I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.
This is the first pre-recess Adjournment debate to take place without Sir David Amess. It will not be as good a debate because he is not here. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] His performances at these debates were always remarkable: a lesson for every Back-Bencher, and an ideal opportunity to raise matters far beyond his own constituency and across the world and to raise every item of his casework with Ministers prior to our going on recess. We mourn his loss and, on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, we have asked the Leader of the House if the pre-recess Adjournment debate in the summer can be retitled the Sir David Amess debate.
I start with some issues local to my constituency. The first is that we have had a number of planning applications to build new homes on station car parks. At Canons Park station, the Mayor of London applied for planning permission to build high-density, multi-storey blocks on the station car park, vastly reducing the amount of car parking space available for commuters. I am pleased to say that Harrow’s planning committee turned down the application, and the planning inspector, after the appeal by the Mayor, rejected it comprehensively. It is the most comprehensive rejection of a planning application I have ever read. That is good news for my constituents.
On Stanmore station, I have raised in many pre-recess Adjournment debates—my hon. Friend the Minister is smiling already—the issue of the required lift. The Mayor of London has applied for planning permission to build all over the station carpark, which accommodates 3,500 cars. I am pleased to say that the Harrow Council planning officers proposed that the council’s planning committee reject the application, and the committee unanimously turned the application down—but now, of course, the Mayor of London, who is the applicant, has called it in, so that he can determine whether it should be allowed to go ahead. I have asked Ministers to keep a watchful eye on this matter and, if the Mayor is marking his own homework, to call it in and hold a proper independent planning inquiry before anything else happens. That is important.
I also raised at business questions the epidemic of thefts of catalytic converters from cars in my constituency. Over the summer, I was given information about many of the thefts, and took action with the local police to try to combat this epidemic. Sadly, as I mentioned, recently we have had gangs of thugs with baseball bats turning up at people’s offices and homes, in broad daylight and late at night, threatening residents. If residents come out to examine what is going on, the thugs say to them, “Do you want to try it? I’ve got my baseball bat and I’ll sort you out.”
The thefts of catalytic converters across the country is seriously concerning. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service need to treat this as organised crime by gangs, and that it should be dealt with by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency? Only then will we deal with it, because these catalytic converters are stolen from Melton, or from his patch, one day and are in Poland the next.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Clearly, we need action. The problem is that the catalytic converters can be removed in two minutes, so by the time the police arrive, it is too late and the thieves are gone. The Government need to take action to ensure that precious metals that are taken from catalytic converters cannot be sold for cash. That is one of the first measures that must be undertaken. There must also be prompt action by the police to prevent these thugs from continuing to commit crimes.
I turn to points about immigration casework. My constituency is the most multi-ethnic in the country; there is someone from every country in the world, every language under the sun is spoken, and every religion on God’s earth is practised in my constituency. There are two points I am concerned about. One is that the Afghan refugee settlement scheme still is not published. I am dealing with 656 constituents with relatives who think or hope that they and their family will qualify under the scheme, but still no scheme is available. That is causing angst and anxiety among many of my constituents.
In my casework, I see a huge increase in the number of biometric residence permits being sent to the wrong address after lengthy delays by government. It is an outrage. I understand that Home Office officials are working from home and that they have backlogs in their work, but when they get basic addresses wrong, particularly after they have been emailed to them, it is doubly bad, and that may encourage criminal gangs to get hold of those cards.
My constituency office has also experienced a huge increase in benefits casework. I do not know about other colleagues, but when the pandemic first struck, my office dealt with roughly 250 cases a month that required my intervention. Last summer, we peaked at 1,300 such cases in July; there were a further 1,300 in August, and cases are still running at 856 a month. I am therefore glad that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is doing the right thing and increasing the money in our budget for staffing; I welcome that decision.
Like the hon. Member, I have a very diverse constituency, and I deal with a heavy immigration caseload. Does he share my disappointment about the fact that delays in those cases are getting worse and worse? How does he feel about the Afghan scheme, which we still do not have, so many months down the road? It is also being narrowed down. How is that acceptable?
I agree that it is not acceptable. I think most hon. Members across the House will be sympathetic to people fleeing Afghanistan. We rightly made promises and commitments, but unfortunately the resettlement scheme is still not available. As I said, that is causing a lot of angst and anxiety.
I turn to two local issues that I am sure are seen across the country. There has been a huge spike in concerns about planning matters, as well as concerns about fly-tipping and potholes, which are appearing once again in Harrow. Those potholes need to be fixed, because they cause damage and all sorts of unnecessary and unacceptable problems on the roads. We have also seen a large spike in casework about illegal houses in multiple occupation—not registered ones—which, when they spring up, give rise to a lot of noise, nuisance and antisocial behaviour. I am sure that I am not alone in experiencing that.
I turn to important international events. Sir David Amess was a great supporter of the Iranian opposition, the Maryam Rajavi and the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which represent a democratic alternative to the current regime. In Iran, there are huge demonstrations against the Government, which are not well publicised. In many cases, people are being severely oppressed with terrible consequences across the piece. It is time that Ministers in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office took action. We know that discussions with Iran are ongoing over the so-called nuclear deal—I think they may not be going anywhere—but we must be clear with Iran about its attempts to foster terrorism and further incursions around the world; that is vital. The appeals of the terrorists who tried to bomb the 2018 NCRI will come up shortly in Brussels, and I hope that FCDO Ministers will have a lot to say when those appeals are dismissed. I was at the conference, and I would not be here now had the terrorists succeeded. Many others from across the political spectrum are in the same situation.
We will commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January in this place. We are still looking to build an education centre and museum adjacent to this mother of Parliaments. I look forward to that happening, and to further progress in the new year.
On Equitable Life, the Government have still failed to pay the total sum of £2.6 billion to the people who are owed that money due to the worst case of Government maladministration that there has ever been. I will continue to press them to pay that money—that debt of honour—because more than 1 million people have still received only 22% compensation. Given that we have compensated other schemes to the level of 80%, that seems grossly unfair to all those who have suffered loss.
Let me back up my good and hon. Friend. I think the Government promised to sort out Equitable Life a long time ago, did they not?
My right hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right. It was almost the first piece of legislation passed in the House when the two of us were elected in 2010, and it still goes on; some 11 years later, we have not supplied full compensation.
As hon. Members will know, one of my great passions is combating homelessness and rough sleeping. At this time of year, we must think of those who are forced to sleep rough. I played a major part in the Kerslake commission on homelessness and rough sleeping during covid-19, and I supported the Government on the Everyone In project, and on every other aspect of enabling people to be taken off the streets and into appropriately secure accommodation, yet Housing First has still not been rolled out across the country. It would build the network of support that rough sleepers need to rebuild their life. I hope that in the new year, we will see a big step forward on that.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s points about Everyone In, but over the last 10 years, pre-pandemic, rough sleeping doubled under Conservative Governments. Everyone In showed that there was political will to get everybody off the streets. Why can we not have that outside a pandemic as well?
Under Everyone In, the Government took 37,000 people off the streets. At the time, the rough sleeping accounts were of the order of 8,500. That demonstrates the problem of data on people who are sleeping rough and on people who have been assisted. We also know that 300,000 people across the country are sofa surfing at any one time; they are tomorrow’s rough sleepers.
At the same time, debts for private rents are increasing. The Government are slowly but surely allowing the courts to decide that evictions can take place, which will mean that more people will become homeless and will potentially be on the streets. Action is required. My solution is to build between 90,000 and 100,000 new social homes every year that people can actually afford to live in, as opposed to overpriced accommodation that they cannot. That is one of the things that has to take place.
The challenge before the Government—the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have agreed; everyone seems to agree—is to abolish the Vagrancy Act 1824. There is an opportunity to do precisely that in the House of Lords. The Government need to accept the amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill—if I have got that in the right order—proposed by my good friend Lord Best, which would remove that Act from the statute book. I hope that we will see action on that.
I will turn to the important all-party parliamentary groups that I am involved in. I had the opportunity to visit Azerbaijan during the short November recess. I met the President and my MP counterparts in Baku. I also visited the newly liberated lands, and joined the celebrations of the Azerbaijani people on their recovering Karabakh from Armenia. I look forward to the redevelopment of that region enabling everyone, across the piece, to live in peace and harmony. It is British company Chapman Taylor that is involved in the restoration of Susha, one of the biggest centres, which was destroyed by the Armenians during their occupation. I had the pleasure this week of joining the ambassador of Azerbaijan when he presented his credentials, virtually, to Her Majesty the Queen.
There is a whole host of other matters that I would like to raise in this debate, but I know that time is pressing and that many other Members wish to participate. I end by wishing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, all the speakers, all the staff and all the people who keep us safe a very happy Christmas, and, above all else, a happy, peaceful, prosperous and healthy new year.
Even with the spectre of omicron hanging over us, this time of year is very special. For the first time in two years, I have been able to join communities across my constituency as they switch on their Christmas lights. These community events are deeply heart-warming, and it is wonderful to see local families enjoying the lights. I wish all my constituents who celebrate it a very merry Christmas.
Like colleagues across the House, I find it particularly enjoyable visiting people and places across my constituency, and I remain immensely proud to represent Manchester, Gorton.
I recently visited Circus House in Longsight as it celebrated its 10th anniversary and heard about the fantastic work that it has done over the past decade. I was given a crash course in circus tricks, and I recommend that hon. Members try their hand at spinning plates or juggling—it is not too dissimilar to our day-to-day job.
Visiting schools is always a particular highlight of my work. Ahead of COP26, I joined Year 6 at St Margaret’s Primary School to discuss climate action. The pupils were full of insightful questions and ideas. They gave me hope that the future of our planet was in good hands.
Black and Asian community groups, such as the Caribbean and African Health Network and Longsight’s Bangladeshi Women’s Group, continue to make an incredible contribution to life in Manchester, Gorton. It was a pleasure to meet them and to learn more about the outreach work that they have undertaken to engage their communities in the vaccination drive.
This year marks the end of an era in the City of Manchester, as Sir Richard Leese departs as leader of our council after 25 long and dedicated years. Richard’s contribution to our city has been immense, and I have been proud to work with him over the past two decades. He leaves big shoes to fill, but I have no doubt that his successor, Bev Craig, will be a force to be reckoned with. I also know that Manchester is immensely proud to have its first woman and first LGBTQ+ city leader.
Another era in this House ends, too, as the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has said, as we sadly will not hear from Sir David Amess in this debate, in which he always enjoyed participating. He remains sorely missed by colleagues across the House.
I want to take this opportunity once again to plead with the Government to support my campaign to secure the long-term future of the covid memorial wall. Each person who left a message to a loved one on the wall, including myself, wants an assurance that the covid memorial wall will be allowed to remain.
Finally, like other colleagues, I want to finish by thanking all my staff—Tom, Alice, Yasmine, Sam, Naeem, Anisa and Josephine—who continue to make my life easier. This pandemic has been so difficult for all of us over the last couple of years, and my staff—and those of other Members—have done a tremendous job as our workload has more than doubled. May I also say merry Christmas to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to Mr Speaker and to all the team for the wonderful work that they too have been doing?
I hope that everyone enjoys a restful recess, and has a merry Christmas and a happy new year.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), whose predecessor was of course a friend of many of us on both sides of the House. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I support his suggestion that the next set of Adjournment debates, in the summer, should take place in memory of our great friend Sir David Amess, who, although he was not my geographical parliamentary neighbour, was my parliamentary neighbour at 1 Parliament Street for nearly a decade.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a matter of great importance to us in the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, which has caused the deepest possible sadness. My young constituent Louis Watkiss, aged 12, tragically died at the Snow Dome on the indoor ski slope in Tamworth on 24 September this year. Louis’s brave parents, Natalie and Chris, are here with us in the Gallery to hear what I am going to say. They are bravely working tirelessly to promote the wearing of helmets to ensure that no other family suffers as they are suffering today.
On 24 September, Louis attended a friend’s birthday party to go tobogganing. A terrible collision occurred on the slope. The full extent of Louis’s injuries was not apparent until his dad Chris arrived at the scene. He saw Louis still receiving treatment from the paramedics, but he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Both parents had 20 minutes to lie with Louis at the bottom of the indoor ski slope. I am not going to rehearse the details; the torment of those last moments will live with Louis’s parents, and other relations, for the rest of their lives.
The coroner’s post-mortem report states that Louis suffered a head injury with fractures involving the base of his skull which caused his death instantly. Although such deaths from tobogganing and sledging activities are rare in the United Kingdom, research has shown that children are more vulnerable to brain injury and even death from collisions. That is because their skulls are still developing and strengthening, and are not fully protective of the brain within until they reach the age of 17 or 18. Research referenced in Louis’s report from the coroner states that the most prevalent method for reducing traumatic brain injuries is the use of a helmet. Helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head, neck or face injuries in skiers, particularly those under the age of 13, as well as the severity of injuries.
There is clearly a case here for mandating the use of helmets for snow sports activities in the United Kingdom. To my surprise, although the issue of cycling helmets for minors has been raised in the House—most recently, with great eloquence, by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) when he introduced a private Member’s Bill last year—I believe this is the first time that this particular issue has been raised.
In recent years, some indoor snow sports venues have made it obligatory for participants to wear helmets, but it is entirely voluntary, and there is currently no guidance or legislation in place for operators. Looking abroad for guidance and relevant examples, we see that in New Jersey, in the United States, it has been compulsory since 2011 for minors under the age of 17 to wear a helmet if participating in such sports. In Europe the debate about the use of helmets is certainly active, and I submit that it is time for, at the least, a serious discussion in the United Kingdom. There is little doubt that a helmet would have saved Louis’s life. His death was not only tragic, but wholly avoidable.
It is clear that Louis was a remarkable young man, talented, bright and intellectually curious. He was in his second year at Plantsbrook School in my constituency, and among his many interests and skills was playing the saxophone, reaching grade 5. That included playing in a jazz ensemble at Symphony Hall in Birmingham.
I believe the House should consider whether or not we now take the significant step of changing the law to insist that in these and similar circumstances children’s heads should be protected by a protective helmet. If there are issues with either introducing legislation, or bringing forward an amendment to a Home Office measure or other relevant Bill to provide for this change, perhaps it may be possible to secure rather more rapidly a code of practice entered into by all operators of indoor snow sports and similar activities, which would mean that operators insist on such protective headgear when people are taking part in these activities.
This is appalling. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Tamworth ski slope now insists on children wearing a helmet when they operate there?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. My understanding is that it does, which shows the House and, in particular, those in my constituency who are now campaigning for this move, how quickly such as measure could be introduced.
As we gather for Christmas, I am deeply conscious of this tragedy, and of the suffering of a lovely family, of a wider school and music community and of Louis’s friends and relatives, who will be remembering his life and mourning his loss at this terrible time. I know that the House and the Minister will want to send Louis’s parents, Chris and Natalie, George and Louis’s grandparents our deepest sympathies. They have every right to expect and believe that this House can be relied upon to look seriously and speedily at a safety measure that the family so bravely and so compellingly want to secure, which will stop other families from facing the grief and misery that they are suffering at this awful time for them.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today, and for all the opportunities I have been given to speak by all the Chairs this year. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I have a running competition to see who will get in first, and he would be here today but for his being in Westminster Hall at the moment, leading on another debate. I also wish to thank the Leader of the House for seeking to answer my endless list of questions in the most charming of ways and always making sure to follow up after business questions. Most importantly, let me say a huge thank you to all the House staff, from those in the Libraries to those in the kitchens, from Committee Clerks to Doorkeepers: you are the glue that keeps this place together, and we would not be able to carry out our duties without every one of you.
This has been a big year, and when I reflected on how I wanted to approach my speech today one person immediately came to my mind, Sir David Amess, whom the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) mentioned in his speech. Sir David was a seasoned professional when it came to these debates. He loved to recognise all the good people, organisations and charities in Southend West, and I know colleagues from across the House will still be feeling his absence. I hope we can emulate his enthusiasm and dedication to our constituencies today.
It has been a very busy year in this House. The excitement and privilege of securing a private Member’s Bill has still not lost its novelty. I am incredibly honoured to have brought such an important piece of legislation, no matter how small or technical, to this Chamber. I am grateful to my colleagues who helped me secure its Second Reading, and am excited to usher it through the remaining stages of its passage next year. It is a similar feeling of excitement and privilege when we manage to secure a good outcome for our constituents. This year, that has been especially true in a particular case I had. I refer to a constituent who is a veteran of the armed forces and whose time in live action has left him with scars, physical and psychological. He and his family have become well-known to my office, and it was a shared delight when we were able to successfully liaise with the Ministry of Defence to resolve a pensions issue that had been rumbling on for more than a year. It was just one of a few issues that we continue to help him find a resolution to. It has been a journey that has opened my eyes to how difficult a return to civilian life can be. I must express my gratitude to the many people who helped along the way, including Veterans First Point, which works tirelessly to provide a wide range of services for veterans in Scotland, and the veterans champion at our local health board, who has helped so much with casework.
I could not speak about the armed forces without mentioning an event that saw an avalanche of casework for every one of us—the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I do not want to labour points that have been made so many times already in this Chamber over the past few months, but I must recognise the toll that has taken on us and our staff, but most of all on the constituents who have been desperately trying to help their families left behind. I think many of us are on the same page about how events played out. I would add “and how they continue to play out”, but the Government have become somewhat quiet on the matter. That has not gone unnoticed.
A constituent of mine has decided that he can no longer wait for the support promised by Ministers. He told me this week:
“I feel that the Government isn’t working on any Afghan cases at the moment and it doesn’t seem like it’ll be high on their agenda anytime soon.”
I raised this case with the Foreign Office and the Home Office in August and unfortunately did not hear back. I raised it again in the Chamber in September, and the Secretary of State for Defence promised to investigate it. Despite repeated chases, we have not heard back.
I do not want to spend too much time focusing on the lows, though; despite a difficult year, there is much to celebrate. This autumn, Glasgow hosted COP26, which I was lucky enough to attend. I can proudly attest to the inspiration that it sparked in my constituency, which lies a little outside the city centre. The children from St Charles’ Primary School decided that they wanted to encourage people to travel greener, so they sought to make Newton station more attractive. Not only did they create a beautiful growing space for plants, but they were out and about chatting with the community and undertaking random acts of kindness.
We have also seen a huge increase in volunteer litter pickers. I have mentioned before the Cleaning up Cambuslang campaign, which saw volunteers collect 26 bags of litter for 26 days in the run-up to COP26. Bonnie Blantyre and pals are another fantastic group working on everything from litter picks to creating and maintaining community gardens. SOC—Supporting Our Community—is another I have to pay due recognition to. The group in Hillhouse are active and well known, supporting people of all ages and pulling together lots of community events.
Blantyre Soccer Academy opened a community garden of its own, which is open to anyone in the community free of charge. It is a beautiful space for quiet reflection and has been put to good use by locals. The provision of these spaces cannot be taken for granted; they have become ever more essential to our mental wellbeing.
That brings me nicely to other groups working to better our mental health. I met the head of the local Samaritans branch this year. It was quite a heavy conversation, but it was invaluable. The work the volunteers there do is emotional and sensitive, but I know we are all grateful for their resilience. They provide not just the crisis line, but a whole host of prevention work, educational resources and funding. The Hamilton branch has had volunteers that have committed decades of their lives to the cause. I admire them greatly and wish them good luck for the future.
I also met the charity Place2Be, which takes a holistic “whole school” approach to mental health. It recognises that to help children, the whole system must be in a good headspace. I was grateful to hear that the charity is currently providing some counselling in schools in my constituency, and I encourage all colleagues to get in touch with it to find out more.
The Beacons, with hubs in both Blantyre and Cambuslang, is a commendable organisation. It helps people through their recovery from addiction and is staffed by volunteers. Crucially, it actively seeks volunteers with lived experience, who have a unique insight into addiction and how to help. It is an organisation that helps people rebuild their lives and take back control.
There are so many organisations I want to highlight that are real pillars of the community. I will start with the big name—the citizens advice bureau. Our local branch has taken many a phone call from my office and from constituents. The team there are fantastic, working away at helping people out of difficult situations. Food banks, too, have become a necessity across the UK. It is a sad reality that they should need to exist at all, but I am very grateful and thankful that they do, and I pay tribute to Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Hamilton food banks in my constituency for the work they do. They took the brunt of the universal credit uplift cut and did a sterling job.
My constituency has also seen an increase in new residents’ and tenants’ associations, which is excellent. I have liaised with quite a few and the community spirit is outstanding.
I have just a few more people to thank. First, I thank those at South Lanarkshire Council for their continued engagement on casework matters and for making themselves available. Next, I thank the community councils throughout my constituency that work so diligently for the communities they represent and achieve so much. Finally, I thank my staff, Lynne, Laura, Gillian, John and Kim, who have made it possible for me to support my constituents and represent them here, for their hard work. All MPs know that they could not carry out their role without the support of their hard-working staff.
I am not quite finished yet, as I have been lucky enough to land the final Adjournment debate of term after this debate, but I am very much looking forward to returning to business in the new year. I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, all the Speakers and all my colleagues a very good and well-deserved break, and a happy Christmas when it comes.
Last week I took part in a Back-Bench debate on Bosnia, and I warned that the situation there was deteriorating sharply. My great concern was that very shortly we would see again conditions like those that started the Bosnian war in the 1990s. But over the past seven days the situation has become even worse. Now the leader of Republika Srpska has set a short timeline of six months before he intends to quit the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Thus I feel I must warn the House again about what could easily happen in Europe, and within two hours’ flying time of London. The situation in Bosnia today is extremely fragile and very dangerous. It could be likened to what happens when you pick up a lemonade bottle. It looks calm. Wriggle it around a bit, put it down; it still looks calm. Undo the top, and everything spews out. Well, in Bosnia the lemonade top is getting very loose. Having been the first British UN battalion group commander in Bosnia in ’92, what happens in Bosnia matters to me. It is not just me. The Army lost 57 soldiers in the last Bosnian crisis, and they died trying to save people’s lives.
At one stage, I witnessed what might happen again if Bosnia is allowed to split up. The Vance-Owen plan of 1993 allocated various regions of Bosnia to the various factions. Cantons were designated primarily as Serb, Croat or Muslim. Immediately the plan was announced, various sides took matters into their own hands. In particular, I watched as Bosnian Croats attacked Bosnian Muslims to take immediately the areas allocated to them by that political plan.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his moving speech and his tremendous work on this issue, not only here as a parliamentarian but when he served in the British Army. I share his serious concern about what is happening in Bosnia. I hope we can all agree that when the history of our generation is written, Britain must stand on the right side of history. Does he therefore agree that the UK must ensure that there is no return to the violence and suffering of the past and that we secure the gains made for the people of Bosnia?
The hon. Gentleman, who should not be called an hon. Friend but is, is right. I am going to come to that.
In the fighting around Gornji Vakuf, no quarter was given to man, woman or child. I recall watching tank fire destroying house after house. I remember watching people being mown down.
I tried for several weeks to stop the fighting, often by trying to get ceasefires. All day I sat in rooms trying to get ceasefires, often by putting my wonderful soldiers in the middle of a battle between two sides, which is a very dangerous thing to do. As an aside, may I pay tribute to my escort driver, Lance Corporal Wayne Edwards, who lost his life on 13 January 1993 in the fighting around Gornji Vakuf? I had agreed to him being used to escort three women through the fighting—through the town—and I still feel guilty, because I had the responsibility of giving him the order to do that. Wayne was shot dead through the front of his vehicle while trying to get three women who needed to get hospital to a place of safety. Truly, Wayne Edwards gave his life so that others could live. That is about as noble a soldier’s death as there can be.
The main lesson of my tour in Bosnia was that it cannot be split up and it must remain a coherent state. My time there occurred in perhaps the most torrid period of the Balkans war, but I left the country two years before an appalling genocide. This was without doubt the foulest atrocity of the war. It occurred in July 1995 at Srebrenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia, where 8,372—as far as we know—men and boys were murdered by the Bosnian Serb army in what was undoubtedly one of the worst acts of genocide since the second world war.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is making an extremely compelling speech. I have been in the recent past to Srebrenica, and I stood in stunned amazement at the extraordinary example of man’s inhumanity to man. Will he emphasise to those on the Front Bench that this is a region of the world where Britain has deep roots, real knowledge and the ability to help move the dial with many of the disputatious parties? Will he take this opportunity to emphasise that to the Foreign Office? There is a big role for Britain to play at this point.
My right hon. Friend is so right; we can make a really big difference here. In my time in Bosnia two years before Srebrenica, we managed to get to Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia. It took us four days. The only reason I went there was because I heard people pleading on commercial radio for someone to come and help them and stop them being killed. The Bosnian Serb army had just about surrounded Srebrenica and Konjević Polje. We got there. I recall about 20 people killed around us. A couple of my soldiers were wounded, but no one was killed. After a few weeks, when we got about 2,000 people out, mainly women and children, we were ordered to withdraw. I did not want to withdraw, but we were ordered to withdraw. Now, is it not weird that if Republika Srpska splits away, Srebrenica will be in that part of Republika Srpska?
I thank my right hon. and gallant Friend for the point he is making. Does he agree that one of the most important reasons why Republika Srpska cannot break away, and why we must maintain the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is that if it does, that would be officially to mandate ethnic cleansing? It would be to say that if someone ethnically cleanses and commits genocide, they can wait 20 years and we will allow them to break away and celebrate their ethnic cleansing, because they will have succeeded in their goal. That would be utterly wrong, and we must stand firm against that.
I entirely agree with my very good friend; she is so right.
Paddy Ashdown once saw President Tuđman draw a map on a menu and divide it in half, saying “That half is Serb and that half is Croat.” Paddy Ashdown asked, “Where do the Muslims go?” I will come to that.
It would be a bit rich if Srebrenica were in a breakaway section of Bosnia. What happened at Srebrenica was the catalyst that caused the international community, led by the United Sates, to take Bosnia seriously, and the Dayton peace accords were the result. They were signed in November 1995 and they achieved their immediate objective—they stopped the killing and they preserved the territorial integrity of the state—but the political arrangements for Bosnia were diabolical.
Dayton bequeathed an unworkable constitution and a hugely complex, multi-layered system of government presided over by, would you believe, a triumvirate of Presidents—Bosnian, Croat and Muslim—who adopted the primary role of lead President once every eight months in rotation. That system was meant to last for only a few years, but it has now stumbled on for 26 years.
All this is unravelling at an exceedingly fast pace. The President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has put plans in place through the Parliament of Republika Srpska to quit the federation and thus reduce Bosnia and Herzegovina in area by 49%. On Friday 10 December, after our debate the previous day, Republika Srpska formally adopted a set of resolutions to initiate the process of withdrawing from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s state institutions, including the armed forces, the taxation authorities and even the intelligence agencies.
It is for that reason that I come back to the Chamber once again to talk about Bosnia. I hope I am not being too much of a pain in the bottom, but we have to know what is happening and we have to stop what might happen. I am sorry if I keep banging on, but someone has to, and many hon. Members agree with me.
Dodik’s move represents the first step towards formal secession, and it establishes a timeline of six months. We are talking about June next year, which is very soon, and a Greater Serbia could result. I get that a lot of Serbs would like that, but it would be a disaster for the area. I firmly believe that such a move would have a domino effect on the remaining Bosnian territory. It would certainly embolden Croat nationalists such as the leader of the main nationalist HDZ party, Dragan Čović, who would very much like to see Bosnian Croat independence, too.
It seems there is some sort of close collaboration between Čović and Dodik, who have been pressing very hard for changes to electoral laws that would favour the Croats and the Serbs and would give them disproportionate representation in Bosnia. Everyone in Bosnia is South Slav, but by religion 30% are Serb, 15% are Croat and more than 50% are Bosnian Muslims. That is 1.8 million Bosnian Muslims. Bosnia matters to us because, if the Croats and the Serbs were to divide the country in half, I suspect we would find thousands of Bosnian Muslims seeking an alternative home in Europe, and I am pretty sure which direction they might well take. It matters to us in a practical way. We might find we had a heck of a lot more refugees—and they would be refugees; they are not displaced persons if they are fleeing their homeland because of persecution.
In the early 1990s, the international community, including our country, suffered from a paralysis about the Bosnian situation, underpinned perhaps by the fact that people just could not or did not want to get to grips with it. We cannot allow that to happen again. For me, there are two lessons from the 1990s that are directly applicable to what is happening now. First, dividing Bosnia will not work, and secondly—this is where we come in, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) have said—the only way to get a solution is for the international community to be involved.
What can we do? I will largely repeat what I said in last week’s debate, with a few changes. First, we have to sustain Dayton at least until we get something to replace it. It is not great, but it has stopped people dying, and we need to keep it limping on until we get a better arrangement. Secondly, Mr Christian Schmidt, the High Representative, requires our absolute and unequivocal support. He must be given all the power we can allow to help him to stop the country going backwards—that means from everyone in the international community.
Thirdly, we need another Dayton. Maybe we can call it Dayton II. I would not mind it being in Lancaster House, because that is a good place to sort out the international community. It requires the involvement of the United Nations, yes, and that would be a problem on the Security Council, since Russia is not being particularly helpful and China is mixing it a bit too. It requires the United States, it requires the European Union and of course it requires Serbia and Russia. We must also have the presence of the Bosnian Serbs. Representatives from Republika Srpska have to be there. They were not there at Dayton I, as I recall.
Fourthly, a point I totally agree with, we should lead. The European Union is at sixes and sevens over Bosnia. Some of its members openly support Republika Srpska, and it has given Republika Srpska quite a massive subsidy. That has encouraged the Bosnian Serbs to believe they will have support from the European Union, or elements of it. On the subject of Bosnia, the European Union certainly does not speak with one voice and it is largely hamstrung—it can do nothing. Take the United States, which as far as I can ascertain has largely gone back to its traditional, isolationist-type approach: “Europe, sort yourself out,” might be the maxim. So we must lead. This country must and can lead.
Fifth and finally—I have a right to say this—we must be prepared to send our soldiers to stop people dying in Bosnia; to support any political initiative, of course. Politics comes first, but sometimes peacekeeping requires someone on horseback. We have a great man to help us in the Balkans now. Air Chief Marshall Sir Stuart Peach was appointed as the Prime Minister’s special envoy to the western Balkans last week. He has recently finished as chairman of the military committee in NATO headquarters, and as such was the highest ranking officer in the alliance, even above Supreme Allied Commander Europe. I cannot think of anyone more suited to help Bosnia than Stuart Peach. We also have a very distinguished ambassador in Sarajevo. Matthew Field has been there since August 2018. He is hugely respected. People in Bosnia have told me how much they respect our ambassador. I know Matt well, and his experience and wise counsel should be used. Messrs Peach and Field are extremely well qualified to help Bosnia, and I urge the Government as well as this House to totally support them in their de facto and most crucial mission, which is to save Bosnia from another disastrous war.
As my right hon. Friend mentions what the Government could do, is he aware that Republika Srpska has raised £30 million on the London stock exchange to fund their debt since April? That is something that the Government can look at. That is something that the Treasury is doing. We know that Serbia is funding guns and arms to go into Republika Srpska. We know that Serbia gets those arms from Russia. So clearly there is something going wrong when we are enabling Republika Srpska to fund itself from within London.
I did not know that. It is very important. I am finishing very shortly, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Order. For the sake of clarity, there is no need for the right hon. Gentleman—just for once—to consider that he ought to curtail his remarks. He is making a moving and appropriate speech, and the whole Chamber appreciates that he is the only person qualified to make it. We are listening to him and we are happy to go on listening to him for a while.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. “For a while” is about to end.
In summary, there is no doubt that Bosnia cannot sort out its own problems. It requires international help. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. About 100,000 people were killed in the country between 1991 and 1995. That must not be repeated. We, the United Kingdom, could and should—we are the only country that can really do it in my view—lead the initiative to save Bosnia. I ask the Government please, please, to put this as a top priority of this Administration. Please God, let us not stand by and watch huge numbers of innocent people die again.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). He made such a considered speech, and I did enjoy listening to it. May I also take a moment to reflect on the speech from the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on the tragic circumstances of the death of Louis Watkiss—and my condolences to the family? I hope we will all support the efforts being made by the right hon. Member.
This Christmas will be difficult for many families. It could be the first Christmas without loved ones, and people may have lost their jobs or simply be struggling due to the worsening cost of living crisis. I want to take this opportunity to talk about how local charities in Luton and all their committed volunteers have stepped up over the last year. They have stepped in to address Government failures and have supported many people’s lives in Luton South.
Level Trust has helped families overcome the costs of education, ensuring that children in Luton have the chance to enjoy learning, by running the clothing exchange, delivering home learning packs and managing the emergency home school fund. Level Trust has also helped to set up Luton Learning Link, a partnership with the Luton Council of Mosques and the high sheriff of Bedfordshire, to provide computers to children to tackle the digital divide.
Discover Islam also works with Level Trust, but among its other great community initiatives it has set up the Curry Kitchen, in partnership with Community Interest Luton, to provide hot food to Luton residents in need. It was great to see so many Lutonians join the Luton Lions to run the Luton 10K, including my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), to raise vital funds for the Curry Kitchen.
As one of the volunteers at Luton food bank, it is right for me to mention the great work it does in providing free nutritionally balanced and culturally appropriate food parcels to people in distress or financial hardship, including hot meals for families on Christmas eve next week.
NOAH has provided support to the homeless people in our community through offering food, clothing, medical and dental care, outreach support and specific advice on accessing accommodation and income support, as well as skills and employment training. Signposts in Luton delivers temporary accommodation for people who are homeless and provides psychological support to those for whom it provides a roof.
The Luton Homeless Partnership represents over 20 local services, including Mary Seacole Housing Association, Luton Council, the Luton business improvement district, ELFT—the East London NHS Foundation Trust—and the University of Bedfordshire. It has set up the Big Change initiative, which asks Lutonians to donate some spare time, items or some spare money to help people experiencing homelessness, including through contactless touchpoints in Luton town centre.
Women’s Aid in Luton, which is part of that group, supports women and child victims of domestic abuse. Its refuge delivers peer support, education and access to legal advice. I would like to take this opportunity to give a mention to Luton rugby club, which has again this year put together a huge number of Christmas shoebox gifts for the women who use Women’s Aid services. Similarly, Stepping Stones supports vulnerable women, as does the Luton All Women’s Centre, which I was very pleased to visit just last week.
Keech hospice delivers free specialist care for adults and children in Luton who have life-limiting and terminal illnesses. Significant funds were raised recently for the hospice through the big trunk trail, where large model elephants were sponsored by local businesses and decorated by many different people—including famous Lutonians such as “The Great British Bake Off” champion Nadiya Hussain and former Turner prize nominee Mark Titchner, before being auctioned off to raise a fantastic amount of funds. For children and young people struggling with their mental health and emotional trauma, CHUMS delivers outstanding accessible support that is tailored to individual needs.
I could go on about so many of the brilliant charities in Luton and the excellent volunteers who support them, but I want to take this opportunity to ask the Minister to pass on to the Leader of the House my request for a debate on the contribution of grassroots charities to our local communities and the importance of increasing Government support to secure their resilience through this very difficult time with the pandemic.
Talking of volunteers, I would really like to take the opportunity to congratulate Dr Waled Mannan from Luton, who is the winner of the BBC sports personality of the year’s unsung hero 2021 award for the east of England region. He has been the lead person in promoting community-based sports and fitness group Revolution, which has motivated hundreds of Lutonians to take up physical activity. Understandably, due to the spread of omicron, the BBC is not having any audience members at its awards event on Sunday, so I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all here today will join me in congratulating Dr Mannan and all the other unsung heroes involved in grassroots sports and physical activities.
Finally, we in Luton were very sad to have lost our friend Lord Bill McKenzie of Luton just recently. He was passionate about our town, Luton, and served it all his life as a local councillor, the leader of the council, a Minister in Government when he was elevated to the Lords, a shadow Minister and a vital member of the parliamentary Labour party. Our thoughts are with Lady Di McKenzie and family, and I hope that we can all take a moment to reflect on his contribution in this place and to us in our home town of Luton. I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a good new year.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins). It is also a pleasure to speak in the Christmas Adjournment debate, except for one element, which is, as has already been mentioned, that we are without our dear friend Sir David Amess. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) that this traditional pre-Christmas debate should be called the Sir David Amess memorial debate. All hon. Members present perfectly accept that they will always play second fiddle to him in their ability to bring up constituency issues.
I was with Sir David, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), in Qatar a couple of days before he was sadly taken from us. I could see how well thought of he was there when, after the news had come through, it was the lead story on the national news. We all miss him; I miss him. He will forever be felt in this place.
It is great to see the Deputy Chief Whip in his place. I have been telling him all week that I would give him quite a hard time in this debate, as I did last year and as I intend to do next year, but in the spirit of Christmas, I will be nice. I did notice, however, that I still have not received a Christmas card from him—[Interruption.] which is shocking. No doubt—I ask him to comment—that is an indication of my standing in his little black book in the Whips Office.
I place on record my thanks and appreciation to all our health workers, particularly those in Eastleigh who, over the last few days—as well as the last few years— have been asked to make contributions and go further than they have in the last few weeks because of the announcements. All those in GP surgeries, hospitals and vaccination centres have worked tirelessly, and will continue to work tirelessly, so I thank them for that.
Traditionally, these debates are a place to raise constituency issues, which is predominantly what I will do. I will talk about some things that are going on in Eastleigh and other things that need to change in Eastleigh. I do not think the Deputy Chief Whip will be surprised that I will raise housing first.
The housing development continues unabated at the behest of Eastleigh Liberal Democrats who control Eastleigh Borough Council. The council has built 49% more housing than is required by Government targets despite its claims that the Government are forcing them to build at that level. It is planning to build 22% beyond Government targets for the next four years.
The Deputy Chief Whip knows that I have raised the issue at previous Christmas debates; in ten-minute rule Bills, where I have made suggestions on how planning reform and legislation could change some of that; and in questions. I must declare, by the way, that I am not against local authorities building housing if they want to, particularly social housing. Specifically, however, I want to raise the situation in which Eastleigh Borough Council buys land, awards itself planning permission and builds the development itself against the wishes of local residents.
An example of that happening in the last few years is the One Horton Heath project in Fair Oak, which was originally 900 homes and has now gone up to 2,500 because it was taken over by the council. It is not wanted by local people. Councillor Steven Broomfield and I have consistently raised with the council that the lack of consultation, and the lack of checks and balances when it awards itself planning permission as well as building its own developments, is not acceptable.
The council is doing that because it has a £600-million borrowing amount, which is not sustainable for a local authority with an annual budget of £32 million. I have raised this matter with what was the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities—stating that it really needs to look at local authorities that are borrowing way beyond their means, because in the end, local residents in my constituency will have to pay when Eastleigh Borough Council goes bust.
I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to make changes in respect of local councils building developments without those checks and balances. Will the Minister ensure that the Department looks at my proposals? I suggested that if a local authority wants to build on land that it owns—particularly large-scale developments of the type that we are seeing in Horton Heath—the neighbouring planning authority should take that over. The host planning authority could pay that neighbouring authority, but this is about the independence of a planning department in a neighbouring local authority checking and looking at whether the planning application lives up to the standards that it should. That should be done by an organisation that does not own the land and does not build out on its own land. That is what we expect from private housing developers and I hope that the Government will look at taking that forward.
I also want to mention Southampton airport, which, as the Deputy Chief Whip will know, I have raised consistently in the two years that I have been the Member for Eastleigh. He will also know that Southampton airport was desperately affected by the collapse of Flybe, as it was by the impact of covid on the routes that it could operate and the number of passengers that it has been able to serve. Two years ago, it submitted an application to extend its runway by 164 metres, within the footprint of its current existence, and I am in favour of that. The local borough council made the correct decision in the way that it should—there was a marathon planning application, with proceedings that took place over two days; I spoke at 1 o’clock in the morning—to grant planning permission for the runway extension to go ahead.
Of course, an appeal went to the High Court, but it refused to overturn the decision. A small group of green activists—I call them that politely—then appealed the decision again and we now face a judicial review. I absolutely understand that the Deputy Chief Whip will not be able to comment on a live legal case, but there is a wider element that we need to take away from this. If this country wants to be global Britain and wants large-scale infrastructure projects and inward investment in this country to go ahead, we must look at the legal processes relating to how many times infrastructure investments or large-scale projects can be affected by a small group of people who keep taking matters to court time and again. It is affecting my local economy. It could affect the outcome of the freeport bid, which the Government announced for the Solent region, and it would desperately affect the number of jobs and the rejuvenation of my town centre in Eastleigh, which has struggled during the period of covid. Will the Government look at the wider planning process and how we can ensure that planning applications that are backed by 70% of my local constituents cannot keep being delayed by a small group of people with lots of money who keep using the courts to delay them?
This is a bit of a planning debate for me today, because this is an issue that affects my constituency widely. I have spoken about housing and the airport and I now want to raise an issue from the Hamble peninsula of my constituency, on the southern parishes end. I want to talk about the actions and proposals of a company called Cemex, which wants to open a quarry and a mineral extraction facility in the southern half of my constituency. Last month, I was made aware that Cemex was proposing and consulting on a gravel pit—a quarry, essentially—in a village called Hamble, which is accessible by one road, Hamble Lane. Traditionally, Hamble was a very small village that was accessible by that country road. The amount of housing development over the past 10 years has meant that Hamble Lane is becoming incredibly congested. At rush hour, it can take an hour to travel a mile. It is on the peninsula and peninsulas are often quite inaccessible, which is why we have one road. The housing development has added to this. The plan that we were made aware of will mean that 144 lorries a day will go up and down Hamble Lane taking out gravel over the next seven years. After that, the number of lorries going up and down Hamble Lane each day will go down to around 90. That is on a small country road that the county council cannot improve. It is impossible to improve it, despite the—how do I say this politely?—literature that Cemex sends out to my constituents, saying that it will mitigate the effects. The plan is just not acceptable.
I wish to raise with the Government the way in which a so-called consultation was carried out. The consultation lasted for two weeks. There was a virtual exhibition and letters were delivered to people who live in the area. In those two weeks, Cemex received around 200 returns, with 100% of people opposing the proposal. I would of course like to see Hampshire County Council remove the site from its mineral extraction plan. I say to the Deputy Chief Whip that when I put a survey on my website, I got 360 returns within seven days, and 98% of people were opposed. If Cemex would like the 1.2% of people who were in favour to make their consultation look like it was worth the paper it was written on, I am more than willing to provide details.
The level of engagement Cemex is offering is unacceptable. Not a single constituent in Hamble has met a representative of Cemex physically. Not a single physical exhibition or consultation exercise took place within the 14 days, and no Cemex representative has physically met representatives of a single parish council. Cemex has refused to offer public meetings and told the leader of Hamble Parish Council—a democratically elected representative of the Hamble community—that the company will answer his concerns only by email. We are talking about such a large piece of proposed infrastructure in an inaccessible part of my constituency, and I find the company’s actions wholly unacceptable.
Why do I raise this issue today? Because Hampshire County Council has allocated the site. I am working with the council to find out whether we can mitigate some of the effects, but I say to the Government that the level of consultation that there has been is unacceptable for such a large-scale development. We need to look at what role the Government should have when it comes to quarries and such large-scale developments.
Cemex says that after seven years it will make this piece of green land green again, and will provide a park. It says that will provide a benefit to my constituents. The literature says that jobs will be created; I can tell the House, and my constituents in Hamble, that the number of jobs created would be seven—seven jobs for the amount of disruption the quarry will cause to the people of Hamble. Cemex says it will make this place a green space, but it is already a green space. I say gently to Cemex that it might think that the project will be beneficial, but leaving behind a giant hole after the work is done is not the added benefit that the community wants to see. I therefore stand opposed to the plan, alongside the leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, the county councillor for Hamble and the parish councils. I would appreciate it if the Deputy Chief Whip raised that with the relevant Department.
Finally—many colleagues will be delighted to hear me say that—I wish to bring up with the Deputy Chief Whip the topic of Great British Railways, which is a fabulous opportunity for Eastleigh. I do not know whether the Deputy Chief Whip knows or remembers my maiden speech, in which I said that Eastleigh was created because of the building of the London and South Western Railway from around 1838. It truly is a railway town; the ancestors of the people there built that massive infrastructure project during the Victorian era. Eastleigh built not only locomotives, trains and carriages but gliders for the D-day landings in world war two.
Our town centre has an airport just up the road, a deeply willing and committed population, and a huge railway works site that still provides some of the exact same services that Eastleigh provided in the 1830s, so it would be a fabulous site for the new headquarters of Great British Railways. The Government have announced the competition, and I heard this morning that Southampton, just next door to me, has announced a rival bid. I would just gently say that it should stick to the maritime and leave the railways. The railways belong to Eastleigh. I know there will be friendly competition with the leader of its council, but I just say, “Hands off! It’s Eastleigh’s turn.”
Eastleigh has some of the same issues as many northern towns. Essentially, it is a northern working-class railway town on the south coast, next to what I would call a working class ex-industrial city, Southampton. I know there will be many rival bids from areas represented by my colleagues on the Conservative Benches. I do not expect my hon. Friend the Deputy Chief Whip to announce this from the Dispatch Box today, but certainly my constituents would like the early Christmas present of hearing the Government say, “Let’s do away with the competition—Eastleigh is perfect for this.” That would provide jobs, an economic boost, and the town centre regeneration that I am so passionate about; as I say, the town centre has suffered during the pandemic.
As we are here, the Deputy Chief Whip will remember that I have brought up time and again the fact that at Hedge End station, we do not have accessibility for disabled people. This is an issue not just in Hedge End, but across the country. I would be deeply encouraged by any feedback on whether the Treasury is reallocating accessibility funding, and whether Members of Parliament could bid for it. Disabled and less able-bodied people still have to alight five miles away at Southampton Airport Parkway and travel up the M27 just to get home. That is deeply, deeply unacceptable, and I will continue to push the Government on getting that accessibility funding awarded as soon as possible.
Finally—[Laughter.] I said that before—sorry! Finally, finally—this is the nice bit—I wish all House staff a merry Christmas. The Doorkeepers are incredibly patient with all of us. They sometimes see us in perhaps not the best light as we run to and from meetings, but they are incredibly patient and encyclopaedic—they know everything that is going on. I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the other Deputy Speakers and Mr Speaker a very merry Christmas. I thank my staff, Emma, Sue, Ben, Charlie and Steph, for their unwavering loyalty to me and, moreover, to the people of Eastleigh, who often hear their lovely voices at the end of the phone when they are trying to get in touch with me. Indeed, I thank all Members’ staff across the whole House; this goes back to a point raised by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier). They have had a terrible couple of years working for us; that goes particularly for those working for a new Member of Parliament. I wish everyone in this House a very merry Christmas and, hopefully, a safer 2022.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes), and to find out so much about his lovely constituency. I, too, feel happy to be part of this debate. I am delighted to not have the clock, but sad that Sir David Amess is not with us. He was such a formidable part of these debates, and I really enjoyed hearing from him. He took a deep breath at the beginning of his speech, and rattled off about 50 points. It was always a pleasure to hear. We mourn him. We miss him.
One of the reasons why I miss Sir David Amess is that he reminds us all of what an assiduous Member of Parliament should do. I was always in awe of that. I felt totally inadequate when he gave his speeches and I heard about everything he had done. Does the hon. Lady agree with me?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. As a new Member of Parliament, I have a lot to learn, and I have learned from Members on both sides of the House. I learned from Sir David Amess.
This week was my two-year anniversary of being elected. It is an absolute honour every day to represent the people of Putney, Southfields and Roehampton, and a huge responsibility that I do not take for granted for a single second. The end of the year is a good time for us all to reflect on that.
I thank all the volunteers and NHS staff who are stepping up their work to deliver the booster as we speak. I also thank the volunteers in other organisations such as The Scrubbery in Putney, which has made 30,000 surgical scrubs since it was set up before the start of covid—they saw it coming. They have just made Christmas bags for all Age UK Wandsworth day centre clients. They do an amazing job. I also thank the Roehampton community box project, who since the start of covid have delivered tens of thousands of boxes to local families in need. When they started, they thought it would be for just a few weeks—maybe six weeks—but it went on, and they are still delivering those boxes every Wednesday, week in, week out. It is amazing.
I also thank all the Roehampton Response Network community organisations, which have come together through covid and provided strength in our community in Roehampton. They are doing an amazing job. I also thank Regenerate-RISE, an amazing older people’s centre that does an amazing job to stem and curb loneliness for older people, which is an issue across my constituency, as it is across the country. It had a great Christmas lunch this week, which unfortunately I was not able to attend. I could go on, but I wanted to pay tribute to some of our amazing volunteers at this time of year—I know that they will step up again in the next couple of weeks.
I want to give an update on wet wipes. As colleagues know, I am officially the MP for banning plastic for wet wipes as well as the MP for Putney. It was an honour to introduce a ten-minute rule Bill earlier this year, and I thank the many hon. Members in the House who have supported my campaign so far. It is the campaign that no one disagrees with. I welcome the constructive discussions and meeting that I have had with the Minister. I also welcome the recent call for evidence on commonly littered single-use plastics, which was launched following my Bill. I agree that it does not have the most snappy title, but in that call for evidence, there is an opportunity for everyone—every Member, everyone working in the industry producing wet wipes, all retailers and all members of the public—to get involved and have their say in a Government consultation. It closes on 12 February. I will contribute to it, and I encourage other Members to do so, and to say, “There shouldn’t be any plastic in wet wipes.”
I hope that the outcome of the call for evidence will be firm and tough action. The industry is already going in the right direction, but banning plastic in wet wipes would push it to go further and faster. That is what we need, given the number of wet wipes bought and used in the UK every year—and that number went up considerably because of covid. We need a date for the phasing-out of plastic in wet wipes, clarity on which wet wipes would be exempt due to medical and clinical need, and agreement on the principle that the consumer—and, importantly, the NHS, which is a main user of wet wipes—will not pay extra. We also need the Government to adopt labelling measures contained in the EU single-use plastics directive. The change in labelling is an easy win that could be made very quickly. It has already been done across the EU, where the industry has already changed the labelling on its plastic packaging. If any hon. Member —or you, Madam Deputy Speaker—goes to a supermarket, they will see that some labels have a sad turtle on them, or say, “Don’t flush.” That could easily be adopted for our labelling of packaging. It would really help consumers to know what is in wet wipes and what they should do with them. In short, the answer is: do not flush.
I was glad to hear the speech by the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), because Bosnia is another serious issue for me. Bosnia is close to my heart, because I lived there during and following the war as an aid worker. I rebuilt villages and worked with the wonderful people of Bosnia, who looked the pain and suffering of the war in the face and decided that they wanted to build peace. They have done that—precariously—for 26 years. However, I agree with the right hon. Member that there are serious concerns about a slide once again into conflict. There is growing nationalism and tension, and moves towards conflict, in Republika Srpska under its leader, Milorad Dodik. There is hate speech and genocide denial, and the Dayton agreement is under threat.
I add my support for the territorial integrity of Bosnia as it is, and for the need for the UK to take the lead in diplomatic action now. It would break my heart to be standing here in the future saying, “We knew what was happening, but we didn’t take enough action, so now we Members of Parliament must work out what to do, in terms of military intervention.” We do not need to do that. It is diplomatic action and action with community organisations in Republika Srpska and across Bosnia and Herzegovina that will make a difference. Long-lasting peace can come only when the population wants peace. We saw that for ourselves in Northern Ireland. What made the difference was when women’s organisations, community groups and schoolchildren said, “We will not have conflict any more”. Such action does not give political legitimacy to leaders who might want to move towards conflict, so it is really important to be working with community groups on the ground. I have urged the Foreign Secretary to do that, and I encourage other Members to do so as well. I ask those on the Front Bench to take that away with them from this debate.
The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, or the lack thereof, has already been mentioned in this debate, but I would like to add my concerns. There is huge anxiety among so many people writing to me who have relatives in danger in Afghanistan. What is happening with the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme? The fact that this has not been announced is a symptom of the chaos in Government. As far as I can tell, it has been passed between Ministers for months. There has been no clarity on what will be in the scheme and what its terms will be. In short, where is it? My plea is for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme to be agreed, announced and to be made very clear so that people know that they can start coming and have the support that they need during these terrible times in Afghanistan.
A big issue for many residents in my constituency is the persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim population in Pakistan. I have a large Ahmadiyya community in Southfields, and an absolutely beautiful mosque—the first in London. Recently, I was able to hold the first MP surgery in the first mosque in London. It was a wonderful experience. Many people came to my surgery and I was able to speak with them. I know very well the concerns that so many have about discrimination, not being able to vote for the Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan—if they cannot vote they cannot stand for office, and if they cannot stand for office, they do not have a political say in the country—forced detentions, summary detentions, and discrimination throughout education, work and life. The Ahmadiyya people must worship in hidden mosques and they cannot live their life as they do here. I stand in solidarity with them. I was glad that, this year, I was able to ask the Home Office to recognise the Ahmadiyya marriage certificate in immigration applications, and that rule has now been changed and the Ahmadiyya marriage certificate is now recognised.
Let me move on to a very different issue. The Transport for London settlement is a major concern in Putney. We are now two days away from a weeks-long extension on the funding of the whole of Transport for London, and yet there seems to be a deadlock. I urge the Transport Secretary to meet the Mayor of London today—as soon as possible—so that we can clear this funding deadlock. We need our public transport to be as wide as it is now, and we need to make sure that people who are over 60 will still have access to free transport—I have had many people writing to me about this in the past couple of days.
I cannot miss the opportunity to mention Hammersmith bridge. I have raised this issue 15 times in Parliament now. The bridge has been closed to traffic since April 2019—it is a major traffic route in our capital city and it is still closed to traffic. It is causing chaos in Putney, as all the traffic comes down our roads, causing congestion and pollution and making cycling more dangerous. The council cannot afford to pay for it. At £160 million, it is way beyond its annual budget. TfL can no longer afford to pay for it, because it has had a huge loss of income, as we know, and, with fewer people travelling because of the omicron variant, that loss will only increase. Only the Government can fund the rebuilding of Hammersmith bridge and open it again. I raise the matter on behalf of all residents of Putney, Southfields and Roehampton who cannot get on a bus and go over the river to work, to the hospital, or to meet up with family, because of the closure of the bridge.
With the two-year anniversary of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 now close, last week I asked a perfectly reasonable question of the Leader of the House about Brexit: whether the Government would let us debate the impact that Brexit is having on our economy, society and daily lives so far, and whether the Government would commission a region-by-region report. His response contained the following words:
“Brexit prayer…the Brexit song, beginning, “Gloria in excelsis Deo”… happy fish”.—[Official Report, 9 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 591.]
It was not a serious response to a very serious request. In the absence of a grown-up debate in the House, will the Government at the very least mark their own homework and publish an impact assessment of Brexit?
Housing is a subject that has been raised in this debate before and it is a very big issue in Putney. On homelessness, the Everyone In programme showed that if there is political will, action can be taken. All those who were homeless in my area of south-west London were housed very quickly. I pay tribute to the Putney hotel, which switched overnight from being a hotel to being a homeless hostel, as it still is. Its staff are fantastic and I was able to meet them recently to thank them for all they have done. They do not yet know how long the funding for that will continue, but every person in that hotel should be assessed and a place in suitable accommodation should be found for all of them as soon as possible.
The other issue that we face is damp and shoddy housing stock; so many families write to me about damp issues, as they live in houses where the spores are so thick that you can smell them. I have doctors’ letters about the impact that has on their children as well. In this day and age, we should not be facing that in our country. Councils are not tackling it adequately. Wandsworth Council is certainly not tackling the amount of houses and homes that are suffering from damp, where children and whole families are suffering ill health as a result. That issue needs to be taken far more seriously.
Finally, on housing, I come to the issue of children in temporary accommodation. Shockingly, the number rises every year, but this Christmas 3,300 Wandsworth children are in temporary accommodation, often far from their schools, with their parents having to get up early, in the darkness, and take several buses to get them back to the school that they went to. Their family life suffers immensely. Temporary accommodation should be close to schools, but there should not be so many people and families in temporary accommodation—it is an absolute housing failure. I know that the Mayor of London is building more affordable homes, and they cannot be built quickly enough, because this is a major issue for my constituency.
Also connected with housing is the cladding crisis. I have been campaigning on the issue for nearly two years, yet thousands of leaseholders in Putney, Southfields and Roehampton are still trapped in, to quote the new Secretary of State, “an invidious vice” of unsafe homes, life-destroying safety costs and ever-increasing insurance costs. The Building Safety Bill still does nothing to protect leaseholders, which is extremely disappointing to constituents. Will the new Secretary of State work with us and ensure that the Bill delivers for victims of the cladding crisis on Report? Labour members of the Public Bill Committee have tabled many amendments that would have strengthened and improved that Bill, but they have been rejected. At the last housing oral questions, the Secretary of State said that he would shortly be updating the House on a “series of measures” that he hopes will “help bring some relief” to leaseholders facing costs. He said that he will do that before Christmas. Does that mean it will be today or are we to expect it within the next 10 days? We are holding our breath. We are waiting for those, as the victims of the cladding crisis across the country have heard that and are expecting these measures, and I want to know what will be in them.
Let me finish by thanking my staff team; people in Putney may not know how hard they work. They are an amazing team of people who are working day in, day out to support local constituents. They absolutely care as much as I do for every single person who contacts me, be it by coming to my surgery or emailing me, or when they bump into me in the street or in the shops and at all the Christmas events I go to. I want to say a huge thank you to them, to all the Speakers and to all the House staff, who support us so admirably day in, day out, so that we are able to stand up here. As I have said, I am the only Putney resident who is allowed to come in here to speak on behalf of Putney residents, and I do that with a huge sense of responsibility, honour and enjoyment.
Let me begin by expressing my sadness that Sir David Amess is not here today. I have spoken in these Adjournment debates on pretty much every occasion since I was elected—albeit only two years ago—and the joy of them was not getting to speak in them oneself, but getting to see Sir David’s tour de force. Most of us decide which of 30, 40 or 50 issues we will raise, but he just raised them all. It was a sight to behold, and I think we will always miss that contribution in these debates as in so many others.
When I thought about the 30 or 40 different matters I could raise, from my campaign for the reopening of Grove station to housing and planning issues, which have already been touched on, I decided on three, all of which happened to begin with A. The first is the issue of the AEA Technology pensioners. As some Members may know, a group of pensioners—predominantly in my constituency, although some are in other parts of the country—transferred to a new company in the mid-1990s when part of the UK Atomic Energy Authority was privatised. They were given all sorts of assurances about their terms and conditions, including the assurance that it was very unlikely that anything negative would happen to the value of their pensions—and guess what? The company went bust less than 20 years later, and their pensions are now worth between a quarter and a third less than they were. A unique aspect of the case is that they were given the advice not to worry about their pensions by the Government Actuary’s Department.
For several years those people have been pushed from pillar to post and from Department to Department, being told, “This is where you should go to seek redress”, “No, it’s that Department”, “No, it’s another Department”, or “Don’t worry, the ombudsman can look at your case”. We have, however, established—and I pay tribute to my predecessor, now Lord Vaizey of Didcot, who worked on this for a while as well—that it is not within the ombudsman’s remit to look at advice given by the Government Actuary’s Department, and the pensioners therefore have no redress whatsoever. The reason I have presented a 10-minute rule Bill on the issue, and the reason I chair the all-party parliamentary group for AEA Technology pensions, is that these guys did the right thing. They were given assurances, and—for want of a better phrase—they have never had their day in court. There has never been someone to look at what happened here. I am also a member of the all-party parliamentary group for justice for Equitable Life policyholders, and we all know what went wrong there.
This is a unique case involving more than 1,000 pensioners, and I will keep going on it because it is so important. I have met the relevant Minister, and I am told it is still the case that the ombudsman cannot investigate. I hope we can either change that or obtain another form of redress, because we should all be entitled to some form of redress to deal with our complaint, even if it does not go in the way we wanted it to.
The second A is the Appleford relief road. Appleford is a small village in my constituency, and as part of a housing infrastructure fund bid by Oxfordshire County Council, it is going to have a relief road very nearby to help to ease some of the traffic congestion in other parts of my constituency. The problem is that until very recently my constituents did not realise how close to them the relief road would be. I have seen images of relief roads, including this one: it is 30 feet high, and it will be right up by their houses.
I have met members of the campaign group, and I think that they have a compelling case. They would be dismissed by some as nimbys, but far from it, they are not opposed to the road itself. They have simply made the very reasonable request for the county council to move it by about 200 metres. It would still be close to them, but not as close as is planned, so the noise, the traffic and the pollution that it will bring would have less of an impact than it would otherwise. The work has not started yet. I think that this is an entirely reasonable request, and I am urging the county council to address the concerns of the residents again. None of us would want that road near us, and even if we have to delay the completion of the works, I think it right that we should do so.
The third A is the A420, on which I held an Adjournment debate last year. The road snakes right across my constituency, and many of my constituents find it very dangerous. The crash data backs them up on that; there are very regular crashes all the way along it. There are bizarre situations where people who live near the A420 have to get a bus down it to be able to cross it, and then get the bus back. They simply want to cross a road that is directly in front of them in their village, but it is too unsafe for them to do so. My constituent Jo is one of the people most recently injured on the road; she is in a neck brace at the moment.
Again, the road is the responsibility of Oxfordshire County Council. We need a bunch of different things, from a proper bus service to safe crossing points, bike lanes, walkways and so on. The road is used an awful lot by heavy goods vehicles; part of what we need to do is to try to deter them from using the road, because it should not be used in the way it is. It is used by lots of vehicles that speed, and it is used as a shortcut when it should not be. It passes a lot of what should be very quiet villages, where people should not experience their houses shaking and all the difficulties of getting on or off or across the road. Again, I hope this is something that we can make progress on, and I will keep pushing on it on behalf of my constituents.
What these three things have in common, along with the many other things I could have raised today, is that they are all about people feeling that their voices are not heard. They have legitimate grievances and complaints, but they feel that the authorities, whoever they are—their local council, a Government Department, a business; it can be anything—are not listening to them and do not give them the time and attention or deal with things that should be relatively straightforward to deal with if there was the will to do so. I constantly tell my constituents, as I am sure a lot of Members do, “I don’t have the power myself to change the situation you find yourself in.” I wish I did, but my role is to keep making sure that their voices are heard in this place, and that is what I will do week after week.
With that, I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, a very merry Christmas, and likewise all the staff in the House of Commons—the Doorkeepers and everybody else. Without them, we would be in a very bad place indeed.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wantage (David Johnston); I now know so much more about the roads of Wantage. All joking aside, having campaigned on the dangerous smart motorways that we see being rolled out across our country, I know how important it is for many of our constituents that representations are made in this place about the safety of our roads, and I commend him for doing that. I also praise the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for his immensely passionate and informed speech; I am grateful to him for his expertise in that area. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) mentioned the Putney Scrubbery; my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) and I were able to deliver scrubs to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital that were produced in her constituency.
We know that these last two years have been incredibly dark times, but I always think that we must look for the light in the darkness, and that is what I want to focus on today. One of the darkest times has already been mentioned by many Members on both sides of the House, and that is what we saw in August in Afghanistan. Sixty-nine families in Luton North contacted me and my team, desperate to get members of their family, their loved ones, their friends, to safety. We were able to get some people back home, but not all. I echo, and put on the record my support for, all the calls that have been made from across the House for the Afghan resettlement scheme to get started and for those people to be given hope in the darkest of times.
I want to start where many Members finished their speeches, by thanking my team, who worked 24/7 to get people back home to safety and to give them hope. Now my team are asking for details about the Afghan resettlement scheme so that they can pass that hope on to the people who remain in danger in Afghanistan. I thank Mohammad Qudri, Francis Steer and Georgia Marcantonio—members of my team. We all know we cannot do our jobs without them. I want to put on record a special thanks to Jamie Ali, whose last day it is working for me. Jamie has worked for nearly four years for different Members of Parliament, and he embodies everything you would ever want in a member of your team—diligent, hard-working, caring, and incredibly smart. I hope that at some stage we can tempt him back into the world of politics.
As I said, this is a focus on the light. In what has been the worst possible year for many, we have seen the best of some of our people, and that is incredibly true of the people of Luton North. They are people who step up when the Government step back; people in organisations like Discover Islam, Luton Town football club and Sundon Park Baptist church, who provide breakfast boxes for our community—for our children. They went above and beyond to ensure that no one went without over the past year. But what country have we become when we have to rely on these fantastic charities to feed children to ensure that they do not go hungry to school? I praise incredibly loudly, and I am shamelessly proud of, the fantastic community spirit of the charities and organisations that we have in Luton North, and the hard work that they do, but it should not be up to charities and good will to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society do not go without.
I get to meet those children every day I go to a school, an early years centre or a nursery, where you not only get covered in glitter but get challenged and questioned about the decisions that we all take in this place by young people who are concerned about their future. I am so pleased to say that we have an award-winning team from Chantry Primary School—the green team, who are tidying up their community, not just for themselves but for future generations to come.
Many small businesses have joined in the charitable work that went on over the past year to help to feed children in Luton North when the Government said no to feeding children during school holidays. We have countless small businesses. We recently celebrated Small Business Saturday nationally. About a year ago, I started visiting small businesses across the town, and I decided that there are enough fantastic small businesses in Luton North to do that every single Saturday, so since then I have been doing that, promoting their fantastic work, diversity, ingenuity and innovation. We should be backing them. I am so proud that Labour has put forward measures to really back small businesses. People say that they are the backbone of our British economy, so we must show that they are. We must praise them and give them the credit and support that they deserve.
There are fantastic charities such as Age Concern. We all talk about the isolation that we felt. I am so pleased to be back in this place, and to be able to go and do visits and see people face to face. Zoom many have been very useful, but my goodness, it is very miserable being sat behind a screen. We all do this job because we love people. But imagine if that was your only lifeline or if you did not even have that. Organisations and charities like Age Concern in Luton have been going above and beyond in making sure not only that nobody went without but that nobody went without a conversation, because that is such an important lifeline to so many.
Active Luton was one of the most fun and energising events that I went to. It had activities for children throughout the school holidays. I did not really imagine when I took on this role that I would be playing dodgeball with a bunch of children and having numerous balls thrown at me, but I think that they were even more shocked that a Member of Parliament threw the balls back. The children definitely won.
I also never imagined that I would be joining the Luton Lions for a 10 km race, but they were very persistent and it was for a very good cause. I also did not think that we would be doing it in a torrential downpour. I want to put on record my thanks to every person who was involved in that race. There were marshals, organisers and runners, and there were also people clapping and cheering us on from their homes and their windows and even from underneath their car boots, taking shelter from the rain. That is the kind of community spirit we have in Luton to get people through and bring them together to raise money and support fantastic organisations such as the Curry Kitchen.
Covid affected everyone. It affected our lives in ways that we could never have imagined, but it is true to say that people who are poorer or from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background were more likely to be affected. Over the past two years, the inequality that has been allowed to run rife throughout our country has been exposed for everyone to see, and it is on us to ensure that that does not continue. Alongside that inequality, we have also seen an increase in hate crimes, especially during the pandemic. I have had constituents write to me about the increase in the Islamophobia and Sinophobia. I was interested to listen to the earlier debate about the Online Safety Bill, and I would like the Government to bring forward measures to ensure that online hate crimes and racism are tackled in legislation.
I thank the Member for making that important point. Does she agree that this is particularly applicable to many colleagues and friends in this place, the Scottish Parliament and other places who are BAME politicians, and particularly female BAME politicians?
The Member makes a very good point. We see this in relation not only to black, Asian and minority ethnic women politicians but to BAME women in any public-facing role. They are subjected to the absolute worst elements of the internet, and they must be protected. This applies especially to our young people looking to the future. Many of us have lived our lives without having to be online, but for many younger people that is a huge part of their life and we must ensure that they are protected.
A number of people are, sadly, no longer with us. One who was taken from us far too soon was Southfield Primary School headteacher Sarah Pollard. She was a fantastic advocate for young people in our town. Her influence, her lessons for life, her love of reading, her energy, her enthusiasm and her care for every single child she met will live on in future generations. I want to join her parents, Jean and Brian, in the calling on the Government to look at the lowering of the age for starting breast cancer screening to below 40. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South has already mentioned the passing of Lord Bill McKenzie and Councillor Paul Castleman, two men who served Luton for the best. One of the ways in which those we have lost to covid in Luton will be remembered is through the peace garden initiative, which will have a tree for every life lost in Luton. I know that fundraising is now taking place for the initiative, so please, please donate to it so that we can ensure that every life is remembered.
How do we best remember and pay tribute to those we have lost? To me, it is by creating a future better than what we have seen in the past. People have often said in the past year, “I want things to go back to normal. I want to go back to how things were before.” I do not want to go back to how things were before. I do not want to go back to what was normal, because I want better for the people of Luton North. We should be striving for better, because if we have learned nothing else over the past year we should have learned what is truly important, what truly matters and which people hold this country together.
One thing that is key to a better future is providing better education. We have wonderful educators in Luton, and we need to see the Government’s aspirations meeting the aspirations of young people in Luton North. I am so proud that we have one of the top education providers and the oldest sixth form in the country, Luton Sixth Form College. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South went there and is a governor; I was able to visit a few weeks ago and hopefully I will be going there tonight to watch “Matilda”.
One thing the college has asked for time and again is a protection for BTECs and a guarantee that they will continue. They are hugely popular and hugely successful in Luton, not only at Luton Sixth Form College, but at Barnfield College. I am so excited every time I drive or walk past Barnfield College, because there are loads of cranes and it looks really busy, but I know next year we will be opening the doors on a fantastic new college that lives up to the aspirations, dreams and future hopes of young people in Luton. When I went to Icknield High School, I got to see first-hand how fundraising and creativity went hand in hand to raise funds for the fantastic Keech Hospice Care.
Last week I went to Beechwood primary school, which had a sense of community and education together. I saw that first hand when I walked in to Venus class. The class were designing posters encouraging people either to come to this country, or to come to live in Luton, and all the words on the posters summed up what I think are the best, the lightest and the brightest bits of Luton. They had “community” and “friendship”—one lad had “football”—and they all had “opportunity”. That is exactly what those young people deserve. I do not want to go back to normal. I want to go better than what we had before, because those young people in Luton North deserve so much better.
I put on record my thanks to all the staff who keep us going here—the staff who keep us safe, the staff who keep us fed and the staff who keep us on the right track when we are going the wrong way—and I wish everybody a merry Christmas and a safe and happy new year.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate, but I share the views that have been expressed by many hon. Members and hon. Friends about Sir David Amess not being here with us. I have only been a Member of this place for a short while, but even after that short while, I felt it was a bit weird being here today. This debate cropped up on me. I had not really thought about it—in fact I only put in to speak a little bit earlier, because I forgot it was going to happen—and for a moment one of the things I remembered most about him was his contributions towards these debates. He will be missed forever, and it is on days like today when we especially remember him.
I have a few local issues and a few national issues. I have been pretty active in the Chamber this year. In my first year I was in this place, I made 86 interventions in different debates. I was quite pleased with that, bearing in mind that my predecessor made 82 and his main re-election claim was that he was the hardest-working MP in Suffolk. I was quite glad to get 86 in my first year. I think this year I have made about 79, so it has dropped a little bit, but normal service will be resumed next year.
I continue to be involved in campaigns in Ipswich. The funding of core public services continues to be a huge priority for me and many of my Suffolk colleagues. Just this week, me and all six of my Suffolk colleagues sent a letter to the Department for Education on special educational needs and disability funding. For whatever reason, young people with learning disabilities in Suffolk are probably the most poorly funded in the country—not just compared with large metropolitan areas, but compared with counties that are very similar to us. It makes no sense. My view is that, whatever their postcode, a young person with learning disabilities deserves exactly the same level of support as anybody else. It is not about taking away from other areas; we are just saying that young people with learning disabilities in Ipswich and Suffolk deserve the same support as anybody else with learning disabilities.
I am continuing my campaign nationally on learning disabilities. As a dyslexic and dyspraxic, I am a broken record on the Education Committee on those two issues. I was pleased when my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) announced that he is also dyslexic and that he is moving forward with the ten-minute rule Bill on the requirement to screen all primary school children for dyslexia. I was proud to co-sponsor that Bill, and I will continue to work closely with him on that important mission.
We know that around half of prisoners have dyslexia, and around four in 10 entrepreneurs have got dyslexia, so the stakes are incredibly high. Given the right support and with an early diagnosis, there is no reason why dyslexics cannot be among the most productive and creative people in our country. If they do not get the right support, they can often go in the wrong direction.
Like many hon. Members and hon. Friends in this place, I continue to be very active on the issue of cladding. I also eagerly await the further support that has been promised. Though many of my constituents have been supported through the building safety fund, many have not. I have been clear that I will continue to campaign on this issue, because I believe that no leaseholder should be left behind, and some have been—through no fault of their own. That campaign must continue.
I want to raise a slightly different issue on cladding. We have had a few examples where buildings have been successful in getting funding through the building safety fund, only for shrink wrap to emerge. One large tower block in Ipswich—St Francis Tower—was one of the first buildings in the country to get access to the building safety fund. That was good news, until shrink wrap covered the building and hundreds of residents were expected to live behind that for up to a year, with virtually no natural sunlight and very little air.
I have been clear in this place that I believe that Block Management UK and OANDA—the companies that have put shrink wrap on the building—have not behaved in an acceptable way. There are other buildings in Ipswich where this is happening. Those companies seem to have listened a little to the debates around what happened at St Francis Tower, and breathable material is shortly to be erected on another building in Ipswich. I went to see it, quite excited about this great development, but it was not that breathable. It is slightly better than the shrink wrap around St Francis Tower, but not by that much, to be honest.
My message to the Government is that Ipswich is ahead of the game when it comes to accessing the building safety fund. We have experienced some of these pains before other areas. I do not think it will be long until there are other hon. Members and hon. Friends raising exactly the same issues in this place. I have been looking to secure an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate to raise awareness of this issue. Yes, we have got to get money from the building safety fund, and dangerous materials do need to be removed, but we have got to carry out that work in a way that is sensitive to the mental health of the people who are expected to live in those buildings.
Freeports continue to progress; town deal projects continue to progress. Ipswich Town football club is mid-table in league one at the moment; it is not great. I was at a Charlton game recently at The Valley. We lost 2-0, but it was great to be with 3,000 Ipswich fans in strong voice. Not many of them actually recognised me; I seem to get recognised more at Portman Road than when I go to the away matches. I have been going despite the concerns about omicron. I will be at Portman Road this Saturday to see them—hopefully—defeat Sunderland. As a Newcastle United fan, I have two reasons to hope that Sunderland are unsuccessful on Saturday.
There are three more national issues that I want to touch on—things that I feel strongly about. One of them I have been banging on about quite a lot, but two of them, for whatever reason, I do not feel like I have had the opportunity recently to air my views in this place. I want to talk quickly about child cruelty. I know that many Members have mentioned this, but in the case of Arthur’s tragic death, I want to put on record how disturbed I was by that. I know we all know about what happened, but if Members have not listened to and seen the clips and the videos of the abuse that he suffered, my advice would be to do so, as difficult as it is, because we have to confront and not hide away from the horror of what happened.
I noticed yesterday that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) raised the case of Star Hobson at Prime Minister’s questions, which is also incredibly disturbing. It is enough to bring any of us to tears when we think about what must have been going through the minds of those young, defenceless people—how vulnerable they were, and how incapable they were of doing anything to protect themselves as horror was placed on them and there was no escape. Their last moments would have been feeling alone, desperate and unloved. It is vitally important that any failings in children’s services in those relevant local authorities are looked at urgently and lessons are learned so that this cannot happen again. We know that some of this was linked to the fact that lockdowns were taking place, so it is another very real reminder of the consequences of lockdowns and how some of the most vulnerable people in our society pay the greatest price and have done. We must do what we can to avoid them.
In terms of covid as an issue, it is in some senses good that this has been a positive debate. We all will do what we can to remain positive and, when we go back to our constituencies, to be positive and lift up people we meet with a bit of Christmas spirit and cheer, but it is quite sad, because for millions of people in this country, last Christmas was a very dark and depressing time. We were looking forward to having a Christmas that was much more normal, much more positive and much more festive. Like many Members, I have enjoyed over the past few weeks going to Christmas craft events, seeing Christmas decorations made and going to a number of different carol services. For one, I was asked to dress up as a wise man, which was an interesting costume, and give an incredibly long reading. It was an essay, which was quite difficult, but I got through it and I was pleased to have been able to do that.
My concern is that if we are not careful, this Christmas could be quite similar to last Christmas, and that is a sad thing. It is an incredibly challenging time for our hospitality sector at the moment and for many people who will test positive. Even if they do not get that ill from having it, they may have to spend Christmas alone, and there will be lots of people in that position.
It is important, though, that we accept the brutal realities of lockdown restrictions. For some people they may not be that bad, but for other people, the mental health consequences of lockdowns are debilitating. Even the fear of a lockdown and the uncertainty that surrounds whether one may or may not take place will be taking a great toll on the mental health of millions of people up and down the country. That is not to say that I think this is an easy situation or that we should not be concerned about the omicron variant; it is just to say that in any decision we make, we need to have a rounded debate and discussion in which all the factors are considered: the economic effects, the impact on livelihoods and the impact on mental health.
We need to begin to think about what the long game is here. When does it end? If it is the case that we can—I hope—get through the next few weeks without too much devastation in terms of economic effects and potential loss of life, there will be more variants. There will be another variant perhaps in two months’ time, three months’ or four months’ time that could have 31 mutations or 32 mutations. If we act and continue to act in a just-in-case way, I do not really see where this ends.
At some point, as a country and as a world, I think we need to figure out in the long term how we live with this. We all know people—there are millions of people in this country—who are shadows of the people they were 20 months ago; who have lost confidence, whose development has been stifled, and that is across all age groups. I have incredible concern about our young people and how their chances have been blighted. This is a difficult time for us, and I do not envy the Prime Minister being in the position that he is in. The ultimate responsibility lies at his door. As a Member of this place, I would just say, let us always think in the most rounded way possible. It has been a pleasure to contribute to the debate, local, national, light-hearted and much more serious and sombre.
With regard to child cruelty, I do think we need to look at children’s services. We need to prevent what has happened from happening again. We also need to look at whole-life tariffs. I think we would struggle to find a person in this country who would not accept that retribution does have a legitimate role to play in the justice system, particularly when it comes to the most heinous crimes and the most evil individuals such as the individuals behind the barbaric crimes that I outlined earlier in my speech.
We now come to the Front-Bench responses to the Christmas Adjournment debate.
It is a pleasure once again to be the SNP lead in the Adjournment debate. It was superbly led by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). He rightly started with a glowing tribute to Sir David Amess. I can only reflect that there will not be another summer or another Christmas in which I will be mentioned in the Southend newspapers because of my exchanges with Sir David. Indeed, last summer I made a wisecrack in here that somehow managed to find its way into every single newspaper in the UK, including in Southend when I compared the England football team’s penalty shoot-out record with the Southend trains. I can only say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that when Sir David saw me in September he very much approved and thanked me for the opportunity once again to mention the train service in Southend. I support the Backbench Business Committee in its request to name the Summer Adjournment debate after Sir David. That is very much a tribute. I can only feel sorry for his successor, whoever that may be. They will really have something to live up to. It was nice to hear all hon. Members mention Sir David Amess.
As the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) said, we are dealing with covid once again, and this new omicron variant. We need to hear from the Government fairly soon that they will have to support business and, indeed, workers. I hope they will take the opportunity to revisit the issue of the excluded—those 3 million people who have not received financial support during the pandemic. In the past 20 months we have seen the best in people.
I can think of organisations that have assisted the vulnerable in Glasgow South West, such as Govan HELP, which organises The Govan Pantry; the Crookston Community Group; SWAMP and G53 Together; the Threehills community supermarket, which is a thriving project that I am very much involved in; and the Drumoyne Community Council. They have made sure that the vulnerable have been protected, particularly when it comes to food.
People have a right to food. I am delighted that, in 2022, I will be working with the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union on its campaign on the right to food to ensure that those workers are aware of their rights. I support workers in the hospitality sector. The Government need to look at people not being given travel to get home at night from their place of work and the fact that people working in the hospitality sector on zero-hours contracts cannot afford food. It sickens me that they spend their shifts serving food that they cannot afford.
Perhaps in 2022, the Government will finally table their much-promised employment Bill to look at those indignities, because many indignities that we see in our society happen in the workplace. As the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) touched on, the covid pandemic has exposed inequalities, including in employment and employment practices. I hope that the Government will fix this country’s broken social security system.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) mentioned the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and ensuring that it is taken forward. It is harrowing for hon. Members to listen to constituents in our surgeries showing us the threats that their family members in Afghanistan have received about what will happen to them if the constituent does not go back to Afghanistan to face the Taliban. It is important that that work is done. I will certainly continue to raise issues with the Home Office and I will join him in ensuring that it puts the scheme in place. I am delighted that he and other hon. Members raised it.
That comes back to another of my wishes for 2022. The language of our politics is important, especially when we are discussing immigration and refugees. I place on record again that it is legal for people to seek sanction or asylum; it is not illegal and we should stop labelling people as illegal.
This year is the 25th anniversary of Show Racism the Red Card and I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group. I did a recent podcast with the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) where we mentioned that it is important to get the tone and language of our politics right when we are discussing those issues.
I have seen Show Racism the Red Card at a school in Glasgow South West telling schoolchildren in excellent terms the difference between an asylum seeker, a refugee and an economic migrant. The Deputy Chief Whip may want to invite it to this workplace to tell MPs that difference. Again, I hope that the Government will consider giving asylum seekers the right to work in this country after six months, because I think that they should have that right.
In general, the Government have had some recent difficulties. They seem to have engulfed themselves in sleaze and the perception of arrogance. There is a cost-of-living crisis. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) mentioned that we should do an assessment of Brexit and face the Brexit realities. The economy appears to be shrinking. The Government should consider their position in dealing with some of those issues and with the perception of the Government.
Of course, support for Scottish independence is rising to its highest levels, and whether or not there is a connection, I am very confident that, after the covid crisis is over, Scotland will become a modern, independent country.
The hon. Member for Harrow East, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) and others rightly mentioned something that I always mention: the role of constituency staff. The caseloads are increasing, and have increased in the past 20 months. Once again, my constituency office staff team have never been busier and they are the real heroes, as far as I am concerned. I thank Justina, Dominique, Keith, Tony, Greg and Scott for their work. They are led by our office manager, the great Roza Salih, who, unfortunately, was not elected to Scotland’s Parliament this year, but I am sure that she will be elected to her place very soon, because she deserves it.
In 2022, I hope that we will continue to ensure that not just Members of Parliament, but constituency office staff have the security measures that they need to continue to do their work. When I was first elected, I never contemplated having to deal with some of the security questions and measures that we now have to deal with.
The hon. Gentleman rightly mentions constituency security. He will know—I will have to raise this later—that contracts have changed, but we are still seeing unacceptable delays and works not being completed to our constituency offices, despite our consistently trying to get the authorities to act on it. Has he experienced that, and have any colleagues spoken to him about that problem?
I have experienced delays; I had a visit this week that I hope deals with that. Social media was touched on as well, and the abuse, threats and hateful conduct that we receive as Members of Parliament on social media will have to be looked at. That is seen not just by us, but by family members and constituency office staff, and I hope that some work will be done around social media.
It falls on me again to remind everyone that we go into a recess, not a holiday, and I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker and the Speaker’s team, the House staff, those who look after us and feed us, everyone’s constituency office staff across the United Kingdom, and right hon. and hon. Members a merry Christmas. I look forward to seeing them again in 2022.
It falls to me to respond on behalf of my party as the shadow deputy Leader of the House. Although I cannot promise to match the pizzazz of the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who was here earlier, I look forward to supporting her excellent work in holding the Government to account every sitting Thursday in 2022, just as she has done on Thursdays at business questions this year—in fact, not just on Thursdays or at Christmas, but all year round. I feel, however, that my appearance at the Dispatch Box, rather than in the Whips Office, should give hope to late developers everywhere.
Although the tone of these end-of-term debates is often more convivial than other exchanges that we have in this place, there is an air of sadness today. As someone who often takes part in the pre-recess Adjournment debates, like the hon. Member for Wantage (David Johnston), the loss of the late Member for Southend West, Sir David Amess,—is really keenly felt among us, as the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) rightly said. He was an ever-present master of these debates. His speeches were always fair, funny and passionate, and he unashamedly championed his beloved Southend and his constituents. His speeches were delivered with the customary grin and glint in his eye that we will all remember him for. We very much missed a speech from him today but his generosity and kindness to colleagues, and the contribution that he made in this House, is missed even more. I know that we will all send love to his family and friends.
As David Amess really showed us, these debates are a fantastic opportunity, as are business questions, for hon. Members to raise a whole range of issues. As the hon. Member for Wantage said, there are 40, 50 or 60 issues that a Member could raise, and let’s face it: this year we have had plenty of material to work with. Today, we have had some brilliant contributions from around the House on issues that are really close to Members’ hearts.
Turning to the Opposition Members who spoke, it was a real pleasure to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). He was a wonderful member of the shadow Leader of the House team, and my thanks to his staff for all the work that they have done. He talked with such pride about the contribution of community groups and schools in his constituency. I very much applaud his call to give the covid memorial wall a long-term future, and I wish him luck with that campaign.
It is always great to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) speak about the excellent work of community groups in her area. She is a fantastic local champion. I look forward to her securing a debate in this House on the contribution of charities and the support they need. It would allow me to speak, and to thank the unsung heroes in Newport East, including the food banks and charities doing so much great work, not least on an issue raised with me recently by the guides about access to banking services for small charities. I do hope she gets that debate.
Well done to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), who also spoke about local community groups, as well as a range of other issues. Well done to her also on her campaign to ban plastic in wet wipes. No one disagrees—she is quite right—and it would be worth spending a parliamentary life on that issue alone, so we look forward to her success. It was very interesting to hear of her experience of Bosnia. Her points on housing were well made, and I draw to her attention—and to the attention of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt), who spoke on the subject—the announcement made by the Welsh Government today on some of the housing and cladding issues we have heard about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) is a fellow Labour Whips Office colleague. We should thank our Whips across the House, and our advisers and civil servants who support our Whips Offices. My hon. Friend—I have to say that Luton was very well represented in this debate—is quite right about looking to see the light, and seeing the best in people who have really stepped up and stepped forward during the most difficult of times. I very much recognised her description of those weeks trying to help people home from Afghanistan. She was quite right to raise the issue of the disproportionate impact of covid on the disadvantaged, and the inequalities that that has exposed.
On the issue of Afghanistan, I very much agree with the hon. Member for Harrow East about the need for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. Having worked over the years with a number of Afghan interpreters who have settled in Newport East—we spent many years trying to reunite them with their families before this crisis—I think it is really important that we get this right. He also mentioned the biometric residency permits issue; many of the families, certainly in Newport, who did make it here to rejoin previously settled Afghan interpreters have been waiting in bridging hotels for many months for those permits. I do hope that the Deputy Chief Whip listens to that, because it is very important.
I commend, as I think all Members would, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for raising the really important issue of compulsory helmets for those involved in snow sports. He spoke about a really harrowing case—I know we would all send our love to the family—and he does the House great service by raising it.
It was extremely important to hear the right hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) speaking with such experience of the situation in Bosnia. He speaks with such expertise on defence issues generally, and his comments were echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney. He is quite right that Britain has a role to play, and we must save Bosnia from another disastrous war. I think many Members will reflect on his speech in the days to come, and it was a really important matter to raise.
I join in what the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) said about key workers and health workers. That gives me the opportunity to thank the staff at the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, GPs who are part of the booster programme, and all those key workers out there working with us at this time. I hope that the Deputy Chief Whip will note—this is for his black book —that the hon. Member for Eastleigh is a most assiduous attendee of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The hon. Member also talked about rail, which gives me the opportunity to ask the Government to look kindly on the campaign for a walkway station in Magor. I have raised that issue many times in the House; perhaps the Deputy Chief Whip can put in a word for me.
Last but not least, the hon. Member for Ipswich mentioned dyslexia, which is a really important issue to raise in the House. Many of my constituents will welcome that. I echo the points rightly made about security and abuse by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). I hope that the Deputy Chief Whip heard that, and that we continue to apply the pressure to get those things right.
As we close the curtain on 2021, colleagues around the House will be challenging the Government to do better in 2022 across a range of policy areas. One of the most basic things that the Government could do to help is improve engagement with Members on departmental answers and response times. I speak for many Members when I say that departmental response times for constituency queries have been a real concern this year—they are often raised in points of order in the House. The Home Office has been shocking—at some stages there have been about 8,500 unanswered queries from hon. Members in the system. We also have constituents waiting more than a year for cases with the Child Maintenance Service to be resolved, and there are unacceptable wait times from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, too. Let us hope for much better in 2022.
As I said, there is always plenty to raise with Ministers on these occasions, not least today, as in the last few days we have seen the Prime Minister suffer the biggest rebellion of the Parliament. As others have said, it has been up to the Opposition to show the leadership that the Prime Minister cannot. This week, as many have said, we have seen some of the worst leadership at the worst possible time. We need a serious Prime Minister for very serious times.
We cannot let an absent Chancellor off the hook, either, at a time when urgent clarification is needed on support for workers and businesses, when the threat that inflation poses for household bills looms large, and with a cost of living crisis as we head into the new year. With inflation at nearly decade-high levels, it will be a really difficult Christmas for many families. When businesses cannot trade properly, we cannot pretend that nothing has changed, and we cannot abandon them and workers at this time. It feels like the Government are in chaos with a Prime Minister who has lost his grip, and that working people are paying the price.
On a more cheery note, as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) put it so well, the glue that keeps the House together is all the people who work in it for us. May I therefore end by thanking staff across both Houses—the wonderful Doorkeepers, the security staff, the police, the catering staff, the cleaning staff, the Clerks, the Library, Hansard, broadcasting and those in many other roles—for all their tireless work to keep us safe and help us keep our jobs? My personal thanks to my team—Kath, Dan, Elaine, Sarah and Emma—and to hon. Members’ staff working in constituencies who are, as many said, on the very frontline for us in difficult times. Next year will be difficult, too.
If I may, I will thank one other team whose work in this place is often unseen but none the less vital. As the Chair of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, may I take the liberty of saying a very big thanks to counsel, the Clerks and the Committee, of which the hon. Member for Eastleigh is a member, for all the work that they do to scrutinise secondary legislation, especially at this time of emergency regulations? I recommend the Committee’s special report, “Rule of Law Themes from COVID-19 Regulations”, to the Deputy Chief Whip as interesting recess reading. It gives some pointers as to where the Government could improve, while appreciating the hard job that civil servants have in drafting legislation in the current difficult circumstances.
I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a safe recess. To you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the whole Speaker’s team, I say Nadolig llawen pawb.
Nadolig llawen i chi hefyd. I think it is about time that we heard from the man standing behind that tie: the Deputy Chief Whip.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to answer this debate.
I do enjoy these debates—not only do we get a great tour of the country, various issues, and the community work that goes on, but it is great to hear people talk so passionately about their constituencies. However, as others have said, something just is not the same this year: we have all rightly remembered our late friend Sir David Amess. I was always struck, as were others, by the speed at which he would give his speech, and not only because when I tried to list some of the things on which he needed responses, it was impossible for me to look through the file quick enough to find any meaningful answers. I often felt for the Hansard reporters who tried to record it word for word. He really used these debates superbly.
David was one of the many right hon. and hon. Members I see in this House working incredibly hard daily for their constituencies, often with very little praise—if anything, with lots of criticism. One thing that really struck me in the days that followed his death was that the tone changed very quickly, and people were appreciative of MPs and the work they were doing. Sadly, sometimes it does not last very long, and colleagues have yet again been subject to threats and abuse on social media. We have to do all we can to stop that happening, because I do not want people to be dissuaded from standing for election to this House. Our democracy is incredibly important and, as I say, I see on a daily basis people working incredibly hard for their constituencies.
I thank the Minister for raising that issue; it is very important. Will he join me in saying that not only Members of Parliament but constituency office staff should not suffer abuse? They are recognised in the community as members of an MP’s team.
Funnily enough, I was literally about to come to that. It is often our staff who see the abuse first. If the people who write the abuse think that our staff are not affected, they need only speak to my staff or, I am sure, anybody’s staff. They are affected. I thank all our staff for the work that they do.
David epitomised what I was saying about being a hard-working Member of Parliament. In these debates, he would always finish his speech on the subject of making Southend a city, and that is now happening—there is no greater honour to him. I hear loud and clear the calls for the summer Adjournment debate to be named after him in tribute, and I am sure that if it is the will of the House, there will be ways in which we can make progress on that.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving the Government’s view that we should rename the summer recess Adjournment debate after Sir David. One reason why we have made that suggestion is that there is not always a Christmas or Easter Adjournment debate, but there is always a summer one. Will my right hon. Friend find a way? Does there have to be a resolution of the House? Is this done by Government diktat? What do we have to do to make this happen—everyone agrees on it—for next summer?
My understanding is that it is a matter for the House. However, I will raise it with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
That was a timely intervention, because I was just about to refer to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I feel like I know Stanmore station extremely well, and he raises an important point about building on car parks. Many train stations across the country did just that, and they now regret it because we want people to use alternative modes of public transport to get to work.
I am glad my hon. Friend raised the important and concerning issue of the theft of catalytic converters by gangs.
My hon. Friend was not the only hon. Member to mention the Afghanistan resettlement scheme. The Home Office is working quickly to establish the details of the scheme. As we know, we are looking at 5,000 coming in during the first year, with 20,000 coming in over five years. We are working with partners such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to design and open the scheme, and further details will be announced by the Home Office. I will reflect to the Department the fact this was raised in a number of contributions to this debate.
My hon. Friend also raised the important issue of homelessness, and I congratulate him on his work and campaigning. Like me, he will be pleased that rough sleeping has fallen by 43% since 2017. Investment is going in, but I am under no illusion that there is still work to be done.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) talked about Christmas lights, and I think we all like that we have had some events to go to this Christmas. It was good to see a couple of thousand people, including families, coming out to enjoy the festivities in Guiseley.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) rightly talked about how schools and community organisations adopted COP this year. Pupils at so many of our schools took a great interest in COP, which shows the huge responsibility on our shoulders to ensure we tackle this important issue for their generation.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton also mentioned Sir Richard Leese, to whom I offer my congratulations on his lengthy service as leader of Manchester City Council. The Conservative group leader of Leeds City Council is celebrating 50 years of service, including more than 40 years as leader of the Conservative group, which is quite a phenomenal achievement. Councillor Andrew Carter has done a phenomenal amount of work, so I nick this opportunity to give him some credit.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) made a very important contribution on Louis Watkiss. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for his parents, Natalie and Chris, to lose their child in such an awful accident. When I worked in the children’s hospice movement, one of the things that hit me the most was when bereaved parents would tell me it was not just the loss of a child but the loss of their hopes and dreams for a life they thought would go further. I hope that out of this tragedy we can see some good. Clearly their campaigning with my right hon. Friend is important, and I will talk to the relevant Department to see whether an amendment to the law is practicable or whether the code of practice can be changed.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) made a powerful contribution. I suppose no one can talk about Bosnia with such experience, although I have learned that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) also has experience of Bosnia.
I have been to Bosnia a couple of times, and visiting Srebrenica is probably one of the hardest visits I have ever made. We went up to the village and met some of the mamas of Srebrenica. One of them told me that in one day she lost her father, her brother, her husband and her two sons. You just cannot imagine the atrocities. My right hon. Friend is right to raise this serious situation. The de facto secession attempt by Republika Srpska is something that the Government take very seriously. We are not complacent about it, and we condemn those threats. We fully support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. He rightly pointed out that we are working with our international allies and other partners, and mentioned the appointment of Sir Stuart Peach. Clearly, this is an important area of work. My right hon. Friend will know that the Foreign Secretary hosted Foreign Ministers from the western Balkans just this week to address these issues, but again, I will ensure that the serious points that he made are heard in Government.
The hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) talked, like many did, about the contribution of community groups. I think we have all been impressed at how much they have done to help so many people in our communities. I will certainly speak to the Leader of the House about her request for a debate on the contribution that such organisations have made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) complained that he has not yet received a Christmas card from me. All I can say is that all good things come to those who wait. In fact, I think everybody I know is still waiting for one; that is how far behind I am on my Christmas preparations. He is a doughty campaigner for his constituency. He talked about the housing issue, which I know he raises at every opportunity. He is also a doughty advocate for Southampton airport. The fact that he went to speak in support of it at 1 o’clock in the morning shows how much he clearly cares about that issue. His bid for the headquarters of Great British Railways to be in Eastleigh is noted. Just like the Christmas card, an early present cannot be forthcoming, but the bid is noted.
The hon. Member for Putney—from Pudsey to Putney —and others talked about the amazing contribution of staff and volunteers in getting the vaccine and the vaccine boosters out. We are so grateful for the amazing work that they are doing, and we are grateful to those who have been doing the community boxes. The wet wipes issue is one that I have personal interest in, in that—I had better clarify that—we had our niece living with us for about a year and, unbeknown to me, she was using them to remove make-up, flushing them down the toilet and clogging up the pipe. I just do not think people realise how destructive they are. Indeed, Yorkshire Water ran a very important campaign trying to highlight the issue. I will personally advocate for that campaign with the relevant Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) talked about three serious issues in his constituency, including the relief roads and the pensions issue. He talked about those who are involved in those campaigns feeling that they are not being listened to, but let me reassure those constituents of his that I have seen him at work in this House and I know that they have an MP who is diligent and relentless, who will ensure that their voice is continually heard.
The hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) talked about the Afghanistan resettlement scheme and all those organisations; I particularly enjoyed listening to her experiences at the various groups she has been to. I was touched by the case of the headteacher she talked about, and I will raise with the Department of Health and Social Care the suggestion about lowering the age of screening.
I listened to one of the first speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt), when he talked about learning disabilities. As a personal champion of that issue, he offers a great contribution to the House, and I know how passionately he cares about it. He also raised the awful cases of Arthur and Star. I have one regret in life, and that is that I am not a dad, because I think that is probably one of the best and most precious gifts you can have. I cannot therefore understand how anybody could do anything to hurt young children. I hope that we will all, in the memory of those children, do everything we can to ensure that such cases are never raised in this House again. Finally, I turn to the Front-Bench contributions from the hon. Members for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden). I think we will always disagree on the independence of Scotland. We had the referendum. I understood it was a once-in-a-generation referendum, and the answer was very clear. Both raised the important issue of security for MPs and MPs’ staff. I sit on one of the Committees concerned. We have to get reassurance to Members and their staff that when work that is needed is highlighted, it is enacted quickly. There have been too many delays, and I will continue to raise that. I will raise the issue about Departments’ responses with the Leader of the House.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and Mr Speaker for all your support and hard work over the past year. I thank the Clerks, who always offer us support and try to help us understand some of the mad rules that sometimes I cannot get my head around. I thank the Doorkeepers, who are always so polite and always help us when we need it, all the catering staff, and all the other staff in the House. I want to add my thanks to my staff—Steph, Penny, Kyle, Dawn and Simon, who work incredibly hard.
I hope everybody has a safe break. Our message should be to get boosted. The hon. Member for Luton North said that she wanted to talk about giving a bit of light, and you have also referenced this, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I thought I would activate my tie as I wish every right hon. and hon. Member a very merry Christmas and a superb new year. I look forward to seeing everybody again after the end of recess.
How do I follow that?
Everybody has mentioned Sir David, or thought of David, during this debate. I have chaired many Adjournment debates where David took part. It does not matter if you put a three-minute limit on David, he sees that as a challenge. He certainly does not reduce the number of issues, as you intimated, Stuart; he just rattles through them. Of course, today he would have carried on with his campaign to make Southend a city, and, more recently, to get a statue of Dame Vera Lynn on the white cliffs of Dover, which I heartily support. I also support the idea that has come forward that we change the name of the summer recess debate to one that contains Sir David’s name. Irrespective of whether that happens or not—and I think there would be a will of the House for it to happen—the spirit of David will always be in this Chamber during Adjournment debates.
I cannot compete with the tie, but I do have a hat. [Laughter.] There are 650 MPs, but thousands of people who work here to make sure that we can do our job. I want to wish everybody who works here, from the cooks to the cleaners to the Clerks—there are simply too many to mention—a very merry Christmas. It has to be better than last year. At least I am not going to have to kick my sister and brother-in-law out of the house after one day—that felt really awful. At least we are going to have a decent Christmas. I wish everybody a very, very happy and healthy 2022.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.