Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.—(David T. C. Davies.)
I would like to raise three issues that relate to my constituency. First and foremost, I am hugely excited by the prospect of a new arena in the Brabazon hangar on the former Filton airfield. Bristol is one of the most creative cultural cities in the country. Indeed, there can scarcely be anywhere in the country more famed for its contributions to sport, music, art, theatre and wider culture. That our area does not have a large arena of its own has long been a conspicuous absence in our local offering. I want to pay tribute to YTL Developments, the developer of the 400-acre airfield site. Its proposals will lead to the building of a new arena on the border between Bristol and South Gloucestershire, which will be funded without a penny of taxpayers’ money. YTL’s forecasts predict that the project will create 500 jobs, attract 1.4 million visitors per year and add around £1.5 billion to our local economy.
In reusing the existing Brabazon hangar, instead of building a brand-new arena from scratch, the proposals will save 18,600 tonnes of carbon emissions—the equivalent of 11,200 return flights to New York, so I am told. The innovative designs will mean that the Brabazon arena will be able to host touring bands, concerts and sport events in a single venue. Importantly, the arena will boast excellent transport links, including a brand-new railway station at North Filton, a regular MetroBus service and convenient walking and cycling routes. This project is a fantastic opportunity, and I urge Bristol City councillors to get on with granting the planning permission, because delays will only cause costs to increase. The Labour council’s plans to spend £150 million of taxpayers’ money on an arena at Temple Meads in the middle of Bristol were ill-fated, but there is now a great opportunity at the Brabazon hangar site to have a better facility with better transport links at zero cost to the taxpayer. I suggest that the councillors seize that opportunity with both hands.
The next issue that I would like to raise is transport infrastructure. The Prime Minister highlighted in his statement on Tuesday the upgrade to Bristol East junction, which is progressing well as part of our wider MetroWest suburban railway project. That project will deliver great things for our local area, with phase 1 reopening the Portishead branch rail line. The Severn Beach line will be extended to allow for direct journeys to Westbury and Bath, and that extension is on time to be delivered by 2021. Furthermore, we will see a reopened Henbury line, offering an hourly service to new stations in North Filton, Henbury and Ashley Down, and a new, more frequent half-hourly service between Bristol Parkway and Yate.
Our area is already becoming better connected, and I eagerly anticipate seeing the benefits of £350 million of investment in transport infrastructure over the next 20 years, but there are some issues that need addressing. First, a regular service must be restored to Pilning railway station. We are lucky enough in my constituency to have the Wave, the first inland surfing lake of its kind in England, on the edge of Pilning and Easter Compton. That amazing facility opened recently and will attract thousands of tourists. If we do not want people to drive there, which would put pressure on rural road networks with limited capacity, it would be sensible to ensure that they have a reliable rail service, especially because there is a railway station already on the door step.
Secondly, and linked to the sustainability of the area, a park-and-ride facility at Severn Beach railway station would be greatly beneficial. It would capture a lot of traffic heading towards Bristol and avoid a large number of car journeys being taken. There is suitable land adjacent to the station, and I have made the case for it to be used for a park and ride. That would benefit those travelling towards Bristol from Gloucestershire and Wales, as the station is conveniently located near the A403 and M4, and those commuting towards work in Avonmouth and Severnside, which is a huge growth area for jobs and industry, as it is a 10-minute journey by train from Severn Beach to Avonmouth.
Finally, I would like to focus on the issue of education. Our local schools have faced challenges, but many of them are beginning to improve, thanks to the commitment of parents, hard-working teachers and school staff. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, which was recognised last week for strong performance. Students studying A-levels at SGS College made more progress from their GCSE grades than other learners studying similar subjects across South Gloucestershire and England. I would also like to highlight the excellent work done by Bradley Stoke Community School, which continues to be the best school in South Gloucestershire.
I really enjoy visiting my local schools, and I am always inspired when I see young people eager to learn, teachers and staff striving to provide the best education, and governors and parents who are committed to providing the right supporting environment for that to happen. As someone who did not benefit from a fantastic education and left school at 16 with very few qualifications, I am passionate about social mobility and opportunities.
South Gloucestershire is the lowest-funded education authority in the country. There is no good reason for that, besides the arbitrary whims of a mathematical formula, and the impact of that is clear when we compare our results with those of our geographic and demographic neighbours. While the direction of travel is good, and many schools are improving, it cannot be argued that the lack of funding is not a factor in the underperformance of some schools. I have made a submission to the Chancellor ahead of the Budget arguing for more funding for our schools to assist with some of their capital needs, as many are unable to invest in heating, windows and other necessary maintenance to ensure children are studying in the kind of environment we would expect.
I have been working closely with many schools in south Gloucestershire and pay tribute to the members of staff working diligently to deliver a good education to our children, despite the limitations, in some cases, of the buildings they are operating in. In particular, I would highlight the situation at Patchway Community School, which is a school I have great affection for, as three of my children went there and received a great education before moving on to have great careers. Over a year ago, on a catch-up visit, I was shocked at the state of the buildings and infrastructure: ceilings coming down, holes in the flooring, the whole place giving the impression of decay.
The staff are making an amazing effort to educate the pupils, but the limitations put on them by the shoddy state of the school buildings are extreme. I was really surprised. It still has the original resistant materials workbenches from the ’50s. Children are working with equipment older than I am, not one mile from Rolls-Royce and Airbus, two of the leading technology and engineering companies in the world, and having to skirt around collapsed flooring that has been coned off because there is not the budget to repair it. Windows go unreplaced and staff have been forced to decide whether to replace their ageing heating system or undertake other routine maintenance. It is a choice they should not have to make. Parts of the school flood during periods of heavy rain and the changing rooms for sports are not fit for purpose.
I want every child in south Gloucestershire to feel valued at school, not to dread their daily attendance in a dilapidated, dismal and decaying place where the day-to-day experience must be disheartening at times. I have engaged with Ministers on this issue, and the Schools Minister came to visit the school. To date, we have not had much success, whether through increased funding or other help to address these important issues, but rest assured I will continue to campaign until schools in my area get the funding they need and deserve. In addition, I will continue to meet local companies, particularly in the STEM field, to explore whether there is scope for some support in this regard. The nation is desperately short of engineers and scientists. I represent an area that is the hub of south-west England’s aerospace, technology and defence industries, yet I see children learning metalwork and woodwork on equipment that is older than I am, as I said earlier.
Schools should be places of inspiration and hope that highlight the great possibilities and opportunities of life—going back to the point about social mobility, aspiration and looking beyond one’s circumstances. The staff at Patchway Community School are heroically doing their very best to provide this environment, but it must be very difficult and demoralising when the buildings are falling down around them. I would like to invite the Secretary of State for Education, whoever that will be by the end of the day, to visit the school with me to see what can be done.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), not least because of his contribution about education and social mobility, which gives me the opportunity to plug the fourth university fair I have organised for my constituents in the London Borough of Harrow. It will take place on Monday 2 March from 3 pm to 6 pm at the excellent Whitmore High School in my constituency. Every student and parent in the borough thinking about university is extremely welcome to attend. All the leading universities will be there. There will also be options for working abroad. I pay tribute to those universities, including the Oxbridge pair, that will be attending the fair and which, as a result of the success of the previous three fairs, have now stationed a member of staff in the school to work with staff to encourage applications to Russell Group universities and to continue the broader job of trying to increase aspiration among students in my constituency. It is extremely welcome.
I want to concentrate my remarks on the national health service in Harrow and north-west London more generally. Health Ministers will be aware of the collapse, after seven years, of the Shaping a Healthier Future programme, which was designed to plan the future of the NHS across the eight clinical commissioning group areas of north-west London. It originally envisaged the closure of four accident and emergency departments, two of which did take place, but then campaigns, led not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), led to the successful defeat of the proposals to close his A&E department. That, coupled with Treasury concerns about the financing and population estimates, led last June to the Department of Health and Social Care formally cancelling the programme. On the surface, that was a good thing, because it helped to secure another two A&E departments in north-west London, and, at least for my constituents who rely on the A&E department at Northwick Park Hospital, it means there will not be even more pressure on our hospital.
As yet, however, there has not been any replacement strategy for the future of health services in north-west London, which is a particular concern for the future of Northwick Park Hospital, which has a £140 million backlog of essential maintenance, according to a written parliamentary answer from the Department of Health and Social Care; has been starved of substantial investment of late and is certainly short of intensive therapy unit beds; and has not been able to achieve its four-hour A&E target since August 2014. In that time, my partner has managed to have two children and Brad Pitt got married to and divorced from Angelina Jolie, which gives the House a sense of just how long it has been since the A&E department was able to provide a service that meets the key NHS targets.
That is not to decry the talents and dedication of the staff who work at Northwick Park Hospital. I have had to use the paediatric A&E department facilities many times, and the staff there are amazing—that view is widely shared in my constituency—but there is no clarity about the future of the hospital. That is brought into stark focus by the fact that the trust that runs the hospital is set to have one of the biggest deficits in the NHS. It is projected to be £92 million by the end of this financial year. It must be one of the first times in the history of the NHS that a hospital has approached the end of the financial year with close to a £100 million deficit. It raises the question: what is the future in terms of capital investment and funding for Northwick Park Hospital, given the wider problems in the NHS economy in north-west London? The Ealing, Brent and Harrow CCGs, in particular, are widely expected to have the highest deficits in NHS history by the end of the financial year. There is clearly something significantly wrong with the financing—and the formula on which that financing is based—of the NHS in north-west London. I would be grateful if the Minister conveyed those concerns to the Department and encouraged Ministers to get to grips with the challenges in north-west London, particularly those facing my constituency.
As the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) would testify, the future of walk-in services run by local GPs, including the Pinn, Alexandra Avenue and the Belmont health centre was a significant issue at the general election. I am delighted to hear that the last surviving of those three walk-in services, the Pinn, has been saved, albeit it without any extra funding for the CCG. If true, it is genuinely excellent news.
The other two walk-in services at Alexandra Avenue and Belmont serve a more deprived and more economically challenged community than does the Pinn. It would good to hear that there will be funding for walk-in services to be reopened at Alexandra Avenue and Belmont, because without that I fear the pressure on Northwick Park’s accident and emergency department is only going to increase. As the chief executive of Northwick Park made clear to me, the closure particularly of the Alexandra Avenue walk-in centre was being felt very directly both in paediatric A&E and mainstream A&E services.
I should say that I am grateful to the Minister for Health for agreeing to meet me to discuss some of these concerns, but could the Minister on the Front Bench encourage the Department of Health and Social Care to respond? If he could give him a gentle prod to get me a proper briefing, I would be extremely grateful.
I particularly want to raise Mount Vernon cancer centre’s future. Over 1,000 patients from the London Borough of Harrow use Mount Vernon cancer centre annually. Last July, a clinical advisory panel led by Professor Nick Slevin, who is a consultant clinical oncologist at the Christie Hospital, was commissioned to review the quality of services at Mount Vernon cancer centre and to come up with some suggestions for the way forward. It found that the hospital was so dilapidated and short staffed that it could not provide basic elements of treatment.
I understand that it is probably the first time in the NHS’s 71-year history that such a major facility, specialising in what is clearly the country’s second biggest killer disease, has been deemed to pose a risk to patients and been declared unfit for purpose. It was found to be so dilapidated and short staffed that it could not provide basic elements of treatment. Yet if we talk to those who have benefited or who have had relatives who have benefited from the treatment at Mount Vernon Hospital, we find it is a cancer centre that is held in extremely high regard. Again, it is blessed with some remarkably talented doctors and nurses, who have done a tremendous job over the years in saving numerous lives and making a huge difference.
Again, the question is: what is the future of the Mount Vernon cancer centre? Initially, there was a lot of concern, particularly with University College London Hospitals due to take over the running of the cancer centre, that cancer services would move from that site into central London. That does not now appear to be the likely ultimate plan for the cancer centre, but there is no clarity as yet about the cancer centre’s future. It is clear from the review that it does not think, fundamentally, that the cancer centre can continue at the Mount Vernon site. That is creating a lot of concern among those currently undergoing treatment there or those who have benefited from treatment on the site.
Having been operated on at the Mount Vernon site in the dim and distant past when it was an acute hospital, I know the affection in which the hospital is held. As a matter of urgency, I urge NHS England to make sure there is no gap in the attention given to the future of Mount Vernon hospital. It sits in an uneasy place in terms of NHS boundaries, being very close to the boundary that NHS East of England manages, but just within the NHS London region. When UCLH takes over running the facilities on the site next year, apparently in March 2021, NHS East of England will pass over responsibility for working out its long-term future to NHS London. There has to be a concern that there will be some loss of focus on the future of the hospital.
Again, I urge the Minister to brief his colleague the Minister for Health on the concerns about Mount Vernon cancer centre. If it helps to encourage the Minister to take this seriously, Mount Vernon cancer centre serves the constituents of the Prime Minister as well as mine, and I suggest there will be many constituents in Uxbridge and South Ruislip who are very worried about the future of the cancer hospital. On that basis, I look forward to the Minister passing on my concerns.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) for his passionate talk about the NHS, something which he will probably find is dear to my heart.
One of the benefits of being one of those new Members who do their maiden speeches later is that you get to learn not only that the Opposition cannot intervene, but that it can be quite difficult for the Chair to intervene, especially when there is no time limit. The temptation is to go for a very long speech, but Members—and indeed you, Madam Deputy Speaker—will be very pleased to know that I actually take my advice from none other than Prince Philip, who once said, “The mind cannot absorb what the buttocks cannot endure.” With that in mind, I am going to keep it nice and short.
Actually, a royal connection is not a bad place for me to start my speech. After all, my seat is Bosworth, and most people know it because of the battle of Bosworth. In August 1485, Henry VII defeated Richard III, bringing to an end the English civil war of the Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty, and ushering in the Tudor era. But my constituency is so much more than a barren battlefield. We produced the Hansom cab—think what Sherlock Holmes went around in. We taught Ada Lovelace—think of the world’s first ever computer programmer. We produce Triumph motorcycles—think Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape”—which are made in Hinckley; and there is much more.
My constituency is beautiful and diverse. It is broadly made up of three distinct areas: across the top we have Markfield, Bagworth and Thornton, which are steeped in mining history; across the middle, we have Twycross, Market Bosworth and some of the smaller villages, which are more rural and farming in nature; and across the bottom, we have Hinckley, Burbage, Earl Shilton and Barwell, which are steeped in hosiery and shoes, and were renowned the world over for their products. Like those industries, times have changed, but the people of Leicestershire learned to adapt and they are innovative. In my constituency, we now have Twycross zoo, Mallory race park and MIRA. For those not familiar with MIRA, it is one of the world-leading research facilities for automotive technology—driverless cars; electric cars; electric batteries.
Having listening to other Members’ maiden speeches, Madam Deputy Speaker, you may be forgiven for thinking that the world centres around their constituency. Well, I cannot debate that, but one thing I can say with the truest certainty is that the centre of England is actually in my patch—in Fenny Drayton in Bosworth. This was confirmed by the Ordnance Survey in 2013, much to the dismay of the then right hon. Member for Meriden. It is one of the absolute honours to represent the literal heart of our country here in the spiritual heart of our government.
At this point, I would like to pay my respects to and thank my predecessor, who represented Bosworth in Westminster for 33 years—David Tredinnick. From the outside, it may be perceived with a slight irony that I, a GP, was elected, given his interests in alternative medicine. However, from the inside, what we both share—I am in absolute admiration of it—is his innate desire for and pursuit of improving the wellness of the human state. That is something that I want to take with me as I go forward in my career.
As you heard me mention, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am a GP, and I have a declaration to make. My wife is a GP, my father is a GP and my mother is a retired nurse. My youngest brother is a GP and his fiancée is a hospital doctor. My middle brother broke the mould—he is a sports and exercise doctor, working for British Olympic swimming and Bath rugby. His wife—you guessed it—is a GP. Needless to say, when we have a Christmas dinner get-together, the conversation is riveting. My mother and father’s dedication to public life was instilled in me, and that is why I am here today. However, I would not be here without the support, dedication, sacrifice and patience of my wife, Charlie, who is in the Gallery today. Thank you.
When people find out that someone is transitioning from being a GP to being a MP, a lot of them ask, “Why would you do that?”—I think my family thinks I am mad. I would answer with two retorts: first, there are lots of similarities between being a good local MP and a good local GP. We have to problem-solve, communicate effectively, distil complex information, and send it up towards the Government and down towards patients. Above all, we must care for the people we want to help and earn their respect. We do that by working hard, and I pledge to work tirelessly for the people of Bosworth. The only difference is that when a GP’s consultation is over, they do not say to the patient, “Can you now vote for me?”—that is something I must get used to.
The second and probably more corny retort is that I want to make things better. Since being elected in December, I have spent the past few weeks fighting for the people of Hinckley and Bosworth. I have met Local Government Ministers to lobby for fairer funding for Leicestershire, and I met the Minister responsible for roads to ask for improvements to the A5. I have questioned Ministers from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about ensuring that we improve our broadband and mobile phone signals. I met the Transport Secretary and asked him to reopen the Ivanhoe line. I have joined the Health Committee, in the hope that I can use some of my professional experience to be a critical friend of Government, and help to improve the health of not only my constituents in Hinckley and Bosworth, but hopefully the nation. I will take those responsibilities forward and work tirelessly to deliver on them over the coming years.
The final question that I get asked—many new Members will find this—is about what I want to change, which I find really strange. I do not want to change the world; I want to solve the world. There are many problems up and down the country—indeed, across the globe—and I think we solve them by empowering people. If healthcare has taught me one thing, it is: help those who can’t, and empower those who can. I want to be part of a body that helps to bring forward legislation that gives people the tools to help themselves and their communities. That is done by not only protecting people’s rights, but giving them responsibilities. After all, we cannot escape the responsibilities of tomorrow by evading them today. That good motto works at many different levels, be it personal—the choices people make about what they eat, whether they exercise and where they spend their money—for organisations regarding how they hire and look after their staff, and from where they source their materials, or at Government level regarding how to deal with debt and the deficit, trade, and climate change.
As the new Member of Parliament for Bosworth, I will fight for the rights of my constituents. I will fulfil my responsibilities to them to the best of my ability, and I will drive the Government to empower the country, and its citizens, to make a better world.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) on his excellent peroration, and I wish him all the best in his career and in representing his constituents. I will also draw on some of his words about empowerment and choice, and I hope that as a member of the Health Committee, he will enjoy introducing new ideas and best practice from his recent experience as a GP.
The issue I wish to raise is also health-related. Last weekend in my constituency, some protesters assembled outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service at Stroud Green, intent on disrupting the clinic’s work and intimidating service users who were attending it. This issue is not new to the House. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) has raised it on a number of occasions, imploring the Health Secretary to take more action and create buffer zones around clinics so that women who have to make choices at what is often a stressful time in their lives are able to make those choices without experiencing harassment or degradation.
I was disappointed to see those protests in my constituency. As I follow the excellent speech by the hon. Member for Bosworth, I am sure that we all agree that choice is crucial in this debate, and that women’s rights are human rights. The right for women to do what they choose with their own bodies is an important principle, and I have always stood up for that most basic of human rights.
The protests outside clinics that have been popping up in various constituencies can turn nasty, and I implore the Minister to seek advice from those senior to him about what can be done. As we know from the speech we have just heard, some patients need to make choices at various points in their lives. Women in particular should be supported at a difficult time, not bombarded by protesters who surround clinics, accuse service users of murder, and display graphic images that should not be tolerated while women are taking such a significant step in their lives. Turning a blind eye to such intimidatory tactics is not some- thing that any Member of the House should encourage.
I am grateful to my local authority, Haringey Council, for its sympathetic approach to this issue when it appeared suddenly last weekend, as well as to our excellent borough commander. They immediately passed the issue to local community police officers, who are able to deal with issues of community cohesion that can arise quickly in a matter of hours. I hope I will gain the Government’s support on this. We know that local authorities are hamstrung. The only legal tool currently available is the public spaces protection order, which is not really appropriate for this sort of issue, as a high threshold must be met to obtain a buffer zone.
I understand that such protests are a frequent occurrence. According to experts, over the past 18 months, 44 clinics across the UK have experienced some form of protest activity, including a number of GP surgeries. The hon. Member for Bosworth will know that a protest outside a GP’s surgery could be particularly negative at a time when, as he said, it is important to empower a patient to make a decision. However, only a handful of those protests would meet the threshold for a PSPO.
Given that we are in the third decade of the 21st century, I ask for the law to be updated to protect women who choose to exercise their right to access pregnancy advice services, and in what they choose to do with their bodies. Will the Minister speak to the Home Secretary about the need for legislation to decriminalise abortion and to provide for buffer zones around registered clinics, with proper enforcement measures if those zones are breached?
I will conclude, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I know that lots of Members wish to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton has already led calls on this issue in the House, and she has long been a champion for buffer zones. I know that the issue is on the Government’s mind—together with a number of other pressing matters—and if it is dealt with quickly, it might lead to a calmer situation. We know that arrangements are in place abroad to prevent disruptive and intimidating protesters from getting near clinics and pressuring women who are already under a great deal of stress and pressure.
Some may argue that buffer zones place a limit on free speech—we could have a debate about that. There is nothing to stop such debates taking place in a calm and measured way, and Members on both sides of the House will have different views. Nevertheless, we can demonstrate our ability to have calm discussions in this House about issues on which we disagree, and we do not need to shout at service users at critical times, show distressing images, or call people murderers outside a perfectly reasonable and well-established clinic.
Finally, may I beg the Minister a third time to take this issue up with the Home Secretary? Providing buffer zones would achieve protection and dignity for women while they make what is often the biggest or most difficult decision of their lives. We cannot let the protests continue and we cannot afford more delay.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish you a lovely break next week.
Diolch yn fawr, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am the first ever Conservative MP for Wrexham and I am Wrexham’s first female MP. I stand humbled and privileged to serve every constituent, regardless of how they voted. The people of Wrexham are strong and proud, and they were affronted by the prospect of their democratic will being overruled. I have fulfilled my promise to the people of Wrexham and we have left the European Union.
Wrexham is a town some 6 miles from the English border and a gateway both to north-west England and beautiful Snowdonia. Inextricably linked to England for work and play, we are still fiercely and proudly Welsh. We in Wrexham illustrate all that is rich in our Union. I am very typical of someone living in north-east Wales. My father is from Chester and my mother is from Caernarfon. The walls of Chester did nothing to keep out the Welsh women. [Laughter.]
My mother came from a large humble “covie” family, where the women are matriarchs, resilient and strong. Indeed, Shakespeare was no stranger to the determination and the take-no-prisoners attitude of Welsh women, but I will let you read “Henry IV, part 1” for further information. The women of my mother’s generation were tasked with looking after the family and making ends meet. She never heard English until she attended school. How proud all the family are now, as one of them rises in this Chamber as the first ever female Conservative MP for Wales. I think they have even forgiven me for being a Tory. [Laughter.] But that goes to show how amazing this country of ours is and what we can offer to people when they put in hard work, commitment and sacrifice. We must ensure that all those opportunities are maintained and enhanced for our future generations.
Wrexham has a long history of welcoming people into the town. In world war two, we had an influx of Polish servicemen who integrated and settled. There is a large Polish community in Wrexham and a smaller, yet significant Portuguese community. They have woven themselves into the fabric of Wrexham, adding to the diversity and culture of our one nation.
For those who have not been to Wrexham, it is a hidden gem of a market town founded on mining, brewing, football and the military. Sadly, Wrexham claims the second largest mining disaster in Wales. In 1934, an explosion killed 266 men in the Gresford colliery. All but 11 remain buried beneath our feet as a lasting reminder of our industrial heritage. So many men died on that day, as they had changed their shifts to watch Wrexham play Tranmere Rovers. Indeed, as a student nurse back in 1990, I nursed an old man on a medical ward at the local Wrexham Maelor Hospital. His body was covered in small blue scars. He told me that he had been dragged out of the pit that day and was one of the few who survived. It was poignant that, when I visited him at home in Gwersyllt, the same coal that almost killed him was keeping his house warm and water hot.
The mines have since closed, but the resilience and adaptability of the people of Wrexham have meant that other industries and business have filled the void. The people have risen to the challenge. These are the same people who voted me in and I thank them for their faith in me. Indeed, during the election campaign the shift in the political landscape was seismic. The Daily Mail reporter was somewhat surprised to find me and two former Ministers having a swift post-campaigning pint in the LLay Miners Welfare Institute, having just left the opposition in a rather upmarket coffee shop.
As Members have heard, Wrexham’s passion for football goes back a long way and Wrexham Association football club is arguably the oldest in Wales. The Football Association of Wales was founded in Wrexham and I was pleased to see the recent opening of Colliers Park, the national football development centre for Wales, symbolically located on the site of the Gresford colliery pithead. I would like to highlight the good work done by Gresford Athletic football club and Brickfield Rangers football club, including their work in ensuring football is accessible to all, including our young people.
In 1689, the Royal Welch Fusiliers was raised, recruiting from across north Wales. It has a long association with Wrexham’s Hightown barracks. Sadly, this has all changed, but the connection with Wrexham and the Welch Fusiliers remains strong. Madam Deputy Speaker, I stand in the House as the only female MP who has served in the regular Army. It goes without saying that I will do all I can to support our military personnel, veterans and all their families.
Many of us have laid claim to a few firsts. In 1860, my constituency had over 19 breweries in the town. We obviously brew the best beer. Wrexham Lager began in 1882 and the lager is still brewed today. I, too, once dabbled in commercial brewing. I was a brewster—a female brewer. Those who follow me on social media will know that I appreciate a pint of real ale or two and I absolutely value the role pubs play in supporting our communities.
I pay tribute to Ian Lucas, the previous Member for Wrexham, who served the people of Wrexham for 18 years and was a good constituency Member of Parliament. Despite our political differences, Ian and I do have one thing in common: we both served on Gresford Community Council. This is why I value the role of our community councils and councillors in making our communities a better place to live.
Employment opportunities in Wrexham are relatively good. It is served by large businesses such as IPSEN, Moneypenny, DTCC, JCB and Kellogg’s, and we are within commuting distance of Airbus and Toyota. Wrexham is home to the second largest trading estate in the UK, directly employing about 12,000 people. With hopes of expansion comes the offer of further employment opportunities.
It was clear to me during the general election campaign that the residents of Wrexham feel let down by the Welsh Labour Government. The health service is our main concern; a health service directly managed by Labour from Cardiff. Almost daily, I hear heartbreaking narratives from constituents about their disempowerment and suffering. I am listening. As one of seven Conservative MPs across north Wales, we are all listening and we are all looking at what we can do to influence the Welsh Labour Government.
Wrexham has not escaped the problems faced by many towns across the country, but there are now positive plans afoot for regeneration. I have met so many enterprising traders, butchers, bakers and restaurateurs, and I shall be meeting many more. They are the seedcorn of our prosperity. I will do all I can to work with all who seek the success of Wrexham, always seeking to ensure that the people’s voice is heard.
There is renewed optimism in Wrexham, bringing with it the hope that missed opportunities will now be realised. I have lost count of the amount of times people have stopped their car or stopped me in the street, shaken my hand and said, “I’d hoped this day would come.” Wrexham has indeed turned blue and I will prove to my constituents that they have made the right choice. Diolch yn fawr, bobl Wrecsam. Diolch am eich cefnogaeth.
It is a great pleasure to follow the very assured maiden speeches of the hon. Members for Bosworth (Dr Evans) and for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton). I wish them well. As a fellow Welsh woman MP, may I say to the hon. Member for Wrexham that I very much look forward to her contribution to the annual St David’s Day Welsh debate, which will be held after recess? I am also sure that the all-party beer group will be extremely interested to hear the views of a brewster.
The headlines this week have been understandably dominated by the Government’s decision to move ahead with HS2. This will present not only new opportunities, but significant challenges for the Government in seeking to address the imbalance between the economies of the nations and regions of the UK. I will begin with the opportunities that have arisen, particularly as an hon. Member for a constituency and a city that produces steel and trains.
As Ministers will be aware, phases 1 and 2 of the HS2 project combined will require 2 million tonnes of steel, including for tracks, train components, bridges, tunnels, gantries, wire and more. That means there will be huge procurement opportunities for steel producers across the UK, including in south Wales. I hope that the Government will act to ensure that high-quality UK steel products are used for HS2 wherever possible. It is crucial that Ministers use this opportunity to give our steel industry the vote of confidence that it needs and deserves in extremely challenging times. I will re-emphasise that point to the Government with the members of the all-party group on steel, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft).
I also urge Ministers to look to Newport-based train builders CAF Rail UK to produce the trains that are needed for this major infrastructure project. Train production has been up and running at the site at Llanwern since 2018. I have been fortunate enough to visit the factory to see some of the exceptional units being built for West Midlands trains and Northern. The company has received great support and investment from the Welsh Labour Government and already employs a skilled workforce of around 250 people, which is set to grow to 300 in the near future. CAF has the potential and the capacity to produce trains that are at the cutting edge of modern rail technology and offer travel speeds of over 360 km an hour. That makes CAF a perfect fit for HS2, and winning the contract for this major project would be a real boost to our local economy, which has been hit hard recently by the sad news of job losses at Orb, Liberty, EnerSys and Caldicot Tinmasters.
HS2 provides new opportunities to be grasped and I will continue to raise the points that I have made today with Ministers over the weeks and months ahead. However, it is also important to highlight, as Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford rightly did this week, that the announcement to proceed with HS2 brings the Tory Government’s historical under-investment in Welsh rail infrastructure into sharp and unflattering focus. Wales accounts for 11% of the UK rail network, yet since 2010, we have received only 2% of rail enhancement spending. In the meantime, the UK Government have cancelled electrification to Swansea and blocked the Welsh Government from providing much needed additional cross-border services that would benefit my constituents who commute from Newport and Severn Tunnel Junction to Bristol. That disparity in investment needs to be addressed urgently if the Prime Minister’s pledge to “level up” the nations and regions of the UK is to be seen as anything other than grandstanding bluster. Wales has been the forgotten nation on rail infrastructure spending and this must end. We also need a new station for Magor and Undy and I pay tribute to the fabulous Magor rail group for its fantastic campaign. I hope that that progresses shortly.
In this end-of-term Adjournment debate, I will also touch on some other issues affecting my constituents. The system of claiming benefits through the special rules for terminal illnesses is still completely unfit for purpose. As Members across the House may be aware, those living with debilitating terminal conditions such as motor neurone disease still have to prove that they have a life expectancy of six months to access benefits. In the case of an unpredictable condition such as MND, that is almost impossible and it forces vulnerable people to spend the last months of their lives filling in lengthy forms, attending assessments, meeting work coaches and waiting months for payments. Equally degrading and cruel is the three-year benefit award, which means that anyone who lives with a condition like MND for over three years loses their benefits. That means that people who are extremely ill—in some cases, completely paralysed or unable to speak—are receiving letters telling them that their benefits are being stopped unless they make a new claim. We have to ask ourselves if this is the sort of country that we want to live in.
In July last year, the Government announced a review of the benefits system to support people who are terminally ill. Six months later, there is little sign of progress, other than the launch of a survey for clinicians and a claimants’ roundtable. The disruption of a general election may have played a part in the delay, but it is still taking far too long. We owe it to them, their families and everyone living with such awful diseases to reform a benefits system that is currently insulting and inhumane. The former Member for Bridgend, Madeleine Moon, did excellent work on this issue in the last Parliament and I intend to pursue it in this one.
I have also been contacted by constituents about the roll-out of the IR35 off-payroll tax. As hon. Members know, there are huge concerns about what that could mean for contractors around the country. Thousands of workers will be unfairly taxed as employees with no employment benefits, including sickness pay, holiday pay and maternity or paternity rights. During the general election, the then Chancellor promised a review of the IR35 legislation, but instead the Government have decided to go ahead with the off-payroll tax and have announced only a consultation on the implementation of the reforms. Just yesterday, contractors were in Parliament in numbers to protest and lobby. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) , said in reply to a Treasury question that I asked this week that he was not aware of big companies making blanket decisions on IR35—yet I say to him that my Twitter feed says otherwise. Contractors rightly feel that the Government are not engaging with them about how they will be affected by these changes. Ministers need to listen now, which means pausing the process and working with the industry to undertake a proper review.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the chance to take part in this debate. Like other honourable Welsh Members, I look forward to taking part in another debate in about two weeks’ time, and I wish everyone a productive recess.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to give my maiden speech in this general debate. I start by thanking the Speaker, the Deputies, including yourself, and the Speaker’s Office for the excellent advice, care and concern that has been shown to new Members. It is greatly appreciated.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and to have heard the wonderful maiden speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (Dr Evans) and for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton)—I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the maiden speeches from this intake so far.
I am delighted to be a Member of this Parliament, which is so wonderfully diverse and representative of the communities we serve. I would like to thank the Conservative Women’s Organisation, Women2Win, and the cross-party 50:50 campaign for the investment that they made in me and for encouraging women to stand in public life.
My predecessor in Guildford, the right hon. Anne Milton, started her political journey as a borough councillor in nearby Reigate and Banstead. With her experience as an NHS nurse of 25 years and genuine warmth of character, she was close to our community and understood local people and their concerns. Anne always acted with principle and did what she believed was right both for her constituents and in the national interest.
In Government, Anne was an effective Minister in the Department of Health and later a Government Whip—indeed, she was the first Conservative woman to hold the position of Deputy Chief Whip, where she introduced better access to physical and mental health provision as well as pioneering the induction programme for new Members, which we in this intake have all benefited from. Anne Milton’s most recent post in Government was as Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills. I look forward to continuing to make the case for the value of apprenticeships, not least as someone who did not go to university but was able to learn and earn. I can see the enormous potential of apprenticeships as we invest in our young people as part of our future global Britain.
I have the wonderful privilege of representing a constituency that I believe encapsulates its name in so many ways. Guildford, or “Golden Ford”, is so named because it was the natural shallow crossing point of the River Wey, where the river bed shone with golden sand. The North Downs way is a footpath that stretches through Surrey, including the Hog’s Back and the centre of Guildford, past the ancient castle built shortly after the Norman conquest in 1066. It provides stunning views—in fact, you do not have to go far from the centre of Guildford to enjoy a view, especially of our iconic cathedral, which sits proudly on the skyline.
Beyond the town, there are many beautiful villages in the Guildford constituency, with idyllic cricket greens and friendly pubs, many of which I managed to give good custom to during the general election as a well-earned break from knocking on doors. I have been proud to call the village of Ewhurst my home for the last decade and serve as a local councillor in the neighbouring community of Cranleigh, which still competes for the title of England’s largest village.
There are hundreds of charities registered in Guildford, and scores more in the wider constituency. It is a kind-hearted, philanthropic place, and the borough council works extremely well in partnership with those charities, helping with all sorts of issues from rough sleeping to young carers. The council also has a fantastic ASPIRE programme to promote health and wellbeing. Homelessness and rough sleeping are high on my list of priorities, and I look forward to continuing to work with the council, and with charities such as Guildford Action, to ensure that the additional funding announced by the Government in December is put to good use. I will work both on a cross-party basis and with the Government to tackle those issues as an officer of the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness here in Westminster.
Community is at the heart of this one nation Conservative Government’s agenda, and Guildford is uniquely placed to forge golden opportunities in linking the fantastic University of Surrey, Surrey Sports Park, the law college, Surrey Research Park, our entrepreneurs, our computer gaming industry and our leading 5G innovation, job creation and prosperity with our cultural gems of the performing arts and our beautiful cobbled high street, with its famous retail offering of shops, cafes and restaurants.
However, the economic revenue produced by Guildford needs to be nourished with inward investment of skill, talent and funding. I will be seeking Government investment in infrastructure. It is time for a masterplan for Guildford town centre, and bold innovation to reduce traffic with green technology, road improvements, and a re-purposing of the old Cranleigh to Guildford Rail line to ease congestion on the A281. We know that a vibrant local community is more than its industry; it is about its services, its schools and its hospitals.
I am delighted to have Royal Surrey County Hospital in my constituency. Our three children were born there. The accident and emergency department looked after me during a difficult second-trimester miscarriage, and it was an NHS consultant at the hospital who diagnosed our son with autism and offered support. I was proud that the Prime Minister put our NHS at the front and centre of the general election campaign, and I give heartfelt thanks to all our hard-working NHS staff. I look forward to continuing to work on the provision of better car parking at the hospital for both staff and patients, and endeavouring to link the hospital with Onslow Park and Ride.
Let me say, as a proud immigrant to this country from New Zealand who ventured well beyond the famous antipodean settlements of Earl’s Court and Shepherd’s Bush, that community is something that I have had to invest in and build over the last two decades. The people of Guildford have been so welcoming to me, and through my work as their representative I hope to repay their trust.
Being the Member of Parliament for Guildford is the honour of my life, and it would not be possible without the steadfast support of my husband Jeremy, who is in the Gallery today. With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I also pay tribute to my parents, who are watching in New Zealand? My mother instilled in me a lifelong love of learning, and my father is immensely practical with a fine sense of humour. That upbringing will, I trust, stand me in good stead in this place, as we combine philosophical principles with pragmatism, meet our country where it is today, and work together to forge its bright future.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Members for Bosworth (Dr Evans), for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Guildford (Angela Richardson) on their eloquent and passionate speeches. They all have big shoes to fill, but I am sure that they will do so with integrity and compassion. Let me say to the hon. Member for Wrexham that while I cannot profess to share her love of real ale, if she decides to diversify into gin I shall be more than happy to offer myself as a sampler.
Today I wish to raise the issue of charity lottery reform. Many Members will be familiar with the people’s postcode lottery, the local hospice lottery and the health lottery, but in fact there are 400 charity lotteries operating across Britain, which demonstrates just how crucial this form of fundraising is to the charity sector. The income generated from those lotteries enables charities to fulfil their purpose of helping and supporting many communities and causes across Britain. In my own constituency, charities such as Forest School Swansea Neath Port Talbot and Friends of Primrose Park rely heavily on lotteries.
However, for years these charities have been operating under out-of-date legislation, which is hampering fund raising. Sales limits have a detrimental impact on both the charities and those who rely on the services that they offer. Sadly, it is the smaller local charities that are suffering the most. Ministers should already be aware of the nfpSynergy report “Small Change: How charity lottery limits impact on small charities”, which I helped to launch last year. Alarmingly, the report shows that local charities have lost out on a staggering £45 million of funding, and that, shockingly, only three in 10 applications from small charities could be awarded over two years. I was appalled to learn that as many as five small charities in my constituency had fallen victim to these sales limits, but, unsurprisingly, the report reveals that Swansea East is not alone. Virtually every constituency has been affected, and I urge all Members to read the report to see for themselves how many amazing charities in their own constituencies are losing out.
As someone who recognises the necessity for local charities in communities, I find the Government’s lack of urgent action to address charity lottery reform infuriating. I am not suggesting that this is a party-political issue; I know that Members across the House are as tired and riled about it as I am. However, I must give credit where credit is due—although it is painful! Last month the Government did introduce legislation to update the limits, which should, in theory, be a welcome catalyst for change. I also know that the Gambling Commission is conducting a short technical consultation, which will end on 12 March. I am pleased that charity lottery reform is under the spotlight, but it feels as though the issue has been discussed multiple times before, at length. How many more millions of pounds must charities lose before action is taken?
I hope that Ministers will encourage the Gambling Commission—I frequently challenge the commission on this—not to delay reviewing the responses to the consultation. I propose that a date should be fixed for it to publish the outcomes of its consultation so that reform can at last take place, and I ask Ministers to support me in that proposal.
Finally, in order to offer hope and assurance to the charity sector that change is coming, may I ask Ministers to clarify when exactly they expect the long-awaited charity lottery reform to come into force? Charities and communities alike have waited long enough: it is time to move on.
I feel hugely privileged to be standing here as the Member of Parliament for Broadland. It is an exquisite sliver of breathtaking Norfolk, from Wighton in the north, where my parents were married, to the Halvergate Marshes near Breydon Water in the south-east. It is named after the eponymous Norfolk Broads, a magical combining of flooded medieval peat cuttings interconnected by rivers: the Yare, Bure, Ant, Wensum, and Thurne, to name a few. Together they make up the great harbour of the Broads. The harbourmaster is the Broads Authority, whose key duty rightly remains to maintain navigation. The area is also a wonderful haven for nature, created by Norfolk reed-cutting and marsh grazing over centuries, a harmonious form of traditional husbandry serving both nature and man. Long may those traditional occupations be able to continue to do their good work.
However, to the north of the constituency, some 30 miles from the Broads, “Broadland” is a misnomer. Who would describe Fakenham, with its fine racecourse—but currently, shamefully, no post office—or the pilgrimage village of Walsingham as being in the Broads?
The boundaries of my constituency have been much changed in recent times, but my predecessor, the right hon. Keith Simpson, flexed with them to represent this part of Norfolk for the past 22 years. An academic, Keith describes himself as a
“military historian with an interest in defence and security”.
This political modesty belies his long and distinguished service on some of the key Committees of the House, and most notably his valued membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He is a charming and witty after-dinner speaker, and I will struggle to meet his standards and expertise.
Keith was a staunch advocate for Norfolk and for the infrastructure that it deserves. On reading his maiden speech, made back in 1997, I noticed his demand for the dualling of the A47, a key east-west artery for East Anglia. What I did not realise was that this is a tradition of the seat. Looking further back, I discovered that his predecessor, Richard Ryder, made an identical request 37 years ago, in 1983. I now join the club. I am still looking forward to the dualling of the A47, but with this Government’s welcome commitment to investing in our infrastructure, including the dualling of the A47, I am delighted that my eventual successor to the seat of Broadland—I hope in 2055 or thereabouts—will have something else to talk about.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), in his moving maiden speech, evoked the slower pace of life associated with our part of the world, which is epitomised, in his mind, by the village of Sloely. Well, once he has tired of Sloely, I invite him gently to join me in Little Snoring, or even in Great Snoring. But to talk of modern Norfolk in such terms is to ignore the dynamic businesses that thrive there, particularly in the farming, agri-science and green energy sectors. As a rural-based businessman myself, I know the desperate need for improved mobile phone coverage and broadband connectivity to allow the businesses of Broadland to thrive. That is why I wholeheartedly welcome the shared rural network agreement to provide 95% of geographical coverage by 2025, and I am already working with Mobile UK and Norfolk County Council to ensure that Norfolk is in the first phase of this roll-out. I also eagerly await the Government’s 1 gigabit broadband. Entrepreneurialism is alive and well in Broadland, and business there could have the best of both worlds—unrivalled quality of life, together with great connectivity—but we need the tools to do the job.
I join this Parliament in what I believe to be an era-defining moment. For the last 40 years, the relative importance of this place has slowly diminished as more powers were gradually ceded to the EU in its founding quest for ever greater political union. Is it a coincidence that, over the same period, the reputation of this House suffered commensurate decline? As the power of this place to effect meaningful change in the lives of our constituents has diminished, so too has its reputation fallen. I believe that Brexit provides us with the opportunity to change all that. If the decision over Brexit has taught us anything, it is surely that this country does not like to be governed by bodies that it cannot vote out. The people took the lead away from the political class and taught us all a lesson, and actually, it was a lesson in democracy. That lesson has profoundly changed my political thinking. We have been re-taught that democratic accountability is needed in the decisions of state.
That lesson does not just apply to international bodies. The European years also marked the proliferation of quangos, set up to be independent of politics in their delivery of key areas of national government. But what does independence mean? It means an organisation that is untrammelled by political pressures, and yet political pressure is the evidence of a democratic system at work. As we accelerate our already impressive response to the climate and environmental challenges that we face, we will be requiring huge changes to be made to the lives of all our constituents. Without the reform of quangos to bring them back within the structures of democratic government, I fear that we may be sowing the seeds of the next Brexit-style revolt when we can all least afford it.
To be clear, I do not want to stymie our effective environmental and climate response. I want to do the opposite, but I invite the House to look forward. As our new and necessary policies begin to bite, with the huge changes to everyday life that they will entail, not everyone will be happy. The absence of democratic pressure valves in the implementation of policy will leave us all vulnerable to a demagogic backlash. If we do not bring the people with us through the implementation of our plans, it will be at our peril. Now is the time to learn the true lesson of Brexit, to embrace democracy once more throughout our national conversation and to restore true accountability to the people, in organisations that are trusted. Perhaps then the people will once more believe that they have the politicians they deserve.
First, I should like to thank the hon. Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) for his contribution. I have had time since the election to make it my business to introduce myself to many of the new Members, and he and I have had a cup of tea together. The giveaway to his political history is in his name, and we had a good discussion about Northern Ireland, in which he has a deep interest. I know that for a fact, because he told me so. He also told me that he had been involved in political life from an early age. He said that he might not have known exactly what was going on, but he used to go out on the canvass trail with his father and other members of his family. It was really nice to hear his contribution, and I look forward to hearing many more from him. I wish him well in the House. I should also like to thank the hon. Members for Bosworth (Dr Evans), for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Guildford (Angela Richardson) for their contributions. We have a wealth of talent in this House among the new intake, and we very much look forward to the contributions that they will make from both sides of the Chamber. We wish them well.
I want to talk about a subject that I asked the Leader of the House about last week—namely, invasive species. I am not talking about the EU when I talk about invasive species; this is not about anyone coming in to take away our fishing in our waters around the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I want to talk about invasive species in relation to mammals, flora and fauna. The topic I have chosen is of great concern to me as a landowner and also as a country sports enthusiast. I live on a farm in Greyabbey in Northern Ireland, and I am very pleased and privileged to do so. The conservation projects that we have on our farm are all designed to ensure that the natural balance is in place and that the flora and fauna—the animals and the mammals that we have—are native. We have planted 3,500 trees and dug two ponds. We keep the hedgerows and we have control of the pests—the magpies and the grey-backed crows. By doing this, we have ensured that the songbirds, particularly the yellowhammers, have come back in some numbers in the past year. This is about the retention of the flora, the bird life and the mammals.
The non-native species are those that have been introduced, either intentionally or unintentionally, outside their natural range. Many of these non-native species live in harmony with our native species, causing no adverse impacts. However, a few non-native species have become known as invasive, as they thrive in our habitats and out-compete our own flora and fauna. It is time to get the balance back in nature and to retain what we already have, rather than changing it in a detrimental way. I am sure that there are few Members who have not been contacted by local landowners—and, increasingly, homeowners—about Japanese knotweed, which has the strength and the ability to shift the very foundations of a home. In the brighter bygone days, local authorities would have taken care of the eradication of this blight. It is now up to landowners to take the necessary steps, although some local authorities will give advice on it. Over the past four or five years, I have had to deal with Japanese knotweed not only in my town of Newtownards, but in the countryside. This destructive plant cost Britain a shocking estimated £200 million in 2018, but it is not the only invasive species of note affecting country life and conservation.
Invasive species such as mink have a negative effect on game management through excessive predation on game birds, which has a knock-on effect on shooting and conservation, and I should declare that I am a member of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and of the Countryside Alliance. I recently read an interesting article on the BBC regarding the danger that invasive species pose to our beautiful countryside and delicately balanced ecosystems. How important it is that we get the balance right.
The mink is native to North America, but it can now be found close to rivers and water sources throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Mink, which are often mistaken for otters, are popular for their thick fur. In the early 1950s, they were introduced into Ireland for fur farming. Over time, some escaped, and others were deliberately released. Inside this beautiful-looking creature lurks an indiscriminate killer of birds, fish and small mammals. They decimate ground-nesting birds and tackle fish as large as themselves. The mink has no natural predator, so the species is thriving to the detriment of our own species.
I know that this is not the responsibility of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), who will respond to the debate, but I know that he will pass these matters on to DEFRA and, because this is a devolved matter, to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland and to the Assembly. I call on all those Departments to work hand in hand to embrace the knowledge and resources offered by the local responsible shooting community to assist with the control of not just the mink, but many other species.
In Strangford, we have undertaken a massive project to address the grey squirrel issue and to attempt to ensure that our indigenous red squirrel has a chance at life again in our farmlands and woodlands. At Mount Stewart outside Greyabbey on the Ards peninsula, the National Trust is running a conservation project for red squirrels that is showing remarkable success. Alongside that, there are red squirrel projects at Rosemount in Greyabbey and on the Ballywalter estate—two shooting estates both well known for their contribution to conservation, which again highlights the importance of balance.
I also highlight Ulster Wildlife’s sterling work on the Red Squirrels United project, through which it has set up and co-ordinated a local red squirrel conservation group in North Down. Some 30 active volunteers are controlling grey squirrels in Cairn Wood, Clandeboye, Cultra, Redburn and Killynether to support the few red squirrels that remain, working closely with the Ards Red Squirrel Group to support one another’s efforts. I thank the volunteers for all that they have done and will continue to do. The eradication or removal of the grey squirrel is important to save the other species—not just across Northern Ireland, but the whole United Kingdom—because the pox that it carries simply leaves no option for the two to cohabit.
In addition, there are a number of species associated with our rivers that are of particular conservation importance. For example, there are concentrations of remaining populations of the rare freshwater pearl mussel and the white-clawed crayfish. The freshwater crayfish is commonly found in alkaline streams, rivers and small lakes where levels of calcium carbonate are high, because the crayfish relies on the chemical to build up its exoskeleton. Such conditions are often provided in lakes, which may support large populations of the species. Some snails, such as the marsh snail, can persist during periods of drought under stones and in damp vegetation and are common in turloughs—a unique type of disappearing lake found mostly in limestone areas.
We all know about ash dieback, because no constituency will have been unaffected. The benefits of planting trees as a climate change abatement measure are widely reported, but rarely is there mention of invasive alien tree diseases across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the impact that they have on planting programmes. Over the past seven years, ash dieback disease has swept across the country and may kill between 95% to 99% of our European ash population. As our ash trees die, not only will Ireland’s traditional source of hurling sticks be lost, but the health of our ecosystems will decline, as will our biodiversity and our economy.
We can take steps to stop the disease. Recent research in the UK indicates that H. fraxineus is becoming more virulent and spreading more rapidly, so we need a Government strategy for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Is there anything we can do to limit the rate of spread? Yes, there is, and the Government’s website indicates steps that can be taken around hygiene. Twelve other serious alien tree diseases have arrived in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland but, unlike ash dieback, the consequences are not yet evident. We urgently need a national strategy to build resilience in the environment and to stop diseases at source, but until that is implemented, we must take action at individual, community, and organisational levels to raise awareness and introduce biosecurity and hygiene into all our activities.
As usual with such matters, we are on a timescale, and we should be doing everything in our power to enhance our environment and battle the problems of the modern world. However, it must be acknowledged that biodiversity needs to be monitored, structured and managed, and that requires a UK-wide strategy. The respected RSPB says:
“The introduction of invasive non-native species is the second biggest threat to global biodiversity after habitat loss. Islands and freshwater habitats are particularly vulnerable, and bird species across the world have experienced severe impacts—invasive non-native species have been involved in the extinction of 68 out of the 135 bird species lost in the wild globally over the last 500 years.”
We are blessed with a beautiful nation and some of the loveliest countryside. Every Member who has made their maiden speech today has said how nice their constituency is, which is true, but my constituency is equally as nice. We must take decisions to ensure that we work to keep our nation beautifully balanced for future generations.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and everyone in the House a peaceful and restful recess next week. You certainly deserve it.
It is a great honour to stand to make my maiden speech as the Member of Parliament for Penrith and The Border. It is a tremendous privilege to be in this House, and I thank my electors for putting their trust in me. The three MPs before me—William Whitelaw, Lord David MacLean, and Rory Stewart—had amazing parliamentary careers, covering roles such as Home Secretary, Chief Whip and International Development Secretary. I pay special tribute to my predecessor, Rory Stewart. When I was selected as the candidate for my seat, Rory reached out to me and was extremely kind and generous with his support, for which I am grateful.
Rory was a tireless champion for Penrith and The Border, famously walking around the entire vast constituency—even that did not tire him out. He helped countless numbers of constituents and campaigned hard for better broadband, overcoming rural isolation, protecting the environment, and flood management, which sadly has been critical again in Cumbria in recent days—my sympathies go out to the people of Appleby at this time. As a Minister, he was incredibly thoughtful, articulate and rational in portfolios such as the environment and prisons and, latterly, as International Development Secretary. As he moves on, I wish him and his family well. By the way, Rory, when you are next in Cumbria, you are welcome to come and kip with me. [Laughter.]
Penrith and The Border has a population of over 82,000 and an area of 3,120 sq km. As such, it is geographically vast and sparsely populated. The constituency contains many diverse and beautiful villages and towns. I will name but a few, with apologies to those that I miss out: Penrith, Wigton, Appleby, Longtown, Brampton, Alston, Kirkby Stephen and Shap. I am also proud to have parts of the original Hadrian’s wall in my constituency, as well as parts of the original “blue wall”.
Agriculture is the lifeblood of the constituency, accounting for about 50% of land use, but there are other industries, too. Tourism is a hugely important sector for our local economy. Indeed, Cumbria has one of the largest tourist economies in the UK. There were 47 million visits to Cumbria in 2018 alone. In addition, there are over 5,700 businesses in Penrith and The Border. Such businesses are absolutely vital to our communities.
Such a vast area has problems with connectivity, be it virtual or real. Whether it is broadband, mobile phone coverage or transport links such as trains and rural buses, communities and people need to be connected and joined together so that people can interact with and access their local services. I will champion these causes.
As the name suggests, my seat goes right up to the Scottish border. I will join hands with my colleagues along and across the border. Working together, we can bring investment and infrastructure to the area through initiatives such as the Borderlands Partnership. I will also passionately stand up with all my heart for the precious Union that is our United Kingdom.
I am a veterinary surgeon by background, and I believe I may be the first vet to be elected to the House of Commons since 1884, when Sir Frederick Fitzwygram was elected as the Member of Parliament for Fareham. The other vets at Westminster have included the late, great Professor Lord Soulsby, who was brought up in Penrith and was the dean of Cambridge Veterinary School, where I trained. Now there is Professor Lord Trees, who sits in another place. All three served as president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, of which I am proud to be a fellow.
So why has this particular vet ventured into politics? My involvement as a veterinary inspector in the 2001 foot and mouth crisis spurred me into wanting to use my background in public service. I am sure Members will recall the dreadful scenes from that crisis—scenes we hope are never repeated. Supervising the culling of many, many animals is sadly emblazoned in my memory. Nationally, over 6 million animals were slaughtered. Cumbria was hit especially hard, with over 1.25 million animals lost. Forty-five per cent. of Cumbria’s farms were subject to culls, and this rose to 70% in the north. The crisis had severe effects on agriculture and the economy, and also on the mental health and welfare of the people who live and work in this area.
As we all know, agriculture is incredibly important to the UK, contributing £9.6 billion to UK economic output in 2018, but it goes much wider than this. We are a nation of animal lovers. Some 40% to 50% of households have a pet and, as an equine vet, of particular relevance to me is the fact that there are over a quarter of a million horses in the UK. Issues in areas such as animal health and welfare, disease surveillance, public health and trade are pivotal, now more than ever, as we enter a crucial time of legislation and common frameworks in these areas.
It is vital that, now we have left the EU, we stand up for our first-class standards of farming and animal welfare as we go on to secure trade deals. Indeed, this will be a great opportunity for the UK to be a beacon to the rest of the world on animal welfare. We can send out the message that if other countries want to trade with us, they need to bring their animal welfare standards up to our level.
Sadly, the veterinary profession is over-represented in mental health issues and the incidence of suicide. I very much welcome the cross-party and, indeed, Government commitment to parity of esteem between mental health and physical health so that people, both young and old, can access the best mental health care in hospital and in the community.
On a lighter note, being a vet in politics has some advantages on the doorstep. As I said, half of households have a pet, frequently a dog. When I am out canvassing and a dog hears a vet knocking at the door, either they run a mile, thinking they are about to get an injection or, worse, have their anal glands emptied—“anal glands” is something you will not read in Hansard every day—or they run towards me. I am reminded of the time a dog did just that and latched on to my leg, not in an aggressive fashion but more in an amorous manner. I looked down and said to the owner, “Well, I think I’ve secured his vote.” To which the owner smiled and replied, “Well, you’ve got mine now, too.”
Finally, I would like to thank some specific people. First, I thank my family and friends for their enduring and steadfast love and support over the years—I could not have done this without you. I also thank Penrith and The Border Conservative association for all its help and support.
I also thank specific Members of this House and another place for their support and encouragement in my journey here. To my right hon. Friends the Members for North Somerset (Dr Fox), for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing), for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay) and for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) and for Moray (Douglas Ross) and, in another place, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, thank you so much.
On the other side of the House, I specifically mention the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), whom I was up against as a candidate in 2010. When I was selected as the candidate for Penrith and The Border, he contacted me to wish me well, and he did so again when I arrived here. I feel strongly about that spirit of cross-party working. If someone on the other team has an idea that is good for the country, we should work together to bring it forward for the benefit of everyone. It is in that spirit that I enter this House and hope to continue.
Finally, if you will permit me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will say a final few words about someone you knew well, as he was a constituent of yours. My father, Christopher Hudson, sadly passed away just a few days ago. I have debated whether to say this and, indeed, whether to go ahead with my maiden speech this week, but I know it is what he would have wanted me to do.
My dad, Christopher Hudson, was a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and he devoted his life to the service of his patients in the NHS and in Australia, and during periods spent in Nigeria and Pakistan. He notably worked to reduce maternal mortality and postpartum complications in the developing world. He delivered countless babies and saved countless lives through pioneering surgery in this area and, especially, in cancer surgery—those procedures are still making a difference today. In addition, he trained and mentored so many health professionals right up until the end. I am so sorry that he is not here today, but he is at peace now. With all my heart and soul: thank you, mum and dad. God bless you, dad. This one’s for you.
I would also like to pay tribute to Professor Hudson on behalf of the whole community in Epping Forest, where he will be very greatly missed not only for his considerable achievements during a distinguished medical career, but for the good work he did and the charitable causes he helped in our local community. He was unique, and he would be a very proud man today.
It is a pleasure to follow five outstanding maiden speeches by five new hon. Friends, each of whom clearly has a very bright future in this House. They each painted a vivid picture of the delights of their constituency and paid warm and generous tribute to their predecessors—those of us who knew them will remember them fondly and with great affection. I was particularly pleased to hear so many of my hon. Friends refer to the importance of pubs and breweries to their constituencies. Speaking as the chairman of the all-party group on beer, I hope that the new ministerial team at the Treasury were listening to those speeches and will consider that these important industries merit support in proportion to the exceptionally high economic and social contribution that pubs and British beer make to each of our constituencies.
I wish to raise a matter of great concern to many of my constituents. It relates to the issue I raised at business questions today: proposals for development of green-belt land on the edge of the west midlands metropolitan conurbation. South Staffordshire District Council, where the land lies, recently consulted on its spatial housing strategy, as part of its local plan review. The land lies within South Staffordshire, but it borders my constituency, and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb), for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson).
My hon. Friend will be well aware of the beautiful Seven Cornfields, which sits between our constituencies. He will also be aware of the campaigns that many of us have been involved in with the great West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, for “brownfield first”. I think we need to go even further. Does my hon. Friend agree that more must be done to protect all the green belt in the Black Country?
I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention, and he is of course absolutely right; this green-belt land, although lying outside our boundaries, is very much part of our communities. For many of our constituents it is their back garden, it is their local environment and it supports local wildlife. It is so important to local quality of life for so many residents in the Black Country. The proposals for development of Ridgehill woods, at Lawnswood and on neighbouring land adjoining my constituency would be particularly harmful for many residents of the towns of Kingswinford, Wordsley and Wall Heath in Dudley South. The local green belt acts as the lungs of the west midlands and helps to protect air quality levels for our communities. Wordsley High Street, where my office is situated, has some of the worst air quality anywhere in the west midlands, and the proposal to build large housing developments on greenfield land barely half a mile down the road from that junction can only make an already terrible problem far, far worse.
Pursuing a policy of developing new housing on green-belt land such as this would also place significant additional pressure on local infrastructure and on already busy local public services, be they local road networks, schools or GPs. As I have said, although the building work would be in South Staffordshire district, the bulk of the impact of this development would lie with my constituents and with communities in Dudley South. Congestion on the A449 and A491 is already extremely heavy during peak times, and the extra housing on the edge of Wordsley and Kingswinford would only make that problem worse. Natural population growth and demographic changes on the western edge of Dudley borough have led to many services being at full capacity already. Again, those pressures will only get worse if there was development on the scale that has been suggested on green-belt land in South Staffordshire
Not only would this development have a negative impact on my constituents and on our communities, but it is unnecessary, as my hon. Friend has mentioned. There is no need to build housing on the green belt around Dudley metropolitan borough, and therefore there is no justification within the current national planning framework for releasing green-belt land in these areas. The substantial work that Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has done to remediate former industrial sites—work that has been replicated in other local authorities, in the Black Country and in Birmingham—means that we do have sufficient brownfield sites available to meet our housing need in the medium term. Andy Street has also worked across the west midlands conurbation, with the combined authority—all seven local authority leaders, of both major parties—to make many more brownfield sites available for housing. The £450 million midland metro tram extension, from Wednesbury through to Brierley Hill, connecting the western edge of the west midlands to Birmingham city centre and the main line national rail network, brings in yet more former industrial land and makes it suitable and attractive for housing development. So we need to be looking at how we can accelerate this land remediation and make better use of former industrial land, rather than looking at how we build on green-belt land, destroying so much of our natural environment, which, once it is gone, can never be restored.
Questions as to whether this development goes ahead will, of course, be down to South Staffordshire District Council, once the formal planning process is under way, but I ask the Government to reflect upon three very relevant issues during the recess. The first relates to how local communities in urban districts such as Dudley can properly have their views considered when planning decisions are being made in neighbouring areas that adjoin their own communities. Similarly, we should consider how urban councils such as Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council can have a more formal role in that planning process, going beyond the duty to co-operate.
The second issue I ask the Government to consider is how the impact of such development on services and infrastructure can be mitigated. National planning law already recognises that there is an infrastructure cost associated with large housing developments, and that is reflected in community infrastructure levy payments that are made by developers. If a development spans two local planning authorities, the infrastructure levy is split between those two authorities, to reflect the cost. However, the same is not the case where the physical development is in one local authority, but the bulk of the impact lies in a neighbouring planning authority. I ask the Government to reflect on that.
The third point is how we can make even better use of brownfield sites in Dudley, the wider Black Country and across the west midlands. I ask the new Treasury team to give the utmost consideration to the submission that the West Midlands Combined Authority, led by Andy Street, has made for £200 million for an urban transformation fund to allow development on brownfield sites, particularly challenging brownfield sites, that are not currently economically viable for market-based developers but which, with modest gap funding, could be brought back into use, benefiting all our communities and providing the extra housing that is needed, without posing a risk to the green belt.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood)—especially without having had to do the weird Westminster thigh workout that is bobbing up and down for ages to get your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker.
First, I wish to thank the people of Stroud, who put their faith in me. I am particularly proud to be the first ever female MP for Stroud. I am also an optimist. I said on the telly last year that I was the luckiest candidate in the UK, and now I am the luckiest MP. So I thank you all; I do not take this responsibility lightly.
I like the custom of giving credit to our predecessors in maiden speeches. Throughout his long career in politics, David Drew was known for his idealism and his commitment to his constituents. He had one of the longest-running political bromances with my predecessor, Neil Carmichael. They fought each other for nearly 20 years—that is some dedication. I wish David well in whatever he decides to do next.
Anybody who has read Laurie Lee’s “Cider with Rosie” will know of the beauty and charm of Stroud’s five valleys. Please read his work soon if you have not already done so. Historically, the area was made prosperous through an early recognition that the local fast-flowing, clean river water could be used to power cloth mills. You will forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not wearing vintage Stroud cloth today; the truth is that I could not find it in animal print. [Laughter.] I am, however, wearing the creation of a young Stroud fashion designer who dedicates her talent to making sustainable fashion, completely without waste. And she does it in baby-bump size, which is very kind.
As my constituency goes beyond the magnificent town of Stroud, the breadth and physical geography and the diversity of human activity found in the valleys and vale just defies simple description. From Sharpness to Stroud, Hardwicke to Horsley, Cranham to Cam, Berkeley to Bisley and Arlingham to Amberley, I am always impressed with people’s ideas and passion. So when people ask me why I am optimistic, I say, “Look at our current creativity, innovation and drive.” It is the people who are the real stars. They are some of the most innovative, hard-working, caring and creative souls I have ever met. Look at the young designers; our schoolchildren, who are leading on environmental change; and the energy packed into every quirky festival, litter-pick and Stroud town in bloom competition.
Look, too, at our businesses: a company founded in Stroud is leading innovations in battery-powered aeroplanes; the Prince of Wales’ Aston Martin and the royal train are fuelled with Stroud biofuel; the fastest ever land rocket is being built in one of our schools; and stunning local wallpaper and fabric designs can be found in homes around the world, including those of the rich and famous.
However, my job is not just to love-bomb Stroud or to talk idly about change. I am in this place to get things done. The people of this great country have given us a mandate; now, we must deliver for them. So I have cobbled together a few key thoughts. From my time as a councillor and having fought for local campaigns, I know that it is often the changes around us in our communities and neighbourhoods that we notice the most. It is often local effort and kindnesses that make the biggest difference to where we live. Therefore, while I welcome the recognition of the importance of place and the investment that is coming into infrastructure, we must not forget the people in that process. As I said before, it is the people who are the real stars.
From my experience on the doorsteps across the Stroud constituency, I know that we must support our high streets. They need investment so that they can be the hub of communities once again. The Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government saw that for themselves in Stroud during the election—this speech was only correct as drafted and the Chancellor has now changed, but I will not be put off seeking funding for my local high streets by a reshuffle.
We must support our farmers. They are the great custodians of our land. All new legislation should focus on maximising their potential and maximising food production.
We must support our schools and children with special educational needs. They are our future. The new school funding formula is welcome, but we have to correct long-standing issues with funding in Gloucestershire.
We must support new green initiatives and lead the global emergency response. A commitment to the environment runs through every single thing that we do in Stroud, the valleys and vale.
From my experience, working my way up to be a family law solicitor and being before the House today quite against the odds, in many respects, I know that we must support further education. University is great for some, but what about everybody else? Come to see the students at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College: be inspired by them, see what Government funding can do, and realise that we will all benefit from unleashing the potential of lifelong learning.
We must support initiatives that strengthen relationships and early intervention for children. We know that mental health issues are established by the time of the teenage years, and we know about the five pathways to poverty. It is daft simply to throw money at problems for adults without a true preventive programme backing up children.
We must support families going through times of separation. Children get caught in the middle, and couples now frequently litigate without any representation at all. Nobody wants this—not the parents, not the couples, not the judges and not the lawyers. We can and should change that system.
I started by saying that I am an optimist, but of course we face challenges: we live in a world where competition is global; the pace of technological change is accelerating; and climate change threatens our very way of life. Addressing these challenges will require hard work and difficult choices. That is why our constituents sent us here. I look forward to working for all the people of Stroud and I look forward to working with Members on both sides of the House to deliver for this great nation. I, for one, truly believe that the best is yet to come.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) and that powerful maiden speech. I had the pleasure of being teamed up with my hon. Friend when we tramped the streets of Peterborough together during the by-election last June. That election produced the wrong result, but I am glad that the general election produced a better one for my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow). I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud to look after one of my family’s favourite days out: the wetlands centre at Slimbridge, which I believe is in her constituency.
It is also a great pleasure to follow the maiden speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), for Guildford (Angela Richardson), for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Bosworth (Dr Evans). I thought that I had missed many of my colleagues’ maiden speeches when I was on paternity leave the other week, but it turns out that I have more than made up for it by hearing some excellent ones in this debate.
I agree with the sentiment expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) in respect of the items he brought up in his speech. In Buckingham, we are currently also under the threat of a land grab by a neighbouring authority, in our case Labour-run Milton Keynes Council, which wants to expand to a town of 500,000 people. That would involve its coming miles and miles into my constituency—to which, to be very clear, the answer is no.
I wish to raise an issue that is important to my constituents, and it relates to some of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South. The issue is the threat of a brand new road to come through the Buckingham constituency and, indeed, to go through the constituencies of many right hon. and hon. Members. The Oxford to Cambridge expressway is not just a new road but a new road that comes with a desire, along the whole route, for a million new homes.
I am no opponent of house building. We need new homes in our country—new homes that people can afford to buy. Indeed, we also need to build more social housing. However, 1 million new homes across the Buckinghamshire countryside in particular is an unacceptable proposition for my constituents. Let us look at some of the themes that surround the building of this road.
There is a great deal of uncertainty. The Highways Agency has come up with what it calls its preferred route, which is named in typical public-sector speak simply corridor B. Corridor B is actually about three quarters of my constituency. To put it into context, my constituency is 335 square miles, so, were this expressway to go ahead, there would be absolutely no certainty for my constituents about exactly the route that it would follow. It would bring with it significant environmental destruction not just to our beautiful countryside but to wildlife, to ancient woodland, and to our biodiversity. Most important, though, is the effect that it would have on people’s lives and on their property. There would be disruption from the construction and the destruction of their property, as farms are taken, homes are taken, and businesses are taken. Indeed, once it is built—if it goes ahead—there would be the impact of noise, the impact on people’s health, the impact on people’s enjoyment of their property, and, I fear to say, in some cases, the impact on people’s mental health.
The road plus the housing development and the green-belt land that would be required would massively increase the risk of flooding, and we are already suffering considerably in Buckinghamshire from an increase in flooding as a result of over-development. It cannot be lost on the House that, at a time when we are trying to reduce carbon output and get to net zero by 2050, building a new motorway is not a sensible step to take.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on that point. I should, at this point, declare an interest. As well as knowing his constituency incredibly well—beautiful as it is—I represent a council ward in that constituency, and that council ward is in the corridor, as he described it. Does he agree that there are many things wrong with this idea? There is this idea that building a new road will somehow increase productivity, but we all know that the great cities of Oxford and Cambridge are renowned for their contribution to research and science, and, as far as I know, intellectual property does not travel by road. There is the economic case, which is incredibly flimsy, and my hon. Friend referred to the suspiciously round figure of 1 million new homes. However, as I am sure you will agree Madam Deputy Speaker, it is the environmental case that is the most poignant. Sixty miles of new road, with two and a half miles either side of building, does not make environmental sense.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, it is always sensible to listen to one’s constituents, and I am delighted that he has raised that point this afternoon. Indeed, there is significant local opposition to this scheme. Aylesbury Vale District Council, on which my hon. Friend sits, and Buckinghamshire County Council have, on a cross-party basis, opposed the expressway scheme. They should be given full credit for refusing to sign the non-disclosure agreements, which were demanded by the Highways Agency to try to stop them from representing their residents effectively. There are also significant resident groups, both along the entire route of the expressway and, indeed, in Buckinghamshire. I am delighted to say that the No Expressway Group and the Buckinghamshire Expressway Action Group will be coming to Parliament on 26 February to ensure that their voices are heard on this matter. Throughout the general election campaign, and since my election to this House, I have received a significant number of representations from constituents on this matter, so it is very much on the minds of my constituents.
I mentioned earlier that my principal objection to the plan is the impact that it will have on people—the loss of their homes and their farms. I represent a largely agricultural economy. It is a rural constituency on which farming is so dependent, and we cannot keep concreting over those fields. Those businesses sustain our farmers and, indeed, grow and rear the food that we need and enjoy.
I do not want to dwell on this point, but the cumulative impact of building HS2, which was given the go-ahead this week, much to the disappointment of my constituents, and of building the expressway would bring abject misery to my constituents. Then there is the destruction of wildlife. The expressway will have a devastating impact on wildlife along the whole route. Mark Vallance of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust has commented that part of the route would destroy
“one of the most undisturbed and wildlife-rich areas of Buckinghamshire.”
Indeed, let me quote the words on the website of the Wildlife Trust, which are so elegant. It says that what would be destroyed by the expressway are
“stunning wildlife meadows, ancient woodland, hedgerows alive with birds and butterflies, and gentle undulating ridge and furrow fields that have survived since the Middle Ages.”
On the point of homes, I mentioned earlier that I am no opponent of development, but I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South that we should be looking to develop new homes on brownfield sites, not on the green belt, not in the countryside and not on our farmers’ fields. Aylesbury Vale District Council has already been very ambitious in terms of its house building and its local plan. We are talking about some 28,000 new homes, which is a very high number compared with many other district councils covering similar ground. I do feel that Buckinghamshire, particularly the Aylesbury Vale district area, has taken its fair share of new home building, and we should be looking, yes, to the remaining brownfield sites, but also to other places to take their fair share of the new homes. Along the whole arc corridor—the Oxford to Cambridge Arc—some 3,130 hectares of brownfield site have been identified that would be good for house building, and we should look at that first.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) intervened, he mentioned that the economic case is also not right for the expressway. It is projected to cost somewhere between £4 billion and £8 billion. That is an estimate at the start of the scheme, and we know what happens once these schemes start. Indeed, the business case is also very weak, with the benefit-cost ratio at the start of the scheme showing a return between £1.10 and £1.30 per pound spent. I put it to this House that that simply is not good enough.
During the election campaign, I was delighted when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport visited Verney junction in my constituency to discuss this matter. He made a number of pledges and commitments that I want to put on record, as I would very much like to see the Government bring them forward as soon as possible. A priority review of the expressway was promised. He said that he did not think that the case for the expressway stacked up and that we should look at other schemes that could improve east-west travel both by road and by rail. He also talked about cycling through Buckinghamshire instead. In particular, we need to look at improvements to the A41 and the A421—two major A roads that pass through my constituency—to get them moving faster rather than building new roads and, where residents consent to it and where residents want it, we should build all-important bypasses. For example, the residents of the village of Wing in the east of my constituency are very keen to see money brought forward to relieve their village of heavy goods traffic and general traffic as people travel north-south, principally from Aylesbury to Leighton Buzzard and up to Milton Keynes.
I am delighted that the Government have signed off East West Rail. We must ensure that East West Rail happens on time and on budget, and before the final detail is signed off we must keep open the debate for the line to be electrified, rather than running with diesel trains.
In conclusion, the Oxford to Cambridge expressway is the wrong project for my constituency. I can genuinely say that it has virtually no public support in my constituency, or indeed those of other right hon. and hon. Members, so let us have the priority review, stop concreting over Buckinghamshire and look to other projects that can improve the lives of my constituents.
Like colleagues across the House, I have been moved by many of the maiden speeches we have heard so far. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson) had me in tears when I watched his, and today we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), whose touching words certainly hit home—I think he did his father extremely proud today.
I also want to say a big thank you to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie). She and I began our political journey together back in February 2017, when we both hoped one day to become Members of Parliament. I am delighted to be on the green Benches with her today. I fully back her campaign for further education and encourage Members across the House to see what she does every Friday to promote that amazing cause, and I encourage them to copy her Twitter posts to ensure that they get out into their constituencies to celebrate what an alternative to university could look like for many people.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. There is no end of matters that I could raise, although I think the news cycle might take over today. The good news for those on the Treasury Bench—I look forward to meeting the new Chancellor—is that I will limit myself to only one spending request: to improve transport in Stoke-on-Trent, Talke and Kidsgrove. The less good news, for the Treasury and the Department for Transport, is that they might find my long list of asks a bit burdensome.
Stoke-on-Trent has for decades missed out on the transport investment that other areas have seen. Together with my colleagues across north Staffordshire, I want to make sure that we do not lose out again. The Prime Minister has already boosted our confidence by agreeing that if HS2 is to go ahead at all, it must include the Handsacre link. That link is crucial to bringing HS2 services to Stoke-on-Trent, and the very thought of it has been attracting investment into the city. Now that it has been confirmed, HS2 will open up further opportunities for investment, but there will also be challenges in getting the transport system across north Staffordshire into a fit state to take full advantage of the increase in connectivity and profile that being a high-speed rail city will bring.
I confess that north Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent already enjoy very good strategic transport links to the rest of the UK: the M6, A500 and A50 serve the city; the rail journey to London is as little as 1 hour and 30 minutes; and there are four international airports within an hour’s drive—and that is even before HS2 is delivered. Stoke-on-Trent is ideally located to take advantage of and contribute to national economic growth, but—and there is a big but—in order to maximise that contribution, we require major improvements to local infrastructure. We are the gatekeepers to the northern powerhouse, yet far too often Stoke-on-Trent is treated as the ugly duckling in the midlands engine.
Local transport connectivity in north Staffordshire is sadly very poor, especially at rush hour, with heavy dependency on the car. Many people struggle to get around the conurbation, which limits access to employment opportunities. Improved local public transport would support wider development in the area; unlock sites for housing and economic regeneration; and help reduce congestion and tackle air pollution.
Stoke-on-Trent has been confirmed as a recipient of investment from the transforming cities fund, but the exact scale of that investment is yet to be revealed, and I would not want the House to adjourn before I had stated the case for major investment in and around Stoke-on-Trent. The bid to the transforming cities fund is for Stoke station to become the key transport interchange for the whole north Staffordshire conurbation. The proposals are expected to reduce journey times and congestion, create new jobs and improve accessibility and connectivity. The focus is on securing a shift from private vehicles to public transport, with Stoke station as a main transport hub. That is the same model as other successful cities, but it has yet to be realised in Stoke-on-Trent because of the linear and polycentric nature of our city.
We also want to invest in the city’s existing rail infrastructure and make better use of it. The north Staffordshire line would become the major transport corridor for movement within the city. That line, also known as the Crewe to Derby line, links three existing Stoke-on-Trent stations at Longton, Stoke and Longport, together with Kidsgrove in my constituency in the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
The transforming cities fund bid includes much-needed improvements to our local stations, and we are ambitious about the potential for seamless public transport from rail to bus. I must add that I have had to write a very angry letter to Network Rail, which has wasted millions of pounds of public money by not making the Access for All upgrades at Kidsgrove station. My predecessor’s predecessor had lobbied for that money, and it was given back in 2015. Network Rail’s failure to deliver those important upgrades means that people with mobility needs, and young mothers and fathers with pushchairs and prams, are now unable to access the station’s entirety, and that is a disgrace. I would like the Department for Transport to work with me to ensure that we hold Network Rail to account on such failure.
The pedestrian experience also needs attention, and I am excited about the possibilities for cycling, particularly in the context of the Prime Minister’s statement earlier this week. There is plenty of capacity for increasing use at Longport station, and if we can improve the pedestrian and cycle journey from Longport, that could boost the local visitor economy substantially. Middleport Pottery, which is again shining on our TV screens as the home of “The Great Pottery Throw Down”, should be a relatively short walk from Longport station, but there are various public spaces that need to be better connected in order to achieve the optimal route. Our ambitions for local rail go beyond enhancing the local survivors of the Beeching cuts. We want to see reversals too.
Once the transforming cities fund has been delivered, it will be even more evident that we need to deliver on the reopening of the Churnet line from Stoke to Leek. My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) has long campaigned for that, and she is joined by all three of Stoke-on-Trent’s MPs. That would mean reopening a station at Milton in my constituency, and ideally one to serve Birches Head Academy on the boundary with Stoke-on-Trent Central. Milton is a truncation of “mill town”, and just as it has sadly lost its mill, it has also lost its place on the railway map. I want to bring it back. Indeed, I would love to see Milton Junction return to the rail map so that local services could also go up towards Biddulph. That would potentially mean restoring rail services to Ford Green, Smallthorne and Chell. That is a very long-term ambition, but I did not come into politics to think small.
An ambition for the Crewe to Derby line is to see the return of a station at Chatterley for Tunstall. That would serve both our historic, traditional coalfield communities and our up-to-the-minute Ceramics Valley enterprise zone and Tunstall Arrow. Sadly, it cannot be a straightforward restoration of the old Chatterley halt, because the line was moved westwards in the 1966 deviation to allow for electrification. But there is a big gap between Kidsgrove and Longport stations, and a new Chatterley for Tunstall station would fill it, catalysing further economic regeneration.
Talking of Kidsgrove, in a little over a decade the entries and exits at Kidsgrove station have boomed, from 50,000 to more like 250,000, and it is imperative that everyone should enjoy the success.
Finally, I want to talk about buses. This could be a speech in itself, but I will restrict myself to repeating the pleas already made in the House by many hon. Friends—including my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon)—for a super-bus scheme in our fine city. Bus use in the Potteries has declined by more than 10% in the last year alone, with over 1 million fewer bus passenger journeys in 2018-19 than in 2017-18. Bus passenger journeys are now 9.3 million, down from over 15 million recorded at the start of the decade. That is while traffic congestion has worsened, with consequential breaches of the World Health Organisation’s pollution limits. New solutions are needed to make buses more attractive, so that they can viably compete with the comfort and cost-effectiveness of the car. We need more routes, better buses and bus shelters that display live information, such as those that are enjoyed in London.
Finally, the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) talked about universal credit and the six-month time limit. As the secretary for the all-party parliamentary group on universal credit, I look forward to working with Members from across the entire House to ensure that we correct what truly is a problem in that system.
It is a pleasure to follow so many excellent maiden speeches.
Following the announcement on HS2, may I once again mention that if HS2 is to have value for my constituents in the Middlewich area, there is a pressing need to reopen Middlewich railway station to passengers? I have spoken about this issue many times since becoming an MP 10 years ago, and the proposal also has the continuing support of many MPs from around the Cheshire area. It has been the subject of a long-running and admirable campaign by Middlewich residents, first under the title of “Middlewich rail link campaign” and now with the name “Mid Cheshire rail link campaign”. It was renamed in recent years to reflect that the proposal is more broadly supported by those further afield in Cheshire. I hope that my account will encourage new colleagues when it comes to transport issues and calls for support for new transport in their areas—persevere!
When I first heard of the Middlewich rail link campaign, I was invited to a meeting in the Boars Head pub in Middlewich. About six train enthusiasts were sat there—all men, I have to say. They told me about their dream of reopening the station in Middlewich—I did think it was a dream. However, after a few years, because of their and others’ determination to continue to campaign, there is now a real prospect that that dream may become a reality. The station is very much needed, as more house building in the region has increased pressure on the roads.
Let me tell the House a little bit of the history of the campaign. In March 2013, I was given a petition of thousands of local signatories calling for the reopening of the station. I was proud to be able to present that petition here, with the support of all the MPs from the surrounding area. The campaign then gathered further strength and, following lobbying to Cheshire East Council, an area was earmarked for the station in the local plan. Subsequently, Ministers—I hesitate to say that they were perhaps worn down by my calls in this place for support—responded by providing a Government-funded feasibility study, the “Mid Cheshire and Middlewich Rail Study Strategic Case Report”, which reported in March 2019. This was—perhaps to the surprise of one or two bureaucrats, shall I say?—both positive and encouraging. I will briefly quote from the report as evidence. It just goes to show that sometimes local people do know what they are talking about, doesn’t it? In somewhat bureaucratic writing—I have tried to pick out parts that are not quite so bureaucratic—the report says:
“The presence of major advanced manufacturing and life science clusters around Middlewich and the wider area means that it is imperative to improve connectivity between jobs, housing and leisure at both strategic and local level…There is overwhelming evidence to indicate that the transport network in Mid Cheshire is inadequate to serve both its current population and its economic ambition. A very low percentage rail mode share…coupled with numerous congestion hotspots…point to a transport system that will suppress growth in the near future, if not already doing so. Through national, regional and local transport strategies, there is a clear message that transport connectivity in general, and rail connectivity as the more sustainable option over road, should be invested in. As such there is a commitment nationally to continue to invest in the rail network. Large infrastructure projects such as HS2 are at the core of this commitment, but it is equally clear that locally and regionally, the strategic direction is for investment in rail to connect to and maximise the benefits of these nationally significant infrastructure projects. With their vicinity to Crewe, Mid Cheshire and Middlewich can demonstrate their alignment to this strategic direction at the highest level.”
The hon. Member is giving a great speech about how she has started the work of creating new rail links in her area. With the Beeching reversal fund, there is now an opportunity for many other people to do that, and to learn from her example. The £500 million that has been offered is enough for feasibility studies, but it probably is not enough for the level of ambition that we all have. Does she agree that initially we should follow the example of mid Cheshire, and release that money for large-scale feasibility studies in all constituencies that need new rail to reverse the Beeching cuts?
That is absolutely right. If there is one key to this, I would say that it is to engage the commitment of the local community—it does make a difference.
I am pleased to say that a second study has been funded as a result of the one I mentioned. That second study will be a strategic outline business case, which I believe will report within the next few weeks. I am now asking—please—for an early meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss how we can translate into reality the long-held dream of the people of Middlewich for their own passenger railway station.
Middlewich is the largest town in Cheshire without a railway station, and it is double the size of other towns, with a population of some 13,600. Construction would not involve a whole new line, because the existing line is still used for freight. Middlewich is very much a growth town. It has an exciting future, with £50 million committed by the Government to the Middlewich eastern bypass. Reopening the station is backed by Cheshire East Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council, and the local enterprise partnership.
If we are thoroughly to address the issue of congestion in Middlewich, we also need to look into having a southern bypass. I hope that Cheshire East and Cheshire West will work collaboratively on this with alacrity, and that this Conservative Government, who are very generous regarding local transport projects, will give us the same generous support that they have for the Middlewich eastern bypass. When I have that discussion with the Secretary of State, I would appreciate it if we could also talk about a southern bypass.
Let me touch on one other aspect of Middlewich transport, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis): buses. I received an email just a few days ago from a constituent saying that we desperately need more buses—and affordable buses—as well as a train station, and that they need to be integrated so that users are considered in the timetabling. I do hope that Cheshire East Council will respond to the many calls I have had from constituents to make funding available for local buses. Campaigning residents have saved the No. 319 Goostrey to Holmes Chapel via Sandbach bus, but may I put in a plea on behalf of residents for the reinstatement of the Saturday service?
Let me now turn to a completely different subject that I am also raising for a second time in the House: the concerns of residents on the Loachbrook estate, Somerford, about outstanding works on their estate. This estate was started over five years ago. The developers closed their sales office and moved off site last autumn. However, there are outstanding works to drainage, lighting, pathways, roadworks, surfacing and landscaping, and items have been left on the site following completion of the development by Bovis Homes—now renamed as part of Vistry Group—following completion of the houses.
I say that I am re-raising this issue because I presented a petition from residents about it on 5 November. I was optimistic at that time that something would happen—that the developers would, as they had indicated to residents, complete the estate and tidy it up by the end of the year. Somerford parish council has also been pressing for action, as has ward councillor John Wray. But unfortunately the work has still not been completed. I have visited and seen that it is very unpleasant for these residents to be living, as some of them have for several years, with temporary ramps, bollards, temporary fencing that children are moving, potentially dangerously, and other unfinished works. It feels to them, one said to me, like the developer has effectively moved on.
What is now particularly frustrating residents is that the local authority appears to be simply—this is a word that it has used—monitoring the situation. As I say, I pay credit to the work that John Wray has done, but otherwise the local authorities are simply now saying that there is a dispute between the contractor that installed the drains and sewers, and United Utilities, the water company, which is refusing to adopt them because it is unsatisfied with the materials used by the contractor. Therefore Bovis is not completing the roads and other works, and meanwhile the council is not enforcing completion of the highway works.
Residents, meanwhile, are caught in the middle of a Catch-22 situation, living on an unfinished site and feeling that their questions and concerns—this is really what adds insult to injury—are being ignored. Communications to Bovis have not been replied to for several months now. One resident recently wrote to me:
“It is most frustrating that no one seems to have the authority to take any action against the developer.”
Another said to me at a meeting I had with them last week, “No one from the authority wants to come and look at the site and they give the impression they cannot enforce their own planning permission.” Another wrote to me:
“Cheshire East…say it is out of their hands.”
Another asked me:
“Why have planning conditions in place if they are not enforced?”
I hope that my raising this yet again in this House prompts action now by all concerned. Perhaps, at the very least, officers from the council could meet residents and me onsite to clarify why enforcement action cannot be taken to resolve these issues. I ask Ministers to consider, since I know that this is not an isolated issue—I have seen colleagues nodding in the Chamber as I have been speaking—what can be done to ensure that builders expeditiously complete landscaping, roadworks, common areas and amenities on new estates, and that local authorities promptly enforce planning conditions, and to consider what sanctions should be imposed if this does not happen. The current situation for residents purchasing new homes in my constituency such as those I have described is completely unsatisfactory.
Finally, I turn to yet another issue that I am raising in the Chamber not for the first time, as I have done so for many years—Congleton War Memorial Hospital. I am pleased to say that we still have this wonderful facility in my constituency, providing excellent local facilities for residents. As one wrote to me recently, it is a valuable local asset. It offers X-rays, ultrasound scans and blood tests five mornings a week, on many occasions efficiently processing over 100 people. It has a geriatric ward and manages various consultants’ clinics five days a week. There is a minor injuries unit.
Recently the hospital has had its difficulties with staffing—I raised this in an Adjournment debate in March 2019—but Congleton War Memorial Hospital is still very much serving the people of Congleton. Bearing in mind that we have an NHS long-term plan, people want to see a Congleton War Memorial Hospital long-term plan. We do not want to feel that we are continually fighting to ensure that these services remain in our local community.
I recently wrote to the chief executive of East Cheshire NHS Trust, John Wilbraham, to whom I have spoken many times over the years and who always listens. He says that he understands
“the desire to maintain local services and the trust continues to have a strategy of providing care as close to home as possible where services meet the expected clinical standards”—
I am pleased that he has reconfirmed that—and that he is
“working with health and care partners as part of the 5 year plan to set out how services will be delivered across Cheshire East into the future.”
May I, on behalf of my constituents, impress on East Cheshire NHS Trust and its partners, and also bring to the attention of Ministers again, the importance of retaining Congleton War Memorial Hospital and community hospitals like it, which really do provide an invaluable service for local residents?
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who gave us a great tour of her constituency and the problems she has faced not just recently but, I suspect, for the past 10 years. For new and returning Members, the great beauty of these debates is that we, as Back-Bench MPs, can raise anything that we choose. To those who have made excellent maiden speeches today, I suggest booking a season ticket for these debates, because they will have the opportunity to raise issues on many occasions in the future.
Unfortunately, we have not heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who gives a virtuoso performance at these debates, rattling through every single piece of correspondence he has received over the past three months. We gravely miss him, but I have no doubt that next time we have one of these debates, he will be back. He may be on his way to Downing Street—we never know.
On a serious note, before we rise for the short February recess, there are a few things that I wish to raise. I have often had the opportunity of initiating this debate, and I now have the pleasure of closing it for Back-Bench Members. I raised at business questions this morning the huge deficit in local authority pension funds. That is a real scandal, and it threatens the retirement and future of public sector workers who have worked so diligently for us.
That is not the only thing that local authorities have been engaged in. The National Audit Office has reported on the exposure involved when local authorities buy up commercial properties to get a rental stream, particularly in the retail sector. We know how problematic the retail sector is, how big a risk that is and the threat to the public purse. The Government will need to investigate that shortly.
One of the major issues that most people associate me with is homelessness. I piloted the Homelessness Reduction Bill through the House in 2017. The Act has only been in operation effectively for a year; the duty to refer has been in operation for just over a year. Many thousands of people up and down the country have been prevented from becoming homeless as a direct result of the biggest shake-up in homelessness legislation for more than 40 years. But we still have a big problem. We see every day the signs of homelessness in this country, with people sleeping rough on our streets. I repeat: it is a national scandal that in this country, we still have people sleeping rough. I want the Government to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes it a crime to not have anywhere to live. That cannot be right in a civilised society. People who are homeless need assistance, not to be arrested and taken to a police station. We need a revision of the law to combat aggressive begging, which we unfortunately see on our streets and our public transport system every day.
One key thing that the Government should do is provide more housing at affordable levels that people can rent and, if they so wish, buy. We built 220,000 units of housing last year, which was the highest number for all but one of the last 30 years, but the Government’s target is 300,000 a year for five years. Unless local authorities build new council houses or properties, we will not get anywhere near the 300,000 units required to enable people to have a home of their own. We need to ensure that we enshrine within this the right to buy for those in council housing and prevent local authorities from using external bodies and housing companies that seek to provide housing but frustrate individuals who wish to exercise the right to buy.
We now need to learn the lessons from the Housing First pilots and roll them out across the country. When someone has been sleeping rough for any period of time, they need not just a secure roof over their head, but a network of support: they will probably need to be treated for mental health problems and certainly for physical health problems. They may need to be cured of alcohol, drug or substance abuse. It is no good just putting them in a home and hoping they will get on with it. They need that network of support. That is going to be key.
I next want to raise the long-term scandal of the victims of the Equitable Life scam. I was proud that the Conservative Government I supported when first elected to this House in 2010 made the commitment, which we are all encouraged to make, to provide justice for those robbed of their money. The Government set up a compensation scheme, but only provided £1.5 billion of the £4.1 billion that was accepted as being owed, meaning that the Government still owe £2.6 billion to the victims of the Equitable Life scandal.
As co-chair of the all-party group, I will continue to campaign for justice for those victims, until such time as we get the Government to provide the funding required. Many of the victims are now very old and vulnerable and desperately need the money. Many others are coming up to retirement age and will need to draw on their pensions, which have been severely downgraded as a result of the particular issues of that scam. The victims are receiving only 22.5% of their assessed loss and that affects nearly 1 million people across the UK, many of whom are nurses or people in our caring professions, who were encouraged by the Government and their employers to invest in these schemes, which then effectively were ceased. We clearly need to combat that.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be pleased to know that we have a number of new recruits for the all-party beer group. I was delighted to hear that in the debate, as I am sure you are. You will have to read Hansard to see the contributions made, in particular that by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton).
I want to raise a few local issues before we rise for the Adjournment. First, almost no speech by me in this debate would be complete without me raising the issue of Stanmore station. The do-nothing Mayor of London has come up with a grandiose scheme to build on the car park at Stanmore station, which, hon. Members may not be aware, is the terminus of the Jubilee line. It currently has 450 car parking spaces. The Mayor’s aim is to reduce that number by 150 and build multi-storey, high-density flats all over the car park. This has given rise to a very focused local campaign against this monstrosity. The area is characterised by two-storey housing. The Mayor wants to build an 11-storey block of flats alongside the station, which would dwarf the whole area and prevent proper access to and from the station. I am at great pains to say that I want to see more housing provided, but not in this way, and certainly not by reducing the amount of car parking available.
This affects a number of constituencies around London because many people drive to Stanmore to leave their car there and get into London via public transport. I take the view that we want to encourage people to get out of their cars and use public transport, but this will in effect encourage people to drive into London and then leave their car on residential streets, or to drive further down the line and then use stations further into London, so it is a very foolish move in both regards. Over the next few weeks, I will be working with residents groups to combat this at Stanmore station.
Equally, the Mayor has a plan for Canons Park station, which is the next station along the route. He wants to build all over that car park as well, which I think is a retrograde step. There is clearly land alongside the Jubilee line that could be used for housing without having any impact whatever on the car parking provision available. I am looking forward to combating that. We have the London mayoral elections in May, and I am sure that all the residents around Stanmore, Canons Park and Rayners Lane, which is in another part of Harrow, will see a good reason why they should vote for the Conservative candidate in those elections, rather than for the current incumbent.
I also want to raise the issue of crime and the level of policing in Harrow. The tri-borough commander of the police has been very effective in ensuring that our number of police in Harrow is actually above the resource allocation formula, which is good news. The only bad news is that many of those are new graduates from the Hendon Police College and they will take time to come up to speed.
One of the things that has blighted my constituency for the last 18 months has been the rise in aggravated burglaries. This is true in a number of areas of London, particularly the outer-London areas. I am delighted to hear that Shaun Bailey has suggested that we need an anti-burglary squad to be a hit squad of the police to combat those involved in aggravated burglary, who act in gangs in a deliberate, targeted fashion against vulnerable people. This is bizarre form of burglary in which the burglars want people to be at home when they burgle their homes, so that they can beat them up and extract their goods, including their diaries, jewellery and money, and force them to open their safes. This is a particularly pernicious type of crime and it needs to be combated.
On the health service locally, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), my constituency neighbour, drew attention to the situation at Northwick Park Hospital. He is no longer in his place but, if he were, I would just remind him that, when he was re-elected in 2001, he committed to the people of Harrow that there would be a brand new hospital on the Northwick Park site. Nineteen years later, we are still waiting for it. Nevertheless, that was his promise. I am delighted by the fact that, after I was elected, I was able to assist in getting a new accident and emergency unit into Northwick Park Hospital. The reality is that the staff there do a brilliant job in very challenging circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of walk-in centres, such as that at the Belmont health centre, which is in my constituency. I just want to make sure it is on the record that the key here is that there was a walk-in-and-wait service: people could walk in and wait—and wait and wait. Now, without saving a single penny, the CCG has implemented an appointments system, so someone makes an appointment and walks in, and they are seen very quickly after their appointment is due. That saves the health authority money, but actually there is no saving involved because it has trebled the number of appointments available and the service operates seven days a week, between 8 am and 8 pm, so people can see a GP irrespective of which GP they are registered with in Harrow. From that perspective, it is a much better service for the residents of Harrow, which I think is key.
Another issue I perennially raise in these debates is the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. Again, local people and the trust have battled for 30 years to get this wonderful hospital rebuilt. The first unit on site cost £80 million. It was promised by the last Labour Government but never delivered, and I am delighted that it has been delivered under a Conservative Government. The next phase of the redevelopment involves new car parking facilities, new accommodation for nurses to live in, and other staffing accommodation, but it is being held up by NHS bureaucracy. Given that the project has been signed off at all sorts of levels, it is an outrage that we have to battle forever to get the money to put spades in the ground on site, and get the accommodation that our nursing staff, and other medical staff, desperately need to provide that service.
The next phase will continue rebuilding more of the hospital, so that we get first-class conditions for the brilliant service that is provided on a national scale. Unfortunately, however, there often seems to be a serious problem in getting funding through national health service bureaucracy. Will the Minister take back to the Health Secretary—I understand he is unchanged, which is good news—the message that we must cure the elongated bureaucracy in the national health service? A business plan could be ready and signed off, but it seems to take forever for the bureaucracy to make it happen. That prevents us from delivering the first-rate health service that people in this country expect.
Some may say that MPs are going on holiday next week. I wish it were true. Right hon. and hon. Members across the House will be working hard in their constituencies, meeting residents and constituents about a wide range of issues, and taking up things that matter to them. I wish the House staff a week away from their work in this place, but the rest of us will be working diligently and very hard on behalf of our constituents.
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker. One thing that I most enjoyed about being a Whip in the previous Parliament was participating in the debate on matters to be raised before the Adjournment, which was always wide-ranging and an absolute nightmare to sum up. The 17 Back-Bench contributions that we have heard today have been fascinating and contributed to a diverse debate. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is right to say that it is always a joy to witness the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who, in one debate that I summed up, cantered through 26 topics. It may well be the case that he is on his way to Downing Street to be made Minister for the City of Southend, and if that is the case, we wish him well and it is sad not to see him here today. I am, however, hoping to replicate some of what he does by covering a lot of issues.
I thank the hon. Members for Harrow East, for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), for Buckingham (Greg Smith), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) for their contributions. As is always the case after an election, the real pleasure is in listening to maiden speeches, the first of which came from the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans). His speech was incredibly fluid and he spoke with no notes, which in itself shows a real talent on his first outing in the House of Commons. He spoke immensely eloquently about his constituency, and I wish him all the very best as he seeks to serve his constituents.
I took particular interest in the speech by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton), and it was fascinating to hear her speak about the mining industry, her time in the Army, and her commitment to beer. One thing people quickly learn in this place—I will come on to this slightly later—is about the cross-party nature of such groups. Last year I attended my first ever dinner with the all-party beer group. I confess that I am not a great fan of beer—some of my colleagues are—but it was amazing to see how collegiate and cross party people are in that respect. I wish the hon. Lady well.
The hon. Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) is of course from New Zealand. This place is enriched by including people from different countries. Well, perhaps not from Scotland, but that is a constitutional point—[Laughter.] She spoke very eloquently and paid kind tribute to her predecessor, Anne Milton, who I had a lot of dealings with on the issue of apprenticeships.
One of the difficulties with maiden speeches is that Members cannot interrupt or intervene. So often in the maiden speech from the hon. Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), who spoke with great passion about independence, I found myself agreeing and wanting to find out why only this far, and not in Scotland, are we to have the pleasure of independence. None the less, he spoke very eloquently too.
The most moving contribution was probably from the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson). I spoke to his Whip earlier today, who informed me of his personal situation at the weekend. He can rest assured that my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at what must be an incredibly difficult time. I was heartened by his comments about cross-party working. There is no doubt that in this Parliament, with a majority Conservative Government, we are going to get gubbed on absolutely every single vote. I accept that, but this Parliament, for as long as I have to be here, is all the stronger when we work cross-party.
This is a fitting opportunity to pay tribute to the former Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who I consider to be not only a colleague but a good friend. I am very sad to see that she has left the Government. Hers is an example of someone who works on a cross-party basis. I know from the comments made by the hon. Gentleman that he will take that forward, too.
The final maiden speech we heard today was from the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), who spoke passionately about her constituency. I absolutely agree with her on funding high streets. Having left the SNP Whips Office and moved into shadowing the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, I am aware that we will speak more about high streets in this Parliament. The nature of towns funds and whether they apply to cities is another matter, as is the issue of Barnett consequentials. So I am very glad she referred to the issue of high streets.
I want to touch on a number of local issues. First, I pay tribute to a campaigning group in my constituency, Restore Glasgow, which is associated with the International Justice Mission. Since last year, I have been working with Restore Glasgow, as well as local authority colleagues, to explore different ways of ensuring greater regulation and licensing of nail bars and car washes, which we know, sadly, are often used for the purposes of human trafficking. More than 250 years since the end of the transatlantic slave trade, there are close to 41 million people still trapped in some form of slavery across the world today, yet nobody really knows the scale and how many victims or perpetrators of this crime there are on these islands in the UK.
The data that has been released is inconsistent. The Government believe there are about 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK, while the Global Slavery Index released a much higher estimate of 136,000 in 2018. One way or another, we must all do more to tackle the scourge of trafficking. I very much commend Restore Glasgow for their campaigning efforts to question consumer behaviour. More often than not, we might think that we are getting a bargain by getting our nails done—well, perhaps not in my case—or a car washed for £2 or £3, but we have to wonder who is really paying the price.
The internationalism and compassion shown by the people of Glasgow East does not just stop at human trafficking. Animal welfare is also close to our hearts. One of the issues that concerns a great many of us is trophy hunting imports. Put simply, trophy hunting is cruel and barbaric, and is helping to push some of the world’s most endangered wildlife ever closer towards extinction. British trophy hunters have killed hundreds of endangered lions, hippos, leopards, rhinos, zebras and other animals in recent years, and brought their “trophies” back to the UK. I am very proud to support early-day motion 50, in the name of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), which calls for a ban on the import of hunting trophies into the UK. That would be an important step to bringing an end to this terrible industry. Animals killed by trophy hunters often suffer slow, painful deaths and this practice has no place in a modern, civilised society. I very much stand ready to work on a cross-party basis with the Government to support any legislation on this issue.
Staying on an international theme, I wish to turn now to urgent support to protect our oceans. Overfishing and plastic pollution are gutting our oceans of life and destroying delicate ecosystems. We need to act urgently to protect them if we are to have any hope of tackling the climate and nature emergency. That is why I am standing with my constituents and supporting a bold global ocean treaty. Right now, only 1% of the world’s oceans are protected. Scientists say that we need to protect at least 30% by 2030, through a network of ocean sanctuaries, placing huge areas of the ocean off-limits to human activity.
For the first time in history, a process is under way to make that possible—the global ocean treaty being negotiated at the UN—but to be frank, the talks are currently on a knife edge and could result in a weak treaty that is unable to properly protect marine life. That would be a disaster for our blue planet and could spell disaster for us too, as our survival and that of the oceans are so interlinked. To get that ambitious deal for our oceans and our climate needs, we need senior politicians in the negotiating room who can push for a strong treaty, so I implore the Prime Minister to send a senior Minister to New York in the next couple of months for the final round of the global ocean treaty negotiations, and to really take this opportunity to leave a better world for our future generations.
Our responsibilities to future generations also extend to child refugees and family reunion. When Lord Dubs’ amendment came to the Commons from the other place last month during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, I was very proud to vote in favour of it, because child refugees with family members here in the UK should not be stuck in camps and car parks alone. By taking the step of removing legal protections to ensure that family reunion continues at the same standard as under current EU laws, I am afraid that the Government are sending a very dangerous signal. We know that when safe and legal routes are not accessible, children are more likely to make more dangerous journeys and to be pushed into the hands of people smugglers. If global Britain is to be anything more than a slogan, the Government really need to act with compassion on child refugee family reunion policy.
I turn to domestic policy and matters specifically impacting on my Glasgow East constituency. The big topic at the beginning of this week—if not today with the reshuffle—was money for rail infrastructure. I have questions about when HS2 would ever reach Scotland and whether there will be Barnett consequentials, but locally, I stand with a lot of residents of my constituency in campaigning for a train station in Parkhead. Parkhead is, of course, the home of the wonderful Forge shopping centre, Celtic Park—Scotland’s largest football stadium, with a capacity of 64,000—and would tie in with the line that goes from Helensburgh Central right through the centre of Scotland over to Scotland’s lesser city of Edinburgh. I implore Ministers in the Department for Transport to work alongside me and see what support we can give to make sure that we get that train station in Parkhead, perhaps through money coming from here up to Scotland, alongside Network Rail.
In recent years, Glasgow’s east end has been savaged by the removal of ATMs and bank-branch closures. Even in my short time in the House, we have lost local branches at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Stepps, Santander in Parkhead and Clydesdale in Shettleston, and that has an impact on ATMs. Indeed, new research from the consumer group, Which?, reveals that the amount paid by consumers to withdraw cash jumped by £29 million to £104 million last year. That has a particularly devastating impact on low-income communities such as those in the east end of Glasgow.
The loss of free access to cash is a crisis that impacts on businesses on the high street as well as older and vulnerable consumers who choose to use cash to budget, and the millions of us who use cash as their preferred payment method. To continue the theme of cross-party working, I was delighted to work on a cross-party basis with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) to lobby the Treasury to commit to introducing legislation that protects access to cash and free withdrawals. I very much hope that the Government can make a positive announcement in next month’s Budget, and if they can, they will certainly have my support.
In Shettleston, Tollcross and Parkhead, we are blessed with beautiful old sandstone tenement properties, which are a major part of Glasgow’s skyline. However, the maintenance of those properties is vital to protecting the existing housing stock and ensuring that our rich architectural heritage is preserved for many more years to come. I know from speaking to local homeowners and housing associations that the prohibitive 20% VAT rate on housing renovation and repair work is a major disincentive to maintaining the properties. I want to see the Government refresh the economic modelling carried out by Experian that looked at the benefits of reducing the VAT rate for housing renovation and repair work. In the run-up to the 2015 election, the Cut the VAT Coalition produced an excellent paper, which the Treasury would do well to go back to, re-evaluate and consider seriously, particularly as we consider decarbonisation and how our domestic properties tie in to achieving net zero, in 2045 or 2050.
In Glasgow East, whisky is a significant part of our local economy and provider of jobs. I have three cooperages, a maturation warehouse and John Dewar’s bottling hall in my constituency. When we think of whisky, it is not necessarily always about space, such as in Islay—it is still a massive provider of jobs even in urban Glasgow East. However, the 25% tariffs imposed on Scotch whisky by the United States are having a hugely negative effect on the jewel in the crown that is Scotland’s food and drink sector. I was in the United States last week, and had the pleasure of meeting American colleagues to press the case for ending punitive tariffs on whisky. I was especially grateful to Congressmen Andy Barr and John Yarmuth—both from Kentucky—for the opportunity to focus on the impact of tariffs on bourbon as well as Scotch. We are absolutely united in our message to London, Brussels and Washington that these tariffs must end in order to protect jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sticking with an overseas theme, I want to turn now to the persecution of Christians, a subject that is close to my heart. I commend the Government on their commitment to promoting freedom of religion or belief, and commend in particular the work of the Prime Minister’s special envoy, the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti). I think that we all want to see the recommendations in the Bishop of Truro’s report implemented, and I am confident that the Government are making progress on that front. I met the special envoy in Washington last week to discuss the issue.
However, I remain deeply concerned about the persecution of Christians in two countries in particular —Nigeria and India. Open Doors reported at least 1,445 physical attacks and death threats against Christians in India over a year. This is the country with which Britain will soon seek a free trade agreement, and I seek reassurance from the Government that, in their rush to conclude that free trade agreement, human rights and freedom of religion or belief will not be overlooked when they are dealing with President Modi’s Government in the coming months. Similarly, on the issue of Nigeria, let me again issue a plea to Foreign Office Ministers in particular to do everything they can to secure the release of Leah Sharibu, who has been held captive by Boko Haram for two years. I happen to share a birthday with Leah Sharibu. It was a privilege to stand with CSW colleagues to mark that day last year, but I very much hope that I will not be doing the same on 14 May this year, and that we will see Leah’s release from captivity.
Let me end by raising an issue that is particularly close to my heart, as a father of two small children and as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on premature and sick babies. There are many things on which I disagree with the Government, but my record in the House shows that I am always willing to work on a cross-party basis whenever that is possible. I was genuinely delighted—I say this in all sincerity—to see in the Queen’s Speech a commitment to introduce an employment Bill providing for neonatal care leave. That certainly did not exist when my four-year-old and one-year-old children were born. It is ridiculous that mothers and fathers are having to return to work when their children are struggling for life in neonatal units, and I hope the Government will put that right.
May I gently seek clarity about how the neonatal care leave provision will be framed? I know that the Minister will have a million things to discuss when he sums up the debate, but it would be hugely appreciated if he could find out from those in the Box when the Bill will be published. I hope very much that when the Bill is published it will reflect the pledge in the SNP’s manifesto to provide a week of paid leave for every week that a baby is in neonatal care.
I will wrap it up there, but I hope that the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) would be proud of my “cantering around”. I thank you for your forbearance, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I particularly thank the staff of the House, who have put in an enormous amount of work since the election, looking after not just new but returning Members. I wish all Members a very productive, peaceful and restful recess as we return to our constituencies, and I look forward to seeing all colleagues when we come back in a couple of weeks’ time.
I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden). Let me also say to the House that I will not take as long as that! I do, however, want to acknowledge all those who have spoken, before focusing on the excellent speeches made by new Members.
I thank the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), and the hon. Members for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Buckingham (Greg Smith) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis). I also thank the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), and I agree with her about Bovis. I would be happy to talk to her about that. I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), and of course I have to make the bid on behalf of the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess): please can Southend become a city? We miss him.
I want to start with the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans). I do not know why he is here, rather than being a GP. From the way in which he has presented himself today, I am sure he must be an excellent GP. He made an excellent speech, and we are lucky to have his talents here as well. I am pleased to see that he is following David Tredinnick and carrying on the tradition of being a member of the Health Select Committee. I also served on that Committee for five years during one of the most difficult times, when the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was being introduced. It is interesting that Tuesday was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, so the fact that Ada Lovelace was taught in his constituency is excellent. A final word of warning to the hon. Gentleman: do not build any car parks in your constituency until you have let the archaeologists at it.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton)—amazing! The Labour candidate in Wrexham was also female, so in any event Wrexham would have been blessed with its first woman MP. I am delighted to hear that the hon. Lady served in the Army. That is an important voice that we need in the Chamber, not only for those who are currently serving but for those who have left the services, because they too need looking after. I know that she will ensure—whether it is in the St David’s day debate or a Welsh affairs debate—that the grant to the Welsh Government will not be cut by this Government.
The hon. Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) was right about Anne Milton. She was a wise counsel to all of us, and it was lovely when we used to bump into her in the Members’ Lobby, because she always had a word of advice for all of us. We miss her wise counsel. She was a great servant to her party and she will be missed, but I am sure she will be a good source of information for the hon. Member. It is great to see that the hon. Member has already focused on the programme of work she wants to do here and that she wants to tackle homelessness. I am sure she will do that in her constituency, and perhaps she will work on a cross-party basis with all other Members so that we can tackle this terrible scourge in what is one of the richest countries in the world. The hon. Member has made a fantastic journey and I love the idea that her parents were watching from New Zealand, which is where women first got the vote. We can also celebrate the fact that it has a woman Prime Minister.
The hon. Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) also made his maiden speech today. I was going to say that Keith Simpson was a towering figure in more senses than one, but I think the hon. Member has already been more successful than all his other predecessors, because he has managed to get something done about the A47. Norfolk is a fantastic place, and I hope that he is going to focus, as he said, on those wonderful country traditions such as the making of baskets using reeds, which is such a sustainable way of working. I agree with him about the accountability of quangos. That goes to the heart of the democratic deficit that we face. He, too, is a welcome voice here.
The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) —wonderful! I hope he has a good set of walking shoes, because we would all like to join him on his wonderful walks. He was right to remember those who have been affected by the floods; we must not forget them. It is terrible: some of them were without water, and some of them without anything. They were having to do the same thing over and over again. I know he will be a good voice for getting flood defences for his constituency. I do not know whether he is aware that Rory Stewart and lots of other hon. Members have had days on which they invite all hon. Members to the Jubilee Room. However, given that tourism is so important for his constituency, I think that Cumbria day should be held in his constituency so that we can all go up there. I think he is a great fit for his constituency. I also want to thank him for his beautiful tribute to his father. That was really difficult, but I just want to say that his father lives on in him and that he will hear his voice always.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie)—how wonderful! Neil Carmichael was a good friend, but so was David Drew, so we are kind of torn. Neil was very good at working on a cross-party basis. David was probably one of the most relaxed Members I have ever met. Nothing seemed to bother him. He had been a Minister, but he was absolutely wonderful. The hon. Lady has fantastic experience as a councillor and as a lawyer, and I know she will bring that experience to the House. This sounds familiar to me. She said that further education is important, and she will carry on Neil’s tradition in that respect. I liked her final line and the fact that she said she is going to get things done. I am sure she will. She has the energy and focus to do so.
Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you, all the House staff, our staff, and every single Member a good short break. Please do take a break, because this is quite a relentless place, and it has been that way since the election. I wish everyone a happy and peaceful time.
If I the House will indulge me for a moment, I just want to say that I was supposed to be at Harrogate Army Foundation College today. I held a young person’s fair a couple of months ago, and the son of a couple of friends came along, and I am proud to say that Lance Corporal Lewis Horrocks is passing out today. Unfortunately, I was unable to be there to share that experience but, just like his parents Jim and Clare, I am incredibly proud of him today.
There has been a little bit of news going on in the background during this debate. I am sure that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been waiting eagerly by their phones for that reshuffle call—
Well, I want to ensure that people do not have that impression of me, so I will just leave my phone on the Dispatch Box. [Laughter.]
This fantastic debate has demonstrated—several colleagues have mentioned this—the real positives of this Parliament. Members of Parliament from across the House have spoken passionately about their constituencies, the issues that they care about and the desire to get something done to make our whole country—indeed, our whole world—a better place. Perhaps the public should be watching debates such as this a bit more than, dare I say, Prime Minister’s questions. We have had some excellent contributions, so I will go through them and address the questions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) talked passionately about the plans for an arena. As a Member of Parliament for the area, I know that the fantastic Leeds arena has made a huge difference, so I hope that Bristol will get on with that planning permission. He mentioned transport, which will be a recurring theme throughout my response, because all sorts of bids were made, including his eloquent proposal for a park and ride scheme. Of course, the Government are committed to the £100 billion infrastructure fund, which has probably already been spent this afternoon—[Laughter.] But I encourage everybody to ensure that they continue to make suggestions, and I will certainly pass them on.
I was particularly pleased that my hon. Friend talked about local education, which is important if we are going to give our young people the best future. I know how important the aerospace industry is to his constituency, and when I was serving in the Ministry of Defence, I was pleased to visit a factory in his area and see the opportunities being offered to young people through apprenticeships. As he says, social mobility is an incredibly important thing, and we are all responsible for delivering it.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) on his upcoming university fair, which I am sure will be a huge success—I may have to steal the idea for my constituency. He talked about local health services in his constituency, quite rightly praising many of the people who work within them. I am proud of the fact that the Government have put it into law that we will be investing £33.9 billion in the national health service, which will provide us with real opportunities to make the necessary investments. I will ensure that the issues he talked about, particularly the Mount Vernon cancer centre, and his requests are put in front of Health Ministers.
The first of the many fantastic maiden speeches was by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans). The trouble with listening to maiden speeches is that I cringe on realising how awfully rubbish and embarrassing mine was. He said he would not speak for very long, and I was once told that the art of good communication is brevity—I have always tried to keep to that. He rightly highlighted the historic nature of his constituency and its royal connections, and the fact that his constituency is at the very heart of England.
My hon. Friend talked about his work as a GP. In fact, his whole family seem to be GPs, and we should say thank you to him for his service as a GP and to his entire family for their dedication to our national health service. As others have said, we are lucky to have his expertise in Parliament.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) raised an important and sensitive issue that is of particular concern to many people, particularly vulnerable women who are perhaps in difficult circumstances. She is absolutely right that we can talk about these issues in a calm and effective manner. She asked me to raise some specific points with the Home Office and the Home Secretary, and I am happy to do so.
The next maiden speech was by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton), and the first thing I have to say is, “Llongyfarchiadau a chroeso i San Steffan.” That means, “Congratulations and welcome to Westminster.” I have a personal interest, because I like to think that I sowed the seeds by standing as a parliamentary candidate in Wrexham in 1997. My result was spectacularly awful. I lost, and the Conservative party lost pretty much every seat in that election.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has become not just the first Conservative but the first woman to be elected for Wrexham. It is a constituency I know well, and I love that she says she has now been forgiven by her family for being a Tory—I went through a similar experience. She is another Member who previously worked in public service in our armed forces and as a nurse. Too often we do not celebrate the work people did before becoming a Member of Parliament, and the contribution they can therefore make to our debates will only enrich how we go on from here. I love that she is a brewster. If she ever wants me to have a taste, I am happy to have a go.
The hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) talked about the opportunities of HS2, and she is right that we must look at it from every angle. It is not just about things like connectivity between the north and south; it is about releasing capacity on other lines. It is also about the opportunities it may present for industries like steel and for train companies such as the one in her constituency.
I know full well the issue of spending across borders. I served in the Wales Office, and I well remember our many debates and discussions about that. I am pleased that we are spending £48 billion on rail across the country, which is a huge investment, and now we have the opportunity of £5 billion for buses, too. There are real opportunities here.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of terminal illnesses and benefits, and I will happily raise that with Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions.
A number of Members are concerned about IR35. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said earlier, it is important that people know what taxes they have to pay, but we need to ensure the review reports quickly. I hope there may be further announcements in the Budget on 11 March.
The next maiden speech we heard was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson). I was glad that she paid such a nice tribute to her predecessor, Anne Milton, who, as Deputy Chief Whip, changed the focus from just delivering votes to the welfare of Members of the House. She contributed a tremendous amount with that, and my hon. Friend was right to point that out.
My hon. Friend talked about cricket greens and spending time during the election in good pubs—I did a little of that myself. She also talked about the great charities in her area. I was glad that she also raised the issue of homelessness and rough sleeping, as I am proud that our Government are determined to try to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. As the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) just said, it is fantastic that my hon. Friend’s parents are watching this debate in New Zealand. I have no idea what time it is there, but they have probably switched off now that I am speaking.
The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) talked about the important issue of charity lotteries. Prior to working in the House, I was the head of fundraising for a couple of children’s hospices and set up a charity lottery to help with that. Such lotteries are an incredibly valuable, reliable and regular source of income, and it is right that we look at this issue. I am pleased to tell her that the order to increase lottery sales and prize limits was laid on 20 January. The reforms will allow charities to raise more money for good causes, and the legislation includes a pro-rated arrangement for the new annual sales limit to enable operators to benefit as soon as possible. The Gambling Commission will be monitoring the impact of the changes to see whether any more work needs to be done. I thank her for raising that important issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) then gave his maiden speech, in which he described his constituency fantastically. He also paid tribute to his predecessor, Keith Simpson, whom I always recall walking around the corridors of Parliament with a book under his arm—he was a great Member of this House. I love the fact that my hon. Friend has taken on the tradition of his seat: campaigning to dual the A47. The tradition started in 1983, so let us hope that in 2020 he will be the one who is able to deliver that. I am sure he will be meeting my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary on many occasions to bring that forward.
I also want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is one of the most diligent Members of this House. I recall that when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Transport, I found myself sitting with some confusion on my face when he walked into a Westminster Hall debate on the east-west Oxford to Cambridge railway. I wondered how on earth he was going to get Northern Ireland into that debate, but he did so with great skill—I say to all my new colleagues that he is the man to learn from. He talked about invasive species, the importance of our ecosystems and protecting our natural environment, and he was right to raise all those issues. The Environment Bill will be debated on 26 February, and I am sure he will take that opportunity to make such points to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers after the recess.
We then came on to the maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson). It must be daunting to realise that one’s predecessors include a former Home Secretary and a former Chief Whip, so I am sure that he has a great future ahead of him. I was particularly intrigued that he offered his most recent predecessor the welcome news that he can bring his sleeping bag and come to say with him—I am sure he will take that up. My hon. Friend talked about Cumbria and the important issues of agriculture and tourism. More importantly, as a proud Unionist, he talked about the importance of a border seat and working across that border to deliver for both areas, because when we work together and are united, we can deliver a great many things.
I was intrigued by my hon. Friend’s background as a vet and his story about anal glands and an amorous dog. When I go home, I usually get a brilliant welcome—not really from my partner, but from my dog. I am afraid that this week I am not going to get such a welcome, because he went to the vets on Monday to have—how can I put it?—his bits done, so am probably not going to be very popular.
I was glad that my hon. Friend talked about things such as mental health, and I pay tribute to the very moving way in which he spoke about his father. One thing I have noticed about this place is that when you talk about something very personal, it is sometimes very hard not to lose your composure. It is quite hard at times and your voice does tremble, but my hon. Friend spoke with absolute clarity. His father has clearly trained many people in the health profession, and I know for a fact that he would be very proud of the way in which my hon. Friend delivered that part of his speech. I think I am right that my hon. Friend’s family were up in the Gallery, and they were clearly moved, too—I congratulate him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) talked about green-belt development, which gives me an opportunity to talk about my constituency a little, because we all face these issues. He was absolutely right about the need for us to look at cross-constituency and boundary issues, and at the impacts that planning applications may have on one area when something is built in another. Exactly the same thing is going on in my area. My hon. Friend is right that we should build on brownfield first; after all, that is what green-belt policy is about: trying to regenerate brownfield areas. He also spoke about infrastructure—no doubt that is another bid going into the Department for Transport. He asked three specific questions about the consideration of residents’ views, mitigation and the combined authority fund, and I will certainly make sure that I raise those points clearly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) spoke with great optimism. She talked about battery-powered aeroplanes—let us hope we can get to that point soon, because it would be hugely helpful. I love the fact that, as the right hon. Member for Walsall South mentioned, my hon. Friend said that she is here to get things done. Every Minister is probably quaking in their boots because, as she said, regardless of what happens in the reshuffle, she will be meeting them. I was particularly pleased to hear her talk about further education and the fact that university is not always the answer for everyone. I did not go to university myself, and at the time I was made to feel like a bit of a failure, frankly. When I go around the country or my constituency, I see many young people developing great skills through apprenticeships, and they then have a real passion that takes them on to a successful career.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) talked about the Oxford-Cambridge expressway, and we have heard his concerns loud and clear. I know his local residents are worried, but they have a great advocate in my hon. Friend as their local Member of Parliament. When they come here on 26 February, they will do so knowing that their concerns have been expressed. My understanding is that the Secretary of State is reviewing the situation. He has heard what has been said and an announcement will come shortly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) talked about transport and wanting his fair share for his city. It is wonderful that we have so many Conservative MPs bidding for all this transport funding in seats that we have not held for many a year. I know that my hon. Friend has been sending angry letters to Network Rail, so it had better get answering him quickly. He wants to put in a Beeching bid and talked about buses, so there will obviously be a long list of applications for Stoke-on-Trent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) talked about the reopening of Middlewich station. She is absolutely right. Sometimes, when these ideas start off, we might think that they are probably implausible and are never going to happen, but if we are a bit like a terrier and just keep going at it, it is amazing what can be delivered. I will certainly ensure that she gets a chance to meet the Secretary of State as soon as possible. She also talked about outstanding issues on one of her estates, and I had a similar issue in my own constituency. It is not fair on those people who bought a property in good faith and expected to live in a decent environment. I hope that, if Bovis is listening to this debate, it will have the decency at least to reply to her letter and to address the issues facing her constituency. I will also ensure that Health Ministers are aware of the importance of Congleton War Memorial Hospital.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) talked about the local authority pension funding gap. He will probably be aware that, as soon as we get back, we have Housing, Communities and Local Government questions, so I am sure that he will take the opportunity to ask his question.
I want to praise my hon. Friend for the work that he did on homelessness, because his was one of the great private Members’ Bills that went through this House, and he worked hard to ensure that that happened. He is right that there are still many complex issues that need to be addressed, not least the issues of drug and alcohol abuse. We cannot just find people a place in which to live; we have to ensure that they have the ways and means and the life capabilities to be able to sustain their new life. He listed a load of other issues, but I will not go into them all. In fact, I was looking on my app at the Jubilee line, because I could not keep up with all the different stations that he was mentioning. The idea of building on a car park that services public transport seems absolutely ludicrous to me. We did exactly that in my own constituency, and now we regret it. As more and more people use the trains, we cannot then find the places for them to park.
I just wanted to add at the end my thanks to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who spoke about some very important international issues. I know that human trafficking and trophy hunting are very important issues for many Members. I am acutely aware of the importance of the global ocean treaty and the summit in New York, and the issue about child refugees. May I please implore everybody to understand that we have not changed our policy? Child refugees remain an important priority for this Government, and we will make sure that we will continue to stick to that.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the employment Bill. I am afraid that I cannot give him an exact date yet, but I will take up the matter with the Leader of the House, and as soon as I have an answer, I will come back to him.
The right hon. Member for Walsall South finished off the debate by putting in a plea for Southend-on-Sea to be made a city. I do not have the power to do that. If I did, my phone would never ring—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady has just stolen my final line, which was that the only thing that I can see at the moment is a missed call from my mother.
May I conclude by thanking you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and Mr Speaker, and by saying that I have noticed a considerable difference in tone and atmosphere in this Chamber, which I think is appreciated by everybody in the House? It is only now that I realise how awful those past 18 months were. The way in which, as a team, you have all helped to ensure that the Executive are rightly held to account, but have done so efficiently and ensured that everybody is treated with respect, has not gone unnoticed. I also wish to thank all the other staff—the catering staff, the parliamentary security staff who keep us safe, and all the Clerks who give us the advice that we need to do our jobs properly. I thank you all very much.
Mr Andrew, I suspect that your mother was calling to ask, “Has Boris rung yet?” I am sorry, Mrs Andrew, but he hasn’t— not yet.
Before putting the Question, I want to wish everybody a very peaceful and happy recess. I think that Valerie Vaz was absolutely right—this place can be relentless at times, so it will be good to have a rest during this short recess. I thank all those who work in the House, in whatever capacity that happens to be. I come in very early in the mornings and the cleaners are here before me, and when I am leaving they are here then. I thank those who keep us safe. It is at this time that I reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that PC Keith Palmer made to keep us safe.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.