MP for Windsor
Working Hard For You
Windsor MP speaks out against stigma surrounding mental health

This is taken from the official record of the House of Commons’ Hansard from a debate on mental health on the 24th of February 2015:

Adam Afriyie (Conservative, Windsor): I was not sure whether I would make it to this debate, given my other responsibilities, but I am very glad that I have. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for scheduling the debate, and Paul Burstow for opening it.

This is an important debate, not only for those with mental health challenges who are unemployed, but because it is something that I think strikes at the heart of what we are all doing in politics. With millions of people affected—one in four people will be affected by a mental health challenge in their lifetime—this issue lies at the heart of what it is to be human, to be British, and to be part of a democratic society. Right now in this Chamber, across the House, in our offices and across the country, probably one in six or seven people is struggling with some form of mental health challenge. That says to me that it is part of the normality of the human condition, and surely as Members of Parliament and Government, and as law makers, we must bear that in mind when making the laws of the land.

Across the Conservative Benches, and perhaps across the House, it often seems that our objective in politics is to seek the greatest level of utility for the greatest number of people. It strikes me, however, that GDP growth, incomes, salaries, and the growth in physical goods and services that we consume, is not necessarily the best aim. Indeed, I am not sure that that is the fundamental aim we all share, and it seems that a better motto, modus operandi and objective—one that I suspect we all share—would be to create the greatest level of happiness for the greatest number of people. It is not that as politicians we can work out how to make people happy—that would be preposterous and ridiculous—but some things are certain to make people unhappy, or to create stress and the sense of a lack of control that leads to a greater prevalence of mental health challenges.

When I first arrived in Parliament in 2005 I co-wrote a pamphlet entitled “The Forgotten”. My chapter was on those with depression who, almost by virtue of that condition if they are going through an experience at the time of an election, are kind of disfranchised from society and the democratic process. One of my burning passions is to ensure that everyone, no matter what their background or mental health condition, is able to participate in the democratic process, and is also never forgotten.

We certainly do not know how to create happiness—I would be very nervous if anyone suggested that they know how to create happiness for somebody else. However, when it comes to public services and law making we can do a lot to remove the causes of unhappiness, depression, or the exacerbating factors that lead to greater levels of depression and mental health challenges.

On the causes of mental health challenges, there is certainly a degree of genetic propensity—that is becoming ever clearer as scientific research progresses. There are also specific causes of such challenges in life, such as bereavement, certainly of a close family member. I thank Jim Shannon for his comments on the fact that in troubled zones during times of war or conflict the incidence of mental health challenges rises immediately because of changes to what is going on around people. Mental health challenges can be brought forward or exacerbated by accidents, or by the loss of a job or a divorce. Those are known causes or accelerating factors for mental health challenges, and are things for us to consider when making policy.

One area is almost entirely within our control—this is why I am delighted to participate in the debate today—because we can have an impact on the welfare and benefits system, and on how the state enables or helps people to find employment, or to get training or education. I was particularly mindful and supportive of many of the comments made by Mr Jones about the systems we introduce for getting people back into work, or identifying whether they have challenges. One of the greatest forms of stress and pressure—which can cause depression and trigger other mental health challenges—is a feeling that our life is out of our control. We have a complicated benefits system, and people have to jump through many hoops to achieve recognition within it. 

Kevan Jones (Shadow Minister (Defence)): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to tailor-make back-to-work programmes and recognise that on some occasions it might take longer than others to get people capable of work? We also need a system that allows people with long-term mental health issues who are not going to work at least to make some positive contribution to society. 

Adam Afriyie (Conservative, Windsor): The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head—that is precisely it. The distribution of traits within mankind and the British population is like a bell curve. Every person is unique. There are very few identical twins. Certain mental health conditions require a longer period of adjustment before people are able to participate in the workplace or in voluntary activities that make a contribution to society. Any system must be flexible enough to recognise that difference.

On the feeling that one’s life is out of one’s control, let us imagine—I will create a caricature here—someone from a tough background with literacy difficulties, perhaps dyslexia, who has just gone through a divorce and is presented with forms up to 70 pages long when trying to get some form of support from the state. The idea that someone who is in a very difficult state is able to navigate this incredibly complex system is tantamount to mental cruelty. There have been cases in the press recently where parents of children with difficulties have had to deal with a stream of health workers, disability benefit support staff, jobcentre workers and council workers knocking on their door. That can create a huge amount of stress and a sense that life is beyond one’s control. We have to be mindful of that and ensure that public services fit people who are going through a mental health episode.

I want to say some positive things about mental health, unemployment and employment. Mental health challenges are part of the normal human condition. Probably one in four of us here will struggle with a mental health challenge at some point in our lifetime. I am sure that all MPs have seen people in their surgeries who present with a problem—for example, they are unemployed and are having difficulties finding work and navigating the benefits system—and realise that there is something more behind the initial problem. Sometimes it will be depression, bipolar or paranoia, and they will need further assistance and support.

If we are to have a society that is at ease with itself, the stigma of mental health conditions needs to disappear. It is part of our job—not just in this debate, but in our daily lives—to ensure that we are relaxed about talking about mental health conditions, no matter what they are. In many cases, I welcome the idea that people joke about mental health conditions. I do not mean that people should do so in a derogatory way, but that jokes are part of our normal discourse. Whether in Parliament, in Westminster or in a business, people stand by a coffee machine and talk about so and so breaking a leg when they were skiing. Everyone has a laugh about it, asks the person how they are and then writes their name on the cast. I do not want mental health challenges to be part of a sort of corridor whisper. We should be able to laugh and talk—“so and so is having a bit of trouble at the moment”—and be very relaxed about them, because they are part of our human condition.

Another positive thing about people with mental health challenges in the workplace is this: yes,British Telecom has recognised the benefits of employing people

who may have challenges, but a raft of smaller firms have also recognised those benefits. In my working career in the world of business in the 20 years before I entered politics—I suppose this is work as well—I came across many enlightened small businesses that, on many occasions, competed for people with mental challenges such as depression or bipolar. I will try to put this subtly. When somebody is struggling with bipolar and is in a good period, they can be exceptionally creative and productive. That is very useful, provided one recognises that when they are in a down period they need flexibility and understanding. A lot of small businesses would benefit from recruiting people with certain mental health challenges for particular roles in their organisation.

It is my experience, from having observed businesses over the years, that those that recognise these challenges and show flexibility actually perform exceptionally well. So even being less altruistic, this is a great opportunity to create work forces that are up to the mark, dedicated and loyal and which go the extra mile in the good times, because people with mental health challenges are a great resource on which to draw. As others have said, however, it would be helpful to have guidelines or suggestions, perhaps from the public sector but certainly from bodies such as Mind and others, on how to work with people with mental health challenges, particularly for small businesses.

I hope that Opposition Members will bear with me for a moment, because I want to touch on the coalition’s welfare changes, many of which were initiated under the previous Labour Government. In many respects, we should take our hats off to the direction of travel. One of the greatest pressures is to be young and unemployed and to feel unwanted, as it can exacerbate the feeling of isolation from society. However, although the welfare changes that the coalition has made or is seeking to make might not be perfect, they do represent the correct direction of travel. I know that many Opposition Members agree. If we can help somebody into work—not in a brutal way—we can give them that sense of meaning, control and well-being that comes from knowing that even if they have a mental health challenge they are still welcome in the work force. These are positive things that MPs can do to enfranchise the large minority that struggles from time to time.

Kevan Jones (Shadow Minister (Defence)): I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman—if it is the right type of help. However, as Jim Shannon and I mentioned, for someone suffering from a long-term mental health condition, this merry-go-round system we have is pretty brutish and needs refining. Otherwise, it will not only waste taxpayers’ money but create a lot of unhappiness and fear among people with long-term mental health issues. 

Adam Afriyie (Conservative, Windsor): I think we agree. Indeed, I was about to focus on how we could significantly improve the way the system works for people with mental health challenges. First, on public services, particularly welfare to work arrangements, we need to be very finely attuned to the processes undertaken. Somebody with a mental health challenge might initially appear to be absolutely fine, but if they are put through a very mechanistic—the hon. Gentleman said “brutish”—mechanistic process that makes no allowances for such challenges, it can do more harm than good.

Kevan Jones (Shadow Minister (Defence)): I do not disagree, but one of the fundamental flaws that I and others have been raising for several years is that Atos assessors are not mental health trained. Having assessors with expertise in mental health would be a huge step forward in helping those individuals, yet the Government have ignored the matter for the last few years. 

Adam Afriyie (Conservative, Windsor): I am not sure the Government have ignored it. I have been in meetings where it has been carefully discussed, so it is certainly on the agenda. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s general point, however, and I am sure we will get to it on the other side of the upcoming election. Thus far, the focus has been on shaping the overall system in the right way, but unquestionably it will need refinement to ensure that in the first level of interaction the system quickly identifies people who might require a greater focus on their mental health and well-being than the average person.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the commitment that once we are through this short period before the election, and if we are both fortunate enough to be here afterwards, I will be happy to work with him and others in the Chamber to ensure that mental health conditions are better recognised or integrated within the process. We had a huge mountain to climb just to change the system in the first instance, but greater sensitivity is certainly needed now.

Four or five years ago, in Windsor, I knocked on the door of a very elderly lady. She had found in her letter box a form connected with a consultation on whether a local development should proceed. She was clearly struggling with a mental health condition at the time, and was agonising over whether she should fill in the massive form. There was another form from the council, and another relating to planning. I almost did not have the heart, but just about had the heart, to say to her, “The form is merely about a consultation, and, given the hundreds of forms that will be sent back, what you write on this one may have only a very small impact on the outcome. You might be better off seeing your family, having relatives to visit, and actually enjoying your life.”

What I gleaned from that encounter was that having to deal with lengthy forms and deeply bureaucratic processes may—unnecessarily, in many cases—take away the quality of people’s lives, particularly when those people are unemployed. That, I believe, should be a secondary focus for us, and for any future Government. We should think about the way in which we ask people to participate in our bureaucratic procedures to obtain assistance and return to work. We should ask ourselves whether the length of forms is a problem, and whether matters could be dealt with a little more quickly on the telephone or face to face, given that that some people might be struggling with a challenge at the time.

I know that we are having a quiet afternoon in the Chamber today, but I think that we have a responsibility to continue to talk about this issue—not only in debates such as this, but in the context of every brief that we may hold, every Committee in which we may participate, and every Bill that we may examine. We must keep at the forefront of our minds the fact that a very large proportion of the British population are struggling with mental health challenges. Every policy that we create must be designed to reflect that, and to accommodate such people.

Here is one more idea that may be of use at some point in the future. I love the idea of the market. I love the idea of businesses competing to hire employees, and I love the idea that competing small businesses—as well as one or two larger ones—that are desperate to hire staff at a time of low unemployment will one day place an imprimatur on their websites and recruitment pages, declaring that theirs is a mental health-friendly working environment. Indeed, it would be curious if they did not do so. I believe that if small and medium-sized businesses—indeed, all businesses—do not take that route, they will be hamstringing themselves and preventing themselves from taking advantage of the best employees that they can recruit from the marketplace.

This is my vision for politics. I want to see a country that is at ease with itself, and with people from different backgrounds and different walks of life. A country that is at ease with itself must acknowledge that, at any one time, a large minority of its population will face mental health challenges, but that those people are equally part of society. The policies that we create in this place must be user-friendly, and take account of people from all sorts of backgrounds and with all sorts of conditions.

I am optimistic about the future. Why? Because there is no doubt that Labour, Liberal Democrat, Independent and Conservative Members all recognise that the issue of mental health represents a serious challenge for a large proportion of the population, and I am confident that any future Government will pay more attention to it than we have in the past.

 

Migration data speech

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak, Chairman Walker—if that does not sound too much like Chairman Mao. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.

First, I say a huge thank you to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) for the presentation of the report by the Public Administration Committee. Given that immigration is one of the top three issues in the country, it is absolutely vital that we have a look at the underpinning foundation of the statistics and data that inform the debate about it.

I also thank the Minister, before he even makes his closing remarks, because I know that he is working exceptionally hard; he has worked exceptionally hard in all the jobs he has had. I am aware that we have the same agenda. We would like to see better statistics but sometimes in coalition it can be tricky to get these things through at the pace that he may wish for.

I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible, but nothing I say today is to be taken as criticism; it is merely observation that there are better ways in which we can collect the statistics and more intelligent ways in which we can present them.

As a former shadow Minister for science with a degree in a social science—a semi-science—and as chairman of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, I think that evidence is vital to any decision that we make in the public domain. Indeed, although I speak as a Back-Bench MP, I say as chairman of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology that its mission is to ensure that any parliamentary debate and policy formed on the Floor of the House is informed by the data and evidence, and that those are behind the decisions.

The data are so important in the immigration debate—that has largely been highlighted by the migration report—because it is a sensitive issue in the public domain. If we consider it in a political sense, a Government could stand or fall on the basis of their immigration policies and how the data are presented, and upcoming parties not currently in this place could succeed or fail on the basis of immigration data. Our national cultural-social cohesion could implode on the basis of a lack or misrepresentation of immigration data, and our future economic prosperity and relationship with the European Union could depend on the data and their presentation. It is an overwhelmingly important and sensitive issue.

One of my key concerns is that when I say “immigration”, people think it means different things. Some people think it is all about illegal immigrants and get upset about it, some think about genuine asylum seekers and others think that we need more immigration, saying, “Surely we need more, because we need more work visas for those important jobs in society that we are currently unable to fill here in the UK. Of course, those people go back.” Some think specifically about Romanians and Bulgarians because of the recent public debate and some think about investors, bringing millions and sometimes billions of pounds here to the UK, buying nice houses in the centre of London. Others may be thinking about visitors coming to join their families for a period who may return a year or two later, and some may—admittedly, mistakenly—think that tourists are part of the immigration debate.

The word “immigration” and immigration data are proxies for so many other things. That is why it is important that we have great clarity about the data we collect and what they mean. We must ensure that they are statistically significant.

Keith Vaz: I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has just said. There are too many myths about immigration. That is why we need official statistics that people can sign up to before we can even start a debate. We are not saying that there should not be a debate; the hon. Gentleman knows that, having attended many debates in the House about immigration. Issues have been raised with him as they have with me. Once those data are available, the big issues that concern the public can be tackled.

Adam Afriyie: That is absolutely right. Clear, accurate and granular information, data and statistics will enable groups with a view on each category of immigration to take a reasoned view.

I often think that politicians’ use of statistics—I confess that this may include me in my early days—is like a drunk’s leaning on a lamp post, less for illumination and more for support. I do not mean to criticise the ONS or even the passenger survey, which is doing what it is told to do in the best way it can, but the danger of the Government’s or any politician’s leaning on the immigration data and statistics is that they are weak and will just fall over. Yet the public animosity and disharmony that can be created by the misuse or misrepresentation of the data are all too well known.

Mr Andrew Turner: Does my hon. Friend agree that the £2 million, which my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex said the Government are not willing to spend, is a tiny amount when it is considered that the same sum is proposed to be spent on a quarter of a mile of A road in my constituency? Why cannot the Home Office find the £2 million?

Adam Afriyie: The Home Office is doing difficult work in difficult circumstances of coalition. I agree with my hon. Friend. It would seem that spending £1 million or £2 million—or even £5 million or £10 million—to deal with such a vital issue at the heart of a current national debate, which could unsettle an entire nation, is a small sum, if that is what is required to put this matter right.

I suspect that only small sums and adaptations in how we use existing data and how we conduct the passenger surveys would be needed, and that those would assist enormously, in addition to the exit checks.

If we are to plan our public services, we need to have a good idea about what the immigration statistics and data are. It is interesting that the ONS said that the data at the moment “should not be used as a proxy for flows of foreign migrants into the UK”.

The Oxford Migration Observatory stated: “sampling errors are too large to measure with a reasonable degree of accuracy the number of migrants to a single region. Within the UK, or from a single country of origin”.

Yet if we listen to the public debate, including in my constituency, assumptions are already being made about particular areas and the effect of immigration. I have to admit that sometimes assumptions are presented by Departments, senior politicians and political leaders on the level of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration, for example, although the data just are not there to justify the statements.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) made it clear on “Newsnight” a few weeks ago that, when looking at current data collection, a handful of Romanians or Bulgarians—four, five or six—making a certain statement could lead to a difference of 4,000 in our estimate of the number of Romanians or Bulgarians coming into the country. It is clear that the data are currently insufficient to draw conclusions or create policies from.

The current data are vague and self-selecting. People who go to another country wanting to stay there, knowing that there were no exit checks and that they could probably get away with it—not that I would do this—would, if they were desperate, answer appropriately to a question in a passenger survey about how long they intended to stay, to ensure that it looked okay. There is a lot of self-selection in who answers the survey and there will clearly be, if we are all reasonable human beings, an understanding that people will answer questions to serve their purpose, although I would hope that everyone is honest.

Although we want to get immigration levels down to tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands, with the data and statistics that have been available for the past four years our current estimates could be 200,000 or 250,000, one way or the other: these numbers are enormous and the statistical significance of the data really needs to be examined and reined in as soon as possible.

Keith Vaz: Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that, because of the problem with statistics, the Government will not meet its target or that we should not have a target because of the problem with statistics?

Adam Afriyie: A very apposite question. No, I am saying that we do not have any idea about whether these targets may be met. If the immigration figures came in at 30,000 or 40,000 a year, it could be argued by one side that this goal had been magnificently achieved. It could also be argued that the goal had been achieved if the figures came in at 200,000 or 150,000. Conversely, political opponents may argue that, given the statistical significance of these data, the goal has definitely not been achieved. Above all, in the absence of accurate, robust data, it is impossible to have a sensible public discourse.

Again, if we had the granularity of data that I and most hon. Members would like to see on the various categories of migrant in and out of Britain, we could have a robust argument about each category of immigration. Perhaps, in years to come it might not be necessary to have a blanket limit or target; we could take a more granular approach. For example, I would be in no way unhappy if we had an extra several hundred thousand students studying in our universities, paying tuition fees, helping to fund our great institutions and spreading around the world a deep well of good will on British culture, British language and the British way of being. That would be fantastic, because the evidence is fairly clear that the majority will return to their countries of origin and spread the message that Britain is a great place. That could enormously enhance our standing in the world and our economic performance. If we can get down to the granularity of debate, we will come to better policy solutions. In getting to the granularity of debate, I commend the Committee’s report, which makes a huge step in the right direction by observing that we need more granular data.

What is the solution? I do not purport to have all the solutions, but I put forward a few suggestions on data collection, based on the report, my experience and what is possible with technology. First, a little more data need to be collected in the international passenger survey, possibly as a short-term measure, until we resolve the whole situation. Having had a chat with the Minister, I accept that we may well need more data collected by the international passenger survey in the short term, but the location in which the data are collected might be relevant in coming up with better numbers.

It is also important that exit checks come in sooner rather than later. As Conservatives, we would have loved to have seen them come in very early in this Parliament, but sadly, in coalition, other priorities often get in the way. It may well be that there are elements among our current political friends, but usual foes, who believe in completely liberal border control, where people can move around without any checks at all. I recognise that that might be an element in the challenge of bringing the exit checks in sooner rather than later, but it is perfectly achievable by 2015.

When we talk about exit checks, we need to be mindful that someone would not necessarily have to queue and answer questions to exit the country. Indeed, when I visit many African and middle eastern countries, I have virtually no conversation at all. I simply walk into the country, they scan my passport, frown at me and ask one question. Then, as I leave the country, I hand the passport over, they scan it and say, “Have a nice day, sir”, and that is it. With technology, the idea that there would need to be intrusive surveys and so on is not necessarily right.

We also need to bear in mind that the airlines and travel companies hold an enormous amount of electronic data, which raises the question of why we do not use those data. We type in all the details on easyJet when we fly abroad, as do others when they travel in from overseas. Why are those data not used—not all of them, but a reasonably relevant or statistically significant sample—to check people when they are coming in and going out? I am sure that parts of the data may be used for certain purposes, which the Minister cannot discuss. It would be such an easy win, however, to open up access to those data, which people are freely providing when they travel, to get a better grip and understanding of the various types of migration and whether people are leaving the country.

Finally, I know that there is a will among Conservative Members of Parliament, many elements of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats in Parliament that we get the issue resolved. I urge the Minister, for the sake of national harmony and a sensible national debate in the run-up to the 2015 election—when people must make their minds up about all sorts of things, including, hopefully, in the not too distant future, whether they want the UK to remain in the EU—to put some further measures in place, so that people are clear on the various categories of immigration data before that election. We would then not need broad, sweeping statements about immigrants in general; we would have a precise and targeted understanding of each of the groups that we approve or, in some cases, disapprove of, and the debate can become more rational.

I urge the Minister to take another look at the report and to bring forward more speedily some changes or suggested changes for the IPS, the ONS and the speeding up of exit checks from the United Kingdom. We can be a happy nation. The British people deserve better immigration data, particularly given that they will not be that expensive to collect.

 

Contribution to a debate on managing flood risk

Adam Afriyie (Windsor, Conservative): My hon. Friend is making an impassioned speech, after a brisk rush from the train. Things are the same in my constituency; local businesses have been shut down. Some of the longer-term flood defences—the long-term plan to make our country more secure—would actually save the economy money. Perhaps not in the first five or 10 years, but over a 20-year time frame, if the Treasury put the money into schemes such as the lower Thames alleviation scheme, the money would be returned in savings from flood insurance, from businesses not closing and from savings across the economy overall.

Contribution to the debate on the Consumer Rights Bill

I support the Bill because the principles that guide it are exactly what the country needs in order to get back on its feet after 13 years of what could be described as misappropriation of the public purse by the Labour Government.

The Bill will empower consumers and enable them to make choices. It will also simplify regulations—particularly those governing small and medium-sized businesses, which are the life blood of the economy—and help small businesses and consumers to tackle manipulative, anti-competitive and monopolistic practices by creating a form of speedy redress. Above all, it will help us to continue the process of facilitating the fierce competition between businesses that will not only improve public and consumer services, but help to lift the economy further in the future.

This is a Bill that takes competition seriously, and raises the game for everyone. It empowers people, and it backs British businesses. I listened carefully to what was said by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), and I accept that some small changes may be required in Committee, but, on balance, I think that the Bill and the principles behind it will be good for the United Kingdom’s economy.

Competitive markets are a successful country’s bread and butter. They are what we need in order to lift all the boats, not just the yachts. Competition raises standards and pushes down prices: every person who has been in business knows that, as does every person who has ever bought a product or service, including those who have done so online.

We know that if we can choose where to buy a product, and if the contract terms and the information about what we are purchasing are clear, the means of exchange will be facilitated, and our ability to make a choice will drive down prices. I believe that any business that does not respond to those signals from the market and from consumers, and to the extra signals that will be conveyed by the Bill, will in fact no longer be in business. Principles such as that are at the heart of the Bill, and at the heart of the competition that will enable businesses to create a better country.

The Bill will give the consumer the power to shop elsewhere, and it will also drive innovation. If businesses have clear, fair contracts which their customers understand, they will need to work harder and innovate more quickly to remain in business. That, indeed, is the joy of being in business: competing, innovating, and knowing that the business is not only making profits for its owners and shareholders, but lifting economic growth nationwide, and providing better goods and services for everyone involved.

I also think that the Bill should be welcomed by Members on both sides of the House because, for the first time, consumers’ rights are contained in a single piece of legislation. To that extent, the Bill is a consolidating measure, but I can say with my business hat on that consolidating those rights in one simple piece of legislation will enable business productivity to increase. Instead of spending hours being trained and briefed on legislation that does not actually help anyone, staff will be able to concentrate on providing better services for their customers, and on making a return for the business—as well as a return for the Exchequer in the form of the increasing tax takes that that will generate.

The simplification in the Bill is no small matter. Estimates vary, but it may scrap up to 100—perhaps up to 1,000—pages of existing legislation, and bring measures together in a package that is easier to understand. I hope that it will also close many loopholes created by disparate pieces of legislation, some of it dating back to the 1800s and certainly much of it to the 1970s, which have enabled unscrupulous businesses to escape from the spirit of the law.

Given that many others wish to speak, I shall make only a couple of observations about part 3, which I believe should also be welcomed with open arms. For the first time, consumers and small businesses will be able to challenge anti-competitive practices. We all know, as consumers, that if a company does not quite deliver what it is supposed to deliver in the case of a low-value item bought on the internet or perhaps in a supermarket, it is futile to suggest that we should attempt single-handedly to argue that competition was not working effectively, or that monopolistic practices were involved. The Bill and the competition tribunal will make it a great deal easier for smaller businesses to get together, and consumers to get together, to ensure that their voice is heard, not by means of incredibly expensive court battles with corporate companies that have multi-million-pound budgets for lawyers, but by means of a simple and cost-effective tribunal route.

The principles that guide the Bill are the principles that will guide us further out of recession and further into economic growth. I very much hope that Opposition Members will support those principles. I also hope that any modifications that they seek to make will be proportionate, will have the consumer’s interests at heart, and will not overlook the fact that the purpose of the Bill is to enable fiercely competing businesses to drive down prices, giving citizens and consumers the choices that they need.

 

My amendment to the EU Referendum Bill

It has been a bit of a bumpy ride for me getting to today, to say the least — particularly among colleagues — but I rise to support a 2014 referendum. We Conservatives are completely united in wanting to give the British people a voice on Europe. We would have had a referendum by now if the Liberal Democrats had not held us back in the coalition. It is disgraceful that Labour Members want to gag British people and deny them a say on this incredibly important issue, even though eight out of 10 of our constituents want to have their voice heard on Europe.

It strikes me that, at a time when the majority of our constituents want a referendum before the next election, I have never known a period in British politics when the political establishment has been so disconnected from public opinion, and so remote from, opposed to and out of touch with it. Politicians have wilfully kicked the can further and further down the road, and we will be in danger of doing that again if neither my amendment 3 nor amendment 22 is supported.

We as politicians have kicked the can down the road for generation after generation, and we are in danger of doing so again today. I ask a simple question: if not in this Parliament, when else can we be sure to secure a referendum? My amendment and amendment 22 offer a way forward.

I say in all humility and kindness to my colleagues that, by chasing the EU referendum dream for 2017, we risk losing one in 2014 and throwing away the 2015 election. I urge every hon. Member to listen to their constituents and to try, through one of the amendments, to grant the British people a referendum in 2014.