From the outset, I have to impose a six-minute time limit on speeches in order that everyone who has indicated that they would like to speak has an equal chance to do so.
I have the great privilege of representing Filton, which for more than a century has pioneered and led the world in aerospace. It is where the British Concorde was designed and built. The south-west hosts one of the largest and most significant aerospace clusters in the UK, with the top 14 global aerospace companies having a significant presence in our region. Some 17,500 jobs are due to the work of that sector specifically, which generates £1 billion annually for the greater south-west. That includes the wider supply chain and research work in local universities, such as the University of the West of England in my constituency.
The UK aerospace sector represents more than 110,000 jobs. The whole aviation sector is worth £52 billion a year, which equates to roughly 3.4% of our country’s GDP. In my constituency, well over 20,000 jobs are directly dependant on the aerospace and defence sectors, with many more involved in the supply chain. In 2019, the aerospace sector contributed £32 billion in exports to the UK economy.
My constituency has always been at the forefront of research and development and innovation in the aerospace sector, so it is good to see the measures that have been put in place to protect and enhance the industry. It relies on highly skilled personnel in research and development, manufacturing and production, as well as a supply chain of small and medium-sized enterprises. It represents a skills base and a body of knowledge that our country cannot afford to lose.
Companies that I have spoken to recognise and appreciate the level of commitment and help that the Government have shown, including the furlough scheme, support from the Bank of England’s corporate finance facility, funding for the Aerospace Technology Institute, which supports R&D, and support from UK Export Finance. The sum of that approaches about £9 billion.
If the Prime Minister wants to make the UK a science superpower, however, which I wholeheartedly support, I ask the Chancellor to consider increasing the proportion of Government R&D funding from the present level of 50:50 match funding to equal that of our European competitors, some of whom are ignoring EU state aid rules and supporting their industry’s R&D to a ratio of 80:20. I echo the words of Matt Allen, the regional officer of Unite, with whom I have spoken often in the last few weeks, and say that if the Government invest in R&D here, the industry is much more likely to end up producing the products that are designed here, which will obviously help the economy and help to protect the industry.
The industry is grateful for the furlough scheme, but as the scheme winds down, we should consider a strategic sector-by-sector version for specific industries such as aerospace. I am reassured and encouraged after many meetings with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, the latest of which was yesterday evening, that nothing is off the table when it comes to considering support for that vital sector.
Nearly 70 aircraft flown by UK-registered airlines are more than 15 years old and could be replaced by new aircraft that have better environmental standards and use 25% less energy. All new aircraft in service will be certified to fly with up to 50% of sustainable fuel on board and will be much quieter. The Prime Minister announced the ambition for this country to be the first to build an all-electric commercial aircraft, which will encourage the development of jet zero technology, a net zero carbon emissions aircraft, by 2050. The Government should support the scrapping of the 70 aircraft, allowing airlines to design and build newer aircraft to protect jobs and keep skills here.
I add my support to calls for a dedicated, long-term supply chain investment fund to support SMEs in the aerospace supply chain, many of which are world leaders in precision engineering and some of which have only one customer. The investment will give those companies the confidence to invest in the sort of world-beating technology that will power the industry well into the future.
In January 2018, it was reported that nearly a quarter of currently employed engineers will have retired by 2026. That is very troubling, but I remind the Government that one way to ensure that the aerospace sector has new talent for the future lies in the highly prized apprenticeships that the industry offers.
We must also bear in mind the vital strategic value to the country of a sovereign defence manufacturing capability, which gives our country the freedom to design and develop the equipment that our armed forces will need in an increasingly competitive and contested world. Our ability as a nation to be a reliable partner and ally depends on us being able to respond on day one to any threats to our national security or that could threaten our allies and friends around the world. We must continue therefore to invest in the Tempest programme, the next generation of combat aircraft, and provide increased funding for the defence budget.
In conclusion, Filton has been at the forefront of the UK aviation industry for well over a century and continues to underpin both our civil and military aerospace industries. As we look to the future, we must be able to maintain our edge in an increasingly competitive and contested world. The Government must reset the economy, and the aerospace industry will respond with the vigour that typified the spirit that motivated the early aeronautical pioneers.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, your office and all the staff who have helped us to keep Parliament open over the last few months. I hope everyone has a welcome break and we return refreshed in September.
I want to start on the issue of the Uyghur. I am incredibly anxious that, as we depart the House and go back to work in our constituencies, the plight of the Uyghur will not be covered as much as in the last few weeks. Most people in the Chamber will have seen the ambassador’s embarrassing interview on the “The Andrew Marr Show” at the weekend. He could not explain or confidently deny the footage he was shown: hundreds and hundreds of men, shaved and blindfolded, being marched on to trains. Who knows where their hair ends up? We know that 13 tonnes of hair have ended up on the market in America. We know that 2 million Uyghur are now enslaved in camps. We know that half a million Uyghur children are no longer with their parents, not because they are not around, but because the Chinese state wishes to institutionalise them and has put their parents into camps.
I have been urging the Foreign Office to work with our American allies to see the evidence they have collected that gives them the confidence to put four particular Chinese officials, who are in charge of the Xinjiang province, within the Magnitsky sanctions. I am asking the Foreign Office to have sight of this evidence and see if it is strong enough to meet our threshold in the UK, so that we can apply those sanctions, too. I also want the Foreign Office to go a bit further. I know the Foreign Secretary is incredibly keen to ensure that the term “genocide” is used appropriately and within the legal remits. We require the UN or international institutions to collect the evidence and apply that legal term. But, unfortunately, China’s power and ability to vote within these institutions means that the UN is a busted flush when it comes to China and the Uyghur. I have therefore asked the Foreign Office to see if it is able to work with like-minded countries, such as Australia, America and the Netherlands, to set up our own independent tribunal to capture the evidence and see if there is enough evidence to put in place an interim report on genocide against the Uyghur. I have been writing a number of articles with a senior female rabbi, who fears she has been reminded of a period in her family’s history in the 1930s and 1940s. I hope therefore that the issue of the Uyghurs will not disappear as we go back to our constituencies.
I turn now to another international issue that touches us here at home but which unfortunately is out of sight and out of mind. Our shops are stocked, our medicine is here and our factories can work because seafarers make sure freight comes our way, but unfortunately 200,000 seafarers are stuck at sea because a number of countries, particularly India and China, will not designate them as key workers. So they have been working for months and years, unable to get off their ships.
Guy Platten, from the International Chamber of Shipping, has done tremendous work with the International Maritime Organisation to put in place international plans to get seafarers off and home and new seafarers on, but certain countries will not abide by these new international norms, which unfortunately means that seafarers are stuck, which is damaging their mental and physical health. At some point, it will become critical to our supply chains, too. The Department for Transport and the Maritime Minister have done a tremendous job, but I am urging the Foreign Office to use every diplomatic power it has to work with countries such as India and China to put in place crew changes to help our unfortunate seafarers.
I turn to home and my wonderful constituency of Wealden. Covid has been incredibly tricky, but so many people have pulled together, particularly East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which has worked with my care homes, hospitals and doctors surgeries. East Sussex County Council has done a tremendous amount of work, but I must pay a huge amount of respect to Wealden District Council, which has put in place a fantastic schedule to ensure that the money allocated by central Government is given to businesses in my constituency, giving them a lifeline to go forward.
I have too many businesses and individuals to thank, but two particular schools come to mind, as they stayed open during covid to ensure that the children of key workers and those at risk continued to be schooled. Blackboys Church of England Primary School and Groombridge St Thomas Church of England Primary School have kept me updated with occasional tweets, and I am incredibly grateful to all the teachers, all the volunteers and all the fantastic students who have been able to continue with their schooling.
The final point I want to make is that covid has been incredibly difficult for women, children and men in abusive relationships, and summer may not be any easier for them. In East Sussex, we have put together a one-stop portal to provide support and advice for those suffering from domestic violence. I thank Wealden police, and our police and crime commissioner, who has worked with me to set up ad hoc places across the constituency, particularly in supermarkets, so that those who are feeling vulnerable and at threat of domestic violence can reach out and speak to a professional who can help them get the advice they need. If people are struggling, they need to call the police service, but there are available places in refuges across my constituency of Wealden. Women, young people and men must remember that they are not alone and must reach out over the summer period if they need help.
It is a pleasure to follow Ms Ghani. I congratulate her on mentioning the Uyghur Muslims; she is right to do so, and it is a shame that we have not had the opportunity to debate that situation properly in the House. I also join her in thanking the officers and staff of the House for keeping us running and keeping us safe over the recent months.
I want to take this last opportunity before the summer recess to raise two issues in relation to the coronavirus crisis, and to implore the Government to take into account the need for additional support for people and industries that are struggling the most. Although some parts of business and society are starting to reopen, and the Government are starting to wind down support, for some sectors the problem is not going away. In fact, it is no less acute now than it was three months ago, and will probably be the same in three months’ time.
We all welcomed the Government’s support schemes for workers at the start of the crisis; they acted quickly. But there are still 3 million-plus people who, for a variety of reasons, are excluded from the Government’s support schemes and need help. Yesterday I attended a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on ExcludedUK, which is now the biggest all-party group in Parliament. I think it has representation from every party in the House. We heard a lot of powerful testimony from people who have worked hard, paid their dues and done the right thing, but who, for different reasons, have fallen through the gaps in the schemes. I particularly remember Julie, who has been a taxpayer for 39 years and gave a very moving testimony. She was caught out while moving between jobs and said something particularly poignant: “We’ve heard about the vouchers for restaurants, but we just want to put food on the table.” There are a number of people in that situation.
I have many constituents who work in the music and event industries—people who had skilled jobs and regular self-employed work. Many of them had bookings and contracts for months and years ahead, could never have predicted that their entire industry would collapse so quickly and for so long, and many are now unable to access support. One of my constituents—a self-employed sound engineer—wrote to me yesterday. He is a top man in a business that has completely collapsed: the live music industry. He is having to consider selling his house because his savings will only sustain his family for so long. I know that the Chancellor is refusing to revisit these schemes, but I would strongly ask him to think again. I note the words of the Minister for Media and Data, Mr Whittingdale, during the urgent question yesterday. In reference to self-employed freelancers, particularly those at the BBC, he said,
“we continue to look to see what help can be given to them.”—[Official Report,
I am slightly heartened by that. I hope that the Government are looking at what extra help can be given to those people, because there are things that the Government can do. A letter is on its way to the Chancellor from the APPG on ExcludedUK. It has a number of practical suggestions, many of which have already been recommended by the Treasury Committee’s interim report, and I urge him to look at them with an open mind. There is practical help that we can give to people who are genuinely struggling in the current situation.
Secondly, I want to mention a sector that does not get mentioned a lot in this place. Like Jack Lopresti, I want to talk about specific sectoral support, but not for aviation in my case. As far as I know, I am the only former professional DJ in the House—[Interruption.] Oh, there are others—I’m Spartacus! I want to mention the night-time industries. Although we can see a way back to some kind of activity for theatres, with socially distanced seating, and for galleries and museums, with safe walking routes, there is no return in sight for some industries. The nightclub industry, which I used to work in, is a social industry. It relies on communal activity and faces a particularly difficult future, until we develop a vaccine. As well as adding value to social and cultural life, it is an economic multiplier and brings life to our city centres.
Of course, I welcome the £1.57 billion that the Government have set out for culture, arts and heritage. I understand that the guidance for how that money can be used is due next week. While that guidance is being finalised, my plea to the Government is that they should not forget that nightclubs are an important part of our culture. Electronic dance music is one of the art forms in which this country is truly world class. Let us not define arts and culture too tightly or traditionally, and remember that our music venues and nightclubs are in particular need of support. There is £120 million earmarked for a completely unnecessary Brexit festival in 2022. That money could be spent supporting music and the arts in the face of the pandemic.
I need to finish, so I will do so by thanking the people of Manchester, Withington who have kept us going through this pandemic, including those who have kept our schools open, our NHS workers, our shop workers and key workers, and the people who have run the food banks. I congratulate and thank everybody who has kept us going through this crisis.
Covid-19 has meant severe challenges for so many, but it has also given us the opportunity to witness extraordinary acts of kindness, generosity and heart, and I believe that that has been exemplified across Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. Lockdown gave rise to many heroes across our public services and our NHS, but there are many who will never be, or seek to be, acknowledged. They are right across our communities —people who give but do not feel they have given. They are those who always feel that they should do more, all the while never noticing the vastness of their gifts to others, such is their selfless drive and love for their place, their ain folk.
Those in need in my communities have been helped by Glenurquhart Helping Hands, Fort Augusts covid community group, Voluntary Action in Badenoch and Strathspey, and Nairn residents help. Covid community response groups have helped people in Nethy, Boat, Grantown, Aviemore and across Badenoch and Strathspey and Loch Ness.
Across the city of Inverness, our people gave time and heart to groups that help people. Shelley Gill of the Acts of Kindness group in Inverness provided emergency care packs for those in need, and has vowed to continue that work. MFR Cash for Kids provided more than 8,000 local children with a hot meal, thanks to generous public donations. Its efforts are boosted by volunteers from Inverness Foodstuff, and Our Place also works to provide hot meals. The RoKzKool initiative provided parcels and support. They are the light in dark times that has helped many to steer a safer path through lockdown.
Businesses have also played their part, with efforts made locally to deliver for those unable to get out. They include the Storehouse, Swansons Food and Williamsons Foodservice, along with Inverness Taxis, Graham’s Family Dairy in Nairn, Ashers Bakery, Inverness Auction Centre and many more.
I must also highlight the work of the Highland welfare team, led by Sheila McKandie, providing help and support to those struggling to make ends meet. Along with their colleagues in other departments, they made sure that, through the Scottish Government’s funding for free school meals our weans were fed and offered over 4,000 children’s food vouchers. From the staff collecting refuse, week in, week out, to the social workers working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the most vulnerable children in our communities were safe, staff across Highland Council stepped up and I know that in the highlands we thank them all.
We would have seen people in distress, too, had it not been for Citizens Advice, the Highland Homeless Trust, Women’s Aid and Mikeysline. I also want to mention Macmillan CAB, which along with Marie Curie and MND Scotland supports those diagnosed as terminally ill. They are angels for the affected and their families, but they still have to manage their help alongside the UK Government’s DWP six-month rule.
People are still being asked to prove that they will die within six months in order to access full UK-controlled social security, such as universal credit. I thank Jessica Morden for introducing her ten-minute rule Bill to support scrapping that six-month rule. Over a year later, with thousands of people having died waiting, the UK Government still delay. My message is, get a move on. End this needless suffering: scrap the six-month rule.
In Highland, we have tried to get back to business. High Life Highland was particularly vulnerable to the effects of covid as it runs the leisure facilities, and yet it stood by its staff and our people, even delivering online tuition. I say to everyone at home who does not have High Life membership but has the means, now is the time to buy one.
We are, of course, open for business now. At Castle Stuart, Nairn, Inverness, Kingussie and across the constituency, our beautiful golf courses are open and, of course, well above par. People can now visit. They can visit for whisky tours, including Dalwhinnie and Tomatin, and they can sample Spey whisky too. Whether it is Jacobite Cruises or Cruise Loch Ness, dolphin tours, Culloden battlefield, Fort George, the Highland Folk Museum, Cawdor Castle, Nairn beach and dunes, the Caledonian canal, the Cairngorm Mountain, the Strathspey steam railway or one of our great places to eat and drink, they will be given a safe highland welcome when visiting.
Yes, people in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey have shown their love for their friends, neighbours and all who live and visit, but they do that while still being ignored by the Westminster Government on paying for universal credit and paying over the odds to have goods delivered. They produce the energy and yet they pay more for it, and they see the UK Government’s hostile environment and a Brexit imposed on them that they did not want or vote for. It is no wonder that local support in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is at an all-time high for us to take control of our own affairs and to become an independent nation.
I add my voice to those of Members across this House in thanking our magnificent key workers for all they have done throughout this crisis. Having worked with many of them, I know the sacrifices they have made to support our most vulnerable. I also pay tribute to our charity workers, volunteers, councillors and local groups who have stepped up to provide support to other residents, their neighbours, friends and people across the Scunthorpe constituency.
In particular, I pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Councillor Derek Longcake who, sadly, died from coronavirus. My sympathies are with Derek’s wife Janet, his family and the families of all those who have lost friends and relatives to this dreadful virus.
I want to mention the manner in which people in my constituency have handled themselves over the past months. Scunthorpe has been a real class act, and I am prouder than ever to represent my home town. In particular, it was a pleasure to meet Jude and Tilly in Central Park last week to look at Connor the covid snake, which is a collection of more than 400 stones painted by local people as a permanent reminder and a tribute to the community spirit shown during coronavirus.
In that spirit, I have a couple of matters to bring to the attention of the Government before we rise for the summer. First, which will come as no surprise to Members across the House, is the protection of our steel industry. I started my role here when British Steel was on the brink and, frankly, we would not be making steel today were it not for the support that the Government gave to us in Scunthorpe. Many people have told me over recent months that they will never, ever forget that support. Moving forward, I ask the Government to continue to be a friend to steel and to do all they can to promote the use of our UK steel in national projects. It is absolutely right that we must build, build, build, but to do that, we must make, make, make, and I ask the Government to put that at the forefront of their plans.
There is not a Member of the House who could go even one day without steel. It truly is the backbone of our nation and we owe it to people across this land to make sure that our hospitals, schools and railways, such as HS2, are made from the very best steel that our money can buy—that is, UK steel. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is bang on—UK steel should be at the front of the queue, and I believe that the best way to do that is through the adoption of the steel charter.
I would also like to mention Scunthorpe General Hospital. To be frank, it needed a few quid spending on it when I was born there in 1985, and it is certainly now in need of an upgrade. Despite the tremendous support given to combat coronavirus, the infrastructure at the hospital is under huge pressure. Our local health team and I are working on a proposal, which I hope will be submitted in the coming weeks, and I trust that the Government will give it the urgent consideration that it needs. I thank the Secretary of State for Health for his commitment to visit Scunthorpe Hospital, which was very warmly received.
Finally, I would like to register my thanks to the Secretary of State for Transport for working with me to discuss plans to widen and improve safety on the A15. I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister would agree that road safety and infrastructure improvement are a crucial element of the levelling-up agenda. I have seen and been personally involved in the improvements and plans for Scunthorpe and its towns and villages over the last months. We have continued to find ways to progress works, despite the difficulties that we have all faced, from improvements to playgrounds, to measures to mitigate the traffic problems on Berkeley Circle, to working with our local council leaders. I have seen the dedication and commitment of local people as they work to make our area better. Coronavirus may have slowed us down very slightly, and it may have changed the way that we have worked, but I see a real commitment to our area and that commitment is totally undimmed by coronavirus. I look forward to working with the Government to address these matters over the summer.
During this pandemic, much of the focus has been on public health, the safety of workers and our economy, and rightfully so. This virus has heightened concerns about our health and many are wondering how they will put money on the table. However, in amongst the stress and worry, the virus has shown more than ever the need for joy and entertainment, relaxation and fun, socialisation and connections. For me, this means music.
Music is an incredible thing. It creates happiness and inspires hope. It tells of love and community. It gives voice to protest. At times, it inspires us to dance and sing along. Music puts words and sounds to every emotion and every cause. For many—myself included—music has been such a big part of lockdown, and at a time when people’s mental wellbeing has been under enormous stress and loneliness is widespread, music has often been a common source of support. For those who live alone, it has filled their homes with sound, brought back memories of happier times and kept them going throughout.
I have had huge enjoyment listening to some of my favourite artists performing online gigs, such as KT Tunstall, James and a special concert of Irish musicians in support of the Irish stuck in Australia on temporary visas during this pandemic. On top of that, Durham music service has been teaching songs and how to play instruments to children across the county. I have even signed up to its online ukulele sessions.
When I am back in September—let us see how good I am.
Then there are the artists whose music has impacted on so many people during this crisis. In the north-east, we have Sam Fender, whose song “Dead Boys” has been nominated for an Ivor Novello award because of his ability to reach out to young men contemplating suicide, and my friend Nadine Shah, whose music covers the plight of refugees, sexism and racism. Now more than ever, the world needs singers, songwriters and poets to use the medium of song to open our eyes and ears to the reality of the world.
I welcome the investment the Government have announced for the arts, even if it arrived far later than it should have, and too late for some. Now that outdoor music is returning, it is important that local communities support these events—socially distanced, of course. I am looking forward to supporting artists myself, and I cannot wait to watch KT Tunstall at the drive-in gig in Manchester. There will be plenty of live outdoor music in Durham this summer, and it is important that every Member does their bit to support local artists across the country. Although Johnny Marr tried to forbid David Cameron constantly saying that he was a Smiths fan, I would like to remind the remaining members of the Clash that the Prime Minister is a fan of theirs, apparently.
While most music is about enjoyment and entertainment —a pastime that sustains our lives—for many people, it is also their source of income. Whether music is their main salary or a top-up to their existing income, it is vital that, as MPs, we look to support musicians, artists, venues, technicians and roadies in the coming months. Music is nothing without them, for in the time it takes for society gradually to reopen, plenty of people will be wondering whether they can survive as musicians and artists in this environment, and that will be a great loss.
The Government have provided some support to the arts, but it is not enough just to inject some cash and allow unlimited shows to resume. Too many artists will be left without an income. I am not asking the Government to proceed recklessly, as if coronavirus had never happened; I am asking them to do more for individual artists. Musicians and artists do not need blanket support; they need tailored financial help that enables them to survive this crisis. They need to be assured that a local lockdown will not leave them out of pocket and that the lack of physical gigs will not put an end to their careers altogether. They need to know that they will be supported to be innovative. Above all, they need to know that we, as a society, value their cultural contribution.
Without help, we risk losing a generation of artists, and once they are lost, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get them back. The time to act is now. In the words of Tim Booth from James to musicians and poets everywhere:
“Let’s inspire, let’s inflame, create dreams from our pain”.
Music has kept us going during this pandemic. Let us work together to make sure it is still there when this is all over.
It is a pleasure to follow Mary Kelly Foy. Durham is a beautiful city, in which I had the pleasure of spending three happy and I think reasonably productive years as a student. I am just sorry that I did not sample more of the music on offer outside the Rixy nightclub when I was trying to work hard and get a good degree.
When the novelist Jules Verne wrote about the fictional Phileas Fogg’s journey “Around the World in 80 Days” almost 150 years ago, he must have believed it was the beginning of a golden era of ever-expanding travel. Although this adventurous tale was brought to life by Sir Michael Palin 30 years ago, the mass transportation of humans across the globe came to an abrupt end in the early months of 2020, since when it has been more like “Around the Kitchen in 180 Days”.
After a testy and at times tumultuous 2019, 2020 was meant to be so different—more business as usual. But here we are, over halfway through the year, with our plans thwarted, our hopes suspended and many of our dreams left unfulfilled. The drumbeat of familiarity has also been swept away, only just starting to re-find its rhythm. Whether it is travel, retail, hospitality, education or our families, it has all had far-reaching consequences. Yes, no Tokyo Olympics that were due to start this Friday, and no London marathon for me to run this April, but that all pales into insignificance compared with the economic, social, emotional and mental fallout that covid-19 has created, jabbing at the very heart of humanity, with births, deaths and marriages—our life’s compass points—all directly impacted.
It is the last of those—marriages—that I want briefly to address. With about 220,000 couples exchanging vows every year in England and Wales, and most tying the knot in the summer high season, the best-laid wedding plans of thousands of nearly-newlyweds for what should be the best day of their lives have been dealt the cruellest of blows—and this time no one can blame the British weather. With restrictions of 30 people present at wedding venues still in place, most are postponing or even cancelling their bookings, leaving a huge and potentially permanent dent in the wedding industry. This is an industry worth £10 billion to the UK economy, made up of 137,000 small and medium-sized businesses employing half a million people working as caterers and as specialists in planning, lighting, design, flowers, decoration, clothing, photography, entertainment and many other supply chain jobs.
The Government have been working hard to support the hospitality sector, with pubs and restaurants now open, backed by £30 billion-worth of schemes to help trigger economic activity, including the “eat out to help out” scheme, but for family-run businesses like the Cheshire-based Boutique Hotel Group in Eddisbury, the longer that the limitations on numbers at its three venues—Peckforton Castle, Nunsmere Hall and Inglewood Manor—remain in place, the greater the damage for it and for other local businesses that have contacted me, both financially and reputationally. To illustrate, since the start of lockdown through to the end of August, BHG will lose nearly £6 million in revenue thanks to the loss of 250 weddings, already leading to 25 staff redundancies. Should the status quo continue through September and October, which looks likely, another 124 weddings will go, as will a further £2.2 million in revenue—so the situation is getting beyond desperate. The business rates suspension and the furlough scheme, in particular, have been an absolute lifeline, but they cannot help to prop up the industry indefinitely. In any event, as the managing director of BHG, Christopher Naylor, told me: “Every month that our business is closed, even after taking into account the job retention scheme, it still costs £250,000 just to stand still.”
I therefore implore the Government, as a matter of urgency, to look again at the restrictions still in place for wedding venues like Peckforton Castle, which has ample capacity for 600 guests, or 300 covid-secure guests—a far cry from the limit of 30 still imposed—together with setting out a clear road map to reopening. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will send that message loud and clear on my and my constituents’ behalf to the Business Secretary and the Chancellor—both of whom I have also raised this with—and with the necessary vigour. With other venues such as pubs, museums, cinemas, zoos and sports halls now thankfully open, the justification for keeping wedding venues unusable is increasingly hard to maintain.
In the final chapter of “Around the World in 80 Days”, Fogg’s marriage to Aouda is postponed, not because of covid-19 but because it was on a Sunday—how times have changed. The wedding went ahead the next day, and, Verne reminds us, Fogg won something more important than the money from—spoiler alert—winning his bet; he had won
“a charming woman, who…made him the happiest of men!”
So let us hope that this is not the final chapter for our fantastic wedding industry and that it can bring happiness to many more couples now and in the future.
I am pleased to be able to speak in this end-of-term debate. On behalf of the constituents of Newport East, I would like to put on record our enormous gratitude to the workers who have been there for us and kept services up and running throughout this unprecedented crisis, including our wonderful NHS staff, emergency service workers, retail staff, council workers, school staff and many more. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the community groups and organisations that have done so much unsung work on the ground to support people, including the two food banks based in Newport East—Raven House Trust and Caldicot—and the Trussell Trust, Jesus Cares and Feed Newport, which do such a wonderful job. I thank those who do not do it for the thanks.
The Aneurin Bevan University health board region, which covers my constituency, was initially a hotspot for the virus and one of the worst affected areas in the UK when the virus took hold. Since then, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of new cases, and it is fantastic that the virus has been so well contained in Gwent. There is no doubt that this is down to the remarkable work of our brilliant NHS staff—a testament to the value of our health service in the region in which it was conceived and the diligence of the public in adhering to the guidance from the Welsh Government over the past few months. On that note, I would like to thank the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, and his Cabinet colleagues for the considered and dignified leadership that has been shown throughout the pandemic. That has made a real difference.
The support provided by the Welsh and UK Governments has been welcome and a lifeline for many. However, it is important to note that, as my hon. Friend Jeff Smith said, many groups have fallen through the cracks of the support provided by the UK Government. I want to mention some of those businesses and individuals in my constituency.
Support for the self-employed has not been comprehensive, and many hard-working individuals have missed out—people like the 68-year-old self-employed handyman who gets more than 50% of his income from his state pension and was not entitled to any support, or the constituent who became self-employed part-way through the year and was counted as having more than 50% of earnings from employment so was excluded from Government support. Those are just some of the 3 million people excluded from help, and we need the Government to address that.
Then there is a whole cohort of people who were not placed on furlough by their employers, including people advised to shield or self-isolate who received just statutory sick pay, agency workers who were laid off and working students who could not claim universal credit. There are also those who have been unable to apply for bounce-back loans despite fitting the eligibility criteria, because banks refused their application for business accounts due to credit ratings.
A number of other businesses have been left in the lurch—in particular, in my constituency, the hospitality supply chain and the exhibition and events industry. We think of all those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic or are now at risk, including constituents of mine at Virgin, Caldicot Tinmasters, the Orb steelworks, which closed on
Along with Holly Mumby-Croft, I co-chair the all-party group on steel and metal-related industries, so I would like to say a few words about the steel industry. The Government must look urgently at what further steps they can take to support our industry in both the short and long term. The steel sector has seen a huge drop-off in orders during the pandemic, and many UK steel companies are still waiting for liquidity support some four months since the Government pledged to do everything they could to support businesses. I am glad that the Prime Minister acknowledged this in Prime Minister’s questions, but it is high time that it was backed up with more substantive action.
Given the importance of the sector’s supply chains in trading relationships with mainland Europe, urgent clarity is needed on how steel exports will be treated under the EU steel safeguards in 2021, which draws ever nearer. I know that Trade Ministers are working with UK Steel on that, which is welcome. Steel should and can play a vital role in the economic recovery from the pandemic, and I fully support Community, Unite and GMB unions’ “Britain, we need our steel” campaign, which calls on employers and the Government to create a plan that uses Britain’s steel and invests in our industry and our people. That will require the Government prioritising UK steel in major construction and infrastructure projects such as HS2 and an auto scrappage scheme. We must ensure that we use our steel.
As I have emphasised repeatedly in this place and in meetings with Ministers, the situation at the Orb steelworks, which sadly closed on
It is a pleasure to rise to speak in this final debate before the House adjourns for the recess. I am very much looking forward to getting out and about in my constituency in a way that has not been allowed in recent months. I want to visit every corner of Mansfield, getting back in touch with residents, and I know that colleagues here will be doing the same.
I want to take this opportunity today to raise a few local priorities and talk about the progress that has been made since I arrived in this place in 2017. I know the Minister will be keen to hear about progress in Mansfield because it is at the heart of the Government’s levelling up agenda. I can see the Minister nodding his assent, which I take as a hugely positive sign.
Coronavirus has been a challenge for the whole country, but particularly for communities such as Mansfield, where the levelling-up agenda is so important because, already, we are falling behind the rest of the UK. One of the challenges going forward will be supercharging that agenda to ensure that we catch up and fill that growing gap. I want to put on the record my thanks to the many people who have worked incredibly hard over recent months to get us through this crisis. I could name individual jobs and roles and everybody who has been involved, but, inevitably, I will be accused of missing somebody out, so, to anyone in my constituency who has played a positive role in recent months, I thank you for everything that you have done.
One of the key priorities in the recovery will be the skills and retraining agenda, which is something that is very close to my heart. I have talked a lot about that subject since I have been in this place. It is something that we have focused on since 2017, when I set up an education working group in my constituency, which brought together local partners—Nottingham Trent University, West Notts College and the local authority—to look at how we could have a positive impact on educational attainment in an area of great disadvantage. We have made some incredible progress, not least in the creation of a formal partnership between West Notts College and Nottingham Trent University, which is where I graduated from, so I am really proud to be able to work with it to do something positive in the constituency. Perhaps the most obvious example of the benefit of that partnership is that, for the first time, we will be delivering, through Nottingham Trent University, degree-level nursing qualifications from the college campus in Mansfield from September. That will give a huge opportunity to local young people, so few of whom have been able to access higher education, to be able to do so from home and to be able to get involved in a hugely rewarding and promising sector. The NHS is our biggest employer locally, so it really is a great opportunity for young people.
I was pleased to be appointed a further education ambassador by the Department for Education, enabling me to feed directly into that skills agenda and into that shift from pushing so many young people towards university to highlighting the benefits of further education, skills and apprenticeships, which will be hugely important in the coming months. I look forward to being closely involved in those discussions.
Sticking with the levelling-up theme, I want to raise the issue of the regeneration of town centres. As I have said in this place a number of times, one of the most striking signs—or perhaps the biggest symbol—of the decline of market towns in particular is seeing those empty shops and the tumbleweed across the centres and it really gets my constituents down. We have some big opportunities in the coming months to invest in that regeneration and to take positive steps to improve our town centres. In the past few weeks, we have been pleased to submit to the future high streets fund. Hopefully, we will secure a positive response from the Government—up to 25 million quid—to transform some elements of the town centre, including a shift towards delivering services from the town centre, where retail is hugely challenging. For instance, I would like to bring council services into the town centre to increase the footfall around our shops. I would like us to have a community hub with a health and skills office in the town centre, as well as more residential buildings. That would help to bring in visitors and increase footfall in the town to help support our shops. We have the chance to do that. We will also submit proposals in the autumn for the town deal. We have been very fortunate to secure this funding from the Government. Again, we will have opportunities to recover some of what we have lost and to bridge the gap. I would like to see us replace the Warsop sports centre, which closed last year, and ensure that, in an area with huge health inequalities, we are delivering the services and facilities that constituents in Warsop most desperately need.
Finally, in the last few minutes before I finish, I want to touch on local government reform, which will be hugely important to us and a local priority over the coming months and years. Following the coronavirus pandemic, local government finances are perhaps more challenged than ever and the system of two-tier authorities in Nottinghamshire seems more unsustainable than ever. In many ways, we have seen the best of local government through the crisis, with so many public servants, as they often do, stepping up to serve during times of great difficulty. This is not a judgment on any member of staff, but we now face the choice of having to raise taxes and cut services to make ends meet or rationalising our system of local government to do something more effective and more efficient, by having one instead of eight chief executives, 70 instead of 350 local councillors, and getting rid of some of the duplication in those services and doing things more effectively. I wanted to get on record my wholehearted support for delivering that for Nottinghamshire and for Mansfield in the next year or two.
With that, I draw my remarks to a close, but let me end by thanking the House of Commons staff for all their work in keeping us safe and keeping things going in recent months, and by wishing colleagues in the House a pleasant summer in their constituencies.
I have dedicated a lot of time to two issues this year and I happen to chair or co-chair an all-party group on both. First, I co-chair the all-party group on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing, alongside my hon. Friend Judith Cummins, who is a good friend. The hair, beauty and product industry is an economic powerhouse, contributing more than £30 billion to the UK economy and employing more than 370,000 people, predominantly women, with more than 49,000 businesses up and down our high streets. Yet in the past few weeks, in this Chamber, it has been totally disrespected and even mocked by the Prime Minister and his male-led covid recovery plan. We have written to the Chancellor outlining the support that this industry needs if it is to survive post-covid. It has been shut for longer than any other industry and it has not received the same level of financial support as other sectors. As it starts to reopen, it needs VAT reduced to 5%, as has happened for the hospitality and leisure sectors. These businesses need extended business premises eviction protection and more favourable repayment plans for any loans they have been forced to take out to help them survive this unprecedented period. It has been a privilege of both co-chairs to use our voices to stand up for this female-led industry, and we will continue to do so until the patronising sniggering stops, and the beauty and wellbeing sector receives the recognition and respect it deserves.
The other area I wish to discuss is gambling. As the chair of the all-party group on gambling-related harm, I have focused on this issue for a long time. Our recent report on online gambling harms calls for an urgent review of the Gambling Act 2005, something that was in the Government’s election manifesto. Our report was backed by a Lords report, a Public Accounts Committee report and a National Audit Office report, where it has been recognised that there are systematic failings in both this industry and its regulator. Online gambling has grown exponentially, and all too often it is a toxic and dangerous environment. The 15-year-old analogue legislation is not for the 2020 digital era. I constantly hear stories of harm, devastation, demoralisation, destitution and, at its very worst, suicide as the consequences of a gambling addiction.
Gambling disorder does not discriminate; its victims will be male, female, young, old and even children. From having gambling firms’ logos on football shirts to having no stake limits on online platforms, from 16-year-olds being able to legally deposit hundreds of pounds on the national lottery every week to little children being exposed to loot boxes, and to television and social media advertising, the gambling industry has become the new tobacco industry. There was a time when nobody wanted to believe that smoking was dangerous, and the gambling industry would have us believe that nobody is harmed from gambling, but we know differently. Some 1.4 million people, 55,000 of whom are children, struggle with an addiction to gambling, and we need to take action to protect them from harm. The way to do that is to review the legislation, with a view to rewriting the Gambling Act to take into account how the world and technology has changed since 2005.
Finally, tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the children’s funeral fund in England. Approximately 6,500 babies and children pass away before their 18th birthday, and almost 3,000 families have used the fund since its inception, which means that over 50% of bereaved parents are not making use of it. Some may choose not to, which is entirely understandable, but I am concerned that many parents may not be aware of it. Now, a year on, would be a good time for the Government to re-publicise the Children’s Funeral Fund, to raise awareness of its existence and to ensure that my son’s legacy—Martin’s fund—reaches every grieving parent who needs that support in their darkest hour.
It is a pleasure to follow Carolyn Harris, who has made a powerful contribution to the debate. Like many colleagues, I should like to put on record my thanks to all the key workers who have done so much for all our constituencies up and down the country in recent weeks—not just those we immediately think of such as health and care workers, but many people who have kept our vital services going.
I should like to follow up a number of points made by my hon. Friend Holly Mumby-Croft. She referred to British Steel at Scunthorpe, and many of my constituents work there and in the supply chain. It is an example of our more beneficial, shall we say, ties with China, given the investment in the Scunthorpe works. It is an important employer in the area, and it would be a devastating loss. She referred to Scunthorpe Hospital, which serves my constituency too, and I gladly support her calls for investment in it, not forgetting the Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby, which serves my constituency as well and is in need of further investment.
Like all coastal towns, particularly seaside resorts, Cleethorpes has suffered as a result of the health crisis. I appeal to Government to recognise that there are particular problems for our coastal communities, which need ongoing support, especially in relation to the hospitality sector. My constituency does not just contain Cleethorpes which, as I have said many times, is the premier resort of the east coast. It is a very industrial area, as it contains the largest port complex in the UK at Immingham and Grimsby. I have two oil refineries, power stations and much more. The sector is absolutely vital in providing for the nation as a whole and it at the forefront of the applications for free-port status. I am sure that the Minister will urge his colleagues who will make that decision to support the bid from the Humber ports.
I want to mention, like my hon. Friend Ben Bradley, the town deal. The Greater Grimsby town deal was the first of its kind to be nominated by the Government, some three years ago, which shows how important the partnership between the public and private sectors is if we are to ensure almost the continued existence of our town centres. They are very much under pressure at the moment and will certainly be in need of considerable support from both the public and private sectors. Public money can start the ball rolling and, hopefully, attract some key business investment as the shape of our town centres changes considerably over the coming years.
“will continue to deliver new programmes that represent and reflect modern Britain and the voices of the whole of the UK.”
The BBC certainly does not represent the views of the people of Cleethorpes, and that is probably true of many industrial, and now predominantly Conservative, towns across the north of England. If we are to continue to fund the BBC through the licence fee—on balance, I think that will probably carry on in some modified way for the foreseeable future—it needs to take note of people’s views.
We all have our regulars who contact us to complain about the BBC and its news coverage and so on—often with justification—but that contact has grown considerably in recent times. Presenters can have a rather superior tone, as was particularly true during the Brexit debate, when we saw them more or less saying, “How could you possibly support leaving the EU?” I remind the BBC that 70% of my constituents did in fact vote to leave. The majority of them would be in the elderly group—they would be predominant in that 70%—and although they value the BBC, they do not value the direction in which it is currently moving.
I urge the new director-general to come along to Cleethorpes; he is very welcome and I would happily arrange a socially distanced forum for him to debate the issues with local people. The message should go out to our national broadcaster that it needs friends, and critical friends, particularly in this place.
It is a pleasure to speak today. I have been hugely impressed by the efforts that have been made to ensure that the House has functioned as normally as possible in these unprecedented times. I would have liked to say a little more about that but, as I have a whole smorgasbord of matters to raise before the adjournment, I do not think I will have time to do so, so I just want to put on the record my thanks to the House staff for keeping the show on the road and, indeed, to everyone in the country who has joined in the fight against coronavirus.
As we come out of lockdown, the immediate issue facing countries is how we best protect the parts of the economy that are not going to recover as quickly as other parts. It has been a tough time for businesses, as it has been for everyone. The support that has been there so far has been invaluable, but we cannot afford to stop it now. What is the alternative? Do we allow companies that have traded successfully for many years and been responsible for thousands of well-paid, permanent, high-skilled jobs to go under because of a short-term disruption that has impacted on everyone?
Some of the biggest employers in my constituency, such Vauxhall and Airbus, fit that description. They should play a huge role in the future prosperity of my area, but currently they have uncertainty. The aerospace sector is strategically vital in the UK economy: it supports thousands of jobs directly and more than 100,000 more in the supply chain. We cannot afford to lose it. We are about to lose 1,400 jobs at Broughton, which will have a devastating effect on the economy of the whole of north Wales and the north-west. We know that once those jobs go, they are not easily replaced.
Thankfully, production at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port is going to start again next month, but it seems that we are behind other plants in Europe that have already restarted production, often with state assistance. Coupled with the continued absence of a decision on the next model for the plant, that leaves us all fearing for the future. It is not too late: we can act and do something to save these jobs—and with them the entire future of motor manufacturing in the town.
To stimulate the market, we need a consumer-support package that is open to all technologies and has additional environmental incentives. It is no exaggeration to say that the previous Labour Government’s car-scrappage scheme made all the difference to Ellesmere Port and many other parts of the automotive sector. We need a modern equivalent of that, or we risk losing the many great strides that we have made in the automotive sector in the past decade. We also need the job retention scheme to continue, in order to meet the automotive sector’s needs, because it will not come out of this crisis as quickly as other sectors. We need support soon, or we risk losing the car industry altogether. The proud history of motor manufacturing in my town could be lost for good.
I want to say a few words now on leasehold reform. As co-chair of the all-party group on leasehold and commonhold reform, it has been my pleasure to work with some great campaigning individuals. I will not name them except for one today: Louie Burns, who sadly passed away last month. He was a rare beast—a lawyer with conscience. I say that as someone who considered himself such a person before entering this place. He was the best of us. He had a formidable intellect and a passion for justice that always saw him stick up for the leaseholder, so rest in peace, Louie.
I am sure Louie would have been pleased to see yesterday’s report from the Law Commission on reforming leasehold, which has been long awaited and at last recognises the fundamental unfairness and problems with the system. The challenge now is for the Government to ensure those recommendations are implemented swiftly and without being watered down by the powerful lobby who wish to protect freeholders’ interests. I really hope that time is now up for the unfair, exploitative and outdated system of ownership that is leasehold.
Since I came to this place, I have consistently talked about the importance of the high street; other Members have talked about that today. Many people want to have pride in their local town. They want to see it thriving and they want an end to the drift we have seen in recent years away from our high streets and our town centres. That decline has sadly been accelerated by coronavirus. I was pleased, therefore, when the Government announced last year the towns fund and the high streets fund, because I thought that Ellesmere Port would be one of those places likely to benefit from that initiative. I was therefore disappointed when we lost out on those funds, because we had been told we were well placed, but that disappointment turned to anger when I saw the list of towns that were successful.
I have nothing against those towns, but I saw a pattern between what looked like marginal and target Conservative seats and successful bids, so I asked the National Audit Office whether it could look into this. Its report yesterday confirmed my suspicions that the entire process was tainted by what I can only describe as a blatant subversion of the rules for party political purposes. Criteria were applied by civil servants and towns were ranked high, medium and low priority. All the constituencies that contained a low-priority town that were selected by Ministers were Tory target seats at the general election last year. Some 84% of the towns chosen by Ministers that were ranked medium priority were also Tory target seats last year, so the pattern is clear and some of the justifications given by Ministers for favouring lower-ranking towns over those with greater need are frankly embarrassing.
Take Cheadle, ranked 534th out of the 541 towns considered—almost the lowest priority of the lot, yet somehow it was chosen. This is what the report said:
“Cheadle is strategically located between Stockport and Manchester Airport, with strong motorway links to relevant job opportunities and a new link dual carriageway. The area is part of Stockport Borough Council, which is looking to set up a Mayoral Development Corporation.”
I have no beef with Cheadle, but that reasoning is an absolute nonsense. Most towns are strategically located between other places. Actually, what is the logic of having a fund to boost town centres if one of the reasons a town is chosen is that it has good transport links to go elsewhere?
This is an absolute disgrace and we see right through it. We will not forget this manipulation and I will not stop fighting for support for my town. This kind of gerrymandering might have helped the Government win the general election, but in the long run it will do them damage, because people will see it for what it is—a squalid fix from a Government who are supposed to govern for everyone, not just the areas from which they won support.
I will not say it is a pleasure, but it is interesting to follow the eclectic comments of Justin Madders, whose speech I would summarise as sour grapes.
That is not the tone in which I wanted to make my remarks this afternoon. I want to thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the other Deputy Speakers, Mr Speaker and the whole House staff for the amazing way in which they have allowed us to come back here since the end of April, in this hybrid fashion, to hold the Government to account through this difficult period for the country.
I also want to thank everyone in my local area—in West Worcestershire and across Worcestershire—who has worked tirelessly to support the whole community and everyone who has observed the guidelines in such a way that I now have real hope that we have conquered this public health challenge. I am particularly grateful to my own casework team, who have had to deal with quite unprecedented volumes of work in service to the community. I want to put those thanks on record to them now.
As chair of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I want to update colleagues on what the IPU has been up to. I thank the staff of the IPU for having worked relentlessly right through this crisis, working to maintain those links between 179 Parliaments and 46,000 parliamentarians, at a time when it could not have been more important to maintain those links. As Back Benchers, all of us are part of the IPU, and we have taken the view as an executive that we want to continue with virtual links between Parliaments. We have had virtual bilaterals with Sweden, Norway, Italy and Colombia. I thank Mr Speaker for agreeing to take part in the virtual Speakers’ conference that will happen during August. I was also delighted to hear today that the president of the IPU has invited Professor Sarah Gilbert of Oxford University to be the keynote speaker, and that she has agreed to that invitation. That is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the fantastic work they are doing at my alma mater.
I also want to thank everyone who has taken part in all these virtual events. As the House knows, we have a particular focus on the non-Commonwealth countries, and we have found the sessions to be so informative in terms of the links between different Parliaments and different countries and how they have taken different approaches to the outbreak and at different times. We have had some very good information sharing and learning from each other.
We have also been able to focus on many of the other priorities of the BGIPU. On media freedom, we had a John Smith Trust session with graduates from Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. We were able to focus an event on refugees. We have been able to liaise with UK ambassadors and high commissioners from across Africa and from some of the most conflict-afflicted parts of Africa, such as Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, as well as with the International Committee of the Red Cross. We have been able to hold seminars jointly with the BBC. There was one on Chechnya and LGBT issues.
We were able to hold a roundtable last week with the ambassador from the Republic of Korea. I think all colleagues are aware that Korea has been able to apply its experience from the outbreak earlier in the 2000s to the current crisis, and we learned an enormous amount from that session. All those events are of course on the website.
I should update colleagues on the fact that over the course of the next few months, we have to make a decision as a Parliament as to who we want to back to succeed to the presidency of the IPU, because the current president, Gabriela Cuevas Barron, comes to the end of her term in October. There will be a meeting in November to decide the next president. At the moment, only two people have so far shown their candidacy—one from Portugal and one from Pakistan. We as the BGIPU are looking for a few more candidates to show their hand. We want to see what the whole field looks like before we decide who we want to back to take on the important role of the presidency.
I encourage all colleagues to get involved and take part in the wide range of interesting meetings. There has never been a more important time for these 46,000 parliamentarians from 179 countries to come together and share their experiences and how they have been holding their Governments to account. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to update colleagues.
It is a pleasure to follow Harriett Baldwin and hear a detailed update on the work of the IPU. As we head back to our constituencies this evening, we will reflect no doubt on an extremely challenging period for our country and our constituencies. I put on record my thanks and admiration for the key workers and community groups in my constituency that have pulled together in an incredibly impressive way to get us through these difficult times.
I want to focus today on an area where I feel the Government have failed and are letting our country down, and that is specifically around the manufacturing sector. We know that a recovery for our manufacturing sector will be crucial for the post-pandemic economy that we wish to build. I will focus on the backbone of our manufacturing sector, which is the steel industry.
There are 4,000 highly skilled and relatively well-paid jobs at the Port Talbot steelworks in my Aberavon constituency, but those people have been badly let down. For a decade, successive Conservative Governments seem to see steelmaking as metal bashing. They seem to see it as a sunset industry. It is not. It is at the cutting edge of so many of the important manufacturing innovations for both our past and our future. Steel is also central to the homes we live in, the cars we drive and the offices we work in. It is crucial to Britain’s defence, automotive and infrastructure sectors. Steel is also crucial for the green agenda. Wind turbines are based on steel, as are many other green technologies, yet we have seen very little in terms of creating a supportive policy environment for the steel industry.
We need fairer industrial energy prices. Why is it that our energy prices are 80% higher than those of our competitors in France and 60% higher than in Germany? We need an integrated Government procurement strategy, so that British steel is actually at the heart of infrastructure projects. We need to tackle extortionate big business rates that punish investment in new plant and machinery. We need the Government to be much, much quicker to provide urgent cash flow support to an industry that is in crisis because of the coronavirus. We need bespoke loan support. We need it urgently for the industry. Where is it and why has it taken so long? Every day that goes by takes the steel industry deeper into this crisis.
I also want to say a word about why this is so important to our sovereign capability and our national security. Covid-19 has shown the essential nature of having national supply chains that we can rely on. The UK has 229 product lines that are strategically dependent on China, of which 57 relate to our critical national infrastructure. We can no longer be too reliant on economies such as China’s and on regimes where we have seen their disregard for the international rule of law.
We also need to recognise that steel is a driver of jobs and employment. We talk about “build, build, build” but we must also say, “jobs, jobs, jobs.” We know that nationwide, the UK steel industry employs 32,000 people and contributes £3.2 billion to mitigating our balance of trade deficit. It contributes £5.5 billion to the economy directly and through supply chains. Let us think about the cost of doing nothing. If, God forbid, the steel industry, tragically, were to be allowed to fall over by the Government, imagine the cost of all the relatively well-paid steelworkers who would be put on to the social security system. Look at the capital expenditure cost of closing down our steelworks and those iconic blast furnaces. It would cost the taxpayer billions. It is the definition of a false economy, and that is why the Government must act and act now.
That is why I am supporting the amazing new union-led campaign, “Britain, We Need Our Steel”. I congratulate Community union, the GMB and Unite on the campaign and I urge Members across the House to sign up and support it. The unions must be properly consulted. It was very disappointing to read in the Sunday newspapers that apparently discussions are happening about transitioning away from a blast furnace-based model of steelmaking. It is simply not acceptable to be floating those kinds of plans, having them leaked out into the press without proper consultation with a trade union—by the way, a trade union movement that has been the model of constructive engagement and modern, 21st century trade union working. That needs to stop. We need proper consultation. We need proper Government support and we need to see it now.
We need a modern manufacturing renaissance in this country. We will not have a healthy post-pandemic economy unless we have a strong and healthy post-pandemic steel industry. This is a great and proud country. We are strong, modern, diverse and industrial. Our future relies on the steel we make here in the UK: from rail to electric cars, from wind turbines to hospital beds, from pots and pans to vans, to baked bean cans. The message today has to be clear: we need this urgently and we need it now. Britain, we need our steel.
It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Kinnock. Like him, I want to thank all those in my constituency who have worked so hard during the period of lockdown: our NHS staff, carers, key workers, volunteers and community groups. I particularly want to thank NHS staff on both sides of the border who dealt with the unwelcome recent spike in coronavirus cases in the Gretna and Annan areas and brought that outbreak under control.
I want to use this opportunity to highlight a concern that I have that one unintended consequence of covid might be a limiting of the ability to use cash and, in the wider context, of access to cash, about which I have spoken on a number of occasions in this House. I greatly welcome the fact that the Government intend to legislate on access to cash, and I hope that, in what I am sure will be his very eloquent closing remarks, my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew, in a rare appearance at the Dispatch Box, will be able to tell us when the Government intend to bring forward that legislation. I now have a further serious concern, however: even if we resolve the ability to access cash, will people be able to use it, given the number of outlets that are now saying that they will not take cash?
The issues around access are well-rehearsed in many ways. We have had the closure of bank branches and cash machines converting from being free to having a charge. Until I became involved in this issue, I did not realise that most cash withdrawal transactions are for small sums of £10 or £20; a £3 charge in relation to a withdrawal of that amount is a hugely disproportionate mark-up. There are also concerns about those machines, either free or otherwise, disappearing, for example, in Lochmaben in my constituency, where constituents have been alarmed about a planning application to remove a cash machine that is vital to the community. There are also complicated arguments around interchange rates, on which the banks and cash machine providers operate. Many of the providers are now looking for a regional interchange rate, so that the rates are different depending on where the machine is and the amount of use and its priority in the community.
I am sure that those important issues will be debated when the access to cash legislation comes forward, along with the very welcome community access to cash pilot. I was pleased to be able to speak to Natalie Ceeney, chair of the board that is overseeing that pilot. The pilot is looking at not just direct access but one of the other big issues that most of us face in our constituencies, of community and voluntary groups in particular who raise money and then need to deposit cash, as do lots of small businesses. These organisations and businesspeople are finding it increasingly difficult to deposit that cash, so in the wider context of the access to cash argument, a deposit scheme must be available.
Access to cash is about being able not just to get that cash but to spend it. In a previous Parliament, I introduced a Bill to guarantee that Scottish bank notes would be accepted here in England and the other parts of the United Kingdom, and the issue I faced was not about legal tender, and the arguments people make about that, but the fact that retailers and service providers can refuse any form of payment and increasingly are refusing cash payment. A myth has developed that somehow cash is dirty and can spread coronavirus, which is completely untrue; the Minister could help on that. I would like to hear the Government make that much clearer.
As the Bank for International Settlements reported in April, the likelihood of transmitting covid-19
“via banknotes is low when compared with…credit card terminals or PIN pads.”
We must be clear that cash is safe and, as with any contact, safer after people wash their hands and take other measures. Cash is not a spreader of coronavirus.
We do not want to see a back-door move to a so-called cashless society. Recent reports indicate that 8 million of our fellow citizens could not cope in a cashless or cash sparse society, so let us not end up there without thinking it through. Let us see the Government bring forward their access to cash legislation, but let us also make sure that people can use that cash.
The most difficult times often demonstrate the power of people coming together. The creation of the Compassionate Community Hub in Bath had an incredible response, with thousands of Bathonians signing up to help vulnerable people in our community. I recognise the fantastic work of 3SG, Virgin Care and Bath and North East Somerset Council in getting it up and running. I give my heartfelt thanks to all those who have given their time to help.
Some residents have felt isolated and alone; some face financial worries or housing insecurity. Compared with the same time last year, Bath citizens advice bureau has reported a 34% increase in employment issues and a 200% increase in issues around utilities and communication. Even something as simple as the closure of our local skate park due to lockdown meant that a coping mechanism was no longer available.
All those things can contribute to worsening mental health. Analysis suggests that mental health has worsened substantially as a result of the pandemic and 43% of psychiatrists have seen an increase in emergency and urgent cases. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that there will be a “tsunami of referrals”. The Centre for Mental Health forecasts that half a million more people will experience mental health difficulty this year. If there is a second wave, the effects could be even greater.
It is not a new problem. There was a mental health crisis in the UK long before the pandemic, and it will become even clearer that the system is not working. The Government must take mental health seriously. Unless plans are put in place to meet the extra demand, mental health services will not be able to cope.
I urge the Government to work closely with the voluntary sector, which is calling for the creation of a national mental health renewal plan. We can learn from the expertise of those organisations, which have been invaluable throughout the pandemic. Progress towards parity of esteem for mental health will need funding. Of course that means for the NHS, but social care, local authorities, welfare and community services will all need proper funding too.
Mental health cannot be viewed in isolation. It needs to be placed at the heart of society in schools, workplaces and our communities. In Bath, local organisations have stopped many of our residents falling through the gaps. Bath Mind has had contact with more than 500 people across Bath and North East Somerset who were not known to it prior to the lockdown. Developing Health & Independence has worked with more 2,500 people on GP shielding lists. Many were not previously aware of how to access help. Without those organisations ensuring prevention and early intervention, the cost to the statutory sector would be enormous.
Certain groups have disproportionately felt the impact of covid-19 on their mental health. A study has found that levels of anxiety and depression remain high, even as restrictions ease, among low-income households, people with already diagnosed mental ill health and young people.
Research from the Royal Society for Public Health suggests that young people’s mental health has suffered most as a result of the pandemic. We know that people under 25 are much more likely to work in sectors that have been closed. DHI has also shared concerns about an increase in family conflict, being witness to parental domestic violence, and exploitation through county lines. A national young persons’ lockdown exit strategy is needed as part of lockdown easing. We cannot allow young people to be further disadvantaged, and must prevent this crisis from developing into a mental health pandemic. Mental health issues do not discriminate. Local authorities must have the resources to support our communities. Warm words are not enough. I urge the Government to act now.
As I have a bit of time left, let me say that we have heard many people in the House speak powerfully in support of their communities. There could not be a bigger fan of my city of Bath than I. I echo the sentiments of a lot of colleagues across the House, in that I shall do my utmost to ensure that Bath and my constituents get through this crisis as safely as possible.
It is an honour to follow Wera Hobhouse, especially her words about mental health. I could not agree more. We should treat mental health and physical health with parity, and do what we can to help people in such deep crisis, especially during this time.
This sitting has been an eventful one. Our nation has been battling the coronavirus, and the Government’s response has brought in strong and effective measures to open up the economy, protect people’s livelihoods and keep us safe. As we look ahead to the forthcoming adjournment and the next sitting, however, I wish to raise matters local to Rother Valley that require the House’s attention.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused much suffering and pain in my constituency, as it has in all four countries of the United Kingdom, yet in this darkest of places I have been privileged to witness community spirit in Rother Valley blossom and flourish. The selflessness of my constituents has been truly extraordinary, ranging from schoolchildren making PPE to volunteers doing food parcels for more people. As a result, I instituted the Rother Valley hero awards to recognise some of the amazing work that has been done in the constituency.
In the wake of the pandemic, it is critical that we relaunch Rother Valley’s economy. I am therefore supporting the Rotherham Advertiser’s “Restarting Rotherham” campaign to raise awareness that Rother Valley is open for business. This post-coronavirus relaunch of the economy ties in perfectly with my electoral pledge to bring lots of high-quality, skilled jobs to the area, and chimes with the Government’s levelling up of our infrastructure and facilities.
We already have many good businesses in Rother Valley, including Swallow GB in Thurcroft, which produces high-quality, award-winning sheds and greenhouses. As well as greenhouses, I want Rother Valley to be known for the green economy, and am particularly excited by the prospect of hydrogen—which the House knows I have been advocating for—and the potential for a hydrogen plant to be based in Orgreave or Thurcroft in Rother Valley. These new green jobs could kick-start our economy and allow us to build back better for the whole country, and I very much believe that former industrial areas such as Rother Valley should be at the heart of our green recovery.
Infrastructure-wise, I have been vocal in my bid to link up Rother Valley’s different towns and villages, which are appallingly served by public transport at present. I have been championing the reopening of the old South Yorkshire Joint Railway line, which would service Anston, Dinnington, Laughton, and Maltby.
I am also unwavering in my support for new bus routes and more frequent services across the constituency, as the buses in Rother Valley are truly woeful. It is a disgraceful situation when a short journey that can take 15 or 20 mins in a car takes up to an hour and a quarter on public transport and that bus arrives only once an hour. It is simply not good enough. In response, I have convened the Rother Valley transport taskforce as a forum for discussing solutions and progress. I intend for it to meet once the pandemic is over, and encourage all residents of Rother Valley to get involved so that we can work out how to restart Rotherham, restart Rother Valley and get better transport services for our communities.
I remain steadfast in my opposition to hurtful projects such as HS2, which will bring untold damage and no benefits to the communities of Rother Valley. Similarly, I oppose fracking. It is a retrograde step, and not what we want for our future green economy to rebuild jobs.
It is important for us in this House to remember that constituencies such as Rother Valley are made up of individual towns and villages that breathe life into the greater whole. We are full of wonderful community activities such as the Kiveton and Wales annual scarecrow festival, which is on its way. I look forward to seeing many different scarecrows across the constituency over the recess, and I encourage everyone to visit them for a good day out. On top of that, Swallownest FC staged a charity walk for the mental health charity Mind, which I have been privileged to take part in, and that goes back to the comments from the hon. Member for Bath about how important mental health is. I have been working with others to protect the hub of our community for future generations, such as the mineworkers’ recreation ground in Maltby, which is also the home of Maltby Main FC. It is important that our sports fields are protected, because once they are gone, they are gone. We need to protect and nurture them. That is why I am also supporting Dinnington Town football club’s efforts to raise funds to install a 3G pitch for the benefit of the town and local sports clubs.
As the House will know, one of my priorities is to rejuvenate the high street in Dinnington by reopening the police station, saving our local post office, clamping down on local crime and antisocial behaviour, and repurposing Dinnington College as a community centre. I have chosen to have my constituency office on that high street to show my support and try to get our high streets back to where they should be. I am also co-ordinating with local groups such as those in Harthill and Woodsetts to ensure that fracking never blights our beautiful Rother Valley.
We must also look forward. For instance, in Whiston we must prepare for winter flooding by working with the Environment Agency to build robust flood defences in the area, thereby protecting our homes, and in Kiveton Park there is an opportunity for us to regenerate our beautiful stretch of the Chesterfield canal. During the pandemic, this Government have kept people in Rother Valley safe and protected our livelihoods. Now, there is lots of work to be done. We must turn our heads towards our recovery and achieving real and meaningful transformation for Rother Valley. We must deliver on levelling up for Rother Valley and the north.
I am pleased to follow Members’ impassioned speeches about their communities and to hear a bit more about Rother Valley just now.
I was reading today’s Daily Telegraph, which is not something that I do regularly, but it is good to know what the enemy think. The front page reported that the American Government and Pompeo believe that the Chinese are responsible for thousands of deaths in this country. Did the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister challenge those assertions? The report did not suggest that they had. I have heard no challenge of those assertions. I am no fan of the Chinese authorities. On my first delegation to China in 2006, I raised, with colleagues from the Socialist International who were there, issues of human rights in China. My view is that the human rights situation in China has gone downhill from there, not improved, but for such conspiracy theories not to be challenged by our Government is extremely dangerous.
In the middle pages of The Daily Telegraph, another article says that racist hate crimes against Chinese and south Asian people in this country have increased by 61% so far this year. If Members cannot see the link, I implore them to look again, because there is a clear link between misinformation about China and racist attacks on Chinese people in this country. We must not play the game of China, of misinformation, lies and abuses of human rights. We must win the global battle of ideas and for the future world we want based on our values of truth, justice, democracy and human rights.
That is why many of my constituents were deeply concerned when the Royal Mail delivered through their doors the racist rag The Epoch Times. It is a disgusting magazine that the Royal Mail has voluntarily decided to deliver, not through its universal service but on a private contract. The Royal Mail is entitled to refuse delivery if it brings the service into disrepute, is dangerous, is harmful or is likely to harm or upset the receiver. I will tell the House what this newspaper says. It says:
“there were several cases of people recovering from the CCP pneumonia”— it does not call it covid—
“miraculously after they condemned the CCP”.
It says, “If you condemn the CCP and China, you will recover from the CCP pneumonia.” These are dangerous lies because they not only promote racism, but suggest to people that they can be cured, or can avoid getting coronavirus if they are racist. Who is the funder of this magazine, which has gone to every constituent in my constituency and in numerous other constituencies around this country? The Epoch Times is the biggest funder of online advertising for the Trump campaign in the election later this year. There is a direct link to the US and the racism that is peddled in our streets, and it is incumbent on our Government to stand up to it. I have written to the Royal Mail, which gave a very weak response initially. It has now responded more seriously and I hope that we will investigate this further because it is not acceptable for people to receive this in their homes.
The reality is, however, that many people do not live in permanent homes; they live in temporary, rented accommodation and they do not know when the doorbell will ring and it will be their landlord asking for them to be kicked out under a section 8 or section 21 notice. This Government have suggested that they wish to abolish those no-fault evictions, but we are still waiting for that law to be enforced. They told renters in my constituency and across the country that they would not have to worry about having to leave their home because of arrears resulting from coronavirus, but we heard today, as a result of the excellent urgent question from the shadow Housing Secretary, that the Government wish landlords to take covid into account but will do nothing to require them to do that and will not suspend section 8s. Of course, section 8s do not allow the courts to use their judgment; they require the courts to evict, with no questions asked, where someone is in two months of arrears. That section needs to be abolished, as do the no-fault evictions, and we would then have a much better position for renters in our communities, particularly in Brighton.
Let me finish by saying that Brighton is a seaside holiday resort, all along the coast, including Peacehaven and Saltdean in my constituency. It welcomes all of you during the summer. Come and enjoy our lovely lido and our lovely beach, and our parks. I hope to see you there.
It is an honour and pleasure to follow the terrific speech by my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle.
I thank the people of Warwick and Leamington for their endurance, self-sacrifice and adherence to the guidelines these past few months. They managed to resist the temptation to go to Barnard Castle, and for good reason, because of course we have the wondrous Warwick castle. I recognise that we do not have a beach at Warwick castle, although it banks the fine River Avon. It is a very attractive place in its own right.
More seriously, I wish to express my thanks, and those of all the residents of Warwick and Leamington, to all our frontline workers. In the past few months, we have seen rainbows appearing in windows in every street in the constituency, thanking our frontline workers. I thank those at Warwick Hospital and at the Heathcote rehab hospital, and all in our health and emergency services, our care homes and our schools. I also thank our key workers across our food and agricultural sector.
I particularly thank our voluntary and charitable organisations, such as Warwick district food bank, which have done such a brilliant job. I have seen at first hand the work they have done. They are too numerous to mention their names individually. I also thank the Warwick and Leamington mutual aid group for what it has been doing, as well as restaurants, cafés, chefs and butchers, who have stood up, got together, got organised and supplied meals. They have been very much in the background, but they have done such a terrific job. I also wish to place on record my thanks to council officers for the speed with which they have got the business grants out and expedited the support on business rates. Without that, many businesses could have gone under so quickly.
However, having commended many of the local authority officers for what they have done for businesses and in helping with shielding, I have concerns about the failure of some and a lack of leadership in respect of recognising the threat of the pandemic in our care homes. While we had weekly meetings as representatives across Warwickshire, nowhere on the agenda was any mention of social care, until I asked for it to be raised. We had things like green waste on the agenda, but not care homes. That just underlines how there was an absolute blindness to this issue that was clearly going to be a huge problem. There have been 65,000 excess deaths, as we know, with 400 in Warwickshire. We cannot wait for a Government inquiry, whenever that may be: we need an interim urgent inquiry to take place. I certainly want to see one in Warwickshire and I will be calling for one.
Let me turn to the economy, starting with our high streets. I welcome the support that the Government are talking about, but we must—I am calling on residents—back our local businesses, because they provide the jobs, the prosperity, and of course such great services. However, we also need infrastructure. I very much hope that the Government will find the money to support us in our Leamington Spa station development to create a proper 21st-century transport hub. I do appreciate the work that the Government did with the furlough scheme, but Australia has just announced, as we have seen elsewhere, that it is going to extend its furlough scheme by another six months. That is what we need, because we will face a huge problem with unemployment going into the autumn. I want to place on record my concern for those I have been campaigning for who have been excluded by all the other support policies that the Government have put in place—the 3 million we have heard about.
I turn to the need for sectoral support. My hon. Friend Jessica Morden, mentioned the tragedy of the closure of the Orb steelworks. My hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock talked about the importance of steel and the need for these products, which are a critical part of our manufacturing sector. In particular, I will always speak about the preciousness of our automotive sector and the supply chain. Without those plants, we will not have these products manufactured in the UK. I welcomed the Chancellor’s statement, but it was selective in supporting hospitality and construction, yet in the west midlands we have 58,000 people who work in the automotive sector. That is why we need sectoral deals. We must have, as we did in 2009, support for scrappage schemes and other support given to different sectors. This is being done in other countries. If we do not restore these businesses and these markets, then investment will be going to other countries, because that is what the international businesses will do. No other sector faces the same headwinds that our automotive sector does, with changes in emissions regulations and, of course, the significant impact that there will be from changes in our trading relationship with Europe.
On the need to address climate change, I very much hope that in the autumn we will see some mention of industrial strategy from the Chancellor, who, surprisingly, has not talked about
Finally, may I ask that we urgently bring back Westminster Hall debates? We heard from my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle about the real need for those sorts of local debates. I thank all the staff here and the security teams for what they have given us.
It is a pleasure to follow Matt Western. It will come as no surprise to him that there is a lot that divides us politically, but we can absolutely agree that Warwick castle, where I went several times as a child, is a great day out. I look forward to taking my own children there soon.
In the Adjournment debate prior to the February half-term recess, I spoke in detail about a proposal that would devastate my constituency—the Oxford to Cambridge expressway road. I set out the case as to why it would be an environmental and economic disaster that would wipe out people’s homes, farms and businesses, and the beautiful villages of Buckinghamshire. I will not repeat the detail of those arguments today, other than to say that it was very good news that when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor published the Budget in March, the road investment strategy 2, or RIS 2, document that accompanied it moved the expressway project out of the “go ahead” column into the “paused” column.” Better news is that I have had confirmation that Highways England has not progressed work on the project.
It goes without saying that my constituents continue to be nervous and concerned that that project might reappear on the agenda. I ask the Minister to urge colleagues in the Department for Transport to move on and to look at alternative projects, such as improving existing roads and delivering a bypass for the village of Wing, rather than the Oxford to Cambridge expressway.
Moving to the covid-19 crisis, I add my voice to so many others this afternoon in thanking every single key worker who has supported us through the crisis. It has been a pleasure in the crisis for the county of Buckinghamshire as a whole to have come together and worked together. My hon. Friend Mr Baker is in his place, and all five Buckinghamshire MPs have worked together with Buckinghamshire Council, the NHS trust and Buckinghamshire Business First to ensure that we are connected and working together to support all our residents.
On councils, I have nothing but praise not only for Buckinghamshire Council but, importantly, for all the town and parish councils that serve us. At a very micro and local level, they can do much to improve lives and support people.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments. It is a delight to welcome him and all my new colleagues to their places—I have never seen the Bucks MPs work more closely together—and I echo his praise for all our key workers and especially our local NHS, who have been staggering in their efficiency and effectiveness.
I totally concur with my hon. Friend’s comments.
To develop the point that I was making about parish and town councils, clearly the Government have put in unprecedented levels of financial support for the principal councils—in my case, Buckinghamshire Council—but parish and town councils have also spent considerable amounts of money for which they need support.
Earlier today, I talked to the mayor of Princes Risborough Town Council, in the south of my constituency. Throughout the crisis, the council has spent £20,000 on various initiatives. That might not sound a lot in the scheme of things, but to a town council it is an enormous amount of money, and it has lost about £30,000 in income—bear in mind that the total precept is £380,000, and that is an enormous amount. I urge the Government, if at all possible, to ensure that our town and parish councils also receive compensation that they need, so that as they set budgets for next year, services are not squeezed or cut.
I wish to focus on two sectors as we come through the crisis. I am enormously proud to be on the Conservative Benches, and to have supported the Chancellor on the unprecedented package that he has given to support businesses and jobs throughout our economy. As our economy reopens, some sectors still need support, and I agreed with every word of my hon. Friend Edward Timpson about the wedding sector. I have worked with companies such as Bijou Wedding Venues, which operates Notley Abbey near Haddenham in my constituency, and it is important that that sector gets to reopen more fully in a way that it knows it can do safely, if it is to survive.
There are also businesses that continue to be unsure. One of those is the soft play sector and children’s play centres. They are confused at the moment as to why it can be that children can do so many other activities of a similar nature, but they still do not have a date for which they can even plan to open. It is so important for children—I see this in my own three-year-old—to be able to interact and play with other children of their own age, in particular at that tender age when they are developing so much. I urge the Government to look at when, for soft play centres and similar businesses where children come together to play, we can get a date by which they may open.
Lastly, there is our coach industry. I am sure right hon. and hon. Members will have noticed the “Honk for Hope” campaign as it came through Westminster very noisily the other day. I went out to meet representatives of Countrywide Coaches from Princes Risborough and Masons coaches from near Cheddington in my constituency. It is a sector that really is struggling, and it is an important sector for two key reasons. In their own right, such companies bring £7 billion into the UK economy every year, but they are also the enablers that bring people into London to go out, on day trips or on holiday, and to spend their money so that we will get the economy open once more. It is a sector that has had to spend an enormous amount of money—for example, through the public service vehicle accessibility regulations recently, which has left many of them £200,000 or £300,000 in debt. If we can get a support package for our coach industry, it really will be appreciated and support the economy.
I have three concerns from my constituency and then one national issue. First, train services from Congleton urgently need improving. Will the Government press Northern to do so now? In particular, the Sunday service, at just four trains per day each way, is unacceptable, with gaps of up to four hours between trains. There are still no advance tickets from Congleton. Local passengers have suffered endless recent service interruptions and strikes, and the latest blow is the complete removal of CrossCountry services, which need reinstating. This is a well-used station. It could be even more popular, given more regular and reliable trains. I urge Transport Ministers to ensure that the people of Congleton get the train service they deserve.
Secondly, I raise a concern on behalf of an entrepreneurial restauranteur and hotelier in my constituency, who expresses gratitude and appreciation for recent Government measures for the hospitality industry, but has concerns on business rates policy. He tells me: “Hospitality pays a second tax on sales. This is because the business rates are assessed on sales, not on premises’ value. Why? It means that more successful businesses are penalised and failing poor businesses are rewarded. Can this be what Government really wants to achieve?” He explains: “When we bought a business four years ago, the business rateable value was £23,750, based on the sales from the previous owner’s low-level operation there—a poor operator who had made no investment and was rewarded with very low business rates and artificially supported. Since we have refurbished, we have now been reassessed for rates to £101,000. This is because of our sales reaching much higher levels. We already pay VAT on our sales. We already pay corporation tax on our profits. It acts as a complete disincentive to investment. We now pay more rates than the rest of the entire street put together. This includes two banks and seven shops. If Government want regeneration of the high street, this must be changed.” He concludes: “I am very happy to pay business rates based on a rateable value that reflects the value of my trading buildings, but why should I have to pay more than other traders?” Can I ask Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers to review this business rating policy?
My third constituency concern follows the recent tragic loss of life both of a 17-year-old girl and, separately, a cyclist near Astbury, where for years there have been many similar tragedies. Residents at Wallhill Lane near Brownlow and Padgbury Lane are concerned, and I have been asked on behalf of the Link 2 Prosperity businessmen’s group to press Government for an extra link to the Congleton link road currently under construction—an additional section from Sandbach Road to Newcastle Road to improve road safety, help traffic flow around the town, improve quality of life for residents and reduce pollution in this residential area near Congleton High School. Would Transport Ministers consider funding this, please?
Fourthly, an issue of deep concern to parents across the country is the profound harm that can be caused to children all too easily viewing available pornography online. The Government have stated many times, not least in our 2015 manifesto, their intentions to better protect children from online harms, yet I regret to say that they have not followed this up with appropriately expeditious action. That action is urgently needed, particularly bearing in mind that lockdown has increased digital use by children. Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 required robust age verification checks, but they have not been implemented. The Government then said that they would seek to address that with other online harms, but action has progressed slowly. An online harms White Paper was published in April 2019. The consultation closed a year ago, but the Government’s full response has been delayed and is not yet forthcoming. Meanwhile, the proposed online harms Bill has not been introduced, and we understand that it could be 2023-24 before it is enacted and implemented—several years after age verification could have been implemented for pornographic websites under the Digital Economy Act 2017.
I am not alone in raising these concerns. Many Conservative MPs are extremely concerned. I call on Ministers in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and in other Departments to expedite work on this, so that several more years do not pass before children are better protected from the profound harm that seeing pornography online can cause. I urge Ministers to implement part 3, with age verification, now. We cannot make the internet safe, but we can make it safer.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I would like to raise several covid-related issues that have affected individuals and organisations in my constituency: first, the economic impact; secondly, schools; and thirdly, policing.
Hon. Members have raised the challenge facing the exhibitions and events industry, which is worth £70 billion a year to the UK economy, and provides 700,000 jobs. Organisations in my constituency such as Easyfairs UK, which employs 100 people, are really suffering. It was one of the first sectors to shut down, and will be one of the last to come out of lockdown. The industry has shed 20% of its direct workforce, with many more job cuts—potentially 60,000—to come in the exhibition space alone. It desperately needs further financial support, particularly as the furlough scheme ends in October. While we have been given hope by the Prime Minister that some of those events could get going again, it is the sort of industry that needs quite a lot of lead time for buyers and sellers and the setting up of those events.
Rightly, the October date is contingent on coronavirus prevalence data, as well as pilot events, but it would be helpful to have a slightly earlier indication on whether the industry could open up sooner, because it has worked with the Government to put in place a lot of covid-secure arrangements. The industry is known for its work on health and safety, so I urge the Government to look at that again. It relies a great deal on freelancers and the self-employed, and we have heard many times in the Chamber about the number of people who have been left out of the scheme.
I have been contacted by a freelance 3D designer in the exhibitions and events industry who has not worked since
I wanted to touch on funding and support for schools. I was horrified to hear from my daughter’s primary school, which is in my constituency, that what I thought was a welcome additional funding pot that was being granted to schools to cope with coronavirus excludes the claiming of costs associated with opening schools to more pupils from
We have also heard many times in the Chamber about the lack of laptops for pupils who cannot afford devices to learn at home, and I particularly wanted to draw attention to Richmond upon Thames College in my constituency. We know that one in four children at colleges across London are on free school meals, so they are serving a particularly deprived population. The college had to give out 90 laptops and dongles to its pupils and used bursary funding to do so, but that bursary funding has been slashed by £130,000 by the Education and Skills Funding Agency on the basis that these pupils benefit from free travel in London. Those of us who are London MPs are well aware that under-18s free travel is about to be scrapped, thanks to the Government condition on the TfL bail-out recently, so I again urge the Government to rethink that policy.
Finally, I want to touch on antisocial behaviour and policing. We know that, because of the guidelines and restrictions, there is a lot more socialising outdoors. This has resulted in a lot of drinking until late outdoors and a lot of additional antisocial behaviour, with people using outdoor spaces as public toilets. I particularly draw attention to Twickenham Green in my constituency, where residents are long-suffering. I am dismayed that the police have said that the problem with stepping up patrols is that police in south-west London are being called to shut down raves in other parts of London. This comes back to the lack of policing and the desperate need to boost police numbers, so I urge the Government to make good on their manifesto commitments and boost policing.
Order. Steve Baker will have the last speech at six minutes. Everyone else will get five minutes to ensure that we get everybody on the call list in.
In High Wycombe, joy and celebration abound, because just last Monday, Wycombe Wanderers football club were promoted to the championship. I put on record how proud of them the whole town is. It is a miraculous achievement and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will join me in congratulating them.
The first point I want to make about the Government’s business is that it is time to repeal and replace the Coronavirus Act 2020. I have made my case in a Red Box article in The Times today, and I am very grateful to The Times for carrying it. I am also very grateful to Liberty for its comprehensive and, indeed, abridged briefing, which it provided to Members and which I thoroughly recommend.
What we have seen since I stood over there and made a speech—which I think went fairly viral—in opposition to the range and scope of the Bill, is, as I made very clear, a dramatic expansion of powers being passed in an undesirably swift way. Of course, the Government needed to act in haste in all the circumstances. I do not by any means judge my right hon. and hon. Friends for that. They needed to do it, but they now have the luxury of time over the summer recess and, indeed, new information from what we have learned from the progress of the pandemic. I just say to them that this dramatic edifice of powers and regulations related to coronavirus and public health and their basis in law must now be reviewed comprehensively. Parliament must in future have a chance to scrutinise necessary powers properly, and the public must have confidence that rules are proportionate and have been reasonably made. Conservative Ministers worthy of the name cannot afford to be—and I am sure are not—cavalier about civil liberties. With that in mind, I implore my hon. Friend the Minister to look at repealing the Coronavirus Act and replacing it.
Let me move on to set the record straight for an individual and thereby try to right an injustice. As will become clear, I am the only recourse that this individual has. But I want to start by talking about trade policy, of all things. The UK Government are now embarked on a trade policy that most Members will know about: it will flatten power and make it more accountable to change the structure of power in the world to reinvigorate the global trading system, just at the moment when we need it. The UK is going to catalyse that change, but it is perhaps the biggest politics.
Many of the people associated with the journey of formulating that trade policy, from the days when the Legatum Institute special trade commission was doing that job, and I was working with them, have been exposed to and suffered really vitriolic attacks. Indeed, I would say that I have suffered malevolent attacks. Today, though, I want particularly to defend Christopher Chandler, who is the founder of Legatum and that family of companies.
We might, then, ask what Mr Chandler and others did. Legatum, the company that Mr Chandler founded with three partners and of which he is the chairman, commissioned an extensive forensic investigation into the claims by former members of law enforcement and military intelligence. Richard Walton, the former head of counter-terrorism command at the Metropolitan police performed his own independent review of the findings of that investigation and concluded that the allegations made by MPs in the House were totally false. Mr Walton has today briefed me on the reasons why he has drawn that conclusion, and I am absolutely satisfied that the reason why Mr Chandler has not been called to face charges is because there are no charges that he should face. He is an innocent man and, whatever the noble intent of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, I am afraid that Mr Chandler has been unjustly dealt with.
Legatum told me today: “When given the opportunity to present the truth, Legatum has overwhelmingly prevailed in 13 out of 14 actions in the UK, resulting in a stream of corrections, retractions and apologies.” This is, then, fundamentally a case of justice. As I say, I believe that Mr Chandler has absolutely no case to answer; it is just that under the system we currently have an individual has no recourse to what is said in the House of Commons, other than a Member of Parliament standing up for them. At some point the House is going to have to deal with the issue of a right to reply.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; I was aware of what he was going to say. He makes a really important point and, respectfully, I listen with care. Clearly, a right of reply may strengthen the credibility of privilege, such that we could see it as a questioning event in the public interest rather than an accusatory one. I am in favour of that, because I want the privileges that we have to have credibility. I hear what he says and I respectfully listen to what he says and to what he says about his friends. I would merely say that parliamentarians who care about the relevance of this place wrestle with what the right thing to do and say is, sometimes in complex and difficult circumstances. Does he agree that we all try to act in the best possible way? If there is work to be done on updating privilege, I am very happy to join that.
I would not expect my hon. Friend to go any further than that today and I am very grateful to him for what he has said. That will have been heard and I am grateful to him.
In the urgent question earlier, I said something about Legatum’s work on Russia, which I think is honourable and noble. It would be strange indeed if Mr Chandler was connected to Russian intelligence, given that he has put so much investment into fighting the effects of Russian wrongdoing. I have already mentioned trade policy; it is rare indeed that one can say that somebody has facilitated so much benefit to so many people.
Let me say a little more, because Mr Chandler is also a believer in private philanthropy. Since its founding in 2012, the END Fund has facilitated the delivery of more than 720 million treatments relating to neglected tropical diseases, in 27 of the world’s poorest countries. His Freedom fund has liberated 24,277 men, women and children. His Luminos fund has, through its Second Chance accelerated-learning programme, seen 132,611 children brought back to school. Mr Chandler is not a man who should have been vilified; he is an inspiration.
Injustice is not always brought down on the heads of the weak. Virtue does not always belong to the poor. On this occasion, I have had to do something, which would have been far better had I not had to do it, and that is to defend a man who is wealthy and strong, but who has been placed in a position without a right to reply, and it has been necessary for me to stand up today and to seek to set the record straight and to defend his honour. I say again that Richard Walton, the former head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, has investigated all of these matters and said, “The allegations made in the House of Commons are totally false.” If you will allow me Mr Deputy Speaker, my last words are from a quote chosen by Mr Chandler himself:
“Truth ultimately prevails where there are pains to bring it to light.”
I have taken those pains today. Let truth prevail.
The coronavirus experience has introduced us all to many businesses and organisations in our constituencies, which, however long we have lived in them or represented them, we did not know about. One of those for me was the very thriving events industry in Mitcham and Morden. I have had almost 15 companies approach me, including Larry Walshe Studios, Just 4 Linen, Dash Linen, LightWave Productions, White Light Ltd, Focus Lighting, Tuxedo Express Laundry, Skyline Whitespace and Oxygen Events. What unites them is that they are all part of the events industry, providing services to other bodies, and all of them, without exception, have had no support other than the furloughing scheme. Many of them are now making tens and hundreds and thousands of people redundant.
Events firms that operate from industrial premises and that provide their services on a for-hire basis are not eligible for the Government’s expanded retail discount, under the guidance issued to local authorities, because they do not sell on-site, so are not covered by the definition:
“Hereditaments that are being used for the sale of goods to visiting members of the public.”
Unfortunately, eligibility for this grant is also a prerequisite for accessing the Government’s retail hospitality and leisure grant.
Throughout this crisis, events companies have been viewed by Government as providing services to the industry rather than actually being part of it, despite the fact that they are entirely reliant on this industry for their business. A point of frustration for these business owners is that the Chancellor himself said on
“Those that have business properties will be eligible both for the relief and the grant, which will cover a significant number of events companies that have premises. Obviously, if they do not have premises, they will not qualify for business rates relief, but should be eligible for some of the other measures that I have outlined today.”
Whereas other businesses, such as shops and restaurants, which have already had access to these grants, can open straight back up—I do not wish to underestimate the problems that they, too, are experiencing—these events businesses will have to wait a lot longer before they can reopen. Many events are organised a long time in advance —I am talking about weddings, conferences and concerts.
This is an industry that is worth £70 billion in the UK annually. An article in the Financial Times a week ago estimated that as many as 30,000 jobs could be put at risk if the Government do not step in. There has been a lot of focus on transparency in terms of when the events industry will resume and it is small consolation that the Government have now set the date of
It is how we respond to a challenge that defines us. Covid has brought our communities together in ways that I think none of us could have imagined six months ago, ensuring that the most vulnerable—those who are shielding or on the frontline—are supported, encouraged and taken care of. In Runnymede and Weybridge, we have volunteers delivering food parcels and collecting prescriptions; councillors, charities and volunteers at Runnymede foodbank, simply next-door neighbours, helping out in their street. We have community initiatives such as Nourish our Nurses, which was established in my constituency to support staff at St Peter’s hospital, delivering fresh fruit and vegetables with handy recipes. Incidentally, on that note, St Peter’s has told me that during this crisis it has received more chocolate than even NHS staff can manage. As a former NHS doctor, I find that slightly surprising, but there we are. Local resident Matthew Thomas, when his marathon was cancelled, ran lengths of his street with the aid of neighbours to raise money for charity—the first Weybridge street marathon.
Hundreds of constituents, such as Sew Weybridge and Sew ’n’ Sew, have put their talents to sewing masks, scrubs and scrub bags, while others, such as the design and technology department at Salesian school in Chertsey, have used their skills to make visors and screens. On that note, I recently visited Brooklands college in Weybridge, a top-notch college that offers vocational courses to hundreds of students, young and old, with fantastic local industry support. We are going to need that as we come out of this crisis. It tells me that applications for apprenticeships are up, all supporting my constituents’ prospects in the job market. Throughout Runnymede and Weybridge, there are examples of our residents, our businesses and our schools—everyone—going the extra mile and our communities becoming even stronger as a result.
We often talk about key workers, but the fact is that in our society everyone’s work is key. Arguably, the hardest challenge is still in front of us. We must not just support jobs, but make jobs. We must not just protect our businesses, but give them the tools to grow and flourish. We must consolidate our strong public services and allow the NHS to continue and evolve. Local representatives tell me that they have seen more change in a few months than in a lifetime. I welcome change and our fast responsiveness to covid, but we must also reflect carefully on our next steps.
I believe that the role of the state should be to provide the opportunities for growth and the assurance that there will always be support for those who need it most. In Runnymede and Weybridge, that particularly means improvements to our roads, our rail connections, supporting our aviation sector, improving our natural environment, and protecting our homes and businesses from flooding by building the River Thames Scheme. However, development and infrastructure need to work with our communities. Aviation needs to be sustainable and not blight people in Englefield Green, and across Runnymede and Weybridge, with air and noise pollution. People living in Addlestone should not have to keep their windows closed due to noise from the M25. Our rail services should make the daily commute easier, not push people into driving through cancellations or high fare prices. On our public services, the Weybridge hospital site needs to cater for the needs of the community it serves.
We clearly face many challenges, but with change also comes opportunity. It is my sincere hope that we can use this time to seize those opportunities with ambition and determination. As we recover and rebuild from this crisis, we must not just bounce back but bounce higher.
Today, I want to return to the incredibly important conversation started in this country after the outrageous killing of George Floyd in May. In my view, that conversation is only partially complete: vital questions regarding our intentions and objectives hang in the air, alongside solutions asserted from some quarters which, at least to me, remain untested and are at times jarring to the good nature and general tolerance of the Britain I know and love—questions such as how we, rightly, consign all forms of discrimination in our society to history, how we interact with our complicated past, and, fundamentally, how we raise up our fellow man and woman to fulfil their ambitions, focusing on where they are going rather than where they have come from.
That this debate even began is something I welcome. When these questions arose two months ago, I looked forward to a robust, potentially uncomfortable debate, acknowledging the past and recognising the progress made, but accepting there would always be more to do. Yet what came next was neither what I expected, nor sometimes did it, in my view, do justice to the questions that were raised. On issues as deeply sensitive as this, we all have a responsibility to debate as broadly as possible, with a willingness to both listen and recognise that no single one of us and no single group has the answer to every question, but too often we have seen attempts to impose a single worldview on the contours of this important debate: a new framework about discrimination, saying that it is somehow intrinsic and unavoidable; about individual autonomy, saying that we are reduced to the indelible product of our physical and mental characteristics, rather than being more than the sum of our parts; about our societal ambition, saying that meritocracy may no longer be our shared objective; and about our compassion, saying that somehow we are institutionally unable to show it.
While I personally have much to learn and many more conversations to have, two months later I simply do not recognise this portrait of our country: systemic discrimination, inherited privilege, the implication that ends justify means, the assumption that only one ideology, anti-capitalism—or, more accurately, Marxism—can resolve some of the challenging issues in front of us, and the focus on inanimate objects rather than on minds and intents and souls.
Do we really want to centre debate on the vexed issue of statues, for example? How can the toppling of a statute ever be helpful in demonstrating our respect for the rule of law and due process, and, fundamentally, how does a focus on pulling down and graffitiing statutes help one poor child in North East Derbyshire or Newham or Norfolk?
Every day when I come to this place I am surrounded by reminders of the past. Many of those reminders are historical figures who at best ignored and at worst oppressed my family, my class and those who came before me who wanted to live their lives with the freedoms that I have today. They sent my forefathers down the mines to die early. They treated my rights and freedoms as their own personal playthings. They put people like me to death over hundreds of years. And yet the answer for me cannot be to focus on stone images or inherited sin; those statues are the reminder of an imperfect past, but also of how we built a better society based on the toils of individuals who can do both good and bad at the same time.
Our island has a story; it is gory, bloody, bloodthirsty and unacceptable at times by modern standards, but at the same time it is a unique story of progress and resolution. It is the shared endeavour of all of our history that now allows us the freedom to look at what might be, rather than to focus on what was.
And to do that, we simply must talk. I have heard too much in recent months about exhaustion and fatigue, and that some of us are no longer going to talk about issues of profound importance. Yet no one can be exhausted. Join the battle, be critical, stop cancelling your opponent; live that Voltairean notion that, other than those who advocate violence, we respect the right of anybody to say whatever they want, even if we disagree with it. One may erase men’s voices, status or words temporarily, but is it not better to seek their souls than their silence?
So, as we end this parliamentary Session with profound questions hanging in the air, I hope we will return to these issues again in the autumn. These issues of profound importance need to be constantly in our thoughts, but, equally, constantly debated, rather than reduced to predetermined ossification.
As we break for the summer recess, I have a long list of issues that I would have liked to raise in this debate. I have written letters to Ministers about many of them, but have not received a reply for several months. I could have picked any of them, but I will focus on an area of urgent concern that I hope will be put at the top of the Minister’s to-do list—namely, the national scrubs crisis.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the volunteers across the country who have worked very hard to rise to the challenge of the national scrubs crisis. Demand went up hugely. Previously, 20% of healthcare workers had to wear scrubs, but since covid-19 most of them now do so. The Government have simply not risen to meet that demand, so volunteers across the country—from Shetland to Devon, and at the Putney Scrub Hub— have stepped up. They have sewn and cut and worked all hours. I pay particular tribute to Rosie Taylor-Davies, who has led an amazing team of volunteers. They have made 4,000 scrub sets for the Royal Marsden Hospital and 3,000 sets for St George’s Hospital, and have also supplied care homes, dentists and breast-screening clinics. These are not small orders; they meet a large, industrial-scale need.
In response to a recent survey, 61% of UK doctors said that the hospital where they work faces a shortage of scrubs. This situation risks the sharing and spreading of the virus. Dentists have told me that they did not feel that they needed to close down during this crisis. They could have stayed open, as happened in Germany, but they had to close because of the lack of PPE, including scrubs. That simply cannot happen if there is a second wave.
At the same time, there have been multimillion-pound contracts for PPE, which need to be explained. They include a £252 million agreement with Ayanda Capital Ltd, a company owned by the Horlick family through an entity based in Mauritius, which is a tax haven. In addition, £108 million-worth of PPE contracts were entered into with a chocolatier and a supplier of pigeon netting—strange choice. And an £18.5 million contract was awarded in May to Aventis Solutions, which is an employment agency with net assets of £332. During this week’s hearing of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, the Secretary of State failed to provide any answers to the questions asked by my hon. Friend Dawn Butler as to why those contracts were awarded and how much PPE they have actually provided.
We do not have a national plan on scrubs, so we are relying on volunteers such as Putney Scrub Hub in Roehampton, which has taken over squash courts and is working all hours to make the scrubs that we need. Garment factories are lying unused and garment workers are unemployed, even though we have this huge need. Months into the crisis, we are still relying on volunteers to meet this need. It cannot go on.
How much longer are the Government planning to rely on volunteers to provide basic health equipment? Why is there no sustainable national scrubs manufacturing plan, with a proper UK supply chain using garment factories to meet the needs of all of our health workers? We have applauded them on Thursdays and we know how much we owe them, yet many of them lack the basic equipment. Medical students have been told to provide their own. Doctors have been told to bring in tracksuits. People have been told that they need a call-out for children’s pyjamas for medical need.
Will the Minister please put this issue at the top of his to-do list over the summer recess? Will he bring together the Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department of Health and Social Care to put together and deliver an urgent scrubs plan before we return in September, so that all our NHS and healthcare workers have the equipment they need, and all the volunteers at Putney Scrub Hub and across the country can put away their sewing machines, put down their scissors and get back to their normal lives?
Bury football club was elected to the Football League in 1893. It was expelled in August last year due to the financial mismanagement of two people, Stewart Day and Steve Dale. A community has lost part of its heritage and tradition and something that has linked generations for more than 100 years. How can that possibly be correct?
I cannot overstate the loss of Bury football club, in an emotional, social and economic sense, to the town that I represent. It is a disgrace. The English Football League did nothing to assist Bury. It allowed people to run the club into the ground. It put nothing in place and did not represent the interests of the fans of the club—a club that is so close to the hearts of thousands of people I represent.
I raise this issue now because many other clubs in the English Football League are facing significant financial challenges. Many other clubs will potentially find themselves in a position where they are on the market and people will be looking, as with Bury, to buy them for a pound, take advantage of the support and financial support of the fans, take money out of the club and vanish, which is essentially what happened in Bury’s situation.
The EFL is not, and has not in the last 12 months, been fit for purpose in terms of how it addresses and represents the interests of the fans, as highlighted by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which said clearly that more must be done to safeguard the interests of football fans who rely on their football club for friendship and camaraderie. For many people in my town, it was the only time they went out. One man in his 70s had been going to Gigg Lane since he was a boy and those were his only friends over that time. He has lost those things. The football club is much missed.
I fear that many other football clubs will be in Bury’s position. The EFL, since the debacle with Bury, has not changed the fit and proper person test. It has not put in place any procedures to address the problems that the Bury situation created. Indeed, football clubs are nearly unique in that their customer base, 99 times out of 100, cares more for the company than the actual directors.
As politicians, we must realise that football clubs are more than simply the playthings of individuals who want to take money out and take advantage of fans. They can be engines for social regeneration. Once a club like Bury has been lost—I hope to goodness it does not happen to any other clubs—the effect is felt by local businesses that rely on the club. Businesses have gone out of business in my constituency because the football club does not exist. What is the EFL doing about that? Nothing, and nothing has changed in the last 12 months.
I call on the EFL to face up to the issue. It must ensure that the fans of clubs all over the country do not face the same fate as those of Bury, that they have a defender in the EFL, and that it is an organisation that will make sure that the people who take on such clubs have the right character and financial backing to properly represent the interests of the fans who are dedicated to their clubs and have been for many years.
Bury was in division one at the start of the season, which has now finished. If the EFL is going to give financial assistance, by whatever means, to other clubs facing a similar financial situation to the one that Bury faced, it cannot be right that it simply turned its back on professional football in Bury. I urge it to work with all in Bury to ensure that football continues to be played in Gigg Lane at the earliest opportunity.
I give my thanks to everyone who has worked so hard at Bury AFC. It is a phoenix club and, in the last few days, it gained membership of the North West Counties Football League, which is a fantastic achievement. Everybody involved in that club should be extremely proud of everything that they are doing to resurrect football in my town, but that does not get away from the fact that Bury was treated appallingly. I hope to goodness that no other fans go through what Bury fans have gone through in the last 12 months.
We come to the end of this parliamentary term in the sober knowledge that in the past six months more than 45,000 families in the UK have suffered the devastating loss of bereavement due to covid-19, many thousands more have suffered the trauma of a terrifying serious illness and millions now face job insecurity. I pay tribute to the amazing team of staff at King’s College Hospital, to those working in social care and in our schools, and to all the key workers who continue to work through the long, hard slog of covid-19.
For many of my constituents, there will be no rest or peace of mind over the coming weeks, and this summer will continue to bring challenges and hardship. Many private renters in my constituency live every day with anxiety about what will happen to them after
I pay tribute to social care workers, who have done so much to support and care for our most vulnerable loved ones during the pandemic, often placing their own lives at risk without access to testing or PPE to keep them safe. It is shameful in this context that the Government are content to clap social care workers during the pandemic, but not to award them a pay increase like other key workers. One of the most important priorities for our coronavirus recovery is reform of the social care sector, and improving the pay and conditions of those who work in social care—who have witnessed heartbreaking scenarios, and been there to care for and comfort the most vulnerable in our communities during this time—is critical to that.
Finally, families across my constituency should be looking forward to a summer break—holidays, day trips or a relaxing time at home. But it is impossible for people to relax when they have no money and their prospects of finding work at any time in the near future look uncertain. That is the situation for freelance workers, new starters and sole directors of limited companies, who have seen their income decimated but have still received no support from the Government. The plight of 3 million people across the UK who have been left behind during the pandemic is desperate, and I urge the Government to do much more this summer to ensure that they are supported.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you, all House staff and Members a safe, restful and healthy break over the summer, but in doing so I urge the Government to turn their attention with urgency to those for whom this summer brings only struggle.
It is a pleasure to speak in this final debate before the summer recess. I am going to talk about one specific issue that is linked to the constituency that I have the honour of representing, but which also affects the whole country—that is, the use of social media in prisons.
This is a particularly pernicious crime. Social media is often used by convicted criminals to brag openly about how they are continuing to break our laws even from behind bars, and how they are still enjoying freedoms that should have been taken away from them, such as communicating with the outside world. These social media posts display a lack of respect for our criminal justice system, and, even worse than that, they show complete contempt for the victims of crime, their families and friends.
Victims and their loved ones should not have to live with the fear and anxiety that perpetrators can continue to have a presence in the community or even use social media to contact them. It often feels like the person who victimised them is taunting them on social media when they are posting from inside prison. The use of modern technology to post on social media is a way prisoners can essentially break out of prison walls and carry on causing anguish and misery to all those they have hurt. This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs, and it cannot be allowed to continue.
This anguish has repeatedly been felt in Ipswich since the brutal murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in June 2018, which left our town in a state of shock. Five men were sent to prison in connection with Tavis’s death—four for murder and one for manslaughter. It is now my understanding that all five of them have made social media posts since being locked up. Most of us can only imagine the additional pain this has caused Tavis’s family as they seek some sort of peace after his tragic death.
I want to go into detail about three of these cases that have been brought to my attention since my election and set out clearly how this problem has persisted. The first case occurred in January, when Callum Plaats, who was convicted of Tavis’s manslaughter, posted a picture of himself grinning on Facebook, along with the caption, “Five years left lightwork”—five years being the remaining amount of time he expects to serve in prison if he only serves half his 14-year sentence. At the time, I called for Plaats to serve his full sentence given this contemptuous and insulting act of criminality from behind bars, and I stand by that today.
I thank the Prisons Minister for meeting me following that case and setting out the work that the Government are doing to combat social media use in prison. The extra £100 million being invested in detecting mobile phones in prisons and stopping them getting in there in the first place is welcome, and I am in no doubt about the Government’s commitment to tackling this issue, but two further cases of social media use by Tavis’s killers since then have caused further concern that more needs to be done.
In April, Aristote Yenge, who was convicted of Tavis’s murder, posted on Instagram calling on people in the community to get in contact with him. In the post, he brazenly detailed the prison he is in and his prisoner number. I called on Facebook to take this account down, which it did, and the Prison Service launched an investigation. But just this month, Kyreis Davies, who was also convicted of murder, posted a picture of himself posing on Snapchat. This latest post is a particularly bitter pill to swallow, after Davies recently had his sentence reduced on appeal from a minimum of 21 years to just 16 years. I have spoken before in the House about the anger that this sudden reduction has caused in Ipswich. His recent criminal communication from prison has only added to the disbelief and confusion in our community about why this murderer will now be released, a free man, in his early 30s.
Ultimately, I think all of us can probably accept that it is completely unacceptable that individuals convicted of murder and asked to spend a life sentence in prison are able to freely communicate on social media from inside prison. It is against the rules, yet it continues. Every single time they post, the hurt and anguish felt by friends and family of the victims only increases. When this House comes back in September, the House must debate this and the Government must take action to eliminate the use of social media in prisons. Yes, the investment in technology to detect mobile devices is welcome, but we should go further. There should be a strong punishment for all these individuals who use social media in prison, to serve as a deterrent for anybody else who considers doing that.
The winding-up speeches will begin at 6.32 pm, and I have six names on the call list, so if everybody sticks to five minutes, the last person will not quite get five minutes, but almost everybody will get equal time.
I want to start by sharing some news. I was really pleased and proud to become an auntie over lockdown, and I am very excited for Suzanne, Graeme and Fraser James Thewliss, the newest addition to the family.
There have been lots of babies born in lockdown, and my heart goes out to all the families who have found it particularly difficult not being able to see new babies, meet their families and cuddle. It has been incredibly difficult for many people to come to terms with that, and I hope that there will be joy and jubilation when all these families are reunited.
Can the Minister investigate when breastfeeding support groups and other groups that parents have not been able to go to and socialise in, as they usually would in the new days with a baby, will be able to safely start back up again? That is a great source of support for many new parents. If he could also look at support for milk banks, that would be very useful. There was a piece on the BBC this morning, presented by Victoria Derbyshire, with Dr Natalie Shenker of the Human Milk Foundation speaking about the importance of milk banking to many families, particularly in lockdown. It has had very little Government support, and some support would be welcome to ensure that this sector is well protected as part of the NHS.
It has been heartwarming to see the groups in Glasgow that have come together during lockdown, providing support to so many people in our communities. I have a huge list of names I would love to read out as a thank you, but I will restrict it to three. I want to thank Possibilities for Each and Every Kid—PEEK—whose PEEK-a-chew van managed to deliver 140,000 meals to families in Glasgow during lockdown. It fundraised for this and it was really well received. I also wish to thank the Sikh food bank and Charandeep Singh, who has organised 70,000 meals going out to families in Glasgow since April. This will be kept going until the end of August and, again, it has been incredibly well received by many people who cannot get the food that they would usually be able to get and by older people who are particularly isolated. I also thank the Sistema Scotland Big Noise Govanhill and congratulate it on its seventh birthday, which falls this week. It has managed to get devices out to young people in Govanhill so that they can continue with their music lessons over lockdown. It has provided data to those devices so that the young people who did not have internet connections at home could get that.
The more serious issue I wanted to raise before the House rises for recess is the two-child limit and the rape clause, which Members know I have raised on many occasions. The figures released just last week by the Government have highlighted that 911,190 children across the UK are now missing out on valuable support because they happen to be born as the third child in their family. Restricting child tax credits and universal credit to the first two children in the family is having a hugely detrimental effect. It was already punishing families for circumstances that they could do nothing about, and the coronavirus has only made that worse.
I pay tribute to the Church of England and the Child Poverty Action Group, which have campaigned relentlessly on this issue, along with many women’s organisations, under the banner of “All Kids Count”. Inherent in this policy is a judgment and stigma about the number of children poor families have, and this myth of the “welfare queen” that has gone about for so many years. The Government will say this is about making sure that those in work can make the same choices as those supporting themselves through benefits, but that is not the case, because nobody can predict the future. Nobody can predict the course of their life, from when their children are born, all the way through, until they leave the family home. It only takes a death, somebody losing their job or a family splitting up to plunge a family into a circumstance, which is why we ought to have a social security safety net.
The current safety net is full of holes and issues such as the two-child policy are now driving child poverty in this country. I urge the Government to reconsider and to reinstate these benefits, because this a trap for so many families, from which they cannot work their way out. We are talking about low-paid families—families who are working. The vast majority of people who would be entitled to this benefit are in low-paid work. They are the very people Members have talked about as having kept the economy going: people working on the frontline, in shops and as cleaners, doing their utmost to keep us going. So the Government owe it to these families to keep them going, to make sure that their children can have food put on the table for them and that no child is punished because of the size of their family. After all, we cannot predict the future and nobody should be punished because of it.
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, there are many points I wish to raise. I look forward to a fully functioning Parliament, when it is safe to do so.
Unfortunately, Southend airport has been hit by easyJet losses, arguments about section 106 and about night flights—we had a good meeting with the Minister recently. I congratulate all the local police officers on the way they have tackled antisocial behaviour, which has spiked recently. But I think the money that has been wasted on restoring the Belvedere is to be questioned—there is lots of graffiti back on it again. Like my neighbouring colleagues, I was horrified when I learned about proposals to reorganise local government, with an elected mayor, which we had not been consulted on. It is just not going to happen, but I think it would be helpful if the Government gave the local authority leaders a steer as to the way they see future local government reorganisation.
The endometriosis inquiry is carrying on, and I am delighted to say to colleagues that, inspired by my constituent, Carla Cressy, we will be issuing our report in the autumn. Billy Mansell is a wonderful constituent working for people who suffer from fibromyalgia and he has launched a new initiative called “Sphere Master”—I congratulate him. I am delighted that the Government have introduced Lucy’s law and delighted that so many of my newly elected colleagues are strong on animal welfare measures.
Southend must and will become a city. The Duke of Edinburgh will be 100 next year and Her Majesty the Queen will be celebrating her 75th anniversary a year afterwards, so we need a city competition and Southend can become a city.
I congratulate the Music Man Project on securing a grant of £10,000 from covid relief funding and we will be taking our wonderful show for people with learning disabilities to Broadway.
I am so sorry that I have to announce that the inspirational Paul Karslake, a constituent who was a wonderful local artist, has died as a result of coronavirus. I send my sympathy to his relatives. I also greatly miss Dame Vera Lynn. She was an east ender like myself—wonderful. Let us have no arguments about a statue to Vera; let us get one put up. On that subject, the British Monarchists Society also feels that there should be a statue to Her Majesty the Queen to coincide with her 75th anniversary.
A constituent—I shall just call her Barbara—has tried everything to get some financial support during the pandemic. She cannot get income support. She does not qualify for the self-employment scheme. She is an events organiser. I want the Department to give her help.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the mayoralty of Southend. John Lamb is the present mayor, so he will still be the mayor during the 100th anniversary’s inception.
At Ekco Park in the constituency I represent, there is an argument between leaseholders and freeholders about the upkeep of people’s properties. That needs to be settled. Everyone would recognise that we need housing, but it is just not on to put more houses on green areas in Lundy Close. I am sick to death of Travellers arriving. My thanks to my right hon. Friend Mr Francois—we want the Government to stop Travellers and the antisocial behaviour.
I visited Mr Sandhu’s son in prison in the Czech Republic. The trial is going on at the moment. I hope we get a good outcome.
I am delighted that we have tax breaks for motor homes; they deserve it. I thank the Czech ambassador for visiting war graves. I congratulate the 3rd Chalkwell Bay Sea Scouts on getting the Queen’s award for voluntary service. I was delighted to take part in the Jack Petchey virtual judging.
The Maldives have been readmitted to the Commonwealth; my interest is in the Members’ book. They have been hit over tuna and hit over air bridges. Now, they are on the human rights priority countries list. Absolute disgrace.
I pay tribute to the coronavirus action group, and I am delighted that a statue of Eric Cole will be in place on the Ekco site. I congratulate Audrey Snee on her work there.
Sadly, again in Southend West, we lost wonderful Dr Zaidi to coronavirus. I congratulate Westcliff High School for Boys on its centenary celebrations. I am glad that we are leaving the European Union. I praise all those people who have contributed on covid-19. c2c continues to give a rotten service. We should not have TV licence fees for the over-75s; some of the producers are paid too much. As far as schools are concerned, with the 11-plus, we want guidance on the delay in the test as soon as possible from the Government.
I wish every colleague a very happy summer recess.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir David Amess. I reassure him that, as far as I am concerned and others on this side of the House, Southend is already a city. We already know that.
My parliamentary aide, who looks after my speeches in this House and gives me some of the things that I say, has got her bags packed. She is understandably far away at this stage. She is probably very pleased to have the recess in place. I am especially pleased to represent my constituency of Strangford. Everyone here will know—I say this very honestly and very respectfully to everybody—that it is, without doubt, the greatest constituency in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am also proud of my heritage and of my culture, and I am going to speak about that very quickly in the short time that I have. I am a member of the Orange tradition—the Loyal Orange Lodge in Kircubbin, the Apprentice Boys of Derry in Comber, and the Royal Black Preceptory in Ballywalter.
This year was a very, very different
The celebrations for the Twelfth this year were different but none the less still precious. The loyalists took the decision not to march, but the bands walked the designated routes with their social distancing and did many, many parades around the villages and the towns. The bands range from flute bands to silver bands, to accordion bands, to pipe bands, to brass bands, bringing an absolute volume of rhythm together. There is music from many generations, from hymns to classic pieces—all are played as the band marches on, the streets thronging with happy children, grannies in their foldaway chairs, and families waving their Union flags, and their Ulster flags as well, enjoying the family day out. I give credit to the ordinary, decent, good people of the Province.
The Orange Order made the courageous decision not to have the official Twelfth, but there was commemoration of the battle of the Somme when the Orangemen of the 36th (Ulster) Division stormed onwards with their orange sashes or ribbons on and held high, with the war cry, “C’mon boys—no surrender!” The decision not to march this year was made to protect the vulnerable from this dreadful disease, and we applaud that. We celebrated glorious garden Twelfths. We did not congregate; we kept socially distanced. We did not line up in our thousands on our streets, but we did celebrate with each other in a safe way. Outside gatherings were restricted to 30 people. I thank all those who thought outside the box to allow the tradition to continue, but in a safe way.
We had bands who applied to walk and marched in communities, such as the Sons of Ulster flute band, who marched in and out of every cul-de-sac in the local Bowtown estate in Newtownards to enable people to come to their front door and enjoy a taste of the Twelfth while remaining safe. The North Down flute band put on a display for elderly residents in Newtownards. We also had the Newtownards Protestant Boys, the ex-servicemen and veterans band, the Newtownards Melody band and the William Strain memorial band, who all marched in different estates and areas to bring the Twelfth to people at home.
Down on the Ards peninsula, where I live, the Ballywalter flute band and the Ballyhalbert flute band marched, as well as the Auld Boys flute band. The hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) will know what I mean when I refer to the Auld Boys. They are people who used to be in the bands in younger days and then got together when they were 50-plus and joined together in a band. That was the band that we had in our lodge. The Auld Boys were out there and we went to support them as well. The Comber bands, the Ballygowan bands, the William Savage Memorial Toye band from Killyleagh and the Ballynahinch Protestant Boys band from Langley ensured that people could stay at home and enjoy with family what we usually take to the streets to celebrate.
I love the Twelfth. I enjoy the craic. I am proud of how the people of Northern Ireland, in the face of adversity, determined to uphold the tradition as well as was possible. The reason is that it means more than a tradition and more than something to do. It is a part of what makes us who we are, and of what makes me proud to sit in this place—our love of our country, our heritage and our Queen. I want to congratulate the Orange Order, the bandsmen and women, and every person who would usually throng the streets. Thank you for doing this well—for remembering in safety.
There are only 355 days until the next
It is a particular pleasure to follow Jim Shannon, whose passion for this place and for the Union I hugely admire. He will not remember doing it, but a few weeks ago he intervened on me and at that point I felt like a proper MP, so I thank him for that. It is probably unconventional to say so, but I am pleased to be followed by my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis, who has ingrained in my mind Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. I am sure he has spoken about them in this place more in the past six months than they have been referred to in the past six years, so well done to him.
In my maiden speech, I talked about a lot of my constituency’s issues coming under the heading of infrastructure, and that is what I want to talk about today—first, the importance of reopening Grove station. I am delighted that it has made the list of stations to be considered for funding to be reopened this summer. I have told my constituents that I will keep going until it is opened or I lose my seat—I hope that it will be the former. My constituents have wanted this for 40 years, and it will take people off congested roads and will connect the area better. It will support our efforts on climate change, and I hope that we can make it happen.
That is not our only transport issue. We would like better cycleways, and we are pleased with the Government’s commitment on that. We also have problems with our roads. Beyond the usual potholes that everyone has in their constituency, we have particular problems with the A34 and the A420. In normal times, there is crash after crash and near-miss after near-miss, as well as huge problems of littering. Coming to an Adjournment debate near you, with permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, are the A34 and the A420. [Interruption.] Indeed.
One reason for needing better transport links is the increasing population in the constituency. A huge number of houses have been built in the constituency, and another 5,500 are coming in the next decade. Most people in the constituency accept that the country needs more houses and that we need places for people to live in. Issues arise, however—apart from when it is right on their doorstep—when the proportion of affordable homes is driven down by developers on the grounds of viability; when houses are built to standards that are not environmentally friendly, or when they are simply built to low standards, with all sorts of problems that go far beyond the snagging that we might expect from new developments.
Along with those houses, we need new services. We need more school places and, in particular, health services. I am having productive conversations with ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care about that. The population of Didcot has grown by 38% in the past five years, so GP services and others are bursting at the seams. Those infrastructure issues are for when we return from the recess, but when I go back to my constituency, one of the big things that I want to do—other Members have touched on this—is support local businesses, shops, pubs, bars, community groups, charities and so on.
I had a bit of an issue last month when I tweeted that I was going to spend a day visiting shops, and would try to buy something in each one I went in. The local press reported that I was going to visit every single business in the constituency and buy something. That was a particular concern, given the number of estate agents in my constituency. Fortunately, the good people of Wantage and Didcot do not believe everything they read.
May I begin by thanking the amazing people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke for their tireless work during the pandemic? I am delighted to nominate a few of those unsung heroes: Amy Stephens, who led Team Chatterley and 50 volunteers to deliver meals across the area; Scrubs for Stoke, which sewed 10,000 items or more for our local NHS—the Royal Stoke University Hospital and the Haywood walk-in centre; Adam Yates and Carol Shanahan from the Hubb Foundation, which has delivered over 100,000 meals during the pandemic; and a gentleman called Richard Stephenson Evans, who works for Kidsgrove Tesco and has given up his time, again and again, for the community of Kidsgrove and Talke. He has delivered once again during the pandemic. If ever a man deserved a knighthood, it must be him. I hope that that was heard by those with the opportunity.
Ceramics are where I want to go to next, because I cannot for the life of me believe that at Chequers the Prime Minister does not have Stoke-on-Trent tableware to eat from—[Interruption]—which is a shame. We need to make sure that that is corrected, with better Government procurement of ceramics. We need to make sure that whenever I visit a Government Department and turn one of its plates or mugs, it says “Made in England: made in Stoke-on-Trent”. Churchill China and Steelite are wonderful additions to the UK economy, and we need to see the 5% VAT rate extended to supply chains such as ceramics. The business rates holiday should be extended to allow those businesses to keep going, because they are vital to the economy of my constituency. I hope that the Government will back the #DineSafe campaign, which copies health advice from Spain, and says that if people have chipped plates they should replace them—with, of course, Stoke-on-Trent’s finest, which will stop coronavirus seeping in past the glaze.
Chatterley Whitfield is the next thing I come on to. It is an amazing colliery, the largest deep coalmine site in Europe. This site will be an industrial heritage park in the future. I have put my political career on the line over this site. Not a single predecessor of mine has spoken about this site since 2010. For 10 years, the site has been ignored in this House—according to the House of Commons Library, in case anyone thinks I am lying—so I raise the issue. I have an industrial heritage park coming along, and we have Historic England, Chatterley Whitfield Friends and Stoke-on-Trent City Council with a long-term plan.
We will put a museum on there, bars and some retail units. We will turn some into a teaching school for Staffordshire and Keele universities, and the rest will be open for the private sector to bring about the business park revival that is already on the site, regenerating, restoring, protecting and preserving our industrial heritage—from the pits to the pots is how we are known in Stoke-on-Trent, and we must ensure that that history is not forgotten. I implore the Government: I want half a million for a feasibility study to ensure that that is possible. My grandad always told me, “God loves a trier.”
Price & Kensington is another thing. Section 216 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 will be looked at in this House in a ten-minute rule Bill debate on
Silicon Stoke is the next thing on the agenda. VX Fiber and the city council have teamed up, with £9.2 million of Government investment, to install gigabit broadband into the home directly. Staffordshire University is the leading video games development university in the country, and we have some of the best 4G download speeds, so I want a 5G testbed in Stoke-on-Trent. I want the levelling-up agenda to take place by making us the heart of the video games industry—with the likes of Carse & Waterman Productions and Reels in Motion, we can see the full potential. Let us introduce a video games investment fund, encourage more small studios to access and benefit from the video games tax relief, provide rent-free accommodation and promote Silicon Stoke.
On the Stoke to Leek line, we have not seen a single station reopen since Beeching. In fact, we have seen further cuts. I want to see a line that will link us up and potentially give me back a station in Milton, giving the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke better rail access. At the moment, the line is there, but it is mothballed. Network Rail has to maintain the bridges but, guess what, gets no money back for that.
Finally, the great town of Kidsgrove: I am delighted that the Labour-run town council has backed my plan for CCTV to be upgraded, and with the £25 million in the town deal we have. We will deliver a fantastic health and wellbeing centre. Kidsgrove sports centre must be delivered—we have 63% more inactive people and some of the worst childhood obesity stats in the country.
It is an unusual pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis.
I first give a shout out for the many people in my constituency who have absolutely gone the extra mile during the coronavirus pandemic, whether the staff at the local hospitals—Weardale or Shotley Bridge—the fantastic work of local doctors in care homes, the people at Hunger Handout in Leadgate who I will visit over the summer recess, the people at Glenroyd House in Consett who have been making scrubs for doctors and helping out with food parcels, and many local groups from Maiden Law to Wearhead. I say a huge thank you for everything that they have done.
I also thank those on the Government Front Bench who have visited my constituency over the past few months. Unfortunately, the Northern Powerhouse Minister and the Environment Secretary who came to visit are no longer in post. When I informed the party chairman of this the other day, she was rather worried. However, I do not want to discourage any other Ministers from coming to North West Durham, and I have already extended an invitation to the Minister for Defence Procurement to visit Cook Defence Systems in Stanhope, which makes the tracks for all our armoured fighting vehicles. I have a commitment from the Health Secretary to visit at some point—we are desperate for a new community hospital at Shotley Bridge—and from the Education Secretary or one of his team to visit the excellent Derwentside College, which produces such fantastic vocational education for young people.
Shotley Bridge is my top campaign, but my second big local campaign has been for a feasibility study of the possibility of getting a transport train link or guided bus link back into Consett. We have one of the largest populations in the country without access to a fixed public transport system, and I am really hoping to hear good news later in the summer from the Department for Transport. If the Minister could possibly give the Department a nudge, I would be most grateful, as would my constituents.
My predecessor as Member of Parliament for North West Durham said that she did not have any friends who were Tories, but since I joined this House I would like to think that I have made at least two friends on the Opposition Benches. One of them is Meg Hillier, who is the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, on which I serve. She has allowed me to work closely with my hon. Friend James Wild and to lead on the National Audit Office report and the PAC report on gambling harm.
That reference to gambling harm brings me to the other Opposition Member whom I would like to think I can now call a friend: Carolyn Harris, who gave a passionate and emotional speech earlier. I am glad to see that she is still in her place. I really hope that later this year, once we have looked at the Gambling Act 2005 and after the review that is due to take place, the Government will introduce legislation. It is really important that the country looks at gambling, which is a huge issue for many people—particularly the poorest and the most vulnerable—in many constituencies throughout the country.
I wish to finish with two other small things. First, I thank the Government for listening to me on the motorhomes tax earlier this year; the workers at Elddis are most grateful. I also thank the Government for finally bringing forward the removal of the toilet tax. As co-chair of the all-party group on local democracy, I know that that means an awful lot to really hard-stretched local councils.
It is a pleasure to be the SNP lead on the summer Adjournment again; I think this is now the fourth occasion. I note that this time I am the 37th person to speak in this debate, which is a record—it is usually far fewer than that.
It was good to see hon. Members continue some of the great traditions of the House. I congratulate Jonathan Gullis on becoming the apprentice of Sir David Amess. Perhaps we should call him Anakin for the purposes of this exchange. In the finest tradition, he raised a lot of constituency issues, and I will try to do that too in my allotted time.
I see the Minister, the Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household, Stuart Andrew, is in his place, so I have two quick observations. First, when he was in the Ministry of Defence, he always promised me that Glasgow South West would get contracts. He always promised that there would be contracts for shipyards and contracts for Thales. Perhaps when he responds he can tell us where those elusive contracts are and update me on their progress.
Secondly, I try to keep out of English-only debates, but if by next year Southend is not a city, I predict that the hell that will be unleashed on the Government will be a considerable one. I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend West will continue to push for that.
We always read in the newspapers that MPs are now going on holiday. It is not a holiday; it is a recess. From my email inbox and the post that my office gets, I can say only that my office has never, ever been busier than it has been during the covid pandemic. I assure new Members that it is not always like this. The work has been considerable, and I pay particular personal tribute to the greatest constituency office staff in these islands, which is of course that of Glasgow South West. I pay particular thanks to my constituency office staff: Dominique Ucbas, Scott McFarlane, Tony McCue, Keith Gibb and the great Roza Salih, who is the office manager. I pay tribute to all the constituency office staff of all hon. Members across these islands.
Many hon. Members have quite rightly congratulated the constituency organisations that have stepped up to assist the most vulnerable during the covid pandemic. I have been particularly pleased, as a trustee of Feeding Britain, to secure £50,000 from that organisation for short-term and long-term food projects. One of those is the Ridgeway Dairy and Drumoyne Community Council free packed lunch service for the people of Drumoyne. The Govan Youth Information Project did a similar project for young people in Govan. I am particularly pleased that the Scottish Government have stepped up and provided significant amounts of money for the communities of Govan and Pollok during the covid pandemic.
Like other hon. Members, I want to express my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones due to covid. I have been particularly saddened to see the families of some of my regular constituency correspondents get in touch with the office to say that they had lost them. I am particularly thinking of Mr John Dunlop, a person who regularly corresponded with the constituency office, and I express my sincere condolences to his family.
I am afraid to say that we have also, unfortunately, lost a number of young people who have taken their own lives in Glasgow South West. That has been particularly hurtful for the community, and I do want to touch on this subject. I want to thank the Turf Youth Project, which has organised social-distanced meetings to communicate with young people and their families, and which is now moving on to an online survey. I believe this is a major issue that we are going to have to deal with not just during the pandemic, but as we get out of it. We need to make sure that young people have opportunities not just job opportunities—I will come on to that—but creative opportunities. We need to make sure that they have the necessary support, the club infrastructure and all those things so that they have a creative outlet to express themselves. It is very important that young people have that creative opportunity through music, film making or any of those activities.
I am particularly pleased—a number of hon. Members have referred to this—that the Women and Equalities Committee is looking at the whole issue of body shape and the pressure on young people to have a certain look and a certain perspective on life. Rosshall secondary school invited elected Members to the school to discuss its projects, and concerns about that came up a number of times.
There have to be job opportunities for young people, and when we come back in September we really need to have a discussion to make sure that young people are not discriminated against. We now know it is easier to make young people redundant than older people. Why is that the case? Because, under statutory legislation, people under the age of 22 are entitled to only half a week’s wage for redundancy pay, whereas for someone over 40 years of age it is one and a half weeks. We perhaps need to think about that issue, but also, for those hon. Members who spotted my face mask earlier, about the WASPI issue. The slogan of the 1950s-born women is, “We paid in, you pay out—give us our retirement and give young people work.” We need to have a discussion about how we merge those issues. There will be some economic thinking that all political parties have to engage in, and we should now debate whether the old ways of looking at things are appropriate and whether we now require new thinking.
There has been a record number of speakers, as I said earlier, and perhaps one of the reasons is the lack of Backbench Business debates. I am particularly thinking of the aviation sector, which 140 Members have asked to participate in a debate on. I think that is really important.
I hope the Minister will apologise to the people of Glasgow for the Government closing half the jobcentres two years ago, with the news that they are going to have to reopen them. That is perhaps an indication of some of the things the Department for Work and Pensions has got wrong. I ask the Minister to pressure the Home Office to investigate how Glasgow asylum seekers have been treated during the covid pandemic. Being locked up in hotels and given food that is completely and utterly inappropriate is no way to deal with those people.
In closing, let me touch on the issue of statues, which Lee Rowley raised. I perhaps did not agree with everything he said but we need to have a debate on statues. They are symbols and we are going to have to deal with that appropriately. What we cannot have, as we have had in this country, is people giving Nazi salutes to cenotaphs or statues of Churchill. That is perhaps one of the most sickening things that we have seen in the last few months, and I am sure that the whole House will agree with me in condemning that.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope that at the end of the debate—at 7 o’clock—you will rise Alice Cooper-style and declare that school’s out for summer. I congratulate all hon. Members and hope that they have a good summer back in their constituencies, working with the great organisations that are out there.
I start by thanking every single one of the hon. Members who stayed behind; we have heard from over 30 hon. Members today. My hon. Friend Ian Mearns has asked me to remind the Minister that there are 30 Backbench Business debates still waiting to be allocated, so perhaps he could do that. For hon. Members who have not done this before, Angela Richardson made her maiden speech at one of these events, and there she is now—she will be doing the Adjournment debate—so she has got well stuck in, and her maiden speech was not that long ago either.
Hon. Members raised a number of issues and I will gather them under various headings. The issues of businesses and additional support from Government were raised by Jack Lopresti, my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris)—she persevered with Martin’s fund—and my hon. Friend Justin Madders.
I do not have to remind right hon. and hon. Members that this is an incredibly unusual time. Many hon. Members mentioned covid-19, our local heroes and the difficulties for people and businesses, including the hon. Members for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) and for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft). I have to agree with the hon. Lady about the steel industry. My friend Nic Dakin played an important role in ensuring that steel remained in Scunthorpe, and I think my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, when that all broke, was in India trying to organise a meeting with Tata.
My hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy talked about the importance of music during this time. Edward Timpson showed us how lives have changed in 180 days. My hon. Friend Jessica Morden talked about our local heroes in the NHS and the leadership of the First Minister in Wales. She passed me a note earlier that said, “Visit Wales”—but only if socially distanced—and, of course, I have to add Northern Ireland and Scotland and every other part of our wonderful nation to that.
David Mundell talked about the issue of cash, which is very important. Wera Hobhouse, my hon. Friend Matt Western and Munira Wilson all talked about the difficulties in their constituencies under covid-19.
Mr Baker will be surprised that I agree with him—I think that there should be less interference from the Executive. Parliament is sovereign and we need to review the Coronavirus Act and the immense powers under it. My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, Dr Spencer and my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson talked about the scrubs crisis. My hon. Friend Helen Hayes mentioned our key workers, particularly in King’s College Hospital—the doctors and all the workers, including nurses, care workers and those who push the trolleys and feed people who have had to go to hospital.
I do not know how Mr Holden did this, but he managed to get on the call list, very quietly. Other hon. Members mentioned their constituencies—the support, the successes and some of their concerns, which I know the Minister is noting down carefully. That includes the hon. Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), for Buckingham (Greg Smith), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Bury North (James Daly), for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) and for Wantage (David Johnston). I say to Jonathan Gullis that we were very jealous when the former Chancellor, George Osborne, gave Tristram Hunt, the then MP, extra money for the Potteries. Hopefully, the hon. Gentleman has made the call and that will be answered.
Many Members touched on human rights and our international links. Our country should be a beacon of hope around the world. As I do every week, although the Leader of the House is not here, I will mention Nazanin, Anousheh and Kylie. Ms Ghani talked about human rights and the Uyghur. Harriett Baldwin said how important it is that we keep up the international links, as did my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle. Lee Rowley said we must continue the debate after the death of George Floyd. I put on record our condolences to the family on the death of Representative John Lewis, who I thought would see us through this difficult time. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Dr Martin Luther King and Reverend Jesse Jackson. What he did say was:
“Don’t give up and don’t give in”,
and we won’t. We have seen how, during the coronavirus, our communities have come together, so that we can build a new world for the nephew of Alison Thewliss, Fraser James, and all the babies born in lockdown.
I do not know what the hon. Members for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) have done. I think they must be on the naughty step. Usually they open this debate. Again I reiterate my support for Southend becoming a city, and I will absolutely do all I can to support the hon. Member for Southend West.
Finally, I want to thank Mr Speaker and you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and everyone who has pulled this House together, including all the House staff and all our staff. I think we can put away our Zoom faces. They are actually quite scary, aren’t they? I do not want to do that any more. I have to say to all hon. and right hon. Members and everyone around the country that we have all been magnificent and you have all been magnificent. We will not be having a rest; we will still be working, as Chris Stephens said. In the meantime, I hope everyone does have a relaxing summer. I thank you all for your hard work.
It is probably an appropriate time for me to follow that by thanking, on behalf of Mr Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and, indeed, all Members of Parliament here, all the staff who have—through daily miracles, quite frankly—enabled us to have the Parliament functioning during this unprecedented crisis. Thank you to each and every one of you in this Parliament.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I say what a pleasure it is to close this debate, although I think it was slightly easier to wind up last time, given that there were far fewer contributions? That is what makes this debate extremely enjoyable, however.
I would like to join every other Member in saying a big thank you to all members of staff here at the House for all the work they have done. I wish them a very happy and peaceful summer, because I think they really deserve it. I also want to say thank you to our Doorkeepers, who are always looking after us extremely well, and those in the Table Office, the Vote Office and those who have been doing the IT. Sometimes it has felt like we have been watching the Eurovision song contest getting the various constituency votes in, but it has been interesting, and I am glad those working on the IT have been able to do that so well.
I am glad also that Members mentioned caseworkers in our constituency offices. I know we should not, but sometimes we get used to some of the abuse we get. It is pretty awful that it is our caseworkers who sometimes get it, too, and I pay tribute to all of them for the work they have done.
Given I do not get the opportunity to speak very often, I will put on record my thanks to all the workers in the Pudsey constituency for everything they have done, including community groups such as the Farsley, Pudsey and Horsforth Live at Home schemes and Aireborough Voluntary Services to the Elderly. They have been amazing.
It has been a real challenge across the country, and I pay tribute in particular to all those who have lost loved ones. Our thoughts are certainly with them through what has been a difficult time. As we come out of it—we do that one step at a time—we can hopefully start to put this difficult period behind us. I know that this country will come together to try and make sure that we have better days ahead of us.
There have been some highlights. My hon. Friend Mr Baker was talking about his local football club and their promotion, and I have to say that we have had our own in my city, with Leeds being promoted. Two of my friends who have gone through disappointment after disappointment over the past 17 years—Rob Murphy-Fell and Clare Horrocks—are finally celebrating the promotion of Leeds into the premiership, which is good news.
I have sat here today feeling a bit like Father Christmas, receiving children’s lists of requests. Some children are slightly greedier than others, but I will try my best to respond to each of the points that have been made. My hon. Friend Jack Lopresti rightly talked about the importance of the aviation industry. I know from my time in Defence the importance of the Tempest programme. I hope that it will help our industry in the UK.
My hon. Friend Ms Ghani and others quite rightly mentioned the awful way in which Muslims have been treated in China. We take this issue extremely seriously, have raised it on many occasions and will continue to do so. She also talked about domestic abuse during this difficult period. I am glad that she raised that subject. A really good thing that has happened in this period of our Parliament is the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. There has been real cross-party working on that legislation, which has made the Bill even better—and I thank colleagues for that.
The hon. Members for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) and for Buckingham (Greg Smith), and others, mentioned the events industry. I know from my own postbag—and from a personal friend who has an events company—how difficult the current situation is for that industry. I will certainly relay the views of the House to the Chancellor and others, and highlight the specific points raised by those Members.
Drew Hendry started off talking about all the local heroes in his constituency and then—like other Members did—tried to convince us all to go to his constituency for our summer holidays. It certainly sounds beautiful, but he had to spoil it by going on about independence for Scotland. If only that once-in-a-generation independence referendum had gone the Scottish National party’s way; it did not and they need to get over it.
My hon. Friend Holly Mumby-Croft rightly paid tribute to one of her councillors, Councillor Longcake, who sadly lost his life during this crisis. My hon. Friend has also already been a fierce campaigner for the steel industry in her constituency, and other Members raised the issue with regard to their constituencies. I am getting a glare from Jessica Morden, but it was also mentioned by my hon. Friend Martin Vickers and Stephen Kinnock. The Government are supporting the sector during this difficult period and we are putting huge investment into infrastructure. We have also introduced steel-specific procurement guidance that requires Government Departments and public bodies to consider social and environmental factors when procuring steel. I certainly hope that that will see more British steel being used in the fantastic investment that we are making across the country.
I wish the hon. Member for City of Durham good luck with her ukulele lessons. I am sure that we would all like to see them. I was glad that she and other hon. Members talked specifically about the use of music in trying to prevent male suicide. Suicide is an issue that we should debate and which unites us all in wanting to do what we can to try to reduce those instances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury and others talked about weddings. From August, we hope to start phasing in larger celebratory meals or receptions for weddings and civil partnerships. Over time, we will assess whether it is possible to make such gatherings bigger. I fully understand the difficulties that it is causing. Two of my friends, Rob and Michelle, have sadly had to postpone their wedding, and I know that many others have had to do the same.
My hon. Friend Ben Bradley said that Mansfield was the centre of levelling up in this country. I am afraid to say to him that, following the general election, we now have many other competitors for that position, as has been seen in this debate. He is a doughty champion for his constituency.
I want to move on to Carolyn Harris. She raised the issue of beauticians and said that it was a serious issue. May I say from this Dispatch Box that I fully recognise and understand that? I know that there are many businesses that are worried, and we are looking at everything that we can do to ensure that they have a safe opening. She also talked about the issue of gambling. I know that this is something that she and others feel passionate about. We have been working closely with the Gambling Commission over the past 18 months to introduce a wave of tougher measures, and we hope to be able to report on that soon. Then she came on to the issue of the children’s funeral fund. My previous work in children’s hospices makes me very alive to the difficulty that many families face when they have lost a child. I have seen so many families go through that, and I want to congratulate her on her campaign. I am glad the Government have introduced it, and she is absolutely right that we need to promote it to other families.
There were a load of bids. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes put in a bid for a free port. My hon. Friend Alexander Stafford talked about support for his constituency. I will make sure that all the bids are brought to the attention of the relevant Minister. I am afraid that that is as far as I can go. I was a bit disappointed that Justin Madders was trying to say that, in terms of levelling up, we were somehow favouring some towns and cities for electoral advantage. The point is that the people of those towns turned to the Conservative party because they were sick and tired of being neglected by their Labour representatives who had been there for so many years.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle rightly raised the issue of racism against the Chinese community. There was an extremely powerful contribution by my hon. Friend Lee Rowley. He rightly said that, yes, we have some uncomfortable periods in our history, but it is only through history that we learn, and it is only then that we can make our country even better. I say to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown that it is not just the Chinese community that we need to be thinking about, but every community. I hope that, whether it is a statue or whatever it is, we learn the lessons and educate the next generation about where we have come from and be proud of the fact that we have been on a journey. I say that from a very personal perspective. My life was very difficult when I first came out in the 1980s in Wales, but now nobody even bats an eyelid that I live with my partner. That is a wonderful testament to the way this country has developed. There is more work to do, but let us not forget the progress that we have made.
I just want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe. He has received an award—jointly, I understand—for civility in public life.
Oh, politician of the year. Pardon me for getting that so wrong. That is a fantastic achievement and I congratulate my hon. Friend.
I also want to mention a couple of other colleagues. My hon. Friend James Daly talked about Bury Football Club. I remember the first day he arrived, he collared me and said, “Who is the Minister for sport?” He immediately went off and raised the issue with him. Clearly, he is not giving up and that makes him a superb MP for his constituency. My hon. Friend Tom Hunt quite rightly raised a very difficult issue of prisoners having access to social media. There is nothing worse than victims feeling like they are being hounded by the people who have perpetrated the crime from prison. I will refer that to the relevant Department.
I will probably have to finish here, because time is running out, although I will say that if my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis backs me in the next leadership bid, I will ensure that china from Stoke is stocked in Chequers.
There is no vacancy—I said the next time!
Finally, I could not possibly cope with trying to respond to the many, many issues that my hon. Friend Sir David Amess raised so quickly, though I realise that he has just managed to get a year’s worth of press releases in about six minutes. I congratulate him on that and wish him well in his campaign to make Southend a city.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.