Backbench Business - Christmas AdjournmentBackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 16th December 2021.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 3:32 pm, 16th December 2021

It is a pleasure once again to be the SNP lead in the Adjournment debate. It was superbly led by Bob Blackman. He rightly started with a glowing tribute to Sir David Amess. I can only reflect that there will not be another summer or another Christmas in which I will be mentioned in the Southend newspapers because of my exchanges with Sir David. Indeed, last summer I made a wisecrack in here that somehow managed to find its way into every single newspaper in the UK, including in Southend when I compared the England football team’s penalty shoot-out record with the Southend trains. I can only say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that when Sir David saw me in September he very much approved and thanked me for the opportunity once again to mention the train service in Southend. I support the Backbench Business Committee in its request to name the Summer Adjournment debate after Sir David. That is very much a tribute. I can only feel sorry for his successor, whoever that may be. They will really have something to live up to. It was nice to hear all hon. Members mention Sir David Amess.

As Tom Hunt said, we are dealing with covid once again, and this new omicron variant. We need to hear from the Government fairly soon that they will have to support business and, indeed, workers. I hope they will take the opportunity to revisit the issue of the excluded—those 3 million people who have not received financial support during the pandemic. In the past 20 months we have seen the best in people.

I can think of organisations that have assisted the vulnerable in Glasgow South West, such as Govan HELP, which organises The Govan Pantry; the Crookston Community Group; SWAMP and G53 Together; the Threehills community supermarket, which is a thriving project that I am very much involved in; and the Drumoyne Community Council. They have made sure that the vulnerable have been protected, particularly when it comes to food.

People have a right to food. I am delighted that, in 2022, I will be working with the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union on its campaign on the right to food to ensure that those workers are aware of their rights. I support workers in the hospitality sector. The Government need to look at people not being given travel to get home at night from their place of work and the fact that people working in the hospitality sector on zero-hours contracts cannot afford food. It sickens me that they spend their shifts serving food that they cannot afford.

Perhaps in 2022, the Government will finally table their much-promised employment Bill to look at those indignities, because many indignities that we see in our society happen in the workplace. As Sarah Owen touched on, the covid pandemic has exposed inequalities, including in employment and employment practices. I hope that the Government will fix this country’s broken social security system.

I am delighted that Bob Blackman mentioned the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and ensuring that it is taken forward. It is harrowing for hon. Members to listen to constituents in our surgeries showing us the threats that their family members in Afghanistan have received about what will happen to them if the constituent does not go back to Afghanistan to face the Taliban. It is important that that work is done. I will certainly continue to raise issues with the Home Office and I will join him in ensuring that it puts the scheme in place. I am delighted that he and other hon. Members raised it.

That comes back to another of my wishes for 2022. The language of our politics is important, especially when we are discussing immigration and refugees. I place on record again that it is legal for people to seek sanction or asylum; it is not illegal and we should stop labelling people as illegal.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Show Racism the Red Card and I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group. I did a recent podcast with Caroline Nokes and Chi Onwurah where we mentioned that it is important to get the tone and language of our politics right when we are discussing those issues.

I have seen Show Racism the Red Card at a school in Glasgow South West telling schoolchildren in excellent terms the difference between an asylum seeker, a refugee and an economic migrant. The Deputy Chief Whip may want to invite it to this workplace to tell MPs that difference. Again, I hope that the Government will consider giving asylum seekers the right to work in this country after six months, because I think that they should have that right.

In general, the Government have had some recent difficulties. They seem to have engulfed themselves in sleaze and the perception of arrogance. There is a cost-of-living crisis. I am delighted that Fleur Anderson mentioned that we should do an assessment of Brexit and face the Brexit realities. The economy appears to be shrinking. The Government should consider their position in dealing with some of those issues and with the perception of the Government.

Of course, support for Scottish independence is rising to its highest levels, and whether or not there is a connection, I am very confident that, after the covid crisis is over, Scotland will become a modern, independent country.

Paul Holmes and others rightly mentioned something that I always mention: the role of constituency staff. The caseloads are increasing, and have increased in the past 20 months. Once again, my constituency office staff team have never been busier and they are the real heroes, as far as I am concerned. I thank Justina, Dominique, Keith, Tony, Greg and Scott for their work. They are led by our office manager, the great Roza Salih, who, unfortunately, was not elected to Scotland’s Parliament this year, but I am sure that she will be elected to her place very soon, because she deserves it.

In 2022, I hope that we will continue to ensure that not just Members of Parliament, but constituency office staff have the security measures that they need to continue to do their work. When I was first elected, I never contemplated having to deal with some of the security questions and measures that we now have to deal with.