- Posted by: Valerie Vaz MP
- Category: News
I spoke in the debate on “Matters raised before the Adjournment” on Tuesday, 19 September. It gave me an opportunity to raise a number of issues which the Minister responding said he would raise with the relevant Minister. You can read my full speech below:
“Madam Deputy Speaker, I associate myself with your words about Margaret McDonagh and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (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 the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) back in his place.
Like the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (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, the right hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), to his place—we are graced with his presence—and the new deputy shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (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, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (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.”
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 the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (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, the 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 the 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 to consider 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.”