I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, and add my congratulations to you. At this juncture, I would normally be sitting at home or in the Chamber watching and hoping that someone would thank the Backbench Business Committee for facilitating the debate, but for me to do that seems hardly appropriate.
Dunston coal staiths in my Gateshead constituency are, at over 600 metres long, a huge timber construction dating from 1893. They were significantly renovated for the Gateshead garden festival in 1990, when they were on show for all to see and really looked splendid. Sadly, in recent years, this significant monument to Tyneside and the coal industry’s industrial heritage has been subjected to several arson attacks. From the structure, as much as 140,000 tonnes of coal per week were shipped to places further afield, along with coke from the coking works at Norwood in Team Valley and the Redheugh gas works nearby. So, when someone says, “That would be like taking coals to Newcastle,” they probably mean Gateshead.
The Dunston staiths, at almost 130 years old, are a spectacular part of our industrial heritage and need to be rebuilt and refurbished, but heroic local fundraising efforts are hardly scratching the surface to repair the damage. The staiths should be rebuilt and maintained properly, but it will take Government support to do that properly. I really look forward to the day when I can meet the Minister from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to discuss how we will do that for this important industrial structure.
Earlier this week, my attention was drawn to a letter to the Chancellor, written with extreme concern, about the proposal to withdraw the £20 per week uplift to universal credit. That will impact disastrously on 34% of all working-age households across the north-east of England, where households already languish well below the national averages for individual and household income. The letter was signed by, among others, nine chief executive officers of citizens advice bureaux in the north-east region, the director of the North East Child Poverty Commission, the Bishop of Durham, the regional secretary of the TUC and the chief executive of the North East England chamber of commerce. Their appeal should be heeded, or the slogan of levelling up will start to ring very hollow indeed among the poorer people of the north-east of England.
It was hoped that last year’s stalled takeover of Newcastle United would rescue the club from the clutches of the current owner, Mike Ashley. The issue has been referred to arbitration. Many of my Newcastle-supporting constituents have contacted me and colleagues, desperate for a positive outcome. Sadly, with the proposed takeover having already gone on for 15 or 16 months, we heard earlier this week that the arbitration hearing has been adjourned until early 2022. Meanwhile, it seems that Richard Masters, the chief executive officer of the Premier League, has point blank refused to answer questions, severely calling into question the Premier League’s transparency, integrity and capacity to act honestly on behalf of its main customers, the fans of clubs across the country.
The fact that the Premier League’s administrators took in the disgraceful “project big picture” and the proposal supported by six clubs to help form a European super league raises questions about who the administrators are working for in reality. Again, it is clearly not football fans—the paying customers. The fan-led review of football governance is under way, and it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so let us not spurn it.
I am afraid to say that, particularly here in the north-east of England, the pandemic has not gone away. In my constituency’s hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, we currently have more than 50 covid-positive patients and, sadly, in the seven days to 15 July, four died. Between 600 and 1,000 people per 100,000 population are testing positive in every part of the LA7 area—Northumberland, Durham, and Tyne and Wear—so I urge my constituents and the people of the north-east to do not what they can or are told to do, but what they should do and help keep themselves, their families and their communities safe.
I urge all Members and all staff across the House to stay safe and have a good summer—they all deserve it.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). Before we rise for the summer recess, I think it important to cover a number of issues.
As those who follow these debates know, no speech from me is complete without mention of Stanmore station. I am pleased to say that the Mayor of London’s planning application is coming before Harrow Council’s planning committee on Monday. He wants to build thousands of flats on the car park and remove car parking spaces for commuters. I am pleased to say that the officers of Harrow Council have recommended refusal; I trust that the councillors of Harrow will turn down this ridiculous application, and indeed call on the Mayor of London to withdraw all these plans for removing car parks across London. A similar application was refused for Canons Park station and could now go to appeal, having been turned down by the planning committee earlier on.
I wish to raise some international and local issues in Parliament. The first, of course, is the election in Iran of the mass murderer Ebrahim Raisi as President. He needs to be brought to justice at the International Criminal Court. I call on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to make representations to make that happen.
Secondly, I have been told today that the all-party parliamentary group for justice for Equitable Life policyholders, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), has reached 297 members. This is the longest-running scandal that the Government are having to deal with. I call on them to come up with the £2.6 billion that has been promised to the Equitable Life policyholders to fully compensate them.
I have been a champion for the homeless over my time in Parliament, and I am delighted that this week our all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness has published a report on the need to continue with Housing First and assist those who have no roof over their head but who need a network of support and help.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, which has launched a report that says that unless the Government take action, we will not achieve a smoke-free 2030. I call on the Government to implement our report’s recommendations.
In the autumn, when we consider the Building Safety Bill, I look forward to appropriate amendments to enable the Bill to be passed and protect leaseholders.
I hope that this will be the last time that I have to address the House virtually; I look forward to coming back physically in September. I send particular good wishes to all the people on the virtual team who have done such a magnificent job to enable me to participate in debates. This is Captain Bob, signing off to ground control.
Throughout this pandemic, we have seen the Government award almost £1.5 billion to Tory friends and donors; send covid patients into care homes, leading to thousands of deaths; fail to equip our heroic health service with adequate PPE, then deny health workers a fair pay rise; row back on manifesto promises to pensioners, our armed forces and foreign aid; deny refuge to children fleeing conflict and persecution; repeatedly ignore the crisis in adult and children’s social care; exclude 3 million people from financial support; be shamed into feeding hungry children; silence any dissent and clamp down on freedom of speech, proposing to jail journalists who print the truth; and disfranchise millions from voting in future. Recently, we heard the Prime Minister tell us all that we need to simply accept that more people are going to die. If anyone is not deeply frightened or concerned about the trajectory in which the Government are taking our country, they have not been paying attention.
In spite of the Government, we have seen communities like mine in South Shields do the exact opposite. In the pandemic, we have fundraised and delivered food and essentials to our friends, neighbours and wider community. Stuart Hatton provided online ballroom dancing lessons, Stevey Sullivan held “Storytime with Stevey” and Shah Lalon Amin delivered free curries every single night. South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, Women’s Health in South Tyneside and North East Animal Rights kept on with the volunteering. South Tyneside council staff, my amazing team and other keyworkers went above and beyond every single day. Our Port of Tyne secured us as the base for the biggest offshore wind farm in the world. Richmond and Westoe Taxis offered free taxi transport to elderly and vulnerable people to help them shop for essential supplies. Our pharmacists filled the gap left when GP surgeries were shut and they made sure that essential medication was delivered across the constituency.
Communities across the country, including mine in South Shields, have shown the absolute best of our country. My constituents make me proud every single minute of every day, but I have never felt more proud of them than I have done throughout this pandemic. I have a simple message to the Government: do better, be more like South Shields.
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, I wish to raise a number of points.
There should be no disparity in care costs between private self-payers and council-placed residents. No one should have to give up their family home to pay for care. Political parties should agree on a way forward.
Too often, new housing developments do not allow for the immediate accompanying infrastructure to be built alongside them, making housing more accessible for people with disabilities. I am pleased that the Government are at last reviewing building regulations. Significant costs are created by switching from a gas to an electric boiler. The cost of environmentally friendly alternatives needs to be assessed if we are to meet our target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We should look into using tidal power.
My constituents are worried about their safety because of jet skis in the water. Those jet skis must be used and managed responsibly. We urgently need to reduce the production of single-use plastic to cut the amount of waste we export abroad that eventually ends up in landfill. I am looking forward to propose amendments to the Environment Bill, which will see the Government publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows.
As part of the celebrations for the platinum jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, Southend will be bursting into leaf. Many trees will be donated by the embassy of the Maldives and by local businesswoman, Mrs Barbara Coxell, and will grace our parks, schools and churches. The United Kingdom will be the first country in Europe to ban the live export of animals for slaughter, and I look forward to seeing a ban on cages as well.
I have been contacted by a constituent expressing concern about how his case was dealt with by the pension ombudsman. It seems that, currently, there is not an effective system in place to make a complaint about the conduct of this body. We should change all that.
One of my constituents, Angela Greenwood, has written a book that explores the development of a thoughtful, understanding and relationship-based approach to working with vulnerable children. The contents of this book could not be more relevant now in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, I helped to launch the public appeal for a permanent memorial to the great, late Vera Lynn in Dover. A memorial is the very least that we can do for this wonderful woman. I urge everyone to turn to the JustGiving page and give whatever they can afford.
As chairman of the all-party group for the Olympic and Paralympic games, I join everyone in wishing our athletes every success. Congratulations to my constituent, Kelly Swain, on completing a wing walk last month. She raised more than £20,000 for the charity, N.O.W’s the time for change, and she is now planning for a parachute jump next year. We must not forget the centenary of the Royal British Legion in September, and, of course, we must make Southend a city.
In May, East Midlands Railway promised passengers in Nottingham and many other east midlands constituencies that the new timetable represented
“an exciting new chapter for train services in the region and will bring significant benefits to the communities we serve… helping people get to work and enjoy their leisure time”.
and provides a timely and welcome boost to our local economies. Hmm. After just four weeks of services beset by cancellations and delays, the train operator, with the blessing Transport Ministers, withdrew the new timetable, leaving us with fewer trains and worse services, just as people were starting to return to public transport. These services may not be restored until December. East Midlands Railway will rightly be penalised for failing to deliver the promised timetable from mid-May to mid-June, but seems to be set to get away with leaving my constituents with an inadequate timetable for the next six months. Why are Ministers not standing up for passengers’ interests—particularly when this Government put up fares by more than the rate of inflation in the middle of an economic downturn?
The operator will blame others for the reduced timetable, but I am afraid those problems are largely of its own making. I have been astonished to hear from railway staff across the region who have been completely demoralised, not least because they are the ones who, having worked on the front line throughout the pandemic, now face angry passengers complaining about the timetable. Why are Ministers not holding East Midlands Railway to account? What is the point of allowing the private sector to run our rail services when they do such a poor job?
The east midlands has suffered decades of underinvestment in our rail network. Successive Conservative Governments have promised big but delivered little. Midland main line electrification was promised in 2015, 2017 and 2019, only to be paused, delayed and scrapped when the election campaigns were over. The transport decarbonisation plan promises a rolling programme of electrification. The midland main line must be top of the list. But when will we actually get the cleaner, greener, quieter, faster, more reliable electric trains that we need?
Finally, can the Minister confirm or deny rumours that the HS2 eastern leg, including the East Midlands station at Toton, is about to be kicked into the long grass? That is the litmus test of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, and in the east midlands we will not stand for being failed again.
I take the opportunity to wish everyone a very happy summer recess—and if you get the chance to visit the newly refurbished Nottingham castle, I urge you to do so.
As I have had the chance to digest it overnight, I can say that there was much to welcome in the Government’s Building Safety Bill, unveiled yesterday. I would like to thank my constituents in Portishead for taking part in the consultation; it seems that their voices were listened to. I particularly welcome the fact that there will be no EWS1 form for buildings under 18 metres, and that there will be increased duties on developers, construction companies, building owners and managers. Those who create the problems should pay to sort them out. I welcome the increased right of redress for shoddy workmanship extending to 15 years, and the increased right of building owners and leaseholders to seek redress through the Building Safety Regulator. I also welcome the potential for binding arbitration, to avoid disputes going to court. We will look for further detail during the Bill’s passage, but redress must not be determined by those who can afford to go to lawyers.
The issue remains, however, about the bills that are still dropping through my constituents’ letterboxes today. Even if the abuse of systems such as waking watch is redressed, we need to look at how to compensate leaseholders through the money already allocated by the Government. We in North Somerset will also be paying close attention to the forthcoming planning Bill. I will be looking to see that there is continued, if not increased, protection for the green belt. Green belt serves five purposes, according to the planning guidelines, including to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas, to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another, and to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment. In North Somerset, the application to build on the green belt at Chapel Pill Lane will be seen by residents over our whole county as an indication of the council’s approach, and I will not hesitate to ask the Secretary of State to call that application in if it seems that our rainbow coalition council is intent on vandalising the green belt, in clear breach of their election promises. We will also be looking, in the planning Bill, to see whether there are proposals on build-out. Many Members across the House feel that it is a scandal that big companies are building up land banks, then not building the houses for which they have permission, leading the Planning Inspectorate to instruct councils to release more land for building. This Catch-22 has to end. With all due respect to the Government, I would suggest that no build-out clause equals no Bill.
Finally, in wishing everyone a happy and safe recess, may I say how much I am looking forward to coming back to a normal Parliament in the autumn? Despite all the best efforts of those involved, this Parliament has not held the Government to account in the way that it should; the Government need to be held to account. It will be wonderful when we get back to having a length of time in which to develop arguments greater than the attention span of the average “CBeebies” viewer.
Like everybody else, in the limited time available to me I want to address a number of local and other issues that affect my constituents.
The first, the cladding issue, was touched on by the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox). I have been contacted by more than 150 constituents, which probably means nearer 300 people since many of them are families, who have been affected by the cladding scandal. A number of blocks in my constituency are entirely excluded from the Government’s building safety fund owing to their height, and, like many others across the country, individuals face bills of £15,000 to £20,000 to correct safety defects.
Even with the Government’s loan scheme, those bills will be charged against the property and therefore make it very difficult to sell when the owners choose or have to do so. I know of buildings put up over the last few years in my constituency whose materials were not compliant with the current or previous legislation, but evidence is very scant because the buildings inspectorate was being cut or in some cases being privatised. I would also like to ask that registered social landlords as well as leaseholders receive help from the Government in pursuing those builders, because at present they are struggling to do so.
The second issue I want to raise is sick pay. A quarter of workers receiving statutory sick pay—and there are a lot on SSP at the moment—are on the lowest rate of £96 a week. In my constituency in east London that is very low as housing and other costs are very high. One in 12 workers on the scheme are key workers, including carers, retail workers and teaching assistants, just the sort of people I represent. For instance, in Waltham Forest, one of the boroughs I represent, there are 4,200 people working in the care sector; in Redbridge that figure is nearly 8,000. These are just the sort of people who are subject to covid or to injuries, and so are just the sort of people who will end up on SSP. That is why I am supporting the TUC campaign and the campaign by unions to abolish the lower limit and put people who are on the current low limit of SSP on the living wage of £320 a week.
The last issue I want to raise is overflying, an environmental issue. London City airport has plans to expand which I fear will now be taken up so we will face increased overflying and therefore increased pollution—noise pollution and other types. More generally I have to say that we cannot carry on simply dumping more and more pollutants into the atmosphere while more and more planes are put up there.
Finally, in a rush I would like to thank the many staff in Parliament for all their hard work and making the past year and a half more bearable and workable, and wish everybody a happy and safe recess.
I shall not pretend to emulate the Member for the city of Southend, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), but I will do a quick scoot around a number of issues. Talking of scooting, constituents are raising issues about e-scooters, and I hope that when Transport Ministers review the regulations on the use of that mode of transport, they will consider vulnerable pedestrians in particular.
As treasurer of the all-party group on heritage rail, I draw the House’s attention to a report published a few days ago about the impact of heritage railways on tourism. Those with in particular a steam railway in their constituency should get visitors out there supporting it—and do not forget when passing environmental regulations that they do need a bit of coal to keep them in steam.
A couple of weeks ago I met representatives from the Royal National Institute of Blind People who made important points about the changes they would like to the voting system to enable the blind and partially sighted to fully participate and maintain the secrecy of their vote.
On constituency issues, I am pleased to say that the Humber ports got freeport status. Indeed, we scored highly in every category, and the advantages to the area are already being seen in increased investment and ever more inquiries. It is vital that the Government do not lose sight of their ambitions; let us be real free marketeers on this issue.
Fortunately, the Greater Grimsby town deal, which includes my constituency, was established three or four years ago. I can assure Members involved in the levelling-up agenda that these deals and all the associated issues connected to levelling up can be a great success story for our constituencies. The criticisms of levelling up are not fair, because the reality is that every area is different and these deals have to be tailor-made for specific areas.
The local plans will be crucial, but the reality is that people do not know what they are. There is a particular scheme that affects my constituency—the western relief road in north-east Lincolnshire. It has been in the local plan for many years, but only now that we are talking about the possibility of determining the route has it got through to people.
On devolution, we want three unitary authorities to cover the county of Lincolnshire.
Finally, thanks to all in the House and in my constituency who have been involved in fighting the pandemic. They have done a fantastic job.
The last 18 months have been a tale of the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good is that the people of Brent and elsewhere have joined together to form mutual aid groups, religions have come together to find common ground, and strangers are now firm friends. The bad is this Government’s catastrophic handling of the pandemic, the mixed messages, the corruption in plain sight, the authoritarian laws and the erosion of our democracy. And the ugly is that racism in society has reared its ugly head, spurred on by Government reports and the hyping up of the culture war and the war on woke.
While the NHS was coping with 130,000 people dying from the pandemic, the Prime Minister was making his mates rich. Cronyism is rife and old chums are given jobs regardless of their skillset—some a little bit on the side. This has been one big experiment for this corrupt, authoritarian, racism-laden Government, and I am not scared of saying it like it is.
The Government said we need to talk about class, so let us do it. Let us call out this toxic elitism once and for all. Byline Times, the Good Law Project, Novara Media, openDemocracy, Amnesty and Liberty have all exposed the Government, and the Government’s response is to spend public money defending the indefensible.
It is funny how there is no money for NHS staff, yet £1 billion of covid contracts have been awarded to Conservative donors. We were told that Ministers were not involved, but then the Good Law Project exposed emails from the Prime Minister’s advisers and the Home Secretary lobbying for money. The corrupt, authoritarian approach of this Government would be condemned and investigated if it were happening anywhere else in the world.
The 1% believe they owe nothing to society. They do not believe in the NHS, and they do not support it. This week I spoke to Orwell Foundation youth writer Manal Nadeem. She wrote:
“Let anti-racism be both common logic and law. May we have more accountability than apologies. May performative, placeholder posts be followed by policy… When the future arrives, let the minimum wage be a liveable wage… Let survival be a birthright... When the poor cannot pay with anything else, let us not ask them to pay with their lives.”
Poor people in our country have paid with their lives because the Prime Minister spent the last 18 months misleading this House and the country.
Peter Stefanovic from the Communication Workers Union has a video with more than 27 million views online. In it he highlights that the Prime Minister says: that the economy has grown by 73%—it is just not true; that he has reinstated nursing bursaries—just not true; that there is not a covid app working anywhere in the world—just not true; and that the Tories invested £34 billion in the NHS—not true. The Prime Minister said
“we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death.”
Not only is that not true but it is dangerous.
It is dangerous to lie during a pandemic, and I am disappointed that the Prime Minister has not come to the House to correct the record and correct the fact that he has lied to this House and the country over and over again.
What would you rather, Madam Deputy Speaker, a weakened leg or a severed leg? At the end of the day, the Prime Minister has lied to this House time and time again. It is funny that we get in trouble in this place for calling out the lie rather than for lying.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I have reflected on my words. Somebody needs to tell the truth in this House that the Prime Minister has lied.
The Deputy Speaker ordered Dawn Butler, Member for Brent Central, to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of the day’s sitting (Standing Order No. 43), and the Member withdrew accordingly.
On a lighter note, I hope that before the House adjourns today we can celebrate the colourful display that we can currently see in Parliament Square. Tomorrow is Historic County Flags Day. It has been celebrated for some days now, with the flags of the historic counties of England, Scotland and Wales in Parliament Square. The flags on display span the nation and also time. We can see old flags such as the St Piran’s Cross of Cornwall and the Warenne Checks of Surrey, which dates from the 13th century, as well as some more modern designs.
Many of those modern designs are thanks to the work of charities such as the Association of British Counties and the Flag Institute. I declare an interest as a former editor of the Flag Institute’s magazine. People at that charity, such as Graham Bartram and Philip Tibbetts, have worked tirelessly to encourage community groups and individuals to design flags, with Philip Tibbetts in particular criss-crossing the country. I congratulate him on his recent appointment as honorary vexillologist to the Court of the Lord Lyon.
One very good example of a modern flag design is the flag of Nottinghamshire, which was designed following a competition organised by Andy Whittaker of BBC Radio Nottingham in 2011. I am pleased to see that a decade later Leicestershire has finally caught up, and as the vice-chair of the flags and heraldry all-party parliamentary group, I was pleased to be in Parliament Square this week to attend the first flag raising of the flag of Leicestershire there. However, Leicestershire does not yet have its own day. I am pleased that Nottinghamshire County Council has today voted unanimously for 25 August to be Nottinghamshire Day. I look forward to seeing the flag of Nottinghamshire flying across the county, in the Houses of Parliament and, I hope, also across the country.
Although we are forever one United Kingdom, as we leave this place I hope that we can admire the diversity of our country, return to our constituencies and see all the best that there is in our counties—and I believe that the best of our counties are embodied in our county flags.
I rise to reflect on what we have lost over the last year. For us in this House, it is the scrutiny of the Government, as the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) highlighted, but it is also the direct face-to-face contact with constituents. I have had the privilege of being out on my doorstep surgeries in recent weeks, which has reminded me—not that I needed reminding, but I feel that I should remind the House—of the very real housing challenge that so many of my constituents are facing.
We have a Government who are fuelling demand for housing through things such as stamp duty holidays, but who are doing nowhere near enough to increase supply. There are far too many people in my borough living in seriously overcrowded conditions. I have visited many in recent weeks, some of whom I have known for some time because they have been living in this situation for a very long time. Many have been forced into temporary housing accommodation. Only five or six years ago, they would have been told, “You will be there for six months and then you will get a proper home.”; now they are often there for years at a time. One woman was discharged from hospital with her baby to live in a room with her husband and toddler. Another woman, who works, is living with her seven-year-old, who has been off school and therefore home schooled in a hostel room.
Others are outpriced, such as the Homerton Hospital porter who brings home £1,300 net per calendar month and pays £550 a month for a room in a private rented house. It was £400 until the pandemic hit and his landlady had to put up the rent. He rented a room for himself and his daughter. When the rent went up to £550 a month, he could no longer afford to do that because it would have cost more than £1,000 a month, so they share a room. She is 17 years old. He is embarrassed by this, but there is no prospect of anything else. Although he is a health worker, he has no recourse to public funds because he is, legitimately and properly, going through the immigration system. With his salary he could never afford to rent a property privately in London, and with no recourse to public funds, he would not qualify for housing benefit and certainly not for the scarce social housing that we have. For many people, there is no prospect of renting or owning their own home, with the price of a typical two-bedroom property now at £750,000.
I also want to raise the challenge and cost of childcare, which is always an issue. Co-op providers, which I know from my work as a Labour/Co-op MP, and other childcare providers in Hackney and nationally are now seeing huge absences because of a ping by the app. In some cases self-isolation among staff has increased by a third in the last week alone, so will they be on this little list that the Government keep promising—which, I have just checked, is still not published—of key workers able to go back to work if they have double vaccinations? The impact is not just on the setting and the business or the co-op; the crisis is for children under five who are losing out and are severely affected by this pandemic, and of course it is about the impact on working parents. I pay tribute to the educationalists in my constituency, who have done so much to keep young people educated. We need to make sure that the catch-up is funded and we cannot afford to leave a generation behind. I hope that the Government rethink and come forward with a long-term plan for making sure that our young people are supported to catch up on the education they have had to lose this year.
I have spoken many times about my opposition to High Speed 2, a project ripe for scrapping, with post-covid rail demand uncertain, the unbelievable and still ballooning cost and further legs now deemed unachievable. Worst of all with HS2 is the destruction that it brings to my constituency and our environment and the real day-to-day human misery its construction is bringing. Likewise, although East West Rail enjoys broad support, it brings similar disruption and destruction to Buckinghamshire.
Already burdened with the toll of these state infrastructure projects, surely the principles of basic fairness and natural justice should exempt my constituents from any more big construction by Government—but no. Despite a massive cry of opposition from the villages of Edgcott, Grendon Underwood, Steeple Claydon and others—concerns that I have relayed to Ministers on many occasions—the Ministry of Justice persists in its plans for a new prison adjacent to HMP Spring Hill and HMP Grendon. I know how hard local residents, our parish councils and Buckinghamshire councillors, such as Angela Macpherson, Frank Mahon and Michael Rand, have worked to make the case against it at consultation stage. I pay particular thanks to Rod Baker, whose detailed analysis and presentations on why these proposals are so wrong have been second to none. However, it seems that the Government’s drive for a rapid increase in prison places has overridden our serious concerns.
This new prison is proposed in a rural area, served by rural, often unclassified roads—roads that cannot cope now, let alone with yet more construction traffic and thousands of vehicle movements once it is built. The proposals would take existing green space, so when planning reforms talk the language of brownfield first, surely Government projects must walk the walk of brownfield development. There are plenty of brownfield sites that this prison could be built on. That is before we get on to all the other legitimate planning concerns—there are too many to mention in the time I have this afternoon.
So as we depart for recess, my work will continue throughout the summer, working with my constituents to make the case for the planning application to be rejected. I call on the Government to think again and to introduce a new policy that exempts constituencies already struck with big infrastructure from any more. It is not too late on this particular one. Let us find a different brownfield site and give Buckinghamshire a break.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, after you helped me to set up my parliamentary office 25 years ago, I think, this month.
As we are thinking about what will happen after covid, a couple of my constituents recently asked me to raise in the House the question of why our area has been left behind. It is not only my area, but many other areas, and we are not just being left behind—we have been held back by successive policy failures. It is plain as the nose on your face that this is now an acute and chronic problem for the whole country, yet policy makers have simply turned their backs for so many years on so many communities.
There was rapid and unconstrained deindustrialisation; an economic system that generated colossal inequality. Just look at my constituency. The average wage is £5,500 per person less than the national average. It is a scandal. There are 4,200 children in poverty. Food banks are springing up everywhere, and it is not simply Hemsworth, is it? There are 14 million people now in poverty in our country, 7.5 million of whom are in work. We have the worst regional inequalities of any advanced OECD country. Social mobility has come to an end—that is according to the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission. We have a class system that is now clearly ossified. In a three-minute speech I can only hint at the powerful processes that brought all this about; I will come back to these issues in the coming weeks.
Our office has identified seven interconnected processes: austerity; unconstrained markets; the dominance of finance over the economy; inadequate investment; globalisation; the domination by commercial interests of too much of the public sector, including the Government themselves; and repeated attacks on organised labour, leading to a reduction of the wage share as a proportion of GDP. All these together form a single neoliberal policy consensus that is embraced by the British establishment and has done massive damage to our national interest.
Suddenly, Government Members are talking about levelling up—as if someone somewhere just woke up to what has been happening in plain view for more than a decade. So what should we do? First, let me say to the Government that market-led solutions are not a solution; they have been the problem, and so has austerity. The Government’s towns fund barely scratches the surface; it is purely empty sloganeering.
Let me say now to my own Front-Bench team and to our leadership: as all of us know, social justice is, as all of us know, right at the heart of Labour’s DNA. The country has drifted so far away from justice that it now requires big change. Timidity will not deliver what is plainly now in the national interest: only a radical and transformative politics in a dynamic campaigning party can lead to our national renewal. Nothing less will do.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank some people in my constituency. I thank Newbury Racecourse, which in January this year threw open its doors and saw 33,000 people troop through them—twice—to get their vaccination. I thank Dr James Cave and Dr Ellora Evans, who led the eight GP surgeries that participated, and I thank Beverley Sunderland, Jon Cross, Tim Marston, Graham Stanley and Mike Howie, who led the volunteers—people from every walk of life and every corner of my constituency who gave up their time to make things work like clockwork. I put on the record my thanks to them.
I also pay tribute to Ruth Saunders, who is not well known but at the tender age of 104 walked a marathon over consecutive days around the streets of Newbury, inspired, of course, by Captain Tom. She raised £50,000 for the Thames Valley air ambulance. She is now 105, and next week I will be presenting her with a Points of Light award from the Prime Minister.
In the limited time that I have remaining, I wish to talk about two environmental issues that affect my constituency. The first concerns public transport. It is my ambition to secure a bus route that will link Newbury and Oxford, stopping at the Harwell science park, the Milton business park and many other significant employers along the route. One of my favourite local anecdotes is about a farmer who many years ago used to have the brass neck to put a couple of his cows on the train at Didcot and take them off at Newbury. The sad thing about that story is that that train line is long gone—and so is the bus route that replaced it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) will correct me if I am wrong, but at the Harwell science park some 10,000 jobs are coming in the next few years. Talented apprentices from Newbury College are increasingly getting jobs there, but their only way of getting to work is to get two trains and a bus that takes more than an hour to go a distance of 14 miles—of course, they can get there in their cars. In the next year, I would like to see a bus route, preferably hydrogen, that is cheap, practical and environmentally friendly for Newbury’s workers.
Finally, I have been working with my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) on chalk streams, and particularly the River Kennet, which flows between our constituencies. It is so alarming to see the state they are in and the effect of sewage, pollution and water extraction. The damage that is being done to them now puts those precious streams and the habitats they support at serious risk. In the coming months I will work closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ahead of the Environment Bill’s return to this House, to seek to resolve that.
I believe I have three minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will be unable to cover so much that could have been covered. I could have covered universal credit, the Government’s shoddy handling of the £20 uplift and their desire to plunge people back into poverty; covid and the Government’s sleaze and corruption when it comes to the multitude of contracts that have come out—friends or family members of the Government would of course have been on the VIP list throughout the pandemic; or Brexit and the destructive impact it is having on my constituency, the one constituency in the UK meant to be harder hit than any other in the UK. Indeed, I raised that issue with the Leader of the House earlier today in relation to a business in my constituency and the export challenges it is facing—it has gone from taking three days to export a good to almost six weeks. His shameful answer was, “Ask the French about it”. What an utter abdication of responsibility. Shame on him and shame on this Government.
However, in real terms the biggest issue—perhaps the biggest issue of our times—is not the pandemic, but climate change. As an Aberdeen Member, it would be remiss of me not to talk about energy. Aberdeen has faced the triple whammy of covid, Brexit and an oil price crash, which has painted into clear focus the challenge that is going to face my city in the future. What did the Government do? They did almost nothing. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming to deliver their North sea transition deal. Where is the hydrogen strategy? Where is the commitment to a carbon capture and underground storage facility in the north-east of Scotland? Where is the desire to ensure that there is sufficient capacity within round 4 of the contracts for difference auction to ensure that Scotland does not lose out? That is an important point, because Scotland is going to lose out.
The great renewables robbery that this Government are undertaking is alive and well, because offshore wind projects in Scotland will have to pay to access the energy grid, whereas offshore projects in the south-east of England will be paid to access the very same grid. We face the highest grid connection charges in not only the UK, but the entirety of Europe. If this Government are serious about levelling up and about delivering for Aberdeen and for Scotland, that renewables robbery needs to end—it cannot continue.
One aspect of my role as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief is to represent the UK on the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, which comprises 33 like-minded countries committed to championing FoRB. The UK has led the way in securing a statement from alliance members published today on the gov.uk website. Time precludes me from reading it all, but extracts read:
“We stand in solidarity with the victims of human rights violations by the Myanmar security forces. People of all faiths and beliefs have come together to condemn the military’s actions since the 1 February 2021 coup.
Faith actors have played prominent roles in the anti-coup movement, including by supporting human rights defenders and vulnerable communities. As a result, some have been subjected to inhumane treatment by the military regime. We remember those who have been killed and call for the release of all those unjustly detained…
We condemn any attack on places of worship… and support all”—
including faith communities—
“who pursue peace…in Myanmar.”
Such expressions of support mean a lot to people suffering on account of their faith or beliefs; they know they are not forgotten.
I thank the alliance member countries supporting this statement and our hard-working Netherlands chairman, Jos Douma, with whom it is a pleasure to work. I also thank my parliamentary FoRB team and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office FoRB team for their support for my role. This week, we celebrated the launch of new training materials for all FCDO staff titled “Religion for International Engagement” to bolster understanding of faiths and beliefs and make the UK stronger in its work as a force for good globally. For me it was a moving moment, having previously chaired a report by the all-party group on religious education calling on Government to improve religious literacy across departments.
Let me take my envoy hat off now and speak as co-chair of the all-party group on North Korea. We published an in-depth report this week on human rights violations in North Korea, to ensure that the 2014 UN commission of inquiry report remains a live document.
Our report updates the litany of atrocities meted out by the North Korean regime on its own people: murder, torture, sexual violence, rape, human trafficking, forced abortions, infanticide, slavery, persecution, inhumane punishments and more. Time precludes me from going into detail. I hope to secure an Adjournment debate. The full report can be found at appgnorthkoreainquiry.com, but I urge colleagues today to support the early-day motion I have tabled this afternoon. I thank all those who helped produce this report, particularly the inquiry’s lead adviser, Dr Ewelina Ochab.
Turning to Nigeria, we must not forget the victims of horrendous violence there. We hear of attacks, of the complete breakdown of law and order, and of rural communities suffering. Here is one quote from a reliable source:
“These continued attacks are causing horrific suffering and long term instability… The village was attacked again last night, more homes burnt down and a third church set on fire. No government security forces to protect the village. Several people hacked to death and bodies burnt.”
In response, I cannot improve on the well-chosen words of the Bishop of Truro:
“So, what is happening in the Middle Belt?... I would argue strongly that…it’s about much more than faith, but it’s not about less than that.”
I want to repeat my thanks and appreciation to all those who have helped deliver the covid vaccination programme. It has been a pleasure to volunteer at some of those local vaccination centres and see how much patients—young and old—appreciated their vaccines. None of that would have been possible without all those doctors, nurses, pharmacists, staff and volunteers who make a difference every day.
I also thank the many community groups in Dudley South that have supported people throughout this pandemic, such as Lions boxing club in Brierley Hill, which offers top-quality training for people of all backgrounds locally, and the “Black Country Blokes” podcast, which is based out of that boxing club and is helping men to talk about and address mental health. Congratulations to Kev Dillon, who helps run both groups, on his recognition as a Birmingham 2022 home town hero. We look forward to the Commonwealth games coming to the west midlands next year. Grassroots coaches and volunteers like Kev do so much to make it so special. Applications for the Commonwealth games volunteering programme are now open, and I hope that my constituents in Dudley South will take full advantage of the incredible opportunities on offer.
As we look forward to a time after covid, we must build back better and deliver better opportunities for our children and for the next generation in places such as Dudley South. I have started work on my seventh annual jobs fair for this September, to help people back into jobs and develop their skills for new careers. I thank the Department for Work and Pensions and local staff for all their help and support in organising that event.
Delivering a brighter future for the next generation is not only about jobs and prosperity. It was a pleasure to meet Dudley’s Members of the Youth Parliament, Jake Cartwright and Laiba Kiren, to talk about protecting our global environment, and in particular tackling plastic pollution. That is a major challenge that our generations must take up in order to leave a better world for those who follow.
Our local environment is also important. The new planning framework must help bring derelict brownfield sites back into productive use, while allowing communities to protect valuable green-belt sites such as those at Holbeache and the Triangle in Kingswinford, without worrying about decisions being overturned by the inspector. The draft Black Country plan is wrong to include those two sites, and communities need to be supported in getting them replaced with better alternatives. Levelling up means making sure that people in Dudley have equal opportunities, as they would elsewhere in the country. If we succeed, Dudley has a future that is every bit as bright as our proud heritage.
With apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), Dudley borough is the clear choice to become a new city to mark Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee next year.
Last year on 16 July, similarly at the end of term, I asked the Leader of the House in business questions for a debate on human rights abuses in Kashmir. Over a year on, no Government time has been provided for a debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) held a Westminster Hall debate on it in January, and that is the only debate that has taken place on the issue. Members from all parts of the House will have constituents, as I do in Luton South, who have family and friends in Kashmir, and our constituents need the Government to be involved in ending human rights violations and tackling the impact of the pandemic.
On 5 August, it will be the second anniversary of the Indian Government’s Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019, which unilaterally revoked article 370, replacing the autonomous state of Jammu with two territories governed directly by Delhi. The following Indian army-imposed lockdown and communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir have had a profound and far-reaching impact on every aspect of life in Kashmir, including health services, school closures and press freedom. Human rights abuses must be confronted at the international level through diplomacy. At 72 years, the situation in Kashmir is the longest unresolved conflict on the agenda of the United Nations, and there needs to be a concerted effort from the UK Government to bring about an international, multilateral response.
I am proud that the Labour party will always uphold international law and stand up for human rights and the rule of law. It is a basic, fundamental human right that Kashmiris are empowered to decide how they are governed and by whom. Kashmiris must be able to express their right to self-determination. I want to reiterate my call for a debate in Government time on how the UK Government can take further action to support multilateral efforts to end human rights abuses in Kashmir.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite everybody to come and visit Luton this summer, and join the herd to follow the big trunk trail, which is a beautiful, free, fun, family-orientated trail of 40 beautifully decorated elephants through our town centre and our beautiful parks. This is part of the fundraising for our local hospice, Keech hospice, as it celebrates its 30 years. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate both the Luton Council of Faiths and the Luton Irish Forum on receiving the Queen’s award for voluntary service this week. They are a fantastic asset to our town, and I am delighted for them both.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I begin by wishing you and all colleagues a very happy summer recess?
We have come a long way this year in the fight against coronavirus, and as a former NHS worker myself, I want to take a moment to pay tribute to all NHS staff at St Helier Hospital in Carshalton and Wallington, but also all NHS staff in places such as pharmacies—they include Reena at S. G. Barai Pharmacy, who gave me my first jab only a few weeks ago—and Matron Wendy Dyer and all the volunteers across the borough for everything they have done at the vaccination centres, as well as local community leaders who have been encouraging people from all backgrounds to get the vaccine, volunteers who have stepped up to help others throughout the pandemic and all the other frontline workers who have kept going in difficult times.
It is the honour of a lifetime to represent my home town of Carshalton and Wallington in this place, and everything I try to do in this Chamber addresses the concerns that constituents have raised with me. In fact, I am told by Hansard that this is my 100th mention of Carshalton and Wallington in this place in the last year and half. These 100-plus contributions have been about some of the most pressing issues raised by my constituents.
These are crime and antisocial behaviour issues, including catalytic converter thefts, the antisocial use of vehicles on Roundshaw Downs and in Hackbridge, and the antisocial behaviour in and around our town centres. These are public transport issues, such as the need to invest in unlocking the Croydon bottleneck scheme to unlock congestion on the railways and allow more trains to run through to suburban London, including to Carshalton, Wallington, Hackbridge and Carshalton Beeches stations.
These are issues involving the local economy, such as helping our small businesses through this difficult time and accessing Government support to ensure that our local high streets can be a place for businesses to thrive in the aftermath of a pandemic. These are issues relating to the local environment, such as championing better recycling, standing up for our parks and open spaces against the threat posed by the Lib Dem-run council and, of course, standing up for residents living in the shadow of the Beddington incinerator, who are concerned about air pollution.
These are schools and education issues, such as ensuring that every local schoolchild has a good or outstanding place to go to and standing up to the council on education, health and care plan failures. But, of course, these are issues involving St Helier Hospital and local healthcare, including delivering the £500 million commitment from this Conservative Government to improve Epsom Hospital and St Helier Hospital, and to build a third, brand-new hospital in Sutton, protecting A&E and maternity services in our borough.
However, this is only the beginning, and throughout the summer recess and beyond, I will try to do my best to continue to champion those issues that my constituents care most about.
As we adjourn for summer recess, one of the most important pieces of legislation that we must consider is the Health and Care Bill, which had its Second Reading last week. The Bill has profound implications for the quality and availability of healthcare for all of us, and implications too for the staff who work in the NHS. It is a matter of very real concern that the Bill removes the requirement for social care needs assessments of vulnerable patients to be carried out before a patient is discharged from hospital. This will put patients at risk and leave families to pick up the pieces, and those without family at risk of isolation and lack of care.
The Government’s plans will lead to a postcode lottery as each integrated care board develops a different plan for its area, and strict financial limits will lead to increased local rationing of care. The Bill provides for the deregulation of NHS professions, and this has the potential to impact on the status and, over time, the level of expertise of the people who work in the NHS, which we value so highly. It is also likely to lead to a downward spiral in the pay and pensions of the workforce, and a reduction in the quality of services that patients can access.
The implications for NHS staff are immense. Professor Kailash Chand, an honorary vice-president of the British Medical Association, has said:
“The core thrust of the new reforms is to deprofessionalise and downskill the practice of medicine in this country, so as to make staff more interchangeable, easier to fire, more biddable, and, above all, cheaper.”
The introduction to the NHS constitution states:
“The NHS belongs to the people.”
It is an important principle, and one that the Government’s Bill threatens to tear apart. Big business will be able to sit on ICB decision-making boards and provide services, embedding conflicts of interest in the system and opening the door to widespread cronyism. The Bill will also remove the procurement of health services from the scope of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, so we will see a regulated market become an unregulated market, with contracts handed out without the stringent arrangements that one would expect in the awarding of public money. Instead of respecting the fact that the NHS belongs to the people, the Government are handing it gift-wrapped to big business. The vision of a comprehensive, universal national health service that is valued so highly is torn apart by the Health and Care Bill.
I pay tribute to the many NHS campaigners around the country who are working so hard to defend our NHS and to keep our NHS public. I hope that hon. Members who voted for the Bill on Second Reading will have time to read the analysis of its impact beyond this place and reflect on just how damaging the changes will be for their constituents, themselves and the future of the national health service.
It is an absolute honour to be called to speak in this debate. This has been an extremely difficult year for many, with lockdowns, social distancing and not being able to be with friends or family. It has been a year in which many people have been quietly working in the background to keep the country running. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all those people in my constituency who have kept the town, the country and international business going.
Our NHS staff and care workers have our thanks and gratitude, but I would also like to especially thank the school and college teams: the teachers, support staff, cleaners, cooks and caretakers. I thank our port and logistics workers who have kept products safely moving in and out of the country, our food producers, and our shopkeepers, who have been staying open every day to ensure that we have access to goods and supplies.
I also thank the energy workers who have kept the country running. While many people will remember the last year and a half as a year when people worked from home, in constituencies like mine there are many people who do not, such as those who maintain and operate the UK’s wind energy supplies, and 70% of the fish we eat in the UK is processed in Great Grimsby. Many of my constituents have never actually stopped going into work. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all of them for continuing to go into work for us all.
This debate allows me to tell the House about the progress in Grimsby since the general election. The levelling-up agenda and the Prime Minister’s 10-point green plan have encouraged more than £300 million-worth of private investment to come into the area. Greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership tells me that it has never seen such inward investment coming into north-east Lincolnshire. My jobcentre tells me that it has more job vacancies than jobseekers, and—this is very important to me—my local employers are telling me that they want to work with me to get local people trained to get ready for the high-quality, high-skilled jobs that they have.
Our next focus in towns such as—
I refer the House to the declarations I have made relating to Glint Pay and the Covid Recovery Group.
I begin in a spirit of thankfulness—thankfulness for the Government’s programme, because we are in a much better place today than we might have expected. The pandemic is moving into an endemic phase, and that is a positive decision of the Government to move us forward with overwhelmingly voluntary measures. Although I have disagreed with the Government and continue to disagree with the Government on some matters, I recognise that the Prime Minister is providing very considerable leadership in a time of very great difficulty. For that I am extremely grateful.
Our trade deals are advancing at pace; there is the prospect of better domestic regulation; our aircraft carrier is heading to the Asia-Pacific—this is a time when the Government have a great story to tell, and I am looking forward to hearing my right hon. Friend the Deputy Chief Whip tell it a little later. I am very grateful to start in a spirit of thankfulness.
I think that my electors in Wycombe and people across the country expect us to be responsible and realistic about what we face, so I want to look forward to where I think we will be in September or October. There are two big factors that we will all need to reflect on over the summer.
First, the NHS is, of course, going to face a difficult winter. It will face a difficult winter because of the enormous backlog, which arises not only from covid but from the response to covid, and because respiratory viruses will be back. I think that means that there will be a moment of decision. The Government will, I am quite sure, face a moment when the NHS will ask for further lockdowns and restrictions in order to deal with those pressures. If the Government give way and once allow our liberties to be used as a tool of NHS capacity management, I think we will then face that issue every single winter. It is with great hope and some faith that I look to the Prime Minister and think that he is a man who will not allow that to happen. I fervently hope that turns out to be the case.
Secondly, I think we are going to run out of other people’s quantitative easing. We have spent absolutely enormous amounts of money, which has catapulted us forward on the debt trajectory set out by the Office for Budget Responsibility in its fiscal sustainability report, and that is going to begin crystallising some extremely hard spending decisions.
It was with enormous sorrow that I learned as I came into the Chamber that a survey published today says that Wycombe is the most food-insecure place in the United Kingdom. I am sorry to say that I am not surprised, because I have been supporting our food bank and we are there on the London fringe, with very expensive housing and other pressures—pressures that are repeated across the country. I am very sorry to say that my constituency appears to be the most food-insecure place in the United Kingdom.
I have stood down from the Treasury Committee after a long period because I recognise that I need to work much more closely with my councillors to make sure that we have our plan for Wycombe. I have to say, as I look forward to those two big factors that I mention, that we are going to have to make sure that food insecurity is at the very top of the list.
Shock and anger, heartbreak and confusion—stirred again by knowing that the person elected to protect us, and not least the vulnerable, sacrificed our most elderly and frail for political expediency. Ministers rallied around their master, seeding covid in care homes, embarking on herd immunity, instituting eat out to help out to help the virus to spread, locking down late and opening up early. Many died alone, locked away from loved ones. Covid is a cruel disease.
Now, as the covid wall of broken hearts stares back at this Parliament, inscribed with the names of the 129,000 lives stolen, we see the same rationale behind the Prime Minister’s plans being instituted once more. As infection levels spike, with 100 or more each day currently being sacrificed on his pyre of pride, he shouts “freedom day”. There is no freedom from the grave. There is no freedom for those retreating back into their homes, too scared to come out. There is no freedom for the millions of children missing school. There is no freedom for the shops and businesses having to close for want of staff.
Like in the story of the Pied Piper, this country is being lured into a dark place again by our Prime Minister, and tragedy awaits some. GPs are telling me that the whole system is overwhelmed. NHS waiting lists cannot cope. Businesses are teetering on the edge. People are needlessly dying. If people had not realised, he is using us as pawns in his political games to boost his ego and power, and as for Mr Cummings, he may well be revealing all, but he too is playing games; otherwise, he would have spoken before so many families were torn apart, when he could have saved them. Our politics is not a game, and I want no one to be used in this way.
Three things: first, from this point we need the management of the pandemic to move from No. 10 to public health professionals. They are perplexed by the strategy being deployed, and they could turn this around. Secondly, the public inquiry process into covid-19 must commence immediately. After this week, the families of the bereaved and those suffering with covid and long covid need answers. To delay is just another of the Prime Minister’s games as he avoids scrutiny ahead of an election while others are hurting. Thirdly, I implore everyone: hands, face, space. This is our defence against both the economic and health catastrophes, if not for your sake then for that of others.
The solidarity that we have shown in this last year is my hope. It goes to the core of who we are as a nation. We care about our country, and we care about one another. I wish everyone in my constituency of York Central and across the country a very safe summer.
I want to talk about Terry Melia. Terry is a great man. He is in his 70s, and he watched Bury football club for just about the whole of that time. He went to every match, home and away, for 60 years. That was Terry’s life, it was his family, it was the thing that mattered to him, but a couple of years ago that was wrenched away. I want to talk about how we must never underestimate those important sporting, cultural and historical assets that we have in all our constituencies and that matter so much. Bury and its people and its football fans have been badly let down by the Football Association, the Football League and numerous others. A great football club such as Bury with a great history that matters to the heart of my town was just ignored, and it continues to be ignored. I welcome recent Government funding opportunities to ensure that the fifth oldest football stadium in the country is bought back and that we see football being played again at Gigg Lane. We must use that not only as one of the real hearts of our community but as a regeneration tool to support everyone.
I want to follow on from that theme and talk about preserving those things that are important to my constituents. On 28 July, councillors in the Metropolitan Borough of Bury will have the opportunity to vote against “Places for Everyone”, a strategic planning document championed by the Mayor of Greater Manchester that will destroy large areas of green belt in my seat, specifically at Walshaw, Tottington and Elton reservoir. Each and every councillor has the opportunity to make sure that that plan does not come into existence, and that those beautiful areas of countryside and open spaces are going to be there for us all to continue to enjoy. The power of a politician to be able to decide the way our area looks is in the hands of councillors, and I trust that they will make the right decision.
In other areas that involve working closely with Bury Council, we need to bring Ramsbottom Co-op Theatre back to life. It is one of the original unique co-op theatres from the late 1870s. It has sat dormant for the past 50 or 60 years, but it can be at the heart of the Ramsbottom town plan, bringing back life, culture and support for all members of our community. We can work together to do that.
We also need a functioning special educational needs and disability hub. Children in my constituency are being let down by the SEND support they are getting in their schools, and we can work together collectively in my seat, across party, with the public sector and with schools to ensure that we have better support. We need a fully functioning youth employment hub to make a difference. We need a veterans hub to support our brilliant veterans in the local community.
Through these cross-party efforts, and by ensuring that we preserve those things that are important to us and support all members of our community, we can change Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington for the better.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in an important debate at the end of a very difficult and heartbreaking year. I send my condolences to anyone and everyone who has lost loved ones during this past year. The Government were not prepared for this pandemic. Those in other countries were, and that showed us what could have been done. The Government failed to stop the devastating second wave, they contacted cronies instead of public services and now the track and trace system that has been shown to be so flawed is being relied on. We need to build back better based on social justice and addressing these inequalities.
I want to raise some urgent issues for the Government to think about and act on during the summer. The first is the “pingdemic” for nursery schools. Nursery schools in my area and across the country are reporting a third of colleagues having to self-isolate. They are struggling to find temporary staff to cover and they need that addressed urgently. If lots of nursery schools close, it will not only be the young children who will suffer. It will be parents—parents who are essential service workers and NHS staff who will not be able to go to work.
Another issue is aid cuts. A lot of my constituents from Putney, Southfields and Roehampton have written in because they are very angry about that. One area of immediate concern is Tigray. The Government of Ethiopia effectively have Tigray under siege as we speak—now. In Tigray, Afar and Amhara, 5.5 million people are facing a crisis. The British Government need to adopt far more effective means of influence with the Government of Ethiopia to let the aid in and to stop the war.
A third area is universal credit. We need to keep the £20 uplift or even more people in Wandsworth will rely on food banks. It is shocking that 2,300 families have used the food bank in the past year. In Roehampton, 200 communities rely on the amazing community food box that is delivered every week. It should not have to be this way. Within the next year these numbers will only increase if we take away the universal credit uplift.
Fourthly, I hope that during the summer the green homes grant will return, mysteriously, from the Government. We will not achieve our environmental aims otherwise.
My fifth point is that we should stop the privatisation of the NHS and cut the waiting lists. I would like to end by thanking all the vaccine centres and NHS staff and volunteers. An amazing 218,000 vaccines have been given in Wandsworth and I urge everyone to get their vaccine. I thank all the charities in Putney, Southfields and Roehampton who have done so much to keep us going. To everyone who does not do it for the thanks, I send huge thanks—to every single charity in our wonderful community. They are the best of us and we are very grateful. I wish everyone a great summer recess.
My pre-politics career was spent working on social mobility, and I continue to work on it in this place. Like education, housing is important for social mobility. It is important that we help people get on the housing ladder in a way that their parents and grandparents did. Nobody who rents has ever written to me to say that too many houses are being built; they only say that they are unaffordable. If we want key workers for our public services and not to tell people that they have to move away from the area they have always lived in because they want to get on the ladder, we need to build homes.
Constituents in areas such as mine are unfairly characterised as nimbys for having legitimate concerns about the house building that has gone on. There are four big areas in which they have concerns. The first is volume. Across the two district council areas that my constituency covers, more than 15,000 houses were built between 2012-13 and 2019-20. There are thousands more to come. One concern is whether we are getting a disproportionate share of the new houses. The second concern is affordability. The average house price is £335,000—9.2 times the median income in the 2018 to 2020 period—so these so-called affordable houses are out of reach for most people. The number of affordable houses is often driven down on the grounds that the development would not be viable if they were built as intended.
The third concern is infrastructure. We have GP surgeries bursting at the seams, roads that are hugely congested and unsafe, such as the A420, and a crying need to reopen Grove station to connect the people of Grove—some of my constituents have wanted that for more than 40 years.
The fourth concern is the environment. It is not just about what might happen to the landscape or that in a lot of cases the houses built are quite low-quality. I am frequently asked why, given our other climate change goals, we are building homes that we know we will have to retrofit, with lots of gas boilers but not enough electric charging points or solar panels. Why are we still building on floodplains when we have had so many floods in the area?
The proposals that will come in the planning Bill in the autumn are not published yet; I hope that when they are published we can allay some of the concerns. There has been plenty of scaremongering—it is particularly rich coming from the Liberal Democrats, who had a house building target of 300,000 a year, the highest of any party at the election—but there are legitimate concerns about the community’s voice being taken away. I hope that we can address them when the Bill comes before the House.
I pay tribute to key workers in the Greater Manchester city region. I am also grateful to the Mayor of Greater Manchester: when the Government ignored the north and when businesses and other workplaces were left in the lurch, he showed leadership and stood up. Even now, when the Government have dropped the legal requirement to wear face coverings, putting transport and service sector workers at disproportionate risk, Andy Burnham has called for passengers to continue wearing face coverings to protect themselves and workers alike. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), my good friend, there is some graffiti that reads:
“The north is not a petri dish”.
That is quite right, and it is Andy Burnham who has exposed the Government’s unfair treatment of our northern communities.
Despite so-called freedom day, the pandemic is not over and cases are still rising, but as Sir Patrick Vallance confirmed this week, 60% of people being admitted to hospital are unvaccinated, so we can seek solace in the fact that as people continue to get both doses of the vaccine, we will emerge from the pandemic. However, even when it feels as if there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is still so much to recover from. Covid’s long-lasting damage can be seen in our schools, our national health service and so much more.
We have seen the disgraceful use of the fire and rehire tactic by some employers. Although the tactic existed before the pandemic, some have used covid as an excuse to erode terms and conditions and pay. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House agree that the practice is a national scandal.
We have also heard that owing to the pandemic, 35,000 people may die of cancer in the UK in the next year because of delays in diagnosing and treating the illness. In February, it was revealed that almost half of people with possible cancer symptoms did not see their GP in the first wave. As a matter of urgency, the Government must set out a proper plan to address the cancer backlog and make sure that people get the treatment they need.
While I am on the subject, I pay tribute to Macmillan Cancer Support for its work supporting people affected by cancer. Sadly, a family close to me lost one of their loved ones recently, and I know that Macmillan gave them so much support. Tragically, we recently lost Mr Neil Brookfield. He was a dedicated family man and a lifelong supporter of Crewe Alexandra football club. He will be sorely missed by his wife Suzanne, their children and all his friends. I am sure that everyone in this House knows someone who has received support from Macmillan. We should all give it our thanks; we owe it a massive debt of gratitude.
Before I finish, I would like to raise one more issue. This week, more than 50 people were set to be deported to Zimbabwe. Because of a last-minute legal challenge, only 14 people were on the flight last night, as The Guardian reported, but despite widespread violations of political and human rights, the Home Office has deported people to a country that has harassed and detained political opponents, trade unionists and journalists.
As we all go back to our constituencies for the summer and look forward to returning in September, I hope that Members across the House recognise the uncertainty that so many people under threat of being deported back to countries with grave human rights abuses face. I thank Lord Oates in the other place for his consistent and unwavering support for the Zimbabwean people and his work for the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe.
Due to time constraints, and because I have not had an opportunity to raise this before, I will talk exclusively about one issue. We have heard a lot about the struggles faced by many leaseholders and had debates about the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Building Safety Bill, but I want to talk about St Francis Tower in Ipswich. Its leaseholders were successful in getting funds through the building safety fund to carry out remediation work to the tower block, but I have been shocked by what has happened since.
The building manager, Block Management, has decided to cover the entire tower block in shrink-wrap, which could be on there for up to 12 months. I was invited by the residents to see the conditions in which they are expected to live and I was absolutely shocked. They are living in small, one-bedroom flats with no balconies and, in the middle of a pandemic, in a hot summer, they have got virtually no natural light. To make it even worse, they were not consulted or informed that it would happen. Then the building manager put bars on the windows, so now the residents can barely open their windows to get fresh air. So the residents have no natural light and barely any fresh air.
In all the time that I have been a Member of Parliament, seeing 100 of my constituents living in those conditions is probably the most shocking thing that I have come across. I find it deeply disturbing that Block Management has behaved in this way. Despite many interventions from me, and despite local media including the Ipswich Star and BBC Radio Suffolk highlighting the issue, I have still not had a proper response to a letter I wrote to Block Management about six or seven weeks ago, although we should be having a meeting soon.
We hope that a lot of remediation work will be carried out through things like the building safety fund—a lot of it needs to be carried out because dangerous cladding needs to be removed and various defects must be resolved—but it must be done in a way that is sensitive to the quality of life and mental health of those living in these structures. We need to have a debate on that.
I would like to work with the Government in holding Block Management to account and to support my constituents, who are going through great distress because of its behaviour. They are being treated like animals, not human beings. It is a disgrace, and I will fight for them. I will mention Block Management and its behaviour in the Chamber as many times as I need to until it meets the residents and resolves this issue.
It is a pleasure, as always, to lead for the SNP in these debates that are uncharitably referred to as the whinge-fest. I could not disagree more. We have had a quality debate covering a number of important issues.
The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) kicked off with a football theme that many continued through the debate, and I agree with what was said about the shocking situation in Bury. He, of course, supports England’s greatest football team, Newcastle United football club, and he was right to raise issues around the ownership of football clubs. I want to see fan ownership extended across these islands.
At the previous Adjournment debate, I said that I hoped the tartan army could be at Wembley in June. I was delighted to see that happen and to see them cheering on the boys, who were the only team not to concede a goal against England.
There are many constitutional debates, and some people seem to suggest that there is deadlock between those who support Scottish independence and those who do not. There is also the fact that the Government seem unwilling to grant us a referendum. I have an alternative idea: if they are not willing to give us a referendum to decide the issue, perhaps they could give us a penalty shoot-out. Scotland’s record at penalty shoot-outs is rather good—we managed to qualify for the Euros by winning one—and of course England’s is perhaps somewhat different. In fact, let us not sugar-coat it—it is as poor as the trains going to and from Southend that we regularly hear about from the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). Perhaps we could do that.
I do want to make a serious point. It was rather strange and disturbing that some Cabinet Ministers found themselves at the wrong end of a culture war in having a go at the England football team. In all seriousness, it is hard not to like this particular team, who are a credit to themselves and to England. The racism that England players got after the final was completely and utterly despicable and should be condemned by every Member of this House.
We are obviously here to hold the Government to account and a number of Members have raised the Building Safety Bill, with the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) raising a rather shocking example, but I am pleased that the Government have listened to those of us who represent companies such as Bell Building Projects Ltd, which specialises in cladding and is struggling to get the appropriate indemnity insurance to carry out its work. The Government seem to have moved substantially, with a Government-sponsored scheme.
I agree with many of the hon. Members who raised the issue of sick pay. I think the Government will need to revisit this as the low level of sick pay was responsible for many workers having to decide whether to turn up to work or self-isolate. I was particularly pleased to hear a number of Members across the House mention poverty and the proposed cut of the £20 universal credit uplift. This Parliament will need to debate that in September and I hope the Government will use the recess to rethink, because new analysis that will be published by the Independent Food Aid Network and Feeding Britain shows that in 2020 the relative poverty rate for individuals in a family where someone is disabled was as high as 31%, so there is a lot of work to do. I thank the Members, particularly the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who raised the issue of holiday hunger, and thank organisations in Glasgow South West—Drumoyne Community Council, Crookston Community Group, and G53 Together—for combating holiday hunger. The sad fact is that when MPs are on recess—and it is a recess—there are children suffering from holiday hunger. I will be particularly delighted to see the Threehills community supermarket project in the Glasgow South West constituency take place, the first community supermarket project in Scotland.
I hope that in the next few weeks the Government will come to their senses and resolve the industrial action disputes in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. It is frankly incredible and a disgrace that ministerial interference stopped a proposed resolution to that between DVLA officials and the Public and Commercial Services union, and the Government need to apologise for that. I hear that yesterday’s Transport Committee sitting was very interesting indeed.
You gave me a wee row in relation to my face mask, Madam Deputy Speaker, but we should recognise this week that the 1950s-born women have got something of a result and I want to pay tribute to the 1950s-born women across these islands who have been campaigning on this issue, particularly the WASPI Glasgow and Lanarkshire group, which does excellent campaigning work; I especially congratulate Rosie Dixon and Kathy McDonald who lead those women superbly.
I hope we will not see a culture or any other sort of war between the Home Office and the city of Glasgow. I was proud to be at Kenmure street in Pollokshields exercising my right to freedom of peaceful assembly to ensure that the Home Office did not take away a fellow Glaswegian whose only crime seems to be that he fell off the Home Office’s radar. This was not a criminal or a terrorist; this was someone who just happened to fall off the radar. That was a completely unacceptable way of dealing with that issue.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. One of my great concerns has been the 309 million Christians across the world who are facing extreme levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that issue should be at the core of what we in this House are trying to sort out?
Yes I do, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for the regular work he does in highlighting those issues.
As I said, this recess is not a holiday but a recess and I pay tribute to the parliamentary staff and constituency office staff of every single Member of this House; they have worked extremely hard. I pay particular tribute to Justina, Greg, Dominique, Keith, Scott, Tony and the great Roza Salih who leads the Glasgow South West team superbly, and I hope that all hon. Members of the House will have a good summer.
I am pleased to be making my first and, I hope, last virtual appearance at the Dispatch Box as shadow Deputy Leader of the House for today’s convivial debate.
We have heard many hon. Members talk about the issues that are close to their hearts, and it has been a pleasure to listen to them as they spoke from all parts of the House and all parts of the country. There have been a host of excellent speeches today. The hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) gave an insightful speech on the upcoming Historic County Flags Day. I may be biased, but I would argue that the flag of Lancashire is superior by a long way.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) spoke about a wide variety of issues, including the future of social care, a memorial for Vera Lynn, the safety of jet skis, and the upcoming Environment Bill. However, his speech would not have been complete without a final call for Southend to be designated a city, although it sounds as though he has competition on his hands from the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) who is gunning for Dudley to gain city status.
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) gave a glowing recommendation of the Government’s towns deal, but we can agree to disagree. On the subject of levelling up, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) asked why the Government had turned their back on his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) raised the poor services on East Midlands Railway and the lack of accountability, while the hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) put on record his strong feelings about HS2 and East West Rail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) made a moving contribution about the ongoing situation in Kashmir, while my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) raised the crisis that continues to rock Tigray and Ethiopia. I was also pleased to see the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) raise the issue of freedom of religion and belief and the prosecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
As a fellow member of the all-party group on ending homelessness, it was good to hear the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) raising the scandal of homelessness and the all-party group’s recent report on the need to continue with Housing First. Meanwhile, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) both raised the ongoing plight of leaseholders involved in the dangerous cladding issue and the skyrocketing costs of remediation work. I was shocked to hear the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) raise the issue of the St Francis Tower in his constituency. I hope that he succeeds in supporting his constituents to resolve this matter. With the demand for housing only rising, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) spoke powerfully about the overcrowding that her constituents are experiencing due to the housing shortages. Similarly, the hon. Member for Wantage (David Johnston) spoke of how housing shortages were affecting his constituents.
The hon. Members for Newbury (Laura Farris), for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) all paid tribute to local people for their hard work in supporting the covid vaccination efforts in their constituencies. That is a sentiment, I am sure, that we would all echo about our own constituencies.
If there was a theme among the many speeches that we have heard today, it was the ever-present concern about covid infections and the terrible toll that the past year and a half has taken on our country and our hard-working people. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) gave an excellent summary of the Government’s long list of failures over the past year. It was fantastic to hear how the community of South Shields, like so many around the country, stepped up during these difficult months. I wholeheartedly agree that the Government should be more like South Shields—or perhaps, if I may say so, more like Manchester, Gorton.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) for raising the disproport- ionate impact that this pandemic has had on Greater Manchester and the north. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) spoke powerfully about the need for an urgent public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic. Bereaved families need answers now and we must learn the lessons of the pandemic to avoid making the same mistakes again. On that point, I would encourage all those in the House today who have not yet had an opportunity to visit the covid memorial wall opposite Parliament to do so before they return home.
Several speakers, including the hon. Member for Aberdeen South and my hon. Friends the Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Putney, raised the scandal of Ministers handing their friends huge contracts throughout the pandemic. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) for her powerful words opposing the Government’s Health and Care Bill. That legislation would be deeply damaging, and she is right to call for the House to join Labour in rejecting it.
I hesitate to say it, but I agree with the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) on his concern about how the NHS will cope this winter, and his call for food insecurity to be placed at the top of the Government’s agenda.
Like many other Members, I look forward to catching up on constituency visits while we have this fine weather. I very much look forward to attending, on Saturday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Debdale nature centre in Debdale park in my constituency. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is a renewed appreciation for the green spaces that became a sanctuary for so many during lockdown.
With football on their mind, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) spoke of the scandalous takeover of Newcastle United and the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) spoke passionately of the future of Bury football club. Despite the Euros disappointment earlier this summer, Manchester continues to benefit from thriving grassroots football. Later this month I shall be visiting Rushford park in Longsight to open two new football pitches, which may well be used by the next Marcus Rashford or Harry Kane.
As the summer of sport continues, I wish all of Team GB—Great Britain’s athletes—the best of luck for the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo. The Olympics is always a fantastic occasion, showcasing the very best of human achievement and endeavour. However, I remind the House that dark shadows hang over the Beijing 2022 winter Olympics, as the genocide perpetrated by the Chinese Government on Uyghur Muslims continues unchecked and unchallenged by the international community. Now is the time for a political and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games.
I thank all the staff of both Houses for their tireless work, and I wish them all a restful summer. Special thanks must also go to all the wonderful staff who work for us as MPs. My personal thanks go to my own staff—Tom, Josephine, Anisa, Alice, Sam and Naeem—for all their hard work. Finally, I would like to thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the Speaker, and all the rest of the Deputy Speakers, and your deputy, for keeping us all in check. I hope that everyone has a peaceful summer and I look forward to seeing you all in person in September.
I confess that I have grown to really enjoy responding to this periodic debate. Not only does it give us a tour of the United Kingdom, but we learn a great deal about a range of issues, raised by Members from both sides of the House. Nevertheless, the medal still goes to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who managed to raise 15 issues in three minutes. That is quite an achievement.
The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), offered a penalty shootout. He talked about the independence referendum. My reply to him is that we gave the people of Scotland a choice, a “once in a generation” opportunity—not my words—and they took it: they decided it was better to stay in the United Kingdom.
Many Members mentioned the pandemic, and I join them in paying tribute to all those people who have worked tirelessly to keep our country going, and to care for those who needed it the most. The community groups that we have heard about today have been extraordinary, and I have seen that in my constituency. Those who kept our hospitals going, those who kept our schools going, and those who kept the shops going—who have not had as much credit as they should have—really have been a credit to this country, and I thank them most sincerely for all that they have done in what has been an incredibly difficult time.
I probably will not have time to respond to all the issues raised, but I will do my best. Football has come up a fair bit. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) talked about their clubs, and I am sure it will not have escaped their notice that DCMS Ministers are taking the future of the game very seriously. Their review will of course include the governance of the game, and I look forward to their reporting back as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) continued his campaign on Stanmore station. I will raise those issues with Ministers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. He also talked about the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. Given my habit, I had better keep quiet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West raised many issues, and two particularly stand out. Of course, one is his tribute to Vera Lynn. I think we are all united in wanting to support him in that campaign. I wish him well in his bid for Southend to become a city.
The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) mentioned investment in railways. I point out that, under this Government, we have given £40 billion to our railways, one of the biggest investments since the Victorian era. We stand on a proud record.
A number of hon. and right hon. Members mentioned planning and cladding, and these are important issues. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) and for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier), and my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Bury North, for Wantage (David Johnston) and for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) show what an important issue this is. The planning Bill that will be coming before this House is an important opportunity for us to make sure that we build the houses that my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage talked about, so that young people have somewhere to live, but that we do it in the right places—the right houses in the right places. My community groups, such as Aireborough neighbourhood development forum, successfully challenged their local council at the High Court on its plan to build on the green belt, and they won. That demonstrates that local voices can count for a great deal.
I cannot ignore the disappointing tone of the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). It was disappointing to hear the constant accusation of cronyism and corruption. I took particular offence at being described as a member of a racism-enabling Government. I have faced prejudice in my life, and I have ended up in hospital, as did my father, because of my sexuality. I took offence at being told that I do not believe in the NHS, as I spent most of my working life working for the hospice movement, and at being told that we do not care about poorer families, as my dad spent a lot of time in unemployment—I had to have free school meals. I take exception to such accusations.
I will stand up to anyone who discriminates against any single person for who or what they are, or for who they love. I will defend the NHS for as long as I am alive. I believe that the best way to help our poorest families is to give them the opportunity to have a job that pays well, because being able to support themselves is their best opportunity for a better life.
I am conscious that my time is coming to an end, but I want to say thank you to all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in this debate. It has brought out a host of issues, and we have heard that the Government’s agenda to build back better is working across the country.
Despite what we heard from some hon. Members, the town centre deals are delivering improvements in our towns across this country. If hon. Members think that is not working, they should look at the successful Conservative Members who have lobbied hard to get that money and are now seeing the investment they need for their towns. Look at the infrastructure that is being invested in in all parts of the country.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said, let us concentrate on being an outward-looking nation that is determined to build on the trade deals that will create the jobs we need in this country. Let us be proud of our armed forces, which work tirelessly in all corners of the world so that we can show we are, as he said, a truly outward-looking country.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr Speaker, the Clerks and all our staff who support us in our daily work, and the catering and cleaning teams who look after us. I give a special mention to the Doorkeepers. Having to wear those outfits in this weather is incredibly difficult, but they are always there to help us all.
I look forward to our coming back to normal. As someone who has carried the proxies, I cannot wait to see the back of them.
I finish by wishing all our Olympians the very best of luck. The whole nation is behind you. I wish everyone a very happy recess.