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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 5:48 pm, 15th October 2019

Let me start with some good news. Last Thursday, I used Parliament’s brief prorogation to visit the remarkable Perseid School in my constituency, a school for children with severe learning difficulties that has just been judged “outstanding” by Ofsted for the fourth consecutive time. As part of its consistent excellence, Perseid has been a key player in a groundbreaking project delivered by the fantastic charity SeeAbility, which calls for full sight tests and glasses to be dispensed to children at their schools rather than in the high street or in a hospital.

Why is that important? Because children with a learning disability are 28 times more likely than other children to have a serious sight problem. In the UK, one of the highest populations at risk of poor vision is that of people with learning disabilities, and the majority of children with severe or profound learning disabilities attend special schools. In fact, nearly half of the children in such schools have a vision problem, and nearly one third need glasses. Those clear health inequalities have led the NHS to commit itself to a new programme of eye care for all special needs schools, which will bring eye care and glasses to more than 120,000 children once it is up and running. It is hoped that the scheme will be launched in spring 2020, and the commitment to improve healthcare for all people with learning disabilities and autism in the NHS 10-year long-term plan should help drive this change forward. I congratulate wholeheartedly both SeeAbility and Perseid for driving the changes, and may I take a moment also to credit Alistair Burt, who used his power and position while Minister at the Department of Health and Social Care to help make this difference? Will the Minister today signal support for the scheme progressing as planned by NHS England and for it being a continued priority for secondary legislation among all that has been announced in the Queen’s Speech?

Moving from the good news to the bad, there are now 1.2 million families across our country on the ever-expanding housing waiting list, but just 6,464 new social homes were built in 2017-18. That is the lowest figure on record and at this rate it would take 172 years to give everyone on the current waiting list a social rented home. Meanwhile, there are 83,700 households trapped in temporary accommodation, costing the taxpayer an eye-watering £1 billion per year—every single penny badly spent. All corners of this Chamber accept that we are in the heart of a housing crisis, yet other than

laws to implement new building safety standards”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2019;
Vol. 800, c. 2.]— there was not a single word to combat the housing crisis in the Queen’s Speech, not one.

Of course a building safety regulator is welcome, but it is only part of the housing regulation that is required. Anyone who has visited the B&Bs, hostels and warehouses that are “temporarily” housing homeless families will know of their often appalling standard and squalor. We have Ofsted for schools and the Care Quality Commission for healthcare; is it not time that we had a regulator to oversee the temporary accommodation for the 124,000 children who are homeless in our country?

Finally, the topic of today’s debate is “Britain’s Place in the World” and in the Queen’s Speech we were told that the Government will

“ensure that it continues to play a leading role in global affairs, defending its interests and promoting its values”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2019;
Vol. 800, c. 3.]

What could possibly be more reflective of Britain’s place in the world and our leading role in global affairs than our response to a humanitarian disaster unfolding upon one of our allies because of one of our allies? I refer, of course, to the Kurds, deserted by the United States despite their immense sacrifice as our allies in the battle against ISIS.

One week into the Turkish assaults on the Kurds and we have seen executions, assassinations of female politicians, the escape of ISIS detainees and, this weekend, a targeted attack on a civilian convoy which included international journalists. Reports yesterday even indicated that a Kurdish politician was raped and stoned to death by advancing Turkish forces. Meanwhile, the fate of thousands of IS prisoners being guarded by Kurdish-led forces becomes of paramount concern, and a refugee crisis develops before our very eyes.

Surely the foundation of a supposed special relationship is having the clarity, courage and conviction to speak out when something is wrong. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Dr Murrison said at the Dispatch Box last week that the placement of US troops is a matter for the US, but what message does that send to our allies around the world—that this is how the UK will abandon you?

In 2014, the Prime Minister wrote an article in the Telegraph headlined “It would be an utter tragedy if we did not defend the Kurds”. Five years on and, on his watch, the Kurds now feel safer turning to Putin and Assad, having lost faith in our international coalition. The abandonment of the Kurds betrays their sacrifice, bringing shame on America and all of us who are their friends, speaking volumes about Britain’s place in the world.