Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.—(Mims Davies.)
I am grateful for the chance to speak. If my leg stops me being here at the end, it is not that I want to miss the reply from the Minister, but I want what I say to be shared with the Metropolitan police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Secretary of State for Justice and the Home Secretary. I will send it to the Prime Minister as well, who, in answer to my question at Prime Minister’s questions some months ago, remembered the meeting I had with her when she was Home Secretary. It goes back to the disgraceful case of the prosecution of former Sergeant Gurpal Virdi, one of the finest Metropolitan police officers I have known. I could go through a great deal of detail, but I will respect my colleagues who also want to speak.
Perhaps I can start by saying that, when speaking about the police, what comes to mind are stories of reliability, calm bravery and dedicated individuals. I hold Gurpal Virdi in the highest regard, both as an officer and as a friend. I have known him and admired him for nearly 20 years. It was an honour to be with his family at New Scotland Yard when senior officer Bernard Hogan-Howe—before he became Commissioner—apologised on behalf of the then Commissioner for the treatment Gurpal had been subjected to by the Metropolitan police. Hogan-Howe awarded him with a delayed special commendation for exemplary conduct in the case of a near fatal attack on a foreign student. How is it possible that such an impressive officer could be persecuted and prosecuted in both service and in retirement?
Stephen Lawrence lived and was murdered in my former south-east London constituency. I was aware of many of the deficiencies in the police investigation of that attack. Gurpal set a higher standard for policing. There were consequences to his commitment to combating racism and his initiatives following a west London case, where he found the weapon, arrested two suspects and visited the visitor’s home. The trouble for him started when he asked whether it had been recorded as a potentially racist attack. Until cleared, Gurpal faced grim and persistent discriminatory action by his employer. I was one of those who stood up for him and advocated his innocence.
I do not have the words to properly describe the horror I felt when the CPS and the Metropolitan Police Service mismanaged the case that turned up 27 years after alleged events, and after Gurpal Virdi had retired, decided to go into local political service and was adopted to stand as a Labour councillor in Hounslow. His case was heard in 2015 in Southwark Crown Court. It lasted a week and ended with Gurpal’s inevitable acquittal. In the public gallery, I watched and listened as prosecution witnesses, whose evidence was highly dubious or vague beyond belief, took to the stand. It was clear that he was not guilty of misconduct in public office. Charges were thrown in so that, if he were found guilty of an indecent assault on a young person, term could be added to the sentence. He had not assaulted a youth in a police van. The accusations were absurd and unjustified.
As Judge Goymer said in his summing up, which was admirably balanced, the chief prosecution witness, a former officer called Tom Makins, denied there had been an assault, denied it had been sexual, and in particular denied that Gurpal Virdi or any other officer he had known had had a collapsible police truncheon, which the complainant claimed had been put up his bottom. There was no criminal evidence that a crime had been committed and there was nothing to indicate that Gurpal Virdi had even been present. There are two bits of evidence that the police eventually disclosed, one of which they were aware of within days of the complaint first being received. It was that an officer arrested the complainant in the autumn of 1986—I am being slightly vague, because the person claimed to have been under 16 at the time, or actually, he had not claimed it, but the police thought he had claimed it—and the only surviving record from that arrest showed that it was by a PC Markwick, who was not interviewed by the police officers in the department of professional standards in the 15 months that it took to investigate.
The second bit of evidence that survived was the court record showing that Gurpal Virdi and an officer called Mady had arrested the complainant in the spring of 1987 and that, because the person was young, he was held in cells overnight and appeared in court the next day. When the person made the complaint, he did not mention the second arrest at all. He claimed that someone called George had arrested him the first time but, with the second arrest, he did not mention it in any of his interviews to the police, so the one thing that could be confirmed was left out of his memory, and the one thing that could not be confirmed was what the case was built on.
I could go on at length because I know the case backwards, but before it came to trial I wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the head of the Metropolitan police and the Home Secretary, spelling out that the statements from the so-called police witness—Mr Tom Makins, who I do not believe was there either—contradicted six of the major statements of fact made by the complainant: where the person was arrested, why he was arrested, what kind of police van it was, what happened in the police van, whether there was an indecent assault at any time and what was said to have happened in the police station afterwards. Tom Makins contradicted in terms every single one of those significant statements.
Let me go through the trial—I will abbreviate this, because I know that 29 other people want to speak. Before the trial, I had asked the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to note the names of everybody who made a significant decision in this case. After the case, Gurpal Virdi complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, as it was in those days, and what did it do? It referred the case to the head of the department of professional standards in the Metropolitan police—the people who cooked up the case against him in the first place.
I know my colleagues think that this is unbelievable, and so would I, if I had not been involved in it step by step and had not been in court. I say to people on the Front Bench: please make sure that the Minister for Justice and the Minister for the Home Office get together with the police and the CPS and ask what kind of inquiry they are going to have to review the decisions that were taken all the way through. Sir Richard Henriques looked into some of these issues over the accusations of indecent assault by people such as Leon Brittan, Ted Heath and others. I demand the same kind of inquiry for Gurpal Virdi—not a well-known person, but one of the best police officers we have got—because if this injustice is allowed to continue unnoticed, without investigation, I think this House does not have the power that it ought to have to try to bring justice to ordinary people.
I say more gently through my hon. Friend the Minister to Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and to whoever succeeds Alison Saunders as the Director of Public Prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service: please get together and say what you two believe is the right way to have an experienced person review the evidence that I have put forward in part today—and is put forward in rather larger part in Gurpal Virdi’s book, “Behind the Blue Line”—and take evidence from Matt Foot of Birnberg Peirce, Gurpal’s solicitor, and Henry Blaxland QC, of Garden Court Chambers, who represented him in court. Until that happens, I cannot have the confidence I want to have. I would much prefer to go back to praising the police for the good things they do and the bravery they show in answering every blue-light call, every incident of domestic violence, terrorism issues, keeping order on the streets, preventing crime and helping young people to grow up well. Until this happens, my confidence is shaken, and I hope that those who have heard me join me in asking for the kind of inquiry that the police and CPS should voluntarily commit themselves to.
Order. We will start with a time limit of seven minutes, but of course we have two maiden speeches to come, so that might have to be adjusted accordingly.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley)
Some Members will have heard me speak before in the Chamber about the closure of the Britvic and Unilever factories in Norwich, corporate acts that will see hundreds of job losses and millions of pounds stripped and lost from the wider economy. If hon. Members are interested—and they obviously are because they are here—Colman’s was started in the early 1800s by Jeremiah Colman, and the mustard brand, as many will know, has become a household name across the country. When I was a young lad, we did not ask that someone pass the mustard; we asked that they pass the Colman’s. Some may still do.
In that time, Colman’s has also become an integral part of the very fabric of the city of Norwich. I remember being taken to the top of Norwich city castle and being shown by an historian and archaeologist the physical structure of the city. It expands in concentric circles: the closer to the castle, the older the building, and one can see, moving outwards, a whole swathe of housing built by the Colman family to house the Colman workers. This institution—it is an institution in Norwich—is not just part of the physical structure of Norwich; it is part of the very fabric of our city. The loss of money and jobs is part of the story, but the closure will have a real effect on the people of my city. Psychologically, it is a blow to the identity of Norwich, our history and our heritage. I am confident that we will recover—it is a resilient city—but none the less it is a blow.
As if that were not enough, I must now tell the House of the disgraceful way in which the workers and their trade union representatives have been disregarded by Unilever and especially Britvic. Some of these staff are third generation workers from families who have committed their entire working lives to a company that has now decided to leave the city, completely forgetting that they were the very people who helped to make the brand. When Britvic made the announcement about the Norwich closure, it stated that it was simply a proposal and that the final decision had not been made. It promised to run meaningful consultations and to listen to the issues raised, yet, just two days after the announcement, it started offering voluntary redundancies to members of staff. That is not the action of a company committed to meaningful consultation, and the consultation that followed was a total sham, with Britvic providing no real evidence for the closure and refusing to listen to alternatives put forward by workers that could have resulted in huge savings, kept the plant open and kept the workers in their jobs.
It was hardly a surprise when in December Britvic announced it would be moving its operations elsewhere. This was announced alongside a promise that it would treat the workers fairly and minimise the impact on the local community, which it did by offering workers the statutory minimum redundancy package. Seven months down the line and Britvic has shown absolute disdain for the community of workers that has united against this injustice, refusing to meet with union representatives and workers or to improve the redundancy package. As a result, the GMB trade union has been forced into an unprecedented situation where its only option is to strike. I stand in complete solidarity with these workers, who have planned 18 days of strikes over the next six weeks, and I think it a total disgrace that Britvic has shown no concern for the wellbeing of its employees.
Some people will shrug and say, “That is the way of the world.”. Others will say that there are plenty of other jobs for the sacked workers to go to, but the reality is that hundreds of workers in Norwich have been cast adrift by a Government and an economic system that has let all of us down again, a system that ignores the negative impact of de-industrialisation in cities outside London, a system where all that matters is how much and how quickly profits can be maximised, a system that legitimises Britvic in saying these closures are being made in the best interests of the business. Let us be clear: this decision was made in the best interests of the shareholders and executives who will receive huge profits when they sell off the Carrow Road site.
I applaud the valiant efforts of the unions, Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council and the local enterprise partnership to find a viable solution and keep those jobs in Norwich, but I cannot say the same for the Government. When the issue came to a head at the end of last year, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) promised that they would do all that they could to save the jobs of those workers. Where is the evidence to show that they did anything of the sort? In fact, they have simply become part of a Government who have failed to understand the lessons of the past 35 years, which show that Government cannot be a spectator when it comes to industry.
The Government like to portray themselves as the party of business, but this is a prime example of how they have encouraged a system that works for the shareholders, not the workers. They have created a system whereby companies can pick and choose the members of a so-called “independent” consultation group, and a system whereby workers are only allowed reactive rights to challenge the authenticity of a consultation process after they have already lost their jobs. That is a disgrace.
I am devastated by the way in which the closures have been handled, and the disregard that the companies have shown for their workers and communities. I believe that we must review and overhaul the process by which we deal with site closures, closing the loopholes that help companies to flout the rules with little or no consequences once the gates are closed and production halted. When will the Government step up and create a safe and secure economic system that takes seriously the issues of de-industrialisation and unemployment in the most economically vulnerable towns and cities in the UK? It is not too late to intervene and ensure that these workers are listened to and treated with the respect that they deserve. The Government owe that to the workers at Britvic and Unilever, and they owe it to the city of Norwich.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in this important debate. I wish to raise four matters: the negative revenue support grant for Stroud District Council, the missing link on the A417, M4 and M5, the reasons for making the Cotswolds into a national park, and—this is the most important issue—the delays in the completion of a £400 million contract awarded to the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh in my constituency.
Stroud District Council sent a petition to the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid). It explained that when it accepted the four-year revenue support grant settlement, it did so on the basis that business rates would remain the same, with 100% retention, and that the new homes bonus would also remain the same. It has subsequently been reduced. I suppose that the most worrying aspect of the negative revenue support grant is the fact that it affects 147 out of 200 district councils in England. Not only will councils not receive any of the grant next year, but some councils, such as Stroud, will have to pay money back to the Treasury.
The petition sent to my right hon. Friend reads as follows:
“Stroud District Council strongly objects to Central Government introducing a new stealth tax on local households by demanding the payment of £549,000 from Stroud District to the Treasury in 2019/20… It is a complete reversal of financial support and is a worrying precedent which seriously threatens the Council’s ability to continue providing essential local and facilities; especially if this payment turns out to be the thin end of a stealth tax wedge which will see ever larger…payments of money siphoned off from local households to Central Government… Council therefore determines to lobby Central Government, through the District’s two Members of Parliament…for removal of the so-called Negative Revenue Support Grant of £549,000”.
There will be a review later in the summer, and I strongly urge my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to conduct that review in a way that is more favourable to one of the two district councils that I represent.
The second subject that I wish to raise is the missing link on the A419-A417, about which I have campaigned for some 15 years. It is a highly dangerous stretch of road on which, sadly, there have been far too many accidents and far too many fatalities in recent years. It is a very busy road that links the M4 to the M5. Finally, after a lot of campaigning, we had a public consultation earlier this year in which two routes were published. Option 30 was chosen, and it is very important that the Secretary of State lives up to his promise of announcing a preferred route at the beginning of next year, so that we can get on to the development consent order process and get diggers into the ground and start work on this important road in the very early 2020s.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important point about the A417. Does he agree that the death of a young soldier in May on this treacherous piece of road underscores the importance of delivering that vital project, which is crucial for safety, air quality and the economy of Gloucestershire?
The death of that young man was tragic, and I feel very sorry for his parents and his family. Unfortunately, this is just one of a number of fatalities, as my hon. Friend, who has worked with me very hard on this project, knows only too well. That is why it is imperative that this road scheme goes ahead, and he and I will shortly hold a meeting with the Treasury to make sure we get enough money for it.
The third subject I wish to raise is why the Cotswolds should be designated as a national park. Already 80% of my constituency is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is, as many Members will know, an important natural landscape and built environment, and I want to make sure that it continues to be protected so that our children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy this very special place. To that end, the chairman and chief executive and I visited the chief planner of the South Downs national park to see how well it operated, and we were impressed. We were also impressed by the number of similarities between our area and the SDNP—it covers 15 local authorities, and a national trail goes right through the middle—and that it seems to work very well in planning terms. There is a high standard of planning in the SDNP; it has very few call-ins, and when it does have appeals, it seems to win most of them because of the professionalism of its planning team. We could learn a lot from that, and the Cotswolds will get increased resources to pay for a lot of that if we are designated as a national park.
The defence fire and rescue contract was recently awarded, and announced publicly, to the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh. This contract is worth about £400 million over 12 years to the college. It will secure vital jobs in a part of my constituency where jobs are desperately needed—the north of my constituency, which is a very rural part—and my constituents and the FSC employees were looking forward to running this contract, but it seems to have run into some delay. That is most regrettable, and I call on the Ministry of Defence to resolve whatever difficulties there are—I am not entirely sure what they are—as quickly as possible, because that would provide certainty for the workforce. This contract is much needed in my constituency.
I have had discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), whose constituency contains Manston airfield where this activity is currently based, and he is very happy and wants to see this contract resolved as quickly as possible, because Manston airfield can then be used for an aviation freight hub opportunity and for further houses, which are desperately needed in his constituency.
I therefore call on the MOD to resolve the problems and to keep me, as the constituency Member of Parliament, informed. I should add that I have received superb help from the all-party group on fire safety and rescue. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) is present, and I thank him for his support over many years and months. The group’s members have visited the college in Moreton-in-Marsh and seen for themselves the world-renowned excellence of this institution, and it will be made even better and the entire country will benefit if we can get this contract there and it can start selling its services to the rest of the world by proving, through this defence fire and rescue contract, that it is superb at what it does.
It is good news that I have been called to speak so early, and I want to start with some good news relating to the last time that I was in this slot. I like to use this debate for unfinished business, and last time I mentioned a business in Park Royal called Sweetland, a baklava manufacturer of distinction. It is a patisserie that makes middle eastern food that goes to restaurants all over the west end, and it was having problems with HS2 over late payments relating to its relocation. The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) was the Rail Minister at the time, and he beavered away on this. As a result of his efforts and those of the Deputy Leader of the House, the company got its payments. In more good news, I am pleased to say that I was able to cut the ribbon the other day at the shiny new Sweetland factory in the East Acton ward. The company is very pleased.
I hope that the same magic can be worked again with a couple of other businesses whose cases I want to raise this afternoon. Next door to Sweetland is Med Food, which supplies olives. I emerged from there recently laden with jars of olives in different suspensions and flavours. It has not had a great time from HS2. Its relocation is being queried at every turn, and a receipt for bubble wrap that came in at under £200 was queried as unreasonable. Bubble wrap is the kind of thing that people need if they are relocating many hundreds of cubic metres of stock, and I wonder whether the Minister will look into Med Food’s case.
Altenergy of Chiswick, London, W4, is a solar PV panel manufacturer. Its business was booming as recently as 2011, when it was among the top 100 companies in that field. However, the industry has collapsed over the past couple of years, and the company’s turnover has gone down by 80% since the end of the feed-in tariff scheme was announced in 2011. This is part of a pattern from this Government. They used to want us to hug a husky, but now we see their love of nuclear power at Hinkley Point, which is actually two nuclear power stations, and their Heathrow expansion, which they pushed through the other day, is completely at odds with what they used to believe in, as is all the rest of the un-green stuff that they are doing now.
Will the Minister tell us what will happen to Altenergy of Chiswick, London, W4? The company wants policy clarity and fair treatment for rooftop solar, which is a popular type of renewable energy. It is cheap and obviously green; it is the most popular thing in the global renewables market. It dominates the market globally, but in this country, our Government seem to be dangerously in hock to the nuclear industry, which is getting all the subsidy. Altenergy is very worried. It used to have large offices, but it has now relocated to a shed belonging to the chief executive officer, Rajiv Bhatia. It has massively downsized. It used to employ 50 people, but it now employs just a handful. Can the Minister give me any assurances about what will happen when the feed-in tariff goes next year? The company wants to know about net metering, which would provide some certainty. There is no indication that the export tariff will be maintained after 1 April. May we have some assurances on that? Quinn McGovern from Elan Global Renewables of Acton, W3, is in a similar predicament. Several of these companies are wondering whether they might be about to go to the wall.
The issues being experienced by those businesses are not Brexit-related, but I shall now come to the Brexit-related ones. Hamish Orr Ewing of Ealing, W5, is a wine merchant who runs Wine Source Group, an importer of fine wines. He is concerned that the Government’s plan to ensure that importers pay VAT up front would
“be terminal for many merchants”.
He says that the UK wine industry contributes £9.1 billion to the public purse. He believes this plan to be an act of economic self-harm, and he would like some assurances.
We have heard a lot about the Windrush generation recently, and there are several Home Office-related business issues hitting Ealing and Acton. Manic Textiles wants to hire someone from Ukraine. He is skilled, but the company cannot pay him enough. When is this going to stop? We have ridiculous Government targets for the sake of targets that do not consider the skills gaps in our labour force. People may have seen on BBC News the case of a much-loved teacher at the Christ the Saviour Church of England Primary School who went back to Canada and now cannot come back because he does not earn enough. The situation is just nuts. In every case, the Home Office reply just seems to say, “Tough,” which is a bit embarrassing to pass on to the constituent, so I wonder whether the Department will consider the quality of its responses.
The last case that I want to raise is a really sad one. I was contacted on 12 July by Karl and Abbie Pokorny, who wrote to me to say:
“Our family has had a hard few weeks. Our previously happy and healthy three-and-a-half-year-old daughter has ended up in a drug-induced coma on a heart and lung machine and is on the transplant list, waiting for a new heart.”
I think that a new heart would have come for this little girl in March 2019, and their question was about EU organ donation. We have heard about Galileo and the European Medicines Agency—luckily, a new clause was passed last week with the aim of keeping us in the EMA—but they were wondering about our access to organ treatment networks. I contacted them this morning to ask whether it is okay to raise Sophie’s case this afternoon, and I am sorry to say that she passed at the weekend on Sunday. Perhaps that particular case—[Interruption.] I am sorry for making the tone a little dramatic—I did not wish to do that—but let us hope that Sophie’s death was not in vain. Such things should be uppermost in the negotiations. The answers to my written questions about such things are vague in the extreme and always say “in due course” or whatever.
Anyway, I will end my speech there, because I know that loads of people want to speak. Happy holidays to one and all!
I wish to raise several points before the House adjourns for the summer recess, and I am delighted that so many colleagues have stayed to contribute to this debate. We really need a week to do justice to all the subjects that we cover.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on his speech. We absolutely support everything he said about the college.
I was going to mention teachers’ pay, so I am delighted about today’s announcement of the 3.5% increase. I hope that that will do something to address the shortage of teachers.
I am delighted to tell the House that the parliamentary photographic competition, started by Austin Mitchell, restarted this year after a three-year gap. I am bragging when I say that I was in the top five, but I hope that colleagues will enter next year. There are wonderful prizes to be won.
I was proud to learn that Southend’s adoption service has outperformed other local authorities for the second year running. I congratulate everyone concerned.
I recently met some wonderful police cadets. I thank the volunteers who run the scheme at Southend police station—they do a fantastic job—for giving those youngsters such an excellent opportunity.
I went to the Hampton Court flower show, where Southend’s youth offending service gained its 10th medal in 11 years. The team was just one mark off the gold with its wonderful show called “A Place to Think”—I congratulate its members on their work.
I have always supported the Girlguiding movement. I was delighted to visit the 8th Leigh-on-Sea Girl Guides recently to see the wonderful work that they are doing.
Last week I attended a play at Westcliff High School for Boys by N-Act Theatre in Schools. The company was presenting an interactive play called “Friend” that aimed to teach children about the perils of gang culture and how to deal with peer pressure to join a gang. As a Londoner born and bred, I despair at what is happening in our capital city, and we must get everyone together to try to stop the epidemic. I pay tribute to the retiring Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh of Essex police for doing a wonderful job.
The Colourthon is local charity started by the Southend Round Table in 2007, since when it has raised £1.6 million for more than 700 charities. The wife of Southend United football club’s chairman, with 58 volunteers, has raised money for her niece, Amy May.
Several constituents have raised loan charges with me, and it is deeply unfair that individuals are being pursued by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for using entirely legal remuneration schemes involving loans. I urge the Government to initiate an open and truthful discussion on the matter.
I recently met Tamils in my constituency—in fact, I attended their games at the weekend—who are seeking to refer the Sri Lankan Government to the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed during the war and after its end in 2009. I support them in getting justice for all those who have been lost.
I was recently taken around the wonderful South Essex College by the deputy principal, Anthony McGarel. I also visited Edwards Hall Primary School and witnessed its scholars club, which gives young children the opportunity of a head start in working towards university education—a very big jump.
I also visited a food bank in my constituency that is run by Wesley Methodist Church, which does a fantastic job in helping the most vulnerable people in society.
I have raised the issue of the National Fund on a number of occasions. There is a big pot of money sitting there doing absolutely nothing. I met the chief executive of the Growth Partnership, and we need to do something about it. I want to have a meeting with the new Attorney General.
On restoration and renewal, my argument was lost by 17 votes. I am very concerned about the journey we are on. There are all sorts of issues, and I am not sure everyone realises the seriousness of the situation. We only have to see all the scaffolding going up to see how quickly things are moving.
On 14 June, I attended a rally in Parliament Square in support of banning live animal exports. My feelings about the horrific treatment that animals endure are amplified by my frustration that, despite the UK’s good record on animal welfare, we are powerless to ensure the equivalent treatment of British animals while in transit. I hope our animal welfare standards will spread throughout the world when we leave the European Union next year.
My constituent Elizabeth Smith is raising money for a disabled swing, and I hope someone will come up with some money to help her.
The removal of the local 25A bus service has caused great concern, and local councillor Meg Davidson is lobbying First Bus.
Mr Samit Biswas has a taxi company that provides transport for disabled people who are medically stable. There seems to be some sort of argument about the licence.
It is crazy that people can post disgusting comments on social media without having the guts to leave their name and address. They are absolute cowards.
America has presidential libraries, and it is about time we had something similar in this country. Perhaps we could call them prime ministerial houses. We have something for Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, but all Prime Ministers need to be remembered.
I have a constituent who is upset about the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, which needs to be looked at.
Southend airport is wonderful, but I am getting more and more complaints about noise.
I am most angry on behalf of Mr Gregory Docherty. Four weeks ago his much-loved wife, Debbie, died of a brain tumour. Within four weeks, South Essex Homes sent him an eviction notice, despite his having lived in his property for 25 years. That is an absolute disgrace.
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is fantastic, and tourism is booming as a result of the wonderful weather. I could go on and on about Southend. It is about time that it became a city.
And Gareth Southgate—what a wonderful job he and his underrated footballers did in nearly bringing football home to this country. Some of us met the Emir of Qatar yesterday, and I suggested that it might be a wonderful World cup final if we saw England play Qatar.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker, all his deputies and all those who work in this place a very happy summer.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have been informed via a written ministerial statement that the Government have today published the revised national planning policy framework. It has not yet been laid before the House, and copies are therefore not available for Members in the Vote Office. This seems extraordinary, given the importance of the document to Members on both sides of the House. Is there anything that you can do to ensure that the document is available to Members before the House rises today?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. As she says, there is a written ministerial statement today announcing the publication of the national planning policy framework. There is no legal requirement to lay this paper. As she says, it has been published online, although it is not available in the Vote Office. She has put on record her point about the inconvenience that this has caused to her and, I suspect, to other Members, and I think it would be good practice if such documents were available in the Vote Office. I am sure that her comments will have been noted by those on the Treasury Bench and that perhaps arrangements could be made for this document to be in the Vote Office before we rise.
I want to take advantage of the debate to raise a few issues of concern to my constituents on which the Government could offer some assistance. On smart meters, the Government persist with the fiction that all is well, but we know that that simply is not true. There are problems with smart meters working in the north of the country, and installation figures are well behind schedule. There is no evidence to suggest that smart meters for gas supply are working on a commercial basis, and the Data Communications Company cannot or will not supply any evidence to show that its plan is on track. The promised dividend for consumers is plummeting, and the supply companies are blaming Government plans for increases in customers’ bills. When will the Minister responsible wake up to the fact that she needs to call a halt and conduct a serious review of this programme before she lands us all with a technological white elephant?
Tomorrow marks Louise Brown’s 40th birthday. That should certainly be a cause for celebration, but although we have heard some encouraging words from Health Ministers, we are yet to see any action on fair access to IVF. The plight of one in six couples with a recognised medical condition continues to be ignored by many of the faceless bureaucrats running our health service. The provision of IVF is patchy and reducing across the country. Clinical commissioning groups are allowed to introduce arbitrary criteria to ration the service. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines are simply ignored, and the two-year-old exercise in price standardisation shows no signs of progress. We are supposed to be celebrating 70 years of the national health service, as well as the 40th birthday of Louise Brown, so when will Ministers take the health of those with fertility problems seriously and offer a national level of service to treat their illness?
Once again, my constituency is suffering from the cat-and-mouse game of illegal Traveller encampments. We have been promised a consultation, but what we need is action. We need action to ensure that all local authorities provide some sites for legitimate, law-abiding Travellers; and action to make it easier to remove and ban those who persistently break the law and treat local communities with contempt. This issue affects constituencies up and down the land, so why do the Government persist in ignoring it?
We have similar problems in Coventry to those that my hon. Friend mentions, and what he says is right. Many years ago, we used to have proper sites where Travellers could go. They could arrange for their children to go to school and, more importantly, there were facilities on these sites to provide cleanliness. Does he agree that we should do something similar?
I agree, and I think that the Government could help by offering some action. The process requires local authorities to work, and the Government need to give a lead.
Last Friday, I saw two women in succession at my advice centre who were living in a local travel lodge with their children. They are homeless, and both the victims of domestic violence. What is happening in the 21st century in this country that means our response to women and children fleeing domestic violence is to condemn them to a life of hostels and travel lodges? These establishments have no cooking or laundry facilities; children are forced to live on McDonald’s and other takeaway meals.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly important speech. Does he agree that the situation is made even worse in the summer holidays, when children do not have access even to free school meals?
Yes, that is a real consideration. The situation is bad enough at any time, but it is much worse in this period. The reality is that these poor women are forced to spend their meagre incomes on takeaway meals and at laundrettes. Surely a civilised society ought to be able to do better, and surely these women and their children deserve better.
Finally, I learned this week that phone giants Vodafone and O2 plan to ride roughshod over my constituents’ views and erect a 17.5 metre phone mast in the heart of George Cadbury’s garden village of Bournville. They have not consulted local residents because they are not interested in their views, and they have not obtained proper planning permission. Apparently, officers at the planning authority, in their wisdom, missed the deadline for registering the application, which had previously been refused, by one day. Vodafone and O2 pounced on that error to claim planning permission by default.
These are the people who stand accused of ripping off the British taxpayer through £6 billion in tax avoidance. Their profits are all that matters. Their chairmen do not have the courtesy to reply to letters from the local MP and even refuse to meet local residents. I wonder how Mark Evans or Gerard Kleisterlee would like having a 17.5 metre mast in their gardens. These companies are little more than tax-avoiding parasites, and it is time that we took some action to curb their arrogant, bullying activities. We ought to think seriously about measures to exert far more control over these people, who do not care about our country, our people or our environment.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe); I agree with his remarks on all the issues he raised.
Let me start by saying that it is welcome news that we are going to see increased pay for public sector workers. That is particularly true for health workers, who do such a brilliant job for us. However, I have been contacted by staff from St Luke’s Hospice, and by people from the hospice movement in general, who say that they are concerned that they are charities that raise more than two thirds of their money from charitable giving, but they have to pay their staff in accordance with health service rates. That means that they will have to raise more money through charitable donations to pay the increased rates. I want to see Government action to ensure that the hospice movement has additional funding so that the money from charitable donations does not just go to pay the staff who do such a brilliant job.
My Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force on 3 April, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak spoke about the problem of homelessness. The reality is that from 3 April, no one—but no one—should have been forced to sleep on our streets because there is nowhere for them to go. Up to 56 days before someone becomes homeless, the local authority should intervene to prevent that from happening and make an offer of housing.
There is still unfinished business, though. I note that at Question Time on Monday the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government seemed to have adopted my Act as their own. I am delighted that it has done so, but it took me a year of effort to get it on the statute book. I am glad that Ministers endorse it, but there is still unfinished business, because regulations are due in October to ensure that other Government services, such as the health and prison services, as well as numerous others, refer people at risk of homelessness to local authorities to ensure that they do not become homeless. That includes people who have served in our armed forces and many others, including children leaving social care. We have yet to see the regulations; it is time that the Government laid them before the House so that we are in a position to scrutinise them when we return in September.
Along with several other Members from different parties, I attended the peace rally in Paris to celebrate the National Council of Resistance of Iran. We met Madam Rajavi and many others who are aiming for freedom and democracy in Iran. Little did we know that a terror plot had been launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to try to disrupt that proceeding and threaten our lives and the lives of the 100,000 people who had come to call for freedom and democracy in Iran. I hope that we will take action against Iran and make sure that the IRGC is proscribed as an organisation.
I always take Mr Speaker’s sage advice to persist. I am delighted that I have persisted at Women and Equalities questions for nearly a year. In a written ministerial statement yesterday, finally we got the commitment from the Government to remove caste as a protected characteristic from the Equality Act 2010. Now we need to draw up the legislation and push it through Parliament. Those who put it there in the first place have to consider whether they will accept the challenge from the Government to remove it from the Act because it is unwanted, ill-thought out, unnecessary and extremely divisive for the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities across this country.
In some unfinished business, I take the view that our Jain community, of which there are some 50,000 in this country, should have the opportunity to declare on the census the religion of their celebration. At the moment, they have to fill in “other” on the census. I trust that when we come to the census 2021, they will have the opportunity to declare their religion quite openly and satisfactorily. It is very important in many parts of our country.
Equally, on unfinished business, justice for Equitable Life policyholders is still owed by the Government. Some £2.6 billion should go to those people who saved for their pensions but became victims of a scam. Unfortunately, previous City Ministers have decided that they will not meet the all-party parliamentary group, which I have the privilege of co-chairing. I am delighted to say that the current City Minister, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), has agreed to meet us at quarter to six on the first day back after the summer recess. I trust that the 230 members of the all-party group will be present in their droves to hold him to account.
Like me, does my hon. Friend feel very strongly that the Government still have a duty to Equitable Life policyholders, and that they should pay what they owe?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Clearly, this is a debt of honour that we have agreed to pay. The debt is still outstanding, and until it is paid, we will keep going. I say forcefully to those on the Front Bench that we will keep going this until the Government pay up.
I have a number of other issues that I briefly want to mention before I sit down. We are rising for the summer recess, but we should remember that the majority of survivors of Grenfell Tower have yet to move into their permanent homes. I trust that, when we return, every single one of them will be moved into a permanent home that is suitable for their needs.
I also wish to raise the plight of Pinner Wood School in Harrow, which was found to be sited on an old mine and was in danger of collapsing. Very rarely do I congratulate Harrow Council, but in this case it took the very sensible decision to knock down the school and make it safe. However, the Government have refused to fund that decision, and are suggesting that the council and the council tax payers should pay for the cost of that safety measure. That is a shame. I do not believe that that is the right decision by the Government, and I trust that I and other hon. Members in Harrow will carry on applying pressure to make sure that the Government cover that cost.
Let me turn now to a couple of local issues. I must take this opportunity to raise the need for disabled access at Stanmore, Canons Park, Harrow and Wealdstone and Queensbury stations. They are all either in my constituency or border my constituency. I have been campaigning on these issue for 14 years. We still carry on the work. The fight will go on until we get proper access at those stations.
Equally, we need to face the challenge of the tri-borough arrangements for policing. This is a retrograde step for policing in London. I believe that there will be a further problem over the summer and I have been making representations on this issue for quite some time. I am concerned that we are not getting the police service that we need on the streets.
My office is experiencing a dramatic increase in the amount of immigration casework right across the piece. This is a concern because action by the Home Office is clearly causing this increase, and I trust that this will desist.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I end by wishing you, Mr Speaker and the whole House a very happy recess, when we will not be on holiday; we will be working.
I wish to speak briefly on a matter that is of great concern to some of my constituents and that, unfortunately, I could not raise at MoHoCoLoGo questions yesterday. That matter is the way in which big housing developers across the UK are failing in their responsibilities to homeowners and residents. This country has a housing crisis; that much is clear. We desperately need more homes, affordable homes and a greater variety of housing stock in order to meet our needs both now and going forward. As a proud representative of the Potteries and chair of the all-party parliamentary group for ceramics, I would add that we should be making sure that we are using British ceramics in every home that we build—what could possibly be better than Staffordshire bricks and tiles? However, as great as our ceramics are, I am here today to discuss the quality of the finish of some of our new homes. This is a very real problem in my constituency.
For months, my constituents on the Bluebell Croft estate and elsewhere in Kidsgrove have been forced to live among unfinished roads and shoddy workmanship because the housing developer, Taylor Wimpey, has simply not bothered to finish the job.
I can testify to the appalling state that the estate has been left in. Roads have not been tarmacked and have been left with raised metalwork, which poses a hazard to drivers. Kerbs and pavements have been left damaged or unfinished. A playground built within the estate has a range of safety issues that have not been addressed, and we are now in the school holidays. It has taken one resident nearly a year to get the streetlights outside her house switched on.
Throughout all this, Taylor Wimpey has refused to engage with its customers. One resident, who has been complaining to the company since she moved in last December, told me that she has been fobbed off every single time. The company has ignored communication from the local councillors for the area and has now ceased to respond to correspondence from me. When invited to attend a public meeting, its representatives declined. This is simply unacceptable. On its website, Taylor Wimpey describe itself as a “community developer” that is
“committed to working with local people, community groups…and local authorities”. .
This is an audacious description, including almost every group that has been systematically ignored by Taylor Wimpey in my constituency.
My constituents are not the only people to have suffered in this manner, and Taylor Wimpey is not the only big housing developer to believe that it can ride roughshod over local communities. All too often it seems that it is those homes at the affordable end of the market that are most likely to be left incomplete as developers cut costs wherever they can, bulking up their profit margin at the expense of their customers. When it comes to good quality house building, it appears to be one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us.
What is happening in Kidsgrove is not an isolated incident. It is a snapshot of an issue that is recurring up and down our country. Last year, a YouGov survey for the housing charity Shelter found that 51% of homeowners in recent new builds in England had experienced major problems with their properties. These included unfinished fittings, problems with construction and faults with their utilities. More than half of people purchasing these new homes are unsatisfied with their purchase. In what other industry would these statistics be considered acceptable?
If a car manufacturer sold half its vehicles with faulty steering or a water company only managed to get water to half our taps, there would rightly be a national uproar. Yet in our desperation to tackle a very real housing crisis, we have allowed developers to build properties quick and cheap without fear of the consequences. All too often, the behaviour of these big developers goes unchallenged. They have money, expensive law firms and huge PR budgets to make sure it stays that way. But it is my role, and the role of each and every one of us in this place, to ensure that our constituents’ voices are heard. Money may be a great amplifier, but so is democracy.
It is about time that housing developers who act in this way have their mistakes brought to light and are made to answer for them. Taylor Wimpey proudly declares that its company’s history can be traced back more than 100 years. I need it to understand that my constituents cannot wait 100 years for it to find a conscience.
Order. After the next speaker, I am going to have to take the limit down to six minutes.
I would like to raise the issue of Gibraltar. I declare a personal interest. I speak as secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar, and also for the chairman of the group, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who would be here today but is preparing for his wedding on Friday. Personally, I am interested because I have been going to Gibraltar for the past 50 years. I first went there as a 19-year-old officer cadet to dive in the waters off the Moles. Gibraltar is a British overseas territory that is self-governing in everything except defence and foreign affairs. Thirty thousand British citizens live at the foot of that great Rock, and they want to remain British.
The issue that I really want to concentrate on is how Brexit affects Gibraltarians. This whole matter requires a bipartisan approach, with Gibraltar and the United Kingdom working hand in glove together. Although Gibraltar’s superb Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, leads a territory that voted 96% to remain in the European Union, he has pragmatically accepted the result of the referendum. In truth, Gibraltar has taken Brexit on the chin, and now it is working closely with London to ensure a smooth withdrawal from the European Union.
This process must take account of the fact that every morning 14,000 European Union workers cross from Spain—they are mostly Spanish—to Gibraltar. Twenty-five per cent. of the GDP of the 300,000-strong hinterland, the Campo de Gibraltar in Spain, is generated from income in Gibraltar, so Gibraltar has a direct effect on the people who live around it. The chambers of commerce and trade unions in both Gibraltar and the areas close to Gibraltar are united in wanting to have a smooth Brexit. This implies the need for easy border controls to ensure that workers, visitors and residents on both sides have fluid access to and from the Rock.
London is absolutely right to stand firm with Gibraltar and reject any notion or proposal, such as that in clause 24 of the European Commission’s guidelines, that Spain could have any veto over what happens in Gibraltar. That would be monstrous and wrong. Of course, we have a duty to the people of Gibraltar to ensure that they do not suffer because of Brexit. Their oft-stated and restated wish to remain British must be honoured, and there should be no talks with Spain about Gibraltar unless Gibraltar agrees. That must also include talks about talks, if hon. Members understand what I mean.
The people of Gibraltar have the right to self-determination, and they have made clear their will to remain British and prosper under the Union Jack. Gibraltar is family. No other British subjects understand the phrase “Rule Britannia” more than Gibraltarians.
Thank you for allowing me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I wish all colleagues a great working vacation? May I wish you, the other Deputy Speakers, Mr Speaker, the Clerks of the House, the policemen and the people who serve me in the cafeteria but do not serve me in the bars because I do not drink very much a very good summer? God bless everyone, and let us hope that we get things better than we seem to have got them in the last year.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and all other contributors to the debate.
The main issue I would like to raise is the massive issue of support for older people. I very much hope that, as the years progress, we begin to talk about this issue more in the House. I would like to share some examples from our Welsh Labour Government and local examples from my constituency.
The sharp-eyed will remember that, in Wales, older people’s care is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, but I raise this subject here today not just because of its relevance in terms of funding settlements, but because I believe that, when it comes to social and economic issues, the nations and regions of the United Kingdom should be keen to learn from one another. I am very much of the view that learning and sharing also means being prepared to tackle head-on the difficult questions that we all face.
Jonathan Baxter and Stephen Boyce reminded us in their research document for the National Assembly for Wales entitled “The ageing population in Wales” that, in 2008, the over-65s made up 18% of Wales’s population and, by 2033, that is expected to rise to almost 26%. That could be euphemistically referred to as a bit of a challenge, but before we descend into doom and gloom, I would like us to consider a little Welsh proverb that translates as, “The old know, and the young think they know.” There is a little caveat in all this. That proverb was not concocted to describe policy making and initiatives, but it makes an important point. Our policies and thinking as they relate to older people need to reflect what older people think and be designed in an appropriate way.
Let me give one example. At the end of May, Welsh Government Housing and Regeneration Minister Rebecca Evans announced nearly £6 million of Welsh Government funding to support the work of Care and Repair agencies with vulnerable older people. Across Wales, there are 13 such agencies, which together enable many older and disabled people to live as independently as possible in their own homes, providing support and repairing work, helping more than 22,000 people through safety and falls prevention work and carrying out some 17,000 small adaptations.
A fine project supporting older people’s care in much of my constituency and in parts of the town of Wrexham is the community agents project, which helps and supports people who are over 50. As someone who became 50 this year, I have a particular fondness for this project. I pay tribute to everyone at county borough council level who has supported the programme and to the town and community councils; without their funding in those areas, the programme simply would not have been possible. I also pay tribute to our local voluntary sector organisations and to the community agents themselves.
Another example of impeccable care for older people that I am delighted to talk about is the Penley Rainbow Centre. That is situated in a rural part of my constituency, very close to the English border. I have had the privilege of visiting it on many occasions and I am deeply glad to support its work. Operating since 1994, the centre is a registered charity that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of our local community. Services include day opportunities, day care, befriending, peer support groups, volunteering and a range of learning and exercise classes, as well as a new community wellbeing service that provides outreach support to the local community.
People at the centre work with many different groups of people five days a week—including those with dementia, frailty, learning difficulties or physical disability—and they also support families and carers. There are not just outstanding day opportunities. Other services include community wellbeing, peer support, lunch and learns, exercise classes, an excellent community garden—with an active gardening group—as well as a choir, art and craft classes, and beauty treatments. Active local fundraising has led to the provision of a new minibus, which means that the centre will serve even more people. “Caring”, “welcoming”, “a lifeline”, “fantastic meals and company” and
“A place that makes me feel much happier”—
these quotes prove that the Penley Rainbow Centre is not just a credit to the area I am privileged to represent in Parliament, but a project worthy of replication in communities across Wales and the UK, and indeed more widely across the world.
I believe the three projects about which I have spoken today are as fine initiatives in older people’s care as any that can be found anywhere in our land. As the Member of Parliament for Clwyd South, I am delighted to highlight them and to raise in this Parliament and nationwide the need for more serious discussion of older people’s care.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones).
I wish to speak about a subject that is very personal to me, as it is to millions of other women, and that is the menopause. I speak about this topic from my own personal experience. I started to suffer from horrible migraines that prevented me from actually doing my job properly. I did not know why I was suffering from them. I thought it might be because I had taken up a stressful job and had a change in my personal circumstances. It was only when I started to do some research and look into the menopause itself that I discovered that migraines could be a symptom. Like many other people, I had heard in the popular press and in the media about hot flushes, but I was completely lacking in any knowledge about the menopause.
On my personal journey into this topic, I have discovered that there is a shocking lack of awareness and treatment for women who are going through the menopause. The menopause affects every woman in this country and it of course also affects every man who works with, lives with or is related to a woman, so it is fair to say that it actually affects every single person in this country. Yet, in my research, I found that it has been mentioned only 27 times in Hansard in the last three years, and I really wonder why.
I will focus on three key areas. The first is the workplace. I want to point out that some fantastic organisations already acknowledge and recognise the effects of the menopause on women in the workplace. The West Midlands police are one. There is tailored support there for women, which helps them to build their confidence, to stay in the workplace and to get access to the support they need. However, it is clear that many other organisations need to take a cue from that. After all, we are all expected to work for longer and to contribute, so it will obviously have an effect on the economic growth and productivity of other organisations if they can also adopt those practices.
The second point is about medical treatment. I am absolutely delighted that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced £20 billion of funding for the NHS. Please can we have some more support for menopause from those funds? Approximately 13 million women in the UK are peri-menopausal or post-menopausal. The symptoms can last up to 15 years, but too many women are suffering in silence. They are left frustrated and disappointed when they go to their GP. Their symptoms are not recognised and they do not get the hormone replacement treatment that they really need. They are misdiagnosed and told to get on with it, and their symptoms are often belittled or not understood. We see that in the popular debate, in which women are talked about as being “crazy” or as “losing it”, and this is just not a good state of affairs. It is a taboo. It is not understood and we need to do better as a Government.
The third point is very much around education. At the start of their life, we educate girls about periods. Why cannot we also explain to them what will happen at the end of their life? It is not just the fact that menstruation ends; it is a whole process. It is a natural process that we go through. It can be a liberating process, which frees people to contribute to society. That is how it should be—a positive experience. It should not be denigrated. Women should not feel that their purpose is used up, and that now they are left to wither and die.
In the course of my research I looked at Instagram—one place where I find that social media is quite positive. There is a lot of support around menopause on Instagram. We are told that it is the club that no one wants to join, and it sometimes feels like that, because if a woman speaks up about the fact that she is suffering from menopause—maybe in the workplace, perhaps in an organisation that is not particularly sympathetic—she may be belittled. But I think it is time that we take back control of our bodies. We should not be joked about. We should not be written off. It is a time for us to be loud and proud about our achievements.
Society’s attitudes to women are changing, and I welcome that. We talk about mental health and a range of issues; that is absolutely fantastic. Menopause should not be a negative time. I pay tribute to some of the fantastic women I have worked with, who have helped me, and whose work I hope to take forward: women such as the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women’s health—I do not think she is present, but we shall be meeting and working on this issue—Louise Newson, the menopause doctor; Diane Danzebrink; and Liz Earle.
I finish with a really sad quote. A woman asked:
“Does anyone else find that their confidence, their motivation and enthusiasm have disappeared during the menopause?”
I make a plea for us to really look at this issue and give it the attention it deserves. If women are freed up and allowed to live their lives to the fullest at this time of their life, they can contribute to society and give so much back.
I wish everybody a very happy recess.
Maiden speech: Janet Daby.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the chance to speak in this debate. I am both humbled and very proud to be here. I thank my constituents in Lewisham East for giving me this opportunity, as well as my family and my wonderful husband for their patience and understanding over the past few months—and continuing patience, probably. [Laughter.]
I will respect tradition by thanking two of my predecessors, Bridget Prentice and Heidi Alexander. The unwavering support and encouragement that I have had from these phenomenal women exemplifies the adage, “Lift as you climb.” Bridget was MP for Lewisham East for 18 years, from 1992 to 2010. She is still a resident, well respected and well known for her community spirit, straight talking and humour. I thank Bridget for her belief in me.
Of course, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Heidi Alexander. As hon. Members know, she was an incredibly hard-working, approachable and dedicated advocate in this place. She was key to the community campaign that saved Lewisham Hospital A&E services, and as shadow Secretary of State for Health, she was vocal in the junior doctors’ dispute. She was passionate and outspoken about the need for us to stay in the single market—a view shared by many people in Lewisham, where 70% of us voted to remain. We in Lewisham East will not tolerate a hard Brexit. I thank Heidi for her dedication as a public servant, and I am sure hon. Members will join me in wishing her well in her new role as London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport. No doubt, I will soon be in contact with her about improvements to the Lewisham transport system.
As for me, when I was a child and even a young adult, I never imagined that I would become a local councillor, and certainly not an MP; it was quite possibly the furthest thing from my mind. Having grown up with my mum and her endless capacity for compassion and kindness—she gave us children a strong sense of social justice—I was keenly aware from an early age of the impact of prejudice and discrimination on people around me. I was aware that while many resilient Black, Asian and minority ethnic people did challenge those who sought to oppress them, there were others who learned how to cope with discrimination rather than to complain; they learned to suffer rather than to speak out. The Windrush scandal is the latest and most shocking cruelty inflicted upon us. I am proud, as a daughter of the Windrush generation and as a Labour MP, that one of the voices raised against that legislation was that of my party leader.
Although I grew up in a single parent family, my father was never far away, and I clearly remember my Uncle Clifton, my late Uncle Lass and my Uncle Sam excitedly discussing politics during family visits. As a child, it was a world I knew little about, but it intrigued me and I did my best to engage with their conversations. I intend to ensure my contributions here are as enthusiastic and as fearless—and rather better informed than I was as a child.
I am so honoured to represent Lewisham East, my home of 22 years, because it is the friendliest, most energetic and multicultural community anyone could hope for. We have it all: from grand mansions to compact urban flats, from leafy expanses to concrete labyrinths. We have the best street parties in London and, indeed, perhaps the country—hon. Members can prove me wrong on that if they wish to! We have a strong community spirit, and our valued civic organisations, such as Eco Communities, Pre-school Learning Alliance, Ubuntu and Youth First, demonstrate this. We are also fortunate to have the Inter-Faith Walk for Peace and the Peace of Cake movement, which work to make Lewisham East safer and to enhance cohesion.
That said, years of austerity have meant that many people live hand to mouth, and having set up a food project in 2013 as a local councillor, with the local community, I know this only too well. I know someone who has three part-time jobs. He works himself to the bone, but still he has to visit the foodbank so he can feed himself and his family. What he and all our constituents are owed, at the very least, is the real living wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation. Instead, our constituents got the much lower national living wage, based on political calculations.
The quality of jobs available is a serious issue. As a Unison trade unionist and former public-sector worker, I believe in fair pay and in proper terms and conditions. I understand that decisions are being made on whether to abolish the widely used and highly exploitative employment contracts that allow for agency workers to be underpaid for their labour. We need to do the right thing and abolish them, and I applaud the Communication Workers Union’s campaign on this issue. Low pay and insecure jobs mean that many of my constituents are spiralling into debt, and they cannot hope to pay their rocketing private rents. The people of Lewisham East are crying out for social housing, and they need it now if we are to stop the number of families being forced out of the area by the housing crisis.
As for our young people, I am deeply troubled by the multiple stops and stop-and-searches that innocent young men, especially black men, are subjected to. This can have a brutal impact on their mental health and wellbeing, often something that is not considered. Our young people do not just need hope for the future; they need tangible change. I will do what I can to address the stop-and-search issue.
I am saddened and outraged that in 2018 some young women in Lewisham East, but not just in Lewisham East, will skip school because their families cannot afford sanitary products. Across the UK, it is estimated that 137,000 girls missed school last year because of this type of poverty. I absolutely support moves for free universal access to sanitary products.
I want to use the privilege of having a voice in this Chamber to help to reduce poverty, improve health, raise educational outcomes and clean up the toxic air that blights parts of Lewisham East. Some people might see this as optimistic for one MP and her constituents, but as the anthropologist Margaret Mead said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
On this, I believe that when we come up against a mountain to overcome, we need others to help us make the climb, as we cannot do this alone.
Mr Speaker, at times it has felt overwhelming to come into this great establishment, but I have been met with such hospitality by you, parliamentarians on both sides and the superb staff in both Houses—it is greatly appreciated.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) what an amazing privilege it is to follow a speech of that quality—not only that, but what shone through was her absolute dignity. She will be an absolutely amazing addition to our Parliament and to the government of this country. Through what she said, it is clear that she will be an advocate for her local people on poverty, inequality and tackling health issues; but above all, she will be a national advocate for the things that we in the Labour party stand for—we stand up against prejudice and discrimination and show what determination can achieve. It is an amazing privilege and honour to follow my hon. Friend, and I wish her all the luck in the future.
I was moved to speak on two issues in respect of the amazing constituency of Gedling in Nottinghamshire that I represent. I am sick and tired of people coming to see me at my surgeries who have mental health problems but are being refused personal independence payments. I say to the Minister, who will answer a plethora of different things that people raise, that the Government need to get a grip. This is not a party political issue. I talk to Government Members, who have the same problems, and even Ministers say, “This is astonishing. We have to get it sorted out.” Well, the Minister should tell the Department for Work and Pensions to sort it out, because numerous people who have serious difficulties cannot access a benefit on which they depend. It is not good enough, and the Government need to take issue with it. I told numerous people that I would raise that, and I have done so.
I want to use this debate to highlight something that was said by a senior Conservative councillor in Nottinghamshire, and I think that it will shock all Members across the House. Councillor Phillip Owen, chair of the children and young people’s committee of Nottinghamshire County Council, said that the police priorities of modern slavery, domestic violence and hate crime were only priorities because they are “politically correct” and “fashionable”. We think battles have been won—on sexism, discrimination, prejudice and intolerance —and then we hear such statements from a senior councillor about things that have a massive impact.
We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). The police recorded 1.1 million crimes in 2016 that related to domestic abuse, and 1.9 million people aged between 19 and 65 were the victims of domestic abuse. If that should not be a police priority, I do not know what should be. The fact is that large numbers of people are still not reporting these crimes. The majority of victims are women, and large numbers of people are still not prosecuted for these crimes, because the victims will not give evidence to ensure that the perpetrator is prosecuted. That should be our priority, not some prejudiced statement about these matters that deserves to come from the ark. Of course it should be a police priority; of course it should be looked into. This country has suffered down the centuries because such crimes have been dismissed and kept behind closed doors.
What of modern slavery? This House, this country and, to be fair, this Prime Minister—I have said it to her—led the way with the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It needs to be better implemented, but we led the way, and the Prime Minister was key to it, yet we are told by this senior Conservative councillor that it should not be a police priority. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has pointed to a 47% increase between 2016 and 2017 in the number of potential victims of forced labour, while the Global Slavery Index announced just a couple of days ago that 136,000 people in this country were potentially victims of modern slavery on any one day, yet we are told it is not a police priority. I say to Councillor Owen and anybody else who has doubts that tackling modern slavery and forced labour must be a priority for the police of our country, and I am proud that it is. We thought these two issues had ended—we thought we had won these battles—but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East said in her brilliant maiden speech, prejudice and discrimination are still there to be tackled. Likewise, the police still need to tackle the scourges of modern slavery and domestic violence, and I am proud that they do.
Maiden speech: Jared O’Mara.
Mr Speaker, thank you. In fact, everybody, thank you—you have all been terribly patient.
I am delighted today to finally be able to make my maiden speech as the MP for the constituency where I grew up, Sheffield, Hallam. I was elected a year ago as Hallam’s first Labour MP, but due to mistakes I made when I was young, and for which I am truly sorry as they hurt a lot of people, I have been unable to speak in the House with confidence until now. I currently speak in the capacity of an independent Member. I am also Parliament’s very first autistic MP, as well as having cerebral palsy and other disabilities. This fills me with immense pride. It is an honour for me to have the chance to represent our country’s disabled people in addition to serving my constituents.
I would like to give praise to my predecessor for his admirable and steadfast belief in the value of our membership of the European Union and for his commitment to multiculturalism, both of which I share. He shall be remembered fondly as a hard-working and capable constituency MP, and for that he has my respect.
I may, of course, be biased, but Sheffield, Hallam is quite possibly one of the most beautiful and greenest constituencies in the country. On the cusp of the Peak District national park, it contains districts including Fulwood, Lodge Moor, Ecclesall, Stannington, Wadsley Park Village—where I lived for a number of years—Loxley, Crosspool, Dore, Bradway and Totley. It is home to too many great schools to mention, including the two I went to, Bradfield and Tapton, and we have the world’s second-oldest football club, Hallam FC, who play their home matches at Sandygate Road.
On the subject of sport, our schools and villages have given rise to some of the nation’s greatest sports people, including Joe Root, Michael Vaughan, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, the best right back in world football Kyle Walker—even though I am an Owl and he is a Blade—and gold medal-winning Special Olympian Nathan Hill.
My constituency gets unfairly typecast as one of the least diverse and most wealthy in the north, yet I have had the privilege of meeting and speaking to people from all walks of life in Hallam in this past year, be it our sizeable student community, people from humble beginnings and blue-collar professions—much the same as my own background—successful white-collar workers, academics and business people, inspiring and compassionate representatives of our 300-strong Jewish community, the many graceful and civic-minded British Muslims, or the plethora of bright young people from our local schools, who have impressed me no end. Hallam is in fact the epitome of multiculturalism, as is my city of Sheffield as a whole, and I am very proud to call it home.
In my constituency and my city, I have also met many wonderful Christian people. Indeed my parents, who have been at my side through thick and thin, are Christians themselves. While I consider myself a man of science and more aligned with atheism and humanism, I have the utmost respect for all religious people, and I feel specifically that we can all learn from the teachings of Jesus. He was a man who forgave those who truly repented, and he shared my belief that our utmost human priority should be helping those who are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable amongst us—chiefly, our poor and underprivileged, our senior citizens, our children, people with disabilities and illnesses, and people who want to find the right path again after making mistakes.
I ask my constituents, all parties in the House, and everyone in the country at large to join me now in prioritising those principles, and I thank Members very much for listening to my speech. I promise that I will do my utmost to help all those who are in need of help in my constituency, and to champion the cause of equality. When I return to Parliament in September, I shall do so with renewed vigour and an unwavering commitment to social justice. I look forward to being the best MP that I can possibly be.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his commendably succinct speech, and I wish him well.
It is a great honour to follow two such passionate maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O’Mara) talked powerfully about the importance of inclusion and equality—I am sure that we all agree with him on that—and the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) talked passionately about her constituency. An aspect of her speech that particularly resonated with me was her opposition to the extreme Brexit towards which the Government are leading us.
I originally intended to spend my brief minutes talking about the immorality of indefinite detention. I will still talk about that, but I feel that before I do so, I must take the opportunity to say a few words about yet another decision that has been smuggled out on this last day before the recess, and about which many Members may not even know. The Government have just given the green light to more fracking at Preston New Road.
This is an absolute kick in the teeth for the local community, who almost unanimously oppose fracking in their back yard, and who have been fighting an incredibly strong campaign against it. However, it is not just a kick in the teeth for localism; it is an extraordinarily perverse decision, given the reality of accelerating climate change. The Government are locking us into a whole new fossil fuel industry at exactly the time when the experts are telling us that we must leave the majority of known fossil fuels in the ground.
We are currently in the middle of a heatwave, and more and more scientists are linking the freakish weather that we are currently experiencing with the likelihood of its happening more often as a result of climate change. The idea that now is a good time to give the green light to fracking, while making it more difficult, for example, to pursue renewable energy—as the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) was saying a few moments earlier—seems to be taking stupidity to new heights. I shall not spend any more time talking about fracking, because I want to talk about my recent visit to Yarl’s Wood, but I think it incredibly cowardly of the Government to smuggle this decision out when they know that people’s attention will be elsewhere, and when we cannot have a serious debate about it.
I recently visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre, having finally been granted permission following 18 months of trying to gain access. The visit was publicised to detainees, and it is difficult to communicate the desperation and heartbreak that I sensed in the 100 or so women who came to meet me. Each wanted her story to be heard. They wanted someone to know where they were, and they wanted to know that they would not be forgotten. They wanted something to be done about the mental torture that they were enduring day in, day out.
I use the term “mental torture” very deliberately. Imagine, Mr Speaker, living in the community where you have made your life and being required to report to the Home Office every week. Imagine that you do that religiously and never fail, and then one week, when you turn up to report as usual, you find yourself being randomly sent, with no notice, to a detention centre. You are given no time even to pack your clothes, and no time to tell anyone—your kids, perhaps. You are given no warning and no explanation. Imagine arriving at Yarl’s Wood and being given no information about the reason for your detention; about what, if anything, you have done wrong; or about how long you will be there. Months or perhaps even more than a year later, you may be released— again, with no warning or explanation. You are still required to make weekly reports to the Home Office. You are none the wiser about the reason for that arbitrary use of power against you, and you have no idea whether it will happen again.
This is intolerable, Mr Speaker, and it is happening on a daily basis in our country. Can you imagine how frightening it must be? It is cruel, it is inhumane, and it must stop. Many of the people to whom it is happening are vulnerable women. A recent research report published by Women for Refugee Women found that survivors of rape, trafficking and torture are still routinely being locked up in Yarl’s Wood. When Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons inspected Yarl’s Wood in 2017, it found exactly the same.
The Government’s adults at risk policy is supposed to reduce the number of vulnerable and at-risk people in detention, which the Shaw review identified as needing urgent action. The policy is not working. What I observed is consistent with the findings of HMIP, which is that
“the effectiveness of the adults at risk policy, which is intended to reduce the detention of vulnerable people, was questionable”.
That is, I think, a use of understatement.
The Home Office claims that progress on detaining fewer vulnerable people is difficult to measure because there is no way of assessing how many vulnerable people are detained. Many of the women I spoke to seemed incredibly distressed, and some had obviously been self-harming. Figures from the independent monitoring board at Yarl’s Wood show that levels of self-harm there more than tripled in 2017 alone. Yet I was told by Serco, which runs Yarl’s Wood, that out of 183 individuals detained when I visited, 29 adult women were defined as at risk level 1, and 43 at risk level 2, with none defined at risk level 3. For those who do not know what these risk levels mean, in a nutshell they identify survivors of torture, individuals with suicidal intentions, or those whose health is likely to be
“injuriously affected by continued detention.”
The claim of an absence of any category 3 people was, I think, disproved by the kinds of people we were speaking to, so I am not sure that even the way in which data is compiled is accurate. But even if it is accurate, this demonstrates the level of desperation of women who are being routinely locked up.
We heard a statement today from the Home Secretary, who said that he would look again at the whole issue of indefinite detention. May I use my last five seconds to urge him to do so with the strongest amount of urgency because people’s lives are at risk and what is going on is intolerable?
Order. The next speaker will be the last to do so on the six-minute limit. Thereafter, in an attempt to accommodate all would-be contributors, the limit will have to be reduced to five minutes per speech.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), and also my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and other hon. Members.
I want to raise an important issue for my constituents and to ask Ministers to consider it carefully. Reading is a historic town which dates back to the middle ages. It has a number of well-known buildings and more than a dozen conservation areas. Arguably our best-known building is Reading gaol, which was written about by Oscar Wilde, who was incarcerated there. The prison was designed by the famous Victorian architect Gilbert Scott, whose work also included the Albert memorial, St Pancras station and many other notable Victorian buildings. The building is no longer used as a prison and has been empty for five years following a reorganisation of the prison estate. I argue that because of its cultural and artistic significance, the prison should be preserved and enhanced through being turned into a hub for the arts. I would like to set out the advantages of this approach, both locally and for enhancing our nation’s heritage, to suggest a way forward, and to encourage Ministers to work with me and Reading Borough Council on this project
There are significant benefits to the project. First and foremost, Reading would benefit from a major new theatre and hub for the arts. Our town is growing rapidly, and cultural and artistic activity is growing commensurately. There is a vibrant arts community, but a lack of large and nationally recognised venues. Secondly, the prison is an ideal location, both because of its history and association with Oscar Wilde, and because of its setting next to the nationally important ruins of Reading abbey, the burial place of Henry I. These grounds were recently restored and now form a venue for open-air theatre in the summer. The location offers the possibility for the town to develop an entire cultural quarter close to the town centre and the station, making it accessible to visitors from the Thames valley, London and Oxford.
Thirdly, using the prison as an arts hub has been tried before temporarily, with huge success. It was opened to the public, and the installations and performance art that were staged attracted thousands of visitors from across the country. Despite the undoubted potential of the prison and its success as a temporary venue for the arts, the regeneration of this historic building is being held up by the need to survey the site and to understand its archaeology. While I fully understand the need for and support the careful assessment of the site, I hope this can be finished soon to allow Ministers to consider a way forward.
I thank the prisons Minister, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), for his interest in the site and the time he has spent talking to me about its future. I encourage the Justice Secretary to approach the matter with urgency. He can rely on me, and on Reading Borough Council and other local groups, to pursue the project with commitment and an ambition to make it work.
I should also like to inform the Minister that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is involved in this project with Reading Borough Council. It may also support it, and a bid for funding might be under way. This is an important cultural project for Reading and the surrounding area, and I urge all parties to work together to help to deliver the proposal. Reading is a growing town, and it deserves an arts venue that celebrates both its ancient history and its potential for the future. Finally, Mr Speaker, I wish you and other colleagues here today a very happy and relaxing summer break.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this debate. The Government have moved positively on a number of issues recently. Last Thursday, for example, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government made not one but two announcements that were very welcome—albeit late, but not on his watch. First, he announced a full-scale review of approved document B, which contains statutory guidance on building regulations relevant to fire, following Dame Judith Hackitt’s well-received review. Secondly, the Secretary of State announced the decision to introduce mandatory requirements of landlords in the private rented sector to ensure five-yearly inspections of electrical installations in their properties. This has been a long-standing request by various organisations, including the Electrical Safety Council, so I would like to commend the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for this.
Antisocial behaviour seems to be flourishing, especially in my constituency, with issues as trivial as ignoring personal space all the way through to life-threatening violence. I, like other colleagues, receive many emails about antisocial behaviour, including boy racers in cars, noisy and threatening mopeds, late night and early morning loud gatherings, block invasions, verbal and physical abuse of women and members of the LGBT community, open drug dealing, damage to property, and the rest. It is just not acceptable.
Moving to leasehold, there is a lack of protection for leaseholders on so many issues, including: service charges; refurbishment costs; recognition of residents associations; inflated insurance costs; forfeiture; outrageous event fees; lease extensions; cladding reform and replacement; interim fire costs; commonhold; the ground rent scandal; and dispute resolution at first-tier tribunals, which will be the subject of my Adjournment debate later. That dreadful list of problems is faced by 5 million leaseholders every day. The Government are moving encouragingly on many of these issues, but Administrations have failed in this regard a number of times over the past 30 years. I hope that this Government will get it right this time. It would be helpful to have a timetable for how they intend to make progress.
On deafness, the Government have signalled a change of position on the possibility of a GCSE in British sign language, and I welcome the recent comments from the Minister for School Standards, the right hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb).
I welcome the Department for International Development’s review of grants and the establishment of the small charities challenge fund. I am sure that this will help a number of organisations doing great work. I also welcome the opportunity to meet the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is also a Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to discuss assistance for a charity called Fire Aid, which I chair.
One question for the Government on animal welfare that keeps being asked is when we might see the law changed. The Government promised this in relation to a five-year sentence for animal cruelty. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), stated on 13 June that a Bill would come forward in this Session. Organisations such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home would be reassured to have more clarity about when this will take place.
I want to refer to an individual constituent’s immigration case that has troubled members of my staff to the extent that they have personally been raising funds for his distraught family. Mr Golam Rabbani is dying; of that there is no doubt. He has no recourse to funds or benefits. He has a wife and two children, and he has been in the UK for 14 years. We have tried to get an early decision on the family’s application to remain before their father and husband dies. Given their length of stay in the UK, they have a very strong case. It is heartbreaking to witness a system with such limited capacity for discretion and understanding. It is my belief that Mr Rabbani would no longer be with us were it not for his will to keep going in the hope of seeing his family’s rights guaranteed. When might we see some compassion in this area?
My final two issues are universal credit and housing. I commend the campaign of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and his team, who are putting pressure on the Government to do more on housing, and affordable housing in particular. On universal credit, there is general agreement that the principle has support across the House, but the problems besetting the introduction are causing many claimants great hardship. I do not object to a sanctions regime, because no one should be able to rip off the taxpayer and claim that to which they are not entitled. However, things seem to have gone too far, and the Government just do not seem to get that.
In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, Mr Speaker, staff and colleagues a decent break during the recess, and I wish the Government success in their Brexit negotiations, which I am sure will not cease simply because the Commons is in recess.
I apologise for only recently coming into the Chamber, but I was at extremely extended Select Committee sitting about our exiting the European Union—the very issue that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) just mentioned. I congratulate him on his speech. I also congratulate the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O’Mara) and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) on their maiden speeches, which I shall take great pleasure in reading in Hansard.
I will concentrate on one important domestic issue and then refer to one or two international matters. The domestic issue is local government finance, and my comments will be based on my experience in Staffordshire. Staffordshire County Council and the various second-tier authorities, including South Staffordshire Council and Stafford Borough Council, have done tremendous work over the past eight years. They have reduced costs and increased efficiency while maintaining as many services as possible for local people, but they are reaching a crunch point over the coming year as they face substantial deficits. The deficits are not due to inefficiency or incompetence, but to the increasing demands being placed upon local government, particularly when it comes to adult and children social care. Those costs are vital to our constituents’ wellbeing, but it is unfair to place such burdens so heavily on local government while depriving it of the necessary funds.
I therefore ask the Government to consider the matter closely. This is an issue not just in Staffordshire but in many other authorities, counties in particular, around the country, and we must ensure that we do not do down local democracy, because that is what will happen if we do not take such matters into consideration. If people see local authorities having to close services that they value and depend on, such as libraries—Staffordshire has not closed libraries because it has found other ways to proceed—the people will blame local government. In fact, the pressure is effectively coming from national services, and we either need to fund those more or less nationally or give local government the ability to raise appropriate resources.
I am asking the Government to examine three things. First, social care should be better funded through the better care fund nationally and should not have to rely increasingly on local resources. Secondly, if necessary, councils should be given more discretion to raise resources locally without having to resort to an expensive referendum that will often not produce a result. If people are asked, “Do you want taxes to be raised?” the answer will often be no, even if it is for a worthwhile cause, despite the council being elected and taking the needs of local people into account. That should be enough. Finally, the rate support grant should be reviewed, not rapidly cut, which is happening in so many councils. It is vital for local democracy that local councils, which have done so much over the past eight years, can raise the funds that they need to provide local services that are so greatly valued.
I shall make just a few comments on the international scene. It is extremely important that, as we go into recess, we do not forget the crises around the world, including in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in the middle east. We should not take our eyes off the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where elections are due before the end of the year but we do not see great progress towards them.
Finally, let us take a moment to celebrate—I declare an interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Ethiopia —the growing peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. After so many years, we saw Prime Minister Abiy go to Eritrea, and we saw a coming together of those brothers and sisters, as they effectively are.
On that happier note, I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all colleagues in the Commons a very happy recess.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). I too congratulate colleagues who made such inspiring maiden speeches this afternoon.
I return to an issue that was raised a few moments ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth)—I also raised it at last week’s business questions—on the poor quality building and dire customer service experienced by buyers of new homes, such as those buying from Persimmon in my constituency. Since I raised the issue in the Chamber last week, I have been inundated with emails, tweets and Facebook posts from across the country reporting similar experiences not just with Persimmon but, as my hon. Friend said, with other major household names—Taylor Wimpey and Bellway among them.
Buying a home is probably the most important purchase that most of us will ever make. Young people save up to buy a home, in which they invest their hopes for the future. They look forward to putting down roots in the community, but I have too often heard stories of shoddy workmanship, failure to repair defects and homebuyers facing serious risks in the place where they should be safest. I have heard of unsafe staircases, dangerous electrics, gaps and cracks in walls and floors, leaking plumbing and gardens that are not safe for children to play in.
I have also repeatedly heard that house builders refuse to respond to owners’ complaints, but all the owners want is for someone to come round to make good the defects. Instead, they are fobbed off. Appointments are made and not honoured. Repairs are done that are as shoddy as the original work. Promises of improvements do not materialise. When MPs try to intervene, as I said in the Chamber just last week, the companies too often simply refuse to deal with us.
The Government are aware of the problem and, indeed, have recently consulted on improving customer redress in the housing market. We have also had two excellent reports in the past two years from the all-party parliamentary group on excellence in the built environment, which has proposed a number of measures, including a mandatory new homes ombudsman funded by a compulsory levy on house builders, a review of warranty schemes, timescales for settling disputes, and better recompense and inspection arrangements.
My first ask is that the concerns of the House on these matters are relayed to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whom I urge to respond to the consultation and take action as quickly as possible.
Secondly, we also know there are problems with smaller builders that carry out renovations and refurbishments. My constituent Mr Clint Wiltshire has highlighted some of the problems people experience. There are advertisements for small traders on trusted websites that make no checks on the qualifications, experience or track record of those selling their services. Local authority trading standards departments are now massively overstretched as a result of local government funding cuts and are unable to intervene where poor quality workmanship is experienced. Insurance companies frequently try to wriggle out of liability. Indeed, I understand there is no requirement for builders to have professional indemnity insurance cover.
Again, I ask that my concerns are relayed to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and I ask the Ministry to look at how better protection could be afforded to consumers through a code of practice, increased capacity for trading standards departments and a recognition of the importance of our homes to all of us and of our need to feel confident that we are safe, secure and comfortable in our homes.
Finally, another issue of great concern to my constituents is the increasing pressure on our emergency services. I have heard increasing reports that our police are unable to respond in person to reports, often of serious incidents, including most recently in my constituency a case of homophobic hate crime and another of serious sexual offences. We are seeing similar pressures on the North West Ambulance Service, which has been unable to respond for some hours when elderly people have suffered falls or illness and needed the services of paramedics. It really is time we looked at the funding for these vital emergency services to make sure they can properly meet the demands of our communities, and I hope the Minister will convey my concerns to the relevant Departments.
Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I take the opportunity, as others have done, to wish all in this House the very best of summer recesses? I hope that everybody enjoys a restful break and returns refreshed in September.
What a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), whom I have had the privilege of serving with on the Select Committee on Justice. May I also take the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O'Mara) on their distinguished maiden speeches today?
I want to take a few moments to speak about CrossCountry services from Cheltenham, because this matter relates not only to the convenience of my constituents, but to social mobility and opportunity. Unless those rail services are at the standard my constituents are entitled to expect, both those vital priorities will be undermined. Putting it simply, those services are too costly and too crowded, and they finish too early. It is particularly important that I mention them at this moment because a public consultation has been announced by the Government about the future of CrossCountry’s rail franchise and it is important that these points are made.
So what is the context? Cheltenham Spa is the busiest station in Gloucestershire, with 2.35 million passengers using it last year, which is an increase from 1.73 million in 2011. So we are talking about some 800,000 additional passengers in that relatively short time. The next busiest station, Gloucester, had 1.48 million users—about 900,000 fewer. There has been good news in recent years: there has been a new, additional, early morning, 200-seat service from Cheltenham to Bristol and through to Taunton and Exeter, as well as an additional 1,000 seats per day on the CrossCountry routes between Bristol, Cheltenham Spa and Birmingham. It is the cost that is the problem. An off-peak return ticket from Cheltenham to Manchester will cost £81.90 and a peak return will cost £129.40. That is extremely expensive—prohibitively expensive. That is important because, if we want to drive things such as the Cheltenham cyber-park, people need to feel that they can go between Manchester and Cheltenham in an affordable way. Oddly, not only is this travel expensive, but there is a strange discrepancy; someone who wants to go north from Cheltenham has to re-mortgage their house, whereas someone who wants to go south from Cheltenham finds that a return to Bristol costs £25.40—[Interruption.] I appreciate that it is a bit closer, but there is an enormous discrepancy.
Overcrowding is a really important issue for my constituents, a number of whom write to me about it. When we drill into the service that is put on, we see why there is overcrowding. The 7.10 am train from Cheltenham to Birmingham, which Members might feel is at a peak time, has just four carriages and the 7.41 am has just five. That means trains are running at or beyond capacity. To put that in context, trains running from Cheltenham to London on the Great Western Railway line have about 10 carriages. So CrossCountry really needs to resolve that.
The final point I wish to raise is the business of these trains finishing too early. Cheltenham residents who want to go to Bristol have to get the 10 pm train back and Cheltenham residents who want to go to Birmingham have to get the 10.12 pm back: the trains finish quite early. By comparison, a Bristol resident who wants to get the train back from Cheltenham gets to stay in Cheltenham until 10.50 pm and if they want to go to Birmingham they get to stay there until 10.58 pm. In other words, these trains need to run until later in the evening.
I wanted to make those short but none the less important points. As I say, it is an issue not only of convenience for my constituents, but of how we provide opportunity and social mobility to people in Cheltenham so that my town can continue to provide great opportunities for young people and for people across its demographics, and so that they are well connected to some of our great conurbations, including Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and beyond.
I join other colleagues in congratulating those who have made their maiden speeches today. I urge them to get their bound copy of their speech and treasure it—something that I failed to do in a timely fashion; I regret it very much.
I wish to take this opportunity to make up for a dreadful oversight of mine during the Westminster Hall debate earlier in the Session on children’s play areas, to which everybody paid close attention and which was secured by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie). In that debate, I referred to just one remaining youth centre in my constituency, but since then I have rightly been reminded of other centres that, although not technically youth centres, certainly provide excellent youth services for those in my constituency.
One of those centres is the West Marsh community centre, which is run by Neil Barber and hosts the Grimsby Town Sports and Education Trust football club for local children. Another centre is the excellent Fusion Centre, which I visited last week. It is a community interest boxing and fitness club run by the incredibly committed Wayne Bloy, who runs classes for young people. If they do not have any money, he will often allow them in for free. The centre also hosts classes for disabled people of all ages. It covers the Heneage and East Marsh areas. I apologise to those clubs, and to the many other clubs and organisations that operate in my constituency—there are so many unsung heroes across all our constituencies who are giving so much back to their communities—but there simply is not enough time in the parliamentary calendar to cover them all, although I will mention Together for the West Marsh, because I am going to the open day there tomorrow.
On a point of policy, one of the best things that the Government could do is to properly fund youth activities of a broad nature and throughout the whole country, to appeal to a wide range of young people of all incomes and none. Mentors should be available to give an often much-needed guiding hand. We have seen a real destruction of youth services, in a way that we would understand. The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) touched on the issues relating to local government funding, which is a key area where communities have really lost out over the past few years.
I also wish to raise a health issue. I have tried and failed on many occasions to secure either an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate on cauda equina syndrome. My constituent, Becky Harrington, was very keen for me to raise the issue to bring about greater awareness of the condition. She has become a voluntary ambassador for the Cauda Equina UK charity, so that she can make people better aware of how life changing it can be.
Becky sent me an email late last year to say:
“I am a cauda equina syndrome sufferer and have recently joined the CES UK charity as a voluntary ambassador. We are currently trying to raise awareness to the public about CES and how life changing it can be if gone unnoticed. If it is not dealt with within the first 48 hours you can end up with loss of function and numbness in the saddle area and needing to be catheterized or having a colostomy bag fitted or like myself having a paralysed leg and unable to walk without an aid. This can all stem from having a bad back and not knowing what to do if the symptoms occur.”
It is quite a frightening syndrome and warrants more attention from the House and from the Government Health team.
In my final minute, let me congratulate the Grimsby Institute on being the only college in Lincolnshire to achieve outstanding status. I congratulate Peter Kennedy on his appointment as principal of my old college, Franklin College, and I thank Trevor Wray for all his work as the former principal at Franklin and for raising the issue of further education funding and championing that cause for Grimsby students.
Grimsby had some good news this Session: we secured the Greater Grimsby town deal, in conjunction with Ministers, for whose attention I am grateful. The signing of that deal must not be the only thing that Grimsby sees from the Government; it cannot be left alone. We want to see genuine, tangible and long-lasting change for our community. Some elements are now looking a little shaky and I want to ensure that the Government will make long-term commitments to our town, make them explicit and give confidence to local and national businesses for their continued support.
I did want to touch on universal credit because I had whistleblowers in The Guardian yesterday who were highlighting some systemic issues, but I will bring that back in September. I will just take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone and have a happy recess.
I rise to register my support for Congleton Museum’s aspirations to move to Bradshaw House. In its first 16 years of existence, Congleton Museum, a charitable trust entirely run by volunteers, has had considerable success locally, regionally and nationally. The museum was established as the local history museum for Congleton but quickly evolved to become recognised within the wider area of Cheshire and the north-west through the acquisition of hoards found in east Cheshire. It is now the area’s leading museum in collecting and analysing archaeological finds. It has been entrusted with the care of important Roman coin hoards from further afield in the county, the Knutsford and Malpas hoards, in addition to two further 17th century hoards found locally, but there is now simply inadequate room to display these collections.
The Congleton Museum’s status has brought about many partnerships within the national museum community. For instance, it has been working with the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and regional holders of national collections such as the Museum of Liverpool. I pay tribute to the dedicated work of the museum’s trustees and other volunteers for those achievements. Given that success, a move from the museum’s current and—dare I say it—now cramped premises at the back of Congleton Town Hall to Bradshaw House would be fitting.
Bradshaw House is a fine Grade II listed late Georgian home from the late 1820s in the historic heart of Congleton. It takes its name from Congleton’s most famous, or possibly infamous, resident, John Bradshaw, who was president of the High Court, oversaw the trial of King Charles I and was the first signatory to his death warrant. Bradshaw House is currently owned by Cheshire East Council but has been unoccupied for some time.
The benefits of a move to Bradshaw House for the museum are manifold, and not only for the museum, but for Congleton, the broader Cheshire East community and our wider heritage. The museum could be more sustainable in the long term. It is a highly appropriate tenant for such a listed building. Cheshire East Council says that it has no current plans for the future of Bradshaw House while seeking a commercial buyer, but if the museum were able to take it over, it could be fully restored and cared for for the full term of a 30-year lease, potentially taking advantage of Heritage Lottery Fund funding, which is much needed for restoration costs, which few commercial purchasers would readily commit to. The museum’s offering could be increased, with space available for larger numbers of children, making a visit more cost-effective for schools.
Bradshaw House is much more visible and attractive than the museum’s current premises, located as it is in the heart of the Lawton Street conservation area. The museum would be able to handle a much larger number of visitors and host conferences. Improved facilities would encourage more visitors to the town, thereby benefiting the economy. There would be exhibition space, storage, education and research facilities as well as room for a café and a larger gift shop. As I mentioned, it would also be able to accept and display more artefacts.
This proposal has not only my strong support, but the support of Congleton Town Council and of local residents, who, in just four weeks, have signed a petition. A total of 857 signatories have been added to the petition and the number continues to rise daily. I look forward to presenting it to the Speaker in this House in the autumn.
I am pleased that, just last month, Cheshire East Council, which has previously rejected the museum’s bid to move to these premises, agreed to suspend activity related to the commercial disposal of Bradshaw House—that is, disposal by way of commercial sale. It has suspended activity pending discussions taking place between the museum and the Heritage Lottery Fund on options for HLF support for this proposal.
I do hope that the proposals will be supported strongly by Cheshire East Council. I am today seeking the active support of the council, which is our principal authority. I also invite the leader of the council, Councillor Rachel Bailey—who I know is a good woman with a real heart for our local communities—to join me and museum representatives to meet the HLF to discuss what support may be available from HLF for this project. Such a meeting would also enable museum trustees to clarify to the leadership of Cheshire East Council that its reservations about the viability of such a scheme can be satisfactorily addressed.
I would like to share with the House how I will be spending my recess. Today is 24 July, and what else would I be doing other than fighting yet another NHS-inspired campaign to close the A&E and the maternity unit at St Helier Hospital? The third week of July is always the time when my local NHS decides that it is a good idea to consult—to consult families who are on holiday, people who are away from work and people who could not possibly get to a consultation meeting in the middle of the day. There are no rules. It is the wild west in the NHS in south-west London.
Last year, at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, the chief executive, Mr Elkeles, bet his career on the fact that he could close the A&E and the maternity unit—something that nobody else has done over the past 20 years. So yes, deliver leaflets to the whole catchment area, other than any house in my constituency. Yes, tell nobody that responses will only be accepted on the official form. Yes, get 1,000 responses and accept them, but get 6,000 contributions from other people opposing this move, and, no, they are not to be included.
Let us now talk about the clinical commissioning group, which is following the same pattern as last year. It is about to begin its consultation of four public meetings—all held during working time and all held in July and August. Who says that there is a code of guidance on consultation in the NHS? Nobody in south-west London has ever read it. This is my ninth campaign to fight the reorganisation of my hospitals. The plan, as it has always been for the past 20 years, is to close the A&E and the maternity unit at the hospital, which is surrounded by those who are most in need, with the greatest health issues—those who are the least likely to have a car and the most likely to be dependent on public transport. But no matter; in the NHS in south London, as my mum would say, much gets more. If people live in a wealthy area, they can anticipate greater capital spending. The NHS in south-west London has built the Nelson health centre in one of the richest wards in London, but closed the walk-in centre in a portakabin in my constituency. I would be really interested to know the capital figures involved in doing up GPs’ surgeries, and I suspect that a great deal more money has been spent in Wimbledon.
It is a travesty that over the past 20 years £50 million has been spent on these consultations, which have always come out with the same result. It really does not matter to me how many experts or marketing consultants the trust has or how much money it wants to throw at it. It is wrong to take an A&E, a maternity unit and all the associated services away from a hospital that is in huge demand. During the winter, the hospital saw an uplift of 20% in the number of people turning up to A&E. But this is not just about my area around St Helier Hospital; it is about the health service in south-west London.
If St Helier A&E and maternity unit are closed and moved to Belmont, the consequence will be that the fantastic St George’s Hospital in Tooting will not be able to function because of the number of my constituents who will be going to that hospital to use its services. Similarly, Croydon University Hospital—a hospital surrounded by a population in greatest need—will feel the brunt of my constituents from Pollards Hill and Longthornton using its services.
This madness should end. Somebody should listen. There should be rules about consultations. There should be criteria that people understand. If the NHS is to abide by the Equality Act 2010, it should, in all circumstances, take into account how those who are in most need access their health services. I hope that there is someone, somewhere, who just might listen.
We have heard some excellent speeches this afternoon, not least the two maiden speeches.
In 1772, Robert Hay Drummond, Archbishop of York, commissioned what is now known as Bootham Park Hospital. John Carr was drafted in as the architect, and in 1777 the hospital opened. It was a stunning building based in parkland and 17.85 acres of land, or 21.2 acres including adjacent public land. In 2015, following successive failed Care Quality Commission inspections, the site closed to clinical services, and the site closed to the trust last autumn. Now, a new mental health hospital is being built in Haxby Road, due to be opened in 2019. This leaves in question what will happen to the site. How will public land be disposed of in our city? NHS Property Services Ltd has been required to dispose of the site, and of course an attractive offer will be incredibly tempting.
Similarly, at Duncombe barracks in York, the Ministry of Defence is looking to dispose of that site, favouring 14 executive market-priced homes as opposed to 36 units urgently needed by the local community. Time and again, we are seeing public land being sold off to the highest bidder at the expense of the real needs of our city. No co-ordination or conversation is brought to our local community, which desperately needs homes. Surely, local government should have a say over these disposals. We are seeing more and more luxury apartments and executive homes. We have heard so powerfully today the reality of what happens then.
Of course, this is not what our city wants. The residents of York have been absolutely clear that they want to maintain the hospital site for vital health services for our city. I will explain the geography. Bootham Park Hospital is adjacent to York Teaching Hospital—our acute hospital—which is crammed on to a site that desperately needs additional land to transform health services and bring health into the modern age in our city. Without access to that land and the ability to repurpose Bootham Park Hospital and its site for health service use, health in our city will suffer.
We need transitional care and rehabilitation beds in a newly built specialised unit. We need a primary care-led urgent care centre so that our A&E is not crammed over yet another winter and our hospital is not exploding at its seams. We need to ensure that we house our health sector workers in York. The hospital spends about £30 million a year on agency staff, because people cannot to work and live in our city. As a result, our services are poorer. We therefore need that land to create key worker houses for NHS staff. We need additional mental health services, particularly so that our young people have decent facilities. We need extra care facilities for an ageing population.
We do not want to see the magnificent parkland that I mentioned being utilised as the grand entrance to some luxury apartments, or even a hotel, or perhaps a golf course. No, we need a new public park for our city where children can play and sports activities can take place. We also need to ensure that third sector organisations have access to the land that they need. One Public Estate is on board and the acute trust is on board, but we need the Secretary of State to be on board, too.
Our city is crying out for this NHS facility. We need to expand and build for the modern age and transform healthcare from a medical to a social model and from a sickness service to a health service. We should not look at the short-term goals, which so often happens in politics, and miss the opportunity to build a health and wellbeing village for the future of my community that will touch every life and, of course, save money for the public purse in the long term.
Today, the clock is ticking, the gavel is raised and the highest bidder is making its move. The solution to Bootham Park Hospital is to save the site and ensure that it is there for healthcare in the future. Let us create a new life for Bootham Park Hospital and use our imagination to do so.
It is nice to round off my first year in Parliament with a recap of some of the highlights that I have been able to contribute to as a new Member. I think that any Member would agree that the most satisfying aspect of our job is seeing the real benefit we can have for our constituents’ lives, particularly in casework. That has made a real impression on me in the past year, in particular when it comes to dealing with the hostile environment policy that this Government have been foisting on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
My constituency has a relatively large migrant population, and some cases have struck me as particularly damning. It took a total of 18 years for the Government to grant the Kamil family, who are Iraqi-Kurdish refugees, leave to remain as a refugee family. They have spent their lives in limbo. Indeed, the youngest was denied the opportunity to go to university because the immigration status the family faced was insecure, and the eldest was unable to secure work at an engineering company, despite graduating with a first-class engineering degree from Aberdeen University.
These are highly motivated citizens who have so much to contribute to our society and our economy. We have to recognise the benefits that many of these people can deliver for our country, having overcome such terrible hardship and usually fled some of the most war-torn and desperate situations in the world. We cannot treat them with contempt any more. We have to recognise the value they bring to our country. I hope we can recognise that in a debate in the House in the forthcoming parliamentary term.
Another case was Duc Nguyen, who was not so much a refugee but was trafficked to this country from Vietnam. He was arrested and put in prison for being forced to work in a cannabis factory, released and then detained by the Home Office, even though its own guidance says that it should not detain trafficking victims. The Home Office recognised that. We need to have a debate about how the Home Office puts its policies into practice, particularly in relation to detaining victims of human trafficking. That was another case that struck me as particularly difficult.
I was very pleased to welcome a constituent, Giorgi Kakava, to the House yesterday, and he sat in the Gallery to watch a debate. It was great to bring him to the heart of our democracy, given that he has been under so much stress in the past few months. His mother tragically died in February this year, leaving him an orphan. He is 10 years old and has lived in this country since he was three, yet he was threatened with deportation by the Home Office. Luckily, after my intervention in Prime Minister’s questions, the Home Office decided to grant him temporary leave to remain, but we have to continue to fight for him to be given permanent leave to remain. He speaks with a Scottish accent. He is one of us, and he is at school with his friends in Glasgow. The notion that he could be deported to Georgia—a country that is alien to him—is totally absurd.
Those are some of the absurdities that we see in our immigration system. I hope that we can address them in the forthcoming term, to re-establish confidence and dignity in our immigration system and uphold British values.
We have to address the Government’s industrial strategy, particularly in relation to renewables. Gaia-Wind, a company in my constituency that is a world leader in small-scale renewable energy, nearly went into liquidation because of the Government’s failure to introduce a transition from the feed-in tariff for small-scale renewable energy. That needs to be addressed, and it is irritating and extremely frustrating that the Government continue to leave companies that offer so much potential for wealth creation in our country in limbo.
I am worried about the roll-out of universal credit in my constituency in September. We have already seen failures when it comes to personal independence payment assessments. The level of appeals is absurd, and 71% of appeals are successful, which shows how broken the system is. We have to deal with that. I am worried about the transition from disability living allowance to PIP in my constituency, given that there have been 1.6 million underpayments. That shows that there is a severe drop-off in entitlement, which we need to address.
I have been asked by my constituent Daniel Haggerty to raise the issue of social housing. Last year, the number of social rented houses built was probably the lowest on record since the second world war. We need to seriously address that, and Labour’s commitment to increase the number of social houses built and increase our social house building programme to the largest in 30 years is laudable.
I want to address the industrial strategy in this country. In an announcement sneaked out today, the Government have said that they will delay the procurement of the Type 31e frigate. We have already seen disruption to the shipbuilding programme in the UK from changing the Type 26 programme to a Type 31 build split, and we now to have a delay to that programme. As a matter of urgency, we need to address this and provide certainty for our shipbuilding industry. As someone who grew up around it, I know what that means. In the 1990s, yards competed against each other for contracts—drip fed—which meant insecure employment, disinvestment and a lack of competitiveness. We need to get into a virtuous cycle for our industrial benefit, which means having highly secure jobs. The Government must get a grip on the Type 31 programme as a matter of urgency, which is why I look forward to debating it in the forthcoming term.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), who has definitely made his mark with the excellent things he is already doing in the House. I congratulate the two new Members who have made their maiden speeches; I am sure that they will be excellent advocates for their constituents.
As a member of the associate and retired members branch of the Public and Commercial Services Union, and as vice-chair of the PCS parliamentary group, I congratulate the PCS on yesterday’s national pay ballot, in which 85.6% of people voted for action, on a 41.6% return. However, I would like to express my concern that because of the Government’s anti-democratic Trade Union Act 2016, the ballot did not quite reach the 50% threshold, and the members were not allowed to do any kind of e-voting. Those civil servants will now be subject to another 1% to 1.5% unfunded pay rise. I hope the Minister agrees that this is particularly worrying because a recent survey by the Department for Work and Pensions showed that more than 70% of its staff had experienced financial difficulty during the past year. We can only imagine the depths of the low morale that civil servants are now experiencing.
As co-chair of the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party group, I am aware that Public Health England is reviewing the impact of the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Scotland. I am not sure how long that will take, but have the Government considered the health impact of delaying the introduction of minimum unit pricing in England? The 2012 alcohol strategy gave a commitment for its introduction, and it was delayed only because of the drinks industry’s legal challenge to Scotland’s evidence-based policy. The rationale for further reviews is not clear. Surely more delay merely signals that England is less concerned than Scotland and Wales about alcohol-related illness, deaths and crime, and its vulnerable young people.
At last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister gave a disappointing reply to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) when she restated the Government’s refusal to allow a drug consumption room to open in Glasgow, despite a wealth of evidence showing that drug consumption rooms are effective in reducing transmissions of blood-borne viruses and drug-related deaths. The issue has become vital as there are now well over 100 cases of HIV among this population group, and the outbreak shows no signs of abating. This is a glaring example of what happens when harm reduction, as an approach to drugs policy, is ignored. The drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party group is writing to the Home Secretary to call for permission to be granted for a drug consumption room to open in Glasgow. I urge the Government to show more compassion and less complacency in drugs and alcohol policy at a time when drug deaths are already at record levels and there are more than 1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions each year.
Finally, I invite the Minister to watch the BBC documentary “M.E. and me”—produced by Cat Donohoe and presented by her sister Emma, who has ME—which looks at how young people cope with this debilitating illness. I ask him to urge the Government to provide funding for adequate and appropriate research on ME in support of the 250,000 sufferers in the UK.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you a restful recess. I hope that everyone in the Chamber and across the House has a wonderful recess and comes back refreshed in September.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. On behalf of everybody behind the scenes in the House, I thank everyone who has spoken so eloquently this afternoon and wished a good recess to everybody who supports us here in the House of Commons. No, I have not forgotten the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—far from it. It has become a sort of convention—almost a tradition—that the last speech from the Back Benches should be made by the hon. Gentleman. Right now is no exception when I call, to make his 44th speech of the Session so far, Mr Jim Shannon.
After such an introduction, I am almost overwhelmed. Thank you so much, Madam Deputy Speaker; you are very kind.
I wish to raise a topic that is very important to me: homelessness on our streets, and what we as communities can do to help. I do not have not enough time to go through this, but I will briefly summarise where we are.
All this started with a discussion in my office during the harsh storms at the end of March. My office manager and a number of friends in Belfast took it on themselves to cook up hot meals and soups, and distribute them to those who were on the streets. We can always measure a nation, a people or an individual by their compassion for others. It is my firm belief that in this developed nation, which seeks to help the poor in developing countries, there must always be a way of ensuring that we take care of our own. Charity must be abroad, but also evident at home.
I put on record my thanks to charities such as the Simon Community that help the homeless. The individuals involved are so kind-hearted as they set out to make the small difference that they can with all that they have.
I want to tell a quick story. A fellow I know quite well from my constituency, who is doing a doctorate in Irish history, recently told me that he had been going down from Ards to Portaferry, admiring along the way all the culture and the rich historic artefacts that we have. It was night-time, so he got on to a bench and went to sleep. Next morning he was woken by a gentleman shaking his shoulder, who gave him a hot coffee and a warm breakfast. In my constituency we have compassion for other people, and I believe that that clearly shows the nature of Strangford. Are we in this place doing enough, like that gentleman, to ease the burden for individuals we perceive as needing a little help?
The Northern Ireland Audit Office says:
“Contrary to popular belief homelessness is not restricted to people who sleep rough, it encompasses a much wider range of individuals in a variety of circumstances”.
We must acknowledge that mental health certainly plays a role. The fact is that, as a result of the troubles, the prevalence of mental health issues is 20% higher in Northern Ireland than elsewhere, and that has a knock-on effect on our homelessness. Indeed, we have a higher proportion of homelessness than any other region of the United Kingdom, so the issue is extremely important. I was startled by the fact that the number of people deemed homeless has increased by 32% in the last five years. Some 12,000 households—individuals and families—were accepted as homeless in 2016-17, and between 2012 and 2017, homelessness in Northern Ireland cost some £300 million. That focuses our minds on the clear issues that we have in my constituency of Strangford and also, I believe, throughout Northern Ireland.
I want to put on record my wonderful relationship with those at the local Housing Executive, who work tremendously hard to secure appropriate housing for needy people as quickly as they can source it. In particular, I want to put on record my thanks to the regional manager for the Housing Executive—Owen Brady, certainly a man of action. He may be small in stature, but I tell you what: he is a man who makes up for that in his energy. Although he is unable to meet the needs of every person who presents themselves to the Housing Executive as homeless, his team works hard to do its best for those who need that the most.
There are simply not enough available houses for those in need. Last year, the Simon Community in Northern Ireland made 369 warm beds available in Northern Ireland, accommodating some 2,391 people. It is increasingly concerned about the high prevalence of mental health issues such as self-harm and suicide attempts among those experiencing homelessness. With mental health issues affecting one in five people in Northern Ireland, that homelessness charity wants to draw attention to mental health issues as both a cause and an effect of homelessness. We must do more in this place to offer and deliver mental health support—not simply to those in the street, but to those who are at risk of shortly finding themselves living in a sleeping bag in our city centre. Do I believe we have got it right? No. Do I believe that we have an opportunity to stop doing the same thing and do it differently? Yes. Do I believe that we must do this urgently? Yes, we must. It is incumbent on us to make changes to the level of housing and mental health needs that are found on our streets in every corner of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
To you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to Mr Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers, thank you for your kindness, your compassion and your help to Back Benchers. It is always good to speak in this House. I thank my family and my staff, and the good people of Strangford. It is truly the most beautiful constituency—I believe this with all my heart—in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Come to Strangford for your holidays! I think no matter who you are, you will enjoy it, and I will be there to welcome you.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and your staff a happy recess. To everyone here who makes our lives much easier—to the Hansard staff who try to understand my Ulster Scots, to the security staff who give us such service, and to those in the Tea Room who look after me with my coffee every day—I say thank you very much.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes.
Just before I call the Front Benchers, it might be helpful for the House to know that, following the point of order raised earlier by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) about the availability of copies of the national planning policy framework, I can tell the House that the framework has now been laid before House and copies are available in the Vote Office.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I just say that half an hour after I raised my point of order, the Secretary of State for Defence apologised and sent me a letter? That goes to show that if Members raise a point of order in this place, it can be very effective.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O'Mara) on their maiden speeches. I am touched that the hon. Member for Lewisham East is another proud trade union activist and former public sector worker like myself. This Chamber is graced with former public sector workers and trade union activists.
The Deputy Leader of the House is wearing yellow and black socks today. I thank him for that, because he is obviously commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Glasgow East by-election that was won by John Mason.
It is not funny how life imitates art? I was struck by that yesterday when a Scottish Conservative mentioned “Game of Thrones”. Those who watch the programme will know that the series ended with the sometimes popular male blond hero walking out on his female leader because of strategy and tactics. Isn’t that funny? How will this saga end, Madam Deputy Speaker?
The hon. Gentleman has just ruined it for me. I was really looking forward to the end of the series, but now I know the endgame—absolutely ruined!
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but the series ended a year ago.
How will this saga end? Will the male blond hero be the winner, or will the female leader somehow manage to find another way of clinging on to power? But never mind about that: when are going to get another episode of “Game of Thrones”? As the Deputy Leader of the House will know, Scottish National party Members call the Tories the Lannisters, which makes the Scottish Tories House Bolton.
Let me wish every Member a good summer recess. I think it was the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) who said it is not a holiday—he is absolutely right. I am hosting a universal credit drop-in event tomorrow morning in Penilee community centre in my constituency. I echo Members’ comments about the effect that universal credit is having on the community. The Government need to look at this week’s revelations by whistleblowers who used to work on universal credit about the very serious effects of systematic errors on claimants. It is time to pause and fix universal credit.
It is not just our social security system that is broken. As hon. Members have pointed out, the immigration system is broken too, with a “hostile environment” and asylum seekers waiting years for decisions. I discovered another issue this weekend when my constituent Hamid Ahmad, an Afghan interpreter for the British Army, came to see me at my surgery.
Several hundred Afghan interpreters for the British Army are part of a five-year resettlement scheme to the UK, and I find it astonishing that when some families who were brought over on the scheme, who now have children born in the UK, applied for British passports, they were told by the Home Office to apply for Afghani passports instead, because they are not being accepted as British citizens. I hope that the Home Office will deal with that. There are also some men who did not bring their families initially, but who tried to bring over their partners on spousal visas and are having difficulties with that, too. I would have thought that interpreters who have helped the armed forces in this country should be treated a lot better than that.
The hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) mentioned public sector pay and the Public and Commercial Services Union ballot, and I want to associate myself very much with her remarks. We have discovered today that the public sector pay cap is still in place, because the Treasury is still only funding each and every UK Government Department 1%, and each and every other Department has to find the additional money to fund a decent pay rise. I hope that as we go into recess, the Ministry of Defence will pay the living wage to those employees who are not in receipt of it. There are 220 in Scotland, and I am sure that there are others elsewhere.
I want to associate myself, too, with the comments by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) on the suspension of the Type 31e frigates procurement process. It is absolutely astonishing that we come here but there has been no statement.
Does the hon. Gentleman want to intervene?
No, I was just agreeing.
It is absolutely astonishing that no statement has been made in the House on the suspension of that programme. What is even worse is that if there was one procurement process suspended in the Ministry of Defence, we would think it would be not for the Type 31e frigate but for the fleet solid support ships—the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships—which, astonishingly, are being put out to international competition, despite the benefits that a UK-wide bid would have to our economy. It is absolutely astonishing.
As an MP from Glasgow, I was delighted to table early-day motion 1534, commemorating the centenary of the birth of the great Nelson Mandela and to congratulate the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation on its work, which is fundraising and trying to find £250,000, so that there can be a statue of the great Nelson Mandela in the city of Glasgow.
Comments have been made by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), on the work that I am proud to have done in the last year with Show Racism the Red Card. As the vice-chair of the Show Racism the Red Card all-party group, I was delighted to see schools in my constituency—Lourdes Primary School and Hillington Primary School—win awards in the Show Racism the Red Card Scotland’s creative competition.
I am proud to be a part of the Youth Violence Commission, which has just published its interim report. It is important that we try to spend some time in this place discussing how the creative industry can help to address the problem with youth violence, giving young people an opportunity to express themselves through film making and various other creative arts. I was delighted that the South West Arts and Music Project received a grant of £91,000 from the Scottish Government.
As I said earlier, this is not a holiday; it is a recess. I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, and the whole parliamentary staff, who look after us, speak to us and often cheer us up. I wish them all the best for the summer. I also want to pay tribute to the constituency staff right across these islands—I am sure that everyone in the House would agree—who help us as Members of Parliament. I place on record my thanks to Joe Murray, Scott McFarlane, Tony McCue, Mary Jane Douglas, and particularly, Keith Gibb and Roza Salih. Their energy, enthusiasm and hard work are infectious, and I look forward to working with them in the summer and beyond.
This time last year saw my first speech at the Dispatch Box in this role. We had just returned from the snap general election, and I talked about the clear message the public had sent the Government. I rather hoped the Government had learned from it. I thought they might have learned a bit of humility or taken the opportunity to reflect on the red lines and whether the “no running commentary” approach was perhaps not working, or that maybe it was time to respect Parliament and the voices of Members speaking on behalf of constituents in scrutinising the Executive. But no! Here we are a year later, and the public infighting over Brexit in the Conservative party and the Cabinet is like nothing ever witnessed. When after two years a Brexit White Paper was produced, it had more holes in it than a Swiss cheese, and it was devoured just as quickly. Remarkably, we have had another one today—snuck out on the day when last week they did not even want us to be here. We wait two years for a Brexit White Paper, and then, like the proverbial buses, two come along at once.
The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) has warned us that we might be heading for a state of emergency. The Brexit Secretary resigned, the Foreign Secretary resigned, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union resigned, and a handful of Parliamentary Private Secretaries resigned. The Prime Minister’s own Back Benchers rebelled, allegedly were duped and then rebelled again. The Work and Pensions Secretary admitted misleading Parliament over her response to the National Audit Office report on universal credit but then apologised— sort of.
If only the Prime Minister had taken a different path last summer. There has been a worrying disregard for parliamentary sovereignty and convention. The history books have been trawled for ways to avoid scrutiny. We have seen a breaking of the pairing convention and nodding through and Government Members continuing not to turn up or vote on Opposition day debates. How do we justify this to the people who send us here to represent them and to debate issues that affect them? How can this be explained to my constituents as a good use of parliamentary time?
Beyond this place, many are giving up raising an eyebrow at Brexit developments—perhaps that was the Government’s plan all along. All the while, critical legislation and policy making are getting kicked into the long grass while this weak Government spend their time infighting rather than governing in the interests of our country. Just 26 Government Bills have received Royal Assent since the general election—a relatively small number considering the amount of legislation that needs to be passed before we leave the European Union.
On a more positive note, one piece of legislation that did pass that I was pleased to see pass was the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018, which I worked on with the Government, trailer safety being an important issue in my constituency. I look forward to working with them on that in the next year.
Today we have heard a tremendous range of speeches and two maiden speeches, and I am delighted at how full the Benches are behind me, 16 Labour MPs having made speeches this afternoon. We started with the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) talking passionately about his constituent Sergeant Gurpal Virdi and calling for an inquiry. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) talked about the history of Colman’s. I did my undergraduate degree in the fine city of Norwich, and he put the case well on behalf of the three generations of workers in those companies and how shoddily they had been treated.
The hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) talked about a range of issues and the potential to designate his area as a national park–it is certainly an area of natural beauty. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) spoke on behalf of several businesses. She was very successful last year on behalf of the Sweetland factory, and I wish her good luck this time on behalf of those other companies. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) gave us a feast of issues, as he always does, and again mentioned the campaign to make Southend a city. I wish him good luck with that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) raised several issues on which he hoped the Government could offer assistance and gave a graphic depiction of the impact of domestic violence on women and children and the shocking conditions in which people are living in hostels and travel lodges without basic facilities. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) also talked about a range of issues and gave a strong commitment particularly to Equitable Life pensioners. Somebody from that campaign came to my surgery, and I wish the hon. Gentleman luck with that. I know he will continue fighting on their behalf.
My good friend the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), a champion for the Potteries, highlighted the importance of using Staffordshire bricks and tiles in future housing developments. She gave us, though, some shocking statistics on the quality of unfinished estates in her constituency and rightly put the developers on notice. I know that she will follow that through. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) made an important speech on behalf of Gibraltarians about the impact of Brexit. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) told us the old know and the young think they know. She joined me this year in the over-50s, so I am hoping that one day both of us will know. However, she made a serious speech about the real need for discussion of older people’s care and what is happening in Wales.
The hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) made an important speech about the menopause. She was right to raise that taboo subject, which, as she said, had been discussed only 27 times here in the last three years. She has upped the average today, and I wish her luck with her campaign on women’s health.
In the first of two maiden speeches, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) said, “Lift as you climb.” Hers was a well-made speech. We are all looking forward to the party on the streets of Lewisham to which I think she invited us, and we must make sure that our own street parties are equally good.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) highlighted problems with benefits of which, as he said, even Ministers are aware. He also made a passionate defence of the important priority for the police of dealing with forced labour and modern slavery, which he will continue to do.
In the second maiden speech, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O’Mara) talked about his constituency, and also about the important issues of inclusion, equality and social justice. He said that he wanted to be the best MP that he could be, and I wish him well in that endeavour.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) focused on her experience of managing to visit Yarl’s Wood after waiting for 18 months, and of hearing from the women there about the mental torture that they had endured.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) presented a great case for making the cultural and artistic heritage of Reading Gaol available to the country, and I hope that he is supported in that aim.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) raised a range of issues on which he is well known for running important campaigns. He will introduce the final Adjournment debate this evening, ensuring that the Government keep on working to the very last.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) made important points about local government finance as well as international crises. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) highlighted the work of developers in her constituency, and the importance of our homes as places in which we need to feel safe. She also spoke of the pressure on the emergency services.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) talked about trains from Cheltenham, and how much more expensive it was to travel to Manchester than to Bristol. That is astonishing, when we consider how much better Bristol is as a city than Manchester. The extra £25 is well worth spending—every penny of it! I also discovered that if I visit Cheltenham for the evening, I can stay there until 10.50 pm, but if the hon. Gentleman comes to visit Bristol, he must leave at 10 pm. Bristol is barely getting going at 10 pm, so I wish him well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) talked about youth services, and her important constituency campaign on cauda equina syndrome. She also talked about the Grimsby town deal, and the need to ensure that the Government make a long-term commitment to support Grimsby.
The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) made an interesting speech about local museums and Bradshaw House. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) reminded us that she was involved in her ninth campaign to save local hospital services. She said that the NHS had spent £50 million on consultations in 20 years, and that there would be four public meetings in August. I hope that she enjoys them all. I am sure that she will be there and will make sure that people listen, as she always does.
My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) continues her Bootham Park hospital campaign, on which I have worked with her before. She recognises the importance of land as an enabler for decent healthcare services and key worker housing, and I wish her luck with her campaign.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) talked about refugees and the value that they bring to our country, about renewable energy, about social housing, and about the importance of shipbuilding to his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) talked about the Public and Commercial Services Union and how its recent ballot worked; she also talked about drug and alcohol policy and ME.
Finally, we heard the 44th speech of the Session—quite remarkable work—from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who also invited us to visit his constituency.
I talked about chaos earlier, but at least during the last few months the country has been blessed with weeks of wonderful sunshine, an exciting World cup to enjoy, and—for most of us—an England football team to be proud of. We have also had a royal wedding and a royal birth, and “Love Island” is beguiling the nation. Looking forward, I can tell any Members who are not tired of too much hot air so far this Session that in Bristol in August we will have the annual balloon fiesta, which I can highly recommend. In my constituency this weekend we will have the “Upfest”, a three-day festival celebrating some of the world’s best graffiti art. Apparently, 100 years of women’s suffrage will be celebrated in collaboration with “The Simpsons”; I have been told to watch out for a post-feminist Lisa.
Last year I invited Members to visit my constituency, the home of Bristol City football club, to watch some high-quality football. During the season, Watford, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and Manchester United found out about that high-quality football to their cost. I am sure there will be more victories in the coming months, but this year I extend a special invitation to followers of a different sport, as Bristol rugby team, the Bears, retake their place in the top division. My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) will be particularly welcome.
Mr Speaker, it has not been dull: since last we broke at Easter it has been a veritable rollercoaster, and I am sure colleagues across the House are looking forward to some well-deserved down time with their families and friends, as am I. I offer a big thank you to all the House staff for their hard work in keeping this unique and wonderful estate running: the kitchen staff, the Clerks, security, housekeeping, facilities, and our own staff, as we have mentioned—the list is endless. I thank everyone present and wish everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful recess.
In these 95° temperatures, I am sure we have all noted Public Health England’s advice to stay indoors and I am glad that so many hon. Members have taken that advice today and gathered here. But this is a strange venue in which to seek shelter from the heat, given the heated debates we have had over recent weeks here—so hot that perhaps we ought to be wearing aluminised fibreglass suits to withstand the hot air that has been generated. None the less we were all gathered here. Sleepless nights, increased irritability, vexatious points of order—harmony has perhaps not been the watchword of this Chamber over recent weeks. But it has undoubtedly been an historic parliamentary term that will live long in history for what we have collectively achieved, and we can all say that we were there, even though many of us maybe wished we were not.
It is fitting that before our recess—a recess is not a holiday; we are all working hard; I have meetings too this week—we have had the traditional “Matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment” debate. We have had many contributions, far more than usual, and I cannot guarantee to reply to every point raised, but my diligent officials will make sure that all relevant comments are passed on to the relevant Departments.
Many of us attend summer fetes—we have done so already and will do in the coming weeks—and this debate is rather like dipping our hand in a lucky dip bran tub. In it goes, we feel some indistinct, indeterminate shape between our fingers, pluck it out and wonder what it could be. Today it turned out to be the constituency correspondence of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). We look at it and wonder what to do with it—I will respond in due course. We have also had two fine maiden speeches today, and I congratulate both Members on making them, in particular the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), who I see in her place. She gave a passionate speech and I look forward to her contributions in the House.
I will do my best to get to every Member who was here. Those who have not made it back for the wind-ups might not get my fullest attention, but those who are here will get an iota of my attention.
First and foremost, the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) spoke passionately about his town—
I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon; as Blackpool is only a town, not a city, I assume everywhere else has to be a town as well. He spoke passionately on behalf of his constituents and we heard what he had to say about the actions of Unilever in the city of Norwich.
On the speech by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), I am delighted to hear that I achieved something during my relatively brief phase as HS2 Minister. I am also glad to hear that there is plenty more for my successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), to engage in in the days and weeks to come. I heard with great sadness the story the hon. Lady told about young Sophie and I am sure the whole House passes on our thoughts to her family at what must be a very difficult time. My officials will make sure that the hon. Lady gets an answer to her question from the relevant Ministers about how the organ donation scheme might operate.
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West was a masterclass in compression. I gather he raised 32 separate issues in seven minutes, which you, Mr Speaker, can only approve of: o si sic omnes—if only we could all achieve that, and I rather fear we might. He highlighted the rich fabric of community and voluntary activity in Southend, and again he plugged the case for Southend city status. I reiterate my two-for-one deal: if he backs Blackpool for that status, I will back Southend in turn, but I have heard only a deafening silence since our last recess debate.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) spoke with great passion. He reminded us of the significant benchmark for Louise Brown, a significant lady in the life of this country, and all that she represents. I particularly agreed with him about the unsuitability of using a travel lodge as a domestic violence refuge. I know the importance of the work that Fylde Coast Women’s Aid does, and the importance of refuges, and I am surprised that we still have to have recourse to using travel lodges for that purpose in this day and age.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) disappointed me: I was hoping to hear rather more about yoga, which I know he is a great proponent of. Given the many contortions that hon. Members have had to go through in recent weeks, and the odd positions that they have found themselves in, yoga would no doubt have been very helpful. It might well come in useful in the weeks to come. None the less, my hon. Friend spoke sensibly about the Equitable Life issue, and drew our attention to his personal role in developing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which I know is so important.
The hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) spoke on the issue of new homes, and I entirely agree with all the points they made. I have seen some horror stories myself, and I am sure that the Government will be inspired to action. I know that the hon. Members’ pressure will continue. There were many ideas, particularly from the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, that I am sure Ministers will want to take forward.
It was a delight to spend seven minutes in Gibraltar with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I have no doubt that Ministers are more than aware of their responsibilities with regard to the people of Gibraltar. They are a valiant people on their Rock, and I am sure that we would not wish to let them down in these difficult times.
In responding to the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), I shall avoid the temptation that many at this Dispatch Box often feel to criticise the Labour Government in Wales. I shall simply point out that there is always a great deal that we can learn from the devolved Administrations—even, just occasionally, the one in Edinburgh. I am never insensitive to what we can learn from Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) spoke with great personal insight and demonstrated how we all bring immense personal experience to our proceedings in the Chamber. There should be no taboos in the House of Commons. We should all be able to speak about what we have learned from our own lives. We all have a unique insight, and we should always feel free to contribute in that way.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) spoke with his usual force and passion on the issue of mental health and the personal independence payment. I very much recognise the points that he made. It is a case of constant improvement with the PIP; we have to make sure that it continually improves. I know that Ministers are particularly focused on that matter, and the hon. Gentleman was right to raise it. I was disappointed to hear about the comments from the councillor he mentioned. I have fought long and hard to ensure that disability hate crime is recognised for what it is, and he was right to encourage people to continue to report examples of it.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) spoke with her usual forthright trenchantness, if that is a word; I am not sure that it is. I hope that she will have welcomed the Home Secretary’s comments earlier today when he made his statement on the Shaw review. It is important to remember that anyone who is in detention, for whatever reason, is still a human being. They have a dignity that is unique to them as an individual.
The hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) and my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) showed creativity in what they put forward for their local areas. I will make sure that the Arts Minister gets a bumper pack of things to think about over the summer.
My former MP, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick)—he is perhaps still my best former MP—again gave us proof of why he should always be listened to on issues of electrical and fire safety. His list of policy adjustments is not so much a Government achievement as his own, and it proves the Speaker’s adage, “Always persist.” He is certainly persistent on the things that matter most to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) demonstrated why he continues to be held in such high regard on both sides of the House. I am sure that he awaits our social care Green Paper with anticipation, as do I. I am also pleased that he joins me in welcoming the fact that Eritrea and Ethiopia are now getting on better. I saw a fascinating photo of the first flight from Asmara to Addis Ababa just the other day; that was good news.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) overlooked the key fact that I am not the Rail Minister any more. None the less, the shadow Rail Minister, the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), is here to note his concerns, and I am sure that she will take them up. I could talk for half an hour about the CrossCountry franchise, but don’t worry—I won’t. However, my hon. Friend’s points about overcrowding were very well made.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) had the chance to visit more youth services in her constituency after what I am sure was her unintended oversight. She made an important point about the role of youth services in areas of greater deprivation, and I wholeheartedly agree with her on that. I also welcome the town deal that she mentioned, which gives me an idea to follow up in Blackpool, so I am grateful for that if nothing else.
I say to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) that what she described does not sound like a consultation; it just sounds like, “We’re not interested.” I wish her luck with her ninth campaign, and I hope that it is her last, but I am cynical, as I suspect she is.
The hon. Member for York Central raised some important points about the distribution of public land in her constituency and had ideas for new parks. I happen to think that parks are one of this country’s urban treasures, and we should always do more to promote them. I wish her well in her campaign.
It may be the first year that the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) has been in the Chamber, but I can certainly say that he has made his eloquent presence felt. I welcomed his recap of stuff that I recognised from business question after business question after business question. His fortitude does him great credit.
The hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) demonstrates why APPGs do matter in this place. Her forensic approach and knowledgeable contribution show that the hours spent in dusty Committee Rooms are not ill-spent at all.
To the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I say that it should be 344, not 44. I hope that he goes on forever and ever and ever, amen. I am sure that he will.
I am so grateful that the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) paid attention to my socks—so few do—but I hate to tell him that they are Australian, not Scottish. His allusions to “Game of Thrones” were wholly lost on me. I am a “Mad Men” fan, although I have only got to season four of that, so no spoilers, please. I am so busy being an MP that I do not have time to watch the latest television shows, but I am glad that he has the time to do so—only joking.
As we look to our summer recess, I note with some degree of trepidation that the Prime Minister is once again walking at high altitude. I hope she has a pleasant and relaxing break and no bright ideas. Just to be on the safe side, I am very much sticking to low-lying areas for any breaks that I may take.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, for your stewardship over the past year, your team of Deputy Speakers, the Clerks who keep us ticking over, the catering staff who keep us fed and, most importantly, watered, the Library staff who fertilise our brains, and the security staff who protect us from all anxieties. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members the most calm and peaceful summer recess, because I think we all need a bit of a lie down after the time we have had recently, don’t we just?
Before we come to the petitions and any points of order that might precede them, I want to echo what the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury has said on the Government’s behalf by way of appreciation. Perhaps I can start by thanking all colleagues who have contributed to this debate, but more widely I want to recognise the conscientious application to their task that they have shown ever since we came back after the general election. Whatever may be said about colleagues, and whatever people think of politicians, I know from my vantage point how hard and dedicatedly people on both sides of the political spectrum work in the Chamber, in Committees, in all-party groups and in constituency-related meetings and that should be recognised. People are trying to do the right thing by their constituents and their country. I thank colleagues for their engagement.
I thank the Leader of the House, who applies herself with enormous intensity and commitment to the work that she has to do, and wish her a very agreeable and well-earned summer break. I wish the same to the deputy shadow Leader of the House. Recognising that we can do what we do only because we are magnificently served by a vast number of dedicated, caring, efficient and effective staff at all levels of the House, I thank the staff of the House. Their work does not go unnoticed, and it will always be appreciated. Have a good summer.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, I think everyone would associate themselves with those remarks.
May I apologise to the House for not mentioning my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests before my speech? I should have referred to my entry, and I did not. I apologise to the House for not doing so.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said, which I think will be readily accepted by everyone in the House.
If I might be forgiven, I want to say thank you once again to our maiden speakers. We heard two outstanding speeches. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O’Mara) is not now in his place, but I have offered my respects to him. I reiterate to the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) that hers was a speech of great passion, authority and empathy. My very clear sense is that it commanded enormous support and respect across the House, and I wish her and the hon. Gentleman a very good experience here in the House of Commons.