Christmas Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham 3:52 pm, 17th December 2020

Indeed I am—and I make no apology for it.

The legislation on relief for public lavatories is currently going through the House of Lords, and I hope to see its journey continue. I am honoured to work with colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on local democracy to see the relief finally secured. It will have a particularly beneficial impact for parish and town councils throughout the country, saving them £8 million a year.

Access to cash is something that I have been working on as a member of the Public Accounts Committee. In my constituency we have managed to save the cash machine at the post office at Billy Row, enabling that community to probably keep its local shop, and in Moorside there has been a move from a machine that charges £1.99 a go to one that is free, helping to put £20,000 a year back into the pockets of people in one of the most deprived wards in the constituency.

As far as casework goes, several things have really mattered a lot to me this year. One of them has been working with the excellent Baroness Stedman-Scott in the other place. She has really helped out a couple of my constituents, particularly with personal independence payment assessments and reassessments. They have been going on for such a long time, and we have seen really good progress there, with some constituents seeing big payments that were backdated for several years. We are really helping them out.

As far as private Member’s Bills go, last week I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to ban virginity testing and I will do everything I possibly can to get the Government to give it a bit of space at some point, or perhaps to attach it to another Bill. I have been delighted to help out my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan with her private Member’s Bill on testing for psychoactive substances in prisons. That is a really important measure that has, I know, been welcomed by many prison officers who work in Frankland and other prisons near my constituency, because of the effect those substances have on the inmates. That is another very important piece of legislation.

Next year, I hope that we will see some more sunlit uplands than this year has provided. I know that many of my local pubs and hospitality businesses have really suffered during the lockdown, and they want the restrictions ended as soon as possible. I know that that can happen only with the vaccine programme roll-out, and I have been delighted to see the Government put their shoulder to the wheel on that, getting preferential access to a huge number of vaccines. I hope that the Oxford vaccine can be rolled out as quickly as possible when it is safe to do so, because that will make a massive difference because of the ease of distributing it in care settings across the country.

I want to mention a few things that I will be looking forward to next year. Nationally, I hope to make a bit of a push on mental health, particularly for young people. After the year we have had, the impact of that and of not being able to see friends, family and relatives has been a concern for many people locally.

Willington, Tow Law and Crook really need some good news on the towns and high street funds side of things. Crook has had more than a decade of being ignored and having services removed—it saw its local swimming pool removed almost 10 years ago—and it is important that it sees some proper local investment. The post office in Wolsingham has been earmarked for potential closure, and I am going to work with local people to see whether we can find somebody to take that on.

The Christmas lights in Consett this year were an absolute disgrace. The council seemed to manage to put out cones as quickly as they could all over the town centre when it came to easing the lockdown, yet when it came to putting up a few fairy lights to brighten the town centre ahead of Christmas it seems to have totally failed. I hope that the council will work with me next year to make Consett, Crook and Willington town centres look a bit brighter. I am delighted to be going to Wolsingham tomorrow to open the Christmas lights.

On the particular issue of covid-19 and hospitality, next year I would like the Government to reflect on what a hard year this has been for the hospitality sector, particularly our local pubs and brewers. I will certainly join colleagues on all sides to put pressure on for a reduction in beer duty and a change to the taper system to allow small breweries to expand without a massive tax hit.

Finally, I want to mention two things that have affected lots of different parts of my constituency in lots of different ways. The first is planning. There has been a huge amount of talk about it here, but we need to see our towns and communities enabled by large unitary authorities such as mine to come forward with proper neighbourhood plans that give them a proper voice. In particular, I am thinking of the High West Road in Crook and the Medomsley Bank development. There is also concern about the possibility of a waste-to-energy incinerator in Consett. Secondly, speeding is a huge problem in so many of my towns and villages. It would be really nice to have the council work with me on getting some buffer zones, particularly for our rural villages and small towns, to make those communities safer for everybody.