Whitsun Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 4:26 pm, 23rd May 2019

May I again welcome the Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household, Mark Spencer, to the Chamber for this debate? I echo what other hon. Members have said in that he was excellent at the Dispatch Box this morning. Given that he had such a short time to prepare, I think he should have Whitsun off.

This is always a great event in the House, and it is good that the Backbench Business Committee has given hon. Members such an opportunity this time. The number of hon. Members who wanted to speak and raise important issues shows that it was the right decision.

My hon. Friend Ian Mearns, who is the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, mentioned the United Nations rapporteur, and I hope the Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household will raise this issue with his colleagues. He should not just throw it back to the Backbench Business Committee to have a debate, but actually look at the reports that have come from the United Nations rapporteur and give us a debate on that in Government time.

My hon. Friend rightly raised the issue of council tax, and he knows as he has done the hard graft as a councillor, so it is right that we should look at it at some stage. He has an amazing array of concert halls in Gateshead. I have not visited Sage Gateshead, but I would like to. [Interruption.] Yes, perhaps I can now. It is good that the council is investing in Sage Gateshead. He also mentioned the steel industry and the impact on his constituency.

In relation to Sir David Amess, what can I say? He is right to raise our work in Parliament, and with his 36 years here, it is important to hear his views. The way in which the business is brought forward in the House is a matter for the Government, so I hope the Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household will take that back. However, hon. Members are hard-working, and they do their work in lots of different ways and in different places.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the excellent music service he has in his constituency, and about these wonderful visitors to his constituency. He talked about people wanting to be Prime Minister, but he has been here for 36 years, and he could throw his hat into the ring. Just imagine: if he did that, he could sign the decree that would make Southend a city—instantly. He should get all these international visitors to sign a letter, and I am sure many hon. Members could sign a letter, to make Southend a city, particularly as he has an important archaeological find in his city. We want everyone to visit Southend West.

The hon. Gentleman is right. I raised earlier the issue of fire and safety, and I would like to remind hon. Members to take that test. It only takes 20 minutes, and it would be very good if everyone could do that during the Whitsun recess and make this place safer.

What can I said about my hon. Friend Nic Dakin and his fantastic speech? He paid tribute to steelworkers, who are the infrastructure, in all senses of the word, of his constituency and our society. How difficult must it be—he wears it well—to hear the sad stories from some of those workers who do not even know whether they will have a job next week? He has regularly engaged with the steel industry and has regular conversations with Tata Steel, which is also based in my constituency. He is a real fighter for his constituents and the steel industry. His constituents have a great MP, who they know will never give up on saving the steel industry.

This may be the first time that Stephen Kerr has attended such a debate. He says that he has been in the House only since 2017, but he is a regular heckler. Indeed, he has been admonished by the Speaker—“Mr Kerr, calm yourself!” He may not know this, but between 2010 and 2015 the Whips used to give a bottle of champagne to every Member named by the Speaker. The hon. Gentleman should raise that issue, because he definitely deserves it. He rightly raised the issue of governance, and it is 25 years since the death of John Smith, who was also interested in that issue and took forward devolution. Perhaps he can do something on that issue—we have all-party groups and Select Committees, and he has a platform as a Member of Parliament should he wish to bring forward new ideas. And of course, as I say to everybody: visit Stirling.

My hon. Friend Jessica Morden had to leave to catch a train, but she paid tribute to the steel industry in her constituency and raised the topical issue of EU citizens and the difficulties they face under the settlement. I hope the Minister will take that issue back for the Home Secretary to look at again. There are no tolls on the way into Wales anymore, so people should be encouraged to visit Wales and Newport—they do not need visas for that.

My hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick is a serial attender of these Backbench Business Committee debates. Sign language is important, and I also pay tribute to him as the chair of many all-party groups, including on leasehold and commonhold reform, and on tidy Britain. I join him in paying tribute to Victoria Prentis—she is no longer in her place—and her good work as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the former Leader of the House. I am not sure whether she will continue in that role, but I wish her well as she performed it assiduously. I say to Mr Carmichael that the strike of the air traffic controllers has been to the benefit of the House. He also raised the important issue of visas for non-EEA citizens. The fishing industry is important not just for Scotland but for us all, and especially coastal constituencies. He highlighted a flaw in the current criteria for visas—other hon. Members have also raised that issue, and I hope the Home Secretary will take it up. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman never gives up on those issues. Those coastal constituencies are wonderful. “Local Hero” is my favourite film, and my daughter used to love reading about Katie Morag—indeed, I sometimes dip into those books now, just to remind myself how wonderful they are. They are very nice.

My hon. Friend Mr Sweeney—we seem to have an over-representation of Scottish MPs today!—rightly mentioned the elections today, and once we have finished this debate, any second now, I will leg it up to Walsall to cast my vote. He was right to raise important issues of democracy in his constituency, and we must reflect on that after this election, and consider how to go forward and give everyone a voice as part of our democracy. He was right to say that arts and culture are very important, and he showed how one person can make a difference. The uniform exchange is a huge thing and will make a big difference to people’s lives. Although he said that not many Members are around, this debate was oversubscribed and we are nearly at the time limit. It has been a well-subscribed debate, and I am pleased that hon. Members have stayed to take part.

Everyone has mentioned their favourite football club. I was at the Valley to watch Charlton Athletic go through on penalties, which was very exciting. My husband Paul and my father-in-law John Townsend are both supporters of Charlton Athletic, so I feel I must wish them well on Sunday in the play-offs. Charlton Athletic were the club of PC Keith Palmer. I hope, with him watching down, they do well on Sunday.

Finally, I wish everyone a very happy Whitsun recess. Remember, we do not just finish work, but go back to our constituencies and work. We are constantly looking at our mailboxes. I wish the staff of the House and everyone here a very happy recess.