As I will not be in the Chair at the end of this debate, which is a great shame, I wish a very good recess to everybody here and to all the staff—from the cleaners to the Clerks and all our own staff—who do amazing work to keep parliamentary democracy going in this country. Have a great recess.
It is an honour for me to introduce the first ever Sir David Amess summer Adjournment. If David were still alive today, he would be here, and in the six-minute time limit he would have raised 35 issues, at least. We remember Sir David and his family with fondness today.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead the first Sir David Amess Summer Adjournment debate ahead of the summer recess. It has been and, having been recently re-elected, continues to be a great privilege to chair the Backbench Business Committee since 2015.
Like many colleagues across the House, I will pay tribute to Sir David Amess, a distinguished and respected Member who served on the Backbench Business Committee between 2012 and 2015. Those of us who worked closely with Sir David will know how passionately he felt about Back-Bench issues, and it is entirely fitting that today’s debate and future debates of this kind will carry his name. While we must not forget the tragic circumstances that led to his death, it is right that we remember his positive impact on this House and how enthusiastically he represented his constituents in both Basildon and Southend West throughout his parliamentary career. Like Sir David, I seek to represent the constituents of my hometown of Gateshead in this House and, frankly, to anyone anywhere who will listen.
Last week, it was with some dismay, but not with any great surprise, that I read research published by End Child Poverty in conjunction with the North East Child Poverty Commission. It found that 38% of children across the north-east are growing up poor. In my constituency, that rises to 42%—over four in 10 children living in poverty. The north-east is no stranger to child poverty, but we now have another unenviable award in having the highest rate of child poverty in the UK. The reasons are many, not least the stripping back of the social security safety net, which has worsened poverty across my constituency, the effective £20 cut to universal credit, the two-child cap on universal credit, and the failure to increase payments in line with inflation for much of the past decade.
The apparent attitude across Departments seems to be to spend more effort looking for reasons not to give a positive response than actually tackling vital issues. In addition, we have seen over a decade of cuts to local authority budgets. Perhaps coincidentally, some areas with the greatest deprivation, such as Gateshead, have been subjected to proportionally much greater funding reductions. My own authority in Gateshead has seen its annual budget reduced by £170 million since 2010, even before increased population, greater levels of need and inflation are taken into account. That is £170 million a year extracted from my authority’s budget since 2010.
This Government’s funding model gives vague initiative funding which councils can bid for, only to find that much of the pot wends its way to favoured areas in, I am afraid to say, a pork barrel process. Even if some of that funding finds its way to us, it does relatively little to combat more than a decade of service cuts. Cuts to adult social care, children’s social care, youth services, early intervention proposals, special educational needs and family support all contribute to the situation we now face. Many families are in crisis.
The current cost of living crisis for many households in Gateshead is just acidic icing on an already bitter cake. Many families in Gateshead have spent a decade living from one week to the next, shaving ever more from their weekly shop, depriving themselves of food so they can feed their families, and going to bed early on winter evenings to save heating their homes. That is absolutely shameful and unsustainable. The fact that over 40% of children in my constituency live in poverty is unforgivable.
Gateshead is proud of taking an active role in Government resettlement schemes for families from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. These additional people are all being welcomed, but it is already a relatively poor community. While I welcome the wraparound support offered as part of those schemes, I draw the House’s attention to the hundreds of legitimate refugees from around the world outside these schemes who reside in Gateshead, many of whom are stuck in the Home Office processing backlog.
I want to raise the case of a lad called Victor—I call him a lad, but he is now over 60—who has been living in my constituency since 2006. Originally from Russia, Victor arrived in the UK after fleeing Russia and Putin due to his public criticism of the Russian regime—free speech is something we talk about so much in this House. Victor applied to the Home Office and has spent much of the last 16 years waiting for decisions. He still does not have leave to remain. Having spent much of his recent life in Gateshead, supported briefly by the Home Office and, after that, compassionately by Gateshead Council, sustaining him on just £30 a week, Victor is no further forward after 16 years.
The Home Office continues to refuse to grant him the right to stay in the UK, but at the same time recognises that Russia is not a safe place to deport him to, especially for those who are critical of the regime. It is not right that people like Victor, who come to the UK with a legitimate right to apply for asylum here, are left in limbo, not to say abject poverty, unable to work, unable to settle here and unable to build a home for fear of removal, yet left for nearly two decades in no man’s land. The recent illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine by Putin has thrown into stark relief the systematic suppression of human rights, civil liberties and freedom of speech in Russia. The circumstances in Russia were never good, but they have changed for the worse. Let Victor stay in Gateshead.
I, too, thank the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the name of this debate. On this Thursday a year ago, David Amess finished his speech with the words, “make Southend a city”, and that has happened, at great cost to him.
The previous debate was about Sergei Magnitsky, Bill Browder and others. Nine years after Sergei Magnitsky was killed, Bill Browder was arrested in Madrid on a Russian order. I pay tribute to the then Foreign Secretary, now the Prime Minister, who, within hours, took a call, took action, and got him released. That is one of the examples of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, acting fast and effectively and, on behalf of Bill Browder, I am grateful for it. International action can work.
I want to refer back to the exchanges we had this morning on the national holocaust memorial. When David Amess and I were first elected, if the Government lost a High Court case they paid attention. They have lost two on this.
I ask the Government to read the specification issued by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, a Government agency, in September 2015. There was no suggestion then that Parliament had to be the place where the memorial was put.
As I described earlier, the acceptable areas included the whole of Regents Park, Hyde Park, out into Spitalfields, and down to the Imperial War Museum. Between September 2015 and January 2016, it became an accomplished fact that it could only go in Victoria Tower Gardens. I asked questions about this when it was first mentioned in Downing Street or in whatever was then the responsible Ministry, but there was no answer at all. That is a cover-up.
No Department wanted to have responsibility for this project. In the National Audit Office report issued on 6 July this year, that is spelled out in polite language. I hope that the Public Accounts Committee will ask the NAO why it did not compare the specification in September 2015 with what is on offer now, which is a third of the size but still far too big for Victoria Tower Gardens. I encourage the Government to look at this, as though from the beginning, to see how soon we can have a memorial of an appropriate type in the appropriate place, and have the learning centre and spend most of the money on education. Those are the tests that the House ought to agree on.
A week ago, I raised with the Prime Minister the question of planning inspectors doing incompatible things in relation to Chatsmore Farm on land north of Goring station in my constituency. He said that I would be able to talk to the relevant Minister. The relevant Minister took 17 minutes to resign.
I would therefore be grateful if my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House could arrange for a substitute to talk to me, and at the same time get together the Department for Transport and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities over planning assumptions on traffic. The A27 is in my constituency and beyond. In my constituency, nothing is happening; beyond, in Arundel, the Department for Transport will not take account of the planned houses that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is forcing on Arun District Council.
We cannot have two Departments working on incompatible figures, especially when the result is a loss to the local community. Will the Minister ask those two Departments to pay attention to a letter from Karl Roberts of the directorate of growth at Arun District Council, and get this sorted out? It ought to be fairly simple: the higher figure should be taken into account when a national road is going through a local area.
On Chatsmore Farm, I still wait to hear that the Government will accept that we cannot allow one planning inspector to say that houses can be built on a protected area, when it was protected before and will be protected again when a second inspector finishes his examination of a council’s plan. It is wrong that any developer should be able to get away with that. If they do, in every field, every vineyard, every nursery and every golf club in my constituency and in other people’s constituencies in England, the same thing will happen. It has to be stopped. If land is available and suitable for housing, fine, but if it should be protected and for some technical reason it is not for a short period of time, then protection is needed.
I turn to the curiosity of environmental networks, including the Conservative Environment Network, trying to ask a Secretary of State to talk about the Drax power station and whether burning wood that has been transported across the Atlantic is in any way defensible in terms of climate change.
My understanding is that the Secretary of State has had 30 meetings or more with Drax, while letters from a number of MPs over the last year still have not produced a meeting. Is there some reason why the Secretary of State is not meeting me and others? Is it because the Government have not developed a policy, or that they realise they do have a policy but it is indefensible? Anything ought to be able to stand up in a discussion with colleagues, so I repeat my request for that to happen.
I want to finish by saying that Members of Parliament obviously have the job of supporting their party when in government—I do that with enthusiasm—but when I am in the Chamber arguing for my constituents, I want the Government to pay attention.
My final point is one of simple justice. My constituent David Parker lost his money because the Financial Conduct Authority and the courts made mistakes. The judge in the case told the Lord Chancellor please to sort it out and give him the money that the court cannot order. I do not want to hear any Secretary of State say that we will not ask how we could do that if we chose to. For someone to say, as was indicated to me, that they will not even ask how we could do that, is an injustice.
Our job in Parliament, whether we are lawyers or not, is to bring justice and law together. Ministers need to be imaginative in making sure that my constituent David Parker gets his money.
I want to raise a number of issues in the Sir David Amess Summer Adjournment debate. One is the issue of passport delays, which is affecting many of our constituents.
Yesterday, at the Home Affairs Committee, the head of HM Passport Office acknowledged that there was a backlog of over 500,000, despite constant reassurances from the Government Front Bench that passport applications were being dealt with within 10 weeks. The backlog is having a real effect on people’s ability to travel not just on holiday but to family funerals and so on. That is unacceptable. I was the last passports Minister in the last Labour Government, so I know there is a predictable upsurge in demand—we saw it after the banking crisis—and it could have been predicted. It reflects some of the challenges raised by a drop in staffing numbers and without enough of a plan to increase them in time. The Passport Office has always been very good at going with the ebb and flow, so the situation is shocking. I hope that in the few weeks of the summer recess, the Government will get a grip of the issue to ensure that, even if many people are, sadly, still unable to go away on holiday or to visit family, it will be sorted by the autumn.
Another key issue in the Home Office—there are so many—is immigration. I am one of the top six customers, if you like, as a Member of Parliament on immigration issues in the Home Office. There is delay, inaction, inaccuracy and lives being wrecked all over the place. The Syria resettlement scheme was, as the Public Accounts Committee highlighted, run quite well, and we have now had the Afghanistan and Ukraine resettlement schemes, but all of them have knocked out the normal day-to-day work done to support family visas and other immigration cases. I have people living in limbo, unable to get on with their lives, their children unable to go on school trips or to universities. A women wrote to me just today, hoping that her partner would be able to come here as she is due to give birth in Homerton Hospital. She has been told that the 12-week wait for a family visa has now been extended to 24, blowing out their careful planning to make sure they could be settled and together as a family for the important occasion of the birth of their first child. That is just one example out of many of where lives have been wrecked.
On the Afghanistan resettlement scheme, the Syrian resettlement model was well-worn and worked pretty well. The Public Accounts Committee gave it a fairly good thumbs up—although there are always issues on which we want to see improvements—so there was a blueprint in place, yet in a hotel in Old Street in my constituency, Afghan families and individuals have been stuck since last August, unable to move on. We are getting to the one-year anniversary—not a birthday we want to celebrate. While of course we all recognise the challenge and vital importance of supporting our Ukrainian neighbours in their need, the excuses coming out of the Home Office—“We are dealing with these issues, but we have delays because of Ukraine”—are just not acceptable. This is the British Home Office. It should be able to deal with more than one issue at a time. However, we are repeatedly seeing a version of whack-a-mole, in which an issue arises and everyone is shipped over to deal with that issue while other people wait in the queue. These people are stuck, they are living in limbo, and, as I have said, they are suffering devastating consequences. It is a litany of poor communication and delay, and it is having a huge impact on people’s lives.
I have been an immigration Minister, and if someone does not qualify to be in the UK that is fine, but many people who do qualify are sitting in limbo as they wait to renew a leave to remain application which is very unlikely to be refused. What a poor welcome to our country—a country that is built on the shoulders of many migrants. Indeed, we have a candidate for its leadership whose parents entered the UK from another country, and have created a life and a potential new Prime Minister. We should be doing much more to welcome these people.
I do not lay all this on the staff. There have been staff cuts in the Home Office, and indeed across the civil service. Civil service staffing fell to its lowest ever level before 2016 and, although there has been an increase since then, largely connected with Brexit and trade issues, the Government’s proposal to remove 20%, 30% or 40% of officials from Departments poses a real challenge. The Government need to be clear about the consequences of those potential cuts.
Climate change is obviously a huge issue for us all, and I am very concerned about the Government’s repeated failure on home insulation, which is an issue in my constituency and across the country. We have seen a number of failed projects, but the Government now have an opportunity to kick-start the economy. I make this plea now in particular because by the time we return in September we will have a new Prime Minister to hear how we can create jobs, growth and opportunity for people by ensuring that we can get that insulation into people’s homes. Emissions from properties constitute 19% of total emissions, and that needs to be tackled, but it will not be tackled unless we get this right.
As the Public Accounts Committee pointed out in a report published a while ago, the Government have plans for electric vehicles but no real plans for a charging structure. How are people going to make the leap into buying electric vehicles unless they can be sure that they can charge them?
These are small but clear examples of the need for us to turn the challenge of achieving net zero into something that is manageable, meaningful and affordable for the people who need to make those moves in order for us to achieve it. This cannot be done to people; they have to be empowered to do it, and the Government are not helping in that regard. They are missing a real opportunity to drive green jobs, growth and investment.
Finally, I want to reiterate my concern about people living in flats in my constituency. I declare an interest, in that I live with a communal heating system and with cladding—although that is fast being removed from my building by the developer, which, happily, is not charging my neighbours and me.
Communal and district heating is not covered by the energy price cap. Let me give some of the worst examples of what is happening in my constituency. One constituent faces a 600% increase in his gas bill. Another has a well-paid job but is still struggling, with energy prices rising by 400%. In a third case, the increase is over 100%. It is very difficult to absorb such prices during the current cost of living crisis. The Government have said that they will change this eventually, but they need to provide support now for people with communal heating systems, who are really struggling.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier), the redoubtable Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, on which I also serve. I entirely empathise with her points about passport delays.
Let me begin by thanking Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House and the House authorities for very kindly naming this debate in memory of my great friend Sir David Amess, who remains sorely missed across this House, not least by me. This was already known unofficially as the Sir David Amess debate because of the inimitable style in which he conducted it, but it is wonderful to know that what was unofficial is now official, and I simply say thank you.
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, I wish to raise a mere four issues. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), who now represents part of the new city of Southend, has been campaigning hard for the release of Government funding to help expand capacity at Southend Hospital. I—along with my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) and for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), have been supporting her in her campaign. I was delighted to hear only this morning that she has apparently been successful in her efforts, and that the funding is now very close indeed to being released. This sum, totalling over £7 million, will pave the way for a much-needed expansion in capacity, so I hope it will go some way to help ease the considerable pressures on Southend Hospital and the ambulance service. I think that Sir David Amess would have welcomed this crucial funding, too, and, knowing him, I think he would immediately have asked for more.
Secondly, I very much welcome the fact that Rochford District Council has recently announced that it will reopen the popular Mill Hall arts and community centre in the heart of Rayleigh in September. This has been an issue of considerable concern to many of my constituents, and I thank the council, led by Councillor Simon Wootton, for doing the right thing. In the longer term, I understand that the council is now looking at plans to materially refurbish the Mill Hall, and perhaps even extend the building slightly in order to provide some new facilities. Only yesterday, the council began a community engagement programme to invite interested parties to bid to run the Mill Hall in the future. I very much hope that the council will also launch a further detailed consultation once the refurbishment plans have evolved, so that all of my constituents in and around Rayleigh can have their say, as this is an issue that really matters in the town.
Thirdly, I turn to the Home Office’s initial proposals to house cross-channel asylum seekers at the Chichester Hotel near Wickford. I have received a considerable number of emails about this plan from very concerned constituents. Let me put firmly on the record my strong opposition to these misguided proposals. Many constituents have raised worries about the hotel’s conditions, previous cancellations of events there without proper reimbursement, and, most alarmingly, staff redundancies with little or no notice. There have also been worrying allegations, including by former staff, concerning irregularities in the payment of tax and national insurance by the hotel management.
I have attempted via my office to contact the owners of the Chichester Hotel on multiple occasions to seek urgent answers to those very alarming suggestions, yet they continue to ignore requests for clarity and answers from me, as the locally elected MP, and, indeed, from the local and now even national press. Given all of that, I have requested an urgent meeting next week with the Minister for Immigration, in which I will seek to ascertain the exact details of these initial proposals, alongside taking the opportunity, in my usual understated manner, to raise my objections face to face.
We must tackle the vile industry of people trafficking across the channel. It is a form of moral blackmail and has led to many sad deaths already. In the medium term, I believe that we must use the arrangements with Rwanda to break the business model of these awful human traffickers, in which case accommodation such as that at the Chichester would no longer be required.
Fourthly, Sangster Court is a sheltered housing unit in Rayleigh, run—allegedly, at least—by Notting Hill Genesis. This housing association has frequently increased the charges that the elderly residents have to pay, even once charging one resident 79p for depreciation on a communal sofa. This is why some people now refer to the building as “Gangster Court” instead. On top of this, Notting Hill Genesis has consistently had a poor maintenance record. For example, it recently left the building’s communal TV aerial broken for three weeks, despite frequently milking the residents of ever-increasing charges. I can only express the hope that Notting Hill Genesis will soon be overtaken by a larger and more professional housing association that will do a much better job for my constituents.
Finally, it is a great pleasure to see the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) at the Dispatch Box. I think he knows already that I got married recently to a wonderful girl called Olivia, and what Mrs Francois wants to know is: can he promise me, all of Sir David’s friends and colleagues and this House that this will now be known as the Sir David Amess debate forever, because I think that that is the answer we would like to hear?
Like everyone, I think, I am very pleased to be speaking in the Sir David Amess debate. We were both regular contributors to whingeing gits afternoons before each recess—that is the name that we used to refer to these debates. Although we were regulars—the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) referred to this—I might get in, like the right hon. Gentleman, four or five issues, David would get well into double figures. If I tried to match his batting average, we would probably still be sat here on 5 September when Parliament returns. He was brilliant. He was also one of my neighbours at one time as well.
I want to mention one or two local issues. The first is the planned rebuild of Whipps Cross Hospital in my constituency. This has been promised for some years. It was one of those announced by the Prime Minister some time ago, but the finance has not come through from the Treasury. There has been no explanation for this. The demolition of some of the buildings at Whipps Cross has already commenced, so, as Members can imagine, Barts NHS Health Trust is in a fairly tricky situation.
Let me move on now to the actual plans, which have been in place for some time, but, hopefully, will be changed. I support the construction of a new hospital, but the original plans set out that the number of beds will be cut by 50. In the light of covid, the idea that we can cut hospital bed numbers, which has always been questionable, today seems to be barking mad. The trust has given a very vague undertaking that the bed numbers will be maintained at the level they are at now, but, as I say, that has been very vague and very carefully worded, and I will hold the trust to it.
There is also the plan to break up the Margaret Centre at the hospital, which is an end-of life care centre and is one of the best in the country—I think I can say that with some confidence. I have had emails and letters from people whose relatives have died in the Margaret Centre, all of them praising it, and now the plan is to break up that centre. It will fail. It will backfire. The trust needs to address it now and reverse that decision as soon as possible.
The second issue is that of overflying, which is a big issue in my constituency and for many others in east and south London. The planes that I am talking about go to and from City of London airport. The overflying has been an issue, I think, since the time I was elected, or very soon after. It started to be raised with me, and I then raised it with successive Mayors of London and with Government Ministers. Now City of London airport wants to increase the number of planes flying over east London from 6.5 million to 9 million. That is a huge increase. It involves getting rid of the present curfew, so there will be flights on Saturday afternoons and evenings and an increase in flights in the early morning and late evening. That will make life difficult for the people I represent, but there is also a question, which we are all talking about, of whether, particularly after the extreme weather that we have witnessed recently, we can just keep sticking more and more planes up in the sky, spreading toxic fumes over the country. That has to be, at very best, deeply questionable.
The next issue is not actually a constituency matter. I was the MP for Hornchurch until 2005 when I was ejected—I am not bitter or anything. In my then constituency was the village of Wennington. Members will have all read in the news about the fire that raged through Wennington. I have very happy memories of Wennington and my heart goes out to the people who live there.
My successor in Hornchurch was James Brokenshire. I know that if James were alive today he would be talking about Wennington as well, even though the constituency of Hornchurch was broken up by the Boundary Commission, so James was the last MP for Hornchurch. The MP now is my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas). I know that he has been run ragged by dealing with the after-effects of the fire and by the fire in Dagenham as well.
The last issue I want to raise is, again, not a constituency matter, but it is something that should really affect us all. I am talking about the grooming gangs in Telford, which have been across the news in the past few days and weeks. We have had cases all over the country. This happens again and again. It is the same pattern: a case is raised, ignored, raised, ignored and, eventually, there is an investigation. That leads to people being jailed, but we have years of rape, abuse, sexual exploitation of young girls and it not being addressed. I am bringing this up now because I want to pay tribute to the first person who raised this, which was more than 20 years ago, and that was my mum. She was the MP for Keighley at the time, and she discovered that this was going on because seven women walked into her advice surgery and started talking about it; their daughters were the victims. Again, there was the usual pattern: she raised it with social services and the police and was ignored, ignored, ignored. She then went public and, to their—hopefully—eternal shame, certain figures in the Labour party attacked her for being a racist. Although a number of figures did not support her, one did: the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett.
I thank the hon. Member for the point that he is making. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) is still dealing with some of these issues today. What the mum of the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) did back then is so important—thank you very much.
I am grateful for that intervention. I was going to mention the hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore), because I have talked to him about this issue, and it is very much in his mind. He has raised it again and again, as have many MPs, but I wanted to pay tribute to my mum because she happens to have been one of the first people who raised it.
David Blunkett is owed our eternal gratitude, because he ensured that the law was changed so that six men could be sent to prison for crimes of rape, exploitation and underage sex. I suspect that if it were not for David, who is now in another place, that court case could have collapsed, as could future court cases. I will not name any of the people responsible, but the people—sadly, from my party—who lined up to attack my mum and smear her as a racist and for doing the British National party’s job for it should hang their heads in shame.
I have just emerged from conducting a leadership contest in Parliament before we rise for the summer recess. Had you not been elevated to your current position, Mr Deputy Speaker, no doubt you would have been alongside me carrying out that process. I am very relieved that, as per usual, we have delivered on time and within budget, with two candidates going forward to the country.
I will start with a number of subjects relating to Transport for London. We still have an extension to the current arrangements under which the Government have provided £5 billion to TfL to keep it going, but we still have no long-term agreement. It appears that the Labour Mayor of London refuses to do what is required, which is to make economies and produce more revenue for TfL. He refuses to take any action on fares, pensions and some of the rather bizarre working arrangements that exist for TfL. We are seeing the effect of that. During the recent heatwave, services were being reduced even before we got to the state where, when temperatures reached 25°, services were cancelled or altered. The Mayor is now proposing a managed decline of bus services in London, which will damage the system still further. It is clear that the Government need to reach an agreement with the Labour Mayor of London to ensure that we have a long-term arrangement.
As Members who regularly attend these debates will know, I always raise Stanmore station.
As a fellow London MP, I want to be clear with the hon. Member: no one wants to see buses cut. Is he asking the Government for more money for London to make sure that we backfill the loss of fares as a result of covid? That will mean that the buses do not have to be cut. The Government’s funding is causing the problem, so is he asking for more money?
Clearly, Transport for London finances need to be put on a proper footing, and the capital funding that will be required is the most important aspect for the long term. The suggestion at the moment is that Crossrail will be the last investment in London for a very long time. That is the principal concern.
As I was saying, the Mayor of London wanted to build tower blocks all over Stanmore station car park. I am pleased to say that Harrow Council—then under Labour control—rejected that planning application. The Mayor called it in and the developer has now pulled out because they cannot make the financial scheme work, so it is in a state of limbo. He also suffered defeat on Canons Park station. Once again, he wanted to build tower blocks in the car park but was defeated at the planning committee. They are not content and have come back with another proposal for Queensbury station car park, again, for tower blocks on the car park. There is a trend, and it is not providing any new homes for anyone, because the plans will constantly be stalled and prevented by the local authorities concerned.
I am pleased that the new Conservative regime in Harrow has made a great start following the elections in May, with the pledges that were made to the electorate being honoured already. One hour of free parking outside shops will be implemented from 1 August, in record time. There will be a ban on tall buildings in Harrow, so we will no longer see buildings above six storeys built. Tower blocks end up, I am afraid, as ghettoes and in the social discontent that we regularly suffer in London. The council is also combating fly-tipping, with the introduction in September of free bulky waste collections from homes. Those are all new initiatives.
I must declare an interest: my wife was elected to the council to represent the good voters of Edgware. She topped the poll in that ward, which was historically a safe Labour seat. She is now in charge of trying to sort out customer contact—Harrow Council’s email traffic and its telephone system. I wish her well in that regard, because the system has been dreadful; people wait on the phone for 45 minutes and then they get cut off. I am certain that that is all going to change.
Let me turn to some of the problems we are suffering in the constituency. I very much echo what the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) said about passports. Even people who have paid for the priority service are not getting the service within the promised timeframe. That is scandalous. There seems to be a lack of co-ordination and communication, because the Home Office says one thing to constituents and another thing to my office. That cannot be right. Yesterday, at the hub in Portcullis House, staffers waited up to four hours to see someone. It just cannot go on like this. We have even had delays with applications for biometric cards. One constituent has been stuck in Turkey since Christmas; they are still waiting and cannot get home to be with their family. That must change.
There are still 12,000 Afghan refugees stuck in hotels. We have one case of an 11-year-old boy who was unfortunately put on a plane to France instead of the UK. He is still in France and has not been reunited with his family. The bureaucracy is a nightmare. We need to get that resolved. I have just had an excellent briefing from my new friends in Harrow Council—the officers—on what we are doing on Ukrainian refugees. I will be writing to the Minister concerned with a lot of proposals for what needs to happen and change.
I had the pleasure on Monday of meeting former Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. One thing about Israel is that they love elections. The one thing I hope they never inflict on us is their voting system, because we would perennially be in elections here. It was a great pleasure to meet ex-Prime Minister Netanyahu. I wish him well and I hope that Likud is returned to power in the forthcoming election.
The Javed Khan tobacco control review was published recently. Unfortunately, because of the current position in the Government, we are not seeing any movement on that. I hope that the Government will come forward speedily and implement the review’s recommendations without too much delay.
I shall be spending the summer in the constituency. I am delighted to say that I have had a record number of applications for work experience with me—no fewer than 56. Those people will be out on the streets with me, meeting the voters.
Finally, I trust that now we have a new Deputy Leader of the House, he will implement without delay the business of the House Committee that he pledged to introduce a long time ago.
Diolch, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I join those who have already spoken in saying what an honour it is to participate in this Sir David Amess summer Adjournment debate? I liked David a lot. He was a gentleman who earned respect across the House and an MP whose support for his community was unwavering, and his integrity and principle are greatly missed in this place. Our paths crossed, as mine often does with Conservative Members, because I truly believe that success comes from working cross party.
Everything I have achieved in the past seven years has been through cross-party working, and I count many people on the Benches opposite as friends. I have no doubt that many of them are as disappointed as I am that long awaited and important legislation has been sidelined because of internal issues in the Conservative party. In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives committed to
“legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.
Unfortunately, this week’s greatly anticipated White Paper on gambling did not transpire. The call for evidence on the gambling review closed 16 months ago and the publication of the White Paper has now been postponed four times, initially due to covid, then a change in Minister and now because of their internal party situation. There are now just two candidates remaining in the battle for the Conservative leadership, both of whom stood for Parliament on the 2019 Tory manifesto. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that they believed in the pledges that their party made and, along with their leader at the time, were committed to the urgent and long overdue need for gambling reform.
I have spoken many times about why this is so urgent; why we need online stake limits and affordability checks; why gambling advertising, particularly on premier league football shirts, needs to be curbed to protect children and those most vulnerable to harm; why we need a statutory levy to ensure that those in the industry who cause the most suffering make the biggest contributions towards research, education, and treatment; and why we need an independent ombudsman to guarantee that those who seek redress are supported in their cases against multi-million pound global organisations. I have lost count of the number of times that I have had to defend myself against those who say I am anti-gambling or a prohibitionist. That could not be further from the truth. I am not anti-gambling, but I am anti-harm, anti- exploitation and anti the vultures who prey on the most vulnerable and are responsible for untold heartache.
On menopause—my favourite subject—I welcomed most of the women’s health strategy announced this week. But it lacked proposals that would have been most welcome in connection with menopause care. I was pleased to welcome a commitment to improving the training for doctors of the future, but that is little consolation to women who are struggling now to get a diagnosis and medication. I am delighted that doctors of the future will be trained to identify the menopause, but we cannot wait another seven years—we desperately need an urgent pathway for women to get the proper treatment and resources that they need now.
I was also pleased to see the strategy officially set out plans for the single annual prescription prepayment charge, which came about as a result of my private Member’s Bill last year. Again, my delight is tinged with frustration that women are having to wait 18 months. England is the only part of the United Kingdom that charges women for hormone replacement therapy, and that needs to be remedied as a matter of urgency. There was no mention of a much-needed public awareness campaign to ensure that more women are alert to the symptoms and are given the confidence to seek the support they need, nor of a national formulary to end the postcode lottery not just in the availability of HRT, but also its quality. All women should have access to quality body-identical HRT. No woman should have an inferior product because of where she lives.
Finally, I come to my summer scheme to feed children. I want to put on record how pleased I am by the generosity of organisations in my constituency, such as Coastal Housing, Mecca Bingo, Hygrove Homes, Gowerton Golf Range and Admiral Insurance, and my gratitude to my team as we will spend the next six weeks making sandwiches, packing lunches and delivering them to children across my constituency who otherwise might not be fed during the summer holidays.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for that extra minute. I add my words of tribute to Sir David Amess and his work in this House. This event is not the same without him. He is sadly missed.
I will not detain the House for too long—hopefully not for the full six minutes—but I have two particular issues relating to rail. The first is a constituency matter concerning the services provided by TransPennine Express. The most important service between Cleethorpes, Grimsby and the rest of the country is provided by what should be an hourly train between Cleethorpes and, until recently, Manchester Airport. The service to the airport was curtailed as a result of congestion in the Manchester area. The change is, to put it mildly, inconvenient for passengers and represents a loss of revenue for the rail company. I hope that it can be resolved in the fairly near future. As I said, the service should be hourly, but cancellations frequently stretch that to three or four hours. Staff at Grimsby Town station told me of one recent occasion of six hours without a train. That is quite simply not good enough.
I want to highlight this appalling set of circumstances. I frequently meet the TransPennine Express management, and I recognise the difficulties, but I was told in May that we would be almost back to normal from the start of the summer timetable in mid-May. Some months ago, an amended timetable was printed, which I was told would provide certainty; it has done the exact opposite. The situation is unsatisfactory, and I hope that the Department for Transport will side with the passengers on this one. I do recognise, as I said, that TransPennine Express has had difficulties, and it is doing its best to overcome them. My job is to speak up for my constituents, and they are getting an absolutely appalling service. If the only solution for DFT is to reconsider whether the franchise should be withdrawn, then that is the action that needs taking.
Hopefully, LNER is going to provide a direct service from next May between Cleethorpes and London, via Market Rasen in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). That is in the draft timetable, but I know there have been difficulties at Market Rasen.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a notable champion, for giving way. This is a really difficult issue. We have been campaigning for years to get a direct service from Grimsby and Cleethorpes, through Market Rasen and Lincoln, and on to London. This is a population of a quarter of a million with no direct service. Unbelievably, LNER is now saying that it will provide the train, but it will not stop in my constituency. It is absurd. Apparently, the train is too long. I have been in many trains where an announcement says, “You have to go to the first four carriages because the platform is a bit short,” but for ridiculous health and safety reasons, LNER is threatening not to stop in my constituency. It is an outrage, and I hope the Minister is listening and will do something about it for once.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He is absolutely right, but can I return to TransPennine Express and the appalling service that it is providing?
This is not just about passengers at the main stations, such as Cleethorpes, Grimsby and Scunthorpe, because little information is provided at intermediate stations such Habrough and Barnetby. Local taxi drivers tell me time and again that they receive calls from stranded passengers. Even at the major interchange in Doncaster, there are no TransPennine Express staff to direct people to taxis or buses, and there is a notable lack of information.
Moving on to another rail issue, the taxpayer contributes an enormous amount of money to support this country’s rail system, but—I know the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), shares this concern, because I have had numerous conversations with her about this—train companies are losing revenue because of the noticeable lack of ticket inspections. Up and down the country, there are many barriers at main railway stations such as King’s Cross, and they are frequently open, so people can wander in and out and get on trains without anybody checking their ticket.
I have frequently travelled from King’s Cross to Grimsby or Cleethorpes on two services—the London North Eastern Railway service to Doncaster and, hopefully, the TransPennine from Doncaster, although that is usually after two or three hours’ wait—and they are frequently not inspected. Last week, LNER did inspect my ticket, but the inspector did not clip it, scribble on it or anything. It was not inspected on the TransPennine service, so I could use it again this week and nobody would be the wiser. I am sure that Members from all parties could confirm that this happens. The point is that this is, to a great extent, a taxpayer-funded service and the companies are not doing all they can to ensure that they maximise their revenue.
I have one other complaint against the Government—of which I am a great supporter, of course. The Deputy Leader of the House will be well aware that an issue frequently raised at business questions is replies to Members’ letters. Two or three weeks ago, I received a letter from a Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that said, “Thank you for your letter of 6 August 2021.” I rather hope that the electronic signature on that letter was a sign that the Minister had never seen it, because I hope that if he or she had seen it they would have at least drawn my attention to that and apologised. The timeframe is not good enough, and it is not good enough that we receive letters with electronic signatures, because we have absolutely no idea whether the Minister has ever been made aware of the issue we have raised.
With that, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you and the Deputy Leader of the House a happy summer holiday.
I, too, pay tribute to Sir David Amess for the work that he did in Parliament. I hope that our Parliament continues to do justice to his memory.
I wish to continue in the vein of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) as we approach the summer recess. I am sure that during the recess many Members will reflect on the Government’s performance. Time will not permit me to go into great detail, but I would like to cover one or two key points that are causing much frustration not only to me and my staff but, I am sure, to many other Members in the House.
A key priority for all Members of this House is dealing with constituency casework on behalf of the people we serve. Over the past few years, our country has faced the most difficult of times and my office, like those of many others, has seen a considerable increase in the numbers of people seeking assistance. Delays in responses really hamper our work and cause frustration for our staff. From delays at the Passport Office to long waits for driving tests, backlog Britain reaches far and wide. Indeed, the delays have now spread to Ministers’ private offices, with considerable delays across multiple Government Departments.
In one urgent case, I waited 59 working days for a reply from the Department for Work and Pensions; in another, I waited 58 working days for a response from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. One constituent has suffered as a result of an error at the DWP whereby his details were mistaken with those of a family member. His benefits have been stopped and attempts to resolve matters have been unsuccessful. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 23 May and am still awaiting a response. I have even resorted to using parliamentary questions to try to break the logjam.
Such delays are on top of the eye-watering delays at Her Majesty’s Passport Office, UK Visas and Immigration and the DVLA. The excessive waiting times across multiple Departments not only add to the backlog and the frustration of the British people but could be seen to impede the work of Members of Parliament. Many Members have consistently raised the delays, and have done so more frequently in recent months. I have raised the issue, too, and hope that the Deputy Leader of the House agrees that they are unacceptable. If so, when he responds, will he outline what action the Government could take to address such disrespectful behaviour? If he would take a suggestion from the Opposition Benches, I would say that the wrong-headed decision to sack 91,000 hard-working civil servants will only exacerbate the incredible delays.
In the time I have left to speak, I wish to raise one more issue, which is HS2. The Government have designated the scheme as an England and Wales project, even though it has no positive impact for Wales. In fact, the evidence suggests it has a negative impact. Designating it as an England and Wales scheme means that Wales is not entitled to consequential funding, which in this case could be as much as £4.2 billion. The cross-party Welsh Affairs Committee and the leader of the Welsh Conservatives have also raised this issue. I have to ask how anyone in Government can continue to justify this position, which is surely untenable. I hope the Deputy Leader of the House can offer some positive comments this afternoon.
I welcome the Deputy Leader of the House to his place. It is an honour to speak in this summer Adjournment debate.
I will take Members on a quick tour around Mid Sussex, as this is my first chance to do so as a Back Bencher for some time. Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope you will indulge me as I talk about my predecessor, who, if the rumours are true, may be in the other place very soon. I asked Sir Nicholas’s long-time agent, Ginny, to remind me of her time with him and to give me some tips. One message was, “If you ever order scampi and chips, you’d better make sure you get some spare scampi. And always have a spoon to share dessert, because he will never order his own but he will definitely want some of yours.”
When I first stood as a candidate, I asked Sir Nicholas to give me some tips on how it might work, and he said, “Mimsy, be careful. There are some very clever girls on the candidates list. I mean some of them are lawyers and barristers, and everything.” He was nothing but charming and incredibly supportive. One of his favourite things was Fridays in the constituency, which we all absolutely love—it is my favourite experience, too.
Sir Nicholas’s surgeries were hysterical, not surprisingly, and he was impeccable in supporting jobs, schools, businesses, country pursuits and, of course, the South of England show in nearby Ardingly. He also supported the Haywards Heath bike ride and the Mid Sussex marathon weekend, which I founded. He was a brilliant supporter from day one. We wish him incredibly well.
Finally, when Sir Nicholas was on his rather famous diet, he found tuna flakes. He found little pots of them in Portcullis House and it was life changing: “I have never experienced these things, these tuna flakes”—that is what Ginny told me. It is a pleasure to follow him and to speak about my constituency.
In my gallops around Mid Sussex, on Zoom and Teams over the last few years, and when giving out covid certificates, I have met and had conversations with about 300 groups, businesses, organisations, churches, schools and shops.
I thank my hon. Friend for saying that.
It was a pride and joy to be at the DWP for the last three years. I saw 163,000 young people going into their first job, and I opened more than 150 youth hubs and 200 new jobcentres to address the covid impact. It was remarkable to see just this week that 2 million women have gone back to work since 2010, which is very positive. Jobcentres can give important support to the self-employed, and my hon. Friend does important work mentoring and supporting people in his constituency.
The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier), who has now left the Chamber, mentioned support for resettled Afghans and Ukrainians and getting them into work. Jobcentres are at the heart of this, helping people to get a fulfilling career, whether they are resettling, a veteran, over 50 or have been affected by the pandemic.
On jobs, it was exciting to see the University of Sussex research facilities come to Haywards Heath, with Universal Quantum Ltd. I will be having my latest bounce back business breakfast at CAE in September. Boeing, also based in Burgess Hill, was here in Parliament just this week. I have some amazing charities in my patch, including Group Strep B Support, which was also in Parliament this week.
I am sure we are all going to enjoy our summer as we go to visit many of our businesses. Without the welcome back fund or the cultural recovery fund, some of them simply would not be there. For example, the support for Borde Hill in my constituency and the Orion cinema in Burgess Hill has been crucial. However, I must raise a couple of issues. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities needs to help shovel-ready regeneration projects get their money and get things out the door. We have been waiting since 2011 for a new town centre in Burgess Hill and people are getting fed up. There have been two planning permissions and we are ready to go. I really hope the new application coming forward will help to support our beleaguered high street.
We need a new Clair Hall—it has been delivering vaccinations, but we need a cultural centre back in Mid Sussex. We also need a running track and much more support for sports pavilions and other areas, where we absolutely have the participation but we do not have the funding matching what is needed. May I follow the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), in linking transportation and planning issues? We are delivering homes in Mid Sussex, in the right places, where possible, through a local plan, but we are being ridden roughshod over by the Planning Inspectorate on neighbourhood plans and that is unacceptable. Our constituents are fed up. They are doing their bit when it comes to housing and they want Government to listen.
I wish the House a very happy summer, and I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I, too, wish to pay tribute to Sir David Amess and the indelible mark he left on this place. His family called for a legacy of kindness and love across Parliament. I think we still have some way to go on that journey, but he was never afraid to speak truth to power, which I trust I will do today. It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies). I, too, will be picking up on the issue of housing in my speech.
Normally, we enter the summer with relief, but this year it is different. We have chaos across Government and across the country. The scale and depth of the multiple crises is weighing heavy on my constituents: it is taking five years to see an NHS dentist; GPs are under unbelievable stress and struggling with demand, with appointments now being issued for 16 August, with nothing before; we have the elective surgery backlog; we have the mental health crisis— I do not know where to begin there—covid is, yet again, dangerously on the rise; children’s social care is unable to meet demand; children are in dilapidated schools; we have the courts backlog; we have the passport backlog; we have the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency backlog; we have the visa backlog; we have a climate crisis; we have an economic crisis of inflation at 9.4% today; and we have a cost of living crisis. After 12 years, this is what the Tories have given our country. We are in meltdown, not just because of the temperature, but because of the temperature of what is coming out of the policies of this Government. It is left to us as constituency MPs to pick up the pieces.
Today, however, I want to focus on the biggest crisis facing York: the housing crisis. Having spent weeks on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Committee, it is clear that the Government are yet to get to grips with the housing crisis and the solutions that are needed. My amendments have focused on addressing the lack of community voice in planning and matching need to what is being delivered in housing. It does a disservice for Government because, as they set these targets, if they are building not to need but to the market, they are unable to deliver also.
My city should be the very best place to live. We know its assets. People visit it and it is a wonderful city, with amazing people living there, but it is rapidly turning into a complete nightmare. The Airbnb market is surging in York. Short-term holiday lets are moving up at a rapid pace. Just a couple of weeks ago, we had 1,999; today we have 2,068. The number is rising rapidly as people are seeing the opportunity to make money out of my city. We have a rise in second homes and empty homes, but I wish to focus on the issue of Airbnbs and what is happening across the housing economy. We are seeing an extraction economy, instead of an investment economy—housing, money and opportunity extracted from my constituents, instead of investment in housing, people and communities for the long term.
This issue needs to be addressed urgently. It is disrupting the economy. We are unable to recruit to the care sector or to local jobs. It is undermining local businesses, such as B&Bs and guest houses. It is having a significant economic impact, but it is also hollowing out rural communities. Some places have only one place to let, but in York the Airbnb and short-term holiday lets market is turning family streets into party streets, and I can tell the House that it is not pleasant when there is a hen do next door every single weekend.
Section 21 notices are being issued at such an alarming rate that my constituents are being forced out of the city because there is nowhere else for them to live. Instead of getting an average—and it is high—£945 per calendar month for renting a property, landlords can make £700 over a weekend. Cash buyers, mainly from London and the south-east, are buying up swathes of housing in York in order to make money, but not to provide the housing that we desperately need. We have a real crisis in social housing and affordable housing. Couples who have saved for their first deposit are not getting the opportunity to buy because cash buyers are putting down up to £70,000 in addition for each property. The York Central development, which should be transformative for my city, risks becoming Airbnb central, with 2,500 units being built but probably not lived in by people from my local community.
We need the Government to get a grip. I will be bringing forward a Bill in December, and I trust that the Government will get behind it, because we need to license these properties and ensure that we have local homes for local people.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, because I am a trustee of one of the charities that I will mention. I also want to say thank you to all the staff, to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to everyone across the House for the incredible work they do. Of course, I want to pay tribute to Sir David, who is still hugely missed by us all.
I also want to thank my community in Watford. Across my town we have such an incredible wealth of community volunteers and supporters. Our charities include is One Vision, with Enoch and Harjit, who are friends and colleagues when it comes to working for the local community; Small Acts of Kindness; Goods for Good; Hand on Heart; Sewa Day; New Hope, which is a fabulous homelessness charity; the Peace Hospice; the Salvation Army; and the Rotary Club, with the most magnificent lady called Actar, who is an incredible force for good.
There are also the volunteers who are working to deliver my mental health first aid initiative, which aims to train 1,000 mental health first-aiders across Watford. The team at Watford and West Herts chamber of commerce have helped deliver almost half of that target, which I am incredibly proud of and very grateful to them for.
When I talk about mental health, of course I cannot fail to mention health services. My biggest ask of the past two and a half years, since being elected, is to get Watford General Hospital rebuilt and to have the shovel in the ground as soon as possible—as I told the Prime Minister recently, during Prime Minister’s questions, I will even go and buy the shovel myself. That brings me to an important point about frontline services.
Earlier today, during business questions, I said that I would love to have a debate to say thank you to all our frontline emergency services. We have seen them do so much over the past week in response to fires, but just last week in my constituency, in the Meriden ward, there was an awful fire at the Abbey View tower block. Had the frontline services not got there as quickly as they did, the situation could have been a lot worse. Thankfully, there were no fatalities or serious injuries.
I am so proud to be able to support our local services, and that includes our police. I have been working with the local police and crime commissioner to make sure we get a new Watford police station, which will be coming later this year. I look forward to cutting the ribbon—I hope I will not get into trouble with the police through that act of vandalism.
On work with veterans, huge respect and thanks are due to Luther Blissett, the former Watford Football Club legend and England player, his partner Lauren, Liz and Norman, who have been working with veterans in Watford for a long time now. They have been setting up the former players club through which they are creating a tailor-made organisation. I say “tailor” because of the impact Graham Taylor has had and the inspiration he has been in creating Forces Reunited, which I believe will be launched today as a forces’ forum to help veterans.
There are lots of things I would like to cover about infrastructure. I am doing work to look at bus and train infrastructure, and also, as I have mentioned in this place before, to fix Woodmere Avenue, which is an absolute nightmare. The width restriction scratches very many cars and has become almost legendary in the challenges that it has brought to local residents. I hope there is some movement to get that sorted.
Over the past two years, I have seen how we have all come together to work together from an inter-faith perspective. The inter-faith community across Watford is truly incredible. At places like the Peace Garden where we are close to nature, all the different faiths across Watford come together for the good of our community. That ties into the environmental message and how we are trying to tackle waste in Watford. I set up my Dean’s green team, and I am very grateful to the young people who have been involved to help to make it a success. We have lots more to do, but listening to young people about the environment is critical.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point about environmentalism. I presume that the green team does litter-picking and other interventions. When young people want to help their environment, that is one of the most positive things that they can do. They really benefit when we visit schools and then follow up with a litter-pick, as I have seen in my own constituency, because they have seen that direct action in their community.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Absolutely—we are planning litter-picks and all sorts of things, but also looking at how we can tackle waste and food waste across the area, especially with organisations such as Random Café doing amazing work.
Culture is at the heart of our community. We have the “Harry Potter” studio tours, but also Leavesden studios, which makes what would be Hollywood movies but are Watford movies. During the pandemic, I worked with Tom Cruise’s team to open up the global film industry. That is a story for another time, but I was very proud to be able to do that from Watford and Leavesden studios. Watford culture is incredible. On the High Street we have places such as the Pump House theatre, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and has the Watford Fringe coming up later this year. Please do all buy tickets; there are some fabulous acts. We also have the Electric Umbrella doing cultural work with people with disabilities. I recently pushed a yellow piano up the High Street to promote its work and support it. The Watford Workshop works with people with disabilities as well to support them. We have fantastic clubs such as the Deaf Club, which also celebrated its 50th anniversary a few months ago, and I was proud to be there.
A few weeks ago in this place, I presented a petition to save the local Pryzm nightclub. The night-time economy is absolutely critical, and we need to support it. I was very pleased that last week we had the Second Reading of my private Member’s Bill to make sure that workers could keep their tips in hospitality and elsewhere.
Thank you to all, have a fantastic summer, and I look forward to seeing you back in September.
It is very touching to see today’s summer Adjournment debate bearing the name of our late colleague, who always stole the show in these debates. The renaming of the debate is a fitting tribute.
Much of January was spent on tenterhooks, and Russian forces finally invaded Ukraine in February. This produced a mountain of new casework for my office. My team and I have had some successes, such as in the case of Natalia, a 15-year-old Ukrainian girl. Last month I was able to visit her and her aunt in their new home in Hamilton. It was emotional but a wonderful reminder of the impact of what we do in this place on real lives.
Another humbling experience was taking through a private Member’s Bill in the previous Session. I was incredibly proud to see it gain Royal Assent just before Prorogation in May, becoming the Pension Schemes (Conversion of Guaranteed Minimum Pensions) Act 2022. I once again place on record my gratitude to the team at the Department for Work and Pensions, who provided such excellent support.
The cost of living crisis is the biggest challenge the UK faces right now. Like many colleagues, I have spent many hours in debates and question sessions raising fuel prices, household energy bills and affordability of food to highlight some of the biggest concerns that my constituents have. It is a shame that we will break for recess without having lined up other support for the autumn and winter months. I hope that work will continue in Government Departments so that new measures can be presented swiftly in September.
On another challenge this term, just the word “passport” elicits a visceral reaction from Members and staffers alike. I am very proud of my team, who have managed to secure a positive result in every case they have handled so far. There is some valid criticism that the crisis could have been foreseen and planned for, but I have to say that some of our cases have received excellent support.
The hon. Lady’s comments are a pertinent reminder of the work of our caseworkers. I am sure you will agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this has been an incredibly hard period, with the challenges including covid grants, business reopening and passports. We have had over 60 cases. It has been very challenging, and we must thank all of our casework teams, because their work matters so much to our constituents.
I could not agree more. The staffers are the people behind us as we do our jobs. I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention.
One of the greatest things about this job is the variety. No two days are ever the same. I feel so honoured to represent my constituents during debates on topics such as animal welfare, which so many contact me about, the child maintenance service and energy prices. I feel honoured to make sure that their voice is heard when legislation is scrutinised and during important announcements covering crucial policy such as immigration and asylum, defence, and community access to cash, and to do casework helping people with their driving licences, visas and community projects. It is so important to me that every email that a constituent writes is read and, where possible, that that information is translated into action on their behalf.
It has been an absolute pleasure to see at first hand the brilliant community spirit in my constituency. People have really pulled together. I want to give honourable mentions to the community councils in my constituency—Rutherglen, Burnside, Cambuslang, Halfway, Blantyre, Hillhouse and Meikle Earnock—which take so much pride in their communities and work to support them.
I also give my deepest thanks to all staff here in Parliament, who do so much to make sure that we are all supported. We could not function without you all. Thanks also to my staff: Kim, Gillian, Laura, Lynne, Natalie and John.
What has struck me most this term is how difficult a time it is in politics in the UK and in the world. Colleagues, staff and constituents are all feeling the pressure. That is why it is so important that we are able to work together, across these Benches, for the benefit of our constituents. On any given day, this Chamber is full of people with strong political beliefs. Naturally, we will not all agree on everything, and in some cases we may not all agree on much at all.
I put on the record my thanks to a number of Ministers, because they have genuinely endeavoured to help me in some of the most complex cases that my team have been dealing with. Although it is tempting to take all the credit, I have to acknowledge that those cases would likely not have been resolved without their input. I am glad that they have on occasion sought to work across these Benches. Only this week, the Home Secretary and her officials assisted me and my team in resolving a complicated case. I put my thanks to them on the record.
We need to see more such collaboration next term. Some might disagree, but regardless of our political differences, we are all here for the same reason, and that is to help our constituents, and I am always willing to work with whoever I need to in order to get the right resolution.
I arise with Sir David Amess’s smile, cheek and kindness very much in my heart, and hoping to drive the reason why all of us come here, which is love of constituency, love of country and love of that sense of duty and what we can achieve in this place.
I love Rutland, Melton, the Vale and Harborough villages. I represent 180 villages and three towns. We are the place where rugby was truly invented. They used to tackle a solid wooden beer barrel over different fields. The priest from Rugby School came over, saw the game being played and took it back to the school, where it was then supposedly invented. We are also where Sir David Attenborough discovered his love of fossils. Members are all very welcome to come fossil searching in my constituency. It is where those involved in the gunpowder plot had some of their meetings, in Stoke Dry. I have taken no inspiration from them myself, of course. It is also the home of Stilton and pork pie and Rutland bitter and so many other great foods and drinks of this country. It is home to Belvoir castle, where “The Crown” was filmed. It is also home to an ichthyosaur—the greatest discovery of what is not a dinosaur but many people believed was a dinosaur over the centuries. It is the home of the Rutland mosaic, which has changed our view and understanding of Roman Britain, and of the Hallaton hoard, which has changed our understanding of iron age Britain. It is also the place where the phrase “paint the town red” comes from.
There is nowhere quite like the Rutland, Melton, The Vale and Harborough villages, and I am truly blessed to be able to live and raise my children there, but we do have some pressing problems. Rurality is at the core of the issues that I am going to raise today and of the pressures that we face. The first is transport. The A1 goes up the east of my constituency and it is one of the worst accident hotspots in the country. We urgently need it to be made into a full motorway, and we need safety improvements up and down the stretch from Peterborough to Blyth to reduce the number of casualties and deaths. Some parents in my constituency are lobbying me on graduated driving licences, because of the deaths of young children. The understanding is that introducing graduated driving licences would give new learners a little bit longer to gain the confidence they need to reduce accidents.
The A52 has an accident hotspot outside the village of Bottesford at the Belvoir junction. This is a real problem, but Highways England says that it cannot put in place the improvements we need at the junction because there are not enough accidents. I would argue—I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to put a letter in to the Transport Secretary about this—that we should take into account the rurality of villages when we calculate these things. If this same dangerous junction were outside Loughborough or a more dangerous area, there would be significantly more accidents. Rurality should be factored into these calculations, because how rural somewhere is can hide just how dangerous a junction is. I have also been meeting constituents recently about the Rutland TT in Thorpe Satchville and Twyford. They are concerned about noise pollution. I am really keen for the Government to do more to tackle this as it is a blight on our rural areas.
Turning to crime, a few years ago I secured the creation of the first ever Rutland rural crime team across Leicestershire and Rutland and they are doing a fantastic job of reassuring residents. I am pleased to be able to meet them so often. I have also managed to secure more than £500,000-worth of CCTV across Melton, Oakham and Uppingham, and we are now looking at where we can put them to support people. When I talk to my police, however, their main concern is vehicles. I have urged our police and crime commissioner to provide more vehicles for Rutland and Melton. It is not acceptable to give us cast-offs from Leicester city that have done many miles and cannot race down the long stretches of road that we have. I have more than 460 square miles in my constituency, and we cannot be getting second-hand vehicles if we are to protect our communities.
When it comes to rural health, my GP surgery in Melton serves over 40,000 people. One surgery for 40,000 people is unacceptable. It is driving down health rates and people are not getting the care and support they need. We urgently need a new GP practice in Melton. Also, there is not one dental practice in the whole of those 460 square miles that is taking on pregnant women or children, which they are legally required to do. The Government must step forward and do something about dentistry. Concerningly, our practice in Oakham was recently found to be inadequate, and we must also look at what we can do about that.
When it comes to the economy, we need more fair funding for Rutland and Leicestershire. Leicestershire is the worst funded county council and Rutland the worst funded unitary authority in the country. We need a social mobility grant to look at those areas that have the worst social mobility in the country. Turning briefly to Mallard Pass, I have spoken a great deal about the attempt to build a 2,100-acre solar plant in my constituency using a company that has been found guilty of being complicit in Uyghur slave labour. We must do something to tackle that.
I do not have time to raise the many other things that I would like to raise, so I will wrap up by saying an enormous thank you to my team: Lisa, Helena, Harry and Alex—I think that is everyone; I am having a moment of stupidity. Lisa, Helena, Harry, Emma and Alex, I love you all very much but I am clearly having a moment and losing my mind. I thank you for all you do and the difference you make for constituents every single day.
I am very pleased to speak in this debate. I am also pleased that it is called the Sir David Amess Summer Adjournment debate. I have probably taken part in every one of these debates since I came here in 2010, and Sir David would sit there where the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) is sitting now and he would tell us many, many things in a rush of words—just as I do, but he would do it better. In the five minutes that he had he would tell us about all the many things that he wanted to get done. Listening to him was something I particularly enjoyed.
I want to talk about something those in this House may or may not know about: the Orange parade we have every year on 12 July. I want to say how proud I am to walk on 12 July. This year, we walked in my home village of Greyabbey. As Ulster Scots, we called it the Great Greba 12th and it was, and I stand here taking pride in that. I am a member of the Kircubbin LOL 1900, true blues. I am also a past master and a master in the House of Commons lodge, which sits here. I want to take the time just to say what it is really all about and why it is so important not just to me but to a five-year-old in Belfast and to an 18-year-old from Londonderry.
It is a family day designed to remember and celebrate the victory of religious freedom for all in this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The battles in the then Ireland were not the story of the troubles, but the history of this nation: the glorious revolution that is taught in history classes throughout the United Kingdom. The celebration of wearing the Orange sash in honour of King William of Orange by parading the streets reminds us all that having religious freedom is worthy of the historic bloodshed and worth celebrating.
My parliamentary aide had coffee with my mum, who was 91 years old on 14 July, before enjoying the parade with her six and seven-year-old girls. They felt happiness as the men and women they knew walked past with their heads held high. They enjoyed the pipe bands from Scotland, the accordion bands from Portaferry and the silver bands that accompanied the lodges. As they share their packed lunch with friends made on the day, the community comes together in the open air and celebrates a tradition that is as meaningful today as it was when the first Orange lodge was formed in a rural village in Loughgall in the late 1700s to commemorate the battle of the Boyne in 1690.
I am so thankful that the Orange Order did what it sought to do for hundreds of years and led by example during covid. It promoted the 12th at home in 2020, and in 2021 it advocated for public safety and asked for a localised 12th in small areas. It could have done no more, yet the BBC this year declined to give it the coverage it once had. The parade was carried out by tens of thousands of participants, and watched by hundreds of thousands more, with decency and order in the most part, even when there were some attacks on occasions from nationalist bands against children. In the face of adversity, they marched with pride. I am very thankful to GB news, which stepped into the breach, and my former party leader Dame Arlene Foster, who ably explained and highlighted the positive aspects of this family event.
What does it mean to be an Orangeman in Ulster? It means the opportunity to provide a welcoming environment for a street party enjoyed by hundreds of thousands in the Province, and to feel a part of the community no matter the political persuasion. It means being part of a community with members from Canada to Australia, New Zealand to Togo, and Ghana to Nigeria, people who believe that our history and the battles fought then can still provide lessons today. It means being allowed to continue the privilege of peacefully and respectfully walking traditional routes because the message matters. It means being part of a family day out, meeting those we see daily and those we see rarely, and enjoying laughter and friendship. It means standing on the shoulders of the Ulster Division who fought in the battle of the Somme in 1916. They wore the sash with pride on the battlefield, a rallying cry as they fought for the continued freedom, liberty and democratic process that we enjoy today. It means the opportunity to teach my grandchildren —I have five, with a sixth on the way—how their ancestors fought and died to ensure that every religion had a place in this nation.
On the banners as we march, they say “Civil and religious liberty for all”. We mean that and we act that out. It means so much more than you may ever see in the media, which focus only on the negative. To some of us, it is the foundation of who we are: the children of God, the children of Northern Ireland and the Union, and the children of our fathers who are unashamed of our heritage of faith, family and religious freedom for all.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the other Deputy Speakers, Mr Speaker and all colleagues in this Chamber for their friendship and comradeship over the last year. I thank my constituents, whom I have the privilege to serve as the hon. Member for Strangford, and all my staff, who really make my job much easier.
It is a privilege and an honour to speak in the first Sir David Amess summer Adjournment debate. David always exuded such joy and compassion, and it was difficult not to smile whenever you saw him. I am sure we all miss him.
I will begin by highlighting a particularly significant issue in my constituency, which I have raised many times in the Chamber: the M49 junction, which would link the motorway directly to the Severnside enterprise and distribution area. The area is home to GKN, Amazon, Tesco, Royal Mail and many other companies. When completed, the junction will not only help to bring thousands of new jobs to the area but help to reduce heavy goods traffic and pollution in small surrounding villages such as Pilning and Easter Compton.
It seems remarkable to me that the project was started without the means to complete it and connect it to the link road. There is essentially a 160 metre-long privately owned strip of land between the newly built motorway junction and the road connecting it to the distribution centre. How was £50 million of taxpayers’ money spent on a motorway junction without the land to connect it up to the link road?
Since 2019, I have had meetings with the Secretary of State for Transport, roads Ministers, South Gloucestershire Council, Highways England and the West of England Combined Authority, but we still seem no closer to getting the project completed and connecting the road to the motorway. I will continue to meet Ministers, South Gloucestershire Council and Highways England, and I will urge them all to get a grip of the situation and get the project completed as quickly as possible.
I turn to the bid for local levelling-up funding to regenerate world war one Hangar 16U, an exciting and substantial project by developer YTL located alongside the Brabazon and Charlton Hayes mixed-use developments. The restoration and reuse of that historic building will achieve the following aims. First, it will secure the restoration of a world war one hangar that contributes significantly to the unique and important heritage of the area, making the building accessible to all. Secondly, it will support the wider regeneration aims of the north fringe masterplan, which in turn will address issues of deprivation in some of the nearby communities of Patchway and Filton.
Thirdly, the project will support visitor and tourist attractions while meeting the needs of existing and newly emerging communities. Fourthly, it is in a highly accessible location by foot, cycle and public transport. Fifthly, its community focus supports community cohesion and wellbeing. Having always supported the evolving north fringe development area, I have no doubt that when it is completed, it will be a truly fantastic place to live, work, visit and be entertained. I look forward to the result of the funding bid and very much hope that Ministers will look favourably upon it.
As well as its historic links with aviation, demonstrated fantastically by the Aerospace Bristol museum and science, technology, engineering and maths learning centre—home to the last Concorde to land at Filton airfield, where the British Concordes were designed and built—my constituency in the south-west of England is at the centre of the largest aerospace cluster in Europe. There are 800 companies and 57,000 people in the south-west working in the aerospace supply chain for companies such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce, GKN and Leonardo.
The Farnborough international air show is taking place this week. Not only does it serve as a showcase for the UK’s aerospace sector, but it is a great platform for exports. The UK’s aerospace sector represents more than 110,000 jobs. In my constituency of Filton and Bradley Stoke, more than 20,000 jobs are directly dependent on the aerospace and defence sectors, with many more involved in the broader supply chain. In 2019, the aerospace sector contributed £34 billion to UK exports. It was good to see my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister supporting the air show on Monday.
This week, the Government announced £155 million of joint industry and Government funding, through the Aerospace Technology Institute, to help the industry invest in the technology of tomorrow, such as solar cells that can be used in electrically powered aircraft, low-weight electric motors, and the extra high-performance wing led by Airbus. Of course, we also look forward to increasing activity in the space sector.
Let me conclude by thanking you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the staff who look after us here. I hope everybody manages to take some time out and get some rest, recuperation and quality time with loved ones over the summer.
While the media’s focus may be on the comings and goings in Westminster, local community groups make a huge difference to the lives of people in Dudley South week in, week out. The last recess covered the platinum jubilee celebrations, and it was a real pleasure to join the events at Oakfield community centre in Brierley Hill, St Mary’s church in Kingswinford and the Dudley Hindu Cultural Association to mark the incredible service that Her Majesty has given during seven decades as our Queen.
We are fortunate in having many amazing community organisations in Dudley. I shall not try to match Sir David, but I would like to mention just a few I have encountered in recent weeks. Harry’s Café is run by the Top Church Training charity and helps disadvantaged jobseekers into work in catering and hospitality, as well as providing free food packages and online cooking classes. There is also Kingswinford British Legion, who I supported over Armed Forces Weekend as they raised funds to help ex-service personnel and their families.
As a former scout, it was a pleasure to join Dudley District Scouts to thank leaders and volunteers for everything they do to make sure that local young people have opportunities that otherwise just would not be available. It was a privilege to meet and support Stuart Bratt, whose Tough Enough to Care charity tackles male suicides by encouraging men to be open about mental health. The £80,000 lottery funding it has received will allow it to do even more to support even more people, and we want more local good causes in Dudley to get funding. That is why I organised a national lottery funding workshop last week. I thank Sinead from the National Lottery Community Fund for explaining to dozens of local groups how they can get funding and give themselves the best chance to succeed and do more for our community.
As we look forward to the Commonwealth games coming to Birmingham, it was great that Stuart was one of the local heroes, as well as Jennie Bimson and Councillor Shaz Saleem, taking part in the Queen’s baton relay; I look forward to it coming to Brierley Hill on Sunday evening. One of the baton bearers is from Pens Meadow School. I was pleased to see its amazing new forest school, which is an exceptional facility for its special needs pupils aged three to 19. I am delighted that Dudley Council has committed the funding for a new school building that will allow them to combine their two sites into one, providing better education and care on a single site for vulnerable pupils.
I also thank Dudley Council’s cabinet for blocking plans to build on precious green spaces at Lapwood Avenue, Bryce Road, Severn Drive and Bent Street. I hope that the Association of Black Country Authorities will also safeguard green-belt sites at Holbeache and the Kingswinford triangle when it meets next week, and that the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will further strengthen green-belt protection.
Our green spaces are important to us in the Black Country, and it was heartbreaking to see large fires at the Fens Pool nature reserve and Ridgehill Woods during this week’s extreme temperatures. Disgracefully, some of them might even have been started deliberately. I join our community in sending a big thank you to everybody from West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service for their bravery in fighting and containing those fires.
Mr Deputy Speaker, as you know, last week marked Black Country Day—the anniversary of Newcomen’s engine. We are proud of our industrial heritage and it was wonderful to join pupils from Brierley Hill Primary School at Brierley Hill library as they unveiled the displays on our local history that they had created for the public to enjoy. It is now a decade since Gracie Sheppard designed the Black Country flag, which has become one of the biggest selling and most recognisable regional flags in the country. She designed it as a 12-year-old at a local school and it is now literally seen around the world—whether at The Ashes, the Indy 500 or Glastonbury.
My hon. Friend rightly raised the importance of local flags. Leicestershire was the only county in the country without a flag until last year, when I secured the first ever flag for Leicestershire. It flies proudly outside Parliament this very day. I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising the importance of flags, given their pride of place and the message that they send of unity in our communities.
My hon. Friend is proud of her local area and flies her flag proudly.
As we look at the ongoing Conservative leadership contest, I shall be pressing whoever wins to keep levelling up right at the centre of their agenda, and to make sure that my constituents in Dudley South can have opportunities every bit as good as those enjoyed in other parts of the country. Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all the staff of the House a very happy and, I hope, restful and peaceful summer.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), and an honour to be participating in the first Sir David Amess Adjournment debate. This is a very fitting tribute indeed for a great champion and an enthusiast for the format. He was someone to whom service of his constituents, his party and his country was of the utmost importance. There is so much inspiration for us newer Members in his example. I welcome his successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), to her place today. I also welcome five other Members who have joined us since last summer. A few of them came in on the back of by-elections that were quite painful for my party, but it is important that we remember the people who sent us here, and by-elections are a way to do that, and perhaps they have given this party a wake-up call over the past year as well.
I have spent the past few weeks trying to argue for a clean start in Government, but I think we also need a clean start in Parliament when we come back. When we come back, we will have a new Prime Minister, and that is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the way that we conduct ourselves in this Chamber and in the estate more widely. I have come to feel that Parliament is perhaps suffering from a bout of long covid of its own—some bad habits that are antithetical to the good working of this place as well as contrary to some long- standing culture and practice. Some of these things have taken hold and are not serving ourselves, our constituents or the reputation of this House well.
If I have the time, I want to cover four particular points: the debate itself; the tone in which we speak to each other; standards; and the culture around the estate. Some of it is a hangover literally from covid. The new intake of 2019 participated in debates where there was no back and forth. We were basically recording clips from the comfort of our own living rooms. The May 2020 report of the Procedure Committee, on which I now sit but did not at the time of the report, said that
“debates have become recitals of prepared texts rather than lively exchanges of view.”
I wholeheartedly concur, and I fear that this tendency has been slower to depart than some of the other arrangements that we had during covid.
Although it is of course vital that our constituents can see what we do here, I do not think that it is necessarily wise that what we do here is simply for our constituents to see—whether it is on our Facebook pages or on Twitter, the echo chamber for the retweets and likes. I will, of course, concede that today’s debate is a noble exception and that we should all go for it in the way that Sir David used to do. But that is not really what we are here for. We are legislators. We are here to scrutinise legislation. We are here to hold the Government to account, whether we are supporters of the Government or members of the Opposition. We are not here to make viral clips only tangentially related to the legislation that we are supposed to be considering. I think that all of us, including me, probably need to do a little bit better. What we need is genuine debate. We should refer to previous speakers in the debate. We should take interventions—I am willing to take one now—and we should take on and win arguments with other people.
We also need a clean start on tone in September. During the confidence debate, there were flashpoints. I do realise that the past few months have been tough and fraught, and that is just on the Conservative side of the Chamber. The temperature has literally risen over these past few days, but what we say in this place really matters. We should all remain moderate and collegiate. We should argue and disagree with each other, but in good faith and with good humour and respect. We should set an example. We heard only the other day in points of order from my hon. Friends the Members for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) and for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) that if that tone gets out into the country, it could be really, really damaging. It could threaten our security and it could threaten our families, so we must set an example in this place.
I will touch on standards briefly, because I made my views known on this in the debate that we had after the Owen Paterson affair. We cannot have one rule for us and another for everybody else. We must do better.
We need a clean start on estate culture. There have been exposés in the papers about staffers getting drunk and sleeping in offices, to say nothing of the behaviour of some MPs that has been well documented recently. We really must address that when we come back in September. We must have a clean start.
On the Speaker’s Commission, which is part of the solution, I am not at all convinced that the right solution is for MPs not to employ their own staff. Some may have noticed that, over the past few months, my support for the Prime Minister has been open to question. If, for example, my staff had been employed by the Conservative party, they would have faced a huge conflict of interest; they owe their job to the Conservative party, but they owe their judgment to me. Who would they be beholden to? There would be an unacceptable conflict. I have discussed this with my staff, and I know that they would have found it extremely difficult to navigate these past few months had their loyalty been split. It is not a small concern to them. They need to know who they are working for and whose interests they are employed to pursue—obviously our constituents, but ourselves as Members as well.
Moreover, that would not fundamentally solve the issue of the worst behaviour of MPs towards their staff, other Members’ staff, Clerks, House staff and so on. What we need to do is grapple with bad behaviour and stamp it out. No human resources policy in the world can mitigate some of the terrible behaviours that we have seen reported about former Members of this House.
Finally, because it is Sir David’s debate, we need a clean start in Newcastle as well. We need levelling up. We need the money coming through from the towns fund. We need to clean up the antisocial behaviour. Most of all, as I have said in this debate previously, we need to clean up that landfill at Walleys quarry. [Interruption.] We need to stop the stink—thank you very much. We need a clean start in Parliament, in Newcastle and in the country.
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful and thoughtful contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell). I start by raising a number of issues on all things rail. We know that rail numbers are down by a fifth since the pandemic, and yet the Government persist in building High Speed 2, a topic on which I have spoken in opposition on multiple occasions since my election to this House. Indeed, it is good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on the Front Bench. He was with me in the Lobby the other day when we voted against HS2 going further north.
The reality on the ground, accepting that the thing is being built, is that HS2 Ltd continues to be anything but a good neighbour. I have spoken in the Transport Committee, in this Chamber and in Westminster Hall giving countless examples of where HS2 is making people’s lives a misery. It is bringing in HGV movements through villages where they simply should not be going. It is closing roads at a moment’s notice. It is not dealing with landowners in a fair or proportionate way when it takes their land. The latest complaint to reach me over the past 24 hours is about land that HS2 has taken but done nothing with, where poisonous weeds such as ragwort are being allowed to take hold and bleed across as seed moves into land where cattle, sheep and other animals can be affected by it. HS2 has been apprised of that time and time again, and yet it has done nothing. I urge the Government to clamp down on HS2 Ltd and ensure that it becomes the good neighbour it purports to be.
Likewise, the construction of East West Rail continues to be a nightmare for my constituents. It is the railway we want—it will bring greater connectivity to Buckinghamshire with a new station at Winslow—but its construction brings similar misery to that of High Speed 2. It looks as though East West Rail will launch with entirely diesel rolling stock, to boot. I urge the Government to reconsider that urgently and to look at hybrid options, hydrogen or a newer, greener technology. It is simply preposterous in this day and age for a new railway to be built with diesel- only stock.
Likewise, I urge the Government to give us some clarity, because there has been some speculation in recent days that perhaps the whole of East West Rail will not be completed, and that the part that goes beyond Bletchley towards Cambridge may not be built. This House needs urgent clarity on that when we return in the autumn.
Moving on to a planning matter, the Ministry of Justice had proposed building a mega-prison in my constituency adjacent to HMP Grendon and HMP Springhill, on land that it partially owns but that also involves the compulsory purchase of a farm. Buckinghamshire Council’s strategic sites committee wisely rejected the proposal. It was not a technical rejection at planning; the proposal in fact breached policies BE1, BE2, I2, NE1, NE4, NE5 and S1 of the local plan, as well as paragraphs 7, 8, 57, 58, 99, 105, 174, 180 and section 16 of the national planning policy framework. It was by no means a technical refusal, yet unfortunately the Ministry of Justice is seeking to appeal that and to cost taxpayers probably hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees. It is simply not right or fair that that project continues to hang over my constituency and the villages of Edgcott, Grendon Underwood, Steeple Claydon and others around. I urge the Government to reconsider and to pull that appeal.
I join colleagues in paying tribute to the fact that this debate is called the Sir David Amess summer Adjournment debate. It is a fitting tribute to him and a fitting reminder to us that however good or entertaining we think our speeches are this afternoon, none of them will be as good as the one he would have given were he with us.
The first thing I want to talk about is a man called Merv. He is an 86-year-old man in my constituency who lost his wife after 56 years of marriage in 2014, meaning he was on his own. Thanks to a fantastic local organisation called the Didcot Good Neighbour Scheme, run by a fantastic woman called Sandy Sparrowhawk, I have been matched with him to go round and see him every week, which I have been doing since last September. It is supposed to be for him, but it is the highlight of my week, because whatever is going on here—heaven knows lots of things go on here—when I go to have my cup of tea with him on a Friday after all my visits, he never fails to cheer me up with his stories of being in the Army and of driving coaches.
He is a great football fan—a misguided Chelsea supporter—and we have a real laugh. We now know that loneliness affects not just mental health but physical health, and it only takes up a small amount of my time. I would encourage everyone here and outside to do it, because it makes a huge difference to both people.
I have passed up no opportunity since my maiden speech to raise the infrastructure issues in my constituency. We still need Grove station reopened, we still need the A34 and A420 improved, and we still need more GP surgeries. The two districts I cover are in the top 10 areas for house building relative to their size, and we have not had any new GP surgeries. I hope what we can do through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is get to a position where we start to put this infrastructure in first, rather than promising it after the houses have been built, because it never arrives. The other thing I hope we might do with that Bill is require new houses to be built to the latest environmental standards set by Government, rather than the one that existed when planning permission was granted, often five or six years earlier. We are building thousands of houses that we know will need retrofitting.
While on the subject of the environment, I am currently the lead sponsor of the Local Electricity Bill, which now has 309 MPs supporting it. If Members are not yet backing it, please do so. People argue whether to have fracking or nuclear or oil and gas or onshore wind, but they do not argue about having more community energy, with local communities able to sell it to local people. That would help to achieve our net zero goals and promote competition while offering vast environmental benefits.
Finally, when we come back, we will understandably focus on the economy, the cost of living and Ukraine, but there are two other issues that I hope will receive some focus. One is the reform of public services. We all get too many complaints about visas, driving licences, passports and planning applications. It is not just that it takes too long to get a response, but that the response is not human enough. The second is an increased focus on social mobility. It is a decades-long problem, but we slightly lost focus during covid, which made it harder. We all need to do more if background is to be no barrier to people achieving their potential.
I will use the limited time available to outline some of the many challenges that this House and the next Prime Minister must face when we return from the summer recess. The No.1 issue facing the country is inflation, which hit 9.4% in June—the highest in 40 years—and is expected to climb even further. It strips away the value of the pound in our pocket, hitting every aspect of our economy. People’s savings are eroded, pushing home ownership out of reach, and the value of pensions that people have worked long and hard for is reduced. Our export market is made less competitive, limiting investment, jobs and growth. I am particularly concerned about those on fixed and lower incomes, because their real-term take-home pay is getting hit the most.
We all know what is driving this pressure: rising demand in China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, compounded by covid and disruption to global supply chains. As a result, the energy price cap is due to rise 65% in October, taking typical bills to around £3,240 a year, with another rise in January. I welcome the Government’s package of measures to mitigate those price rises, with a third of households each set to receive £1,200, but tough choices lie ahead. It is incumbent on Members across the House to be honest with the public and with ourselves.
During the recent heatwave, many reflected on the similarities with 1976—not just the weather, industrial strife, nationalist demands for a referendum, a prime ministerial resignation, a leadership contest, and energy prices soaring following conflict, but the real risk of a wage/price spiral and stagflation. At the same time, our fiscal room for manoeuvre is increasingly small. Quantitative easing and pump priming the housing market are no longer viable options, if indeed they ever were.
Moreover, we are facing a demographic crunch, with an ageing population and fewer people of working age. That means that the demands of the state grow, while raising tax revenue becomes more and more difficult. If we are not careful, we will end up with Scandinavian levels of taxation for Mediterranean levels of public services.
Now is not the time for telling people what they want to hear; we must put pragmatism ahead of ideology. We need a functioning state, not an ever smaller one. I encourage any Members who disagree with that to talk to their constituents and to check their inboxes. They will find that those inboxes are full of emails from people who are struggling to get driving licences or passports, or whose GP appointments or routine medical procedures have been delayed. This requires hard-headed, mature judgment and grown-up politics, not pandering to nostalgia.
I am also increasingly alarmed about the failure of investigative policing. According to a recent report, police have failed to solve a single burglary in nearly half the country’s neighbourhoods over the past three years. Other police forces have been found to have wilfully neglected to investigate reports of child abuse and grooming gangs for fear of stoking racial tensions, and we learn of botched murder investigations due to officers’ homophobia. Meanwhile, mild-mannered comedians are being investigated for telling jokes. In Britain, policing is by consent, and it is dangerous for democracy and the rule of law when this trust breaks down. The next Prime Minister urgently needs a plan to rebuild investigative policing and confidence in our police. That, too, will require serious, pragmatic leadership and a willingness to face facts and level with the British people.
We are facing high inflation, anaemic growth, disrupted supply chains, a dysfunctional energy market, a demographic crunch, alarming shifts in climate, a national child exploitation scandal, national security threats at home and abroad, an increasingly divided society, and declining trust in our politics. On a brighter note, however, rain is forecast for the weekend.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, all my colleagues, and all the amazing staff in this place. I also thank my own amazing staff, both here and in the constituency. Since I was elected two and a half years ago, we have taken up more than 40,000 individual cases and responded to more than 75,000 emails. They do an amazing job, and I am proud to have them working for me. Have a lovely summer, everyone.
It is an honour to speak in this debate, in which Sir David delivered so many legendary performances. I can only do my very best to emulate him, so here goes.
Sir David’s dedication to putting people before politics lives on in Southend West. I have now helped more than 100 constituents at my regular surgeries. My No. 1 priority is to make Southend safer, and I am pleased that three new CCTV cameras have been installed in Old Leigh; but, more important, I campaigned for and secured portable knife detection poles for our police ahead of the summer, and I am delighted to say that they arrived last week.
Our local hospital is vital to our community, and I want to thank everyone who works in our NHS. I abseiled down the hospital tower for charity earlier this year. I am delighted that much-needed enabling capital funding to expand our A&E department is now imminent. We also have 111 new ambulance staff and 11 new ambulances.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention, and for his support in the securing of that funding.
Community pharmacies are the unsung heroes of our NHS, and Belfairs Pharmacy is a shining example.
As for transport, C2c’s performance continues be a concern, especially the broken ticket machines: contactless payments are imperative. I am pleased that Chalkwell Station is being upgraded, and that there will soon be new lifts to make it accessible to everyone. I have been battling unjustified cuts in our bus services, and will continue to campaign to see routes reinstated. Speeding is a big issue locally, and with the results of my online survey, I intend to ensure that new safety measures are introduced. However, I will not sleep easy in my bed in Leigh-on-Sea until night flights are eliminated from my constituency.
I have already visited 22 of the 30 schools in Southend West, and was delighted to give certificates to every school and every primary school child to celebrate the platinum jubilee. Tomorrow I will be holding a welcome tea party for Ukrainian refugees in Southend, and I was proud to help Chalkwell Lifeguards to secure funds for a new eco-engine for one of its rescue craft.
Now that we are a city, Southend must become the UK City of Culture in 2029. Leigh Folk Festival moved to a new home this year in Leigh Library Gardens, which was a fabulous event. My charity funding fair in Belfairs enabled several local charities to obtain much-needed grants. Driver Shields UK Ltd has been given the Queen’s award for enterprise and is a fine example of the talent in Southend.
I have hosted six fantastic work experience students this summer. I thank Maddie, Molly, Matilda, Sean, Shannon and Andriy for all their hard work.
I attended countless fantastic jubilee events last month. Southend West really did Her Majesty proud and showed the county how to party.
Following the tradition started by Sir David, there will be a centenarian tea party in Southend West in September.
Volunteers are the backbone of our local community. I thank especially HARP, Havens, the Leigh Lions, the Royal British Legion and the Carli Lansley Foundation, among many others, for the great work that they do. I also thank our local Conservative councillors and the amazing clergy for their hard work for our community.
Our thoughts and prayers are with my constituent Hollie and her son Archie in their brave fight.
I am super excited to attend the first game of the new season at Southend United. I am sure that the Shrimpers will be on top form this year.
The inspirational Music Man Project, which was so beloved of Sir David, will go to Broadway. Who knows what its amazing founder David Stanley will set his sights on next.
Local charity Prost8 is improving the lives of men diagnosed with prostate cancer in Southend.
I thank those from the Tamil association for their hard work and for letting me not come last on their sports day.
Having never previously bowled a wood in my life, I am now an expert, having opened the outdoor bowls season at Chalkwell, Belfairs and Essex bowls clubs. I am hoping to improve my wrist action before next season.
Finally, I wish all colleagues, House staff and my wonderful team a very happy, healthy and enjoyable recess. I intend to spend the summer eating my own body weight in our delicious Rossi’s ice cream. My final exhortation must be to the Deputy Leader of the House: make Southend the UK city of culture in 2029!
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the new Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) and a true honour to speak in this debate dedicated to our wonderful late colleague, Sir David. When I entered Parliament he showed me so much love and affection because I became the next Conservative MP for Hyndburn after his best friend, and godfather to two of his beloved children, the late Ken Hargreaves.
Before I talk about Hyndburn, I would like to read a quick excerpt from David’s eulogy to Ken that describes the cheeky relationship they shared. It is about a joke that David played on Ken. He said:
“I had thought that we had the same views on pornography, thinking there should be less of it, but one evening I observed Ken dashing into a lobby to vote. The lobby was fairly empty and when he came through he asked me what he had voted for not knowing himself. ‘More pornography’ I replied. ‘Oh eck’ said he.”
What shines through in his eulogy is a clear understanding of how they became such great friends. Every word that he attributed to Ken could be attributed to Sir David. He concluded as follows:
“Ken was undoubtedly an inspirational character, a man of the highest integrity and generous to a fault. The nearest thing to a saint that I have ever met and he was certainly a political saint if we excuse his voting record on pornography! So I share with everyone in this Church the pain and grief of our loss, but this is a celebration of a very great life and let us be cheered in the certain knowledge that if anyone deserved to go to heaven Ken did and that is where he is now.”
Will the hon. Member join me in thanking the Government for dealing with the issue of extreme unction when it came to Sir David and setting up a commission to look at third-party access to crime scenes? They did that and it is now part of the guidance issued for all police forces throughout the country. I am grateful to the Government for that.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s gratitude for that. That the Government acted quite swiftly on the issue was key and put us all at ease after such a tragic incident.
Now on to Hyndburn and Haslingden, my fantastic home. We have some really exciting projects coming forward in Hyndburn and Haslingden. We are putting forward our £20 million levelling-up fund bid, which could bring back the life that Accrington town centre needs and that everybody knew and loved. That is something we are putting forward.
Lancashire County Council is putting forward a £50 million bid, and much of that money will be spent on Hyndburn to improve transport and our local roads, and to create the community hubs that we need. The shared prosperity fund will help to support businesses across Hyndburn and Haslingden, and promote our culture and heritage, which is desperately needed. We have some beautiful architecture: it just needs a little bit of tummy loving care. We also need to make sure that some of the shared prosperity fund is spent on Haslingden market hall, which I have pushed for. We have received funding for Clayton community hub, which is now the heart of the boxing club.
Lancashire is now home to the national cyber security centre, which is a £5 billion project bringing more than 3,000 jobs to the heart of Lancashire, and we now need to make sure that young people get the skills they need to feed into those jobs. We are looking at access for all at our local railway station. Work is already going ahead at Accrington, which is key, but we are now looking at Church and Oswaldtwistle, and Rishton. We need more frequent rail services to Manchester from Accrington, and I am working on that.
Accrington and Rossendale College became an institute of technology and received funding from the Department for Education, and received a grade of outstanding from Ofsted this year, which is a credit to Amanda Melton. She has just retired from teaching, but she was really keen in that.
We need funding for transport infrastructure, more frequent rail services and measures to improve pollution and congestion on our local roads. We also need to tackle speed, which is a key issue for local residents, and I am working with our fantastic police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden, to achieve that. We also need to look at our parks and green spaces and see investment in Victoria park in Haslingden. Hyndburn Council has just bought 88 acres of land in Oswaldtwistle to create a country park, which will be a fantastic asset. We have also created a BMX track—
I have to carry on.
Floral displays are needed across all of my beautiful market towns—Great Harwood, Oswaldtwistle, Haslingden and Rishton—not just in Accrington town centre. I will spend my summer in my home of Hyndburn and Haslingden, knocking on doors and speaking to what I believe to be the best constituents in the country. I am looking forward to having that break and connecting with local voters and speaking to them about the matters that mean most to them.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), but when I see “Southend West” on the annunciator, I very much think of the brilliant campaigning Member of Parliament, David Amess, and it is fitting that the debate is named after him. Only fairly recently, animal welfare, an issue about which Sir David was very passionate, was back on the statute book, and that law was very appropriate. Thinking back to his many achievements in getting legislation through, there was also the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which redefined public policy in tackling fuel poverty in the UK. That is a pertinent issue now, as we face the cost of living crisis.
One phrase I keep hearing, but I do not really like, is that people have a choice of whether to heat or eat. I do not like that phrase because there are still far too many people who do not even have that choice. When they go to a food bank, they are looking not just for food but for a fuel voucher. The reality is that too many people are still in poverty across our islands. It has been a surprise to me that that has not yet featured as an issue in the Conservative party leadership contest.
The contest can be entertaining for those of us watching from the outside. Indeed, one of the leadership candidates appeared to suggest that Darlington was in Scotland, and that was a surprise to both the people of Scotland and the people of Darlington.
I should welcome the Deputy Leader of the House to his place. I am told that researchers are discovering that he is one of the first Members of Parliament to have been elevated to the Front Bench who has seen his contributions in Hansard drop sharply. I think that is because of his many contributions from the Back Benches. I wish him well in his glittering career on the Front Bench, which I will be watching with interest.
He may very well become an establishment stooge, but I will be watching his glittering career from the safety, in the years ahead, of an independent Scotland. He and I both follow the NFL and American football passionately, and he will be aware of the brand and logo of my team, the Raiders, which is “Commitment to Excellence”. If only the Government had a commitment to excellence; I am thinking here that so many Members from across the House have mentioned issues with the Passport Office and the problems our constituents have. I am genuinely trying to be helpful when I reiterate the call I made during business questions. If Ministers and officials have regular updates, either virtually or through a conference call with Members from across the House so that we can address some of the systematic problems that exist at the Passport Office, it would be really helpful for everyone across the House.
I wish to raise a couple of other issues of concern. A number of Members talked about the tone of debates, and they were right to do so. There now seems to be a debate about the size of the state going on. I am very concerned that the Government seem to be pressing ahead with 91,000 civil service job cuts, and Departments are being asked to put forward proposals for staff cuts of 20%, 30% and 40%. Departments are being asked, “What would the Department look like? What could it not do?” That is the wrong approach.
Does my hon. Friend, like me, see the contradiction on the part of the Government? They talk about cutting tax and therefore having fewer resources to resource our public services with. How does that add up with the idea of levelling up? The two of those things are mutually exclusive, are they not?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The fact that the Government also want to close government offices—in some towns and cities, public sector offices are the largest employer—also goes against that. I am also concerned about the increasing anti-trade union rhetoric we have heard recently and this way of legislating in haste. I am thinking in particular about the attempt to bring in agency workers to bust strikes. Agencies themselves do not support that legislation, so I have no idea why the Government went ahead with it.
I want to pay tribute to every constituency office and constituency staff member across these islands, but I must pay particular tribute to the No. 1 team, who find themselves in Glasgow South West. I refer of course to Justina, Dominique, Linsey, Raz, Alistair, Keith, Greg and my new office manager, Scott McFarlane, who takes over from the great Roza Salih. I was delighted that she was elected as the first refugee councillor in Scotland in the May council elections, representing the Greater Pollok ward. I pay particular tribute to all community groups, particularly those in Glasgow South West, which will be running summer programmes, looking after the elderly, looking after young people and addressing food poverty. That just leaves me to wish everyone a good summer. To quote Alice Cooper, “School’s out for summer”.
As Mr Deputy Speaker said earlier, it is a bit of an impossible task to try to wind up these debates. Before I begin, may I put on record my thanks to the Speaker’s Office and to everyone who works in this place, from the police officers, the security guards, the wonderful Doorkeepers, the Clerks, the unseen Committees such as the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, through to the catering, cleaning, Hansard and IT staff, who keep the whole parliamentary estate ticking over day in, day out. We are very grateful to them. As the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) mentioned, we are also grateful to our constituency staff and teams. That allows me to thank my team and the excellent Sarah Banwell, who won Labour caseworker of the year from Prospect this year—I wanted to give her a little mention too.
It is a pleasure to respond to today’s Adjournment debate on behalf of the shadow Leader of the House team and it is also a real honour to speak in a debate dedicated to our late colleague Sir David Amess. We all know that there is no doubt that he would have been in the Chamber today, speaking up for his beloved Southend. As a regular myself, I used to look on in awe at his contributions. He owned this debate. It was a masterclass. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) seemed to do a good job of mentioning as many issues as he did. The hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) made her contribution, which Sir David Amess would have been extremely proud of. His legacy will live on both inside and outside Parliament.
I welcome the Deputy Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), to his place. In one of my first contributions in this role—I was a bit lonely because I had no one to shadow, so I am pleased that he has come along—I reflected on how my appearance at the Dispatch Box would give hope to late developers everywhere, and the same can be said for him. Over the years, he has forged a reputation as a stickler for parliamentary protocol, often to the chagrin of his own party, and he is no stranger to the rough and tumble of this place.
My former neighbour and friend in Newport West, the late, great Paul Flynn, enjoyed regular verbal jousts with the hon. Gentleman in this Chamber, and it is a shame that their spells on the Front Bench never coincided. The hon. Gentleman once commented that Paul was his inspiration for running for Parliament, having been a constituent of his for some years as a travel agent in Newport. With characteristic good humour, Paul noted that he would carry for life the burden of being responsible for the hon. Gentleman’s parliamentary career, so I am sure he would be delighted to see his unlikely protégé elevated to his new place on the Front Bench today. Some would say that the Deputy Leader of the House must be a glutton for punishment to step into the role with a Government who are crumbling all around him, but that is nothing new to him—after all, he once stood as the Conservative candidate in Islwyn, where Tory voters are a rarer breed than costed policies from his party leadership candidates.
End-of-term Adjournment debates are a valued opportunity, like Thursday’s business questions, to raise a whole range of issues. Today we have heard some great contributions from Members across the House on issues that are close to their hearts. Home Office delays were mentioned by, among others, my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) and the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I very much recognise the experiences they talked about, with constituents left in limbo and delays to day-to-day family visas. It is no fault of the civil servants; there is a failure to cope and plan, and a lack of resources. I, too, have Afghan interpreters’ families still living in bridging hotels for far too long, and it is not good enough.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) mentioned James Brokenshire. It is good that we also remember him today, as well as his mother, Ann Cryer, for her legacy through her work in campaigning on sexual exploitation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) mentioned that the gambling White Paper has been delayed four times and that we need gambling reform. She is quite right. Her comments are very much based on her experiences in Swansea East and her expertise on this issue. I hope that Ministers heed her calls to get on with this. I also congratulate her on her work on the menopause; she has done so much to make sure that this area gets the attention it needs. Not least, she managed to get both of us into Hello magazine.
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) talked about rail, giving me the opportunity to agree that we need greater rail investment from this Government, particularly in my corner of south-east Wales, where we have 11% of the rail network and 2% of rail enhancement funding. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney about consequential funding for HS2 for Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) spoke very well about the cost of living crisis, backlog Britain and NHS delays, as well as the housing crisis and the need for investment in housing and communities, with her call for local homes for local people.
In acknowledging the contribution of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), let me say how pleased we all were to see him get called very early in business questions today—a special end-of-term treat for him and for us all.
The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) spoke about the importance of aerospace to our economy. Being in a neighbouring constituency, I agree with that, because many jobs in Newport East, too, are dependent on aerospace as people commute to his constituency.
It is the time of year for end-of-school reports and if we apply the same metric to this Government, the conclusion could only be: “Must do better”. One of the barometers by which to measure the Government’s performance is the timeliness of responses to inquiries from MPs across the House. Even on that basic criteria, the Government are failing dismally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney mentioned in business questions and during this debate.
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. I shall look at that with great interest as Members are very interested in this issue. Multiple Departments have a dire record on written parliamentary questions, particularly in relation to COP26 and the Department of Health and Social Care. The record on named day questions is not much better either.
The picture is not much brighter on general written correspondence. The most recent data shows that only 16% of MPs’ and peers’ letters on COP26 were responded to within the timescale set, with the Government Equalities Office and the Department of Health and Social Care faring only slightly better. That bleeds through to MP hotlines, which have been unreliable for some time. The Home Office said that it needs a recovery plan to support its hotline to return to acceptable service standards, and it is preparing that. However, the Home Office is not the only Department in need of a recovery plan. The recent chaos at the Passport Office shows how badly the Government need to improve. The passport issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, the hon. Member for Harrow East and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. We thank the civil servants, including those in the Newport passport office, who work so hard. I also put on record our thanks to all those who have come to work in Portcullis House.
I am running out of time, but I will mention another group who are being let down by the Government: the victims of the contaminated blood scandal. Ministers have had more than enough time to respond to Sir Robert Francis’s report, which recommends interim payments for victims now and the full inclusion of family members who lost loved ones in a future compensation framework. That would be a final recognition of the suffering of families such as my constituents, the Smiths, who lost their seven-year-old son, Colin, after he received infected blood products from a prison in Arkansas. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) is absolutely right that the Government must get on with this.
I am pleased, however, that progress is being made on the Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill, which will finally scrap the hated six-month rule. Much thanks is due to charities such as the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Marie Curie, which helped me with a ten-minute rule Bill on this issue. I am glad that the social security Bill will come through the House in September and I know that it will get cross-party backing.
It is a pleasure to follow the shadow Deputy Leader of the House. I did live in Newport West and that is exactly what Paul Flynn said. She was a little unkind to me about Islwyn, where I had the best Conservative result ever—I lost by only 36,000 votes.
It is a pleasure to sum up this really important debate, which is one of the few occasions when Members can bring up whatever they like on many different occasions during their speech. It is also the Sir David Amess Summer Adjournment debate and I wish to start with the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth). I did not expect to get emotional at this stage, but I am a Southend West boy; I grew up there and Sir David was a great friend. Many years ago, I was waiting to be considered as the next Member of Parliament for Southend West. I was in a little room outside Iveagh Hall, waiting for my turn to go and convince the members that I should be the person for Southend West. There was some chap in there before me, and he had them roaring with laughter. And he got a standing ovation at the end. That was, of course, Sir David Amess.
One year ago almost to the day, Sir David spoke in this debate and raised 15 points in three minutes. His last eight words were
“of course, we must make Southend a city.”—[Official Report, 22 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 1212.]
That is exactly what happened. I hope Sir David is looking down on us today and smiling with pleasure, especially at his replacement, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West. I wrote rapidly to note everything she said, and she mentioned the CCTV in Old Leigh. Gosh, that is where I spent my teenage years, and thank goodness they did not have CCTV then.
My hon. Friend mentioned hospital funding, and I used to live right by the general hospital. It is amazing if she abseiled down that. I declare an interest, as my sister used to work there and I am grateful that it got the £7 million as part of the hospital upgrades we are seeing across the country. My local hospital has also received money, and I will be going to see it tomorrow.
I note that we have not made party political points today, which is what is so special about this debate. My hon. Friend mentioned Chalkwell station and, as a little boy, I remember being scared to go up the station steps because I thought I would fall through. Apparently the rail service is still as bad as it was when I lived there—c2c needs to improve.
My hon. Friend mentioned so many other things. I hope Southend United still play at Roots Hall. Rossi ice cream is the best in the United Kingdom. She mentioned Havens hospice, where my mother unfortunately died, but it is a great hospice.
As my hon. Friend mentioned at the end, closest to David’s heart was the Music Man Project, which is the most amazing charity. I am so pleased it is going to Broadway, and my sister’s daughter will be part of that. It is a great charity that helps disabled people to sing. It is the most amazing thing to see. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making 40 requests in five minutes, which beats Sir David’s average.
It will be impossible to reply to everyone. I made notes and, where Members raised important issues, I will ensure that I write to the relevant Minister to get a response. Several themes came through; one was the Passport Office and another was visas. The Home Office will have heard those remarks about the Passport Office, which also came up at business questions. The hub in Portcullis House has helped enormously. I can say that 98% of passports arrive within 10 weeks, but all we ever hear about are the 2% that do not. I hope the Home Office has been listening, because the issue was mentioned by Members on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) made an interesting point about the visa situation. When Ukraine happened, we demanded that the Home Office took action. It brought people in, but the numbers have now fallen back. I do not blame the Home Office for that, but I understand the issue. The issue of Afghan refugees in hotels also needs to be addressed, and I am sure that the Home Office will have listened to that point.
Another theme that came across from a number of Members, I think on both sides of the House, was the business of unanswered parliamentary letters and questions. As the Leader of the House has said on many occasions, that is not acceptable. Departments respond at different rates. I am not quite sure how one Department is so good at doing it and another is not. I hope that I am allowed to say that I am about to do a grand tour of Whitehall during the recess. I am going to go to each Department and discuss with them, among other things, how they help us in Parliament. I will bring up the issue of questions, and I will ask them how they respond and how quickly. I shall also have the figures myself, so I shall be able to point out that MPs are not happy and that Departments have to improve. To be fair, some Departments are very good at responding. We just need to raise the game there.
Let me turn to some of the points that were brought up by individuals, starting with the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). I listened to what he said about the holocaust memorial. There was an urgent question today and there was a difference of views in the House, but he made very important comments, and I hope that they will be listened to. I was shocked to hear that a number of Ministers were apparently not willing to meet the Father of the House. If that is true, I will arrange to make sure that those meetings take place.
I will make sure that it happens, then. The Father of the House also brought up an individual case. If he lets me have the details of that, I will pass them on.
The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) brought up a number of issues, including child poverty, which he has raised before. Obviously, I could say, “Look, we’ve done £36 billion” or whatever, but that does not actually mean anything, does it? I think Members across the House welcome the levelling-up commitment but want to see that turn into real money and real action. I am sure that Ministers will have heard that.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the Afghan resettlement scheme. [Interruption.] Let me see what I have done wrong. [Interruption.] I have not done anything wrong quite yet. Actually, to be honest, Madam Deputy Speaker, they want to shut me up before I say anything else I will get in trouble for—that is the truth.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, all Members and everyone who works here—it is a fantastic place; it is the home of democracy—and I wish everyone a happy and safe recess.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House. It is a tough gig, answering this debate.
This has been an historic first Sir David Amess summer Adjournment debate. I thank Members across the House for taking part and raising a wide range of issues. I am sure that the letter writers in the offices of the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House will be busy for a few days following today’s contributions.
Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and every Member of this House, House staff, all those working across the parliamentary estate, and all staff in constituency offices across the country, a restful, enjoyable and well deserved summer recess.
Thank you. This has been an excellent debate—quite a contrast to the rest of the week—and a fitting remembrance of our dear friend Sir David. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yesterday in this House I raised on point of order that images of my wife and two children have been used this week in paid-for Facebook adverts by the Rother Valley Labour party.
Today my office received this message from a constituent:
“I’ve arrived at work to 4 people being asked to leave the carpark”—
this was outside the Dinnington Tesco in my constituency —with
“a petition to remove Alex Stafford.”
She then says that she was shown an image of
“Alex, the wife and kids”.
Let me be clear about what has been reported by several constituents. The Rother Valley Labour party is using images featuring my wife and two young children, one of whom is only seven months old, to drum up anger and sentiment against me and my family.
On top of this, a former Rother Valley Labour councillor said today on a Rother Valley Facebook page:
“Stafford made the mistake of posting family images on Facebook…he is only in a hole because he dug it himself…he is happy for his family to stand metaphorically in the road on a busy bus route.”
He is stating that my wife and my two children are fair game because they feature on Facebook. What sort of level of politics have we sunk to when children are being used to attack other politicians and to whip up hatred?
I am again calling on the leader of the Labour party, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), and the Labour Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Sir Alan Campbell), to immediately suspend all the Rother Valley Labour party members involved, and to speak to me tonight about these incidents, which I can only see as being designed to create anger and hatred against my family. I am also calling on my fellow Rotherham borough MPs—the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion)—to condemn the use of pictures of my family in party political attacks.
This is not “campaigning”, as some have suggested. These are pictures of my young children, being used to whip up anger and hatred, and being shown to people in order to create an environment of intimidation. This needs to stop before we have another horrific incident.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I took the point of order that he made yesterday on the same subject, and I appreciate that matters have deteriorated since yesterday. As I said to the hon. Gentleman and to the House yesterday, I have to be very careful in dealing with these matters here in public in the Chamber, because this really is a matter of security. I have made sure that our security team here at the House of Commons will give the hon. Gentleman every assistance that they possibly can, because these matters are taken very seriously.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned various Members of this House. I appreciate that he was, of course, not criticising them, but having mentioned them, I hope he will give them notice, if he has not already done so—[Interruption.] I am grateful to him for confirming that he has already done so. I appreciate that he was not criticising any Member of this House, but merely drawing the matter to their attention. I repeat that these are matters that are taken very seriously.