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February Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 13th February 2020.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:12 pm, 13th February 2020

It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker. One thing that I most enjoyed about being a Whip in the previous Parliament was participating in the debate on matters to be raised before the Adjournment, which was always wide-ranging and an absolute nightmare to sum up. The 17 Back-Bench contributions that we have heard today have been fascinating and contributed to a diverse debate. Bob Blackman is right to say that it is always a joy to witness Sir David Amess, who, in one debate that I summed up, cantered through 26 topics. It may well be the case that he is on his way to Downing Street to be made Minister for the City of Southend, and if that is the case, we wish him well and it is sad not to see him here today. I am, however, hoping to replicate some of what he does by covering a lot of issues.

I thank the hon. Members for Harrow East, for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), for Buckingham (Greg Smith), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) for their contributions. As is always the case after an election, the real pleasure is in listening to maiden speeches, the first of which came from Dr Evans. His speech was incredibly fluid and he spoke with no notes, which in itself shows a real talent on his first outing in the House of Commons. He spoke immensely eloquently about his constituency, and I wish him all the very best as he seeks to serve his constituents.

I took particular interest in the speech by Sarah Atherton, and it was fascinating to hear her speak about the mining industry, her time in the Army, and her commitment to beer. One thing people quickly learn in this place—I will come on to this slightly later—is about the cross-party nature of such groups. Last year I attended my first ever dinner with the all-party beer group. I confess that I am not a great fan of beer—some of my colleagues are—but it was amazing to see how collegiate and cross party people are in that respect. I wish the hon. Lady well.

Angela Richardson is of course from New Zealand. This place is enriched by including people from different countries. Well, perhaps not from Scotland, but that is a constitutional point—[Laughter.] She spoke very eloquently and paid kind tribute to her predecessor, Anne Milton, who I had a lot of dealings with on the issue of apprenticeships.

One of the difficulties with maiden speeches is that Members cannot interrupt or intervene. So often in the maiden speech from Jerome Mayhew, who spoke with great passion about independence, I found myself agreeing and wanting to find out why only this far, and not in Scotland, are we to have the pleasure of independence. None the less, he spoke very eloquently too.

The most moving contribution was probably from Dr Hudson. I spoke to his Whip earlier today, who informed me of his personal situation at the weekend. He can rest assured that my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at what must be an incredibly difficult time. I was heartened by his comments about cross-party working. There is no doubt that in this Parliament, with a majority Conservative Government, we are going to get gubbed on absolutely every single vote. I accept that, but this Parliament, for as long as I have to be here, is all the stronger when we work cross-party.

This is a fitting opportunity to pay tribute to the former Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Andrea Leadsom, who I consider to be not only a colleague but a good friend. I am very sad to see that she has left the Government. Hers is an example of someone who works on a cross-party basis. I know from the comments made by the hon. Gentleman that he will take that forward, too.

The final maiden speech we heard today was from Siobhan Baillie, who spoke passionately about her constituency. I absolutely agree with her on funding high streets. Having left the SNP Whips Office and moved into shadowing the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, I am aware that we will speak more about high streets in this Parliament. The nature of towns funds and whether they apply to cities is another matter, as is the issue of Barnett consequentials. So I am very glad she referred to the issue of high streets.

I want to touch on a number of local issues. First, I pay tribute to a campaigning group in my constituency, Restore Glasgow, which is associated with the International Justice Mission. Since last year, I have been working with Restore Glasgow, as well as local authority colleagues, to explore different ways of ensuring greater regulation and licensing of nail bars and car washes, which we know, sadly, are often used for the purposes of human trafficking. More than 250 years since the end of the transatlantic slave trade, there are close to 41 million people still trapped in some form of slavery across the world today, yet nobody really knows the scale and how many victims or perpetrators of this crime there are on these islands in the UK.

The data that has been released is inconsistent. The Government believe there are about 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK, while the Global Slavery Index released a much higher estimate of 136,000 in 2018. One way or another, we must all do more to tackle the scourge of trafficking. I very much commend Restore Glasgow for their campaigning efforts to question consumer behaviour. More often than not, we might think that we are getting a bargain by getting our nails done—well, perhaps not in my case—or a car washed for £2 or £3, but we have to wonder who is really paying the price.

The internationalism and compassion shown by the people of Glasgow East does not just stop at human trafficking. Animal welfare is also close to our hearts. One of the issues that concerns a great many of us is trophy hunting imports. Put simply, trophy hunting is cruel and barbaric, and is helping to push some of the world’s most endangered wildlife ever closer towards extinction. British trophy hunters have killed hundreds of endangered lions, hippos, leopards, rhinos, zebras and other animals in recent years, and brought their “trophies” back to the UK. I am very proud to support early-day motion 50, in the name of Tracey Crouch, which calls for a ban on the import of hunting trophies into the UK. That would be an important step to bringing an end to this terrible industry. Animals killed by trophy hunters often suffer slow, painful deaths and this practice has no place in a modern, civilised society. I very much stand ready to work on a cross-party basis with the Government to support any legislation on this issue.

Staying on an international theme, I wish to turn now to urgent support to protect our oceans. Overfishing and plastic pollution are gutting our oceans of life and destroying delicate ecosystems. We need to act urgently to protect them if we are to have any hope of tackling the climate and nature emergency. That is why I am standing with my constituents and supporting a bold global ocean treaty. Right now, only 1% of the world’s oceans are protected. Scientists say that we need to protect at least 30% by 2030, through a network of ocean sanctuaries, placing huge areas of the ocean off-limits to human activity.

For the first time in history, a process is under way to make that possible—the global ocean treaty being negotiated at the UN—but to be frank, the talks are currently on a knife edge and could result in a weak treaty that is unable to properly protect marine life. That would be a disaster for our blue planet and could spell disaster for us too, as our survival and that of the oceans are so interlinked. To get that ambitious deal for our oceans and our climate needs, we need senior politicians in the negotiating room who can push for a strong treaty, so I implore the Prime Minister to send a senior Minister to New York in the next couple of months for the final round of the global ocean treaty negotiations, and to really take this opportunity to leave a better world for our future generations.

Our responsibilities to future generations also extend to child refugees and family reunion. When Lord Dubsamendment came to the Commons from the other place last month during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, I was very proud to vote in favour of it, because child refugees with family members here in the UK should not be stuck in camps and car parks alone. By taking the step of removing legal protections to ensure that family reunion continues at the same standard as under current EU laws, I am afraid that the Government are sending a very dangerous signal. We know that when safe and legal routes are not accessible, children are more likely to make more dangerous journeys and to be pushed into the hands of people smugglers. If global Britain is to be anything more than a slogan, the Government really need to act with compassion on child refugee family reunion policy.

I turn to domestic policy and matters specifically impacting on my Glasgow East constituency. The big topic at the beginning of this week—if not today with the reshuffle—was money for rail infrastructure. I have questions about when HS2 would ever reach Scotland and whether there will be Barnett consequentials, but locally, I stand with a lot of residents of my constituency in campaigning for a train station in Parkhead. Parkhead is, of course, the home of the wonderful Forge shopping centre, Celtic Park—Scotland’s largest football stadium, with a capacity of 64,000—and would tie in with the line that goes from Helensburgh Central right through the centre of Scotland over to Scotland’s lesser city of Edinburgh. I implore Ministers in the Department for Transport to work alongside me and see what support we can give to make sure that we get that train station in Parkhead, perhaps through money coming from here up to Scotland, alongside Network Rail.

In recent years, Glasgow’s east end has been savaged by the removal of ATMs and bank-branch closures. Even in my short time in the House, we have lost local branches at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Stepps, Santander in Parkhead and Clydesdale in Shettleston, and that has an impact on ATMs. Indeed, new research from the consumer group, Which?, reveals that the amount paid by consumers to withdraw cash jumped by £29 million to £104 million last year. That has a particularly devastating impact on low-income communities such as those in the east end of Glasgow.

The loss of free access to cash is a crisis that impacts on businesses on the high street as well as older and vulnerable consumers who choose to use cash to budget, and the millions of us who use cash as their preferred payment method. To continue the theme of cross-party working, I was delighted to work on a cross-party basis with Jamie Stone to lobby the Treasury to commit to introducing legislation that protects access to cash and free withdrawals. I very much hope that the Government can make a positive announcement in next month’s Budget, and if they can, they will certainly have my support.

In Shettleston, Tollcross and Parkhead, we are blessed with beautiful old sandstone tenement properties, which are a major part of Glasgow’s skyline. However, the maintenance of those properties is vital to protecting the existing housing stock and ensuring that our rich architectural heritage is preserved for many more years to come. I know from speaking to local homeowners and housing associations that the prohibitive 20% VAT rate on housing renovation and repair work is a major disincentive to maintaining the properties. I want to see the Government refresh the economic modelling carried out by Experian that looked at the benefits of reducing the VAT rate for housing renovation and repair work. In the run-up to the 2015 election, the Cut the VAT Coalition produced an excellent paper, which the Treasury would do well to go back to, re-evaluate and consider seriously, particularly as we consider decarbonisation and how our domestic properties tie in to achieving net zero, in 2045 or 2050.

In Glasgow East, whisky is a significant part of our local economy and provider of jobs. I have three cooperages, a maturation warehouse and John Dewar’s bottling hall in my constituency. When we think of whisky, it is not necessarily always about space, such as in Islay—it is still a massive provider of jobs even in urban Glasgow East. However, the 25% tariffs imposed on Scotch whisky by the United States are having a hugely negative effect on the jewel in the crown that is Scotland’s food and drink sector. I was in the United States last week, and had the pleasure of meeting American colleagues to press the case for ending punitive tariffs on whisky. I was especially grateful to Congressmen Andy Barr and John Yarmuth—both from Kentucky—for the opportunity to focus on the impact of tariffs on bourbon as well as Scotch. We are absolutely united in our message to London, Brussels and Washington that these tariffs must end in order to protect jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sticking with an overseas theme, I want to turn now to the persecution of Christians, a subject that is close to my heart. I commend the Government on their commitment to promoting freedom of religion or belief, and commend in particular the work of the Prime Minister’s special envoy, Rehman Chishti. I think that we all want to see the recommendations in the Bishop of Truro’s report implemented, and I am confident that the Government are making progress on that front. I met the special envoy in Washington last week to discuss the issue.

However, I remain deeply concerned about the persecution of Christians in two countries in particular —Nigeria and India. Open Doors reported at least 1,445 physical attacks and death threats against Christians in India over a year. This is the country with which Britain will soon seek a free trade agreement, and I seek reassurance from the Government that, in their rush to conclude that free trade agreement, human rights and freedom of religion or belief will not be overlooked when they are dealing with President Modi’s Government in the coming months. Similarly, on the issue of Nigeria, let me again issue a plea to Foreign Office Ministers in particular to do everything they can to secure the release of Leah Sharibu, who has been held captive by Boko Haram for two years. I happen to share a birthday with Leah Sharibu. It was a privilege to stand with CSW colleagues to mark that day last year, but I very much hope that I will not be doing the same on 14 May this year, and that we will see Leah’s release from captivity.

Let me end by raising an issue that is particularly close to my heart, as a father of two small children and as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on premature and sick babies. There are many things on which I disagree with the Government, but my record in the House shows that I am always willing to work on a cross-party basis whenever that is possible. I was genuinely delighted—I say this in all sincerity—to see in the Queen’s Speech a commitment to introduce an employment Bill providing for neonatal care leave. That certainly did not exist when my four-year-old and one-year-old children were born. It is ridiculous that mothers and fathers are having to return to work when their children are struggling for life in neonatal units, and I hope the Government will put that right.

May I gently seek clarity about how the neonatal care leave provision will be framed? I know that the Minister will have a million things to discuss when he sums up the debate, but it would be hugely appreciated if he could find out from those in the Box when the Bill will be published. I hope very much that when the Bill is published it will reflect the pledge in the SNP’s manifesto to provide a week of paid leave for every week that a baby is in neonatal care.

I will wrap it up there, but I hope that Sir David Amess would be proud of my “cantering around”. I thank you for your forbearance, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I particularly thank the staff of the House, who have put in an enormous amount of work since the election, looking after not just new but returning Members. I wish all Members a very productive, peaceful and restful recess as we return to our constituencies, and I look forward to seeing all colleagues when we come back in a couple of weeks’ time.