Summer Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:28 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 4:28 pm, 25th July 2019

It is always a pleasure to lead from the Front Bench for the SNP on what some people call the debate on the summer Adjournment but others call the whinge-fest. It was led superbly by Sir David Amess. I was pleased that his campaign to make sure that this debate took place was a success. However, it is the first time I have heard him make a speech that did not mention his complaints about the rail service in Southend. Perhaps his campaigning over the years has been a success, because that was notably absent from his address to the House.

I see the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, Jeremy Quin in his place. As he may recall, he responded to my maiden speech with his maiden speech four years ago. As he has the responsibility of ending this debate, perhaps he could do so Alice Cooper-style, by declaring that school’s out for summer. If he does not, that responsibility should lie with you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I want to make a serious point. As a number of Members have said, for too many of our citizens across these islands, the summer period is not one of joy; it is one of poverty. The Work and Pensions Committee and the Education Committee are conducting a joint inquiry into some of the issues around that. It troubles me to hear that there are supermarkets and stores in the UK that bin school uniforms. This is a one-off cost for many people in our society, and it can be very expensive, because some schools are very selective about where school uniforms can be purchased. It is a concern that some stores are doing that. I will meet some stores in the next few weeks, to ensure that they provide a service to those who are very much in need. I hope that all Members will take that up in our recess.

I want to mention other issues that are the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions, the most alarming of which is the figures published by the Independent Age charity on the lack of take-up of pension credit. In Glasgow South West, £9.6 million a year is being lost by people who are entitled to and should claim pension credit. I will be organising some events in my constituency, but I ask those on the Front Bench to engage with the Department for Work and Pensions to see what they can do to ensure that those entitled to pension credit take it up.

A number of Members have raised their concerns about universal credit. I ask the new Government to look positively at the Universal Credit Sanctions (Zero Hours Contracts) Bill. It is incredible that someone on universal credit who gives up a zero-hours contract or decides that it is not for them can be sanctioned, whereas those on legacy benefits would not be. Zero-hours contract work does not suit a lot of people, and it is ridiculous that people can be sanctioned as a result of giving up a zero-hours contract job.

It is time that the Government address the major injustice that affects 1950s-born women in accessing their pensions. I hope that the new Government will look positively at this issue, which has been going on for far too long. I pay tribute to all the campaigners who are looking for pensions justice.

I recall that in last year’s summer Adjournment debate I referred to the blond hero who walked out on his female leader. It looks like he has been successful. However, I do not believe he will be too successful if he carries on the way he has in the last 24 hours. We had the “red wedding 2”, or the Cabinet reshuffle. We had the Trumpesque performance this afternoon. There were a lot of questions—129, I think—and no answers.

There are a lot of things that the new Prime Minister needs to sort out, and one of the first is the Home Office’s visitor visa situation, which, as Jeremy Lefroy pointed out, is ludicrous and unjust. The fact that religious workers and clergymen who are trying to come to the UK are being denied a visitor visa is an absolute disgrace.

What is also a disgrace is Home Office contractor Serco in Glasgow trying to evict 300 asylum seekers. Why? Because it is losing the contract at the end of September. Serco thinks it is perfectly reasonable to make 300 asylum seekers homeless and leave the local authority to pick that up. It is a concern of mine that some Members of this House had dinner in this building with those from Serco at a time when 300 asylum seekers could be thrown out on to the streets. I hope the Government will look positively at the Asylum Seekers (Accommodation Eviction Procedures) Bill, which was launched this week, and I hope hon. Members will look positively at signing early-day motion 2636 in that regard.

There has been an absence in the Prime Minister’s statements in the last 24 hours about workers’ rights and employment rights. That was perhaps no surprise given the industrial action taking place in various Departments at the moment. I hope that he will instruct the new Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, as well as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, to address these industrial disputes, which have been going on too long. It is quite clear that the outsourcing companies really need to be hauled in and told to behave themselves. We have a dispute in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where it is clear that people have to wait six weeks to be paid their wages—if they were on universal credit, they would be paid quicker. Why is the Department that is responsible for enforcing employment law allowing an agency to try to bust an industrial dispute? I hope the Lord Commissioner will take that up with those Departments.

I want to thank Stephen Kerr, who is no longer in his place, for raising the issue of drugs deaths in Scotland. It really is a shame that no urgent question was taken on this and that there was no Government statement. This is a very serious issue, and one that needs to be debated calmly and maturely. It is a pity that hon. Members have been denied such an opportunity.

I want to thank all the staff, who on many occasions take impertinent questions from me, and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the other Deputy Speakers. I also want to pay tribute to a group that has not yet been mentioned, which is our constituency office staff. In my experience the constituency office staff right across these islands are excellent and professional, and they help each other out. I want to pay tribute to the Glasgow South West constituency office staff: Roza Salih, Dominique Ucbas, Anthony McCue, Scott McFarlane, Mary Jane Douglas and Keith Gibb, and I wish a happy retirement to Dr Joe Murray. They have all done a fantastic job in the last year for Glasgow South West constituents.