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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.