Chris Stephens – 2022 Speech at the Sir David Amess Summer Adjournment Debate

The speech made by Chris Stephens, the SNP MP for Glasgow South West, in the House of Commons on 21 July 2022.

It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), but when I see “Southend West” on the annunciator, I very much think of the brilliant campaigning Member of Parliament, David Amess, and it is fitting that the debate is named after him. Only fairly recently, animal welfare, an issue about which Sir David was very passionate, was back on the statute book, and that law was very appropriate. Thinking back to his many achievements in getting legislation through, there was also the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which redefined public policy in tackling fuel poverty in the UK. That is a pertinent issue now, as we face the cost of living crisis.

One phrase I keep hearing, but I do not really like, is that people have a choice of whether to heat or eat. I do not like that phrase because there are still far too many people who do not even have that choice. When they go to a food bank, they are looking not just for food but for a fuel voucher. The reality is that too many people are still in poverty across our islands. It has been a surprise to me that that has not yet featured as an issue in the Conservative party leadership contest.

The contest can be entertaining for those of us watching from the outside. Indeed, one of the leadership candidates appeared to suggest that Darlington was in Scotland, and that was a surprise to both the people of Scotland and the people of Darlington.

I should welcome the Deputy Leader of the House to his place. I am told that researchers are discovering that he is one of the first Members of Parliament to have been elevated to the Front Bench who has seen his contributions in Hansard drop sharply. I think that is because of his many contributions from the Back Benches. I wish him well in his glittering career on the Front Bench, which I will be watching with interest.

David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)

Establishment stooge!

Chris Stephens

He may very well become an establishment stooge, but I will be watching his glittering career from the safety, in the years ahead, of an independent Scotland. He and I both follow the NFL and American football passionately, and he will be aware of the brand and logo of my team, the Raiders, which is “Commitment to Excellence”. If only the Government had a commitment to excellence; I am thinking here that so many Members from across the House have mentioned issues with the Passport Office and the problems our constituents have. I am genuinely trying to be helpful when I reiterate the call I made during business questions. If Ministers and officials have regular updates, either virtually or through a conference call with Members from across the House so that we can address some of the systematic problems that exist at the Passport Office, it would be really helpful for everyone across the House.

I wish to raise a couple of other issues of concern. A number of Members talked about the tone of debates, and they were right to do so. There now seems to be a debate about the size of the state going on. I am very concerned that the Government seem to be pressing ahead with 91,000 civil service job cuts, and Departments are being asked to put forward proposals for staff cuts of 20%, 30% and 40%. Departments are being asked, “What would the Department look like? What could it not do?” That is the wrong approach.

David Linden

Does my hon. Friend, like me, see the contradiction on the part of the Government? They talk about cutting tax and therefore having fewer resources to resource our public services with. How does that add up with the idea of levelling up? The two of those things are mutually exclusive, are they not?

Chris Stephens

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The fact that the Government also want to close government offices—in some towns and cities, public sector offices are the largest employer—also goes against that. I am also concerned about the increasing anti-trade union rhetoric we have heard recently and this way of legislating in haste. I am thinking in particular about the attempt to bring in agency workers to bust strikes. Agencies themselves do not support that legislation, so I have no idea why the Government went ahead with it.

I want to pay tribute to every constituency office and constituency staff member across these islands, but I must pay particular tribute to the No. 1 team, who find themselves in Glasgow South West. I refer of course to Justina, Dominique, Linsey, Raz, Alistair, Keith, Greg and my new office manager, Scott McFarlane, who takes over from the great Roza Salih. I was delighted that she was elected as the first refugee councillor in Scotland in the May council elections, representing the Greater Pollok ward. I pay particular tribute to all community groups, particularly those in Glasgow South West, which will be running summer programmes, looking after the elderly, looking after young people and addressing food poverty. That just leaves me to wish everyone a good summer. To quote Alice Cooper, “School’s out for summer”.