Created: 25 July 2019
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who raised an important issue that affects constituents across the country.
Before we rise for the summer recess with a spring in our step after the zinging performance by our excellent new Prime Minister, I wish to raise a number of issues for the Government to think about over the summer and for us to concentrate on.
During questions to the Leader of the House, I raised the consultation that is under way across a number of areas in London on Transport for London building high-density, multi-storey housing on car parks attached to stations. That will dramatically reduce the number of car parking spaces available at the terminus of every single line in London and affect commuters right across the south-east who drive to a station, leave their car and use public transport to travel in. Equally, there is a concern that the properties that will be built will be rabbit hutches and will become the slums of the future, causing further problems.
I thank my hon. Friend; that is clearly another impact.
That leads me to my next issue, which is the bus consultations that are going on in London. The proposals will increase the speed at which buses move around London, but reduce the continuity of service between buses and stations. Residents in my constituency will have to change buses twice to reach Northwick Park station, whereas currently they can get on one bus and reach the station on public transport. That is absurd.
I have raised before at questions to the Leader of the House the impact of the illegal occupation by Travellers of areas in my constituency. We had—I use my words carefully—an illegal occupation on Stanmore Lodge. They were then evicted and moved to Stanmore marsh, which once again is public land. They were removed from there and moved to Canons Park. They then moved to Hatch End and then Whitchurch playing fields. Harrow Council and the police worked quickly to remove them, but we need new laws that prevent illegal occupation from taking place. It is not only the illegal occupation that has an impact, but the clear-up costs after these people have left. That is left to the council tax payer to pick up, which is clearly grossly unfair.
We have a new Chancellor who, in a previous role in government, was very helpful to the victims of the Equitable Life scandal, but there is still unfinished business. The people who were scammed by Equitable Life are still owed £2.6 billion. I hope that the Chancellor will live up to his word and honour the Government’s commitment to fund in full the settlement for those individuals.
I have raised the Vagrancy Act before. It is a disgrace that this country still has on the statute book the Vagrancy Act 1824, which criminalises people for being homeless. People should be helped into housing, not arrested because they have nowhere to live. I hope that the new Government will take action to remove it from the statute book and to ensure that prompt and proper action is taken against aggressive street begging, which is a real problem in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who is no longer in his place, has spoken about leasehold reform. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has produced an excellent report—well, I was party to it and to the evidence—and we had a debate in this Chamber on the need for the reform of leasehold. The Government must take that up quickly and deliver.
There is also the challenge of financing local government, on which the HCLG Committee will publish a report shortly. We need to reform the financing of local government, because it is suffering from a lack of finance and a crisis in the provision of services. The basis on which any finance is provided to local government across the country is unfair, so reform is necessary.
I am delighted that shortly before my right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister left office, the Government released the long-awaited prevention report, which contains action on smoking and obesity and a number of other measures. I am, as many people know, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, as well as an avid anti-smoker. We have to ensure that we become a smoke-free society as quickly as possible. At the moment, the ambition is too slow and we have to speed up the process. We can use the taxation system to discourage people from smoking and put a levy on the tobacco companies, which make millions of pounds of profit from a drug that kills people who use it in the way they intend. The burden on the national health service and smoking cessation services could be paid for by that levy if we were bold enough to implement it.
I attended the recent rally in Ashraf in Albania with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and I hosted a meeting in this place on human rights in Iran, at which one of the guest speakers was Richard Ratcliffe. I have said previously in the House what an honourable man he is in his suffering. He has been deprived of having his wife beside him and his child is not able to share family life, but he is diligent in trying to ensure that his wife is released from prison and returned to her family. Given the situation arising in the Gulf, we need to make every effort possible, but the reality is that what we need is regime change in Iran and the end of the theocracy.
What is going on in Sri Lanka right now for the Muslim minority is a disgrace. Those people need protection and they need support from this Government. I trust that our new Foreign Secretary will provide it.
As we rise for the summer, some people may be going on holiday. On Monday, I shall be assembling my work experience team of students, who will find out what it is really like to be an MP during the vacation. I look forward to that and to assisting—