Retirement of the Clerk of the House
On 12th September 2023 I spoke in my role as Chair of the Procedure Committee in the debate about the Retirement of the Clerk of the House saying:
I rise to speak as Chair of the House of Commons Procedure Committee, and I wish to associate myself and my Committee with the remarks made so far. I know that we as a Committee agree wholeheartedly with the tributes that have been paid so far.
The Procedure Committee constituted itself on 2 March 2020, and at the end of our agenda, when we got to “Any other business”, somebody asked, “Do you think we should find out something about this coronavirus that people are talking about?” We agreed that we would invite Sir John to come to speak to the Committee privately the following Monday, and he was faced with a Committee of very enthusiastic MPs, all keen to hear about procedure and what we might do with this unknown thing called coronavirus—I see a fellow member of the Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), who was there at the time. We heard from Sir John terms such as “social distancing”, and he talked about our sitting, as one would expect from Sir John, “six feet” apart, not “two metres.” He talked about how he would transform this place so that we could continue to sit, and we would have to have spacing between Members and make sure there were lists of speakers. We sat there just astonished, because this was not something anyone on the Procedure Committee had expected we would be facing so soon after being constituted, but we did.
Only a few weeks later, this House went into hybrid form, and introduced new voting systems and new ways of working. It is to the credit of Sir John and you, Mr Speaker, that this Parliament continued to sit throughout the pandemic, because many others did not manage to do so. We continued to sit here, holding Ministers to account, scrutinising legislation and getting business done. That is a great credit to you and to Sir John.
As others have reflected, Sir John’s tenure had three of the great moments in this place—Brexit, the pandemic and the passing of Her Majesty the Queen—all of which he managed, as the chief executive of this place, with such aplomb, so courteously and so wisely. Of course, he was here for the change in culture in this place, and the grievance procedures that have been introduced would be enough for any Clerk’s tenure, never mind doing it in the background of all of the other great things that were happening.
I wish Sir John well. I know he will be fantastic in his new role at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge. I hope he does not have to deal with quite so many momentous activities during his time there and that he can enjoy his time as master. I wish his successor well, and again I hope we have a slightly less frenetic Parliament for him.
On 12 July 2023, I spoke in Prime Minister's Questions, saying:
"Mr Speaker, you know the value of inter-parliamentary relations and, in particular, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which was founded nearly 135 years ago in this place. We are honoured this week to be joined by the president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Mr Duarte Pacheco. Would my right hon. Friend join his campaign to get the USA to rejoin this important international organisation?"
The Deputy Prime Minister replied in agreement, saying that he too would like to see the United States of America rejoin the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Privileges Committee Special Report
On 10 July 2023, I spoke in the debate on the Privileges Committee Special Report in which I discussed the rules on Members commenting on Parliamentary Committees' investigations. I made the point that Members have every right to comment on a report once it is published, but that we should allow Committees to complete their work without interference through comments made to the media. I concluded by saying:
"I turn to my final point, which, actually, the hon. Member for Wallasey started to make, which is about policing ourselves. I would very much like us to get back to having motions on House business going through on the nod. The moment we started to whip House business put us on a very slippery slope, because the House will make decisions and the House needs to support Members. I hope that we can go back to those things going through on the nod, with us trusting our colleagues to police us.
"We did not do things well when it came to our expenses. We policed our own expenses, and look at what happened as a result of that. I strongly suggest that nobody in the House wants us to get to a position where an outside body, third parties and non-Members start to police us. If we want to continue policing ourselves, we need to have faith in the system we have, and we need to support those right hon. and hon. Members who are doing their very best to do their job."
Freedom of expression in Iran is seriously limited, so the BBC Persian service has played a vital role in bringing to light news of protests and oppression by the regime. The freedom of journalists is under great threat, so I asked the Foreign Secretary to confirm the Government’s support for the continuation of the BBC Persian service.
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
On 6 July 2023 I spoke in a debate in the Chamber on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). I am actively involved in the CPA, which is an effective organisation for addressing issues such as modern slavery. Furthermore, as the only organisation to include the devolved legislatures, the provincial legislatures, the state legislatures, the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies, it is an important forum to hear a diverse range of viewpoints.
A Year of Reasons to Visit the Moorlands
In Prime Minister's Questions on 5 July 2023, I spoke about my initiative "A Year of Reasons to Visit the Moorlands", the proceedings of which can be found here, where the Speaker agrees to come to Alton Towers and the Deputy Prime Minister mentions Hetty's Tea Shop!
Statutory Duty of Care for Students
Sadly, there are communities in the Staffordshire Moorlands who been affected by student suicide. My thoughts remain with all those affected, and I am following legislative developments on this issue closely. I was therefore pleased to be able to speak in a Westminster Hall debate on 5 June 2023, to raise the case of Theo Brennan's death when he was at university. I spoke out on behalf of Esther Brennan, Theo's mum, making clear that we need certainty on who is responsible for students’ care.
As Chair of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I closely follow foreign policy developments and Britain's role internationally. I therefore spoke in a debate on overseas territories on 11 May 2023, agreeing with other Parliamentarians that the best people to listen to on such matters were those from overseas territories themselves. Furthermore, as Chair of the Procedure Committee, I raised an enquiry on the territorial constitution that the committee is carrying out, suggesting the House thinks about what changes could be made to procedure to ensure overseas territories' voices are heard.
Special School in Biddulph
On 20 April 2023 I presented the following petition in Parliament, calling for increased special educational needs provision in Biddulph:
"Declares that the Government should take actions to construct a new special school in the town of Biddulph in the Staffordshire Moorlands so that children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities from there and the nearby surrounding areas have access to a local specialist school, notes that; this follows discussions with parents and local councillors who have formed a support group and shows that there is a legitimate need for this kind of facility at a local level; further notes that mainstream schools do not have adequate resources to provide the specialist support that these students need and require, further declares that the number of students needing specialist education is increasing; furthermore there are also issues with lack of transport should this be needed for out of area travel which can, on occasion, be both stressful and daunting for the children who are requiring specialist education.
"The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to take into account the concerns of the petitioners and take immediate action to construct a new special school in Biddulph."
World Down Syndrome Day
For World Down Syndrome Day, I met constituent and National Down Syndrome Policy Group Ambassador Ed Daly at an event in Parliament and heard about the progress of the Down Syndrome Act. I was then proud to pay tribute to Ed in the following contribution in the House of Commons Chamber:
"Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope you will forgive me, but my constituent Ed Daly is in the Public Gallery with his mum, Jane. They spoke at the event on Tuesday in Parliament and they are fantastic advocates for this cause. Everything my hon. Friend says absolutely sums up what they have been saying to me. Will she, as I do, pay tribute to them?"
Protection from Sex-based Harassment Bill
I contributed at Committee Stage of the Protection from Sex-based Harassment Bill when it was debated in the House of Commons on 22 February 2023. I urged the Government to find legislation that could be understood easily by both the judiciary and police, to help get the prosecutions we desperately need.
Welcoming Ukrainians in the Moorlands
In February 2023, I contributed to Prime Minister's Questions by mentioning the tea party I organised for Ukrainian refugees and the people in North Staffordshire who welcomed them into their homes. I was pleased to have the Prime Minister join me in thanking the sponsors, including Alton Towers who hosted the event.
PMQs - President Zelenskyy's visit
I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak in Prime Minister’s Questions immediately before President Zelenskyy’s visit. MPs can ask the Prime Minister about any issue that concerns them, but on this occasion most MPs referenced our united support for the people of Ukraine. I used the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister about the Tea Party I hosted, together with other North Staffordshire MPs, for the Ukrainian guests and their host families in our constituencies.
I asked the Prime Minister to join me in thanking the sponsors, particularly Alton Towers who hosted the event and all the people of North Staffordshire who have made our Ukrainian friends so welcome.
The Prime Minister agreed that it is a wonderful way to show our support for the families who have come here and said that President Zelenskyy had mentioned how grateful he is that we have opened our hearts and homes to help people from his country.
Asking Prime Minister about Levelling Up Bid
I asked the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Questions on 18th January about Staffordshire Moorlands District Council's bid to the Levelling Up Fund.
I said that the money would make an incredible difference to constituents in Staffordshire Moorlands and asked him to encourage the Department for Levelling Up to look favourably on the bid.
Supporting Channel 4
Having publicly opposed the proposed privatisation of Channel 4, I was pleased that in January the Government confirmed that Channel 4 will remain in public ownership.
On 9 January I asked the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport a question in the Chamber on this asking her to expand on how small, creative, independent production companies in North Staffordshire, and those wanting to become such companies, could benefit from this announcement.
Company Transparency (Carbon in Supply Chains) Bill
I re-introduced my Company Transparency, Carbon in Supply Chains Bill in Parliament which would require companies to prepare an annual statement on carbon in their supply chains.
This Bill would help inform consumers make their own choices about their purchases but by driving business behaviour the law will make the market incentivise companies to do more to reduce their carbon emissions.
The full Bill can be found here.
Babies in the Chamber
As Chair of the Procedure Committee, it was my role lead the investigation into whether babies should be allowed in the House of Commons Chamber. We concluded that they should not, and in June I made the following statement:
“The long-standing practice of the House is that babies should not be present in the Chamber or Westminster Hall. We believe that Members should not bring babies into the Chamber, Westminster Hall or General Committees as they observe, initiate, speak or intervene in proceedings, and we believe this should remain the guidance.”
The full proceeding can be found here.
Raising the issue of Loneliness
In June 2022 I asked the Leader of the House of Commons if the issue of loneliness could be discussed in the Chamber. Below is what I said:
“In two weeks’ time I will be hosting my first in-person event since the pandemic, which is a pensioners fair to bring together those organisations and agencies that help to support and provide opportunities for the more mature constituents of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on those community groups that help to provide such great support to more mature people, particularly in the light of the loneliness and social isolation that many of them suffer?”
As an avid football fan and lover of the game – and as former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – I take a keen interest in the role Parliament plays in sport. When the fan-led review into football governance was discussed in the Chamber, I was therefore keen to listen to proceeding and contribute my thoughts:
“I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for a fantastic piece of work. I know that football fans across the country will be thrilled today. I am thinking about Leek Town, in the eighth tier of the pyramid, which will be very pleased to see the pyramid being strengthened by this work. I want to ask a question about the regulator. In my experience, regulators do not always deliver what Government Ministers want them to deliver. Given that this is an issue of finance, may I urge the Minister to look at successful financial regulation and perhaps base the regulator model on that?”
The full proceeding can be found here.
Funding for Leek-Stoke Line Consultation
In the Autumn Statement, I was delighted that £50000 was granted through the Restore Your Railways Fund for a feasibility study of reopening the Leek to Stoke line. This comes after together with the three Stoke-on-Trent MPs, we campaigned and wrote to the Transport Secretary to ask for the line to be reopened.
British Soft Power
As a Vice Chair of the British Council APPG, with an interest in the British Council’s role as part of the UK’s soft power, I spoke in the Chamber during a debate on this issue. My two contributions can be found below:
“I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on his work chairing the APPG, of which I am a member. He makes the point around soft power and the value we get from that. The British Council really does punch above its weight, as does the whole UK, in terms of soft power, but there is a price for liberty, which we are seeing all too clearly around the world at the moment. That price is eternal vigilance. That means we need to invest in those assets, such as the British Council. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is vital?”
“I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who indulges me by allowing me to intervene a second time. Does he agree that it would be wonderful if there was some way of assessing the value of institutions such as the British Council, which is so much more than the money that goes in? If only the Treasury had a way of assessing the overall value to the United Kingdom, rather than just looking at the pounds going in, we would appreciate those institutions all the more.”
The full debate can be found here.
Meeting with Ukrainian MPs on International Women’s Day
It was inspiring to be able to speak virtually to some female Ukrainian MPs on International Women’s Day. At a meeting of the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union to mark International Women’s Day on the Humanitarian Impact of the War in Ukraine on Women and Girls, it was great to be able to hear directly from those affected by the conflict.
Ukrainian MP, Lesia Vasylenko, said; “This gives us energy, knowing that you are with us and behind us.”
Presenting the Petition on Industrial Waste in the Musden Low Area
On the 9th of February, I presented a petition in the House of Commons on behalf of Staffordshire Moorlands’ constituents who were concerned about a permit that has been issued by the Environment Agency that would allow thousands of tonnes of industrial waste to be spread on one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom.
The petition stated:
“The petitioners…request that the House of Commons urge the Government to consider the concerns of the petitioners and urge the Environment Agency to withdraw the permit allowing industrial waste to be spread on the Musden Low area.”
My entire contribution to the Chamber on the petition can be found here.
Health and Care Bill
During a Consideration of the Health and Care Bill in the Chamber, I spoke in support of an amendment which sought to treat broadcasters and online platforms with fairness when it came to food and drink advertising. Below is my contribution:
“It is surely vital that those responsible broadcasters should not be penalised when they are doing the right thing—and yet there is effectively a wild west on the internet, where we are simply not able to manage the issue. I recognise that the Minister will be concerned that the online harms Bill will also deal with some of these matters, but we need to find a cross-Government way of dealing with this.”
The full proceedings can be found here.
Channel Crossings in Small Boats
During an Urgent Question on the small boat crossings of the English Channel, I raised the issue of human trafficking. Below is my question to the Home Secretary followed by her response:
“The people responsible for this situation are the people traffickers, who sell false hope to the vulnerable. The only way we can address this is by working with our partners, allies and friends. Will my right hon. Friend join the campaign to ensure that this item is No. 1 at the next United Nations General Assembly?”
The Home Secretary:
“My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am grateful to her because she has made one of the most intelligent contributions on this whole issue about people smugglers and working with counterparts in the world. I appreciate that Opposition Members completely reject relationship-building and speaking on a multilateral level, including with the United States; I noticed in particular the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) heckling earlier on. This is a very important point, because people smuggling and modern-day slavery is an international trade, and the Government have a proud history of and record on legislating, standing up and speaking out against it.”
Office of Tax Simplification
During a presentation of part of the Finance (no. 2) Bill in the Chamber, I highlighted the work the Procedure Committee, which I am Chair of, was doing to take evidence on the issue. The full proceeding can be found here.
Investment Industry Exposure to Modern Slavery
In a debate on the exposure to modern slavery in the investment industry, I spoke to share my experience of taking the Modern Slavery Bill through Parliament, reaffirming that we need to continue the work to eliminate the horrors of slavery in modern society. Below is the conclusion of my statement:
“I will make two very quick points before I sit down. The first is that I have tabled a private Member’s Bill that replicates section 54 on climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford said that this was something that people wanted to see. I would like to see that transparency in supply chains on climate change as well, and I hope that hon. Members will support the Bill. Second, I join my hon. Friend in pleading that we ask the United Nations to make human trafficking and modern slavery a focus of the next General Assembly in September 2022. If we could work together to do that and to get global recognition of this issue, we would go a long way to tackling this heinous crime.”
The full proceedings can be found here.
The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP
Following the death of my good friend and colleague James Brokenshire, I made the following statement in the Chamber:
“I rise to make two points, about James and the work he did and about James as a friend.
“I followed James in two ministerial positions. I took over from him as Minister with responsibility for modern slavery when he became the Minister for security and immigration, and then I followed him into the Northern Ireland Office. His were very big shoes to fill. Goodness me, the way that officials talked about him: “JB will do it, JB will sort it, JB has this organised.” It was quite overwhelming at times to follow in those footsteps and to see the work he had done.
“My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) summed it up. James was diligent, he was careful in his decision making and he was thoughtful. He always remembered that people were affected by the decisions he was taking. He never took decisions in the abstract. He always thought about the people who would be directly affected.
“I had to cover for James for a couple of weeks when he was Immigration Minister—I covered his role while he had a medical procedure—and, typical James, he made sure it was during a recess so that he did not take any time away from this place. I was astonished when one red box arrived for me and then two red boxes arrived with James’s work. Every single day, James was getting through at least double the workload that anybody else in the Department was covering, and he read every single one of those letters, particularly the letters about immigration. He dealt with them all personally, and he thought carefully about what he was doing to try to make sure that the people affected were helped.
“In Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire should be the person who is remembered as the architect of the agreement that got Stormont back in January 2020. If not for James’s diligent work, Stormont would not be sitting now. He achieved so much, and I know from the messages I have received from people across Northern Ireland how warmly he was regarded there.
“James was my friend. He had a great sense of humour. We keep hearing that he was nice. He was so much more than nice; goodness me, his sense of humour was wicked at times. He was so easy to talk to, but he also had judgment. He could give advice and wise counsel. We were both at his 50th birthday party, Madam Deputy Speaker, and it was a wonderful occasion. His family put on the most marvellous tribute, and we all learned so much about James and his life.
“I will miss him so very much, and I am so grateful to have been allowed to speak in this debate.”
On Anti-Slavery Day in Parliament, I asked the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP the following:
“Today we mark Anti-Slavery Day. One of the first people in Government to recognise the importance of that issue was our much missed colleague James Brokenshire. Will my right hon. Friend please confirm that her priority will be to continue James’s work, making this issue a priority for her and making the UK a world leader in this area?”