It is a great honour for me to open this debate on the Loyal Address. In Her Majesty’s jubilee year, I want to thank her for her dedication and service to our country, the Commonwealth and all its people. That includes young immigrants arriving on these shores, who feel her warmth and generosity; of course, some of them end up as her Ministers. I also thank Prince Charles and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, for opening Parliament on her behalf.
During Her Majesty’s 70-year reign, this country has been the best place in the world to grow up and grow old, yet during these seven decades the British people have overcome major challenges, time and time again. We have just lived through what I am sure you will agree has been an incredibly difficult period, Madam Deputy Speaker. After years of sacrifice by people up and down the country, this Queen’s Speech focuses our attention exactly where it should be—on the future.
The future, full of promise, will not be without its challenges, both at home and overseas. Our country needed a Queen’s Speech that rises to the scale of the challenge we face, and we have delivered it. Our communities needed a Queen’s Speech that keeps them safe, secure and prosperous, and we will deliver it. Our constituents needed a Queen’s Speech that shows them that the door of opportunity is always open to them, and we will deliver it. Our relentless focus is on delivery, delivery, delivery.
Before I outline how our legislative programme will make sure that this country remains the best place to grow up and grow old, I reaffirm this Government’s solidarity with the people of Ukraine. I am pleased to say that all Ukrainian children and young people arriving in the United Kingdom have the right to access state education while in the UK. With memories of my own childhood, leaving Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and building a new life here, I know how important education is to helping young people integrate into their new communities.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that there is no better place in the world to live than this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—always better together. Can he confirm that through the Government’s policies and this Queen’s Speech, every step will be taken to ensure that every child in this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland achieves academic success; to improve the health system for every person who is on the waiting list; and to help every elderly person who depends on a better income for energy, food and heat?
I think the hon. Gentleman speaks for the whole of Northern Ireland when he says that the focus has to be on the education, healthcare and public services that the people of Northern Ireland so badly need.
Not only do we need to make sure that Ukrainian refugees are well integrated, but we need to give them the same skills that we are giving our children, so that they can take on the challenges of the future.
Not only do we need to make sure that Ukrainian refugees are well integrated, but we need to give them the same skills that we are giving our children, so that they can take on the challenges of the future. I want to take this opportunity to commend schools and local authorities across England for rising to the challenge of welcoming and supporting children arriving from Ukraine, and offering thousands of them a school place, in the same schools that are at the heart of our plans to level up. One of the first Bills introduced this Session, in the other place, is the Schools Bill, which will deliver a stronger schools system that works for every child, no matter where they were born or live in our country. It will work alongside close to £5 billion of investment in our ambitious multi-year educational recovery plan, investing in what we know works: teacher training; tutoring; and extra educational opportunities, including of course extra hours for those who have the least time left in education—the 16 to 19-year-old students.
The evidence is clear that our plan is working and the recovery is happening, with primary pupils recovering about 0.1 months in reading and 0.9 months in maths since the summer. Combined with our £7 billion cash increase in the total core schools budget by 2024-25—this is compared not with 10 years ago but with 2021-22—this means we are giving schools the resources they need to focus on student outcomes. It is money that will help schools increase teachers’ pay, including by delivering on our manifesto pledge of a £30,000 starting salary. This is money that will help schools deliver resources for students and meet inflationary pressures in these uncertain times.
However, there is more to do, because too many children leave primary school unable to meet the expected standards in reading, writing and mathematics, despite the remarkable progress in the past decade. Through our Bill, 90% of primary school children will achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas, which need the most help, will have increased by more than a third. To meet our ambitious targets, the Schools Bill will go further, taking steps to make children safe and addressing standards in attendance, with this all underpinned by a fairer and stronger schools system. Because our best multi-academy trusts—those families of schools—are delivering improvement in schools and in areas where poor performance had become entrenched, by 2030 we want all schools either to be in a strong multi-academy trust or to have plans to join or form one.
The Secretary of State is making a powerful point. Is he aware that in my area the strong Odyssey Trust for Education, which runs the successful Townley Grammar School for girls, is already ahead of the game on this one and has taken over the failing Erith School and made it King Henry School, and is determined to make it a great success?
I certainly am aware of the Odyssey Trust for Education, and indeed it is exactly that passion for transforming young people’s lives that we need on this journey; I know that that school and many other grammar schools—I believe it is 90 of the 165 grammar schools—have already joined those families of schools and will do the same.
Our ambitions are for all children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, who may need additional support, to reach their potential. The SEND and alternative provision Green Paper, published in March, sets out our ambitions for children and young people with SEND. Our proposals will build a more inclusive and financially sustainable system that delivers the right support in the right place at the right time for every child and young person. We want to establish a new single national SEND and alternative provision system and are investing now to secure future sustainability for that system. We have also set out clear roles and responsibilities, and of course accountability measures, for everybody working in the SEND and alternative provision sector. That includes the new national and local inclusion dashboards to give a timely, transparent picture of how the system is performing across education, health and care, which is what parents have asked us to do.
Children and young people are the future of our country, but they cannot succeed if they are not safe and secure at home. That is why under my stewardship the Department for Education has been laser-focused on families. With strong families, we can make a fairer society, one in which children can escape the quicksand of disadvantage. With strong families, we can help to ensure that every child can grow up happy and of course with that vital opportunity. We are taking steps to strengthen families. We are funding 75 local authorities—half of England’s local authorities—with the highest levels of child deprivation to create family hubs and transform that support for families. Our investment includes a focus on babies, children and families in the early years, with funding for breastfeeding, parenting and parent-infant mental health services. Where families need more help, we have expanded the supporting families programme so that up to 300,000 families with more complex needs can work with a key worker to help to resolve problems.
Safety is at the heart of what so many parents think of when they send their child into these settings, and I welcome the family help. Last week a child died in a nursery in my constituency, and I send my heartfelt condolences to the family. It must be a heartbreaking time. Ten years ago two other constituents lost their child, Millie, in a nursery. Dan and Joanne Thompson set up Millie’s Trust in her name, and now Millie’s Mark accredits staff in nurseries who have paediatric first aid training. Does my right hon. Friend agree that safety in nurseries and other childcare settings is vital and that paediatric first aid is vital so that members of staff know how to deal with these emergencies? Would he join me in—
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on Millie’s Mark, and of course child safety in nurseries is vital and non-negotiable. I am grateful to her for bringing that accreditation to the House’s attention.
As I was saying, where families need additional help we have expanded the Supporting Families programme so that those 300,000 families with more complex needs can work with a key worker to help to resolve problems.
I will just make a bit more headway, then I will take the hon. Lady’s intervention with pleasure.
To improve the lives and outcomes of children with a social worker, we need to make fundamental changes to the current system. I look forward to seeing the recommendations from the independent review of children’s social care—the MacAlister review—which will be published in the coming weeks. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve outcomes for children and families. This Government are acutely aware of how important childcare is to both children and their mums and dads. In each of the past three years we have spent in excess of £3.5 billion a year on our early education entitlements, and we will continue to support families with their childcare costs. At the spending review last October we announced additional funding for early years entitlements worth £160 million in 2022-23, £180 million in 2023-24 and £170 million in 2024-25 compared with the 2021-22 financial year.
Providing quality childcare is vital for children to develop from the earliest opportunity, but there is another point to all this. We know that women are the most likely to shoulder high childcare costs. The aim of the Government’s universal credit childcare offer is to support parents for whom paid childcare is a barrier to work to overcome that barrier. This works alongside tax-free childcare, helping parents return to work and making sure it pays to work. For every £8 that parents pay into their childcare account, we add £2, up to a maximum of £2,000, in top-up per year for each child up to the age of 11, and up to £4,000 per disabled child until they are 17. Overall, the Government have spent more than £4 billion on childcare each year for the past five years in the United Kingdom through childcare offers led by the Department for Education, tax-free childcare and employer-supported childcare. Addressing the issue means that women can, if they wish, go back to their careers. That is fair to them and it is good for business and the economy.
Our long-term economic success will turn on our ability to nurture and utilise talent, including that of new mothers. Human potential—human capital—is the most important resource on earth. To steal a phrase from my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, the Chair of the Education Committee, we are determined to build a skills-rich economy. We are committed to delivering those skills through massive investment in and reforms to skills and further education provision.
We have already embarked on revolutionising the post-16 education sector, transforming apprenticeships, driving up quality and better meeting the skills needs of employers through more flexible training models. We have launched T-levels, boosting access to high-quality technical education for thousands of young people, and, of course, creating our skilled workforce of the future. I pledge to the House that I will make T-levels as famous as A-levels—watch this space. In the previous parliamentary Session, we successfully passed the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 to do just that. That Act, alongside our wider reforms, including an additional £3.8 billion investment in skills over this Parliament, rightly places employers at the heart of the skills system, supporting our ambition for everyone to be able to access the training that they need to move into highly skilled jobs. There is, of course, a crucial role for our universities in making sure that our country remains the best place in which to grow up and, given the link to future earnings and opportunities, to grow old.
We will bring forward further legislation through a higher education reform Bill to ensure that our post-18 education system promotes real social mobility, is financially sustainable and will support people to get the skills they need to meet their career aspirations and help grow the economy.
I made that pledge to the Education Committee a few weeks ago. We are looking at how we deliver on that.
As I was saying, we will introduce further legislation through the higher education reform Bill to ensure that our post-18 education system promotes real social mobility and, as the hon. Lady has just said, is financially sustainable.
Alongside that, we are meeting our manifesto commitment to challenge any restriction of lawful speech and academic freedom. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will strengthen existing freedom of speech duties and will directly address gaps within the law, including the lack of a clear enforcement mechanism.
For both universities and technical education, one of the most important policies that we are implementing as part of the Skills and Post-16 Education Act is the paradigm shifting lifelong loan entitlement. A new and flexible skills system, it will provide people with an entitlement equivalent to four years of post-18 education, to be used over their lifetime in modules or as a whole, and is worth £37,000 in today’s money. We are writing a new chapter—no, we are writing a new book in skills education. The entitlement will give people the ability to train, retrain and upskill in response to changes in skills needs and employment patterns. In a dynamic economy in which sectors can be crushed and reborn in double time, that has to be our priority.
The world is different now from how it was when I entered the world of work and business. It is different now compared with when I became an MP 12 years ago. We must not only keep up with a changing world but lead the change, and the Queen’s Speech lays out how we will do that. As I said at the start of my speech, we are focused on delivering against the ambitious targets that we have set ourselves across skills, schools and families, and on holding ourselves to account against them. The sharing of our plans and performance data is a key lever to drive rapid improvement through the complex systems we oversee.
The Secretary of State talks about skills, which are so important. Does he recognise the real crisis we face with skills in the health service, and particularly the number of people we lack as regards the prevention and treatment of cancer? Will he and his friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who is sat next to him, consider the amendment on the Order Paper in my name, which calls for a strategy to tackle the cancer backlog? More than a third of my constituents with cancer are waiting more than two months for their first treatment.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and have a couple of things to say in response. First, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will address this, but I know that his priority—his laser-like focus—is on dealing with the backlog. There is also investment in Cumbria and the University of Cumbria for clinical training and the needs of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
As I said at the start of my speech, I am focused on delivery. I am passionate in my belief that performance data is a key lever to drive rapid improvement through complex systems, whether in education or in health. On transparency, as we did with the vaccine we will do the same again with education and health. I have committed to publishing a delivery plan setting out what we will achieve and a performance dashboard showing progress so that the House and the country can hold us to account. I have already written to all schools stating that we will publish data on the uptake of the national tutoring programme this summer. Many schools have helpfully given us access to their attendance data, and I am conducting a trial over the coming weeks to share that data back in a way that prompts helpful actions in schools and local authorities.
The spirit with which our education sector responded to the pandemic demonstrated why this is the best country to grow up in.
The Secretary of State is talking about the best place for young people to grow up; will he explain why not a single placement of special provision for children at risk is available throughout the country, as my constituent is experiencing right now?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. That is partly why the MacAlister review of children’s social care is so important. I shall say more on that in the coming weeks.
Let me return to praising the incredible spirit of our education frontline: those brilliant teachers, school leaders and, of course, support staff—we must never forget the support staff—demonstrated why this is the best country to grow up in. We see that spirit across our public and private sector, including, of course, in the work of the national health service with our great vaccine companies, which has led the way in protecting lives and livelihoods in the battle against covid. Thanks to the astonishing roll-out of the vaccine and booster programmes, we were the first European nation to protect half our population with at least one dose and, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the first major European nation to boost half our population, too.
Following the unprecedented challenges placed on the NHS by covid, we will spend more than £8 billion from 2022-23 to 2024-25, supported by the revenue from the health and social care levy, to clear the covid elective backlogs. But we must be honest: our NHS faces long-term challenges too, including an ageing population and people increasing living with multiple long-term conditions. At this critical moment, we must seize the opportunity to put our healthcare system on a more sustainable path for the future, while meeting the immediate urgent recovery challenges. The Health and Care Act 2022 has created the structures for that sustainable future.
At the same time, as my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will outline later, we will publish draft legislation to reform the Mental Health Act so that patients suffering from mental health conditions have greater control over their treatment and receive the dignity and respect that they deserve. I know that the NHS is an institution that makes people proud to be British. I and this entire Government share that sentiment, which is why we are safeguarding its sustainable future.
In closing, this was a Queen’s Speech filled with substantial policies, not least those that give young people the education they need to succeed in life; policies that will provide more rungs on the ladder of opportunity, and opportunity for older people who want a chance to learn and retrain; policies that put skills at the heart of our economy to unleash its potential; policies that back our public services so that they can deliver what our country needs; policies that sustain the truth that this is the best place in the world to grow up and grow old.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate on behalf of the Opposition, and to set out the contrast between a Conservative Government who have spent 12 long years failing Britain and a Labour party determined to make our country the best place to grow up and grow old.
As the Leader of the Opposition set out last week, at the heart of the Government’s programme there is a poverty of ambition for our public services, entirely inadequate for the challenges we face. We see that in the Government’s ongoing refusal to commit to a children’s recovery plan to support children after the disruption of the pandemic on anything like the scale that either their adviser, Sir Kevan Collins, or the Labour party has set out. I remain disappointed but sadly not surprised. After all, this is the Government who reopened the pubs before they reopened schools.
Twelve years in and the Conservatives are out of ideas, out of touch and out of steam. The challenges we face as a country demand vision, leadership, energy, drive and determination. Of course there are the challenges that every country faces, and now there are the challenges bequeathed by the pandemic and its legacy. But there are also the challenges brought by 12 years of Conservative failure, and what they all have in common is that every single one of them is a challenge from which this Government flinch.
A generation of children have been through the education system in this country under Conservative Governments since 2010. Their experience is the core narrative of this Government’s failure: not simply a failure to deliver, but a failure to think, a failure to plan, a failure to resource and a failure to learn. I think of what a child starting school in 2010 will have seen in that time: real-terms cuts to funding per pupil; secondary school classes at their largest for a generation; hundreds of thousands more children eligible for free school meals; school building repairs cancelled or postponed; hundreds of days lost to the pandemic; botched examinations not for one year, but two; and now this historic failure to invest in the children’s recovery plan that the Government’s own expert recommended and that our children desperately need.
The only thing on the up under this Government is child poverty. Now, as that young person looks ahead to university and the years that follow, they can see higher costs than ever before, stretching almost to retirement.
I thank the hon. Lady for drawing comparisons with what it is like to go to school under a Conservative Government. I went to school under a Labour Government. When I left my secondary school in 2005, it had a pass rate of 11% and one in three teachers were supply teachers. Was that not the real legacy of a Labour Government: a failed generation?
The last Labour Government transformed the life chances of people across our country—child poverty down, investment in our schools, schools rebuilt, teachers properly supported. That is a record of which we are very proud.
This is a generation of children let down from primary school right the way through to university, a generation of children failed by the Conservatives. I can tell you why they have been failed. The Government have stopped thinking in terms of children, people, parents and families. They have been too long in power, and they are mistaking changing institutions and regulations for improving the lives of our people.
Look at the Schools Bill, published last week. I had genuinely hoped for better, but what did we find? It is narrow in scope, hollow in ambition and thin on policy. It has 32 clauses on the governance of academies and 15 on funding arrangements. On funding, what a sorry sight it is to see a Conservative Chancellor and Secretary of State seeking plaudits merely for aiming to restore, by 2024, a level of real-terms school funding achieved by the last Labour Government, when their Government have spent a decade slicing it away.
The newspapers this weekend made it all too clear that whichever children the Secretary of State cares about, they are not always the children in England’s state schools.
We learnt that he is concerned that the success of our young people in accessing their first choice universities from England’s state schools—the schools which the vast majority of children attend and for which he is primarily responsible—is evidence of “tilting the system” away from private schools, of which, he tells us, he is “so proud”. What an extraordinary remark by the Secretary of State for Education about the success of students in state schools in this country.
If that were not enough, the next day brought further clarification. Not only does the Secretary of State appear concerned by the growing success of state-educated children in entering the universities of their choice, he is not bothered that their schools are crumbling around them. His own officials, within the last two months, have said:
“Some sites a risk-to-life, too many costly and energy-inefficient repairs rather than rebuilds, and rebuild demand three times supply”.
Children are being educated in schools that are a risk to life, and the Government have not lifted a finger.
The children of this country are being failed by an Education Secretary more interested in appealing to Conservative party members than in ensuring the success of our young people.
The hon. Lady has made two points in the last few minutes about school funding for buildings and about children from private schools. May I address both? Does the hon. Lady welcome the more than £1 million given to Carre’s Grammar School in Sleaford to improve the school buildings and facilities? I went to a comprehensive school in Middlesbrough until I was 16. Just before I was 16 I was on a walk in the hills when I met somebody who went to Gordonstoun, a brilliant public school. They gave me, an ordinary working-class girl from Middlesbrough, a scholarship, for which I am eternally grateful. Were I to have applied for Oxford University, should I have been penalised for that scholarship?
I am afraid that I did not catch most of that intervention—it was a bit hard to hear the hon. Lady—but I repeat that the last Labour Government rebuilt schools across our country. That has not been the record of the last 12 years.
The next Labour Government will build a Britain where children come first, where we put children and growing up at the heart of how we think about the future of our country, where Britain is the best place to grow up and the best place to grow old, and where young people leave education ready for work and ready for life.
Since we are all talking about when we were at school, I should point out that I am probably the only Member of the House who grew up under a Tory Government and was at school in 2010. Does my hon. Friend agree that the reality of that was class sizes that were the biggest on record and school buildings that were falling apart, and, with education maintenance allowance having been cut, all we had to look forward to was the prospect of paying £9,000 a year in tuition fees if we went to university?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The last Labour Government transformed the life chances of a generation, and it will fall to the next Labour Government to do the same. Because, in a country where we think about children as both a society and an economy of the future, we build a better Britain for everyone: a Britain of children and families where the Government work to enable and empower success and, in particular, a Britain in which the Government see the soaring cost of childcare not as a statistic to be observed but a problem to be solved. That cost is crippling: families suffer financially; children suffer socially, and our country suffers economically. When the cost of childcare, not just for our two to four-year-olds, but the whole time from the end of maternity leave to the start of secondary school—from ensuring that parents can choose, and afford, to go back to work, to affordable breakfast clubs and afterschool activities so that parents do not always need to be at the school gate—is quite literally pricing people out of parenting, children and families are being failed.
That failure is not just about the individual children and families whom the Government fail, though there are millions of them and that is bad enough; our whole country is failed when we let our children down. It is not just childcare. We see it too in the Government’s failure to face up to the damage that their mishandling of the pandemic did to the education of a generation. The Secretary of State’s failure to convince the Chancellor to invest properly in children’s recovery from the pandemic; his failure at the last spending round in the autumn; his failure in the spring statement, and his failure now—that series of failures—above all he does or says now or in the future, is what he will be remembered for. The Prime Minister’s own adviser had the dignity to resign rather than accept such failure, and Labour would have been very different from the Government.
We have a plan where the Government have failure. On the very day that schools and nurseries closed to most children in March 2020, a Labour Government would have started work on three plans: an immediate plan to support children’s learning and development remotely and as fully as possible while lockdown went on; an urgent plan to reopen schools safely and quickly, and then to keep them open so children could learn together and play together; and, critically, a plan to ensure that when lockdown ended, children’s education and wellbeing did not suffer in the long run. Our children’s recovery plan put children and their futures at the heart of how we think about moving on from the pandemic because, after all, every child in Britain did more to follow the covid rules than our Prime Minister. The impact that had on their health and educational attainment needs addressing, not ignoring.
We would introduce breakfast clubs so that every child starts their day with a proper meal; afterschool activities, so that every child gets to learn and experience art, music, drama and sport; mental health support because every report that we see tells us that children’s development has fallen behind in the pandemic; continued professional development for our teachers because every child deserves teachers second to none in support of their learning; and targeted extra investment right from the early years through to further education, to support the children at risk of falling behind, because attainment gaps open up early and need tackling early.
We would go further to lock in the gains of a recovery programme for the long term, with a national excellence programme to drive up standards in schools, because every child deserves to go to a school with high expectations and high achievements. There would be thousands upon thousands of new teachers in subjects that have shortages right now, because every child deserves to be taught maths and physics by people who love their subject and to be introduced to a love of sport, music, art and drama; a skills commission, because every young person needs to leave education ready for work and ready for life; careers guidance in every school and work experience for every child, because each of us deserves to succeed at work, and Labour believes that the Government have a role to play in making that happen; and a curriculum in which we teach our children not just the past that they will inherit, but the future they will build, and in which they learn about the challenge of net zero and the climate emergency that we face.
It is precisely because we have a plan that we would enable our education system to deliver it. It is why we want an approach to how our schools are run that focuses on how children achieve and thrive, not the name on the uniform or the hours that they are there. It is why we have a determination to see childcare not as a passing, costly phase in the lives of others, but as the foundation of opportunity in the lives of every child and every parent.
As our children grow and as they interact more and more with my party’s proudest achievement to date, the national health service, it is sadly not the case that their experience of this Government’s record on public services improves. With health, as with education, there was a decade of failure even before the pandemic began. The national health service did not go into the pandemic strong, well-resourced and resilient. No, the NHS went into the pandemic with record waiting lists, 100,000 vacancies and 17,000 fewer beds than in 2010. As my hon. Friend Wes Streeting has rightly said:
“It is not just that the Government did not fix the roof while the sun was shining;
they dismantled the roof and removed the floorboards.”—[Official Report,
Last autumn, the Government announced that they would raise tax to fund clearing the backlog and improving social care. The tax rise is happening during a cost of living crisis, sure enough, but it is not clear how they will manage the rest. That is why today, in our health service as in childcare, we are paying more but getting less. The Government are raising taxes on working people in the middle of a cost of living crisis, yet patients are expected to wait longer for care.
Conservative Members would do well to remember that NHS waiting lists are at a record 6 million. Ministers cannot blame the pandemic, because the figure was already at over 4 million before covid struck. Let us think of those millions of people waiting—waiting longer than ever before, often waiting in pain and discomfort, waiting while working or trying to find work, waiting while walking their children to school, waiting while trying to find somewhere affordable to live, waiting while looking after their grandchildren. They are waiting at a cost to themselves, of course, but at an astronomical cost to our country that is not just financial, but economic and social. They are waiting for their Government to give our public services the priority they deserve.
Mental health services are on the brink of collapse. In 12 years of Conservative Governments, a quarter of mental health beds have been cut, and right now 1.6 million people are waiting for mental health treatment. How on earth can any Minister defend that record? The Government’s approach to social care is up there with their failure on childcare: it is not fair, and it will not work. The less people have, the more they will take. Those with homes worth £150,000 will lose almost everything, while the wealthiest are protected.
It does not need to be this way. Labour will build an NHS fit for the future and get patients seen on time. We will provide the NHS with the staff, equipment and modern technology required so that the NHS is there for people when they need it. We will fix social care so that those in need do not go without. Our new deal for care workers will provide fair pay and secure contracts to plug the more than 100,000 vacancies in social care. We will transform training to improve standards of care. Across our public services, Labour will build a better Britain. We have done it before; we will do it again.
I remember a previous Conservative Government who cared little for the challenges that my family faced—a Government keener on judging my family than on supporting it. Then I saw, growing up and as a young woman, the difference that an incoming Labour Government made. I saw a Government who acted decisively to tackle disadvantage, cut child poverty and support families and children. A generation grew up with Sure Start and with children’s centres. A generation like me were supported after 16 with the education maintenance allowance and a level of investment in our NHS unmatched in history, with waiting lists driven down from months and years to days and weeks. I saw then, in my own community, the difference those changes made, and I still see it now in the better lives of young people who grew up with that advantage and the support it unlocked.
For 12 long years, Conservative Ministers have failed a generation of our children. Labour in power will be different, because we see Britain as its people—our children, our families, our future—and we will never swerve from making this country the best place to grow up and the best place to grow old.
Nominations closed at 5 o’clock this afternoon for candidates for the post of Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. One nomination has been received. A ballot will therefore not be held. I congratulate Ian Mearns on his re-election as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
I remind hon. and right hon. Members of my stricture about sticking to five minutes, at least for the opening contributions from the Back Benches.
It is a pleasure to speak in support of this Queen’s Speech. It is tempting to respond to a number of the points made by Bridget Phillipson, whose speech sounded remarkably like a bid for the leadership of the Labour party. However, given the lack of time, I want to concentrate on just four Bills, all of which emanate from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and all of which I had a small hand in part of the preparation of.
The first is a carry-over—the Online Safety Bill. I welcome this opportunity to speak on it because I had only five minutes do so on Second Reading, although I will have rather less this time. I reiterate that the Bill is tremendously important and will protect our young people as they grow up. It is pioneering legislation to introduce some regulation of online activity.
We also have an ambition in this country to be the technological leaders of the world, so I remain concerned that the Bill is very vague in a lot of aspects. Since Second Reading, I have had meetings with mid-sized platforms such as Pinterest, Reddit, Eventbrite and Tripadvisor, all of which are committed to this country but concerned that, while they want to comply with the provisions of the Bill, it is not clear to them what those provisions are going to undertake. I again say to the Government that what is important is to protect people who are at risk, not necessarily just regulate every large platform because of their reach.
No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, as I am under a lot of pressure to keep this short.
The second Bill is the media Bill, which is vital for the future of public service broadcasting in this country. A lot of attention will be given to the provisions on Channel 4, which I welcome, although it is important that we debate those and discuss the model that Channel 4 should operate in future. The Bill contains other important provisions. The prominence of public service broadcasters has been argued for by ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC for many years, and it is essential if we are to protect public service broadcasters and ensure that they are visible in a world where competing channels are increasing in number almost every week.
In support of commercial public service broadcasters, I welcome the absence from the Queen’s Speech of a Bill to introduce advertising bans for HFSS—high in fat, salt or sugar—foods before 9 pm. I support the Government’s wish to reduce obesity, but I firmly believe that an advertising ban would have no effect on that and, at the same time, would massively affect commercial broadcasters.
I regret the absence from the Bill of provisions for radio prominence. This was an important part of the outcome of the digital radio and audio review. The Government accepted the recommendations from that but they seem to have dropped out of the Bill. I hope that we might try to correct that during its passage.
I look forward to the inclusion in the Bill of the repeal of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which is a sword of Damocles hanging over a free press allowing a future Government to impose punitive costs unless they sign up to the Government’s version of regulation. The removal of that was in the Conservative manifesto and I very much hope that we will fulfil that manifesto commitment in that Bill.
The third Bill is the digital markets and competition Bill, which, if anything, is even more important to the freedom of the press. At the moment, the press are at a disadvantage in their negotiations with the big platforms such as Facebook and Google, which take their content and decide how much, if anything, they are going to pay for it. The digital markets unit is being established to address that, but it needs to be put on a statutory basis; it needs to be underpinned by law. I therefore welcome the provision in the Queen’s Speech for a draft Bill but hope the Government will move forward to implement that legislation as soon as possible.
Finally, I turn to a Bill I again played some role in: the data Bill. One of the great opportunities from Britain taking back control of its own laws is our ability to write our own data protection laws. Of course we want to ensure that people’s privacy is protected, but at the same time the existing rules have acted as a disincentive. They are overburdensome and not properly understood by large numbers of small firms in particular. This is a real opportunity to have a modern data protection regime which others across the world will admire and follow.
On that basis, I am delighted to support the Queen’s Speech.
In this Queen’s Speech, I would have expected to see some radical interventions that are urgently needed to tackle the cost of living crisis, to tackle climate change and to properly support our elderly community, including elderly veterans, but there is a real lack of ambition in the speech, and this Government have done the absolute opposite of making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old. While they have lined the pockets of their cronies, they have limited the opportunities of young people. They have caused and then ignored the cost of living crisis, which has left many children and elderly without enough to get by, and delayed action on climate change, which arguably will have the biggest impact on our younger generations.
For us in Scotland, this is a tale of two Governments. The Scottish Government are determined to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up and grow old, regardless of household income or social demographic, but only as an independent nation will Scotland have the levers, the decision-making powers and the full fiscal autonomy to see that ambition fully realised. [Interruption.] There is heckling from those on the Government Benches. I would have thought that the results of the elections two weeks ago would have shown them something—perhaps they would have learned some lessons. People in Scotland more and more are waking up to this.
Let us compare the two Governments. A woman in Scotland who is expecting a child is given a baby box filled with essentials for her baby—clothes, books, teething toys, blankets. The message is clear: your baby is important, your baby is valued and your baby is welcomed. At the same time as the baby box was introduced in Scotland, the UK Government introduced a two-child limit on child tax credit and universal credit. It is apparently okay to have up to two children. Beyond that if you are a low-income household your baby is neither welcomed nor valued by this Tory Government.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service said that over half the women it surveyed who had an abortion in the coronavirus pandemic and knew of the two-child limit said that that policy was important in their decision-making around whether to continue the pregnancy. That is pretty damning evidence. It is no surprise that, since 2016—since mothers have been expecting babies who would be born after that policy came into force—there has been a sharp increase in the number of abortions. Women are choosing abortions because they cannot afford to have a baby. The best place to grow up?
In Scotland, the Scottish Government have introduced the Scottish child payment—£20 a week for every eligible child and that will be rising to £25 a week—and that is mitigating some of the worst impacts for families. Frankly, the progressive policies of the Scottish Government must be matched with similar interventions from Westminster.
Last week, we were treated to the comments of Lee Anderson, who said that people were only using food banks because “they cannot budget” and
“cannot cook a meal from scratch.”—[Official Report,
Today, Gareth Mason, head chef at Absolute Bar & Bistro in Westhoughton, has said that the hon. Member’s comments were “tone deaf” and “insulting”. He has set about proving this by cooking seven everyday meals, such as spaghetti Napoli, beans on toast, baked potato—
Order. Can I just check that the hon. Lady has informed the hon. Gentleman that she was going to refer to him? That is perhaps just a reminder that that is what she would do.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I have not. I was not making a point of order; I was referring to something that was said in a debate and has been said in the press.
The chef, Gareth Mason, said:
“I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a load of rubbish. These meals I’ve done, as soon as you put any protein or dairy into them, it’s not feasible to do it for 30p. If you eat beans on toast for every meal, it might work, but even if you did cheese on toast, the cost of cheese would be more than 30p on its own”, and that is before considering the cooking cost of the food.
I would love to do that, but more than that, I look forward to the cooking book from the hon. Member for Ashfield, because I am sure that will be a really popular volume. I will even buy some copies for my own food bank if we think we can be making meals for 30p a day—incredible!
The fact is that people on low income or on benefits are far superior with managing their finances because they have to be. According to Jack Monroe, the bootstrap cook who gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, the impact of the cost of living crisis on
“millions of children living in poverty in Britain today” is
“going to be, in some cases, fatal”.
This is first and foremost due to the rise in the cost of everyday essentials, not because families on low incomes cannot budget or cannot cook a meal from scratch.
But it gets worse. The Minister for safeguarding—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Rachel Maclean—said on Sky News today that people struggling with the cost of living should just “take on more hours” or “get a better-paid job”. This shows how detached this Government are from the lived reality of so many people in our communities that we represent. Hunger impacts on the ability of children to learn. As one Member has said, they cannot concentrate and they cannot think. I know of teachers who are keeping cereal bars and snacks in their desk drawers to give to children to make sure they have something in their tummies.
In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State talked about extracurricular activities, and I think every Member here understands the importance of these. But for families who are just about managing—they are just about managing to pay bills and to feed their children—the things that will go are the little extras. These are the sports clubs, the activities, the birthday parties, the days out, the holidays—in fact, all the little things that together make childhood so special, and that enrich their experience and their ambitions.
It is good to hear the Secretary of State also talk today about the importance of teachers. As a former teacher myself, I know the difference that good teachers can make to young people. It is good to hear him talking about his ambition to make the starting salary for teachers £30,000 a year. That will only be £3,000 below what Scottish teachers currently start out on, with £33,000 a year.
In Scotland, we want to create a more equal society. One way we aim to do that is through widening, rather than restricting, the opportunities for our young people once they leave school. The Scottish Government’s young person’s guarantee ensures that every young person from 16 to 24 has a chance to go to university or college with no tuition fees, or has a chance to secure an apprenticeship or high-quality job. It is significant that, of anywhere in the UK, Scotland has the highest proportion of young people with positive destinations post school.
Time and again, we see this Tory Government undermining progress towards a better society for our young people. They talk of untapping aspiration, yet just a couple of weeks ago the chair of their Social Mobility Commission said that fewer girls than boys are studying physics because they dislike “hard maths.” That perpetuates outdated and harmful gender stereotypes about girls, particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths, which is close to my heart. That is no way to untap aspiration or ambition.
Students in England are considering their career and whether they are willing to take on a lifetime of debt. The Government’s equality analysis found that their student finance reforms will likely have a negative impact on graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds, while benefiting those who are already more privileged. The reforms will not, in fact, increase social mobility. This Government are making policy decisions that will hinder opportunity, to the obvious detriment of so many young people.
I could talk about Brexit and our lack of mobility across Europe, and about the international collaborations that have been lost, but I want to speak a little about our elderly community. According to the Centre for Ageing Better, one in five pensioners—more than 2 million people—is living in relative poverty. Worse than that, many are living in abject poverty. This represents an increase of more than 200,000 in just the last 12 months, and the problem will only get worse.
The report also presents a stark picture of up to a 10-year difference in lifespan between wealthy pensioners and poor pensioners. Pensioners have been abandoned by this Government, who scrapped the pension triple lock. Pensioners will be among the hardest hit by the rising cost of living; some already have to resort to spending the day on buses or eating one meal a day just to keep warm, as we heard last week. “The best place to grow old”?
Many UK citizens abroad, including a significant number of veterans, are living in poverty because of the freeze in overseas pensions. Their pension is frozen at the point at which they moved. Countries such as Canada have formally requested a reciprocal arrangement to cover pension uprating, but this UK Government have declined.
Our pensioners include veterans who have given the very best of themselves through their service. We have a duty of care to them, and I will talk briefly about one particular group that I know has support from both sides of the House—the nuclear test veterans. Their numbers are dwindling and they have had a lifetime of health issues, yet they have received neither a medal, recognition nor compensation. This is the only country not to have compensated its nuclear test veterans. Surely we can do better for this small group.
The SNP Scottish Government are doing what they can to support households during these difficult times—fully mitigating the bedroom tax; mitigating council tax; doubling the Scottish child payment; providing free tuition, free prescriptions and free school meals for all primary schoolchildren—but just as Scotland tries to mitigate the worst excesses of this Tory Government, the Scottish Government are suffering from budget cuts by them. A lack of powers for the Scottish Government means that we can only really deal with things around the edge—with the symptoms of poverty, not the deep-rooted causes of inequality in our society that deliver child poverty and pension poverty. Only with full independence can we realise our ambition for our children, our young people and our pensioners.
It is a great pleasure to speak in support of the Queen’s Speech. In this debate on making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in, I will focus on education. I appreciate, however, that inflation and the cost of living are top priorities for my constituents at this time. The Government need to do more to alleviate the consequences of rising prices, and I believe that they will.
The UK is, and always has been, one of the best places to grow up in, and I am convinced that it remains a great place for those of all ages to live in. Through education and the opportunities that it gives, and especially through great state schools and teachers, people from my background have been fortunate enough to reach our potential. However, despite the fantastic opportunities, and the increase in finance that the Government have put into our education system, a number of issues still need to be addressed, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is determined to tackle them. We congratulate him on his March White Paper. I know that he aims to improve standards and achievement. I look forward to participating in debates on the schools Bill when it comes to the House.
I have worked as both a teacher and a lecturer, so I know how vital it is that every child receives the best possible education. Education and social mobility have always been key political issues for me, and I passionately believe that every child deserves the best possible start in life. I am a strong supporter of lifetime learning. Education is not just for the young, but for all age groups, particularly at a time when the world is changing rapidly.
As we all know, parents are a child’s primary educator. A parent’s education level has a significant impact on their children’s success and can significantly affect opportunities later in life. However, talent and hard work alone should determine how far people can go, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever their background. Opportunity is key, and this Government believe passionately in opportunity. I believe that talent is widespread across our nation. Unfortunately, there are certain groups and areas where opportunity is not open to all, for many and varied reasons, so fair funding, accountability, a safe environment and attendance are vital. I look forward to further debates on the Bill.
In my Bexleyheath and Crayford constituency, we are very fortunate to have a diverse and fantastic collection of schools at primary and secondary level. The borough is a social mobility hotspot, and a wide variety of education offerings are available, including church, grammar, comprehensive and single-sex schools, all of which achieve good results and give young people excellent opportunities to develop their talents. Children from across Bexley, from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds, achieve great results at school and benefit from the wide range of opportunities.
We have an excellent local further education provider—the Bexley campus of London South East Colleges—that offers a wide range of choices and courses. When I visited recently, I particularly enjoyed the media and special needs facilities. Last week, I also visited Woodside Academy, a special school that supports children from the age of four to 19 with a wide range of learning difficulties. It is part of the London South East Academies trust, and is another example of working together. It does innovative work to support the children under its care, both with their education and with wider health concerns. I watched, listened and learned about their specialist eye testing on site. The trust’s chief executive, Dr Sam Parrett OBE, and her team are doing a superb job.
However, even in areas such as Bexley, where we are making great progress, more can always be done. I recently visited Bedonwell School with my hon. Friend Mr French and Abena Oppong-Asare. It has outstanding special educational needs provision, but it highlighted concerns about SEN funding. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the concerns it raised during our visit.
The Schools Bill will make it easier for schools in England to join multi-academy trusts, strengthen the regulatory framework, reform the schools funding formula to make it fairer, and strengthen the school attendance regime so that children can benefit from being in school. Those are vital issues, which is why I strongly support what the Government are doing. Madam Deputy Speaker insists that I keep to five minutes, so I cannot talk about the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which is also great news. I think we all agree with it on the Conservative Benches, so I do not have to go into detail on it.
To conclude, by levelling up skills and education, we not only help to unleash the potential of every area in our United Kingdom, but grow the economy and boost our GDP. There is a clear theme from the Queen’s Speech that needs to be promoted loud and clear: the Conservative Government believe in social mobility, opportunity and an education system that offers the best to all, so that every individual can maximise their life chances.
I am delighted to speak in this Queen’s Speech debate on making Britain the best place in which to grow up and grow old. I want to focus on what my part of the country needs if we are to meet our full potential to contribute to future national prosperity, and to ensure that the people of Hull and the rest of the United Kingdom do not just survive but thrive, with strong public services and opportunities for all.
It is 12 years since the coalition Government talked of rebalancing the economy and boosting UK economic growth by taking pressure off the congested south-east. It is 10 years since Lord Heseltine’s 2012 “No Stone Unturned” report, eight years since the northern powerhouse was launched, and three years since the Prime Minister took office and re-badged the idea as levelling up. Levelling up was only recently defined in the White Paper. After 12 years, we now have 12 missions.
We all know that a growing UK economy is the key to improving standards of living, ending poverty and having well-funded public services, but we are stuck with low productivity, low growth, high inflation and high taxes. Escaping that requires a major contribution from the Humber. Hull is a freeport city with a multi-sector industrial base; it has the UK’s fastest-growing digital economy, a strong local arts sector and a great university. New maritime industries are expanding around the green energy estuary, and there are opportunities for growth, ending fuel poverty and energy security.
However, alongside those success stories, Hull has setbacks. Local unemployment remains above the national average. Hull is usually in the top five areas in the UK for deprivation. In-work poverty weakened our local economy even before the austerity decade and the cost of living crisis. Hull needs more skilled, higher-paid jobs. The Minister doing the media round this morning seems to think that those jobs are shared equally around the country, but sadly they are not. Hull has several of the 225 left-behind neighbourhoods, where physical and mental health outcomes lag considerably behind those in wealthier areas.
Raising educational standards in Hull has been challenging. Too many local youngsters are not in education, employment or training. Many of our brightest feel the need to leave to get on. Like many left behind areas, over the past decade Hull has lost not just shops, but banks, pubs, youth clubs, churches, children’s centres, police stations and post offices. Access to GPs and NHS dentists is worsening. Hull has, however, gained food banks, gambling outlets, junk food sellers and loan sharks.
Opportunities to bid for the community wealth fund will hopefully help to repair some of our depleted social infrastructure, but so far, the talk about levelling up has been unmatched by deeds. Independent research from Bloomberg and others shows that levelling up has barely started for most of the north. Indeed, the gap between it and the south-east has grown over the past decade, including, most shamefully, when it comes to life expectancy. The excuses for failure do not convince my constituents. Of course, covid and Ukraine have been economic shocks, but Ministers presented Brexit as an opportunity to boost levelling up, not another excuse for failing. We also know that crisis can create opportunities, as happened in 1945. Hull has received some levelling-up funding for our city centre sites, but it is a small proportion of the funding package required to turbocharge our regional economy, and it is nowhere near the sustained public and private investment that has transformed the London docklands over the past 40 years. It does not even replace funding lost since 2010. I always fight in this place for the people of Hull, but a fair share of not very much will not be transformative in boosting UK economic growth and increasing the opportunities that we all want to see for the people of this wonderful country.
Hull’s digital connectivity is good, but our poor road and rail connectivity hold back economic regeneration. The Government’s integrated rail plan delivers no genuine transport levelling up. Another obstacle to Hull’s progress has been Ministers’ insistence—behind the guise of devolution—on permanent, made-in-Whitehall changes in political structures, without proper local consultation, as a precondition for funding. I draw attention to the fact that London never had to make such changes before getting schemes such as Crossrail. The ambition must be to transform, not tinker. We must go beyond the rhetoric of a Medici-style renaissance—or a Victor Meldrew charter to level down next door’s conservatory.
The whole country needs a levelling-up Bill that is bold, lifting the dead hand of Whitehall bureaucracy, cutting waste and boosting investment. Only failure is unaffordable for our country.
It is a pleasure to follow Dame Diana Johnson, who represents an exciting area of the country on the Humber. Thurrock may be in the south-east, but I share her exasperation about London-centric policy making, which has gone back decades. In that sense, we should welcome the commitment to levelling up, although she set quite a high bar for proving what it means in practice. I share some of the concerns that she has expressed. When I look at my local road infrastructure in Thurrock, I can see that a national approach has not served us especially well. We must make sure that levelling up really means something in practice.
We are talking today about making this country the best place to grow up and grow old, and it is the greatest country in the world. When I look at what is happening around the world, I think, “Aren’t we lucky to be here in the United Kingdom?” When I read our newspapers, watch our TV or listen to Opposition Members, I often think that this country is much better than they say it is, and that should be celebrated. That is not to say that we cannot do better and there are not challenges that need to be addressed.
In this place, we talk too often about how much we are spending on solving a problem, rather than about the outcomes that we are trying to deliver. Success is not measured by how much we spend; if we try to measure it in that way, we end up with a very short-term approach that does not fix the problem. That is why we end up having the same debates over and over again.
One area I want to highlight in that regard is social care. For the last 10 years, we have been obsessing about how we pay for social care, without properly looking at how we design a social care system that is fit for purpose. The challenge is that we are all living longer, and we have not revisited our systems and policies to address that. We need a life course approach to our housing. We know that falls are the biggest source of elderly ill health, so why are we not doing more to incentivise people to approach how they live in a way that suits their new length of life?
We also need to give younger people hope that they will be able to buy their own home, and this is where the two policies come together. Too often, we look at policies in silos. Why are we not encouraging people to make better use of their housing assets for their whole family? We can incentivise granny annexes, and we can give young people some hope by ensuring they have greater access to the wealth in their parents’ home. If we can do that, we will save money in the health service, because unnecessary hospital stays are much more expensive than dealing with a little inheritance tax problem, which might unlock some investment.
Housing is a big challenge, and we need some radical approaches to it. Council housing is a big part of it, and we must have a Macmillanesque expansion of our housing supply. We can deal with that by having fixed-term tenancies, to make sure that we are giving the most help to those most need it and not having homes being stuck.
I also wish to say something more widely about health, because I have always said that government perhaps works too well for the pointy-elbowed middle classes who are good at fighting for their interests and not for those who most need it. In that respect, I am disappointed that we have not made more progress with reform of the Mental Health Act 1983. It is now four years since Sir Simon Wessely brought forward his review. We spent a great deal of time consulting users, who often had to relive their own trauma in order to give us their advice. So we have really let those people down in delivering material change. We know that deprivation of liberty can be an important part of looking after people with severe mental ill health, but we also know that it is misused, as Sir Simon Wessely’s report shows.
I have little time left, but I wish to highlight a couple more things we need to properly address in that regard. We are still using the Bail Act 1976 to remand people in custody for their own protection. The criminal justice system should not be the place where we deal with people with severe mental ill health; in 21st-century Britain, that is completely unacceptable. We have made much of acting to remove prison cells and police cells as places of safety, and I assumed that we were making considerable progress on that—I thought that this was used in a very limited way. So I was horrified to hear from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons that in the three women’s prisons it visited last year 68 women had been remanded for their own protection. That is not acceptable and I want more speed in dealing with it.
I can only say how proud I am today to be a Brummie. I am overwhelmed but privileged to be standing here today in this great institution. Being elected to Parliament is not a right; it is an honour, and it is an even greater honour knowing that my community voted for me to be here.
When I was elected on
In saying that, I cannot go any further without talking about the late, great Jack Dromey MP. Jack was elected in May 2010 and worked relentlessly to serve our community. He said in Parliament, and often within the constituency:
“Erdington may be rich in talent, but it is one of the poorest constituencies in the country.”—[Official Report,
Until his death he worked to support his constituency, in so many ways. Any job lost in the area was a personal blow to Jack. The many tributes that have been made to him in this place and in the community show how much he is deeply missed.
I grew up in Handsworth, in the neighbouring constituency of Perry Barr, but Erdington is the place I have called home for 35 years. Over 103,000 people live in the constituency, and we have a diverse community: 26% are BME people, and over 69% are under the age of 45. Some families, sadly, have not worked for three generations. It is important to get those people back to work. We need to invest, instil confidence, give opportunity and build aspiration into our young people.
I am looking forward to being involved in debates relating to people living with mental health issues. Serving as the mental health champion for Birmingham City Council—the first ever to be elected—I have seen at first hand the increase in the number of people living with mental health issues, and the massive increase, since the pandemic, in the number of young people living with severe and enduring mental illnesses. The funding in this area has been cut, and it does need to be increased, as mental health services are struggling to access adequate in-patient beds when they are needed.
In Erdington, the community has also seen an alarming increase in the number of houses in multiple occupation. We have the second highest number in the city. My constituency needs to see an urgent change in legislation to ensure that poor, unscrupulous landlords are punished, fined and removed from the market if they fail to comply with the rules that are designed to protect residents. These are just some of the many issues that I will be raising on behalf of my constituency, as I heard about them time and time again while out campaigning.
My children were born in Erdington—some of them are up in the Public Gallery—and they went to Erdington schools, of which we have over 40 in my constituency. I have 40 schools to visit, and I promise I will be visiting all of them. I know I will feel at home when I do, because arriving in Parliament after a by-election has truly made me feel like the new girl at school.
My husband opened his first shop on the Slade Road in the late 1980s, in an area where the high street was dying, so as a family we were acutely aware of the difficulties that other small businesses were experiencing back then. At the same time, I trained as a nurse and worked at the local health centre in Warren Farm Road, Kingstanding, for several years. My career in the health service lasted for over 25 years, and it has truly shaped my political career.
As I have already noted, Erdington is a very diverse part of Birmingham, with a wonderful, strong community and neighbourhood spirit, and people who work very hard and look out for each other. One day you could be celebrating Eid in Stockland Green, or Vaisakhi in the local gurdwara; on another, you could be working with our strong Irish or African-Caribbean community to celebrate the Good Friday walk along the high street.
Our manufacturing history is well known, but sadly too many of our workplaces have closed. It is vital that new business comes into the constituency, so it is important that through the levelling-up fund we are given funding to develop our high streets, particularly Erdington High Street.
The Erdington constituency can look quite dark and lacking in green space when driving through it. That is because of roads such as the Gravelly Hill interchange, which I am sure everyone here knows as spaghetti junction. If you look more closely, however, under spaghetti junction—as Gary Sambrook will confirm—you can walk along some of the most beautiful canal walkways in the country.
We are also fortunate to have many lovely parks such as Pype Hayes Park and Rookery Park, Short Heath Playing Fields, and the beautiful 13-acre site owned by Erdington rugby club. I would also like to mention the stunning bowling facility in the constituency run by the Erdington Court bowls club. The Brookvale lakes and Witton Lodge lakes, where residents take part in a duckling watch to ensure that we preserve the natural beauty of this area, are truly incredible. Alongside that is the amazing eco-hub run by an organisation called the Witton Lodge Community Association.
When I won this election, my husband looked on and said, “Well done. Now the work starts.” How right he was. After receiving more than 2,000 emails plus sacks of mail in my first month, I am under no illusions that the role of an MP is many things to many people. We are here to help, guide, advise, support and represent our constituents.
I want to thank the people of Birmingham, Erdington for putting their faith and trust in me. It is an amazing privilege to be here. My promise to them is that I will work tirelessly on their behalf, both in this place and in the community.
I must congratulate Mrs Hamilton on her speech, which she delivered with such feeling. I was sitting here waiting for clapping from the Gallery above—she must warn people not to do that, but she would have deserved it. Her speech was absolutely brilliant.
Given the time strictures, I will touch on just one little Bill. It would not be hard for people to work out that it is a trade Bill—the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill, which will help to make Britain the best place in which to live. There is great kith and kin support between the United Kingdom and the antipodes. Most of my parents’ generation used to talk about this country as home, even if they had never been here. Many a New Zealand coffee table of that generation displayed a copy of one of those amazing books of beautiful photographs of the United Kingdom. The amazing thing was that they were all taken on a sunny day!
The deal with New Zealand and Australia is the UK’s first new free trade agreement since leaving the European Union. It is long overdue. New Zealand and Australia were sore when we went into the Common Market. I am a member of the UK National Farmers Union and, locally, there has been some concern about the deal as both Australia and New Zealand are agricultural juggernauts. The biggest dairy farmer in my Mole Valley constituency has about 350 cows. I think my largest sheep farmer probably has about 1,000 sheep. A couple of dairy farmers in the north of the South Island are milking 1,500 and 2,500 cows. The farm I left to come here, after lambing, had 30,000 sheep. Fortunately, the balance of timing means that we can work together. Moreover, the New Zealand NFU equivalent is looking to work with our farmers to assist in fulfilling some of the bids going into Europe.
The economic opportunities under the agreement will be considerable across a range of sectors and businesses. Any visitor to New Zealand or Australia will be struck by the fact that cars, trucks, and agricultural machinery—I do not just mean tractors—are dominated by south-east Asia, particularly by Japan. There is a desire to buy British trucks, cars and so on, but they are too expensive. The tariff change should give us an opportunity, but we need to get in there. I have been urging the appropriate Minister to get onto the manufacturers and to promote our goods in Australia and New Zealand. I have already suggested a campaign and have offered to translate. I hope that with the Government stimulating our industries we will get in there, open the doors and work towards going into the trans-Pacific partnership.
Given the time limit, I will stop at that point, but I reiterate that I am willing to help and need to help. This is an opportunity for huge sales to make Britain the best place in which to live.
The hon. Gentleman has been exemplary in watching the time limit but, although he has set such an excellent example, I am just going to make sure that everyone else adheres to the five minutes by setting a formal time limit. It is still five minutes, which is a long time if you speak quickly.
I will speak very quickly, Madam Deputy Speaker. When I became chair of the all-party parliamentary group on dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties in 2016, the implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014 was under way. I had taken that piece of legislation through Parliament as a shadow Minister so I was hopeful that it might lead to an advance in SEND provision in schools, but things have obviously not gone to plan. The new SEND Green Paper implies by its very existence that something has gone wrong.
Let us look at some numbers. Pupils with SEN are less likely to meet the expected standards on reading, writing and maths by the end of key stage 2, with only 22% of children with SEN achieving that compared with 74% of those with no recorded SEN. This continues at GCSE with only 27% of SEN children achieving a grade 4 or above in English and maths compared with 71% of those with no recorded SEN. In 12 years of a Conservative Government, those with SEND have endured a broken system, leaving a lasting impact on their futures.
As we know, special educational needs and disabilities are sometimes invisible, making them hard to identify and support. Many working class children are categorised as poor readers, not because they might have dyslexia but because they come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Others who might have dyslexia but do not have the money to access private assessment and diagnosis might never get the support that they need. Far from levelling up, this Government imprison those children in lower expectations.
As we make the necessary strides in special educational needs assessment, so the system supporting those needs faces greater strain on capacity. This is all about cost. I hope that that is not the reason for the conspicuous absence from the Government’s recent Green Paper of the three Ds: dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. The Government finally recognise the need for new high-level alternative provision, but I implore them to expand their priorities to specific learning difficulties. They can have a profound effect on a child’s educational development, and without wider assessments we can only guess at the incidence rates of the conditions. In the meantime, children will struggle through their school years and lose the chance to fulfil their potential. That is not to say that those with specific learning difficulties are less able than their peers. On the contrary, neurodiverse individuals exhibit problem solving, lateral thinking and innovation skills often in excess of those exhibited by neurotypical individuals.
This year I was proud to be involved in the launch of Neurodiversity in Business, an initiative that at last count has seen more than 100 companies across the country, including the likes of Deloitte and the Bank of England, championing neurodiverse workers. They recognise the unique skills and benefits that neurodivergent employees bring to an organisation, and that is to be greatly welcomed and encouraged as it is so true. I welcome the Government’s consultation on SEND provision, and I will certainly engage with the consultation in due course. I encourage all colleagues and organisations in the sector to do the same.
On another topic, I would like to take a moment to draw the House’s attention to food insecurity. We know that families are struggling with the cost of living crisis—a crisis that is only going to get worse. More adults are reporting skipping meals—57% more in April than in January—and more children are unable to access nutritious food. At the same time public sector caterers, who make up an important part of the protection against food insecurity, are facing supply chain disruptions and what have been described to me as stock price explosions. It is getting more expensive to run the industrial kitchens in our schools, hospitals and prisons. It is therefore getting so much harder to ensure that services offer the same nutritious food.
The Government are allowing food insecurity to become worse, allowing standards to decline and doing nothing to prevent a public health crisis along the way. This is happening on their watch and there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to address it. That means it will only get worse until we have a change of Government to one with the will and the plan to grow the economy and be on the side of working people.
It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Hodgson. I add my congratulations to Mrs Hamilton on her maiden speech—I assure her that the case load continues year after year. I also offer my appreciation for another formidable lady: Her Majesty the Queen. I was delighted to see her join in the celebrations of her jubilee unaided yesterday.
On the Gracious Speech, I wish to talk about several of the Bills that are coming up. First, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill gives us the opportunity to level up each part of the United Kingdom. I was absolutely over the moon at the local election results in Harrow last week, when we took eight seats from Labour and took control of the council for the first time since 2006. I look forward to the hard-working councillors levelling up Harrow and putting right what has been going wrong for far too long.
On the transport Bill, my constituents depend on good public transport, which we need throughout the UK, and we need to get people out of their cars and on to public transport, so I was delighted this morning that the developer Catalyst withdrew its planning application to build high-density multistorey flats on the Stanmore station car park. I trust that Transport for London will now abandon that plan completely.
On the social housing regulation Bill, I hope we are going to go further in not just regulating social housing but expanding the amount of it throughout the UK and providing more affordable housing for the people who need it. We must stop selling public land and start building homes on it, instead of allowing developers to end up with unsustainable capability.
The renters reform Bill is central—I refer the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—but I have a concern. By abolishing section 21 no-fault evictions, on which the Government consulted in 2019, we will improve the security of tenure for tenants and strengthen the position in respect of which landlords can give cause for regaining possession of their properties, but that must not lead to more section 8 evictions and tenants being landed with county court judgments across the piece. I hope we will have a new lifetime tenancy deposit model that eases the burden on tenants when they move from one tenancy to the next. That would improve the private rented sector overall.
I remind the Government that a section 21 notice is a trigger for my landmark Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which then leads to the local authority having a responsibility to help and advise people who are threatened with homelessness. I want to make sure that if we abolish section 21, local authorities are not let off the hook for their responsibility to help and assist single homeless people. It is also important that the Government stand by their pledge to develop a new ombudsman for private landlords so that disputes are resolved without the need to go to court, which is an expensive process for both sides.
On the financial services and markets Bill, I am delighted to hear that the Government are going to preserve access to cash. Far too many bank branches and ATMs have closed, and access to cash is a priority for many people in our society, so I am pleased that that will happen. In particular, this country’s elderly population still relies heavily on and is dependent on cash, and we must protect that part of society.
I also welcome the boycotts, divestment and sanctions Bill. It is quite clear that we do not want local authorities or other public bodies in this country having their own foreign policy; that is something to be determined by the UK Government. The ongoing commitment to supporting the UK’s Jewish community, and to support for Israel, is fundamental and I am delighted to see it.
The Schools Bill is clearly vital as we return to normality under the pandemic; I welcome it and the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill. I am one of those who believe that people should be free to say what they wish, as long as they can be challenged on it, but not that we should get to the point where people are shouted down and prevented from putting forward their views.
Finally, this is Dementia Action Week. For people who are getting older and frailer, we must have more action from the national health service. I welcome and support the Queen’s Speech.
The Government are great on slogans—“get it done”, “oven-ready”, “levelling up”—but the reality is that they have consistently failed to get the right things done, their ideas are mostly half-baked, and the key statistics show that they are levelling down, not up.
After 12 years, this country is going backwards. There is no plan to fix social care, improve the health figures, address education shortfalls or tackle neighbourhood crime. The Queen’s Speech was a chance to put that right, address issues affecting the lives of ordinary people, move on from the pandemic and be in touch with the needs of business, families and the elderly. Instead, we have a programme of 38 Bills that will occupy parliamentary time over the next 12 months or so, but hardly any of them address the things that people really care about.
On education, the emphasis is on academisation—playing with structures when what is needed is catch-up, improvement, tending to crumbling buildings and giving children the best start in life. I support the work of Dame Andrea Leadsom, but I have to say that how a Government who have closed 2,500 Sure Start centres and plan to replace them with 75 family hubs think they can lay claim to an ambitious early years strategy is beyond me.
According to the Government, every family should receive a minimum of five health visiting reviews. Even including remote and phone consultations, their own figures show that that is not happening. Nearly 30% of toddlers have missed out on the crucial 24 to 30 months check. In speech and language, an area in which waiting lists have been exacerbated by the pandemic, nearly 70,000 children are waiting for support. Children under seven often wait for more than two years. Where is the catch-up or improvement plan to help them? The Government can find time for a Bill to sell Channel 4, which was not in their manifesto, but not to legislate for a measly one week’s unpaid leave for carers—a manifesto commitment on which every one of their Members stood.
There is no plan to reduce NHS waiting lists or ambulance delays. The reality of healthcare in Birmingham is that every day the west midlands ambulance service stacks hundreds of calls that require an ambulance response that it cannot provide. Midlands hospitals have the highest waiting lists in the country. University Hospitals Birmingham, a first-class institution for those it is able to treat, now has 185,000 people waiting for treatment. No wonder the country’s health outcomes are deteriorating.
For care homes, there is still no plan to fix social care, one of the earliest promises made and abandoned by the Prime Minister, and no assistance to deal with staff retention or rising energy and insurance costs. Care homes, while still beset by many difficulties, have lost their covid-19 support grants—rather earlier than the support for newspaper grandees negotiated personally by the Prime Minister, if Mr Cummings is to be believed.
I have no time for the behaviour of some of the Extinction Rebellion activists, but do we really need a new law to deal with the antics of that minority group when we already have the Public Order Act 1986? The latest Bloomberg analysis of the Government’s levelling-up strategy shows a 33% increase in crime in south Birmingham. Would not a law to establish viable neighbourhood policing units be of much greater value to my constituents?
On early years, speech and language, carers, care homes, waiting lists, ambulance services and the security of neighbourhoods, this Queen’s Speech is a missed opportunity from a Government who stopped paying attention to the interests of the people they purport to represent. The slogans are now morphing into, “Can’t you budget and cook on 30p a day?” and, “Why don’t you just get another job?” They are out of touch and out of ideas.
I welcome the concentration in the Queen’s Speech on the importance of levelling up and expanding opportunity across the whole country, which is fundamental to our mission. It could not be more important than in the health service. I am glad to see the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend Edward Argar, on the Treasury Bench, because he will know how passionately I feel, from personal experience, about the importance of levelling up all health service provision, but particularly for often underappreciated conditions, such as those that affect stroke survivors—the House will know of my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on stroke.
Unfortunately, the provision of aftercare and therapy for stroke survivors remains patchy across the country, despite it being the largest single cause of adult disability. If we are serious about levelling up, I hope that we will invest more in those services and, in particular, take up the APPG’s suggestion of transforming our already good national stroke plan into a fully-fledged national stroke strategy, joined up and fully resourced with a specialist workforce behind it.
Levelling up is also about getting education and health services right in relation to the criminal justice system, because failures there, as my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price pointed out, often have impacts on the justice system downstream. Poor educational outcomes, poor mental health and allied issues, failures in relation to social services and childcare, and poor housing all contribute to people falling into offending behaviour, getting into the justice system and then getting into the never-ending circle of reoffending. That ruins lives and harms the economy. Investment in those topics upstream is actually an investment in the whole public good, both societally and economically. I hope that the Government will redouble their efforts there, both in cash terms and through much more joined-up policy working across the various agencies.
I will turn to some specific legal issues, starting with the proposed Bill of Rights. I stood on and supported our 2019 manifesto commitment to update the Human Rights Act 1998 and its administrative law, and I stand by that. In pursuance of that, the Government commissioned an expert panel of independents, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Sir Peter Gross QC, a highly distinguished former Lord Justice of Appeal. Sir Peter and his team produced a thoroughly detailed, comprehensive and meticulously argued report on how best to take this forward. He followed it up with most compelling evidence to the Justice Committee. I am persuaded by and support Sir Peter’s proposals.
The Government, as they are entitled to do, appear to propose to go further than Sir Peter’s proposals. Well, up to a point there is no harm in that; I am all in favour of updates, and I see no harm in putting into statute rights that are already well established, such as the right to trial by jury in England and Wales, or the right to freedom of speech, even though they are perfectly well protected under our existing common law.
Where I urge caution, however, is in going any further beyond Sir Peter’s well researched and well argued proposals. It would perhaps be dangerous to go down the route of limiting the ability of individuals in the United Kingdom to assert their European convention rights in the domestic courts, which ultimately would simply mean more petitions being brought to the Strasbourg Court. On the face of it, that is potentially counter-productive to the Government’s avowed intention of reducing litigation in this area.
I am delighted that we remain committed to our membership of the European convention on human rights. It is a fundamental. It was essentially written by a future Conservative Lord Chancellor, the future Lord Kilmuir, and it was Churchill’s Government who took us into the convention, so it is in the Conservatives’ DNA. But we must make sure that we approach this important issue with care and caution and that we do not run beyond the evidence.
I also welcome the draft victims Bill, and I look forward to the Government delivering on their commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny of it by the Justice Committee, which will be critical to the Bill having a real impact for people who suffer from crime. I also welcome the economic crime and corporate transparency Bill. That will be important, because our Committee recently took evidence on the prevalence of, and harm done by, fraud to the economy and individuals’ lives. I hope that we will also use that Bill as an opportunity to introduce a long awaited and long argued for updating of the law on criminal corporate responsibility, an area in which we lag behind other common-law jurisdictions, especially on the other side of the Atlantic.
There are great opportunities in the Queen’s Speech, but I have given a word of caution on one fundamental constitutional issue, as well as some constructive suggestions on how we can take important parts of the Government’s agenda forward.
I would really like every one of my constituents in Bradford West to be able to say that Britain is the best place to grow up and grow old, but unfortunately, given the failures of the Government, I cannot say that for every single one of my constituents. Actions speak louder than words, and this Prime Minister committed to levelling up “every part of the UK”. That remains an idea and a slogan, as my hon. Friend Steve McCabe said.
Last week, it was seven years since the people of Bradford West put their trust and faith in me to be their voice in this Chamber. I said then that the north was being neglected, and I say it again today. At the time, I shared the fact that it was my privilege to be representing a great northern city which is the youngest city in Europe, the birthplace of the Brontë sisters, has a world-renowned literature festival and so much more. Seven years later, after enduring austerity, an unforgiving pandemic and now a cost of living crisis, this great city is applying to be the city of culture and continues to move forward, but that is in spite of the Government’s failure to level up Bradford and their other broken promises.
I am very grateful for the £20 million that my constituency has secured for a health and wellbeing centre which is long overdue, but unfortunately that is a drop in the ocean when compared to the £30-billion-worth of potential growth and 27,000 jobs that have been robbed from Bradford by the Government’s failure to deliver on Northern Powerhouse Rail.
The Government have made Bradford a priority area for education, but in reality, this is also too little, too late. During the pandemic, I repeatedly warned the Government that disadvantaged pupils in Bradford were 18 months behind their wealthier peers and that the gap was widening. It is shocking that the Government have made Bradford a priority area for education while they plan to defund BTEC qualifications, despite the Department for Education’s equalities impact assessment concluding that the move will embed inequality into our education system.
Over the last 12 years, the city of Bradford and my constituents have been robbed of investment and opportunities to grow. The Government have only supplemented that loss by providing Bradford with handout investments that are not enough to truly level up.
Children across the UK and in my constituency deserve the best start in life and deserve access to education, training and job opportunities throughout their lives. Only today, however, the Government’s safeguarding Minister has suggested that people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis should take on more hours of work or move to better paid jobs. That is shocking and another reminder that “levelling up” is just a slogan. If the Government were truly committed to levelling up, they would give each and every person in my constituency the right support and investment to thrive and not just to survive. At the moment, some are not even surviving as they have to choose between who gets fed and whether the heating can go on.
Another example of opportunity and investment bypassing Bradford is the King’s Cross-style regeneration projects, in which the Government promised to transform 20 cities and towns across the country as part of their levelling-up agenda. It comes as no surprise to me that Bradford has not so far been named as one of the 20 cities. I ask the Minister whether Bradford will be overlooked again.
The Prime Minister alone has mentioned “levelling up” 97 times since 2019 in this Chamber, and other Ministers mention it too. Unsurprisingly, he has not yet delivered on levelling up even once. I have said this before, and I will say it again: the litmus test for levelling up is Bradford. If the Government fail Bradford, they have failed to deliver on their levelling-up strategy—all of it. Without equality, equity and fairness, Britain will not be the best place to grow up and grow old. It is not going to work for people in Bradford West if there is not equality and fairness and if this Government do not put their money where their mouth is. Actions speak louder than words and my constituents will be judging everything this Government do.
It is an honour to follow Naz Shah, although I must disagree with her because I believe that this country is the best place to grow up and grow old—although that does not mean there is not work to do to make it even better, and I look forward to supporting the Queen’s Speech in that regard.
To grow up and grow old well, you need a healthy pregnancy and a healthy birth, and I look forward to the women’s health strategy in that regard. Childhood needs to be filled with opportunity, and the schools Bill and the higher education Bill will provide us with that opportunity. We need to have better sport provision and better mental health services, again covered in the Queen’s Speech. We need to look at the impact of loneliness on social life, which now has a huge impact on elderly people. I was pleased to organise with my team a senior citizens’ fair last week in North Hykeham, where many people came along to hear about the clubs, activities and other support available for older people in the region.
I want to touch on two things. The first is the impact of covid on the national health service. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a doctor. The impact of covid means that a lot of people are waiting for treatment. I was somewhat perturbed to read that we want to eliminate waits of a year by 2025, because a wait of a year is a long time and 2025 is not particularly soon for someone who is waiting and in pain. However, I am pleased that we have community diagnostic services opening around the country to help to improve this. I am particularly pleased that one is opening in Grantham and will serve many of my constituents, and that two new operating theatres are being built at Grantham and District Hospital, which will also improve elective activity in the area. There are going to be 17 million more tests in the next three years. We are going to have an increased capacity of 9 million extra treatments and procedures and an increase in elective activity of 30%.
All that is very good. It is especially good to see the Government focusing on output and actions that benefit patients—treatments, tests and procedures; things that make them better—and not just inputs, as the Opposition do, of £X billion or £Y billion. I have noted in my career in hospital medicine that the amount of senior staff has increased, but demand, expectations and the number of administrative and managerial staff have increased, too. If we are to deliver for patients and not simply spend more money, we need to ensure that the extra money is spent only in those areas of clinical care that improve patient outcomes. In that regard, I support calls for more medical students and more nursing students. I would also support a relative increase in remuneration for nurses providing direct clinical care so that those roles are not disincentivised. I appreciate that the NHS is operationally independent, but I look for ministerial reassurance that we are linking all the extra money that we are taking from our constituents to improve clinical care and clinical delivery.
The second thing I want to touch on is education and opportunity, which are inextricably linked. Conservative Members share the view that talent is uniformly distributed but opportunity, sadly, is not, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling up in that regard. I am lucky that we have excellent schools in my constituency and that some have seen huge investment this week, including Carre’s Grammar School in Sleaford, which is receiving over £1 million to improve the structure of its buildings. That is fantastic news for all the successful schools involved in that bid.
The schools Bill offers us an opportunity to look not only at how we educate children in maths, English and science, but at how we contribute to a positive childhood. The MacAlister report, due out very shortly, will help to guide us on safeguarding improvements. In doing so, I hope the Education Secretary will protect children’s lives and wellbeing by focusing on evidence. We often talk in the Select Committee about his focus on the evidence, so I hope that he will be looking at the evidence on how we can improve things for children, not just adding to the bureaucracy that teachers face.
I would like to see curriculum measures to improve sport, particularly girls’ sport. Many teenage girls do less sport as they get older and throughout their secondary school experience. Children’s sport is crucial to physical development. It is crucial to bone health and preventing osteoporosis in the elderly even. It is important to fitness, to mental wellbeing and to improving academic outcomes as well. I look forward to the Government bringing forward their schools Bill, where I hope to see an increase in minimum participation and the encouraging of more sport as a priority. I look forward to voting for the Queen’s Speech when that opportunity arises.
My constituents are facing a growing number of crises that continue to pile up day after day. I accept some of these difficulties are new, but most are not. Most of these difficulties have been brewing and festering for years. The Government’s failure to solve these problems or come up with solutions has pushed many services to breaking point and now families are being left to bear the brunt. Despite the fact that day after day cash-strapped families are trying to make ends meet by working extra hours, often in multiple jobs, what do those on the Government Benches tell them? Learn to cook, learn to budget, work more hours, get a better paid job—you’re responsible, you’re to blame, it’s you who are doing it wrong.
However, what people need from the Government is help to navigate through the things that are out of their control. They need them to solve the long-term issues which continue to push down on people’s quality of living and eventually leave them out of options. It is one of those issues that I want to address today. It is an issue that is not in the Queen’s Speech, but really should be, because NHS dentistry and oral health inequality has been repeatedly unaddressed by this Government. Access to basic dentistry care in this country is often forgotten, but it is a vital part of the nation’s health.
In 2016, an NHS Digital report found that just under half of dentists were thinking of leaving dentistry, so I warned the Government not to kick the can down the road and risk a crisis in dental care. I told the Government then that the most important measure they could implement, as highlighted by the British Dental Association, would be changes to the dental contract that incentivised prevention, but nothing was done.
In 2017, the BDA told us that 58% of the UK’s NHS dentists were planning on turning away from NHS dentistry in the next five years. So again I warned the Government that we faced a national crisis. In 2019, The Times reported that 60% of dentists planned to leave the profession, or cut back NHS care in the next five years, with more than 1 million new patients turned away and some patients resorting to pulling out their own teeth. Yet again, nothing was done.
In 2020, I told the Government that a majority of NHS dental practices across England believed they could only survive for 12 months or less. The Government said they would look at the workforce issue “more broadly” and “in the round”, but no action was forthcoming and 1,000 NHS dentists left the service. Earlier this year, hearing that almost 1,000 children under 10 in Bradford had to be admitted to hospital to have decayed teeth removed, I pleaded with the Government to finally deal with the issue that had been staring them in the face for years. Then, of course, to nobody’s surprise except this Government’s, last week, it was revealed that 2,000 dentists have quit the service in the last year.
We urgently need to reform the dental contract. It is not good enough to be told time and again, year after year, that reform is imminent, because I have been asking for seven years now and still the Government have yet to deliver. If the Government need help with budgeting, I can point the Chancellor in the direction of one of his own MPs who might have a course he can take up, but I desperately do not want to be back here in 2023 still trying to open the Government’s eyes to the massive freight train coming towards them. I have sounded the alarm, other Members have sounded the alarm, and dentists and patients have sounded the alarm;. We are all waiting for the Government to act and reform the dental contract. Patients and our constituents cannot wait any longer.
Making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old is a big challenge. Ensuring where people are born and raised does not limit their quality of life and life expectancy is an even bigger challenge and one that lies at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
We all know the expression “You are what you eat.” In Britain, we are trapped in a junk food cycle that means we now consume more highly processed foods than any other European country except Malta and have higher levels of obesity, yet we have had decades—even centuries—of political barriers to good food policy. We often hear cries of “Nanny statism” or “Don’t tell us what to eat.” The latest Government announcements on delaying the ban on junk food advertising on television before 9 pm and delaying restricting “Buy one, get one free” promotions follow that regrettable trend. As a self-confessed chocoholic, I struggle to resist the temptation to boost my energy levels with a bar of chocolate rather than, so I know at first hand the irresistible pull of promotions and multi-purchase deals. I appreciate some hon. Members believe that attempts to tackle the bombardment of unhealthy food should be postponed so as not to increase the cost of living, but they are wrong. Research shows that promotions encourage people to buy 22% more unhealthy food and drink than intended, and to consume more of it, too. Marketing tactics have a real financial cost, as well as a negative health impact.
Let us not forget that retailers have other choices. Instead of encouraging customers on tight budgets to spend more on non-essential foods through these offers, they could simply offer 50% discounts or, as some supermarkets have started to do, have a value range of products at affordable prices that covers the basic foods for a balanced diet.
The political context has changed in recent months, and the Government’s focus is rightly on helping with the cost of living. Although that is a priority, it should not prevent the introduction of these important measures. Any delay will mean more children living with obesity and too many having reduced life chances through ill health. Our constituents will not thank us or forgive us for doing a U-turn on their health.
Obesity is a national emergency. In England, about 68% of men, 60% of women and more than one in four children aged between two and 15 are obese or overweight. Although this is a nationwide issue, rates of obesity are disproportionately higher among people living in more deprived communities. The statistics for my city of Stoke-on-Trent are shocking: 76.1% of adults in Stoke-on-Trent are overweight or obese. That is the third highest figure of all local authorities in England.
As the cost of living continues to squeeze household budgets, low-income families are forced to choose the cheapest calories, which are typically the least healthy. The Government must ensure that, when it comes to tackling food insecurity and the cost of living, they introduce policies that make nutritious diets affordable, easy and accessible to families on the lowest incomes
There is a pressing need for a good food Bill to set out in law a long-term approach and clear targets for the food system, with better systems for independently monitoring policy. We talk about the need for a resilient food system in terms of supply chains and production, but we need to widen that narrative to one of a resilient population that is both financially resilient to price shocks and resilient in public health terms, such as to pandemics.
We must not lurch from crisis to crisis. Action on the nation’s obesity emergency needs to start now. I support the right to good food as a fundamental pillar of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. I support a school food standard to ensure our young people have the fuel to learn. I support bringing cookery skills and an understanding of nutrition into the school curriculum at every key stage and through community organisations such as family hubs. I support measures to enable British farmers to produce the food we need, and to enable the food industry to innovate and adapt by incentivising the creation of healthier and more sustainable products. And I support better help within the NHS for people living with obesity, including social prescribing and fair access to bariatric services.
Good health is a vital ingredient in maximising our quality of life and longevity. Proper nutrition is the foundation of good health. Investment in access to good food will pay dividends both in savings to the NHS and in increased productivity, which will boost the economy and deliver on the promise of levelling up health outcomes.
Speaking in last year’s Queen’s Speech debate, I welcomed the Government’s commitment to bringing forward a ban on conversion therapy. A year on, we are no further forward—in fact, we seem to have gone backwards—but I hope to see progress this year.
I hoped to see a “better business” Bill in the Queen’s Speech, to give us a cleaner, greener and fairer future. Businesses in my constituency are pushing me on this, as they understand how important it is to give businesses different priorities in law. I hoped to see something about that and am disappointed by its absence.
Talking of better business, I am also extremely disappointed to see no progress on legislating to outlaw fire and rehire, of which P&O Ferries is the latest example. Ministers and Conservative Members said it was absolutely terrible but, when push comes to shove, there is no action to outlaw the practice. That is a huge omission from the Queen’s Speech.
Instead, we get a promise to bring forward legislation to abolish the Northern Ireland protocol. Whose Northern Ireland protocol was it? It was the Prime Minister’s—he wrote it, he sold it to the British people—and now, once again, he is trying to renege on something he himself wrote. It demonstrates, yet again, that he is a Prime Minister who will say whatever he needs to say to get out of whatever position he is in at the time and then have no sense of responsibility for the promises he has made. I say to the House that this does affect us internationally. Who will do deals with us if he is going to bring forward legislation to break deals that he wrote himself and signed himself only two years ago?
Of course, the biggest omission at the moment is of any kind of proposals on tackling the dreadful energy crisis we have. Millions of families up and down the country are facing soaring energy bills and ever increasing costs of living. The Government have demonstrated that they have no plan to fix this. Families are paying triple their energy bill, and they need a solution now.
I was disappointed that the Government have not adopted a one-off windfall tax on the oil and gas giants, and let us just understand exactly why that is. It is because a windfall tax would affect not simply the oil and gas companies—incidentally, as we all know, they have said that with the level of profits they are getting, at several billion pounds a quarter, they would be quite happy to pay it—but the City investment funds and City hedge funds that the current Conservative party, along with Russian oligarchs of course, exists to serve. They are not in their places now, but the Education Secretary, the Secretary of State for Health and the Chancellor all have big City investment fund backgrounds. That is what they know, and that is who they are really defending when they refuse to have a windfall tax.
Locally, in my area of Cheshire West and Chester, we are leading the way on alternative and clean energy provision. My hon. Friend Justin Madders, who is in his place next to me, and I have been very supportive of HyNet. Actually, I pay tribute to the Government for that particular scheme; they have assisted us. I know that, in his constituency, the Vauxhall Ellesmere Port plant is looking forward to an all-electric future, leading the way on green jobs. That is thanks to him and, again giving credit where it is due, thanks to the Secretary of State. However, I have to say to the Government that any attempts to bring back fracking will be given short shrift in my constituency, and I am very concerned about that.
On levelling up and transport, I was looking forward to some detail in the new transport Bill, and I will be keeping an eye on what the Government are proposing. At the moment, however, we need proper rail services. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and I are meeting the rail companies this week to try to restore direct services between Chester and London. At the moment, they have gone from 12 a day before the pandemic down to one, and now that has been doubled to two we are asked to be grateful for that. We are hopeful that we might get more services, but of course direct services are essential to economic growth. Instead, we have seen the cancellation of Northern Powerhouse Rail and the scrapping of the High Speed 2 eastern leg, which is a betrayal of the north. It is the same for buses. The Government have turned down a bid for more bus money from Cheshire West and Chester Council, even though Ministers described the bid as “excellent”. I hope the transport Bill will tackle the difficulties we are seeing with bus provision, and give more opportunity for places such as Chester to improve connectivity.
Finally, it is absurd that the great heritage asset that is the city walls of Chester has to be paid for out of the highways budget, so that money that should be spent on roads, potholes and pavements is being diverted, understandably, to pay for that great heritage asset. We need a separate fund for the walls.
I was delighted to welcome the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to Stoke-on-Trent last week to meet local workers, businesses, educators and community groups. Stoke-on-Trent is on the up, and we are determined to deliver an even better place to grow up and grow old. We must now level up cities such as Stoke-on-Trent and seize on the opportunities of Brexit, free from the shackles of Brussels bureaucracy, through the Brexit freedoms Bill. Stoke-on-Trent is a city that has been neglected and held back for decades, but we have so much potential just waiting to be unleashed. Finally, we now have a Government and local politicians who are focused on securing the investment and delivering the improvements our city needs. We must particularly improve our local public transport, which is a barrier to jobs and skills opportunities. In parts of Meir, in my constituency, 40% of households do not have a car. For the rest of the city, the average figure is 30%. The need for rail and bus improvements is desperate, so the big win pledges that we have secured for investment from the transforming cities fund, the bus service improvement plan, the restoring your railway fund and others have been gratefully received, because they remove some of the barriers to better jobs and skills opportunities.
I was delighted to champion the improvement works proposed for Longton station through the transforming cities fund, and it is time for those funded works to be delivered. Network Rail must start playing its full and properly co-ordinated part in the delivery, which it has not been doing up until recently. I hope that Great British Railways and the transport Bill will help to resolve how we can better deliver the transport improvements needed in cities such as Stoke-on-Trent. In particular, I hope that they will help to address organisations that can hinder progress, as Network Rail has done on the works that we have been doing across Stoke-on-Trent.
I also call on the Government to announce that our plans to reopen Meir station will proceed—I have been chairing the delivery board for that—and I ask them to continue to support us as we develop our plans for the reopening of the Stoke-Leek line. In building a better city, we are not only making it easier to get around, but reviving historic sites that give our city and our towns their unique character and appeal. I particularly welcome the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which will help us to breathe new life into our towns and high streets.
The heritage action zones that we have won for Longton and for Stoke town, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend Jo Gideon, and the levelling-up fund pledges for major regeneration sites, including the derelict Tams Crown Works in Longton, are all key to levelling up our communities and breathing new life into our town centres. Our city is becoming the place to invest for digital and creative sectors such as the gaming industry, right at the heart of the UK and spurred on by the massive investment in fibre gigabit connectivity. I was pleased last Friday to visit a site where Openreach is installing such connectivity in Fenton.
That is alongside improving education to ensure that everyone locally has the ability to access better skills and better-paid employment. The major announcement that Stoke-on-Trent will benefit from the family hubs programme and as a prioritised education investment area will ensure that every young person gets the best possible start in life, particularly in the early years.
We need to focus on the gaps in engineering and creative skills for the high paid, high-value jobs that we want to attract locally, to fill the gaps that employers regularly speak to me about. I particularly welcome the Government’s lifetime skills guarantee, which offers free training for adults to upskill. That will be significant in places such as Stoke-on-Trent, given the number of adults there without higher level qualifications. The Schools Bill and the higher education Bill can get us on the right track to ensure that young people and everyone in our city achieve their full potential.
I hope to see some more support for the ceramics industry. There are real concerns about the current cost of energy for high energy use manufacturers, particularly the local world-leading ceramics industry. I know that the Prime Minister is listening, and he did so carefully on his visit last week to Churchill China, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis. I hope that we will not allow other countries to steal a march on the fantastic British ceramics industry. Increased energy costs remain a significant concern for much of the sector, and we must see more support, especially for the SMEs that did not qualify for much of what has been announced thus far.
Throughout the pandemic, children and young people have paid a very high price in their liberty, learning loss and mental wellbeing. We had the hokey-cokey of school reopenings and exams inflicted on parents, pupils and teachers, but our young people have shown remarkable resilience and school staff rose to the challenge. Now is the time to recognise those challenges and sacrifices. Now is the time to address the widening attainment gap between the wealthiest and the poorest children. Now is the time to embrace new ways of teaching and learning, as well as to capitalise on new levels of parental engagement. I am afraid that Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech failed our children spectacularly. Only one sentence was dedicated to children or education—yet here we are with the most severe disruption to our schools for two years and crises in children’s mental health and special educational needs and disability.
The Education Secretary has managed to secure parliamentary time for a schools Bill and he is using that precious time to tinker with school structures—what a waste. This technocratic Schools Bill tinkers around the edges of the management and governance of schools and is not what parents, pupils or employers are crying out for. They want a broader offer that equips our young people with broader life skills and experiences that nurture creativity, build resilience and teamwork, and boost their wellbeing.
All of us, on both sides of the House, want to see children in school and are alarmed by the large numbers of children missing from school. I am concerned, however, that the Government’s zero-tolerance approach overlooks the needs of children who might be struggling with their mental health or special needs. We need to identify and tackle the root causes of school absence, rather than go for the “all stick and no carrot” approach.
I hope that the Government will use the clauses in the Bill that relate to the funding formula to reverse the devaluation of the pupil premium. I am proud that that Liberal Democrat policy to support the poorest pupils was introduced when we were in the coalition Government, but it has been cut in real terms by £160 per primary child and £127 per secondary pupil over the past seven years since we left Government. With the attainment gap growing, the pupil premium must be restored to its original value if the Government really are serious about levelling up.
Time and again in this place, I have highlighted the growing mental health crisis among children and young people. We know that unhappy children are less able to learn, thrive and perform well. Our teachers are overburdened and unable to cope with the immense challenges around pupil wellbeing, yet there was no reference in the Queen’s Speech to the urgent action that we need. I suggest that we need an urgent children and young people’s mental health recovery plan. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is here, and in the same way that he has focused on the elective care backlog, I implore him to come up with a similar plan on children’s mental health, because it is desperately needed. We would not ignore a child with a broken leg, yet too many children who are mentally unwell cannot cope without access to the help and support that they need. Liberal Democrats are calling for a dedicated, qualified mental health professional in every school.
Finally, there was no reference to catch-up funding either. The Sutton Trust found that more than two thirds of primary heads are struggling to help children due to a lack of catch-up funding. Schools in my constituency are drawing on parental donations to support children with catch-up. This is a political choice. People may no longer want to talk about the pandemic, but its impact on our young people and our economy will be felt for decades if the right investment is not forthcoming.
I call again on the Government to step up and provide the full £15 billion of catch-up funding that was recommended by their adviser, Sir Kevan Collins. The Education Policy Institute said that the cost to the economy of lost learning could run into the trillions—I repeat, the trillions—over the next 80 years, and that is based on OECD data. That is many times the return on investment of key infrastructure projects, if the full £15 billion catch-up funding is committed. Let us start treating our children—the future generation on whom we will all be reliant one day—as an investment and not as a cost. Sadly, the Queen’s Speech has largely ignored them.
May I take this opportunity to say a great deal of thanks from my constituency to the Queen for her service over almost 70 years, as I may not get that chance going forward?
The subject of today’s session is making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old. Two and a half years into my service as the MP for my constituency, I thought that it would be worth touching on a few things that are trying to move that plan forward.
We have had millions of pounds for Hinckley Academy to make sure that we have education that supports our local children. We have had £19.9 million for Twycross zoo to create a conservation and education centre to breed the conservationists of the future. We have had £28 million for internet for Leicestershire, which means that 330 houses in Sketchley Brook in Burbage now have better, faster internet access. We have had £1.8 million to improve Hinckley high street and ensure that people go there and want to enjoy it, whether they are a child or an OAP. We are working on improving the A5, which is vital infrastructure for our constituency for people to get to their jobs: £20 million has been invested and we moved through decision point 1 in March. I am keen to see that go forward.
Most importantly, £7 million has been put towards Hinckley hospital, with another community diagnostic centre coming and a plan that is ready to go. I am dead keen to make sure that there is no red tape in its way, because it puts Hinckley on the map and provides the service that we need for our community of children, adults and OAPs. That is what it is all about.
In the three minutes that I have left, I want to focus on two subjects: planning and the Online Safety Bill. I have heard the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities use the acronym BIDEN for the five crucial points of planning: beauty, infrastructure, democracy, environment and neighbourhoods. I put it to him that he has missed a trick there, because “INBED with Gove” would be a far better selling point. However, the principles are right: we need the right homes, in the right place, with the right infrastructure that is right for our environment. That is fundamental to our planning system, but the current system does not deliver it. My constituency typifies that, because under the Lib Dem borough council we do not have an up-to-date local plan, which means that every single day we are open to speculative development without that infrastructure, without those amenities and without that support.
I am pleased that the Queen’s Speech is bringing forward planning change. That should concentrate on strengthening neighbourhood plans and localism in action, especially for those without an up-to-date local plan. The infrastructure levy is important for getting funding up front for the amenities that we need: the roads, the GP surgeries, and the schools. All those things need to be rectified, so I am glad that change is being introduced. Of course, there is also the question of building out. Developers getting the land is one thing, but using it is another. We need houses for young people and their families to aspire to, but we also need houses for our pensioners to retire or downsize to, and we need to provide support for them.
I come at the Online Safety Bill through my work on body image. There are two fundamental things that I would like to see in the Bill. First, there needs to be a legally named person for the algorithm. We have safeguarding leads in schools, we have Caldicott guardians in health and we have GDPR controllers. On our social media and on the internet, the algorithm is fundamental, so naming someone who is accountable would mean that anyone in this House or in this country could hold the big companies to account. That is imperative in lifting the bonnet to see what is underneath and what is driving the content that all of us—children or adults—are served. Secondly, we should allow people to choose to be served verified authentic images. The technology exists. We are allowing people to choose anonymity, so why do we not do it with authenticated images? Those two little changes would really make sure that we grow up and grow old in the best of Britain.
There has already been quite a lot of discussion about waiting lists, but I want to talk about another aspect of the situation. Waiting times for mental health services continue to be chronically oversubscribed, if people are actually deemed ill enough to be referred to them in the first place. If I may, I will give just one example of what that means for the person who is waiting.
I have a constituent who was advised in 2020 that she was displaying signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and emotionally unstable personality disorder. She was accepted on a dialectical behaviour therapy treatment course with a two-year waiting list. Of course, the wait has been exacerbated by covid. However, in the second year of waiting there has been no update whatever from the mental health trust, so my constituent is just left waiting and wondering how much longer it will be before she receives any treatment at all. Of course, as the MP’s office we have been chasing the trust as well, but we have not heard anything either. This is a really appalling way to treat some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
I join my hon. Friend Judith Cummins in what she said about dentistry. In my area, waiting lists are in their thousands, with one practice citing a waiting list of more than 3,000 people. One constituent contacted me because of the pain she was experiencing. She described her attempts to register at a practice as a fight, which I think sums up the situation perfectly. In the last six months of 2021, I was contacted by dozens of different constituents, all of whom were contacting me on behalf of their families as well as themselves. It is well documented how challenging the issues dentists face in relation to the unit of dental activity, which does not encourage dentists to take on new patients and accommodates only 50% of the population. That, in effect, means we start from a position where the Government know many people will be denied access to dental care but have consciously and deliberately accepted that their policy will leave many people either forced to carry on in pain or seek treatment from the private sector. The whole system is in desperate need of reform.
Of course, we cannot have a debate on the NHS at the moment without having regard to the impact of covid, but we should not just limit it to covid. People suffering from long covid remain a huge issue. Recent reports suggest that the number of people seeking help for long covid is in the region of 1.8 million—a huge number. It has been reported that some sufferers are waiting so long for help that they are taking advice on buying their own oxygen to help with their breathlessness, while others are seeking advice on accessing private healthcare because they cannot get anything from the NHS. That is the nub of the issue.
The pattern in just about every aspect of healthcare—surgical procedures, mental health support and dental treatment—is that people are finding the system they have paid into all their lives is no longer there for them. The founding principle of universal healthcare free at the point of use, which is supposed to be the bedrock of the NHS, is under threat. That will lead to privatisation by default and we will be all the poorer for that.
I want to say a little bit about the cost of living, because every indicator I see shows that things will get much worse before they get better: interest rates, inflation, energy bills and food bills. We are on the cusp of a tsunami that will send many people under. I will not even start to talk about the complete failure to support British agriculture and get crops planted in the ground, which will cause us problems next year. For many, the point of destitution has already arrived. I am sorry to say that the number of people I see in that situation, because they have already gone through all the emergency assistance agencies and have had their quota for the year, shows me that there is a real problem and that the state is not offering any solutions. Telling people to get a better paid job or work more hours is just patronising nonsense that just shows how out of touch this Government are.
In those circumstances, it is shocking that on the most pressing issue, which requires urgent action—that is, the cost of living—there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech. There is nothing to give families the security they need. I do not see the objection to a windfall tax on North sea oil and gas profits. The clue is in the name: windfall. The companies were not expecting that money, so it cannot be the restraint on investment that some would claim it to be. Such a tax would make a huge difference to my constituents. In my constituency alone, 12,500 families would see £400 off their bills as a result of a windfall tax. We should really continue to push for it.
In the end, we have a whole system where public services are being rowed back. Many constituents see their transport network decaying, public services decaying, local councils starved of resources and town centres closing down. There is so much more we need to address. I am afraid that, for me, the Humble Address fails to do that.
It is a pleasure to follow Justin Madders. I congratulate him on Ofgem’s recent announcement that Ellesmere Port, as well as Redcar, will progress to stage 2 of the hydrogen village trials.
Today’s debate is on making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old, and we are doing just that. However, the Queen’s Speech must be viewed in the context of a war in Europe and a growing energy crisis, which is why the energy security Bill is one of the most important Bills in the speech. Defence and energy security go hand in hand. Putin has been emboldened because of Europe’s collective reliance on Russian gas and he uses it as a weapon, as can be seen in his rash reaction to Finland’s desire to join NATO. Not only will our energy Bill enable us to achieve energy sovereignty in a dangerous world, but it moves us further along the path to net zero and creates thousands of jobs in the process, in places such as Teesside.
In Teesside, we are quickly becoming the centre of excellence for green technology through: offshore wind; the world’s first industrial-scale carbon capture utilisation and storage project; hydrogen production, with 5 GW of hydrogen planned and the hydrogen village trials that I mentioned a few moments ago; and, of course, our nuclear power station at Hartlepool. It was commissioned in 1983, a whole 10 years before I was born. Only three power stations have been commissioned in the UK since then. In the 13 years of the Blair-Brown Government, not one new power station was constructed and six were decommissioned. New Labour turned its back on new nuclear, and we are righting its wrongs with a new power station every year for the next decade. This Queen’s Speech will help us to address that great national challenge, ensuring that our critical infrastructure remains future-proofed to the evolving needs of the 21st century.
Investment in infrastructure is a key signature of this Government’s commitment to levelling up, but I think we can go further. I look particularly to HS2, which currently has no commitment to using UK-sourced steel in its construction—that is wrong. It is nonsensical to have a situation where every few years the steel industry finds itself in further hardship and us MPs with steel constituencies go knocking at the Treasury’s door. Surely a better use of taxpayers’ money is for procurement rules to benefit foundation industries in the UK over international counterparts, and I hope that that is what the Procurement Bill allows. It is not an excuse for UK industry not to be competitive in its pricing, but we should acknowledge in any procurement decision the economic and social value that investment in UK industry brings and the levelling-up effect that such investment can have.
The purpose of our levelling-up programme is the next generation, which is why this Government are also investing in a world-class schools system to deliver the high-quality education that our young people deserve. The Schools Bill will absolutely set us on a path to achieving that. In Redcar and Cleveland we have made great strides under this Government to invest in our local schools, particularly at a primary school level, with more than £20 million invested to revitalise the 48 primary schools over the past decade, and Newcomen Primary School remains one of the best in the country. Despite that, more still needs to be done to ensure that every child has the education they deserve; in my part of the world that particularly relates to our secondary schools and I hope the Schools Bill will help to achieve that.
Finally, I wish to thank the Government for bringing forward the conversion therapy Bill again. I speak as a gay Christian who cannot wait for this Government to finally outlaw conversion therapy. Everyone, LGBT or otherwise, deserves to grow up and grow old being who they are, without the threat of disgusting, outdated and, I hope, soon-to-be criminal practices labelled as “conversion therapy”.
We are three years into this Prime Minister’s leadership. We have faced the biggest political challenge in the post-war era with Brexit and the single biggest health challenge in 100 years with covid. We now face the dual challenge of our energy security and war in Europe once again. This Queen’s Speech demonstrates our willingness to tackle the big issues of the day—becoming energy secure while levelling up across the whole of the UK. We have been tasked with delivering on the people’s priorities, and we are doing just that.
I welcome the legislation to protect access to cash, which is a lifeline for many of the most vulnerable and one of the best budgeting tools there is. However, it needs to be enacted speedily, as closures are happening daily and the more there are, the more difficult and costly it is to reverse them. There needs to be statutory regulation for shops to offer cashback. It is a service offered by many but it could be withdrawn at any time at the moment. Shops also need to be forced to accept cash; people who choose to budget that way should be able to spend where they wish.
I also welcome the regulation to force banks to reimburse the losses through the push payment scams. Enforcement and tough penalties will be key, but I would also like to see transparency, so that customers can see how quickly and how many people banks reimburse on this aspect, and they can then choose their banks accordingly. More needs to be done to protect consumer rights, and not just by giving the Competition and Markets Authority new powers to fine firms that break the rules. We need to ensure that consumer review groups are consulted on all changes made to consumer protection, particularly when any EU laws are scrapped. We do not want a reduction in standards. There also needs to be a new duty and a clear remit for the Financial Conduct Authority to have regard to financial inclusion, and ensure that consumers are not excluded from products and services by the poverty premium.
Many comments have been made about people using food banks because they cannot budget or cook a meal from scratch. Both in my own experience and in 23 years dealing with people in debt and on low incomes, I have not found that to be the case. In fact, I have found quite the opposite, and I will give the House a little of my own experience to demonstrate that.
When I was left alone with a very young child, I did find a job very quickly. It was not very well paid, but I could manage if I was careful and if there were no unexpected bills, which are often the tipping point causing people to get people into debt. I got up at 6 am, got my daughter—who was 18 months old—ready for the childminder, prepared breakfast, drove 30 miles to work because there was no suitable public transport, did a day’s work, drove home, gave my daughter tea, bathed her and put her to bed. At 8 pm I thought about my tea, and prepared for the next day. That was what happened on every weekday; weekends were spent tidying, washing, and trying to spend some time playing with my daughter.
When people are doing that week in, week out, it is no wonder that they have little time or energy to prepare meals from scratch every day, or batch cook every weekend. I certainly did not. It is no wonder that people resort to frozen convenience food or, heaven forbid, a takeaway instead of a rushed sandwich. There is a saying about not judging people until you have walked a mile in their shoes. My work in a citizens advice bureau brought that home to me, and I think we would all do well to remember it.
There are now 2.1 million people a year using food banks to survive. It has been said that throwing money at the problem will not help, but actually it is probably the only thing that will help, as too many people have too little income to pay bills and eat and heat. A windfall tax is one possible measure; reinstating the £20 uplift to universal credit and a moratorium on deductions from benefits which leave people well below the poverty line would also help. Undoubtedly, however, there will be an increase in demand for debt advice, and an increase in the number of people who have no disposable income to pay their creditors.
I should like to know what discussions the Government are having with both businesses and their own Departments about the treatment of people who have no chance of paying off their debts owing to lack of income. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, nearly 4 million low-income households are behind with essential bills, rent or debt payments, up threefold since the pandemic. What measures are being considered to help these people? Perhaps we should listen to Jubilee Debt Campaign and write off some of those debts. There is no point in leaving people in constant debt. All that that is doing is building up mental health problems and ill health generally and placing more and more pressure on the support networks.
The Prime Minister promised to bring his full fiscal firepower to tackle the cost of living crisis. Given their performance so far, these measures have proved a pretty damp squib for most of my constituents.
Today’s theme is “Making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old”. As I am still clinging desperately to my 20s, I will focus on the growing-up side of things; and as a north-east MP, I will also focus on my region and my own fabulous constituency.
We know that there are talented kids throughout our country, in every single community, but for generations—and, unfortunately, because of the actions of successive Governments—too many ambitious, talented young people feel that they have to move away from their home towns to chase their jobs and their fortunes. The Government are already making progress in that regard, particularly in our region. We see swathes of high-quality jobs coming to Darlington, thanks to the opening of the new Treasury and Department for International Trade campuses, but also as a result of the success of Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley Mayor, empowered by Government policy on devolution and on freeports. That has brought high-quality, highly skilled, highly paid jobs to our region, well within commuting distance of Bishop Auckland.
However, this is not just about jobs. We need town centres with diverse shops, enjoyable leisure activities and a vibrant night life for the whole town to enjoy. On this, the Government are helping pretty well. In Bishop Auckland, as well as the levelling-up fund, which is delivering much-needed infrastructure improvements to the A68 at Toft Hill and Whorlton bridge, we are also the proud recipient of towns fund investment. Since I became MP for Bishop Auckland there has been over £70 million of direct funding into Bishop Auckland to deliver tangible improvements to our town centres, attracting private investment and creating job opportunities for our young people. I am delighted that the Queen’s Speech will continue this ambitious plan through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and the non-domestic rating Bill, helping empower businesses, improve our local communities and breathe new life into our high streets, which we all know they need.
Town centres are the cultural hearts of our communities. In my constituency we are very pleased to have the Bowes Museum and The Witham in Barnard Castle, in Bishop Auckland we benefit from Kynren and the British Auckland food festival, and in Spennymoor we have the Norman Cornish gallery. But it is not just town centres where we have these cultural gems; they also exist further afield, such as the Grassholme Observatory in Teesdale, the Locomotion railway museum out by Shildon and great country shows such as those in Eggleston and Bowes, which I enjoy every summer. If this sounds like a tourism pitch, it absolutely is, because the best way to turbocharge Bishop Auckland and make it one of the best places in which to grow up and thrive is by ensuring County Durham wins UK city of culture 2025. Let me rephrase that, because we do not want to be the city of culture; we want to be the UK’s first ever county of culture. I hope Ministers on the Front Bench today will send this message to the Culture Secretary, because we know what city of culture status can do in unlocking opportunities for tourism and advertising that County Durham is open for business.
Being the best place to grow up also means not living in fear of crime and in communities riddled with antisocial behaviour; we will all know about that from our own communities. I am very pleased that County Durham is already seeing its share of 20,000 new police officers; they are some cracking people and I thank them wholeheartedly for their service and engagement with our local communities. However, those unfortunate enough to be victims of crime need to feel that they get both support and justice, and both as MP for my community and chair of the all-party group on one punch assaults I greatly welcome the victims Bill and all it will achieve.
It would be remiss of me not to touch on the conversion therapy ban. It has been talked about for a long time and I am very pleased to see it in the Queen’s Speech this year, because young people—straight, gay, bi, or trans—should be free to live and love as they wish to and be supported in that by the Government. That means finally banning the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy, not just for under-18s and not just for people who are part of the LGB community, but for everyone—for the entire LGBT community. I certainly plan to continue my engagement with Government to make sure we get the right legislation on this abhorrent practice.
Over the last few days of this debate we have heard some harrowing stories from constituencies around the country of poverty, deprivation and destitution—of people living hand to mouth in some of the worst possible scenarios. However, the Secretary of State who opened the debate today seems to have missed a lot of that, because the picture according to the Secretary of State is that this is a place where people get more than enough opportunities, where young people have never had it so good, where every school is funded exactly as it should be, and where the health service is operating as it should. I have absolutely no idea what parallel universe the Secretary of State is living in.
It is fine to talk about opportunities, but what about the obstacles people face before they get to those opportunities, the biggest of which is poverty? Let us be clear about this: poverty did not arise a few months ago with the cost of living crisis. Poverty has been worsening over the past 12 years because of an ideological austerity agenda by the Conservative Government that has devastated our communities. This is the reality of where we are.
At a time when people are facing some of the worst challenges ever, we see Conservative Members, even a Minister, going on national television saying that people should budget better and work more hours, as if that is the reason they are poor. When is the last time that Members met anybody who chose to be poor? When is the last time that we heard a child who was born in poverty say, “You know what? Actually, I am glad that I was born in that household.”
I urge the Secretary of State to come to Bradford. Our young people are full of aspiration and full of ambition, but, tragically, the media does not give Bradford an easy ride. Frankly, I am fed up with the media’s unfair image of Bradford and of our young people. We are a vibrant city, with a young population. What we lack is the opportunity.
Earlier today, the Secretary of State stood at that Dispatch Box and told me, my constituents and the people in my district that, somehow, we do have that opportunity. The reality is that he could have used his time differently in this Queen’s Speech debate. Conservative Members know that. Those who represent constituencies with poverty and deprivation will know inside themselves that this Queen’s Speech is a missed opportunity. It does nothing to provide opportunity to young people in Bradford. It does nothing to address the health inequalities. A person living in the inner cities of Bradford is likely to live 10 years fewer than if they lived in an affluent city suburb. That is the reality. When it comes to educational attainment, a person from Bradford is likely to achieve a lot less than if they lived in a rich leafy suburb. That is the unfairness. Those are the barriers that we are talking about.
If the Secretary of State for Education, who spoke earlier today, and the Health Minister, who will close the debate, want to address these inequalities, they have missed that opportunity. They should listen to our suggestion. We need an emergency budget to address the destitution that is rife in our country. Poverty is a political choice, and the people of this country will remember the choice that the Government have made.
How to follow that! Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will try to just use the microphone for amplification.
I am grateful to the Opposition for choosing this subject. It is a very good way of framing the mission that we have as a country. A nation in which it is good to grow up and grow old is one that is also ready for the threats of our times. I am with Edmund Burke who said that
“the sources of the commonwealth are in the households”.
The strength of our country is found in our families and in our communities.
The threats are very real. We have seen in this century already how precarious our financial system is. We have seen very recently what a pandemic can do to global health and economic systems. We are witnessing now the appalling reality of war in Europe and the real threat of nuclear war. I think also of the threat of technological collapse triggered by accident or sabotage, and of the prospect, even if we do not fully believe the prophets of the apocalypse, of what climate change could do to the developing world, inducing extraordinary upheaval and the prospect of hundreds of millions of people on the move, heading for our safe and temperate continent. We face a series of very real threats to our country and to our civilisation.
There is a lot to be confident about in the UK, though, such is the strength of our institutions, including our democracy and, for all our disputes, the strength of this place—our Parliament. I think also of the dedication of those who serve the state on the frontline, not least in the British Army. I mention those who form the largest garrison in the UK in my constituency in Wiltshire.
Some of our country’s greatest assets are not found in the agencies of the British state. I think of two recent crises that did us proud as a country: the situation of millions of isolating people during the covid lockdowns and the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. For all the efforts of Ministers and officials in both those situations, it is fair to say that the apparatus of the state struggled to manage fast enough to help. But society did not: millions of people stepped forward spontaneously during covid to organise mutual aid groups to support their neighbours, and hundreds of thousands of people have offered homes in support of refugees. In both cases, the state enabled and helped to fund the work of communities, but it was communities that took the initiative and did the work.
That brings me to the nub of my argument: if we are to rise to the threats of our time, the crucial thing—the watchword of our whole strategy—should be resilience. That of course means national security, and yes, we need to modernise the British state and to invest even more than we currently do in our national defence. We also need real security in our energy supplies, in our food supplies and in technology. The system we really need to be strong, though, is not the state or the economy but society itself. That is the real foundation of national resilience and national security: the security of our communities and families.
How do we strengthen our communities and families? Communities need the plans outlined in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill in the Queen’s Speech: more devolution and more community power. I also want to see more reform of our public services to put them in the hands of local people, rather than have them as outposts of the central state. Families need more power and resources, too. We need more family-sized homes, including the affordable and social housing that has been announced. I also welcome the plans for the expansion of the community hubs programme.
When it comes to childcare and social care, the answer does not lie in ever greater, larger provision, large-scale warehousing of children and the elderly, trying to arrange for the home and the family to do as little as possible. We must help people to live as they would prefer, to work closer to home and to have time for meaningful family life. We need people to be able to spend the money that is available for childcare and residential social care in the way that is best for them, to look after their children or their parents at home if they wish, or to pay for informal support among friends and family. To put it bluntly, it should not be possible to get Government money only if you put your dependants in an institution.
While I am at it, we need taxes and benefits that reward couples rather than penalising them. The family is the best and most important welfare agency that we have or possibly could have. We should invest in it and trust in it.
When I read the theme of today’s debate, I truly did not know whether to laugh or cry. On whose deluded planet could anyone believe that Britain is the best place to grow up and grow old? Really? Have the Government had a good look at other countries? An OECD survey covering 2017 to 2019 showed that 15.5% of folk in Britain aged over 66 were living in relative poverty. Rates in Iceland, Denmark and Norway were under 4%. Small, independent countries can do it, but under this Tory Government? Nae chance.
I wish to speak for a moment on behalf of the WASPI women. In the Pensions Act 1995, the Government increased the state pension age for women from 60 to 65, with a further increase to 66 in the Pensions Act 2011. The changes were poorly communicated to the women affected, with many not finding out about them until 2012. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found that the Department for Work and Pensions was guilty of maladministration.
The Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign for the women affected is calling for an immediate one-off compensation payment of between £11,666 and £20,000. By the end of this calendar year, some 220,190 women across the UK will have died waiting for justice in the seven years since the WASPI campaign began. The Exchequer has saved £3.8 billion in compensation through those deaths, based on likely compensation figures called for by WASPI. I could go on. Those women need justice. They paid in—the Government should pay out.
Many of our elderly are supported by unpaid carers, a much neglected group who make the difference to many. Carers UK has asked the Tory Government to take immediate action, as it feels it is not too late for the Government to step in and recognise carers’ vital role. That is in England, of course. Scotland has provided a carers allowance to unpaid carers. It was the first payment made by Social Security Scotland. It increases carers allowance by some 13%, with eligible carers receiving £231.40 every six months. The Scottish Government’s carers allowance supplement means that since 2018 carers have received more than £460 a year more in Scotland than carers in the rest of the UK. Like many of us, Carers UK was looking for an employment Bill giving immediate rights to flexible working. That is a huge omission from the Government’s programme for business.
We have heard already about Scotland’s fantastic baby box and how it supports families who cannot afford much. In Scotland, people and the Government care about those less fortunate than themselves. Could we have some of that down here in England? “Britain” is mentioned in the title of the debate, but most of the Minister’s speech today was about England and possibly Wales and Northern Ireland. There was not a great deal for Scotland. This Tory UK Government increasingly let Scotland down. The best way for Scotland to get out of poverty is for us to become an independent country, giving us the powers to make Scotland the best place to grow up and to grow old. I strongly look forward to that.
It is a privilege to speak in today’s debate ar ran pobl Ynys Môn—on behalf of the people of Ynys Môn—and to follow many excellent speeches. The subject of today’s debate—making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old—is truly one that particularly resonates with my constituents.
In the Queen’s Speech debate a year ago, I spoke about how the UK Government’s plans were hard-wired for opportunity. I spoke of initiatives already ongoing in Ynys Môn, such as the Holyhead hydrogen hub, Minesto and Morlais, and I spoke of my hopes and aspirations for Ynys Môn. One year on, I can see genuine progress for my constituency—an island that includes some of the most deprived communities in the UK.
Last May, my island community was reeling from the withdrawal of Hitachi from the proposed Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on Ynys Môn. The company cited financing as a major issue. The potential high-quality employment opportunities for local people from the proposed plant were hugely significant in an area of high unemployment. The potential loss hit the community hard. Since then, the Government have taken significant action. They have fast-tracked the Nuclear Financing Bill to support the funding of new nuclear. They have produced the British energy security strategy, in which Wylfa was specifically mentioned, in which the Government committed to the acceleration of nuclear and to eight new nuclear plants this decade. The Government are also setting up the Great British nuclear delivery vehicle, which will be headed up by Simon Bowen—a Welshman.
In January, the Prime Minister, who is a fervent support of Wylfa, visited the site with me to see its potential for himself. Just last week, in a first for Ynys Môn, Wylfa was visited by the Energy Minister, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Wales. They came to announce the £120 million future nuclear enabling fund, and the plans for at least one freeport in Wales. I am so proud that Anglesey is now front and centre of Government policy—an island in north Wales where our most senior Ministers come to make significant national announcements.
So how does that fit into today’s debate? I regularly highlight to this House how Ynys Môn haemorrhages its young people every year as they go in search of skilled employment. The data shows that we have an average number of births and an average number of schoolchildren. We have fantastic secondary and tertiary education on the island. Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, headed up by Dafydd Evans, is one of the largest FE colleges in the UK. It has excellent facilities and gives practical vocational training across a range of disciplines, including the energy sector. Aled Jones-Griffith is the principal of Coleg Menai, which worked with Horizon to produce young apprentices, who had to leave Ynys Môn to find work at the Hinkley Point nuclear power station. Ynys Môn wants its young people to come back. Ynys Môn needs the next generation of young people to stay on the island and to have a future. Without local jobs, our bright, keen young people take their skills and enthusiasm elsewhere in search of better careers, better opportunities and better pay—and with them they take our Welsh language and culture.
I made a commitment to Ynys Môn that I would work hard and fight to bring jobs and investment to its shores. I will be supporting the UK Government’s priorities for the year ahead, including the energy security Bill, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, Welsh freeports, and the shared prosperity fund, so that the communities on Ynys Môn will reap the rewards that will make it a great place to grow up too. Under this Government’s plans, Ynys Môn is shifting from a place that feels forgotten to one in which our young people can look forward to the same exciting opportunities that others across the UK enjoy—a place where local people can earn good salaries, enjoy fulfilling careers and buy their own homes, and where schoolchildren have local role models to inspire them. This is what the people of Ynys Môn want, this is what the people of Ynys Môn deserve, and, working with the UK Government, this is what I aim to deliver.
Today’s theme of making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old made me think back to my childhood. I grew up a stone’s throw from where I still live in Swansea East—a proud working-class area, as it still is today. We did not have a lot but we had enough, and that is the difference.
I am honoured to represent my local community and delighted to be able to help those in need. With the summer lunch club fast approaching, my team are working out how many children we can realistically feed through that scheme. We are already looking ahead to Christmas to try to establish whether we will need to help more than the 2,000 families we helped last year. While I am privileged to be able to use my platform to do this, it breaks my heart that I have to. If we are serious about making Britain the best place to grow up in, the Government need to do more—much, much more—to tackle the food poverty and social injustice that we all see in our constituencies every day.
Despite many promises in the Royal Address, words alone do nothing: action on promises is what is needed. Warms words are not delivering on the assurances by this Government that menopausal women in England would have to pay only one annual fee for their HRT prescription. The announcement was made in October 2021 but it now looks as if it will not happen until April 2023. That is not what was said, not what was anticipated, and not what the women who attended this place on that day to welcome the Government’s commitment believed. As a result, I, other colleagues across the House and very many menopause campaigners, groups and individuals have recently launched the menopause mandate, which aims to add our voice to make sure that there is fair and equal access to menopause support and services right across the country. I am not even going to start on the HRT supply shortage, which I have written to the Health Secretary about on so many occasions that I was beginning to think we had started a pen-pal relationship—although his lack of response obviously makes it a one-sided arrangement.
There were glimmers of hope in the Queen’s Speech, but they were just glimmers. Primarily, there was the commitment to publish draft legislation to reform the Mental Health Act 1983. As a woman who spent 12 years on antidepressants after wrongly self-diagnosing a nervous breakdown and depression instead of what it was—the menopause—I know how vital it is that links are made between the two. I am pleased that depression is listed as a clinical indicator on the quality and outcomes framework, but I am disappointed that menopause is not. I am not being critical of depression being on there, or of the fact that doctors are incentivised to diagnose and treat it; what concerns me is what is being missed. All too often, anxiety and depression are diagnosed when menopause is the problem. It is really important that the similarities and links between menopause and mental health are better understood by medical practitioners. The Government have an opportunity here, through the proposed changes to the Mental Health Act, to include the menopause and the impact it has on mental health in that piece of legislation.
I am truly passionate about making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in. I have been called a lot of things in my time—the sandwich lady, the menopause lady and, if you listen to the gambling lobby, a prohibitionist and a Methodist, as well as quite a few other things that I cannot say in this Chamber—but in last week’s debate on the Queen’s Speech, Fay Jones gave me perhaps my favourite title when she referred to me as
“a pain in the Government’s neck”.—[Official Report,
I am very proud of that and, for the record, I fully intend to continue that trait.
It is a great pleasure to follow Carolyn Harris.
This Queen’s Speech promises to deliver an agenda that reflects the ambition and aspirations of the British people. Our debate today focuses on some of the most significant periods of our lives—growing up and growing old—and the Bills in the Queen’s Speech will make Britain an even better place to do both.
Education is the ultimate expression of levelling up. It is good not just for our employment prospects but for our wellbeing and personal development. It is good not just for the individual but for the economy and society. Einstein said:
“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of minds to think.”
An educated, thinking population creates a productive, dynamic, innovative and entrepreneurial population capable of meeting the challenges of this country, so I am pleased to see in this Queen’s Speech the Government’s determination to deliver an education for all ages, whether you are starting out at a primary school, a student at the local technical college or in your 40s or 50s wanting to retrain and learn new skills.
My constituency has superb grammar schools that consistently feature among the top state schools in the country, but as well as pure academic qualifications, we also need young people with the technical and vocational skills fit for the modern economy. Buckinghamshire University Technical College, with its offer of health and digital courses, is an excellent place for children in my constituency to learn those skills and it is one that I am proud to champion. Bucks College is an enthusiastic advocate and adopter of T-levels, a qualification that—like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education—I want to see as famous and respected as A-levels.
The Schools Bill promises to help every child to fulfil their potential by raising standards. As a former school governor, I have seen at first hand how joining a strong multi-academy trust can enable schools to flourish as they benefit from high standards and expectations. This is exactly what far more schools will do with this legislation. I am also pleased that the Department for Education has published a SEND Green Paper. My constituency has excellent volunteer organisations such as GRASPS—Greater Resources for Autism Supporting Parents and Siblings—which help parents to navigate the minefield of education, health and care plans. Many parents have come to my office in sheer desperation trying to resolve difficulties with EHCPs, and I am glad that the Government—particularly the Minister sitting on the Front Bench, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Will Quince—are working really hard to improve this. I would respectfully urge Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that the NHS plays its part in ensuring that children with special educational needs and disabilities are treated as they should be. Sadly, all too often the delays and difficulties that I see stem from health rather than from education.
Growing up is not just about getting good exam results, a great apprenticeship or a job; it is also about becoming a rounded adult, confident and secure in oneself. That is why I am delighted to see the inclusion in the Queen’s Speech of the conversion therapy Bill, which will ban frankly evil and abhorrent practices that are intended to change sexual orientation. We all need to be free to love who we want to love. For too many of us, it took too long to be able to do that: too long to accept ourselves for who we are and too long for others to accept us. Let us hope that this Bill will be another step to enable today’s generation of young people to feel safe and secure in acknowledging and expressing their sexuality.
We are often keen to talk about the delights and opportunities of childhood, but less enthusiastic about confronting some of the challenges of growing old. Too often, elderly people are almost hidden from view. So I am extremely pleased that the Government are putting older people at the heart of their plans for social care, with a comprehensive vision and substantial investment, coupled with the massive commitment to the NHS through funding, recruitment and the construction of new hospitals.
No one can deny that we face difficult times in the months ahead, but with the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech our country is equipped to encounter any challenge and any adversary, with skill, experience and expertise; with resilience, enthusiasm and true British grit.
This Queen’s Speech shows that the Government either do not understand or do not care about the lives of my constituents in Nottingham South. At the top of their agenda, but sadly not the Government’s, is practical action to address the soaring cost of living crisis.
Take my constituent, a single mum of two living in privately rented accommodation. Despite working full time, when her wage goes in and her rent and bills are paid, she has just £75 a month left over to feed and clothe her family, including two teenagers. She told me that
“my daughter came home from school worried because she had a cookery exam and didn’t want to tell me because she was worried about me having to spend more on the shopping list for her ingredients. Can you imagine how, as a mother, that made me feel?”
I am sure you will agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the situation my constituent faces is not her fault, and that young people should not face those worries.
Rents and prices are rising fast, energy bills are skyrocketing and wages are not keeping pace. Yet the Government chose to scrap the uplift in universal credit and to raise national insurance contributions. I do not hold the Government responsible for global price rises, but I do hold them responsible for 12 years of failure, for making a difficult situation worse, and for failing to act now to protect those who are least able to withstand economic shocks.
Instead of listening and acting, Ministers and Government MPs lecture people, telling them that they would be fine if only they bought value brands, cooked better or improved their budgeting. They patronise people, saying, “Work longer hours or get a better paid job.” If they really cared about pay and job security, the Queen’s Speech would have included legislation to protect workers from unscrupulous employment practices, action to deliver affordable childcare and measures to enable parents to better combine work and care. It did not. Some members of the Government seem determined to add insult by injury, demanding that people stop working from home and instead spend even more time and money commuting.
For children growing up in Tory Britain, life is getting harder. The Resolution Foundation predicts that by 2024-25, more than one in three children will be living in poverty. Well, in Nottingham South they already are. That is almost 6,000 children in my constituency being let down by this Government.
There is nothing graceful about growing old in Tory Britain either. We are now at the point where many older people who have worked and paid taxes their whole lives are having to choose between heating and eating as pensions fail to keep pace with rising prices. Research by Age UK shows that three quarters of older people in the UK are worried about the rising cost of living, and a quarter of older people have said that if energy bills increase substantially, as we expect they inevitably will, they will choose between heating their home and buying food. Some of the poorest pensioners are already cold and hungry.
The Government should have used the Queen’s Speech to introduce an emergency Budget, including a windfall tax on oil and gas companies’ near-record profits, to get money off people’s bills, but they did not. They should have announced investment in energy efficiency measures, matching Labour’s plans to insulate 19 million homes in a decade, which would reduce gas imports, make homes warmer and cut bills while helping to tackle the climate crisis and create new jobs. They chose not to.
On the cost of living, on support for workers, on energy efficiency, security and sustainability, on their record NHS waiting lists, on social care and on vital public services, including youth clubs, libraries, road maintenance, parks and so much more, this Government have failed. My constituents deserve so much better, but I am afraid that they will not get it under the Conservatives.
It is a pleasure to speak in this Queen’s Speech debate on making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old, and to follow Lilian Greenwood. With 38 Bills in the Queen’s Speech, covering a wide range of topics from crime and disorder to education, the economy and the cost of living, there will be much legislating to do in the next several months, but today I will focus on the transport Bill, the data reform Bill and the financial services and markets Bill.
Improved public transport infrastructure and services are vital to ensuring that this country is a good place to grow up with opportunities for all. The proposed transport Bill will create Great British Railways, which I hope will overcome some of the current fragmentation, including that between the Wales and borders franchise and the rest of Great Britain’s network. Our nearest major cities of Manchester and Liverpool and their airports can be reached in just over an hour by road, on average, from Rhyl in my constituency. In comparison, rail services take about two hours, yet a similar distance by rail in the south-east of Britain can take as little as 40 minutes.
Poor regional rail services stifle economic growth, including in our vital tourism sector, suppress efforts to reduce higher-than-average unemployment, and result in just 2% of commutes to the north-west of England being by rail—some 80% less than the national average. I urge the Government to ensure that the rail infrastructure improvements that north Wales requires are placed in the soon-to-be-updated rail network enhancements pipeline at the “decision to develop” stage.
The transport Bill is expected to contain provisions to enable the installation of more electric vehicle charge points, a move that is very much needed locally. I hope that the Bill will also contain provisions to bring “UKNET” into being—a strategic transport network for the whole UK, as recommended in the Union connectivity review.
I believe that the data reform Bill has the potential to empower citizens and improve their lives via more effective delivery of public healthcare, security and Government services. Requiring UK-wide comparable and interoperable data within our public services, but particularly the NHS, could help to identify unacceptable performance, allow learning from best practice, and drive improvement and change. It would also better enable the electorate to identify success or failure and hold politicians to account accordingly.
We must remember that cash remains an important part of life for millions of people across the UK, particularly those in vulnerable groups, as they grow up and grow old. ATMs remain the most popular way of withdrawing cash, but their numbers have been in decline recently. I have experience of that in my constituency: on Prestatyn’s high street, the number of ATMs dropped from six to zero because of the rapid closure of several banks. Cash is still important for many residents and companies in my constituency, especially the independent businesses on the high street. Following a campaign, and thanks to Cardtronics, three new cash machines have now been installed in the town centre. I welcome the fact that the financial services and markets Bill will protect cash by ensuring continued access to withdrawal and deposit facilities across the UK. It is important that the Bill be delivered as soon as possible so that existing cash infrastructure can be protected.
I hope that the legislation will set out that LINK be formally regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure access to cash, whether through mandating the installation of ATMs, recommending new banking hubs or requiring enhanced post office services. It should also ensure that communities such as Prestatyn that lost banking services before 2022, rather than only those that lose branches after the Bill is on the statute book, will potentially qualify for a hub. Consideration should be given to the ongoing availability of Welsh language banking service provision in a community—a concern that Menter Iaith Sir Ddinbych has emphasised in correspondence with me, particularly in relation to the town of Denbigh.
The Queen’s Speech delivers a promising set of Bills that will help to ensure that Britain remains one of the best places to grow up and grow old. I look forward to helping to shape the legislation as it progresses through Parliament.
We cannot provide equal opportunities and a stimulating environment throughout life that will enable people to live truly fulfilling lives while we continue to have such high levels of poverty and insecurity and while we continue to support a society where greed is good and poverty is rife. Research provided by Independent Age in partnership with City, University of London, tracked the financial health of people past state pension age between 2010 and 2019, and the most shocking finding was that 40% of pensioners spent at least one year in poverty during that nine-year period.
The Queen’s Speech was a missed opportunity to introduce immediate measures that could help to alleviate the devastating effects of the cost of living crisis, including a commitment to ensure that pension credit reaches those who are entitled to it. Increases in social benefit income from things such as pension credit are a crucial factor in helping older people escape poverty, and that is particularly true among people aged 75-plus. As take-up remains stagnant, research from Loughborough University, commissioned by Independent Age, estimates that the lack of take-up costs the Treasury £4 billion per year in increased NHS and social care spending.
At the other end of life’s journey, 4.3 million children were living in poverty in the UK before the pandemic. That was up 200,000 from the previous year and, according to Action for Children, up 500,000 over the past five years, which is 31% of children—if Ministers are listening, that is 31% of children. Almost 60% of all children in poverty in Scotland live in a family where a child is under six, and the Scottish Government have reacted positively. Since August 2021, all councils have offered 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare for all eligible children, making high-quality early learning and childcare available to families and saving parents up to £4,900 per year for each eligible child.
The SNP is proud to be delivering on manifesto promises. The provision of free school breakfasts and lunches all year round for all children in primary 1 to 7, digital services for every poor child, the abolition of fees for instrumental music tuition and the removal of core curriculum charges are feeding their bellies and their minds. Barbara Crowther, the co-ordinator of the children’s food campaign, has said that universal free meals for primary schools
“could be a valuable and cost-effective lifeline for families at a difficult economic time.”
What about all those families that are struggling now and were struggling before covid or the energy price increases? Who do they turn to? A few days ago, the Chancellor tried to explain why he could not adjust welfare. He blamed the computer system at its core, yet whenever I have questioned the suitability and indeed the flexibility of the existing welfare system over the last seven years, I have always been told, “It’s doing its job, it’s just fine. Move along—nothing to see here.” It clearly is not, yet possible solutions once again are ignored, dismissed as fanciful and never fully investigated.
I know it is a concept the UK Government scorn, but councils in all four nations want to trial universal basic income, and only by trials will we be able to value its pros and cons. The UK Government should not fear the outcomes of these trials; they should be instructing the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to work with council authorities so we can learn and improve based on solid data and academic research, not the prejudice and misconceptions that beset the current welfare system. Welfare must be designed to provide security and confidence, not to punish and stigmatise.
The UK’s big idea to resolve the disparity of rich and poor is levelling up. While the UK Government will point to levelling up as an example of stimulus, it prompts the question: if our society is so equal, why do we need levelling up and why are we not already level? Unless we address those issues of poverty, deprivation and a lack of aspiration, with lives wasted and unfulfilled, everything else is smoke and mirrors. If all the stated goals are to have any credence, they must be rooted in a fair society, and one with equal access to education, health, energy, food and transport.
When Beveridge wrote his report to design a post-world war two welfare system for the United Kingdom, he said:
“A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.”
This is such a time. As we emerge from a worldwide pandemic and the gig economy increases, we need a revolution in welfare. In an increasingly unequal society, the UK Government would do well to listen. Now is the time for big ideas, and the Queen’s Speech was sadly lacking in any.
The Queen’s Speech contains a wealth of proposals that broadly fall between how we best support the vast majority of our people for whom things such as state-funded education and state-funded healthcare are important, and how we support and focus on those who need the intervention of the state to thrive.
I echo my hon. Friend Bob Blackman in congratulating our colleagues, the re-elected leader of Hillingdon Council, Ian Edwards, and the newly elected leader of Harrow Council, Paul Osborn. Local government is often the vehicle through which the state supports both the most vulnerable and our communities, which is the theme I hope to develop in my brief contribution tonight.
I commend Ministers for their work on special educational needs and disabilities in the Schools Bill. I know they spend a lot of time engaging with people across the sector, and it is clear to us all that, if we are to make sure that every child has the chance to thrive, a change is urgently required. Despite the welcome reforms that have been introduced, the system remains enormously challenged.
The Schools Bill will also begin to create a more level playing field between different types of schools, and it offers an opportunity to ensure that state-funded education gives every child in England the best start in life. This will be debated, but I particularly welcome the Government’s proposals to enable local authorities to set up multi-academy trusts. Research by the Local Government Association, based on previous research by organisations such as Watchsted, shows that there remains a significant advantage for maintained schools and that local authorities remain more effective than academy trusts in improving the attainment of struggling schools. We need to make sure we can harness that to the best advantage of all our communities.
My hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill spoke about the importance of the human rights review. As a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I have heard a lot of representations on the review over the past few months. It is very important that we get it right and that we reflect the need to update our human rights legislation to take account of, for example, the growing impact of the online world on how people live their lives, but I echo the concerns about ensuring that we do not displace the problem by sending cases to Strasbourg that we could more effectively deal with at UK level.
For many aspects of our economy, education, local government and healthcare, we need to recognise that the trend of working from home has been embraced by the most productive, most efficient and most profitable parts of our economy, particularly in professional services. We can help the money we spend on taxpayer-funded services go even further by making sure that people who can work from home most efficiently do so, while making sure that those who need to be in the office to provide frontline face-to-face public services are where they are required.
It is important the House recognises that for the local authority with the greatest proportion of residents accessing some form of social care, at any stage of their life’s journey, the figure is less than one in five residents, but those residents are often the most vulnerable. Ministers in the Department for Education have been considering how to review and improve our children’s social care system and update safeguarding to reflect the challenges of the modern world. I urge them to look at the Crocker review of private equity, which considers the cost of providing children’s social care, and I hope they will find time to answer the call from the Children’s Commissioner that England should follow Wales and Scotland in abolishing the reasonable chastisement defence in respect of the disciplining of children.
Finally, on growing old, I encourage the Government to look in all their endeavours at a public health approach to ageing, so that we consider how local authorities can encourage activity such as walking football, bowls and swimming to keep our older citizens active. There is so much potential to show our pride in our communities and our ambition for them. The public will find much of that on the Conservative Benches tonight.
On the Opposition Benches, we have been hearing about the cost of living crisis. We hear about it in the media, from our constituents and on the news. We hear about it constantly, but it feels like it is somehow falling on deaf ears, because in the Queen’s Speech the Government failed to address it.
It is with shock and horror that we hear that because of the cost of living crisis 1.3 million people in the UK are set to fall below the poverty line next year, including 500,000 children who will experience severe poverty. If we look at that in more detail, it will affect what children eat, the quality of their food, the size of their portions and perhaps the frequency with which they eat. It will affect their ability to be warm in their home. It could affect their clothing and how much clothing is purchased for them, as we heard from other Members. It could affect their health—we heard from other Members about obesity being linked to poverty. There are many areas where children will experience deprivation and disadvantage, but it seems like the Government are set to be okay on that. Before the cost of living crisis even hit, 3,500 children in Lewisham were already in absolute poverty. That figure is rising and is only set to increase further. The Government must get a grip on the cost of living so that our young children will not suffer.
If children are experiencing deprivation and disadvantage and are going to be in severe poverty, some costs will only be passed on to another area. If the Government invested now, they would be doing what is right now rather than passing certain costs on to the health service because of health issues, on to the criminal justice system because a rise in poverty often leads to an increase in crime, and on to children’s social care because the chances are that more intervention from public services will be needed. As we know, local authorities are already suffering. Those costs are being passed on, so why are the Government not making the choice to invest now in people’s lives, rather than being in the situation of controlling people’s lives?
It is vital that we protect children and new parents. Early years learning is essential to ensure that children have the best possible start in life and the Government need to get it right for all children. The Government should aim for state education to be as good as grammar schools and private schools. Each child, including SEND children, should have an equal chance of success. The Government clearly have a long way to go to achieve that.
In addition to education, older children are often perceived and managed negatively by the police and the criminal justice system, and that can affect their wellbeing and health. Many older children’s interaction with the justice system can leave them traumatised and with a negative experience of the police. We need only to look at child Q for evidence of that. There are many examples of stopping and searching young black men and women in London in particular, and we know those situations are detrimental to their health. We only need to look at Bianca Williams, the Commonwealth gold medallist, when she had that awful experience of a roadside stop.
There are stories of children across the UK being held for up to 18 hours in custody in a police cell. That is shockingly long—it should be a shock for everybody who hears it for the first time. Current legislation requires that they be detained only as a last resort for the shortest appropriate period. That is clearly not happening. Young people have described the experience as horrible and devastating. I am standing with Vicky Kemp, a principal research fellow at the University of Nottingham who specialises in this area, to press the Government to cut the statutory stay limit for children from 24 hours to 12 hours. I really hope the Government are listening.
According to a report by the Children’s Commissioner, the average waiting time for an appropriate adult is nine hours. My 15-year-old constituent was detained for nine hours before his mother was even called to be informed that he was in a police cell. I am campaigning with the National Appropriate Adult Network to speed up the attendance of appropriate adults coming to young people’s aid in a police cell. The Government must ensure that children are treated as children within the care of public bodies and in the care of the police.
It is a great privilege to speak in this debate and to follow Janet Daby. Making the UK the best place to grow up and grow old is an ambitious target, but we are definitely closer to it following this year’s Queen Speech. In my opinion and that of a lot of the people who live in Cornwall, it already is, but there is still a huge amount to do. A lot of work is going on in Cornwall. We have secured a new secondary school near Perranporth on the north coast and we are expecting a new women and children’s hospital to arrive at the Treliske site.
I would like to focus today on the brilliant work of some of my Truro and Falmouth constituents. Last month, I was delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom to the Falmouth family hub to show some of the best practice of our excellent early years teams, led by Meredith Teasdale and Councillor Barbara Ellenbroek. Cornwall is one of the 75 local authorities to receive Treasury funding as part of the vital best start for life programme.
We began by visiting team members from WILD, the largest young parents charity in the UK. That organisation works with Cornwall Council to ensure that young parents and their babies have the best possible start to family life. We were lucky enough to see messy play and sensory play with bubbles, paint, water and foam that would make any mother twitch. Thank goodness that the facilities they have to do that are not in my house.
I know that I speak for all parents in this debate when I say that becoming a new parent is incredibly challenging and daunting. Although, for many people, becoming a parent means that their hopes and dreams have come true, it is never easy and a bit of extra support can go an awful long way. However, for younger parents and those with no support network, that extra help is absolutely vital. That is why the work of WILD, which has supported more than 13,000 mums, dads and children over the years, is so important. For example, its healthy start programme helps young parents to transition into becoming a new parent. Its infant mental health project helps to improve mental health and the wellbeing of babies and toddlers, and its first steps project focuses on children with the highest needs, in line with the early years foundation stage framework. These teams’ incredible work, along with Cornwall Council, puts Cornwall on the map for early years work. I urge the Government to consider Cornwall as a trailblazer local authority, where we could secure extra funds to excel and share our best practices with other localities.
Moving on to the later stages of life, I draw the attention of the Secretary of State and the Minister to the HAIRE—Healthy Ageing through Innovation in Rural Europe —project. It does a brilliant job in supporting rural communities with an ever-increasing ageing population facing significant health and care challenges and determining what services really make a difference in ruralities. Working together with me and Feock parish council, the HAIRE team—one of only two in the United Kingdom—has done brilliant work locally to develop an environment in the community that supports and encourages older people to feel engaged and part of their locality. As we heard from my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, if people can live healthily in their own home, they get much better health outcomes.
From speaking to the HAIRE team, it is clear that more needs to be done to promote healthy ageing in rural communities. I will focus briefly on the need for the Government to actively develop varied and effective accommodation, potentially, for elderly residents. It will come as no surprise to everyone in the Chamber to hear that housing is the No.1 issue for my Cornwall constituents. Only 2.5% of the UK’s 29 million dwellings are defined as retirement housing and the stock is heavily skewed towards houses with three or four bedrooms.
As my hon. Friend Dr Evans mentioned, the Government must increase the proportion of the housing stock for people of retirement age and encourage those who are over 65 in properties with surplus bedrooms to downsize—that is, those who wish to. That will allow younger families to upsize, reduce the pressure to build more houses—therefore easing the housing crisis—and improve health and wellbeing for older residents. By the way, not all retired people want to live in retirement villages only with other retired people. Some want to live with families and children and see them play and see everyday life. I am driving at the fact that we need the Bills in this Queen’s Speech to promote what we Conservatives do best: look after our communities. Cornwall absolutely shone the light during covid to show what communities can do, and we need to learn from the good practice here. Making the UK the best place to grow up and grow well is a challenging task, and I know that this Government will rise to it. Supporting the fantastic local initiatives and ensuring that our housing stock works for everyone will play essential parts in achieving that goal, for all our families and for all of our communities.
When I was thinking about what to say in a debate on making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old, the first two constituents who came to mind were Lee and Philip, who were both born with foetal valproate syndrome. They will have a lifelong need for care and support, and for their parents it is a worry to think about them growing up. They have already had their childhood—they are adults—but they are living with lifelong disabilities. As the Minister for Health is on the Treasury Bench, I am going to take the opportunity to make the case that for victims of sodium valproate we need a redress scheme, similar to that for victims of thalidomide, to ensure that that lifelong care is in place and so that we can somewhat ease the worry that parents of these children—and young adults now—are living with.
Last week, I visited Beaumont College in Lancaster, as well Lancaster & Morecambe College and the new youth hub in Fleetwood. It was great to hear from those young people, but it strikes me that there is something missing from the Queen’s Speech: any mention of youth work and the way in which it can support our children in education and support our young people growing up. At a recent question and answer session with pupils at Cardinal Allen Catholic High School in Fleetwood, the message was clear; they wanted better access to mental health support, and their teachers agreed. They told me what we all already know: the child and adolescent mental health services waiting list is unacceptably long and the thresholds to meet their care are unacceptably high.
The Queen’s Speech confirmed that the Government plan to introduce a Schools Bill. These reforms come at a crucial time for our education system, but I have met many local headteachers and they tell me that the Bill fails to deliver on the key challenges that our schools are facing. It is indifferent to the issues of mental health and wellbeing. It doubles down on the failures of the past; setting a new target for standard assessment test performance that will not raise the quality of education. It singles out student attendance for attention, while overlooking the problems of mental health and the exam factory culture that contribute to poor attendance.
Lancaster and Fleetwood is a great place to grow up because it is a great place to learn. I am fortunate enough to have two brilliant universities in my constituency: Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria. I have had the pleasure of meeting students and researchers at Lancaster University who are pioneering research across diverse areas, from flood defences to gaining a better understanding of Alzheimer’s. Given that some 18,000 people are living with dementia in Lancashire, it is something that helps to bridge what can sometimes be a gap between the town and the gown in our community. But with the higher education Bill, we would see restrictions on who has access to this brilliant education on the basis of people’s GCSEs. To those who say that too many young people are going to university nowadays, I ask, “How can it be a bad thing that people are getting more education?”. Education enriches not only the lives of the individuals who receive it, but the communities they live in, and it changes lives for the better.
Lancaster and Fleetwood is a great place to grow up because it is a great place to work. My constituency is full of brilliant local businesses, ranging from small independent retailers to international businesses such as Fisherman’s Friend. But the reality for many in rural communities is that they feel disconnected from work opportunities. The Queen’s Speech promises a transport Bill that will “take control” of the railway system. My question on railways is simple: we have been campaigning hard to get our railway reopened in Fleetwood and it was promised to us about two years ago, but what is happening? Where is it? Will this Bill reconnect Fleetwood to the rail network or is this something else that has become derailed by this Government? We should not lose sight of the importance of local bus networks too. For many of my constituents it might be a question of travelling from Dolphinholme into Lancaster or Glasson Dock into Galgate, and those rural bus networks have suffered huge cuts. My constituents feel disconnected from access to jobs and access to social and family events.
Lancaster and Fleetwood is a great place to grow old, because people of every age and stage are embraced as part of the community; we see this in everything from the parent and toddler group at Lancaster Methodist church to the Wyre Wheels project that takes place every Friday in Memorial park in Fleetwood and supports anyone of any ability, even me, to get active on bikes and cycle. It is a resourceful community and it is certainly a compassionate one. Sadly, in the past few weeks I have received so many emails from constituents who are concerned about the rising cost of their bills and the fact that their pensions are not keeping up with these costs. My rural constituents, especially those with oil-powered heating, have been left out of Government support.
I implore those on the Treasury Bench to bear in mind the importance of remembering everyone in every community in Britain, and to ensure that Britain really is the best place in which to grow up and grow old.
Since the last Queen’s Speech, Southport has begun the process of seismic change, with our £37.5 million town deal being met with hundreds of millions in pledged private funding. The town deal will ultimately help to create more than 1,300 new jobs, and will bring in over a million extra visitors per year. From the individual small businesses springing up along our high street to the larger Southport Cove and Marine Lake Events Centre developments, our wonderful town—which I am proud to call my home—is rightly seeing the benefits of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
It is important for local communities to have a say in changes in their areas, and I therefore welcome the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which offers a real opportunity to address the housing shortage. While the Bill will also allow a further devolution of powers over local services to local elected leaders, 1 urge the Government to go further, and introduce a mechanism to allow a community to change its local authority catchment area more easily.
In Southport we have been held back repeatedly by the vindictive actions of Labour- led Sefton Council, which takes resources away from Southport and ignores local concerns about, for example, unwanted, unnecessary and unwelcome cycle lanes. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families knows, we discovered in the days conveniently after the local elections that Sefton Council’s children’s services had been rated “inadequate” by Ofsted in all areas, yet the responsible councillors shamelessly remain in office, and Southport’s vulnerable children continue to suffer. These children deserve excellent services from their local council, just as they deserve excellent healthcare from their local NHS. Such healthcare is crucial throughout life, and while I welcome the Government’s commitment to clear the backlog from covid, we must aim for more than simply returning to where we were before the pandemic hit and restrictions came into force. As my other hon. Friend the Minister for Health knows, Southport Hospital has been lacking a children’s A&E since 2003, with services rolled into Ormskirk Hospital. During covid, however, Ormskirk’s children’s A&E has stopped providing a 24-hour service, with the result that a child who falls sick out of hours must now travel to Liverpool. First we must see the resumption of the 24/7 service in Ormskirk, and then, most important, we must see the return of this service to Southport.
We must ensure that all people in this country, from the day they are born, are given the support they deserve. We must ensure that children are given the best possible start. We must ensure that the UK remains the best place in which to grow up. Education is crucial to allowing people to prosper and succeed, especially as we build back better from covid, so it is welcome that the Schools Bill will strengthen our education system. While Labour-led Sefton Council is content with failing to help children, this Conservative Government will use the Bill to level up opportunity, supporting children throughout the country.
However, we are not stopping there. The higher education Bill will raise education standards and increase fairness within the system, allowing students to fulfil their potential wherever they live. Southport benefits greatly when well-qualified graduates return to our town, as their innovative drive and passion for local progress are crucial to our success. For example, Southport’s hospitality developments need look no further than Southport College, where, under the fantastic leadership of Michelle Brabner, students are well supported in finding skilled, well-paid work locally.
All this relies on strong transport links. We need the Burscough Curves rail link to reopen, which would enable stronger connectivity not only within the region, but as far afield as Scotland and the south of England. We need to maintain the direct link from Southport to Manchester Piccadilly, which is crucial for jobs, businesses and leisure. I am optimistic that the transport Bill will succeed in its stated aim of making our transport system more reliable and efficient for passengers.
This Queen’s Speech brings welcome legislation to my constituency in particular, and I look forward to supporting the Government as we continue to level up our local areas, support our children, and connect our communities.
It is a pleasure to follow Damien Moore, who is clearly a passionate supporter of Southport. I congratulate him: I am sure he will do well in today’s Conservative party.
This Queen’s Speech fails to address the immediate cost of living crisis and does little to end the longer-term issues of growing poverty and inequality in Wales as in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the context of this debate and the cause of the hollow laughter at its title, “Making Britain the Best Place to Grow Up and Grow Old”. In Wales, we have high levels of poverty, and we have done for decades, particularly since the destruction of our heavy industries by the Conservative Governments of the 1980s. That is why we qualified for EU support on a par with the former Soviet bloc countries of the east—that is, until we were blessed with Brexit opportunities, when that support diminished.
Our levels of child poverty in Wales are the highest in the UK, affecting a third of Welsh children, as measured in 2019. As the Children’s Commissioner for Wales said over the weekend, the rate is now likely to be around 40%. This persistent poverty has consequences for children’s development, including damaging their mental health, and those consequences carry on into adulthood. At this point, if the Whips are listening, I would like to congratulate the Government on their intention to bring in a mental health Bill and say that, as a former social worker approved under the Mental Health Act 1983, I would be very glad of the opportunity to contribute to the scrutiny of that Bill.
Poverty carries on down the generations, but not, as some would have it, as something inherently bad or morally reprehensible about working people. It is poverty that damages lives and it is poverty that kills. The cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on children all over Wales and elsewhere in the UK, and families are being forced to choose between eating and heating. Wales has the highest rate of food bank use in the UK, with over 4,000 food parcels distributed per 100,000 people per annum. People are turning to food banks because they have no other choice.
The cut of £20 per week to universal credit, which took away £286 million from the Welsh economy, was an utter disaster for children in low-income families. As to adults in Wales, one in three people of working age and almost one in five pensioners die in poverty. That is the highest rate in the UK. This disgraceful Victorian value must be banished for good. Smoking is the largest single cause of avoidable early death in Wales, and Plaid Cymru supports the introduction of a “polluter pays” levy on tobacco manufacturers to raise funds for tobacco control, to ensure that our smoke-free ambition for Wales is met.
The real game changer for Wales would be the devolution of social security so that we can build a system of support that meets our particular needs. Control over the administration of benefits would create a more flexible approach at a time when families need it most—for example, paying universal credit weekly to reflect the way that poor people have to budget and changing the current degrading sanctions regime. Welfare support could be delivered to meet the actual needs of people in Wales, with winter fuel payments linked to home energy efficiency. Cold weather payments could be improved to take into account rurality, which has particular effects on people in the uplands of my own constituency of Arfon. Devolution would enable us to create new ways of helping to top up existing benefits. We in Plaid Cymru believe that our Senedd should create a Welsh child payment similar to that in Scotland, and much more.
One of the difficulties is that only a very small proportion of benefits—about 15%—have been devolved to the Scottish Government. With the situation that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, all benefits would need to be devolved so that they could be properly administered.
I share the ambition of the hon. Lady and her colleagues to have a proper social security system that is tailored to the needs of our communities. The Scottish Government are leading the way, as far as I am concerned, and when we have that power, we will be emulating some of the measures that they have brought in.
Wales comes way down the priority list of this Conservative Government, whose eyes are glued both on their vulnerable red wall seats and their increasingly unhappy homelands in the south and east of England. But Plaid Cymru advocates bold policies for everyone, which will make Wales a good place to grow old and to grow up.
The pandemic has been particularly difficult for young people. Research by the Education Policy Institute has shown that, despite the best efforts of teachers over the last two years, pupils have lost the equivalent of more than four months of learning, with those in the north and midlands most affected. There is a real danger that covid will end up exacerbating long-standing inequalities. According to the latest Ofsted inspection reports, only 55% of Derbyshire secondary schools are rated good or better, compared with the national benchmark of 80%. This inequality in opportunity simply is not good enough. We must do better.
In High Peak, we are making progress, with St Philip Howard Catholic Voluntary Academy in Glossop being upgraded to good in its latest Ofsted inspection, compared with its 2018 rating of requires improvement. We also secured capital funding to invest in Hope Valley College and to expand Harpur Hill Primary in Buxton. The £4 million expansion of Glossopdale School is under construction, which will create an extra 240 places for the town, due in September.
However, more can and must be done. So I welcome that the Government have designated Derbyshire as one of the new education investment areas, which means that Derbyshire schools will receive much-needed extra support, with additional money for the recruitment and retention of the best teachers. The Queen’s Speech aims to build on that progress with the Schools Bill to help drive up standards.
Our schools are not the only public service challenged by the pandemic. The NHS is still grappling with a huge covid backlog. A good example is the withdrawal of the mobile breast cancer screening unit in High Peak in 2020. I fought hard to get that vital service reinstated, and I am pleased to report that the mobile unit is back up and running locally, operating at 160% of pre-pandemic levels. However, we must do more than simply restore services if we are to build a more resilient, preventive health service. That is why I am pushing so hard for new urgent care centres for both Stepping Hill Hospital and Tameside Hospital. It is also why I am supporting Derbyshire Community Health Services bid for capital funding for a major new health centre for Buxton.
Of course, not all illnesses are visible. As we rebuild from the pandemic, we must deliver parity between mental and physical health services. The proposed Bill to reform the Mental Health Act will play a key role in this mission, giving patients greater control over their treatment and ensuring that they receive a more personalised level of care. I recently visited the construction site of the £4.8 million highly specialist mental health unit that is being built at Tameside Hospital. That will replace the existing psychiatric intensive care unit at Stepping Hill, providing short-term care for men over the age of 18 experiencing mental health distress. Once that new unit is built at Tameside, the current psychiatric intensive care unit at Stepping Hill will be refurbished to create a unit specifically for women. That is particularly good news given that this service is not currently available anywhere locally. It will allow women to receive specialist mental health care closer to their homes and loved ones.
Turning to social care, I am pleased that this Government have finally grasped the nettle and introduced reforms to try to ensure that no one will have to sell their home to pay for care in future. While those reforms are welcome, we need to get on with delivery and fleshing out the details of the improvement plans.
Tackling any of these challenges is only possible if we have strong public finances to pay for the world-class public services that we need, and that requires a strong and growing economy. As we all know, we are facing global rising energy prices, a war in Europe and we are still dealing with the enormous supply chain disruption caused by covid, all of which are driving high inflation and the rising cost of living. The Government’s long-term reform plans are the right ones, investing in infrastructure, skills and public service reform to create sustainable growth and well-paid high-skilled jobs, but we need to think very carefully about what more can be done in the short term to help people to cope with soaring costs now.
There are no magic solutions and those Members who pretend otherwise are deluding themselves and the people they represent. That does not mean that we cannot do more. We need honesty, creativity, pragmatism and compassion to deal with the challenges ahead. If we work together, I am confident that we will succeed. I am glad that the Queen’s Speech put forward a series of practical measures to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old.
This Gracious Speech should have been an opportunity for the Government to rise to the unprecedented challenges facing our country and, in doing so, to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old. Its lack of ambition and its stony silence on some of the biggest challenges facing the UK speak volumes about a Government who are out of touch and out of ideas. Worse still, many of the challenges that we need to address are a direct consequence of 12 years of Tory Government—12 years in which, instead of stepping up with ambition for our country, the Government have run down our public services, undermined our economy, negotiated a disastrous exit from the European Union and mired themselves further and further in defending the indefensible current occupant of No. 10 Downing Street.
Our country has been left lacking resilience, both when the covid-19 pandemic struck and as global factors have brought pressure to bear on the cost of living. The Government cannot always prevent international shocks to our economy, but they have a primary duty to ensure that we are as resilient as possible when they come. In that duty, this Government have failed.
The UK cannot be the best place in which to grow up or grow old while households across the country are struggling to make ends meet, while parents wake up in the morning and go to bed at night worrying about how they will feed their children and keep a roof over their head, and while pensioners worry about whether they will be able to eat and keep warm. Knocking on doors in my constituency in recent months, I have been really shocked to see increasing numbers of older people coming to the door wearing a coat on cold days. It is shameful that that is happening in Britain in the 21st century.
The Queen’s Speech includes new Bills to reform the regulation of social housing and private renting. Such legislation is long overdue. Next month is the fifth anniversary of the horrific Grenfell Tower fire, but tenants still cannot have confidence that changes have been made that will protect them. In the private rented sector, I have been calling for an end to section 21 evictions for the past six years, and it is very hard to understand what has taken the Government so long. Alongside the overdue reforms, it is clear that the Government have given up on the large-scale delivery of social housing that is urgently needed to address the housing crisis.
The UK cannot be the best place to grow up while children are condemned to live in poor-quality private rented accommodation that their parents can barely afford to rent or heat. I hope that the Government will consider accepting an amendment to the social housing regulation Bill along the lines proposed in my recent ten-minute rule Bill, the Social Housing (Emergency Protection of Tenancy Rights) Bill, which I called Georgia’s law.
Georgia’s law recognises the devastating impact that a threat of gang violence can have on family life. When a young person is threatened and their family have to move, they can lose all their stability, be placed in temporary accommodation and end up on a waiting list for a new social housing tenancy for years. That is what happened to my constituent Georgia, with catastrophic consequences for her family. Georgia’s law would place new duties on social housing providers to protect the tenancy of a tenant whose family are threatened with violence, helping to limit the harm of gang violence in our communities. It has cross-party support and would make a huge difference.
Finally, as a co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adult social care, I want to say how utterly unacceptable it is that this Gracious Speech contains no mention of adult social care. The Government have introduced an unfair and unaffordable tax hike, which they justified in terms of the urgent need to provide additional funding for social care. Funding for the NHS is, of course, welcome, although there are far fairer ways to raise it, but the social care sector, which was ignored, neglected and even blamed by the Government during the covid-19 pandemic, and which faces a workforce crisis and a funding crisis, will not receive any funding for at least three years.
The UK cannot possibly be the best place to grow old while across the country people fear losing their homes to pay for their care, and while the workforce tasked with caring for our loved ones are burned out, with staff leaving in their droves to work in retail and distribution because the pay is better. I ask the Government: where is the ambition? Where is the empathy and insight into the real and intolerable pressures that our communities face? Where are the solutions that we so desperately need to the problems that they have created?
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate to support the measures in the Queen’s Speech, focusing on the core Conservative value of opportunity. Education is key to giving people the best chance to make the most of their talents, and to Britain being the best place to grow up. One of my priorities since being elected has been visiting schools across my constituency to hear directly from teachers, teaching assistants and pupils about the challenges involved in improving literacy and numeracy standards, which are fundamental to young people going on to succeed.
I welcome the Schools Bill, which sets the ambition for 90% of children to achieve expected standards in reading, writing and maths, up from 65% in the most recent year that standard assessment tests took place. It is all very well setting targets, but there needs to be a plan to achieve them. Much will rest on the new parent pledge, which means that any child that falls behind in English or maths should receive additional tailored support. The best schools already do this, and sharing evidence on what works means that more children can now get the support they need and their parents will be more closely involved in their child’s progress.
One of the issues most frequently raised during visits to schools is access to speech and language therapy, which others have referred to. Spoken language underpins literacy development. It is key to learning across the curriculum, including in maths. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists highlights evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation that teaching with emphasis on spoken language enables an average of six months’ additional academic progress over the course of the year. I welcome the reassurance that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education gave me when the SEND paper was published that the parent pledge should ensure that children who need help with language and communication are supported. One of the calls that the royal college and other language organisations make, which I support, is to ensure that the new national professional qualifications in literacy, special educational needs and early years include a focus on developing and supporting spoken language skills.
As we learn to live with covid, a specific ask from a recent visit to Churchill Park Academy in King’s Lynn, which serves young people with special needs, is for tests to be made available for such schools. They have particularly vulnerable pupils who are not currently attending school due to concerns about covid prevalence. I would be grateful if Education and Health Ministers could carefully consider that request.
The focus of this debate, on making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old, also includes access to healthcare. It will come as no surprise to Ministers that I return to an issue I raised in my maiden speech in the first Queen’s Speech debate of this Parliament, and indeed in last year’s Queen’s Speech and on many other occasions—the need for a new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn. QEH is now more than a decade beyond its planned 30-year lifespan, and due to its reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete planks, it now has 1,500 timber and steel supports holding up the cracking roof—it is the most-propped hospital in the country—and that number is likely to increase as further failsafe work is completed. Due to this concrete cancer, the trust’s risk register has a red rating for direct risk to life and to the safety of patients, visitors and staff due to the potentially catastrophic risk of failure of the roof structure.
Last month, some of my constituents once again came to Westminster talk about the need for QEH to be one of the additional eight new hospital schemes the Government have committed to building. A major issue they asked me to highlight is just how bad an experience being in a ward surrounded by props holding up the roof is for patients. Staff at the hospital stressed how it makes it harder for them to do their job to provide the care the patients need. I warmly welcome the funding from the Department of Health for a new endoscopy unit, and the new west Norfolk eye centre that opened last week at QEH, but now is the time to make a decision to build a new hospital for the 300,000 people across Norfolk, Lincolnshire, and Cambridgeshire that QEH serves. This is not about having shiny new buildings for their own sake; it is about better health outcomes in some of the most deprived areas in the country that the Government have recognised as a priority for levelling up. By committing to this vitally needed hospital, the inevitable requirement for a replacement will become part of a funded programme rather than an unplanned demand on the Treasury requiring emergency funding. That is better value for taxpayers and will deliver the improvements that people in North West Norfolk and beyond deserve. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has good news for my constituents soon, as they are rightly frustrated at the delay in this decision.
It is an honour to speak in this very important debate.
Under this Government, living standards have plummeted to 1950s levels and life expectancy is falling. Office for National Statistics figures show that the inequality gap in the least deprived areas is growing even wider. Almost one in three children in Britain live in poverty. Britain is in decline under this Tory Government. Despite all this, the Government have the temerity to talk about levelling up. They can put this phrase at the front and centre of their rhetoric, but I saw nothing in the Queen’s Speech that will actually deliver it. Nothing the Prime Minister has announced in his legislative agenda will address living standards or the cost of living crisis, help people to pay for childcare, or meet the unmet care needs of over 1 million older people. His announcements will not bridge the gap between what people earn and spiralling inflation, tax rises and fuel price surges. To achieve a stronger economy, make this country fairer, make our streets safer, fund the NHS properly and improve schools and higher education, we will need to reverse the failed policies of successive Tory Governments of the last 12 years.
As I listened to the Chancellor’s spring statement in March, I thought of my constituent and his disabled partner, who is unable to work. He currently attends college to improve his skills, but earns well below the average wage. For them, living has meant relying on candles for heating and lighting, and they are not alone. It is a cruel snapshot of today’s Britain for many people—workers, pensioners and families with children—under the Tories.
I want Britain to be the best place to grow up in and to grow old in, but a baby growing up in Tory Britain today will have it harder than their grandparents. The Queen’s Speech does not go far enough to address the long-term problems facing children and young people throughout the UK, such as the frightening numbers of children and young people waiting for mental health support. The levelling-up White Paper does not include clear measures to tackle child poverty or children’s health inequalities. Where is the legislation to improve support for our most vulnerable children—those in care, care leavers and unpaid carers? Disabled young people cannot reach their full potential while they cannot access the health, care and other services they have a right to, such as respite care, therapies and specialist education.
The life-changing opportunity available a generation ago to go to university is being steadily eroded by the Government. The marketisation of higher education is a tragedy, and is hollowing out a sector that was once the envy of the world. Students who go to university are saddled with crippling debt. It is off-putting for so many who come from homes where household budgets are tight. Every child should have equal access to the education and training they desire, not have obstacles and the spectre of debt put in their way. They should not be persuaded that university is not for the likes of them.
Talking of children’s futures, the Queen’s Speech totally failed to deliver the urgent action required in response to the climate and nature emergencies. We desperately needed the Government to tackle the root cause of our energy and climate security problems and bring in legislation to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Generations are being let down by a Government too short-sighted to plan for a more hopeful future, but who instead focus their attentions on themselves and how to keep the Prime Minister in office for another day. The Government have no new ideas and no real plan to fix their broken Britain or to build a better future for all, cradle to grave.
The title for today’s debate is “Making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old”. With that in mind, I would like to be the first Member of this House to congratulate Jake Daniels on coming out today—the first active footballer in UK professional football to do so. It makes the UK an even better place to live and grow older. Many people like me, who grew up in a world where we looked for role models, will know that Jake can be very proud of the role that he will play as a role model for future generations.
In that vein, I welcome the Government’s commitment in the Queen’s Speech to ban conversion therapy, and I would gently push those on the Treasury Bench to remember that we included trans people in our original promise. We should include all LGBT people in that conversion therapy ban.
Let me move on to education. I am pleased that 82% of young people in my constituency are now in schools that are good or outstanding. When I visit so many of my local schools—especially Balaam Wood; King Edward VI Northfield School for Girls, which used to be called Turves Green Girls’ School; Turves Green Boys’ School; Colmers Farm Primary School; and Hawkesley Church Primary Academy—I am always amazed by the dedication and commitment of so many of the teachers and by the young people, who have so much commitment to learning. I am also really pleased that the Edge Academy has been shortlisted for an award for its support for young people in that school right at the heart of Northfield.
Education concerns us all because it benefits young people and gives them the skills they need for the future. I am glad that there are measures in the Queen’s Speech to improve higher education. Julia Stevens from Cadbury College is pleased with the new investment in the north block and new labs. She is committed to lifelong learning, as is Principal Mike Hopkins from South and City College, which is doing good work. I was pleased to open the electric car centre there only a couple of months ago. That college is committed to ensuring that young people have the skills of the future.
When it comes to people in the Northfield constituency growing older, we have two ExtraCare retirement villages—one in Bournville and one in Longbridge—which are an amazing example of what we can do when we are creative with housing and the many activities and things people can do in those retirement villages. They live together in communities that I like to refer to as being like static cruise ships. They are amazing places to visit—as soon as I hit the age of 55, I would love to put my name on the waiting list for an ExtraCare retirement village. As Members of Parliament, we should lead from the front, which is why the other week I was keen to join so many local people in the conga line when the oompah band played at the Bournville retirement village. Such villages really are places of the future into which we can encourage many people to move as they grow older.
On social housing, I was born on a council estate in Birmingham that was one of the largest council estates in Europe when it was built. My brilliant team that assists me in the constituency has now done more than 20,000 items of casework, many of which refer to housing and housing repairs. I am glad that the social housing regulation Bill will make sure that we increase the standard of the social housing that people live in and expand tenants’ rights even further to people in the private rented sector.
We need to build more houses in the right places, in consultation with local people. When we have big projects in Birmingham, such as what was supposed to be the athletes village—unfortunately, it will not house any athletes during or after the Commonwealth games—it is unfortunate that we have a local authority that demands certain levels of social housing from private companies but falls really short of the expectation they encourage from people. At the last count, social housing made up only 4% of the thousands of houses being built under that scheme. We need to do more to make sure that the 22,000 people who are currently on the waiting list have the opportunity to get into social housing and on to the housing ladder.
I have only 10 seconds left. I would like to think that, in my near five hours of bobbing to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I played some part in my ambition for the Government’s obesity strategy.
It is a pleasure to follow Gary Sambrook, and it was interesting, too, because that Bournville retirement village would not have been possible had it not been for the endowment of the Bournville Village Trust, which was set up by my forebears before the welfare state and enabled the cost of the land and so on not to have to be covered. Most areas in this country do not have such an asset, which is why the Government need to support such provision.
If the Government really want to make Britain the best place to grow up in and provide the opportunities referred to by the Secretary of State for Education, they have to do far more than the thin gruel dished up in the Queen’s Speech last week. I am not sure that many of my constituents who are at school, college or university see much to celebrate in the Queen’s Speech. Schools in Labour-led Hounslow are all good or outstanding, but that is a challenge after a lost decade of underfunding. In our borough’s schools alone, £17 million has been lost—or £500 per pupil. Parents and teachers are trying to fill the gap from their own pockets, but fewer can afford the money as the cost of living bites ever deeper. Now we read that there is a risk to life because of disrepair in too many school buildings, which cannot be fixed with income from school fetes. School buildings need a properly funded commitment from Government, like the Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme.
On covid catch-up funding, the Government have ignored the recommendations of Sir Kevan Collins, whom they appointed. He said that £15 billion was needed, but the Government agreed to spent only a fraction of that. Labour’s children’s recovery plan would fund significant and targeted extra investment for our young people who missed out most during the lockdowns.
Teachers’ morale has to be addressed. Teaching is already challenging and over the past decade teachers have had to take on more responsibilities as staffing levels are cut to respond to the annual budget round and yet more central Government edicts. During the pandemic, teachers and school heads, who were at the frontline, told me that they felt let down and ignored by this Government, with announcements made on the spur of the moment and the Government lurching from one fiasco to another. At the same time, welfare, mental health and special needs support is still being cut, despite warm words from the Government. Teachers and school staff were on the frontline during the pandemic but have been left behind by this Government, so it is no surprise that seven out of 10 teachers have considered leaving the profession in the last year. The Government need to wake up to the huge amount of anger and distrust that they have created among school staff. Investing in school staff and school buildings means investing in children’s learning and development, and in their future. Labour has a funded plan to invest in school staff, to enable all teachers and leadership teams to continue to access continuing professional development.
Students have been all but ignored by this Government. Practically the only time we hear Ministers talking about universities or students is when they want to create a distraction or a row. Perhaps if the Government talked to students and higher education staff, and actually listened, they would know that students are already struggling with the cost of living, with rising rents, energy bills and food costs. Many students in my constituency tell me that they have to work full time to fund themselves through university, supposedly on full-time courses. I have heard from 16 and 17-year-olds who are terrified that they will not be able to go to university because of the costs. So much for social mobility.
In conclusion, this Queen’s Speech is the proof that, after 12 years in power, the Government have no ambition or determination to fix the problems in the education system that they have created. On school funding, we hear “Computer says no” from the Chancellor. There is no plan to support school staff and leadership teams with adequate pay or proper mental health support, and certainly little sign of a coherent and evidenced schools policy. There is no plan to support students, just a carefully hidden rise in student loan interest payments in the last Budget and, as I said earlier, nothing for Muslim students who are unable to take out student loans.
Labour would take a different path—a better path. Families in my constituency would have a Government who were on their side, with a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis with a windfall tax on oil and gas producers; a Government with an ambitious catch-up plan for education, as described by my hon. Friend Bridget Phillipson. That is how we will make Britain the best place to grow up.
It is a pleasure to follow Ruth Cadbury, my co-chair on the all-party parliamentary group for cycling and walking, where we so often agree—tonight we probably will not.
We are looking to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old. I am delighted to represent the beautiful constituency of North Devon, which is certainly one of the most popular places to grow up and grow old, having had a surge of people move there during the pandemic, for their primary residence and for second homes. We are also an incredibly popular holiday destination, which has led to a surge in Airbnb short-term holiday lets. Although that is great for our tourism economy, it does mean that we have something of a housing crisis. Although I warmly welcome the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, I very much hope that, as it makes its passage through the House, we will see more done to tackle second homes and short-term holiday lets, to rebalance our housing economy in North Devon. While I have the opportunity to put this on record, I also hope that the long-awaited consultation on short-term holiday lets promised last June as part of the tourism recovery strategy will be forthcoming as the first step on the journey to sorting out our housing market.
I am a former maths teacher and I have spent time in this place before talking about averages and variations. When it comes to education and the Schools Bill, I very much hope that we will look deeper than the average that says that Devon is okay, because when we look at the variants in a county the size of Devon, we can see that there are some issues in my constituency. If we were to look at the social mobility index, we would see that South Hams is 49th out of 324, Exeter is 81st, my North Devon constituency is 238th and my neighbouring area of Torridge—northern Devon, as we call it up there—is 283rd. We need to look deeper than at just the large local authority if we are to enable those children to have their education levelled up, because to date we have missed out on cold-spot funding.
I am delighted to welcome Multiply, but I do not know quite how it will be delivered in my constituency, where we have only one further education college and are 65 miles from the nearest university. My FE college, Petroc College, is utterly brilliant but please don’t tell me that Multiply will come in as an online course, because what we do not have in North Devon is broadband. The Queen’s Speech talks about the elimination of the barrier of digital exclusion, but when I talk about digital exclusion, it is not so much about the gadgets that the children have; it is that we cannot even connect to the outside world.
The inequalities that I talk about as regards levelling up are about rural and coastal communities. My theme throughout my few minutes’ speech tonight is how we can ensure that, as we level up the country, we reach into those pockets of deprivation in rural and coastal Britain. Health inequalities on the coast are perhaps better documented than educational ones, but I would like to sing the praises of my tiny North Devon District Hospital, the smallest on the mainland. It has done a fantastic job for the people of North Devon through the pandemic. We have also recently seen it merge with the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, which means that we are managing the flow of patients and medical professionals between that tiny hospital and the bigger one further south.
In Devon, we have retained our Nightingale hospital, and I am terribly proud that we will be the first to deliver our covid catch-up fund wards. On
I would not say that everything health-wise was rosy. It will come as no surprise to the Minister to hear that we are a little short of dentists. If any of them are listening tonight, let me tell them that the surf is fantastic, the countryside is beautiful and they will get the warmest of welcomes. I hear that the Indians have a lot of dentists looking for work, and we would welcome them with open arms. Also, this is a Department that has managed to deliver things in buses, so please may we have a mobile dental unit to visit our children in the coming weeks and months? As we look at how we can level up rural and coastal Britain, I hope that we can morality-check our policies, because many of them that work so well in Westminster have lost that certain je ne sais quoi by the time they reach us in rural and coastal North Devon.
It is right that when the Government bring forward their programme, the Opposition criticise it, but it is slightly surprising that the Government make it so easy for us. When the world is quite obviously struggling, and the country is struggling with rising prices and a climate emergency, there are obvious measures that any Government could be taking, whether that means introducing a windfall tax or insulating our homes. The question I find myself asking is: why on earth are the Government not doing any of those things?
We have a ragbag of Bills before us, and I will comment on a few of them. One that has been mentioned is the data reform Bill. I was on the Committee for the Bill that introduced GDPR—the general data protection regulation—a couple of years ago, and at that time we on this side of the House made it clear that the Government needed to be much more ambitious and forward-looking. I would caution, though, that if we go in a different way from many of our neighbours, we should think hard about what that will mean for our businesses and research institutions. It is a coded message, but we should beware of what that might bring if we do not do it in the right way.
On education, the one thing that seems to link most of the Bills is the fact they rather miss the point. What I hear from my schools is that there is a real problem with the very young children coming in following the pandemic. They need the extra help and catch-up that other colleagues mentioned.
I cannot help but notice the references to families of schools. We used to have a family of schools within each local authority, but now, of course, we have predatory multi-academy trusts circling our schools and looking to take them over, which is no way to get the kind of co-operation we need.
Similarly, the higher education Bill’s lifelong loan entitlement is largely welcome, but there is very little detail at the moment. Many worry about how that will be introduced and what they will be asked to do. The issues for universities are much more pressing than some of the Government’s proposals, particularly the future of our collaborative funding with other parts of the world and the Horizon Europe programme. We need certainty on that, as a huge amount hangs on it. As I am sure the Secretary of State knows, it is linked to other things, but those are the issues that really worry universities.
For young people in my city of Cambridge, it is about housing. The Secretary of State effectively gave up on the housing targets last week, which does not exactly engender confidence in where the Government are going. My hon. Friend Helen Hayes spoke passionately about the issues facing renters, and there is a huge set of issues in my city. Yes, the long-promised removal of section 21 is welcome, but we need much more.
What a state this country is in for people who are getting old. My hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) spoke about dentistry, and I never imagined we would reach a state where people in acute pain can no longer get help—that is happening all over the country, and in my city, too.
On ambulance waits, again, we have reached a situation where people are paying for the national health service but can no longer rely on it. Over the weekend, I spoke to a paramedic who works for the East of England Ambulance Service. These people are working flat out, but she is haunted that she went to serve and help an elderly person who had been waiting 18 hours, and who died as a consequence—that is happening in this country now. Lives are being lost. Where is the urgency? The Secretary of State led on the virus, and we should have the same urgency in tackling the waiting-time crisis that is affecting everyone.
There are things that were not in the Queen’s Speech but, for an area like mine, should have been. We need to get the infrastructure right. For cities such as Cambridge to prosper and drive the UK economy, we have to get housing and transport right, which means we must stop prevaricating about East West Rail and finish it off directly to Cambridge.
Finally, we must stop laying into universities, which are one of our great success stories. The research excellence framework results over the past few days prove that point. This is something we are really good at. We do not need to pick fights with one another, having pointless arguments and stoking up culture wars; we should concentrate on what we are good at and start celebrating universities. Conservative Members should look at the weekend’s press reports, which are right that graduates are voting a certain way. Frankly, we are the future.
The title of this debate is, “Making Britain the Best Place to Grow Up and Grow Old,” but it needs to be seen against the backdrop of our recent covid pandemic and the recovery. Throughout the pandemic, parallels were rightly drawn with surviving a war. Indeed, it was often called the battle against covid, whether in the coming together of our nation at the beginning of the pandemic, in the demonstration of national unity as we appreciated the key workers who delivered all the services we needed, in the unprecedented roll-out by volunteers of health programmes to protect the vulnerable or in the eye-watering expenditure. Every year, in November, we have a day to remember those who gave their life in war, and we rightly know that is a debt we can never repay, but I am conscious that there are millions of people in our society today to whom we owe a debt, as a result of the lockdowns and the privations of covid, that must be repaid—they are our children and young people.
We knew all along that those millions of children and young people were at the very least risk from the virus, yet we still as a House consciously chose to lock them away for the safety of others, and they have suffered. I have heard from young adults who never got the chance to do the things that are seen as a rite of passage for young people and define points in their lives. Many have never experienced the pressure of having to take exams, and they are not sure if they have the resilience to be able to cope with it. Others worry that their teacher-assessed grades may be seen as devalued qualifications. They did not get to go to their prom, did not get to go to their end-of-year assembly and did not get to say goodbye to their friends. All these things, both small and large, help prepare them for the challenges of adulthood. Despite the fact that, as a whole, they were at incredibly low risk from the virus, I do fear for their mental health and I fear for their resilience—and we owe them.
I have heard from secondary schools in my constituency that children moving up to them are far behind where the professionals would expect them to be both academically and socially. Giving children laptops to work from home during lockdowns was all well and good, but the work was not always appropriate and there was not always the correct parental support; some parents just did not have the skills or the time to support their children as we would have liked them to. Once again, those children were at little risk, and they have had precious years of their education taken away from them to protect others—and we owe them.
There are infants starting out on their educational journey far behind normal development targets. Local nurseries tell me that children cannot toilet themselves, and that they lack social skills and confidence. They have the longest time to catch up, but catch up they must or they will bear the scars of the covid pandemic longer than any of us. Primary schools are also noting deficits in social skills in all years, but significantly in year 2. Those children, due to covid, lost the foundation years that are so crucial for their development, and for those who did not receive sufficient parental support, the damage is even harder.
The Government must legislate to ensure every opportunity is made available for our children and young people to catch up. Over time, the price they will be paying will be higher than any of us will pay. There was a minimal risk to them, but they have lost huge opportunities. In a civilised society, I expect adults to make sacrifices for our children and young people; I do not expect our children and young people to make sacrifices for us. We owe a debt to them, and it must be repaid. All Government legislation must take into account the damage we have done, through pandemic recovery, to our children and young people, because our children and young people are the future of our country, and they need to be protected.
For too long, social care has been neglected. The pressures and strains on the NHS and social care are ever growing, with half a million people waiting for care assessments. People are living longer and with more complex needs, yet the funding for social care has not kept pace. The Queen’s Speech offers nothing to fix social care.
Most ageing people who require care do not want to move into a care home or be taken into hospital, which very often happens because they have not had care at home. Most of the time they do not need to go into hospital, as most of the care can be given at home, including some health services. Elderly people would much rather be in their homes, close to their families and friends. For this to happen there needs to be adequate social care and health funding.
People should be able to age with dignity in the place they want to be—this is about the quality of life that people deserve as they grow older—and that can happen if the Government invest resources to meet the needs in the social care sector. This would prevent most people being hospitalised and save many beds in the national health service. There are currently 6 million people waiting for NHS treatment. One of the best ways to free up more resources in hospitals and GP surgeries is by having adequate social care for the elderly, which would mean doctors not necessarily having to go out and save hospital beds.
St Helens’ adult social care and clinical commissioning group have integrated and developed systems that include police, housing and probation services. They all help to provide care and keep people where they want to be, and prevent them needing healthcare. That frees up beds in hospitals for other services—it can be done. Where health treatments can be given at home, elderly people should be able to stay in their own homes.
The national insurance levy will not resolve this issue. If social care was respected and funded correctly, I say again that it would free up hospital beds and NHS capacity. Funding the NHS without adequately funding social care will not fix the problem. We cannot have a fully functioning health service without a fully functioning social care system. Local authorities have had their budgets cut consistently for over a decade. Even with the additional social care levy, they do not scratch the surface of the needs of the problem of social care. According to the Local Government Association, over 57% of council tax funding already goes on social care, which is already the top priority for local authorities, yet there is only so much they can do without the Government giving the support that is needed.
Social care is a statutory duty for councils. It is a moral duty for society. Most importantly, it is the responsibility of Government to look after the public. A social care system that is adequately funded frees up GPs and other NHS resources. Social care has been the elephant in the room for decades. It needs sorting out and sorting out properly, and not from a heavy hand down—it needs developing upwards. The country cannot afford for the Government to continue kicking the can down the road. I urge the Government to face up to their responsibilities, to fund and respect social care, and to respect our elderly and disabled people.
In thinking about how to make the UK the best place to grow up and grow old, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability I have been thinking in particular about inclusive growth and levelling up for people with disabilities. I saw a fantastic example of that at the weekend in my constituency, where sportscotland had partnered with South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture to train local organisations who work in sports to make sure they are engaging with people with disabilities, encouraging them to engage and reach their full potential through the group activities and sports activities that are available. Only when growth and the work we do is inclusive to all can we make sure that we leave no one behind and ensure that we are doing our job here.
I want to ask MPs: can we do more? What are we doing in Parliament? When the all-party parliamentary group looked at including people with disabilities on work experience in our offices, we started off at 11% of MPs who were registered as accredited Disability Confident employers. Through a workshop, the all-party parliamentary group has increased that to 24% and I thank everybody who has been involved in that achievement. It has been so fantastic to hear the accounts of people who have engaged in work experience and employment opportunities in MPs’ offices, and how they have fundamentally changed their lives and the opportunities available to them. We want to do more and reach at least up to 50% this year. There will be further workshops, so please look out for them. This is not just about the Queen’s Speech and what the Government can do; it is what we can do individually as MPs to contribute more to make the UK a much more inclusive place and ensure that we are always giving opportunities to everybody that we can.
I also want to focus on wellbeing and equality, and a wellbeing economy. Countries are starting to look at happiness and at what makes us happy. Wellbeing, happiness and quality of life are becoming high priorities for many Governments, and I believe they should be a high priority for this Government. There is a Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen which is conducting research on that. I have been looking at the research and thinking why are we not happier? We are lagging behind the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and a number of countries where people are much happier in themselves and have greater levels of wellbeing. We should think about what makes people happy and what creates wellbeing; it would be lovely to see a happy Minister, or perhaps a Minister for happiness and wellbeing. Perhaps we could invite the researchers from the Happiness Research Institute to speak to us about wellbeing and how we can promote it across the United Kingdom. We know from its research that economic or financial hardship predicts unhappiness so part of this is about equality, but it is also about physical inactivity, because that lowers quality of life and life expectancy. Access to green spaces and to play parks and being able to engage in the outdoors is important; we all felt the impact of that during covid, but the research suggests we should pay even more attention to these issues.
Mental health and depression are the antithesis of happiness. They cause a real threat to wellbeing, impacting on the wellbeing not only of the individual but of their whole family and their family life, so we need much more focus on mental health services. Low wellbeing in later life creates costs in health and social care, so we need a holistic approach.
It was interesting to note that homes are a big factor in overall happiness—our security in our homes, being able to live in a safe home, free from threat, risk and antisocial behaviour. So local authorities have a huge role to play in this, too.
I am sorry, but I only have a minute left.
It is extremely important to make social supports and communities more available to people. So I want the Government to also have a look at wellbeing and happiness because, with a holistic approach, good lives make for happiness and wellbeing and that is also good economics.
This has been an excellent and wide-ranging debate. It is a pleasure to follow Dr Cameron, and I say to my hon. Friend Ms Rimmer that it was well worth the wait to hear her speech on the importance of rebalancing health and social care to help us tackle the pressures on the NHS.
We have heard some fantastic speeches, disproportion-ately from the Opposition side of the House, I might say. My hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson highlighted the increasingly poor outcomes for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, and in particular the terrible injustice of the growing inequality between those who can pay for a diagnosis and those who cannot. My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) made wide-ranging, powerful speeches on this Government’s failure on education catch-up, school buildings, Sure Start and so many of the pillars of educational success built by the last Labour Government and now sadly eroded under the last 12 years of Conservative Government. My hon. Friend Cat Smith highlighted the link between mental health and educational outcome and the importance of prioritising mental health for children and young people.
My hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) all got their teeth into the crisis in dentistry; not for the first time, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South has sounded the alarm, but maybe the Secretary of State will listen to those alarms this time—if not to my bad puns.
My hon. Friend Christian Matheson gave a tub-thumping speech rightly asking where the employment Bill is and the promised employment rights that have failed to materialise. He also made a powerful argument for a full ban on conversion therapy. If this is to be the best place in the world for children to grow up, it is absolutely right that we ban that abhorrent practice; it is not therapy in the slightest. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Members for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook), who highlighted the importance of this being an LGBT conversion therapy ban, and applaud them for making that case from the Government Benches. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield rightly said in what was a very entertaining speech, today this country has already become that little bit better as a place to grow up, thanks to the courage of Jake Daniels in becoming the first male footballer to come out since 1990. It really should not take courage in this day and age for a footballer to say that they are gay; in fact, it really should not be relevant at all, but sadly we know that it is. He has made himself a powerful role model and, I hope, an example that others will follow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge highlighted the crisis in the NHS and the life-and-death consequences of ambulance waits. He asked “Where is the urgency?”—a very fair question that I hope the Secretary of State will answer. My hon. Friend Janet Daby spoke powerfully about the experience of young people in the criminal justice system.
Then there were speeches about levelling up. My hon. Friend Mohammad Yasin highlighted the gap between rhetoric and reality. My right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson well summarised the Government’s approach to levelling up in their planning reform: the Victor Meldrew approach, as she called it, levelling down next door’s conservatory—hardly the level of ambition that this country needs. My hon. Friend Naz Shah highlighted how levelling up is a slogan without substance. There was a pretty interesting—depending on your perspective—effort from Dr Evans, who offered a new slogan for the Government’s planning policies: “INBED with Gove”, a mental image that none of us wanted but that we have been left with none the less at this late hour.
My hon. Friend Imran Hussain gave a searing account of poverty in his community. He is right: this is a matter of political choices. We heard about the consequences of those choices in the speeches of other hon. Friends. My hon. Friend Helen Hayes highlighted the disaster of children growing up in overcrowded temporary accommodation, with huge consequences for their learning and their life chances. My hon. Friend Carolyn Harris spoke about having to run summer holiday lunch clubs and Christmas hamper schemes because of the grotesque level of poverty in her constituency.
My hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood described the embarrassment and humiliation of parents who are unable to provide for their children. Children share their parents’ anxiety about how to make ends meet, so they do not even tell them when they are required to bring in some extra kit for school, such as for cooking classes, or when there is an extra ask for school trips. That is a thoroughly damning indictment of this Government.
If I may say so, as the son of a single mum, I was really moved by how my hon. Friend Yvonne Fovargue described her experience. If only it were as simple as Ministers claimed on the morning round today—if only people could just put in a few extra hours or take on a better-paid job—but it is just not as simple as going out and finding more hours. Many of our constituents are already working three jobs. How many more jobs and how many more hours do the Government want them to take on?
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me, but the very best speech today was the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Mrs Hamilton. We dearly, dearly miss her predecessor, our dear friend Jack Dromey, but I know that he would have been proud to see her make that speech today, as we all were.
This is a great country with a world of opportunity. I am glad that I was born in Britain, but this is also a country that is being held back by intolerable levels of inequality and by a Government who are simply unable to face up to the scale of the challenge. Half a million more children are set to be plunged into poverty, following the Chancellor’s spring statement. Two million adults are going full days without meals. Many more are relying on food banks to feed themselves and their family, as I found when I went around the country in the local election campaign. In Colchester, the food bank told me that NHS nurses were coming in and accessing it. Pensioner poverty is again on the rise, with out-of-control bills, a real-terms cut to the state pension and national insurance rises meaning that working pensioners will be more than £1,200 worse off over the next two years.
This cost of living crisis is not just a Treasury issue, but a health issue. If millions of people in this country face a choice whether to heat their homes or to eat regular meals, they will get sick or will fail to recover from sickness. Before we entered the pandemic, average life expectancy—surely the most basic measure of the progress of a country or a society—had stalled for the first time in decades. It is a mark of shame that, in 2022, in the sixth richest nation on earth, 5,000 people were admitted to hospital for malnutrition in the last six months. Cases of scurvy have doubled since 2010—scurvy! Twelve years of Conservative Government is ushering in the return of Dickensian diseases to Britain. What kind of country have we become when millions of people who work full time still cannot afford the basics?
The British people deserve a Government on their side. Instead, we have the only Government in the G7 who think that now is a good time to raise taxes on working people. We have a Government who are happy to add to working people’s tax burden but, as we know from members of the Cabinet, spend plenty of time avoiding paying their own. The Government promised 38 new pieces of legislation, but not a single one will put more money into people’s pockets. All the Government have to offer families struggling today are sneering lectures telling them to work harder, find a second or third job or book themselves in for a cookery class.
We have seen this Government’s approach when challenged on the cost of living. Blame the people. Blame the Bank of England. Blame anyone but themselves. Even when challenged about his own spring statement that plunges half a million more people into poverty, what was the Chancellor’s excuse? The computer said no. That did not stop him taking 20 quid a week off the poorest people in our country, did it? It worked then. Surely it works now.
Britain deserves better. We need a Government who understand what life is like for most people in this country. If we had such a Government, we would not have the Education Secretary talking about tipping the balance in favour of private schools. Who is he trying to kid? He is defending the 7% of people who go to private schools, who are going to have a brilliant world of opportunities available to them, but failing to stand up for the 93% who do not. Let me tell him about tipping the balance, as someone who received free school meals, went through the state education system and made it to Cambridge University. I was one of just 1% of kids on free school meals to make it to Cambridge University, and I am proud that I got there, but do not tell kids from state schools who are making it now, and who are finally being judged on their merits, that the system has been tilted in their favour. Those kids know full well from their life experience, from their childhood and from growing up under a Conservative Government that the party and his colleagues have done everything they can to tilt the balance in favour of people like him, from backgrounds like their own, at the expense of people from backgrounds like mine. That is the truth.
What the Education Secretary does not understand is that it is not talent or potential that is unevenly distributed in this country; it is opportunity. Participation in extracurricular activities is falling in state schools. Fewer children are doing sports, drama and music, and the least well-off children are three times more likely to do no extracurricular activities at all. The Conservative Government may accept this poverty of ambition for our children, but the Labour party will not. Just as we rebuilt the education system under the last Labour Government, so we will have the same level of ambition for the next one. I am very sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, but we will be putting her lunch clubs out of business, because the next Labour Government will work to end child poverty, not to increase it.
I turn to health. There was just one mention of health in the Queen’s Speech: the long-awaited overhaul of the Mental Health Act. The proposed changes are welcome, but this legislation alone will not solve the challenges facing people who live with severe mental illness, reverse this Government’s persistent neglect of mental health services or narrow the gaping mental health inequalities that mean that black people are over four times more likely to be detained under the existing Act.
Our mental health services simply do not meet the scale of the challenge. A quarter of beds for patients struggling with poor mental health have been cut over the last 12 years. One in every three children who seeks support from mental health services is turned away at the door, and 1.6 million people in total are waiting for treatment. They are waiting too long, and those who are offered treatment are often sent to the other end of the country because there are no local beds and services available.
People struggling with poor mental health will not get the support they need if we do not have enough frontline staff. That is why Labour’s plan would guarantee mental health treatment within a month to all who need it. That would be done by investing in an additional 8,500 staff and offering specialist mental health support in every school. Because politics is about choices, let me be clear about the choices we would make. We would pay for that mental health support for every child in the country by removing the VAT exemption from private schools and closing tax loopholes for private equity fund managers. I know that the Education Secretary is pitching himself as a defender of private school privilege ahead of the next Conservative leadership election and the Health Secretary may well have benefited from these tax loopholes himself. Let me tell Members on the Conservative Benches—there will be a Conservative leadership election a lot sooner than there will be a Labour leadership election.
I hope we can agree that mental health is one of the most urgent needs of our time, particularly after the pandemic, which was difficult for so many. I am glad that the Health Secretary is here to respond, because I would like him to account for his Government’s record. Patients are being made to wait longer than ever before as we sleepwalk towards a two-tier system that betrays the founding principles of our NHS. The self-pay healthcare market in the UK has doubled since 2010. People have been forced to go private because they will not get the treatment that they need. Billions more have been spent on private insurance and operations. Private healthcare providers are rubbing their hands together because they know that people are increasingly choosing to jump the queue while the rest are left to wait for up to two years for care.
The Health Secretary will tell us, of course—let me save him some time—that our NHS is suffering from a covid backlog and that the problems facing the health service are all the result of the pandemic. There is a backlog in the NHS, but it is a Conservative backlog. The NHS was experiencing record waiting lists going into the pandemic. It was 100,000 staff short, with another 112,000 vacancies in social care. Suspected cancer patients have been waiting longer to be seen every single year since Labour left office. Not only was there just one piece of legislation across health and social care, but, as I mentioned, the Government have dropped their long-promised employment Bill. What does the Secretary of State say to the millions of family carers in this country who were promised a week’s carer’s leave—just one week a year to have a break—but who have been let down and left waiting again and again by this Government?
The fact is that the longer we give the Conservatives in office, the longer patients will wait: longer for a GP appointment, longer for an ambulance to arrive—now two hours for thousands of heart attack and stroke victims—longer for an operation, with some patients waiting since before the pandemic began, and longer for pensioners and the disabled to wait for suitable social care. We are paying more. We are waiting longer. That is the Conservative record, and the longer we give the Conservatives in office, the longer Britain waits. Well, their time is up.
Before I call the Secretary of State, I emphasise how important it is that Members get back in good time for the wind-ups. It is extremely discourteous to the Front Benchers and others who have participated in the debate if people are late and, in some cases, not here at all. It has been noted.
It is an honour to close this debate on the Loyal Address. In this platinum jubilee year, let me extend my thanks to Her Majesty the Queen for her years of dedicated service.
I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part, but, I have to say, I am disappointed in the shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting. He has taken this once again as an opportunity to talk down Britain, as he so often does, and has chosen to use this debate as a naked leadership pitch for his own party. He talked about leadership bids in his speech because he has no ideas at all about how to improve the society for British people. He knows that both of us had to fight to get our foot in the door. He knows that our chances to succeed come from this country’s world-class public services, yet he stands there and has the audacity to attack my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, who came to this country as an 11-year-old immigrant and rose to the position that he has today—by the way, he could rise to that position only in the Conservative party.
I speak with feeling about this country. For my family, coming to Britain was a choice, too. They came here for freedom, security, opportunity and prosperity. They came here because they believed that Britain was the best place in the world in which to grow up and grow old. They were right then and they are right today. Public services have been a lifeline for me and my family—the teachers who made my career possible, the police officers who kept me and my family safe, and the NHS that cared for my father in his dying days. This Queen’s Speech backs our public services. It invests in them and it reforms them to secure the future of Britain. Unlike the shadow Secretary of State, I have always been an optimist about Britain’s future.
Twenty-hour ambulance waiting time—is that world beating?
Of course it is not. I will come on to that in a moment. The hon. Lady knows full well why the NHS is facing its most challenging time in history.
Being the best place in which to grow up and grow old relies on keeping people safe, including from disease. We rose to the challenges of the pandemic. Brexit gave us the mindset to license and deploy a vaccine against covid-19 quicker than any other country. The phenomenal NHS got jabs into every part of the UK, and it is the wisdom of the British people that has meant that we have one of the highest vaccination rates anywhere in the world. We created a juggernaut of a testing and surveillance system. We bought more antivirals per head than any other country in Europe, and we got it right on omicron, with the most successful booster programme in Europe. As a result of all that, we were the first country in Europe to remove all restrictions. Had we listened to the Labour party, we would have been shackled to the EU on vaccines, and our schools would have been shuttered for even longer, contrary to what Bridget Phillipson said. Instead, because this Government got the big calls right, we are leading the world when it comes to living with covid.
From clinics to classrooms, the pandemic showed the wealth of our skills. The skills mission is a job for the whole of Government. In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education outlined our ambitions for the new Schools Bill to deliver a stronger schools system that works for every child, as talked about today by my hon. Friend David Simmonds when he spoke about academy trusts, and by my hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory when she talked about the importance of early years.
We are also delivering a Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which will reverse the chilling effect of no platforming in our world-class institutions, while our higher education reform Bill promises to bring about a fairer and more sustainable future. I listened carefully when my hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen talked passionately about putting our children and our young people first.
A skills-rich economy is about more than just the elite institutions. I am the product of Filton Technical College. It ignited my desire to go to university and helped me get to where I am today. This is a Government who treat further education colleges with the seriousness that they deserve. When I was Chancellor I was proud to put an additional £400 million into further education in this country. This is a great country in which to grow up and grow old, and a great country in which to stay skilled, as my right hon. Friend Sir David Evennett said earlier in the debate.
On healthcare, this Government passionately believe in the NHS and its founding principles, in a world-class healthcare system that is free at the point of access for everyone. Funding from the levy, which the Labour party voted against, on top of the historic long-term NHS settlement that was announced in 2018, means that the NHS resource budget in England will increase to £162.6 billion by 2024-25. That is the highest budget that the NHS has ever had, and it includes an additional £8 billion over the next three years to tackle those covid backlogs. In a fast-changing world, with an ageing population, we need to embrace new ways of thinking. A number of my hon. Friends referred to the investment that we are making, including my hon. Friend Dr Evans. I also listened carefully, when my hon. Friend James Wild was talking about NHS investment. He made a very powerful case for it.
We have set out our plans to tackle the covid-19 backlogs, we have legislated for a new Health and Care Act, and we have published an integration White Paper. We have an upcoming digital and data strategy, and we are setting out a new 10-year cancer plan. I cannot see him in the Chamber now, but Tim Farron talked about the importance of cancer care. We are also setting out a new 10-year plan to improve mental health.
A number of Members rightly spoke of the importance of mental health, including my hon. Friend Rob Butler, who speaks with passion on this subject, especially when it comes to the mental health of children. We will soon publish a health disparities White Paper, which I hope will be welcomed by Dame Diana Johnson, who rightly spoke of the importance of levelling up, and we will also soon publish the outcome of the Messenger review of health and social care leadership. We are bringing the Mental Health Act 1983 into the 21st century—the Queen’s Speech referred to draft legislation for that purpose—ensuring that those experiencing a mental health crisis are treated as people, not patients.
As I have said, a number of Members spoke passionately about mental health—notably Mrs Hamilton, whom I welcome to her place in the Chamber. I agreed with one thing that the hon. Member for Ilford North said earlier: all Members, on both sides of the House, miss her predecessor, Jack Dromey, very much, but I know that had he listened to the hon. Lady’s speech he would have been very proud of what she said. She spoke with passion and pride about her community, and I know that she served for many years—for over two decades—In the NHS. When she speaks about mental health, she speaks with experience, and I know that she will have much of value to say in the House in the years ahead.
Many other colleagues made important contributions about the NHS. My hon. Friend Dr Johnson talked about the investment in community diagnostic centres. Judith Cummins and my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby talked about the importance of dentistry and the need to maintain investment.
At the heart of our strategy for the NHS are prevention, personalisation, performance and people. Prevention means focusing much more on the biggest killers: tobacco, obesity and alcohol. My hon. Friend Jo Gideon spoke of the importance of continuing to tackle obesity. Personalisation means making use, where we can, of community services, something that I know my hon. Friend Danny Kruger would welcome; and when it comes to people, there are more doctors and nurses working in the NHS today than ever before. We are on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament, and we have a record number of medical students in England. The fact is that the Opposition have no plans for the NHS. They voted against our plan to secure resources for the NHS, and they have no idea how to meet the challenges of the future.
We are also transforming the provision of adult social care. We are investing an additional £5.4 billion over the next three years; we are introducing a more generous means-testing system by more than quadrupling the upper savings threshold to £100,000; we are protecting more people from the lottery of catastrophic care costs; and we are putting half a billion pounds behind our social care workforce. I hope Ms Rimmer will welcome that. She talked about adult social care, and I hope that she and others will recognise that this is record investment. These changes matter, because whether we are growing old or a working-age adult, social care is there for all of us. My hon. Friend Robert Largan talked about that as well.
The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield, met some of the victims of that today. There are plans that we are closely looking at and when we are ready we will come to this House with them.
My hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Jacob Young) and for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) praised the energy security Bill, and they were right to do so—it is a very important piece of legislation that this country has long needed. My hon. Friend Dehenna Davison rightly welcomed the investment in increased police numbers. I listened carefully to what Dr Cameron said about the importance of happiness. I agree, but I assure her that the Government Benches are full of happy Ministers, so I do not think we need any more.
Her Majesty’s most noble speech sets out a positive vision of freedom, security, opportunity and prosperity. It matches the ideals that brought my family to this country: that this is, and will continue to be, the best country in the world to grow up and grow old in. Unlike Labour, we are optimists about Britain’s future. The choice for the country is clear: between a Government with an ambitious vision for the country and an Opposition without a plan. We will provide the leadership that this country needs. I commend this Queen’s Speech to the House.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Scott Mann.)
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.