Robert Halfon MP

11 Jan 2011 07:06:12

Tory MPs seek measures to prevent unfair dismissal on grounds of age

By Jonathan Isaby

Iain Duncan Smith The Commons returned form its Christmas recess yesterday and top of the agenda was questions to Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, and his team of ministers.

Two Tory MPs sought an update on the Government's plans to bring forward proposals to prevent unfair dismissal on grounds of age, to which Work and Pensions Secrteary Iain Duncan Smith replied:

"We are moving in that direction. Our changes will abolish the default retirement age, and we will make sure that people can no longer be kicked out of work because they have reached a certain age. By getting rid of that, we will improve the economy and help older people find work for a longer period, which is beneficial to the economy and beneficial for those people."

Supplementary exchanges then followed:

Robert Halfon Commons Robert Halfon (Harlow): In the recession redundancies have been higher among the over-50s than any other age group, including in Harlow. Many people, like my constituent, Kevin Forbes, who applied for more than 4,500 jobs, are worried that employment law is biased against older people. What are the Government doing, apart from what my right hon. Friend has just described, to make work fairer for the over-50s?

Iain Duncan Smith: The reality for companies and for those who are seeking work is that, because of the need for employment over the next few years, we will need more and more of the skills that are present in the age group to which my hon. Friend refers. Therefore, companies have to reach the sensible solution, which is that people who have those skills and ways of doing their jobs can stay in work much longer. The Work programme will be set up so that they can be helped back into work if they become unemployed. My concern is that companies should recognise that older workers have huge value, well beyond the cost of paying their wages.

Michael Ellis Commons Michael Ellis (Northampton North): Constituents in Northampton have raised with me the fact that they have been forced to retire because of their age before they were ready to do so. As I know my right hon. Friend accepts, older people offer a wealth of experience and skill. What progress have the Government made on the consultation on the default retirement age?

Iain Duncan Smith: The consultation has gone very well. We are sifting through the responses. There have been more responses than we anticipated. The vast majority have been positive, although there are some, in some areas of business, that were not as positive as we had hoped. We will publish those results and press on. I can guarantee to my hon. Friend and the rest of the House that we will press on with the issue.

Earlier in the session, Employment Minister Chris Grayling said that the new enterprise allowance would expand to become a nationwide scheme from next autumn, being launched initially on Merseyside before being rolled out nationally.

But Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) had a concern about the scheme:

Andrew Bridgen Commons "I welcome the fact that the enterprise allowance scheme, which had such a positive effect in the 1980s, is being reinstated. However, I have a concern about the eligibility criteria: one has to have been unemployed for six months or more to be eligible. The National Audit Office noted in the 1980s that the longer someone spent on unemployment benefit before going into self-employment, the less successful that tended to be. Given that, will the Minister consider reducing that time and allowing people who have been unemployed for less than six months to go on to the scheme?"

Chris Grayling replied thus:

Chris Grayling 2010 square "I would very much like to improve the support that we provide, but obviously we have to do that in the context of the finances that we have inherited from the Opposition. The big difference that the new scheme will make is that it will also take advantage of the expertise of existing business people. I hope that my hon. Friend, who has a strong track record in business, will look to become a mentor for one of the new business people. That is an important difference from the previous scheme; the new scheme offers both financial and practical support, and not just financial support."

19 Nov 2010 07:18:55

Conservative MPs debate the merits of immigration - and why it's important to dicuss the issue

By Jonathan Isaby

Yesterday the Commons used the time allocated by the Backbench Business Committee to debate the issue of immigration. Here is a selection of excerpts from the contributions of Conservative backbenchers...

Skidmore Chris Chris Skidmore set out why it was important to discuss the issue of immigration:

"People have been afraid to discuss this crucial issue, which, happily, we are now beginning to address. Why is that? It is because people have been concerned about being viewed as intolerant-as bigots, even-if they raise the issue of immigration publicly. We all know that Britain is not a bigoted nation. The British people are not and have never been bigots.

"It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how our local schools might cope with increasing school rolls or about how teachers can keep discipline with several different languages being spoken in the classroom. It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about the pressures being placed on the NHS by population expansion and how local hospital services will cope with the increased demands placed on them. Nor is it bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how all our local services-our infrastructure-might be able to cope with an increased population."

"The lesson that all three parties learned from the general election was that the issue needed to be debated. Happily, it was debated at the end of the general election, although it should have been brought forward sooner. It is clear to me that it is only right and responsible for us to act now to protect our public services and local infrastructure. It is clear that we can no longer go on as we were, with a policy of uncontrolled immigration and net migration reaching almost 200,000."

Continue reading "Conservative MPs debate the merits of immigration - and why it's important to dicuss the issue" »

31 Oct 2010 19:19:22

An 'internet bill of rights' should be considered to protect people from "Big Brother Google", suggests Robert Halfon MP

On Thursday the Conservative MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, initiated a debate on what he called the privatised surveillance society. Extracts from his speech are posted below.

HALFON-robert Google's intrusive activities: "Private companies seem to have acquired the right to photograph what goes on in people's gardens. That is a dangerous shift, because if no one has any right to privacy, we will soon be living - dare I say it? - with a privatised version of Big Brother run by some of the internet companies. That is the scenario slowly creeping up on us. I say that because many of my observations today will focus on Google's activities, such as street-mapping, accessing people's personal wi-fi addresses, and-as we learned from newspapers and Google's official blog a few days ago-the harvesting of personal e-mail addresses and passwords."

It's not just Google: "I acknowledge that Google is by no means the only guilty party. As The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted in a special series, there is a problem with what is termed scraping. Scraping is the process whereby internet companies such as Facebook and MySpace pass on user names and personal information to other companies for commercial purposes, without the consent of the individuals concerned."

Google's harvesting of personal data: "As The Daily Telegraph stated on 23 October 2010, Google admitted that it "downloaded personal data from wireless networks when its fleet of vehicles drove down residential roads taking photographs for its controversial Street View project. Millions of internet users have potentially been affected." Among the information gathered were millions of e-mails, passwords, and the addresses of websites visited by private households. That is unacceptable."

Questioning Google's honesty: "I find it hard to believe that a company with the creative genius and originality of Google could map the personal wi-fi details, computer passwords and e-mail addresses of millions of people across the world and not know what it was doing. My feeling is that the data were of use to Google for commercial purposes and that that is why it was done.:

Google should seek permission of people it photographs: "I have no problem with Google photographing me in my garden, or my house, and putting those images on the web, but the point is that I want to give Google permission to do so. I want to opt in. Some people will respond that any citizen can walk up a street, taking pictures of people's houses. Of course that is true, but there is a difference of scale and of commercial interest. Google was not sightseeing; it was creating a product to sell advertising on a mass scale."

A new legal framework is required to regulate Google and other internet companies: "The time has come for the Government to set up a serious commission of inquiry composed of members who have expertise in civil liberties, the internet and commerce. The commission should suggest a new legal framework to redress the balance, giving citizens an affordable and speedy means of redress. Perhaps the best means would be an internet bill of rights, which would give the citizen some notion of his rights. At first, such an internet bill of rights might be a semi-voluntary code, as currently proposed in Europe.  The system would be self-regulating, in the same way as the British Medical Association can mediate over doctors' behaviour, or the Law Society can judge legal practice. If an inquiry finds cases in which a company has infringed upon people's privacy without their permission, perhaps there could be some sort of fine."

The full debate can be read here.

28 Oct 2010 06:57:49

Scottish Secretary shuns Tory's call for "English votes for English laws"

By Jonathan Isaby

Robert Halfon Commons Yesterday saw the Scotland Office ministers taking questions in the Commons  shortly before Prime Minister's Questions.

Newly elected Conservative MP for Harlow in Essex, Robert Halfon (pictured), asked the following simple question:

"Does the Secretary of State recognise that residents in my constituency and elsewhere believe that alongside his plans for Scottish devolution, England deserves a fair constitutional settlement, with English votes for English laws?"

Alas the (Lib Dem) Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, utterly failed to give a susbtantial answer to the question:

"The hon. Gentleman's passionate case has been heard in a very busy Chamber, but I am concentrating on getting on with the continuation of Scottish devolution."

The Coalition Agreement stated that "We will establish a commission to consider the West Lothian question" and in July Cabinet Office Minister Mark Harper indicated that the Government aimed to "announce our plans for the commission by autumn 2010."

We await further news with bated breath...

6 Jun 2010 10:59:05

Robert Halfon and Neil Carmichael make the maiden speeches they have been waiting a decade to deliver

Of the new Conservative MPs elected at the general election, eight won their seats at the third time of asking, having valiantly fought unsuccessful campaigns in 2001 and 2005 before ousting sitting Labour MPs last month.

Two of those eight gave their maiden speeches during the debate on the Queen's Speech last Wednesday.

Picture 2 Harlow's Robert Halfon emphasised his desire to see the Government champion vocational training and apprenticeships:

"If we give young people the necessary skills and training, we give them opportunities and jobs for the future. Expanding and improving apprenticeships is not just about economic efficiency based on pure utilitarianism; it involves the profoundly Conservative ideas of helping people to help themselves, of a work ethic, of opportunity and, most importantly, of social justice.

"I have seen for myself the power of apprenticeships to transform lives. I have seen John Tennison, the managing director of Smiths aircraft industries in Harlow, who started as an apprentice there more than 30 years ago. I have seen the construction training partnership, which helps youngsters supported by youth offending teams to train in building, electrical work and plumbing, and gives them the chance to succeed. I have seen Harlow college, and was delighted to visit the Essex apprentices scheme there with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). It is no accident that our college is climbing so high up the league tables, with its aim to be one of the best in England.

"Our policy of creating 100,000 extra apprenticeships every year is something to be proud of, but we must do more, particularly in regard to reducing red tape and regulation and giving better incentives to businesses. Above all, we need a root-and-branch cultural change in our country. Winning an apprenticeship should be as highly regarded as getting to Cambridge university—or any university, for that matter. Apprenticeships should be held in the same regard as higher education by secondary school teachers, yet all the evidence shows that the opposite is the case. The apprenticeship organisation Edge says that two thirds of teachers regard their knowledge of apprenticeships as poor, and that just one in four teachers believe that apprenticeships are a good alternative to A-levels. As an MP, I intend to play my part in changing the way we regard apprentices."

Picture 4 Meanwhile, Neil Carmichael, who gained Stroud at the general election, touched on the importance of further education:

"Further education is an important subject. Sometimes it is the Cinderella of education, but I want to emphasise how important I think it is. Effectively, it is the facility that can overcome the problem of people who thrive not in schools but in vocations and in the further education environment, so it is absolutely right that the further education sector be helped as much as possible. Reducing the amount of bureaucracy and regulations is clearly one thing that must happen, but we must also tackle the question of funding. That is complicated, but we need to ensure that FE colleges know where the money is coming from. Governance of colleges and schools is important. Governors must recognise and take on their responsibilities, because if we are to have academies we must have capable governors and a governance system that works and ensures that schools are checked."

Jonathan Isaby

2 Jun 2010 16:11:09

Hague attacks Israel's "unwise" blockade of Gaza

Highlights, not verbatim.

Screen shot 2010-06-02 at 15.39.02In a statement to the Commons, William Hague says it is vital for there to be "unfettered" access to Gaza. Hamas, he says, continues to pursue an ideology of violence. Hamas must cease their attacks immediately and back The Quartet principles. The only long-term hope is a Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure Israel.

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Miliband calls Israel's attack on the flotilla "self-defeating". The blockade does nothing to weaken the grip of Hamas - in fact Hamas benefits from taxes on smuggling.

Responding to Miliband, Hague says support for the people of Gaza is "bipartisan" in the Commons. He agrees that Israel's policy on the blockade "tightens" Hamas' grip on Gaza.

William Hague responds to a request from Ming Campbell that Hamas be brought into the circle of talks. Addressing "his honourable friend" the Foreign Secretary says Hamas must first recognise Israel, honour past agreements and abandon violence.

Labour MP Louise Ellman becomes first MP to speak in sympathy with Israel. She invites William Hague to understand how Israel can be assured that its security won't be compromised if the blockade is lifted. Two questions later Sammy Wilson (DUP) invites the Foreign Secretary to say how Israel's security can be guaranteed - and arms shipments avoided - if the blockade is lifted. Hague replies that the international community must provide Israel with such assurance without saying 'how'.

Sir Nicholas Soames calls the blockade "cruel" and invites William Hague to agree that it is illegal. William Hague says that he think the blockade is unwise and the challenge is to persuade Israel that it is not in its interest. Anne Main attacks what she describes as Israel's use of "selective footage" of the flotilla incident in the media. Another Tory MP Julian Brazier describes the blockade as "brutal". He says that smuggling tunnels into Gaza can now accommodate 4x4 vehicles.

Screen shot 2010-06-02 at 16.05.45 Robert Halfon invites the Foreign Secretary to acknowledge that Israel is allowing millions of tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza and there is a risk that Iranian-supplied weapons could reach Hamas if the blockade is lifted. The Foreign Secretary says the comments bring balance to the discussion so far.

Ann Clywd calls on William Hague to adopt a hobnailed boot policy towards Israel. End the pussy footing she said and end the illegal settlements. William Hague replies that he still has faith in Israeli democracy and that the nation can be persuaded to change course.

Tim Montgomerie