Christmas Adjournment — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:15 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Keighley 2:15 pm, 20th December 2018

It is a great pleasure to follow Bob Stewart, whom I have got to know quite well through serving together on the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. He brought a very important matter to the House’s attention with his characteristic compassion and worldly-wise experience.

There have already been several good speeches. I fear that Sir David Amess is leaving, but his was a tour de force, a lesson to us all. I understand that in Southend, his Christmas address to the nation is viewed much as the state of the union speech is seen in the United States. I cannot possibly comment on all the matters mentioned, so I will refer to one, which was the rise of Southend UnitedBradford City are in the same division. They are beginning to win games, and I note that our fixture at Valley Parade against Southend is on 19 January. The hon. Gentleman will be most welcome if he can escape from Southend for the weekend.

I intend to put three matters before the House. On the sporting theme, I will discuss Keighley Cougars, the rugby league team in Keighley. At this time of year, many of us visit primary schools, whether as the local MP, or as a parent or grandparent, and I will discuss one school in particular which has been improving over the past few months, Oldfield Primary School. Then I want to bring to the attention of the House a couple of early-day motions that might have passed people by.

First, I will talk about Keighley Cougars. Since the 1950s, this is the 20th occasion on which Keighley rugby league has been mentioned in this House. It was first mentioned by one of my illustrious predecessors, Mr Hobson, in the 1950s when he described Keighley rugby league club as one of the 30 “big fish” professional clubs at the time. I will not go through all 19 references, but it would be remiss of me not to mention Mr Gary Waller, who sadly passed away shortly after I returned to the House last year. One of my first duties was to pay tribute to him. He was very much involved in Keighley rugby league at its height in recent times—it was called “Cougar-mania”, in the 1990s.

Before the Super League, the Keighley Cougars were the first team to bring a bit of razzmatazz to rugby league. They went up the divisions and, in April 1995, they were leading division two and looking forward to promotion to the top division. What happened? They had three games to go, and they were told by the emerging Super League that they were not good enough for it: London and Paris—can you believe it, Mr Hanson—would be in the Super League, but not Keighley Cougars.

The Keighley Cougars did much good in the town. We have heard about local organisations doing good in their towns, notably from my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). When Keighley Cougars were at their height in the 1990s, crime actually fell in the town by about 15%, because people had something to believe in and the youngsters had something to get involved in.

I will not rehearse the history since that period, but it has been difficult, now reaching its nadir. Over the summer, the club was taken over by Austria Holdings. The controlling force, one might say, behind Austria Holdings is a Mr Shane Spencer. The rugby league did not judge him to be a fit and proper person to run Keighley Cougars so someone else held the licence.

On 11 December, Austria Holdings gave up control of Keighley Cougars (2010) Ltd. According to Companies House, Mrs Claire Auty took 75% control over Keighley Cougars. Keighley Cougars is still in special measures with the rugby league, which will not let it sign contracted players for the new season, only months away. It is a very suspicious situation because the day afterwards, there were bankruptcy proceedings against the said Mr Shane Spencer in Wakefield court, which have been adjourned until 4 January. Keighley Cougars fans are deeply worried. I have called upon Mr Shane Spencer to stand aside; we do not know who Mrs Claire Auty is and she has made no statement as far as I am aware about what she intends to do with Keighley Cougars. We need new ownership.

I looked back at all those references to Keighley Cougars and Keighley rugby league in Hansard; many are about conflict between rugby union and rugby league, and how rugby league felt it was not getting a good deal down the decades. I can announce that Keighley RUFC, chaired by Mr Graeme Sheffield, has confirmed that it is quite happy to ground share with Keighley Cougars next season. There are a couple of consortia that will come to the fore—I understand the rugby league has had at least two approaches.

It is incumbent on the Rugby League, particularly after those bankruptcy proceedings on 4 January, to take firm action—it has the powers to do that—and to issue the licence for Keighley Cougars to another more secure and presentable group of individuals, hopefully with a supporters’ trust so that Keighley Cougars can rise once again. It is on a terrific site—the cricket club is next door; Steeton AFC now play at Keighley Cougars. It could be part of the regeneration of Keighley, but we need firm action by the rugby league, just as it took firm action to save the Bradford Bulls a year ago.

I will move on to the second item I want to bring to the House’s attention: Oldfield Primary School, which is a small village primary school that had a bad Ofsted report in the spring. It was two days away from going into a federation of local community schools called the Footprints Federation. It did badly in the Ofsted report, but over the last few months it has shown remarkable improvement. My office has been inundated with letters from parents. I will read one, which commends the new headteacher, Angela Vinnicombe, who is the head of the Footprints Federation, and her staff. My constituent says:

“The difference they have made to the teaching, the learning, the building itself and more importantly the morale and enthusiasm of the staff and children is absolutely second to none. Quite frankly I am gobsmacked as to how this has not been recognised by the relevant bodies and I’m hoping you could have a voice in this matter”.

What has happened, David Hanson—sorry, Mr Hanson. I got slightly carried away. One of the advantages of meeting in this Chamber is your chairmanship. If we were in the main Chamber, that would not be possible. If we revert to the main Chamber next year, I hope you might be elevated because there may be some changes afoot, I hear.

Anyway, the “relevant body” that the parent was worried about is, in fact, the regional schools commissioner, Vicky Beer. It is hard to get hold of Vicky Beer; I think it would have been similarly difficult a century or so ago to get hold of the Viceroy of India. I have managed to get through to some of her officers. The regional schools commissioner has decided that the school should be academised. I do not like to take an over-ideological approach to education—there are good academies in Keighley and there are good community schools. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I have asked for a meeting with the Minister for School Standards and I hope he will grant that, so I can bring down one parent, one governor and one teacher to plead the case.

Children are having their Christmas lunches and festivities, unsure of the future. The preferred academy is Bronte Academy Trust, which runs three schools in my constituency. It has good teachers and staff. It has had one or two teething problems and has only been going since 2016. Some parents and teachers from Bronte Academy Trust have approached me and said that they do not really support what is, in effect, a hostile takeover. Bronte Academy Trust will be better sticking to improving the three schools it already has. I hope that we can take a non-ideological approach and think principally about the education of the children at Oldfield. I will visit the school as soon as it comes back on 3 January.

I promised I would refer to a couple of early-day motions that Members may have missed. One has a Christmas theme and the other looks ahead to the new year. The first, with the Christmas theme, is early-day motion 1931 in my name on Boxing day trains. I will not labour the point because I have mentioned it before in debates, but it is a disgrace that there are no Boxing day trains except for on four lines in the south-east of England. I have constituents who cannot return home to Yorkshire for Christmas from London because they have to be at work on 27 December or they lose their jobs.

There are many bank holiday sporting fixtures—I will come back to two or three of those. There are retail sales—our high streets need that boost. The good news is that, in a debate on transport in Yorkshire yesterday, the Rail Minister offered to meet me in January to look at Christmas and Boxing day 2019. I hope that the shadow Rail Minister, my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell will also agree to meet me, so by next December we can have a cross-party commitment on Boxing day trains. There are already Boxing day trains in Scotland to an extent.

Let me turn to the second early-day motion. One of the great things of this year was England’s sporting success in the World cup. In Keighley, at the said Keighley Cougars, we had a cross-community showing of that semi-final match. I speak as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Portugal—that may have escaped your attention, Mr Hanson. I was elected this week and it was a close-run race. Next summer in Portugal, England will play football in the UEFA Nations League finals. My hon. Friend Graham P. Jones has drawn attention to the fact that it will be hidden away on subscription TV. It will not be available to the nation—we will not be able to have community showings of it. I hope the Government will take some action on listed events. I call upon Comcast, which has taken over Sky, as a gesture to the English nation, to make the game available free to either the BBC or ITV, so the nation can enjoy it as a whole.

Finally, we are looking forward to Christmas and I am particularly looking forward to attending midnight mass at Leeds Roman Catholic Cathedral. For the second year in a row it will be live on the BBC, such is the quality of the choir—last year on BBC 1 and this year on Radio 4. After my Christmas lunch, my attention will to turn to Boxing day; as a sporting enthusiast, Mr Hanson, you will know there are plenty of sporting fixtures to look forward to—even if you cannot get to them by train.

Last year, I managed to place some charity Christmas bets; as someone observed, only one of the four actually came home. I must put on record that this year’s bet is with Betfred in Ilkley, which has put up the majority of the bet—it put up £80 and I put up £20. If we win, all the money goes to the homelessness project Bradford Nightstop. I am backing Leeds and Burnley to win, Bradford to eke out a draw at Sunderland and, for racing fans, I am backing Waiting Patiently, the Yorkshire-trained horse, in the King George at Kempton. Happy Christmas to one and all.