to be waved through to Calais?
Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As well as having proper controls at Calais and at our own border, we must ensure that when people arrive in the European Union, they claim asylum and register in the first country that they reach rather than being passported through to the channel ports.
In Education Questions, I was proud to raise the great progress made by Castle Community College since going into special measures. GCSE results improved greatly in 2014.
Charlie: What recent steps her Department has taken to improve schools which have been placed in special measures.
Nick Gibb (Minister for Schools): We act swiftly to tackle failure. If a local authority maintained school goes into special measures,Department for Education officials contact it within five days of being notified, and begin to work with it towards becoming a sponsored academy. Since 2010, we have opened 1,042 sponsored academies, which have nearly all resulted from this process. If an academy goes into special measures, the regional schools commissioner responds equally swiftly.
Charlie: Is the Minister aware of the striking progress that has been made at Deal's Castle community academy in just a few short months, thanks to strong intervention by his Department? Will a decision on sponsorship for the academy be made soon?
Nick Gibb (Minister for Schools): I know that my hon. Friend has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure early resolution of the problems the school has faced since it went into special measures. We are working closely with the Castle Community Trust, and on securing a strong sponsor for the school quickly. Ofsted's monitoring inspection on 10 September confirmed that the academy's plans are fit for purpose, and that necessary improvements are being made.
Labour decimated our health services in Dover and Deal. Deal Hospital has now been safeguarded, while a new Dover Hospital opens next year. I asked the Health Secretary to open our new Dover Hospital this year.
Charlie: In my constituency Deal hospital was left under threat of closure. It has now been safeguarded. Our acute hospitals had a Care Quality Commission inspection to identify problems, which have been dealt with; they were not covered up. Dover hospital, which was wrecked, is now being rebuilt. Will my right hon. Friend take a forward view of his diary and consider reopening that hospital at the opening ceremony in the spring?
Jeremy Hunt (Health Secretary): If I possibly can, I will be delighted to do so. This is the pattern in many parts of the NHS that we do not hear from the Opposition Benches—where there have been problems in care year after year, they are finally being addressed. In my hon. Friend's constituency and the hospitals that serve it he will be seeing more nurses and more doctors being employed and giving a higher standard of care, particularly to vulnerable older people. That is the kind of NHS that we should all welcome wholeheartedly.
In Transport Questions, I thanked the Ports Minister for visiting Dover last week and asked him about new community directors for the Port.
Charlie: I thank the ports Minister for visiting the trust port of Dover last week. It was great to have a people's Minister come to see the rise of a people's port at Dover. Does he agree that community directors should be appointed by the community to deliver for the community?
John Hayes (Ports Minister): It is generous of my hon. Friend to describe me as the people's champion. I have never sought acclamation, but it would be negligent not to step up to the mark. I was delighted to visit Dover last week, to see once again the white cliffs and to be reminded of this "precious stone set in the silver sea".
He is right that the link between the port and the community is vital, and community directors are critical to that. I share his view about the importance of investment in linking the port to the town, particularly in the western dock, and about the significance of community directors. He has my full support, as does the port.
I wanted to counter the Labour smear campaigns that our NHS is up for sale and confirm that our NHS will not be privatised and will always remain free for all.
Charlie: Can the Secretary of State confirm to the House whether there are any plans to sell off the NHS and will the NHS remain free at the point of delivery?
Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health): I can confirm that there are no such plans and it will remain free at the point of delivery. Nor do we have any plans to pay private providers 11% more than NHS providers, as happened under the previous Labour Government.
In questions to the Health Secretary, I praised the great quality of care at the William Harvey Hospital.
Charlie: May I welcome the outstanding treatment provided at the A and E at the William Harvey hospital—part of East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust—which I attended on a family emergency during the summer, and note that the Care Quality Commission is getting striking improvements in East Kent, rather than the sort of cover-ups we used to see in the past?
Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under this Government, with the new inspection regime, we have had to take the difficult decision to put 18 hospitals into special measures, including East Kent. Six have now come out of special measures. We are tackling these problems in the NHS by being honest about them. I gently say to the Labour party that if it wants to be the party of the NHS, it has to give the country confidence that it will be honest about poor care when it comes across it.
In Defence Questions, I asked what action our Armed Forces are taking to tackle the spead of Ebola in West Africa.
Charlie: What contribution armed forces are making to tackling the spread of Ebola; and if he will make a statement.
Mark Francois (Minister of State, Defence): The armed forces are making a significant contribution in tackling the grave threat posed by Ebola in Sierra Leone. RFA Argus, which left Falmouth on 17 October, is due to arrive off Freetown by the end of this month. Approximately 750 UK armed forces personnel will be in Sierra Leone by the end of October. Those personnel are supporting the Department for International Development-led effort and will initially run a 12-bed Ebola treatment centre in Kerry Town for international health care workers; deliver up to 700 additional treatment beds; and set up and run a training academy primarily to train health care workers for those additional beds.
Charlie: Britain has been at the forefront of handling the crisis. What steps have the Government been taking to encourage other countries to do as much as us? I am thinking particularly of France, where, in Calais, the authorities have lost control of the security situation, endangering themselves and putting us at risk.
Mark Francois (Minister of State, Defence): Leaving Calais out of it for a moment, there is a need for the international community to do much more to support the effort against Ebola. That includes a need for an increase in spending, and for more support for international personnel working in the region. We recently held a donors conference in London for our international partners. The Ministry of Defence has engaged widely, securing assistance from Norway, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, among others. We urgently need to upscale the international response. EU Foreign Ministers are meeting today in Brussels to discuss this very issue, and the forthcoming EU Council will be a vital forum for us, if we are to take this work forward with our partners.
I also asked about the decison to use, rather than sell, our 2nd aircraft carrier.
Charlie: What impact will the decision to use, rather than sell, the second aircraft carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, have on the defence of the realm?
Michael Fallon (Secretary of State for Defence): I am delighted to confirm our decision to deploy the second carrier within the Royal Navy. It will ensure that we have one carrier available 100% of the time, either at sea or at very high readiness. The carriers will give us unprecedented flexibility over the next 50 years to deploy our power globally to assist in joint strike fighter operations, peacekeeping, conflict prevention missions and the provision of aid and assistance in times of humanitarian crisis.
I asked the Charities Minister about campaiging and political activity by charities. I want to strengthen guidance to ensure that more charity donations go to helping people on the frontline.
Charlie:What assessment he has made of the scope of the Charity Commission guidance on campaigning and political activity; and if he will make a statement.
Brooks Newmark (Charities Minister): Charities play an important role in shaping Government policy. Indeed, Departments are working on the development and implementation of many our policies. However, it has long been the case that the law and Charity Commission guidance prohibits charities from party political campaigning and activities. I believe that that is the right position.
Charlie: Does the Minister nevertheless agree that it would be right to return to the Charity Commission guidance of 2004, which ensured that charities focused on social justice and helping people in need on the front line, not on big marketing budgets and playing party politics?
Brooks Newmark (Charities Minister): The Charity Commission's guidance is clear about what charities can and cannot do and reflects the commission's view of the underlying law. The guidance was last reviewed in 2009. The Charity Commission has said that it keeps all its guidance under review to ensure that it remains relevant and up to date, but it has no immediate plans to amend its guidance on campaigning and political activity.
In Questions to the Department for Communities Local Government, I asked what support the Government is giving to help costal communities like Dover and Deal.
Charlie: May I welcome the massive support the Department has given to coastal communities like mine in Dover and Deal, and the great backing to high streets, of which Deal's is officially and definitively the best in the country?
Penny Mordaunt: I congratulate my hon. Friend and his constituents on what they have managed to secure themselves in terms of on local growth. Deal is a fantastic example of a thriving high street, which I myself visited only a few weeks ago. It is already award winning, but I wish it good luck in the great British high street contest, which it has entered. I look forward to visiting Betteshanger park sustainable energy centre, which has secured £2.5 million of coastal communities funding to bring together business, education, heritage, green technology and tourism.
I also asked about what protections we can have to protect the greenbelt from develooment.
Charlie: Will the Minister confirm that the national planning policy framework has provisions that protect the green belt from developers and people like Mr Sheerman who would like to build all over it?
Brandon Lewis (Minister of State for Communities and Local Government): My hon. Friend is right, and I intend soon to issue additional guidance to reiterate the protection that the national planning policy framework provides to the green belt and other designated areas. That will make it clear that local planners should seek to meet their objectively assessed needs, unless there are specific environmental and other policies in the framework—such as those on the green belt—which indicate that development should be restricted.
I led a Parliamentary debate on Community Hospitals today. I made case for a greater community say and more local healthcare. I talked about the importance of local healthcare in Dover and welcomed the new Dover Hospital, coming in 2015. I also stated the importance of keeping more services locally in Deal Hospital.
In Treasury Questions, I welcomed the fact that child poverty has fallen under this Government, after rising in the last Parliament under Labour.
Charlie: I congratulate the Minister on her debut at the Dispatch Box. She has referred to child poverty falling under this Government. Will she confirm that it rose under the previous Labour Government in the previous Parliament?
Priti Patel (The Exchequer Secretary): I thank my hon. Friend for his warm remarks. He is absolutely right. It is this Government who have gone out of their way to focus on a child poverty strategy, reducing the numbers, and that is something of which we are proud.
In questions to the Department for Education, I asked the Minister whether he would consider supporting a new free school for Deal. I am pleased the Minister confirmed he would certainly support a new application for a free school in Deal if there was a need for more good school places.
Charlie: What recent assessment she has made of the performance of free schools; and if she will make a statement.
Nick Gibb (Minister for Schools): Based on Ofsted inspections of free schools undertaken so far, the majority of free schools are performing well. They are also more likely to be rated outstanding than other state-funded schools.
Charlie: The Minister will be aware that free schools are very popular with parents and achieve results that outperform many maintained schools. In view of that, would he consider supporting a new free school in Deal in my constituency?
Nick Gibb (Minister for Schools): My hon. Friend is right. There are currently 174 free schools up and running, of which 40% have already had a section 5 Ofsted inspection, in addition to their pre-opening inspection. Of those, 24% are graded outstanding, which is a staggering achievement for a school that has been open for just four or five terms. This represents a higher proportion than other schools. Some 71% of free schools are graded good or outstanding.
We would certainly welcome an application for a new free school in Deal if there is evidence of a need for more good school places.
I was glad to support Which?'s campaign in Parliament to Scrap the Savingds Tax and get a fair deal for savers. I signed the petition to stop savers getting a raw deal in low-interest accounts and make switching to higher interest accounts easier.
In the Childcare Payments Bill debate, I welcomed Government action to help hardworking families with child care costs.
Charlie: May I strike a blow for working fathers, who are also parents, in a joint working household, which is the norm in this country? Sharing the child care responsibility and engaging in that work-life balance—that juggle—is increasingly the norm. I welcome the Bill. Tax-free child care will help all working parents, including fathers like me, with child care costs so that they can go out to work and provide greater security for their families.
That matters because it is important that we help all hard-working people who go out, work hard and do the right thing. Providing 20% support for child care costs up to £10,000 is important to help to make that happen. It is a key part of our long-term economic plan. I welcome the fact that the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan), for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for Arfon (Hywel Williams) were here today, whereas no Labour Back Benchers whatsoever were present. That says that the Conservative party is not just the party of the workers, but the party of child care, and the party that is modern, forward-looking and concerned about the kind of future we can build for this country and the hard-working families who do so much to make this country great.
In questions to the Deparement for Transport, I asked the Minister to give an assessment of the effects of High Speed Rail to East Kent. I also welcomed the full extension of High Speed Rail to Deal, Walmer and Martin Mill.
Charlie: What assessment he has made of the economic effect of high-speed rail services to Kent.
Stephen Hammond (Rail Minister): The Department for Transport is currently undertaking an economic evaluation of High Speed 1, covering transport user benefits, wider economic impacts, regeneration, and Government shareholdings and assets. That evaluation is planned to be completed this summer.
Charlie: I thank the Minister for that answer, and I welcome the announcement of the full extension of HS1 to Deal, Walmer and Martin Mill in my constituency, and the benefits that that will bring to the local economy. Will he give an idea of the similar benefits that might be provided by HS2?
Stephen Hammond (Rail Minister): It is only fair for me to recognise the extraordinary efforts of my hon. Friend in ensuring that high-speed rail comes to Deal. I also recognise the extraordinary efforts of my hon. Friend Amber Rudd, who is making the same case. HS2 will make an important contribution to securing prosperity across the country. It will generate jobs and rebalance the economy, and our estimates suggest that there will be more than £70 billion of benefits, including £53 billion of benefits to business.
In the House, I praised the introduction of Universal Credit and Government reforms to help more people back into work.
Charlie: May I urge the Secretary of State to reject the representations of Labour Members? When it comes to universal credit, all they have done throughout is seek to promote welfare over work at every turn. What will be the savings to the Exchequer and the benefits to the UK when it has been fully rolled out?
Iain Duncan-Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions): The National Audit Office has come out with the figure of £35 billion, which I cited earlier, but the point is that I believe that universal credit is worth more than that. As well as the planning and implementation process, the work we are currently doing will also evaluate the net benefit to the Exchequer and taxpayers, which I believe will be even higher.
It's important that all charities and think tanks are independent and free from political bias. I asked a question regarding the relationship betwenn the IPPR and trade unions in question to the Leader of the House of Commons.
Charlie: May we have an urgent debate on the independence of think-tank charities? Last year the Institute for Public Policy Research took up to £40,000 in donations from the TUC and then published a report calling for—wait for it—more trade union power. It looks more like a sock puppet than an independent think-tank charity.
Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House): I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. He might want look for opportunities to raise the matter himself, perhaps in an Adjournment debate. In any case, I think that it is an important subject for all of us to be aware of. Wherever we are engaged in public policy making, I hope that it will be evidence-based and objective. One of the Nolan principles is objectivity. That should be as true for those who seek to influence policy as it is for those who make it.
I asked what steps the Government can take to get more women involved in sciencen and engineering careers.
Charlie: What more can be done to get women to consider a wider range of careers, particularly in science and engineering?
Jo Swinson (Minister for Women and Equalities): My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. Only 7% of engineers are women. That difference in the sectors is a significant driver of the pay gap. The problems start very early in children's lives, so we need to look at the messages that are being put out through the education system but also more widely in the media regarding stereotypes and what young girls are encouraged to aspire to. We are encouraging parents and schools to have the information they need to assist their children.
In questions to the Department for Culuture Media and Sport, I asked about mobile coverage in our corner of Kent and how it can be improved.
Charlie: If his Department will commission research on methods of improving mobile telephone coverage; and if he will make a statement.
Sajid Javid (Secretary of State): We need to improve mobile coverage in the UK, and I have been discussing with Ofcom and the mobile network operators what more can be done. The mobile infrastructure project will extend coverage to remote and rural areas that currently have no coverage.
Charlie: Many visitors from the European Union travel by ferry to my constituency of Dover and, because of international roaming, those from France get better mobile coverage than my own constituents. How can this be?
Sajid Javid (Secretary of State): As usual, my hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is true that French nationals who visit the UK get better coverage than his constituents because of international roaming. I encourage operators in the UK to go further and I am discussing the issue with mobile operators and Ofcom. No firm decisions have been taken at this point, but it is a very important issue.
In the House, I welcomed this Government's measures to increase Investment Allowance tenfold in 2012 from £25,000 to £250,000, and then to £500,000 at the Budget in March. These increases in Investment Allowance will encourage more business investment and help drive our economic recovery.
Full text of my speech can be found at this link.
In debates around the Finance Bill, I talked about action to stop tax avoidance and ensure everyone pays their fair share of tax. I also criticised Labour's poor record in government of getting corporations to pay their taxes, when eceipts from income tax doubled but receipts from corporation tax went up by 6%.
My full speech can be found at this link.
In the debate about the teaching of British values, I spoke about the importance of promoting what unites as a nation, rather than what divides us. I also spoke about what British values mean and the importance of freedom and the rule of law in ths country.
For this speech, I was named the Freedom Association's Parliamentarian of the Week.
In questions to the Cabinet Office, I asked the Minister, Francis Maude, about the huge waste of public money under the last Labour Government and his plans for further savings.
Charlie: What estimate he has made of the savings arising from measures to increase departmental efficiency; and if he will make a statement.
Francis Maude: On 10 June, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I announced savings through efficiency reform of central Government of £14.3 billion for 2013-14, against a 2009-10 baseline. Those savings are both recurring and non-recurring items, and include £5.4 billion from procurement and commercial savings, £3.3 billion in project savings and £4.7 billion from work force reform and pension savings.
Charlie: Does the size of the savings being made not highlight the truly galactic waste of money by the previousLabour Government? Will my right hon. Friend set out his vision for further savings in the future?
Francis Maude: No good organisation gives up on pursuing efficiency savings year after year. The Office for National Statistics has shown that in the public sector productivity remained static during the Labour years while it rose by nearly 30% in the private services sector. If productivity had risen by the same amount in the public sector, the budget deficit that the coalition Government inherited could have been many, many tens of billions of pounds lower.
In Treasury Questions, I made the point that child poverty and inequality have fallen under this Government, after rising under Labour.
Charlie: Is the Minister aware that child poverty, wider poverty and inequality rose in the previous Parliament and have been falling so far in this Parliament, as has the number of people who struggle to pay their food bill, according to OECD figures?
Nicky Morgan (Financial Secretary to the Treasury): My hon. Friend is right about the figures. We remain committed to continuing the fall and to eradicating child poverty by 2020. Our draft strategy sets out how we intend to achieve that. Children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they live in a workless household, which is why work remains the best route out of poverty.
In questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I asked which Government entered into the contrat with ATOS in the first place.
Charlie: The Minister said that the WCA problems were long-standing. Is there a process whereby the last Government's figures could be made available to the House? Who entered into the Atos contract?
Mike Penning (Minister for Disabled People): There is no doubt that the Atos contract was taken out by the last Labour Administration. I would love to know exactly what the backlog was, but, as an incoming Minister, I am not allowed to see the figures. Perhaps Her Majesty's Opposition would be happy to release them. If those documents were published, we would all know exactly what the backlog was before the present Administration came to power.
I also asked about Government help to get more long-term unemployed people into work.
Charlie: What impact has the Government's long-term plan had on long-term unemployment, and what representations have the Government received on long-term unemployment from the Opposition?
Esther McVey (Minister for Employment): I thank my hon. Friend for asking that question because we have seen the biggest annual fall in long-term unemployment since 1998—108,000 fewer people on long-term benefits. That is a significant change. When we came into office we said that we would help those whom the Labour Government left behind and forgot about. We have set up the Work programme and other schemes, and the consequences are more of them in work.
In questions to the Home Secretary, I made the case for strong and secure borders. This is a vital matter for people in Dover and Deal.
Charlie Elphicke: "My constituents in Dover and Deal are deeply concerned about border security, and whatever pressure the Home Secretary may be put under by a Labour party that has a great tradition of allowing anyone to just wander in, will she ensure that the safety and security of our borders and passports are not compromised."
Home Secretary (Theresa May): "That is absolutely clear. That is the attitude that we have taken throughout the immigration system. For the first time ever, we have an operating mandate for our Border Force and our border security, and as I said earlier in response to the shadow Home Secretary, one of the reasons for bringing overseas passport applications into HMPO was to have greater consistency in how they are assessed and enable expertise to be used in better detecting fraud."
In the Queen's Speech debate, I made a speech on the kind of vision of society I want to see. A land in which people have the aspiration and opportunity to do really well, but also where there are protections. I also made the case for help for young people to own their own home and find work.
The full speech can be read at this link.
In the Home Secretary's Statement on extremism in certain schools in Birmingham, I riased the issue of Human Rights reform to tackle extremism and promote intergration.
Charlie: "Does the Home Secretary share my concern that there have been too many occasions when the battle against extremism has been hampered by European human rights? Does she agree that human rights reform will enable us not only to take the battle to extremists but to promote integration and make our communities safer and more secure?"
Home Secretary (Theresa May): "My hon. Friend returns to a topic on which he has questioned me in the past, and on which I have made a number of statements in the House. In the cases of the extradition of Abu Hamza and the deportation of Abu Qatada, there were certainly delays due to the operation of the European Court of Human Rights. I have also made it clear in the House that the Conservative party is committed to going into the election with policies relating to the reform of the Human Rights Act 1998 and of our relationship with the European Court."
In Questions to the Secretatry of State for Culture, Media and Sport, I asked about support from the arts from businesses.
Charlie: "Many private sector companies are big supporters of the arts in Britain. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how important he believes that support to be?"
Sajid Javid (Culture Secretary): "As usual, my hon. Friend raises an important point. Support from the corporate sector for the cultural sector is very important. It amounted to around £110 million last year, almost a fifth of total investment. In the past couple of weeks, I have been to the Globe, which is supported by Deutsche Bank, and the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern, which is supported and sponsored by Bank of America. Just yesterday I went to the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum, which is supported by BP. It was held in a new exhibition hall, which received the majority of its funding from the Sainsbury family."
At Treasury Questions, I asked about getting finance to our businesses to help them grow and boost our economy.
Charlie: "Does the Minister agree that Labour's crash caused a massive problem in our banking system, which hurt the ability of banks to finance businesses, and that with the long-term economic plan it will become easier for banks to find the reserves that they need to get more money to business and to help grow the economy further?"
Andrea Leadsom (Treasury Minister): "My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The financial crisis caused a massive problem in our banking sector. The measures that have been brought in by this Government, such as the funding for lending scheme and the improved impetus towards bank competition, are helping to improve the situation for small businesses—the lifeblood of our economy."
In questions to the Home Office, I asked about clearing migrant camps in Calais and processing asylum claims.
Charlie: When I visited the migrant camps at Calais with the deputy mayor of Calais, every person there said that they had paid traffickers to get there, putting them in danger of labour exploitation in the UK. Will Home Office Ministers consider supporting a joint initiative by Dover and Calais for the French police to clear those camps and repatriate people or process their asylum claims, as the case may be?
Karen Bradley (Home Office Minister): I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know how hard he works in his constituency on these matters. We work closely with our counterparts in the French police to deal with this issue, and my hon. Friend makes an important point. Many victims of modern slavery that I have met came into the country willingly but illegally, because they felt they were coming for a better life. They have been exploited; that is not right and we need to stamp that out.
In the debate on the Finance Bill, I praised the Government's effort to cut taxes for the lowest paid and get more people back into work. Much done, yet much still to do.
After the tragic death of a detainee at the Yarl's Wood Detention Centre, I asked the Immigration Minister what can be done to speed up immigration decisions so that people are not held in detention centres for too long.
Charlie Elphicke: In reviewing this tragic case, will the Minister consider carefully the strong and passionate case that has been made over a long period by my hon. Friend Richard Fuller? Does the Minister also agree that too many people are in these institutions for too long, including the Dover removal centre, and we should hurry up the processing as much as we can?
James Brokenshire (Immigration Minister): I agree that we should always seek to minimise the time that someone spends in detention, but appeals can often delay matters. The Immigration Bill will reduce appeals from 17 to four. We want to ensure that we have a firm but fair system, and that is what we will deliver.
In questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I asked about Government IT systems for the new Universal Credit.
Charlie Elphicke: In developing universal credit and its IT system, what lessons have the Government drawn from IT projects conducted by the previous Government?
Iain Duncan Smith: The reason why we are doing this in a way that tests it at each stage, so we make sure we have got it right before rolling it out and taking more numbers on board, is because we want to make sure that taxpayers' money is protected through this process and that the system works. I recall, as I am sure my hon. Friend does, that when the Labour Government launched tax credits it was a total disaster; we had loads of people in our surgeries with real problems relating to payments. This Government will never revisit that, which is why I will never accept any advice from the lot who wasted billions on failed IT programmes.
In questions to the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, I asked about the South East LEP and how it is helping to bring more more business to our corner of Kent.
Charlie Elphicke: Is the Minister aware that in past times the South East England Development Agency spent £20 million in my constituency without creating a business partnership? We have seen a dramatic sea change. Does he agree that we should trust South East LEP, which has been doing an excellent job?
Greg Clark - Minister of State: I do agree. Peter Jones, who chairs South East LEP, has done a fantastic job in building on the already excellent work of the county council. The relationships that have been forged with business are driving the prosperity of the coastal area of Kent in particular, which my hon. Friend represents.
In the Commons, I asked the Secretary of State for Transport about progressing the Dover Priory Station Project.
Charlie Elphicke: The next time my right hon. Friend meets PTEG, will he invite representations on the progress of the Dover Priory railway station project, which is being held up by HMRC?
Patrick McLoughlin: If my hon. Friend had not asked that question, I do not think that I would have done, but as he has, I will certainly look into it and write to him.
In the Budget Debate, I made a speech praising the Chancellor's measures as good for people in Dover and Deal. I particularly welcomed the increase in the income tax personal allowance to £10,500 and the cuts in fuel duty to let hard-working people save more of their hard-earned money and reduce living costs in our corner of Kent. I also praised measures to help savers, such as the rise in the ISA limit to £15,000. These actions will greatly help people to get value for their savings and help develop a sustainable savings culture in this country again.
In questions to the Ministry of Justice, I asked about rehabilitation and raised the case of my constituent, John, who wants to work and contribute to society after offending.
Charlie Elphicke: What progress he has made on his reforms to rehabilitation aimed at reducing reoffending.
Jeremy Wright: On 13 March 2014, the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 received Royal Assent. This Act addresses the gap that sees 50,000 short-sentenced prisoners—those most likely to reoffend—released on to the streets each year with no support, by providing those offenders with supervision in the community for the first time in recent history.
Charlie Elphicke: At my surgery on Friday, I met John who has just been released from prison after serving 20 years for murder. He wants to turn away from crime and do well in our society, but he needs a job. Is it not important that we look at this matter as a cross-departmental issue to get people back into a life where they do well and are really productive?
Jeremy Wright: My hon. Friend is right that more than one Government Department needs to turn their attention to this. Of course he will know that we have allowed for changes to be made so that people can have access to the Work programme as soon as they come out of custody. As he says, it is important that all Government Departments work together with us on the rehabilitation agenda, as they have so far.
In questions to the Leader of the House of Commons, I asked about the management of the Co-operative Group.
Charlie Elphicke: May we have a debate on banking? In the light of recent events, the House should particularly explore whether The Co-operative Group has "the ethics of responsibility, co-operation and stewardship" claimed in 2012 by the Leader of the Opposition or is simply a very badly run institution with appalling corporate governance?
Andrew Lansley: My hon. Friend is right; many Members will be very disappointed by this situation, particularly given that, not very long ago, the Leader of the Opposition was talking about the ethics and responsibility of the Co-op—it is a pity that it came to all this. Many of us have a sense that we are having to deal with so many of the abuses in the banking system in the past. The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 will be very important in that respect, and I hope that some of the principles that this Government are putting in place for future conduct in the banking system will be fully embraced in the governance of the Co-op.
In a question to the Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning, I asked what more can be done to help disabled people find jobs and do well in business.
Charlie Elphicke: Does the Minister agree that it is really important that everyone in this country can fulfil their potential and do really well in the workplace? To that end, what is being done to engage employers and help disabled people do really well in business?
Mike Penning: As I have said, we have a programme going round the regions at the moment—it was started by the Prime Minister in London—to give employers the confidence to take on employees and to break the myth that it is more expensive and more difficult to employ disabled people or people with long-term illnesses. We all know that they will give more loyalty, dedication and commitment than anyone else in the work place.
In Treasury Questions, I pointed out how, in the last Parliament, youth unemployment rose 50% in Dover and Deal. Youth unemployment is down almost 25% in the past year. I pointed out that while it showed the Government's long-term economic plan is working, there was still a long way to go to repair the damage of the last Labour Government.
The Minister, Sajid Javid, agreed and said the only way to get people back to work was with a Government that has a credible long-term economic plan.
In Home Office Questions, I asked about counter-terrorism measures and European human rights laws. It would be much easier to deal with terrorist threats to this country if we reformed and modernised human rights system – particularly making the Supreme Court supreme in the United Kingdom.
The Minister said the Home Office's focus is on deporting individuals to ensure that those who cause harm are removed from our land. I continue to campaign for reform of our human rights laws. We need a British Bill of Rights to ensure that human rights stop being seen as a charter for criminals and the undeserving.
In questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government, I asked the Minister to give an assessment of the £1,000 cut to business rates. In December, business rate rises were capped at 2% for 2014/15 and small business rate relief was extended to 2015. This tax cut is great news for small businesses in Dover and Deal and will help them to grow further.
I also mentionned the success of Deal High Street being named High Street of the Year in December 2013. Deal High Street thrives on the success and variety of its small businesses. This £1,000 business rate tax cut will be a further shot in the arm to our High Street and others like it around the country.
I also raised the issue of unauthorised development by travellers on land in Eastry. I asked the Minister what steps Dover District Council can take to stop illegal development by travellers and he agreed to meet with me to discuss the matter further.
In Commons questions to the Department for Energy and Climate Change, I asked the Secretary of State about energy prices. The rising cost of energy is an important concern for hardworking people in Dover and Deal.
The last Government left a legacy of the 'Big Six' energy companies. This oligopoly stifles competition and leads to higher bills. I asked the Secretary of State to consider how policy and energy mix also impacts on our bills. I also made the point that energy prices in Germany have increased enormously in recent years due to their Government's policies, harming businesses and family budgets. We need a competitive energy market in the UK that keeps prices low and helps businesses and manufacturers to grow.
In Deputy Prime Minister's Questions, I asked about reform of Human Rights and making the UK Supreme Court supreme in this country.
I was very glad to propose a debate of the future of welfare reform in Westminster Hall. I know what an important issue this is to people in Dover and Deal who want to see a firm but fair welfare system, which is generous to those in need, but not a lifestyle choice.
In the debate, I highlighted the mess which the last Labour Government left our welfare system in. The welfare bill climbed 60% during their time in office. The Government has been undertaking important reforms to get this bill down and make sure that work always pays over welfare.
My proposals for reform focussed on in work benefits. I want to ensure that these benefits help to safeguard the position of women in the workplace and are generous to those injured at work. The current system is shockingly complex, based on a system of complex reclaims through the tax system.
My solution is simple. A pooled insurance scheme, paid for by employers, to provide for maternity and injury benefits. The Insurance scheme would be based on 'one person, one premium', encouraging more employers to employ women, safe in the knowledge that maternity pay would be provided through the pooled system. It would place the onus on injuries benefits on businesses, rather than the state.
The right of children to know and have a relationship with both parents is an issue I deeply care about. In a Commons debate on the Children and Families Bill, I argued for the right to greater access for children to both parents after a separation or divorce.
My full speech can be found at this link.
I took part in a backbench business debate on Energy Company charges, organised my colleague, Robert Halfon MP. It was an important and interesting debate, highlighting the fact that the payment of energy bills by direct debit often results in companies overestimating a household's energy usage and overcharging customers.
I made the point that when people are in credit with energy companies, interest should be paid at a proper rate. Energy bill models are not clear or transparent enough. This makes it difficult for consumers to calculate costs or charges.
The Government has made a good start in making energy companies put consumers on the lowest tariff and moving green levies away from customers' bills. I know the rise in utility bills is a top concern for people in Dover and Deal. Clearer bill models and transparent charges must be introduced. This will make it easier for consumers to switch between energy companies and promote real competition to force prices down.
In questions to the Ministry of Justice, I urged the Secretary of State to take forward my reform bill on real property boundary disputes. These disputes can often be very stressful and cause much heartache, dragging on for years.
I know from the experiences of my constituents that reform of the boundary disputes system is needed. That is why I introduced a Private Members Bill to Parliament in June 2012 to reform the system. The Bill was designed to allow property owners to resolve disagreements with their neighbours more quickly, without having to go to court.
It's encouraging news that the Minister is actively considering reform. I will continue to campaign for change on this issue. It's in no-one's interest when these disputes drag on for years at great cost. A swifter resolution, with a surveyor deciding on the case, would be far better.
I took part in the House of Commons debate on the Immigration Bill. The Bill will help to fix the mess Labour left our immigration system in. It will make it harder for illegal immigrants and foreign criminals to use the 'right to family life' to avoid deportation, while cutting abuse in the appeals system. The Bill will make it possible to reduce immigration to the UK to the tens of thousands.
In the House, I made the point that the Labour Government had been naive in allowing the European Convention on Human Rights to trump British laws. In responding to the former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw, I said that the Labour Government knew how far-reaching their changes would be in ensuring British law was made subject to European Court of Human Rights judges in Strasbourg.
This was clearly a disaster. It is a major reason that 75% of people think human rights are a charter for criminals and the undeserving. It had made our immigration system weaker and allowed criminals and illegal migrants to make bogus 'right to family life' claims to avoid deportation. I continue to campaign to change this and introduce a new British Bill of Rights which would allow our own Supreme Court to have the final say.
In questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I asked the Secretary of State about broadband services in East Kent. I focussed on the many complainants of local businesses about BT's broadband services. Therefore, I asked the Minister what steps he can take to ensure that BT keep to their promises and deliver fast and efficient broadband.
BT is too often slow to make connections and broadband speeds are repeatedly slow. In addition, businesses say the service level when things go wrong is unacceptably time-consuming. I will continue to campaign on this issue to focus minds at BT and get better service.
At questions in the House of Commons to Home Office Ministers, I again made the case for reforming human rights laws. I asked the Home Secretary whether the interference of the European Court of Human strengthened the case for modernisation of human rights law so that the UK Supreme Court has the final say.
I have long campaigned for human rights reform. We need a British Bill of Rights to bring our rights home from Europe. British courts should have the final say on our human rights settlement to strike a better balance. It is unacceptable that too often human rights are a charter for criminals and the undeserving.
Last week, I signed the Holocaust Book of Commitment in Parliament. The Book is organised by the Holocaust Education Trust, commemorating the memory of those who died in the Holocaust as well as honouring those who survived.
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK. A day dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. This day also marks to 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by Allied forces. Auschwitz the site of the largest mass murder in human history.
Education on the Holocaust is a part of the new National Curriculum from 2014. I am proud to support Holocaust Memorial Day so that we can learn from the deep evil of the Holocaust and always challenge those who seek to persecute others. We will never forget what was done.
On the 20th of January, I took part in a House of Commons debate on Payday Loans Companies. In my speech, I argued that the Government has a duty to protect the most vulnerable in society and ensure that they are not taken advantage of. This principle certainly applies to the regulation of 'payday' loans.
As I stated in the House, there has been a massive growth in payday lending in the past few years. Scandalous levels of interest have put individuals and households under great pressure. To combat this, I argued that the UK should look to introduce both caps on the interest which payday lenders can charge, as well as a total cap on the amount of money that can be borrowed. This sort of regulation would help stop the most vulnerable falling into an ever increasing spiral of debt and extortionate interest repayment.
I also linked the growth of payday lending to the increasingly high charges which banks have been levying on overdrafts. Anyone with an unauthorised overdraft often has to pay a fee of £50. This sort of charging is wrong and pushes more hard-pressed people into the hands of payday lenders. I proposed that banks should offer a grace period in regards to overdrafts so that people do not get hit with bank charges so easily and feel pressed to access other forms of credit.
My speech was based around one key theme: if we want Britain to be a land of opportunity for all, we also need to protect the most vulnerable in society.
On the 15th January, I took part in a Commons debate on the National Minimum Wage. In the debate, I stated that I support the national minimum wage as a key tool to helping to combat social deprivation in constituencies such as Dover and Deal. I also praised the work of the Low Pay commission in reviewing the value of the minimum wage with a a view to increasing it.
A day after the debate, the Chancellor announced that he supported an above inflation minimum wage rise to £7.00 by 2015. As the economy further recovers, I'm glad the Government is looking to support schemes to ensure that the poorest in our society greatly benefit from the fruits of economic growth.
In questions to the Department for Work and Pensions, I asked about ESA and helping people get back to work.
Charlie: Can the Minister confirm that the pilot is the first time that ESA has been looked at in a co-ordinated way to try and get people to fulfil their potential? Will she also confirm that it is innovative policies like this that mean our unemployment is so much lower than that in countries like France where the Labour party's policies are being pursued to economic catastrophe?
Esther McVey (Employment Minister): My hon. Friend is right. Most of Europe is looking to us to see how we get people into work, whereas theOpposition are looking to France where the exact opposite is happening. This is a very complicated journey for people who are in the ESA group and for most of them it is about understanding their lifestyles and getting them closer to the workplace and then into a job.
On the 7th of January, I presented a 10 minute rule Bill to the House of Commons to give communities the opportunity to own their own community hospitals.
I have long campaigned for Dover and Deal to have a fair share of healthcare and have ran long-term campaigns to see the creation of a new hospital in Dover and save the local hospital in Deal. However, ours is not the only community interested in safeguarding their localhealth services. Local communities, like Deal, should become more fully involved in the future of their local community hospitals, raising money for their improvement and helping choose the services provided. This is the primary aim of my Bill.
This Bill would make it more difficult for NHS bosses to close down local community hospitals, such as Deal hospital, when this is at odds with the wishes of the local community. I made this clear in my speech to the House presenting the Bill.
We need to return to this model and give communities a chance to have full involvement once again.
Charlie: I urge my right hon. Friend to reject the representations of Labour Members, who the whole House can see do not really believe in making work pay, and who long for universal credit to fail. Has he noticed that the write-offs are about one tenth of a per cent. of the £26 billion of taxpayers' money wasted by the Opposition?
Iain Duncan Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions): My hon. Friend is right. Again and again what is going on is a kind of hypocrisy, with Labour Members somehow claiming that they did things properly. They never did; they lost billions and billions on programmes, whether in the Ministry of Defence or in my Department. We have been picking up the pieces and putting it right.
In today's Autumn Statement the Chancellor set out the Government's spending plans. Amongst many welcome annoucements such as a freeze in fuel duty and rail fares, I asked the Chancellor about Deal's flood defences, in light of the forthcoming storm.
I welcome the investment in infrastructure, particularly flood defences.. In east Kent in the next 24 hours, we face a difficult time and the investment in the flood defences in the town of Deal, which I represent, will help to keep the town more secure than it otherwise would have been.
George Osborne (The Chancellor of the Exchequer)
I wish the people of Dover and Deal the best as they endure this difficult weather. I join him in praising the emergency services who will help people in that area through this difficult time. The flood defences in Deal will mean that such areas are better protected from adverse weather. The only way to afford such schemes is by controlling public spending and putting it into priority areas.
There has been much concern in the constituency over the lifting of immigration restrictions from Bulgaria and Romania. Today I asked the Home Secretary about this.
My constituents in Dover will welcome the robust action that the Home Secretary is taking to crack down on welfare tourism, but will she note that some people have been going round my constituency and elsewhere in east Kent saying that 29 million people will turn up when the restrictions are lifted? What does she make of those claims?
Theresa May ( Home Secretary):
It behoves all of us to speak on this important issue in a measured and sensible way. This is a matter of grave concern, and the people who are going round making exaggerated claims of that nature do a disservice to all of us, especially those of us in the Government who are taking measures that will have an impact on the people coming here and measures to reduce the pull factors. We are also taking wider measures in the Immigration Bill to ensure that people who come here cannot use our public services without contributing to them.
I have been working with Ministers, KCC and Southeastern to ensure that Deal and Sandwich not only keeps the current fast train service, but also gets an extended service running all day.
To keep up pressure on the decision makers today I asked the Transport Secretary about the Government's position;
Patrick McLoughlin (Secretary of State for Transport)
I recognise the importance of domestic High Speed 1 services to the people and economies of Kent. The Department is currently negotiating a direct award with Southeastern, which operates them, in which we will consider what improvements can be made to services. We are also undertaking an evaluation study of the High Speed 1 infrastructure, which is due to report in spring next year.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. High-speed services are economically transformational for east Kent. Constituents of mine in Deal, and those in Sandwich, wish to have an all-day Javelin high-speed service. Will Ministers help to make that happen?
I know how very important the high-speed service has been to my hon. Friend's constituents. Although high-speed rail does not run right down to Deal or Sandwich, his constituents get the benefit from HS1 as the Javelin train from St Pancras carries on to serve them. There are ongoing negotiations about the franchise extension, which we will be doing with Southeastern, and I will certainly bear his comments in mind.
Today I led a debate on reform of the water industry and lowering consumer bills. This is such a big issue for constituents in Dover and Deal, and households across the country. There is a monopoly within the water industry and comsumers cannot just switch to a different company. They have to pay the charges that are set. i think the wtaer industry needs to be reformed, and bills made lower. I spoke at length on this topic, and the full script is here.
Part of keeping the wolf from the door is dealing with the utility bills that cost all our constituents so much money. That is why water reform matters. People do not really have a choice, because there is not much competition. It is a natural monopoly and people have to pay their water bills. There is an opportunity to foster more competition and ensure that the industry is more effectively regulated than it has been. For many years nothing was done to keep on top of the water industry, particularly before this Government were elected. Now we have an opportunity to make further changes and look more closely at what the issues are and what might be done.
Before the Government were elected, there was a settlement with Ofwat and the water industry that was to last for five years. The assumptions on which the settlement was made have since altered. Retail prices index inflation has risen more quickly than it was expected that construction inflation would rise, and interest rates have been lower than expected. The result has been excess profits for the industry. Ofwat figures highlight a return on regulated equity in excess of 20% in some cases. Investment was allowed to fall in real terms after 2007, while customer bills have risen by more than inflation. Dividend payments are often greater than the profits made, which some would say is particularly unattractive.
Zero hour contracts are a real concern for people in Dover and Deal. Today I spoke at length about this in the House.
My constituents in Dover and Deal are also deeply concerned about zero-hours contracts and that there should be fairness in the workplace... it is important that we understand how many of these contracts there are? The Office for National Statistics says that the number has not changed much over the past 10 years, whereas Unite gives a figure of 5 million and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has another figure. Is it not really important that we nail down exactly how many of these sorts of cases there are?
Please see here for my speech in full.
Charlie: Does the Prime Minister agree that the tax agreements that were entered into are not just a milestone against international tax avoidance, but send a clear message to any tax-dodging company, trade union or political party in this country that it is time for it to face up to its responsibilities and pay a fair share of tax?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are trying to deal with tax evasion, which is illegal, and that will be helped by these international agreements and by greater transparency of beneficial ownership. We are also trying to deal with aggressive tax avoidance where people go to huge measures not to pay their taxes. That includes the Labour donor whom we discussed a lot before the summer recess. I think he has still not had his money paid back, although I am sure they will get round to it.
Today I asked the Department for Education what the Government is doing to build on recent figures that show that adoption is increasing. We need to help families and make it easier for those who wish to adopt.
A recent National Audit Office report showed an encouraging 10% rise in adoptions. What is being done to help even more potential adopters to have the confidence to come forward and to support them through what can be a trying process?
Edward Timpson (Children's Minister):
[Charlie] is right to highlight the encouraging rise in the number of people who want to adopt coming forward and the number of adoptions taking place. However, we still need to do more to ensure there are no barriers in the way of anyone who wants to come forward and give a child who needs the best possible start in life that permanent future, and we are determined to see it through.
Today I asked the Minister for Communications about how he is working to ensure that areas like ours receive better broadband service. As we know service and signal can be patchy at best.
In Dover and Deal, people complain bitterly about how long it takes to get a broadband connection and how long it can take to get it sorted out if the connection goes wrong. Given that the infrastructure provider is effectively a monopoly provider, is it not important that we have a better service?
May I say what a pleasure it was to visit my hon. Friend's constituency the other day, to see some of his historic churches and to open the Deal arts festival? I hear what my hon. Friend says. Those questions do arise, but I know that BT Openreach works hard to ensure that it can give the best customer service possible. We have regular discussions with BT Openreach and other major providers to ensure that customer service is good.
Today I asked the Immigration Minister - who recently visited Dover - whether the UKBF can prioritise lorry checking at the Port to ensure no illegal goods or people enter the country.
My constituents, many of whom work at the controls in Dover and Calais, think that the Government have had real success in stopping illegal entry into this country, after years when people could just basically wander in. However, my constituents do have concerns about smuggling and trafficking, so will the Minister seek to prioritise lorry checking at Dover and investment in smashing international supply chains for traffickers and smugglers?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. Again, I had the pleasure of visiting the port in hisconstituency and talking to officers, who raised some of the points that he has just raised with me about getting that balance right across Border Force between checking people and checking goods. We keep that under review, looking at the intelligence about the threats to the United Kingdom. We deal with that on a daily basis, and I hope that I can give him that reassurance.
Today I asked the Business Secretary how the Government's proposals for the Royal Mail will help the growing sector of internet business in Dover and Deal:
Dover and Deal is one of the fastest growing areas for internet businesses. Is it not the case that the protections for deliveries and collections are not just a matter of good politics but important to our economy? Many of the small, internet businesses in my area depend on that security.
They do, indeed. Trade through the internet is one of the things that Britain does exceptionally well. We are probably the leading country in the world in internet-based commerce. By strengtheningRoyal Mail, we will be able to create a platform to enable that to increase even further.
Bailiffs may have a legitimate role to play in collecting debt, but some of the aggressive tactics used are unecessary. This issue was brought to my attention by my constituent Mr Benvenuti's case, which I raised today in Parliament:
Charlie: What steps [is the Government] taking against aggressive bailiffs engaged by local authorities.
Brandon Lewis: On 14 June the Government fulfilled a coalition pledge to provide more protection for the public against aggressive bailiffs and unreasonable charges by publishing guidance to local councils on good practice in the collection of council tax arrears.
Charlie: Is not the need for this underlined by the experience of my constituent Mr Benvenuti of Deal who had a £65 parking ticket, which he appealed against but heard nothing about, turn into a £524 demand from a bailiff following a phantom visit? Is it not right that the Government are taking action on this matter?
Brandon Lewis: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I am sure the residents of Lewisham will have been listening carefully to how Lewisham has been spending their money. That is why it is important that councils look carefully at what they spend and how they spend it, and that it is appropriate to the issue they are dealing with a particular point.
Research I have undertaken has shown that while utility companies send out rising bills to hard-pressed consumers, they avoid paying corportaion tax themselves.
Today I gave a speech in Parliament naming and shaming those companies, which you can read about here
Mr and Mrs Langstaff of Deal own a car body repair business in Deal and have told me about the problems when insurance companies do not pay out on time. I realised it is a very big issue that is affecting small businesses across the country and I want to see somehting done about it.
I asked the Business Minister about this;
What steps he is taking to ensure that small business suppliers are paid promptly by large businesses and by government?
Michael Fallon: I have written to all the FTSE 350 companies urging them to sign up to the prompt payment code. Signatories must pay their invoices on time to maintain membership. Three quarters of FTSE 100 companies are now signatories, and over 1,400 large companies have signed in total.
Charlie: Last year a Federation of Small Businesses report showed that 40% of small businesses had faced problems with payment from Government agencies and quangos. Will the Minister make the prompt payment code mandatory for all public sector organisations and consider budget cuts for persistent offenders?
Michael Fallon: There is now a statutory obligation for all public bodies, including the NHS and local authorities, to pay invoices within 30 days.
Charlie: The late payment of commercial debt regulations provide for a 60-day payment period, unless agreed and not grossly unfair. Will Ministers consider a longstop date of 90 days to give small businesses certainty?
Michael Fallon: I know that my hon. Friend has continued to raise the case of Mr and Mrs Langstaff in his constituency. The "Insurance: Conduct of Business" rules require insurers to handle claims promptly, and redress is available through the Financial Ombudsman Service if they do not do so. I note that a number of insurance companies have now signed the prompt payment code.
Charlie: Beyond those on child benefit, has the Prime Minister received any consistent representations on welfare reform from the Opposition?
Prime Minister: The abolition of the bureaucracy that this Government have brought about will put billions of pounds extra into the NHS, but the point that the hon. Gentleman has to take on is that this Government made a decision, which was not to cut the NHS. We are putting £12.7 billion extra into the NHS. That decision was described as irresponsible by his own shadow Secretary of State. If Labour were in power, it would be cutting the NHS. How do we know that? Because that is exactly what it is doing in Wales, where it cut the NHS by 8%. The hon. Gentleman may not like his own policy, but that is what it is.
I believe the UK needs to lower its corportaion tax rate to make the UK more attractive to businesses, and less likely to be victims of multinational tax avoidance, as i have spoken about before.
Today I asked the Prime Minister about the Government's plans;
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the excellent work that he has done in the European Union on tax transparency. Has he had a look at the comments made recently by Tim Cook of Apple and Eric Schmidt of Google, who say that it is worth reworking the tax system as a whole and making it fit for the internet and globalised age? Would my right hon. Friend consider making it much simpler, and enabling a much lower rate of corporation tax, to make this country even more competitive?
Of course, we are cutting the rate of corporation tax down to 20%, and I think we therefore have an even greater right than usual to say to companies, "Look, we have a low tax rate in this country; you now really should be paying it." The point that I would make is this: of course tax evasion is illegal, but I think there is a case for saying that very aggressive tax avoidance also raises moral issues that companies should consider. That is a conversation that I have had with the CBI and others, who back that view, but we should make it easier for these companies by having international agreements that make it easier for them to make the right choice.
For those on low incomes it is crucial that the Government takes steps to keep bills down.
Today I asked the Local Government Minister about how we are helping pensioners by keeping Council Tax down;
Is not keeping council tax down the best help local authorities can give to pensioners? Does the Minister agree that freezing council tax, which some councils, including Kent, which I represent, have done in the past few years, is the best way to help people on fixed incomes?
Brandon Lewis: My hon. Friend is right. Good councils such as Kent county council have worked hard to drive down their core costs while still investing in their communities and freezing council tax. That is good for all residents on all levels and I congratulate councils such as Kent on doing that.
Animal exports have started up from the Port of Dover again. I want to see this banned and today I asked the Government what they were doing to facilitate this:
[Will the Minister] consider banning live animal exports from British ports?
David Heath (Defra Minister): Banning the export of live animals would be illegal and undermine the principle of the free movement of goods enshrined in the treaty on the functioning of the European Union.
Charlie Elphicke: My constituents are concerned about live animal exports: they think them bad for animal welfare and the local economy. Will the Minister confirm that no amendment could be made to any of the harbours or ports Acts that would be effective in tackling this cruel and unwanted trade?
David Heath: The key piece of legislation here is the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847, which would be a singularly inappropriate vehicle for any such ban, because its aim is to ensure that ports are available to all without discrimination. Even were one to set that side, however, no such ban would be legal under the free trade rules that this country is not only a signatory to, but the architect of.
I will keep pressing the Governement to act.
My constituents feel that 5 million in this country could work but do not. They ought to have more investment and opportunity, and more chances to fulfil their potential. That is why the reforms to welfare to make work pay, the reforms to the skills agenda, the reforms to control migration, and the reforms to control, police and secure our borders are important—they give our fellow citizens more of a chance to do well and succeed in life, and to see their potential unleashed.
I have set out my concerns on behalf of my constituents, who raise immigration on the doorstep time and again. They simply say to me, "I want my sons and daughters to have a chance. I want to be able to get a job, do well and succeed in life." The Conservative party is the party of aspiration and success, and the party of realising the potential that each and every one of us has. I support the Government's reforms.I also support the Government's reforms on tax avoidance and evasion. Let us imagine the Labour party's response if the Government doubled income tax and let "their chums" in big business off the hook. There would be howls of rage, and accusations that the Government are on the side of the rich and attacking the poor—accusations that they are latter-day sheriffs of Nottingham—but that is exactly what happened in 13 years of Labour government. Income tax receipts went up by 81%. The working people of this country were soaked with Labour party taxes. Meanwhile, leaving aside oil duties, corporation taxes went up by only 6%. Such is the legacy of the prawn cocktail offensive, representatives of which are in the Chamber.
The Labour Government sold the pass on fair and open competition for smaller businesses in this country in favour of large multinationals. People who work hard for a living were hit with high income taxes while large businesses were allowed to avoid taxes on an industrial scale. That is the legacy of 13 years of Labour. I am delighted that the Chancellor and the Queen's Speech rightly take action on that.
YouGov polls show that 62% of the public consider legal tax avoidance—it is all perfectly legal, is it not?—to be unacceptable. A ComRes poll has found that 84% agree that the Government should crack down on tax avoidance by businesses operating in the UK. Indeed, 60% are prepared to call the bluff of every large corporation that threatens to disinvest from the rich, highly vibrant and successful UK market, saying that the Government should crack down on business tax avoidance even if it caused unemployment and caused some companies to leave the UK.
That is how strongly the British people feel. I feel strongly, and I was delighted to hear that my hon. Friend Ian Swales does, too. The Government are right to deal with the legacy of tax
avoidance on an industrial scale. They are right to tackle the problem as an international problem, requiring international action. I therefore welcome the Chancellor's use of the UK presidency of the G8 to take collective action to deal with tax avoidance and evasion.
In particular, we need to reform tax presence. The idea that Amazon is based in Luxembourg defies reality to the ordinary person. They look askance at Amazon warehouses from the motorway and just do not buy the idea that Amazon is based in Luxembourg. The rules need to be updated to cope with the globalised, competitive, internet-enabled world in which we live.
I asked the Treasury the following:
Can the Minister confirm whether, all things considered, the richest people in this country are paying a greater or lesser proportion of their wealth in tax than they were under the previous Government?
David Gauke (Exchequer Secretary, HM Treasury)
They are paying a greater proportion of their income. If we look at what the Government have done across the board, including stamp duty, capital gains tax and the cap on reliefs, we see we are ensuring that the wealthy are paying more. The reality is that there are better ways to ensure that than the 50p rate of income tax, which was uncompetitive and failed to raise revenue.
There has been much anger and concern over the abuse of the NHS by foreign nationals, who use the services but do not pay for it, at taxpayers expense.
Today this issue was raised in the House and I asked the Health Secretary about this:
I understand that under the European health insurance card scheme the UK paid out about £1.7 billion for Brits abroad, but claimed only £125 million back. Is that also receiving attention?
Yes it is. We are always likely to pay out more than we receive under that scheme because we have a number of pensioners who decide to retire to slightly sunnier climes and there is a cost to the UK under EU treaty law with those decisions. My hon. Friend is right to point out that just as inadequate as our failure to charge people from outside the EU when we should is our failure to collect money from inside the EU when we are able to, and we must also look at that.
I welcome the Budget, which is a continued step in the right direction. To understand the road that has been travelled, we need to understand where we have come from. There seems to be more than a whiff of denial from the Opposition regarding the difficulties facing the country.I should start by saying that at first, the Labour Government ran the economy along broadly sensible lines and stuck to the previous Conservative Government's spending plans. Until about 2001, everything was going well and the economy was being run responsibly. Overspending and excessive borrowing began from that time onwards, and that is where the rot set in. The former Chancellor—and later Prime Minister—Mr Brown, had the opportunity to have his way and pursue his economic policies, and that is where things went wrong. There was too much debt. Too much growth was illusory and too much borrowing took place. When the music finally stopped in 2008, it hit this country very hard...."
For more on this see here
Charlie: Would it ever be a credible policy to borrow more in order to borrow less, or would it simply increase our debt, damage our credit rating and ensure that the country would be in even greater difficulties than it already is thanks to the Labour party?
Sajid Javid (Economic Secretary to the Treasury): My hon. Friend makes a good point. If the country were now following the Labour party's plans, independent assessments show that the country would be borrowing £200 billion more: more debt, more deficit. As we bring the deficit under control we will be able to invest in things such as broadband plans in Swansea and help growth in this country.
Today I led a debate in the House on the need for a UK Bill of Rights to replace the detested Human Rights Act.
With three quarters of Britons believing human rights are a charter for criminals and the undeserving change is needed.
I opened the debate with a speech setting out why I felt the time was right to repeal the HRA.
The debate drew extremely interesting observations from my colleagues, and you can read their contributions, the response from the Justice Minister and my speech in full here.
I have long been fighting for a change in the law when it comes to family policy, so that children have the right to know and have a relationship with both parents. It is not about fathers' rights or mothers' rights, but about putting the child first.
I have previously introduced a Bill about this, which I withdrew last year after the Government indicated support for the principles of it, and that provision for such a law may be included in the Children and Families Bill which is currently going through the House.
In today's second reading on the Bill I gave a short speech about this issue;
Some 3 million children in this country are growing up in families that have separated, and around 1 million of them have no contact with one of their parents. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service has been criticised in the past for having a heavy case load and for too often not being timely enough, so the provisions in clause 10 relating to mediation are extremely welcome.
Clause 11, most of all, is dear to my heart. It will give children the right to know, and to have a relationship with, both their parents. We need the understanding that the child must have the right to a relationship with both parents, because too often it is about mums' rights and dads' rights, but this is actually about the rights of the child. It is not right that a parent should sink their child's right to know the other parent in a sea of acrimony when they split up. From my point of view, that is a very timely and welcome reform. I have had so many complaints about that from constituents, such as Mrs A of Wootton, who wrote about her son's experience. She said, "Each time a visit is due, their mother creates a great deal of hassle, never being able to give a precise date etc., and she has twice prevented the visit completely."
It is not simply about mothers with residence. There are cases in which the father has had residence and has blocked the mother from seeing the child. What I have to say is that it is wholly wrong in both cases, as it is an abuse of the child's rights. It is a child's right to know and have a relationship with both parents because both parents have love, affection, knowledge and mentorship to offer—and the law should not stand in the way of that; the law should assert and assist that and make it more possible.
Rising house prices and banks less willing to lend have meant that young first time buyers have found it increasingly difficult to make the first step onto the property ladder. That is why today's news that the number of first time buyers is rising is to be welcomed, and I asked the Prime Minister about this today:
Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders showing that the number of first-time buyers has hit a five-year high?
I certainly join my hon. Friend on that. This problem has dogged our economy over the last few years. No one wants us to go back to the 110% mortgages that we had during the boom times, but we need to make available to young people the chance of earning a decent salary to be able to buy a decent flat or house with a mortgage that does not require a massive deposit. That has not been possible for people in recent years, and I think that the Bank of England move on the funding for lending scheme—£80 billion—is now feeding through to the mortgage market and making available lower mortgages at a decent long-term rate. That is very important for our market.
Today I raised the matter of Structural Funds with the Prime Minister.
Structural Funds are basically an EU funding system which distributes money on a regional basis to projects etc in a local area.
Whilst I would rather see less Europe rather than more, if there is funding and grants available to our area we must ensure we get our fair share. Today during a debate on Europe I asked the Prime Minister to ensure that any reforms to the system of allocating this money is made transparent to MPs. So that I can make the case and ensure east Kent is not left out of pocket.
I want to ask the Prime Minister about structural funds, which are very important to many regions of the country, including east Kent. Will he ensure that if the map for the UK is to be changed, Members of Parliament for the relevant areas will be consulted and will have a chance to say where they stand?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Under the new arrangements, there will be three different types of support for the regions. There will be the less-developed regions whose GDP per capita is less than three quarters of the EU average. In the UK, Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, west Wales and the valleys will qualify for that support. Then there are the transition regions whose GDP per capita is between 75% and 90% of the EU average—that is the list I read out earlier. However, all regions can of course receive some structural funds for competitiveness and employment goals. We will be able to make more details available as the full figures become available.
In Prime Minister's Questions, I asked about the building of our new Hospital in Dover.
Charlie: In Dover, plans are moving forward for the building of a new hospital, after a decade in which local hospitalservices were decimated. May I, too, say that we need to increase investment in the NHS and focus on the front line?
Prime Minister: I have confidence in the Chancellor because the deficit is down by 25%, there are a million extra private sector jobs and we are cleaning up the mess made by the Labour party.
Across the country millions of families are living in cramped accommodation that they have outgrown. At the same time millions are living in houses that are too big for their needs. This needs to be addressed to make the social housing system fairer.
Today I asked the Welfare Minister about this;
Is it not the case that in Scotland and England as a whole getting on for 2 million families are in overcrowded accommodation? Is it not important that we think about their needs?
My hon. Friend is right to bring forward the voice of those in overcrowded accommodation, which is all too often not heard in this debate. At the same time as we are paying housing benefit for approaching a million spare bedrooms, a quarter of a million households in overcrowded accommodation would love the opportunity to live in a larger house.
Fairness is the defining principle that underpins all of the Government's welfare reforms. However, it is very difficult to justify people who are out of work but who could work, continuing to receive large increases in benefit at a time when workers in the public and private sector are receiving minimal increases to their salary and in some cases, are subject to a wage freeze.
I made this point in today's debate on benefits;
It is important that all of us who represent communities with a lot of deprivation, such as my constituency of Dover and Deal, make sure that the Government, or any Government, have policies that make work pay. About 5 million people in this country could work but do not. We need more of an incentive for people to realise their potential and do well in life.
It is also unfair on those people who are not in work, because they have no incentive to go and seek work. We need to provide that incentive, not because we want to attack people who are unemployed but because we want to give them every incentive to get work, realise their potential and take the opportunity to do really well in life and be a great success.
See the debate in full here
Today in the House I raised our High Speed service to Deal and put on record my wish to see this become a regular all day service. I asked the Transport Secretary how the announcement of the West Coast franchise delay might affect any push for the extended service to Deal;
In my constituency in Deal, we want a hard-won commuting high-speed service to be made an all-day high-speed service. Will he tell us what the impact of the delay might be?
See the Minster's response, and full debate here.
Those that save are responsible. They are the ones that put money aside for retirement, and this is to be encouraged. In DWP questions today I asked how the Government were protecting savings, and encouraging those who don't save, to do so.
Does the Minister agree that pensions means-testing seriously undermined a culture of savings built up over many decades? Will he assure us that, following this reform, people will not be punished for making proper provision for their old age, as they were under the last Government?
Steve Webb (Pensions Minister):
My hon. Friend is quite right. The nightmare scenario under automatic enrolment would be people opening their newspapers and reading, "Don't bother to save small amounts of money; the Government will just claw it back." We are confident that by sorting out the state pension we will not only deal with the position of people at the bottom of the pile, but will make auto-enrolment the success that we all want it to be.
In today's backbench business debate the House spoke on the subject of tax avoidance, a subject that I have been pursuing with vigour over the last few months.
I took the opportunity today to name and shame technology companies who have Government contracts, yet do not pay their fair share of tax. Some don't pay any tax at all. It's a real insult to hard working people who struggle to get by yet still pay their fair share of taxes.
The full speech is available here from Hansard.
This was the last day of the autumn parliamentary term and when the House rises for Christmas there is a general debate where MPs have free rein to talk about anything.
I chose to look back on the successes for our area, and in particular the news that the Port of Dover will not be sold off to the French or whoever after the Government rejected the Harbour Board's plans. It was an incredible victory for all those behind the People's Port, and an early Christmas present for all residents.
I am pleased that Ministers have listened to our community, held a proper consultation and decided that it would not be the right thing to sell off the port of Dover overseas.
The current situation is that the sell-off will not happen under the Ports Act 1991. The real issue is what happens next. I hope that Ministers will look at the position, at how the community can come to own the port and at how we can have the big society in Dover. That really matters because it is not just the community, the local authorities, my electors and the unions who want this; the ferry companies and businesses want it, too.
So we have complete unity of purpose and unity of desire across all strands of our community that the port of Dover should become a community port. This is important because a community port could be an engine for the regeneration of Dover and returning Dover to being the jewel in the crown of the nation that it once was.
Read my speech in full here.
I am deeply concerned to see child poverty reduced. It went up so much under Labour in the previous Parliament as I pointed out today.
May I ask the Minister to confirm that the previous Government's child poverty targets were missed by 600,000, that according to the latest figures child poverty fell last year by 300,000 and that universal credit will reduce child poverty further, by up to 350,000?
Sajid Javid (Economic Secretary to the Tresuary):
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are relentlessly focused on eradicating poverty and the measures he has talked about, such as universal credit, increase work incentives and help people back into work
It is not fair that whilst British companies have had to pay the full rate of corporation tax on their UK profits, multinational companies have managed to avoid paying their fair share. My own research shows that the amount of "lost" tax for those companies I investigated is in the region of £3billion.
I took the opportunity to raise this with the Chancellor today and urged him to take action to end this discrepancy and help boost British business.
What action is my right hon. Friend taking to close the tax gap and enable British business to complete on a level tax playing field, after the serious failure to modernise or enforce our business tax system over the past decade by the previous Labour Government?
My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate for a more competitive business tax system in this country, and we have reduced again the headline rate of corporation tax. That makes it even more of an advantage for companies to headquarter and pay their taxes here, and it is part of what we are doing to win the global race. I congratulate him on the advice and support he gives in this area.
Today I spoke at length about income tax rates in the debate on the economy.
This government has taken the most vulnerable out of income tax altogether, whilst at the other end of the scale it has been proved that the higher the tax rate the more revenue falls. It does not make economic sense. That is why as well as helping those on the lowest wage, this Government have also have reduced the top rate of income tax to 45%.
I called for action to be taken against big businesses who avoid tax on an industrial scale.
You can read my comments here.
There have been fears amongst Deal residents recently that the future of our hospital may be under threat. I have held meetings with health chiefs about this and raised the issue in the Commons today with the Health Minister Anna Soubry, and am very pleased that the Hospital looks safe.
My constituents in Deal are concerned that consultant out-patient services may be withdrawn from their much-loved hospital. Is it not right that GP commissioners should be particularly mindful of services to vulnerable people in rural areas who find it hard to travel?
Indeed it is. That is one of the great joys of the CCGs. As other Ministers have alluded to, we are putting commissioning decisions into the hands of the people who know best—the health professionals. When they exercise their commissioning responsibilities, we urge them to ensure, as I am sure they will, that they deliver the very best services for the people they serve.
I am a committed Christian and active worshipper, but I was very disappointed by the news that the Church Synod decided that women cannot be Bishops.
In today's debate on this I took the opportunity to make my feelings clear;
As a Church of England believer, I have never understood how a woman can be head of the Church yet somehow women cannot be bishops. I urge that we consider bringing in a short Bill ordering that women should be able to be bishops in the Church of England.
Tony Baldry (Second Church Estates Commissioner)
In the General Synod debate, part of which I sat through, there were some who argued that it was impossible for women to have headship, and I just could not understand how they sought to reconcile that with the fact that Parliament has made the Queen defender of the faith and that we are fortunate enough to have her not only as Head of State, but as head of the Church.
Today I raised the poor broadband service in Denton and the French mobile phone signal problem that the villages of St Margaret's and Kingsdown have to put up with.
Will Ministers consider prioritising not spots for the roll-out, such as the village of Denton in my constituency, which has shamefully been neglected by BT, as well as areas that have poor mobile reception, such as St Margaret's and Kingsdown, which get French mobile phone signals?
Ed Vaizey (Communications Minister)
For the 4G auction, we have put in place a 98% coverage obligation. Getting broadband to the village of Denton will, of course, be part of the Kent rural broadband programme, so it will be a matter for my hon. Friend to discuss with his county council.
Is it not particularly important that we help partnered mothers with children into the workplace, particularly considering that in 1985 less than 30% of women with children under 3 were in the workplace but today it is nearly 60%?
Jo Swinson (Children's Minister)
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we help working mothers who wish to work to play a full role in the labour market. That is also about ensuring that fathers who want to play a full role in parenting can do so. The ability to share parental leave between mums and dads in the way they choose, rather than how the Government dictate, is an important step towards achieving that goal.
In order to ensure that High Streets don't just survive but thrive, it is crucial that the government helps small businesses operate. I know from meetings with traders in Deal and Dover that there is much upset that charity shops are exempt from business rates but small businesses are hit hard by the local Council. I want there to be help for small businesses, so today asked the Minister what the Government will do on this;
Does the Minister recognise the frustration of high street traders in Dover and Deal, who have to pay high business rates while charity shops conducting business for profit get a complete exemption? The traders feel that that is an unfair competitive advantage and a distortion of the competitive playing field. Will Ministers examine the rightness and properness of the exemption?
It is right that charities receive relief, but we have temporarily doubled small business rate relief, too. That means that approximately a third of a million businesses, including many small independent shops, are currently paying no rates at all. We have also given councils powers to grant their own discounts, and they can use those powers to provide additional relief to other shops on the high street.
Today I called on the Leader of the House to timetable a debate to look at how the Government is tackling unemployment. With unemployment figures going down in Dover and Deal, this is the right time to go even further.
May we have a debate on unemployment? In my constituency, Dover and Deal have seen unemployment rocketing over the last Parliament. The latest quarterly claimant count figures are welcome, showing a decrease of 5%. That is a great result, but we should look at what more we can do to win the war on unemployment.
Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In that context, support for the Work programme is terrifically important. It is an unprecedented campaign to help the longer-term unemployed to get back into work. Encouraging as those employment figures were, we know that a substantial number of people have been out of work for some considerable time. The Work programme is directed to that, and 693,000 people are already accessing support through it.
The Government's position on Europe is very simple: the UK cannot increase its contributions to the EU when we are cutting spending at home. In today's debate on the UK's contributions I pointed out that this Government is much more hardline on Europe than the opposition were in Government, and it is hypocrisy for them to position themselves against us.
The House will recall that for every one of the 13 years of Labour government, there were above-inflation increases in the European Union.
Greg Clark (Financial Secretary to the Treasury)
My hon. Friend is totally right. The last time the country had the misfortune to be in the hands of a Labour Government, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, who was Europe Minister at the time, far from agreeing even a real-terms freeze or a cut, they increased the budget over seven years by 8%. That is the record of the Opposition.
It is not just the overall total. Once more we see the usual suspects circling round Britain's budget rebate. That rebate was secured for future generations by Margaret Thatcher at Fontainebleau—the rebate which Tony Blair and his Europe Minister, the shadow Foreign Secretary, put on the table in 2005, in the negotiation of the current multiannual financial framework. Of course, when I say negotiation, what I mean is unconditional surrender, giving away in perpetuity a large part of the rebate in return for nothing. If seven days is a long time in politics, seven years is even longer. The amendment to the motion would delete all mention of this betrayal. The act would be forgotten, but the consequences have not gone away.
The work of the Kent Health Commission is so important for our local community. I take every opportunity I can to raise this in the House and with the Government to press upon them how innovative this is. Today I asked the Health Secretary to visit the Commission, and I was pleased he responded in the affirmative;
I would be delighted to see the innovative things that are happening at the Kent Health Commission. Looking at how we deal with people with long-term conditions—that is 30% of the population, and the proportion is growing with the ageing population—will be a vital priority for the NHS over the coming years.
The party conference season may not be on many people's radar but for us political types it's a really important feature in the parliamentary calendar. Conference gives an opportunity for the party - from Cabinet Ministers to local members - a chance to discuss policy and influence the political landscape.
I spoke at a number of events on issues such as speeding up growth and healthcare - both priorities for me locally. I was also interviewed by some of the media outlets, including Sky News (right), giving my take on the issues and ideas emerging from conference.
I have tabled a bill for a British Bill of Rights to replace the much detested Human Rights Act. This country needs a guarantee on its own citizens life and liberty, not something that can be used by criminals, terrorists and whoever, to flout our own legal system. It must stop. Today in Justice questions I asked the Immigration Minister;
Does the Minister agree that the British people have lost confidence in the Human Rights Act, with many seeing it as a charter for criminals? Will he consider bringing forward a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to repeat that we have set up a commission to look at this important issue and that we want to get back to a position where human rights are taken to be one of the basic values of a democratic society, rather than having human rights abused in such a way that the whole concept has fallen into disrepute.
The Government inherited a situation where five million people are trapped on out of work benefits and almost two million children were growing up in homes where nobody works. Stopping the cycle of benefit dependency was a priority for the Government when it took power.
Universal Credit is the most radical redesign of the benefits system this country has ever seen.
It will replace the current costly, outdated process with a online system that will be simpler to use and will make work pay.· Around 2.8 million low to middle income households will be better-off on Universal Credit and it will lift around 900,000 individuals out of poverty.
Today in a debate about Universal Credit I said;
The kernel of what universal credit is about is it gives a clear message that it pays to work and it is good to work. The Opposition call themselves the Labour party, yet too often when in office they gave the impression of being the non-labour party. This coalition is on the side of the working person—those who are working in a job in order to earn money and bring cash back to their families, and thereby to lift their children out of poverty.
It was often said in past times that the best cure for deprivation is a job. Many people in my constituency live in deprivation. It is important to get people back into work, to incentivise and encourage people to be in work and to make work pay; that is an important message to send. That is why I see universal credit as a message of optimism saying that we want everyone to play their role, and that everyone is expected to play their role and to be active in the workplace.
I support universal credit because it is a simpler system. It makes the situation easier to understand. There are not five different types of payments; there is just one simple payment. It is a fairer system, too. Rather than people losing 90p in the pound—thereby entirely disincentivising them from working harder to get a pay rise or from working longer hours—only 65p in the pound will be withdrawn, which incentivises them to work harder and for longer, and to bring more prosperity back to their families.
You can read all my interventions, and the debate, here.
Today the Business Secretary Vince Cable spoke about the Government's industrial strategy. One of the polices that were mentioned was the idea of introducing a business bank, and I asked him about this;
I thank the Secretary of State for his personal support for the life sciences sector in east Kent. If there is to be public money behind any partnership, will he particularly consider equity so that the taxpayer can share in the success? Will he also consider the idea that the proposed industrial bank should be the business growth fund retasked, expanded and floated for the future?
It is certainly true that in developing the idea of an industrial business bank, we need to take account of existing mechanisms of funding and bring them together in a more rational way. I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about east Kent, which is a good example of how, even in successful growth industries such as the life sciences, technologies change, competition is intense and companies close. A large part of government is dealing with the painful restructuring that has to happen. We cannot stop markets from working.
UPDATE: On 24 September Vince Cable announced the business bank would become a reality
"We need a British business bank with a clean balance sheet and a mandate to expand lending rapidly and we are now going to get it.
"Alongside the private sector, the bank will get the market lending to manufacturers, exporters and growth companies that so desperately need support. It will be a lasting monument to our determination to reshape finance so it can finally serve industry the way it should. Its success will not be the scale of its own direct interventions but how far it shakes up the market in business finance and helps to ease constraints for high-growth firms.
"Having a functioning, diverse supply of finance is an integral part of the Government's industrial strategy. It is all about making the right decisions now to secure our long-term industrial success."
For too long children have been left in care without a family of their own. The adoption process has been too slow, and too restrictive. That is why I am so pleased this Government is committed to reform of the system, and in Education Questions today I took the opportunity to ask the Education Secretary about the steps he has taken on this;
What progress has the Department made on steps to speed up the adoption process.
In May, my Department published scorecards for local authorities to enable them to identify and tackle the causes of delay in the adoption system. My Department will shortly launch a consultation on changes to speed up processes for prospective adopters, and we plan to introduce legislation thereafter.
We know that some 5,000 children have placement orders, but the number of approved parents is less than a third of that figure. Does not this highlight the importance of hammering home to social services authorities the need to welcome prospective adopters and push the process through so that they can adopt children today?
I absolutely agree. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of my job is reading about parents who want to adopt children but who have found that, for understandable reasons, the system has been far too bureaucratic and slow in allocating children to them. Working with the best in local authorities, I am sure that we can all do better.
A&S Self Storage Ltd is a small family run storage business in the constituency. Owners George and Diana Pelly came to me recently setting out the problem their industry is having due to reforms to the tax laws. In the Finance Bill debate today I raised the problem with the Treasury team;
In my constituency is A and S Self Storage, run by Diana and George Pelly, which is a small family-run storage business.
The mischief that the new schedule seeks to attack is the business whereby big companies exercise the option to tax on a piece of land, build a storage facility and later disapply the option to tax, giving themselves a tax advantage. The Treasury have applied VAT on all self-storage and my concern is that some 250,000 people in the UK use self-storage and will find from September onwards that their bills will suddenly go up by 20%. I hope that the Government will consider this a little further and think whether there is a better way to deal with the real mischief, which is the abuse of the option to tax.
My other concern is that the revenue raised will disproportionately benefit larger businesses that can claim back costs under the capital goods scheme, rather than the smaller businesses, which cannot. Effectively, it will disproportionately benefit the four big players in the self-storage industry at the expense of smaller businesses such as A and S Self Storage. I hope that Ministers will consider that point.
Charlie Elphicke made a point about the capital goods scheme... I confirm to the House that we are making a separate provision by statutory instrument to amend the capital goods scheme so that self-storage providers affected by the measure and whose individual capital items are worth less than the £250,000 threshold for the scheme can opt in to the scheme and have the same input tax recovery benefits as larger providers with capital items that would already qualify for it.
This shows that the Treasury is listening to the industry's concerns, and I have continued to press them since this to ensure that smaller businesses are not disadvantaged.
Last year Dover held a referendum to ask whether residents wanted the Port to be sold off. I realised that the rules surrounding local referendums were archaic, with no postal votes allowed and polls only open for reduced hours. Voting should be made accessible to all. I therefore asked the Minister what the Government's plans are for changing the law on local referendums (parish polls to give them their proper name). The replies are below.
Bob Neill (DCLG Minister)
I have regular conversations with local authorities on a wide range of issues, including electoral matters. Parish polls are the most local means of giving communities an opportunity to have their say by voting on a range of issues, from bus shelters and community centres to the installation of CCTV cameras. However, we recognise the current electoral rules are outdated and can be a barrier to local people's participation in those polls. When an appropriate legislative opportunity arises, we will therefore reform the rules.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)
I thank the Minister for that very positive answer. Such polls are not just used for bus shelters. We had a parish—or town—poll in Dover on the future of the port of Dover and 98% voted in favour of the people's port community ownership model, which was the right way forward. The rules are that polls are open between 4 and 9 and there are no postal votes, no proxy votes and no poll cards. That discriminates against the elderly, the disabled and those who work. Does the Minister agree that we need change quite urgently?
I hope that I have shown that I am on the same side as my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to him for his work on the poll in Dover. He observes that some parish and town councils serve large populations. As the rules are set out in the schedule to primary legislation, we need a legislative means of reforming them, but we are looking for that.
The idea that in a Westernised democracy some children still face growing up in poverty is shocking. Under the Labour government child poverty figures grew in the last Parliament. Today I asked the Treasury what they were doing to help those vulnerable children.
Is it not especially important that we take action on child poverty, given the quite sharp increase in the previous Parliament? The targets were missed by about 600,000, I think, and when the previous Government left office, 4 million children were in poverty.
Chloe Smith (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)
My hon. Friend is correct: child poverty is a real problem. This Government are committed to eradicating it and to increasing social mobility. We are taking the measures to assist children that I listed in response to the previous question. I should also point out that the average household gains about £5.50 a week from the tax and benefit changes made in April this year. We are making progress and acting where we can. It is important to keep up the pressure on child poverty
Multinational companies like Google and Apple make huge profits in the UK yet do not pay their fair share of tax on these profits. I think this is wrong and I pressed the Prime Minister today to take action where he can to cut down on this.
Is it not right that international problems such as tax avoidance should be dealt with internationally at meetings such as the G20 summit, particularly as in the UK tax avoidance by individuals and corporations increased massively during the past decade? Is it not wrong and morally repugnant for anyone to attack, belittle or undermine the Prime Minister in dealing with this, particularly as the Leader of the Opposition did in his remarks earlier?
David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)
I thank my hon. Friend for what he says and make the simple point that tax evasion is illegal and should be pursued properly. Of course there are things that people do to minimise their tax bill, whether it be investing in a pension or an ISA, but as the Chancellor has said, and I totally agree, there are some aggressive tax avoidance schemes that should be roundly condemned, and that is exactly what the Government are doing.
I believe that we should encourage the responsible, hard working people who diligently save their money and plan for retirement. The pensions system should ensure that those people are encouraged and rewarded. I made that point today to Pensions Minister.
Does the Minister agree that pensions tax and pensions means-testing help destroy our pensions system? What are the Government doing to ensure that it always pays to save for a pension?
My hon. Friend is right that at the moment there is a concern that if people save small amounts of money, all they do is deprive themselves of means-tested benefits. That is why our state pension reform is absolutely essential to ensure that when people do save they are better off as a result, and we look forward to that being a firm foundation for auto-enrolment when it starts later this year.
In Work and Pensions Questions today I raised my ongoing campaign to have the law changed so that following divorce or separation children have the right to know and have a relationship with both parents.
To turn to the issue of contact, does the Minister agree that it is a fundamental right of every child to know and have a relationship with both parents, and that parents who stand in the way of that right are abusing the rights of their children?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done in this area and for his private Member's Bill. He is absolutely right that all the evidence shows that children who maintain contact with both parents have a much better outlook on life. We are considering not only shared parenting in our consultation, but how we can help more families to work together on child maintenance outside the statutory system in a way that will help them work together on all the issues around a child's life.
Today the Business Secretary announced the Government's proposals for directors' pay, giving shareholders new powers to hold companies to account on the structure and the level of pay, and making it easier to understand what directors are earning and how that links to company performance.
I spoke near the end of the session to welcome this announcement but to also ask how the Government will ensure shareholders can vote in practice
Power going to the shareholders and the business owners is how capitalism is supposed to work, yet it is essential that shareholders are able to exercise their votes in practice. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what action he has taken to ensure that brokerages communicate to their nominees—shareholder-owners—the fact that they have the right to vote at board meetings and are able to exercise it? What action he will take to address stock lending, which is all too often used to steal away votes from the real owners so that other people can use them instead?
We are not taking specific action on brokerages, but it is clear that the increasing participation of shareholders reflects good practice and a favourable trend.
Today I secured a debate on the Port of Dover. I set out how no-one wants to see the Port sold off to the French or whoever. I also raised the future of the Port and what I hope the Government will do to help the People's Port become a reality. The Transport Minister Mike Penning then responded for the Government.
I summarised the current position highlighting how our community feels let down by the current running of the Port, that the Port has failed to boost the regeneration of Dover in recent times, and that it hasn't been run as successfully as I would want to see.
I outlined the steps taken over the last 2 years to form the People's Port bid to buy the Port for the community. I asked the Government to use its powers to ensure that DHB work better with the community and open up the appointment process for new direction to ensure a wider range of people get the chance to help run the Port.
Finally, and most importantly, I reminded the Government that privatisation does not have to take place. They can use powers in the Public Bodies Act 2011 and allowing the harbour board to be reformed. This would enable the community port to be taken forward. This is what the whole community wants to see.
For the full speech, and Mike Penning's response please see here.
I have previously blogged about Ripplevale School and the great work they do in the face of a difficult system where parents have to struggle to get their children recognised as having Special Educational Needs.
Recently I returned to the school and after chatting to teachers, parents and officials I am even more convinced of the need for change. Today in the Queen's speech debate I took the chance to talk about this important subject which affects families across the country.
I want to make a brief point about the education of children with special educational needs. These children have been badly let down for too long. They find it very hard to access the right school. I chaired a summit recently to which, I am delighted to say, came the leader of Kent county council, a cabinet member for Kent county council and a group of parents of children with severe special educational needs—many of them high on the autistic and Asperger spectrums—who have had a very difficult time. It is wrong in principle that parents facing the significant challenges of looking after a child with special educational needs should, on top of that, have to battle the education system to get the right education for their child. It is wrong in principle that, in many cases, it has taken two or three years for those parents to find the right school for their children.
Several things became clear to me during the summit. The statementing process is too slow and cumbersome. That is wrong. It should be more fast-tracked, efficient and effective in looking at children's needs and diagnosing them correctly. Once that is done, each county council or education authority needs to maintain a decent database of which schools in their authority area can cater for which needs. Too often, it seems, there is muddle and confusion in the bureaucracy over which schools can cater for which needs. The whole system should be fast-tracked so that parents are offered schools appropriate to their child's needs, rather than schools that are not appropriate. That happens in many education authorities. Everyone knows that. It is wrong and needs to be dealt with.
Furthermore, on special educational needs, there must not be an apartheid between the state sector and the private sector. We need to put the children first. If a private, independent school caters best for the special needs of children, parents should be offered that school and not just told that a maintained school has to take yet more pupils because the education rules and laws are such that pupils can be shoved into a school, whether the school likes it or not or does not have enough places. In my constituency, there is the perverse situation in which one independent school catering brilliantly for special educational needs has 20 spare places, while another special needs school doing an outstanding job
in the maintained sector needs a portakabin in the playground to cater for the number of special educational needs children, because it has been told by the education authority to take yet more children. We need to strike the right balance: we need to give parents much greater say and choice, use the places available in the system most appropriately and ensure that the statementing process is as quick as it can be. In education, when it comes to looking after our children, we need to put the parents first. We need to ensure that they can make the decisions that are right for their children, because, broadly, they know best because they know their children best of all.
The Queen's Speech occurs at the State Opening of Parliament, which signifies the beginning of the Parliamentary session. It gives an idea of the Government's proposed policies and legislation for the coming session.
Once the Government's programme is presented by the Queen it is then debated by the Commons and Lords for four or five days. The first day's debate is a general one, and I chose to comment specifically on the economic measures that the government is taking and the announcement of a Children and Families Bill. Extracts from the latter are below, and the full speech can be read here.
From the detailed list of Bills in the Queen's Speech, I want to pick out the Children and Families Bill, which contains an acceptance of the important principle I proposed in a ten-minute rule Bill last year: that children have the right to know, and have a relationship with, both their parents following separation. I believe that that is right and in the interests of the child and their welfare, but let me explain why. The Bill does not set out with complete clarity reasons for that provision or for the shared parental leave provision, but they are linked, because families have changed. There is a new norm, and we need to accept modern families.
Let me set out how families have changed. One can have an "olde worlde" image of the family—a bloke goes to work while the mother bounces the child on her knee or does the washing up at home. That is perhaps how it was in the 1950s, but things have not been like that for a very long time. Just about everyone I know from my generation joint works. I looked at the figures, because many of our policies seem to be aimed at people who live that kind of traditional family life, rather than at families who joint work, which is the reality.
There has been a massive social change, and we need to understand modern families and how they live. If most women are going back to work when the child is pre-school age, there is a lot of juggling and work-life balancing. Who takes the kid to school or nursery? Who collects the kid? Who looks after the child? Who takes primary responsibility in the workplace and in the home? Increasingly, most people whose children are grown up will know from their children's lives that there is much more of a juggle and a balance of work and life.
There is substantial change in families, which has consequences for family policy. The flexible parental leave provision in the children and families Bill is justified because it is necessary. It is a recognition that families juggle work and child care. More work needs to be done on child care . In 2001, there were more than 300,000 places with child minders and about 300,000 day nursery places—about 600,000 places in total. The number of places with child minders stayed static, but the number of nursery places—full day care—increased to about 600,000. In 2001, there were 600,000 places in total, but in 2008, there were around 900,000 places. The number has remained static since.
It struck me that there is potentially a shortage of child care places. There are about 13 million children in the UK, of whom roughly 3 million are pre-school age. The numbers indicate that 55% of children at pre-school have parents who both work. In other words, about 2 million children need child care, but there are only 900,000 child care places. There is a kind of child care apartheid. On the one hand, there is a system of nurseries that are so heavily regulated that most people cannot afford them, and on the other hand there is a system of child care for the other half that is completely unregulated. We know nothing about what is going on in that half. The right balance would be to reduce the regulation on our nurseries, increase the number of places and bring the cost of child care down so that more people can access it, because one of the biggest pressures on modern families is affording the cost of child care for pre-school children. It is an absolute nightmare.
I am delighted to support the Queen's Speech. It focuses on the economy, on utility bills, on the cost of living and on helping hard-pressed families. It focuses on families and children, and on helping families to bring forward the next generation.
There have been allegations made against the Culture Secretary regarding his role in News International's failed takeover bid of BskyB. Today Jeremy Hunt gave a statement to the Commons on this and I spoke about the actions this Government have taken to clean up the culture of the media.
Under this Government we have seen action on phone hacking, action with the Leveson inquiry, action on media regulation reform, and importantly, the Secretary of State tells us, no action in favour of the Murdoch empire in all the decisions that he made. Does he agree that that is in sharp contrast to all the actions of the previous Government which allowed the bent and dysfunctional media culture to be perpetuated in this country?
That is absolutely right, and that is why we are trying to draw a line under what happened under previous Governments of all colours, and trying to sort this problem out. I think it is time that Labour Members took a responsible attitude, because this is an opportunity to do something about this problem and we are trying to do so honestly and conscientiously.
The Government is looking at the possibility of sharing data across authorities. Many people are concerned that this will allow too much access into our personal details, and amount to a "snoopers charter". Needless to say this is an EUdirective, and one which I am very concerned about as a further example of the tentacles of Europe reaching ever further into our lives.
Today I said:
I represent what are probably some of the most Eurosceptic electors in the country, but they feel passionately about one issue: the need to ensure that Europe works when it comes to dealing with international crime. We see at first hand the problems of people-trafficking and people-smuggling, particularly the disgraceful exploitation of women who are carted secretly over our border and slipped into such places as Soho.
We see drug running, international organised crime, gun running and all the rest of it—that is, some of the most serious international crimes, on which we absolutely have to have co-operation. I therefore strongly support measures to ensure effective international co-operation. However, we have to ask whether this directive is on the side of international co-operation to tackle crime. Is it on the side of law enforcement, or is it on the side of the villain and protecting the villain's rights? Is it yet another villain's charter by proxy, emanating from the European Union?
For me, the balance shows the right intent—that we should co-operate—but what we have from the European Union is the wrong way of going about that. We need to give our law enforcement agencies the strongest possible tools to fight crime and the serious international gangs, and so on. However, I am worried because, having listened to this debate, it seems to me that we do not need to opt in at this stage. From the discussion and debate so far, it seems that we could take part in the negotiations, reserving our position, and decide to opt in later. We have the possibility of co-operating bilaterally. Up to now, we have co-operated quite successfully, and to date we have managed to data-share. Why will that suddenly come to a crashing halt if we have a right of privacy and a right not to data-share for criminals and villains, whom we should be fighting with all the data at our disposal?
My principal concern, and the principal concern that my constituents will have, is this. Of course we should have international co-operation, and of course we should combat international crime, but are our Ministers going to make the case passionately in Europe, on a line-item basis? Are they going to show that attention to detail, when they will not even accept an intervention from Members on their own side, which in my case was going to be helpful? I am concerned that we should be making sure that we are not frit when we put the case in Europe—that we are strong and trenchant, and that we ensure that our European friends focus on the necessity of ensuring that our law-enforcement agencies are sent into battle not with one hand tied behind their back, but with the full support of all European nations to ensure that we deal with the scourge and evils of international crime.
Many workers in my constituency work tirelessly on the front line for the UK Border Agency. Paragraph 30 of the impact assessment says that the UKBA is seriously concerned, because although people would normally be charged a tenner for a data request, under this proposal it will be completely free. That means that people could be bombing them in all the time, at great administrative expense and effort—for the UKBA, in this case. The UKBA receives 22,000 such requests every year. At the moment, the charge of a tenner wards off ever more requests. Indeed, the UKBA says that the charge should be higher, in order to ward off more vexatious requests. Its preference is for
"an increase in the fee limit to above the present £10 level."
The UKBA is not going to be happy that the Europeans come along and say, "Actually, it should all be free." We need Ministers to go to Europe to make the case passionately to our European colleagues that we must ensure that we do not give a blank cheque to anyone who wants to be vexatious in order to protect the so-called privacy of potential villains and criminals. We must send our law enforcement agencies into battle with our strong and passionate support, so we can deal with the great evils of international crime.
The one area on which my constituents support the EU is in respect of co-operation, but we must also ensure that our criminal justice services are not under threat of prosecution, as suggested at paragraph 50 of the impact assessment. I am deeply concerned that the overall impact of this will be substantially negative, even if it is difficult to be specific about that. I hope that Ministers will make a strong and passionate case for taking away the bad things in this directive and ensuring we keep the good things. I urge the Minister not to be frit. Instead, he must be strong and trenchant and win the day.
For me the centrepiece of the Budget was the decision to help the least well off – not just by increasing the personal allowance but also in the ways I set out in the House today, on the final day of the Finance Bill debate.
It is a matter of great concern that over the past decade and a half, the gap between the least well-off and the richest has grown. There is now more inequality. Will it not help to reduce the inequality between pensioners to increase the basic state pension by the biggest amount ever—£5.30, which is a big jump—and to ensure that the richest pensioners do not get such a high benefit, but do not lose out either, by capping the allowance?
One should also take into account the universal credit changes. The IFS report is quite clear that as a result of the changes taken by April 2014 the bottom two deciles are much better off than the other deciles, taking into account the changes made under the coalition. Over the longer term, as reforms are made, we are looking after the least well-off according to the IFS review.
There has to be austerity and there has to be a fiscal tightening because of the chaotic shambles of the nation's finances left by the former Prime Minister and the disaster that we have had, but leaving that aside, if one looks at where the most challenging things are falling, the least well-off are protected under the Budget policy up till April 2014 according to the IFS figures.
See here for the full debate.
Reducing the top rate of income tax to 45p, so Britain no longer has the highest rate of income tax in the G20 will boost growth. The 50p rate undermines our competitiveness and new evidence, endorsed by the independent OBR, finds that it only raises a fraction of what was intended.
Today in the third day of debate on the Finance Bill I spoke about this:
Much of the discussion on the 50p rate has been on whether it is an economic decision or a political one. My viewpoint is very simple. If we wanted a nice, easy time, and if our Ministers wanted a nice easy ride on the "Today" programme, where all those nice, gently liberal-leftie, metropolitan BBC people would congratulate us on doing nothing whatever, we would have left the higher rate at 50p. I am sure Owen Smith would have approved and been happy to congratulate us. If, on the other hand, we wanted to take action and do the right thing economically—the one thing that really matters is getting this country growing as quickly as possible—even if it were politically hard for us to sell, we would support the entrepreneurs, wealth creators and aspirant people who create the jobs and money that make this country go. For my money, that is the bottom line. The economics trump the politics.
You can read the full speech here.
Today was the first day of debate on the Finance Bill - or what most of us call the Budget. It is the bill that sets the taxes and tax law which the Chancellor set out before Easter. See here.
I spoke about how we need to take strong action against tax avoidance by big business. At a time when so many people find it so hard to get by, it is more important than ever that big business pays its fair share of tax.
I spoke up for the need to reform our tax law fundamentally. To make sure that tax on profits from business carried out in the UK is paid. We need to make it clear that it is not acceptable that Amazon, Apple, Google and all these huge multinational companies pay their fair share.
Some excerpts are below with the Ministerial responses.
It is incredibly important that the Government are reducing the rate of corporation tax. That is great news for British business. However, British business pays corporation tax. Should not we take proper action against multinationals that rip off our country and do not pay proper taxes, and ensure that they pay a fair share of tax, like every British business, so that we have a level tax playing field for all companies?
My hon. Friend is right that we must deal with tax avoidance by companies, and there are a number of measures in the Bill that are precisely aimed at ensuring that businesses pay their fair share of tax, which I am sure he would wish to support. Furthermore, through clause 180, we are introducing vital reforms to the controlled foreign companies rules, and, through clause 19, a patent box to allow UK businesses to operate in an ever-more globalised world. Hopefully, we will encourage some of the businesses to which he refers to return to the UK. The latter measure has already secured a major investment in this country by a major chemicals company.
Our job is to secure our own tax base in the UK. That is what I want to focus on, and it is what the previous Government totally failed to do over many, many years. If we put a stop to it and raise the due amount of tax from companies not resident in the UK with anti-avoidance measures and proper tax reform, we could have lower fuel duties for hard-pressed families and a lower basic rate of tax—and goodness knows we could even pay down some more of the debt that the previous Government shockingly, disgracefully saddled this country with.
I hope that the anti-avoidance measures in the Bill will be widened in the following way: the first principle is that business tax rates should be low, simple and attractive. Britain should be open for business, but open for business on a level playing field for national and international companies. Businesses should have a social responsibility to pay a fair share of tax. Some object to the idea of morality in the tax system, but this is an issue of corporate social responsibility. Tax avoidance should be dealt with firmly and rules changed to stop the avoidance.
For the full debate see here.
As a former tax lawyer I know how tax reform works and know the reform we need. It's not right that people should be facing rising taxes, suffering from the cost of fuel and cost of everything while some big international businesses have an effective tax rate of less than 1%. The system needs reform to bring fairness and social justice. I am fighting to see that happens.
There is an urgent need for party funding reform in this country. Every party has suffered problems with donations. We need to draw a line. I think there should be a cap on individual political donations.
This must apply equally to trade unions as well as private citizens. The hard pressed taxpayer should not be forced to cough up for political campaigning. Today I asked Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude about this.
Does the Minister agree that for the last two decades all major parties in this House have been affected by donor scandals of one sort or another, and that, rather than more hammering and rock throwing, we should in the next Session get on and legislate to bring in a donor cap, without state funding for political parties?
I would be delighted if we were to do that. It is a long-established convention that reform of party funding proceeds by way of consensus. That was definitely the view that Mr Straw, my hon. Friend Mr Heath and I took when we conducted previous discussions on this topic. We need to have another try at that. It is unsatisfactory for the party in power to legislate unilaterally to change the party funding system. If at all possible, we must proceed by consensus, as before, so we will strain every fibre to try to achieve consensus.
There has been a big rise in problems in the centre of Deal caused by drinkers. No-one minds people going out and having a good time yet they have to respect residents whose lives are currently being blighted by noise, vandalism and general anti social behaviour. I have been working with the local Councils and Police to try and help, and I took the opportunity to ask the Home secretary today about how the Government can also assist by giving councils more power to stop late night drinking where it is causing real problem.
In the town of Deal that I represent, residents are beset in the early hours of the morning by drunks returning home, smashing up property and fights breaking out. The district council says that there is nothing it can do because of the rules brought in by Labour's 24-hour drinking culture. In changing the rules, will the Home Secretary give real power and discretion to the district councils?
My hon. Friend is right. We are changing the law on the powers of the licensing authorities, and I am sure that Deal and other towns and cities will find very helpful the early morning restriction orders, which will be introduced later this year and will enable local authorities to restrict licensed premises' ability to open between midnight and 6 am.
Today was Budget day. This is when the Chancellor sets out the economic plan for the next year, and is one of the most important days in Westminster.
This is a radical, reforming Budget which helps Britain earn its way in the world. That rewards work. That backs business and puts us on the side of those who aspire to do better for themselves and their families. This is a Budget with far reaching tax reform which will benefit 24 million ordinary families up and down the country. Most basic rate taxpayers will gain £220 every year.
This is a sensible Budget which sticks to the plan to reduce Labour's debts, and helps the least well off whilst getting the richest to contribute more.
I attended all three days of Budget debate, speaking in the Chamber, making a number of interventions, and posed questions of Ministers and the Opposition. You can see full transcripts here, but excerpts are also below.
we need more women in work, and to look after women and take them out of tax, which is what the Government are doing. Nevertheless, she mentions jobs. In her constituency in the last Parliament, unemployment increased by 44%; in this Parliament it has hardly changed. Does she agree that the previous Labour Government's policies caused massive damage to this country?
this Budget shows....that those in the top decile—that is, the most well off—will experience the greatest reduction in income? They are being made to pay, despite Labour's 1970s class war rhetoric.
this April petrol duty will be a full 10p lower than it would have been under the previous Government's plans. That will save the average family £144 and be a massive benefit—a far greater benefit than if Labour had remained in office.
Predictably Labour have failed to acknowledge the help for the poorest and that the richest are worst hit.
Small businesses should have a better shout at Government contracts. Big Government likes to deal with big business. This shuts out small business. Yet the wider the net of Government contracts, the better value. It also helps small businesses grow to become the success stories of the future.
In Cabinet Office questions today I said;
In the past decade, small business has increased employment by 1 million and big business cut it by 1 million. Does that not show that procurement for small businesses is about not just fairness but more jobs and money?
My hon. Friend is completely right. That is why we have an aspiration to increase the direct spend to 25% of what the Government spend. We have already more than doubled that, and we intend to go further.
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is really shocking that we have had a relaxation of our border controls from 2007 onwards about which Parliament was never told? Will she confirm that since that came to light she has been taking action to reintroduce the concept of border security for our country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that the Vine report indicated that there had been problems with border controls since 2007—a fact that, sadly, Members on the Opposition Front Bench seemed unable to recognise when the Vine report came out. We have, indeed, reinstated full border security checks—that is absolutely right and proper—and we have taken action to make sure that by separating the UK border force from UKBA it can concentrate on the issue of establishing and maintaining proper security at our borders.
Despite opposition claims to the contrary, the most recent figures show that Kent Police has actually increased frontline officers. Today I celebrated the work of our local Police force, and asked the Home Secretary to join me in this.
Will the Home Secretary congratulate Kent police, which has increased the number of front-line police officers, has 520 more neighbourhood police officers on the beat, has been cutting crime and doing a great job, and has written to me complaining bitterly about this nonsense about a reduction in first-line responders?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to commend the work of Kent police. By transforming the way it undertakes policing and by looking at issues such as shift patterns, Kent police has been able to increase neighbourhood police officers by 520, which shows that money can be saved while maintaining or improving front-line services.
Domestic violence is a particularly evil form of abuse and today I took the opportunity to ask the Home Secretary about the Government's plans to tackle this.
What steps she is taking to reduce levels of domestic violence.
Home Secretary Theresa May:
The Government's updated action plan for our strategy to "End Violence Against Women and Girls" was published on 8 March. We have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of stable funding for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services until 2015. The plan also includes new actions to help reduce domestic violence, including a one-year pilot to test a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme from the summer of 2012.
Parliament has committed to reducing spending in line with reductions being made across the wider public sector. One of the proposals put forward was to begin charging visitors £15 to tour Big Ben from July 2012.
I was against this as I believe that as taxpayers pay for Parliament they should be able to visit it for free. I also think there are other ways of saving money, like getting rid of the £1million it costs to print Early day Motions and getting rid of grace and favour apartments. I made these points in the debate today;
Is it not better to treat the Houses of Parliament in the same way as museums, with free access as a principle?
We need to look again at the issue of grace and favour apartments, which do seem outdated in the modern age? Does she also agree that we should look at parliamentary outreach and perhaps talk more about parliamentary in-reach? Parliamentary outreach is perhaps better left to the Electoral Commission.
Following the debate on this, MPs agreed not to charge for any tours during this Parliament.
Every year on 8 March countries around the world celebrate International Women's Day. This means thousands of events are held across the globe to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Today in the House I spoke in support of this great project.
There are many loving relationships, and there has been a revolution meaning that there are more women in the workplace than ever before, and also in relationships in which the children are cared for and deeply loved. Men even change nappies, as I did. Should we not celebrate the good things about men and women, and about women in the workplace?
Today in Transport Questions I asked the Transport Secretary to confirm that this Government will not pander to the railway fatcats but will make sure that the customer's interests are the first consideration. This means bringing rail fares down, and providing a better, faster, easier service.
I welcome the Secretary of State's determination to put the customer first. Does she agree that for too long the railway industry has been imprisoned by provider interest, whether greedy, bank-owned train leasing companies, bonus-hungry managers or dinosaurs and luddites from the trade unions, while the previous Government walked on by? Is it any wonder that our railways are among the most expensive in Europe?
In many respects it has been an impossible situation, and certainly one that cannot continue. We cannot allow £3.5 billion of inefficiency a year to go unchecked and always to be paid for by taxpayers and fare payers. That is what this document and this strategy are all about tackling.
On 1 March I mentioned that I would be visiting Dover based business Megger. Today I reflected on the visit and asked the Government to hold a debate on investing in business in the UK. From my postbag I know that help for start-ups and SME's is a big issue.
May we have a debate on business investment in the UK? Last week, I visited Megger, a high-tech manufacturing and export powerhouse in Dover that makes diagnostic testing instruments. I saw at first hand the massive investment that it has put into its manufacturing process, and it struck me that we could create more jobs, more productivity and more economic success by further boosting business investment in the UK.
I am delighted to hear of the success of the firm in my hon. Friend's constituency. Medical technology is an area in which we have a competitive advantage and in which we are making progress in the export market. I hope that it will be possible to have further debates, on the back of the Budget statement, on exports and on the steps that the Government are taking to enable such firms to flourish and create more jobs.
I believe the best thing we could do to help the least well off would be for the Government to raise the tax threshold to £10,000. This would lift millions out of tax altogether, and would help countless other struggling families and workers.
Today in Treasury Questions I urged the Government to consider this.
Should we not look at providing tax help for hard-pressed families in totality and in the round, in particular, through measures such as increasing the personal allowance to £10,000 for income tax?
I certainly agree, and my hon. Friend will know, just as other Members of this House do, that that measure would take more than 1 million low-income earners out of tax altogether, which is a healthy start and a step on the path to our economic recovery.
Labour believed that low carbon commitments should be balanced on the backs of the poor through their energy bills. Their push for alternative energy has meant that regular fuel bills have shot up – hitting hard pressed families and the least well off the most. This is wrong, and I want the Government to reverse this.
I questioned the Energy Secretary Ed Davey about this today during a debate on growth in a low-carbon economy
My constituents are concerned about the many renewable and carbon commitments that the previous Government put on the backs of the poor through energy bills, particularly those such as the renewable heat incentive, carbon capture and storage commitments and feed-in tariffs. How are this Government looking after the least well-off, whom the previous Government were busy plunging into fuel poverty?
My hon. Friend will know that the costs of the renewable heat incentive and CCS were put on to consumer bills under the previous Government. We have removed those levies, and those schemes are now paid for through taxation. That is a classic example of how we have helped consumers.
I also had the chance to point out to the shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint that Labour's policy did not even do what it was supposed to;
The right hon. Lady waxes lyrical about the importance of a low-carbon economy, but is it not the case that under the previous Labour Government, emissions barely changed at all and were rising when her party left office? Does not the fact that there are so few Labour Members in the Chamber today show how little commitment her party has to this issue?
Emissions were rising, and so were fuel bills. This is the legacy of a Labour government that created a total mess.
On 8 March during Energy Questions I underlined the same point and urged for consumer energy bills to be lowered. You can see the full transcript here.
The meeting of the European council on 1-2 March focused on the measures needed to address the growth crisis in Europe and complete the single market. The Prime Minister gave a statement on the outcomes of this today, and I spoke in support of what it had achieved.
May I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement? I am especially pleased with the measures in paragraphs 15 and 19 of the Council conclusions on the completion of the digital single market, the energy market and the services directive. Can the Prime Minister tell us a little more about how he was able to move Europe in the direction of growth by getting the measures in the conclusions renegotiated?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Most of the measures in paragraph 15 were not in the original draft of the communiqué. What was decisive was that it was not just the usual suspects, such as the Swedes, the Danes, the Dutch and the British, coming forward with the agenda; we also had support from the Italian and Spanish Prime Ministers, who have not always championed this agenda, but who now see that it is vital for European growth.
I try and visit local businesses as much as possible. They are a great way to talk through the issues affecting small business, and also to celebrate success stories. Megger, a business based in Dover, provides 300 local jobs, is at the cutting edge of technology and is a major exporter. Before my visit I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on how the Government can go for growth and see more businesses thrive.
Tomorrow, I will visit Megger, a very successful business in my constituency. May we have a debate on how we can accelerate economic growth in the UK, particularly in the light of the excellent news in the International Monetary Fund report that Britain is likely to grow more quickly than Germany and France this year?
Sir George Young (Leader of the House)
Indeed. The best news for Megger would be a continuation of the Government's economic policies, which allow low interest rates to endure. My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the fact that, this year, we are growing three times as fast as France and twice as fast as Germany. That is a tribute to the economic policies that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has championed
As I said on 23 February there has been too much scare-mongering about the effects the Health and Social Care Bill will have on the NHS.
There is a very simple reason why the Government has introduced this bill – it wants to protect the NHS for future generations.
Today after the Health Secretary gave a statement on the bill I made this point to him;
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the principles underpinning the Bill are that the NHS is and will remain free for all patients; that a person's GP knows them and their needs best; and that although we are spending billions of pounds more than Labour would have done, every pound needs to work as hard as possible if the NHS is to be modern and provide care for the future?
My hon. Friend is right, not least on his point that the coalition Government are investing in the NHS, with real-terms increases each year. That contrasts with the Labour Government in Wales, who in the course of this Parliament intend to reduce spending on the NHS by more than 6% in real terms.
This Government believes in the NHS and its core principles - that treatment should be free when you need it, regardless of your ability to pay but the NHS needs to be modernised if it is to be protected for future generations. This will make sure that more money gets straight to the frontline where it makes a real difference to patients.
Today I made the case for making better use of our existing airports in Kent and Essex, as well as for the Lower Thames Crossing.
May I urge the Secretary of State in considering aircraft capacity to look first at the possibilities of expanding existing airports east of London, rather than building new ones, and at how the lower Thames crossing could assist with infrastructure?
My hon. Friend is right to point out two things. First, we need to look at our transport system as a whole. It is about getting around, and that can involve not only aviation, but railways and roads. Secondly, the matter of the hub airport is incredibly important. It is also a medium to long-term issue. We received more than 600 responses to our original scoping document. We are considering those and will take some of them forward in the strategy document we will publish in March.
There has been much talk of the so called "risk register" in the last few weeks. This concerns the Health and Social care Bill that is currently before Parliament, and which seeks to ensure that the NHS continues to provide a world class service.
I am not sure why Labour are seeking to make political capital over this. Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham refused a similar request for the Department of Health risk register when he was Secretary of State in 2009. So it looks like opportunism to me.
Today I spoke in a debate on the NHS and the release of the risk register and you can see the points I made to the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and former Labour Health Secretary Alan Johnson below.
I am proud of what this Government have been doing for the NHS. Indeed, we can see what happens when we protect NHS spending and when we have a cancer drugs fund. We do not need a risk register to see the difference that that makes; we can just look at Wales, where waiting times are rising and cancer patients are being denied access to life-saving drugs and having to wait longer. That is the benefit of the Conservative policies in England.
My hon. Friend is safely in Dover, a long way from Wales, when he says these things, but I go to Wales and he is absolutely right. It is staggering. The right hon. Member for Leigh and his colleagues can stand there and say, "Oh, well, you know, it's only"—what is it?—"8% of patients who are not being seen within 18 weeks." In Wales it is 32% of patients who are not being seen
On 31 July 2008 and on 17 September 2008, the right hon. Gentleman decided not to release risk registers or risk assessments. Why was he right then and the Secretary of State wrong now?
I see that the Whips' brief dragged up something I did in a previous life. The risk register is, with respect, a second-order issue. I cannot understand why the Health Secretary does not publish it. He is in enough trouble already, and the Government are in enough trouble already without adding an issue of transparency that simply makes the situation worse.
So there we have it – a "second order issue". In other words opportunism and scaremongering of the worst possible type.
Border security will always be a priority for Dover. Representing the border officials who live and work here, I know that their great work has been let down in the past by the previous Government's handling of the Agency. Today I urged the Home Secretary to learn from past mistakes, and she took the opportunity to praise the management of the busy weekend at Calais by Border officials.
A couple of months ago, I toured the border controls at Dover. I would like to make the Home Secretary and the excellent Immigration Minister aware of the following: first, the problems at Calais are the result not of budget cuts but of coaches queuing back on to the motorway, causing the police to put pressure on the UKBA to hurry people through; secondly, the previous Government also did nothing about eye scanners that did not work properly; and, thirdly the previous Government supplied laptops that did not work properly and took too long to load up. While she is addressing the problems of the past, will she take an interest in those things too?
My hon. Friend, given his constituency, takes a particular interest in border matters. He is assiduous in dealing with these issues, in liaising with those at Dover port responsible for such matters and in taking up any issues with Ministers. He raised several matters. I am happy to say that despite this weekend being the busiest weekend for returning school coach parties—the thoughts of the House must be with those affected by the terrible school coach accident in France—the UKBA, by working with the French authorities and putting in place mitigating measures, achieved a greater throughput than was achieved previously. There were also fewer problems with coaches on the motorway.
In Defence questions today I asked the Minister how the MoD are seeking to improve the UK's trade by promoting defence exports. We need to export more to grow our economy.
What steps he is taking to promote defence exports.
We have made exports a high priority and are supporting the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation through an active and innovative defence diplomacy initiative. I have recently returned from a successful visit to India where I led a delegation of some 25 British defence companies to promote the best that Britain has to offer. The White Paper "National Security Through Technology" published this month by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Peter Luff, reaffirms our support to defence and security exports.
Over the past few months we have heard much concern expressed about the Typhoon contract. Will the Minister tell the House a little more about the exports that he is working on so that buyers are not gulled into buying second-rate outdated equipment?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. It is important that we recognise that in the United Kingdom we are fortunate. We do not rely just on major defence companies such as Thales, BAE Systems and QinetiQ. We have a raft of medium-sized companies such as Cobham, Ultra, Chemring and Martin Baker, well known for its ejector seats, and those companies have a rich supply of high technology to offer other countries. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working hard to promote those companies as well.
I hate bureaucracy and waste. At a time when the country's finances are struggling and hard working families in Dover are trying to watch the pennies, the Government must follow suit.
One way of doing this will be to smash the big business IT cartel I spoke of in the House of Commons, and I questioned the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude about today.
What recent progress he has made on bringing forward proposals on Government IT procurement
Soon after the coalition Government came to office, we introduced strict controls on ICT spend that saved £300 million in the year to March 2011 alone. We have opened up procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises, we are moving towards open standards and interoperability, and we are examining some of the incredibly expensive and burdensome ICT contracts that we inherited from the previous Government.
Will the Minister tell us more about how open source, getting computers to talk to each other through common standards, and smarter procurement can help to save billions of pounds, secure better computers, and break up the IT cartel that was fostered under the previous Government?
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Government have opportunities to handle their IT and increase their digital offering in transactional public services very differently from that which we inherited. It is also becoming increasingly clear that it will be possible for both the quality of those public services and public interaction to be massively improved, at a fraction of the cost incurred by the previous Government.
I questioned the Home Secretary today in the House over the case of Abu Qatada.
The decision to grant a terrorist like this bail has shocked and sickened my constituents, and I share their disgust. It has been caused because of the Human Rights Act and the ECHR –both of which we should tear up and chuck away.
Does the Home Secretary agree that entrenching the convention by the Human Rights Act was a catastrophic error on the part of the previous Labour Government? Will she set out a process that she will follow to take us towards a British Bill of Rights?
I have made my views on the Human Rights Act clear, but I also point out that even before that Act we were signatories to the European convention and subject to the European Court of Human Rights. On the process of reforms towards a possible Bill of Rights, a commission is examining a possible UK Bill of Rights. It was set up by my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister, and I believe that it is due to report before the end of this year.
This Bill is really a response to the banking crisis of 2008. It aims to set up a new framework for the regulation of the banking industry to try and prevent this happening again.
Labour's failure to regulate the banks properly has cost the taxpayer billions. That is why the Government are abolishing their failed tripartite system, and moving bank regulation to the Bank of England.
In the second reading of the Bill held today I questioned the Chancellor about the lessons that we could learn from the last Government's mismanagement in how to better regulate the system.
With the tripartite system, of which I believe the shadow Chancellor was the architect, a tick-box culture of regulation grew—a one-size-fits-all approach, and that sort of thing. Can the Chancellor tell the House a bit about how we will get rid of that tick-box culture and move towards a culture of more individual and tailored regulation?
The key thing is to empower the regulators both to exercise judgment and then to be able to do something about it. My hon. Friend is right: there was no shortage of regulation, in that sense, in 2006-07. RBS complied with every bit of regulation in its decision to try to take over ABN AMRO; it is just that no one felt empowered to say, "Is this the right thing, for this firm and for the financial system, at a point when the financial markets have already frozen up?"
Rather than wait for this legislation to pass through Parliament, we have gone ahead and created the Financial Policy Committee on an interim and non-statutory basis. It is already meeting regularly to assess risks across the financial system, such as the need for banks to provide for adequate capital before determining the distribution of profits, as well as drawing attention to specific products, such as exchange-traded funds, whose excessive use may be a cause for concern. It has already produced two impressive financial stability
There was also an opportunity to quiz the Shadow Chancellor on his shifting position to banking reform. You can see our exchanges here
The rise in empty homes and properties over recent years has been a scandal when the national housing shortage is considered. I know from my surgeries how many people are waiting to be re-housed, so I urged the Government to take steps to help.
Although the number of homes empty for six months in the Dover district has fallen sharply, to 872, do Ministers agree that a lot more work is needed to undo the damage of the past in Dover? In 2005, there were 674 empty homes. I urge the fastest possible action. During the same time, the social housing waiting list has grown by 14%.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is an urgent task to get empty homes back into use, particularly affordable use. Often, the waiting lists facing many local authorities could be shortened if those authorities tackled empty homes vigorously. That is why we have provided the new homes bonus as a reward and are investing £100 million to switch empty homes to affordable homes.
Today's debate was about the EU commission's push for Euro crimes
I questioned the Justice Minister about the implications this would have
To make it absolutely clear, will the Minister confirm that the EU criminal policy outlined in the document would not apply to the UK in any way, shape or form unless or until the UK chose to opt in?
Yes, I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that that is the position.
In my speech I used the Minister's reassurance to argue that if this is the case, the Government should be looking to opt out on these measures, for the reasons explained below.
My concern is about this kind of extension of the whole European project. We see it creeping on further, out of taxation and all the other measures with which we are familiar, into the criminal sphere. I find this policy document highly objectionable in many areas. First, I find objectionable the statement that "EU Criminal Policy should have as overall goal to foster citizens' confidence in the fact that they live in a Europe of freedom, security and justice". That is not the point of European criminal policy. Rather, it should be the criminal policy of each individual member state. The EU, by trying to say that its policy is somehow about these principles and that citizens look to it for the execution of those principles, is overstretching and overselling. It is also misreading the situation, given that it is so far removed from people and has done so little to instil confidence.
It is not for the European Union to start defining crimes; it is for individual nation states to do so. There are areas where we should consider opting in. For example, I intervened on the Minister and talked about the issue of drugs. Let us look at the measures in the list provided by the Home Secretary. On one side, it talks about co-operation between customs authorities and business organisations on combating drug trafficking. Good. That is what we should have—cross-border co-operation. As the representative of Dover, I know that that is really important and makes a difference. Another 1996 justice and home affairs measure that was proposed, concerns "the exchange of information on the chemical profiling of drugs to facilitate improved cooperation between Member States in combating illicit drug trafficking." Good. Yes, we should do that.
However, the dividing line for me is the 1996 JHA measure No. 750, which concerns "the approximation of the laws and practices of the Member States of the European Union to combat drug addiction and to prevent and combat illegal drug trafficking." When one considers the approximation of laws and the issue of codification and requiring member states to treat everything the same way, one is rapidly moving into the area of a common criminal law—Eurojust, the European arrest warrant, the Euro-investigator, Europol and Euro-crimes. If we are to take that route, my point is simply that we should engage the country as a whole and have a proper, open discussion about what is going on, not try to spin it.
There are some cases where a common criminal law may be appropriate, particularly in the cross-border context; in others, we might conclude that it is not the right way to proceed. But to draw up a cynical list of everything that everyone would agree are the most heinous crimes known to mankind, in order to get the principle and then to extend it later, is something that we have seen with the European Union time and again. It is the fundamentally wrong thing to do, and it would be the wrong thing for us to do in terms of the opt-in or opt-out debate. I believe that when we have that opt-in/opt-out debate over the next two years, we should ensure that we include the country as a whole and have a proper, national discussion.
Following this, I organised a letter to the Telegraph to underline the concern so many of us have about the whole EU criminal justice agenda. See the letter here.
Will the Minister tell the House how families can have a greater option of part-time working under the taxation changes, and whether they will have more encouragement to work with the introduction of the benefits cap?
With the work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has undertaken, the Government are determined to ensure that work will always pay and that we do not have people trapped on benefits.
In today's Treasury questions I asked Ministers how the Treasury is using the tax system to help families who work, and how the benefits cap will help;
Will the Minister tell the House how families can have a greater option of part-time working under the taxation changes, and whether they will have more encouragement to work with the introduction of the benefits cap?
David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury:
With the work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has undertaken, the Government are determined to ensure that work will always pay and that we do not have people trapped on benefits.
The benefits cap will ensure that there is a limit on benefits equivalent to a £35,000 salary. Not many people in Dover and Deal have that large a salary, so how can it be fair for a life on benefits to pay so well?
It was interesting to see that after 18 months opposing the Government's economic policy, the Shadow Chancellor recently told the Today programme that Labour would have to do the same.
In the debate on unemployment today I had heard enough opposition MPs berating the coalition so intervened to ask:
Will the hon. Gentleman explain whether he agrees with the Shadow Chancellor, who said the other day, "we are going to have keep all these cuts"?
Labour MP Geraint Davies replied:
I am not opposing having to make savings and cuts.
It is good to know where the opposition stand.
Today I spoke about Euro infrastructure money. I made the case for this money to be used to improve our local roads and transport connections;
My principal concern is that for many years there has been under-investment in those networks. We have the M20, which is a kind of concrete motorway, and the A2, which has been waiting to be upgraded. On the continent, likewise, the road network, as anyone who has travelled there knows, could be better. A key area for cross-border co-operation could be for the UK Government to consider how those networks could be improved along with the French, the Belgians and the Dunkirk port. A map of Europe shows the so-called golden banana stretching from south-east England towards lower Bavaria, at the heart of which is the Dover strait and the Dover-Calais crossing. Indeed, the Dover-Dunkirk crossing is an important part of the communication and trading links that are so important to our nation's prosperity and to that of Europe.
If the fund is to be extended as suggested, it should not be invested in rail networks in Romania, as my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested it might be, but in upgrading international transport links between the UK and other countries in the so-called golden banana to help Europe to grow. It is important that we have more growth in Europe and that we support first the area that can provide the value added and recovery generation to drive our European economy forward. My plea to the Financial Secretary and to the Minister of State is to meet me to discuss what we can do in Kent to make the case to France and our friends in Belgium to ensure that we at least get a fair part of the fund to see whether we can improve the transport networks in Kent and take forward the lower Thames crossing.
Allowing local health chiefs to run local hospitals could be a good step for the NHS, and would benefit the local community.
During today's debate on the NHS I intervened on Andy Burnham a couple of times to ask why Labour would oppose initiatives that would hand control to local doctors and help maintain community healthcare:
In Dover, our hospital was run down over the 13 years until 2010 and is now a shell. Why should the GPs not be able to commission another provider if the foundation trust will not fulfil its long-standing pledge to build a hospital and provide proper services for my constituents?
If those decisions are to be made, the people who make them should be accountable to the hon. Gentleman and the House, whereas the Bill that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is introducing proposes to push those things away. There will be an independent commissioning board that GPs and clinical commissioning groups will not be able to overturn; it will make the decisions. That is a completely unacceptable state of affairs.
Before the last election, we proposed a modest loosening of the private patient cap in response to pressure in another place when we were debating the Health Act 2009, but compared with our modest reforms, the Government's plans are off the scale. Instead of private sector activity at the margins, the Health and Social Care Bill places market forces at the heart of the system. The private sector will not support the NHS, but will replace large chunks of the service in commissioning and provision.
It's quite clear - Labour still won't help us with our Hospital!!
To illustrate the positive difference the reforms can bring I also mentioned Whizz Kids;
My right hon. Friend mentioned the provision of wheelchair services, which is a matter we have been looking at in Kent when considering how commissioning can be taken forward offers really great and radical ideas. Is it not the case that the Labour party would have condemned disabled people to the same standard-issue NHS wheelchairs rather than allowing them real choice across the spectrum?
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley:
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is precisely why on that basis, using the any qualified provider approach, the chief executive of the NHS can set out the ambition that a child who needs a wheelchair should get it in a day. In the past they would have to wait and then would not necessarily get the wheelchair they wanted, or in any reasonable time scale. This is about driving improvement and quality. That used to be what the Labour party believed in, which I suppose was why its last manifesto, written when the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State, stated:
"Patients requiring elective care will have the right, in law, to choose from any provider who meets NHS standards of quality at NHS costs."
That is a complete description of what we are setting out to do. It is a description of the any qualified provider policy and something that he has now completely abandoned, and he has abandoned patients in the process. It is absurd.
The objective of the Bill and of the Government is simple: continuously to improve care for patients and the health and well-being of people in this country, and that includes improving the health of the poorest fastest, and to ensure that everyone, regardless of who or where they are, enjoys health outcomes that are as good as the very best in the world. That is what we are setting out to do.
The motion states that the private sector already plays an important role in providing that care. Indeed, once upon a time the Labour party was in favour of it. The right hon. Gentleman said in May 2007:
"Now the private sector puts its capacity into the NHS for the benefit of NHS patients, which I think most people in this country would celebrate."
Whether the hospital or community provider is operated by the NHS, a charity, a private company or a social enterprise is not the issue from the patient's point of view. From our point of view, we should not make that the issue. The reason it will not matter is that, whoever is the provider of care, the values of the NHS—universal health care, paid for through general taxation, free and based on need, not ability to pay—will remain unchanged. No NHS patient pays for their care today; no patient will pay for their care in future under this Government. On that basis, I can absolutely restate what the Prime Minister said: under this Government and on our watch the NHS will not be privatised.
I want to make a few remarks about economic impacts on the households and families that find it the hardest to make ends meet. Some call them the strivers; some call them hard-pressed families; I have even heard them talked about as alarm-clock Britons. Many families with children find it very hard to make ends meet, so it is worth underlining the strong action that the Government have taken to help people in that position.
First and most important of all is keeping interest rates low. I noted with interest the intervention of the shadow Chancellor on the Chancellor to point out, "Well, there is a liquidity trap; interest rates are too low; it is a bad sign; we need higher interest rates." I think that that will ring very poorly with Britain as a whole. For people who are striving and finding it hard to make ends meet, having to pay higher mortgage interest is not in their interest. The shadow Chancellor and the Labour party are wrong if they are entertaining a policy that is about raising interest rates. That was my understanding of the drift of the shadow Chancellor's speech. I regret it; I do not think it is the right thing to do. Let us bear in mind that a 1% hike in interest rates would mean £10 billion more in interest payments—about £1,000 extra on the average mortgage. People are finding it hard to make ends meet because of rising global commodity prices and the current difficult situation. Higher mortgage interest rates would be a massively retrograde step. One of this Government's most important achievements has been to keep interest rates low by providing stability, clarity and a positive deficit reduction plan to get our finances in order. That is helping millions of families up and down the country and millions of businesses with lower interest rates are far better off than they would be otherwise.
The other really important thing is the help the Government are providing with child care. For a long time it has been difficult, particularly in deprived communities like parts of Dover and Deal in my constituency, for joint working parents to juggle child care. The announcement to help those deprived areas with extra help for child care places was one of the most important in the autumn statement.
I do not agree with the calls for a financial transactions tax, and believe it will impact negatively on our economy at a time when it needs help – this would be only a hindrance. Today I pressed the Chancellor to make sure he will not agree to this.
While I congratulate the Government on holding to this spending and maintaining this commitment, is the Chancellor aware that France, Germany and other European nations have not done so well in adhering to their commitments and are therefore pledged to, or desire, a financial transaction tax? Will he be trenchant in making sure that this does not happen, as it will damage our economy and our growth?
There are arguments for, and very much against, a financial transaction tax, but a real red herring is the idea that a financial transaction tax could be used to meet the aid commitments that countries have entered into alongside Britain but have not delivered on. The financial transaction tax which is proposed in Europe, and which we will not accept, has been spent about four times over on domestic programmes, on the EU budget, on climate change measures, and on aid. A far better thing for the countries of the European Union to do is to live up to the commitments they made on international development and deliver them out of their domestic budgets.
I believe the Government's course of action, coupled with the policies they have announced over the last 18 months, are the right way to help raise living standards in our country, and help all those in Dover and Deal who are struggling to get by.
During the debate on Living Standards today I said:
I want to talk particularly about the importance of getting the country going in order to raise living standards. I pressed Mr Byrne on what Labour's growth plan was and how much it would cost. I will happily accept any intervention from Opposition Members on this, but it seems to me that it would cost billions. How would it be funded? It is clear that it would be funded by debt––more borrowing.
We have narrowly avoided suffering from the debt storm throughout Europe, but were we to give way on the fiscal rectitude that we have shown and to go to the markets and borrow to fund Labour's extravagant growth plan, we would be at risk of higher interest rates. Let us bear in mind that every one percentage point increase in interest rates means another £1,000 on the average mortgage.
Painful though the programme to cut overspending has been for so many people throughout the country, the most important achievement—the most important tax cut, if we like—has been the reduction in the cost of borrowing. It has helped so many hard-pressed families, including those in my constituency, to muddle through the recession as best they can, in a situation in which global inflation from imported goods, such as petrol and so on, has been higher and has put pressure on living standards, as every constituency MP understands all too well.
These are very difficult times not just for my constituents in Dover and Deal, but for everyone in the country who finds themselves without a large pay rise at work and facing rising global food prices. It has been a very difficult year, as the OBR makes clear. This year, average inflation has been 4.5%, yet average earnings have not kept pace. It has been difficult, and it has been a squeeze, but world prices, including in commodities and food, are something over which no Government have any great control. I, like my hon. Friend Mr Syms, have not heard from the Opposition any clear plan for what they would do differently to deal with the situation, but it does get better next year as those things work their way through the system.
See the rest of my speech and interventions here.
I do not agree with the Industrial action that has taken place today. This does not mean though that I do not have huge respect for the hard-working men and women who keep our vital services running, particularly all those in Dover and Deal. We depend on them every day and they do a brilliant job. However I am angry that union bosses are ordering millions of public sector workers to strike this week - even while talks are under way. Only around a third of union members backed industrial action.
Today I asked the Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude about the responsibility of these strikes:
As a former private sector worker, I know how many people will be wondering, given the irresponsible nature of these strikes, why £113 million of Government money is paid to the unions. Would it not be better used on body armour for our troops in the field, or on looking after sick babies in our hospitals by improving intensive care?
It is entirely correct that a large amount of taxpayers' money is effectively used to pay for full and part-time union officials. There can be perfectly good justification for some of that, in order to sort out local disputes quickly and effectively, but that there should now be 260 full-time union officials on the civil service payroll is really hard to justify, and we are reviewing it.
I hope we can spend that £113 million on much needed public services rather than hand outs for trade unions.
I have welcomed the National Policy Statement (NPS) on Ports which should bring such benefit to our community by helping developments and investment at the Port of Dover.
Today in the House I said;
The NPS is extraordinarily important. Representing Dover, I know just how important it is. Only today, the approval has been announced of a plan for the development of the western docks at Dover. It is a gold-plated plan on a rather larger scale than it needs to be, with a price tag of £400 million of investment, and the application has taken getting on for five years to go through the system—an awfully long time. Although the planned capacity will possibly not be needed until 2025 or 2030, owing to the economic difficulties that the country has faced in recent years, and although a gold-plated scheme certainly is not needed, it is an important step forward for the development of the port of Dover. It is much easier to amend an application once permission has been granted than to make a new one.
The fact that it has taken so long for the application finally to be approved underlines the need for a far swifter system of getting applications passed and sorted out. As the Transport Committee made clear in its report, there have been calls from business interests and others for major infrastructure projects to be handled properly, not with extensive public inquiries and long drawn-out decision-making processes but in a shorter and sharper way—something a bit less than the terminal 5 or Sizewell B inquiry nightmares. The NPS is therefore extraordinarily welcome.
My hon. Friend Dr Lewis was right that the application at Dibden bay took a long time and got thrown out. It took four years, and I believe that it cost the applicant some £45 million, so that was dead money. That makes no sense whatever. The new, swifter method will be much better.
The shadow Minister, John Woodcock, rightly made the point that it is desirable to consider the wider aspects of the matter. My understanding is that the NPS is more focused on planning applications for ports than on whether development rights will be granted. I agree with him that, some years on from the Eddington report, which was produced back in 2006, not a lot has happened to the road infrastructure to ports. Although I picked him up for making a slightly partisan point about that, the fundamental point was accurate. We in Dover have been waiting for the upgrade of the A2, which is an important potential artery to the port. It was in the roads programme back in 1997, but was taken out and has not yet got back in. We have been waiting for that road to be dualled and upgraded for years, but it has not happened. We feel very strongly about that, and the Eddington report was fundamentally correct on the matter.
I turn to the NPS itself. The contents page reveals a massive focus on the environmental side of things. There are sections on, for instance, the environmental impact assessment, habitats and species regulations, pollution control, climate change control, biodiversity—so the list goes on. There is, one suspects, a greater concern about flood risks, coastal change and all the environmental things—including, I dare say, the lesser-spotted shellfish—than on socio-economic impacts, tourism and, above all, regeneration.
The news that the role of the Chief Coroner will be retained was welcome news.
In the debate on this I spoke about the need for families to get closure following the passing away of a loved one.
Surely having a right of appeal would just mean more cost and delay. The really important role that the coroner has had historically is to make a judgment and provide closure. Is not that the most important of the coroner's responsibilities?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He is being typically generous and kind. Judicial review is not a form of appeal. Sometimes it is used as collateral challenge, but it is not a form of appeal. It is used when there has been a procedural irregularity. The key message must be that the whole point of the coroner system is to get closure so that people can move on with their lives. A person has to get leave to apply for judicial review, and they must show that there has been some procedural irregularity or proper grounds for that kind of action to be taken.
George Osborne outlined measures to protect the economy, support infrastructure, support enterprise, and support fairness for all hard pressed families.
I welcomed the Chancellor's statement and made the following intervention:
I give a wholehearted welcome to the announcement concerning the lower Thames crossing, which will make a big difference to Kent, as will the massive help for small business finance. May I make a plea to the Chancellor to look further at small business equity finance? In particular, will he consider whether there is scope for expanding, or possibly floating, the business growth fund?
I am very happy to look at ideas to enhance the business growth fund, which is principally operated by the banks, under which they have committed to invest in the equity of small companies. We have already announced the seed enterprise investment scheme, which will help angel investments in companies. I am glad that my hon. Friend supports the commitment that we made to the new crossing at the lower Thames.
See the full statement here.
I attended a debate today to speak on the Bill that has been proposed by my colleague Philip Hollobone, for the Government to observe Taxation Freedom day. Now this does not mean no tax is paid on salary or purchases for a day(we wish..), but, as Philip explained:
Each year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must, by way of a statutory instrument, specify a day that will be observed as taxation freedom day. The purpose of this taxation freedom day will be to mark the day in any given calendar year on which the United Kingdom's net national income reaches the level of the United Kingdom's estimated level of national taxation for that calendar year.
Taxation freedom day in 2011 was 30 May—three days later than last year—which means that, on average, every British taxpayer had to hand over all their income to Her Majesty's Government for the first 149 days of 2011. Only after 30 May did they get to keep for themselves any income they earned. Having recognition of such a calendar date would reflect and get across in a very simple and straightforward way the burden of taxation on our economy.
I made numerous contributions during the debate, and the whole debate can be read here.
Below are some extracts from my points:
Is not a central point about tax freedom days the need to avoid the risk of creative accounting? We must be sure that accounts are accurate, especially where there has been a change of Government. We must ensure that, whatever happens, there will be no creative accounting; we must be able to trust the figures.
May I suggest one saving that could be made to help fund the cost of these regulations? The excellent TaxPayers Alliance recently published a document showing that we could save £113 million by getting rid of all the full-time paid union officials, which would also enable people to work more effectively.
My own research has indicated to me that the effective tax rate on the least well off in the past 10 years, under the previous Government, was higher than the effective tax rate on the richest. That is the inequality fostered under the previous Government.
Reform of the UK's extradition laws is much needed. The case of Gary MacKinnon, who is threatened with extradition to America has caused much concern.
I therefore welcomed my colleague, Dominic Raab securing a debate on this need for reform. It was great to give my support to protecting our UK citizens – the first duty of any country.
The situation has long troubled me: in principle, if people commit an offence in this country, they should be prosecuted in this country. Many of us feel that way. According to paragraph 4 of article 8 of the treaty on extradition with the States:
"If the offense has been committed outside the territory of the Requesting State, extradition shall be granted in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty if the laws in the Requested State provide for the punishment of such conduct committed outside its territory in similar circumstances."
Perhaps I am an old-fashioned lawyer—that is my background and training—but I feel deeply that the right forum for prosecution in such a case is in the UK and that people in this country should be tried by their peers. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, perhaps it is our jurisprudence and long legal tradition, but that is how I feel, as so many of us do.
You can see more of my points, and the debate in full here
The Government's reforms to Feed-in Tariffs aim to move the system to a more predictable, market responsive model, similar to that in Germany, helping to drive down costs and deliver better value to energy consumers while still making solar a sensible choice for those with homes and businesses in the right location. However I am very mindful of the impact this will have on businesses in Dover and Deal.
Today I spoke in the debate on this to emphasise that the decision was to try and help the squeezed middle.
The Opposition seem to be on the side of big business, while we are on the side of the squeezed middle. Does the Secretary of State agree that the £1 figure Ofgem cited was for back in the summer when installations were running at about 2,000 to 3,000 a week, rather than the recent rate of 9,000 or so a month, and would that figure not have grown exponentially over time?
My hon. Friend is correct. I wish the House had facilities to show a PowerPoint presentation at this point, as I am now holding up a chart showing what has been happening with the scheme. The rising curve represents the installation rate increase. The Opposition cite the Ofgem figure of £1, but that applies down in the foothills of the curve, and we are dealing with a rather different real world today. Installed capacity has doubled since August, and has increased by three times since June and by tenfold since the start of the year. The right hon. Member for Don Valley is laughing; she has obviously had no experience of attempting to manage a budget, because if she had, she would not be laughing at all. This adds real costs to the electricity bills of real people—people the Opposition claim to represent.
The Chancellor has taken tough but necessary action to turn things around economically and deal with Labour's debt so we can unmortgage our children's futures. Labour have failed to come up with any credible alternative policies.
Today I intervened on the Shadow Business Secretary to put this point to him. I said:
I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his much-deserved elevation and on his speech, which has been very interesting so far. I put it to him that the Opposition's plan would have been to borrow about £100 billion more than the Government plan to borrow in the current Parliament, which would lead to higher interest rates and push us closer to the situation Italy and Greece find themselves in and to what is happening in the Eurozone, which would be irresponsible and reckless.
See the full debate here, which details my other interventions.
Today I asked for a debate to be held on the worrying practice of members of the opposition being influenced by the Trade Unions to table amendments to legislation. I think it's totally wrong that any MP can be bought.
I asked the Leader of the Hose, Sir George Young:
May I echo the call by the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on lobbying, particularly that by trade unions? Many of my constituents have expressed concern to me, as they feel that trade union cash should not buy a vote or an amendment in this House.
Sir George Young:
I would welcome such a debate. My view is that it would be in the interest of the Labour party to have a slightly weaker link with the trade unions. I think that many Labour Members, in their heart of hearts, believe that the pension deal on the table is a generous one which they would like to commend but cannot because of the links to which my hon. Friend has just referred.
Today in Health Questions I raised the issue of how local authorities can work to deliver health services and a world class service for patients. It's really important we make the most of the health reforms. I want to see our local councils and the GPs working together to get the best for our community – including a proper hospital for Dover.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Kent county council and Dover district council on their enthusiasm for taking over public health responsibilities and on the fact that they are looking at how to expand the resources that are available by considering the co-commissioning of social services with local GPs? Finally, may I inject a note of caution about the new community health trusts?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Kent county council. As he rightly points out, these moves have been welcomed by many local authorities, many of which already do much to improve the health and well-being of their populations. It is extremely important that councils are eager to start, as I know they are, and eager to get that money and see the public health outcomes framework so that they can build on some of the good work they have already done.
As MP for Dover – the Gateway to England – the issue of border security is at the forefront of all our hearts and minds.
The news that senior UK Border Force officials, without authorisation, ordered the regular relaxation of border checks has caused real concern. I spoke in today's Opposition Day debate on this subject to find out what was going on, and to urge members of the House to recognise the work that the frontline staff do in Dover.
Here are some excerpts from my points:
I am a representative of Dover. This issue is a key concern to my constituents, as is Brodie Clark's statement that such controls had been relaxed since about 2008-09. Who authorised that relaxation? We need more controls for people from outside the European Union. The figures reported by the labour market survey show a total increase of 966,000 in employment between quarter 1 of 2004 and quarter 3 of 2010—that is, 966,000 people not born in the UK. UK-born employment fell by 334,000, while foreign-born UK employment rose by 1.297 million. Of those, 530,000 were born in the EU8 countries. The essential point is that the majority—800,000—were born outside those countries. We see immigration as somehow an EU problem, but there is a bigger problem with people born outside those areas—people for whom we can take controls. I hope that in time we will not only do that, but do more to make the Home Office fit for purpose, after the mess of the past 13 years.
The full debate can be read here
Knife crime is a serious ill in our country. It must be tackled, and there must be proper sentences put in place for anyone caught with a knife.
Today I raised this with the Police Minister in Home Office questions:
Is not the key to cutting knife crime the sending of a clear social message that anyone who commits a crime with a knife or gun will go to prison, actions that this Government have taken, along with the excellent ideas that Brooke Kinsella has come up with?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is about tough enforcement and sending a clear signal that those who carry knives and use them in a threatening manner will receive a custodial sentence, which we are legislating for, and about the programmes that work with communities to deter people from using knives. That is what Brooke Kinsella's excellent report focused on.
It is clear this Government are tackling the scourge of knife crime with the tough sentences Labour failed to deliver. It has been announced that automatic prison sentences for any adults who use a knife to threaten and endanger will be brought in. To send a clear message about the seriousness of juvenile knife crime, it is also proposed to extend a suitable equivalent sentence to 16-17 year olds.
In Home Office questions I took the opportunity to recognise the great work that the border staff at Dover undertake to protect our country. With the news this week that senior civil servants acted on their own to let people into the country unchecked we do not want to lose sight of all those people on the frontline who do such important work every day.
Will the Home Secretary congratulate the front-line UKBA officers who do a brilliant job around the country, including in Dover, and is she aware of Phil Woolas's comments that his efforts to tighten our borders were opposed by Treasury and Foreign Office Ministers?
Theresa May replied:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I will indeed pay tribute to the work that is done by UK Border Agency officers at our ports, including those who are at Dover. As I made clear in an earlier answer, they do very good work on a daily basis to stop people coming into this country illegally and to seize goods that should not be coming into this country. As I say, those who operate at Dover should be commended for the work that they do on a daily basis.
As part of the lead up to the London Olympics the Torch will be visiting Dover. I think the schoolkids in the Dover area who campaigned for this with such enthusiasm via Pass the Passion should be able to access free tickets to the Games themselves.
I asked the Sports Minister about this:
Children have been heavily involved in the "pass the passion" celebration in Dover, where the torch will stop on the way to London. Is it not particularly important for children to have access to free tickets when they have played a real role in the torch's progress around the country?
Of course it is. The very fact that the torch will spend a night in Dover, which is emblematic as a port of entry to the United Kingdom, is yet another powerful reason for young people to become involved.
I very much hope that the Government may allow school children from Dover the opportunity to see the Games for themselves.
With people living longer, public sector pension reform is inevitable. The Government today set out its offer to the unions which is fair and affordable. The lowest paid and people ten years off retirement will be protected – and public sector pensions will still be among the very best available. Unfortunately the opposition refuse to back this offer. I asked the Chief Secretary today about the Government's plans;
Does the Chief Secretary agree that, as longevity is still increasing by about two years a decade and is likely to carry on doing so, we cannot stick our head in the sand or sit on the fence, as we have seen the Opposition do? All parties need to work together to reach a proper consensus, so that we can achieve a long-lasting, sustainable settlement.
Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury):
I think that it would be in the national interest to have a proper cross-party consensus on today's proposals. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the increases in longevity. By linking the normal pension age to the state pension age we can ensure that the taxpayer is protected from that in future, because as longevity increases, the state pension age can be changed. That is the right way to protect pensions, rather than the previous Government's cap and share arrangement, which would have meant complex negotiations every three years. That would have resulted in both increases in contributions and reductions in benefits every three years. By setting out this scheme now, we have one that can last for 25 years without the need for further negotiation
We must have an open Government that details spending in order to restore the public's trust in the political establishment.
Today in Cabinet Office questions talk turned to whether all Government spending should be revealed, rather than only that which is above the current cap of £500.
I thank the Minister for that response, and in particular for what he said about the last Government. I believe that the limit should be zero rather than £500, because we would not have known about the expenditure of the NHS on finger puppets if a higher limit had applied.
My hon. Friend makes the purist case for the disclosure of absolutely everything, but we have gone infinitely further than any Government have ever gone before in exposing the spending of Departments. Of course we will keep that under review, but the first thing we need to do is complete the publication of the data on transactions below £500, including some that took place under the last Government.
In today's Treasury questions I took the opportunity to welcome the news that the UK's economy had grown. It may be a small amount, but it signifies that the Chancellor has taken the right course and we are moving in the right direction.
May I welcome today's excellent economic growth figures, which are well ahead of forecasts at 0.5%? Our growth is just as high as US growth this year, without the massive fiscal stimulus. Is that not right?
Mark Hoban, Treasury Secretary
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It would have been better if the Labour party had welcomed today's growth figures rather than talking our economy down.
See the full transcript here
Part of the role of an MP is to represent their constituents' concerns in Parliament. A case that has recently struck me is that of Louis Leir who wishes to undertake an MPharm degree following the closure of Pfizers. Currently though that degree will cost £10,000 per year. Today in Business Questions I asked the Universities Minister David Willetts whether he would consider changing the level that MPharm is set at to reduce this fee.
If he will consider changing the MPharm qualification from level 6 to level 7.
The Government do not determine the academic levels of higher education qualifications. The Higher Education Funding Council funds the MPharm as an undergraduate master's degree, to the benefit of 10,000 students a year who are entitled to teaching grants and student support.
I thank the Minister for that answer. My constituent Louis Leir has done an undergraduate degree and wants to do a MPharm, but unfortunately it is classified as an undergraduate-level degree. He is therefore caught by the equivalent or lower qualifications —ELQ—policy and is unable to get help with tuition fees. Will Ministers give further considerations to the issues relating to master's level qualifications? The MPharm truly is one of those, as most of the House probably recognises.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity in pursuing that constituency case, about which we have corresponded. Just as he was with the Pfizer case at Sandwich, he is a persistent hon. Member and I congratulate him on that. However, we believe that if we were to take the ingenious approach he proposes, it might mean that the 10,000 undergraduates currently benefiting from financial support lose it.
As a father of two little ones myself I know that we need as much help as possible from the government during these difficult economic times. Residents in Dover and Deal always ask me about family related issues so today during Business of the House I took the chance to find out what plans the Government have to continue to assist young families;
May we have a debate on what the Government are doing to be more family-friendly? Child care, child tax credits, Sure Start and the role of health visitors all matter greatly to people in Dover and Deal.
Leader of the House Sir George Young replied;
I welcome my hon. Friend's question, which contained within it the answer, as he outlined a number of measures—child tax credit for struggling families, early years support for vulnerable two-year-olds, more support for child care within universal credit and increasing the number of health visitors. The Government would welcome such a debate.
Today was the Report Stage of the Public Bodies Bill.
I wanted to ensure that the Port of Dover could be treated as a quango in need of reform instead of a business to be sold off to the French or whoever.
To do this I tabled an amendment to the Bill during the Committee stage held on 11 October which would allow Dover Harbour Board to be included. My amendment was passed, and it meant the path to a People's Port becomes – a little – clearer, though it still needed Government support
I was therefore pleased when the amendment made in the bill committee was not taken out at the Report stage. It means Ministers will have greater powers in deciding the future of the Port.
You can see the full transcript of the debate here.
The scenes that have played out across London and the country have been sickening. It has been criminality pure and simple and has to be confronted and defeated. The Government is on the side of the law abiding people who are appalled by what has happens in their own communities.
Police officers have shown incredible bravery confronting the thugs, and I welcomed the recall of Parliament so that all the issues – cause, effect, and solution - could be properly debated.
Charlie Elphicke: May I urge the Prime Minister to consider not just the amount of compensation and business continuity assistance, but its speed? Time is of the essence in getting businesses back on their feet, so that there are more jobs and money in communities that so badly need them.
David Cameron : My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I can say that the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend Mr Prisk will, from his office, be giving one-stop-shop advice to all Members of Parliament who have affected businesses that want to see that money flow quickly. It is very important not just to set up those schemes, but to make sure that the money is paid rapidly.
Following the recent shocking revelations about the extent of phone hacking undertaken by some journalists and newspapers it was decided that Parliament should sit for an extra day before breaking for summer recess, in order that there could be a full debate on the implications of this.
Therefore rather than us all whizzing off to our constituencies, we all packed into the House to listen to the Prime Minister's statement on Public Confidence in the Media and Police, and have a chance to debate how to react to this significant time.
I asked David Cameron: The Prime Minister has said that contacts with the media since the general election will be published. I do not think that that is good enough. We need to know the contacts that the Government have had with the media for the past 10 years. We also need an investigation into the Home Office and into what Home Office Ministers were doing.
Prime Minister: The point that I have just made is that this inquiry is specifically looking at the relationship between politicians and the media, and—at the request of Hacked Off and the Dowler family—at the conduct of both. That inquiry can go back as far as it wants to go back, to examine the relationship between politicians and the media. Frankly, I think that we all need to be clear—particularly the two main parties—that the level of contact has been very great, and that we did spend too much time trying to get on with media companies to get our message across. As a result, the last Government and the last Opposition too often put on the back burner the issue of how to regulate the media. That is the mistake that we made. We have both—all—got to be honest about it. And by the way, this is not just about the relationship with News International; it is also about the work we do trying to win over the BBC or The Independent or The Guardian. Let us be frank about this, and let us be transparent about the meetings that we have. Then we can learn the lessons and use this as a cathartic moment to sort out the relationship and put it on a better footing.
The economic stability in Greece has been very worrying to witness over the past few weeks, not only for the future of the Greek economy and people, but for the whole of the Eurozone and EU. It is therefore in all our interests that a stable solution is found to the crippling sovereign debt that Greece is now sinking under.
In light of the pressing importance of this, today in Foreign Office questions I asked Minister David Lidington:
Will Ministers say what reports they have received on the economic situation in Greece, on whether there has been any intelligence on the likelihood of a default and on the likelihood of Greece remaining in the euro?
David Lidington MP: We receive many reports on Greece—including, of course, on the very grave economic situation there. The economic health of the eurozone, including that of Greece, is important in assuring jobs and prosperity in this country. It is important both that the Greek Government deal with the structural reforms and the changes to bear down on their own deficit and that the eurozone more widely addresses the causes of instability. We hope that they do so at their meeting planned for this week.
Over the last couple of days the issues of phone hacking by journalists, the involvement of the Met, and the implications this will have on the media and politicians has been the big topic across the country, as well as in Westminster.
There have been three debates on the issue, and I spoke in all three to put across the point that there has been knowledge of these practices stretching back to 2003, yet nothing was ever done, and that we must now take a strong stance on this to put those past mistakes right.
On 11 July:
Charlie Elphicke: Between 2003 and 2010, successive reports set out that there were serious problems. Can the inquiry cover the relationship between the media and the Government to look at why action was not taken before now?
Jeremy Hunt: Yes.
On 13 July during the Phone Hacking debate:
I said: May I welcome the Prime Minister's reaffirmation that sunlight is the best disinfectant? If we are really going to sort things out on a cross-party basis, surely it is not good enough for this to involve only Government Ministers and special advisers—surely it should involve shadow Ministers and their special advisers as well.
David Cameron: I think that is right. The point about the relationship between politicians and the press, and where that has gone wrong, is, as I said, that we have been courting support rather than confronting problems. That has been the case for Oppositions. I freely admit that as Leader of the Opposition, you spend quite a lot of time trying to persuade newspapers and others to support you, because you want to explain your policies, your vision and what you are doing for the country. That will not stop. We are not all going to go and live in a monastery and never talk to journalists ever again, wonderful though that might seem by moments. We must have a healthy relationship where we can have those meetings and discussions, but at the same time confront the difficulties that we have. That is what the commission will do.
Later on 13 July I also spoke in the Opposition Day Debate on Rupert Murdoch's bid for News International. I asked separate questions directly to the current Labour leader, and to his immediate predecessor and ex Prime Minister Gordon Brown:
On 18 July the conversation moved to look at the actions of the Metropolitan Police.
I asked the Home Secretary: The allegations that payments were made improperly to the police were first made in 2003. The House needs to know what action was taken by the Home Office and by successive Ministers over the period since that date. Will the Home Secretary do a review and make a report to Parliament?
Theresa May: I thank my hon. Friend. As I indicated in my response to the shadow Home Secretary, there were indeed a number of times under the last Government when these issues and concerns were raised and no action was taken.
Ripplevale is a very special school nestled in the middle of the beautiful countryside that surrounds Deal, that caters for boys aged 7 to 16 who have ESBD or ASD. I was welcomed to the school a few weeks ago, and one of the issues that was raised with me was the difficulty that parents have getting their child's needs recognised by the Education Authority.
Therefore I took the opportunity today to ask Schools Minister Sarah Teather about this in Education Questions.
I asked: How can parents of children with special needs be more involved in the education of their children? I recently met parents at Ripplevale school in my constituency who say that they must not only battle the difficulties and challenges that are obvious to all but battle the education authority, time and again, to get a fair, decent and proper education for their children.
Sarah Teather: We finished our consultation on the Green Paper on 30 June and received 2,300 responses along similar lines to those my hon. Friend has outlined. I feel very passionately about the need to involve parents better, particularly if their child has special educational needs. That is one of the reasons we are rolling out Achievement for All—a programme that does exactly that.
I am committed to helping Ripplevale and the parents and pupils, and have also contacted KCC about this. I will keep fighting to ensure that our children's needs are recognised and helped by the authorities, so that parents do not have to struggle alone.
Today I asked Sir George Young, Leader of the House, for a debate on the crisis in the Horn of Africa. The area has been hit by a terrible drought, and countries affected include Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia.
I said: The UN estimates that about 10 million people face food shortages or starvation. The assistance being provided by DFID is precisely the sort of practical, targeted aid that makes a difference and which we should encourage.
It was later confirmed that the UK would be providing food to help those stricken by the shortages, and the DEC have set up an Emergency Disaster Fund to raise aid money for the area.
The way that we fund social care is, understandably, an issue of great concern to people up and down the country. It is an issue that has been ignored for too long. I am pleased the Government is acting decisively to tackle this problem.
I wanted to celebrate the excellent day and respite care we have locally. To ensure it gets the funding it needs. So in today's debate on the reform of social care I said:
As we know, going into a home is long on cost but short on life expectancy. I particularly welcomed my right hon. Friend's comments about greater prevention. What more can be done to promote access to—and promote in general—day care and respite care?
The Health Secretary responded:
We have made specific additional provision to support respite care. I hope that people will be given more independence and support at home not only as a result of NHS support—the £648 million that will be provided this year is a great deal of money, which will substantially increase access to such facilities as community equipment, home adaptations, reablement and rehabilitation —but through, for instance, telehealth, which I mentioned in response to an earlier question. I think that we can transform the quality of care and health services provided at home.
I hope the Government will really focus on helping people find a solution that does not necessarily mean full time care, and will continue to press the Secretary of State on the need to do this.
Today I spoke in the debate on the Finance Bill. I questioned why Labour had tried to privatise the NHS when they were in power. I asked former Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson about this:
There are thousands of working mums in Dover and Deal and today in Women and Equalities questions I asked the Minister about some of the issues which affect them.
I asked: What assessment she has made of the effects on women workers of proposed reforms of parental leave.
Theresa May: Our proposals for a new system of parental leave will protect mothers' rights while giving families more choice and flexibility over how they can share their work and caring responsibilities. The proposals mean that working mothers will be better able to keep in touch with their employer, and they will also aid career progression for working mothers and help to tackle pregnancy discrimination.
Charlie Elphicke: One of the key problems faced by working mothers is the gender pay gap, which is a shocking thing. Will these reforms help to reduce the gender pay gap?
Theresa May: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I think that the reforms will reduce the gender pay gap, because the division of caring responsibilities between parents is one of the underlying issues. The current arrangements for parental leave reflect an expectation that the mother will stay at home and care for the children. Those arrangements urgently need reform. Although we will use a range of approaches to reduce the gender pay gap, this is an important element.
Today was an Opposition day in Parliament. This means that rather than the Government setting the business of the House, the Opposition party does. Labour chose to debate the Government's economic policies.
MPs from both sides of the House engaged in lengthy debates about how the Government is tackling the deficit and I made a number of interventions on the Shadow Chancellor. You will see from his response that I may have riled him somewhat!
It is a great asset of our democracy that backbenchers and frontbenchers can debate in such a way, and I relished the opportunity to stand up for the Government's policies.
Whilst my speech is too long to show in full here, I have given an extract below of matters pertinent to Dover and Deal:
Youth unemployment has also started to move strongly— although perhaps not as strongly as wider unemployment —in the right direction. Surely the House must welcome that. Manufacturing output is also moving more in the right direction, after being halved in the Labour years, and now being about 11% of our economy. I hope that the economy will rebalance under this Government so that we are less dependent on banks and fat cats—for party donations, frankly—on handing out knighthoods and on bonuses, and more dependent on much more productive service and manufacturing industries. We need less of financial services and housing, and more of making things, producing things, servicing things, and—yes—education.
The narrative of what this Government are doing is to ensure that our economy is stronger, that our work force are more incentivised to work by making work pay through universal credit, and that they are not only incentivised to work but given the skills to work under the Government's skills and education agenda. We can have a country that is more productive, where more people want to be in employment, where we do not suck in people from overseas to do the jobs, and where we ensure that our countrymen are encouraged to get into work, do their part, fulfil their potential and have more of a sense of dignity, happiness and well-being. That will allow us to build a Britain that is fit for this decade, and it will ensure that we steam ahead, further ahead, of our European colleagues, and do well.
The full debate can be found here
There was good news today on jobs. I asked Ministers about the trend in unemployment.
I asked the Treasury Secretary:
Will the Minister confirm that the recent announcement of the sharpest fall in unemployment in a decade and the creation of 500,000 jobs in the private sector over the past year shows hope that things are going in the right direction for unemployment?
Danny Alexander replied:
We always said that the economic recovery would be choppy, but it is none the less welcome that we have seen significant job creation in the private sector over the past year. That offsets some of the job reductions in the public sector that are necessary as part of our deficit reduction programme.
During Media, Culture and Sport questions today I asked the Culture Secretary:
Is it not the case that the development of the media market in this country is such that newsprint, internet, TV and, indeed, mobile platforms are coming together? Such common ownership will become more obvious, as reflected in the drift of policy. Would it not be wrong to hold that policy back and oppose that sort of development just because of the Labour party's hatred of a single individual?
Jeremy Hunt replied: We absolutely want media policies that allow convergence. In fact, our local TV policy is a precise example of that, as we want to encourage local newspaper groups to get into other platforms. This particular issue, however, is about media plurality. It is about making sure that no one has too much power in any one part of our media. That is the prism through which we have to look at the issue, and that is what we are doing
The Public Bodies Bill will enable the reform of quangos. I want trust ports like Dover included in it.
Today I asked Cabinet Office Minister Nick Hurd; Under the Bill, public statutory corporations such as British Waterways will be reformed and become mutuals. Have Ministers considered other similar public bodies, such as trust ports, for inclusion in the Bill?
Nick Hurd replied: I understand that my hon. Friend is frustrated by the pace of progress in his committed and spirited attempt to allow the people of Dover to take over the port. He will know that the Transport Secretary, who is sitting alongside me, has announced a consultation on the criteria for assessing the sale of trust ports in England and Wales, largely to reflect the Government's localism and big society agendas. It is right for that consultation to conclude before further decisions are taken.
As you can see, I'm still fighting for the People's Port bid, wherever I can!
The proposed NHS reforms are necessary in order to ensure the NHS remains one of the best healthcare systems in the world. It is also the only way we will get a hospital back in Dover as the GPs want that, and the GPs will soon have the power to enforce their will.
I sought reassurance from the Health Secretary today, as requested by local GPs, that individual GPs won't be forced to help get our community a fair share of healthcare if they don't want to.
I said: In Dover and Deal, we have dynamic GPs, many of whom want to get involved in commissioning, but not every GP wants to do so. Will the Secretary of State confirm that no individual GP will be forced to be involved in the work of the commissioning group and that that was always the case under his reforms?
Andrew Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Many GPs across the country understand that clinically led commissioning is the right thing to do, but they do not personally want to be involved in that process. There are, however, leaders who do, and leaders across the country have already come forward through pathfinder consortia and will be a basis on which we can create much greater clinical leadership across the service. The Future Forum was very clear that leadership from within the service, from doctors, nurses and other health professionals, will be instrumental in improving care in the future.
Today in Work and Pensions questions I asked the Secretary of State about his plans for the Universal Credit. This is one of the central planks of the welfare reform bill, which I have been heavily involved with. The key thing is that people will always be better off in work. It will see existing out-of-work and in-work entitlements, such as Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, and Housing Benefit paid as a single lump sum. Beginning in 2013, Universal Credit will make sure that the poorest in society are better off and make it easier for people to claim benefits. It will demonstrate the value of being in work and reduce administrative costs and the risk of fraud.
One particular aspect of its introduction, and which needs to be brought better to the public's attention, is how it will reduce poverty.
I asked: Will the Secretary of State tell the House what effect universal credit will have on child poverty and wider forms of poverty?
Iain Duncan Smith: We estimate that universal credit as a static system, not even taking into account any dynamic effect, will lift 900,000 people out of poverty, about 350,000 of whom will be children. It is worth remembering that under the present child care systems that people have spoken about, at least 100,000 people do not get the child care for which they are eligible. Under universal credit, the take-up will be higher, so it will have a better effect.
This will make an important difference to huge numbers of families up and down the country, not least many in Dover and Deal. I think it will help prove that this Government are committed to helping the poorest, most vulnerable in society, and will never leave anyone without support.
One of the responsibilities of the Deputy PM is to look at constitutional reform. Specifically he is looking at the possibility of changing the make-up of the House of Lords to an elected chamber. At the moment the Lords consist of a mix of life peers, who are appointed by the Government, and some hereditary peers.
I asked Nick Clegg in Deputy PMQ's whether given that reform was in every party manifesto, it should be looked at cross-party by a Parliamentary Committee. The Deputy PM replied
Yes, and that is precisely why we look forward to a Joint Committee of both Houses being established through the usual channels which will be able to get to grips with all the many questions, queries and objections that have been raised, so that we can as far as possible proceed on a cross-party basis on something which all parties are committed to seeing through.
Reform of our political system should not be undertaken lightly. I want to see an elected House of Lords. Yet this is best done with all parties working together to agree a common plan.
Ours is a constituency with a proud military history. The brave servicemen and women who live in Dover and Deal must always be honoured as the heroes that they are. Representing such a constituency means I am passionate about the need for the military covenant to be properly recognised in British law, so that all military personnel are rewarded for their dedication to serving the country.
Today the Defence Secretary spoke about this in the House to confirm that the military covenant will be enshrined in law for the first time, in the Armed Forces Bill.
I asked Dr Liam Fox: Is not today an important day of justice for the honouring of the armed forces after the disgraceful neglect of the past 10 years?
Liam Fox: I think that the whole House, in fact the whole country, will want today to rally behind the Government's proposals, which I believe represent a wide consensus across those with different political views and those with none.
I am sure we will all agree that this cannot come soon enough.
The economic mismanagement of the last Labour Government is summed up by the then Chancellor's decision to sell off our Gold at rock bottom prices. This was a terrible error of judgement, and today in Treasury Questions I asked the current Chancellor about this.
I asked: If our gold had not been sold off some years ago, how much would it be worth today?
George Osborne answered:
The gold was sold, I think on the advice of the current shadow Chancellor, at $3.5 billion—a princely sum, except that it would now be worth $19 billion.
There is no comment needed on this matter – the truth speaks louder than words.
Today I spoke in Foreign & Commonwealth questions to ask for an update on the situation in Japan.
We were all so shocked by the dreadful earthquake which caused so much devastation. This took place only two months ago, but the stoicism and resilience of the Japanese people and Government has been amazing to see.
I asked the Minister how the situation was developing, and impressed on him my belief that we must continue to assist Japan by any means necessary to allow them back on their feet and to make a full recovery – even though the emotional scars will take so much longer to heal.
Charlie Elphicke: Japan is a major friend, ally and trading partner of the UK, and it is right that we should be there for a friend in need. Will the Minister tell us what help is being given to assist its economic recovery, and what steps are being taken to help following the nuclear disaster?
Jeremy Browne: I completely agree with my hon. Friend's assertion about the deep friendship between the United Kingdom and Japan. We have expressed that friendship and it has been evident in our actions. Our economies are intertwined, but we are also leading the debate within the European Union on a free trade agreement between the EU and Japan.
Today I presented a bill to give children the right to have access to their parents. Highlights of what I said include:
"We need to reform and enforce contact properly. We need to place a duty on all involved. Too often, people say it is about mums' rights or dads' rights, but actually it is about the rights of a child to know and have a relationship with both their parents. That is the nub of what the Bill is about. It is not right that parents should sink their children's right to know them in a sea of acrimony when they split up.
"The reason I am putting this Bill before the House is to ensure that there is a clear and enforceable right of the child-a clear presumption in law-that will send a clear message to all those involved, including CAFCASS and all the weak-kneed judges who will not make or enforce any orders. To the parents who have residence orders and should know better, I want us to send the message that this is not about their rights: it is about their children's rights to grow up knowing both their mother and their father."
Today I spoke in a debate on the cost of fuel. I share the frustration we all feel about the cost of travel. It really annoys me that we can't rework the train franchise for two years thanks to a daft agreement struck in 2005. The price of fuel is a disgrace, after a decade of fuel duty rises. High oil world prices make it hard.
We need to cut the cost of fuel and help hauliers. What's happened to our haulage industry is shocking. I want to see a level playing field against foreign truckers. A Britdisc in place of lorry fuel taxes and lorry tax discs is the way I want to see things go.
Highlights of what I said include: "Constituents write to me daily expressing concern about the cost of living and how they will manage, given the way the cost of fuel has risen in recent times. It is a just concern that is understood on both sides of the House. Hauliers in my constituency write to me expressing grave concern about the situation they find themselves in and their ability to compete with operators on the continent who undercut them."
Today I asked a question in Transport Questions about the port of Dover referendum and whether Transport Ministers' would heed the Prime Minister's Big Society policy.
I said: "On 23 March, the people of Dover will vote in a referendum on whether they want a people's port big society change in Dover. If the people vote for the big society, will the Secretary of State help to implement it?"
Ports Minister: "My hon. Friend is tenacious in his work for the people of Dover. As he knows, the Minister of State is still looking at the proposals for Dover, and at this time it would be improper for me to say any more."
Well . . . nice try anyway!
The Welfare Reform Bill debate today was about a bill that will reform benefits and ensure they are paid to those who need help most.
I said: "Government Members are all aware that behind the Bill stands the financial destiny and future of millions of people. There is a great human aspect to this. Only today, I spoke to my constituent, Kelly Banks, whose son Ben is 12 years old and has a serious heart condition. The allowances that he receives are going to be taken away because he can walk to school-never mind the fact that it takes him half an hour, and by the time that he gets there, he is out of breath. Those hard and difficult decisions must be taken, and we must make sure that the right balance is struck to ensure that people who need help receive it, and that those who do not, do not do so.
That is a particular concern, because the figures show that disability living allowance has gone up by 30% in eight years. Housing benefit has gone up by 45% in the past five years. In the past 13 years, the benefits bill for working-age people has increased from £52 billion to £74 billion. Those are the numbers in the years of plenty, but we have inherited a catastrophic economic situation and difficult decisions must be made. The Bill seeks to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the nation's credit card having been maxed out and, on the other, the need to ensure that those who need help receive it. Most importantly, the universal credit will help people to be sure that work always pays.
We need to do more to crack down on fraud and error, which costs £5.2 billion in wasted benefits. We need to ensure that there is a proper cap on the number of people coming in to the country. We have 5 million people who could work, but do not do so, yet we all know that in the past few years 1.2 million people who were born overseas came and took jobs. We should do more to ensure that those 5 million people who could work but do not do so receive help, support and encouragement to get into work. We have to do the right thing by our own countrymen and our neighbours. It is time to reform. It is time to make work pay, and it is time to bring the benefits bill under control and ensure that there is fairness for those in need and those who are paying taxes."
Today I spoke about the concerns many of us hold about the European Union. I expressed concern about how detached the EU is from reality and the people of Europe.
Highlights of what I said included: "The debate on the new clause has been largely underpinned by a dislike and distrust of the European Union and its works, and I share that distrust. Many Members feel that an organisation that spends vast swathes of our money and imposes massive increases in our budget contributions in return for no obvious value, at a time of great downturn across the continent, is not an organisation that is in touch with this country-or any other country. They do not trust an organisation that feels so remote from the electors of this country and every other country in the European Union. Even in Germany, an increasing number of people are finding the European Union and its works troubling."
The South Thanet MP Laura Sandys secured a debate on the Pfizer shutdown. I joined in to support Laura in his fight to get the strongest possible Government action to help.
I said: "I congratulate my hon. Friend Laura Sandys on her heroic efforts to corral and bring together the east Kent MPs, Kent county council, Dover district council and Thanet district council within 24 hours to make sure that there was a clear plan for a changeover from the large "big pharma" site to the new model of universities and smaller businesses collaborating and developing things in the future. I simply wish to support her point about the disgraceful transport links that we have to put up with. We need to get the fast line put in from Sandwich and Deal through to London, and we need Manston and the A256 corridor to be developed. That would enable us to have more jobs and more money, and would provide more effective business options for the people of Dover, Deal, south and north Thanet, and east Kent as a whole."
The situation of HMRC was debated today. There are a lot of problems because the previous Labour Government loved consultants, didn't know how to buy computer systems and managed to destroy morale to the point that millions of people have found their tax matters totally messed up.
I said: "I do not condemn HMRC, as many of its officers and officials have worked very hard, but I do condemn the previous Government for using the expertise of these wretched consultants time and again to answer all their problems, instead of using the expertise that existed within two institutions with long, proud and successful histories . . .
"We also need to sort out the information technology. It is clear from the Treasury Committee report that, under the previous Government, IT was an unmitigated disaster."
Today I secured a debate on a motion in the House of Commons on the Big Society. The aim was to seek the House's approval of the Prime Minister's vision for a Big Society. I put the case for our port to be owned by the community.
Highlights of what I said were:
"I shall take the example of Dover, my constituency, which I advance as a case study of the difference that can be made. Before the election, the previous Government were planning to sell off the port of Dover. That proposal was in the operational efficiency report, the so-called car boot sale. There was to be an allegedly voluntary privatisation, but it was pretty clear that there was a desire for the port to be sold. My constituents understood that it would almost certainly go to a buyer overseas, and there was a sense of frustration about that.
That sense of frustration in relation to the port has existed for many years, because the directors have always been appointed by Whitehall and have had very little to do with the local community in their direction or in community engagement. That connection with the community has not been in place. The port is not simply an economic and transportation facility, it is also a social facility, as anyone with a port in their constituency will know. The interconnection between a town and the port in it is deep, and there is a symbiosis between the two. That is very much the case in Dover. With a whole load of directors having been appointed in Whitehall, hundreds of miles away, the people of Dover have been unable to effect positive engagement.
If the port were sold off overseas, we would simply be swapping one remote interest for another, and the community would not be engaged with it. Part of the difficulty in that situation would be that the community would think that the port's management did nothing for the town and did not engage positively with it. Sadly, the port has gone to war with the ferry companies, which are the key port users for both berthing charges and general relations. There has been a breakdown of the relationship in the heartland of Dover's local economy. The town and the community are not happy, and the key businesses are not happy. The port is on the block, threatened with being sold off overseas.
What can the community do? Under the traditional model, the solution would be about either the big state or big business. We say that it is time to try something new and different-giving the community a chance to take charge of its future and its destiny. We have been asking why, instead of the port being sold off overseas, the community cannot buy it as a community mutual and run it in partnership with those who use the port, the ferry companies that effectively account for all the port's money."
I said: "What investigation has the Prime Minister made into the allegation that the IMF was bullied into toning down its assessment of the dangers facing the UK economy?"
Prime Minister: "My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, which is that the IMF was reporting on the state of the British economy, and was arguing that we did have a structural deficit and that it was a problem. However, Labour attempted to gag the IMF when it was in power, because the previous Government did not want to own up to the mess that they had got this country into. Even now, the Opposition are still denying the fact that they left us with a dangerous fiscal deficit that is the cause of many of the problems that we face today."
Today I pressed the Chancellor on getting more lending to smaller businesses to create more jobs and money. This is a key concern in Dover & Deal as most people work in smaller businesses.
I said: "Have we not moved on from excessive bonuses to an emphasis on lending more money to small and medium-sized enterprises? Are we not seeing £10 billion for SMEs and £2.5 billion in total for the new growth fund?"
The Chancellor said: "My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For me, in these discussions the absolute key has been the additional commitment to lend to small and medium-sized businesses. Over the past couple of years, all Members have had people in our constituencies come to us with very difficult stories about the failure of banks to lend to such businesses, and we now have a commitment to increase the lending available by 15%, which is a substantial increase. Alongside that-I did not have time to go into all the detail, but it is being published this afternoon-there will be a new code of practice for the banks to treat their customers much more fairly: for example, they should engage with small businesses a full year before an overdraft comes up for renewal. For me, dealing with that crucial area of the economy-getting credit to small and medium-sized businesses-has been one of the most important parts of the new settlement."
Today I secured a debate on elderly care in Kent. This was really about putting the case for Deal's much loved Sampson Court to be saved, possibly by a transfer to a community interest company.
Here are the highlights of the points I made:
"Sampson Court provides a range of services-palliative care, day care and respite care-and specialises in dementia and separate elderly mentally infirm care. It is extremely important to the community and loved not only by residents but by their families, all of whom have been passionate in their support for keeping that important community facility open. Despite that, Sampson Court is no longer classed as meeting care standards-hon. Members will recall that the previous Government introduced the decent homes standard-and because it does not have en-suite bathrooms and the building is costly to maintain and in need of renovation, Kent county council says that it is too expensive to make those changes and that it cannot continue to run the home . . .
As well as criticising Kent county council, I want to be positive about it. I understand the challenge to its budget, the challenge in meeting the decent homes standard, and the challenge of the EU public procurement regime, which is expensive and, frankly, gold-plated-it ought to be minimised. Can anything be done about public procurement in this kind of case?
The other case I have been making to Kent county council is that it could transfer the home, not as a going concern in the market but to a community interest company. That is where my interest particularly lies. Allowing a community outside the regime of Government, the procurement rules and all the regulations to take it on would enable the expertise of local care home operators to be captured so that a home could continue to operate on that site in the future. I am asking for Government support and guidance on how Sampson Court might be transferred to a CIC in partnership with local care home operators."
I have received answers to a number of written questions. You can read the questions and the answers here. The issues covered include matters relating to the Port of Dover, the plan to sell off our nation's key Uranium enrichment company and A2 upgrade plans as well as taffic usage on the A2.
I said: "May I raise the case of my constituent, Suzanne Lloyd, who was diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago? She was told that she had two years to live, but has successfully battled cancer for the last decade. The problem is that she has also been battling health chiefs to give her the drugs that she needs to extend her life. Will the Minister tell the House about measures to increase longevity through greater drug access?"
The Minister said: "Just last year the national clinical director published a report on the extent and causes of international variations in drug usage, which revealed that the UK tends to lag behind other countries in its use of newer cancer drugs. That is one reason why we have introduced the interim cancer drugs fund of £50 million in this current year and will introduce the full fund of £200 million from this April. That will help my hon. Friend's constituent."
Today I spoke in the debate on the European Referendum Bill about the importance of ensuring there is a strong referendum lock on new treaties. We all remember how we were cheated out of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Most of the speech was about Labour's attempt to water the bill down so they could cheat us all out of a referendum again. My speech which you can read clicking this link was very long - good if you are having trouble getting to sleep! - but here is a highlight:
"I believe-because I am a bit old fashioned-in government for the people, by the people and of the people, that that should not perish from this earth, and that my constituents should have a say on the great matters of our times. Given that, the Bill is important and the right step towards more public power. The people and their sovereignty should be recognised, and they should be given that say, which time and again they have been cheated of-to my mind, unacceptably."
I added that the bill "shows the respect that the new Government have for our democratic process, for consulting the people and for taking bold steps in the national interest-not just bringing Britain back from the brink of bankruptcy, but ensuring that the British people have a say in referendums."
Today I raised border security issues in Parliament with the Immigration Minister. The previous Labour Government took away many of our civil liberties in the name of counter terrorism while doing nothing on border control. So I pressed the case that we should dismantle Labour's Police state and do more to strengthen our borders. This matters to us as many people locally work for UKBA and are losing their jobs - especially recently on the French side of the border.
I asked: "Is not proper border control an essential part of a review to deal with terrorism? It is no good building a police state at home if we allow pretty much anyone, be they friend or foe, to wander into the country. Will the Minister consider stronger measures?"
The Immigration Minister replied: "My hon. Friend makes a good point. Clearly, having strong and secure borders is one of the essential elements in our fight against international terrorism, and that, as he knows, is why one of the Government's priorities is to make our borders more secure. We have been making significant progress on that over the past nine months."
I went on to ask for a debate on the NHS. This is because I want to draw the House of Commons' attention to how we lost out in healthcare in the past and how we need to see through the promise we now have of a new hospital for Dover.
I said: "May we have a debate on the NHS? In my constituency, our hospital has been decimated and all but closed over the past decade. A new hospital has now been announced by a new Government, with the beds provided by GP commissioning. It is important that the House explore that issue and the ring-fencing of the NHS budget compared with the cuts proposed by the previous Government."
The Leader of the House replied: "I welcome my hon. Friend's remarks. I hope that he will speak on Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill to make the point, which he just touched on briefly, that GP commissioning is the way forward, is popular in his constituency, and is the right way to go as we reform the NHS."
The Dover Harbour Board appointed lobbyists Bell Pottinger to press their harbour sell off case. I think it quite wrong that public money is used to lobby to get more of our money under any circumstances. The more so when executives involved are financially conflicted. So I have been pressing for reform - today in Parliament I extracted a promise from Ministers to act on this disgraceful abuse.
I said: "Public expenditure by quangos includes expenditure on lobbying, which is an abuse of public money. Will Ministers ban quango lobbying?"
The Cabinet Office Minister said: "The code for public bodies already purports to make it impossible for quangos to employ lobbyists from outside in order to lobby the Government. However, that code has not been effective, and considerable amounts of taxpayers' money have been spent by public bodies, frequently in order to lobby the Government for them to spend more taxpayers' money. We will make absolutely certain that the code is watertight and that that becomes impossible."
Today I raised with the Communities and Local Government Minister in a Parliamentary debate on the Localism Bill. I continue to press the case for our community to take over the Port, while we - still! - await a ministerial decision from the Transport Dept.
I said: "This is a truly radical Bill from a truly radical Secretary of State. It brings closer to reality the dream of government for the people, by the people and of the people that shall not perish from this earth. In my constituency, people want to buy the port of Dover. People in other constituencies want to buy forests and other such community assets. Will the Secretary of State and the Government consider going faster, deeper and wider, so that we have a community right to buy from central Government as well as from local government?"
Eric Pickles, DCLG Secretary of State replied: "My hon. Friend tempts me to become a bit Maoist in these matters, but we will certainly consider what he says and look towards giving greater powers to local people."
The council tax hits hardest the least well off and the elderly in Dover & Deal. I am a strong believer in keeping the council tax down. So I raised this with the Minister in a question:
I said: "The elderly, vulnerable and least well-off constituents of mine in Dover and Deal and I am sure across the country will welcome the Government's efforts to freeze council tax. May we have an assurance from Ministers that we will never again return to the dark days of the past, when council tax doubled under the previous Labour Administration?"
The Minister replied: "My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that between 1997 and last year council tax rose by 109%, so the elderly, the frail, the most vulnerable and those with fixed incomes had absolutely no defence against what was happening when the current Opposition were in government. I am very proud to say that £650 million is being made available for this important priority: a 0% rise."
Residents in Dover & Deal tell me time and again how angry they are about the culture of vast bank bonuses under the Labour Government. I kept up the pressure on this issue in Parliament today, calling for a debate on bank bonuses.
I said: "May I echo the call of the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on bank bonuses? My constituents are enraged that Fred Goodwin got £15 million in bonuses, that knighthoods were thrown about like confetti, and that bank bail-outs encouraged excessive bonuses for the fat cats. We need a change in policy from "everyone out for themselves" and "up with the fat cats," to more "all in it together."
The Leader of the House replied: "I applaud my hon. Friend's sentiments. He was probably in the House when the Chancellor made his statement suggesting a very robust negotiating position with the banks. The Chancellor also indicated during questions and answers that he would want to report back to the House once those negotiations had been completed."
The other day on 11 January I raised the subject of bank bonuses with the Chancellor. He had told the House how Labour secretly encouraged fat bonuses to be paid this year under the contract they'd entered into with the banks before they lost the election. I wanted to know what Labour had done to help small businesses in communities like ours - it turned out the answer was basically nothing. They'd looked after the bankers and forgotten about us!
I said: "The Chancellor has already told the House that under the banking contract, bonuses were actively encouraged by the previous Government for the current year. Can he tell the House whether lending to cash-strapped small businesses was also encouraged under that contract?"
The Chancellor replied: "Nothing meaningful was secured on lending to small businesses by the previous Government at the very moment when they had maximum leverage: when they were bailing out these banks. That is part of what we are dealing with. We are also dealing with the situation in which they bought their very large stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland-as I have said, the deal explicitly says that the bonuses covering the year 2010 should be paid at market rates. I am saying that we want to see the bonus pool smaller and the Royal Bank of Scotland as a back-marker, rather than a front-runner."
Today I made a long speech on Europe, the fact that it has ... and the need to repeal the Human Rights Act.
Here are some highlights - you can read the whole speech by clicking here - which reflect comments a lot of people locally make to me about these issues:
"Underlying this entire debate about the European Union, sovereignty and the exact meaning of clause 18 is the fact that many Members of this House, myself included, would like to see a fundamental change in our relationship with the European Union. We would like to have a discussion about whether we control, or Europe controls, what happens in the regulation of the City, industry and business, and how we operate as a nation. There is an underlying desire on the part of many hon. Members to have a review of whether we should be part of the European Union at all. There is a desire to have a reworking of the Human Rights Act 1998 and a question mark as to whether it should be on the statute book at all-a concern that I share and that my constituents continually write to me about with a great level of invective.
"I think that we should be more honest, realistic and straightforward about what really concerns us: the fact that we have too many laws from Europe. There are too many interventions in relation to the Human Rights Act, which causes too many problems and too often gives the sense to many of my constituents that the innocent are punished and the guilty go free. That is shocking. Time and again, constituents approach us to express those concerns.
"It is a concern that the EU has grown too much, extended too far, cost too much and intruded too much into our national life. It should cost less, intrude less and our relations with it should be reworked."
Today I spoke in the Armed Forces Bill. Every five years, Parliament renews this bill - as a standing army may only be maintained with the leave of Parliament. An ancient constitutional custom, but a chance to underline my support for the Military Covenant.
Here are some of the highlights of my speech:
"I represent Dover and Deal, which today still feels like they are at the front line of the nation in its dealings with the continent, not all of which have been happy in the past. Not so long ago, in the second world war, we were the front line and responsible for helping ensure the success of Dunkirk. Before that, in the 18th century, the channel fleet was stationed off the coast of Deal and we retain a strong link with the Royal Marines. I was privileged to be at the installation of the captain general of the Royal Marines as the captain of Deal castle. We also have the lord warden of the cinque ports in Walmer castle, Admiral Boyce, and a brigadier in Dover castle.
The constituency feels strongly about the military covenant. It has a strong cadet movement. It is a privilege for me to be the honorary president of the Deal Air Training Corps, 2235 squadron. It is a considerable privilege for us to have so many Gurkhas living in Dover and Deal, who go on active service and do great things for our nation. I am therefore proud of what our constituency has achieved in the service of this nation and of our military links. The constituency takes a strong and passionate view of the military covenant.
As someone who deeply respects all those who put their bodies and minds in danger on our behalf, I want to stress how pleased I am that we are finally putting the military covenant on to a statutory footing in clause 2. It is absolutely right that the Bill will give the military covenant the increased recognition that it should have had long ago. By enacting the measure, we will give legislative force to the "Army Doctrine Publication", particularly chapter 1.
However, it is not a no-cost option to back the military covenant in statute. With it comes responsibility, which, in recent years, has been lacking. We must ensure that service personnel and their families are properly cared for, not only in health but when they are hurt, particularly when that hurt happens on active service. What has been going on is not good enough. However, each small measure brings us closer to what we mean by the term "military covenant"."
It has been an honour and privilege to serve as Member of Parliament for Dover & Deal. I hope to be re-elected to serve our community for another term.
Many of my appearances in the House of Commons are now on Youtube. Please click the link to watch the footage.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring my office on 01304 379669 if you need to get in touch.