I beg to move,
That this House
has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
I am speaking on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, the Chair of which has asked me to lead the debate in his absence.
I start with some bad news, namely on the ultra low emission zone. We are all incredibly disappointed that, despite the fact that the majority of Londoners overwhelmingly oppose the expansion of ULEZ, the out-of-touch, megalomaniac Mayor of London has gone ahead regardless.
The measure has already had an absolutely devastating impact on thousands of people across outer London. More than 2,000 Harrow East residents have signed my petition and shared their views on this measure. Even after a month of implementation, signatures are coming in faster and more frequently than before the expansion.
The expansion has isolated the most vulnerable in society. With elderly people unable to afford new vehicles, having spent their pensions on a car when they retired, they are now unable to make necessary journeys—going to the doctor, the pharmacist or the hospital, visiting family or doing grocery shopping—without having to pay £12.50 each day. One resident recently wrote to me. They said:
“I’m disabled and my wife is a pensioner and people will no longer visit because of the ULEZ tax, leaving us isolated from family and friends.”
How utterly tragic is that?
Once the daily charge has been incurred, it is not even a simple procedure to pay it. This is heightened for the elderly who are notoriously less tech savvy. That is assuming that they have access to the internet in the first place. If the charge is not paid within a three-day window, a £160 fine is incurred. To complicate matters further, there is an increasing presence of scam websites, which are posing as Transport for London to take ULEZ payments, but are actually frauds, with absolutely no association to TfL and it seems that no action is being taken against them.
Many of those on the lowest incomes, typically working night-shifts, are unable to update their cars, particularly as non-compliant cars have crashed in value—I spoke to some people at the weekend whose cars are now worth less than £50 even though they are perfectly serviceable vehicles. Public transport links at the times when people need to travel for night-shifts are also not available, so just to get to work and back they are forced to pay £25 per shift, £12.50 each side of midnight. That cannot be described as fair, particularly as the Mayor drives a gas-guzzling large Land Rover, which is non-compliant, yet he has given himself an exemption so that he can continue to drive his car while incurring no ULEZ costs. What a shambles.
The expansion will also drive up the costs of other services. I spoke to a gardener over the weekend, who says that he now charges his customers £12.50 on top of his daily charge just to get to work and back again. Furthermore, many charities will lose out because volunteers will no longer be able to get to the charity headquarters or deliver for local food banks. Yet again, this leads to the most vulnerable losing out.
The ULEZ is only the latest of a barrage of ludicrous ideas from the Mayor of London. I recently launched a consultation to hear the views of residents on his tenure, and I urge everyone to visit my website and submit their thoughts. It has never been more important, in my view, to elect Susan Hall as the new Mayor of London in the elections next May.
I move on now to the monstrosity that is Edgware Towers—a truly ridiculous proposal to build a cluster of 29 high-rise buildings, one block of 29 storeys and 14 others in excess of 20 storeys, in Edgware Broadwalk. That would totally change the character of Edgware, morphing it into a Canary Wharf twin and overwhelming the current infrastructure. It is important to note that I am supportive of reasonable development, but certainly not outrageous developments such as this. Ballymore Estates is trying to put in an amount of housing that would take up the entire area of St James’s Park on the space occupied by Edgware bus station. It is a nonsense.
There are many ludicrous things arising from the proposal. Construction would take more than 10 years, completely killing the small and medium-sized enterprises on the high street. The underground bus station poses a major threat to people’s safety, particularly women and girls, and then there is the fire safety issue with electric bus batteries. It would be the first place anywhere in the world where electric buses would be left underground overnight. There would also be very limited parking, with none for residents—and residents will need cars to travel east to west. It is all very well if they want to travel into the centre of London, but if they want to travel anywhere else, they will need a car. There will also be an impact on traffic, because all around the area will have to be controlled parking zones, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because there will be no controls on the residents in those particular properties.
The proposals completely ignore public opinion. My recent survey received more than 1,000 responses, 96% of which were against the proposals. Last week, I met Ballymore Estates to discuss its unacceptable proposals. It is fair to say that we had an interesting discussion, but I made clear my opposition to their plans. The sheer scale of the development is complete codswallop, and it is clear that the developers are not listening to the views of local people and businesses. They plan to submit the application to the local authority by the end of September, so it is vital that residents share their views and voice their objections as soon as possible. Again, I make clear that we are not against development; we are just against development of the scale and density proposed here.
I was pleased recently to meet Alex Dewsnap, the managing director of Harrow Council. We discussed the ways my office can work with the council to ensure better service for residents and swift and productive responses to casework; I have to say that that has not always been the case when dealing with Harrow Council. I am pleased that under the new Conservative administration, the council has begun a comprehensive plan for road resurfacing across the entire borough, ensuring that the quality of roads for residents is safe and not littered with potholes, as has previously been the case.
As I have raised in this Chamber last year, the Labour council was complicit in a huge corruption scandal, with contractors and officers sharing £2 million for themselves, money that was earmarked to fix dangerous pavements. I am frustrated that, while the investigation continues, the police are refusing to take action against the fraudsters because they consider the crime to be too small. I am afraid that, to me, £2 million of taxpayers’ money is no small deal at all.
One of the principal problems for the council is houses in multiple occupation, with unscrupulous landlords falsifying documents and cramming people into unacceptable tenancies, so that many residents then complain about the antisocial behaviour of people living in those cramped conditions. I am encouraged that the council is looking to buy 140 houses for use as social rented properties and is taking action to ensure that supply meets demand for vulnerable residents. Furthermore, there is a planning case awaiting a decision for 140 new houses to be built in the local area, showing that appropriate, sensible and realistic development will always be supported by local authorities, meeting the needs of residents and adhering to sustainable development—quite contrary to Edgware Towers!
Looking at international issues, the situation in Iran remains at a critical stage. Last Saturday marked exactly a year since the tragic murder of Mahsa Amini by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—the devastating death of a young lady for simply wearing her hijab incorrectly. Mahsa’s legacy lives on, and the uprisings in Iran and by the diaspora around the world continue, calling for a free and democratic Iran. She has inspired a historic movement, “Woman, Life, Freedom”, but the threat from Iran remains. Over the last year, more than 30,000 political protesters have been arrested and over 750 executed.
Furthermore, the IRGC continues to pose an unprecedented threat to the international community and to British interests across the world. Only a week ago, I jointly hosted a press conference with the National Council of Resistance of Iran, where my right hon. Friend Mr Jones revealed that MI5 has intercepted more than 15 terrorist attempts directly linked to the IRGC in the last year alone. On top of that, the Home Secretary has outwardly declared the IRGC as the UK’s largest security threat.
I am encouraged that the Government have recently proscribed the Wagner Group. While there has been progress from the Government in introducing tougher sanctions on the IRGC, that is frankly not enough. The settled view of all parties in this House is that we must proscribe the IRGC in its entirety. It is a clear terrorist operation, directly threatening individuals across the world, including in the UK, supplying weaponry to the Russian forces for use in the Ukrainian war, abolishing free speech, executing thousands and thousands of innocent civilians each year and inhibiting the rights of women.
In better news, a free trade deal with India will be a tremendous opportunity for both the United Kingdom and India. It is disappointing that we do not have the trade deal yet, since it was initially anticipated for Diwali 2022. However, I agree with the Prime Minister that we should not sacrifice quality in order to do a deal quickly. The Government have assured the House that the majority of the negotiation conversations were concluded by the end of October last year, so I hope that this deal is still being prioritised to obtain a mutually satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible—and certainly not in a perfunctory manner. Along with many Indian residents in Harrow East, I look forward to a trade deal that will be the first of its kind for India, the first free trade deal that the country has done, hopefully as soon as Diwali 2023—so we do not have long—and certainly before the upcoming Indian elections.
I hosted 50 students in my constituency office over a two-week period for the annual work experience programme. The students were a real asset to the constituency, enthusiastically getting involved in a range of tasks from surveying residents to volunteering at London’s Community Kitchen, engaging in lively political debates and helping with some of the office admin. I want to say thank you to all the residents who took the time to answer the students’ surveys, as their contributions were truly helpful in assisting their learning—and none of those excellent students could be described as ragamuffins.
During this week, the students gathered over 1,045 surveys and delivered letters to nearly every ward in Harrow East, learning the importance of data collection. That helped my casework statistics to reach a staggering 66,000 since I was elected MP for Harrow East.
As a thank you for all the students’ hard work, we concluded with a day in Westminster. We had a tour around Parliament and a trip to Conservative campaign headquarters, followed by an interesting talk from members of the team and the party chairman. The day concluded with a visit to 10 Downing Street and a great photo opportunity.
I continue to run my weekly tours, as do many other colleagues, giving residents an opportunity to ask questions of me and allowing me to show off this wonderful establishment. Since being elected, I have welcomed more than 6,000 residents here and I look forward to continuing that after the recess.
Another area that I am passionate about is smoking cessation. Four years on from the initial Smokefree 2030 commitment made at the Dispatch Box, we are not on course to achieve it. I welcome the recent announcement that disposable vapes will be banned, because they encourage children to use tobacco products. I am pleased that the NHS will begin targeted lung cancer screening to help detect cancer sooner and speed up diagnosis for those with a history of smoking. Both my parents died of that, so it is a personal issue for me.
However, there is a long way to go. The Khan review last year demonstrated the need for urgent action if we are to get anywhere near the 2030 target. Research by Cancer Research shows that, despite significant momentum over the past few years, we have recently gone backwards on the number of people smoking. That is not good enough. Each day that the Government fail to take action is another day when 150 people will be diagnosed with smoking-related cancers. I was pleased to join representatives of Cancer Research UK as they presented to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street a petition of more than 13,000 signatures urging the Government to provide more funding to help people quit smoking.
I wish all colleagues in this House and the other place, the staff in our teams, the security teams, the catering teams, and everyone else who plays a key part in keeping everything afloat, a very restful, jolly and fruitful conference recess, spending time with family and—for those of us who are going—at our various party conferences, and, most importantly, serving our constituents over that period. To those who celebrated last week, I wish a happy Rosh Hashanah and Jai Jinendra. To those celebrating this week, I wish a happy Ganesh Chaturthi. Finally, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate. I was going to say “Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker,” but I should now say thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for presiding over it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for opening the debate. I remind colleagues that they should stay for the wind-ups. I call Siobhain McDonagh.
It is now 12 weeks since my sister Margaret died of a glioblastoma brain tumour. May I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for attending her funeral? Since her death, I have made it my mission to make sure that glioblastoma has a cure. I would not wish Margaret’s experience on my worst enemy.
Through caring for Margaret for 19 months, I have learned a few things. Through Margaret’s treatment and campaigning on this issue, I have met industry experts, trade bodies, Ministers, charities and scientists. It is a topic that I know far more about than I would ever have wished to. And the biggest insight I have gained is this: the treatment of brain tumours in the NHS has not improved in 30 years. When a person is diagnosed with a glioblastoma, they get eight weeks’ radiotherapy, followed by as much chemotherapy with temozolomide as they can manage. That drug was introduced in 2005, and it is called the gold-standard treatment in our NHS. I can tell you that it is not gold standard; it is not even plastic standard. It does not cure anyone; it extends the life of very few people. Margaret could take only four to six weeks of it before her kidneys collapsed.
What else are you offered? A lifetime of paying your taxes, working hard, doing your best, and there are no drug trials; there are no alternatives; there is no hope. Perhaps the unspoken advice is just to go home, lay down and wait to die. The only hope that does exist is in other countries. Families crowdfund and spend their life savings travelling all over the world. In my case, I took a very ill Margaret on a plane to Germany every month.
Over the last decades, we have seen a transformation in hope and life expectancy in relation to some cancers, but absolutely zero progress for brain tumours. Members do not need to take my word for it; they just need to check the facts at a glance. The average life expectancy for the 3,200 people who will be diagnosed with a glioblastoma in the next year is nine months. The five-year survival rate is only 12.9%. The sad facts speak for themselves: nothing has changed; nothing has improved; and if we keep carrying on down the same path, nothing will ever improve.
On Friday, I received an unsolicited text from Cancer Research UK, which told me that together we are beating cancer and powering progress, and I was to see how far we have come. You can imagine the irony with which I read that text.
But it is not the same for all cancers. We know that great things have been done. For lung cancer, in 2010 the five-year survival rate was 10.3%, not dissimilar to the survival rate for glioblastoma; the difference, however, is that by 2020 the five-year survival rate for lung cancer had doubled to 21%. In 2020, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer was 85.9%. There has been a concerted effort by clinicians, charities, the Government and families to make sure that people with breast, lung and bowel cancer live longer, as they should. The sad truth is that brain cancer has been forgotten about, and because only 3,200 people are diagnosed each year it is not profitable for the pharmaceutical industry to invest in it and find a cure.
I promise that this speech will get a bit brighter. I said earlier that the biggest insight I have gained through this process is that the treatment of brain tumours on the NHS has not improved in 30 years. The next thing I learned is equally important: it does not have to be this way; there are solutions, we just need to try something new. And here is my something new: my four-point plan to transform the outcomes of people diagnosed with a glioblastoma.
First, we need a target of getting 200 glioblastoma patients into clinical trials each year on a drug that has the potential to change the course of the disease. That would be 1,000 patients over the lifetime of a Parliament. With those trials, we can begin to understand what works and what does not.
Secondly, the NHS should repurpose every drug already licensed to deal with other tumours for clinical trials on brain tumours. That has not happened yet, because glioblastoma is a very small target market for the pharmaceutical industry. The Government must either encourage or ultimately force the pharmaceutical companies to provide the drugs for these trials. Repurposing those drugs would be a cheap way to make a huge difference. It is the only way that we can make a difference.
Thirdly, the NHS should ensure that every neuro-oncology multidisciplinary team has a medical oncologist who is a core member and is required to attend meetings to discuss patients, so that brain tumour patients are not left in a corner of the ward because there is no specialist arguing for them. Unless a neuro-oncologist is in the room, we will not benefit from their ideas or expertise.
Fourthly, the NHS should require that every doctor training to be a medical oncologist should go through a mandatory course on brain tumours. At the moment, the Royal College of Physicians requires no compulsory training. Doctors have to take two courses on bowel cancer as part of their training, but nothing on brain tumours—believe me, they do not take the brain tumour option. The reason why there is nobody on those wards and the research infrastructure is not there is that nobody is being trained or is excited to do the job.
If we can do those four things, we can have some hope. I have spoken to Dr Paul Mulholland, the fantastic oncologist at University College Hospital, and he feels that he could find a cure within seven years. But it is not going to happen on its own, and it is certainly not going to happen if we carry on trying the same things we have been trying for the last 30 years. Einstein famously said:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I think we are getting to that point with the treatment of glioblastoma. It is time to break the mould, take a risk and try something different. Margaret’s life requires nothing less.
I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole House in passing our condolences on to you, Siobhain, and your family. Your dedication in caring for Margaret was unsurpassed—we all know that—and your bravery and energy in the campaigning you have done since, at a time of such grief, is truly inspiring. We are all thinking of you, and thank you for making such a brave speech. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
This is the second time that I have heard Siobhain McDonagh talk about glioblastoma in a debate. I am exceptionally close to my sister, and I think I would be doing exactly the same thing if she was poorly, as Margaret was. At the time of the previous debate, Margaret was still with us, and now she is not, and I wish to send the hon. Member all my love from this side of the House. I had never heard of glioblastoma until we had that debate in Westminster Hall. I have been a beneficiary of the advancements in the treatment of breast cancer, and I want her to know that I am here if she wants cross-party support in any campaign for her four-point plan. I will stand with her to make sure that that happens, because I think it is really important that we work together to support each other on issues such as this. Many of our constituents will unfortunately face the same situation that Margaret faced and will not have the voice of a relative who stands up and speaks so powerfully. I am with you on this campaign.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I pause momentarily to remember our dear colleague David Amess, who without doubt would have been here to speak today. David and I shared a passion for animal welfare and were often at the same briefing events here on the estate. It is the ongoing badger cull that I wish to speak about today.
To be honest, I have often felt very lonely in opposition to the badger cull on the Government Benches. My first speech on the subject, standing up for the voiceless badger from the same position that I stand in today, was met with some aggressive groans from those sat within touching distance and followed by outrageous briefings against me both inside and outside the Chamber. Many of those colleagues have now left, and those who remain who differ in their view do so respectfully. We have had some much better toned debates on the badger cull since, but I have not changed my view that the cull is wrong. If anything, I feel vindicated that, some 10 years since it started, there is little proof that it has, by itself, worked. The only thing that has changed is the population of badgers, which in some places are sadly now near extinction.
Why, when there are many local and national issues that I could be stood here speaking about, am I choosing to talk about the badger cull today? The simple answer is that yet again, the goalposts have been moved, only this time not by those pesky badgers but by the Government themselves. It was reported last week that the Secretary of State told a National Farmers Union reception here in Westminster that she had scrapped any arbitrary deadline for when we stop culling, contrary to the exit strategy of the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend George Eustice, which would have seen an effective end to the cull by 2025.
It is important to reflect briefly on the history of the cull. Since first becoming involved in this debate through the lens of wildlife protection, I have often heard with great sadness about the immense financial and emotional pain that bovine tuberculosis causes farmers up and down the country. The devastation for a farmer when a skin test comes back positive, virtually condemning their herd of cattle, is utterly heartbreaking. The groans at my speech aside, the testimony of colleagues from rural south-west constituencies in particular on behalf of their farming communities has been hard for them to articulate and for others to hear. However, it has shown that the fight was as much about ensuring that farmers are supported by the Government in implementing the wide array of countermeasures to prevent TB as it was about protecting badgers, which are an iconic species in the UK.
With the support of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth, we have seen investment in cattle vaccinations, funding of gamma testing, vastly improved farm management practices and additional biosecurity measures. All of that has contributed significantly to the reduction of bovine TB; there is little evidence that the cull has done the same. The Secretary of State said last week that she would be led by science, which is also what the Government said in 2010 when they first announced their intention to introduce badger culling. However, when the science is saying that badger culling has had no significant impact, it seems wrong to scrap the strategy that would have ended intensive culling.
My primary mission over the years has been to stand up for a much-loved and legally protected species. What we know now, after years of this cruel cull, is that the vast majority of bovine TB in cattle comes as a result of cow-to-cow infection. It is spread within intensive farming production systems, spills over into the wider environment and continues to infect animals, whether wild, farmed or domestic. Thoughtful and considered improvements discussed by DEFRA officials have helped to manage, improve and control the spread of disease, and some farms—supported by animal welfare campaigns such as the Save Me Trust, the Badger Trust and Born Free—have BTB-free farms without the need for culling. The sad thing is that many badgers who are culled are actually free of TB. One statistic that I recall seeing is that of the 102,000 badgers culled between 2013 and 2019, 900 were subjected to post-mortems and tests for bovine TB. Of that number, less than 5% were found to have bovine TB to a degree where they posed a risk of infecting other badgers, or possibly cattle.
Furthermore, the method of culling innocent, disease-free animals causes great pain. Badgers are sentient, and the inhumane cull methods used cause them fear and pain. Over three quarters of the badgers culled in 2020 were culled by free shooting, where cull contractors shoot badgers at night from a distance with a high-powered rifle. That method of badger killing has increased year on year, and has risen to be the primary method: it used to be that half of badgers culled were subjected to death by free shooting, but now that figure is over 77%. The independent expert panel formed by the Government to monitor the efficacy and humaneness of the badger cull during its first two years found that free shooting was inhumane, due to the length of time badgers could take to die. The IEP reported that in the first year of the cull, between 6.4% and 18% of badgers shot took over five minutes to die of bullet wounds, blood loss and organ failure. That panel made a number of key recommendations to improve the humaneness of culling operations, but it was disbanded in 2014, preventing any further independent oversight of the cull policy. The British Veterinary Association has since withdrawn its support for that method.
In my view, the cull remains cruel, inhumane, and unnecessary in the fight to eradicate bovine TB. Badgers are the scapegoats—the victims of politics, rather than science. The way to solve bovine TB in cattle has always been to focus on cattle-based measures, including investment in cattle vaccination, proper testing, and continuous improvement in farming methods. Of course, that requires Government funding, but if we were not spending tens of millions of pounds each year on culling, that money could have made a real difference elsewhere. I believe that DEFRA was looking to do so through the policy announced in 2021 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth.
My constituents care passionately about animal welfare issues, and while my heart breaks for the farmers condemned to lose their herd due to bovine TB, I have always been of the view that the inhumane and intensive culling of badgers is not the answer. It was never supposed to be forever, and my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey, the current Secretary of State, says that she will be led by science. I agree: let us be led by the science and end this indiscriminate badger genocide.
May I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words to my friend, Siobhain McDonagh, and for what she said about her wonderful sister? I believe that the hon. Lady herself is rather a doughty campaigner on breast cancer, having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and raised £153,000, so congratulations to her and her team on doing that. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro—a lot of years ago, I have to say, but there we are.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, because it must have been very painful to bring what she told us before the House, and I think that everybody who was listening will stand as one with her. Those of us who knew Margaret know that she did not deserve to experience what she did, and we remember her with affection. We are also committed to helping my hon. Friend with her campaign.
May I begin by speaking about the International Seabed Authority and deep-sea mining? That might be a slightly odd topic for this afternoon, but it is nevertheless important and dramatically in need of bringing before the House and the world authorities. As we know, there are those who would seek to exploit the world’s seabeds for commercial reasons. The purported logic is that we need to find the rare metals we use in our batteries, mobile phones, electric vehicles and so on. However, there is increasing concern in the scientific community that exploitation of the global seabed is a great risk. First, we know little about the seabed, and we do not know how much carbon is sequestered there. We also know little about the impact that the toxic waste produced would have on life in the oceans and on life we as yet do not understand.
Some 60 scientists have written to our Prime Minister asking that he be part of a global coalition for a moratorium on exploitation of the seabed, and I hope that he and those on the Government Front Bench will listen seriously to those views. Those scientists said in very straightforward terms that the consequences of exploiting the seabed would be potentially severe and irreversible, impacting on the marine environment, its biodiversity and its ecosystem. Given the lack of science available at the moment, we simply cannot take the risk, and it is right that we have a moratorium in the short run—not a permanent ban, although that may well be where we should head. I say that because little was decided at the International Seabed Authority conference in July, except to defer decisions about potential exploitation until next year. That means that our Government now have time to join France, Sweden, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and a host of other countries in making sure that the science is there before we even contemplate this destruction, which we will not be able to reverse if we allow it.
That brings me to something else I want to raise in this pre-conference debate: the lack of global progress on climate change. The recent United Nations report indicated how far behind the world is on progress towards doing what we need to do to stop the catastrophic temperature rises we are already experiencing. As we know, we have to do more in this country—I do not want to make this into a bipartisan political debate, and although the UK may not have done enough, it has made considerable efforts on climate change—but we must also be part of the global coalition that recognises that this issue cannot be solved in just one country. I heard an Environment Minister boasting this morning that we are in the lead, but it is not good enough to be in the lead; we need to be in the pack, making sure that the whole world is safe, and that means transferring the technologies and resources to the developing world, which simply is not being done today.
The third little hobby horse I would be grateful to get off my chest is HS2. I was not able to be here yesterday for the urgent question on HS2, but let me just say that HS2 has long been promised to the north of England and the city of Manchester. It would liberate enormous economic potential in Manchester, but as importantly—perhaps more importantly—we know that the capacity of the west coast main line is very near full now. It will not be long before we simply cannot ship our manufacturing goods from the north of England to the south and on through into Europe. This is not some slight argument about the pride of the north, although I am a proud northerner. It is not even about whether we can shave a few minutes off the journey time between Manchester and London; it is about whether our manufacturers are in a position to take advantage of the railway system and whether environmentally we are shifting those heavy goods vehicles off our motorways and roads and making sure that our rail system has the capacity to carry those things. That is no small issue, and it should not be resolved by a Prime Minister and Chancellor huddled together and a Government who were not prepared to come before the Chamber yesterday to give any definitive answer.
As you will know as a northern MP, Madam Deputy Speaker, it would be seen as a colossal betrayal of the north if we were to see HS2 abandoned. By the way, that sentiment was expressed by Government Back Benchers as well as by Opposition Members. Whether the line is up to Scotland or to different parts of the north, there is the feeling that if the Government abandoned the north in this way, it would say nothing at all for the future of the levelling-up agenda.
I will finish on a slightly happier issue. I was not able to be here when tributes were being paid to the outgoing Clerk of the House, John Benger. I join those tributes, because I think John Benger has been not only an excellent Clerk of the House, but an excellent servant of the House over the many years that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I have known him. I am delighted that he occupied that place. He has done this House credit, and he will do great credit in his new role, and I look forward to him, as a good supporter of Manchester United, now being able to play a significant role in the fortunes of our club, which are perhaps not as good as the fortunes of the House of Commons.
I will raise three matters in my brief remarks this afternoon: public transport, specifically in relation to schools; antisocial behaviour; and the rebuilding of Ukraine post-victory.
In order to ensure that pupils and students do well in school, clearly and obviously we must first ensure that they can get to school safely and on time. I have been contacted over the summer by many concerned parents about some local bus services being cut, which makes it difficult to get their children to school on time or, in some cases, at all. The West of England Combined Authority has received £105 million for a bus service improvement plan, but it has decided that the 459 and the 460 bus service will be served by the same vehicle. That leads to some children who attend Winterbourne Academy in particular arriving either absurdly early or very late. While some services have been cut back, other crucial bus services have been axed entirely, such as the 458 from Fishponds via Downend and the 936 from Patchway, Bradley Stoke and Little Stoke.
My constituents and I would like to know where the £105 million to enable bus services to improve has gone. Unfortunately, while essential bus services for children were being cut, the vanity scheme of the West of England mayor was being rolled out: the birthday bus pass scheme, which provides taxpayer-subsidised bus travel for passengers travelling throughout the month of their birthday. It is clear to me that the Mayor of the West of England and South Gloucestershire Council are not sufficiently prioritising supporting children’s bus services. I implore the West of England Mayor to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and to answer my call to work with South Gloucestershire Council to deliver enough transport provision so that our children can get to school and back. The bus services that take our children to school are an important factor in reinforcing the fabric of our community, reducing pollution and reducing commuting traffic, in addition to maintaining parents’ peace of mind. I have been working closely with my excellent colleague Councillor Liz Brennan on this issue and look forward to meeting the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Mr Holden, to discuss local bus provision.
In recent months we have seen an increase in antisocial behaviour in Patchway and Stoke Gifford in my constituency. We have seen the vandalising of children’s playgrounds and the reckless driving of cars and e-scooters, which has led to several accidents—some of them were serious—not to mention the burning down of a playground in Stoke Gifford park by arsonists. What is more, locals in Patchway have fallen victim to being terrorised by thugs in balaclavas, smashing car windows and causing great distress to residents. I have met the police and crime commissioner, Mark Shelford, to discuss the rise in antisocial behaviour and what Avon and Somerset police will do about it. In addition, my colleague Councillor Gupta has raised the issue locally. I echo his concerns to the Government. While some may choose to dismiss that as low-level crime, it must be dealt with swiftly and robustly so as not to create the space or environment in which the same criminals could commit even worse offences.
I recently went on my third visit to Ukraine so far this year. I attended the Yalta European Strategy conference, at which we discussed the power of Ukraine’s ideals, how helping Ukraine in its hour of need is best for global economic and political stability and security, and how we may bring this illegal and terrible war to an end. Crucially, I would like to offer the House some ideas and solutions on how Ukraine may rebuild after Russian forces are expelled from Ukrainian sovereign territory.
The New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy has proposed a system of multilateral asset transfer as a way of providing reparations to Ukraine and international partners who have helped in the struggle. That would involve the United Kingdom and our allies identifying and transferring all Russian state assets within our jurisdictions to a central bank account, or to be held in trust. With Russian assets securely held in trust, allocation procedures would be introduced in line with transparent multilateral agreements. Another useful proposal is for a tax incentive for companies investing in the UK and Ukraine, meaning that more jobs and investment would come to the UK. That would help with some degree of infrastructure rebuilding in Ukraine. Some of that could well be funded by the private sector. A third proposal is for Ukraine to receive some funding from the overseas development budgets of allied nations.
We must endeavour to build powerful bilateral relations between our two countries, including our institutions of trade and cultural exchange, defence manufacturing and logistics firms, and the industry of other sectors. A strong bilateral relationship based on defence, security and trade with a long-term vision can help to keep Ukraine safe, sovereign and secure.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I associate myself with your words about Margaret McDonagh and my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh—I let my hon. Friend know that we are all here for her at any time of the day, whenever she needs us. It is good to see my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd back in his place.
Like Tracey Crouch, I want to channel Sir David Amess. He would always start his speeches by going around his constituency, and I hope to do that too. I welcome the Treasurer of His Majesty’s Household, Mr Jones, to his place—we are graced with his presence—and the new deputy shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend Nick Smith. I think they will find that this is one of the nicest debates they will have ever responded to.
I start with Bescot Stadium station, which has a footbridge linking one platform with the other. However, those with disabilities cannot access the platforms, so Walsall’s disabled supporters have to take the train into the town centre and come back just to get to the football ground. I met with the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Huw Merriman, who was helpful. He made the point that there had never been an application for Access for All funding. I find that disconcerting, because these people are the most vulnerable in society and need access to the station. I hope to have a meeting with Network Rail, but could the Whip kindly find out whether there is any obligation under equalities legislation that would enable us to appropriate those funds immediately, rather than having to wait for the next round of Access for All funding? We would like to do it sooner rather than later. Even parents with prams find it difficult to access the station.
Walsall station will keep its ticket office, but sadly Bescot will lose its one. In the Westminster Hall debate, the Minister admitted:
“The changes are about modernising the passenger experience, by moving expert ticketing staff out of ticket offices to be more visible and accessible around the station.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 737, c. 346WH.]
The logic is not quite there. I am not clear why expert ticketing staff are moving away from their jobs. Could the Government please look again?
The second issue I want to raise is not about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete but about the condition of my schools in Walsall South. Joseph Leckie Academy was allocated £17 million under Building Schools for the Future, but that was cancelled. The then Secretary of State mentioned that he made a mistake by cancelling Building Schools for the Future. That school has had to bid every time for funds. Given the issues going on with RAAC, the asbestos in the school and the condition improvement fund, I wonder whether the Whip could ask the Education Secretary to ensure that schools are given the funds allocated immediately so that they can deal with the problems. Blue Coat Academy had to apply to the condition improvement fund just to fix the roof. It seems sensible that, rather than having to bid every year and waste money on surveyors’ fees and other costs, they just have the funds already allocated to them. They are bidding against each other, which is an appalling situation for schools to be in.
My third issue is about buses, like Jack Lopresti—I forgot to say that it was a pleasure to follow him. We, too, have a vanity project—called the Sprint bus phase 2—of the west midlands Mayor. I do not know what it is about Mayors, and why they need to have vanity projects. The Sprint bus has been withdrawn from major cities because it is not safe, but the Mayor seems to want to proceed. In fact, local authority tried to cut down trees, but the community fought back and that was stopped.
Now the West Midlands Combined Authority and the west midlands transport authority want to widen the bus lane. My constituent Zena Owen has worked out that it will shave off just one minute from the travel time. We have the excellent X51 and 51 bus routes, which go from Walsall to Birmingham in 20 minutes. My constituents are really happy with that. I cannot see the logic of phase 2. It will waste money, it will not cut time and passengers are happy with the current service. In fact, we were not even sure whether the X51 and the 51 services would continue. Could the Whip please raise this issue with the Mayor, to tell him that we would like that vanity project to be stopped?
My fourth point is about Government policy on foreign national offenders. A foreign national offender was convicted of attempted murder of one of my constituents. I have raised this issue many times with Ministers, and I have been told that he cannot be deported because he is engaging his article 3 right to prevent torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. The foreign national offender can engage his article 3 rights, but my constituent cannot engage her article 2 right to life. The balance has been skewed in favour of the foreign national offender. I want to know exactly what Government policy is. Is it for the offender or for the victim? I understand that this foreign national offender will not be deported to the first country because there is an issue, but the Minister does have the discretion to look for another country that he could go to. My constituent lives in fear. Yes, she has been told roughly where he is, but he could be anywhere. She was a public servant trying to help him when she was stabbed in the neck. She nearly died. I do not think it is appropriate that she should continue to live under that fear.
Sadly, I am coming on to another very difficult issue. I met my constituent, 10-year-old Sami, who was savaged by a pit bull terrier. He went out with his football to play in his front garden and the pit bull terrier, which lives two doors down, came out and stuck its teeth into his arm and would not let go. Sami is lucky to be alive. If it had been his baby brother, who is smaller than the dog, I do not think he would have survived. Sami’s mother and a friend came out, but they could not get the dog off him. Sami had to wait 16 hours in Walsall Manor Hospital to get any treatment. His mother says he cannot sleep at night—it is really difficult. Sami is extremely, extremely brave. I want to add my voice and ask the Minister to raise with the Home Secretary considering banning dogs that are bred to attack and dogs that have attacked humans, whether children or adults. It is not sufficient just to muzzle the dogs, because attacks can take place in the home. These dogs are incredibly frightening, so that is my ask. Sami is making a recovery. He goes to Reedswood Academy. I know he would be very pleased if the whole House joined me in wishing him a speedy recovery.
Finally, I want to mention two public servants. Glen Barnham, a colleague of mine, has sadly died. He was a councillor and we served on Ealing Council together. He was a remarkable politician. He was first elected in 1971 and retired in 1990. He was chair of social services when I was vice-chair and the budget was always protected. Glen had an amazing way with his constituents. When I went round to anybody’s house in his Heathfield ward in Acton, there was always a picture of Glen, as though he was some sort of film star. That was apt, because he was a full-time organiser for Equity and played his part in ensuring that people had decent terms and conditions when they worked at the BBC. In fact, he suggested that I become a member of Equity—not for my acting skills, but when I had a stint on “Network East”.
Glen was a director at the Brit School, and a director of Equity’s charitable trust, and was involved with lots of other charities, such as the Marr-Munning Trust, which supports overseas development in India. He was a great negotiator who was called on by charities and the Labour party to resolve disputes. He loved jazz and was a member of the all-party parliamentary group on jazz. He stood for Parliament in Ealing and Acton twice, so he could have been one of us. He was passionate about the arts, and was an adviser and volunteer at the Questors Theatre in Ealing. Everyone who met Glen—the many people who served on Ealing Council and are now MPs—always remember him with a smile. May he rest in peace.
I was unable to be here when we paid tributes to the Clerk of the House. He first arrived in the House in 1986, when I was first elected to Ealing Council. In his understated way, Sir John took over at a very challenging time. That is a mark of leadership. During the covid pandemic, he literally had our lives in his hands. He had to balance decisions on whether we had to come back or stay away. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, because we all served on the Commission together, that he allowed Parliament to function. It is a mark of his leadership that when he encourages people to do things they make changes, just as we did with the way we vote.
Sir John also put together the “MPs’ Guide to Procedure” because he wanted to ensure that everything was clear. Joanna Dodd did amazing work in putting it together, but it was Sir John’s idea and I am sure everyone would agree that it is excellent. When I was shadow Leader of the House, he was always there to answer questions and support me in the interests of Parliament. He quietly ensured that equality and diversity took an appropriate place and he mentored quite a few people who have taken up leadership positions. I bumped into John late one evening, after he had done a full day’s work in the House, and asked him, “Are you going home now?” He said, “No, I am going to give a lecture. I am going to talk to students”—I think it was at City University—“about how Parliament works.”
I am sure that the Catz community—Catz is a nickname for St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and, for the benefit of the Official Reporters, it is spelt C-A-T-Z—will be regaled, at their sherry parties and dinner parties, with all sorts of stories from the House, and I just say to Sir John, “Please make sure they are all anonymised.” Sir John, we wish you all the best in your new career: it is an extremely exciting step.
Let me finally thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the House staff. I have seen the carpets that are ready to be put in place in the old shadow Cabinet Room. Staff are not going to be away having a nice time; they will still be working here. They make our life very easy with all the work that they do, so I say, “Thank you all very much.”
I want to focus on three local concerns. First, there is some good news. I warmly welcome yesterday’s announcement of £5 million for a new community diagnostic centre at Congleton War Memorial Hospital. The security of the hospital’s future has always been a priority for me, as the local Member of Parliament, not least because I know how much it means to my constituents.
Congleton War Memorial Hospital was funded by local subscription. Many people agreed to deductions from their pay packets to help with the building of the hospital, but its future has not always looked secure, which is why not only I but my predecessor MPs have consistently campaigned to keep it open and, indeed, secure its future. I am delighted that that consistent campaigning has been successful. It was in May this year that—on the most recent occasion—I asked the Health Secretary in the House for the expansion and modernisation of facilities. I am delighted that £5 million of national funding has been provided to ensure that healthcare provision in Congleton will remain, and that work is planned to start soon and be finished very quickly, by autumn next year.
There is to be a new “one-stop shop” offering NHS diagnostic tests, scans and checks close to home. East Cheshire NHS Trust has been awarded the £5 million by NHS England to re-engineer and expand the existing facility owned by the trust on the Congleton War Memorial Hospital site. The new centre will provide multiple additional diagnostic screening rooms in addition to improved patient waiting facilities and other amenities. The services delivered will focus on imaging, X-ray and non-obstetric ultrasound, and cardio-respiratory physiological testing such as electrocardiography, echo-cardiograms and other physiological tests. They will also include some tests and studies that can be taken away and performed from patients’ homes. Further testing from the site will be developed over time. This really is welcome news for the Congleton residents who feared for many years that their local hospital was in jeopardy, and I pay tribute to all the residents who have campaigned and raised funds to support the hospital.
Let me now turn to a less happy local issue, which rears its head periodically over the years and which first came to my attention even before I was elected, in 2010, as Member of Parliament for Congleton. I refer to the threat of the imposition of car parking charges in the towns of Alsager, Middlewich, Sandbach and Holmes Chapel. The argument being put forward by Cheshire East Council is based on rationalisation, but one size does not fit all. It is true that there are some places in Cheshire East where charges already apply, but larger towns such as Macclesfield, Crewe and even Nantwich are completely different from smaller communities such as Holmes Chapel, which is actually a village, and I strongly support residents’ objections to these proposals. We have fought this off before, and we can fight it off again. I therefore urge residents to lodge objections on the consultation section of the Cheshire East website, which opens tomorrow,
As Alsager Town Council has said, the negative impact on the economy of imposing these charges would far outweigh the revenue anticipated from them. Small independent shops and cafés would be particularly vulnerable to a reduction in people coming into these centres and, as we know, many small businesses live on the margins. The significant loss of community spirit that could ensue has also been highlighted by Alsager Town Council, so I urge all residents concerned about this issue to contribute to the consultation, to make their voices known and to object.
I shall turn now to a happier local issue and take this opportunity to pay tribute to a number of residents who have been granted the freedom of their towns this month. Just two days ago at the annual civic service in Middlewich, held at St Michael and All Angels church, three residents were granted the freedom of Middlewich. I am not sure whether any of them have any sheep that they can drive down the high street, but I want to pay tribute to all of them, whom I know well. They are Janet Chisholm BEM, who founded the Middlewich Clean Team; Ken Kingston, who has done so much work with the British Legion; and David Cooke, who has helped to run the Boys Brigade in Middlewich for many years. I know at first hand the substantial contribution that all three have made to local community life, and by granting them the freedom of Middlewich, the mayor of Middlewich, Councillor Colin Coules, has recognised their contributions in a way that they all very much deserve.
I would also like to pay tribute to Ronald Tyson, who is better known to all of us locally as Ron Tyson. Earlier this month, at St Mary’s Alsager, he was granted the freedom of the town of Alsager for services to the community. He served for 28 years on Alsager Town Council and the Alsager Institute collectively. He served as chairman of the town council three times, and this award to Ron is very well deserved. My heartfelt congratulations go to them all. It is interesting that last Sunday at the Holmes Chapel community service, which was organised by the parish council and held at St Luke’s parish church, Councillor Chris Jackson said that it was a measure of the healthy community life in Holmes Chapel that invitations to the civic service had been extended to over 100 local community groups.
It is a privilege for me to serve the constituency of Congleton, with its strong community life, and it was a particular pleasure today for me to welcome one of those community groups, Holmes Chapel Youth Council, who have been in the Gallery to listen to some of this debate. Some 14 of those young people came to Parliament today and asked me some very taxing questions. I concur with Councillor Chris Jackson that it really is a measure of our healthy community life that we have such a strong youth council in Holmes Chapel. My thanks go to all my constituents who contribute so greatly to the quality of life in my constituency.
I just want to put on record that I am very sad that the town of Middlewich has been removed from my constituency by the Boundary Commission, because it is a wonderful local community with many strongly committed residents, such as those I have spoken of today. I will very much miss representing Middlewich if I am re-elected at the next general election.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to begin by saying how much I admired the way in which you so sensitively and generously responded to my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh when she spoke about her campaign on glioblastoma in memory of her sister. You really did speak for the whole House, and it was greatly appreciated.
The pleasure of participating in such a debate is in the range of topics covered, and I agree with many of the subjects that have been chosen. Tracey Crouch spoke very well about the badger cull and the importance of science, and my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd spoke very well about the importance of science in deep-sea mining.
Sometimes we need to fact-check our speeches, and I took the opportunity to fact-check the complaint made by Bob Blackman about the Mayor of London giving himself an exemption on his car. I am reliably informed by the Mayor’s office that this is not the case, and that the Mayor’s own car does not have an exemption. As we think of Sir David, who was such a part of this particular debate, we need to temper our criticisms so that people who are as high in public life as the Mayor are not unduly targeted.
I thank my hon. Friend for correcting the record. It is so important that Parliament, above all, has correct information. We cannot let misinformation flourish, given how social media goes round and round very quickly, which can be detrimental to the public discourse.
I challenge the House to fill in the missing word. As safe as—[Hon. Members: “Houses.”] Members have said it but, for too many people, that saying has become a rather sick joke. Today I want to share the story of my constituents for whom their house, their home, has been anything but safe.
Damask Court, a block of flats in my Brent North constituency, was completed in 2014. I was first approached by residents in March 2019, and they reported that their building was “swaying.” The floors were moving and, in high winds, the whole building shook. I was told that the roof was leaking so badly that water poured through the electrical sockets and the windows had dropped by 8 cm in two months.
As the House could imagine, I immediately visited the property and took photographs of water streaming through the light fittings and dripping on to a child’s bed. The same day, I wrote to the chief executive and the chair of the board of Apna Ghar Housing Association, which owned the block. I also wrote to Steve Wood, the chief executive of the National House Building Council, which had provided the warranty for the development.
Six weeks later, on
At the end of November, I discovered that: essential supports for the core of the building were missing; the floors were overstressed, causing the swaying movement when residents walked across them; the roof had been incorrectly fitted, causing the leaks; the floors throughout the flats were bowed; and the balcony floors were defective.
Apna Ghar, the new owner of the development, advised residents in December that it had submitted a claim to the NHBC. It also advised that its chief executive was leaving the housing association “with immediate effect.” As the problems unfolded, this became a repeated pattern. Everyone simply walks away, except for the tenants, of course. They are trapped—trapped in an unsafe building.
In 2019, I asked the NHBC to clarify when the investigation work would be completed. I requested a copy of the full report when it became available and asked for a date when the remediation would commence. I did not receive a copy of the report, but at the end of July 2019 the NHBC said the investigations were complete and that it had offered Apna Ghar two options to settle the claim. At that point, Apna Ghar went incommunicado, so in October I arranged to meet two representatives from the NHBC. They were apologetic, they fully understood the serious concerns raised by residents and they were anxious to do everything possible to resolve the matter. They promised to revert to me and provide a full update. I felt reassured, but I was mistaken, as I never did receive their full report.
During the general election period in December 2019, another tenant contacted me, and she was extremely distressed. Her letter said that
“the building is constantly shaking, my home floods whenever it rains and I am unable to sleep for fear of the building falling down. I and my three children go to bed fully clothed, with our shoes on, in case we need to leave the building quickly.”
I was so concerned that I immediately visited her home, and it was truly shocking. I demanded a meeting with the new chief executive of Apna Ghar and showed him the photographic and video evidence of what I had witnessed—and then the country went into complete lockdown. I continued to write to Apna Ghar throughout 2020 and 2021, but I received no responses. The reason I was eventually given is that after our meeting the chief executive had resigned and not been replaced—another person had simply walked away.
I learned from another resident that Apna Ghar had written to them claiming that it was in regular contact with NHBC and that there were no reported structural issues within the building. That was a lie. I again demanded that Apna Ghar should provide me with a copy of the independent report, but, again, there was a total failure to respond. It would not even provide copies of the first and second stage complaints, which would have allowed me to refer the matter to the ombudsman. In March of last year, another resident in the block advised that because of the leaks and the water damage, which had not been repaired for seven months, her three children were all sleeping in one room. All these families have been failed at the highest level. There has been a total disregard from Apna Ghar of its legal obligations under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and of the duties set out in section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972.
In January of this year, when one of my constituents lodged a formal complaint, she received a response from solicitors employed by Apna Ghar, who acknowledged that she had indeed reported that her bathroom floor was damaged in December 2021 and admitted that this had not been fixed by September 2022. However, they claimed that because the member of staff who received the original message no longer worked there, they could not help. The same legal team has claimed that it is not Apna Ghar’s fault, because their client acquired the block from another registered provider of social housing. What my constituents want to know is: when Apna Ghar acquired Damask Court, was it aware of the structural problems that had already been reported to the builder and the developer? What due diligence was undertaken before taking ownership of the block? Did it purchase Damask Court at a discounted price because of the problems?
The same solicitors have now also advised me that there are
“ongoing discussions with the National House Building Council (NHBC) regarding the defects affecting the block.”
That is strange, given that I had already been told back in 2019 that the NHBC had made an offer to the housing association to pay for the remediation of the whole building. Four years on, the solicitors are apparently instructed that the NHBC claim will “need to be resolved”, that remedying the defects is going to require
“a significant programme of works”, but that all complaints to date have been
“handled within a reasonable period of time.”
That is nonsense. The fact is that nobody, not the quantity surveyor, the project manager, the building control officer, the builder or the developer, and not the NHBC, should ever have signed off that building as fit to live in—it never was. Parritt Bellamy, the builder, walked away; Asra Housing Group, the developer, walked away; two chief executives of Apna Ghar walked away; and yesterday I received from a resident a copy of a notice from the acting chief executive of Apna Ghar Housing Association, advising the residents of Damask Court that
“your new landlord will be Tamil Housing Association”.
Yes—finally it seems that Apna Ghar is walking away too.
The Building Safety Act 2022 provides no relief to my constituents in Damask Court. The Government know there are thousands of families going to sleep tonight in unsafe apartment buildings—going to sleep like that little family who confessed to me that they went to bed fully clothed and with their shoes on, just in case they had to get out quickly in the night. I have just one question for the Minister: when will the Government act to end this misery?
It is a pleasure to follow Barry Gardiner, and it is always a pleasure to contribute to debates that raise matters before an Adjournment, because they are so eclectic and we can learn so much about the constituencies of other Members. Like other Members, I pay particular tribute to Siobhain McDonagh for her very moving speech. All our condolences are with her, as she knows.
I want to take the opportunity to talk about my constituency and the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, as this year marks the 850th anniversary of our charter, which is a significant moment. I am not the only MP for the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. The famous Kidsgrove and Talke, which my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis appends to the name of his constituency, are also in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and my hon. Friend Sir William Cash and my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley also have small parts of either end of the borough in their constituencies. However, I have the honour of representing the vast bulk of the borough, including the town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and on this 850th anniversary I want to put on record a little of our history and to thank some of the people who are enhancing that history even now.
The leader of the council, Councillor Simon Tagg, our mayor, Councillor Simon White, and all the council officers have put in a huge amount of work to commemorate this historic year. We have had an action-packed calendar of cultural and heritage activities throughout the year, including a celebration of some of our famous and influential residents, past and present. We have had civic events, exhibitions, film showings, talks, a medieval day in the town centre, educational content and a range of family-friendly activities.
I put on record my thanks to Jim Worgan, who is the most passionate and prolific of local historians. He has done most of the heavy lifting in putting together the history of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Back in 2021, it was appropriate that he was awarded the freedom of the borough—I was there at the ceremony. He is a local community stalwart, who worked in the mining industry for 32 years, which I will come on to discuss, and he has been a key member of various organisations, including the Philip Astley Project, the Newcastle-under-Lyme Civic Society and the Friends of Brampton Museum. I pay tribute to Jim Worgan for all he done to keep the historical memories of Newcastle-under-Lyme alive.
Our story, over the past 850 years, has been one of reinvention. Many towns are having to reinvent themselves yet again, as I will discuss. We have been a market town, a major coaching stop on the London to Liverpool road, a place for making hats and clay tobacco pipes, the engine of the potteries next door in Stoke-on-Trent, and the home of brickmakers, iron casters, engineers and, perhaps most famously, miners since the 19th century, although there has been coal for a lot longer than that.
In 1173, King Henry II granted Newcastle-under-Lyme its royal charter, and it is that charter that we are celebrating this year. The charter released the up-and-coming town from the control of the prior of Trentham and turned Newcastle into a borough—the ancient and royal borough, as we now know it. With the charter came new rights and responsibilities. In exchange for an annual fee to the King, a privileged few were allowed to set up their own shops and market stalls on burgage plots, initially by Upper Green and later on the higher ground of the High Street. They were also provided with common fields on which to grow crops.
Those early inhabitants of the town were called burgesses. They enforced local laws and collected taxes on behalf of the King. I am pleased to say that only this year, as part of the 850th anniversary of the charter, and with a little bit of pressure from myself, if I may be so modest, we managed to get women to be allowed to be admitted to the burgesses. That was not before time—850 years on—but that change required the burgesses themselves to vote for it and they had been reluctant to do that in the past. I am glad that we have made that progressive step now, in 2023.
Thirteen subsequent charters, between 1173 and 1970, extended and confirmed the town’s rights. The Gild Merchant Charter of 1235 created a closed shop in which only Newcastle people could sell certain goods and services in Newcastle. We on the Conservative Benches are not much in favour of closed shops, but given that it happened in the 13th century I think we can perhaps be forgiven for mentioning it. By the end of that century, Newcastle was a thriving small town, with a castle, a church, a priory, a guildhall and a market, and many of those are still in evidence today.
For much of the next few hundred years, we were the most important town in north Staffordshire, predating Stoke-on-Trent—those upstarts to our east—by some centuries. Our location on the north-south route made us an important stopping place for horse-drawn coaches going from London to Chester and Liverpool. We were also a centre for clockmaking, mining, early porcelain and agriculture.
By the 1800s—I am skipping forward a bit because the House probably does not want to hear about every century in great detail—we were a bustling and prosperous town. [Interruption.] Oh, my hon. Friends do want to hear about every century. I am very happy to share Jim Worgan’s entire document with them if they want to know more about Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Newcastle flourished as a market town, serving both local residents and overnight travellers who rested at the many coaching inns and hotels along the high street and the Ironmarket—again so called because of the iron there, and that is where my constituency shop is today. We were also a centre of culture, which continues today. We had many market days and fairs, attracting showmen, carnival performers and all kinds of outdoor entertainment. Indeed, the founder of the modern circus, Philip Astley, who predates Barnum by a century, was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme. This summer, we had an exhibition about the history of circus in Newcastle-under-Lyme and all the show folk who have contributed to that heritage.
As I have said, we are also well known for our hat making industry. During the 19th century, we were producing pottery, which is more associated with Stoke-on-Trent next door. We had canals in the area. The industrial revolution changed the landscape of Newcastle, culturally, economically and physically. With the plentiful reserves of coal and iron in the mines, our burgeoning industries had the fuel they needed to power their mills.
Although mining has taken place in Newcastle since the Roman times, it was the industrialisation of mining that led to the significant growth of the borough. I referred to that in my maiden speech, so I will not repeat it today. None the less, our coal was among the finest in the kingdom, which is why Stoke-on-Trent and its kilns are where they are. That industrial and mining heritage in north Staffordshire is proudly remembered. The last pit to close was Silverdale in 1998. I always knew that the work that the miners undertook was hard and dangerous, and we did suffer more than most with major disasters at Diglake in 1895, Minnie pit in 1918, and Holditch in 1937. There are frequent memorials, where we remember the names of those people who lost their lives in those tragedies. That is a real part of our cultural and emotional heritage in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Notably, there was an attempt in this House in 1930 to extend Stoke-on-Trent by amalgamating it with Newcastle-under-Lyme and Wolstanton, completely against the wishes of the people of Newcastle. This House passed that measure, but, happily, we were saved by the Lords. A postcard poll taken at the time showed that residents opposed that Bill by a majority of 97.4%, which is a pretty good outcome. I am glad that the Lords saved us from being swallowed up by the people of Stoke-on-Trent, because otherwise we would not be having these 850th anniversary celebrations today.
Traditional industries have declined, and that is a story that many of us in this House share—I know that you know about that in Doncaster, Madam Deputy Speaker—but new industries are taking their place. We have seen a huge growth in the service sector and in high-tech industries in my area. Of particular note is the spectacular success of the science park at Keele, where some of the first covid vaccines were manufactured. In 1999, we started a single innovation centre, which now has multiple buildings, including a management centre. Keele University has become a leader in green energy, housing a smart energy network demonstrator. Wind turbines and a solar farm all contribute to the way in which universities and other public buildings will be able to power themselves in future.
We still have a number of very good engineering firms on our business parks, particularly in metalwork. Sadly, though, the past two decades have seen a significant decline in town centres across the country, and Newcastle is no exception. That has been something bigger than politics. It is about shopping habits; it is about the internet. First, it was about people shopping in supermarkets, but, increasingly, it has become about people shopping on Amazon. The stalwarts of the high street of the past—Woolworths, Debenhams and British Homes Stores—are all gone. This Government are doing something about that through the future high streets fund and the town deals. The borough is due to benefit from more than £50 million of investment from those funds in the coming years. That work is happening right now. We had £35 million to regenerate the town centre; £11 million through the future high streets fund has already been used to demolish the old civic offices, which were riddled with asbestos. That area will be rebuilt soon with residential and commercial premises on the Ryecroft, which has been left empty for too long, and we will bolster the town’s shopping and leisure facilities with a new, more modern and more welcoming market.
Some of that investment is already visible. An employment, training and skills hub has opened in Lancaster Buildings, and the subways to get under the ring road, which unfortunately does circumscribe the town centre a bit, have been given a spruce-up with some fantastic artwork. We will also see some major construction projects, particularly the redevelopment of York Place, coming soon. We are getting a new multi-storey car park, new open plazas and public spaces, and better pedestrian and cycle connections to the residential areas.
The town deal—as the town’s MP, I am obviously a member of that board—has been given £23.6 million. That funding will be allocated across nine separate projects, including improved public transport, better digital provision, the renovation of gateway sites into the town centre, new housing and investment into some of the most deprived communities in Knutton and Chesterton. It will also be used to improve both digital and transport connectivity locally. The Government funding will be matched by other investment, in a programme that we hope will ultimately total more than £135 million.
On top of that, we have commissioned a statute of Her late Majesty the Queen to go into Queen’s Gardens, which are so named because of the enormous and beautiful statue of Queen Victoria there, just opposite my constituency office and in front of the council offices. We will now have two queens, Victoria and Elizabeth, side by side, and I look forward to the unveiling.
Finally—I am conscious that I have spoken for a while in going over the history—we are still blighted by Walleys Quarry, which I have mentioned many times in this House, including in previous debates before Adjournments. The smell is quite a lot better, though it does still smell on occasion, but we now really need to see accountability. Only last week, there was yet another category 2 breach reported against the operators of Walleys Quarry Ltd, whose parent company is Red Industries. Environment Agency guidance suggests that a prosecution should follow.
I cannot pre-empt the Environment Agency’s investigations, but I know everyone in Newcastle wants to see it draw both its regulatory and criminal investigations to a conclusion and achieve proper accountability for what people have been through. As I have told this House many times, the situation has been completely unacceptable and we really need to see some accountability.
Overall, I remain committed to ensuring that the future of our town, which I am so proud to represent, is bright and prosperous. I will continue to work with the council, especially the council leader, Simon Tagg, in any way I can to bring more investment into Newcastle in the years ahead, to enable the improvements that we all want to see.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend Aaron Bell. I am glad to hear how progressive, historic and industrial his area is and about his work to stop that stink.
It is a huge pleasure to represent the wonderful constituency of Dover and Deal, which has a similar mining heritage to the one my hon. Friend outlined. However, like any community, it is not without some challenges, so before the coming Adjournment I want to touch on the areas of work that I have been undertaking to bring service improvements and investment to Deal, Walmer and the villages, an area that makes up around half of my constituency, with some 30,000 people.
First, there is the water and sewerage system. Part of Deal has an old-style Bazalgette system to deal with its water and sewage, which has contributed to decades-long flooding, particularly around the Albert Road area of Deal. I jointly lead the Deal Water Action Taskforce, having put that taskforce together with Southern Water to try to come up with some technical, sensible, practical solutions to the problem. We are working to put the situation right, with more than £500,000-worth of flood reduction investment already made in the town and further engineering and nature-based investment in our local water and sewerage system to come.
Not only will that investment help with the decades-long flooding in Albert Road, but it will make our community an early adopter of the Conservative commitment to end sea sewage discharges. There is a parliamentary showcase upcoming, and I hope some hon. Members might be interested in coming to learn more about the cutting-edge work that we have been doing in that vital area. Perhaps one of the Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs might attend too.
Secondly, I come on to law and order. While ours is generally an area without the level of crime and disorder seen elsewhere, which were described earlier in this debate, there have been specific issues of antisocial behaviour, with dangerous motorbiking in Nonington and car racing around Betteshanger, while Deal has seen some frankly unpleasant youth activity in Victoria Park and the cemetery. Fly-tipping has been on the increase, too.
Following my representations to our Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott, I am pleased to confirm that he is implementing a new community policing response, supported by the extra funding and resources provided by the Conservative Government. The response will see a “front-counter” police presence in Deal, open to local residents. I am pressing Matthew Scott for the recruitment and opening of that initiative to be accelerated. It will be a significant new one-stop shop for local people in the town. There will also be a new dedicated antisocial behaviour taskforce and a boost to very important rural village policing. Many villagers often feel overlooked by local policing, and the police and crime commissioner is working hard to address that. The new measures will mean that Deal, Walmer and our local villages will benefit from specific police support to tackle important local policing and community issues.
Better healthcare is a key issue that I am working on for Dover and Deal as a whole. Later today, I will present a community petition about the closure of phlebotomy services at Deal hospital and the move to a GP-only blood testing service, which has not worked and is letting our community down. Over the last two years we have had a hard-fought community campaign to reinstate these vital services, with petitions, candlelight vigils and a community consultation that attracted the interest of more than 14,000 residents across Deal, Walmer, Sholden, Kingsdown, Ripple and Great Mongeham.
The consultation, which I led, working with the Deal blood action taskforce group, found that residents were having to travel four or more hours for a blood test, and at great cost. Some residents paid more than £30 to travel to get a local blood test. I say “local blood test” because the commissioning condition from local health chiefs was that, after the move from Deal hospital to GPs, every resident would have access to local blood tests, but that is not happening. Specific groups of people have been particularly affected by the decision to close phlebotomy services at Deal hospital, including residents with diabetes, cancer and long-term health conditions; older residents with mobility or financial challenges; and children, for whom no provision was made following the closure, and who are missing school—and their parents missing work—to get their blood tests done outside the area.
Blood tests are not just a nice to have; they are a fundamental and basic part of our health system. Not having timely access to local blood services can prevent early diagnosis and intervention, and result in patients remaining on the wrong medicine, harming their health outcomes. Such blood services are important, so I am pleased to report that the Kent and Medway integrated care board has now agreed that the needs of the priority groups identified by the deal blood action team must be addressed. The ICB says that it will procure blood services again shortly, with a view to restarting them in 2024. I welcome the long overdue and slow recognition of the immense harm that that decision of nearly two years ago has caused local residents. Given the seriousness of the issues, it is obviously most sensible to reinstate the services at Deal hospital without delay. That is what my petition will set out.
From policing, flooding and potholes to restoring high-speed rail and protecting the important marine habitat of the Goodwin Sands, it is a great pleasure to represent Deal, Walmer and our local villages. I am pleased to have updated the House on the work to secure improvements for and investment in our lovely corner of east Kent.
It is a pleasure to speak in this Adjournment debate.
This Government were in part elected on a promise to level up to ensure that my constituents in Blackpool receive exactly the same life chances as people in every single part of our United Kingdom. My local authority is statistically the most in need of levelling up; indeed, I probably represent the most deprived constituency in England, and I am delighted to say that, thanks to the unprecedented commitment and support from this Government, our levelling-up progress is going from strength to strength.
An additional revenue and capital investment of £300 million has flown into Blackpool South as a consequence of the faith and confidence from this Government in the work going on locally. It is easy to speak about levelling up and sometimes political figures from different parties will want to see evidence of what is actually happening—spades in the ground—to address some of the systemic challenges in Blackpool and many other left-behind towns. Levelling up is not a four-year or five-year project; it is an intergenerational challenge that will take commitment from both main political parties over decades and decades if indeed it is to bear any substantial fruit. Thankfully, the investment we have received is leading to spades in the ground in Blackpool and we are now reaping the reward of the confidence the Government have shown in us.
I could be here until midnight discussing all the different funding pots this Government have provided to Blackpool South, but I will take just a few moments to give the House a flavour of some of the positive initiatives taking place in my constituency: the largest towns deal in the country, with £39.5 million coming into Blackpool to deliver a plethora of projects; a new sports village at Revoe in conjunction with Blackpool football club; an upgrade to the world-famous Illuminations; helping to create thousands of jobs at the Blackpool enterprise zone; and a new start-up hub in the town centre.
Moving on, there is £40 million for a brand-new multiversity skills complex from the levelling-up fund, which will not only change immeasurably very deprived parts of Blackpool but will lead to a breaking down of some of the educational challenges and put a stop to the brain drain when our youngsters leave key stage 5. There is £8 million from the levelling-up budget to convert a derelict hotel in the town centre, and £8.6 million from the future high streets fund to fund developments to the Houndshill shopping centre and the Abingdon Street market, both of which are well under way. There is an additional £40 million to relocate the court complex, allowing the largest single private-sector development project in Lancashire to go ahead over the next few years. There is also £300 million-worth of capital investment coming into Blackpool to create millions of pounds of additional consumer spend every single year and thousands of extra jobs. That is all thanks to this Government’s commitment to levelling up Blackpool.
But we will not stop there, because the list is endless: £10 million extra in education funding because we are an opportunity area, helping to close the gaps that have emerged as a consequence of the covid pandemic; a £25 million new upgrade to our A&E, meaning the front door of A&E has been completely rejuvenated, leading to shorter waiting times in A&E, and helping patients move throughout their journey in the hospital; £67.8 million in writing off the historical debt to Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, meaning more money can now be freed up for the frontline to spend on patients, rather than in debt receipts; £20 million for new electric buses; £9.5 million from the bus and light rail fun; £4.8 million for Project ADDER, to help remove off the streets of Blackpool some of the drug gangs that cause misery to my constituents; and in only the last few weeks we received a multimillion-pound funding settlement to help youth offending initiatives in Blackpool, led by the exemplary Dave Blacker and the Blackpool boys and girls club—a brilliant initiative that will change the lives of people in one of the country’s most deprived wards.
In addition to that—I have nearly finished—we have £118 million in flood defence work going on in Blackpool, which will secure the front of the world-famous Blackpool seafront; over £5 million helping to address rough sleeping and homelessness; and £4.8 million from the culture recovery fund being spent by a variety of projects, including the fantastic Blackpool theatre group. All in all, there is £300 million of investment coming into Blackpool.
It is easy to reel off a list of the different investments coming into a particular area, but I can honestly say, having seen at first hand the changes this money is making, that it is turning people’s lives around. It is helping to address the educational challenges and give people who have been out of the jobs market for years a new foothold and a commitment to our society, to find a job and to contribute. It is addressing some of the systemic health inequalities that have plagued Blackpool for decades, which mean that in parts of my constituency life expectancy is 20 years lower than in the most affluent parts of our country—something that successive Governments, red and blue, have tolerated for years but that, thanks to the commitment from this Government, we are finally serious about addressing.
Those are some of the brilliant initiatives going on in Blackpool, but as ever, Blackpool being Blackpool, we always want more. I hope that those on the Treasury Bench are listening to my final few requests for funding in Blackpool during this Parliament and the differences it will make to our local economy and the lives of my constituents.
The first of those is housing-led regeneration in the Bond Street, Waterloo Road and Revoe areas of my constituency, which are among the 1% most deprived neighbourhoods in the country. My right hon. Friend Michael Gove has been fantastic in his commitment to Blackpool and, indeed, levelling up more generally over the past few years. The £30 million package that he is working on in conjunction with Blackpool Council will help to change those areas forever, giving them a new lease of life and addressing some of the systemic challenges that residents in those communities have faced for years. I hope that work will continue and that we will get a commitment from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to that funding, which is badly required.
My second request is for a commitment to Blackpool airport. Owned and run by the Labour-run council, it used to operate successful commercial passenger flights throughout Europe, but that is no longer the case, due to a lack of interest from the council. The Government have brought in several changes that have revolutionised the landscape of domestic aviation and regional airports—not least the cut to air passenger duty—but further work is required around public service obligations to ensure that we can maximise the economic potential and job-creating growth of places such as Blackpool airport.
My final request is on more of a national issue, but it is worthy of a mention, considering that not a day goes by when I do not receive several emails from constituents about the lack of NHS dentistry. I have unfortunately spoken to some constituents who have told me harrowing stories about having to take pliers to their children’s teeth because they cannot afford a private dentist, and there are no longer any NHS dental practices in Blackpool that are open to new patients. It is quite a shocking story, considering we are in the 21st century. The Government’s recent changes to the NHS dental contract are welcome, but there is far more work to do to address the issue of NHS dentistry, particularly in so-called dental deserts, such as Blackpool, where few dental practitioners want to work.
The House has indulged me for far too long. Madam Deputy Speaker, may I take this opportunity to wish you and Members an enjoyable recess?
I am the very proud MP for Bury North, but I was born and brought up in Huddersfield. Before I got into politics, two things struck me as the first political questions. They might not seem to be political questions, but when we think about it, they are.
One is Bradley Mills cricket club, which was founded in 1875 in an industrial, disadvantaged part of Huddersfield. It went through two world wars, the great depression, the Boer war and everything the world could throw at it over 100 years. The local community saw it as a focal point and an identity; it was who they were, what they were and what they were about. It was a place where families went and people met, and it was central to that community. In the late 1990s, the local community gave up on it, and a huge green area—a field that had been used by children, families and people playing competitive sport—was lost forever. I could never understand why the community kept that club and what it represented to them going for that whole period of time, but in the 1990s something happened and it fell apart.
Like many of us, I spent my youth following my dad around. He played amateur football, and the best team in Huddersfield were called Brackenhall. They played football on Leeds Road playing fields, not very far away from Bradley Mills cricket club. That team were based in an area of disadvantage, but they were a team full of local people, a proud symbol of what Brackenhall was about. That meant something to people—looking back at the old photos, we cannot quantify that now, but it meant something. In the 2000s, that was lost. Why does this matter? It goes back to what my hon. Friend Aaron Bell was talking about: unless we have civic pride—unless we have some feeling for the area we are from—our areas are going to fail. We are not simply individuals, linked only by how close we live to each other or who we come into contact with. We have to have shared, collective experiences, and there must be symbols of those shared collective experiences that link us and bind us.
I could read out a very long list of what has come into Bury during my time as a Member of Parliament, but I just want to make the point that through the efforts of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Bury football club was resurrected at Gigg Lane. That is the 12th oldest sporting stadium in the world, but it had been left abandoned by bad management, bad regulation and the league, and was at real risk of being sold to developers. By providing £1 million, this Government saved that stadium, and it is now a facility that is run by the fans for the people of Bury and the local community. I will use those three examples to touch on what we should be talking about in this place.
We in this place are incredibly bad at talking in any terms other than monetary ones. We talk in monetary terms about everything, all the time. Clearly, that is incredibly important, but we do not often hear speeches like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, celebrating and lionising their community and saying, “There is something else within this community that you can be proud of.” How do politicians take advantage of that? Some 5,500 people attended the first match at Bury—5,500 people in one place. There is no other facility in the metropolitan borough of Bury where 5,000 people can come together in one place. As politicians, we can say, “That’s just the way it is. That’s football; it’s a nice pastime.” Or we can say, as this Government did, “Let’s work in partnership. Let’s take those things that matter to people and look to invest in that stadium and that community.”
Gigg Lane proudly sits in an area with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds. How do we ensure that those 5,000 people have access to the best facilities, services, options and advice that they can get? We put them in the football stadium. We do not put them in a town centre or a long way away: we bring facilities and services in partnership to where people want to be, and where they are receptive.
In life, we all need a little bit of hope and inspiration when we get out of bed. When Bury football club disappeared from my town, a little bit of hope disappeared in a lot of people. With that club coming back, there is hope and a certain inspiration to want to play for town. That is important. What Brackenhall and Bradley Mills lost when they lost their community was very important, because nothing replaced it. At this moment in time, we are creating a society of individuals who are linked by money and talk to each other on social media. We no longer interact as local communities. Politics starts when you walk out of your front door—when you open that door and you nearly trip over that pavement that needs to be fixed. You see the pothole on the road that needs to be sorted out. You see the lamppost where the light is not working and the bus that is probably going to be late. All those things matter to people, and if you see those things around you, does that mean that your community is a proud community, one that is working at its best for each other? No, it does not. We need the symbols of civic pride.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you are from the great city of Doncaster; we are from nearly the same part of the world, the north of England. These are the great industrial centres of the north of England. When I say to people that I was born in Huddersfield, they often say, “You’re not born in Bury? How can you understand what it’s like to be from Bury?” Of course, you can. People in these industrial centres of the north were all linked by the same thing in their hearts—the same passion for where they were from. In the first world war, we saw the Accrington Pals and others like them going to war together, but we do not do things as a community any more, and we never talk about community in this place.
I would like to see an understanding of how investment in community, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme talked about, and investment in facilities and symbols of civic pride can impact the political process, and I would like to see that pushed up the political agenda. I am proud for many reasons to be an MP in this Government, but levelling up is a political idea of genius because it gives money to local people to invest in facilities and services that can benefit them. If services do not link people in to wanting to see their area improved, it is all a complete waste of time, but the Government have funded numerous projects that have given a sense of identity, pride and passion back to the community we live in, which was ignored in the north of England for the 40 to 50 years before that.
We should invest more in sport, invest more in public health and invest more in our culture, and then we will have a better political system.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate before the forthcoming Adjournment. It is also a pleasure to follow the absolutely outstanding speech by my hon. Friend James Daly.
I pay tribute to the member for Mitcham and Morden for her really heartfelt speech—it was a real honour to be in the Chamber to listen to it. I know a little about what she is going through, because my father also died of a brain tumour. Like my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, I will work with the hon. Lady, if she would like that, to bring her plan forward. Hopefully it will be taken up, because it is a jolly good plan, and I know what she is going through.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, because I get to talk about Peterborough—my favourite thing to talk about. I am going to do that very briefly at the start, and then there are several other things I want to mention. However, before I go on to the meat of my remarks, I want to mention a little lad called Louie Clarke, whom I met relatively recently. He raised a considerable amount for a little girl who was particularly ill and suffering from a rare genetic condition. He cycled from one side of the city to the other, raised about £300 and contributed it to the fundraising effort. Overall, this little community raised over £16,000 for that little girl. I just wanted to put that on the record before I talk about other matters relating to my city.
I am incredibly proud of my home city of Peterborough—the city I grew up in—but I am not blind to the challenges associated with it. We do have challenges, and the good people of Peterborough expect me to come to this place and raise them. The issue I want to raise relates to St Michael’s Gate, a street in Parnwell. Parnwell is a lovely community, with streets such as Keys Park and Finchfield, which are occupied by more elderly residents. It also has family homes on Martinsbridge and Whitacre and socially rented homes on Henshaw and Whittington. It is a community that just kind of works.
However, since August 2022 there has been increasing concern in my city about St Michael’s Gate. Other local authorities are utilising this area to house homeless households to meet their own statutory duties under the Housing Act 1996. These are not Peterborough people; they are, inevitably, being shipped from London and housed in my city on behalf of councils that are basically disregarding their duty to house their own homeless families.
The legal constraints regarding moving households and placing them outside the local area are governed by section 208 of the Housing Act, which acknowledges that accommodation should be provided in an authority’s own district as far as reasonably practical. Peterborough City Council has therefore written to local authorities known to place households in this way, asking them to be mindful of this legislation, because the situation is having a serious impact on the community I just talked about.
The short-term solution being put upon this community in Peterborough is having a severe impact on local services. Local areas cannot cope. There is a great local school, the Lime Academy, that specialises, believe it or not, in Traveller children. The number of children it is being forced to accept from outside Peterborough is having a serious impact on the equilibrium of that school. It has a huge impact on Stars nursery, a huge impact on the GP surgery, which is closed at the moment, and I will come on to that in a minute. The situation is having a huge impact on the whole community, and many local residents and business owners have raised concerns about antisocial behaviour in the area.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer of help. I would love to accept that offer and any help he can give in finding a cure for glioblastoma.
I appreciate the problems he must have in Peterborough, and I am sure many London councils are placing homeless families there. To put the situation in context, the reason for that happening is that there are currently 104,510 homeless families, in London including 131,370 homeless children. One in 50 Londoners is homeless, and one in 23 children in London is homeless—that is one in every class. The pressure for all London councils is how to meet their legal responsibilities and find homes for people on a temporary basis, and his town is feeling the impact of that.
Peterborough is not just feeling the impact; it is feeling a colossal impact on local services. It is also sometimes not fair for the vulnerable people being moved from London—inevitably—to places such as Peterborough. How a particular council in London seeks to deal and cope with this problem is also a postcode lottery. In certain areas, the council recognises that these placements are having an impact on Peterborough and will work with the local authorities in Peterborough to deal with it, but others simply wash their hands of it. Something has got to give. I will do what I can to prevent Peterborough from being a place where local councils can offload what I would say is some of their homeless and what they would consider to be their problem residents. It is not the right attitude, and we need to do something about it.
I also want to talk quickly about park home residents. Many of my constituents across Peterborough have raised concerns over a law that allows park home landowners to claim 10% commission on the resale of a home. There are many park home sites across Peterborough, including Fengate mobile home park, Keys Park, Pioneer in Eye, and sites in Werrington. That is why I felt compelled to raise this issue today. That 10% commission is wholly unfair on what is typically people from the elderly generation who own their own homes. Some of the impact may be short term, but unfortunately all cannot make back what they have put in due to this law. I have seen that the Park Home Owners Justice Campaign has created a petition that has gained tens of thousands of signatures. I commend my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley on his support for this cause. We must make sure that we protect everyone from exploitation and call out unfairness wherever we see it. Taking 10% off someone’s home on top of any other taxes they may pay is just wrong.
I just talked about Parnwell and the surgery there, and I put on record my congratulations to my constituent Rahul Ramechandra, who started a petition to save that GP surgery, or for it to reopen at the very least. Far too many people are taking taxis to Ailsworth, and the closure is having a profound impact on that local Parnwell community. I am sure that those on the Front Bench would agree that two years or 18 months is long enough to solve this building problem, and I am concerned that inertia has set in and we will see the situation go on and on.
I want to raise a slightly different issue. On
The Spanish maintain a claim to Gibraltar. Following talks between our two countries, the people of Gibraltar themselves were asked to determine their future in a referendum in 1967. Some 99% voted to remain British, compared with only 44 votes for Spanish sovereignty. That is an incredibly special thing. Armed only with ballots and pencils, the people of Gibraltar stood up to General Franco’s Spain and asserted their right to self-determination. I was honoured to join the people of Gibraltar and be part of the celebrations. I know that the proud people of Peterborough stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar in thanking them for their military service and celebrating their freedom and self-determination.
Before I finish, I want to mention two more issues. First, fireworks are being set off at all times of the night and at all times of the year. It has become a serious issue in Peterborough. These are not one-off incidents but a recurring nightmare, plaguing many of my constituents. They are not merely an annoyance; they cause misery to many. The law regarding fireworks is crystal clear. However, it is evident that a substantial number of individuals choose to flout the regulations with impunity. Many of the reports I receive are about fireworks occurring in the early hours of the morning—a blatant violation of the law. Despite bringing that to the police’s attention many times, these incidents still continue. In a recent survey that I did online, more than 1,000 constituents responded, and there was overwhelming support for a ban on fireworks other than on bonfire night and new year’s day. The results are clear. We need to look at a change in the law to resolve this problem.
Finally, I want to talk about bipolar disorder. A friend of mine who works for Bipolar UK, the bipolar charity, asked me to support his initiative to bring more attention and awareness of bipolar disorder to Parliament. It was a pleasure to be part of the Bipolar UK parliamentary reception, hosted in November last year. Along with 21 other commissioners, we helped to launch the Bipolar Commission, with recommendations on diagnosis and care pathways. The commission’s aims are to reduce the risk of suicide and to transform healthcare for people living with bipolar disorder while improving diagnosis times.
Bipolar used to be known as manic depression, and it can take up to 10 years for a diagnosis. It is estimated that 1.3 million people—one in 50 people—in the UK have bipolar, which increases an individual’s risk of suicide by up to 20 times. We have come on leaps and bounds as a country on mental health, but there is always room—lots of room—for improvement. Mental health conditions such as bipolar affect people’s careers, their quality of life and their relationships with family and friends. We need to ensure that diagnosis is fast and that appropriate support is available immediately so that people with the condition can live better and fulfilled lives. Bipolar is life-threateningly serious in some cases; our response should treat it that way.
It has been an absolute pleasure to speak in the debate. Again, I wish all hon. Members, and certainly you, Madam Deputy Speaker, a very happy few days of recess.
It is a pleasure to lead for the SNP in this debate, which is sometimes called “Whinge-fest”. I cannot possibly think why it ever got that nickname. This afternoon’s debate and the issues raised were of a high quality. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.
Bob Blackman said how important it is that visitors come to Parliament. I had the pleasure of welcoming Glasgow South West constituents Donald and Tracy McColl, who were down last week as part of the reception run by Kidney Care UK on the importance of organ donation. I know that Donald and Tracy are passionate about that, and it was a pleasure for me to welcome them to Parliament. It is not as easy for Glasgow South West constituents as it is perhaps for Harrow East constituents, given that Glasgow South West is more than 500 miles away, but it is always a pleasure to see constituents here.
Like everyone, I pay tribute in particular to Siobhain McDonagh for her speech. As she talked, I reflected on my great aunt Winnie and my grandpa Charlie, who sadly both succumbed to brain tumours. If there is anything I can do for the hon. Lady in this regard, I will be more than happy to do so. It was pleasing to hear the hon. Member’s tribute to her sister, who was a brilliant political mind in her own right, and the affection that the she had for her. She made a fantastic contribution to the debate, and I thank her very much on behalf of the whole House.
Valerie Vaz started her remarks on the removal of ticket offices. That is not an England-only issue, as we discovered in Westminster Hall last week, because there are plans to close ticket offices in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. I hope that the Government listen not just to the hon. Member but to the many Government Back Benchers who contributed to last week’s debate, who made their thoughts on that topic very clear. They also intend to continue to raise the issue, because people are concerned about whether the consultation is actually a consultation at all. People have doubts about that when they hear that the workers involved have been given notices of potential redundancy, and that some train companies are already advertising and investigating letting out the spaces where the current ticket offices are. I hope the Minister will give the House an assurance that there is genuine consultation on the proposals. I believe they should be scrapped, and I think that belief is shared by a number of Members across the House. I look forward to the Minister’s response to that.
As someone with a trade union background, I think it is important to visit picket lines. It is an opportunity for Members of the House to hear what constituents have to say about such disputes. I hope the Minister will hear me out when I say, as chair of the PCS parliamentary group, and as my party’s justice spokesperson, that I am concerned about the dispute in the courts of England and Wales about security guards and outsourced workers. They have been given a derisory pay offer, and I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what the Government are doing about that.
I note that even the newspapers are going on strike, including those who work for National World, which includes The Scotsman and other papers. I offer them full solidarity and support. It is amazing to see that even the newspapers are going on strike. The reason they are is very simple: the continuation of the cost of living crisis. Far too many people across these islands are struggling with the cost of food. Many of them are in work, many are receiving state support, and many see that state support deducted every month in universal credit deductions—a crazy system—yet they also see supermarkets posting record profits. Far too many people are struggling to make their mortgage payments, yet they see the banks posting record profits. Far too many people are struggling to pay their energy bills, yet they see the energy companies posting record profits. Something has to give. The focus of the House when it returns surely needs to be on dealing with that imbalance. While that imbalance exists, more people will suffer unnecessarily.
As I said, my hon. Friend Stephen Flynn has given me the pleasure of being the justice and immigration spokesperson, and I feel it is necessary to raise the issue of Mears, the Home Office provider of asylum seeker accommodation. I am concerned to hear about the changes it is making to how it provides asylum accommodation and, more importantly, how about it evicts people in that situation. Two things seem to be going on. First, when someone receives a negative decision, it evicts them right away, by instituting what is called a lock change eviction. There is a real problem with that, as I discovered from one of my constituents. Mears handed them a letter saying, “You have a negative decision and therefore have to leave the property.” But that constituent had not received a Home Office decision. That constituent is still waiting on a Home Office decision, yet was given a letter from Mears asking them to leave the property.
Then there is how Mears treats people who have been given refugee status. People who have been given the status of sanctuary on these islands are now receiving court orders to the sheriff courts to tell them that Mears will evict them. Frankly, if we are welcoming people to the United Kingdom and saying to them that they have citizenship and status to remain in this country, why are companies—Home Office providers—taking individuals to court to evict them and dump them on to the local authority, which then has to find them emergency housing? That is not, I would suggest, an appropriate way to deal with anyone, let alone those who have been given refugee status.
I want to wish all Members a pleasant recess. I also want—I always deliberately take the opportunity to do so—to thank not just my constituency office staff, but the constituency office staff of every single Member. While we are here having the great debates of the day, they are the real heroes sorting out constituents’ problems on a daily basis. I want to pay particular tribute to Scott, Roza, Raz, Linsey, Tony, Keith, Alistair, Dominique and Greg for all the work they do on behalf of the best constituency office in these islands, which is of course found in the great constituency of Glasgow South West.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank Bob Blackman for leading today’s debate. He took us on a canter around north-west London, the middle east and south Asia. It is a pleasure to follow Chris Stephens, who made a good contribution. I thank all those who have participated in the debate. It has been an excellent opportunity to hear Members’ concerns and their passions.
It is right in this debate to reflect on colleagues who have recently passed away. There will be an Adjournment debate later today led by my hon. Friend Beth Winter, but I would also like to pay tribute to the late Ann Clwyd. Ann was a friend and a mainstay of our Labour family in south Wales. We used to sit together on the backest Back Bench at the top of the seats below the Gangway behind me. We would often chat about Welsh politics and foreign policy. Ann was an expert on the middle east and a global human rights figure. Over many hours we would put the world to rights. Ann was both gentle and made of stern stuff. I will miss her as a friend and as a comrade. I send my condolences to her beloved family.
My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh spoke movingly about her late sister, Margaret McDonagh, and the treatment for brain tumours. I send her all best wishes for her four-point plan. We all know that the McDonaghs have a famous fighting spirit. It is good to see cross-party support for this important endeavour.
Tracey Crouch provided a powerful account of her campaign against badger culls, emphasising the importance of research, good data and good farming methods. Good wishes for the future on that.
My hon. Friend Tony Lloyd gave a compelling case for a better understanding of the seabed and scientific concerns over its exploitation.
Jack Lopresti reflected on bus services for local children and on his visits to Ukraine. He had excellent cross-party ideas on reparations from Russia to Ukraine to help its rebuilding.
My right hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, who is fiercely passionate about this place, spoke well on the challenges faced by her constituents, including access to transport, crumbling schools and dangerous dogs. We all give our best wishes to Sami after he suffered that terrible attack.
Fiona Bruce talked about her local hospital campaigning. The diagnostic one-stop shop sounds great.
Aaron Bell reflected on the history of his constituency. It sounds like a lovely place, with a great history of mineworking—which provides me with a neat segue into south Wales. I have ambivalent feelings about mineworking; my grandfather, George Winter, was badly crushed in a coal fall, but I am still proud of my coal and steel family background.
Colleagues have made great play of the different places and people in their constituencies, so I will take this opportunity briefly to do the same. On Friday I will hold a surgery at Blaina library, which is a great venue, not least because it is home to a wonderful local history museum. I pay tribute to the Sirhowy food share: in difficult times such as these, it serves its community in Tredegar with warm, open arms. Its volunteers, alongside those in other food banks in Blaenau Gwent, are truly the best of us. May I also give a big thumbs-up to the members of the Ebbw Valley brass band? Last weekend they became the first section national champions, which is a huge achievement.
I am pleased to respond to this debate on behalf of His Majesty’s loyal Opposition, but as we ponder this parliamentary term, it is important that we reflect on the disastrous Budget of 2022. What have we got to show for it? Soaring mortgages, food inflation, a weaker pound and a broken Britain, with ordinary working people paying the price for Conservative ideology. This is a tired Tory Government, on the down and on the out. People have had enough. After 13 years of Conservatism, Britain needs new ideas. Only Labour can offer the change that our country desperately needs, with a Government who will end the cycle of sticking-plaster politics and bring forward national renewal. We will, for example, make Britain a clean energy superpower to create jobs, cut bills and boost our energy security. We will prepare Britain for the future.
As I draw my speech to a close, I want to congratulate Sir John Benger on his new role as Master of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. It was sweet to witness a group of Clerks clap out the outgoing Principal Clerk as he left the Chamber for the last time earlier today; it really was lovely. I also want to thank everyone who keeps this House moving and operating as effectively as possible, and I particularly want to thank Wayne Jenkins and our Doorkeepers. Wayne is so helpful: he even found some gaffer tape to wrap around my cross-country running shoes one year.
As a former member of the Public Accounts Committee, I want to thank the parliamentary Select Committee staff who help us to scrutinise Government work. The National Audit Office team in particular do a great job, and in that context I congratulate the NAO’s parliamentary lead, Adrian Jenner, and his wife—one of our Clerks, Sarah Petit—who recently welcomed their new baby girl, Cora. I also want to thank my Blaenau Gwent team, Sara Baker, Mandy Platt, Gemma Badham, Dominic Jones and Callie Lewis. I thank them for always going above and beyond, and I am sure that many Members feel the same about their teams.
Finally, I wish everyone an exciting conference recess. In the weeks ahead, all our parties will seek to gain the trust of the British people. That is an important democratic endeavour—and, of course, I look forward to seeing everyone return for the autumn term.
I will be leaving the Chamber shortly, so before I call the Minister, I want to give big thanks to everyone who has paid tribute to Sir John Benger. I absolutely agree with everything that has been said. He has been a great servant of the House, and we will miss him, but we wish him all the very best in his new endeavours.
I am delighted to be responding today on behalf of the Government. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is not usually the convention for Whips to speak at this Dispatch Box. As you also know, I spend a lot of time as Deputy Chief Whip running in and out of this Chamber telling Ministers to be more pithy, to sit down and to get the votes out of the way and done, so I will endeavour—[Hon. Members: “Get on with it!”] I will endeavour to get on with it and to address the points raised by hon. Members.
I remember fondly my time on the Backbench Business Committee with my hon. Friend Bob Blackman and our great friend, David Amess, who would have been thrilled that we are having pre-recess Adjournment debates on the cusp of half-term, as we do now, as well as at the end of a full term. I know he would have been very happy about that. I recall one occasion, when I was on the Committee, when Sir David went absolutely ballistic when the Government had the temerity to programme Government business on the last day before a recess and deny the House this debate. I will never forget his rage at that.
This has been a wide-ranging debate, and I will respond to as many colleagues as possible. First, I want to respond to the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, Nick Smith. I welcome him to his position and I welcome the tribute he paid to Ann Clwyd, who was a fantastic Member of this place. I will never forget the time she asked a question about the treatment that her husband was receiving in hospital in Wales all those years ago. It was very moving.
The hon. Gentleman raised many matters, but I do not recognise his characterisation of the Government. We have put 37 Government Bills through the House during this Session, and 23 Members have had their private Member’s Bill successfully go through the House. Among the Government Bills, we have had the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which has scrapped unwanted regulations from our time in the EU; the Victims and Prisoners Bill, in which we are strengthening the rights of victims of crime; the Online Safety Bill, in which we are protecting children and vulnerable people from online harms; the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, in which we have put legislation in place to stop Labour’s union paymasters holding public services to ransom; the Public Order Bill, in which we have stopped organisations such as Just Stop Oil attaching themselves to our roads and preventing hard-working people from getting to work; and the Illegal Migration Bill, in which we have worked hard to reduce illegal immigration, which is down nearly 20% in the last year. We are working hard to do that while Labour looks intent on making illegal immigration legal and on taking us back into the EU by the back door.
The hon. Gentleman talked about what a Labour Government could deliver, but we just need to look to Wales, where there are mandatory blanket 20 mph speed limits and longer waiting lists in the NHS than we have in England; to London, where the hated ULEZ has been imposed on hard-working people; and to Birmingham, where the Labour council is bankrupting the city. This just shows that the Labour party always runs out of other people’s money when it is in office.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East made a fantastic speech and laid out the case for his petition on why hard-working people should not be held to ransom by the megalomania of the Mayor of London and his ULEZ charge. My hon. Friend mentioned the challenges of houses in multiple occupation in his constituency, and I am sure that many of us have felt some of those challenges. He talked about the difference that his Conservative council was making in taking on a lot of additional social housing as well as making significant progress on road resurfacing. He also mentioned the India trade deal, and I am really pleased that the Government are making progress on that. It is extremely important, now that we have left the European Union, that we get trade deals with the fastest-growing economies in the world, and India is certainly one of them.
Siobhain McDonagh made a very moving speech about her sister, Margaret, who I know was regarded very fondly in this House as well as in the other place. The hon. Lady made some extremely moving comments about her sister’s last few months. One of my good friends sadly died this year from a brain tumour, and I think the sentiment of the House is that more needs to be done on this subject. There is a long way to go on the treatment and diagnosis of brain tumours. I know that the hon. Lady had a debate on this subject, and it was responded to by the Minister for Health and Secondary Care, my hon. Friend Will Quince. I will make sure he knows about today’s debate and understands the sentiment of many Members in the Chamber today.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch on her massive effort to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and raise over £150,000 for charity. She mentioned the badger cull, which is a very emotive subject. This is not only a massive issue for cattle and farmers, as nobody wants to see a badger die a miserable death from bovine TB. We all hope that the significant work that is taking place brings about a vaccine as quickly as possible.
I also welcome the comments of Tony Lloyd. Protecting the seabed is extremely important, and he will know that we are bringing in a number of protected marine zones around the UK. The matter requires further debate and discussion, and it needs to be taken extremely seriously.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend Jack Lopresti mentioned antisocial behaviour, which many of us suffer in our constituencies. We now have a record number of police officers on our streets, and the Home Secretary has been very clear that even what has hitherto been considered quite low-level crime should be investigated and dealt with by our police. I certainly hope that is the case in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
When Valerie Vaz was shadow Leader of the House, we always enjoyed her duels with the then Leader of the House. She mentioned Bescot Stadium station, of which I have some experience, having visited Bescot stadium on a number of occasions to watch the mighty Coventry City. Unfortunately, though, I have only gone away happy on one of those three occasions, which is not good news. She raises a very important point about accessibility at the station, and I will make sure it is fed back to the Minister. She mentioned several other issues on which she is looking for a response from Ministers, and I will make sure those matters are fed back.
My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce championed her area, and it is great news that she is getting the diagnostic centre at Congleton War Memorial Hospital. This is one of a series of diagnostic centres opening across the country, and I am glad to report that another of those centres is at the George Eliot Hospital in my Nuneaton constituency.
Barry Gardiner mentioned an extremely worrying housing case in his constituency and, through the work he is doing here, I very much hope that both the housing association and the NHBC will take responsibility and seek to remedy those issues as soon as practicable. If that does not happen, I hope that residents and tenants have a sufficient response to their complaints so that they can take their case to the housing ombudsman, which is extremely important.
My hon. Friend Aaron Bell mentioned the 850th anniversary of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and he paid tribute to Jim Worgan, the historian. Local historians often do a massive amount of unpaid work, and they are so valuable to our local areas. I pay tribute to the local historian Peter Lee, who has written many books related to my constituency and its industrial and mining heritage, and to Mark Palmer, who runs a Facebook group called “Nuneaton Memories,” which puts out a massive amount of nostalgia about Nuneaton—that is fabulous to see.
It is also good to see that after 850 years women are allowed to be burgesses—that is long overdue, but it is better late than never and it was good that my hon. Friend Aaron Bell identified that. His speech was a fantastic advertisement for the culture and heritage, particularly the mining heritage, of his area. It is great to hear that it is not just dwelling on the past but instead is living in the future and doing a massive amount to bring forward the latest industries and create new jobs. He has been a great champion on the issue of Walleys quarry, it is good to see that progress has been made, but clearly there is more to do and I hope that he succeeds in his mission.
It was great to hear from my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke about Dover and, particularly, Deal. I am glad that she is making progress on the phlebotomy service in Deal and the surrounding villages. Clearly, the integrated care board there is starting to listen, but I understand why she would want quicker progress, as will her constituents. Scott Benton made an illuminating speech, with a list of things that the Government are providing for Blackpool that was larger than the Blackpool tower itself. It looks as though a massive amount of support and regeneration is being provided in Blackpool. It is extremely welcome that one of our seaside towns is getting that sort of support, after many years when it has not had the support, rejuvenation and regeneration it needs.
We heard a lovely, impassioned speech from my hon. Friend James Daly, who identified the importance of civic pride in our areas. I talk about that in terms of my area time after time. It is fantastic to see that he has achieved getting Bury football club, the Shakers, back to Gigg Lane. That is a massive achievement, because civic pride comes across more than anything through sport. I very much hope for him and the good people of Bury—and a gentleman I know in my constituency who used to have a Bury season ticket and to travel there up the M6 every week—that Bury can get back into the Football League as quickly as possible. I know how difficult a journey that is likely to be.
My hon. Friend Paul Bristow again showed what a champion he is for his area. I was sorry to hear about his father passing away from a brain tumour. I spent some time in Peterborough as there was a by-election in my hon. Friend’s constituency, so I know it a little and I hear what he said about the importance of local authorities standing by their duty to house their local residents in their local area. There is a bit of debate on this, but I know how difficult it is in many areas for social housing to be provided. On London, I just point out that, as I understand it, in his first two terms the current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, provided 7,500 affordable homes per year, whereas his predecessor, Boris Johnson, provided 12,000 per year in his time. So there is a lot more to do and a lot more that can be done to give people housing, particularly in our capital.
I hear what Chris Stephens said about Kidney Care UK and organ donations, which is an extremely important subject for many people. He mentioned his family members who have sadly passed away from brain tumours. As I said, I can sense a growing movement across the House on that issue, which the relevant Minister will have heard as a result of today’s debate. On rail ticket offices, the relevant Minister will respond to that consultation in due course. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the cost of living, which has been an extremely important issue and still is for many of our constituents. I point out that the Government have provided a record package in our history of £94 billion, helping every household in some way but particularly the most vulnerable, giving them support with their heating bills and so on. It just shows the strength of the UK as a bloc in regard to being able to support all parts of the UK in a better way than would be the case if the hon. Gentleman got his wish to break up our successful United Kingdom.
Another point the hon. Gentleman made was about mortgages. Clearly, there are challenging times for many mortgage holders, but I recommend that anyone facing those challenges speaks to their mortgage lender, because 90% of mortgage lenders have signed up to the mortgage charter. I am aware of a case where someone who was hitherto a mortgage prisoner, unable to get a better deal from their lender, has secured a fixed-rate deal at a significantly lower cost than their previous rate. If people are having challenges, I implore them to speak to their mortgage lender.
As we break for the conference recess, I pay tribute to the Clerk of the House, John Benger, for his long and distinguished service. For many of us, the recess will include not just the conferences, but a lot of constituency work and knocking on doors for two by-elections, but I hope we will all have a happy and safe recess.
I look forward to seeing the right hon. Gentleman on the doorsteps in Tamworth. I have been reliably informed that Mr Phil Howse is our Principal Doorkeeper, so may I correct the record? Wayne Jenkins is the Deputy Principal Doorkeeper and together they do a great job.
I thank the hon. Member. He is absolutely right that our Doorkeepers do a great job. They are a font of all knowledge to many Members of the House. Quite often, the Doorkeepers know when votes are coming before a lot of Members, so Members rely on them rather than their Whips, which they should not necessarily do, for their experience and knowledge. I thank our Doorkeepers, our Clerks, all of the staff on the parliamentary estate, our staff in our constituencies and in our parliamentary offices. Those staff do a massive amount at the coalface to support our constituents; without them, we would not be able to do our jobs and support our constituents as Members of Parliament.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you a good conference recess and I hope that everybody has a happy and safe conference recess.
With the leave of the House, I thank all 13 Back-Bench Members who spoke in the debate, including one who intervened, and the three Front-Bench Members who contributed. I remind my right hon. Friend Mr Jones that when we persuaded the late Sir David Amess to join the Backbench Business Committee, he did so on one proviso—to safeguard the end-of-term, pre-recess Adjournment debate—only to find that the Government had reneged on the deal.
I particularly thank Siobhain McDonagh for her speech. One of my opponents in the 1992 general election very sadly died of a brain tumour some six months after the election. He was a very young man and it happened suddenly. It was a tragedy for all concerned, especially his family. I extend my sympathy to the hon. Lady.
The benefit of these debates has been shown by the contributions—local, national and international—made by Members from across the Back Benches. I will take back to the Backbench Business Committee the desire for the whole House to continue these debates at all costs.
As my constituency neighbour, Barry Gardiner, said, I should correct the record. The £300,000 gas-guzzling Range Rover Sentinel, in which the Mayor of London drives around London, is exempt, because it was registered in 2020. That is why it is exempt; there is no special exemption.
May I say to Chris Stephens that I envy him for having such an elastic budget that he can employ so many people who are doing such brilliant work in his constituency office.
Let me thank and wish a good conference recess to all the staff—everyone who keeps this House going, all our constituency staff, everyone who works for Government Ministers and all the civil servants. I hope that our conference is successful—I am not sure about the other conferences. We will be enjoying the opportunity to get together with friends whom we have not seen for a while and debating issues of political importance. But most of us, I am sure, will be working hard in our constituencies on behalf of our constituents, which is, after all, what we do best. We look forward to coming back in the autumn for another round of opportunities for Government legislation, the King’s Speech and going into the last Session before the general election. Indeed, I look forward to joining those debates and making the fullest contribution I can from the Back Benches, as I have been doing for the past 13 years.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.