It is an honour to open this Queen’s Speech debate today on behalf of this Government, who are driven by the people’s priorities. They are a Government who stand up for the brave men and women of our police, our security services and all those who serve across our public services—from the frontline of our emergency services to our schools and our NHS. These workers are the hard-working silent majority, selflessly serving our communities and our country. We are the Government who are investing record amounts in our public services and backing the forces of law and order.
Since becoming Home Secretary, I have ensured that the fundamental principle of giving people the security they need to live their lives freely has informed the Home Office’s work. As Her Majesty the Queen outlined in her Gracious Speech on Monday, that will also drive the Government’s wider legislative programme, because nothing is more important than keeping our people, our communities and our country safe.
The people of our United Kingdom must have confidence in the ability of our police and security services. They need to know that, day or night, no matter what the crime, the police and the security services have the power and the resources they need to ensure that criminals are brought to justice. They want to be reassured that we are working to tackle the senseless and sickening violence that destroys lives on our streets and in people’s homes, and that serious criminality will lead to tough sentences and justice for the victims of crime. They should have confidence that our prison system works to give victims justice and to keep the public safe from those who do harm to others, and that the justice system and our prisons support will reform offenders.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s refreshing approach. When a spate of crime occurs in a local area, it often comes down to one or two individuals. She can imagine the frustration when they are caught and receive only a suspended sentence. What happened to “two strikes and you’re out”?
When it comes to criminality and the justice system, it is important to reflect that every case is looked at on a case-by-case basis—that is the purpose of the system. At the same time, it is important to ensure that victims of crime get justice and that the perpetrators of crime are given the appropriate sanctions.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s no-nonsense approach. I sit on the Home Affairs Committee and I prosecuted cases before I came into Parliament. I welcome the joined-up approach of having not only enough extra police officers, but an extra £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service, so when individuals are brought to account, they can quickly go through the justice system, which will ensure that those who should be acquitted are acquitted and that others are sentenced for their crime.
My hon. Friend is correct, because it is vital to have a criminal justice system and a Crown Prosecution Service that work to drive the right kind of outcomes. Resources do matter.
As we leave the EU, the public want to know that we are enhancing our co-operation with international partners, particularly in bringing foreign criminals to justice, and that their Government, and no one else, have full control over the borders of our nation. That will end the free movement of people once and for all.
In the three months since the Government came to power, we have begun urgent work, particularly on supporting the police. All hon. Members on this side of the House agree that our police forces are the best in the world. Every day, we see examples of their professionalism, bravery and dedication. No matter how good they are, however, they can do their job only if they are supported. Officers on the frontline need to know that they have a Prime Minister, a Home Secretary and a Government who stand beside them, and that when they run towards danger, they are not alone. This Prime Minister, and this Government, will always back the police.
Can the Home Secretary help me? In the nine years that I sat with her on those Benches, the Conservative party’s determined policy was to reduce the prison population by the careful introduction of all manner of sentences and by the support of suspended sentences, which have great power. Is not the real way to help our police to ensure that our criminal justice service is fit for purpose? It needs huge investment and for our courts to be able to hear trials quickly. At the moment, there is two years’ of delay in most cases.
The right hon. Lady will recognise that the legislative programme of the Queen’s Speech makes greater investments in the justice system, which will address the issue of the time it takes to prosecute cases and to bring about justice for victims. I think the whole House will welcome the investment that the Government are putting forward to ensure that justice can be served and that the right kind of support can be given to prisoners.
We know that the Government propose to increase police numbers, but what new initiatives are they taking to deal with knife and gun crime, particularly in the west midlands and Coventry?
I urge a degree of patience from the hon. Gentleman, because I am about to come on to new investments and how we will deal with serious criminality.
If Members persevere, I will come to them shortly. I also know that many Members want to speak in the debate.
This Government are backing our police and it is important, now more than ever, to support our police and our intelligence and security services to keep us and our country safe. If I may, Mr Speaker, I will give a few examples that I think the House would like to hear. With the changing profile of crime, policing in the UK has had to adapt to confront new types of criminality, ranging from county lines to organised crime, violence on our streets and the horrendous harms, often against children and the vulnerable, that are often conducted online through the dark web.
I very much welcome the extra police we will see in Suffolk and the extra powers for the criminal justice system to act as a deterrent. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at the young age at which people are getting caught up in county lines? What can we do to work across Departments, particularly with education, to keep children away from this trafficking?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that ongoing issue. Young people need to be protected. Through the public service duty announced in the Queen’s Speech, much more can be done by agencies and Departments working together to provide support and preventive measures. Quite frankly, far too many young people are being exploited. That is why the Government are recruiting 20,000 new police officers and investing in not only their training and equipment, but their protection, so that they are empowered to tackle such crimes. [Interruption.]
While Opposition Members chunter from a sedentary position, it is worth reminding them that the Labour party would recruit 10,000 fewer police officers and, importantly, fail to back our brave police officers. Police forces and officers have told us that they need backing to search people for bladed weapons to tackle the appalling knife crime we are seeing. That is why we have lifted restrictions on emergency stop-and-search powers for all forces in England and Wales—something described by the shadow Home Secretary as “unhelpful”.
When our frontline officers told us they needed to be better able to defend themselves against reckless armed violent criminals and thugs, we listened. That is why we have announced a new £10 million fund to give police chiefs the ability to equip officers with Taser. Again, we have not heard from shadow Ministers, who have refused to back this measure. I urge them to back this investment in our frontline officers, who protect our people, our communities and our country.
I had hoped the hon. Gentleman would welcome the 151 additional police officers who are coming to South Yorkshire, along with the 6,000 who will be coming over the next year up to March and the 20,000 that we are recruiting. I think all hon. Members should recognise that crime has changed and, rather than criticise our police officers, get out there and back them.
My right hon. Friend’s acquisition of this role is causing great excitement in South Holland and The Deepings and across the nation, because at last we have a Home Secretary who is not an apologist for miscreants but believes, as my constituents do, that people who cause mayhem and misery should be caught, convicted and locked up for a very long time, in stark contrast to the views of Anna Soubry.
My right hon. Friend is right: when it comes to crime and criminality, we owe it to the British public to be on their side and to ensure that their communities are protected and that they are safe.
With crime changing, it is right that we listen to the police on how to tackle the most urgent crimes. That is why I have made rolling up county lines drugs gangs a priority, with a £20 million package to stop those gangs exploiting children and young people, in addition to the £25 million safer streets fund to bring in new security measures for the worst crime hotspots in England and Wales. That is what I mean by backing our police and tackling the most appalling criminality that we see today.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, because we are now getting on with the recruitment of police officers. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Policing Minister announced a new allocation of police recruitment—the number of police officers who are being recruited right now and will be in place by March next year.
Never before have the demands on police officers been so complex and challenging. No Member who was here on
Findings from our review of frontline officers suggest that the police at all levels feel that they need more support to carry out their duties effectively. Their protection and wellbeing is a priority for this Government. That is why the police protection Bill will support the introduction of the police covenant—a covenant that recognises that policing is no ordinary job and pledges to recognise the bravery, commitment and sacrifices of serving and former officers. The Bill will also increase legal protection for police drivers, giving them confidence to use their greater skill and training when dealing with moped robberies and similar crimes.
Does the Home Secretary agree that while we all support and respect the work done by our police officers, and sometimes worry for their safety in what they do, the best way to protect them and the public is not by indulging in scare tactics and language but to prevent crime—to invest in the social, medical and educational programmes that prevent people from getting involved in crime in the first place?
The hon. Lady has made a relevant point. Of course, this is not just about what we do through the criminal justice system but about what we do through all our public services—through education and local government—and how we engage with communities. It is therefore vital—I am going to come on to this later in my remarks—that we bring those public duties together, integrating our governance at a local level as well as a national level to absolutely do more to prevent and to protect innocent victims, and also to prevent people from even going into a life of crime.
I welcome the additional funding in Hertfordshire. Can we have a strong focus on rural crime, including fly-tipping and fly-grazing? Farmers suffer hugely as well as people having animal cruelty issues associated with criminality.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As someone who represents a semi-rural and coastal constituency myself, I know that this is absolutely a problem that we have all experienced. There is no doubt that the new numbers for territorial policing will mean more police officers on the streets of our constituencies who are able to tackle the whole range of issues covering policing, including rural crime.
I am going to make progress and come on to the many other Bills that I would like to touch on.
Protecting and supporting our police is vital if they are going to carry out their duties, but greater protection must be matched with enhanced powers. As Britain leaves the European Union, co-operation with international law enforcement agencies such as Interpol will become more important. That is why we are introducing an extradition Bill that will give police the power immediately to arrest criminals wanted by trusted countries for serious offences without having to apply to a judge first. Right now, people wanted for serious crimes in countries outside the EU cannot be arrested immediately if police come across them on the streets of the UK. This Bill will ensure that where a person is wanted by the police for a serious offence, in all trusted countries they have the power to get them off the streets and into our courts system.
The tougher action on international criminals will be matched by tougher action on foreign nationals who commit crimes in this country. Those who come to the UK to work hard and contribute to our national life will always be welcome, but those who abuse the system by committing crimes should be in no doubt: we are determined to take action. That action is needed to stop abuse of the system, to speed up the process for deporting foreign national offenders and, importantly, to deter foreign criminals from coming to the United Kingdom. That is why the foreign national offenders Bill will introduce tougher penalties for those who return to the United Kingdom in breach of a deportation order—a measure that has been opposed by Opposition Members.
While we work to keep this country safe from foreign criminals, the public rightly demand further action on crimes closer to home. The Government’s broadband Bill will make it easier for homes and businesses across the country to be connected to high-speed, resilient and secure broadband. As we ensure that our citizens have better internet access, we must do more to keep them safe online. The online harms White Paper sets out the Government’s plan for world-leading legislation to make the UK one of the safest places in the world to be online. That will be enforced in a proportionate way, ensuring that freedom of expression is upheld and promoted online, and businesses do not face undue burdens. We will publish draft legislation for prelegislative scrutiny.
Our dedication to keeping the public safe extends, of course, to the most serious crimes. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will agree that this is an important focus for us all, because very few constituencies have not been affected by the rise in serious crime.
It is right that we ensure, through the investment we are making in speeding up broadband and wider broadband investment, that the whole of the United Kingdom has access to fast, reliable broadband. With that access to broadband, we have to ensure that we are protecting those who are vulnerable to the harms that come from the internet.
We all have a role to play in tackling serious and violent crime, in particular to prevent the loss of young lives. We are working across Government to stop young people from being drawn into crime in the first place. The new legal duty established by the serious violence Bill will ensure that key public bodies work together to share intelligence and collaborate on an effective local response, so that we can intervene earlier to protect young people and their communities. Safeguarding young people is essential, which means that every statutory service must provide care and support to our young people to ensure that they are protected from the criminals who seek to exploit them.
The Home Secretary will know that the Home Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry into serious and violent crime, looking particularly at knife crime. In Castleford this week, two teenagers have been stabbed, following a pensioner being stabbed to death in Pontefract. Our Committee has warned for some time that serious and violent crime is spreading to towns; it is not just concentrated in cities. We recommended in our report not only a big increase in policing but a big investment in youth services, which have been cut by £1 billion since 2010. Can she tell the House what she is doing to urgently invest in youth services, before more lives are lost?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments, and I agree with her in terms of serious and violent crime. Far too much of it is taking place on our streets, across all our constituencies. We have to do more to invest in youth provision and young people. That means not only giving them hope and opportunity, but providing services for them, which is why we have invested more than £200 million in the youth endowment fund. There is much more work coming, but there is more to do to ensure that our statutory services—through safeguarding, Ofsted and public services—support our young people, so that they are not only protected in every single way from criminals, but given opportunities and alternative provision, if they are not in school, to help them to get on in life.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments and approach to her new job, and I wish her all the best in it. There is a real concern among my constituents about the increase in knife crime across the capital and the terrible loss of life. Only last weekend, another young life was lost in my constituency. What she is doing is right, to protect our young people and to end the terrible tragedy of young lives being snuffed out by knife crime.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and I am appalled by the tragedy that took place in his constituency, which he has previously raised with me.
Policing matters, as does support for our police and the way in which we support young people to prevent them from getting sucked into a life of crime.
Serious violence is a visible and high-profile crime, and I know that everyone in the House is also determined to do more to tackle the insidious abuse and violence that go on behind closed doors. Domestic abuse shatters lives and tears families apart. It is vital that we all act together to better protect victims of domestic abuse, extend the support available to them and their children, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
I pay tribute to the work of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill and to all those, inside and outside Parliament, who came together to shape our response to domestic abuse. It is only right that it receives strong cross-party support, which was shown when the House gave the Bill a Second Reading a fortnight ago. As hon. Members know, the Bill introduces a new statutory definition of domestic abuse and recognises that many forms of abuse can take place, including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and emotional abuse. It establishes in law a domestic abuse commissioner to champion victims and survivors and provides for a new domestic abuse prevention order so that the police and courts can act earlier and more effectively to protect victims.
Will the Home Secretary commit to ensuring that the social security system does not penalise victims of domestic abuse who leave their partners but are made worse off as a result? My constituent lost £400 a month after leaving her very violent relationship as a result of going on to universal credit.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point, and we are in the process of working with the Department for Work and Pensions. I come back to the point about a statutory duty, but also stress that all organisations across Government must work together. That is the right thing to do because protecting victims from abuse, whether it is mental, physical or emotional, and getting justice are important, as is ensuring their wellbeing and their ability to move on with their lives.
Does the Home Secretary welcome the publication of the Bills that will apply to Northern Ireland, specifically the measure on historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland? It is welcome that at last we will get this awfulness addressed and that the victims will hopefully get some sort of recognition for the problems they have had to face.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about getting the right kind of justice and welcome the steps that have been taken.
I have outlined the Government’s response to some of the most shocking crimes. I reassure the House and the British public that we are determined to have sentences that properly reflect the severity of the crime. We want the public to have confidence in the criminal justice system. Too often we are told that the current system is failing victims and the wider public. That is why we have ordered an urgent review of sentencing for the most serious violent and sexual offenders. We will take immediate action to deal with the most serious cases so that offenders sentenced to fixed terms of seven years or more have the time that they serve in prison extended from half to two thirds of their sentences.
Time served must reflect the severity of the crime. Measures to protect and serve victims are also vital because becoming a victim of crime or abuse is often a life-changing experience.
Many victims of violence and domestic violence experience terror when their assailants are released from prison. At the moment, provision to exclude those assailants from areas where the victims live is restricted to the time of the sentence. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending that, possibly to lifetime exclusion?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reflection and his comments, which show why domestic abuse protection orders have such an important role to play.
Let me continue, specifically on victims. My time as co-chair, with Sarah Champion, of the all-party parliamentary group on victims of crime gave me deep respect for those who dedicate their lives to representing victims of crime and for the strength and determination of the victims themselves. I thank members of the APPG with whom I have worked, and I have also followed their work. They have supported many victims of crime, and include the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) and for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper). We are committed to ensuring that victims receive the help and support they need to cope and recover and, importantly, to giving them a voice and to giving a voice to those who sometimes cannot speak out for themselves.
We will now accelerate plans to enshrine in legislation the rights to which victims are entitled, as set out in the victims code. We recognise that rights are meaningless without the means to enforce them and we want to legislate to ensure that where criminal justice agencies have failed to provide victims with their entitlements they are held to account. This includes increasing the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner, already a powerful advocate for victims’ rights. We will also legislate for a new victims law, to be consulted on early in the new year. This will be testament to the bravery of all those who have spoken out and given a voice to the voiceless.
Although we will be tougher on prisoners who are unco-operative, we must also recognise that the majority of inmates simply want a second chance and an opportunity to rebuild their lives after a custodial sentence. We cannot allow our prisons to become factories for making bad people worse. We need to reduce overcrowding, strengthen security and do more to educate and rehabilitate prisoners. We must invest in turning people’s lives around through education and training and do more to integrate ex-offenders back into society so that they themselves can rebuild their lives. That is why, as well as investing up to £2.5 billion in prisons for an additional 10,000 places, we are addressing the health and wellbeing issues, raising levels of educational attainment and skills, and rebuilding and reinforcing the relationships offenders have with friends and family.
I thank the Home Secretary for attending, with me, the funeral on Monday of PC Andrew Harper, and for the support she showed the community in Abingdon where he served. It was very gratefully received. She also joined me in commending a local social enterprise called Tap Social, which makes “criminally good beer”, and takes former offenders and gives them that first chance in life to help them to take that step on that ladder.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and it was a real honour to be with her at the cathedral on Monday to pay tribute to Andrew Harper. She is right; there are many good examples of social enterprises across all our constituencies that do tremendous work to give offenders a second chance. Importantly, they educate and train offenders and give them the skills to move on and rebuild their lives. As with many of the Bills I have mentioned today, we can come together to demonstrate strong cross-party support on this issue.
The Government recognise that freedom and security are not opposite but equal and that ensuring that people can live their lives free from fear is the essential foundation of a life of liberty. There is no greater service that a Government can perform for the public than keeping them safe. That is at the very heart of our agenda. Monday’s Gracious Speech contained improvements for every stage of policing in the criminal justice system, each designed to make the United Kingdom a safer and a fairer nation. We live at a time of new and acute challenges to policing and justice, whether they involve tackling the established evils of serious violence, domestic abuse, the arrest of foreign national offenders or keeping people safe from online harms. Officers need to know that the Government have their backs, so we have brought forward measures to extend the protections offered to police officers, to establish a police covenant and to give the police the necessary powers to arrest foreign national offenders. We are also clear that tough measures to bring criminals to justice must be balanced with a fair approach to those who have served their time and support for those who genuinely want to turn their lives around.
The Home Secretary has outlined the Government’s strategy to deal with criminal gangs here in the United Kingdom. She will recognise, as we all do, that criminal activity reaches beyond the borders of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and is international. Will she outline what discussions have taken place with other countries to ensure that the problem of criminal gangs from Europe, including Romania, China and elsewhere, which we heard about in the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs today, is dealt with internationally and together?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As an outward-looking country that prides itself on its security both domestically and internationally, a tremendous amount of work takes place not just bilaterally but across many other institutions. We have our own agencies, such as the National Crime Agency, working internationally to ensure that many of the issues in terms of serious organised crime, criminality and the sheer extent of the crime taking place are addressed, while at the same time preventing further criminal activity from taking place.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Offenders who have committed the most heinous crimes should be in receipt of the appropriate sentences and justice should be served. He mentions Helen’s law. He is absolutely right in terms of making sure that we deliver on that and enable the justice that needs to take place.
May I remind the Home Secretary of the excellent private Member’s Bill presented by Chris Bryant on increasing sentences for those who attack members of the emergency services? If I can take her back to prison officers, from what I hear in my constituency about a number of prison officers who have been assaulted, the offenders are not receiving severe enough punishment. The deterrent is still not there. Will she look at that and ensure that anyone who assaults someone in the emergency services faces the full force of the law?
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. He is right in terms of the legislation. He will be aware, as I think all Members are, that sentences are not, I am afraid, fitting the level of assaults that have been committed. That is why we are now going to have a police covenant. We will also work across Government, including with the Ministry of Justice, to ensure that, for example, when probation and prison officers are assaulted the right kind of sentences are given.
The Government believe in second chances when it comes to offenders and overcrowding in our prisons, but at the same time it is important that we continue to serve our country and our public and do more to protect the victims of domestic abuse, to ensure that criminals pay a price for withholding information about their crimes and to enshrine in law a system of support set out in the victims code.
By the time these debates on the Gracious Speech are over, we will have heard about the Government’s ambitious agenda for every area of our public services, whether it is our long-term plan for the NHS, adult social care, the Mental Health Act or improvements to railways, aviation and our national infrastructure. We are preparing our country for a brighter future. At the heart of this Government is a solemn promise, from the Government to their people, that we will protect the vulnerable, see justice done, keep our citizens safe and deliver on the people’s priorities.
Let me welcome the Home Secretary and the whole House back after the conference season. I echo her words regarding supporting our police. They do an absolutely fantastic job across the United Kingdom. I also want to echo her words regarding our fallen friend PC Palmer. I recognise the commitment across the House of everybody who has worked, and continues to work, on the Domestic Abuse Bill. The Home Secretary emphasises the rights of victims, and I absolutely agree with her on that. I also want to recognise the work the Prime Minister has done recently in relation to Harry Dunn’s family. It is my first opportunity at the Dispatch Box to mention that tragic case. I urge the Prime Minister to continue to support the family through this very difficult time.
The Home Secretary mentions prisons. I suspect that all Members have had individual constituency cases, and one constituent recently came to see me. The suicide rate and the mental health situation for our young men in prison is a really serious issue. I hope that we continue to tackle it and support families and young people into rehabilitation, which is what our Prison Service should be about.
Our conference slogan was “people before privilege”—I think that the Conservative party’s was “people for privilege”. The Home Secretary made a speech at conference denouncing the north London elite. Personally, I look forward to the day that they can denounce me as part of the south Manchester elite, but I have to tell her that if she thinks that this Prime Minister is going to cut it as an anti-elitist, her speechwriters need to get better jokes. Mind you, I imagine that the elites are probably pleased not to be associated with him these days. I certainly would not want to judge old Etonians by the example of the Prime Minister. After all, every class has its clown—even the upper class.
We know what is behind the ridiculous rhetoric. The Conservatives believe that they can somehow con people into thinking that they are not the party of the privileged. We know the depths that they will sink to. There is not just the Prime Minister’s rhetoric on Brexit, but the revelation that they have been polling so-called “culture war” issues, such as human rights, in northern working-class constituencies. Well, let me give them an absolutely clear message from a proud, northern working-class Member representing a proud, northern working-class constituency: you can take your bigotry elsewhere. If the Home Secretary wants to know where the dog-whistle politics appeals, I tell her to look no further than her Cabinet table, because my constituents know better than to swallow the Conservatives’ self-serving spin. They know who stands for people, and who stands for privilege, and there is no better example than what has happened to our public services.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, though I am surprised by the tone of her speech. Would it not behove us all to remember that the people who suffer most from crime in this country are the poorest and most vulnerable?
The reason for the tone of my speech and for my upset is the Prime Minister describing my constituents as “letterboxes”, and then my constituents suffer racism on our streets. That is why I get passionate about what is happening on our streets and why I will not defend the cuts to our police services, when police officers in my constituency have faced attacks and cuts, and the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary come here saying that we are getting more police when they have cut the police in the first place. That makes me pretty passionate about what is happening in our northern working-class areas. We will not be hoodwinked by people who believe that they know better for our constituents, who I came here to represent, and that somehow I have lost my way and that I do not care about the people in the north anymore. The truth is that the Prime Minister has never cared about the people in the north.
Take the Home Secretary’s Department: the Conservatives were once the party of law and order. Even her hero, Thatcher, did not cut the police, yet they have suffered the worst cuts in their history under her party. She claims that she is recruiting 20,000 new police. The truth is that she has not even restored what her Government have cut. That is the reality of a Tory Government—more crime and less police—and those who have suffered the most from the cuts are those who are already worse off.
If the hon. Lady is so passionate about increasing police numbers, why did Labour vote against making another £970 million available for extra police?
The Conservative party is very good at trying to do spin, but everybody knows that a Labour Government will invest in our public services and our police. They also know that you cannot trust a Tory with public services.
Take the victims of the Windrush scandal: people who have spent their lives as citizens, working and paying their taxes, only for the Home Secretary’s Government to ruin those lives with their incompetence and contempt. This week’s Windrush Bill is yet another insult: a tortuous process to get adequate compensation, with elderly victims literally dying while the Government drag their feet. We know what she thinks of the working people in Britain from her book, “Britannia Unchained”:
“the worst idlers in the world”,
she called us. This Government have cut every bit of support for ordinary working people, while shovelling endless sums to big business, the banks and the billionaires. The simple truth is that they are the party for the tax dodgers, not the taxpayers. They are not standing up to the elite; they are the elite, and their shameful gesture politics will—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask for a retraction of a statement that has been made? The hon. Lady referred to something that she claimed I had written in a book, but those were not my words, and I should like that to be corrected.
It is incumbent on each Member to take responsibility for the veracity of what he or she says in the Chamber. If a Member feels that an error has been made, it is the responsibility of that Member to withdraw. We had a similar exchange yesterday with roles reversed. The Minister in that case did not feel the need to correct the record. If the hon. Lady does, she can. The Home Secretary has made her position extremely clear, but I must leave it to the hon. Lady to exercise her own judgment in this important matter.
Everyone has heard what the Home Secretary has just said, but the truth is—my understanding is—that the Home Secretary was part of that book and the author of that book. If she wants to distance herself from those words, Mr Speaker, it is for her to do that.
While the Home Secretary offered a party-political broadcast disguised as a legislative programme, in education we did not even get that. It is two years since I opened a debate on the last Queen’s Speech. I am now facing the third Education Secretary to hold the post in that time, and the three of them have not tabled a single piece of primary legislation. I suppose that it should come as no surprise that the only education bill revealed this week is being handed to parents in schools in Surrey, who are being asked to pay £20 a month simply to keep teachers in the classroom. Instead of action to tackle an education system in crisis, the Government have offered us only more meaningless words—and when those words come from this Prime Minister, they are not worth very much. The Government have said that they will implement a school-level national funding formula at the earliest opportunity, but they have not introduced legislation to implement it.
I shall say more about this later in my speech, but the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members should look at what has happened in schools since 2010. The Prime Minister promised that he would reverse those cuts, but he is not reversing those cuts. If there is some funding going into schools, that is of course very welcome, but let us not pretend that it will reverse the cuts and support teachers now, because it is not going into schools now, and they are desperate for it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem with the Conservatives is that, having cut and cut and cut funding for schools and the police, they think that providing a sudden surge in numbers can make up for the damage to the sense that people have of working in teams? Those people have been debilitated. Does she agree that it takes much longer than this to reverse such pernicious policies and put things right again?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, but I also urge the Government to look at what is happening in our schools today. That money is not even going to visit our schools today. Our teachers and support staff are doing a superb job in all our constituencies, but they do not have that money where it is needed, right now, where the cuts are hurting, right now—as the Secretary of State for Education knows, because his own wife has told him so.
Pretty much every school in Chester will suffer a budget cut next year, despite what the Conservatives say. Does my hon. Friend have full confidence in the mechanism that the Government are using to put money into schools? We do not seem to be getting any of it in Cheshire.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Although increased funding is welcomed by many schools, it will do nothing to reverse the cuts that they face. Moreover, they will not even see the money before a general election, so it could all be toast again. Some would say that that is a cynical move ahead of an election.
Schools in Erdington have seen teachers cut, teaching assistants cut, curriculums cut, outside trips cut and music lessons cut. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is simply not true that those cuts have been reversed? The figures demonstrate that, notwithstanding last week’s announcement, 98% of Birmingham schools will still lose out in relation to where they were in 2015. It is a confidence trick.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes another important point: the curriculum, and what has happened to it. Many teachers and schools are very concerned about the fact that music, arts, culture, drama and all the things that help young people with STEM subjects have been cut—decimated—because of the austerity that schools have faced. I want all children across the whole of England and the United Kingdom to have a diverse curriculum; that is very important, and I think the whole House could agree on that point.
We have excellent schools, both state and private, in Hertfordshire and St Albans. The state schools will have an increase, which they welcome; the private schools are terrified that they will be scrapped under Labour’s proposals. What are the Labour party’s plans for increasing capacity within the state system for all the trashed private schools that will find themselves out of business?
Conservative Members need not scaremonger, because the only thing that schools across England fear is more austerity and more broken promises from the Conservative party. Let me be absolutely clear: what the Labour party will not do is subsidise private education with taxpayers’ money when our state schools are crippled by the Conservative party. I pledge this to every parent across the country: I will not play party politics with their children. I will ensure that every child in this country gets the opportunity they deserve whether that is through a SEND, the comprehensive system, an academy, a free school, or in private schools. All their children matter to me, unlike the Conservative party.
Is not the truth that the proof of this policy pudding is in the eating, and that comes down to the reality of what parents and children see in their schools? In many schools in my Grimsby constituency there is now a policy of non-replacement of support staff. That means there is not enough support to go around for children with special educational needs, those working in offices and those doing lunchtime supervision. That is the reality of education in the country today.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and nobody can move away from the fact that our schools face a tremendous burden from the pressures of the cuts and the additional costs that have been placed upon them. Our support staff and our teachers have done an absolutely superb job and I want to put on record my thanks to the teachers, the parents, the staff and everybody else who, through these really difficult times, has done their utmost for every child in our education system—and quite rightly so. But they need the support of our Government now, and that is what I am pushing for: no more warm words or jam tomorrow, but actual support in schools, where they deserve and need it most.
If the Conservatives really believe in their own proposals for education, when will they be put into law? If this week was not the earliest opportunity for them to do that, when is?
Another issue where parents have been left paying the price for Government inaction is the spiralling cost of school uniforms. Only weeks ago, the Secretary of State wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority committing to
“put the school uniform guidance on a statutory footing” and promising to do so
“when a suitable opportunity arises.”
The opportunity surely arose on Monday, but it was not taken. In November it will be four full years since the Government first made that commitment. We are also four Education Secretaries and three Prime Ministers on; each has reiterated the promise made by the last, yet none of them has managed to keep it.
My hon. Friend is making such an incredible speech—[Laugher.] School uniform grants are available in Wales, which has a Labour Government, in Scotland, under the SNP, and in Northern Ireland; England is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not give school uniform grants. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is because this Government do not seem to count or value the children who might possibly need a grant?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Conservative Members might laugh, but the spiralling cost of school uniforms and the problems that the poorest in our society face in dealing with that is no laughing matter. It is a matter for England and for this Government, and it is directly a matter for those Conservative Members who have shamefully done nothing about this issue. Parents across England will be listening to this debate and will recognise who is on their side.
It is the same story on home education. The Government were consulting on new legislation, but it is now nowhere to be seen. Then there is the Augar review, the flagship that has now sunk without trace. When it was published, the previous Education Secretary promised me:
“We will come forward with the conclusion of the review at the end of the year, at the spending review. That has always been the plan.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 661, c. 58.]
We have had a spending review and we have had a Queen’s Speech, but we have had no conclusion and there is apparently no plan. I can only hope that the Education Secretary will be able to tell us in the wind-up that these remain Government commitments and, if so, when the Government intend to act on them. This is particularly absurd when their legislative programme is a wish-list of Bills that have no chance of getting a majority in this House, because the Secretary of State knows full well that there would be cross-party support for some of these issues.
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, and I apologise for interrupting her leadership speech. I agree that her speech is unbelievable, but not in the same sense. Every single school in my patch is getting more money, over and above the rate of inflation. I am very happy with cash now and cash tomorrow. If she is so concerned about legislative proposals, why will she not agree to have a general election?
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that he needs to get out more.
The Secretary of State’s predecessors, and even the former Prime Minister, have now admitted that the abolition of maintenance grants was a mistake, but unless the Government act in this Session another generation of 18-year-olds will go to university next summer without maintenance support. The Education Secretary has already accepted that the system is unfair. In a recent letter to the Office for Students, he raised the possibility of moving to a new system of post-qualification admissions. I am delighted that he is keen on one of Labour’s many evidence-led radical policies on education. If only that had been in the Government’s programme this week, and if only they had fully acted on the recommendations of another of their independent reviews on school exclusions. So far, they have promised to take up only those relating to formal permanent exclusions, but if they take no action to deal with the problem of children falling off school rolls without any formal process at all, they risk making that situation worse.
The Secretary of State’s predecessor did manage to get almost the whole House to support the passing of one signature piece of legislation: the regulations implementing statutory sex and relationships education. I was proud to support that step from this Dispatch Box. Before I became an MP, I was a volunteer for the Samaritans, a charity that was founded after a young girl took her life because her periods had started. She did not know what was happening to her; she thought she had a disease. If she had had sex and relationships education, she might have been here today. So now we have legislated, but we must support the schools that are teaching the curriculum. We need to set down the resources that they need and the moral leadership that they deserve. I hope that the Education Secretary will make it clear later that there is no opt-out from equality in schools, and that he will stand with teachers and heads in delivering that.
My hon. Friend is making a really important point. Will she emphasise the importance of saying to schools that they are required to do this form of education? If they leave it open as an option, that is when they come under real pressure from those who want to undermine this whole agenda.
Absolutely. There is a majority across the House to ensure that we push forward with this important legislation and support teachers and heads in delivering it in our schools. We have to lead the way, taking communities with us, in ensuring that our children and young people feel safe, secure and valued. Every single young person deserves that in our education system.
School support staff are another section of the workforce who deserve that support, which the Education Secretary rightly acknowledged in our first exchanges. He will have been told at close quarters about the value of teaching assistants as he is married to one, so I will not question his commitment. However, as his predecessors found, commitment from the Education Secretary is not enough if they do not have it from their Prime Minister, so I hope that the Education Secretary will stand firm and make it clear that he will not countenance balancing the books on the backs of our support staff. Perhaps he could look again at the abolition of the national body for school support staff, because restoring it would be another step that he could take with the support of the House.
There is no doubt that the Education Secretary will talk about investment in schools as if they have not faced a decade of cuts. The Prime Minister promised to reverse those cuts, forgetting to mention, of course, that he sat around the Cabinet table and supported those very cuts time after time. Far worse is the gap between his words and his actions, because the Government are not even reversing their own cuts. Not only did the package ignore the cuts to capital funding, central education spending, further education and so much else, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the announcement made in the spending round would not even undo the cuts to schools since 2010 in its final year—another broken promise from a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted. He promised £700 million next year, but councils are already facing such a shortfall. The Local Government Association has put next year’s deficit at £1.2 billion.
The Education Secretary has warm words about further education, but the spending round included less than £200 million for increasing the base rate—little more than a real-terms freeze. If the Secretary of State truly believes in investing in further education, why did the spending round not include a single penny for adult education? After a decade of managed decline and billions of pounds of cuts, why are the Government refusing to give that vital part of the system the investment it needs? Even in apprenticeships—apparently his passion —we are far from on course to meet the Government’s target of 1 million this year. We do not even know whether that is still the target. We have been told it is an ambition, an aim and an aspiration, so perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us which of those it is and what on earth that means? The story of decline and neglect is the same in perhaps the most vital area: early years provision. The hourly rate for child care providers has not increased since 2017, Sure Start funding has collapsed, and the additional funding for maintained nursery schools runs out at the end of the next financial year. Will that be addressed, or have the youngest children been forgotten?
Even in schools, the extra money promised by the Government is not only years away but is being deliberately skewed to schools with the wealthiest intakes. The Education Policy Institute put it plainly, stating that
“almost all schools serving the most disadvantaged communities would miss out.”
The EPI found that the average pupil eligible for free school meals would attract less than half the funding of their more affluent peers. That comes on top of the research conducted by my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook last week, which found that over £200 million has been lost since 2015 thanks to the freeze in the pupil premium. The EPI concluded:
“If this is the Prime Minister’s idea of levelling up, then his legacy might be even more disappointing than his predecessor’s.”
Frankly, the funding that the Prime Minister has promised for future years will be rendered a fantasy if it comes after a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit.
We are yet to hear, of course, what all this means for higher education. Will the Education Secretary tell us any more about the fee status of EU students or our participation in Horizon 2020 or Erasmus? We are no wiser this week than we were before. The Queen’s Speech may have had nothing to say about education, but I can promise parents, children and educators across the country that a Labour Government will not neglect our education system, as the Conservatives have.
The hon. Lady is giving a powerful speech that shows how this Government are giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Every Member looking at the raw numbers of how much money their schools will get should be aware that the rise in the starting salary for teachers, which we would all agree is a good thing, will be coming out of those very same budgets. Do not assume this money is going directly into the hands of teachers and children; it is not. The Government should be funding this on top of the extra money.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady, who has a wealth of knowledge from being an educator. She has also been an advocate for ensuring that, rather than hoodwinking teachers and parents across England, we actually support them by stopping this decimation of our education system so that we do not have newly qualified teachers pitched against experienced teachers.
What we want to see in our education system is a wealth of newly qualified and experienced teachers in our classrooms, because we know that is best for our classrooms and for all children. We will radically expand high-quality early years education so that it is available for all two, three and four-year-olds alongside a renewed Sure Start Plus.
We will give our schools the investment they need, fully reversing the cuts that the Tories have imposed. We will end the managed decline of further education by investing in students and staff so that a genuinely high-quality technical education route is available to all those who wish to pursue it. And we will scrap tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants. Free education for all throughout their life—that is the prospect the Government would have us believe is so terrifying.
Finally, I pay tribute to all those amazing staff who work day in, day out to improve children’s lives. In particular, I mention my friend and constituent Lynn Stott, who was a youth worker for many years. She is gravely ill today, and I cannot be there because I am here at the Dispatch Box. I know what a difference she has made in our community, and the difference that all our educators make every day to the lives of our children.
This Queen’s Speech is the last gasp of a Government with nothing left to give. A Labour Government will do so much more.
I listened very carefully to the impassioned speech of the shadow Secretary of State, but she omitted one fact. Why was it that, in 2010, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats coming into government had to take tough decisions because of the state of the public finances left by the last Labour Government?
Does the right hon. Lady remember that the last Labour Administration picked up the biggest ever debt from any previous Government? And that was a Conservative Government.
The hon. Lady might like to recall the words of the last Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. When we came into government, he wrote “there is no money.” That was the Labour party in government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it appears the Labour party has not learned any lessons at all? They have a plan to spend over £150 billion on renationalisation, which would leave no money for schools and hospitals.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Labour party’s plans for spending and for crashing our economy would actually mean there is less money available for schools, less money for the police and less money for our hospitals.
This is an important debate because the Queen’s Speech sets the tone for the sort of country that we want to be post Brexit. I am pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech so many Bills that will take forward work that was proposed or started under the Government I had the privilege to lead. One very good example of that is the Domestic Abuse Bill. I shall not speak about it now, because I spoke on Second Reading, but it is an important piece of legislation that will help to improve people’s quality of life.
There are many other Bills in the Queen’s Speech that will also help to improve people’s quality of life and show that it is the Conservatives who listen to people but also recognise that it is not about headlines; governing is about delivering practical solutions to the problems that people face day to day. We can have the best head- lines, the greatest oratory and the most arresting phrases, but they are of no use if they do not practically deliver for people. That is what this Government are about.
Another Bill that will make a huge difference to people’s lives—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to it in her opening speech—is the serious violence Bill. There is no doubt that there is a problem that we have to address in relation to serious violence, particularly knife crime among young people. A lot of serious violence is, of course, linked to drugs. In February, we were able to set up a review, and Dame Carol Black took on the work of looking at the link between serious violence and drugs.
That review is important, but what is also important —it is reflected in the serious violence Bill—is a recognition that it is not a single Department’s issue. I believe Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that we cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem. It is for every Department to play its part, because if we look particularly at the issue of gangs and young people, we can see that, sadly, gang membership is giving young people an identity and a sense of purpose and belonging. We need to address those issues if we are to deal with that violence.
I am afraid my hon. Friend and I will absolutely disagree on this issue. I do not believe in the legalisation of drugs. I am happy to introduce him to my constituent, Elizabeth Burton-Phillips, who set up DrugFAM as a result of the tragedy that she and her family faced when one of her sons died as a result of drugs. I firmly believe that we should maintain a very strict rule and approach in relation to drugs.
The Government are putting into the serious violence Bill what is effectively the public health duty on which we consulted earlier this year, thereby saying that it is for all Departments to consider these issues. We have to deal with the causes of crime. As my right hon. friend the Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box on Monday:
“This is a one-nation Government who insist on dealing not only with crime but the causes of crime”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 666, c. 23.]
I thank the right hon. Lady for graciously giving way. Of course, policing in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Government, and the Scottish Government can make laws different from those made by the UK Government. Does she agree that the closest possible co-operation with the Scottish Government will be necessary if these laudable aims are to be realised?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we should have co-operation on these issues. We also need to have great co-operation between Police Scotland and the police forces in the rest of the United Kingdom. When I was Home Secretary, I visited Gartcosh and saw the excellent work that was being done in respect of Police Scotland working not only with other forces in England, but with other agencies throughout the United Kingdom. Excellent work was done as a result of that.
The right hon. Lady will know that before policing was devolved in Northern Ireland, we had 13,500 police officers. Under the previous Labour Administration, that number was cut to 6,000. In the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland called for the reintroduction of another 1,000 officers in Northern Ireland. I am sure the right hon. Lady would extend to Northern Ireland the Government’s proposals to increase the policing footprint throughout the whole UK.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the actions of the previous Labour Government. Conservative Governments have, of course, ensured that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has the resources that are available to it. Let me take the opportunity to say that the PSNI does an incredible job in Northern Ireland. In fact, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, all our police officers across the whole of the United Kingdom do an excellent job. We do have the best police force in the world.
The police are, of course, dealing with a variety of new types of crime. One of the other Bills that I am particularly pleased to see in relation to that is the online harms Bill. We know that the internet, great invention though it is, can be used to ill purpose to encourage others into violent activity and extremism. We also know, of course, how our young people can suffer harms from online activity. The approach that we have taken in the White Paper, published in April, sets out at its heart that duty of care for companies. That proportionate approach will not only have an impact, but makes us world-leading in this area. We are the first country to have been willing to dip our toe into this matter and say that we need to find an answer to it.
That is why my constituents, who are very worried about online gambling, online self-harm and some of the darker webs that are out there, will be puzzled as to why the Opposition parties will not support the Queen’s Speech, as they are indicating. For young people, the world out there has got incredibly treacherous, incredibly bullying and divisive. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the value of that Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Parents worry, but young people worry as well, about the impact of online harms. This is a very important matter. We are leading the world on this, and it is incredible that the Opposition are not willing to stand up and support that particular Bill.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. As she has said, crime is changing. Cyber-crime, for example, is now the preoccupation of our police forces, because it is, of course, the preoccupation of so many criminals. She did important work in that field, which I was very happy to support, with the development of a national strategy, which is linked to what she is saying about online crime. What more can we do to tackle cyber-crime in the spirit that she began when she was at the Home Office?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right. It was right that the National Crime Agency was set up, and it is absolutely right now that we have that increasing capacity in relation to cyber-crime. One issue though is how to attract people with those skills to work in the National Crime Agency and in our police forces. Having a more flexible approach to the way that people can be employed in support of our police, and within our police, is a key way of doing that. I was pleased also to have introduced the direct entry at superintendent level, which has brought some other skills into the police. It is looking at such innovative approaches that will help in these matters.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that some of this is cultural? It is still quite often the case that, when online harassment is reported to the police, the police will tell people to come off the platform on which they are being harassed. That is not about resource; that is a cultural issue within the police and it is about how the real world and the online world come together. We also need more regulations for platforms. It is not right that these platforms are allowed to, essentially, self-police and to decide for themselves what they believe is appropriate.
As cyber-crime has developed, it has been necessary for the police to develop their approach, and that is absolutely right. Another thing that I was pleased to do as Home Secretary was to set up the College of Policing, which helps to provide the “what works best” advice to police forces in areas such as cyber-crime, which is, increasingly, the area that we have to look at, in addition to other areas of crime.
My right hon. Friend is talking about the training of police officers. Does she welcome the approach taken by the Hampshire police force, which involves industry experts in cyber issues through the use of police specials and will she applaud that approach of getting experts in cyber-crime involved in policing?
I am very happy to commend the Hampshire force for the work that it does in introducing specialist specials. It is extremely good. Hampshire has always been one of the forces at the forefront of the use of technology and at looking at these issues around cyber-crime. We want to be the safest place in the world to be online and the best place in the world to set up a digital business, so the proportionate approach set out in the online harms Bill is absolutely right.
I want to say just a word about the Environment Bill, because it will have an enormous impact on people’s quality of life. I was pleased that, when we launched the 25-year environment plan last year, we set out the aim to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than when we came into government. That is so important. The debate is often crystallised around climate change, but it is about so much more than that. If we are to deal with these issues, it is about the very small ways that, individually, each one of us can make a contribution. Within the Bill, I am particularly pleased about the work that is going to be done on biodiversity, on protecting natural habitats and, indeed, on waste crime, which afflicts too many of our constituencies.
There are many excellent Bills that will improve people’s quality of life, building on four years of good Conservative Government and nine years of Conservatives in government. None the less, I wish to press the Government on three areas. The first is on mental health. The work done by Sir Simon Wessely and his team in reviewing the Mental Health Act 1983 was incredibly important. Some of the findings of that work were truly shocking, particularly in relation to the way that some people in mental health crisis were being treated. It is important that this Government not only consider the Government response to that review of the Mental Health Act as soon as possible, but commit to introducing new legislation—a new mental health Act—to deal with these issues. I sat and listened to the testimony of some service users, and it was truly shocking to hear how they had been treated as second-class citizens, or worse, in their treatment. We do need to address that.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in taking interventions. I pay tribute to the work that she did on mental health, particularly on school age mental health, but does she agree that, as well as changing legislation, the biggest impact that we can have on the mental health of children is in the initial 1,000 days of that child’s life? Forming a strong attachment between a child and their parents is the best way of making sure that that child arrives at school in a balanced state, able to take advantage of good education and able to go on to be contributing member of society. We must do much more, much earlier.
My hon. Friend makes a very important and valid point. Obviously, in his time as children’s Minister, he paid a lot of attention to looking at the ways that we can provide children with the best possible support and the best possible start in life, because, as he says, that early stage is what actually helps to determine a child’s future through the rest of their lives.
I thank the right hon. Lady very much for giving way. I, too, welcome a number of recommendations in Sir Simon Wessely’s report, but does she agree that early intervention is absolutely crucial? We must do a number of things, including reintroducing Sure Start centres and reinvesting in our staff in mental health services.
The Government are reinvesting in staff in mental health services and increasing the number of mental health professionals in the health service. On early intervention, I was very pleased to have introduced the concept of ensuring that, in every school, there is somebody who is trained in identifying mental health problems and who is able to focus and direct people to the support that they need.
Another area on which I wish to press my right hon. Friend relates to immigration and foreign national offenders. It is absolutely right to look at those cases where foreign national offenders, having been deported, are then brought back into the country, often illegally by criminal gangs. The issue that I have, though, is that, as a result of the proposals, we will potentially see more foreign national offenders in our prisons. The issue of dealing with foreign national offenders in our prisons is faced by every Home Secretary when they come into office. I urge the Government, alongside what they are already doing, to consider how we can most effectively remove foreign national offenders and also ensure that we have prisoner transfer schemes to replace those that are available to us within the European Union.
On immigration, I note the many recent references to a points-based system. In 2010, when I became Home Secretary, one challenge that I faced was dealing with the abuse that had arisen in the immigration system, which had largely been enabled by the Labour party’s points-based system. It is possible that the best brains of the Home Office have come up with a very good scheme, but I urge the Home Secretary and the Home Office to look carefully at the lessons that have been learned about points-based systems, which are not in themselves an answer to controlling immigration and which can allow abuse to take place.
I am also concerned about some references in the press to what looked like, effectively, regional visas, or the ability for somebody to be given a visa if they were going to work in a particular part of the country. I urge the Home Secretary to look carefully at how that could operate logistically, because there are some real challenges. [Interruption.] I hear some muttering from SNP Members, but that issue has been rejected by the independent Migration Advisory Committee.
I said that I was going to make some progress, and I will, because I want to raise a final point.
In the police protections Bill, there will be a measure to protect and give support to police drivers who are involved in chasing criminals, which has been an issue—there have been challenges when accidents have happened or people have been hurt. That is absolutely right, but it was always intended to be part of a wider Bill that would introduce reforms to sentencing for dangerous driving, which is an issue that Liz McInnes and other hon. Members on both sides of the House have taken up. I am disappointed that those reforms are not in the Queen’s Speech.
I am particularly concerned because of the case of my constituent Bryony Hollands, who was 19 when she was struck by a car in Nottingham in August 2015 and died. The individual responsible, Thomas Burney, was thought to have taken cocaine and was three times over the drink-driving limit. He pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and to causing injuries by dangerous driving. He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. He was released in August, halfway through his sentence. Her parents, among other parents who have found themselves in such tragic circumstances, have long campaigned for those reforms to sentencing.
In October 2017, we published the outcome of the dangerous driving consultation, and it was always the intention to introduce a Bill that included those reforms, the protections for police drivers and some other measures in relation to cycling. Although it is right to have the protections for police drivers, I am sorry that the other elements have not been included. I think it is probably the Ministry of Justice that is the prime Department here, and I urge it to look at ensuring that those reforms can be introduced to give some comfort to those parents, and others, who have sadly seen young lives taken away too early by dangerous driving, and who feel that justice has not properly been served.
It is interesting to follow Mrs May. I extend my sympathies to her constituent who was killed by a dangerous driver.
The Queen’s Speech takes place in the context of Brexit and a decade of austerity and damaging cuts to the public sector, whether to local government, to the Scottish Government’s budget or to jobcentres and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, all of which affect our constituents. All those services have been stretched to the limit by having to pick up the pieces as a result of the austerity driven by the UK Government.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to the Child Poverty Action Group report on Tower Hamlets and universal credit, which came out today. It says that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and council staff have found “increased demand for…services” and found it harder to resolve problems, and that universal credit has presented particular challenges with regard to housing. The public sector has to pick up all those issues as a result of the damaging policies of the Government.
I pay tribute to the police in my constituency, in Scotland and across the UK, who put in the hours every single day, risking their own lives and safety. The numbers of police have increased in Scotland by 6.3% since 2007. At the same time, there has been a decrease of 13.3% across England and Wales, and we have seen that in the impact on knife crime and other areas. One thing that would help the police services and the fire service in Scotland would be the return of the VAT that the UK Government pinched from them. That would put £125 million back into frontline public services and would certainly help in this time of ongoing austerity.
I have a long speech to get through; I will see if I can get the hon. Lady in later.
I recently joined the police in my constituency for the Give a Day to Policing initiative. It was incredibly interesting to see how things work on the frontline, including officers booking people into custody. When doing so, they have access to important EU databases that guarantee safety, because if somebody has been booked into custody and the police officer at the desk does not know whether they have outstanding warrants for violence in other countries, they will not be able to make an appropriate judgment about how that prisoner is treated in custody. It is very important that we have continued access to those databases.
The Guardian reported in July that the National Crime Agency was harvesting EU databases, just in case it did not have access to them in the event of Brexit. There is a fundamental issue about how we treat crime agencies in the UK. I noted recently a case in Govanhill in my constituency in which it took five years to bring to justice those involved in people trafficking from Slovakia to Glasgow only because of the co-operation of Police Scotland, UK forces, Europol, Eurojust and the Slovakian police force. I contend that, in the event of Brexit, and certainly a no-deal Brexit, that case would have been far more difficult to resolve. There will be cases going through the criminal process now that might not be concluded. We will be a lot less safe as a result of Brexit if those databases cannot be accessed.
Brexit also puts further pressure on our police services. It has been widely reported that police leave at the end of this month has been cancelled in many cases. That will have a huge impact on staff morale and the ability of forces to respond to everyday issues of crime on our doorsteps. The police need to be able to provide that service and to go about their job. They should not have to defend people who may end up trying to raid their local shop for bread because food supplies cannot get through. The Government have put people in a ludicrous position. In 2019 we should not be discussing the possibility of civil contingencies such as the Army coming to support the police on our streets, but that is the situation that this Government have driven us to.
I welcome the UK Government’s approach to the serious violence Bill. In Scotland and in Glasgow, we have significant experience of the impact of knife crime and what can be done to tackle it. It is welcome that the UK is following Scotland’s lead, but we await further details as to the effectiveness of that policy. The violence reduction unit in Scotland worked because it was organic; it came from grassroots experts who knew what they were doing, such as Medics Against Violence and the police; it was sustained; and it was a long-term plan. The UK Government need to think about the long term and to work across agencies in a truly co-operative fashion to make sure that the policy is successful.
For example, we have people in hospitals who can sit down with victims of knife crime when they come into A&E and make an intervention at that vulnerable time. We do not want people to walk out the door and go on to commit an act of revenge or further violence. Those mentors are very important in violence prevention. The UK Government would do well to look at that model. As a result, the murder rate in Glasgow has dropped by 60%, but we cannot be complacent about knife crime. We need to make sure that that is sustained.
I also ask the UK Government to look to Scotland with regard to the Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill. In Scotland, we have a presumption—not a ban—against short sentences. They are ineffective, because they put people into a cycle of prison. We need to make sure that people do not enter that cycle, because it is incredibly difficult for them to get out once they are in that system. I ask the UK Government to move away from the populism of, “Let’s lock everybody up.” Instead, they should consider the purpose of prison and the criminal justice system and look at models that move towards rehabilitation.
My hon. Friend is making an important speech. The former Justice Minister, Rory Stewart, was looking to Scotland and the good work being done there on short sentencing. We are seeing that our reoffending rates have dropped. Does she agree that it is so important for the new Cabinet to continue their predecessor’s work?
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a lot to be learned from that. We should be in the business of closing prisons down, not building more. We should look at the reasons people are driven into the criminal justice system—at the causes of poverty and inequality, which drive so many people into it.
I look with interest and some despair at the immigration and social security Bill. We see immigration as positive. It is a good thing for our country and it is very good for public services in our country. Brexit will have a huge and damaging effect on our public services, because often the people who provide them have done us the huge honour of coming to our country.
The NHS in particular will suffer as a result of Brexit. Recently, The Independent quoted research by Medbelle that said that EU doctors and nurses have been worth more than £3 billion to the UK economy over the past five years. There has already been a 91% fall in EU registrations to the Nursing & Midwifery Council since 2016, and more than 7,000 nurses have left that register. What impact do the Government think that will have on the most vulnerable? How do they expect our NHS to cope with the shock of that sudden drop? According to Medbelle’s analysis, educating more than 30,000 British nurses to replace EU nationals would cost £1.2 billion. If and when we finally see a Budget, how will the Chancellor provide for that?
Age UK has raised concerns about the adult social care Bill. From the announcements so far, it thinks that the Bill is too restricted in being just for the elderly and that it should be extended right across the board. I urge the Minister to look at Scotland, where there is already free personal care and where we are moving towards making non-residential social care free as well, because it is desperately important to people. EU nationals are at the forefront of providing that service.
Thinking of social care and care of the elderly, I give the Scottish Government credit for their good work on tackling fuel poverty. Altnaharra in my constituency is the coldest place in the UK every year, and I therefore have many good people who simply cannot afford their fuel bills. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be a good move for the UK Government, or possibly the Scottish Government, to consider some form of social security system whereby additional payments are made to the most needy to help meet those extra big bills?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman on that notion. It is interesting to look at how other European countries treat people. Other countries can be colder than or as cold as Scotland, but I am not aware of pensioners in Sweden or Finland freezing to death in the winter. What he proposes is a good quick fix, but we need more fundamental reform to how we make our homes, how we insulate our homes and how we ensure that people are kept warm and safe in colder weather.
The prospects for restricting immigration are grim. It is an existential threat to Scotland’s public services, as well as to businesses, and it will impoverish us as a society. Interestingly, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead pointed out the myth of the points-based immigration system, and I am glad that she did. It was taken apart by Fergus Peace in the i earlier this month, when he pointed out that we already have a points-based immigration system to an extent, and it is harsher and less flexible than the one in Australia.
There are significant problems with the UK’s immigration system. It is arbitrary and damaging. The hostile environment leaves people in tears at my surgeries week in and week out. For example, visitor visas cannot be appealed. I see many people who fill out the application forms for visitor visas diligently and correctly, only to find them refused because Home Office officials cannot distinguish between the opening and closing balance of a bank account, because they use the wrong means of calculating the foreign exchange rates for a currency or because they do not believe that somebody who has been to visit half a dozen times before will go back to their country. All people want to do is to come and visit somebody, whether it is a mum whose child is dying or an elderly relative. Some people simply want to visit during the school holidays and see around the country their family call home.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the report by the all-party parliamentary group for Africa on how the issue of visitor visas affects people coming from that part of the world in particular. Does she agree that the impact that is having on our cultural festivals, universities and creative industries flies in direct contrast to the “Britain is GREAT” and “Global Britain” rhetoric we hear? Britain is not open for business; Britain is closed. [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I hear Ministers chuntering—perhaps they do not have the same experience in their constituency surgeries as me and my hon. Friend. Perhaps they are among the MPs who decide to shop their constituents to the Home Office, rather than help them out. I agree with my hon. Friend, who has done a great amount of work for the all-party parliamentary group for Africa. This issue does damage our credibility.
Often, such cases are resolved only when they are raised with the media. I challenge the Home Office on this. I have had a number of pretty much identical cases, but the ones that have been resolved a full six months ahead of the others are the ones I have got in the press—on Channel 4, in The Guardian and in other places. I therefore question the impartiality and fairness of the Home Office.
Like me, my hon. Friend will see people at her surgery regularly who are looking for a family member to come here who has been numerous times before, but they are knocked back. Is not the fallacy of the UK Government’s proposal on ending free movement that, inevitably in a free trade agreement, they will start dishing out lots of visas anyway, and we will end up with more people at our surgeries when the incompetent Home Office fails to administrate those visas, creating more work for us as MPs?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
There is also great unfairness with spousal and family visas, due to the minimum income threshold. I am aware of constituents who have had to take on several jobs to meet the threshold—they are absolutely exhausted. The daft thing is that, if their spouse was able to come over, they would more than meet the threshold. The threshold is stopping that person coming over and contributing to our country.
We doubt whether many of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech will make it. There was an article in The Times yesterday—I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman saw it—that did not give any of the Bills a five out of five for their chances of passing. We will wait and see if any of them make it, never mind whether they have our support.
The spousal visa system leaves many people unable to see their children or their family. It is heartbreaking having to deal with that week in, week out and having children coming in saying, “When can I get to see my daddy?” If Home Office Ministers want to come to my surgery and sit in on those meetings, I would absolutely welcome it, because they should see what is happening at first hand.
My hon. Friend Carol Monaghan will talk more about post-study work visas. We would welcome their return, because we believe that it is important to say to people who want to come and study in Scotland, “You are welcome. You will get to come here, to contribute to our society and to carry on your lives in Scotland after you have concluded your studies.” The UK Government seem to say, “Come, we will take your money for your international student visa and then you can go—we’re done with you.” That is just unacceptable; it is not welcoming in the slightest.
I agree entirely with the points the hon. Lady is making. Something that was absent from the Queen’s Speech was progressing the work on modern day slavery. I give credit to the former Prime Minister for the leadership she has shown on this issue, but it is clear that we need to do more on progressing the security and support given to victims of modern day slavery.
I very much agree with that. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that people who have been victims do not end up being blamed for having been trafficked into the country or for being party to that. Those people should get some leniency and help from the Home Office, rather than it trying to remove them at the first instance.
On post-study work visas, the Government need to consider the fact that the Scottish education system has four-year degrees as standard and that many other degrees, such as engineering, architecture and medicine, are longer than three years. It should not be the case that people get three years into a degree and have to reapply, with no certainty that they will finish it. Those courses will be deeply unattractive to people if they do not know whether they can finish them. Perhaps each type of course should carry a visa with it, rather than there being an arbitrary three-year cut-off.
Obviously, I am in Scottish form today. Is not another strength of the Scottish degree that it has a much broader base in terms of first-year subjects, one of which people carry on in the second year?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that.
The way in which entrepreneurs and highly skilled migrants have been treated by the Home Office has been despicable. I have had people at my surgery who have been brought here by the UK Government as part of entrepreneurial schemes and then told that they cannot stay. They have been chucked out after having sought all the investment for their companies and having established themselves. The Home Office whips all that out from underneath them. Highly skilled migrants are still waiting for an apology from the UK Government, after they were found in the courts to be incorrect. Those people deserve an apology and deserve to have their cases resolved and their leave to remain progressed. The Government are looking at a Windrush compensation scheme. I would like to see compensation for everybody the Home Office has done wrong and made incorrect decisions on, because their life chances have been seriously diminished and they have gone into debt in order to fight the Home Office, only to be proved right at the end of the day.
I also call on the UK Government to do more to end the scandal of indefinite immigration detention, which leaves so many people with no certainty as to how long they will be stuck in that system. I have had many constituents who have gone into Dungavel only to be sent out not having had to be there in the first place. All the stuff in the immigration Bill and all the cases that I have seen tell me that the shoddy treatment that the UK Government dish out to non-EU migrants should not be dished out to EU nationals as well. We should be removing this unfairness, not extending it.
My hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald will speak more on settled status and its limitations later, but I highlight from my own casework people who have been left upset and baffled by being refused settled status, despite having been here for decades in some cases. In addition, the Department for Work and Pensions has regularly been refusing EU nationals access to universal credit. There appears to me to be a concerted, underhand effort to remove the rights of EU nationals even before Brexit. That is utterly unacceptable and it must stop.
Scottish Government economic modelling shows that each EU worker in Scotland adds, on average, £34,400 to GDP and £10,400 to Government revenue. The Migration Advisory Committee has found that people coming to this country contribute more in UK taxes than they take out of the system. It makes absolutely zero sense, on any level, to turn them away and to make them feel unwelcome, as this UK Government are determined to do. We have found so far that people have found Scotland more welcoming. The words of the First Minister and others have been instrumental in making sure that people do feel welcome in Scotland and stay, but there is only so much that we can do under the hostile environment of this Government, the way in which they treat people, and the way the media in this country have been treating people. We will do our very best. We hope that it will make a difference to people.
Scotland needs a tailored system to meet our needs. Our challenge has long been emigration, not immigration. The thresholds and targets that prioritise the south-east of England, not our more varied economy in Scotland, do us no favours whatever. For example, tonnes of fruit and veg have been rotting in the fields. Apparently 87,000 punnets of raspberries remain unpicked on one farm alone while people in this country are driven to food banks. Across these islands we are seeing the uncertainty of Brexit and the impact of that on people’s lives—people who would have come here but have been made unwelcome by this UK Government. The seasonal workers scheme is woefully inadequate if we see food rotting in the fields.
We also have uncertainty for the university sector with regard to funding through Horizon, Erasmus+ and the research development fund. We have the uncertainty about the future of research collaboration. We must see some progress on this. I would also question the logic of 12-month visas, although I suppose that is typical of a UK Government who clearly want to discourage people from coming here. The low-skilled jobs that they talk about are actually the ones that are the most vital to our country; they are done by people working in care homes and other public services who we desperately need. This UK Government continue to see people for the value of their salary rather than the contribution that they make to our society and our communities. We on the SNP Benches thank those people for their endeavours. If immigration was in the control of the Scottish Parliament, we would be treating people with dignity and respect.
I very much thank the hon. Lady for eventually giving way. [Interruption.] Well, it seems to be a reoccurring incident, where Scottish Conservatives are not allowed to intervene in debates when the Scottish nationalists are leading on them. She is talking about immigration and she is inevitably going to suggest that immigration should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but does she recognise that, on welfare, for example, it will be a whole 10 years—a decade—before that is devolved to the Scottish Parliament because the Scottish nationalists did not want to take it? It is always the case in this Parliament that they ask for powers and then do not take them.
The hon. Lady, as so often, misses the point. We want control over all the levers of our economy, and all the powers that we can have, because we want our country to be independent. We do not want to be beholden to this bunch of chumps who just cannot seem to realise the things that Scotland has going for it.
We welcome the Domestic Abuse Bill. We call on the Home Secretary and others to look at our work in Scotland on Equally Safe. I also ask them to look at the SNP’s announcement, just yesterday, of new protective orders to remove domestic abusers from the homes of their victims, because it has never been right that those perpetrating abuse have been able to keep a roof over their heads while the victim and, often, the children have been forced to leave and undergo the additional trauma of moving—finding a new home and starting over. I thank Scottish Women’s Aid and all who have campaigned in Scotland for this change. If the UK Government are serious about supporting those facing domestic abuse, they must also look at the welfare benefits system and restore universal credit payments to women, rather than asking them to go through asking for split payments, which will put them in more danger. They must remove the two-child policy and the rape clause, which force women into staying with their abusers and into poverty; in some cases, as reported by some of the rape crisis organisations, women have been asked to terminate pregnancies because the child will not bring them any money. All these things are extremely dangerous and traumatic. The Government also need to end the scandal of no recourse to public funds. All these policies impoverish but they also put women at significant risk.
On housing policy, which is an important public service, the Tories continue to undermine social rented housing, contributing to spiralling housing costs in England. The difference in poverty across these islands can be put down, in some cases, to the housing costs in England being far more expensive than the housing costs in Scotland. House building in England is at its lowest level since 1920, and evictions are at a record high. How different in Scotland, with 50,000 new homes delivered across this parliamentary term and five times more social rented properties per head than in England from 2014 to 2018. We have ended the right to buy, we have invested, and we are bringing empty homes back into use, whereas they lie empty in England. The Tories should look to Scotland for how to make sure that this vital public service, through our housing association movement, is providing social rented housing that people can be proud to call home.
We welcome the Bill on building safety. Again, Scotland, in legislative terms, is well ahead of the game on this. However, I ask for further clarity on both insurance and mortgage lending for those who find themselves in a home with cladding, because I have had surgery cases where people have lost out in the sales of homes because of that uncertainty. I ask for some comprehensive action from this UK Government to try to make sure that people do not end up stuck in homes that they cannot sell and cannot get insurance on.
In Scotland we are leading where we have responsibility. We have the best performing NHS in the UK, we have social housing to be proud of, we have tackled knife crime, and we are making huge progress on many health issues. We are held back, however, in areas where the UK Government have responsibility—in immigration policy, in the parts of DWP policy that remain in the hands of that Department, and in areas such as drug reform. We desperately need safe drug consumption rooms to save lives in Scotland, but we are hampered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which makes criminals out of those who want to give help to those suffering addiction problems. We do not have full control over all the important levers of our economy.
This debate takes place in the context of austerity and of broken Brexit Britain. It fails to tackle the fundamental issues that this country faces and it will hold Scotland back. We need the full powers of independence that will allow us the ability to look after all our citizens and to build a fairer, more prosperous Scotland, where all citizens can participate and play their role. Westminster has failed us—it is time for independence.
Order. A seven-minute limit on each Back-Bench speech will now apply.
This week, we meet to debate a Queen’s Speech put forward by Government who do not have a majority. Many of the Bills in this Queen’s Speech are addressing real public problems of great interest to our constituents of all persuasions, and many of them will attract support from voters who are not planning to vote Conservative. It is therefore particularly disappointing that when I asked SNP Members to say which of the Bills in this Queen’s Speech they would support, the answer came that they would not support any of them. They could not think of any Bill—presumably, including the Domestic Abuse Bill—that they will support.
The right hon. Gentleman will of course be aware that vast areas of the Domestic Abuse Bill are actually devolved. One of the problems that we in the SNP have in criticising this Queen’s Speech is that the vast majority of the Bills in it do not apply to Scotland. In fact, there was no mention of Scotland in this Queen’s Speech, so there is very little that is relevant to Scotland.
What I am about to say is still very relevant, which is that I think the public of the United Kingdom, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, expect the Opposition to be a bit more positive and co-operative in tackling their priorities. It is not the Government’s fault that we cannot resolve this problem, because the Government have put forward a very simple solution to it, which is to allow the public to choose a new Parliament, and I trust that they would then choose a majority Government. If we are not allowed to do that because the Opposition parties can agree on blocking a general election, surely it is incumbent on them to help us to use the time we have intelligently and productively, in the wider interests of the electorate of the nation.
I want our Parliament to be well thought of by as many voters as possible of all persuasions. This Parliament is doing itself grave further damage if it does not co-operate and use this time during which the Opposition wish us to be here to find things on which we agree, to make improvements for those we represent. Those who represent a part of the United Kingdom with devolved government will, of course, be mainly interested in what their devolved Government do in those chosen areas, but there are still Union elements in this programme, and that is no reason to get in the way of us in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where appropriate, doing what we need to do here. It would be good if the SNP said that they were happy for us to do the things we want to do in our part of the United Kingdom, where we do not have the advantage of devolved responsibilities in a separate English or Welsh Parliament.
That is my message—Parliament should think about this. Why should Opposition parties co-operate? Well, for the simple reason that when we get to the general election, the public will take a particularly dim view of any party or group of MPs who have deliberately been negative about everything and unwilling to use the time, money and powers that this place and Government can bring to try to solve some of the problems before us.
On public services, I very much welcome the loosening of the purse strings. In 2010, my party and I thought that the deficit was massively too high and that emergency action was needed—as did, incidentally, the outgoing Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was planning pretty draconian measures to correct the deficit that his Government had created by bad management—but in the past two or three years, I have felt strongly that some parts of the public service are not getting enough money, and I have also felt that we had enough flexibility economically to do something about it. I also have my own favourite way to pay some of the bills, which is to stop paying any money to the European Union. I look forward to the day when that comes to pass, but many Members of Parliament here are desperate to spend as much money in Europe as possible, which has made that more difficult.
Let us leave out that contentious issue and concentrate on the extra money we can afford. I welcome that money for two reasons: first, because my local schools, health facilities and police force need that extra money; and secondly, because our economy needs that money. The fiscal and monetary squeeze of the past three years has been too tight. I predicted that it would slow the economy, and that is exactly what it is doing. Superimposed on those domestic stresses, we now have a nasty world manufacturing recession and a general world economic slowdown. Policies in several of the great economies around the world have led to that slowdown and are taking time to correct. The United Kingdom needs to be part of the process of correcting that. We need looser fiscal and monetary policy to project a bit more growth and create a bit more prosperity.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Education is here, because along with other colleagues whose constituencies have seen schools and educational services deprived of adequate funding for some time, I strongly welcome the new minimum figures that will be given to my schools that have been below the minimum figures. But I do not think that my schools at or near the minimum figures are getting enough, and I look forward to future settlements dealing with that problem. It costs money to employ enough good teachers. In a part of the world such as mine, facilities and buildings are expensive, and that has to be reflected in the amount of money allocated.
I look forward to the 20,000 new police officers in the Thames valley, and I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that progress will be made on that soon, because we have a series of problems with drugs and violence that we need to tackle.
I thank my good friend for giving way. In the past 15 years or so, those in the armed forces have had a problem getting into things such as the police service, the fire service and the Prison Service. Does he agree that it would be good to have a recruitment drive for those junior non-commissioned officers, senior NCOs and young officers leaving the armed forces to go into that kind of profession?
Judging by the hon. Gentleman’s appearance, I do not know whether he is anticipating an early dinner, a long dinner or, conceivably, both.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who has lots of expertise from his distinguished military career. There is a lot of talent in the armed forces. My right hon. Friend Mrs May said that such measures were taken to try to get personnel into teaching from that important resource, and we could spread that more widely.
I look forward to progress in particular with the county lines issue, with illegal settlements and with casual violence on the streets, which even comes sometimes to my constituency and is not welcome. More and better-resourced policing would be extremely good.
I also want to see progress in the health service. I am pleased that substantial sums of money have been allocated, under both the immediately retiring Government and the new Government. That is doubly welcome. I urge Ministers to do serious work with organisations such as those in my area on what the priorities for that money should be, because it is important that these large sums are spent intelligently. The priorities for patients are clear: we need more GPs, to provide better coverage of services; and we need better access to GP services, with better systems, so that people can make timely appointments, and enough GPs to offer advice and consultations. We certainly need more money for the large hospital in Reading, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead and I share with the Reading MPs, where various works need to be done, and recruitment is needed where there are shortages of trained staff.
My right hon. Friend was saying earlier how important the additional resources going into education funding are. Does he agree that one of this Government’s great achievements is the fair funding settlement, which provides for counties to be properly funded?
I agree, and we need to build on that, because we do not yet have all the answers.
In conclusion, I welcome the extra money, but let us put in the homework to ensure that it is spent intelligently and deals with the people’s priorities, which I briefly sketched; I can go into greater detail with Ministers, if they would like subsequent meetings. Let us also think about the economic implications, because the UK economy has slowed too much. It is not in recession in the way that I fear the German economy is. There is a general trend of manufacturing collapse and big slowdowns or even recessions worldwide. We need both to increase public spending, as the Government are doing, and to cut taxes to stimulate the enterprise economy, because there is one simple thing that all Conservatives know: we cannot properly finance public services if we do not have a healthy and viable private enterprise economy.
I want to deal first with the myth that is perpetuated about the so-called economic mismanagement of the last Labour Government. Until 2008, that Government had an excellent record of controlling both the national debt and national deficit as a percentage of GDP. From 2008 to 2010, the increase in deficit and debt was not due to overspending; it was due to the collapse in revenues because of the banking crash, which affected every Government in the western world—that is the truth of the situation.
I will concentrate my comments on matters relating to the remit of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, not because I am not interested in matters to do with the police, education and the national health service—of course I am—but because of time restrictions.
I want first to deal with local government spending. The Government have said that there will be extra spending power for local councils. It has now become clear that that depends on councils putting their council tax up by 4%. A 4% council tax increase is what the Government are requiring of councils to deliver the spending power that the Government say they will have, including a 2% increase to fund social care.
As Councillor George Lindars-Hammond said the other day, 2% for Sheffield is very different from 2% for Westminster. The position is even worse for some other small authorities, which will simply not be able to raise the money to provide the social care their citizens need. Of course, it is all right—isn’t it, Mr Speaker?—because we will have social care reform. The Queen’s Speech says that we will have legislation on social care. I welcome that, as I have welcomed the similar promises on the seven or eight occasions they have been made before. When will we get at least a Green Paper on social care? Will social care be kicked into the long grass once again?
I welcome the reference in the Queen’s Speech to devolution, which has been on the back burner for too long. Good work was done with the deals and setting up mayoral combined authorities. I am just a bit disappointed that the Queen’s Speech refers to more of the same: city deals, other sorts of deals or enhancing those already in place. We need a comprehensive devolution framework, which as of right devolves powers to all local authorities—urban or rural, cities or towns— throughout the country that want to take them up. We should move towards that, and the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government is holding an inquiry on devolution. I am sure all members of the Committee will push for devolving powers to local authorities. We want more progress on devolution, but I welcome at least the mention of it in the Queen’s Speech and the commitment to doing something about it.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am quite sympathetic to what he has just said. Does he agree that, if we are to have a White Paper, no council should necessarily have a veto on any changes in its locality and that, if a number of councils want change, one should not be allowed to stop it happening?
I am very sympathetic to the point the hon. Gentleman makes about the situation in Cumbria. Having one council holding everything up certainly needs addressing, and I understand the problem he highlights.
I will move on to building safety. The Government have finally accepted that they will legislate to bring in the recommendations of the Hackitt review. When Dame Judith came to the Select Committee last December, she said she was disappointed that it had taken the Government seven months to accept that they would implement all her recommendations. I am a little bit worried that the Queen’s Speech refers to legislating, but no specific Bill is mentioned in the list of measures. Building safety is really important, but it needs to be accompanied by adequate funding.
Thousands of people in this country still live in high-rise blocks and other properties with dangerous cladding. The Government have put money in place for social housing, and they have now put it in place for the private sector, but there needs to be greater urgency to ensure that it is spent, and in particular that reluctant private owners are made to do the work. There is an additional problem. Not only high-rise but high-risk buildings, such as old people’s homes and hospitals, need addressing, as well as cladding other than ACM—for example, zinc cladding material. The Government are reviewing all that, but there are many concerns and suspicions. Kevin Hollinrake has pushed hard on the matter in the Select Committee. Cladding needs addressing and the Government will have to find probably billions more pounds to deal with the problem to ensure that not merely homes, but hospitals, schools and every form of accommodation are safe.
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for giving way. On safety in high-rise buildings, does he agree that it is repugnant that leaseholders could end up paying the cost of making the buildings safe and that the freeholders should take responsibility?
Absolutely. The Select Committee has welcomed the Government’s indications that that is their intention. The pressure now has to be on how that intention will be put into practice, because clearly there are many examples of where that is not happening.
I want to raise one or two other issues that are not in the Queen’s Speech—I am disappointed about that—on which the Select Committee has asked for Government action. Leasehold reform is a major issue across the House; 700 pieces of evidence were submitted to our Select Committee inquiry. The Government’s intentions are set out for new properties, particularly for new houses not being leasehold, and restrictions on service charges and other costs on leasehold flats. However, we still have not got a clear commitment to legislate for existing leaseholders who have been mis-sold leases and ripped off by service charges and other permission fees. That is simply not acceptable. I think that we produced a very good Select Committee report, which was widely welcomed by Members across the House. It is disappointing to see no reference in the Queen’s Speech to leasehold reform.
The other area that is not mentioned is the private rented sector, but again there seems to be cross-party support from Members on both Front Benches for reform of section 21 provisions to ensure that there cannot be no-fault evictions. Where is the legislation to deal with that and to tackle rogue landlords who abuse the situation and exploit their tenants? It is very disappointing that there is no reference to the private rented sector in the Queen’s Speech. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will come before the Select Committee in the next couple of weeks. I am sure that we will push him further on that point.
There is no reference to fracking in the Queen’s Speech. Perhaps that is a good thing. One constituent asked me the other day, “Does that mean that the Government have given up on fracking because they are not referring to it?” We have been waiting 18 months for a Government response to our last inquiry into fracking, in which we opposed the Government’s proposals to extend permitted development rights and to include fracking in the national infrastructure arrangements. There is still no answer from the Government. I said to my constituent that perhaps the most significant thing is not the lack of mention of fracking in the Queen’s Speech, but the fact that Cuadrilla has now pulled out of its arrangements and exploration in Lancashire. That probably means that the commercial sector is reaching a view that fracking is no longer viable. Why do not the Government accept that and transfer that funding into more renewable energy investment, which is surely what we all want?
Just before the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced that they would put up the cost of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, which particularly affects local authorities, from 0.8% to 1.8%. That is more than doubling. It is one of the things that are supposed to have no consequences. The Government tucked away the announcement on a Friday afternoon before the Queen’s Speech. However, the cost of that borrowing will fall particularly on housing revenue accounts, and all the good work that the Government have encouraged by lifting the housing revenue account cap will be undone by the extra cost of borrowing, which will distort and put back all the business plans that local authorities have to build more council homes. It is a backward step. I want Ministers to explain why they have done that and whether they had any understanding of the consequences.
Order. I trust that, as usual, Sir John Hayes will pepper his oration with philosophy, poetry and prose, or conceivably a combination of all three, thereby satisfying an expectant audience.
I certainly would not want to disappoint you, Mr Speaker, so I must rise to the occasion and fulfil your aim for my speech. Like you, I believe it is a politician’s duty to inspire. But I would go further—it is our mission to enthral, but at least we should try to inspire. Too much of modern politics has become peppered with dull managerialism.
G.K. Chesterton said:
“For fear of the newspapers politicians are dull, and at last they are too dull even for the newspapers.”
Any Queen’s Speech is therefore welcome because it sets out a series of measures that we can debate and consider. Indeed, it has enlivened a discussion today that could not have taken place had the Government not set out such a series of measures. The least that can be said of the Queen’s Speech is that it does just that: it is bold, it is fresh and it is evidence of an agenda. Whether it could be said to be a coherent mission or—dare one say?— evidence for a vision is more debatable, but at least it is a fresh start. Many of the measures are necessary, and most are desirable.
The Home Secretary is herself, as I noted when I intervened on her, a breath of fresh air. I am going to say some very nice things about a former Home Secretary in a minute, just in case she was worrying that I would not. The Home Secretary said that many of the measures are to address freedom from fear. Fear and doubt pervade too much of Britain. In too many places, too many people we represent live lives of fear, and crime perhaps strikes the greatest fear in our constituents’ hearts. The continuing threat of terror is the apex of those fears, and, as my right hon. Friend Mrs May, who earlier made such an impressive contribution to this debate, mentioned in her final Prime Minister’s questions, at the Home Office I was able to introduce measures to tackle terrorism, but I could not have done so without her guidance and leadership. There is no one more resolute in their determination to tackle that threat than my right hon. Friend.
The fear that people feel daily, however, is the fear of disorder, and many of the measures in this Queen’s Speech are welcome because they begin to address that kind of disorder. The daily experience of lawlessness blights lives, diminishes communities, damages and sometimes destroys individuals and families. The figures that I looked at in preparation for this debate are stark. The year of my birth was 1958—I know that hon. Members are wondering how that could be so, but I was indeed born in 1958, and you probably know the date, time and place, Mr Speaker, given your approach to these things. In that year, there were 261 murders or manslaughters. In 2018, there were 732. In 1958, there were 1,692 robberies; in 2018, there were 82,566. As far as arson is concerned, the numbers have gone from 722 to more than 25,000. There is no doubt that crime of all kinds has grown at an alarming rate over my lifetime. It has to be said that unfortunately most of the snowflake elite who run too much of Britain are in denial about that and about how to deal with it.
Absolutely. The Queen’s Speech and the spending provisions that the Government have made allow for more police officers to be on the beat to tackle crime, to reassure potential victims of crime and to solve as well as to anticipate the incidents that cause so much misery.
The denial that I described is as plain as this: there are many people, including, I am sad to say, some people in this House, who simply will not face the fact that many of the people who commit crimes are cruel, vicious, heartless thugs and villains who deserve to be caught, deserve to be convicted and deserve to be locked up for as long as possible. That is what our constituents would say, and the fact that we do not say it frequently enough creates a gulf, at least in their perception, between what the people affected by these things, who live on the frontline, know and what people in this place think.
I can certainly reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I have never been called a snowflake. He must accept that if he was to look back at the 1800s and at the type of crimes being committed then he would see just how many were done by people stealing to survive—stealing clothes to wear and food to eat. Accepting how much of today’s crime is driven by poverty and absolute desperation is not being a snowflake; it is understanding the underlying social causes that lead people to commit crime.
Crime is caused by many things, but the idea that crime is an illness to be treated rather than a malevolent choice made by certain individuals has been the pervasive view of those dealing with crime—criminologists and so on—throughout the period I have described, and that view is out of tune and out of touch with what most people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and mine know and feel.
Of course there are many causes of crime. Earlier, I heard the shadow Minister describe her working-class credentials. No one in this Chamber could trump my working-class credentials, and on the council estate where I was brought up most people were law-abiding. It was ordered. I do not remember much vandalism, and there was certainly not much crime. People lived in relative safety. If we went back to that place now, I suspect none of that would be true. There would be a high level of drug addiction, a high level of family breakdown, a lot of lawlessness and all the symbols of disorder. That is just the stark reality, and it has to be addressed. This Government are trying to do so in the measures they have introduced in this Queen’s Speech, and those measures deserve support because they strike a chord with the sentiments of the people we represent.
I was delighted to follow Mr Betts, who is always a thoughtful contributor to our considerations. He exemplified what was once taken as read: that the duty of people in this House is to make a persuasive argument, to attempt to offer a thesis and then to advance their case. I have to say that the shadow Minister stood in sad and stark contrast to that principle. It is not enough simply to string together a series of exhortations with a beginning and an end. That is not what proper consideration of measures in the Queens’s Speech or elsewhere should be about, and it does nothing for the quality or life of this Parliament.
The immigration Bill is also welcome, although I share some of the doubts expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead. A points-based system is good in theory, but regulation and enforcement was certainly a challenge and we will need to look at that very closely. What is absolutely clear, rather as with crime, is that the liberal establishment in this country is out of touch with the views of most of our constituents. Most people in this country, in every poll taken on the subject, think that we have had too much immigration for too long and that it needs to be controlled. It is not contentious to say that; it is not controversial. It simply reflects what most people feel and know. Having said that, all advanced countries enjoy immigration because it is necessary sometimes to bring in people because of their skills and for other reasons.
I will conclude my remarks by simply saying this, Mr Speaker. Chesterton also said that at the heart of every man’s life is a dream. Queen’s Speeches should be about fuelling dreams, and my dream is of a better future for our nation.
Sadly, we have no further time either for Chesterton or, indeed, for the right hon. Gentleman.
Good, well-funded public services are the lifeblood of a decent society. They are absolutely vital in allowing people and communities to develop their potential. At the beginning of today’s debate, we heard the Home Secretary talk about the importance of good local services to prevent vulnerable young people from becoming engaged in crime, yet this Queen’s Speech does not contain any firm commitment to reversing the savage cuts to local services that have been perpetuated on local councils since 2010.
Liverpool City Council has lost 63% of its Government funding for local services. This is particularly traumatic in a poor place such as Liverpool, where a 1% increase in council tax will raise only £1.75 million; in leafy Surrey, a 1% increase in council tax will raise £7.28 million. The more that the Government reduce this commitment to poorer areas, the greater the problem of poverty will be.
Mayor Joe Anderson, together with Liverpool City Council, has performed miracles, both in protecting the people of Liverpool from the most savage consequences of the cuts and in regenerating the city of Liverpool. It is through that regeneration that we have seen jobs and businesses prosper, and the Government have cut back on local services. This year, the city council and the people of Liverpool are facing a major crisis. There are more cuts staring them in the face and nothing in the Queen’s Speech or in the recent financial statement for next year that gives any confidence whatsoever that there will be any reduction in those cuts or their consequences for the people of Liverpool. I call on the Government to engage with Liverpool City Council and the people of Liverpool to find a way to deal with this very critical situation.
As a former civil servant from a family of teachers, I strongly agree with the hon. Lady about the vital importance of really good public services and the funding for them. Does she agree that the extra funding for the police, education and the NHS is really important, and that, despite cuts in local government funding, places such as Gloucester City Council have achieved extraordinary things by doubling the number of play areas over the past decade?
I agree that the hon. Member makes important points, but Merseyside police force has lost 1,100 officers since 2010 and the Government’s proposals are to replace only 70 of them. That is hardly addressing the problem.
I now want to turn to the scandal of the unfinished new Royal Liverpool hospital, which was due to open its doors in March 2017. Now, two and a half years later, the hospital has not been finished and there is no date for it to open its doors. First, there was the collapse of the PFI as Carillion went under. Following that, there was the new scandal of the major demolition of key parts of the new building that was put up by Carillion, which is, of course, now defunct. Major parts of the new building, including beams, had to be demolished because they were unsafe. All of the cladding on the new hospital needed to be replaced, because it too was deemed unsafe.
This deplorable situation demands an inquiry into how that took place. Even more than that, it is absolutely essential that funds are made available quickly to complete the building of the hospital, and that the funds are not taken from other health budgets that are equally important to the people of Liverpool. The people of Liverpool need their hospital. Vital health services are required. Although the current staff at the Royal Liverpool hospital are excellent and work extremely hard, they are battling against a failing building. The new hospital should be taking its place on the campus, together with the new Clatterbridge cancer centre, to bring top class cancer treatment to the people of Liverpool. The new hospital is also part of Liverpool’s regeneration and a part of its thriving health and biomedical centre. The hospital, its medical services and its research must work with the groundbreaking international work already done by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Institute of Infection and Global Health, parts of Liverpool University, which are renowned for combating tuberculosis and other diseases—and, indeed, combating poverty—throughout the world. The hospital is therefore absolutely essential to provide top class services to the people of Liverpool and essential to the city’s regeneration.
It is absolutely deplorable that we are in this situation. Two and a half years after the new hospital was promised, no end is in sight. I have asked Ministers repeatedly—three new Ministers in the past few months—for an answer about what is happening and for a meeting to discuss the situation. I have not been offered a meeting and I have not been given a proper answer to these key questions. I have been told that a business case is being prepared and that much is being discussed. I would like to make it very clear today that that is simply not good enough. The hospital has to be completed. The funds have to be made available. They must not be taken from any other source, which would create more problems for other parts of the health sector and for the people of Liverpool and elsewhere. It is the Government’s responsibility to finish the hospital, and finish it soon. I will persist in asking these questions and I will not be going away, at least until the new hospital is operating.
It is a privilege to follow Dame Louise Ellman, who makes a very passionate case for the public services in her constituency. I hope to do the same. Public services go to the heart of this debate and to the heart of my speech. Like the hon. Lady, I will focus very much on my constituency, which is the Isle of Wight.
It has long been argued that the Island needs an island deal that recognises the additional cost of providing public services on an island. Throughout the UK, in order to support islands and isolated communities, the Government have generally provided either a bridge, as in the case of the Isle of Skye, or increased levels of funding, as in the case of the Scottish islands needs allowance. The Isle of Wight has to all intents and purposes been treated as part of the mainland United Kingdom, because we have never had additional support despite the additional costs. In various conversations I have had with the Prime Minister, he has been generous enough to agree the need for an island settlement. He has done so on visits to the Island in June this year, on record in the House on
Is not part of the problem the deal-making nature of such conversations, with areas pitched against each other? Does the hon. Gentleman support the Local Government Association’s recommendation for an independent body to assess local government need in every area to make sure that everyone gets their fair share?
I know of no such case, but what I do know is that the Island is the only significant population on an island in the UK that has neither a fixed link nor increased funding. I am not necessarily playing my constituency off against other isolated communities, but there are specific additional costs that I would like to mention which I do not think have been met structurally by Governments for the past 50 years.
I intend to show to the Secretary of State an evidence-based case outlining what the additional costs are. By way of background, there is a wealth of evidence internationally, relating to the Isle of Wight and other islands in the UK, that shows the extra cost of providing public services on islands to the same extent as the mainland. Multiple surveys have found structural and economic challenges of severance by sea, which is the technical term, including extra costs from forced self-sufficiency and diseconomies of scale—smaller markets, fewer competitors in those markets. There are six, potentially seven, areas that I would briefly like to raise with the Minister and to put on the record now.
First, on local government services, the University of Portsmouth in 2015 estimated that the additional cost of providing good public services to the same standard as the mainland on the Isle of Wight was £6.4 million. Adjusted for inflation, that is now £7.1 million. Three specific factors were taken into account: the additional cost of doing business, for example it costs 30% extra to build a building on the Isle of Wight because of the importation of materials via ferry; dislocation, with smaller markets and fewer entrants to those markets; and what is known as reduced spillover. A duel carriageway in Southampton does not help us and, vice versa, a duel carriageway in Cowes does not help the folks in Southampton because of severance by sea. We are asking that an agreed formula be devised—I make this speech with the full support of the Isle of Wight Council; we are working on this together—as part of a potential island deal that recognises these additional challenges, which amount to approximately 3% of the funding we receive.
Secondly, on healthcare, we have half the population needed for a district general hospital, yet we need to provide a district general hospital on the Isle of Wight because of the Solent. You cannot give birth on a helicopter; you cannot give birth on a ferry. We need to provide a decent level of care at a district general hospital on the Island, but we lack the throughput, the tariffs per head under NHS funding, to fund that. Our NHS trust believes the cost of 24/7 acute care is £8.9 million, the cost of ambulance services is £1.9 million, and the cost of patient travel to the mainland, of which there were over 40,000 journeys last year, is approximately £560,000. That is a total of nearly £11 million.
Thirdly, on local agriculture infrastructure, the Island is 80% rural and our rural economy is very important to our overall economic prosperity. However, we are again hampered by our dependence on the mainland. For example, under EU regulations—maybe gilded too much by UK officials—an Island abattoir became uneconomic. Livestock raised on the Island is shipped to the mainland for slaughter even if it is then imported back to the Island. That is less humane than local slaughter. It also adds costs and fuel miles. Considering we are trying to become carbon neutral, it is an unnecessary waste of resource.
A few key pieces of infrastructure would help us enormously—we have an Isle of Wight grain collective, so the Island is keen to explore the idea of forming collectives to solve these problems, but we could also do with some grant funding in recognition. These pieces of infrastructure are an abattoir, tanker and extra milk storage facilities, grain storage and milling facilities and a box erector for vegetables.
Fourthly, on housing, there is the need for an “exceptional circumstance” to be granted. In my opinion, the housing targets given to us meet the Government’s definition of unsustainable. They are bad for the Island and I believe that the methodology is flawed. The targets are nothing more than a projection based on historical trends that do not consider our future desire, first, to produce housing for Islanders and secondly, as part of a national agenda, to shape a more sustainable and green future.
Developments on the Island, sadly, are too rarely designed for local people, but are instead designed for mainland—very often, retiree—demand. This forces our youngsters off the Island. We also do not have the infrastructure to support those additional homes, because we are an island. Our hospitals are full, public services are under pressure despite the extra funding, which I am grateful for, electricity and sewerage are at capacity and a third of our water comes from the mainland. The Green Book calculations do not serve the Island well. We intend to present an Island plan to Government that will have a significantly reduced figure, which our landscape and population can cope with, but which supports local demand. That is extremely important, and I would welcome Government support and understanding from the relevant Secretary of State and Ministries, so that we can make sure we get this through and help to create a sustainable, balanced demographic and a sustainable economy, and start paying into the Treasury.
Fifthly, on public services, I would like a unique public authority on the Isle of Wight that combines the work of our local authority, NHS trust and clinical commissioning group. Because of the nature of the Island—it is quite small-scale; social scientists tend to love us because we are island, so we are easily measurable—this could be, along with areas such as Manchester, a role model of how to achieve much greater levels of integration throughout the country. However, we need a small pot of money and a sense of understanding of how this could work to make a success of it.
Lastly, on transport, we have the most expensive ferries in the world. They have very high profit margins, which Islanders, who earn 80% of the national average, have to pay for. My preference would be for Government support to look at different models of ownership and public service obligations.
Before I come to my summation I want to say that there may be additional costs from special educational needs provision. However, I did not want to hold up the letter to the Prime Minister, so they may come additionally.
Hopefully, I have outlined an evidence-based case looking at the additional costs of public services, and I look forward to following this up with Ministers.
Like other Opposition Members, I see this Queen’s Speech as a bit of a fraud. It is being used in the most cynical way by those who see Parliament as no more than window dressing for their latest plot. The Prime Minister claims that his proposals reflect the people’s priorities. Some of them certainly reflect the anxiety and damage resulting from Tory austerity and the Brexit chaos that he has created. Of course, I am pleased that our police will be given the power to arrest foreign criminals, although, in large part, we already possess that power through the European arrest warrant. Of course it is good that we are being offered some new police officers to compensate for the 21,000 that the Tories have cut since they have been in office, but these promises are designed to deflect attention from the fact that the people who caused these problems are sitting on the Government Benches.
I welcome promises of longer jail terms for serious sex offenders and stopping the early release of sex offenders we already have behind bars, but we do not need new legislation to achieve that. The Prime Minister does not need a Queen’s Speech, nor does he even need a parliamentary majority. He could encourage his Ministers to do that today. We could stop letting out the people we have behind bars.
Then there are the proposals to tackle electoral fraud, based on almost as many allegations of fraud as the number levelled at the Prime Minister in his dealings with his American muse. It is just as well that we cannot change the law based on those allegations or he would be in real trouble. We know that 3.5 million people do not have any photo ID and that the idea has the potential to deprive thousands of the opportunity to vote. It could be an electoral Windrush, although it would be no accident this time; it would be the deprivation of a fundamental right by deliberate design.
If this programme was really intended to reflect people’s priorities, there would be a children’s mental health Bill, measures to address the IVF postcode lottery for those suffering from infertility, and action to address the shocking delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment that are costing lives needlessly. There would also be a recognition that if a five-year-old with cystic fibrosis in Scotland can get access to the drug Orkambi, so should young Jemima in my constituency and every other child like her, the length and breadth of this country.
If this was not fantasy and fraudulent politics, we would have legislation to address the shambles that is social care, but we all know what happened the last time the Tories dared voice their true intentions on this, so this time they are going to avoid it altogether—just like they are avoiding a Bill to provide carers with an entitlement to statutory leave, a promise also outstanding from their last manifesto. If the Prime Minister really cared what the public thought, there would be legislation to protect private tenants, powers to tackle rogue landlords, and measures to redress the balance between local communities and the rights of developers, especially when it comes to conversions of family homes to houses in multiple occupation and the constant building of inappropriate accommodation against local wishes. Of course, there would also be real help for homeless families, those in the Travelodges, the run-down hotels and the bed and breakfast joints, and an end to the waste of millions of pounds on pointless lottery schemes designed to sell off housing association properties. We could divert precious resources from that silly scheme tomorrow and use it for an emergency programme to get the homeless off the streets before winter bites.
If the Conservative party was listening to my constituents, it would want to do something about the women born in the ’50s and diddled out of their pensions. It would own up to and put right the mess they have made of universal credit, and it would offer a targeted apprenticeship scheme to tackle stubborn unemployment that means that in constituencies such as Selly Oak, unemployment is twice the national average. It would acknowledge the awful violence suffered by shopworkers, and in its approach to serious violence, it would bring in legislation that recognises just how seriously we regard an attack on any person, any worker, simply doing their job.
There is no shortage of things that need doing and no limit to the number of issues where this Parliament could make a difference, but that needs a Prime Minister and a Government who take Parliament seriously, who treat people seriously, and who are determined to tackle injustice and put things right. Sadly, we have a Prime Minister and a Government who seem to revel in creating injustice and care only about the rights that benefit their own. That is why the Queen’s Speech is wrong. That is why it is a phoney and that is why it is a fraud.
It is a great pleasure to participate in this Queen’s Speech debate and to follow Steve McCabe. Although I could not agree with a word he said, it was a good story.
I warmly welcome the content of the Queen’s Speech, which has a strong emphasis on the people’s priorities. Of course Brexit is paramount and needs to be implemented, but the provision of public services—health, education and policing—is vital to the people of our country, whatever part of the country they live in. It is right to concentrate on these, as the Government have done in the Queen’s Speech.
I want to concentrate on education. I was privileged to have a good state education, and subsequently to be a teacher and a lecturer, so I have seen education from both sides, as a worker within it and as a student. I passionately believe that every child deserves the best possible start in life, regardless of their background or where they live, and that access to good schools is essential to building the foundations of success in later life.
While the shadow Education Secretary’s speech was powerful in performance, it lacked constructive content. It retained the old-fashioned Labour approach of putting ideology before children’s education, though no mention was made of the fact that they want to abolish Ofsted, scrap the free schools programme and abolish independent schools. That was all lacking in her contribution. We should all be proud of what the coalition Government and this Government have done in education since 2010: not only are there more good or outstanding schools —the proportion is now 85%—but 1.9 million children are now in a good or outstanding school, and the attainment gap continues to narrow.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I agree totally.
I will return to what we have done in education: the academy programme, which the coalition Government began and this Conservative Government have continued, has transformed the educational landscape, while a record proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds are now participating in education or apprenticeships, which is good news, as, too, is our shaking up of the GCSE grade boundaries and the increasing number of excellent education results in our schools.
Nevertheless, there is still much to be done. Despite the many successes, we need to address social mobility to allow people to dream—as my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes put it, to dream their dreams and achieve their ambitions. That is what education should be all about. We are fortunate in Bexley to have many brilliant local schools, both primary and secondary, and a wide range of job opportunities. More importantly, the number of apprenticeships is going up. We have a diverse provision of different types of school across the borough: grammar schools, Church schools, comprehensives, single sex—really good schools where children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds are helped to achieve excellent results and are given access to a wide range of opportunities. It is no surprise that Bexley is listed as a social mobility hotspot.
That said, much more needs to be done across the country, and even in parts of our borough, to make sure that every child reaches their potential. Disengagement and lack of aspiration remain issues among certain sections of our school pupils, and we have to do more—I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a passionate supporter of that. We need to change that and inspire people to achieve their potential. I therefore welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to ensuring that all young people have access to an excellent education so that they can unlock their full potential and prepare for the world of work.
Funding, of course, has been an issue—it is always raised when I go round schools—so I welcome the Government’s commitment on two fronts: one, making sure the per pupil premium is increased and fair; and two, increasing teachers’ starting salaries to encourage the best and brightest people into teaching. It is a great career and a great opportunity to mould and help young people to maximise their life opportunities. I regularly visit schools across my constituency, and I know that there are other issues to address, including behaviour, discipline and teacher retention. The increase in money and support for teachers will hopefully make sure we retain more teachers and give them opportunities and support from parents, governors and the local community, because that is the way to keep good people in teaching. We need them.
Funding is not the only issue. Higher and further education also need to be looked at. I want to say a few words on further education because I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is particularly interested in that. Training, opportunities and technical subjects are the key, and funding is an important issue in further education. While we have seen the biggest injection of new money in a single year—£400 million for 16-to- 19 provision next year—we still need to do more. This extra money will enable further education providers to strengthen their provision and provide students with more options, but our country will need these skills post-Brexit. I welcome the money, but I make this plea to my right hon. Friend: more needs to be done.
The colleges have been rather the Cinderella service of the education world. The universities and the schools have had more funding, but there is a real role for further education colleges. I am passionate about this. Bexley College is part of London South East Colleges, the others being Greenwich, Orpington and Bromley. These colleges are doing fantastic work. The technical and media departments are outstanding. I give that example to highlight how passionate I am about further education and how important it is that we look at our FE colleges and lecturers’ salaries, which are not as good as teachers’ salaries.
I know that the Government are committed to creating a country where everyone has the same opportunities. From listening to the Labour party one would not think so, but we in the Conservative party passionately believe that everyone across the country should have a fair opportunity. The core of that is the Prime Minister’s one nation conservatism, which strongly endorses the belief that wherever people are or come from they should have the opportunities to maximise their potential in whatever they want to do. We need to encourage people from a young age to engage in education and to give them the opportunities they need to develop their talents. [Interruption.] Sedentary chuntering from the Opposition will not get us anywhere; constructive discussion and comment is what we are after.
Education gives us an understanding of the world around us and changes it into something better. It develops our perspective on life, helps us to build opinions and points of view and, more importantly, facilitates the social mobility that can enable us to achieve our ambitions. I strongly support the measures in the Queen’s Speech. It should be welcomed across the House as we take positive action to tackle the social and economic divisions in our country and give everyone the opportunities they want, deserve and need.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir David Evennett. Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with some of what he said, particularly about further education.
I want to speak about tertiary education, rather than making a distinction between higher and further education. When we are talking about young people, we should be talking about positive destinations and trying to make sure that every young person has the opportunity to go on and be successful, wherever that should be. It gives me great pride to stand here as an MP from Scotland knowing that Scotland has the highest percentage of positive destinations for our young people anywhere in the UK.
The Queen’s Speech was full of money promises that cannot be met. The Prime Minister in his speech on Monday referred to a free trading United Kingdom and a high-wage, low-tax economy. That does not add up. It is not possible to continue cutting taxes and have well funded, well resourced public services. A recent “Panorama” programme painted a grim picture of the reality at the chalk face. Since 2015, schools in England have had real-terms cuts, with billions having been cut from school budgets, and this has had a huge impact on teachers and young people in those schools. A recent report from UCL on education reforms was critical of how these changes had fuelled inequality. For example, high-performing and improving schools are accepting fewer children from poorer backgrounds, and high levels of exclusions and the continued use of off-rolling—a practice not allowed in Scotland—mean that statistics and measures of success are skewed. More fundamentally, young people are missing out on their education.
The success or failure of any school rests with teachers, but with the advent of academies, schools can choose to pay teachers at scales of their making. That means that they can bypass negotiated national pay scales in order to stretch budgets further.
We hear politicians talk about our dedicated teachers. Perhaps we should ask them if they would be willing to teach a class of 30 teenagers on a salary of £24,000 a year. One teacher said to me, “ I would be better off working in a supermarket. At least I would earn some overtime.” Thankfully, in Scotland we do see teaching as a profession. We have protected and increased teachers’ pay. After their probation year, they earn £32,000 a year, £6,000 more than their counterparts south of the border. It is simply not good enough that teachers in England have been treated in this way.
The Government are supposedly committed to science, but university fees in this country are the highest in the industrialised world. Student loans are going through the roof, and it has never really been possible to tackle student debt. We are saddling young people with debt for the rest of their working lives. We now know that much of it is eventually written off anyway, so why are we doing this to them?
The greatest threat to our higher and further education sectors is, of course, Brexit. According to today’s edition of The Times, a Royal Society report states that funding for Horizon 2020 has fallen by a third, or half a billion euros, since 2015, and there has been a drop in UK applications. Critically, the UK is being seen as less attractive, and 35% fewer scientists are coming here through key schemes.
A hostile environment is the greatest challenge to academia. Immigration systems that talk of skill levels but make no allowance for skill needs cannot work for the sector. Research groups require people at many different levels, from technicians up to professors. We should be looking at skills rather than salaries. The research groups that we are trying to attract to the UK will want to come here in their entirety. If the professors and the leaders of the groups cannot bring their whole teams, they simply will not come. We also know that early-stage researchers—post-graduates—do not find the UK attractive. That affects our public services: it affects our education system, and it affects our NHS.
We welcome the change in the Government’s rhetoric on post-study work visas, but we need some details. When will the new system come into play? Has it been promoted? Young people from abroad are now seeing the UK as a possibility. Will the system be for entrants starting in 2020, or for students who are currently here?
A massive concern for us is the European temporary leave to remain visa, which has been described by Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, as an “act of deliberate malice”. Why would students consider coming to Scotland if it cannot be guaranteed that they will be able to complete their courses? The same applies to students coming to other parts of the UK for longer courses, such as medical or engineering degree courses. We need those people to come here.
This week, the Royal National Mòd, a celebration of Gaelic music, language and culture, is taking place in Glasgow. However, although Gaelic schools in Glasgow and across the central belt are bursting at the seams, we cannot keep up with the demand for teachers. There are teachers in Canada who want to come to the UK, but we cannot take them here because of immigration decisions made by the Home Office. We cannot get what we need for Scotland. Gaelic authors and singers, including one of my constituents, cannot come to Scotland because that decision is made by Arts Council England. Yes, immigration powers need to come to Scotland, and yes, we need them now.
Perhaps Carol Monaghan will take an interest in the new immigration Bill.
It will come as a big surprise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to learn that I am an ethnic minority immigrant. I cheer for England in Japan, but I put my money on the All Blacks! I came here as a newly graduated health professional just before the UK entered the common market. I was allowed in on a work permit. That system enabled the UK to encourage the people who it needed to come here, and they came from a number of countries, most of them in the Commonwealth.
Many of those countries were our kith and kin, and many supported the allies in world war two. Immigrants were selected for their expertise on application from outside the UK. That stopped when we entered the common market, and even visitors from those nations entered through the “alien” gates at our airports. A considerable proportion of the people who might have brought their expertise to the UK transferred their interest to nations such as Canada and America, and we lost out. I hope that we will now broaden our intake to include those countries under the new system, attracting the people who we need.
Let me now raise a second and parochial point. I am delighted by the proposed boost to research and development funding and the launch of a comprehensive UK space strategy. In Holmbury St Mary, a tiny village in the southern hills of Mole Valley, is the UCL space station. It is hidden in the forest, in an old manor-type house. Just inside the front door is a huge entrance hall, where there are two 20-foot old-fashioned—now—rockets. Behind the manor are modern research buildings enabling world class research to take place. The station has research partnerships across the world, leading space research for the UK, and has been providing advanced, state-of-the-art instruments in many international space ventures. I hope that the Government’s proposed comprehensive space strategy will help that unit to increase the contribution that it already makes to this country.
Also of personal interest to me are the proposed new regulations for internet companies. The main aim—but not the only aim—is to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and radicalisation. Notwithstanding what some Members have said today, the UK leads innovations on child protection. It is one of a number of issues on which Members on both sides of the House, whatever Government have been in power, have worked closely together over the past few decades. For example, in 2002 and 2003 I joined a number of professional experts working in a team for the Home Office and reporting to David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, and we introduced the groundbreaking legislation that made it a crime to groom a child for sexual purposes. I hope that the same co-operation will apply when the new regulations are introduced. I also hope that Members with an interest in child protection will be aware of the need to reflect further on some aspects of the serious violence and victims Bills in the context of child protection and care.
In 1994, I was the MP for the then constituency of Croydon Central. In one of the big council estates, a popular, well-liked metropolitan police officer, Sergeant Robertson, was murdered by Robert Eades. Eades and two brothers, Terry and Christopher Snelling, attempted to rob a local post office on the estate. Sergeant Robertson, on his own and armed with a truncheon, tried to stop the robbery. The three escaped, although they were later caught. As they escaped, they fought with Sergeant Robertson, who was knocked down, and Eades stabbed that gallant police officer persistently with a weapon called a black widow dagger. The police officer died in minutes. He left a wife as a widow, and two small children.
The Snelling brothers went down for 12 years, but at least one of them was released after six. On conviction, Eades was sentenced to life with a minimum of 25 years. That means he can apply for parole next year. Mrs Robertson and her children lost a husband and a father for life—not for six years, not for 25 years, but for life—and for this reason and many others I will be specifically watching the new sentencing Bill with deep interest.
There are quite a number of other Bills in the Queen’s Speech that I am enthusiastic to see through to the statute book either before or with a returning Conservative Government after the election. I suspect that many Members on both sides are in their heart supportive of many of the proposed Bills in the Queen’s Speech and, in the past, whatever the Government, cross-party support has happened.
It is a privilege to follow Sir Paul Beresford and to be able to say a little in response to the Queen’s Speech on behalf of my constituents in Stalybridge and Hyde, Mossley, Dukinfield and Longdendale.
If I were to begin by saying something positive about the Queen’s Speech, I would say that it is good to have the opportunity to discuss some issues other than Brexit. Brexit is clearly very important, but in itself it does not solve any of the pressing issues in my constituency, and the neglect by Government of other issues in the last few years is now evident. But that is where my praise ends because, as I listened to the Queen’s Speech, I did not feel that this was a serious, considered programme for the future of the nation. It felt like something between a publicity stunt and a response to what people in focus groups list as all the things they dislike about the Conservative party. The last Conservative Government were notorious for being pretty soft on crime and reducing the number of police officers to unsafe levels, so this Queen’s Speech says, “We will recruit a load of police officers, even though there is no basic guarantee we will go back to the levels we had before we first came to power.” The last Conservative Government presided over some of the most miserly funding settlements for the NHS—since 2010, there have been very low funding settlements by historical standards—so this Queen’s Speech says there will be 40 new hospitals, although apparently the number now is barely six.
Many Conservative MPs have mentioned school funding today. The figures for my constituency are very depressing and I have just had an email telling me that 83% of schools in the country will have their funding reduced, effectively, next year, so I am afraid I am not convinced on that point either. I feel that the British people will see through all this.
Of course I recognise, and am pleased, that there seems now to be a recognition that austerity must end and that it has caused real damage, pain and suffering, but I do not just want the Government throwing money around to address their brand negatives; instead, I want it spent on the things that will make a difference, and for me that has to start with in-work poverty.
The number of people in Britain in work who are in poverty is a disgrace. I want us to spend money on some of the burdens that working families have difficulty with, whether it is school meals, uniform costs, prescription charges or in much bigger terms the social care bill when you need support as an older person. If we have money to spend, we should spend it there, and then I want to see us target resources on measures that will raise investment, productivity and wages.
That means acknowledging that the Government’s strategy of cutting corporation tax to the bone to stimulate private investment has not worked. Other countries with considerably higher rates of corporation tax than us have much higher levels of corporate investment. What we have now is a tax base that is simply insufficient to meet the kind of public services that people in this country expect, because we need to invest big money in some areas. For me there is no bigger area than transport. We need new rail infrastructure and subsidies to build urban transport networks that are comparable with what this capital city has—every morning my constituents tweet me pictures of the overcrowding on the railways—but instead of that every day what we get is a daily menu of possible cuts to HS2.
Although I appreciate this is probably unlikely from a Conservative Government, I also think that there has to be an acknowledgment that, while the gig economy has many upsides, for too many people, it makes them vulnerable because they have a fundamental lack of power and control over their own working lives. Whenever we on this side of the House propose an increase in employment rights, we are accused of wanting to return to the winter of discontent in the 1970s. I was not yet born during the winter of discontent, but I was a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee when we did an inquiry into the working practices at Sports Direct, and I will never forget the evidence we received in confidence from members of staff: workers not being paid the minimum wage, one woman who had to give birth in the warehouse toilets, and young female employees explaining that they were promised full-time employment contracts but only in exchange for sexual favours.
I am not in favour of a return to the winter of discontent, but I am in favour of making sure that such employment practices have no place in modern Britain, and that requires fair and independent representation in the workplace.
This is one of the most shocking abuses I have heard of late. People in my constituency are losing 15 minutes of salary every time they have to leave the floor to go to the toilet. One of my constituents has been deeply distressed as a cleaner because, on emptying a bin, she found it was full of faeces and urine; people were using the wastebaskets rather than lose salary. That has to stop.
That is completely unacceptable and I would hope there would be agreement across all sides of political opinion on that, but the question I have is: will this post-Brexit free trade world deliver the kind of employment rights that will combat that? At the minute I am, frankly, unconvinced.
I would also like to have seen some action in this Queen’s Speech on absolute poverty. I have no problem with universal credit simplifying the benefits system and I want a system with a taper mechanism that makes it cost-effective for people to increase their working hours if they can do so, but the five-week wait is pushing too many people into a level of destitution that is unconscionable by any reasonable standard. The charities say so, the Churches say so and, frankly, most of us say so, too, and I do not know what more evidence or arguments the Government need to see or hear before they are willing to treat people with the minimum level of dignity they should reasonably be able to expect.
Due to time constraints, I want to make just one more point about something that is in the Queen’s Speech: the proposal to introduce photo ID to cast a vote in elections, which risks being an injustice of significant proportions. It has already been said in this debate that 3.5 million people do not have access to photo ID, and if it is restricted to a passport or driving licence the figure is 11 million.
It would, to be fair, go some way to doing that: if the Government were willing to say, “If there is a new standard of proof to be able to cast your vote, we will provide that free of charge to every citizen in this country before this measure comes into effect,” that would allay some of my concerns, but of course the cost of that would be significant and I have not heard anything mentioned that suggests that is possible.
It would in effect be a national ID scheme, as my hon. Friend says, and that in itself has other implications. That is why the Electoral Reform Society has called this measure “dangerous, misguided and undemocratic.”
Occurrences of election fraud are, thankfully, very rare in the UK and, where they have occurred, they have been disproportionately Conservative party scandals, but that is not the point: the fact is that no one should be seeking to import the voter suppression tactics of the Republican party in the US. Yet it seems that, having failed to gerrymander the constituency boundaries in the last Parliament, this time the Conservatives are going to go straight to gerrymandering the electorate directly. I say to all fair-minded people: please think again.
It is uncertain whether this Queen’s Speech actually has a majority in Parliament. It is very hard to predict the future and we will know more about where Brexit is at after perhaps this weekend’s sitting, but I believe this country is crying out for a more ambitious agenda, one that rebuilds the basic sense of equity and national solidarity that all successful nations need. That is what my constituents tell me they want and that would truly be a Queen’s Speech worthy of the name.
I welcome the measures the Government are bringing in to improve patient safety. I trained as a nurse and worked in the NHS for 25 years, and to this day I remain proud of the training I received at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. That training has stayed with me to this day; it was about standards and demonstrating respect not just for the patients in our care, but everyone we work with. It was about an understanding that nothing but the best will do. Therefore, adopting a similar approach, as the airlines do, to safety is not before time. There should be no circumstance where patient safety is compromised in any way at all.
I also welcome not only the measures on mental health but the changing attitudes to mental health that I have witnessed since I was first elected in 2005. I well remember my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker and Mr Jones speaking movingly in 2012 about their own mental health problems. Anything we can do to ensure that we have freely available mental health services delivered in a timely fashion is to be welcomed, in the community, in our prisons and in schools. I welcome all the legislation that will improve this.
While money for hospitals will be welcomed, hospitals are not the whole story as far as our NHS is concerned. The Royal Surrey County Hospital in my patch does an excellent job. It has done a superb job in raising standards of care, and nowadays, rather than receiving letters of complaint, I receive letters and emails praising the staff there. This week, I was at a Guild of Nurses event, surrounded by nurses many of whom were of a similar age to myself—really quite young—but who had, in effect, trained on an apprenticeship. I was proud, as the Minister for apprenticeships, to have reintroduced nurse apprenticeships and a pathway for all to train up to the level of registered nurse. The university route might be right for some, but if we use only that route, we will miss many women and men who would make exactly the sort of nurses we want to see—caring, compassionate and with a real sense of vocation. I urge the Secretary of State for Education, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, to continue the apprenticeship programme without restriction and to ensure that there are sufficient funds to do so.
However, money for hospitals is not in itself sufficient. Hospitals rightly grab the headlines because of the phenomenal work they do, but although most of the costs in the NHS are incurred in hospitals, the vast majority of patient contact occurs in the community. I think 80% of patient and people contact occurs in the community, and all our community healthcare services need help. That activity in the community goes on without headlines, carried out by committed and skilled NHS staff, and it is struggling with budgets. I have recently seen some of my local GPs. My local GPs have almost never contacted me. They provide good services, but they are extremely concerned about the crisis they are facing in general practice. It is now almost impossible to recruit new partners. Ten years ago, they would have expected around 100 applicants when they advertised for a new partner; they are now getting no applicants at all. Guildford is an attractive place, and even when other places have had issues with recruitment, it has never done so. This stark reduction in the number of applicants is of note.
The practices can and do employ salaried GPs, but they charge high rates and the GP partners are still left with the problem of who will continue to run the practices when they retire. Younger doctors simply do not want to take on those responsibilities. All this is exacerbated by the limits on pension pots and the taxation changes that make early retirement an attractive proposition. It is high time that the Treasury recognised the impact of its policies on public sector staff. My GPs understand that integrating practices is the right thing to do, and they have done it. They take many of the risks but do not get many rewards. This is not just about money; it is about de-risking things such as leases, which would certainly help to demonstrate that the Department understands some of the issues that GPs and other community services are facing.
New technology improves access for many people and saves them time, but it does not necessarily save the GPs time. In fact, many telephone appointments can take longer than those held in the surgery. My local A&E finds the local GP services extremely valuable in reducing the A&E workload considerably. GPs are the place of first, and often last, resort. However, despite all the valid and positive changes that have taken place in the NHS, I am afraid that we are probably about to see the baby run down the plug hole with the bathwater. We have a surgery in Burpham that is probably going to close due to loss of premises, and I have also received concerns from St Catherine’s Village Association about primary health care in south Guildford. This is on top of the issues that the university and students have raised with me about new students being unable to register with GPs because they have closed their lists. The clinical commissioning group is working hard to resolve these issues, and it has been extremely helpful, but amid the good announcements and good Bills in the Queen’s Speech, I urge the Government to be aware of how much hospitals depend on our community health services.
The mental health of our young people is now well recognised, and the online harms Bill is very welcome. The Government are doing much to improve awareness and support in schools. However, concerns were recently raised with me by a local councillor, Steven Lee, about the real crisis in the health and wellbeing of young people in schools today. I welcome the investment in mental health services, particularly in children’s mental health services, but this is still a long way from getting to the frontline. There is a historical shortage of staff that we have to do something to address.
I welcome the money and I welcome all the measures in the Queen’s Speech, including the online harms Bill, the legislation on patient safety and the money going into mental health, but I urge the Government to do everything in their power to ensure that these things become a reality on the ground. They need to move away from the tabloid headlines and put the money where the contact is and where the care is carried out.
It is a pleasure to follow Anne Milton, who I know shares my passion for public services.
We are doing this in the context of a potential general election, and we have to address the elephant in the room: what will happen if we go ahead with a no-deal Brexit, or indeed any Brexit at all. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that if we go off the cliff edge of no deal, we will be looking at this country’s borrowing rising to a 50-year high. The finances of this country will pale into insignificance compared with even the worst of the financial crash. There is only one way to ensure that we properly fund our public services, and that is to stop Brexit altogether, which is what the Liberal Democrats want to do. We want to do that because we care deeply about our NHS and our schools and about the day-to-day things that make a real difference to people and that save their lives. Unless we stop Brexit, we will not have the money to pay for all that, but I am sure that we all agree across the House that what we want to do is fully fund our public services.
We have a short amount of time today, and it will perhaps be unsurprising that I shall focus my remarks specifically on schools. As ever on such occasions, I have looked at the text of the Queen’s Speech. I looked and looked for a mention of schools, but I found only one “motherhood and apple pie” statement about them. Just one, at a time when our schools are going through an incredible funding crisis. I like to judge people by their words, but given that there were so few, let us instead judge this Government by their actions.
Even this year, even now, with all the funding announcements that this Government have made, schools are under enormous financial pressure. They include my own, where I am a governor, and all the others in the surrounding areas. I had an email from Liz from Botley, who is the mother of a child at a local school. She said of the headteacher:
“They have now asked parents to contribute a recommended donation of £10 per month per child. What a disgraceful state of affairs that the education of our young people is just left for parents who can afford it to pick up the bill. This is obviously totally unfair, and if allowed to continue, this will lead to a disastrous two-tier system where parents that can afford the top-up will be ‘buying’
into better-funded schools. No one cares as deeply as the parents that the education is the very best it can be, so we are unfairly pressured into filling the hole left by central government.”
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration that so many of the Government’s policy pledges on education in the past few weeks appear to be so much more about electioneering than actual meat on the bone? That is certainly the case for education, but also in many other areas.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Yes, as a maths teacher, I have been rather frustrated by the headlines coming out of this Government, such as “£14 billion over three years,” when we will not get back to former levels until 2020. In fact, the money that schools are seeing right now is not enough. This year’s OECD teaching and learning international survey shows that the top thing that schools spend money on is more teachers, and then we heard that there would be a welcome rise in the amount of money available to first-year teachers, but that needs to come out of school budgets, as and when they are increased. The state gives with one hand, but it takes with the other.
Importantly, where the state has taken, it has taken from the most vulnerable and poorest areas. According to the National Education Union, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders, 90% of secondary schools in the highest free school meals band will still face a funding shortfall in 2020-21, and funding cuts were above average in seven of the 10 poorest local authorities in England. Schools need the money now, not later. As a result of not providing that money, the Government are failing our children.
Teaching assistants are being sacked, with 50% of schools either considering it or already having done so in the past three years. Cash-strapped councils are struggling to support children with the most complex needs. Education, health and care plans increased by 16% between 2017 to 2018, yet schools need to make up the first £6,000 and so are penalised for doing the right thing. More than 200 schools in England have cut short the school week or are actively consulting on it, including schools in my area. We want and deserve world-class schools, but this Government will not be able to deliver them. They have not done that so far, and even with more money, where are the ideas to do it?
This is not just about funding. In fact, we are above average on the OECD funding table, so why are other countries leaping ahead? This Government are ideologically driven to deliver an education system that may have worked 50 years ago, but it is not based on the evidence of what works now. It is about high-stakes testing with little care for actual learning. We know about the narrowing of the curriculum, and we know that high-stakes tests cause anxiety for our children. In fact, I was written to in May by Aoife, who was in year 6 at the time, and she told me that her school prepares her for SATs with
“huge numbers of SATs practices that I have to do, sometimes up to two a day…
since Christmas! I feel as though we often spend more time on practices than we do on actual lessons…
Please can you do something in government to try and make the focus more on the teachers and less on us, so that we do not have to do so many practices and can do some fun learning.”
I could not agree more with Aoife. In fact, looking across the world at high-performing systems, that is exactly what they do.
The Liberal Democrats demand better. We would let our teachers get on with their jobs, rather than make them have to penny-pinch to buy the basics. We would invest in the most disadvantaged children and give councils the first £6,000 of any EHCP, so that school are not penalised for taking the children that they want. We would spend £1 billion to save our colleges. By the way, “Love Our Colleges” badges are in all the Whips Offices, and I hope that everyone will wear them today, because colleges have been the Cinderella service of our education system. We would extend the pupil premium to age 19, because deprivation does not stop at 16. We would scrap SATs and replace Ofsted with an even more rigorous system that puts at its heart what the data is showing drives real attainment and wellbeing. We need a bolder agenda for education—not just paltry funding pledges, but real reform of the whole system, led by evidence, that will make the most of every child in our country.
It is a pleasure to follow Layla Moran, but I cannot agree with what she had to say. Indeed, when I look at the positive measures in the Queen’s Speech, it is the news on schools and school funding that shines out and gives me real hope for the future of our country and, indeed, for children in Cheltenham.
I am sure that the House can agree that education is probably the single most powerful tool to drive social mobility. That is certainly essential in Cheltenham, because there is a misapprehension about the place I represent. It may be that hon. Members take the view, perhaps after heading down to the incredibly successful Cheltenham literature festival, that it is a land of unalloyed affluence, but nothing could be further from the truth. Of the 18 wards that I represent, the income per capita in three of them is in the bottom decile not just in Gloucestershire, not just in the south-west, not just in England, but across the entire United Kingdom. This Government realise that schools and education can do the most valuable job of bridging that gap.
Contrary to Layla Moran, does my hon. Friend welcome the fact that schools and education have been put front and centre? I can quote from the Queen’s Speech for the hon. Lady:
“My Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 800, c. 2.]
The Conservatives are putting education front and centre.
That is absolutely right because the Government did put education front and centre, and it was rather telling that the hon. Lady did not quote from the Queen’s Speech. I must also take issue with her suggestion that standards are going down when the opposite is the case. How wrong it is not to pay tribute to the fact that 160,000 more six-year-olds are on track to achieve good literacy scores than in 2012. We should be applauding that, not denigrating it. It is certainly the case in Cheltenham where, year after year, our brilliant teachers and headteachers, supported by their governors, are delivering improved literacy, numeracy, A-levels, GCSEs and so on.
The reason I am so pleased with the Queen’s Speech is that the settlement proposed within it addresses two running sores, the first of which is fair funding. Under the decades-old unfair funding formula—generated, I believe, in the 1990s—schools in Cheltenham were treated wholly unfairly compared with schools in London, Liverpool or Manchester by dint of the fact that Cheltenham sits within the rural county of Gloucestershire, and it was stipulated that we should receive less funding per pupil. The logic went, “Well, of course, these affluent rural counties simply do not have the same social problems.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Cheltenham has its fair share of social problems and challenges, and it was a completely unsustainable injustice that my constituents should have been short changed in that way.
If we strip aside the bluster, what has actually happened? In 2015, when I was elected, secondary schools in my constituency, because of the unfair funding formula to which I have referred, received a little under £4,200 per pupil. If this Queen’s Speech is passed, they will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil, and schools such as Pittville School and All Saints’ Academy will receive considerably more. By the way, all that comes before one adds on money for low prior attainment, English as an additional language and so on. All that is a significant improvement, and it has been difficult for people like me to listen to hon. Members—often on the Labour Benches, but not exclusively—complain about the fact that funding per pupil in their urban constituencies was due to go up from £5,500 to £5,600. We were on £4,200 in Cheltenham, and it is this Queen’s Speech and this Government that are addressing that to bring funding justice to my constituents. We should not downplay that; we should celebrate it.
The second issue that the Queen’s Speech addresses is the problem of special educational needs and disability funding. For reasons that are poorly understood, schools and teachers in my constituency have done an extraordinary job in dealing with an unexplained surge in pupil complexity. Whether it is Belmont School, which is meant to deal with moderate learning difficulties, or Bettridge School, which is meant to deal with severe learning difficulties, the truth is that they are having to address need that is far beyond that which existed only 15 years ago. Mainstream schools are having to hold on by their fingertips to children who, in the past, would have gone into special schools, because they recognise that putting those children into a different educational setting could put intolerable pressure on special schools. The schools are doing a magnificent job.
The reasons for the change, as I said, are poorly understood. Some say it has to do with family issues, and some people say—this is a difficult point to make, and I do not know whether there is any truth to it—that, because of the marvels of modern medicine, some children are surviving childbirth who might not have done so in past. Thank goodness that is the case, but it is potentially having a knock-on impact. The fact is that schools in Cheltenham are dealing with it.
I finish with an anecdote. I met a teacher at a school that deals with moderate learning difficulties. He has been a teacher for some 20 years and he told me that, when he first became a teacher, the pupil-teacher ratio was in the order of 16:1. In other words there were more teachers per pupil, but that modest increase was there to address the needs that existed. Now he says it is simply impossible because of the level of complexity that exists.
The Ridge Academy in my constituency deals with children with emotional and behavioural needs, and the complexity that is now being presented requires that additional resource. What is this Queen’s Speech doing? It is increasing the funding available in Gloucestershire from £60 million to £66 million, a 10% increase. That is an enormous increase, and it means that schools in my constituency can look forward to the future with confidence and that teachers who have done such a heroic job of continuing to go to work, knowing they may face a volatile situation, can do so with the confidence of knowing there is space available in the budget for the additional resources and the additional staff to keep the children safe, and to keep the teachers safe, too.
Of course there is more to do, and of course I would like more funding and all sorts of additional things, but this Queen’s Speech sets Cheltenham schools and Gloucestershire schools on a better path. If this House truly believes in social mobility and in ensuring that people go as far as their talents will take them, we have to make sure that the most powerful lever of social mobility is properly supported. That lever is in our schools, and it is this Government who are supporting them.
School- children are taught that a Queen’s Speech follows the election of a new Government and sets out the programme that the Government want to enact. The next time I visit one of my schools, I will have a tough job explaining what exactly we are doing here this week. We have a new Prime Minister elected not by the people but by a diminishing band of Conservatives, a party in government with a majority of minus 45 and a Queen’s Speech setting out 26 Bills, few of which have any chance of being passed by the current Parliament, with a general election possibly weeks away.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not mean to mislead the House, but what he said is not accurate. A Queen’s Speech starts a new Session of Parliament, but it does not always follow a general election. A Queen’s Speech usually happens almost every year throughout a Parliament. It is not an unusual occurrence.
I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says, but what is extremely unusual is the manner in which the Prime Minister tried to shut down and prorogue Parliament. I will return to that.
A general election, which is possibly weeks away, would render the whole programme null and void. I note that even the Prime Minister’s former employer, The Daily Telegraph, called it “a pointless exercise”. Even Her Majesty must have been wondering, “Is that it? Where are the remaining pages? Perhaps the Prime Minister is too busy trying to mislead me, trying to illegally shut down this amazing, beautiful and historic place and trying to stop hon. Members holding him to account. Maybe that is why he forgot to hand over the remaining pages.”
This is Alice Through the Looking-Glass stuff, with nothing how it should be and everything the opposite. What should I be telling those schoolchildren? It is obvious that this was not a Queen’s Speech but an election manifesto. If we take away the ermine and the jewels, we can see naked electioneering ahead of a nationwide poll. If any further evidence were needed, consider why, out of 26 Bills, seven are on law and order—the Conservatives’ old pre-election favourite, and an automatic headline generator for the Tory-supporting press.
It will not work this time, however. Why? Because, after a decade in office, the Conservatives have surrendered their claim to be the party of law and order. People in Slough and elsewhere have seen reductions in their police and in their police community support officers. The Conservative police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley has raised the precept by over 10%, but the money raised is only plugging the gaps. PC Craig O’Leary, the chair of Thames Valley Police Federation, said at the time that the rise in council tax would
“just literally keep us standing still.”
Nationally, the picture is the same. Police forces in England and Wales lost 21,732 officers between March 2010 and March 2018, a reduction of 15%, according to the Home Office’s own figures. The number of police community support officers patrolling the streets fell by nearly 40% during the same period, from 16,688 in 2010 to 10,139 in 2018. Civilian staff were cut by 21% during the same period. That means the police are stretched to the limit. There are not enough detectives, not enough patrols on the streets and the estates, and not enough support for victims and witnesses.
One type of crime in particular makes us all feel less like things are getting done and more like things are getting out of control, and that is knife crime. In Slough this year we have had the tragedy of the murder of Elton Gashaj. Aged just 15, he was the victim of a stabbing. That tragic and senseless loss of a young man left a family in grief and a community in shock.
The BBC named Slough alongside Manchester and Liverpool as one of the areas outside London where knife crime is a growing problem. Local people have real concerns, which is why I joined Pastor Sola Ogunniyi and the congregation of Redeemed Christian Church of God as they marched from Langley to central Slough with the message, “Stop knife crime.” That reminds us of the important role played by faith organisations—churches, gurdwaras, temples, mosques and synagogues—in mending our fraying society, and they are not alone in their concern.
People in Slough want more police, more PCSOs, more probation officers, more prison officers, faster justice and more support for victims, but they want something more. They want youth services, and they want to see the youth centres and the youth clubs reopen. Youth services have been cut by a staggering £1 billion since 2010, and we have lost 14,000 youth workers. People want: thriving high streets and late-night shopping; park and recreation facilities that are safe for families; jobs and apprenticeships for young people; and a strong society in which individuals and families can thrive.
Now we have the pre-election promise of extra police officers. If someone steals £50 from my wallet and then promises to give me £40 several years later, does that count as a £40 increase? Of course not. This Government have abandoned the field to the gangs and the lawbreakers, deserting decent citizens and tearing apart the bonds of community in the process.
Another area that is vital to a strong society, to individual fulfilment and to a prosperous economy is education. This is the dog that did not bark. There are seven Bills on law and order, but where is the equivalent on rebuilding our schools, recruiting teachers and class- room assistants, driving up standards, opening opportunities, rebuilding our further education institutions and providing lifelong education through nursery, school, vocational qualifications, learning at work and into retirement?
The Government have nothing to say. We are fortunate that my hon. Friend Angela Rayner has plenty to say about rebuilding our education system, a national education service, Sure Start Plus, lifelong learning and abolishing tuition fees—a truly transformational approach.
Finally, will the Secretary of State for Education address the issue of maintained nursery schools, such as Cippenham Nursery School in my constituency? We cannot build success on uncertainty, yet there has been no promise to continue the £60 million of funding beyond August 2020, to prevent more closures of maintained nursery schools. When pressed by my hon. Friend Lucy Powell, the Secretary of State said that it was “under review”. That just is not good enough. These important schools must stay open and have the funding they need.
The Prime Minister wants to trigger a pre-election debate about the best future for Britain; if this Queen’s Speech is the best he can do, I say bring it on.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Dhesi, although I am not sure that many Members on the Government Benches will agree with his assessment of the Queen’s Speech.
The Queen’s Speech presented to Parliament this week was an opportunity for the Government to get on with their domestic agenda, focusing on public services and aiming to deliver what the people want us to do. For too long, hour upon hour of Government time—in fact, almost 500 hours—has been eaten up by furthering of the Brexit debate. That time could, no doubt, have been spent on other things, but we continued on around the Brexit merry-go-round while so few recognised that the country wanted to move on. Although the previous Session was dominated by Brexit, we must not forget that more than 70 Bills received Royal Assent in that Parliament—in stark contrast to the 26 passed in the Scottish Parliament. My constituency of Angus had the fourth highest leave vote of any constituency in Scotland, but when I am out on the doorsteps, as I have been almost every weekend since I was elected, people say they want us to get on and get Brexit sorted. They also want to leave the constitutional debate in Scotland to one side—perhaps even for a generation.
Monday’s Queen’s Speech focused absolutely on public services—the issues that matter to everyone’s everyday lives. Although some measures will not affect Scotland, as the chair of the all-party group on eating disorders I was pleased to see a renewed focus on mental health. I recognise that efforts will predominantly focus on those in detention in hospitals and police custody, but we must always increase our ambitions in this policy area. We must never forget that there will be people in this Chamber, across the estate and in every workplace, school and university who are suffering from mental health issues. I want ours to be a more open society so that people can recognise that the support is there if they are willing to come forward and get it.
The Queen’s Speech also mentioned the pension schemes Bill, which I warmly welcome because several hard-working plumbers in Angus were in a defined pension scheme and faced potential financial ruin. They entered into a multi-employer scheme without ever imagining that they would face demands for six or seven-figure sums. I have worked hard to represent their views in this place. That Bill will give those in such difficult situations further support by requiring a statement from trustees on their funding strategy. Although that may not help those in my constituency, it will ensure that similar situations do not take place again.
Two important Bills mentioned in the Queen’s Speech that do affect Scotland are the fisheries Bill and the immigration Bill. The fisheries Bill will enable us to depart from the European Union and allow the fishing industry in Scotland to prosper in a sea of opportunity. No Scottish Member of Parliament can deny that leaving the common fisheries policy will deliver for our fishing industry. It is incumbent on both the UK Government and the Scottish Government to improve infrastructure and support the industry as it enters a new and exciting era.
Of course, the fishing industry will also require labour, which leads me to the immigration Bill. Along with Alison Thewliss, I welcome the two-year graduate work visa announcement, and also the review of the £30,000 annual salary cap—both issues on which Scottish Conservatives spoke up at the time. I want the immigration Bill to ensure that we can bring in the skills and labour that we require as we depart from the European Union. Migrants contribute so positively in Angus and throughout the country. Whether it is in fish processing in Arbroath, manufacturing in Montrose or the agricultural industry throughout my constituency, including the soft fruit industry, they contribute to our local area and to our society. They and their families are welcome, and they are welcome to lay down roots in this great country.
Does the hon. Lady not recognise that the previous Queen’s Speech included the Immigration Bill and the Fisheries Bill, which could easily have been enacted without having to have this Queen’s Speech? Not only that, but an enormous amount of time and effort had already gone into the previous Fisheries Bill, which fell because of the Prorogation of Parliament.
Hopefully, when the legislation comes back to the House, we will be able to fast-track it through this place. We will have even better legislation because we will have had that debate before.
A positive immigration scheme is exactly what we want and exactly what Scottish Conservatives have been standing up for. We must never forget that migrants are absolutely welcome to our country and add very positively to our local communities. I welcome the fact that there will be no discrimination based on where they come from, but instead an open and fair system, as operates so well in other countries around the world.
What is most important about the Queen’s Speech is that when the Prime Minister came into office, he said that his focus was on healthcare, policing and education, and now, only weeks later, we see a bold and robust Queen’s Speech that will deliver in all those areas. That is what all those who vote us into this place want to see: they want to see us deliver in the areas that matter to them. That is in stark contrast to Nicola Sturgeon, who this week stood up at her Aberdeen conference, spoke for 45 minutes and did not once mention healthcare or education. Education was supposed to be what her record would be judged on, yet there are now 3,000 fewer teachers than there were in 2007, the SNP has binned the education Bill, and Scotland is way down in the international standards. But of course, that can all wait because independence comes first.
The UK Government have done well to build our economy. We have the lowest levels of unemployment and the highest levels of employment since the 1970s. It is unfortunate that a report out in Scotland today from the Fraser of Allander Institute shows that Scotland has seen one of the biggest increases in unemployment in four years and a decline in employment over the past three months. It is important to recognise that we cannot blame that on Brexit, because we have seen a completely different picture in the wider United Kingdom.
Before I finish, let me mention briefly the importance of the Union, which was also mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. The Union is the reason I am here, and it is my absolute priority to stand up for it as a Member of Parliament. It is what my constituents want me to stand up for, and that is what I will do. We know the importance of the dividend we get from being part of the Union, whether that is in respect of finances, security or defence. It is incredibly important that we continue to stress that message loud and clear. While the SNP wants to create barriers at Berwick, we want to ensure that we strengthen our ties with the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Queen’s Speech was a clear statement of intent from the Government that the domestic agenda is absolutely imperative—from being tough on crime to levelling up NHS funding, and from ensuring that we have a fishing industry that is ready to prosper to an immigration Bill that will ensure we have the labour we require. These are truly the issues that the people of our United Kingdom care about, and that is—as we must always remember—the reason why we are so privileged to sit here.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate today and to follow Kirstene Hair, who made some very important points, but it will not surprise her to hear that we may differ on some of the detail on some of the issues that she raised.
There is a great deal that could be said about public services today, but I wish, in the time that I have, to focus my remarks on education, as so many others have done. It seemed as though, embarking on his leadership campaign, the Prime Minister understood that public services were running on empty, with the public so sick of austerity that his own prospects would be undermined if he did not offer more. The announcement that more money will be made available for schools in his first speech as Prime Minister reflected that and gave teachers and parents hope that the proposed levelling up would bring some much-needed respite to the relentless cuts that have been compromising their ability to educate the next generation. However, the reality is that the latest funding proposals fail to reverse the cuts that schools have suffered since 2015, with 16,523 schools set to have less money per pupil in 2020 in real terms than they had in 2015.
I heard the comments of Alex Chalk whom I always enjoy listening to, but I have to say to him that, even factoring in the latest funding in Calderdale, 76 of 95 schools have suffered cuts to their funding per pupil, with schools losing out on £39.4 million between 2015 and 2020, which equates to a £215 per pupil loss. The consequences of the lack of funding in our schools is that we have the largest class sizes in the developed world. At schools, such as Beech Hill in Halifax, the difference between funding and the amount needed to protect per pupil funding in real terms is £1.1 million, which is £602 per pupil and is the salary of around six teachers.
In our secondary schools, although the levelling up has helped budgets in the two grammar schools in my constituency on a per pupil basis, Trinity Academy at Sowerby Bridge has lost out on £554 per pupil between 2015 and 2020, Halifax Academy has lost out on £882 and Park Lane has lost out on a staggering £1,151 per pupil, which is the equivalent of around 10 teachers’ salaries.
Calderdale Against School Cuts, which works tirelessly to defend and restore school budgets, has stressed locally that funding announcements leave schools where they were 13 years ago and that the promise of £7.1 billion by 2022-23 becomes £4.3 billion once inflation is accounted for.
I have heard others mention that Jon Andrews, deputy head of research at the Education Policy Institute, has cautiously said that the Prime Minister’s drive to even up cash for schools implies that funding should be equal despite the fact that children’s circumstances and opportunities differ. He added:
“Any attempt to crudely level up funding would disproportionately direct additional funding towards the least disadvantaged schools with the least challenging intakes, at a time when progress in closing the attainment gap has stalled, and may be about to go into reverse.”
In the cold light of day, the facts are that four in five state schools in England will be financially worse off next year than they were in 2015. The promised £7.1 billion over three years is worth £4.3 billion when inflation is taken into account, and that will not restore funding levels to pay for the quality of education that the next generation deserves, or even the aspiration that is in the Queen’s Speech itself. This simply does not make sense, as we all agree that education is one of the most effective routes out of poverty— and we have heard that here today—in terms of social mobility, whether it is in schools or higher or further education. The outlook for further education is no brighter. Calderdale College in Halifax has been rated No. 1 in West Yorkshire for 16-to-18 achievement. Although the college has aspiration in abundance, it has had to make some really tough decisions due to a lack of funding. It has been difficult to recruit and retain staff in specialist areas. Almost all of its outreach centres have had to close. Adult learning courses, including tourism, sign language, and construction trades have been cut and fallen victim to cuts in the adult education budget, and it has reduced its ESOL provision by 50%.
I wish to mention an email that I received this week from a brilliant head teacher, Mungo Sheppard, at Ash Green primary in Mixenden, saying what a difference the national school breakfast programme is making to children at Ash Green. Every single one of us should be horrified to hear that at least half a million children in the UK arrive at school too hungry to learn. Family Action, which is delivering the programme with Magic Breakfast, has found that children in primary schools such as Ash Green where bagels are provided for breakfast achieve, on average, up to two months’ additional academic progress over the course of a year.
Ash Green is one of 1,775 schools in disadvantaged communities across the country to take part in the programme. Although it is funded by the soft drinks levy, that contract will come to an end in March 2020. With that in mind, I very much hope that the Secretary of State will reaffirm this Government’s commitment to the national school breakfast programme so that children at Ash Green and at schools all over the country continue to learn on a decent breakfast.
I have very little time to talk about policing today, but I do very much welcome the inclusion in the Queen’s Speech proposals for a police protection Bill. Having worked so hard on the protect the protectors law—the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018—with a number of colleagues, not least my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, it pains me to say that that Bill simply is not working in delivering the protections that we would all like to see for our officers out on the streets. Therefore, I very much welcome the opportunities to discuss further any and all means that we can now use to make sure that police officers are safe, so that they can keep our communities safe, too. I look forward to having those discussions.
In a nutshell, for a debate on public services, there was an awful lot I could have covered. However, learning has the power to transform lives. To invest in education is the surest investment that any Government could possibly make. It is only when people realise their potential that the country realises its potential, and never before has that been so important.
It is a great pleasure to follow Holly Lynch. I welcome her words about protecting the protectors. I hope that the Government are listening. I am sure that she has support across the House on that issue.
We can talk about public services only in the context of considering where the money comes from to fund them. We do not talk enough about a certain group of individuals and teams in our country: the brave entrepreneurs who create the businesses and the jobs that ultimately fund our public services. I do call them brave; we rightly talk about the brave men and women in the armed forces, the police and the emergency services, but it is also brave to leave full-time employment and a secure job to start a business and endure years of uncertainty and financial sacrifice. Sometimes it does not work out, but our entrepreneurs carry on and overcome those hurdles. As a result, they contribute to our society and enrich our country.
We are the party and the Government who back entrepreneurs, so we have a fantastic Queen’s Speech with a number of measures. I am proud that we have some fantastic entrepreneurs in Redditch; I have time to pick out only two. Nik Spencer invented the HERU, a machine that will process all our household waste into products that can be used to power our household electricity and gas—our heating and lighting. That fantastic innovation will ultimately contribute to solving the climate emergency. Another friend, Sobea Irfan, has started a firm of solicitors that provides services all over my constituency. Those are two entrepreneurs, but there are many more. We have a great heritage in Redditch, but we are always looking to the future.
The work of those people and many others means that we have funds to spend. As hon. Members might expect, I will first touch on our Alexandra Hospital. I announced today that, thanks to the fantastic work of our Health Secretary, we have secured the money that we need to put forward the business case to improve our local hospital. That has been a long time coming; I have been campaigning for it since the day I first set foot in Parliament. I have met the Health Secretary and the trust at every opportunity to make sure that the money is there.
The Government pledged the money but, unfortunately, the trust delayed putting forward the business case. In that time, the costs went up, so the business case could not be put forward, which meant more delay. Finally, the Health Secretary has agreed to increase the funding so the business case can be put forward. The money will go forward so we will start to see improvements on the ground to the hospital that serves our community in Redditch. That will mean improvements to our theatres, our endoscopy services and children’s out-patient services. That is brilliant news for our local hospital and it goes to show that when a local MP stands up and fights for their local hospital, they can achieve real change on the ground. I warmly welcome that and I thank the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary for all their support.
When I meet my constituents in the streets and they come to see me in my surgeries, they often talk about law and order. I am surprised by how negatively Opposition Members have talked about the fact that there are so many Bills about law and order. I welcome that; our constituents want to see more officers on the street. The work and investment that the Government have put into the police mean that we will be able to recruit 93 more officers in West Mercia, on top of the 215 officers who were already coming onstream. That will mean more police on the street—more bobbies on the beat—in Redditch to tackle issues such as antisocial behaviour, to keep people safe and to continue our work to unlock Redditch.
I was delighted to see the focus on youth services because, as I have said, antisocial behaviour often happens because there is nowhere for young people to go. We need to focus on those services in our local communities so that there is somewhere constructive for people to go. We have some fantastic services in Redditch. We have a wonderful boxing academy that takes young people off the streets and teaches them fun, useful and constructive skills. That is a great initiative, but we need more like it across the town.
To touch on mental health services, I am delighted that Redditch, and Herefordshire and Worcestershire more generally, are included in the pilot for local community mental health services because of the fantastic proposals put forward by the local clinical commissioning group. That means that there will be more community mental health nurses on the ground working with GP surgeries, able to provide the services that are needed when people approach their GP with a mental health crisis.
I do not have time to go into all the other Bills, but it is important to recognise the Government’s acknowledgement that there is a social care crisis in this country—something I have often spoken about. I would like to see more detail on what the Government are proposing. From my extensive work with all-party parliamentary groups and my constituents, and from my own experience of the social care system with my mother, I can see that it is not where it needs to be. We desperately need to fund it and reform it. That cannot come soon enough for me.
To finish where I started, I say thank you to those people who have created jobs in our country. This country has record levels of employment, thanks to the Conservative Government’s record. I am absolutely delighted to see this Queen’s Speech and I shall be supporting it.
It is a pleasure to follow Rachel Maclean and to take part in this debate. It gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to public sector workers for all they do in keeping us safe, nursing us, educating us, caring for us, keeping the streets clean, running Government Departments and everything else in between.
Since we had the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box—I think for the first time—I want to focus on one particular group of workers: the migrants in the public sector workforce who serve us day in and day out, and in particular the EU nationals who currently live with the uncertainty of Brexit hanging over them. The immigration Bill that was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech but largely ignored by the Home Secretary today will have a profound impact on them, as well as on the future workforce of our public services.
During the referendum the Home Secretary, along with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made an unconditional promise to EU nationals who were already here: that if Brexit happened, their rights would continue automatically, so there would be no need for any application—in other words, a declaratory system. The question is why the Home Secretary seems set to renege on that promise, when failure to keep that promise inevitably means that, even with the Home Office pulling out all the stops, tens of thousands, or probably hundreds of thousands, of EU nationals will miss the cut-off date for settled status applications, and will end up in this country without any legal status at all and liable to removal, as the Minister for Security confirmed last week.
No application process of this type ever gets close to 100%. Getting even to 90% would be an achievement, but that would still leave hundreds of thousands of people in an even worse situation than that of the victims of the Windrush scandal—not just without proof of their status, but without any status at all. When that disaster unfolds, the Government cannot say that they have not been warned. It would be much better if they listened to the calls of the3million and the unanimous view of the Home Affairs Committee now, rather than trying to clean up the mess after the event.
The arguments put forward by the Home Office about why it does not want to go down that road simply do not add up. There would still be every incentive for citizens to apply for proof of their status, given that they would face the hostile environment if they did not obtain the necessary documentation. On the question of documentation, I urge the Government to think again, to ditch the “digital only” nonsense pursued by the Home Secretary’s predecessor and to allow the EU citizens applying to the scheme to have a physical document to prove their right to remain in this country.
On Monday, the Prime Minister said that EU rights would be somehow confirmed in the new immigration Bill, but it was not absolutely clear to me what he meant by that. Insofar as he plans to put the rights that EU nationals of settled or pre-settled status will have into primary legislation instead of the easily amended immigration rules, that is a small step in the right direction and something that we sought to do through the previous immigration legislation. However, assuming that people still need to apply, it does not amount to the automatic extension of rights that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister promised in the referendum. Indeed, if they are planning to cement the cut-off date for applications into the Bill, they are making matters infinitely worse, reducing any flexibility to extend the deadline when we inevitably realise that hundreds of thousands have not applied and are not going to apply in time.
Let me also raise concerns about the number of EU citizens who are being awarded pre-settled status rather than settled status. There are strong reasons to believe that many thousands are being awarded the more precarious and limited rights of pre-settled status when in fact they should be receiving settled status and permanent residence. That has consequences not only in terms of their having to make yet another application to protect their position but by limiting the rights and entitlements that they have in the meantime. A simple but powerful good-will step would be to scrap pre-settled status altogether and allow all EU citizens who have been living here to have permanent residence from day one. That is what the Scottish Government have suggested to the UK Government, and I hope that the Home Secretary will listen to that.
Turning to the future system, is it not symptomatic of the chaos that is Brexit that we are here, more than three years after the EU referendum, without any real clue as to what more the Government intend for our future immigration system than the supposedly magical promise of an Australian points-based system? As Mrs May pointed out, we had a points-based system introduced by the previous Labour Government, but it was slowly whittled away by the Conservatives. So I call on the Government, even today, just to give us a broad outline of what exactly they intend to put in place. Can the Government at least confirm that they are finally ditching the requirement for a £30,000 salary before anyone can come to work here? Such a threshold would be a disaster for many of the jobs in our public services. It should not be tweaked; it should be abandoned altogether.
As the right hon. Lady also said, a newspaper report at the weekend suggested that a new system could be used, as it is in Australia, to encourage migrant workers to go where they are most needed. That happens not just in Australia but in countries such as Switzerland, New Zealand, and, probably most famously, Canada. Can we please put Scotland at the front of that queue, because, as I hope the Government appreciate, all of Scotland’s projected future population growth comes from net migration? Our economy and public services need it, especially if free movement is to come to an end. Contrary to the slightly fantastical claims made by Kirstene Hair, at the end of the day, ending free movement, regardless of what is put in its place, is going to reduce access to the labour market for employers in Scotland rather than increase it.
If there is no deal, will the Home Secretary listen to the calls made by universities and by my hon. Friends today and accept that the proposed system of temporary relief for three years is an absurdity for students who are coming to study for four years—the vast majority of undergraduates in Scotland as well as those on a number of courses throughout the UK?
Our migrant workers make an immense contribution to public services in this country. Sadly, I fear that the immigration policies of this Government will continue to do them, and those services, a massive disservice in return.
Public services are, I believe, the bedrock of a civilised society, and I am very proud of the public services that we have in the United Kingdom. They enable work through good transport systems and through a good internet. They enable good health, which we all need, through a world-leading NHS and through social care provision, and they support communities to stay safe through good police forces and education.
I welcome the many Bills that the Government have put forward in this Queen’s Speech—in particular, overarchingly, the environment Bill, because that has implications for every single Government Department. However, today I would like to focus on rural communities and their specific needs, because historically we have not really paid attention to the specific challenges that they face. I certainly welcome the internet commitment—full speed ahead!—but I would like to see a focus very much on a commitment to address the needs of rural communities that have absolutely no internet as a priority, rather than focusing just on improving the internet facility that our urban areas already have. I would like to see 5G rolled out first in rural communities, because at least we will then have the internet, albeit through another route.
There is much that we could do to improve transport in rural areas. We would like to see a green agenda, so why do we not invest in bioethanol buses? It is not very practical to have electric buses in rural communities, and given the number of bioethanol units in rural areas, that seems to be a sustainable way forward. In terms of the rail services in my part of the west country, we effectively have one line in and one line out. If we are to have a sustainable community, we need a sustainable rail service that works. If we are going to reduce the number of cars on roads in rural communities, we need to reopen some of the stations that remain closed.
The contribution of the community and voluntary services to transport, taking people to doctor’s appointments and hospitals, is vital. One of the challenges we face with the EU is its ruling that our local volunteer services have to compete on the same basis as commercial providers. That will mean retraining, which is unaffordable for many. The flipside, bizarrely, is that that will put up the cost of local services, because our local authorities rely very much on those services to get children back and forth to school, and if they cannot use voluntary services at a subsidised rate, the commercial cost will be prohibitive.
With regard to the NHS, we should look at how we can reconfigure training and primary care so that it meets the needs of rural areas, which often have a disproportionate number of ageing residents. We need more generalists and fewer specialists to deal with the complex comorbidities that we face. We need individuals who have experience of rural working, because it is not the same as working in an urban area. That is understood in Australia, which is clearly a much bigger country with a much bigger problem, but there are things we could do differently here, because a one-size-fits-all system simply does not work. When it comes to trying to get social care and healthcare to work together, there are all sorts of regulatory barriers and duplicate reporting lines, and unless we fix that, it will be very difficult. We have a good example of how to do this well in Devon, but we are currently doing it despite, rather than with, support from Government.
In rural areas, it is not always possible for services to be available, so we need to create sustainable communities. North Devon was cut off the last time we had snow, and but for the community working together, they would have been very vulnerable, leaving elderly residents with no means of accessing social care or getting support from GPs. That is all in the context of very poor broadband connectivity. We must look at that route.
The use of technology would hugely improve services in rural areas. If we could use technology to diagnose and treat people in their homes, it would revolutionise the delivery of services in local areas. We also need to look at how we can reconfigure acute and urgent care. In parts of Devon, there is no point calling an ambulance because you will not get one. We have to look at a way of effectively triaging, whereby we use local GPs and other clinicians in rural areas to go out and deal with urgent situations.
In education, again, we need a level playing field. I am pleased to see the Prime Minister’s commitment to a level playing field, but this is not just about fair funding; it is about delivering aspiration, opportunity and parity of esteem between technical education and academic education. T-levels will be very welcome, but we need to ensure that they are seen as being as important and valuable as academic studies. We ought to mandate our universities to support primary and secondary schools in the roll-out of technical education, as the Russell Group has done.
We need to make this happen. If we are to see university technical colleges and others succeed, we need a proper aptitude test. They cannot be a dumping ground. They are like grammar schools—they are special schools, for those who can deliver the technical skills that we need. We know that digital skills are the way forward; it is the revolution that we cannot stop and we must embrace. That must be part of our training programme. In terms of our current workforce, these changes are coming so fast that proper thought needs to be given to how we deal with them. Our police force covers a larger area, and in Devon we have asked for further support for tourism, rurality and isolation. I hope the Minister will consider delivering that.
I welcome the investments that have been offered. I hope they will be invested wisely. I hope that we can look at improving systems and not just finances, and we need to recognise that local government in rural areas needs more funding than in urban areas.
It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate and to follow Anne Marie Morris.
Today we are talking about public services. I was an NHS worker for 33 years, so it is a subject that is very close to my heart. Working in the NHS, I saw for myself the improvements that a Labour Government brought about, most notably the introduction of “Agenda for Change” terms and conditions for NHS staff, which ensured that they were adequately remunerated for their work, with recognition of their roles, responsibilities and training.
Following the general election and formation of the coalition Government in 2010, I saw “Agenda for Change” being eroded. The coalition refused to accept the recommendations of the pay review bodies, which were a linchpin of the “Agenda for Change” agreement, and NHS staff began to see their wages stagnate, with pay freezes, or below-inflation pay rises for the lucky ones.
I thank my hon. Friend for making some excellent points. Does she agree that it is not just NHS workers, but the police who are desperately in need of better pay and conditions so that we can retain the police that we have and train more, particularly in areas where we have more crime on our streets and desperately need those bobbies on the beat?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that all our public sector workers need to be adequately remunerated for their vital work to keep our communities safe and healthy.
The coalition Government also introduced the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012. It was supposed to reduce bureaucracy in our NHS, but instead resulted in the almost complete fragmentation and privatisation of services and myriad boards, commissioning groups and advisory groups, thereby increasing rather than reducing bureaucracy. The coalition Government were warned about those problems at the time, but they chose to carry on regardless.
This Government removed the nursing bursary, which impacts on not only those who wish to train to be nurses, but allied health professionals, including radiotherapists, who provide vital treatment for cancer. Again, despite being warned that this would lead to a reduction in applicants for training, the Government carried on regardless, with the inevitable consequence that numbers applying for nurse training have fallen. Cancer treatment centres are crying out for specialised staff, with 6% of therapeutic radiography posts currently unfilled, a 23% drop in those starting the courses and one out of 10 training centres for therapeutic radiography being forced to close. Nothing in the Queen’s Speech addresses that or puts right those wrongs. It is difficult to see how the NHS long-term plan will be met without addressing the urgent training needs. That training is required to provide the staff who are needed to fulfil the long-term plan. The Queen’s Speech was an ideal opportunity for the Government to announce a reinstatement of the bursary scheme. With 40,000 nurse vacancies, there is no time to waste.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to continuing with the Domestic Abuse Bill, but that in itself places demands on our public services that the Government must adequately resource if the measure is to achieve its desired aim of providing protection for victims and survivors. The Government must put the necessary funding into legal aid, support services such as mental health, and education and housing.
On mental health, recent research has found that women who suffer domestic abuse are three times more likely to develop a mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The nature of domestic abuse, whereby partners might discourage attendance at mental health appointments, means that it can be extremely problematic for sufferers to access the care they need. Within the Bill, the proposed advisory board to the domestic abuse commission must include a representative from mental health services; this is supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The mental health needs of victims and survivors and, indeed, of perpetrators must not be forgotten.
The Home Secretary said that she wanted to see tough sentences and justice for the victims of crime. She said that she wanted to see sentences that fit the severity of the crime, so I am very grateful to Mrs May for highlighting the absence from the Queen’s Speech of tougher sentencing for causing death by dangerous driving. She, like me, has had a terrible case in her constituency. She spoke about the tragic death of Bryony Hollands and the derisory sentence given to the driver. In my constituency of Heywood and Middleton, my constituent, Joseph Brown-Lartey, was killed by an uninsured, unlicensed driver who ran a red light at 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, crashing into Joseph’s car and killing him outright. The impact was so great that it split Joseph’s car in two. The police said that it was the worst crash that they had ever seen on an urban road, yet Joseph’s killer received a sentence of just six years, of which he served just three, while Joseph’s family are serving a life sentence at the loss of their beloved son.
This Government announced two years ago that they would increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life, and that was as a result of a consultation that received more than 9,000 responses. There was a clear vote in favour of it from the public—this would have been a vote winner for the Government—yet two years on the changes to the legislation have not been made despite numerous requests, and the Government have missed the opportunity to include it in the Queen’s Speech. I and many other MPs wrote to the Prime Minister recommending that he did so, but he declined. We are all extremely disappointed not to see it there as this was a golden opportunity.
If the Home Secretary is serious when she says that she wants to see punishments that fit the crime, it is incomprehensible that this measure has not been included in the Queen’s Speech. It lets down the Brown-Larteys in my constituency, it lets down the Hollands family in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead—I nearly said in the Prime Minister’s constituency—and it lets down all the brave bereaved families who have campaigned so hard for so many years to get justice.
I welcome the focus today on public services and, in particular the recent announcements about funding for the NHS, education and the police. We also have to acknowledge that increasing funding is only possible if we have prudent financial management, which is what we have seen over the past 10 years. We must never lose sight of the fact that a strong economy underpins all our public services. That is why I welcome things such as the deficit now being down and under control, debt falling as a percentage of GDP, unemployment being back to figures that we last saw in the 1970s and the existence of growth in the economy.
Quite clearly, the greater the growth we have in the economy, the more we have to spend on public services. However, the provision of public services is not all about money. It is also about standards and ensuring the provision of quality services. It is about innovation, new ideas and ensuring we do things in a different way that might be better and more modern. It is also about productivity and ensuring that we actually can get value for the money that the taxpayer is putting into our public services. Ultimately, it is about outcomes that really matter—better healthcare, less crime and improving education. Specifically, I am pleased to hear the Government’s intention to tackle the long-standing issue of adult social care. It has been a long time coming and definitely needs to be addressed.
I want to concentrate on one aspect of the Queen’s Speech: the reference to a White Paper on unleashing regional potential in England by enabling decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level. I believe that this has the potential to be transformational. It is about devolution and infrastructure investment. We must remember that many public services are provided by local authorities and local government up and down the country. Sadly, we are a heavily centralised country. Many local decisions are in fact made in Whitehall rather than in our localities. Carlisle is a case in point. Recently, there have been significant decisions about road infrastructure, garden villages and so on. Although they are very important locally, those decisions are being made in Whitehall rather than in the town hall.
The northern powerhouse initiative has started to change the narrative in this regard and it is very relevant to my region. We have had what I would call our own northern powerhouse—namely, the borderlands growth initiative. This brought together councils, MPs, Ministers and officials at both local and national level, all working in a positive manner. I would specifically like to thank the Minister with responsibility for the northern powerhouse and also the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend David Mundell, for all their hard work in ensuring a successful outcome to the growth initiative. It demonstrates what can be done. I would like to think that the White Paper could be an opportunity to truly transform our regions and our local government system, and thereby deliver public services in a better and more efficient manner.
At present, if we are honest, our local government system is unbalanced. It is disorganised, with too many different structures, and it lacks the real power to make a difference in the locality. The proposed White Paper is therefore a huge opportunity. It gives us a chance to move towards unitary authorities. It gives us a chance to have proper structures with more power and more responsibility, and greater expectations of our local authorities. To some extent in the north, we have started that journey with the northern powerhouse, but in my view it needs to be accelerated and it should be as radical as possible. I therefore have one suggestion to make to the Government. There would be no harm in their revisiting the Redcliffe-Maud report from the 1960s, which I think is as relevant today as it was then.
Any approach the Government have with regard to a White Paper must involve proper consultation and discussion with local government. In my view, there should be no vetoes that would allow one council to hold up change in a particular area, as has been seen in Cumbria. Such reforms also need to be balanced with an economic programme to help to rebalance the national economy. The key drivers to achieve that are clearly infrastructure investment—rail, road, air and technology. Let us also see incentives that can help to develop particular parts of the country, utilising ideas such as freeports or altering the tax code.
Carlisle is a very good example of where we are starting to see some real change. We have a really good story to tell. If we are to achieve our true and full potential, it needs continuing help from the centre, but we also need to release local talent, which can then drive positive change. Such change will drive the local economy, produce greater tax receipts and provide the opportunity for better public services.
The headlines from the Queen’s Speech may be about proposed Bills, law and order, and Brexit. However, it is often the small print that can lead to the greatest change. I very much hope that the introduction of the White Paper will lead to something truly radical and transformative that will really change this country for the good.
I would first like to commend my hon. Friend Liz McInnes. I agree with all her speech, but in particular the part about dangerous driving. The family of Violet-Grace Youens, aged four, and the community of St Helens, will be deeply let down by the lack of action following the Lord Chancellor’s commitment relating to death by dangerous driving. We will not cease until the law is changed, and we want that to be done quickly.
I welcome the uplift in police funding, but it will barely begin to fix the damage caused in the UK by austerity and the symptoms that that has created. We must, could and should provide more. I applaud local police and the National Crime Agency for the UK’s biggest ever drugs operation recently, in which we saw countrywide dawn raids and arrests from London and Manchester to St Helens. They smashed the UK’s biggest ever drug-smuggling gang and seized the largest ever drugs haul. I commend those public services.
That leads me to what we can do in this House to make things better and how we can help to attack the rapid expansion of the complex issue of county lines drug gangs. The financial inability of public service departments to provide necessary early interventions to struggling families, prevention services and distracting and diversionary safeguards, such as youth activities, is another factor. Drug gangs are empowered by these underfunded public services, as they feed on families suffering from income poverty and its physical and mental strain. These strains on families and insufficient local resources have led to an expansion in the number of children who have been placed in supported living—an unregulated provision not monitored by Ofsted—and children being placed out of borough.
The resources available are not meeting the needs of children—as shown in the shortage of adoptive parents and fostering parents and the lack of resources for looked-after children and supported children—and that has driven up costs and led to a lack of specialist provision and the expansion of unregulated private children’s homes. A system that was designed to be flexible and used in extremes is now used to plug a hole in the system. Supported children are at serious risk of exploitation by drug smugglers, county lines operators and gangsters.
Management and staff are not trained to the level required to adequately support these children, who are going through the difficult transitional years from childhood to adulthood. There are no minimum standards set out in law for unregulated 16-plus provision. Compounding that issue is the fact that these children are classed as self-sufficient. They manage their health and finances and may leave accommodation as and when they please, as they are deemed autonomous. We are seeing more and more of these children being sent to north-western towns, where housing costs are well below the national average, with some hosting authorities having as many as 300 out-of-borough children. The corporate parenting responsibility is the home borough’s.
In St Helens alone, there are roughly 25 unregulated children’s homes, hosting up to 120 out-of-borough children. The management and staff of these homes do not have the authority or skills to prevent these vulnerable children from going out into the hazardous world, where gangsters target them and promise them status and money that they have never seen, before trapping them in a world of intimidation and fear, where they get locked into criminal activity, trafficking drugs across county lines. Essentially, these are apprenticeships into organised crime.
I reiterate that we have vulnerable children who have been moved miles away from homes, families, friends and neighbours—essentially, any positive support structure that they might have had—to an area that they do not know, into an unregulated private accommodation system of inconsistent quality. Is it any wonder that we have seen the travesty of county lines drugs gangs expanding? It is completely unacceptable. We are failing these young people. We are responsible for their hope, safety and future. The system and procedures are not safeguarding these vulnerable children. We must safeguard them and stop exposing them to criminal exploitation by these 21st-century Fagins.
I implore this and any future Government to implement regulations and oversights for private children’s homes and supported children, as well as procedures for placing a child out of borough. We need to increase the resources for care, education and safeguarding activities. Basically, we need to invest in children.
I applaud St Helens and Whiston Hospitals, which are among the nine most outstanding hospitals, but they suffer from recruitment problems and nursing shortages for the very reasons my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton mentioned in her speech.
We must safeguard our children and invest in our public services—for children, adults and children in need of care—and in adult social care and health. We in St Helens have integrated adult social care and health, and it is superb, but we could do far more with just a little extra funding in social care. It needs to go there as well as health. It is superb. Please invest more in public services.
It is a pleasure to take part in this Queen’s Speech debate and to follow Ms Rimmer. I listened to her very carefully, particularly to her comments on vulnerable children and those in care. I want to mention Home for Good in my speech. I encourage her to look at that charitable organisation, which is doing so much good work in this space.
Opposition Members have asked whether we should be having a Queen’s Speech, in contrast to calls from Labour Front Benchers, who have been asking for one for at least a year, since July 2018, and almost weekly since May 2019. We finally give them what they want and they still find cause to complain.
Of course, they could have put all this to rest by agreeing to a general election, which would have fallen this week. The Leader of the Opposition has called for that not just weekly or monthly but for years, yet when he has the opportunity to vote for one he ducks it. Perhaps in this sense only he is like St Augustine of Hippo: Lord give me a general election, but not yet. But here we are. They may have a chance to vote for one in the next few days.
There are several excellent measures in the Queen’s Speech, but two in particular caught my eye. I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Education is in his place, because, as several hon. Members have, I will devote the first part of my speech to education . Given that the theme of today’s debate is public services, it is an apt place to start.
It is hard to overstate the importance of education when it comes to opportunity, life chances and the next generation. One of the most enjoyable parts of being an MP, for me, is visiting schools and when schools visit Parliament. Madam Deputy Speaker, you know that Mr Speaker is proud of the education centre in this place, and rightly so. Several schools in my constituency come back year on year and find it a source of education as well as fun.
The fact is, however, that historically Dorset and Poole have been significantly underfunded. In contrast to what the shadow Education Secretary said, when Labour was in power, both Dorset and Poole were among the lowest funded areas in the whole of the country, yet Labour, when it had the opportunity to do something about it, failed to do anything at all. We have begun to right that wrong with the new funding formula. In particular, I say to the Secretary of State that I welcome the requirement on local authorities to pass on the minimum per-pupil funding levels to schools as the first step towards a hard national funding formula. That, in particular, will be welcome in my constituency.
It is not just about funding of course; it is about standards, as other hon. Members have mentioned. I welcome the fact that in the international literacy rankings, for example, our country is improving. Ofsted is hugely important. It is about levelling up. It is the ambition of Conservative Members that all our schools be levelled up to the best, rather than the best being dragged down.
The 12% increase in funding for special educational needs and disability is hugely welcome, but I should like to hear from the Secretary of State whether it will be bedded down for future years, because I know that that would help schools not just in my constituency but throughout the country.
Let me now turn to the issue of families. In the House of Commons the word “family” is barely uttered—it is hardly ever cited as either a potential contributor to poverty or a solution to it—and when Members do raise the issue they often do so apologetically or are dismissed and shouted down. The fact is, however, that ours is a country in which family breakdown falls disproportionately on poorer children, and that inequality should be taken just as seriously as any other injustice that Members seek to address in this place. I hugely support a measure—the divorce, dissolution and separation Bill—which will encourage couples to undergo counselling that may help to prevent their divorce. It will also seek to address conflicts within the families of divorcing couples, which is hugely important.
I have mentioned vulnerable children, and I will do so again. I will be encouraging Ministers to look at the fostering and adoption charity Home for Good, and, in particular, at its new five-star campaign, which is all about securing the very best care for our children so that they can be truly looked after. It is not about five-star hotels, but about five-star care.
Finally, I turn to Brexit. It would be impossible, especially today, to fail to mention the subject. It is often said in this place that repetition is not a novel phenomenon, but over the past three and a half years we have heard the same speech from the same characters sitting in the same places. Those who were in favour of Brexit are still in favour of Brexit, and those who were against Brexit are still against Brexit. However, there was a referendum. The issue has been resolved. There was a vote, and that vote must be followed. Not everyone in my constituency voted to leave, but I have been contacted by so many who voted to remain, who respect the result, and who say that we need to get on with it. We are in an addled state. We are in a state in which we cannot move on from the subject of Brexit. It seems that there are those in this place who are opposed to no deal, are opposed to voting for a deal, and are determined to ensure that we remain.
Today’s debate has shown us how many other things we can and should be discussing, but we need to get Brexit done in order to discuss them properly.
It is a pleasure to follow Michael Tomlinson, although some of our opinions may differ.
This Queen’s Speech was an immense disappointment. Some have already said that it was really a Tory party manifesto in waiting, but it was also a huge missed opportunity. The Prime Minister could have used it to set out a vision for a fairer country and a pledge to eradicate the poverty that is rampant across this great nation, the fifth richest in the world. As we know from a recent poll, that is exactly what two thirds of Britons want. They recognise that poverty is a political choice, and they reject it.
The Prime Minister could have committed himself to helping the 4.2 million children who are living in poverty—one in five of them live in persistent poverty—and lifting them out of the mire, the endless hunger and cold that they and their families experience. As a consequence of that poverty, this country has the highest rate of childhood mortality in western Europe. With every 1% increase in child poverty, for every 100,000 live births there are nearly six more babies who die.
The Prime Minister could have recognised the isolation, humiliation and destitution that so many of our sick and disabled citizens face as a result of his Government’s social security and social care policies, with more than 4 million living in poverty. He could have recognised the plight of women, and older women in particular, who, after a life of caring for their children and doing two or more jobs at any one time as well as caring for their elderly relatives have started to see their own longevity decline, while the Government slowly but surely persist in pushing back their state retirement age.
This Prime Minister and his Government have decided not to make these fundamental issues their priority; they have made different choices, and while over the last 10 years the poor have grown poorer, the rich have grown richer. By whatever measure we use, we are seeing increases in inequalities in income, wealth and power. Last year, the poorest fifth of the population saw their income contract by 1.6% while the average income of the richest rose by 4.7%. The richest 1,000 people in the UK have a wealth estimated at £724 billion, and it increased £66 billion in just a year, which compares with the wealth of the poorest 40% whose combined assets were worth £567 billion. This year’s “fat cat Friday” exposed that top executives are earning 133 times more than their average worker; the ratio was 47 in 1998.
The consequences of these inequalities are the flatlining of life expectancy across the UK as a whole, declining longevity in the poorest areas and for women and the increase in infant and child mortality. Like poverty, inequality is not inevitable; it is a political choice. These shocking trends in our health—our death rates—can be reversed, but that has bypassed this Queen’s Speech.
Brexit is tied up with this, perpetuating poverty and inequalities: as Professor Danny Dorling’s excellent book, “Rule Britannia”, brilliantly expounded, it is maintaining these inequalities and driving up the wealth and power of the super-rich elite that has driven the leave campaign. They have absolutely no regard at all for all the credible evidence that shows what no deal, and even a free trade agreement such as proposed now, will do to the economy and the livelihoods of ordinary people—our constituents —with estimates of declines in GDP of up to 10% lasting for 15 years. For constituencies such as mine, in the north, it will be absolutely devastating, far worse than we will see in London and the south-east, as has been the trend over the past several years.
It is this and the powerlessness that too many of our citizens experience that are driving political extremes on the left and right, just as we saw in the 1930s. The knock-on impact on the decline in growth will be job losses, falling tax revenues and, of course, cuts to public services. We need to avoid no deal at all costs. We need to have a confirmatory vote on whatever credible deal is proposed, and we need then to rebuild the social fabric of our society.
Not only is there a moral imperative to act now to address the poverty and inequality, but the survival of our democracy depends on it. The 1942 Beveridge report was the basis for a new welfare state after the second world war, and we established the NHS in 1948, expanded our education system, undertook a massive house building programme and extended our social security system. It was heralded as a revolutionary system that provided income security for its citizens as part of a comprehensive policy of social progress. But since then our society has changed: the pressures from globalisation, automation and an ageing society mean that we need to develop a new sustainable social security system—one that we can all be proud of. We should be encouraged that last year’s British Social Attitudes survey revealed that the public are ready for a far fairer public spending settlement.
We need a new Beveridge report for the 21st century, defining a new social contract with the British people, and addressing the poverty, inequalities and indignity that millions are enduring. We need to end the fear and blame that this Government perpetuate, and that was rampant throughout this Queen’s Speech, and bring hope to a new generation, as we did 77 years ago.
It is a pleasure to follow Debbie Abrahams. My only point on the second referendum she is calling for is that I am not quite sure anyone in this country would believe that that would be honoured either, bearing in mind that the first has not been honoured for three and a half years.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech; it contains a raft of domestic measures that for too long have not been given the attention they should have been, not because we have not wanted to give them attention, but simply because Brexit has consumed all our energy and time. However, from the end of March this year, that should not have been the case. The fact that it has continued is down to the antics of MPs from all sides of the House who have done, and continue to do, their utmost to prevent our departure from the EU. There is, of course, a handful of exceptions who genuinely wish to leave with a deal, but let me tell them that we all want to leave with a deal. However, we voted to leave the EU, deal or no deal, and that must now be done on
It is to the shame of the House that the so-called surrender Bill was passed, and with such undue haste. A pernicious piece of legislation, its aim was to undermine Brexit and our negotiating position, which it has done. The Prime Minister has called on the Opposition parties to throw themselves on the mercy of the electorate and, unsurprisingly, they refuse to do so. They bang on about democracy, but they are terrified of it. That is the truth.
As I have said, the Queen’s Speech touches on many important areas. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this morning that we will take a far more robust approach to crime. I applaud the proposal for an additional 20,000 police officers, having argued for them for many years. Dorset’s share in the first year is 50, and it is vital that we get the extra 120 in the following two years if the formula is to be followed. I would like to pay tribute to Dorset’s police officers, all of whom do great credit to their force. I know for a fact that these extra officers will be welcomed and are desperately needed.
I would be failing in my duty if I did not mention our prison officers, who often feel like the forgotten army. They must not be forgotten by this Government, and we must continue to ensure that they have the support and numbers they need to do the job. While talking about those in uniform, I want also to pay tribute to our armed forces. A former soldier myself, I welcome the new Office for Veterans Affairs, which is aimed at better co-ordinating care for our veterans, many of whom need our help. I pay special tribute to the former soldier Andy Price, who has established a help centre and garden in Weymouth. It has been hugely successful, and Andy is now considering applying for charitable status.
I was concerned that there was no measure in the Queen’s Speech to stop the ongoing witch hunt against our veterans, especially those who served in Northern Ireland decades ago. However, I was encouraged by the reply that the Prime Minister gave to my hon. and gallant Friend Bob Stewart on Monday. I remind the Prime Minister that we are not asking for a statute of limitations. We simply want there to be a presumption against further prosecution when a case has already been investigated and when there is no new evidence. I attended a rally in Parliament Square recently, and there is genuine anger among our veterans and their families that this injustice has still not been resolved. It must be. I am glad to read that the defence budget will continue to meet NATO’s 2% requirement. There is no doubt that more money is needed, not least to ensure that our brave men and women are housed properly and decently.
The national infrastructure strategy and plans for a White Paper on how to unleash regional potential are welcome announcements, and nowhere is the former more needed and the latter being more promoted than in South Dorset. A new business-led panel that I initiated has been taken on by Bill Reeves, the chief executive of Portland Port, to whom I am most grateful and owe so much. Under his dynamic leadership, more and more people are getting involved in the panel’s aim to create and deliver a strategy that attracts more investment, more businesses and better jobs. Coastal towns such as Swanage and Weymouth, and the island of Portland, cannot do it on their own. We need at least a fair slice of the infrastructure cake, crying out as we are for better road, rail and broadband connectivity. Our biggest drawback is that our conurbations are relatively small and often do not meet the Government’s criteria, but those guidelines must change if coastal resorts are going to survive, as they should and must. I should like to thank the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth, my right hon. Friend Jake Berry for responding so rapidly to my invitation to visit us recently. Rest assured we will be chasing him and his Department in the months ahead.
I would be failing in my duty if I did not mention farmers, and I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I meet with farmers every quarter, and there is genuine concern about Brexit and the effect that it will have on them. There is an appreciation that public moneys will be available for public good. There is also a need for support in the face of possible punitive tariffs. We would all be grateful—I note that the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith is on the Front Bench—if the Government fleshed out exactly what support will be available, particularly in the event of no deal. The fishing community is also worried about its future, and the sooner we take back control of our waters, the better.
Affordable housing is a pressing issue in South Dorset. We have seen imaginative new housing developments where house builders use a range of materials to lower the cost. “Affordable homes” is not a popular phrase in my constituency, because they are simply not affordable, so we must deal with that issue. While on housing, can we please look at density? All too often there are too many houses and not nearly enough green space. More money for health and education is to be welcomed, of course, but we cannot ignore the shortage of nurses. We need more home-grown nurses, who are essential for the future of the NHS.
There are many more issues that I would like to cover, but my time, regrettably, is running out. I will end where I started by saying that if some MPs have doubts about the direction of travel in this place, let us trust the people and let them decide in a general election.
The Government must act to restore victims’ and survivors’ confidence in the justice system. Since 2010, the Government have systematically gutted the criminal justice agencies, police numbers have plummeted, Crown Prosecution Service funding has been slashed and, as a result, justice has been harder to achieve for victims. Despite the Government’s blatant electioneering in this Queen’s Speech, the public and survivors know that the freshly promised cash is only a plaster on a deeply wounded justice system.
I have been working directly with survivors to develop reforms that would prevent attrition as their cases progress. The reforms will improve survivors’ experiences of the justice system. One in five survivors do not report to the police because they are afraid of further violence from the perpetrator. It is a scandal that victims do not have the confidence in the police to keep them safe, and that was not helped by the 2017 bail reforms. My freedom of information requests revealed that the number of suspected child abusers released with bail conditions actually dropped by 56% in 2017-18 alone. Will Ministers agree to reform the law to introduce a presumption of bail conditions in all cases of violent and sexual offences?
I am pleased that the Government have signalled their intention to take up my recommendation of a police pledge card, which will provide survivors with crucial information about the criminal justice process and a single point of contact. Will Ministers now set out plans for its formal roll-out?
The Government say that they plan to publish and consult on a revised victims’ code and a new victims’ law in early 2020, but that promise was first made in 2015, and victims have endured delay after delay ever since. Why are the Government proposing to postpone it yet again? I am also concerned that the Government are only going to be consulting on it, not actually rolling out this vital law. Reform of the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which continues to discriminate against victims of childhood abuse, is also long overdue. When will the Government finally reform the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority so that victims with unspent convictions and those wrongly deemed to have consented to their own abuse can actually claim?
Child sexual abuse is a crime that, according to the Office for National Statistics, has over 2 million victims in this country. There was little in the Queen’s Speech to persuade me that that shocking figure will be halted or reversed under this Government. I am also disappointed that we discovered today that the Government are not progressing with age verification for online pornography.
A strategic cross-departmental response is required to prevent child abuse, secure convictions and support survivors. The Government must invest in sexual violence and abuse services that will support survivors to play a full role in society and, indeed, the economy. The Government should immediately fund the minimum number of services as recommended under the Istanbul convention, combining it with a mechanism to ensure that funding rises to match demand.
The all-party parliamentary group for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which I chair, has found that 89% of survivors say that the abuse they suffered negatively impacts their mental health. Not surprisingly, survivors also report that the abuse affects their relationships, their career and their education. If the Government are serious about addressing the country’s poor mental health, they must train practitioners to recognise and respond to the trauma of child sexual abuse. Following the example of Scotland and Wales, the Government should create a national trauma strategy that encompasses all forms of early-life abuse and adversity.
The Home Secretary talked in her speech about the rehabilitation of sex offenders. I am extremely concerned that the Government’s existing programme is actually shown to increase the likelihood of sex offending upon release, and I am more concerned that the Government held back the report for five years. I hope this Government will do all they can to address that in the forthcoming legislation.
My final ask is that the Government legislate to end the abusive practice of child marriage in the UK. Victims, usually girls, are pressured and coerced into marrying adult men, and they face increased risks of social exclusion, domestic and sexual violence, and limited educational opportunities. The UN has called for the elimination of child marriage worldwide, yet it is still legal right here. It is appalling that this illiberal practice is still sanctioned here, with more than 800 victims since 2015. The Government must recognise that child marriage is child abuse, and they must legislate to protect the childhood and education of children by criminalising all marriages of anyone under the age of 18.
The Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill, the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill, the serious violence Bill and the Domestic Abuse Bill all present an opportunity for the Government to do something that will genuinely improve the lives of the survivors of childhood abuse and sexual abuse, and to prevent others from falling victim to it. Will the Government please act?
I rise to speak very much in favour of this Queen’s Speech. I have been listening closely to the debate, and I am slightly puzzled by some Opposition Members’ complaining as though this Queen’s Speech is, somehow, a pre-election announcement from the Government when, of course, they could have stopped that happening. They twice had the opportunity to vote for an election, and we would then not have had a Queen’s Speech until after that election. I am still puzzled by why they did not take that opportunity.
The election would have been on either the Monday or the Tuesday of this week, and there would have been no Queen’s Speech this week. If the Opposition had their way, they could well have been in power.
My hon. Friend makes the point well that the Opposition had every opportunity to ensure that the Queen’s Speech was presented by whichever party won the election and formed the Government. It suggests Opposition Members did not support an election because they were not confident that it would be them presenting the Queen’s Speech.
I support the Queen’s Speech, and I welcome the many Bills that have been announced. Its overall theme sets out the Government’s agenda that, once we leave the European Union, they are determined to level up across the country and address some of the regional inequalities that have long existed in our country. I represent the great constituency of St Austell and Newquay, and there will be few places in the country where that message is more warmly welcomed than in Cornwall because, for decades, the people of Cornwall have often felt a very long way from Westminster, not just geographically and physically but even in the thoughts of our leaders and our Governments.
Cornwall, as well as being an incredible place that contributes to our nation through food production and in so many other ways, faces a number of unique challenges that genuinely no other part of the country faces. A peninsula on the edge of the country, with a very rural and sparse population, a growing elderly population and 600 miles of coast to look after, the challenges we face in Cornwall are unique.
Successive Governments have rarely given Cornwall what it really needs to address those specific challenges, but in this Prime Minister and the agenda he has laid out for this Government we see an opportunity to address the underfunding issues we have had and to level up the investment in Cornwall for which we have been waiting for so long. We need funding for our police: Devon and Cornwall police currently receive 15% below the national average per head of population funding despite facing many unique challenges. We need funding for our schools: historically, and for a very long time, Cornish schools have been underfunded. Although he is not now in his place, I very much welcomed the Secretary of State for Education coming to Cornwall just last week and announcing extra funding for Cornish schools. That will begin to level up and address underfunding. We need funding for our NHS and very much welcome the Government’s commitment of £450 million towards a new hospital in Cornwall.
The Government are starting to address the underfunding issues, but it is not just in our public services that we want to level up; we want to level up in our economy as well. Just this August, the Prime Minister came to Cornwall, and we were all so encouraged by his words. He said:
“Cornwall has incredible potential.”
“My ambition for Cornwall and for the whole country is levelling up.”
“We will ensure that Cornwall does in no circumstances have less money coming in from all resources, so, whether it’s UK funding or wherever, there will be the cash to support infrastructure, technology and education.”
And he also said:
“We want to see a very dynamic Cornish economy. We want people to have the confidence not just to improve their lives here but to invest in business here and have babies here as well.”
Those words were hugely welcome, because we want Cornwall no longer to be considered the poor part of the UK, and actually to play its part in contributing to the national economy. We are ambitious: one of the announcements in the Queen’s Speech that we very much welcomed was that of a national space strategy. I am sure many Members will not be surprised to hear that we are right ready to start to launch satellites into space from Spaceport Cornwall at Newquay airport, and we really welcome the Government’s ongoing support.
We welcome the announcements on the environment and the Government’s commitment to continuing to improve our environmental credentials and to introducing a new regulator. Cornwall is already playing a significant part, but it is keen to continue to play a part. Just this week, we announced funding for a second geothermal drill in Cornwall. In the near future, that will start to produce geothermal energy—another source of renewable energy. We continue to pursue lithium extraction, which will secure a UK domestic supply of one of the most important metals for renewable energies, enabling the production of batteries for storage and electric vehicles. Cornwall is ready to fulfil its potential. We need the Government to continue to invest and support the Cornish economy.
Finally, on the shared prosperity fund, we were encouraged when the Prime Minister recently made clear on the BBC his commitment to the inclusion in the shared prosperity fund of a dedicated fund for Cornwall that will be comparable to the money that we would have received through the European Union—I say through the European Union and not from the European Union, because it is the UK taxpayers’ money that is given back to us. We really need to see measures on the shared prosperity fund come forward quickly so that we have that in place in the very near future. That way, we can continue to support the Cornish economy so that we can fulfil our ambitions and play our part in the national economic growth.
I want briefly to cover a range of subjects relevant to my constituency of Inverclyde. Despite devolution, it is always important to remind constituents of the influence that Westminster and the UK Government continue to exert over public services in our community. My constituency of Inverclyde has been particularly hard hit by the UK Government in recent years. Our coastguard station was closed, with the loss of 31 expert jobs. That decision was taken at a UK level, and against the will of local people and the experts who said that safety would be compromised as a result of the closure. Likewise, in Port Glasgow, the jobcentre closed in 2017, despite Inverclyde having some of the highest rates of poverty and deprivation in the United Kingdom. Clients of this service must now rely on a single office in Greenock, which covers a wide geographical area from Langbank to Skelmorlie, both of which are outside my constituency.
On broadband, it is time for the UK Government to take notice of Scotland. Telecoms is reserved to Westminster, yet the UK Government are contributing £21 million to the Reaching 100% programme—just 3% of the total. That is in stark contrast to the £600 million that is being provided by the SNP Scottish Government to ensure that all homes and businesses across Scotland have superfast broadband.
The UK Government could also support the delivery of health services in Scotland by taking two specific actions. First, they could support those parents of severely epileptic children by making it easier for them to access medical cannabis. Last year, the Government made all the right mood music and then failed to provide. In March of this year, I was one of the 80 MPs who delivered a petition with almost 600,000 signatures on that subject. The UK Government have made some minuscule steps forward, but there is no point in legalising certain medications if no one can have access to them. I should clarify that: I said that no can have access to them, but if a person can afford to pay for a private prescription and has the tens of thousands of pounds per year, then they can access medical cannabis. If the UK Government are unwilling to take the necessary action to help those families, they should accept the call made by the Scottish Government in 2018 and devolve the necessary powers to Holyrood.
In that same spirit, it is time for the UK Government to allow a drug consumption room—a safe drug consumption facility or an overdose prevention room, whatever you want to call it—to be established in the west of Scotland. The Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council, with cross-party support, want this measure to progress because the UK Government refuse to let go of their failed and outdated policymaking on drugs.
Scotland is facing an unprecedented drug crisis; some 1,187 people died last year in Scotland. The UK Government will not allow anyone to try something new, based on rational, evidence-based policy. DCRs across the world, with the correct medical supervision and Naloxone on hand, have seen zero deaths—not one person has died in a DCR. The UK Government must open their eyes to these possibilities.
It is symptomatic of the fact that these people will not look at the evidence placed in front of them. They want to reinvent the wheel at every opportunity. The NHS in Greater Glasgow, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government all want this to happen. If people want to visit Glasgow and other areas, they can see the problem at first hand. We are offering a solution.
I tried to intervene during the Secretary of State’s speech, but she refused to take my intervention. She was talking about county lines. I encourage the Government to approach the police and ask them to stop recruiting young people. They are approaching young kids and young vulnerable men and women on county lines and using them as police informants. That is an extremely dangerous policy to pursue, and I ask the Government to revisit it.
In conclusion, much of Westminster’s stewardship of public services can be boiled down to a policy of blocking, stifling or closing public services, which might otherwise act in the public good. Scotland deserves better, but it cannot expect it from the current Prime Minister and his impotent UK Government.
The Gracious Speech has released a whole series of opportunities for the country and for my constituents in the post-Brexit world that I look forward to. I will touch on a couple of those important aspects. On the Bill on voter ID, the reality is that there have been allegations of impersonation in a large number of constituencies up and down the country. The proposal will end those challenges and end the way that the electorate have been fooled in certain places. When I was elected in 2010, a series of people came to me to say that they were recorded as having voted but they could not have done because they were in India at the time. We have to take this matter seriously.
On health, I have the honour of representing the seat that contains the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. For 30 years before I was elected, it was promised that it would be redeveloped. I am delighted that we now have the first phase of redevelopment. In coming years, I look forward to the further phases of redevelopment and to advancing the case for our hospital to receive the money from the Government as we move forward.
I note that the Gracious Speech did not mention the prevention strategy on health-related matters, for which the consultation ended on Monday. I am looking forward to the Government making further proposals for smoking cessation and to assist people to live longer and healthier lives. I also look forward to the eventual release of the adult social care Green Paper, so there can be an end to that challenge across the piece.
On education funding, I ask the Secretary of State for Education to look at how schools receive per pupil funding. It is often a year after the count is done that they get the increased funding as a result of an increase in the number of pupils on the register. That means that a school is required to employ more teachers and more staff, but does not get the funding until a year later. That has a big effect in my constituency, where a large number of people come to the country for a short period; they bring their children into school but then move on.
One area that is unfortunately not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but is desperately important across the country, is housing. We have a desperate need for a proper social housing programme to build housing units that people can afford to live in. Given what I did on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to assist people who are threatened with being homeless through no fault of their own, I am rather angry that we still have the challenge of local authorities not being able to provide homes for those people to actually live in. We have rightly put the responsibility on local authorities to assist people who are homeless, but we must ensure that there are homes for them.
A huge number of consultations conducted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government over the years have never been brought to fruition. It is about time that some of them came forward. One such area, leasehold reform, was mentioned earlier. This is a Parliament with a minority Government, where there needs to be support from across the House. There is clearly strong support for leasehold reform, so the Government could bring it forward and get it on the statute book—albeit with revisions, as appropriate—on an all-party basis. I was party to a Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report that recommended a series of measures that could be quickly legislated for.
As the 2017 Act has been in operation for some time, by next March we will have full figures on what local authorities have done. We put the provision in the Act that, if local authorities do not abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the law, the Secretary of State can introduce a statutory code by which local authorities will have to operate. I think we may have to implement that.
The use of public land is another issue that I will address in the brief time available. We have to move away from the position whereby we sell public land to the highest bidder, get overpriced housing developed, charge exorbitant rents or exorbitant prices, and then pay housing benefit to subsidise that housing when people cannot afford them. That has to end. We have to get to a position where we take the cost of land out of housing development, and then charge rents and property prices that are affordable, to ensure that people have the dignity of being able to fund their own housing costs. That would save the Treasury a great deal of money and needs to be brought forward. I think we need a comprehensive housing Bill so that many such proposals can be introduced for the benefit of this country.
We are here to debate a legislative programme, set out by a minority Government, that we are all under the impression has little hope of being delivered. Whether we see it more as a pre-election broadcast by the Conservative party, or as a serious proposition, the question for me remains the same: what does it do to help my constituents with the everyday struggles they face? On that basis, the Queen’s Speech is, in my opinion, a failure. It does nothing to undo the damage caused by a decade of cuts to council funding and other public services. It does nothing to help the most vulnerable or those struggling to make ends meet because of a callous and inhumane benefits system. It does nothing to help our struggling schools, our GP surgeries, the local transport network or the failing housing market.
On the subject of housing, I am very much more concerned with what is not in the Queen’s Speech than what is in it. My constituents, whether those who are hoping to become first-time buyers, renters who want stronger rights, families who are stuck on the council waiting list or those at risk of being homeless, are getting the message loud and clear from this Queen’s Speech that housing and their concerns about it are not a priority for this Government. Where is the plan to tackle the chronic shortage of affordable and council housing in this country?
Let us not forget about the leasehold scandal. Although the Government said a lot in the build-up about what they would do on leasehold reform, with heavy social media plugging, the heavily trailed policies of peppercorn ground rents and a ban on leasehold houses did not feature in the Queen’s Speech. I say this just about every time I speak on leasehold and I make no apologies for saying it again: there are thousands of people who are stuck with leasehold houses that were sold to them with a paucity of information at best or, at worst, as part of a systematic deception. Those people need legislation now. The Westminster Hall debate last month revealed a great deal of support across the House to do something. I would have hoped that the governing party, which does not have a majority, would want to show that it is on the side of ordinary people and that it can make a difference to people’s lives. There is a high degree of consensus on the way forward, and legislation is needed to help existing leaseholds out of the vice they are in.
Only this week, some of my constituents have had a reminder about the pitfalls of leasehold. They have received notification that they are beholden to a new freeholder called Landmark—the new owner of their property. A nice letter came through informing them that their ground rent was going up, of course, but there was also a schedule of fees that they had not seen before that included, outrageously, a £100 charge to obtain consent to have a pet in their own home. How can we allow these rip-off charges to continue? Legislation is needed desperately.
The Government consider law and order to be a priority, with about half a dozen Bills in the Queen’s Speech that fall roughly within that area. What is the point of having so many new laws to deal with criminal behaviour when the police do not have the numbers to deal with existing laws?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his powerful speech. Does he agree that we would have been much better off on policing if the Government had not cut 20,000 police officers over recent years?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will go on to explain why the Government have a damn cheek, frankly, to argue that what they are presenting is something new and exciting.
In recent times, I have come across situations in various forces around the country that show just how starkly the cuts have affected frontline policing, such as when the police said they would not investigate a fraud complaint because the amount at stake was less than £15 million; when the police said they would not look at CCTV footage in relation to a theft because it was longer than 20 minutes; or when recently in my constituency, the police said they might not have the officers available to close the road for a Remembrance Sunday parade. I think that tells us we have hit rock bottom. Fortunately, we have managed to get agreement from the police that they will support the parade this year, but the fact that they were even having to consider that should surely send the clearest message to Government Members that austerity has gone too far and that 10 years of cuts have led us to the edge of the abyss. I am glad that this message does now appear to be getting through, with the great fanfare on 20,000 new police officers, but of course, as we have said, it does not replace those we have lost in the decade of austerity we have just had. In Cheshire, we will go back to two thirds of those we have lost since 2010, so I do not believe that the fanfare is warranted. Only the Conservative party under its current leadership could have the audacity to present having fewer police officers serving than when it came into office as some sort of triumph. You couldn’t make it up, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Let me briefly talk about schools. Again, when we get past the headlines, the detail is not quite as impressive. Every school in my constituency has faced cuts since 2015. New data shows that, over the five years from 2015 to 2020, £78.9 million will be lost from west Cheshire schools—an average loss of £403 per pupil. I should make it clear that my wife is the cabinet member for children and young people at our local authority, so I hear first hand on regular occasions how damaging this all is, but I also know from talking to parents, pupils and teachers just how far these cuts have impacted on education. We hear time and again from parents coming to our surgeries how they have to battle to get their child’s special educational needs recognised. Education is a fundamental right for every child, and parents should not have to fight the system just to get the education support that their child deserves.
I want to talk about a few things not in the Queen’s Speech that we should be looking at. There is nothing on low pay, insecure work, child poverty or pensioner poverty. There is nothing on scrapping the benefits freeze, the benefits cap, the bedroom tax, the two-child limit, the rape clause or punitive sanctions. There is nothing on universal credit. Week after week in my surgery, I hear from people who are living in poverty and struggling to survive because they face a continual battle with the benefits system, which is actually supposed to be there to support them. I hear about overpayments, underpayments, long initial waiting periods, inaccessible and complex online forms, lack of support for put-in claims, cruel disability tests, and unfair and unreasonable fines. Universal credit is not working and, worse, it is driving people into poverty, debt and rent arrears. It is forcing many more people to turn to food banks just to survive. There are no plans in this Queen’s Speech to scrap this failed, cruel policy, and that just shows us where the priorities of this Government lie.
Finally, I want to express my disappointment that once again the WASPI women have not been mentioned. It is a source of shame that the Government continue to ignore that campaign in the face of overwhelming evidence of the injustice that has been served on them. In fact, I have just come from a drop-in session where there were probably more Members than there are in here. That shows that across the House there is genuine support for doing something for the WASPI campaigners.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Justin Madders.
I am deeply concerned that the relentless increase in hardship, struggle and poverty means that we have become dangerously acclimatised to it. Just imagine for one moment that we had woken up after the 2010 election and could see with fresh eyes the world that we have created around us. How shocked would we be to see that the number of people waiting over 18 weeks in the NHS has gone up to 4.4 million and that a recent report on adult social care said that people are being pushed into inappropriate care settings that do not meet their need?
The scandals keep coming over and again. We hear that 81% of our mental health trust leaders say that they are unable to meet the needs of their children with mental health problems. There is an unprecedented—I quote, “unprecedented”—rise in infant mortality. Since 2010, rough sleeping has increased by 165%; education spending has been slashed by over £7 billion; knife crime offences are at the highest ever level; there has been a 27% increase in the number of people being home educated, indicating the lack of faith that many parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities feel in the current schools system—and so much more.
We have a creeping normalisation of poverty and struggle. We retreat and speak only to those who act and speak like us. Our social media reinforces the views of those we already agree with through the algorithms that they use. We have become conveniently blind to the reality that so many people face. Channel 5 puts out its poverty porn programmes every single week. We are building this narrative that there is somehow a difference between the deserving and the undeserving poor. We look down on the undeserving poor as people lacking aspiration and having a poor work ethic, until the moment it happens to somebody we love, and they hit the rocks—until life happens.
I think of the family in Hessle who told me that they had all along believed that if people play by the rules, work hard and pay their taxes, they will be rewarded later on, until their mother had a stroke. They lacked the stroke rehabilitation services that she needed. There was no care package waiting for her when she left hospital, and because she was left on her own without adequate care, she fell, broke her hip and ended up back in hospital, where she deteriorated further. I think of the parents of children with special educational needs who, at a meeting with me just last week, broke down in tears while telling me about having to remortgage their property to go to a tribunal, because they cannot get the services that their child needs—because the resources are rationed and simply not available.
It appears in society right now that it is only possible to cope under this Conservative Government if people can guarantee that they and the people they love will never be in need. The Conservatives have ripped the heart out of our public sector, and this Prime Minister is fooling no one with his grab-bag of populist pronouncements masquerading as a Queen’s Speech. Like the leader of the Liberal Democrats, he was an enthusiastic member of a Government who chose cuts over investment. They have destroyed the social contract—the promise that if we work hard, the state will be there to help us when we need it—because hard work no longer guarantees a decent standard of living when one third of children in my constituency are living in poverty, many of them in working families.
It is time for Hull West and Hessle to have its fair share. It is time to enable our children to reach their potential and to have their needs met and their talents realised, and that will only happen when we have a Labour Government introducing our fantastic national education service. People need skilled, secure work. Labour’s pledge to a green new deal will give 11,000 jobs to people in my area in the offshore wind industry. Families need help with the cost of living. We need to look at reducing utility bills, with companies that act in the public interest, not the shareholders’ interests, and we need to increase the minimum wage. Most importantly, we want to say to everybody in our country: when life happens—when you fall down—the state will be there to pick you back up, with free NHS prescriptions, free hospital car parking and free adult social care, to treat everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve.
It is time for us all to break out from our bubbles and truly see the unequal UK that the Government have created. Unlike Sir David Evennett, I am not just aspirational as an individual or for individuals in my constituency; I am aspirational for my city and my country. I believe that the UK has a brighter future, but that brighter future does not exist under this Government. Our Labour values of equality, justice, fairness and compassion mean that only Labour will put the heart back into our public services and ensure that we can all rise together.
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful and passionate speech from my hon. Friend Emma Hardy. I have listened to this debate from the beginning, because I wanted to get a sense of whether Conservative Members and the Government have any sense of what has gone wrong in our country. Twenty years ago, the Labour Government came to power with the slogan, “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” This Government are tough on crime, but I listened to the Home Secretary to find out whether she understood the causes of crime, and she was careless of those causes—in fact, I would say she was possibly clueless about them. The Conservative party may have slung out its one nation Members, but it has been a one nation party in one sense, because the entire nation has been made more vulnerable, more at risk, more insecure and more miserable by this Government’s policies.
If I had been asked a few years ago what I would choose to talk about in a speech on public services, I would not have imagined that I would be talking about crime and policing. But in my constituency of Cambridge, which many people would imagine is a prosperous place, I am hearing more and more concern from across the city about the state of our country. Every week, we read in our local newspaper about stabbings in our city. Every week in my surgery, people come to me saying they are concerned about seeing open drug dealing on our streets and the level of disorder. That Labour Government were obsessive about tackling antisocial behaviour. This Government seem to be completely careless of it, and that wrecks the quality of people’s lives.
A few years ago, I had friends down from the north of the country, and they expressed pleasure and surprise, because in some parts of the country they did not feel safe even then. They told me, “It’s wonderful in Cambridge. I can go anywhere, any time.” Last week, a young student told me that at times she no longer felt safe walking in our city without being accompanied. That is a terrible indictment of the Government. Despite all the effort by an excellent city council and many local agencies, we find ourselves in that position.
What has gone wrong? Like many Members, I talk to my local police and agencies and ask what has gone wrong. Three issues keep being brought up. The first, of course, is the decline in the number of people in the police service. I talk to neighbourhood police, who a few years ago were in their neighbourhoods, out talking to people, but who now have much bigger patches, and often have to stay in their cars to try to chase around the city to keep up with what is going on. Secondly, other agencies have often withdrawn from services. Sometimes the police have to support the accident and emergency services, which is the place of last resort for so many people. Thirdly, as well as the increase in the workload, the work has changed, with cyber-crime and online crime. There are many more things for the police to do, but resources have been cut.
Some of the statistics are chilling. In 2012, there were 604 incidents in Cambridgeshire, yet in September 2018, there were 1,553. The figure has tripled. Knife crime has doubled since 2013, and of course 139 police officers and 83 police community support officers have been lost during the Government’s time in office.
Perhaps most telling of all is that I am told that, in addition to more police officers, those early interventions that stop people turning to crime in the first place are needed. That is where the insidious cuts over the past decade have made such a difference to all those community services and youth services. The massive cuts to county councils mean that the police have to deal increasingly with the end of the process. Frankly, that was entirely predictable and what we said a decade ago. When I talked to some PCSOs the other day, I found it shocking that they have barely any interaction with the probation service. It has been reduced to a tick-box exercise. We know what is wrong, and it could be dealt with, but I do not get any sense that the Government will do it.
I want to comment on one other issue and give an example of what the Government could do. There are worries about safety in the taxi and private hire trade. I have campaigned on that for the past couple of years. The Government had proposals ready to go. Sir John Hayes worked with me on this. I had a private Member’s Bill and the Government set up a task and finish group. Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq made strong recommendations about what needed to be done, and we were told that measures would be in the Queen’s Speech. Yet this morning, when I tackled the Transport Secretary at the Transport Committee, he told me it was not going to happen.
The warnings are absolutely clear. We will have more cases of drivers moving from one authority to another because of the inadequate licensing system. There will be more violence, and I am afraid that the responsibility lies entirely with the Government. The previous Transport Secretary promised me that a measure would be in the Queen’s Speech, yet it is nowhere to be seen. I hope tonight we hear that the Government will think again.
The Prime Minister is clearly willing to use the police as a photo op, but my sense is that he has no sense of what needs to be done, and no political will to do it.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner. Like him, I want to concentrate on levels of crime. In my constituency of Coventry North East, draconian cuts to police budgets have had a terrible impact on local communities. Although I welcome the fact that the Government now seem alert to the damage they have caused, my Opposition colleagues and I have been warning for years about the problems their policies create, yet all our warnings have fallen on deaf ears. To listen to the Government over the past few weeks, we could be forgiven for thinking that the problems are new and have emerged only in the past 12 months. However, when this Government took over in 2010 and started imposing their austerity measures on communities across the country, crime, particularly violent crime, also began to rise. On this side of the House, we have always understood the reasons for that, and have always been committed to investing not only in the police service but in all the ancillary support and community services needed to give young people and others the opportunities they lack, and to give offenders the support they need to prevent them from reoffending.
The real question my constituents are now asking is why they should trust the Government to tackle crime and violent crime when it has skyrocketed on their watch. In the west midlands, we have one of the highest rates of violent crime, homicide and sexual crime in the country, with rates of violent crime rising by more than a third in the past 12 months. In addition, we have the third highest rate of knife crime in the whole of England and Wales. In Coventry over the past 12 months, children’s lives have been shortened because of knife crime, police officers have been severely injured, and the communities are slowly losing faith in the ability of the police to respond to their needs. This has all happened on the Tory Government’s watch, and it is questionable to think that this Tory Government can ever put it right.
As a result of the Government’s abject failure to tackle crime and their ideological refusal to invest in our public services, the people of Coventry simply do not trust the Government to deliver. The Conservative party is no longer the party of law and order; it is the party of crime and disorder, and the people of Coventry have no faith in its ability to reverse the rise in violent crime seen on too many of the streets on which our friends and families live.
References have been made in this debate to tougher penalties for causing death by dangerous driving, promised in the last Parliament. I myself have asked questions about this after two little boys in my constituency were killed by a speeding driver high on drugs who received a paltry sentence for his crime. I share the concern that these measures have not been included in the Queen’s Speech.
This Government have an appalling record on crime, and however hard they might try with the measures in this Queen’s Speech, my constituents in Coventry will not forget about the damage that they have caused.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Colleen Fletcher.
Never has a Government agenda looked so hollow. Everything on this Prime Minister’s wish list, masquerading as a Conservative party broadcast, being read out by Her Majesty in Westminster, was utterly dependent on what was happening in Brussels with Brexit. Brexit, not this Government, will dictate fiscal strategy. It is clear to me that the Prime Minister is refusing to listen to the voices of those on the frontline of public services who are telling him and all of us how damaging his Government’s reckless strategy will be.
The Prime Minister is pretending and telling us that his Government are the guardians of law and order when it was his party that slashed police officer numbers. Under the austerity agenda, for the last decade, his party has systematically under-resourced the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and legal aid. It has also closed courtrooms, including in my constituency, Bedford, leading to delays of years in cases coming to trial.
The Home Secretary claims that a law billed as a crackdown on foreign criminals would make the UK safer, but this dog-whistle policy, which is estimated to cost the taxpayer about £100 million a year once it kicks in, would apply to only about 10 people a year. Terrorism, cyber-crime and other serious and organised forms of crime have no borders. We rely on working with our European counterparts and joint working with EU police forces to keep our country safe. That is where the Government’s focus needs to be in order to keep the public safe, not on vanity projects that appeal to populist sentiment.
For years, Bedfordshire police begged the Government for more funding. I will not forget that only a year ago the former chief constable of Bedfordshire police told me and this Government that in his 35 years as a police officer, he had never seen such high demand on his force, yet he had to deal with a surge in serious violent crime with fewer officers than he had in 2010 and with a £47 million budget cut. He simply could not find enough officers to attend all 999 calls. Since then the Bedfordshire police force has received more funding, the brunt of the cost of which will be shouldered by taxpayers through the council tax precept. They will see only 54 new officers in the next two years, but that will not even replace those lost or who will soon be retiring. It falls very short of the 440 police officers and 80 detectives that the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire says our county force needs.
It is a similar story with the hollow promises for our NHS. NHS England has made it clear that core treatment targets cannot be met within the funding settlement offered by the Government. How many more times will this Tory Government promise to bring forward proposals to improve social care and then produce absolutely nothing? We need urgent action, not empty words, reviews or vague proposals. The Tory cuts have hit funding by an average of 9% per person since 2010, leaving the social care system close to collapse. Social care services cannot continue to be the victim of political turbulence. Hundreds of thousands of older people, many living in poverty and loneliness, have already suffered years of inaction and broken promises.
The Prime Minister cannot be trusted on the NHS. His grand announcements collapse under scrutiny. The Prime Minister promised 40 new hospitals but will deliver only six new buildings or refurbs—and that is only if they win not just this election but the one to follow. It is totally unclear what criteria were used for which hospitals would receive extra funding, but in the Bedford, Luton and Dunstable merger, Bedford Hospital got nothing from the £99.5 million proposed investment. Next to nothing is being done to address the severe staffing crisis at all levels of the NHS. Bedford Hospital had to recruit 237 nurses from the other side of the world to fill vacancies that were largely left by EU nurses leaving because they feared for their future in the UK.
The Prime Minister’s hints at rail reforms also strike a hollow ring with my constituents, who have experienced a severe reduction in services. Thousands of my constituents who moved to Bedford because of the fast train services to London and the north have been let down. Commuters from Bedford face almost daily misery because of unreliable services. Rail privatisation has failed completely. No one is fooled by a commercial model. What is needed is an integrated system run by the people for the people.
The Queen’s Speech is a sham. Much of it is not even new policy. There is no plan, no vision and no honesty about the state of crisis in our public services. The Prime Minister may want to distract us from Brexit by trying to focus on fixing the public services that his Government decimated, but it is his Government who are making a mess of everything.
It is a pleasure to follow Mohammad Yasin. One area on which I certainly agree with him is that I think the Queen’s Speech was clearly a party political broadcast for the Conservatives. I was inclined to think, as I read it, that perhaps Her Majesty should bill Conservative central office for services rendered. There are three areas I would like to touch on, and which I was disappointed were not covered in the Queen’s Speech, even though I am quite sure that after the election there will be a completely different one.
The first area relates to the WASPI women. As has already been said, some are in Parliament today talking to a number of MPs. I have been very involved with the issue ever since my re-election in 2017. We all understand the challenges and the issues around the extension of the retirement age. We understand the rationale behind it. I was just disappointed that the Government did not use the opportunity in the Queen’s Speech to at least come up with some compensation and money that could perhaps assuage the frustration, anxiety and anger that a lot of WASPI women feel. I have been pressing the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman for nine months or so to conduct an inquiry into maladministration. I will keep pressing, but I regret there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech that recognised the frustration and anger felt by many millions of WASPI women around the country.
There are two more areas that I would like to concentrate on. I have been here since the beginning of the debate—a joy of six hours—and originally the Home Secretary was on the Front Bench. I am very disappointed that two areas in particular that are covered by her Department were not touched on in the Queen’s Speech: the first is to do with injustice and the second with the public’s lack of trust.
Colleagues may not be aware that a British citizen who is affected by an act of terror does not automatically get the support from the Government, either legally or otherwise—including through legal aid—that a French citizen would. If someone is a French citizen, the French state immediately moves in to look after and protect them and provide legal aid, so that as they go through the coroner’s inquiry they are absolutely supported. We do not get that as British citizens and that is an anomaly. As we saw recently in the London Bridge and Westminster attacks and the Manchester bombing, British citizens who are affected by an act of terror often have to crowdfund so that they can be represented adequately and properly at the inquiries. That is completely wrong.
I have been pressing this issue for a while, including through an early-day motion—I thank many colleagues across the House and across parties who supported it—urging the Home Secretary and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that British citizens who are affected by acts of terror should be properly looked after and protected, both legally and otherwise. I am also well aware that many hundreds of thousands of people have supported this campaign on change.org. I was disappointed that such a measure was not in the Queen’s Speech. After the election, when there is another Queen’s Speech, I urge whoever is in government to look at that. Who knows? Maybe it will be the Lib Dems—I am one of nature’s optimists, folks.
On the lack of trust, I appreciate that the Home Secretary talked about the additional funds that were promised in the Queen’s Speech, but, again, I will believe that only after the election, because I think that that is just flannel at the minute. None the less, there is an understanding across the House that we need more police. It has now been around 60 or 70 years since the last police royal commission—since there was an independent exploration by a royal commission of what we want our police to do. Policing has changed hugely in the intervening period. Every Government tweak things here and there, cut this, expand that, promise the earth and often do not deliver, and I believe that it is time for another royal commission.
I offer the Government that suggestion in the spirit of optimism, because I think it makes for good politics. I say to both Front-Bench teams: the public no longer trust politicians on policing—I mean all parties, and I am not casting any particular aspersions. They have lost that trust, so I urge both Front-Bench teams to implement a police royal commission. It would be independent— I would have no politicians or tabloid press on it, and I would have it properly exploring exactly what policing should look like and how it should be funded for the next 40 or 50 years. Then, whichever Government are in charge should implement that report, and I believe that that would improve policing and the public’s trust in the police.
My speech is short, but after 34 years as a teacher and headteacher, it comes from the heart.
The “I have a Dream” speech has already been owned by someone far greater than me, but what about beginning by asking everyone to imagine—with thanks to John Lennon? Imagine a future national education service whose central aim is to reduce inequality and which delivers Sure Start Plus and gives every child and their family proper support in the critical early years. What about no formal education until the age of seven so that children can play and explore, which we know enables them to become powerful learners and problem solvers while doing wonders for their wellbeing and resilience? Imagine adequately funding education and training at all ages and all levels. Imagine if that education and training was free at the point of use and throughout life.
Imagine ensuring learners with special educational needs and their families were adequately supported throughout their lives. Imagine a curriculum that is rich, exciting and prepares every child for work and relationships. Imagine ending high-stakes testing in early years and primary schools, ending selection through the 11-plus and removing charitable status and other tax perks for private schools. Imagine ending the academy and free schools programmes and restoring local, democratic accountability in education. Imagine school and college buildings that are purpose built, low carbon and energy efficient. Imagine reforming the current accountability system, including the current Ofsted inspection regime. Imagine how much happier and less stressed teachers and children would be. Imagine if teachers’ professional opinions were respected. Imagine if they were trusted to be the professionals they are.
Instead, what do we have? The Queen’s Speech reduced the Government’s plans for education to a single line:
“Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work.”
Great—but how? How will the Government achieve this, when they are unwilling to spend the money, unwilling to listen to professionals and unwilling to reform the failing system? In my constituency, only two schools have not experienced a shortfall in funding since 2015. Over two thirds of schools have seen a funding cut of more than £150 per pupil since 2015, with seven schools having lost over £400. These schools need funding urgently.
In the spending review a few weeks ago the Government promised a £7 billion funding increase. Of course I welcome this increase, or any increase, quite frankly—we’ll take what we can—but it is not enough. Not every school will see a real-terms rise, and even with the extra cash, the School Cuts coalition has found that four in five state schools will still be financially worse off next year than they were in 2015. So forgive my scepticism. The Government are not doing enough to make a difference.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope others will join me so that our education can be free and equal for everyone, as part of a truly comprehensive future—a national education service that we do not just imagine but which under a Labour Government we deliver.
I want to start by placing on record my respect and appreciation for Her Majesty the Queen. She has conducted herself with professionalism and as always has given the country stability. So imagine somebody with that ethos being abused in such a way by this British Prime Minister. He misled her into proroguing Parliament by sending the Leader of the House up to Scotland to mislead and direct her and then used her for what was essentially a party political broadcast, knowing full well that after turfing out over 20 Tory MPs, he did not have the majority to get the business through anyway.
The Government will say, “It’s not about politics; it’s about policy, so why not get behind these important ideas?” They are so important that their Benches are empty. Where are the Conservative MPs? I can see two on the Back Benches, but I am guessing they are from the Whips Office or Parliamentary Private Secretaries. [Interruption.] They are PPSs. This is so important—it is their radical programme for Government—and not a single Back Bencher is here to support it. There are reasons for that: first, because of the chaos outside, as the Prime Minister ducks and dives his way around the country, and secondly because they know, as we do, that this is pie in the sky. There is no way that it is going to happen.
The Queen does not, of course, give her personal views on Prime Ministers, but I wonder what she would make of her 14th Prime Minister, and how he might compare with the first, Winston Churchill. They are polar opposites, in terms of status and the way the country is being led in very difficult circumstances.
The Queen’s Speech could have been an opportunity to set out the state of the nation and the issues that are affecting it. Let me begin with local government. It is not possible to build decent public services if the very foundations on which they were based are, in many cases, broken beyond repair. We cannot escape the fact that more than 800,000 members of local government staff have been sacked on the watch of this Government and the previous coalition, thrown on to the scrapheap as if they were not important and did not add value. We cannot ignore the fact that 60p in every pound has been taken from council spending, or the fact that adult social care is in crisis, with a million people not receiving the home care that they need and deserve. We have seen neighbourhood services taken to the brink—and the Government wonder why the public are angry. They have a right to be angry when their youth and community centres are closing, knife crime is going through the roof and libraries are shutting.
Let us talk about crime. The Conservatives will say that they are the party of law and order. Well, that is interesting. Let us look at the facts. Twenty thousand police officers have been lost nationally, and in Greater Manchester 2,000 have been taken off the streets, as have 1,000 support staff who helped them to do their job. Police stations have closed in Chadderton, Royton and Limeside. A town of a quarter of a million people now has not a single custody cell. The magistrates court was demolished last month, and the county court has been closed. So what about law and order? We have a crisis in magistrate recruitment in Greater Manchester. Even if we employ those extra police officers, where are the police stations that they will work from? Where are the vehicles that they will drive? Where are the custody cells in which to lock up the bad guys, and where are the judges to make sure that justice is served? They just do not exist. It is all pie in the sky.
Let us look at schools. If we want Britain to thrive after Brexit, which is what we are told by the Government, surely the foundation for this country is critical, and what more foundation could we have than our young people? But when we see how much money has been taken away from early-years, primary and secondary education, from education for those with special educational needs and from sixth-form and other colleges, we see the truth of this Government. They want the country to be run on the cheap, because they do not value the people who live here. Young people who are growing up in Oldham deserve a better lot than is being offered by this Government. Ministers can laugh and they can scoff, but let them look at the unemployment levels in my town, look at the economy of my town, and look at the high street along which the people are walking. Shutters are down and there are boards on the windows, because this Government have no plan for this country. The high street is so important, and it was not even mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. Housing is so important, and it was not even mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. There is no vision for this country; it is all about electioneering.
Because I care about the economic foundation of this country. I have seen what a decade of austerity has done to my town. [Interruption.]
If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the economic governance from this side of the House, why is he is so resistant, and why is his party so resistant, to the idea of a general election? Does he even want to come into Parliament for another debate on Saturday? The impression I get is that the Opposition do not want that either.
We can say Saturday, we can say Sunday, we can say for the next two years as far as I am concerned. We are here to do a job of work, and we will not be shy. One thing about the working classes is that we know the value of work and the importance of work, and it does not matter to us if we turn up on a Saturday or a Sunday if it means getting the job done. As for the reason why we do not want an election, we do not trust this Prime Minister any more than the Queen could trust this Prime Minister. We cannot afford, in my town, the economic damage of crashing out without a deal, but that is what we are facing today. We have heard promise after promise that a deal will be coming, and where is that deal? At the eleventh hour, there is still no deal, and the Conservatives are still pushing for a general election in this chaos of their own making. It is absolutely scandalous and a failure of government for this country.
I need to make progress now. The Parliamentary Private Secretary has earned his place; I am sure there is a promotion on the way very soon, and rightly so as he deserves it.
What about rebuilding our economy in a fair way? What about having a co-operative economy where those who create the wealth get to keep the value of what they have created, rather than it being sent offshore to tax havens and shareholders that have no stake in the community where that money is being generated? There was not a mention of co-operatives or mutuals; not a mention of trying to reset the economic and social contract of this country. There is no vision, there is no Government—and actually I do want a general election, but let’s get this nonsense out of the way first.
It is a pleasure to follow the passionate speech of my hon. Friend Jim McMahon, and he is right: this is not a Queen’s Speech that has been written for the good of the country; this is a Queen’s Speech that has been written by pollsters for a Government who are governed by pollsters, not by the people.
When the Prime Minister talks of the people’s priorities, how has he divined them? Not by going out and assessing the state of the country—the needs of our communities and the needs of people who need Government most. It has been done by polling; it is Cambridge Analytica brought to Government. The priorities that he claims are the priorities that people have identified off lists from commercial organisations who are polling them. It is not about what is going to fix our country; this Queen’s Speech is about what makes headlines.
But there are two very serious problems with that. The first is that even where the priorities are identified, there is no substance to the promises behind them, and the other is that if something does not come up on the list—if it is not popular enough to make headlines—it is forgotten. These include things like poverty; that was not mentioned once in the Queen’s Speech. When we brought it up with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at the Select Committee this morning she denied that Government policy has an impact on poverty; this is a Government in denial. There is a whole list of important issues that Members from across the House have raised this afternoon that this Government should be acting on—homelessness and housing and the leasehold scandal that is facing my constituents. This Government have all the information they need to act, but they have not done so. Why not? Because it is difficult; it is a difficult problem to tackle.
That is why I am so proud that Labour has put together a manifesto that is built on costed policies. It is built on raising income tax and corporation tax where we need it—not on £9 billion of tax cuts for the richest 10% of the country and then pretending we can fiddle some money into public services on the side. It just does not work; we know it and the people know it.
So even where policing is highlighted, with extra police coming in—we all agree with that: Derbyshire has seen 300 police officers cut from our streets and over 400 PCSOs and support staff that we desperately needed—what have we got? This year we have 85 police being recruited. That is great, but it takes a long time to recruit police these days. At the end of three years we are not even going to see the same numbers of police that we had in 2010, let alone all those PCSOs and support staff. This is happening at a time when the lack of police has helped to let county lines gangs run wild around all our streets. Even in my rural area of High Peak that is happening to our young people. We are seeing crime rising—burglaries, crime from across the counties. Criminals are coming in and our police do not have the manpower and resources to tackle it.
The Prime Minister has said that schools will get more funding, but the £2.2 million of cuts that the 50 schools in my constituency have seen over the last four years are not going to go away; at the end of another four years they are still going to be in the same position. Yes, the tables will have been slightly jiggled around. Yes, some of the smallest five schools in my constituency, the smallest 10%, will have seen a small increase, but 99% of their children will be at a school that will see its funding cut yet again.
On the health service, we have been told for over a year that the Government are going to be putting £20 billion into our NHS and into supporting local health services. In Derbyshire, we are seeing £320 million cut from our clinical commissioning group. Every single health service will be affected, from mental health to GPs, primary care, walk-in centres and hospitals—everything is being affected by those cuts.
This is just about headlines; there is no substance to it. All the important things that keep the fabric of our society together—early years provision, youth workers, libraries and buses—are being cut as if they do not matter, because they do not matter to the Government. This Government do not rely on buses. They do not seem to need to take their children to a nursery or a Sure Start centre to support them through poverty. Health visitors have been cut to the bone, as have school nurses, who are supporting our young people when they cannot get access to child and adolescent mental health services because the waiting list is a year long, and that is only for those who have tried to commit suicide. That is the level of cuts to our public services.
The Government must invest in those areas as a priority, rather than making headlines based on polling or sitting there pontificating and calling for a general election based on rhetoric around Brexit. We want an election that is based on policy and on what we are going to do for this country. That is why the Government will not have a people’s vote on Brexit or an election on what really matters.
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful speech from my hon. Friend Ruth George.
A considerable number of media and political commentators have waxed lyrical about the nature and content of the Queen’s Speech—an opportunity for the Prime Minister to put forward a bold and ambitious programme for Britain, and to unite our brilliant country and focus on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to our constituents. It has been a failure on both counts. It has been a cynical exercise, using our constitution to peddle hollow soundbites and recycled Bills that will be exposed as froth in the thick of a general election. This stuffed parrot Government with a minus 45 majority have made a hollow wish-list to create a miracle and bring the dead parrot Prime Minister to life. It will not do that; it will never be delivered.
From Prime Minister Cameron to Prime Minister May and now Prime Minister Johnson, the Tory civil war on Europe that used to be a minority obsession has been inflicted on the nation and divided the people with the fog of Brexit. Yet when I visit, as many people in this Chamber do, local pubs, cafés, schools and employers, I find that they would like a different conversation. They would like to see a Government who are on their side, with an agenda that offers hope to current and future generations. They want to see a Government who will start to repair the real damage of nine failed years that have seen our public services devastated by cuts—the political choice, the Tory choice of austerity.
I wanted to see measures in the Queen’s Speech that would—[Interruption.] Does the Under-Secretary want to intervene? Graham Stuart should stand up if he wants to intervene! Stand up! I will start again. I wanted to see measures in the Queen’s Speech that would transform public services right throughout Weaver Vale. Instead, I have seen brilliant schools such as Helsby High School in my constituency have its funding cut by £1.6 million by 2020. One school—£1.6 million! Parents have seen the letters, and hard-pressed teachers and staff have felt more than a financial pinch as posts are left unfilled and support services are cut. It is not quite the same story for Weaverham High School in the Northwich part of my constituency, because things are even worse. Beyond the hollow spin of this Government in name only, the reality for this great comprehensive school is £2 million-worth of cuts by 2020—shameful. This is not an agenda of education, education, education, but cut, cut and cut again.
Turning to policing, the Government’s record is, quite frankly, criminal: 21,000 police officers cut, over 6,000 police community support officers cut, and 600 police stations shut down. What will be the impact of the measures outlined in the Queen’s Speech on my constituency? The whole of Cheshire will have a new target of 90 recruits. This is the same force that has seen frontline police officers cut by 149. Fewer police and support staff equals more crime, and that is according to the Government’s own figures. A Prime Minister who tells porkies to the Queen is telling porkies to the electorate—
Order. I do not want to make too much drama out of this, but it will be better if the hon. Gentleman rewinds 30 seconds and rephrases what he said was said to Her Majesty.
How does the newly proclaimed Tory love affair with the NHS play out in my constituency? This is the same party that voted 22 times against the founding of the NHS. Halton General Hospital is on its knees, and this Government have twice turned down capital funding for its dilapidated building while trying to privatise the urgent care centre. Moving over to Northwich, the Victoria Infirmary is equally in need of capital investment. However, neither hospital will be the beneficiary of the minimal national programme of six promised rebuilds—not a jot, not a penny from this sham of a Queen’s Speech.
In preparation for today, I spoke to two council leaders in my patch. With all the talk of austerity being over, they told me that funding is not coming their way any time soon—60p in the pound cut. It is time for a change. It is time for a new Government. It really is time for Labour.
There are few issues more pressing for my constituents than the state of their public services after a near decade of austerity. This summer, I heard from too many parents struggling to access one of the most basic public services: education for their children. It is a free service, but it carries costs, such as the spiralling costs of school uniform and gym kit, which can leave parents facing a three-figure annual bill. Single suppliers can exploit a lack of alternatives and are driving up prices. For example, adding a logo to school trousers can raise the price by 75%.
It is now four years since the previous Chancellor promised to tackle such practices by issuing statutory guidance for schools on uniforms, yet there was no sign of such a Bill in Monday’s speech. The Government also referred to the school uniform grant, which is advertised on the Department’s website, but it is for local authorities to decide what they offer and to foot the bill at a time when they are barely funded enough to run their core services.
Ministers have admitted to me that they do not even collate data on where the grants are provided, so this summer I decided to do their job for them. I conducted a large-scale research project surveying every first-tier local authority in England to assess the availability of the grant. Some 99% have now responded and the results are, frankly, quite shocking.
Over 80% of first-tier local authorities now provide no school uniform grant at all. The scheme was legislated for by a Conservative Government in 1980 and is still advertised by this Government as if it is nationally available. In truth, it is now available to just a small minority. Just 27 of 149 councils now provide grants, and a third of those only do so in emergency situations such as a fire or flood. Only three councils now offer a grant to low-income children in all school years and in all situations.
Even among councils that still offer the grant, there have been drastic declines in the number issued and the amounts provided. Lincolnshire County Council, for example, issued only three grants last year, totalling just £153.68. The number of grants issued has fallen by 71% since 2010, and spending is down by 68%.
Time after time, I heard that the cuts were the cause. It is no surprise that two thirds of councils that recorded having ended the scheme did so after 2010. No council in the north-east now provides a grant. A grant is provided by just one council in the whole of the south and the east of England, and by only three in the midlands. The average grant offered in 2018 was less than a sixth of the average cost of a uniform. Just one council, Islington, offered the full £150 that is often promoted as the standard sum.
The school uniform grant is meant to be a lifeline for families across the country who are struggling to meet the rising cost of sending their children to school, but the cuts have left the vast majority without that support. Quite simply, it has been abolished by stealth.
The Children’s Society recently found that nearly 2 million children now attend school in badly fitting, unclean or incorrect clothing, and that one in 10 families report getting into debt to buy school clothes. It is just not good enough to fob us off, as Ministers have done, with the suggestion that schools should stockpile second-hand clothes for pupils.
Families are being squeezed between rising costs and the lack of support to help them, and both lie directly at this Government’s door. They will not step in to tackle private sector providers that exploit parents. They have dragged their feet for four years, and this week we have seen the announcement of yet another legislative programme with no sign of the suitable opportunity for which they say they are waiting.
As I have shown today, it is on the Government’s watch that struggling parents have lost the lifeline that once existed to help them. Parents have waited long enough. This Government must bring forward a Bill, and it must become an Act by next summer because it is acts, not words, that count.
It is a real pleasure to speak in this rolling debate on the Conservatives’ latest taxpayer-funded party political broadcast. Let us be clear that that is what Monday was about. It was not about bringing our public services back from the brink after nearly a decade of Tory austerity; it was not about, at best, putting police numbers back up to pre-2010 levels; and it was not about investing in our communities that have been shown nothing but neglect under the Prime Minister and his two immediate predecessors. No, it was about the Prime Minister using Her Majesty the Queen to give us a sneak peek at the Conservative party manifesto.
With an ever diminishing majority at minus 45 and a sterling record of success on winning votes in this place, the only thing of which we can be sure is that we cannot trust the Prime Minister to deliver anything he promises in this Queen’s Speech.
If we set aside how we have reached this farcical point—if we forget all the procedural quirks and parliamentary game-playing that has led us here—there is one thing the Prime Minister has forgotten: the people. He says that the Queen’s Speech sets out the people’s priorities, yet when we look behind the headlines and the bluff and bluster that seems to surround everything the Prime Minister does, what are we left with? A set of pie-in-the-sky priorities that I have no doubt will not be delivered by our resident wolf in sheep’s clothing. A Government with a majority of minus 45 will promise the earth and get re-elected. The magic money tree, so lauded as a stick to bash Labour with at every opportunity, has received the JCB-full of fertiliser that it needs—not to start rebuilding our country, but to keep the Prime Minister in power.
My constituents in Ogmore, the people of Wales and the communities up and down our United Kingdom deserve better than the self-serving behaviour we are seeing from the Prime Minister. It is not even a matter of my disagreeing with the whole content of the Queen’s Speech; instead, it is a matter of trust. My communities in Ogmore know that the Prime Minister’s pledge to put 20,000 extra police on our streets is worth as much as the £350 million a week that he promised for the NHS on the side of his big red bus, or even the 40 new hospitals in England that have turned out to be just six. The list goes on and on.
The fact is that the thin slices of funding that Wales has been given to invest in public services since 2010 have rapidly become crumbs, and now, despite a sea of warm words and vacuous promises, even those crumbs are running out. My constituents were told more than a year ago that austerity was over, yet they continue to see prices rising while their wages are stagnating and their local services are pushed to breaking point. The Welsh Government, under the leadership of both Carwyn Jones and Mark Drakeford, have used every lever at their disposal to counter the Tories’ raid on our public finances, but nearly a decade on, and four years after David Cameron’s original austerity drive was meant to have ended, Welsh public services and the communities we serve are still feeling the full brunt of the Government’s economic incompetence.
Even if the recently announced funding is delivered, the Welsh Government’s budget will still be £300 million lower than it was in 2010, and that is even with the additional funding that the Government have now announced. So, even by 2020, the Conservatives would still not have put budgets back to the levels they were at in 2010, a decade ago. That is the truly astonishing part of all this: this pre-election distraction will not lift our country back to where it was on public service funding under the previous Labour Government in 2010. That is aside from any long-term economic plan for delivering public services. It is not just a number on a spreadsheet; it is £300 million a year less to spend on public services than we had in 2010—in Wales alone.
When we take into account inflation, our ageing and growing population, and the new challenges that our digital economy brings, we can see that our communities have been left to wither on the vine, while tax cuts for high earners railroad their way down the tracks.