In addition to the entries below, I made contributions to the Immigration Bill Committee, which you may read here.
Oral Answers to Questions – Railway Electrification – 7th November 2013
Nigel Mills MP: The Secretary of State will know that the welcome electrification of the midland main line will miss out the two stations in my constituency at Langley Mill and Alfreton. Will he consider the plans to complete that little section so that the whole line is electrified?
Patrick McLoughlin MP (Secretary of State for Transport; Derbyshire Dales, Conservative): I had a meeting on Monday morning with the people operating the midland main line franchise and that particular issue was pointed out to me. We plan to electrify the whole line from St Pancras up to Sheffield, but my hon. Friend is right that part of it, which goes through his constituency, is missed out. I have no doubt that we will want to look at that as we are doing the rest of the line.
Oral Answers to Questions – Justice – Reoffending – 12th November 2013
Nigel Mills MP: What steps he has taken to reduce reoffending and relieve pressure on the courts system.
Jeremy Wright MP (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative): The best way to reduce pressure on the criminal justice system is to reduce reoffending and we seek to achieve this in prisons and in the community. For example, under our transforming rehabilitation reforms every offender released from custody, including those
sentenced to less than 12 months, will receive statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community. This is a step towards reducing high reoffending rates which is widely welcomed, including by the Labour party, though I note that Labour Members voted against it last night.
Nigel Mills MP: With employment being key to preventing reoffending, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that offenders in prison are engaged in purposeful work or learning new skills that they can use on the outside?
Jeremy Wright MP (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative): My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that work plays a crucial part in the task of reducing reoffending. He will be reassured to know that we are having considerable success in raising the number of prisoners who are working and the number of hours that they are working too. We have already achieved a 25% increase in the hours worked in prison since we came to power.
Finances of the House of Commons – 21st November 2013
Nigel Mills MP: Will my hon. Friend answer the concern about how we can end up spending £7 million on a temporary building for this purpose? I imagine that schools across the country could do quite a lot with £7 million, but they cannot get it. It seems a lot for a temporary structure.
John Thurso MP (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross; Liberal Democrat): I am delighted to reassure my hon. Friend that it is not a temporary structure in the sense of being a glorified portakabin. In fact, it is quite the reverse. It is actually a purpose-built, demountable building with a minimum guaranteed shelf life of around 30 years. For a number of years we have had a very good-looking demountable building that used to be used on the green when we first started giving tours of the House. Everybody thought that it was a pretty good building and good value for money. Ultimately, it is about balancing the fact that it would be lovely to have something permanent that might or might not come with R and R with the
possibility of having something not very good-looking but extremely portable. This genuinely offers extremely good value for money. The design has been undertaken by architects who were involved in some of the work on the Olympic site. It is really terribly well done. As I understand it, it is so well designed that the only objection so far on seeking planning permission is that one cannot see it—that it is not obvious enough. I therefore think we have probably got it just about right. I reassure my hon. Friend; I genuinely believe that it is good value for money. I commend it to Members of the House.
My final point is about Committee resources. One of the interesting things about this Parliament is the way in which Select Committees have taken on a more robust role following the introduction of election of their Chairs. Other than the Public Accounts Committee, which of course has the full and mighty resource of the National Audit Office behind it, Select Committees’ resources have remained broadly the same. The current plan does not envisage any particular increase, but Parliament should look carefully at what we want to do and how we might best do it. If it is recognised that there is a need for more resource, I would certainly look favourably at that in the next financial plan.
The Liaison Committee, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith, should look at the resources of Select Committees, and I would certainly commend that work. The Finance and Services Committee would be happy to engage with the Liaison Committee in that.
Fire Services (Derbyshire) – 25th November 2013
Nigel Mills MP: Does the hon. Gentleman share my bemusement that the Amber Valley proposals will cost £3 million in capital and have an extra running cost every year of £150,000? If the proposals are motivated by a funding problem, that seems to be a strange way to fix it.
Toby Perkins MP (Labour, Chesterfield): I certainly do, and the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The proposals are financially illogical, while being dangerous to the people in the community. In service terms they are inadequate and will mean 108 fewer full-time firefighters overall, and more reliance on retained firefighters and 30 operational community safety officers.
Where will all the retained firefighters come from? On average, it takes six months from the day of recruitment for retained firefighters to be fully trained and ready to fulfil their role. Working as a retained firefighter requires individuals to be within five minutes of the fire station’s location for 120 hours a week, and the allowance received for that equates to approximately 50p an hour. There are already difficulties in recruiting and the changes will require a significant increase in recruitment. The proposal does not seem to have taken into account the impact on retaining existing retained firefighters or the cost of recruiting replacements.
I have worked with the FBU to assess the impact on existing retained firefighters and the conclusions make sobering reading. For the current 13 staff who work at Duffield fire station, only two can make the five minute “turn in” time for the new proposed station at Milford—the other 11 staff would need to relocate to keep their jobs. None of the Dronfield retained firefighters are able or willing to be within the five-minute perimeter of Eckington fire station. Chapel-en-le-Frith has 11 staff, none of whom can make the “turn in” time. None are willing to relocate nearer to Furness Vale. There is a similar story in New Mills, Alfreton and Ripley. Derbyshire fire service says it is offering a relocation package, but the FBU expects many firefighters not to take it because of family or personal commitments.
In just 2011, the emergency cover review undertaken by Derbyshire fire and rescue service stated that the current fire stations were in the right locations. Why would retained firefighters move their family away from schools and work, when it is not their main job and decisions about the future locations of fire stations seem to change so arbitrarily and so quickly? If implemented, these changes would effectively mean a 10-year recruitment freeze for full-time firefighters—a huge deskilling as a whole generation is told: “No vacancies here”.
The location of stations, appliances and firefighters is crucial to response times. The weight and speed of response are crucial to saving lives and preventing serious injury for the public and firefighters. The fewer fire stations there are, the longer it will take firefighters to attend incidents and the worse the fire will be. There is also the risk of flooding, as we know from the great floods of Chesterfield in 2007, when more than 500 homes were flooded but mercifully no lives were lost. Precisely that sort of extreme weather requires help in numerous places at once over a wide area of the county but it is centred on one service.
On the “Sunday Politics” show, the Prime Minister responded to a copy of the Derbyshire Times showing the scale of cuts facing us in Derbyshire by saying:
“I praise local councils for what they have done so far to make efficiencies without hitting front line services.”
That was, to put it kindly, a factual inexactitude of breathtaking audacity. The front line is being hit—in the police, social services, libraries, Sure Start centres, accident and emergency departments, and most certainly the fire service. No wonder the Conservatives have chosen to delete their “no front-line cuts” pledge from their website—they will not remove it from the memory of people in Derbyshire so easily. Could anyone claim that the closure of 11 fire stations and the loss of 16 fire engines and 108 full-time firefighters is protecting front-line services? This plan does not just mean millions being spent upfront on the basis of future savings; it does not just mean the millions spent a few years ago going up in smoke; it does not just mean dedicated firefighters being thrown out of work; it does not just mean years of experience lost and thousands spent in recruitment costs; it means people in Derbyshire being less safe tomorrow than they are today.
In his response to a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire, the chief fire officer admitted that the huge capital outlays were early action and would be funded by raiding the reserves to spend money today to save tomorrow. With the Labour party committed to a fairer funding formula for the fire service, Derbyshire should rethink its plans and Members across the House should send the Minister the strongest possible message that these plans would reduce the service and increase the likelihood of loss of life.
Tobacco Packaging – 28th November 2013
Nigel Mills MP: Will my hon. Friend confirm that Sir Cyril is not only independent of big tobacco, but independent of the health lobby?
Jane Ellison MP (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health; Battersea, Conservative): One of the reasons we asked a distinguished paediatrician to conduct the review, rather than someone from a public health background, was that he would be able to bring a fresh mind to it. Sir Cyril will set his own terms, which he will announce in the next few weeks.
Business of the House – 28th November
Nigel Mills MP: The Leader of the House will be aware of the great concern about lifting restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming here after 1 January. Will he bring back the Immigration Bill on Report so that the House has a chance to consider my new clause to extend those restrictions?
Andrew Lansley MP (The Leader of the House of Commons; South Cambridgeshire, Conservative): The House will be aware that I of course announce future business every week, and the Immigration Bill will be part of a future business statement. My hon. Friend was in his place yesterday to listen to the Home Secretary, and he and Members from across the House will have heard about a substantial package of robust measures that should make a significant difference. In the light of figures on migration from within the European Union, it is terrifically important to make it clear that although we value the brightest and best coming here to study and work, as is absolutely right, we and other countries—Germany, France and the like—do not want that to turn into an ability for people to come to this country or other countries across the European Union for the purpose of accessing benefits.