David HansonMain Page: David Hanson (Labour) - Delyn)
Department Debates - View all David Hanson's debates with the Cabinet Office
(9 months, 3 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who made an outstanding speech and demonstrated yet again what a champion he is for his constituents.
When I was asked to second the Humble Address, I felt honoured, but I also felt some consternation. Of course, it is always an honour to represent my constituents in this place. Although the House may very much tire of my talking about Cornwall, I will never tire of speaking up for the Duchy and its great people. I imagine there are many people watching this debate at home, and I think they might prefer to be casting their eyes over that dark-haired and handsome Member of Parliament for the 18th century—of course, I am referring to Ross Poldark, my fictional predecessor who represented Truro. I have to confess that even when I was in the Whips Office, I was not any use with a scythe. As my ancestors were Cornish tin miners, I think of myself more as a Demelza than a Ross, but we can all occasionally indulge in a bit of wishful thinking. I felt a degree of consternation —probably along with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire—because I was asked to give a speech that I felt was reserved for those people the Whips had found to have reached the high watermark of their career in this place. I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I still very much feel like I am 35 and that the best years are ahead of me.
It is nearly 10 years since I first spoke in the Chamber, when I described beautiful Cornwall and highlighted my creative, inventive, enterprising and determined constituents. Those qualities are as evident today as they were then. Thanks to the steps taken by Governments since 2010 and the work done with the many can-do people in my constituency, we are making real progress in improving the quality of people’s lives. Along with the recently announced increased investment in our public services, the Bills announced today will mean that we will be able to move further and faster in ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential—from improving education opportunities and access to high-quality health and care services, to better paid and high-quality jobs. The increase in the number of detectives who painstakingly research and gather evidence to solve crime in our streets is most welcome. The funding attached is enough for 20,000 officers—or one Coleen Rooney.
Most important of all is that we will be leaving our natural environment in a better condition than we found it in. Our excellent local enterprise partnership has rightly identified Cornwall’s abundance of natural resources, which, when harnessed, will make a massive contribution to the Government’s clean growth strategy. In my maiden speech, I singled out the potential for deep geothermal energy as a significant renewable energy technology. I am delighted to report to the House that we now have the hottest, deepest hole in the UK, and the trials to generate electricity are well under way. It has been a long journey and the determination of all involved in the project clearly illustrates the UK’s global leadership on tackling climate change. We are now working on floating wind in the Celtic sea, which has even greater potential.
The UK has decarbonised faster than any major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990. We know that we need to go further and faster, which is why I am proud that it was a Conservative Government who supported the world leading net zero target and who have today set out measures that will enable us to do that. The landmark environment Bill is a huge step in ensuring that we leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it in. The Bill will enable a comprehensive framework for legally binding targets, including a target for air quality and the establishment of a new office for environmental protection. Together with the threat to our natural environment, climate change is the most serious challenge that we face today. Our response must be comprehensive, with action taken across the whole economy. I am confident that we can do it. Why? Because there is now widespread concern and support for action, and because we have what it takes to rise to the challenge. It is a real opportunity to grow our economy more sustainably, but also an opportunity to grow our economy more successfully.
Like Members across this House, I have meetings every week with a wide range of people who are fully invested in wanting us to succeed in meeting our net zero target. If we are to harness that enthusiasm and expertise, it cannot just be about distant international summits with acronyms that few people understand.
When the UK hosts the international UN climate summit in Glasgow next year, it must ensure that every sector of society is involved in the conversation. With an issue as big as climate change, we need everyone’s collective brainpower to find the right solutions, and we must have everyone on board if we are to implement them. Post Brexit, the country needs to unite around a shared national purpose, and I believe that this is it.
By enabling comprehensive action on climate change across the whole of society, with everyone involved and no one left behind, we can start rebuilding a truly United Kingdom—one of which we can all be proud. But that is the thing, Mr Speaker, to have that unity of purpose, we now have to agree on the one thing on which we have not been able to agree—the one thing that is holding the nation back—and that is our future relationship with Europe. It has been tough going, and we have debated the subject thoroughly for years, but it is this week—this week above all others—when we must redouble our efforts, compromise and find a consensus on our way forward.
I have been thinking about what we could do in this place to create the right atmosphere and the right mood—one that will promote trust, generate harmony and result in consensus and that unity of purpose. I was thinking about what we do when we are under pressure, when we are anxious, when success seems so far away. What do we do in our personal lives with our families, in good times and bad, and in our communities when we get together—whether in collective acts of worship or when our beloved football or rugby teams are playing? What we all do on those occasions is sing. We sing because it makes us all feel good. Gareth Malone has inspired the nation’s workplaces and has proved that singing together increases feelings of trust and common purpose between people. So I thought about what songs we could sing to help us on our way this week. I thought that, perhaps, we should begin with Queen’s “Under Pressure, which would be apt as the ticking of the Brexit deadline approaches at the end of October. “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” by Fleetwood Mac could focus our minds on our future relationship with Europe—
It could also focus our minds on the need to respond to the threats of climate change. To encourage greater co-operation between all Members in this House, we could be singing, “We’re All In This Together” from “High School Musical”, or “Meet Me Halfway” by “The Black Eyed Peas”. I hope that, as we work our way through this songbook, we would eventually unite in a rousing rendition of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”, leading us ultimately, I hope, to Gloria Gaynor’s “Let’s Make A Deal”. Returning to our own shores, the Beatles can point us in the right direction with their song, “We Can Work It Out”. After all, that is what the nation expects us to do.
Break in Debate
The argument the hon. Lady puts is the one that led me to vote to remain. I did not feel that the architecture of the EU was enormously compelling, but I did think that most of the problems, some of which I listed, were best handled by a more international approach. That is something where we are on the back foot. Nevertheless, it would be wrong not to conclude that, even outside the EU, working closely with our allies and partners in NATO, the United Nations, Europe and the Commonwealth, we can still have an immense footprint in tackling these important issues.
I wish to mention one way in which, under climate change funding, we can do more of this. We have seen Britain leading in the vital, world-changing area of educating girls. That was certainly done in the Blair and Brown years, and it was given a strong boost during the coalition years through the girls education challenge fund, which was designed to get 1 million girls into school in areas where they have been denied any form of education. Of course the Prime Minister, both in his current role and as Foreign Secretary, has made a staunch stand in favour of that.
I want to see, as a result of the Queen’s Speech and of policy development, Britain doing much more to clean up the oceans of the planet. That is a good use of the development budget; millions of very poor people earn their living from the seas. Plastic has now reached almost the remotest places on earth. It has been found 11 km deep in the ocean and even on the island of St Helena, which is thousands of miles from the nearest landform and where, incidentally, the airport is proving to be such a success. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans of our planet. The Government’s policy domestically has been very successful in terms of curtailing the use of plastic bags and microbeads, and from April next year we will ban plastic straws. The Government have also been very successful in using the market to achieve these desirable results wherever they can. This is an area where British leadership could have a big impact. So I urge the Government to put not only the money from the international development budget—or a proportion of it—but the considerable intellectual weight of British thinking and activity in the international forums behind that initiative.
The next point I wish to make about the Queen’s Speech certainly complements a one nation Queen’s Speech and, I hope, a one nation Budget in due course. I wish to stand up for capitalism and free markets, which are under great pressure, not least from the Leader of the Opposition, as was said earlier. We need to do more to stand up for capitalism and free markets and to explain why free enterprise has been such a powerful engine of advancement and social elevation, particularly for those who are among the least well off. It has always been the case that Governments have hedged around the free market system with rules, taxes and laws to stem excesses and excessive greed.
We recently watched the sad demise of Thomas Cook—now mercifully in the hands of Hays Travel—with a consequent loss of livelihoods and jobs and the inconvenience caused to hundreds of thousands of people who were coming back from their holiday. Is it right in Britain today that the chief executive officer of that company has been paid £8.3 million since 2014, with a £2.9 million bonus in 2015? The two chief financial officers have been paid £7 million since 2014, and the non-executive directors have been paid £4 million, including £1.6 million for the non-executive chairman. Effectively, these were the directors of the UK’s oldest travel agency, and they appear to have presided over the destruction of the business while awarding themselves collectively £47 million in pay and bonuses in the past 10 years. I submit that that brings the free enterprise system and the laws that this House should make into disrepute.
Sixty-one FTSE 100 companies do not pay the living wage to their employees. The living wage was championed effectively by the Prime Minister when he was Mayor of London and by the former Chancellor, George Osborne. For those 61 companies, the average chief executive pay is just under £4 million per year. The arguments for capitalism and free enterprise are under attack, as we shall see in the forthcoming general election. They need to be explained, defended and propagated. One of the ways in which we do that is by demonstrating fairness in the way that the system works.
Let me conclude on another point relating to one nation fairness. It has to do with homelessness. Led by our West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, we are doing our best to eradicate this problem. Last Friday, our mayor was at Aston Villa with 130 people who slept out voluntarily to raise money to help to tackle the curse of rough sleeping. Throughout the west midlands, good progress has been made in offering rough sleepers accommodation: via Housing First we have got 94 people into accommodation—far more than the other two pilot areas have achieved. Housing First also provides the support that individuals need, including drug and alcohol programmes and mental health support. We all understand and know of the complexities involved. Progress is being made, but it is not just about money. The Government have been pretty generous, with £100 million going towards the rough sleeping strategy. In Sutton Coldfield, we currently have four rough sleepers. We have two extremely well-run food banks that operate and help in a wider area than just the royal town. One man has been sleeping rough in our park for more than 20 years.
The reason I mention that is that I do not think any of us can sleep easy knowing about the extent of rough sleeping throughout Britain and in our cities. In November 2018, the count of rough sleepers in Birmingham stood at 91. That was an increase from the previous year and a big increase indeed since 2010. The number of new homeless is showing no signs of slowing. It is a complex and difficult problem and it is not just about finance and funding, but I hope that this good, one nation Queen’s Speech, which I strongly support, will not neglect this vulnerable cohort in our communities and will regard reversing this most unfortunate trend as a very high priority indeed.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, talked about Paddy Ashdown, our former colleague. He was one of the people who, in part, worked for my father in Geneva in the 1970s, and he is an example of why it is wrong to say that people who come into Parliament cannot do anything else.
There are many people who did many things before they came into Parliament, whether with domestic responsibilities or in professional or voluntary work, and there are many who do the same thing again when they leave. We ought to look on our debates in this place as a way of recruiting many others to stand for election and make contributions here.
Our contributions in this place are often about justice as much as law, and those two come together in the Queen’s Speech in leasehold reform. The Government have said that they want to enshrine it in law that ground rents should be zero and that houses should not be sold unnecessarily as leasehold. That is a start, but a great deal more needs to be done.
Leasehold reform was accepted as a key element in the findings of the Government White Paper “Fixing our broken housing market”. That White Paper produced a number of consultations, all of which accept the urgent need for reform. We have been seeing leaseholders abused over the last 10 to 20 years, partly by mistake, partly by crooks and— too often, in the last 10 years—by ordinary commercial organisations that realise they can stuff their own pockets and those of their shareholders by exploiting the weakness of individuals, whether under Help to Buy or in other ways. I am grateful for the commitments made by Government on that.
The Government have accepted Lord Best’s report recommending statutory regulation of managing agents. They have asked and funded the Law Commission to undertake a major review of leasehold and commonhold law. The Government have tasked officials in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government with supervising that work and asked them to carry out their own work on leasehold reform. Earlier this year, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, led by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), produced an amazing report—as I have said before, it is one of the best Select Committee reports I have read in my time here—urging the Government to do even more.
The Competition and Markets Authority is, with a bit of encouragement, currently considering a potential investigation of major mis-selling activities by developers. I ask the Government to assure us that the reforms that have been considered over a number of years will now come forward. We have the chance to make big progress. It is in a bipartisan area, and it will make a difference to many of the people who live in the 5 million to 6 million leasehold homes—that might be 10 million people, which is a very high proportion of our electorate, to whom we are responsible.
I declare, as a matter of form, that I am a leaseholder in my constituency. We and five others bought the freehold. We had a good freeholder and a good managing agent. Separately, in about three years’ time, I expect to buy a leasehold flat somewhere near here. I say that to avoid people thinking that I am serving my own interest.
I want to turn to two other issues, both relating to justice. The first is the case of Krishna Maharaj, who is in his 80s and who was convicted more than 20 years ago of two murders in Florida that he did not commit. I will then turn to the case of Gurpal Virdi, a Sikh former Metropolitan police sergeant who is still seeking justice for the way in which he was treated and prosecuted—unsuccessfully, obviously—for indecent assault.
Before that, I do not think one should totally ignore the contribution of the leader of the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who keeps saying interesting things, often very loudly, and then drops his voice and says we should all be very calm in this place. I say calmly to the SNP that, if we are talking about elections, let us remember what happened in the 2017 election compared with that in 2015. The Scottish National party’s share of the vote went down from 50% to about 37%, while the Conservatives’ national share went up from about 37% to about 42%. The SNP always floats the idea that it has a majority, but that did not happen last time and I hope it does not happen next time.