It is a pleasure to follow Sir David Amess, who as usual made reference to his wish to see Southend receive city status. It is a great status to have, and we were fortunate in Preston to receive city status in 2002 as a result of the Queen’s golden jubilee. It was heavily contested and took place in jubilee year, so I am afraid he might have to wait until there is another jubilee year.
I stand here feeling bewildered following the statement from the Prime Minister about his plans for the future. The comments that we have heard today are comments that we have heard many times from Boris Johnson, who is full of bluff and bluster, but there are many serious issues up and down the country, many of which are important topics being faced by those in my own constituency.
Universal credit continues to be a scourge for people in Preston, with something like twice as many claimants of jobseeker’s allowance migrating to universal credit in the city of Preston. To me, this is an indicator of the state of the economy in many parts of the country. London will not be greatly affected by Brexit, but the people of Preston will be very hard hit by it, and the region as a whole will see a reduction of up to 12% in GDP. The less money people have in their pockets because of the transition to universal credit, the more difficult life is going to be for my constituents.
We have also seen serious poverty in many places, including my constituency. Something like 38% of children in Preston—that is nearly 8,000—are living in poverty. The Prime Minister says that the best way out of poverty is to have a job. Yes, that is the case, but 70% of children living in poverty live in a household where at least one parent is working. That poverty cannot be allowed to continue. We will expect the Government and the new Prime Minister to deal with that.
Another issue that has affected many of my constituents is the personal independence payment. The reassessments that have gone on in that area are absolutely ridiculous. People with serious disabilities and illnesses have been given zero points, and many of them—more than 50%—have to win on appeal. Again, this should not be allowed to continue, and I want to see the new Prime Minister and the new Government doing something about this.
I want to discuss foreign policy, because although there are many problems in my constituency, we have a multi-ethnic, multi-faith community that looks not just inwards to what is happening in Preston and in Lancashire but outwards to what is happening elsewhere in the world. There is continued dismay, anger and upset at what is going on in the occupied territories in Palestine.
On Monday, Israeli troops accompanied by bulldozers began ruthlessly demolishing homes in the Palestinian village of Sur Baher, close to the separation wall in the occupied west bank. Residents of the village’s Wadi al-Hummus neighbourhood were shocked to see 16 residential buildings, which hold about 100 apartments, targeted on the pretext of security. Innocent Palestinians were watching as their homes were destroyed in front of their very eyes.
I first visited Palestine and Israel about 12 years ago. Then, there were about 15,000 to 20,000 settlers. Now I think there are around 100,000. This cannot be allowed to continue. The international community needs to take stronger action. In particular, we need stronger action by the United States. Unfortunately, under the current President, that does not seem as though it is going to happen any time soon.
I was also dismayed today when the Prime Minister talked, in answer to questions, about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained since 2016. How can this Prime Minister look in the mirror or sleep at night with a conscience, given the comments he made, which have contributed to this poor woman’s plight? The latest we hear is that she has been chained down and held as a prisoner. That is terrible, and it cannot be allowed to continue.
Another issue that is greatly affecting people in Preston is drug crime, which is rife in a deprived ward in my city. I recently met with local councillors from Deepdale ward, who witnessed horrific gang-related violence on the streets in broad daylight while out canvassing at local elections. Young people and children are used to distribute illicit drugs on the street, and shockingly, this activity takes place in broad daylight within yards of school playgrounds. It is rife up and down the country, and many of us here know about county lines because we are experiencing them at first hand.
I want to speak about gambling not just by adults but by young kids and children. I am hearing about kids with mobile phones who have their parents’ credit cards and are playing during lessons, gambling large sums of money—thousands of pounds, in many cases, of their parents’ money. The Gambling Commission tells us that 55,000 11 to 16-year-olds have serious gambling addictions. The country is in a mess. We have a new Prime Minister and a new Government. Let us see whether they can deal with it.