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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:26 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 6:26 pm, 15th October 2019

It is almost two years and four months since the previous Queen’s Speech so I ask: did my constituency of Stockton North finally get the new hospital, plans for which were scrapped in 2010 by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition? No. Did we see some real commitment from the Government to invest in carbon capture and storage on Teesside and help us lead the world? No. But maybe we saw some investment and reassurance for our international chemical industries, which are nervous about what Brexit means for them and their employees. No, we did not. In the previous Session, Parliament was a failure—a failure to get a Brexit deal worthy of receiving Parliament’s stamp of approval, a failure to provide the stability and assurance that our economy and our workers need and a failure to improve the lives of the most vulnerable right here in the 21st century United Kingdom. If we cannot get it right for our own people, what right have we got to tell—for that matter, what experience do we have to offer—the rest of the world?

We did get a continuation of the housing crisis. We also got more disabled people treated disgracefully by Government policy, at their wits’ ends because they have been found fit for work despite it being clear that they are not. We got more people turning to food banks because the money they receive simply is not enough to buy the basic food items they need to feed themselves and their children. This is about Government policy not recognising how people’s lives work, which means that people suffer—children suffer—but we must look to the future and consider how we can change lives for the better. This House and the watching public saw a lot of nice things come out of the Queen’s Speech, with plenty of positive words and an indication that austerity is over, but if there is one thing I will never do, it is believe in a Conservative Prime Minister when they claim to have the best interests of all parts of society in mind.

There is a significant life expectancy gap in my constituency. People living in the most affluent areas of Stockton North can live up to 18 years longer than those in poorer areas. If the Prime Minister was serious about investing in healthcare, he would announce the award of a new hospital for North Tees and Hartlepool. Instead, what we have heard is a blustered pledge of 40 new hospitals that turned out to be just six. Of the 21 trusts set to receive funding, not one is in the north-east.

Average male life expectancy in Stockton is 64. Owing to the health inequalities that face my constituents, their lives will be cut short. The average male in Stockton will not even reach state pension age. By contrast, the average life expectancy in the Prime Minister’s area is 80—16 years more than in Stockton. People can draw their own conclusions why that is the case. It is the Government’s responsibility to do something about it, but they are failing. Why on earth is the hospital in the Prime Minister’s constituency getting countless millions of pounds invested in it when Stockton, where the need is much greater, is not getting anything at all? But my constituents will not be fooled. They know that it is the Tory cuts that have caused waiting lists to shoot up. They know it is Tory cuts that have plummeted the national health service into chaos.

Just as successive Conservative Governments have failed on health, they have failed on jobs, too. They have failed to back SSI at Redcar; they failed to back the Sirius Minerals mining project, which has the potential to create thousands of jobs for people across Teesside; and they fail daily to support our chemical and other energy-intensive industries, which have suffered higher carbon and energy costs than anywhere else in Europe. We have seen the plethora of news releases and plenty of ministerial visits, but nothing of consequence has actually resulted from them—nothing to protect industry or jobs in areas like mine. The north-east has the highest unemployment rate in the UK at 5%. It has gone up by 19,000 in the past year. On Teesside, it is 7.2%, and in my own constituency just above 7%—up again today. Of those unemployed—in one constituency—630 are 18 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training.

The Government can do better by ending this crisis in investment to ensure that our country’s place in the world is not put deeper in jeopardy. Successive Conservative Governments have created a climate of uncertainty, a clear lack of direction and a meaningless strategy that is just leaving investors nervous. The additional carbon costs that I mentioned are adding to those nerves. The Government can act now by giving carbon capture and storage in the north-east the verbal and financial support it needs but is simply not forthcoming. INEOS, which I raised in this House prior to Prorogation, is an essential part of the supply chain in the Teesside chemical industry. I will be meeting the Secretary of State about that. There is still no chance of that company investing locally, yet it can invest billions in the middle east. All industry can see is the doom and uncertainty of what Brexit will bring and a tariff regime that will cripple their businesses. Perhaps the Prime Minister will prove me wrong and will now take investment in Teesside seriously, not as a means of its being politically beneficial but because it is the right and imperative thing to do. If we are serious about reaching net zero emissions by 2050, carbon capture is not a choice—it is a necessity.

But I have no confidence that this Government will act in the best interests of my constituents, nor of business in Stockton North, Teesside, or the north-east in general. I will not stop fighting for the Teesside area. We do need our new hospital, but we really need a serious industrial strategy for the north-east and a Government programme to benefit everyone. Sadly, this Queen’s Speech does not offer it.