Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Fletcher Excerpts
Tuesday 30th April 2024

(2 weeks, 6 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
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The hon. Gentleman is already applying a lot of pressure through his chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief, which took forward a Bill just last week. My co-Minister Lord Ahmad met Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Ishaq Dar, in March to discuss the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and the former Foreign Secretary has raised the issue of the persecution of religious communities, including recent attacks against the Christian community in the Punjab. Those conversations will continue, and the fact that we have committed to continuing the role of the freedom of religion or belief envoy will provide us with the authority to do that.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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4. What diplomatic steps he is taking to strengthen international co-operation on tackling illegal migration.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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5. What diplomatic steps he is taking to strengthen international co-operation on tackling illegal migration.

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Deputy Foreign Secretary (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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Tackling irregular migration is a priority for Foreign Office engagement across our overseas networks, through international forums, including at the G7 and European Political Community, and bilaterally.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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Given the success of the agreement with Albania, which has considerably reduced the number of illegal immigrants crossing by small boats, does the Minister believe that more of these agreements are necessary, alongside our Rwanda policy?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. He will have seen that on 17 April we signed an agreement with Vietnam to tackle irregular migration and reduce channel crossing casualties. The numbers of Vietnamese people coming across the channel has been one of the fastest rising groups in recent months.

Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response: International Agreement

Nick Fletcher Excerpts
Monday 17th April 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 614335, relating to an international agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Sharma. I first want to thank the petitioners for their campaign. The petition has received more than 156,000 signatures, and is therefore something that this House should rightly discuss. The petitioners ask that the Government commit to not signing any international treaty on pandemic prevention and preparedness established by the World Health Organisation unless it is approved through a public referendum.

In their response to the petitioners, back in May 2022, the Government stated:

“To protect lives, the economy and future generations from future pandemics, the UK government supports a new legally-binding instrument to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”

They finished their response with,

“This process of ratification allows scrutiny by elected representatives of both the treaty and any appropriate domestic legislation in accordance with the UK’s constitutional arrangements. The Government does not consider a referendum is necessary, appropriate or in keeping with precedent for such an agreement.”

As I always do when leading a petitions debate, I shall set out my role here today. I lead these debates, not because I have specifically asked to do so, or because I agree with the subject matter, but simply because it is my duty as a member of the Petitions Committee to take a number of debates each Parliament. I want that to be very clear.

In that capacity, I cover a variety of subjects and, as all my Committee colleagues will agree, I am superbly supported by the staff who assist the members of the Petitions Committee. I always believe that the Petitions Committee typifies democracy at its best and am therefore honoured to stand here and debate the views of a percentage of our nation’s people on a specific subject. Today is no different.

I will begin with some information on the World Health Organisation. The WHO was established in 1948 and is the United Nations agency on health. Its headquarters are in Geneva. It has 194 member states grouped into six regions. Its website states that it

“leads global efforts to expand universal health coverage and…coordinates the world’s response to health emergencies.”

One of the WHO’s many success stories is the eradication of smallpox. It has worked in many areas across the globe in sexual and mental health. It has worked towards the eradication of polio. It helps across developing countries with the provision of clean water, and helps against the effects of climate change and earthquakes—the list goes on and on.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and for highlighting both smallpox and polio. Is the fact of the matter not that it has been a worldwide vaccination programme that has enabled us to achieve that? Does that not demonstrate the falseness of the anti-vax campaigns?

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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I thank the right hon. Member for his contribution. I do believe that the World Health Organisation should be proud of an awful lot of the work that it has done. More recently, the outbreak of covid has brought many questions about the WHO and I would suggest that that is one of the main reasons that we are debating how the WHO can protect our population today.

A question that I believe should always be asked of any organisation is, “How is it funded?” The WHO gets 20% of its funding from member states as assessed contributions, but 80% then comes from voluntary contributions. That is, again, from member states that wish to give more, but also from the private sector and philanthropists.

What can the WHO do at present, and what does the treaty want to achieve? Through international health regulations, the WHO is alerted to potential events, and can then give guidance to members. There is a legally binding agreement that directs nations on what they need to do in a public health crisis. International health regulations were crafted in 1969 and amended in 2005, and they outline each member’s responsibility. However, these are not really legally binding. From what I understand, the WHO has no real power. Members can choose to ignore what the WHO says. It suggests, rather than tells, a country what it should do. It has no real enforcement powers; all it can do is highlight those countries that do not follow guidance.

Through the treaty, it is now proposed that the WHO would be able to police its powers to motivate a country into doing what its officials believe is necessary. Some countries do not want this to happen, and the petitioners do not want the UK to agree to it without a referendum. Why is that the case? The petitioners believe that those sorts of powers should be sovereign. They do not like the fact that WHO officials are unelected. They do not like the fact that some members pay in more money than others, and could therefore have more influence on decisions. They also feel the same about philanthropists and pharmaceutical companies that make contributions.

Are the petitioners over-concerned? In the treaty there is a change of language from “should” to “must”, but is the WHO only doing its job of protecting our population? There appears to be nothing about lockdowns in the treaty, which that is one of the biggest concerns of the petitioners. The next question is what policing member states would look like. It would probably mean sanctions—services or resources being withheld. Would that only affect the smaller countries? Would that really bother the superpowers? Would it really bother the members that are paying in the most money? Each question leads to another.

That leads me to another part of the petition: maybe a referendum is required. I genuinely do not believe in referenda. I was elected to stand here, educate myself on the various topics that come before this House, and make decisions on my constituents’ behalf. It is a position of privilege, and involves a lot of reading, but that is an important part of the position. Our constituents have their own jobs to do, and therefore do not have the time, nor the ease of access to information, that we have in this place.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
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The hon. Gentleman is right that he is elected by his constituents to speak on their behalf. But when it comes to the matter of sovereignty, surely it lies with the people? Like me, the hon. Gentleman is only a custodian of that sovereignty for a brief period of time, after which it must be returned intact to the people who elected him so that they can elect someone else if necessary. When it comes to giving sovereignty away, that has to go back to the people and it requires a referendum. The people will decide whether they wish to give their sovereignty away.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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I thank the hon. Gentleman and I will now come on to his point. Is holding a referendum the right tool for now? We had one in Scotland; this was widely accepted on all sides to be a once-in-a-generation referendum. Those who lost have ever since pushed for another referendum. The same happened over Brexit; it consumed the nation. Referendums are divisive; they polarise positions and leave a lasting legacy of division. Whether a referendum is appropriate is for the Government to decide, and if they think it is, they must make all the facts known. I suggest that petitioners, while playing their part in the education process, must do so in a sensible manner. I have no time for conspiracy theories.

There is a push for the WHO to gain policing powers over pandemic responses, and our Government need to seriously look into that, as at least 156,000 people are concerned enough to have signed the petition. They are not alone in their concern. As I have already stated, some countries have said that they will not sign the treaty. Are they right to do so? Whatever our politics may be, we should always be careful when handing over such powers to an organisation that can be influenced by nations other than ours. Questions about whose agenda the WHO takes will be asked, and it should be prepared with answers if they are to quell the concerns of many of the voices speaking on this subject.

In summary, the WHO does some wonderful work. Covid has proved what devastation a pandemic can bring. There will no doubt be another at some point, and we need that global perspective. We are a global community, therefore what happens here can soon have a bearing on a country across the globe. The petitioners are essentially asking whether an unelected organisation should have the power to sanction countries such as the UK if they do not wish to comply. Do we have no real choice but to comply, and should the UK sign up to this treaty without a referendum? I look forward to hearing the position of other Members and the Government.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (in the Chair)
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I remind Members that they should bob if they want to speak.

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Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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I thank the petitioners for signing the petition. I also thank the members of the public for turning up in Parliament today. As has been seen, the topic has been well debated, and I hope that they are pleased with the outcome.

I thank the Minister for her comments and her assurances. Sovereignty has been hard fought for in this country, and the Government will see that it is not something that we want to hand over lightly.

I genuinely believe that this debate has been a good one. I hope that the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response will look at the wonderful work Hansard does to put the debate out there and that it will realise there is an awful lot of concern. We all want to protect people across the globe; how we do it is the important part.

I thank all Members for taking part. I also thank you, Ms McDonagh, for your work as Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 614335, relating to an international agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

Throwline Stations

Nick Fletcher Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Nusrat Ghani (in the Chair)
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Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when not speaking in the debate. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test before coming on to the estate. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated, and when entering and exiting the room.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 575967, relating to throwline stations around open bodies of water.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani.

In May 2018, Mark Allen was out with his friends on a hot summer’s day. He was a bright and funny young man, who wanted to be an actor. The water where he and his friends had congregated was welcoming. Like many young men, and some girls, they did not register the danger. Feeling hot and sticky, the clothes came off and in they went. I am pretty sure that if I had been there, aged 18, I would have done the same. I have swum in the sea a thousand times, so what it is the difference?

In they all went. No doubt, they screamed with laughter and pain when the cold hit them. They probably splashed each other in the water, like we all do. Apparently, these boys got out, but they decided to go back in. Unfortunately, Mark never swam again. Last week I met Mark’s mum Leeanne—a brave woman who told me her story. There can really be nothing like the pain of losing a child. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of Mark’s extended family and friends for their loss.

When someone dies so young, we have to ask why. It is a very tough question. When a family can take something positive out of such a tragic event, it does not remove the pain, but preventing others from going through the same experience may help to bring at least some sense to it. Mark’s mum made a promise to him that she would do all she could to stop this happening to other people, so that families like hers do not have to suffer a similarly tragic event. The petition started by Leeanne has reached 103,000 signatures, and 57 of my own constituents have signed it. It has huge support, and I am pleased to bring this debate here today. There has been similar campaign work on throwline stations and water safety education over the years, and I would like to recognise the work of those campaigners.

Hundreds of people die each year in water, and the statistics prove that it is mainly young boys and men. Figures have shown that over the last eight years between 80% and 90% of those who suffer fatalities in natural water have been male. What is happening? It appears that boys and men are less risk-averse than girls, so that is the first point that needs addressing. The second point, which I believe to be the most important, is that many of the deaths are not down to poor swimming capabilities. Just because someone can swim, it does not make them safe; it is the shock of the cold water that kills so many. It is not like jumping into a swimming pool, which is often heated. It is not like someone running into the sea and then running back out again until they get used to it. It is the jumping in that does it. The third point to raise is that there are no lifeguards to help anyone in trouble.

So what is the answer? This debate is about throwlines. Some people believe that having throwlines at all open water spaces could be the answer and would help an awful lot, but it is not completely the answer. The problem is that if I saw safety equipment around a stretch of water, it might suggest to me that this is a safe place where I can go in. David Walker of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents—a professional in the field—said to me that when he sees this equipment, he is pretty sure that there has been an incident. In other words, what shouts “safety” to me and many members of the public actually shouts “danger” to a professional.

Having spoken to David, I am convinced that there needs to be a three-pronged approach. Education must be the first part. A 20-minute session with every child once a year would be a wonderful start, and we must ensure that boys engage with the lessons. Secondly, mandatory risks assessments of all waters—natural or manmade—must be carried out. The RoSPA will help with those, and although many of the larger water companies and councils already perform them, it appears that too many are just a paper exercise; they do not really carry out a thorough assessment or act fully on their findings, and that should be addressed. Finally, equipment such as throwlines must be put in place only with sufficient warnings stating, “This equipment is not a signal that the water is safe—far from it—and no matter how many times you have swum before, it could be your last.”

We will never stop young people doing risky things, since it is part of growing up. It is fun and makes us who we are. We learn from those actions: “That was a good thing to do”; “That was not so good.” I am a believer in taking risks, but those risks must be calculated. If our young people are not fully aware of the dangers, it is our job to correct that.

I ask the Minister for Levelling Up Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), to address three points. First, I believe that the previous Education Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), was looking into the education element, so will she ask current Education Ministers to do the same? Secondly, will the Government make risk assessments of all bodies of water mandatory? Lastly, if and when any equipment is installed, will warning signs be placed everywhere that say, “This water is not safe. Do not enter”? We will never bring Mark back, but we can help Leeanne to fulfil her promise to her son, and at least reduce the number of families who have to go through similar fatalities.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Nusrat Ghani (in the Chair)
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I must say that my experience of the Minister means that she will be able to cover all issues. She is normally competent across many issues and Departments.

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Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Ghani. I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Mark’s mum, Leeanne, for being here today and for bringing the petition forward. I hope she is pleased that it has been a thorough debate, and I thank all Members who have taken part. This is obviously a really big issue. Every death is a death that should not have happened, and we should do all we can as parliamentarians to try to stop such deaths.

We have spoken about the need to educate people, whether they are young people or landowners, through risk assessments and local authorities. We should also take the time to listen to the advice of professionals. Sometimes we like a quick fix, when really we should take on board what the professionals say. If they say, “The equipment should be put there,” then it should be put there, but if they say, “No, it may cause a further problem,” we should look at that. On what the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) said about maintenance, the risk assessment should state the frequency of inspection.

An awful lot of these accidents happen in the summer months, so one thing that we can all do as parliamentarians is use our social media to get good, positive messages out there prior to the summer and prior to bank holidays, to let parents know, and perhaps to remind teachers who are dealing with children around water, that if they are teaching children to swim, “Yes, this is a fantastic safe place, it’s warm and you’ve got lifeguards, but out there it’s a different world.” I really think that there is a massive education piece, and we should all do what we can to try to keep all young people safe.

The last statistics I looked at—the figures I have from the Library include both “natural water” and “other water”, so we need to be careful which figures we quote— showed that 82% of accidents last year involved men. Everyone needs educating the same, but when I was a young man, sometimes I did not listen. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) said, we think we are bullet-proof—I know I did. We really need to get this message over, because no one should have to go through such tragedy. Once again, I thank everybody for coming to the debate today.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 575967, relating to throwline stations around open bodies of water.

International Men’s Day

Nick Fletcher Excerpts
Thursday 25th November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. This can be done either at the testing centre in the House, or at home. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated, and when entering and leaving the room.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered International Men’s Day.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Sharma. I have been asked to send apologies from my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). He wanted to speak in this debate, but with the date change, he was unable to make it.

International Men’s Day—I am not really a fan of these days. We seem to have a day for everything at present. However, as someone who cares deeply about preventing young boys and men from being left behind, it is fitting that I lead today’s debate. In recent years, there has been a creeping narrative that males have it easy; that their life is a breeze and there is nothing to complain about. My standing here may, in fact, be used as evidence of that, yet it is clear that life is tough for many men and young boys, and many of our boys in schools are far from privileged. I certainly was not; in fact, I came from what I would consider a pretty standard working-class background. I do not begrudge that fact at all, because coming from such a background gave me the attitude that if I did not do something myself, no one else would. That attitude is what put me here.

However, it is clear that many young men and boys are struggling and, for whatever reason, are lacking the can-do attitude that will enable them to get on in life. The statistics speak for themselves: as a whole, men and boys are doing disproportionately poorly in education and health settings. To give a few statistics, boys are lagging behind at school, especially in maths and English. Some 13.2% of men are not in employment or education; the equivalent figure for women is 10%. Suicide rates for men are three times higher than they are for women. Life expectancy for a man today is four years lower than for a woman, 83% of rough sleepers are men, and a staggering 96% of the prison population are male. While I do not believe that men are a wholly victimised group, it is clear that if we witnessed such disparities between other groups, there would quite rightly be uproar. However, such statistics do not generate the headlines they should, because issues that affect men do not seem urgent enough to talk about.

Why is that the case? Personally, I believe that this place operates like a pendulum, swinging from left to right as it continually struggles to correct wrongs and injustices. That is a very noble endeavour that has been pursued in this great institution for many centuries. However, I am afraid that the pendulum often swings so far that reaching an equilibrium is no longer the objective. As such, over the decades during which this place has rightly corrected society’s injustices—empowering females and protecting sexual and ethnic minorities from discrimination—we have unfortunately left the struggles of many males out of the discussion. Some may say that men have had their turn, and it is women’s turn now. I find that poor argument rather infantile, yet it is something I have heard within these walls during private discussions, and it is a narrative that I feel has penetrated popular discourse.

I am in no way denying that men have had many opportunities that women have not had, and that remains the case in too many instances. That is wrong and should be continually challenged and put right. However, such a wrong should not be corrected by simply ignoring the issues that many men and boys face. As the saying goes, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” So what can we do? And why did coming from such a working-class background not stop me from reaching the position I am in now?

First, we must consider the need for boys to have male role models, just as they need female ones. The need for such male role models is highlighted by groups such as Lads Need Dads, a fantastic charity that has done some excellent work in encouraging boys to pursue their passions and to learn skills from male volunteers. The results speak for themselves, and I urge all Members here to look into the organisation’s work and to promote the group in their constituencies It is time that we recognised the need for positive male role models for our boys. After all, failure to do so will only mean that boys continue to be let down.

Secondly, we clearly need more male teachers in our schools if we are to address some of the educational disparities that I touched on earlier. I have spoken to teachers in Don Valley who said that the poor behaviour of young boys with no positive male role models at home is often exacerbated by the lack of male role models at school. Consequently, I say to the Minister that an active campaign to encourage men to become teachers ought to be a fundamental part of the teacher recruitment and retention policy.

Thirdly, it is clear that boys need to have their own clubs, just as girls need their own clubs. It is indeed a wonderful thing that women’s football is on TV, and it is terrific that female tennis stars are finally starting to be paid as much as their male counterparts. As the father of a daughter, I applaud all who have corrected that wrong and hundreds of other injustices. Yet I will also reiterate something that seems very topical at the moment, although much more for women than men, which is the need to have their own identity and for masculinity to be something that can be celebrated at times rather than being continually vilified.

Everywhere, not least within the cultural sphere, there seems to be a call from a tiny yet very vocal minority that every male character or good role model must have a female replacement. One only needs to consider the discussions about who will next play the James Bond to see that. And it is not just James Bond. In recent years, we have seen Dr Who, the Ghostbusters, Luke Skywalker and The Equalizer all replaced by women, and men are left with the Krays and Tommy Shelby. Is it any wonder that so many young men are committing crimes? Such programmes make crime look cool. Trust me, a lifetime in prison is not cool, and neither is living with the memory of a stabbed son or daughter.

There is no doubt that we have witnessed awful events over the past year in which the victims have been women. Being the father of a daughter, as I have mentioned, my heart goes out to the victims of such crimes and their families. Yet the awful events that have taken place have led, in many ways, to the word “masculinity” being preceded by the word “toxic” more and more frequently in our public discourse. Yet again, we have to ask ourselves, “Who does this help?” I have an answer: no one. How will this situation make boys and young men see themselves? Poorly, that is how.

If we are to strive to be a safe and inclusive society, we should not vilify 50% of the population and neither should we immediately vilify the term “masculinity”. That is because, just as I hope all women love being women, I love being a man. Most of my friends are men. Indeed, coming from an electrical engineering background, most of my former colleagues are men. My understanding of the world has largely been shaped by the fact that I am a man. I do not think that being a man makes me superior in any way, yet being male is an essential part of my identity, and just as with any other identity—whether religious or ethnic—I believe that male identity should be celebrated, not vilified.

Some may argue that I did not choose to be born male and so it is ridiculous for male identity to be celebrated. I do not suspect that anyone would say that about any other identity. In short, I believe that we should encourage boys and young men to be proud of being men, because it is important for boys to know that, as males, they can make a positive difference to society.

Following on from that, I will just go back to how I ended up here in Parliament. First and foremost, I came from what I believe was a very good home. I was lucky to have good parents and two wonderful brothers. Overall, I was surrounded by excellent role models, who often told me, “Don’t say ‘I can’t’. Say ‘I can’ and ‘I will’.” I did, and look where it got me.

I also went to a great school with the best headteacher, Mr Stephenson, who knew what it was to be a great role model, and I thank him for the time he spent with me. I went to Scouts, practised taekwondo, and became an apprentice at 16. Throughout that time I was surrounded by male role models, many of whom were very good, speaking positively about each other and where they lived. If more of our boys and young men had that experience, we could make enormous strides for the most disadvantaged of boys.

Going back to the earlier mentioned statistics on education, some excellent research contained in the report by the all-party parliamentary group on issues affecting men and boys, “A Boy Today”, highlights some of the reasons why boys may be disadvantaged. One such reason is that boys are likely to be taught better in a vocational setting, than in a classroom. The Government must take this seriously and tackle the fact that boys generally do much worse in a classroom setting.

Speaking from a personal perspective, I can see why this may be relevant to many boys in education. I can completely relate, because I am an action person. I prefer to learn something on the job and for a reason, after which I like to put it into practice. Basically, I just like getting on with it. I can imagine many boys and young men in education feel the same.

We need to find out what the boys who do not do well in traditional educational settings are good at and provide the resources to support them. If it is something out of school, it should, where possible, be brought into school, even if it is just an assembly piece. While we should encourage and champion all children, research suggests boys are much less likely to push themselves, so this needs to be addressed at every opportunity.

In school, the workplace and home, we should also begin to recognise that language is most important. Negativity is never the right approach. One of the greatest lessons I learned as a parent and an employer of many young male apprentices over the years is that we must speak positively in front of young people. Any concerns should be addressed privately with other adults who are responsible for the child’s development or young person’s progression. Telling a young person they are useless or will never achieve is catastrophic. This kind of language is too often directed at boys. I have witnessed it myself.

When a young boy hears such things and continually hears masculinity linked to toxicity in societal discourse, it is no wonder that many suffer from feelings of worthlessness and isolation. I never felt left behind or disadvantaged, because no one told me I was. Instead, I had positive role models who took the time to teach me what an upstanding man should be. We need more of that these days in youth clubs, schools and homes.

I say to the House and the Minister, let us provide families up and down the country with the help and support they need, but let some of that help be directed to our boys and young men. Let us do all we can to introduce policies that help to build strong families. Let us help our communities organise themselves around assisting young boys to turn into great men—great men who can look after themselves, lead and be role models for the next generation.

However, this quest to uplift young men and boys must not come at the expense of the progress women are making in all walks of society. That is especially true after this year’s events, which have shone a light on how many women feel vulnerable in many situations. That is clearly not right. As has been pointed out, men have a role to play in solving this societal issue, yet this cannot be done by vilifying men. Instead, it can be achieved only if we encourage young men and boys in educational and family settings to think highly of themselves and be respectful of others, particularly women.

Therefore, we need to encourage a type of masculinity that promotes individual responsibility, educational achievement and looking out for people, especially women. We should also teach young boys in the classroom and at home not to objectify women, but to be much more like the moral, upstanding male role models who were in my life growing up.

As espoused by Lads Need Dads, give a young lad a good dad or a male model, teach him what is right and what is wrong, watch what he watches—I cannot stress that enough—and who his influences are. Teach him to be proud of what he is—a boy—because from this you will get a man who is an asset to society, a fantastic son or husband and may be even a fantastic dad.

As a society we should continue our pursuit of inclusiveness, but not so that policy makers forget half of society. If we get that right, we should need fewer police, not more. We should need fewer courts, not more. We should need fewer prisons, not more. This is a long game; we need to help men at all stages of their lives. Some are already in a bad place, and we need to help them, but we also need to prevent our next generation from following them. Addressing the disparity that many men and young boys face should be a long-term goal; one that recognises that there will be no quick fixes. However, with a clear strategy and the right people, good things can happen.

Let us celebrate International Men’s Day each and every year by speaking men up, not talking them down, and by speaking well of our sons, our dads, our brothers and our husbands. If we speak well of them, highlighting whenever we can their good points and not their bad, then we will watch them bloom, trust me. They will bloom into someone who is an asset to society, someone to rely on, someone to be proud of and someone who is, most of all, a good man.

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Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I commend the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for securing the debate and for his opening speech. I may have misunderstood him, but he mentioned a number of television shows. I am not sure if he would think that Queen Latifah taking over a role in “The Equalizer” from Edward Woodward, and now Denzel Washington, means that strong female characters are negative, when I see that as a positive myself.

I enjoyed the opening speech a lot more than I enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton). I disagreed fundamentally with his opening remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and others mentioned the organisation Men’s Sheds. I have visited the Men’s Shed in my local area, and it is a fantastic group. She made some fair points about male single parents, as well.

The former Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), mentioned one of the themes of International Men’s Day—better relations between men and women—and said that she sought better relations in her own house. I am completely outnumbered and surrounded by women and girls in my house—even the cat is a girl—so I have no say whatsoever in my house.

I agree with much of what has been said on men’s mental health, suicide rates, social isolation and men’s health in generally, but these subjects all merit their own debates in which we can drill down on the issues involved. They are very serious issues that we have probably not shone a big enough light on in this place. They deserve more attention, not just in this place but in society at large.

This is where at least some of my consensual remarks end, because International Men’s Day is anathema to me. It is a rather cruel joke concocted in response to feminism, women’s rights and International Women’s Day. My personal view is that international days are usually for the oppressed, the underprivileged or those facing inequality. It is shameful that in 2021 International Women’s Day is still all too necessary, and even sadder that the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is even more important than ever. It is the bitterest of ironies that this men’s debate takes place today, on that very day. It is also called White Ribbon Day and it marks the start of 16 days of activism.

The vast majority of people involved in International Men’s Day, particularly here in the UK, are doing so for the very best of reasons. I pay tribute to what they are setting out to do. I do not want any of them to think that my negative comments cast aspersions on them, but I have a fundamental problem with the day itself.

I want to briefly address one of the substantive issues raised by Members, because the Scottish Government are taking action on the issues that impact men and boys in particular, including improvements in mental health support and suicide prevention, which every Member here has spoken about.

The Public Health Scotland has stated:

“There were 805 probable suicides registered in Scotland in 2020, which is a decrease from 833 in 2019.”

As far as I am aware, that is a similar rate to the rest of the UK. It goes on:

“Just under three-quarters (71.4%) of people who died by suicide in 2020 were male…The highest crude rate of suicide for males occurs in the 35–44 age group.”

There is regional disparity in Scotland, and the further north one goes the higher the rate of suicide, with Orkney the highest at 19.3 deaths per 100,000, and 18.9 per 100,000 in the Highlands, compared to 14 per 100,000 for the whole country. We know that these suicides sadly occur for a variety of reasons, but sexual identity, societal and cultural conditioning and role models all play a role. This says a lot about the psychology, behaviour and mental health of men in our communities.

The Scottish Government published Scotland’s mental health transition and recovery plan last year. It prioritises rapid and easily accessible support to those in distress and ensures safe, effective treatment and care of people living with mental illness, long-term physical health conditions or disabilities. Between 2002-2006 and 2013-2017, the rate of death by suicide in Scotland fell by 20%. Under the current plans, the target is to further reduce the rate of suicide by another 20%.

I want to go on to talk about men’s achievements, although I doubt they will be the kinds of achievements that Members want talked about today. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Blackpool South will be keen on my remarks. It is fairly easy to make sure that men’s achievements are celebrated regularly when, essentially, the entirety of western society has been run for the convenience and security of men over women since God was a boy. That has also meant that men’s other achievements—the ones that are not so positive—are also pushed down the pecking order.

The Femicide Census, published last year, found that more than 1,400 women and girls were killed by men in the decade starting 2009. We know that high-profile cases, for whatever reason, capture the headlines: Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Nicole Smallman and so on. They are the tragic tip of a much larger iceberg of endemic male violence against females: 92% of defendants in prosecutions relating to domestic abuse are male; 84% of victims relating to sexual offences are female; one in three teenage girls have experienced some form of sexual violence from their partner; and one in five have experienced it since the age of 16. Incidentally, I thoroughly recommend that Members watch the BBC Three documentary by Zara McDermott on rape culture and sexism in our schools, which I watched last night. It is essential viewing.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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Those statistics prove why we should have an international men’s day and why we should speak men up instead of continually putting them down. As I said in my speech, the vilifying of men and continually expecting them to fail makes the situation worse, not better. We should, with the help of the Government, help families and young men to live good lives in which they feel valued and not isolated, and proud to be men instead of having to cover up all the time and feel awful for being men. If we celebrated men and said, “You can do good things and you are a good person”, we would see the statistics that the hon. Gentleman spoke about, which are absolutely dreadful, fall. Let us talk positively instead of negatively about men all the time.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I have a lot of sympathy with elements of the point he made, but before we get to that we need men in general to take responsibility for what men have done and continue to do. We see it in our papers and news bulletins day in, day out. We need to take responsibility. We need to stop this at source. It is up to us not to walk on by and allow abuse or anything of that nature to happen in the streets and dressing rooms. I played rugby for 17 years. I heard plenty of sexism and misogyny in that time. To be completely honest, for those 17 years when I was younger, I probably did not say a thing about it, either, but that is what we need to change.

Although I accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s point, I think we need to get to a state of acceptance first and take responsibility for the issue at hand. It is men who are overwhelmingly responsible for the violence and misery suffered by millions of our families, friends or colleagues—misery that they suffer purely because they are women. Frankly, I am a bit sick of hearing unadulterated mince about how hard done by men are becoming, as we have heard in this debate as well. We are not the ones who are afraid to go out on the streets, especially after dark, with this time of year effectively keeping many women prisoners in their own homes.

We are not the ones who are outnumbered two to one in this place and who have had the right to vote on the same basis as men for less than a century. We are not the ones, 50 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, still sitting at the sharp end of the gender pay gap. It is not women who are setting the pay rates. Under 40% of FTSE 100 board members are women, and only eight of those companies are headed by women.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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I will complete my point first. I do not for one moment suggest that if boardrooms suddenly looked a bit more gender balanced and reflected wider society, we would suddenly see an outbreak of pay rises and better terms and conditions, because big business will always be big business, but as men we should accept our part and our responsibility for maintaining the status quo.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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On the point about how women are not doing as well as men, I pulled together some statistics before the debate to see where we are, especially in Doncaster. Some 27 of the 32 primary school heads are female, and four out of seven secondary school heads are female; chief constable for South Yorkshire Police, female; Doncaster district commander and chief superintendent, female; senior coroner, female; South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue chief fire officer and chief executive, female; chief executive of Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, female; Doncaster Council directors, two female and three male, and assistant directors nine female and four male; elected Mayor, female; opposition council leader, female; chair of the board of Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, female. Shall I go on? The idea that women are completely oppressed is definitely and utterly incorrect.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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All that proves is that it can be done. I presume the hon. Gentleman was talking about his local area, constituency and local authority. That sounds fantastic, but I am citing the overall figures for the entire country, and I stand by them. His part of the world might be a pocket of equality, but those figures simply do not stand up to scrutiny from a nationwide point of view.

International Men’s Day should be, in part, about us all reflecting on our own behaviours and attitudes, and those of our peers. The patriarchy was not created out of thin air; it is a product of how we and our forefathers have viewed the world and women’s places in it in relation to men. For far too long, that place has been the second-class section of society. Some of those behaviours and attitudes were on display in Parliament when it came to ratifying the Istanbul convention, which is the gold standard in preventing violence against women and girls.

I campaigned pretty hard on that issue, and indeed, I spoke about it during my Westminster Hall debate on men’s role in ending violence against women and girls. I was thoroughly delighted when my then colleague Eilidh Whiteford was able to make the ratification of that convention a statutory obligation for the Government. We are now coming up to the fifth anniversary of the Second Reading of her Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017, however, and we still have not ratified the convention.

I remember that day well. A certain MP spoke for well over an hour in an attempt to talk out the Bill, which aimed to ensure that the UK met its international obligations, as well as its obligations to women and girls. That is the kind of behaviour that confirms for many that the pervasive attitudes at the top of society have not changed much over the decades. When that same Member says:

“I don’t believe that there’s an issue between men and women”

while speaking at a conference for an organisation that issues awards for “Lying Feminist of the Month”, it simply speaks to a wider perception that there is a serious whiff of misogyny and hardcore sexism about this place.

For the avoidance of doubt, that Member was the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who originally co-sponsored this debate. It would be an understatement to say that that undermines what many who support International Men’s Day were hoping to achieve for this debate—[Interruption.] Yes, I emailed the hon. Gentleman to let him know that I was going to mention him, if that is what you are about to ask, Mr Sharma.

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Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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It has been a very good debate. International Men’s Day is extremely important. The essence of my speech was to get an equilibrium by lifting up all men and women at the same time, and I think that is what most Members want too. We should be able to celebrate men without downing women, and celebrate women without downing men. That is basically what we want to do.

I stand by what I said: if we talk up the behaviours of men, rather than continually talking about how some men—a very minute minority—do bad things, we stand a better chance of being good role models for young people. The debate is huge and covers all sorts of issues. Hopefully, over the next few years, while I am fortunate enough to be here, we will talk about a men’s health strategy and a rehabilitation strategy—maybe next year. There are lots of other issues.

However, I did want to speak about bringing up young boys and the influences we have in their lives. The more positive—instead of negative—male role models in the cultural sphere, and the more everyone speaks up about the good things men can do and how boys can turn into upstanding citizens and upstanding men, the better. We should try to do more of that. I thank all Members for a really good debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered International Men’s Day.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Fletcher Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd April 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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We have at every stage, from January, when the original crisis started to break out in China, right the way through to the moment several weeks ago when we announced our social distancing measures, followed meticulously, carefully and assiduously the advice both from the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer. As a result of that, and as a result of the measures we have put in place, two things have happened. First of all, we have protected our precious NHS. It has not been overwhelmed in the way some had feared. Also, I pay tribute not just to the key workers we have talked about but to the huge sacrifices made by the great British public. Because of their compliance with the social distancing measures, we are starting to come through this peak. That has happened only because we have taken the right decisions, based on the evidence that we have had, at the right moment in time—and I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that that is exactly what we will continue to do.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con) [V]
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What recent steps have the Government taken to ensure that the NHS has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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This has been raised already in this House, and it is critically important. I totally agree with my hon. Friend on the imminent need for getting the PPE to the places that need it most. Since the start of the outbreak, we have delivered 1 billion items of personal protective equipment, and we have ensured that we have distributed it via the devolved Administrations so that all four nations get the equipment they need. We are also working through the local resilience forums, with our local authorities and with the support of the military, to ensure that everyone who needs it, whether it is NHS key workers on the frontline or care home workers, is getting the PPE they need. With the help of my noble friend Lord Deighton, who ran the Olympics, we are going to ramp up even further our capacity not just to procure and produce PPE but to get it to where it is needed most.