Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Well, I want to ensure that people do not have that impression of me, so I will just leave my phone on the Dispatch Box. [Laughter.]
This fantastic debate has demonstrated—several colleagues have mentioned this—the real positives of this Parliament. Members of Parliament from across the House have spoken passionately about their constituencies, the issues that they care about and the desire to get something done to make our whole country—indeed, our whole world—a better place. Perhaps the public should be watching debates such as this a bit more than, dare I say, Prime Minister’s questions. We have had some excellent contributions, so I will go through them and address the questions.
My hon. Friend Jack Lopresti talked passionately about the plans for an arena. As a Member of Parliament for the area, I know that the fantastic Leeds arena has made a huge difference, so I hope that Bristol will get on with that planning permission. He mentioned transport, which will be a recurring theme throughout my response, because all sorts of bids were made, including his eloquent proposal for a park and ride scheme. Of course, the Government are committed to the £100 billion infrastructure fund, which has probably already been spent this afternoon—[Laughter.] But I encourage everybody to ensure that they continue to make suggestions, and I will certainly pass them on.
I was particularly pleased that my hon. Friend talked about local education, which is important if we are going to give our young people the best future. I know how important the aerospace industry is to his constituency, and when I was serving in the Ministry of Defence, I was pleased to visit a factory in his area and see the opportunities being offered to young people through apprenticeships. As he says, social mobility is an incredibly important thing, and we are all responsible for delivering it.
I congratulate Gareth Thomas on his upcoming university fair, which I am sure will be a huge success—I may have to steal the idea for my constituency. He talked about local health services in his constituency, quite rightly praising many of the people who work within them. I am proud of the fact that the Government have put it into law that we will be investing £33.9 billion in the national health service, which will provide us with real opportunities to make the necessary investments. I will ensure that the issues he talked about, particularly the Mount Vernon cancer centre, and his requests are put in front of Health Ministers.
The first of the many fantastic maiden speeches was by my hon. Friend Dr Evans. The trouble with listening to maiden speeches is that I cringe on realising how awfully rubbish and embarrassing mine was. He said he would not speak for very long, and I was once told that the art of good communication is brevity—I have always tried to keep to that. He rightly highlighted the historic nature of his constituency and its royal connections, and the fact that his constituency is at the very heart of England.
My hon. Friend talked about his work as a GP. In fact, his whole family seem to be GPs, and we should say thank you to him for his service as a GP and to his entire family for their dedication to our national health service. As others have said, we are lucky to have his expertise in Parliament.
Catherine West raised an important and sensitive issue that is of particular concern to many people, particularly vulnerable women who are perhaps in difficult circumstances. She is absolutely right that we can talk about these issues in a calm and effective manner. She asked me to raise some specific points with the Home Office and the Home Secretary, and I am happy to do so.
The next maiden speech was by my hon. Friend Sarah Atherton, and the first thing I have to say is, “Llongyfarchiadau a chroeso i San Steffan.” That means, “Congratulations and welcome to Westminster.” I have a personal interest, because I like to think that I sowed the seeds by standing as a parliamentary candidate in Wrexham in 1997. My result was spectacularly awful. I lost, and the Conservative party lost pretty much every seat in that election.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has become not just the first Conservative but the first woman to be elected for Wrexham. It is a constituency I know well, and I love that she says she has now been forgiven by her family for being a Tory—I went through a similar experience. She is another Member who previously worked in public service in our armed forces and as a nurse. Too often we do not celebrate the work people did before becoming a Member of Parliament, and the contribution they can therefore make to our debates will only enrich how we go on from here. I love that she is a brewster. If she ever wants me to have a taste, I am happy to have a go.
Jessica Morden talked about the opportunities of HS2, and she is right that we must look at it from every angle. It is not just about things like connectivity between the north and south; it is about releasing capacity on other lines. It is also about the opportunities it may present for industries like steel and for train companies such as the one in her constituency.
I know full well the issue of spending across borders. I served in the Wales Office, and I well remember our many debates and discussions about that. I am pleased that we are spending £48 billion on rail across the country, which is a huge investment, and now we have the opportunity of £5 billion for buses, too. There are real opportunities here.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of terminal illnesses and benefits, and I will happily raise that with Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions.
A number of Members are concerned about IR35. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said earlier, it is important that people know what taxes they have to pay, but we need to ensure the review reports quickly. I hope there may be further announcements in the Budget on
The next maiden speech we heard was made by my hon. Friend Angela Richardson. I was glad that she paid such a nice tribute to her predecessor, Anne Milton, who, as Deputy Chief Whip, changed the focus from just delivering votes to the welfare of Members of the House. She contributed a tremendous amount with that, and my hon. Friend was right to point that out.
My hon. Friend talked about cricket greens and spending time during the election in good pubs—I did a little of that myself. She also talked about the great charities in her area. I was glad that she also raised the issue of homelessness and rough sleeping, as I am proud that our Government are determined to try to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. As Valerie Vaz just said, it is fantastic that my hon. Friend’s parents are watching this debate in New Zealand. I have no idea what time it is there, but they have probably switched off now that I am speaking.
Carolyn Harris talked about the important issue of charity lotteries. Prior to working in the House, I was the head of fundraising for a couple of children’s hospices and set up a charity lottery to help with that. Such lotteries are an incredibly valuable, reliable and regular source of income, and it is right that we look at this issue. I am pleased to tell her that the order to increase lottery sales and prize limits was laid on
My hon. Friend Jerome Mayhew then gave his maiden speech, in which he described his constituency fantastically. He also paid tribute to his predecessor, Keith Simpson, whom I always recall walking around the corridors of Parliament with a book under his arm—he was a great Member of this House. I love the fact that my hon. Friend has taken on the tradition of his seat: campaigning to dual the A47. The tradition started in 1983, so let us hope that in 2020 he will be the one who is able to deliver that. I am sure he will be meeting my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary on many occasions to bring that forward.
I also want to pay tribute to Jim Shannon, who is one of the most diligent Members of this House. I recall that when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Transport, I found myself sitting with some confusion on my face when he walked into a Westminster Hall debate on the east-west Oxford to Cambridge railway. I wondered how on earth he was going to get Northern Ireland into that debate, but he did so with great skill—I say to all my new colleagues that he is the man to learn from. He talked about invasive species, the importance of our ecosystems and protecting our natural environment, and he was right to raise all those issues. The Environment Bill will be debated on
We then came on to the maiden speech from my hon. Friend Dr Hudson. It must be daunting to realise that one’s predecessors include a former Home Secretary and a former Chief Whip, so I am sure that he has a great future ahead of him. I was particularly intrigued that he offered his most recent predecessor the welcome news that he can bring his sleeping bag and come to say with him—I am sure he will take that up. My hon. Friend talked about Cumbria and the important issues of agriculture and tourism. More importantly, as a proud Unionist, he talked about the importance of a border seat and working across that border to deliver for both areas, because when we work together and are united, we can deliver a great many things.
I was intrigued by my hon. Friend’s background as a vet and his story about anal glands and an amorous dog. When I go home, I usually get a brilliant welcome—not really from my partner, but from my dog. I am afraid that this week I am not going to get such a welcome, because he went to the vets on Monday to have—how can I put it?—his bits done, so am probably not going to be very popular.
I was glad that my hon. Friend talked about things such as mental health, and I pay tribute to the very moving way in which he spoke about his father. One thing I have noticed about this place is that when you talk about something very personal, it is sometimes very hard not to lose your composure. It is quite hard at times and your voice does tremble, but my hon. Friend spoke with absolute clarity. His father has clearly trained many people in the health profession, and I know for a fact that he would be very proud of the way in which my hon. Friend delivered that part of his speech. I think I am right that my hon. Friend’s family were up in the Gallery, and they were clearly moved, too—I congratulate him.
My hon. Friend Mike Wood talked about green-belt development, which gives me an opportunity to talk about my constituency a little, because we all face these issues. He was absolutely right about the need for us to look at cross-constituency and boundary issues, and at the impacts that planning applications may have on one area when something is built in another. Exactly the same thing is going on in my area. My hon. Friend is right that we should build on brownfield first; after all, that is what green-belt policy is about: trying to regenerate brownfield areas. He also spoke about infrastructure—no doubt that is another bid going into the Department for Transport. He asked three specific questions about the consideration of residents’ views, mitigation and the combined authority fund, and I will certainly make sure that I raise those points clearly.
My hon. Friend Siobhan Baillie spoke with great optimism. She talked about battery-powered aeroplanes—let us hope we can get to that point soon, because it would be hugely helpful. I love the fact that, as the right hon. Member for Walsall South mentioned, my hon. Friend said that she is here to get things done. Every Minister is probably quaking in their boots because, as she said, regardless of what happens in the reshuffle, she will be meeting them. I was particularly pleased to hear her talk about further education and the fact that university is not always the answer for everyone. I did not go to university myself, and at the time I was made to feel like a bit of a failure, frankly. When I go around the country or my constituency, I see many young people developing great skills through apprenticeships, and they then have a real passion that takes them on to a successful career.
My hon. Friend Greg Smith talked about the Oxford-Cambridge expressway, and we have heard his concerns loud and clear. I know his local residents are worried, but they have a great advocate in my hon. Friend as their local Member of Parliament. When they come here on
My hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis talked about transport and wanting his fair share for his city. It is wonderful that we have so many Conservative MPs bidding for all this transport funding in seats that we have not held for many a year. I know that my hon. Friend has been sending angry letters to Network Rail, so it had better get answering him quickly. He wants to put in a Beeching bid and talked about buses, so there will obviously be a long list of applications for Stoke-on-Trent.
My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce talked about the reopening of Middlewich station. She is absolutely right. Sometimes, when these ideas start off, we might think that they are probably implausible and are never going to happen, but if we are a bit like a terrier and just keep going at it, it is amazing what can be delivered. I will certainly ensure that she gets a chance to meet the Secretary of State as soon as possible. She also talked about outstanding issues on one of her estates, and I had a similar issue in my own constituency. It is not fair on those people who bought a property in good faith and expected to live in a decent environment. I hope that, if Bovis is listening to this debate, it will have the decency at least to reply to her letter and to address the issues facing her constituency. I will also ensure that Health Ministers are aware of the importance of Congleton War Memorial Hospital.
My hon. Friend Bob Blackman talked about the local authority pension funding gap. He will probably be aware that, as soon as we get back, we have Housing, Communities and Local Government questions, so I am sure that he will take the opportunity to ask his question.
I want to praise my hon. Friend for the work that he did on homelessness, because his was one of the great private Members’ Bills that went through this House, and he worked hard to ensure that that happened. He is right that there are still many complex issues that need to be addressed, not least the issues of drug and alcohol abuse. We cannot just find people a place in which to live; we have to ensure that they have the ways and means and the life capabilities to be able to sustain their new life. He listed a load of other issues, but I will not go into them all. In fact, I was looking on my app at the Jubilee line, because I could not keep up with all the different stations that he was mentioning. The idea of building on a car park that services public transport seems absolutely ludicrous to me. We did exactly that in my own constituency, and now we regret it. As more and more people use the trains, we cannot then find the places for them to park.
I just wanted to add at the end my thanks to David Linden, who spoke about some very important international issues. I know that human trafficking and trophy hunting are very important issues for many Members. I am acutely aware of the importance of the global ocean treaty and the summit in New York, and the issue about child refugees. May I please implore everybody to understand that we have not changed our policy? Child refugees remain an important priority for this Government, and we will make sure that we will continue to stick to that.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the employment Bill. I am afraid that I cannot give him an exact date yet, but I will take up the matter with the Leader of the House, and as soon as I have an answer, I will come back to him.
The right hon. Member for Walsall South finished off the debate by putting in a plea for Southend-on-Sea to be made a city. I do not have the power to do that. If I did, my phone would never ring—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady has just stolen my final line, which was that the only thing that I can see at the moment is a missed call from my mother.
May I conclude by thanking you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and Mr Speaker, and by saying that I have noticed a considerable difference in tone and atmosphere in this Chamber, which I think is appreciated by everybody in the House? It is only now that I realise how awful those past 18 months were. The way in which, as a team, you have all helped to ensure that the Executive are rightly held to account, but have done so efficiently and ensured that everybody is treated with respect, has not gone unnoticed. I also wish to thank all the other staff—the catering staff, the parliamentary security staff who keep us safe, and all the Clerks who give us the advice that we need to do our jobs properly. I thank you all very much.