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Public Services

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole 4:15 pm, 16th October 2019

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.