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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 5:15 pm, 15th October 2019

I am proud that this Government are ending the postcode lottery and ensuring fairer funding for our schools, which I have led on in this place. I know that many Members across the House were looking for a fairer funding formula, and we have got it in this Queen’s Speech. The schools in my constituency will hugely welcome this injection of funds. St Albans schools will now see an increase in funding above the new minimum levels of per-pupil funding. The average amount in St Albans will be £5,161 per secondary school pupil and £4,123 per primary school pupil. I welcome that.

I was also pleased to hear the Prime Minister say yesterday in response to my intervention that this Government are committed to protecting parental choice and respecting diversity within our education system. That includes private schools. It is worth noting that our country welcomes 55,280 overseas students as of January 2019. I welcome the announcement that those students can now stay for two years after graduation, because it means that they can contribute to our economy. Many foreign young people also attend our excellent private schools. Private schools generate billions of pounds for the UK economy, support thousands of jobs and contribute significantly to tax revenues. Trashing that, as the Labour party wants to do, is wrong. I have in my constituency what is believed to be the oldest private school—St Albans School—and I am meeting parents and the headteacher of St Albans High School for Girls this Friday. They are extremely worried about this act of vandalism, and many people have asked me, “Which charity will be next on the hit-list?” We need to think about that.

I am pleased that, by March 2021, the local growth fund will have invested £12 billion in projects to boost jobs and growth across England. The fund has made projects such as the Hertfordshire enterprise zone possible, creating 8,000 new jobs. However, I will still be pressing for a review of business rates, because the current model based on property values is not fit for the modern business economy. It also allows too many online retailers to escape paying their way, which is wrong.

The Environment Bill is a flagship policy for this Government, and I welcome the proposals in the Queen’s Speech. In St Albans, like in many areas across the country, we have air quality management areas, including one at the Peahen junction. These polluted areas have been subject to this designation for years, and it is time we had an audit of where these areas are and how long they have had this designation. Simply recording the pollution with no obligation on local authorities to deal with the problem and eradicate the pollution is not good enough. We need to know the extent of the problem.

I will be pressing for the inclusion of noise pollution in the Environment Bill, as it seems to be overlooked by many of those campaigning for our environment. I missed the first part of the debate because I was meeting the Aviation Minister. My constituency has big problems with noise pollution from Luton airport, and I was pleased to hear that the Aviation Minister will be looking into that matter. Noise pollution, whether from roads or flights, blights lives.

Today’s debate is about our place in the world. As the only major country that is simultaneously meeting the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7% of our gross national income on international development, we hold our heads high in the world. Bangladesh, in which I take a particular interest, received £190 million in development funds from the UK in 2018. I was pleased that the Secretary of State announced in September an extra £87 million for the Rohingya, which is truly welcomed by the people languishing in those camps as a result of persecution.

A lot of funding from DFID goes to democracy-strengthening, including in Bangladesh, which is a young country; it is nearly its 50th anniversary. Emerging countries must learn that if faith is lost in the democratic process, through dodgy elections or broken promises, the whole future of electoral participation will be lost.

It is worth noting that many people have said, “Well, the last referendum has not been delivered”, which prompts the question why anyone would want to participate fully in another referendum. I am pleased that the Prime Minister is willing to try to deliver on the loud voice of this country: the country voted to leave. No one can argue that the 2016 referendum was poorly interacted with; it was a huge exercise in democracy, with 33.5 million people voting, and many have told me that they voted for the first time. It was a democratic instruction to the Government of the day. This was not about political allegiances; it crossed political divides. Since then, this House has failed them. We have retreated to our political corners, and that is not good. Political posturing means that this House is putting party before country now and refusing to back a deal, with some in this House doing so without even seeing it.

Even worse than this is that we now have a party trashing the concept of democracy by threating to ignore the democratic mandate, and actually overturn and revoke it. That position has been described by the leader of the Greens, Caroline Lucas, as

“arrogant, self-indulgent, cynical and very dangerous”.

Hear, hear. If we cannot deliver on what the British people have said, why will anyone ever trust any of us again? Jo Swinson, who leads the Liberal Democrats, said in 2008 that they were being gagged when they wanted an in/out referendum. Now she likes to hold the title of “Democrats” in her party name, but any party that refuses to acknowledge and try to carry out the direct democratic mandate of the people should lose the right to call themselves democrats. If the PM comes back with a deal, we all owe it to the 33 million voters to think very long and hard about how we will vote. Narrow party politics does not have a place in this decision.