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Sir David Amess Summer Adjournment

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

We come to the moment we have all been waiting for: the last piece of business before the summer recess. It is the Sir David Amess summer Adjournment debate. For just a moment, we pause and remember our late and very greatly missed honourable Friend.

A great many people want to speak this afternoon. There is plenty of time, but if everyone keeps their contributions under 10 minutes, we will manage without a formal time limit, which will make for a much more pleasant and easily flowing debate. It will also be fair. Everybody will get a decent crack of the whip—oh, I do not mean “the Whip”; let me be more precise: everyone will get the chance to speak for the same amount of time. To move the motion, I call the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, Mr Ian Mearns.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.

As Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, I am grateful for the opportunity to open this debate, and to commemorate the memory of our lost friend, Sir David Amess. I have had the privilege of holding my role as Chair since 2015, with the support of colleagues from both sides of the House. These debates offer me and other Members from across the House a great opportunity that the parliamentary timetable might not otherwise allow to raise issues from the constituency. I express my gratitude to those Members who had the fortitude to resist the temptation to attend one of the three by-elections, and who are here on the day of a national rail strike—and, of course, the final day before the summer recess. As I say, this is an opportunity to raise a whole range of issues, and with your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will do that.

Last month marked the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. I am certain that colleagues will remember that night with great sadness, and I know that many of them share my desire to see lessons learned from that tragic evening, and to ensure that constituents in buildings with similar cladding and fire safety issues are protected from physical risks and financial burden. In the six years that have passed, a series of Ministers have made bold statements about protecting leaseholders from the costs that those leaseholders might incur in protecting themselves. Even today, hundreds of my constituents, and equal numbers of constituents in nearly every urban constituency, are living in limbo. Those affected are predominantly in properties that are under 18 metres high, which the Government deem not to require surveys, though mortgage companies, conveyancers and insurance companies most certainly do. Constituents in defective buildings are suffering from a cocktail of potential dangers, and they have no funding or recourse to remedy, and no ability to pay for the works required, to move, or to move on with their life. There is complete imbalance between the power of the freeholder and that of the leaseholder and tenant. The Government continue to make positive statements, but I am afraid that they continue to let down many hundreds of my constituents.

On a more positive note, I have been delighted to learn of the continuation of funding for the next 12 months for the special school eye care service; small pilots of that service are running across the country. I was delighted to visit the service in action at the excellent Gibside School in my Gateshead constituency. I urge the Government to commit to a national roll-out of the service in the long term. It is a service for visually impaired children with special educational needs and disabilities, for whom it is difficult at the best of times to get accurate eye tests and spectacles.

I am also delighted to report to the House that the state-of-the-art conference facility earmarked for a site in the heart of Gateshead—close to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, the Sage Gateshead, which is our regional music centre, and of course the Gateshead Millennium bridge—will begin construction in the autumn. I hope that, over the course of the next 10 years, many Members will have the opportunity to see Gateshead in all its glory at this brand-new facility.

I want to take a moment to recognise the groundbreaking district heating system developed by Gateshead Council in my constituency. The system supplies many households and businesses in the centre of Gateshead and is continually expanding. The system operates using natural gas, but there are plans in the near future to convert the plant to use the heat of mine water, using the north-east’s proud industrial heritage to generate clean energy for the people of Gateshead. As we continue to deal with the climate crisis, I am sure that all Members will commend Gateshead Council’s cutting-edge investment in clean power and energy efficiency.

I am afraid that that marks the end of the more upbeat chapter of my speech. I have long campaigned against the council tax system, which I believe has been unfit for purpose from the outset. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we got rid of the poll tax, but my constituency has among the highest council tax rates in the country despite featuring highly on every single measure of poverty and need.

The system hands a huge financial advantage to authorities whose properties are above band D on average. By their very nature such authorities are often in the more affluent areas of the country. Conversely, areas such Gateshead have a council tax base made up almost exclusively of band A and band B properties. Coupled with the removal of the majority of the revenue support grant, Gateshead Council has had to hike council tax rates to fill some of the gap

I want to draw this House’s attention to local government finances more broadly. Gateshead Council’s annual budget has been almost halved in real terms since 2010, hugely reducing the council’s ability to maintain vital and good-quality public services. That is happening despite a significant hike in demand for adult social care and children’s social services. This summer, two of the six public leisure centres in Gateshead will close as the council battles with a huge hole in its budget in the face of rising costs and need.

The areas of highest deprivation and poverty are seeing council tax rates skyrocket while services plummet. We in Gateshead are watching the gap between wealthy and less wealthy areas widen rapidly. We are paying far more for services that are a mere shadow of their former selves, while people in many areas of the south-east pay much less for far more. No Government should be taking decisions that make the lives of ordinary people more arduous, difficult and poverty stricken. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Gateshead has a proud track record of offering safe haven for those seeking protection from some of the worst regimes and war-torn areas around the world. I regularly meet families who have settled in Gateshead and now call it home, but I also meet many families and individuals who are the opposite of settled. Many of them have been in the United Kingdom for years. Many are still waiting for decisions on their applications. Many have skills and qualities that our communities and our economy urgently require.

The latest figures from the Home Office demonstrate the disgraceful scale of the problem. As of 31 March this year, 172,000 asylum applications were awaiting their first decision, and 128,000 have been ongoing for more than 12 months. It is desperately worrying that the number of people waiting for a decision has grown exponentially from 16,000 in 2016 to 133,000 in 2023. The Government must get a grip on this crisis as a matter of urgency, yet they appear to be using the figures to justify an incredibly troubling policy direction. The majority of those people have fled some of the worst tragedies in our world, and our communities are better for having them.

Finally, let me turn to a couple of more topical issues. Just this week, following a BBC investigation, it has been revealed that more than 100 current or former workers for the McDonald’s fast food chain, many of them vulnerable young people, have complained of 78 instances of alleged sexual harassment, 31 relating to sexual assault, 18 of racism and six of homophobia. That is a very poor employment record for any employer. No one should go to work having to run the gauntlet of sexual assault or harassment, or discrimination on the grounds of their race, gender or sexuality. I declare an interest, because these allegations were brought to light following tireless campaign work by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, whose parliamentary group I chair.

McDonald’s has allowed sexual assault, bullying, harassment and racism to happen on its watch, but while all that has been happening on its premises, it has steadfastly ensured that one kind of activity certainly is not allowed—trade union activity. Workers are prevented from getting together to protect themselves from some of the worst excesses of an employer that has clearly been turning a blind eye to all sorts of nastiness on its premises.

It is necessary, but not enough, to look at whether any laws or guidance have been breached here. As the TUC general secretary, Paul Nowak, has said:

“All the guidelines—and indeed laws—in the world count for little if workers don’t have access to strong, independent unions.”

This is not just a matter of a toxic culture developing inside one company, McDonald’s. This kind of abuse results from power differentials arising from a situation where vulnerable young workers, often on zero-hours contracts, are desperate for shifts and therefore dependent on the largesse of their managers. It is critical that the next Labour Government act to ban the use of zero-hours contracts and ensure that trade unions have a statutory right of access to workplaces in order to communicate to workers and free them from the anti-union scare- mongering of their employers.

Finally, noting my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as chair of the RMT’s parliamentary group, I want to say that our public transport network has been dismantled and decimated by the patchwork quilt of private operating companies running trains and buses for shareholder profit, not for passenger service. If, as a country and a Government, we are remotely serious about tackling climate change and lethally poor air quality in some places, we must urgently address the inadequate and, for too many communities, non-existent public transport network.

The most recent decision to close almost all ticket offices across the country shows once again that this Government are intent on running our vital infrastructure simply as a profit-making entity. Although it is shrouded in the pretence of offering greater accessibility to staff, it is clear to me and many of my constituents that it is nothing more than a naked attempt to cut costs, sack hard-working staff, reduce access for the frail, disabled and vulnerable, and bolster profits. Not only will it have a negative impact across the network; it will have an exclusionary impact on those who are not able to use smartphones or to see or properly access automatic ticket machines, or who have significant disabilities and accessibility issues.

Good quality, affordable and reliable public transport is the backbone of any modern and high-performing economy, but for too many years we have seen that vital public infrastructure chopped up and sold off, handed to companies with neither any experience nor any interest in operating for the public or economic good of the country, which carve out profits at the expense of their staff, their customers and the local and regional economy, then hand back the reins when they have squeezed out every last drop of profit. That is why Network Rail, London North Eastern Railway, Northern and TransPennine Express are all now in public ownership.

We have seen cuts to services, cuts to staff, and cuts to maintenance, yet huge increases in prices, cancellations and delays, with taxpayers—many of whom have no access to any of these services—footing the bill for the Government’s largesse. We must put an end to this merry- go-round and return to running our public transport in the public interest.

May I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), and to all Members? I have not missed a Sir David Amess Adjournment debate in 13 years. I am sorry, but I am going to have to miss this one because I have an event to go to back home. It is the 50th anniversary of the women who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment; I am one of their guests, and I wish to be there to support them. I wish the hon. Member for Gateshead, you, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker, all the Deputy Speakers and every Member here—friends all—a very good recess. May the Lord bless you for the summer that comes ahead and all you do.

Before I hand back to the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, I hardly need point out that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), in his inimitable way, has not missed the debate. He has managed to put in his tuppence-worth, as ever, in a way that is procedurally acceptable, because the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) gave way to him, which is perfectly proper. The whole House appreciates his good wishes.

In his inimitable way, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has secured, through his kind words, his season ticket for the Backbench Business Committee.

Madam Deputy Speaker, may I thank you and Members across the House for the indulgence of allowing me to lead this debate? I will get a chance to reply at the end, and I will leave my best wishes for the summer until then.

David Amess and I had a common interest in the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, which is one of the groups of which I am an officer. That is relevant to the debate we had yesterday, when the House sort of came to a conclusion on the Standards Committee’s rules on all-party groups, but that is for another day, when it has had a chance to review what is going on.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) for his work with me on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill Committee a long time ago, for nearly two years, and for the exemplary way in which he and his Committee run the Backbench Business Committee. All who come to make applications are grateful for the serious consideration given by members of that Committee and the way they manage to schedule so many debates that are of interest to our constituents and important to the nation, and that give MPs the chance to say what they want to say.

I am afraid that I cannot be here for the winding-up speeches at 5 o’clock, because today is the day of St Margaret of Antioch, the patron saint of St Margaret’s church, Westminster, across the road from here. As parliamentary warden, I will be at that service.

I want the Minister to get others together and have a meeting with me and representatives of the former sergeant Gurpal Virdi, an excellent police officer. In my previous constituency, I represented the family of Stephen Lawrence after he had been attacked. One police officer in that investigation did well; many others did not. There was a similar attack—not a fatal one—on a foreign student in Ealing. Gurpal Virdi left his police station, found two of the suspects, found the attack weapon and went to see the family. Later on, he asked whether the attack had been recorded as potentially racist. When he came back from holiday, his home was turned over by a terrorist search squad because he was thought to have sent a message to himself saying, “You’re not wanted here. National Front.” He is Sikh, and that message was also received by other minority ethnic officers.

There is no need to take too many notes, because most of this is recorded in a book he has published called “Behind the Blue Line”. I contributed one of the forewords, and the other one was contributed by Dr Richard Stone, the Jewish human rights doctor who was one of the advisers on Macpherson’s Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Both Richard Stone and I knew what we were writing about, and we know Gurpal Virdi.

Gurpal Virdi managed to get out of the difficulties that some people in the police were putting on him. He was later commended by Bernard Hogan-Howe when deputy commissioner. One of his tasks in the police was working in the Battersea police station when one of the sergeants was Cressida Dick. People who have been at the top of the Metropolitan Police Service have known about him and his case for a long time.

In 2014, I wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Home Secretary explaining why the proposed prosecution of Gurpal Virdi for what was originally described as indecently assaulting someone under the age of 16 in a police van in 1986 was an impossible prosecution and should not go ahead. The prosecution did go ahead, and after a week and a half’s trial in Southwark Crown court, ending on 31 July 2015, the jury took about 50 minutes to come back to court with their conclusion. If we allow them 10 minutes to get back to the jury room, five minutes to go to the rest room, five minutes to have a discussion and 10 minutes to get back to the court, we can see how long it took them to decide that the case was not a proper one to have been brought and to establish his innocence.

I then asked whether the police could review how the prosecution happened. I also asked the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney General how it happened. What is now the Independent Office for Police Conduct put to the Metropolitan police the question of whether it had acted properly. The Metropolitan police referred that to its directorate of professional standards. Most cases of historical sex abuse were investigated by the Sapphire group, but it was not interested in this; it had passed it to the directorate of professional standards, who were the people who actually did the investigation. When the IOPC or whatever it was called in those days referred it to them, the directorate of professional standards came to the conclusion, “There’s nothing wrong here.”

I am going to spell out briefly some of the things that were wrong. First, the Metropolitan police and the CPS held a press briefing announcing that Gurpal Virdi had assaulted somebody under the age of 16. They had known from the day after they started investigating that the complainant was over 16. They accused Gurpal Virdi of using a collapsible police baton up the bottom of this young man, when there was another police officer in the back of the van and another in the front. They have never found the driver and the person they believe was the other person in the van denied there was an assault. Secondly, they said the arrest was made in a different place from where the complainant said it happened. Thirdly, they said it was a different kind of police van. Fourthly, they said there was no serious assault and, most importantly, that there was no collapsible police truncheon or baton. That is not a big surprise, because the alleged events were in 1986 and collapsible police batons were issued in 1995, years later. This case was supervised by a gold group at Scotland Yard—so we are talking about senior officers—with the CPS. How did they manage not to notice that the case was impossible?

I could go on at greater length, but I make this point, through the Minister, to those responsible. When we have this meeting, I would like them to explain how the prosecution managed to avoid paying any attention to the only documentary evidence that was left. Gurpal Virdi’s notebooks had been taken by the police and destroyed. What was available was a conviction notice in the Lambeth East juvenile court from spring 1987 about the complainant. He had been arrested a month before by an officer with Gurpal Virdi. The complainant never mentioned that arrest, which definitely did take place. He had made up nonsense about the time he was arrested in the autumn of 1986, but there was no evidence whatsoever that Gurpal Virdi was involved. Other officers were named—the officer in charge is named, but he made no statement. When asked, he said, “I know nothing about it.” If the complainant thought that he had been mistreated by Gurpal Virdi in the autumn of 1986, one would expect that he would have mentioned that at the time of his arrest, which certainly did happen, in the spring of 1987. He did not mention it at all. The investigating officers did not even interview the other police officer who was known to have been part of that arrest. That is the level of either incompetence or targeting of a good police officer that we are seeing here.

I want the police, the IOPC, the CPS and Ministers to get together in a meeting, preferably with me, Gurpal Virdi and his lawyer, Matt Foot of Birnberg Peirce, to go through what needs to be established, so that people can have confidence in the Metropolitan police in the future. If they decline, that confidence is not going to return. We have all heard Sir Mark Rowley speaking recently about historical things that he is going to put right and about the officers he says he does not want to keep in his force.

Many of those involved in what I have been talking about will have retired. I wish them no ill, but I want to know that no other person like Gurpal Virdi—one of the best people I have known—can be subjected to something like the earlier incident with the racist material he did not produce or be put through a totally bogus charge after they have retired. All the evidence available showed that he was not involved, and that the crime did not happen and could not have happened. I am not satisfied and I will not be. Therefore, if I have to come back this time next year for another Adjournment debate, I will, but I will name names. I will name the names of every officer involved, everyone involved in the Crime Prosecution Service and the others. I would prefer not to do so; I would prefer to get this sorted out. I believe that, if the commissioner agreed with the IOPC and the CPS, they could get two people to look together at what was available and what happened. They could then produce a report. The Metropolitan police could then say that they had learned the lessons and, if they felt like it, apologise to Gurpal Virdi for the third time.

It is a pleasure to rise today to speak once again in the aptly named Sir David Amess summer Adjournment debate. Although we sat on opposite sides of the House, the one thing that he and I had in common was our fierce passion for the communities that we represented. Few fought harder for their constituents than Sir David and the summer Adjournment debate was always the pinnacle of that.

I wish to open today by talking about my own little corner of the world and the fabulous things that are happening in Swansea East. I have spoken a lot about the Everyone Deserves project, which provides lunch clubs, hampers and cooked meals to families across the constituency who might otherwise go without during the school holidays and festive times. Thanks to a host of generous donations and the support of colleagues, both here and in the Senedd, I was delighted last year to be able to extend the provision to communities in Neath, Aberavon and Merthyr Tydfil. I am as delighted to be able to do the same during the upcoming summer break.

With households across the area feeling the pinch, demand is higher than ever, but, throughout the holidays, Everyone Deserves will be providing lunch for some fantastic free activities to ease the burden for parents who are struggling with the extra costs that school holidays incur. I thought that, as we head into the summer recess, it would be a perfect opportunity to thank everybody who has played a part in making Everyone Deserves the success that it is. There are the companies that readily donate funds and resources every time I pick up the phone and ask—I apologise to anyone I forget: Budget Carpets, Hygrove Homes, Low Cost Vans, Coastal Housing, Greggs, Warburtons, Morrisons, the solicitors Peter Lynn and Partners, Morganstone, JCR Wealth, ADS Ltd, Dawsons and AB Glass; the wholesalers, Bidfood and Castell Howell, who go out of their way not just to process and deliver our initial orders, but to accommodate my ever changing last-minute requests; the Swans, the Ospreys, the Evening Post, Rob Stewart and Swansea City Council, which we could not do this without. I thank, too, Huw Cooze from Visions Creative for volunteering his time to design our posters and advertising, and my friend since childhood, the hugely talented Mal Pope, for recording his music and donating the proceeds from his album sales to the campaign.

I also wish to thank my political partners who help to spread the support from Everyone Deserves to more and more people across our little part of south Wales—Julie James MS for Swansea West, Jeremy Miles MS for Neath, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock)—can someone please tell him that I said something nice about him, so I do not have to do it again?—and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), about whom I am always happy to say nice things.

Then there is my team, who spend not just their working hours, but their own time chasing orders, organising deliveries, packing hampers, and doing whatever they can to make sure that no one goes without. So I say thank you from my heart to Emma, David, Ellie, Sarah, Tom, and Jo. Finally, I thank my long-suffering husband, David, who has no choice but to get involved. There are so many people who make Everyone Deserves happen, so to all those I have mentioned, and to all those I may have forgotten, thank you.

We were almost the best team in Wales last year, but might have been pipped to the post by the Welsh football team who got to the World Cup for the first time in 64 years. They showed great generosity by letting the other teams win, but I hope that they know how proud we are of them as a nation, and to see them on the world stage was fantastic. I can only echo the words of another supporter of Everyone Deserves, Michael Sheen, who in his rousing speech, before the boys left for the tournament, told them:

“Every man, woman and child stands with you.”

I take this opportunity to once again congratulate all the boys, particularly our captain and national hero Gareth Bale, who retired from international football at the end of that season. Gareth very generously supports Everyone Deserves and I was delighted to see him collect his MBE recently, as he is someone who truly deserves to be recognised for everything he has done. I was quite emotional when I saw his name on the last Queen’s honours list.

I was equally emotional when I saw in the first King’s honours list the name of another person with whom I work closely and who I am honoured to call a friend: menopause warrior and all-round superwoman Davina McCall. Davina has led from the front and used her platform, like so many others, to break down the barriers and shatter the stigma that has surrounded the menopause for so long. I have no doubt that she would join me in championing those who do not have the platform that we do, but who have campaigned tirelessly and passionately to change the narrative and ensure that all women have fair and equal access to the support that they need, be that medical support and treatment, support in the workplace or holistic lifestyle support.

Over the last year, we have seen some real progress and that is largely thanks to all those who are campaigning so vehemently at grassroots level. Awareness is being raised. We now have a prepayment certificate available to reduce the cost of hormone replacement therapy, and more and more women are feeling supported by their clinicians, employers, partners and society more widely. We are certainly not there yet; we will not be until every woman is able to easily access the treatment she chooses and able to stay in work and seek promotion, if she wants to.

We should celebrate the progress that we have made, and I hope to stand here at next year’s summer Adjournment debate welcoming even more progress. But for now, I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, colleagues across the House and everyone who makes this place work a very happy and healthy summer break.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). I would never accuse her of Godwottery, because she is a plain speaker. Indeed, one of the things I enjoyed in her speech was her mention of Gareth Bale, who was born to play for Tottenham Hotspur.

I am particularly pleased to participate in the debate because we well remember Sir David Amess, who would be sitting not too far away from me here and rattle through 27 or 28 different individual cases. I do not intend to try to emulate him in that.

I congratulate my friends on Harrow Council—the new Conservative-led council—who have got to grips with the Labour overspending and disastrous services that have gone on for more than 13 years. The administration has had to get to grips with providing decent services and dealing with a budget that was not properly constructed.

In local government, ridiculous bureaucratic situations can arise, and I will mention one case. One of my erstwhile constituents has been transferred from Harrow Council to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council. Under current legislation, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council does not have to take up the case of this vulnerable individual, so we are left with the ludicrous position where Harrow Council is trying to provide care and fund someone who is literally 100 miles away. That, to me, is something that we need to consider and to fix.

Let me move on to the key issue of the day: the ridiculous decision by the Mayor of London to expand the ultra-low emission zone to outer London. The judicial review took place on 4 July. The Mayor is currently doing everything he can to distract everyone from the disastrous expansion. We are waiting for the result of that review and the judge in the case has agreed to try to get the review announced by 31 July. The Mayor is now recruiting a propaganda specialist to promote the scheme, at a salary of £75,000. He might actually just withdraw the scheme and let us get on with our lives. Even Labour MPs in London are now turning on the expansion. The Labour candidate in the Uxbridge by-election was apparently in favour of ULEZ, then he was against it, and now he has been kidnapped by his Labour minders in case he actually speaks to voters about the subject.

The Mayor completely ignored residents’ views, as 66% of the population of outer London were against ULEZ. I started a petition in my constituency against it, which more than 1,000 people have already signed. I am looking forward to the judge striking down the position, so that we can get back to a consultation and turn the mayoral election next year into a referendum on ULEZ. The key is that a nurse or cleaner working a night shift and on a much lower income than most of society will have to pay £25 to get to and from work. If they start their shift at 8 pm and finish at 4 am, they pay twice in order to get to and from work. There is not even an option to use public transport because there is no service at 4 am and frankly Transport for London is frequently on strike anyway.

The Mayor is a true snollygoster. Unfortunately, he has dreadful dealings with TfL, especially on the Metropolitan line, which runs through part of my constituency. In 2022-23, more than one in seven trains were cancelled. Bear in mind that many of the stations that we are talking about in outer London receive only one train every 30 minutes. That means that many commuters wait up to an hour or more just to get to and from home. I am very disappointed that TfL continues to disrupt the service by striking. It is causing havoc for travellers who need to get to work, hospital, school and so on. I hope that, rather than taking strike action next week, and Labour colleagues joining the picket lines, we can engage in a sensible discussion and get everyone back to work as fast as possible.

There is a truly ridiculous proposal, which has astonished even me, concerning a cluster of high-rise buildings in Edgware. Technically, it is in the neighbouring borough and constituency, but on a small site there are plans for one block of 29 storeys and five other blocks of 24 storeys. That will totally change Edgware town centre, morphing it into a Canary Wharf twin and overwhelming the infrastructure. It will affect my constituency as well. To make matters worse, the construction will take more than four years, killing the businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises already on the high street. I am pleased that my constituents are responding to my consultation on that, and so far 96% are totally opposed.

After a long and challenging selection process, I am delighted that the former leader of Harrow Council, Councillor Susan Hall, has been selected as the Conservative candidate to become the next Mayor of London next year. She has a track record of making Sadiq Khan feel very uncomfortable, having been leader of the City Hall Conservatives since 2019 before standing down to focus on the mayoralty. Many of us will have watched the debates that she has had with Sadiq Khan, often knocking him off his pre-written script and exposing his failure to tackle issues head on. The vision is very clear: London is safer with Susan. As the Mayor of London is also the police and crime commissioner, I am confident that she will bring to the role exactly what she is promising, as the chair of the Greater London Authority Police and Crime Committee. She will reverse ULEZ on day one and invest £200 million in the Metropolitan police.

Carrying on the good news, I am pleased that Stefan Voloseniuc, who is a good friend of mine, has been selected as the Conservative party’s candidate for Brent and Harrow, which is currently represented by Labour’s ULEZ-backing Krupesh Hirani. Stefan emanates from Romania, and we have a very large Romanian population in north-west London, including 12,000 adults of Romanian extraction in my constituency alone. Clearly, it is great to see people from Romania taking an active part, and I am sure that Stefan will be an excellent candidate for us.

In my position as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Israel, I am concerned that there has been a lot of false and misleading propaganda, both in Parliament and online, regarding the recent counter-terrorism operation in the Jenin camp. We should be clear that the Jenin camp is being used as a base for terrorist organisations and used to orchestrate attacks against innocent civilians. The Israel Defence Forces have acted on precise intelligence information and directly targeted terrorist organisations. Indeed, during the operation several hundred improvised explosive devices and thousands of grenades were discovered, and even holy sites such as the al-Nasr mosque have been found with piles of ammunition and explosive devices. The IDF neutralised 11 concealed IEDs in densely populated areas, clearly highlighting the extraordinary terrorist activities in the area, and I am sure that the Israeli security forces will continue to combat the threat of terrorism.

One of the areas I have been particularly active on in this Parliament has been the holocaust memorial and learning centre. I am pleased that the Holocaust Memorial Bill has passed on Second Reading and now goes on to the Select Committee stage. I am grateful to the Whips for appointing me to the Committee to examine this— I am not sure that I will be feeling grateful by the end of September, but we will wait and see. This will act as a memorial to commemorate the men, women and children who were lost during the war. It will also be an education and learning centre, with an accurate account of this slice of history, with testimonies from British perspectives.

On the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, the position in Iran remains at a critical stage. There has been progress from the Government on tougher sanctions, but frankly it is not enough. We must proscribe the IRGC in its entirety. It is a terrorist organisation and should be highlighted as such. The Jewish Chronicle has highlighted the fact that UK universities have funded drone research, which was transferred to Iranian universities and used directly to produce drones. These were then transferred to the Russians to combat the Ukrainians, whom we support, and we salute their brave war against the illegal invasion by Russia.

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that academics need to recognise that they do not live in a status free of geopolitics and national security? We need to see prosecutions brought against some of those academics because they broke sanctions legislation, evaded sanctions and helped undermine sanctions. If we see that, we may finally see academia recognise that it cannot continue to partner with the Chinese Communist party’s military organisations or Iranian military organisations. Academics must recognise that, unfortunately, in some situations they are aiding those who would undermine our national security.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I agree completely.

Moving on briefly, I am delighted that my Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill was passed, and has in fact received Royal Assent. It has been a long journey, and I would like to thank everyone involved, including Crisis, Ministers, stakeholders and councils. Now we will get on with regulating the rogues and forcing them out of their unfair treatment of vulnerable people.

On the India trade deal, I hope we will see it come out very quickly. A lot of progress has been made, but we still have not got to the final trade deal.

On smoking, yesterday it was four years since the then Health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), announced the Government’s ambition for a smoke-free 2030. I was pleased to celebrate that yesterday with the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, which I chair. At the event, Dr Javed Khan, the Public Health Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien)—and others, including the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), spoke extremely well. However, we are not going to hit the target unless prompt action is taken.

Swifties everywhere will be delighted that Martyn’s law has been introduced, making it clear that there must be risk assessments for all large venues.

I am pleased to have restarted my tours of Parliament for constituents, following a break during the pandemic. So far, we have brought in more than 6,000 residents for a tour and an often intense question-and-answer session.

While all of us will be returning to our constituencies after today, I will be hosting some 60 students in my constituency for work experience. It is the biggest group I have ever had, and I give warning to my colleagues that there will be an onslaught of photos appearing on our WhatsApp groups with this huge number of people on the streets of Harrow. I am pleased that many of my colleagues have been in touch with my office seeking to know how to run such work experience programmes, and I am sure that as a result young people across the country will be having the opportunity of working with MPs over the summer.

Lest I be considered a flibbertigibbet, I come to the closing elements of my speech. I thank all colleagues in the House, those in the other place, the staff in our teams, the security teams, the catering teams, and everyone else who plays a key part in keeping everything afloat. I wish them a very restful, jolly and fruitful summer recess, spending valuable time with family and friends and, perhaps, on the streets as the general election comes ever nearer, and I wish those celebrating earlier in the week a very happy Muharram. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for initiating this debate; I have served on the Committee for some 12 years, and I enjoy working with its Chairman, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns).

Finally, I pay tribute to my great friend—who will always be remembered in this place, not least for his input to these debates, but also for his bright and lovely service to this House and to this country—Sir David Amess. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this afternoon’s debate, and all the Chairs for the many times they have called on me this year. I thank all the House staff who keep this place running day to day, whether that is the Library, the Table Office, or the kitchen staff who provide sustenance over the long sitting days—we are all grateful. It is hard to believe that this is the second year that we are holding this debate without its now namesake and star contributor, Sir David Amess. He was certainly a hard act to follow, and even in his absence today, that remains the case. He was an exceptional MP, someone who showed me great kindness, as I know he did for many colleagues.

There are lots of things I want to speak about. The first is a case that was opened by my office in August 2021 following the withdrawal from Afghanistan. My constituent was desperately trying to help his young wife leave Kabul—I spoke about this case many times in the Chamber. She is the daughter of a translator who worked for the allied troops, and was in immeasurable danger. There are some cases that you cannot help but form an emotional attachment to, and for my team, this was one of them. As such, when we found out last month that the young woman had finally reached Scotland after almost two years, countless letters to countless Ministers and hundreds of calls to UK Visas and Immigration, there was enormous relief.

I have taken many an opportunity in this place to criticise the Home Office and its processes, but today I want to give some praise. The change to an account management system for Members has transformed the relationship my team has with the Department, with open and honest dialogue about cases now being the norm. I am grateful that the majority of cases my team takes to the Home Office these days are resolved within a reasonable timeframe.

The thing about casework is that Members never know what is going to land on their desk next. Some cases are straightforward, some are frustrating to resolve, and some are a little bizarre, but every single one of them relates to a real person facing a real problem that is having a detrimental effect on their life. Even during the busiest periods, it is so important that we do not start looking at casework as a numbers game. That, I am proud to say, is something that my team and I are always keenly aware of. There are some cases where we do not even know where to start in order to resolve it, such as the one that had my chief of staff calling around registry offices in Mexico to track down a marriage certificate on behalf of a couple who contacted me with a visa issue when they were moving overseas. Despite having a very short timescale to work on, we managed to pull off a great result for them.

Some cases seem like they should be straightforward but getting the right result is harder than it should be. My office and I do not admit defeat easily, though, which is how one of my team managed to secure £4,173.28 in backdated pension credit for a constituent, along with a £100 goodwill payment.

Some cases are complex by nature, because we are limited by the provisions of Government policy, and only a change in policy and legislation will provide the support a constituent needs. There is no better example of that than the green deal mis-selling scandal, which was widespread in Scotland and has had long-lasting, hugely devastating effects on many households, impacts that were worsened tenfold by the soaring cost of energy over the past year or two. I still have open casework relating to that scandal, but very little recourse is available to those constituents. I have written to Ministers and met with a number of them, but unfortunately there is little appetite to reopen the cases. The ones left, those that were not resolved by the initial response to the scandal, are the ones that will not be easy to fix. Instead, some victims have had to take their case to tribunal, and my constituents now have to wait for the outcomes of those cases. I will continue to advocate on their behalf, though; I will not accept that there is nothing Ministers can offer.

Does the hon. Member share my disgust that, years after I was told by Ministers in this place that they were quite willing to accept that all Helms customers had essentially been ripped off and should be recompensed, we are still waiting for compensation for our constituents?

I could not agree more. A lot of us have been fighting for those affected by green deal mis- selling. Unfortunately, Helms did not get its comeuppance.

Child Maintenance Service-related casework has also dominated a lot of time in my office this term. A short while ago, I was delighted to bring two of my constituents to an all-party parliamentary group meeting, where they spoke about their experiences with the system and the difficulties it has caused them. Letting someone explain in their own words how the system has failed them can be very powerful. Some CMS cases have been open with my office for two years or so, and not for lack of effort to get them resolved. I am pleased to say, however, that the longest standing case was recently resolved, with a constituent finally being allowed to move to collect and pay after years of her ex-partner refusing to keep up with payments. Perseverance is key in many of these cases—never taking no for an answer—because I recognise that ultimately it is the children who lose out.

There is another kind of inquiry that every Member gets from constituents—often hundreds every month, spanning a broad spectrum of issues. I am of course talking about lobby emails. I have always been clear that any constituent who writes to me will get a response, so every one of these emails relating to any policy is read and gets a personal answer—over 1,200 since the start of this year alone. No matter the issue, be it the cost of living, the minimum wage, pensions, or perhaps the sale of live lobsters on Amazon, or new classifications and restrictions on imported reptiles, wherever possible I take my constituents’ concerns and turn them into action. Sometimes I send a letter to the Minister responsible; sometimes, if the opportunity presents itself, I raise it here in the Chamber, as I did the “Boys Need Bins” campaign, which aims to improve the provision of sanitary bins in male public toilets and to remove the stigma around male incontinence.

When a constituent asked me, following her father’s bicycle accident, to raise the importance of wearing a helmet on the roads, I did so during a recent session of business questions. Constituent requests dictate the majority of my diary even when I am down here in London, attending specific debates at their request or dropping in at parliamentary events to hear more about particular issues. They elected me to make their voice heard, and that is what I strive to do every day I am here.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is seeing the impact our work has on real people and spending time with our local communities. I had a lovely time at two big constituency events recently, starting with Landemer day in Rutherglen. A long-standing traditional gala day, it was wonderful to see young Rutherglen High School student Ruby crowned the Landemer queen, supported by her court and the many attendees on the day. I also enjoyed Summerfest in Cambuslang earlier this month, although, sadly, it looks as though that may be the final one, after a quarter of a century. Organisers Liz and John and the event committee have done their community proud, and I know that I am not alone in my appreciation of their hard work over the years.

There was set to be another community fun day event in Hillhouse this year, but unfortunately, thanks to a group of youths, the community council now has a mountain to climb to make it happen. The youths broke into the storage unit where donations for the local food bank and equipment for the fun day were being stored and set it on fire—a deliberate act of destruction, just for the sake of destroying something. Thousands of pounds-worth of equipment used for the benefit of the community now needs replacing. The community council has my full support, and I hope it can reach its fundraising target. Unfortunately, antisocial behaviour seems to be an issue in many parts of the constituency at the moment. That has been voiced to me by many small businesses in the area. It is not abnormal to see a rise in that behaviour over the summer months as schools break up and good weather pushes more people outside. I find myself speaking to local police officers about it often, and I place on record my thanks to the local inspectors for my area, who have engaged openly and regularly with me and my team. I also wish to place on record my thanks for the hard work of the Royal Burgh Of Rutherglen, Cambuslang, Halfway, Hillhouse, Blantyre, Burnside and Meikle Earnock Community Councils, which do so much work for the residents in the local area. It is very much appreciated by me and many of my constituents.

I have five more thanks to give today, and I have saved the best for last. As Members of the House, we all know how important it is that every member of our staff cares about our constituency as much as we do. After all, we could not do our jobs effectively without their support behind us. I can say with absolute confidence that every member of my staff has the same passion for the work and the people we serve as I do, so I take this opportunity to thank Kim Glendenning, Natalie Burgess, Gillian Mair, Hannah Nicol and Rowan Clark for their continued dedication, loyalty and hard work for the constituents of Rutherglen and Hamilton West. I will come to a close now. I am surprised I was called so early, so thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish every colleague across this House, members of staff and House staff a restful summer break.

I am increasingly concerned about developments in Bosnia, a country for which I have a great affection. Watching what happens there has understandably gone off the international boil, which is unsurprising considering what is happening in Ukraine, but we should not forget what has happened there in the past and could easily happen there again. In my view, the situation in Bosnia is rather like picking up a lemonade bottle and shaking it around. When we put it down, we think it is still clear and there has been no change, but try taking the top off. Bosnia could easily be like that.

Bosnia has a population of about 3.2 million people. On fundamental religious grounds, the population splits three main ways, though everyone is racially south Slav. Muslims make up about 51%, and they are often called Bosniaks. Eastern Orthodox Christians represent 31%, and are often called Bosnian Serbs. The Roman Catholic population, often called Bosnian Croats, is about 15%. The House will recall that the Bosnian Serbs attacked their neighbours in 1992, seizing large tracts of ground, which they—horrid words—ethnically cleansed of non-Serbs. As the war went on, the Croats and Muslims also carried out their own versions of ethnic cleansing. An estimated 2 million people were driven from their homes by the end of the war.

In September 1992, the United Nations authorised a deployment to Bosnia of a military force called the United Nations protection force. The UN troops were dubbed peacekeepers, but actually they were hardly that. There was no peace to keep in Bosnia and the UNPROFOR did not have the mandate to enforce it either. Although several British Army observers, medics and liaison staff were already on the ground in Sarajevo and elsewhere, Britain’s main contribution to the UNPROFOR was a battlegroup based on the 1st Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment and a reconnaissance squadron of the 9th/12th Lancers. Actually, about 2,400 troops deployed under what was called Operation Grapple in November 1992. Some might recall that I was the unfortunate British battlegroup commander.

Since then, British military personnel have been involved in Bosnia one way or another, and 59 service personnel have lost their lives. Among those deaths was my escort driver, Lance Corporal Wayne Edwards, and my interpreter, Dobrila Kalaba. Both were shot in the head by snipers, and their loss still haunts me as I was responsible for them, or responsible for where they were.

The war, which started in 1991, shortly before I was first there, continued until the massacre of Srebrenica in July 1995 and ended with the Dayton peace accords in 1996. That stopped the fighting and established a triumvirate of uneasy power sharing between the three major sides: Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks. Dayton was supposed to last only a few years until politics could be adjusted to make Bosnia a somewhat democratic and viable state, but the Dayton arrangements have become the status quo, and they are cracking at the seams.

For several years now, the Bosnian Serbs in so-called Republika Srpska have been seriously threatening to break away, and periodically the Bosnian Croats are making similar growling noises. Almost all authorities on the region believe that if that happens, we could easily see the renewal of civil war. Between 1992 and 1996, approximately 200,000 people were killed in the Bosnian civil war and, as I have mentioned, 2 million people were displaced from their homes. Please, God, that tragedy must not be repeated.

A number of us in the House speak regularly on this issue, and I fear that sometimes colleagues feel that it is a repeated mantra and we are just fearful for no reason or there is not an escalation. My right hon. Friend mentioned Dodik’s secessionist policies; Dodik has now introduced a new law that disapplies to Republika Srpska the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rulings. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is the most acute threat to the Dayton agreement that we have ever seen? When we raise our voices in the House and say we are concerned, it is because of meaningful changes that put at risk peace on the ground.

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a very good friend, for intervening on an extremely pertinent point to which I will return in a little while.

I believe that we, the British, are in a good position to influence what happens in Bosnia. Our reputation is high as a result of the actions of our diplomats, soldiers and politicians over the years. In that respect, I should mention my very good friend, the late Lord Paddy Ashdown, who was the High Representative. He was outstanding, and his reputation for dealing with very tricky situations remains untouched by anyone else since. When I visit Bosnia, people always say to me that they wish Paddy was still there. In my experience, the one thing that Bosnians respect is well-motivated and professional people who are not corrupt, who are on the ground, know what they are doing and are prepared to act. Paddy Ashdown was certainly that.

I do not suppose it will come as a surprise to colleagues that our armed forces fit the bill quite well too. Currently, we have very few military forces on the ground in Bosnia and we do not contribute to the so-called EUFOR, the European Union Force in Bosnia, which is utterly and completely useless and does nothing but wander around the country flag-waving, sitting in vehicles and sending back irrelevant reports. I gather we have a few staff officers at the nascent NATO headquarters recently established there, although for some extraordinary reason I was not allowed to visit the place when I was there recently.

I have been to Bosnia three times in the past 12 months. For several years I have argued that it would send a significant signal were we to send a British battlegroup to Bosnia, perhaps under NATO command. I suggest this again, and it should happen soon—especially as there is growing evidence of the increasing malign influence of Russia among Bosnian Serbs.

As I care about Bosnia, I find it a particular tragedy that around 100,000 people normally leave the country every year, out of a population of 3.4 million. They are predominantly young, well-trained people. Imagine if a similar proportion—about 3%—of our young in the UK were to leave each year: it would be a disaster for our country and for our future. Bosnia is heavily bleeding the very people who should be the future of the country. Those people would not be leaving if they believed they could have a decent job and raise their families in a society that was fair and not corrupt; I am afraid that corruption remains endemic in Bosnia.

I know that our ambassador and Ministers, especially the Prime Minister’s trade envoy for the region, my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers)—who was here but has disappeared; I did not warn him that I was going to refer to him—are fully aware of the situation, and my hon. Friend works really hard on it. On that point, let me pay credit to my very good friend, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who sets aside quite a lot of her time for caring about what happens in the Balkans, but for that reason she has been pilloried and threatened. I point out to the House that we have a brave lady here, who stands up and speaks for people and tries to help them.

Obviously, Bosnia remains personal to me. Our armed forces paid a blood price to help the people there. I remember one of my soldiers saying, when I told him that we might have to withdraw because those were the orders I was getting, “We can’t leave this place, sir—these people, these women and children, these men. They would be massacred if we weren’t here. We’ve got to help them; we’re not leaving.” I thought, “My God, I’m going to have a mutiny.”

I think the people of Bosnia are superb, in all three so-called ethnic-religious groups. The decent people of Bosnia just want to be given the chance to live their lives in safety, to have their children educated and their politics work, and for corruption not be endemic. We lost 57 British personnel trying to help them do that. They must not have died in vain. We should do all we can to help the people of Bosnia.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) . I certainly concur with his remarks on Bosnia.

I would describe myself as a fairly assiduous attendee on a Thursday in this place, but in eight years this is the first recess debate that I have taken part in. I did have eight years’ worth of recess issues to discuss, but obviously this is a busy debate compared to some previous ones, so I have had to pare down my remarks.

The fact that the debate is so well subscribed is a testament and fitting tribute to Sir David, and I add my own tribute to those who have discussed him and the great work he did here, with a smile on his face at every turn. I also remember Jo Cox, another colleague of ours who was taken. Both Members were taken carrying out the bread and butter of a good constituency MP: taking part in constituency advice surgeries. I remember them both.

I recently met senior staff members at Recovery Across Mental Health—RAMH for short—which is a third sector mental health organisation situated in Paisley that provides essential support throughout Renfrewshire. I heard at first hand the very real challenges that the workforce are experiencing. We all know that there has never been a greater pressure on public finances, in part due to a global pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but mostly as a result of 13 years of Tory austerity. The Scottish Government are trying desperately to balance the books while also meeting the ever increasing demand for Government support and intervention—and balancing those books gets harder every year.

Time and again, the UK Government are asked to step up and tackle the broken social care sector and provide the additional funding it so desperately needs. The potential ripple effects, if steps are not taken to address issues in the sector, will be catastrophic. Without these organisations, the public health and social care sector will become overwhelmed, which will have a negative impact on the quality and standards of care. The third sector fills a void left by the NHS and local authorities and helps to ensure that individuals can live independently in the community with adequate support. The third sector workforce continue to be let down, overworked, understaffed, underpaid and, crucially, under-represented. With the pressure and high level of moral accountability put on staff, many are now experiencing burnout. Perhaps we are heading for a national social care crisis, so we must do more.

As chair of both the all-party parliamentary group for Scottish sport and the all-party parliamentary group on White Ribbon UK, I am all too aware of the barriers that women and girls face in the sporting arena. Participation and representation are essential in driving gender equality while improving the health and wellbeing of women and girls, and that must happen through a grassroots approach. I had the opportunity to meet Kyniska Advocacy, which campaigns for progressive policies in women's sport with the ambition of enacting change. It is essential that the sporting world ensures that both men and women have equal opportunities and levels of respect and, crucially, that they feel safe in taking part in sport, particularly with those in a position of trust.

I also recently met with Miss J, the founder of the campaign group End Sexual Misconduct in Sport, who bravely shared her lived experience to raise awareness and to end sexual misconduct in sport. As I mentioned at business questions this morning, she has asked that all professional sports teams in Scotland, and hopefully beyond, sign up to a sexual misconduct policy. The fact that so many teams are failing to do so speaks volumes about the struggle we face.

If we want to encourage current and future generations to take part in sport safely, protection is paramount. As a number of recent scandals have shown, a huge amount of work remains to ensure that sport is a place where women and girls can feel safe and where perpetrators of abuse are dealt with appropriately. We all have a responsibility and duty not only to be opposed to misogyny, but to actively call it out. The making of excuses for locker-room chat because “boys will be boys” further empowers the misogynist narrative, and that must stop.

Just this week. Glasgow United FC announced that convicted rapist David Goodwillie has been selected for an upcoming match. That horrendous decision again sends the wrong message not only to the victims of sexual violence, but to younger fans who idolise these teams and sportsmen. As shown in the case of Mason Greenwood, industries must do more to tackle gender-based violence, and that starts with the development of domestic abuse policies and procedures. I am all for giving people second chances, but they must, at the very least, show remorse for their actions if they wish to be given that opportunity. Sporting institutions and our players are influential public figures and can significantly challenge sexual misconduct in sport, and they must do more.

Like many parents these last few weeks, I found myself caught between Ticketmaster and the pleading angelic faces of my Taylor-Swift-loving daughters. The steps designed to deter secondary ticketing resulted in a chaotic frenzy, with many customers who registered for a code to purchase tickets being unsuccessful, and those who were successful attempting to sell these free codes online for astronomical prices. Ticketmaster has also implemented a “lead booker” policy on UK tour dates, resulting in severe implications for ticketholders, as many parents who managed to buy tickets for their children must attend the concert because they are unable to pass on all the tickets to their children or their friends.

We often talk, rightly, about the largely unregulated secondary ticketing market. We need to take action on the obscene excess profits of ticket merchants such as Ticketmaster. For example, regular tickets on the AEG site were being sold for £600 each or thereabouts, and AEG’s fee for four tickets was £250—just for processing a transaction that takes mere seconds. Surely that is not right. In fact, it is more than most bands would make from a ticket sale for a regular concert. It is crazy that that is allowed, and we must do more. We should also ban dynamic pricing for concerts, which means that no prices are published prior to sale, with tickets priced on demand, meaning they often cost hundreds of pounds and allowing Ticketmaster and AEG and the like to include excessive charges.

Following my election eight ago I have worked with Women Against State Pension Inequality campaigners in seeking to secure justice from a UK Government who are keen to wash their hands of the whole episode. The campaign pushes for fair transitional state pension arrangements for all women born in the 1950s who have been affected by changes to state pension legislation brought in by the 1995 Tory Government. More than 12,000 women across my constituency were affected by the changes that raised the pension age initially from 60 to 65, and then to 66 and 67 by 2028.

The lack of notification, communication and clear guidance by the Government resulted in many women having to make life-changing decisions, having a detrimental impact both financially and emotionally. In 2021 the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ruled against the Government in the WASPI battle, with the watchdog ruling that the Department for Work and Pensions was guilty of maladministration by failing to provide adequate notice to 3.8 million women.

However, the WASPI women continue to be let down, with delays in settling compensation ongoing two years after the ruling. A constituent of mine is one of the six test cases the ombudsman is looking at. Her situation was misrepresented in the stage 2 findings. It has had to be looked at again, so I hope it will be resolved. It is essential that in these final stages of settlements, WASPI women receive the compensation they deserve with no further delays. Many women have waited for years, and many have died, sadly. We need to get this done and get it done soon.

Finally, August will see the world cycling championships coming to Scotland. It is a massive event, with more competitors than the Commonwealth games in 2014. It will be the first time almost every discipline of the sport comes together in one place so we can see all the best competitors on earth push themselves and their bikes to the limit. The riders in the Tour de France will be there to try to win the right to wear the rainbow jersey for next year, and the event will, I hope, capture the public imagination. I know that roads across the central belt and beyond will be lined with people cheering on their favourites.

It will be broadcast on the BBC free for everybody to watch. Sadly, however, as I mentioned this morning, and as we are seeing certainly across the Scottish news headlines today, our men’s national football team does not enjoy that level of exposure. Its matches have been locked behind a paywall during the most successful spell for the Scotland men’s national team in 25 years. That has been incredibly frustrating for most Scottish football fans, particularly during a cost of living crisis when every penny is a prisoner and additional TV subscriptions are at best not a priority and often simply affordable.

Earlier this year I hosted a summit of the main broadcasters in Scotland and the main rights holder, Viaplay. There was a real willingness to discuss what is a complex issue and work constructively to see what can be done, but the bottom line is this is about much more than rights, fees and subscriber numbers. We have seen that today, with Viaplay trying to exit the UK market and sell on its football rights, which include the league cup in Scotland and the Scotland men’s national team—it also holds the rights to the Welsh and Northern Irish men’s national teams. I have many phone calls to make on this issue after this debate is over.

Both our men’s and women’s national football teams play a huge role in our national culture, and more so than most because our opportunities to perform on the international stage have been a little limited in recent years, sadly. The Government have a major role to play in working with the footballing authorities, broadcasters and regulators to recognise that importance and the need for people in Scotland to enjoy the same access to their men’s national team as that enjoyed by their counterparts in England and Wales through Channel 4 and S4C respectively. It is time for the Secretary of State to meet me, because I was promised a meeting back in December. My office has chased month after month; I have raised this twice now at business questions and I have even raised it at Prime Minister’s questions, but I cannot get a meeting with the Secretary of State. I hope, given the news today, I will finally get that meeting.

It is a great pleasure to speak in this Sir David Amess Adjournment debate. There are a number of issues that I would like to raise before the House adjourns.

First, on health, I am delighted that we have secured £19.4 million for a new community diagnostic centre in Scunthorpe. That, alongside our new A&E, which I have had the pleasure of looking around—thankfully, not as a patient—is very significant for Scunthorpe and a once-in-a-generation improvement in our local healthcare provision. I was particularly delighted to see how pleased the staff in the A&E were with their new facilities and the fact that they had been consulted and involved in the decisions that were made as the A&E was designed.

Alongside that good news, I want to raise the issue of access to NHS dentistry, which continues to be a concern for my constituents. I would like to press the Government again on the idea of a tie-in, which I know has been discussed, so that those we help to train as dentists then spend a certain percentage of their time delivering NHS dental care to patients. My constituents should be able to access an NHS dentist with ease, and I want to push the Government to ensure that that is the case.

Again, on health, it has been a privilege to work with the family of local man David Hopkins, who sadly died of a brain tumour. Alongside David’s wife, Nicki, I have been working with the all-party parliamentary group on brain tumours. We have looked carefully at how we can get the £40 million that the Government have committed to brain tumour research into the hands of the researchers. While we are delighted that the money has been put in place, and it is hugely significant, we have to expedite the research and the testing that is required, so that we can help these patients.

It has similarly been a privilege to work alongside our local charity The Beat Goes On, which was founded by Stephen and Gill Ayling following the tragic death of their son, Nathan. I am a little bit older than Nathan was, but we went to the same school, and I regularly speak to people in the constituency who remember him very fondly. We are incredibly proud of Stephen and Gill in Scunthorpe. Their campaign to improve the diagnosis rate of cardiac conditions in people aged between 14 and 35 has already saved lives.

Stephen and Gill came to London earlier this year, and we met the Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, who was extremely helpful. I want to raise again with the Government the need for further research into the effectiveness of screening and to consider what is done in other countries and in sport. I would be grateful if the Department of Health and Social Care could provide a further update on that, and specifically on the potential for review.

I want to raise the excellent work being done by those at Prostate Cancer Lincs and Humber, a superb local group that supports our community and raises awareness. They seem to be everywhere I go—they are incredibly prolific—and I am really grateful for all the work they do. When a family or individual is affected by cancer, whether it be prostate or another form of the illness, it is incredibly difficult. It was an honour to spend some time recently with Joanne Sowerby. Joanne is a really special person, and the work she does in our community through Hope House is exceptional, providing support groups, counselling and therapy and helping to access a home-cooked meal. I know that the work Joanne and her team do makes a huge difference, and I want to register my thanks to her before the House rises.

Another area that requires continued engagement is transport. While the Government’s £2 bus fare scheme was welcomed in Scunthorpe and has gone a long way to address the affordability of public transport, the reliability of local service providers has been a problem in recent months on our trains. However, I am hopeful that under new management, we will see improvements in rail services, and I hope to raise the specific issue of ticket offices in the House later this evening.

It would be a strange day were I to stand up in the Chamber and not raise the issue of steelmaking. I welcomed the Secretary of State for Business and Trade to our steelworks in May, where I was able to explain again to the Government that we make the finest steel in the world in Scunthorpe. I have said this in the House many times: none of us can go a single day without needing to use steel, and that will remain the case. We use steel for everything we do, from defence to growth, and we must never, ever lose the ability to make our own.

Before the House adjourns, I want again to raise my concerns about the long-term future of steelmaking. If we ever lose the ability to make our own steel, we will still need to use it and will simply have to ship it from all over the world, from places very far away that will choose how much to charge us, and we will face all the ethical, environmental and strategic concerns that that inevitably brings. I know that the Government have been a good supporter of steel in the past, through the safeguards and through paying people’s wages in Scunthorpe. We remember that well in my constituency. I want to press the Government again before we adjourn to continue to recognise the strategic importance of this industry and its importance to my Scunthorpe constituency.

In closing, I want to mention the Redbourne Centre, an outstanding residential home in my constituency that I visited recently. I think I was supposed to go for half an hour, but I ended up staying for two hours, because it was so wonderful. I thank all those who work in the care sector in my constituency and throughout the country. The work they were doing at the Redbourne Centre was incredible. I particularly enjoyed hearing from a gentleman who lives there about how he had visited Parliament when he was a child and his memories of visiting the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. I put on record my sincere thanks to everyone in my constituency who works in that sector.

I also want to wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all right hon. and hon. Members a safe, healthy and enjoyable recess.

I, too, would like to add my voice of thanks and gratitude to all the various officers of this House—in the Speaker’s Office, the Ways and Means office, the Doorkeepers, Hansard, the various Vote Offices, the Table Office and the Admission Order Office, and all those who make our job in this place so much easier. I thank them and wish them all the very best for the summer recess. Of course, they will still be here working while we go back to our constituencies, but it is important to place on record our thanks and gratitude to them.

I want to draw a couple of matters to the attention of the House. We recently had a budget debate for Northern Ireland. That was a very painful process; it was so punishing that it has probably set back the prospect of restoring the devolution settlement to Northern Ireland. It is very important that we put on record that, even if an Executive were called back, they would not have the resources available that are necessary to run Northern Ireland.

We constantly hear in this place about the necessity of Barnett consequentials, which send money back to Northern Ireland, but under this budget settlement, any Barnett consequentials that Northern Ireland would get would have to be paid back immediately to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury, and could not be used for the things that they would normally offset, such as teachers’ pay, police service recruitment, nurses’ pay and all the things that are now slowly but surely being addressed on the mainland of Great Britain.

That is a significant problem for us. If we take teachers’ pay in Northern Ireland, the average first-year teacher in Northern Ireland will get between £6,000 and £8,000 less than their counterpart here in Great Britain, depending which part of GB they are in. That disparity in wages is atrocious, and we can take that through all the pay arrangements in the various public sector areas, whether it is policing, nursing, junior doctors, teachers or civil servants. It really is quite disheartening for those members of staff. We are fed the idea, “Get the Executive back, get it up and running, and you can address these problems.” But we cannot, because the resource will not be there. It is important that I put that on the record. We do want to see a functioning Northern Ireland Executive, but they have to function under proper circumstances. I am poised to ask the question of how we can address that. It is important to say that there must be a resource somewhere that will allow us to redress this lack of money.

I will address that in the second part of my speech, which is about what I believe to be a national scandal of public waste—even corruption, in some aspects—that must be addressed by the Government. The much-hyped, much-promised HS2 project really needs to be examined closely by this House. In my view, it is depriving this kingdom and its people of billions of pounds of resources, which could be used in a much better way, but which are currently being siphoned off into the single biggest white elephant this country has pursued.

Someone in this House has to stand up at some point and say, “The emperor has no clothes.” With regards to HS2, the emperor has no clothes. It is a waste of public resources. I, for one, am pro infrastructure projects. I want to see infrastructure projects. I would love to see a proper, high-speed rail network from the very far east, from Leeds, right the way down to the capital. That would be great, but it is never going to happen—certainly not under HS2. This is a wasteful, mad and utterly out-of-control project that the House must look at. There was a debate in Westminster Hall about it way back in 2021, in which we called for a full debate in the Chamber. That has never taken place. I have asked Front Benchers for that debate, as have other Members, but it has not happened, though there have been many promises. Neither the Government nor the Opposition want it to happen, and I do not know why.

I asked the Library to outline for me which building companies in Northern Ireland were working on the project. There were many promises given that the project would be a bonanza for companies across the whole United Kingdom, but that has not been the case. Many companies have been left out. Some of the people who have lost out have supported and donated to my party. That is not a personal registered interest—it does not have to be, because the support was for the party—but I put that on record in the interests of transparency and openness. I am making these comments because of the waste to the rail service. The money spent on the project could have be used to plug many of the gaps that colleagues across this House want to be plugged.

On 27 March this year, the National Audit Office, and on 7 July, the Public Accounts Committee, published reports on the subject. They are the most depressing reading, because they confirm our worst fears about Euston’s redevelopment, and other aspects of the project. That forced Lord Berkeley in the other place to say,

“Time seems nigh to cancel both projects, HS2 Euston and the wider HS2 programme, before any further public money is wasted.”

Despite the various requirements for Euston having been known for the last eight years, nothing has happened on that project. In fact, there has been almost a decade of complete waste. There is no agreement about the number or development of platforms, or the station lay-out. No design solutions have been put in place. All the problems were known well before Royal Assent was given to the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Act way back in 2017, yet in madness, the Government pursued HS2. That has resulted in the biggest waste of public money. Eight years into the planning process, we are calling a halt to some of the building. I understand that in recent weeks, the chief executive officer of HS2, Mr Thurston, has had to stand down. He has retired after six and a half years. His legacy is one of blown budgets. HS2 was initially scheduled to start running in 2026, but there will not be a single train running by then. Under the current construction and budgeting guidelines, It could be the mid-2030s or even 2040 before it is up and running.

Meanwhile, the initial budget of £55 billion has been completely blown. In 2019, I sat in this Chamber when the Minister told us that the budget for HS2 would be £55.7 billion. Two months later, the chairman of HS2, Allan Cook, raised the figure to £88.6 billion. A matter of months later, the Oakervee review said, “I’m sorry, it will actually be over £106 billion.” How can the Government be so wrong in their calculations? They are not out by a few million, but by tens of billions of pounds. That is wholly unacceptable and wholly inadequate. HS2 Ltd’s latest report shows that the chief executive receives over £617,000 per year in salary, yet the management of this project has been an unmitigated disaster, and we are no nearer an HS2 train running than we were way back in 2017, when this whole thing started.

Those in charge of HS2 seem to have been tempering expectations recently. The Secretary of State for Transport has had to pause the work on Euston station for two years because, believe it or not, it has already exceeded its budget of £2.6 billion and the cost now stands at £4.8 billion. Meanwhile, the eastern leg of phase 2b, from the west midlands to the east midlands, has fallen in the pecking order and probably will not happen either.

There is no money for nurses, there is no money for junior doctors, and there is no money for police officers. There is little money for education, there is little money for other projects, and there is little money for some of our defence expenditure. Yet, hopelessly, this white elephant keeps getting funded, and keeps getting either silence or support from Members in this House. That has to be called out. The Government must take a long, hard look at this over the summer, and recognise that this white elephant must cease to be funded.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to take part in the debate, named in honour of our late colleague Sir David Amess. I participated in these debates with him for many years. Indeed, I participated in an interview with him to promote his book three weeks before he was sadly killed. He was a great friend.

I also pay tribute to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who is sitting in front of me. It is to the huge benefit of the House that he did not suffer the same fate as his driver and his interpreter in that car. His speech demonstrated, loudly and clearly, to the House and the nation how important it is to have colleagues here with different skills and different knowledge.

May I add, very briefly, to what my hon. Friend has said? We are all aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) did great service to his country in Bosnia, for which he was rightfully awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was far too modest to mention that, but I think that it is worth putting it on the record none the less.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for adding to my tribute.

I now want to raise two urgent issues related to shooting and farming. Before doing so, I should declare my interest as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on shooting and conservation, vice-president of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, a shoot partner and a farmer.

I very much regret the necessity to raise the unexpected policy change on the part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that will deprive shoots releasing gamebirds on special protection areas with a 500-metre buffer zone of the benefit of general licence 43, forcing each of them to apply to Natural England, which will then advise Ministers on the signing off of each individual licence to release gamebirds. I ask the House to bear with me as I explain the importance of that decision, which DEFRA took in full knowledge of the shooting calendar and communicated to shoots even though birds had already been ordered and were about to be released. It has caused chaos around the country and resulted in an animal welfare crisis, threatened redundancies, shoot closures and the bankruptcies of rural businesses. In short, this is a disaster for rural affairs.

Something similar happened in the spring of 2019 when, after a legal challenge by anti-shooting pressure groups, Natural England revoked the general licences to control pest birds at precisely the point when the protection given by shoots to ground-nesting, laying and fledging birds was critical for their survival. There was a similar outcry from shoots at that time, and the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), reacted very differently. He took over Natural England’s functions, and issued new general licences which allowed the necessary pest control. He was a Minister who knew what was right, and he was not overawed by Natural England. What a difference from the way in which the matter is being handled today!

In this case, it is unacceptable for Ministers to treat stakeholders like mushrooms, promising them consultation and engagement, accepting the need for early notice, and then keeping them in the dark. That is precisely what happened in this case, despite earlier promises.

Shooting organisations were given only a few days’ notice of a significant policy change, with the feeble excuse that circumstances did not permit consultation. Ministers knew that supplies of game birds were ordered in November and December before release in the following June and July. That was contained in their evidence to the courts in the judicial review in 2019, so they should have known that their decision would leave shoots in an impossible position, expecting imminent delivery of thousands of birds that could not be released and could not be culled, with very limited market for resale.

Birds over nine weeks old cannot be kept in pens because they would attack each other—hence the animal welfare crisis to which DEFRA has offered no solutions yet. Shoots have been refused licences, with estates threatened with bankruptcy. Military shoots, which provide social benefits for veterans, have been shut down, and shoots with excellent conservation credentials over decades have been refused a licence even though they protect rare and magnificent bird species that inhabit their land. Who will protect those species if the gamekeeper has been made redundant?

Meanwhile, the application process for a licence is in an almighty mess, with decisions delayed, applications muddled and lost, shoots left waiting for weeks for a decision, and those that have been given licences in some cases subject to unworkable and increasingly bizarre restrictions. It is simply not possible to keep birds ready to be released now until September and to get birds in any numbers at that date, and it is unethical to shoot such young birds when the season starts.

Why has this happened? DEFRA’s justification for this disaster is the prevention of avian influenza, AI, but that justification is deeply flawed. No game bird has ever been released when infected by AI. There is no record of any wild bird being infected by the release of game birds. Outbreaks of AI in the UK do not correlate to the areas in which game birds are released and do not occur when game birds are released. The Netherlands has similar levels of AI, yet it has no game birds released. This is not a game bird issue. The shadow habitats regulation assessment provided by Natural England to Ministers in January 2023 has not been shared with the people whose livelihoods and businesses are now being destroyed. Will the Minister undertake to publish and share it with all those affected?

If the assessment justified such a drastic change in policy for shooting, presumably DEFRA requested similar assessments for other activities that occur in special protection areas. For example, did Ministers request assessments on waterbird feeding events, seabird tourism events, and birdwatching events such as the call to come and see two wonderful bee-eaters at Trimingham? That event attracted more than 15,000 birdwatchers. That is fantastic, but it must have carried a risk of transmitting AI. Furthermore, public access to the coastal path and bird-ringing activities all carry a risk of transmitting AI.

If Ministers did not request assessments for those activities, will today’s Minister explain why shooting was singled out? I am told that the decision to change the policy was made as late as 12 April—it should have happened many months earlier—but shooting organisations were not informed for over a month. I am also told that civil servants were under an explicit instruction not to communicate any changes to the shooting organisations ahead of time. I wonder whether that was an instruction from officials or Ministers.

Let me give the House some examples of the impact on shoots of DEFRA’s decision. A colleague told me this week that a syndicate shoot rented by working men in the north that has been the only shoot in the area to protect nesting hen harriers for years has been refused a licence. A community shoot operating around military firing ranges involving veterans, some of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder and welcome the social engagement that the shoot provides, was also refused a licence.

Here are some quotes from people who run shoots:

“Disaster, we have the first day shooting on the 20th October, no chance the birds will be hardy and fit. We will have to refund guns £14,000.”

“Unsustainable loss for us and Court action with suppliers and possibly death by gassing for a lot of healthy birds.”

“Believing an October release date would be a workable solution for any shoot just shows the lack of knowledge and understanding the people processing these licences have. Shoots will be forced to close leading to catastrophic consequences, not only to jobs and businesses in these areas but also to conservation.”

“It will bankrupt the shoot, two gamekeepers will lose their jobs, just not practical at all.”

Given that these people had a legitimate expectation that DEFRA would honour its promises to

“engage early and consult with the industry”,

and a legitimate expectation, when they ordered the birds, that the licensing regime would not change, will the Minister commit to providing compensation to those shoots that have and will lose out entirely because of DEFRA’s decisions?

The Minister knows that I, and many colleagues, sought assurances on numerous occasions that this problem would be sorted out, and we were given those assurances. I very much regret the necessity to say that those assurances have not been honoured. In the light of that, and the catalogue of mistakes and injustice, will the Minister not take the obvious decision that addresses the problem that the Department has created for itself and others, and immediately renew general licence 43 for all shoots located on specially protected areas? That general licence has subsisted for decades and I cannot see why we need it to be withdrawn at this juncture.

Secondly, I would like to raise the urgent issue of the higher-level stewardship scheme, which a number of people in my farming constituency have contacted me about in the last week. The deadline is approaching for many to transfer from the higher-level stewardship scheme and apply for the new mid-tier countryside stewardship scheme. The main difficulty in completing the application is that the Rural Payments Agency and DEFRA website is not functioning properly in relation to the new scheme.

To exacerbate the delays in moving to the new scheme, the RPA is providing little to no communication with those farmers who have queries about how to apply for the scheme, meaning that desperate constituents, trying to apply before the deadline, are contacting my office for help and support. The deadline for many is coming up in the middle of next month and I urge the Department to provide the communication and support required to help those trying to transition to the new scheme, as they have been advised to do.

This is causing great consternation for my constituency farmers and, no doubt, many other farmers up and down the country, at their busiest harvest time of year. In view of these communication problems with the RPA, will the Minister consider delaying the deadlines for applications to the mid-tier countryside stewardship scheme? That seems only fair, considering the difficulties people are having with communicating with the RPA.

In closing, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you, Mr Speaker, colleagues, all our very hard-working staff and the hard-working staff in the House, a happy recess and a chance to recharge their batteries.

It is a privilege to speak in this debate and to remember the late Sir David Amess, who rattled off so many issues when he used to speak in the debate. I am taking him as my inspiration for this speech, although I will not do it as fast as he would have done it.

It has been another remarkably busy Session for me and my team, and three and half years into this job, it continues to be an enormous privilege to serve the people of Putney, Roehampton, Wandsworth town and Southfields. I invite you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to join me at the Roehampton community week celebrations and events in August. It would be an honour if you can join us and it will be the highlight of the summer in my constituency.

I thank everyone involved in my Putney Gives campaign to support donations to our local foodbanks. The synagogue, the mosque, churches, schools and businesses all came together, and we donated two thirds of a tonne of much-needed food and other provisions to local people who are really struggling at this time during the summer.

I have received more than 18,500 emails from constituents since the parliamentary Session began in May last year and my hard-working team and I have sent out nearly 27,000 in reply. I thank my hard-working and caring parliamentary staff team— Matt, Dan, Mercy, Anna, Jack and Anisah—for all of their work. Together with constituents across the constituency, we are a campaigning team and I have been campaigning hard on the climate emergency; the housing crisis; cladding; discrimination; young carers; early years services; youth services; special educational needs; tackling crime; cleaning up our air; the NHS; saving bus routes; and dealing with sewage in rivers. We saved some allotments in Southfields from being developed on. We are campaigning for a lift for East Putney station. We are also seeking to reopen Hammersmith bridge—yes, it is still closed and I cannot believe it either! We need funding from the Government to reopen it. We are campaigning to stop the closure of ticket offices and to increase safe cycle lanes and cycle parking, so that more people who want to cycle in our wonderful constituency can do so. That is far from an exhaustive list.

As we close for the summer and this long Session continues, the Government continue to provide more questions than answers, so I have several issues I wish to raise today. First, I want to thank all those in NHS Supply Chain for movement on our campaign for NHS uniforms to be standardised. In the equivalent debate three years ago, I talked about Putney’s Scrubbery, which, at that time, with covid hard upon us, had mobilised lots of volunteers to make scrubs in hospitals. As they did so, they found out that the NHS scrubs were not fit for purpose: they were made for men who were much bigger than most of the staff; and they were not standardised across hospitals, which made it difficult to do laundry services and cost a lot more money. We have been campaigning on this issue. As a result, following hard work by staff at NHS Supply Chain, this has been turned around. Some 50,000 people got involved in the consultation and now uniforms that are more comfortable, fit for purpose and save money are being developed. So I am grateful to all of those who have helped with that campaign.

My next issue is probably the biggest question being asked by Putney residents at the moment: where is the Renters (Reform) Bill? Every week, with bated breath, I have looked at the Order Paper to see what is on in the next week in here, but I have never seen that Bill. Will the Minister explain at the end of this debate to the 21,000 private renters in my constituency, which has an average rent of more than £4,500 a month, where the Bill is? Why do I have to keep asking about it? Why is it taking so long?

It has been 1,500 days and four Prime Ministers since the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) first promised to scrap no-fault evictions, back in April 2019. That was announced with huge fanfare but it was never followed up. The situation is getting desperate. Since then, more than 50,000 households have been threatened with homelessness by section 21 notices. No-fault evictions are a leading cause of households approaching their councils for homelessness relief. No-fault evictions have gone up by 116% this year and, with mortgage rises being passed on by landlords, many renters are facing homelessness. I have spoken to many in the past few weeks. The Deputy Prime Minister reiterated the line at Prime Minister’s questions recently that the Bill would be brought forward when parliamentary time allows. We have had plenty of parliamentary time since then, and we will probably have some more this afternoon, but we will not see the Bill this side of the summer recess, leaving renters across the country waiting yet again.

I thank all the schools in my constituency that have welcomed me to visit them. I get a lot of questions and answers—I get all sorts of questions. I am given a hard time, rightly, by lots of young people from across the constituency, but every time I talk with schools and young people they raise one issue above every other: mental health. We need to talk about child and adolescent mental health services and the long waiting lists. A quarter of a million children in the UK with mental health problems have been denied the help they need because the NHS is struggling to keep up with the demand for services. Some 95% of GPs believe that mental health services for children and young people are critically failing and have deteriorated in the past six years. Ministers have failed to deliver on parity of esteem for mental health services and children, especially, are being badly let down.

Labour has a plan for this. We will provide a specialist mental health support service in every secondary school. We will put an open-access mental health hub for children and young people in every community, providing that much-needed early intervention—prevention. We cannot wait until we are in government—we cannot wait for that—to do something about this matter. I seek a response from the Government on their solutions to this issue. They are very welcome to steal and implement Labour’s plans for improving our mental health services.

My next issue is driving test waiting times. This has been concerning for many of my constituents who have been waiting an extraordinary amount of time to get their test booked. Many are unable to take up new jobs because, by the time they have managed to book a test, they have lost their job offer. That is very concerning. Recently, I had to book a test with my daughter and found that it was harder to get a test date than to get Taylor Swift or Glastonbury tickets. We woke up at 6 o’clock on a Monday morning, went online, and then found that there were 8,400 people in the queue ahead of us for the test. We had to wait half an hour for the queue to go down, and then we jumped on the last remaining test in the whole London area, which was many miles away from us in north London. This crisis is going on, and I do not think that it is being raised enough in the House, which is why I am doing so now.

In England, the average wait time for a test is 13.6 weeks. Before 2020, it was just six weeks, which is an acceptable amount of time, but waiting about six months on average is just not acceptable. In London, it is worse. Of the 26 test centres in London, 16 have wait times of 24 weeks—the average is 17 and a half weeks. In the many written parliamentary questions that I have put to the Department for Transport, I have asked exactly how long people are having to wait, how many Londoners are able to get tests in London, and what the situation is across the country. The Department could not give me information on that. Officials said that they had no data because the moving and the rebooking of tests means that they do not know when people first booked their tests. That is not good enough. If the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency does not even have the data on waiting list times, it cannot fix the problem. Will the Minister look at the system, as it really is not working at the moment, and take this matter up with the Department for Transport and the DVSA?

The next issue, which has cross-party support, is my campaign to ban plastic in wet wipes. It has come a long way and I know that Members are waiting with bated breath to find out what the next steps are. I introduced my private Member’s Bill in 2021, and it was supported by Members from across the House. Billions of wet wipes are used every year, and, because they contain plastic, they do not break down, they block sewers, they add costs to our water bills and they cause environmental damage in our rivers and oceans. There was a consultation, which was great, and it ended in February last year. Suppliers, retailers and all parts of the industry are united in saying that a ban could be achieved. Tesco and Boots have led the way as retailers, banning plastic in all the wet wipes that they sell, which amounts to billions of wet wipes a year. Producers and retailers agree that a date could be set, and that they could introduce a ban. The Government’s plan for water was published in April. There was the opportunity to get the ban. It included an announcement from the Government that it would be done—fantastic. So far so good, but there is no actual ban and there is no actual date. Instead, we have a promise of another consultation. I ask the Minister today: why is there another consultation; when will it be launched; and when will the actual ban come in?

I wish to finish on the climate emergency. One of the first things I did when I was elected MP for Putney was set up the Putney Environment Commission. It is a wonderful thriving group of activists and local people who want to take ownership of our local environment and tackle the climate emergency globally, nationally, locally, and in our own gardens. We held a recent meeting focused on the need to save nature, and how much of a nature-depleted country we are compared with other countries. Local people in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields see the data, they see Europe being scorched as we speak with record-breaking heat, and they see the inaction of the Government, and they are horrified. They do not want to stand by and do nothing about it.

It is not just the people of Putney who are concerned about the failure of the Conservative Government to do enough on the environment. The Climate Change Committee has highlighted 18 areas in which the Conservative Government are failing on energy and climate. Those include failure to reform the planning system to bring more home-grown power online; failure on renewables; failure on energy efficiency; failure on making new homes green; failure in comparison to other countries; failure to take global climate leadership; failure on heat pumps; failure on hydrogen for home heating; failure on the delivery of nature targets; failure to deliver on international commitments, instead going backwards; failure to grasp the opportunity to protect consumers; failure on workers and skills; failure to address the UK’s second highest-emitting sector, which is buildings; and failure on fossil fuels and stopping more coal mines from being built.

The Government have failed to ensure that their own Departments, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, meet the Committee’s priorities. They have also failed on green financing, which should be underpinning all of those actions. The Government should be going further and faster on climate action. I hope there is time for reflection over the summer recess, and that action on the climate can be speeded up incredibly. We cannot wait for the Labour Government who will take that action: we need it now.

Today, there are train strikes and an NHS doctors’ strike. My son graduates from university next week, but was told last week when he should have had his mark that it has not been allocated, so he will be graduating without even a mark after three difficult years at university under covid. That is because the Government have failed university staff, and are failing students. Food and housing costs are also spiralling. I cannot look back on the past 13 years without the word “failure” coming to mind. This country deserves better—Putney, Roehampton, Wandsworth town and Southfields deserve better.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all Members present a restful and joyful summer. If you get the chance, do come and visit gorgeous Putney. It is a fantastic place to come in the summer, and I am so proud to be its MP.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that His Majesty has signified his Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023

Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act 2023

Child Support (Enforcement) Act 2023

Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023

Illegal Migration Act 2023

Electronic Trade Documents Act 2023

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023.