It is an honour to open this Queen’s Speech debate today on behalf of this Government, who are driven by the people’s priorities. They are a Government who stand up for the brave men and women of our police, our security services and all those who serve across our public services—from the frontline of our emergency services to our schools and our NHS. These workers are the hard-working silent majority, selflessly serving our communities and our country. We are the Government who are investing record amounts in our public services and backing the forces of law and order.
Since becoming Home Secretary, I have ensured that the fundamental principle of giving people the security they need to live their lives freely has informed the Home Office’s work. As Her Majesty the Queen outlined in her Gracious Speech on Monday, that will also drive the Government’s wider legislative programme, because nothing is more important than keeping our people, our communities and our country safe.
The people of our United Kingdom must have confidence in the ability of our police and security services. They need to know that, day or night, no matter what the crime, the police and the security services have the power and the resources they need to ensure that criminals are brought to justice. They want to be reassured that we are working to tackle the senseless and sickening violence that destroys lives on our streets and in people’s homes, and that serious criminality will lead to tough sentences and justice for the victims of crime. They should have confidence that our prison system works to give victims justice and to keep the public safe from those who do harm to others, and that the justice system and our prisons support will reform offenders.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s refreshing approach. When a spate of crime occurs in a local area, it often comes down to one or two individuals. She can imagine the frustration when they are caught and receive only a suspended sentence. What happened to “two strikes and you’re out”?
When it comes to criminality and the justice system, it is important to reflect that every case is looked at on a case-by-case basis—that is the purpose of the system. At the same time, it is important to ensure that victims of crime get justice and that the perpetrators of crime are given the appropriate sanctions.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s no-nonsense approach. I sit on the Home Affairs Committee and I prosecuted cases before I came into Parliament. I welcome the joined-up approach of having not only enough extra police officers, but an extra £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service, so when individuals are brought to account they can quickly go through the justice system, which will ensure that those who should be acquitted are acquitted and that others are sentenced for their crime.
My hon. Friend is correct, because it is vital to have a criminal justice system and a Crown Prosecution Service that work to drive the right outcomes. Resources do matter.
As we leave the EU, the public want to know that we are enhancing our co-operation with international partners, particularly in bringing foreign criminals to justice, and that their Government, and no one else, have full control over the borders of our nation. That will end the free movement of people once and for all.
In the three months since the Government came to power, we have begun urgent work, particularly on supporting the police. All hon. Members on this side of the House agree that our police forces are the best in the world. Every day, we see examples of their professionalism, bravery and dedication. No matter how good they are, however, they can do their job only if they are supported. Officers on the frontline need to know that they have a Prime Minister, a Home Secretary and a Government who stand beside them, and that when they run towards danger, they are not alone. This Prime Minister, and this Government, will always back the police.
Can the Home Secretary help me? In the nine years that I sat with her on those Benches, the Conservative party’s determined policy was to reduce the prison population by the careful introduction of all manner of sentences and by the support of suspended sentences, which have great power. Is not the real way to help our police to ensure that our criminal justice service is fit for purpose? It needs huge investment and for our courts to be able to hear trials quickly. At the moment, there are two years’ of delay in most cases.
The right hon. Lady will recognise that the legislative programme of the Queen’s Speech makes greater investments in the justice system, which will address the issue of the time it takes to prosecute cases and to bring about justice for victims. I think the whole House will welcome the investment that the Government are putting forward to ensure that justice can be served and that the right support can be given to prisoners.
If Members persevere, I will come to them shortly. I also know that many Members want to speak in the debate.
This Government are backing our police and it is important, now more than ever, to support our police and our intelligence and security services to keep us and our country safe. If I may, Mr Speaker, I will give a few examples that I think the House would like to hear. With the changing profile of crime, policing in the UK has had to adapt to confront new types of criminality, ranging from county lines to organised crime, violence on our streets and the horrendous harms, often against children and the vulnerable, that are often conducted online through the dark web.
I very much welcome the extra police we will see in Suffolk and the extra powers for the criminal justice system to act as a deterrent. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the young age at which people are getting caught up in county lines? What can we do to work across Departments, particularly with education, to keep children away from this trafficking?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that ongoing issue. Young people need to be protected. Through the public service duty announced in the Queen’s Speech, much more can be done by agencies and Departments working together to provide support and preventive measures. Quite frankly, far too many young people are being exploited. The Government are recruiting 20,000 new police officers and investing in not only their training and equipment, but their protection, so that they are empowered to tackle such crimes. [Interruption.]
While Opposition Members chunter from a sedentary position, it is worth reminding them that the Labour party would recruit 10,000 fewer police officers and, importantly, fail to back our brave police officers. Police forces and officers have told us that they need backing to search people for bladed weapons to tackle the appalling knife crime we are seeing. That is why we have lifted restrictions on emergency stop-and-search powers for all forces in England and Wales—something described by the shadow Home Secretary as “unhelpful”.
When our frontline officers told us they needed to be better able to defend themselves against reckless armed violent criminals and thugs, we listened. That is why we have announced a new £10 million fund to give police chiefs the ability to equip officers with Taser. Again, we have not heard from shadow Ministers, who have refused to back this measure. I urge them to back this investment in our frontline officers, who protect our people, our communities and our country.
The Home Secretary says that the Government are backing the police, but does she accept that in South Yorkshire there are 700 fewer police officers to back than there were in 2010, as a deliberate result of the policies and cuts pursued by the Government of which she was a member?
I had hoped the hon. Gentleman would welcome the 151 additional police officers who are coming to South Yorkshire, along with the 6,000 who will be coming over the next year up to March and the 20,000 that we are recruiting. I think all hon. Members should recognise that crime has changed and, rather than criticise our police officers, get out there and back them.
My right hon. Friend’s acquisition of this role is causing great excitement in South Holland and The Deepings and across the nation, because at last we have a Home Secretary who is not an apologist for miscreants but believes, as my constituents do, that people who cause mayhem and misery should be caught, convicted and locked up for a very long time, in stark contrast to the views of the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).
My right hon. Friend is right: when it comes to crime and criminality, we owe it to the British public to be on their side and to ensure that their communities are protected and that they are safe.
With crime changing, it is right that we listen to the police on how to tackle the most urgent crimes. That is why I have made rolling up county lines drugs gangs a priority, with a £20 million package to stop those gangs exploiting children and young people, in addition to the £25 million safer streets fund to bring in new security measures for the worst crime hotspots in England and Wales. That is what I mean by backing our police and tackling the most appalling criminality that we see today.
I strongly welcome the additional 20,000 police who are going to be recruited, particularly in the Thames Valley police area of my own constituency. Could my right hon. Friend give us any news about the timing of that and how it is all going, because we are very keen to get on with it?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, because we are now getting on with the recruitment of police officers. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Policing Minister announced a new allocation of police recruitment—the number of police officers who are being recruited right now and will be in place by March next year.
Never before have the demands on police officers been so complex and challenging. No Member who was here on 22 March 2017 will ever forget the events of that day or the sacrifice made by PC Keith Palmer, whose memorial stands outside Carriage Gates. Tragically, on Monday I joined thousands of officers and mourners to pay my respects to PC Andrew Harper, a newlywed officer senselessly and brutally killed in the line of duty. I know that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to PC Harper and to all our brave officers.
Findings from our review of frontline officers suggest that the police at all levels feel that they need more support to carry out their duties effectively. Their protection and wellbeing is a priority for this Government. That is why the police protection Bill will support the introduction of the police covenant—a covenant that recognises that policing is no ordinary job and pledges to recognise the bravery, commitment and sacrifices of serving and former officers. The Bill will also increase legal protection for police drivers, giving them confidence to use their greater skill and training when dealing with moped robberies and similar crimes.
Does the Home Secretary agree that while we all support and respect the work done by our police officers, and sometimes worry for their safety in what they do, the best way to protect them and the public is not by indulging in scare tactics and language but to prevent crime—to invest in the social, medical and educational programmes that prevent people from getting involved in crime in the first place?
The hon. Lady makes a relevant point. Of course, this is not just about what we do through the criminal justice system but about what we do through all our public services—through education and local government—and how we engage with communities. It is therefore vital—I am going to come on to this later in my remarks—that we bring those public duties together, integrating our governance at a local level as well as a national level to absolutely do more to prevent and to protect innocent victims, and also to prevent people from even going into a life of crime.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As someone who represents a semi-rural and coastal constituency myself, I know that this is absolutely a problem that we have all experienced. There is no doubt that the new numbers for territorial policing will mean more police officers on the streets of our constituencies who are able to tackle the whole range of issues covering policing, including rural crime.
I am going to make progress and come on to the many other Bills that I would like to touch on.
Protecting and supporting our police is vital if they are going to carry out their duties, but greater protection must be matched with enhanced powers. As Britain leaves the European Union, co-operation with international law enforcement agencies such as Interpol will become more important. That is why we are introducing an extradition Bill that will give police the power immediately to arrest criminals wanted by trusted countries for serious offences without having to apply to a judge first. Right now, people wanted for serious crimes in countries outside the EU cannot be arrested immediately if police come across them on the streets of the UK. This Bill will ensure that where a person is wanted by the police for a serious offence in all trusted countries they have the power to get them off the streets and into our courts system.
The tougher action on international criminals will be matched by tougher action on foreign nationals who commit crimes in this country. Those who come to the UK to work hard and contribute to our national life will always be welcome, but those who abuse the system by committing crimes should be in no doubt: we are determined to take action. That action is needed to stop abuse of the system, to speed up the process for deporting foreign national offenders and, importantly, to deter foreign criminals from coming to the United Kingdom. That is why the foreign national offenders Bill will introduce tougher penalties for those who return to the United Kingdom in breach of a deportation order—a measure that has been opposed by Opposition Members.
While we work to keep this country safe from foreign criminals, the public rightly demand further action on crimes closer to home. The Government’s broadband Bill will make it easier for homes and businesses across the country to be connected to high-speed, resilient and secure broadband. As we ensure that our citizens have better internet access, we must do more to keep them safe online. The online harms White Paper sets out the Government’s plan for world-leading legislation to make the UK one of the safest places in the world to be online. That will be enforced in a proportionate way, ensuring that freedom of expression is upheld and promoted online, and businesses do not face undue burdens. We will publish draft legislation for prelegislative scrutiny.
Our dedication to keeping the public safe extends, of course, to the most serious crimes. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will agree that this is an important focus for us all, because very few constituencies have not been affected by the rise in serious crime.
Broadband is an enormous issue in my constituency. In 2016, the SNP promised 100% broadband coverage in Scotland by 2021. Does the Home Secretary agree that, when there is a failure to deliver, which is clear in my constituency, the UK Government should step in and take over?
It is right that we ensure, through the investment we are making in speeding up broadband and wider broadband investment, that the whole of the United Kingdom has access to fast, reliable broadband. With that access to broadband, we have to ensure that we are protecting those who are vulnerable to the harms that come from the internet.
We all have a role to play in tackling serious and violent crime, in particular to prevent the loss of young lives. We are working across Government to stop young people being drawn into crime in the first place. The new legal duty established by the serious violence Bill will ensure that key public bodies work together to share intelligence and collaborate on an effective local response, so that we can intervene earlier to protect young people and their communities. Safeguarding young people is essential, which means that every statutory service must provide care and support to our young people to ensure that they are protected from the criminals who seek to exploit them.
The Home Secretary will know that the Home Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry into serious and violent crime, looking particularly at knife crime. In Castleford this week, two teenagers have been stabbed, following a pensioner being stabbed to death in Pontefract. Our Committee has warned for some time that serious and violent crime is spreading to towns; it is not just concentrated in cities. We recommended in our report not only a big increase in policing but a big investment in youth services, which have been cut by £1 billion since 2010. What is she doing to urgently invest in youth services, before more lives are lost?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments, and I agree with her in terms of serious and violent crime. Far too much of it is taking place on our streets, across all our constituencies. We have to do more to invest in youth provision and young people. That means not only giving them hope and opportunity, but providing services for them, which is why we have invested more than £200 million in the youth endowment fund. There is much more work coming, but there is more to do to ensure that our statutory services—through safeguarding, Ofsted and public services—support our young people, so that they are not only protected in every single way from criminals, but given opportunities and alternative provision, if they are not in school, to help them to get on in life.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments and approach to her new job, and I wish her all the best in it. There is a real concern among my constituents about the increase in knife crime across the capital and the terrible loss of life. Only last weekend, another young life was lost in my constituency. What she is doing is right, to protect our young people and to end the terrible tragedy of young lives being snuffed out by knife crime.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and I am appalled by the tragedy that took place in his constituency, which he has previously raised with me.
Policing matters, as does support for our police and the way in which we support young people to prevent them from getting sucked into a life of crime.
Serious violence is a visible and high-profile crime, and I know that everyone in the House is also determined to do more to tackle the insidious abuse and violence that go on behind closed doors. Domestic abuse shatters lives and tears families apart. It is vital that we all act together to better protect victims of domestic abuse, extend the support available to them and their children, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
I pay tribute to the work of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill and to all those, inside and outside Parliament, who came together to shape our response to domestic abuse. It is only right that it receives strong cross-party support, which was shown when the House gave the Bill a Second Reading a fortnight ago. As hon. Members know, the Bill introduces a new statutory definition of domestic abuse and recognises that many forms of abuse can take place, including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and emotional abuse. It establishes in law a domestic abuse commissioner to champion victims and survivors and provides for a new domestic abuse prevention order so that the police and courts can act earlier and more effectively to protect victims.
Will the Home Secretary commit to ensuring that the social security system does not penalise victims of domestic abuse who leave their partners but are made worse off as a result? My constituent lost £400 a month after leaving her very violent relationship as a result of going on to universal credit.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point, and we are in the process of working with the Department for Work and Pensions. I come back to the point about a statutory duty, but also stress that all organisations across Government must work together. That is the right thing to do because protecting victims from abuse, whether it is mental, physical or emotional, and getting justice are important, as is ensuring their wellbeing and their ability to move on with their lives.
Does the Home Secretary welcome the publication of the Bills that will apply to Northern Ireland, specifically the measure on historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland? It is welcome that at last we will get this awfulness addressed and that the victims will hopefully get some sort of recognition for the problems they have had to face.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about getting the right kind of justice and welcome the steps that have been taken.
I have outlined the Government’s response to some of the most shocking crimes. I reassure the House and the British public that we are determined to have sentences that properly reflect the severity of the crime. We want the public to have confidence in the criminal justice system. Too often we are told that the current system is failing victims and the wider public. That is why we have ordered an urgent review of sentencing for the most serious violent and sexual offenders. We will take immediate action to deal with the most serious cases so that offenders sentenced to fixed terms of seven years or more have the time that they serve in prison extended from half to two thirds of their sentences.
Time served must reflect the severity of the crime. Measures to protect and serve victims are also vital because becoming a victim of crime or abuse is often a life-changing experience.
Many victims of violence and domestic violence experience terror when their assailants are released from prison. At the moment, provision to exclude those assailants from areas where the victims live is restricted to the time of the sentence. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending that, possibly to lifetime exclusion?
Let me continue, specifically on victims. My time as co-chair, with the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), of the all-party parliamentary group on victims of crime gave me deep respect for those who dedicate their lives to representing victims of crime and for the strength and determination of the victims themselves. I thank members of the APPG with whom I have worked, and I have also followed their work. They have supported many victims of crime, and include the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) and for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper). We are committed to ensuring that victims receive the help and support they need to cope and recover and, importantly, to giving them a voice and to giving a voice to those who sometimes cannot speak out for themselves.
We will now accelerate plans to enshrine in legislation the rights to which victims are entitled, as set out in the victims code. We recognise that rights are meaningless without the means to enforce them and we want to legislate to ensure that where criminal justice agencies have failed to provide victims with their entitlements they are held to account. This includes increasing the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner, already a powerful advocate for victims’ rights. We will also legislate for a new victims law, to be consulted on early in the new year. This will be testament to the bravery of all those who have spoken out and given a voice to the voiceless.
Although we will be tougher on prisoners who are unco-operative, we must also recognise that the majority of inmates simply want a second chance and an opportunity to rebuild their lives after a custodial sentence. We cannot allow our prisons to become factories for making bad people worse. We need to reduce overcrowding, strengthen security and do more to educate and rehabilitate prisoners. We must invest in turning people’s lives around through education and training and do more to integrate ex-offenders back into society so that they themselves can rebuild their lives. That is why, as well as investing up to £2.5 billion in prisons for an additional 10,000 places, we are addressing the health and wellbeing issues, raising levels of educational attainment and skills, and rebuilding and reinforcing the relationships offenders have with friends and family.
I thank the Home Secretary for attending, with me, the funeral on Monday of PC Andrew Harper, and for the support she showed the community in Abingdon where he served. It was very gratefully received. She also joined me in commending a local social enterprise called Tap Social, which makes “criminally good beer”, and takes former offenders and gives them that first chance in life to help them to take that step on that ladder.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and it was a real honour to be with her at the cathedral on Monday to pay tribute to Andrew Harper. She is right; there are many good examples of social enterprises across all our constituencies that do tremendous work to give offenders a second chance. Importantly, they educate and train offenders and give them the skills to move on and rebuild their lives. As with many of the Bills I have mentioned today, we can come together to demonstrate strong cross-party support on this issue.
The Government recognise that freedom and security are not opposite but equal and that ensuring that people can live their lives free from fear is the essential foundation of a life of liberty. There is no greater service that a Government can perform for the public than keeping them safe. That is at the very heart of our agenda. Monday’s Gracious Speech contained improvements for every stage of policing in the criminal justice system, each designed to make the United Kingdom a safer and a fairer nation. We live at a time of new and acute challenges to policing and justice, whether they involve tackling the established evils of serious violence, domestic abuse, the arrest of foreign national offenders or keeping people safe from online harms. Officers need to know that the Government have their backs, so we have brought forward measures to extend the protections offered to police officers, to establish a police covenant and to give the police the necessary powers to arrest foreign national offenders. We are also clear that tough measures to bring criminals to justice must be balanced with a fair approach to those who have served their time and support for those who genuinely want to turn their lives around.
The Home Secretary has outlined the Government’s strategy to deal with criminal gangs here in the United Kingdom. She will recognise, as we all do, that criminal activity reaches beyond the borders of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and is international. Will she outline what discussions have taken place with other countries to ensure that the problem of criminal gangs from Europe, including Romania, China and elsewhere, which we heard about in the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs today, is dealt with internationally and together?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As an outward-looking country that prides itself on its security both domestically and internationally, a tremendous amount of work takes place not just bilaterally but across many other institutions. We have our own agencies, such as the National Crime Agency, working internationally to ensure that many of the issues in terms of serious organised crime, criminality and the sheer extent of the crime taking place are addressed, while at the same time preventing further criminal activity from taking place.
I welcome what the Home Secretary says about putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. Will she expand on the point that murderers who withhold information should be punished more severely, and on how Helen’s law will be implemented through the Parole Board?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Offenders who have committed the most heinous crimes should be in receipt of the appropriate sentences and justice should be served. He mentions Helen’s law. He is absolutely right in terms of making sure that we deliver on that and enable the justice that needs to take place.
May I remind the Home Secretary of the excellent private Member’s Bill presented by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on increasing sentences for those who attack members of the emergency services? If I can take her back to prison officers, from what I hear in my constituency about a number of prison officers who have been assaulted, the offenders are not receiving severe enough punishment. The deterrent is still not there. Will she look at that and ensure that anyone who assaults someone in the emergency services faces the full force of the law?
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. He is right in terms of the legislation. He will be aware, as I think all Members are, that sentences are not, I am afraid, fitting the level of assaults that have been committed. That is why we are now going to have a police covenant. We will also work across Government, including with the Ministry of Justice, to ensure that, for example, when probation and prison officers are assaulted the right sentences are given.
The Government believe in second chances when it comes to offenders and overcrowding in our prisons, but at the same time it is important that we continue to serve our country and our public and do more to protect the victims of domestic abuse, to ensure that criminals pay a price for withholding information about their crimes and to enshrine in law a system of support set out in the victims code.
By the time these debates on the Gracious Speech are over, we will have heard about the Government’s ambitious agenda for every area of our public services, whether it is our long-term plan for the NHS, adult social care, the Mental Health Act or improvements to railways, aviation and our national infrastructure. We are preparing our country for a brighter future. At the heart of this Government is a solemn promise, from the Government to their people, that we will protect the vulnerable, see justice done, keep our citizens safe and deliver on the people’s priorities.
Let me welcome the Home Secretary and the whole House back after the conference season. I echo her words regarding supporting our police. They do an absolutely fantastic job across the United Kingdom. I also want to echo her words regarding our fallen friend PC Palmer. I recognise the commitment across the House of everybody who has worked, and continues to work, on the Domestic Abuse Bill. The Home Secretary emphasises the rights of victims, and I absolutely agree with her on that. I also want to recognise the work the Prime Minister has done recently in relation to Harry Dunn’s family. It is my first opportunity at the Dispatch Box to mention that tragic case. I urge the Prime Minister to continue to support the family through this very difficult time.
The Home Secretary mentions prisons. I suspect that all Members have had individual constituency cases, and one constituent recently came to see me. The suicide rate and the mental health situation for our young men in prison is a really serious issue. I hope that we continue to tackle it and support families and young people into rehabilitation, which is what our Prison Service should be about.
Our conference slogan was “people before privilege”—I think that the Conservative party’s was “people for privilege”. The Home Secretary made a speech at conference denouncing the north London elite. Personally, I look forward to the day that they can denounce me as part of the south Manchester elite, but I have to tell her that if she thinks that this Prime Minister is going to cut it as an anti-elitist, her speechwriters need to get better jokes. Mind you, I imagine that the elites are probably pleased not to be associated with him these days. I certainly would not want to judge old Etonians by the example of the Prime Minister. After all, every class has its clown—even the upper class.
We know what is behind the ridiculous rhetoric. The Conservatives believe that they can somehow con people into thinking that they are not the party of the privileged. We know the depths that they will sink to. There is not just the Prime Minister’s rhetoric on Brexit, but the revelation that they have been polling so-called “culture war” issues, such as human rights, in northern working-class constituencies. Well, let me give them an absolutely clear message from a proud, northern working-class Member representing a proud, northern working-class constituency: you can take your bigotry elsewhere. If the Home Secretary wants to know where the dog-whistle politics appeals, I tell her to look no further than her Cabinet table, because my constituents know better than to swallow the Conservatives’ self-serving spin. They know who stands for people, and who stands for privilege, and there is no better example than what has happened to our public services.
The reason for the tone of my speech and for my upset is the Prime Minister describing my constituents as “letterboxes”, and then my constituents suffer racism on our streets. That is why I get passionate about what is happening on our streets and why I will not defend the cuts to our police services, when police officers in my constituency have faced attacks and cuts, and the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary come here saying that we are getting more police when they have cut the police in the first place. That makes me pretty passionate about what is happening in our northern working-class areas. We will not be hoodwinked by people who believe that they know better for our constituents, who I came here to represent, and that somehow I have lost my way and that I do not care about the people in the north any more. The truth is that the Prime Minister has never cared about the people in the north.
Take the Home Secretary’s Department: the Conservatives were once the party of law and order. Even her hero, Thatcher, did not cut the police, yet they have suffered the worst cuts in their history under her party. She claims that she is recruiting 20,000 new police. The truth is that she has not even restored what her Government have cut. That is the reality of a Tory Government—more crime and less police—and those who have suffered the most from the cuts are those who are already worse off.
The Conservative party is very good at trying to do spin, but everybody knows that a Labour Government will invest in our public services and our police. They also know that you cannot trust a Tory with public services.
Take the victims of the Windrush scandal: people who have spent their lives as citizens, working and paying their taxes, only for the Home Secretary’s Government to ruin those lives with their incompetence and contempt. This week’s Windrush Bill is yet another insult: a tortuous process to get adequate compensation, with elderly victims literally dying while the Government drag their feet. We know what she thinks of the working people in Britain from her book, “Britannia Unchained”:
“the worst idlers in the world”,
she called us. This Government have cut every bit of support for ordinary working people, while shovelling endless sums to big business, the banks and the billionaires. The simple truth is that they are the party for the tax dodgers, not the taxpayers. They are not standing up to the elite; they are the elite, and their shameful gesture politics will—
It is incumbent on each Member to take responsibility for the veracity of what he or she says in the Chamber. If a Member feels that an error has been made, it is the responsibility of that Member to withdraw. We had a similar exchange yesterday with roles reversed. The Minister in that case did not feel the need to correct the record. If the hon. Lady does, she can. The Home Secretary has made her position extremely clear, but I must leave it to the hon. Lady to exercise her own judgment in this important matter.
Everyone has heard what the Home Secretary has just said, but the truth is—my understanding is—that the Home Secretary was part of that book and the author of that book. If she wants to distance herself from those words, Mr Speaker, it is for her to do that.
While the Home Secretary offered a party-political broadcast disguised as a legislative programme, in education we did not even get that. It is two years since I opened a debate on the last Queen’s Speech. I am now facing the third Education Secretary to hold the post in that time, and the three of them have not tabled a single piece of primary legislation. I suppose that it should come as no surprise that the only education bill revealed this week is being handed to parents in schools in Surrey, who are being asked to pay £20 a month simply to keep teachers in the classroom. Instead of action to tackle an education system in crisis, the Government have offered us only more meaningless words—and when those words come from this Prime Minister, they are not worth very much. The Government have said that they will implement a school-level national funding formula at the earliest opportunity, but they have not introduced legislation to implement it.
I shall say more about this later in my speech, but the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members should look at what has happened in schools since 2010. The Prime Minister promised that he would reverse those cuts, but he is not reversing those cuts. If there is some funding going into schools, that is of course very welcome, but let us not pretend that it will reverse the cuts and support teachers now, because it is not going into schools now, and they are desperate for it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem with the Conservatives is that, having cut and cut and cut funding for schools and the police, they think that providing a sudden surge in numbers can make up for the damage to the sense that people have of working in teams? Those people have been debilitated. Does she agree that it takes much longer than this to reverse such pernicious policies and put things right again?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, but I also urge the Government to look at what is happening in our schools today. That money is not even going to our schools today. Our teachers and support staff are doing a superb job in all our constituencies, but they do not have that money where it is needed, right now, where the cuts are hurting, right now—as the Secretary of State for Education knows, because his own wife has told him so.
Pretty much every school in Chester will suffer a budget cut next year, despite what the Conservatives say. Does my hon. Friend have full confidence in the mechanism that the Government are using to put money into schools? We do not seem to be getting any of it in Cheshire.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Although increased funding is welcomed by many schools, it will do nothing to reverse the cuts that they face. Moreover, they will not even see the money before a general election, so it could all be toast again. Some would say that that is a cynical move ahead of an election.
Schools in Erdington have seen teachers cut, teaching assistants cut, curriculums cut, outside trips cut and music lessons cut. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is simply not true that those cuts have been reversed? The figures demonstrate that, notwithstanding last week’s announcement, 98% of Birmingham schools will still lose out in relation to where they were in 2015. It is a confidence trick.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes another important point: the curriculum, and what has happened to it. Many teachers and schools are very concerned about the fact that music, arts, culture, drama and all the things that help young people with STEM subjects have been cut—decimated—because of the austerity that schools have faced. I want all children across the whole of England and the United Kingdom to have a diverse curriculum; that is very important, and I think the whole House could agree on that point.
We have excellent schools, both state and private, in Hertfordshire and St Albans. The state schools will have an increase, which they welcome; the private schools are terrified that they will be scrapped under Labour’s proposals. What are the Labour party’s plans for increasing capacity within the state system for all the trashed private schools that will find themselves out of business?
Conservative Members need not scaremonger, because the only thing that schools across England fear is more austerity and more broken promises from the Conservative party. Let me be absolutely clear: what the Labour party will not do is subsidise private education with taxpayers’ money when our state schools are crippled by the Conservative party. I pledge this to every parent across the country: I will not play party politics with their children. I will ensure that every child in this country gets the opportunity they deserve whether that is through a SEND, the comprehensive system, an academy, a free school, or in private schools. All their children matter to me, unlike the Conservative party.
Is not the truth that the proof of this policy pudding is in the eating, and that comes down to the reality of what parents and children see in their schools? In many schools in my Grimsby constituency there is now a policy of non-replacement of support staff. That means there is not enough support to go around for children with special educational needs, those working in offices and those doing lunchtime supervision. That is the reality of education in the country today.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and nobody can move away from the fact that our schools face a tremendous burden from the pressures of the cuts and the additional costs that have been placed upon them. Our support staff and our teachers have done an absolutely superb job and I want to put on record my thanks to the teachers, the parents, the staff and everybody else who, through these really difficult times, has done their utmost for every child in our education system—and quite rightly so. But they need the support of our Government now, and that is what I am pushing for: no more warm words or jam tomorrow, but actual support in schools, where they deserve and need it most.
If the Conservatives really believe in their own proposals for education, when will they be put into law? If this week was not the earliest opportunity for them to do that, when is?
Another issue where parents have been left paying the price for Government inaction is the spiralling cost of school uniforms. Only weeks ago, the Secretary of State wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority committing to
“put the school uniform guidance on a statutory footing”
and promising to do so
“when a suitable opportunity arises.”
The opportunity surely arose on Monday, but it was not taken. In November it will be four full years since the Government first made that commitment. We are also four Education Secretaries and three Prime Ministers on; each has reiterated the promise made by the last, yet none of them has managed to keep it.
My hon. Friend is making such an incredible speech—[Laughter.] School uniform grants are available in Wales, which has a Labour Government, in Scotland, under the SNP, and in Northern Ireland; England is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not give school uniform grants. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is because this Government do not seem to count or value the children who might possibly need a grant?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Conservative Members might laugh, but the spiralling cost of school uniforms and the problems that the poorest in our society face in dealing with that is no laughing matter. It is a matter for England and for this Government, and it is directly a matter for those Conservative Members who have shamefully done nothing about this issue. Parents across England will be listening to this debate and will recognise who is on their side.
It is the same story on home education. The Government were consulting on new legislation, but it is now nowhere to be seen. Then there is the Augar review, the flagship that has now sunk without trace. When it was published, the previous Education Secretary promised me:
“We will come forward with the conclusion of the review at the end of the year, at the spending review. That has always been the plan.”—[Official Report, 4 June 2019; Vol. 661, c. 58.]
We have had a spending review and we have had a Queen’s Speech, but we have had no conclusion and there is apparently no plan. I can only hope that the Education Secretary will be able to tell us in the wind-up that these remain Government commitments and, if so, when the Government intend to act on them. This is particularly absurd when their legislative programme is a wish-list of Bills that have no chance of getting a majority in this House, because the Secretary of State knows full well that there would be cross-party support for some of these issues.
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, and I apologise for interrupting her leadership speech. I agree that her speech is unbelievable, but not in the same sense.
Every school in my patch is getting more money, over and above the rate of inflation. I am very happy with cash now and cash tomorrow. If she is so concerned about legislative proposals, why will she not agree to have a general election?
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that he needs to get out more.
The Secretary of State’s predecessors, and even the former Prime Minister, have now admitted that the abolition of maintenance grants was a mistake, but unless the Government act in this Session another generation of 18-year-olds will go to university next summer without maintenance support. The Education Secretary has already accepted that the system is unfair. In a recent letter to the Office for Students, he raised the possibility of moving to a new system of post-qualification admissions. I am delighted that he is keen on one of Labour’s many evidence-led radical policies on education. If only that had been in the Government’s programme this week, and if only they had fully acted on the recommendations of another of their independent reviews on school exclusions. So far, they have promised to take up only those relating to formal permanent exclusions, but if they take no action to deal with the problem of children falling off school rolls without any formal process at all, they risk making that situation worse.
The Secretary of State’s predecessor did manage to get almost the whole House to support the passing of one signature piece of legislation: the regulations implementing statutory sex and relationships education. I was proud to support that step from this Dispatch Box. Before I became an MP, I was a volunteer for the Samaritans, a charity that was founded after a young girl took her life because her periods had started. She did not know what was happening to her; she thought she had a disease. If she had had sex and relationships education, she might have been here today. So now we have legislated, but we must support the schools that are teaching the curriculum. We need to set down the resources that they need and the moral leadership that they deserve. I hope that the Education Secretary will make it clear later that there is no opt-out from equality in schools, and that he will stand with teachers and heads in delivering that.
My hon. Friend is making a really important point. Will she emphasise the importance of saying to schools that they are required to do this form of education? If they leave it open as an option, that is when they come under real pressure from those who want to undermine this whole agenda.
Absolutely. There is a majority across the House to ensure that we push forward with this important legislation and support teachers and heads in delivering it in our schools. We have to lead the way, taking communities with us, in ensuring that our children and young people feel safe, secure and valued. Every young person deserves that in our education system.
School support staff are another section of the workforce who deserve that support, which the Education Secretary rightly acknowledged in our first exchanges. He will have been told at close quarters about the value of teaching assistants as he is married to one, so I will not question his commitment. However, as his predecessors found, commitment from the Education Secretary is not enough if they do not have it from their Prime Minister, so I hope that the Education Secretary will stand firm and make it clear that he will not countenance balancing the books on the backs of our support staff. Perhaps he could look again at the abolition of the national body for school support staff, because restoring it would be another step that he could take with the support of the House.
There is no doubt that the Education Secretary will talk about investment in schools as if they have not faced a decade of cuts. The Prime Minister promised to reverse those cuts, forgetting to mention, of course, that he sat around the Cabinet table and supported those very cuts time after time. Far worse is the gap between his words and his actions, because the Government are not even reversing their own cuts. Not only did the package ignore the cuts to capital funding, central education spending, further education and so much else, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the announcement made in the spending round would not even undo the cuts to schools since 2010 in its final year—another broken promise from a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted. He promised £700 million next year, but councils are already facing such a shortfall. The Local Government Association has put next year’s deficit at £1.2 billion.
The Education Secretary has warm words about further education, but the spending round included less than £200 million for increasing the base rate—little more than a real-terms freeze. If the Secretary of State truly believes in investing in further education, why did the spending round not include a single penny for adult education? After a decade of managed decline and billions of pounds of cuts, why are the Government refusing to give that vital part of the system the investment it needs? Even in apprenticeships—apparently his passion —we are far from on course to meet the Government’s target of 1 million this year. We do not even know whether that is still the target. We have been told it is an ambition, an aim and an aspiration, so perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us which of those it is and what on earth that means?
The story of decline and neglect is the same in perhaps the most vital area: early years provision. The hourly rate for child care providers has not increased since 2017, Sure Start funding has collapsed, and the additional funding for maintained nursery schools runs out at the end of the next financial year. Will that be addressed, or have the youngest children been forgotten?
Even in schools, the extra money promised by the Government is not only years away but is being deliberately skewed to schools with the wealthiest intakes. The Education Policy Institute put it plainly, stating that
“almost all schools serving the most disadvantaged communities would miss out.”
The EPI found that the average pupil eligible for free school meals would attract less than half the funding of their more affluent peers. That comes on top of the research conducted by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) last week, which found that over £200 million has been lost since 2015 thanks to the freeze in the pupil premium. The EPI concluded:
“If this is the Prime Minister’s idea of levelling up, then his legacy might be even more disappointing than his predecessor’s.”
Frankly, the funding that the Prime Minister has promised for future years will be rendered a fantasy if it comes after a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit.
We are yet to hear, of course, what all this means for higher education. Will the Education Secretary tell us any more about the fee status of EU students or our participation in Horizon 2020 or Erasmus? We are no wiser this week than we were before. The Queen’s Speech may have had nothing to say about education, but I can promise parents, children and educators across the country that a Labour Government will not neglect our education system, as the Conservatives have.
The hon. Lady is giving a powerful speech that shows how this Government are giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Every Member looking at the raw numbers of how much money their schools will get should be aware that the rise in the starting salary for teachers, which we would all agree is a good thing, will be coming out of those very same budgets. Do not assume this money is going directly into the hands of teachers and children; it is not. The Government should be funding this on top of the extra money.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady, who has a wealth of knowledge from being an educator. She has also been an advocate for ensuring that, rather than hoodwinking teachers and parents across England, we actually support them by stopping this decimation of our education system so that we do not have newly qualified teachers pitched against experienced teachers.
What we want to see in our education system is a wealth of newly qualified and experienced teachers in our classrooms, because we know that is best for our classrooms and for all children. We will radically expand high-quality early years education so that it is available for all two, three and four-year-olds alongside a renewed Sure Start Plus.
We will give our schools the investment they need, fully reversing the cuts that the Tories have imposed. We will end the managed decline of further education by investing in students and staff so that a genuinely high-quality technical education route is available to all those who wish to pursue it. And we will scrap tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants. Free education for all throughout their life—that is the prospect the Government would have us believe is so terrifying.
Finally, I pay tribute to all those amazing staff who work day in, day out to improve children’s lives. In particular, I mention my friend and constituent Lynn Stott, who was a youth worker for many years. She is gravely ill today, and I cannot be there because I am here at the Dispatch Box. I know what a difference she has made in our community, and the difference that all our educators make every day to the lives of our children.
This Queen’s Speech is the last gasp of a Government with nothing left to give. A Labour Government will do so much more.
I am pleased to have my first opportunity to welcome my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the head of what I believe is the greatest Department of State.
I listened very carefully to the impassioned speech of the shadow Secretary of State, but she omitted one fact. Why was it that, in 2010, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats coming into government had to take tough decisions because of the state of the public finances left by the last Labour Government?
Does the right hon. Lady remember that the last Labour Administration picked up the biggest ever debt from any previous Government? And that was a Conservative Government.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Labour party’s plans for spending and for crashing our economy would actually mean there is less money available for schools, less money for the police and less money for our hospitals.
This is an important debate because the Queen’s Speech sets the tone for the sort of country that we want to be post Brexit. I am pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech so many Bills that will take forward work that was proposed or started under the Government I had the privilege to lead. One very good example of that is the Domestic Abuse Bill. I shall not speak about it now, because I spoke on Second Reading, but it is an important piece of legislation that will help to improve people’s quality of life.
There are many other Bills in the Queen’s Speech that will also help to improve people’s quality of life and show that it is the Conservatives who listen to people but also recognise that it is not about headlines; governing is about delivering practical solutions to the problems that people face day to day. We can have the best head- lines, the greatest oratory and the most arresting phrases, but they are of no use if they do not practically deliver for people. That is what this Government are about.
Another Bill that will make a huge difference to people’s lives—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to it in her opening speech—is the serious violence Bill. There is no doubt that there is a problem that we have to address in relation to serious violence, particularly knife crime among young people. A lot of serious violence is, of course, linked to drugs. In February, we were able to set up a review, and Dame Carol Black took on the work of looking at the link between serious violence and drugs.
That review is important, but what is also important —it is reflected in the serious violence Bill—is a recognition that it is not a single Department’s issue. I believe Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that we cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem. It is for every Department to play its part, because if we look particularly at the issue of gangs and young people, we can see that, sadly, gang membership is giving young people an identity and a sense of purpose and belonging. We need to address those issues if we are to deal with that violence.
I am afraid my hon. Friend and I will absolutely disagree on this issue. I do not believe in the legalisation of drugs. I am happy to introduce him to my constituent Elizabeth Burton-Phillips who set up DrugFAM as a result of the tragedy that she and her family faced when one of her sons died as a result of drugs. I firmly believe that we should maintain a very strict rule and approach in relation to drugs.
The Government are putting into the serious violence Bill what is effectively the public health duty on which we consulted earlier this year, thereby saying that it is for all Departments to consider these issues. We have to deal with the causes of crime. As my right hon. friend the Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box on Monday:
“This is a one-nation Government who insist on dealing not only with crime but the causes of crime”.—[Official Report, 14 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 23.]
I thank the right hon. Lady for graciously giving way. Of course, policing in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Government, and the Scottish Government can make laws different from those made by the UK Government. Does she agree that the closest possible co-operation with the Scottish Government will be necessary if these laudable aims are to be realised?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we should have co-operation on these issues. We also need to have great co-operation between Police Scotland and the police forces in the rest of the United Kingdom. When I was Home Secretary, I visited Gartcosh and saw the excellent work that was being done in respect of Police Scotland working not only with other forces in England, but with other agencies throughout the United Kingdom. Excellent work was done as a result of that.
The right hon. Lady will know that before policing was devolved in Northern Ireland, we had 13,500 police officers. Under the previous Labour Administration, that number was cut to 6,000. In the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland called for the reintroduction of another 1,000 officers in Northern Ireland. I am sure the right hon. Lady would extend to Northern Ireland the Government’s proposals to increase the policing footprint throughout the whole UK.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the actions of the previous Labour Government. Conservative Governments have, of course, ensured that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has the resources that are available to it. Let me take the opportunity to say that the PSNI does an incredible job in Northern Ireland. In fact, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, all our police officers across the whole of the United Kingdom do an excellent job. We do have the best police force in the world.
The police are, of course, dealing with a variety of new types of crime. One of the other Bills that I am particularly pleased to see in relation to that is the online harms Bill. We know that the internet, great invention though it is, can be used to ill purpose to encourage others into violent activity and extremism. We also know, of course, how our young people can suffer harms from online activity. The approach that we have taken in the White Paper, published in April, sets out at its heart that duty of care for companies. That proportionate approach will not only have an impact, but makes us world-leading in this area. We are the first country to have been willing to dip our toe into this matter and say that we need to find an answer to it.
That is why my constituents, who are very worried about online gambling, online self-harm and some of the darker webs that are out there, will be puzzled as to why the Opposition parties will not support the Queen’s Speech, as they are indicating. For young people, the world out there has got incredibly treacherous, incredibly bullying and divisive. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the value of that Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Parents worry, but young people worry as well, about the impact of online harms. This is a very important matter. We are leading the world on this, and it is incredible that the Opposition are not willing to stand up and support that particular Bill.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. As she has said, crime is changing. Cyber-crime, for example, is now the preoccupation of our police forces, because it is, of course, the preoccupation of so many criminals. She did important work in that field, which I was very happy to support, with the development of a national strategy, which is linked to what she is saying about online crime. What more can we do to tackle cyber-crime in the spirit that she began when she was at the Home Office?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right. It was right that the National Crime Agency was set up, and it is absolutely right now that we have that increasing capacity in relation to cyber-crime. One issue though is how to attract people with those skills to work in the National Crime Agency and in our police forces. Having a more flexible approach to the way people can be employed in support of our police, and within our police, is a key way of doing that. I was pleased also to have introduced the direct entry at superintendent level, which has brought some other skills into the police. It is looking at such innovative approaches that will help in these matters.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that some of this is cultural? It is still quite often the case that, when online harassment is reported to the police, the police will tell people to come off the platform on which they are being harassed. That is not about resource; that is a cultural issue within the police and it is about how the real world and the online world come together. We also need more regulations for platforms. It is not right that these platforms are allowed to, essentially, self-police and to decide for themselves what they believe is appropriate.
As cyber-crime has developed, it has been necessary for the police to develop their approach, and that is absolutely right. Another thing that I was pleased to do as Home Secretary was to set up the College of Policing, which helps to provide the “what works best” advice to police forces in areas such as cyber-crime, which is, increasingly, the area that we have to look at, in addition to other areas of crime.
My right hon. Friend is talking about the training of police officers. Does she welcome the approach taken by the Hampshire police force, which involves industry experts in cyber issues through the use of police specials, and will she applaud that approach of getting experts in cyber-crime involved in policing?
I am very happy to commend the Hampshire force for the work that it does in introducing specialist specials. It is extremely good. Hampshire has always been one of the forces at the forefront of the use of technology and at looking at these issues around cyber-crime. We want to be the safest place in the world to be online and the best place in the world to set up a digital business, so the proportionate approach set out in the online harms Bill is absolutely right.
I want to say just a word about the Environment Bill, because it will have an enormous impact on people’s quality of life. I was pleased that, when we launched the 25-year environment plan last year, we set out the aim to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than when we came into government. That is so important. The debate is often crystallised around climate change, but it is about so much more than that. If we are to deal with these issues, it is about the very small ways that, individually, each one of us can make a contribution. Within the Bill, I am particularly pleased about the work that is going to be done on biodiversity, on protecting natural habitats and, indeed, on waste crime, which afflicts too many of our constituencies.
There are many excellent Bills that will improve people’s quality of life, building on four years of good Conservative Government and nine years of Conservatives in government. None the less, I wish to press the Government on three areas. The first is on mental health. The work done by Sir Simon Wessely and his team in reviewing the Mental Health Act 1983 was incredibly important. Some of the findings of that work were truly shocking, particularly in relation to the way some people in mental health crisis were being treated. It is important that this Government not only consider the Government response to that review of the Mental Health Act as soon as possible, but commit to introducing new legislation—a new mental health Act—to deal with these issues. I sat and listened to the testimony of some service users, and it was truly shocking to hear how they had been treated as second-class citizens, or worse, in their treatment. We do need to address that.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in taking interventions. I pay tribute to the work that she did on mental health, particularly on school age mental health, but does she agree that, as well as changing legislation, the biggest impact that we can have on the mental health of children is in the initial 1,000 days of that child’s life? Forming a strong attachment between a child and their parents is the best way of making sure that that child arrives at school in a balanced state, able to take advantage of good education and able to go on to be a contributing member of society. We must do much more, much earlier.
My hon. Friend makes a very important and valid point. Obviously, in his time as children’s Minister, he paid a lot of attention to looking at the ways in which we can provide children with the best possible support and the best possible start in life, because, as he says, that early stage is what actually helps to determine a child’s future through the rest of their lives.
I thank the right hon. Lady very much for giving way. I, too, welcome a number of recommendations in Sir Simon Wessely’s report, but does she agree that early intervention is absolutely crucial? We must do a number of things, including reintroducing Sure Start centres and reinvesting in our staff in mental health services.
The Government are reinvesting in staff in mental health services and increasing the number of mental health professionals in the health service. On early intervention, I was very pleased to have introduced the concept of ensuring that, in every school, there is somebody who is trained in identifying mental health problems and who is able to focus and direct people to the support that they need.
Another area on which I wish to press my right hon. Friend relates to immigration and foreign national offenders. It is absolutely right to look at those cases where foreign national offenders, having been deported, are then brought back into the country, often illegally by criminal gangs. The issue that I have, though, is that, as a result of the proposals, we will potentially see more foreign national offenders in our prisons. The issue of dealing with foreign national offenders in our prisons is faced by every Home Secretary when they come into office. I urge the Government, alongside what they are already doing, to consider how we can most effectively remove foreign national offenders and also ensure that we have prisoner transfer schemes to replace those that are available to us within the European Union.
On immigration, I note the many recent references to a points-based system. In 2010, when I became Home Secretary, one challenge that I faced was dealing with the abuse that had arisen in the immigration system, which had largely been enabled by the Labour party’s points-based system. It is possible that the best brains of the Home Office have come up with a very good scheme, but I urge the Home Secretary and the Home Office to look carefully at the lessons that have been learned about points-based systems, which are not in themselves an answer to controlling immigration and which can allow abuse to take place.
I am also concerned about some references in the press to what looked like, effectively, regional visas, or the ability for somebody to be given a visa if they were going to work in a particular part of the country. I urge the Home Secretary to look carefully at how that could operate logistically, because there are some real challenges. [Interruption.] I hear some muttering from SNP Members, but that issue has been rejected by the independent Migration Advisory Committee.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I said that I was going to make some progress, and I will, because I want to raise a final point.
In the police protections Bill, there will be a measure to protect and give support to police drivers who are involved in chasing criminals, which has been an issue—there have been challenges when accidents have happened or people have been hurt. That is absolutely right, but it was always intended to be part of a wider Bill that would introduce reforms to sentencing for dangerous driving, which is an issue that the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and other hon. Members on both sides of the House have taken up. I am disappointed that those reforms are not in the Queen’s Speech.
I am particularly concerned because of the case of my constituent Bryony Hollands, who was 19 when she was struck by a car in Nottingham in August 2015 and died. The individual responsible, Thomas Burney, was thought to have taken cocaine and was three times over the drink-driving limit. He pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and to causing injuries by dangerous driving. He was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. He was released in August, halfway through his sentence. Her parents, among other parents who have found themselves in such tragic circumstances, have long campaigned for those reforms to sentencing.
In October 2017, we published the outcome of the dangerous driving consultation, and it was always the intention to introduce a Bill that included those reforms, the protections for police drivers and some other measures in relation to cycling. Although it is right to have the protections for police drivers, I am sorry that the other elements have not been included. I think it is probably the Ministry of Justice that is the prime Department here, and I urge it to look at ensuring that those reforms can be introduced to give some comfort to those parents, and others, who have sadly seen young lives taken away too early by dangerous driving, and who feel that justice has not properly been served.
It is interesting to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I extend my sympathies to her constituent who was killed by a dangerous driver.
The Queen’s Speech takes place in the context of Brexit and a decade of austerity and damaging cuts to the public sector, whether to local government, to the Scottish Government’s budget or to jobcentres and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, all of which affect our constituents. All those services have been stretched to the limit by having to pick up the pieces as a result of the austerity driven by the UK Government.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to the Child Poverty Action Group report on Tower Hamlets and universal credit, which came out today. It says that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and council staff have found “increased demand for…services” and found it harder to resolve problems, and that universal credit has presented particular challenges with regard to housing. The public sector has to pick up all those issues as a result of the damaging policies of the Government.
I pay tribute to the police in my constituency, in Scotland and across the UK, who put in the hours every single day, risking their own lives and safety. The numbers of police have increased in Scotland by 6.3% since 2007. At the same time, there has been a decrease of 13.3% across England and Wales, and we have seen that in the impact on knife crime and other areas. One thing that would help the police services and the fire service in Scotland would be the return of the VAT that the UK Government pinched from them. That would put £125 million back into frontline public services and would certainly help in this time of ongoing austerity.
I have a long speech to get through; I will see if I can get the hon. Lady in later.
I recently joined the police in my constituency for the Give a Day to Policing initiative. It was incredibly interesting to see how things work on the frontline, including officers booking people into custody. When doing so, they have access to important EU databases that guarantee safety, because if somebody has been booked into custody and the police officer at the desk does not know whether they have outstanding warrants for violence in other countries, they will not be able to make an appropriate judgment about how that prisoner is treated in custody. It is very important that we have continued access to those databases.
The Guardian reported in July that the National Crime Agency was harvesting EU databases, just in case it did not have access to them in the event of Brexit. There is a fundamental issue about how we treat crime agencies in the UK. I noted recently a case in Govanhill in my constituency in which it took five years to bring to justice those involved in people trafficking from Slovakia to Glasgow only because of the co-operation of Police Scotland, UK forces, Europol, Eurojust and the Slovakian police force. I contend that, in the event of Brexit, and certainly a no-deal Brexit, that case would have been far more difficult to resolve. There will be cases going through the criminal process now that might not be concluded. We will be a lot less safe as a result of Brexit if those databases cannot be accessed.
Brexit also puts further pressure on our police services. It has been widely reported that police leave at the end of this month has been cancelled in many cases. That will have a huge impact on staff morale and the ability of forces to respond to everyday issues of crime on our doorsteps. The police need to be able to provide that service and to go about their job. They should not have to defend people who may end up trying to raid their local shop for bread because food supplies cannot get through. The Government have put people in a ludicrous position. In 2019 we should not be discussing the possibility of civil contingencies such as the Army coming to support the police on our streets, but that is the situation that this Government have driven us to.
I welcome the UK Government’s approach to the serious violence Bill. In Scotland and in Glasgow, we have significant experience of the impact of knife crime and what can be done to tackle it. It is welcome that the UK is following Scotland’s lead, but we await further details as to the effectiveness of that policy. The violence reduction unit in Scotland worked because it was organic; it came from grassroots experts who knew what they were doing, such as Medics Against Violence and the police; it was sustained; and it was a long-term plan. The UK Government need to think about the long term and to work across agencies in a truly co-operative fashion to make sure that the policy is successful.
For example, we have people in hospitals who can sit down with victims of knife crime when they come into A&E and make an intervention at that vulnerable time. We do not want people to walk out the door and go on to commit an act of revenge or further violence. Those mentors are very important in violence prevention. The UK Government would do well to look at that model. As a result, the murder rate in Glasgow has dropped by 60%, but we cannot be complacent about knife crime. We need to make sure that that is sustained.
I also ask the UK Government to look to Scotland with regard to the Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill. In Scotland, we have a presumption—not a ban—against short sentences. They are ineffective, because they put people into a cycle of prison. We need to make sure that people do not enter that cycle, because it is incredibly difficult for them to get out once they are in that system. I ask the UK Government to move away from the populism of, “Let’s lock everybody up.” Instead, they should consider the purpose of prison and the criminal justice system and look at models that move towards rehabilitation.
My hon. Friend is making an important speech. The former Justice Minister, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), was looking to Scotland and the good work being done there on short sentencing. We are seeing that our reoffending rates have dropped. Does she agree that it is so important for the new Cabinet to continue their predecessor’s work?
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a lot to be learned from that. We should be in the business of closing prisons down, not building more. We should look at the reasons people are driven into the criminal justice system—at the causes of poverty and inequality, which drive so many people into it.
I look with interest and some despair at the immigration and social security Bill. We see immigration as positive. It is a good thing for our country and it is very good for public services in our country. Brexit will have a huge and damaging effect on our public services, because often the people who provide them have done us the huge honour of coming to our country.
The NHS in particular will suffer as a result of Brexit. Recently, The Independent quoted research by Medbelle that said that EU doctors and nurses have been worth more than £3 billion to the UK economy over the past five years. There has already been a 91% fall in EU registrations to the Nursing & Midwifery Council since 2016, and more than 7,000 nurses have left that register. What impact do the Government think that will have on the most vulnerable? How do they expect our NHS to cope with the shock of that sudden drop? According to Medbelle’s analysis, educating more than 30,000 British nurses to replace EU nationals would cost £1.2 billion. If and when we finally see a Budget, how will the Chancellor provide for that?
Age UK has raised concerns about the adult social care Bill. From the announcements so far, it thinks that the Bill is too restricted in being just for the elderly and that it should be extended right across the board. I urge the Minister to look at Scotland, where there is already free personal care and where we are moving towards making non-residential social care free as well, because it is desperately important to people. EU nationals are at the forefront of providing that service.
Thinking of social care and care of the elderly, I give the Scottish Government credit for their good work on tackling fuel poverty. Altnaharra in my constituency is the coldest place in the UK every year, and I therefore have many good people who simply cannot afford their fuel bills. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be a good move for the UK Government, or possibly the Scottish Government, to consider some form of social security system whereby additional payments are made to the most needy to help meet those extra big bills?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman on that notion. It is interesting to look at how other European countries treat people. Other countries can be colder than or as cold as Scotland, but I am not aware of pensioners in Sweden or Finland freezing to death in the winter. What he proposes is a good quick fix, but we need more fundamental reform to how we make our homes, how we insulate our homes and how we ensure that people are kept warm and safe in colder weather.
The prospects for restricting immigration are grim. It is an existential threat to Scotland’s public services, as well as to businesses, and it will impoverish us as a society. Interestingly, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead pointed out the myth of the points-based immigration system, and I am glad that she did. It was taken apart by Fergus Peace in the i earlier this month, when he pointed out that we already have a points-based immigration system to an extent, and it is harsher and less flexible than the one in Australia.
There are significant problems with the UK’s immigration system. It is arbitrary and damaging. The hostile environment leaves people in tears at my surgeries week in and week out. For example, visitor visas cannot be appealed. I see many people who fill out the application forms for visitor visas diligently and correctly, only to find them refused because Home Office officials cannot distinguish between the opening and closing balance of a bank account, because they use the wrong means of calculating the foreign exchange rates for a currency or because they do not believe that somebody who has been to visit half a dozen times before will go back to their country. All people want to do is to come and visit somebody, whether it is a mum whose child is dying or an elderly relative. Some people simply want to visit during the school holidays and see around the country their family call home.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the report by the all-party parliamentary group for Africa on how the issue of visitor visas affects people coming from that part of the world in particular. Does she agree that the impact that is having on our cultural festivals, universities and creative industries flies in direct contrast to the “Britain is GREAT” and “Global Britain” rhetoric we hear? Britain is not open for business; Britain is closed. [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I hear Ministers chuntering—perhaps they do not have the same experience in their constituency surgeries as me and my hon. Friend. Perhaps they are among the MPs who decide to shop their constituents to the Home Office, rather than help them out. I agree with my hon. Friend, who has done a great amount of work for the all-party parliamentary group for Africa. This issue does damage our credibility.
Often, such cases are resolved only when they are raised with the media. I challenge the Home Office on this. I have had a number of pretty much identical cases, but the ones that have been resolved a full six months ahead of the others are the ones I have got in the press—on Channel 4, in The Guardian and in other places. I therefore question the impartiality and fairness of the Home Office.
Like me, my hon. Friend will see people at her surgery regularly who are looking for a family member to come here who has been numerous times before, but they are knocked back. Is not the fallacy of the UK Government’s proposal on ending free movement that, inevitably in a free trade agreement, they will start dishing out lots of visas anyway, and we will end up with more people at our surgeries when the incompetent Home Office fails to administrate those visas, creating more work for us as MPs?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
There is also great unfairness with spousal and family visas, due to the minimum income threshold. I am aware of constituents who have had to take on several jobs to meet the threshold—they are absolutely exhausted. The daft thing is that, if their spouse was able to come over, they would more than meet the threshold. The threshold is stopping that person coming over and contributing to our country.
We doubt whether many of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech will make it. There was an article in The Times yesterday—I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman saw it—that did not give any of the Bills a five out of five for their chances of passing. We will wait and see if any of them make it, never mind whether they have our support.
The spousal visa system leaves many people unable to see their children or their family. It is heartbreaking having to deal with that week in, week out and having children coming in saying, “When can I get to see my daddy?” If Home Office Ministers want to come to my surgery and sit in on those meetings, I would absolutely welcome it, because they should see what is happening at first hand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) will talk more about post-study work visas. We would welcome their return, because we believe that it is important to say to people who want to come and study in Scotland, “You are welcome. You will get to come here, to contribute to our society and to carry on your lives in Scotland after you have concluded your studies.” The UK Government seem to say, “Come, we will take your money for your international student visa and then you can go—we’re done with you.” That is just unacceptable; it is not welcoming in the slightest.
I agree entirely with the points the hon. Lady is making. Something that was absent from the Queen’s Speech was progressing the work on modern day slavery. I give credit to the former Prime Minister for the leadership she has shown on this issue, but it is clear that we need to do more on progressing the security and support given to victims of modern day slavery.
I very much agree with that. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that people who have been victims do not end up being blamed for having been trafficked into the country or for being party to that. Those people should get some leniency and help from the Home Office, rather than it trying to remove them at the first instance.
On post-study work visas, the Government need to consider the fact that the Scottish education system has four-year degrees as standard and that many other degrees, such as engineering, architecture and medicine, are longer than three years. It should not be the case that people get three years into a degree and have to reapply, with no certainty that they will finish it. Those courses will be deeply unattractive to people if they do not know whether they can finish them. Perhaps each type of course should carry a visa with it, rather than there being an arbitrary three-year cut-off.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that.
The way in which entrepreneurs and highly skilled migrants have been treated by the Home Office has been despicable. I have had people at my surgery who have been brought here by the UK Government as part of entrepreneurial schemes and then told that they cannot stay. They have been chucked out after having sought all the investment for their companies and having established themselves. The Home Office whips all that out from underneath them. Highly skilled migrants are still waiting for an apology from the UK Government, after they were found in the courts to be incorrect. Those people deserve an apology and deserve to have their cases resolved and their leave to remain progressed. The Government are looking at a Windrush compensation scheme. I would like to see compensation for everybody the Home Office has done wrong and made incorrect decisions on, because their life chances have been seriously diminished and they have gone into debt in order to fight the Home Office, only to be proved right at the end of the day.
I also call on the UK Government to do more to end the scandal of indefinite immigration detention, which leaves so many people with no certainty as to how long they will be stuck in that system. I have had many constituents who have gone into Dungavel only to be sent out not having had to be there in the first place. All the stuff in the immigration Bill and all the cases that I have seen tell me that the shoddy treatment that the UK Government dish out to non-EU migrants should not be dished out to EU nationals as well. We should be removing this unfairness, not extending it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) will speak more on settled status and its limitations later, but I highlight from my own casework people who have been left upset and baffled by being refused settled status, despite having been here for decades in some cases. In addition, the Department for Work and Pensions has regularly been refusing EU nationals access to universal credit. There appears to me to be a concerted, underhand effort to remove the rights of EU nationals even before Brexit. That is utterly unacceptable and it must stop.
Scottish Government economic modelling shows that each EU worker in Scotland adds, on average, £34,400 to GDP and £10,400 to Government revenue. The Migration Advisory Committee has found that people coming to this country contribute more in UK taxes than they take out of the system. It makes absolutely zero sense, on any level, to turn them away and to make them feel unwelcome, as this UK Government are determined to do. We have found so far that people have found Scotland more welcoming. The words of the First Minister and others have been instrumental in making sure that people do feel welcome in Scotland and stay, but there is only so much that we can do under the hostile environment of this Government, the way in which they treat people, and the way the media in this country have been treating people. We will do our very best. We hope that it will make a difference to people.
Scotland needs a tailored system to meet our needs. Our challenge has long been emigration, not immigration. The thresholds and targets that prioritise the south-east of England, not our more varied economy in Scotland, do us no favours whatever. For example, tonnes of fruit and veg have been rotting in the fields. Apparently 87,000 punnets of raspberries remain unpicked on one farm alone while people in this country are driven to food banks. Across these islands we are seeing the uncertainty of Brexit and the impact of that on people’s lives—people who would have come here but have been made unwelcome by this UK Government. The seasonal workers scheme is woefully inadequate if we see food rotting in the fields.
We also have uncertainty for the university sector with regard to funding through Horizon, Erasmus+ and the research development fund. We have the uncertainty about the future of research collaboration. We must see some progress on this. I would also question the logic of 12-month visas, although I suppose that is typical of a UK Government who clearly want to discourage people from coming here. The low-skilled jobs that they talk about are actually the ones that are the most vital to our country; they are done by people working in care homes and other public services who we desperately need. This UK Government continue to see people for the value of their salary rather than the contribution that they make to our society and our communities. We on the SNP Benches thank those people for their endeavours. If immigration was in the control of the Scottish Parliament, we would be treating people with dignity and respect.
I very much thank the hon. Lady for eventually giving way. [Interruption.] Well, it seems to be a recurring incident, where Scottish Conservatives are not allowed to intervene in debates when the Scottish nationalists are leading on them. She is talking about immigration and she is inevitably going to suggest that immigration should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but does she recognise that, on welfare, for example, it will be a whole 10 years—a decade—before that is devolved to the Scottish Parliament because the Scottish nationalists did not want to take it? It is always the case in this Parliament that they ask for powers and then do not take them.
The hon. Lady, as so often, misses the point. We want control over all the levers of our economy, and all the powers that we can have, because we want our country to be independent. We do not want to be beholden to this bunch of chumps who just cannot seem to realise the things that Scotland has going for it.
We welcome the Domestic Abuse Bill. We call on the Home Secretary and others to look at our work in Scotland on Equally Safe. I also ask them to look at the SNP’s announcement, just yesterday, of new protective orders to remove domestic abusers from the homes of their victims, because it has never been right that those perpetrating abuse have been able to keep a roof over their heads while the victim and, often, the children have been forced to leave and undergo the additional trauma of moving—finding a new home and starting over. I thank Scottish Women’s Aid and all who have campaigned in Scotland for this change. If the UK Government are serious about supporting those facing domestic abuse, they must also look at the welfare benefits system and restore universal credit payments to women, rather than asking them to go through asking for split payments, which will put them in more danger. They must remove the two-child policy and the rape clause, which force women into staying with their abusers and into poverty; in some cases, as reported by some of the rape crisis organisations, women have been asked to terminate pregnancies because the child will not bring them any money. All these things are extremely dangerous and traumatic. The Government also need to end the scandal of no recourse to public funds. All these policies impoverish but they also put women at significant risk.
On housing policy, which is an important public service, the Tories continue to undermine social rented housing, contributing to spiralling housing costs in England. The difference in poverty across these islands can be put down, in some cases, to the housing costs in England being far more expensive than the housing costs in Scotland. House building in England is at its lowest level since 1920, and evictions are at a record high. How different in Scotland, with 50,000 new homes delivered across this parliamentary term and five times more social rented properties per head than in England from 2014 to 2018. We have ended the right to buy, we have invested, and we are bringing empty homes back into use, whereas they lie empty in England. The Tories should look to Scotland for how to make sure that this vital public service, through our housing association movement, is providing social rented housing that people can be proud to call home.
We welcome the Bill on building safety. Again, Scotland, in legislative terms, is well ahead of the game on this. However, I ask for further clarity on both insurance and mortgage lending for those who find themselves in a home with cladding, because I have had surgery cases where people have lost out in the sales of homes because of that uncertainty. I ask for some comprehensive action from this UK Government to try to make sure that people do not end up stuck in homes that they cannot sell and cannot get insurance on.
In Scotland we are leading where we have responsibility. We have the best performing NHS in the UK, we have social housing to be proud of, we have tackled knife crime, and we are making huge progress on many health issues. We are held back, however, in areas where the UK Government have responsibility—in immigration policy, in the parts of DWP policy that remain in the hands of that Department, and in areas such as drug reform. We desperately need safe drug consumption rooms to save lives in Scotland, but we are hampered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which makes criminals out of those who want to give help to those suffering addiction problems. We do not have full control over all the important levers of our economy.
This debate takes place in the context of austerity and of broken Brexit Britain. It fails to tackle the fundamental issues that this country faces and it will hold Scotland back. We need the full powers of independence that will allow us the ability to look after all our citizens and to build a fairer, more prosperous Scotland, where all citizens can participate and play their role. Westminster has failed us—it is time for independence.
This week, we meet to debate a Queen’s Speech put forward by a Government who do not have a majority. Many of the Bills in this Queen’s Speech are addressing real public problems of great interest to our constituents of all persuasions, and many of them will attract support from voters who are not planning to vote Conservative. It is therefore particularly disappointing that when I asked SNP Members to say which of the Bills in this Queen’s Speech they would support, the answer came that they would not support any of them. They could not think of any Bill—presumably, including the Domestic Abuse Bill—that they will support.
The right hon. Gentleman will of course be aware that vast areas of the Domestic Abuse Bill are actually devolved. One of the problems that we in the SNP have in criticising this Queen’s Speech is that the vast majority of the Bills in it do not apply to Scotland. In fact, there was no mention of Scotland in this Queen’s Speech, so there is very little that is relevant to Scotland.
What I am about to say is still very relevant, which is that I think the public of the United Kingdom, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, expect the Opposition to be a bit more positive and co-operative in tackling their priorities. It is not the Government’s fault that we cannot resolve this problem, because the Government have put forward a very simple solution to it, which is to allow the public to choose a new Parliament, and I trust that they would then choose a majority Government. If we are not allowed to do that because the Opposition parties can agree on blocking a general election, surely it is incumbent on them to help us to use the time we have intelligently and productively, in the wider interests of the electorate of the nation.
I want our Parliament to be well thought of by as many voters as possible of all persuasions. This Parliament is doing itself grave further damage if it does not co-operate and use this time during which the Opposition wish us to be here to find things on which we agree, to make improvements for those we represent. Those who represent a part of the United Kingdom with devolved government will, of course, be mainly interested in what their devolved Government do in those chosen areas, but there are still Union elements in this programme, and that is no reason to get in the way of us in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where appropriate, doing what we need to do here. It would be good if SNP Members said that they were happy for us to do the things we want to do in our part of the United Kingdom, where we do not have the advantage of devolved responsibilities in a separate English or Welsh Parliament.
That is my message—Parliament should think about this. Why should Opposition parties co-operate? Well, for the simple reason that when we get to the general election, the public will take a particularly dim view of any party or group of MPs who have deliberately been negative about everything and unwilling to use the time, money and powers that this place and Government can bring to try to solve some of the problems before us.
On public services, I very much welcome the loosening of the purse strings. In 2010, my party and I thought that the deficit was massively too high and that emergency action was needed—as did, incidentally, the outgoing Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was planning pretty draconian measures to correct the deficit that his Government had created by bad management—but in the past two or three years, I have felt strongly that some parts of the public service are not getting enough money, and I have also felt that we had enough flexibility economically to do something about it. I also have my own favourite way to pay some of the bills, which is to stop paying any money to the European Union. I look forward to the day when that comes to pass, but many Members of Parliament here are desperate to spend as much money in Europe as possible, which has made that more difficult.
Let us leave out that contentious issue and concentrate on the extra money we can afford. I welcome that money for two reasons: first, because my local schools, health facilities and police force need that extra money; and, secondly, because our economy needs that money. The fiscal and monetary squeeze of the past three years has been too tight. I predicted that it would slow the economy, and that is exactly what it is doing. Superimposed on those domestic stresses, we now have a nasty world manufacturing recession and a general world economic slowdown. Policies in several of the great economies around the world have led to that slowdown and are taking time to correct. The United Kingdom needs to be part of the process of correcting that. We need looser fiscal and monetary policy to project a bit more growth and create a bit more prosperity.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Education is here, because along with other colleagues whose constituencies have seen schools and education services deprived of adequate funding for some time, I strongly welcome the new minimum figures that will be given to my schools that have been below the minimum figures. But I do not think that my schools at or near the minimum figures are getting enough, and I look forward to future settlements dealing with that problem. It costs money to employ enough good teachers. In a part of the world such as mine, facilities and buildings are expensive, and that has to be reflected in the amount of money allocated.
I look forward to the 20,000 new police officers in the Thames valley, and I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that progress will be made on that soon, because we have a series of problems with drugs and violence that we need to tackle.
I thank my good friend for giving way. In the past 15 years or so, those in the armed forces have had a problem getting into things such as the police service, the fire service and the Prison Service. Does he agree that it would be good to have a recruitment drive for those junior non-commissioned officers, senior NCOs and young officers leaving the armed forces to go into that kind of profession?
I agree with my hon. Friend, who has lots of expertise from his distinguished military career. There is a lot of talent in the armed forces. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said that such measures were taken to try to get personnel into teaching from that important resource, and we could spread that more widely.
I look forward to progress in particular with the county lines issue, with illegal settlements and with casual violence on the streets, which even comes sometimes to my constituency and is not welcome. More and better-resourced policing would be extremely good.
I also want to see progress in the health service. I am pleased that substantial sums of money have been allocated, under both the immediately retiring Government and the new Government. That is doubly welcome. I urge Ministers to do serious work with organisations such as those in my area on what the priorities for that money should be, because it is important that these large sums are spent intelligently. The priorities for patients are clear: we need more GPs, to provide better coverage of services; and we need better access to GP services, with better systems, so that people can make timely appointments, and enough GPs to offer advice and consultations. We certainly need more money for the large hospital in Reading, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead and I share with the Reading MPs, where various works need to be done, and recruitment is needed where there are shortages of trained staff.
My right hon. Friend was saying earlier how important the additional resources going into education funding are. Does he agree that one of this Government’s great achievements is the fair funding settlement, which provides for counties to be properly funded?
I agree, and we need to build on that, because we do not yet have all the answers.
In conclusion, I welcome the extra money, but let us put in the homework to ensure that it is spent intelligently and deals with the people’s priorities, which I briefly sketched; I can go into greater detail with Ministers, if they would like subsequent meetings. Let us also think about the economic implications, because the UK economy has slowed too much, although is not in recession in the way that I fear the German economy is. There is a general trend of manufacturing collapse and big slowdowns or even recessions worldwide. We need both to increase public spending, as the Government are doing, and to cut taxes to stimulate the enterprise economy, because there is one simple thing that all Conservatives know: we cannot properly finance public services if we do not have a healthy and viable private enterprise economy.
I want to deal first with the myth that is perpetuated about the so-called economic mismanagement of the last Labour Government. Until 2008, that Government had an excellent record of controlling both the national debt and national deficit as a percentage of GDP. From 2008 to 2010, the increase in deficit and debt was not due to overspending; it was due to the collapse in revenues because of the banking crash, which affected every Government in the western world—that is the truth of the situation.
I will concentrate my comments on matters relating to the remit of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, not because I am not interested in matters to do with the police, education and the national health service—of course I am—but because of time restrictions.
I want first to deal with local government spending. The Government have said that there will be extra spending power for local councils. It has now become clear that that depends on councils putting their council tax up by 4%. A 4% council tax increase is what the Government are requiring of councils to deliver the spending power that the Government say they will have, including a 2% increase to fund social care.
As Councillor George Lindars-Hammond said the other day, 2% for Sheffield is very different from 2% for Westminster. The position is even worse for some other small authorities, which will simply not be able to raise the money to provide the social care their citizens need. Of course, it is all right—isn’t it, Mr Speaker?—because we will have social care reform. The Queen’s Speech says that we will have legislation on social care. I welcome that, as I have welcomed the similar promises on the seven or eight occasions they have been made before. When will we get at least a Green Paper on social care? Will social care be kicked into the long grass once again?
I welcome the reference in the Queen’s Speech to devolution, which has been on the back burner for too long. Good work was done with the deals and setting up mayoral combined authorities. I am just a bit disappointed that the Queen’s Speech refers to more of the same: city deals, other sorts of deals or enhancing those already in place. We need a comprehensive devolution framework, which as of right devolves powers to all local authorities—urban or rural, cities or towns— throughout the country that want to take them up. We should move towards that, and the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government is holding an inquiry on devolution. I am sure all members of the Committee will push for devolving powers to local authorities. We want more progress on devolution, but I welcome at least the mention of it in the Queen’s Speech and the commitment to doing something about it.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am quite sympathetic to what he has just said. Does he agree that, if we are to have a White Paper, no council should necessarily have a veto on any changes in its locality and that, if a number of councils want change, one should not be allowed to stop it happening?
I am very sympathetic to the point the hon. Gentleman makes about the situation in Cumbria. Having one council holding everything up certainly needs addressing, and I understand the problem he highlights.
I will move on to building safety. The Government have finally accepted that they will legislate to bring in the recommendations of the Hackitt review. When Dame Judith came to the Select Committee last December, she said she was disappointed that it had taken the Government seven months to accept that they would implement all her recommendations. I am a little bit worried that the Queen’s Speech refers to legislating, but no specific Bill is mentioned in the list of measures. Building safety is really important, but it needs to be accompanied by adequate funding.
Thousands of people in this country still live in high-rise blocks and other properties with dangerous cladding. The Government have put money in place for social housing, and they have now put it in place for the private sector, but there needs to be greater urgency to ensure that it is spent, and in particular that reluctant private owners are made to do the work. There is an additional problem. Not only high-rise but high-risk buildings, such as old people’s homes and hospitals, need addressing, as well as cladding other than ACM—for example, zinc cladding material. The Government are reviewing all that, but there are many concerns and suspicions. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) has pushed hard on the matter in the Select Committee. Cladding needs addressing and the Government will have to find probably billions more pounds to deal with the problem to ensure that not merely homes, but hospitals, schools and every form of accommodation are safe.
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for giving way. On safety in high-rise buildings, does he agree that it is repugnant that leaseholders could end up paying the cost of making the buildings safe and that the freeholders should take responsibility?
Absolutely. The Select Committee has welcomed the Government’s indications that that is their intention. The pressure now has to be on how that intention will be put into practice, because clearly there are many examples of where that is not happening.
I want to raise one or two other issues that are not in the Queen’s Speech—I am disappointed about that—on which the Select Committee has asked for Government action. Leasehold reform is a major issue across the House; 700 pieces of evidence were submitted to our Select Committee inquiry. The Government’s intentions are set out for new properties, particularly for new houses not being leasehold, and restrictions on service charges and other costs on leasehold flats. However, we still have not got a clear commitment to legislate for existing leaseholders who have been mis-sold leases and ripped off by service charges and other permission fees. That is simply not acceptable. I think that we produced a very good Select Committee report, which was widely welcomed by Members across the House. It is disappointing to see no reference in the Queen’s Speech to leasehold reform.
The other area that is not mentioned is the private rented sector, but again there seems to be cross-party support from Members on both Front Benches for reform of section 21 provisions to ensure that there cannot be no-fault evictions. Where is the legislation to deal with that and to tackle rogue landlords who abuse the situation and exploit their tenants? It is very disappointing that there is no reference to the private rented sector in the Queen’s Speech. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will come before the Select Committee in the next couple of weeks. I am sure that we will push him further on that point.
There is no reference to fracking in the Queen’s Speech. Perhaps that is a good thing. One constituent asked me the other day, “Does that mean that the Government have given up on fracking because they are not referring to it?” We have been waiting 18 months for a Government response to our last inquiry into fracking, in which we opposed the Government’s proposals to extend permitted development rights and to include fracking in the national infrastructure arrangements. There is still no answer from the Government. I said to my constituent that perhaps the most significant thing is not the lack of mention of fracking in the Queen’s Speech, but the fact that Cuadrilla has now pulled out of its arrangements and exploration in Lancashire. That probably means that the commercial sector is reaching a view that fracking is no longer viable. Why do not the Government accept that and transfer that funding into more renewable energy investment, which is surely what we all want?
Just before the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced that they would put up the cost of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, which particularly affects local authorities, from 0.8% to 1.8%. That is more than doubling. It is one of the things that are supposed to have no consequences. The Government tucked away the announcement on a Friday afternoon before the Queen’s Speech. However, the cost of that borrowing will fall particularly on housing revenue accounts, and all the good work that the Government have encouraged by lifting the housing revenue account cap will be undone by the extra cost of borrowing, which will distort and put back all the business plans that local authorities have to build more council homes. It is a backward step. I want Ministers to explain why they have done that and whether they had any understanding of the consequences.
I certainly would not want to disappoint you, Mr Speaker, so I must rise to the occasion and fulfil your aim for my speech. Like you, I believe it is a politician’s duty to inspire. But I would go further—it is our mission to enthral, but at least we should try to inspire. Too much of modern politics has become peppered with dull managerialism.
G.K. Chesterton said:
“For fear of the newspapers politicians are dull, and at last they are too dull even for the newspapers.”
Any Queen’s Speech is therefore welcome because it sets out a series of measures that we can debate and consider. Indeed, it has enlivened a discussion today that could not have taken place had the Government not set out such a series of measures. The least that can be said of the Queen’s Speech is that it does just that: it is bold, it is fresh and it is evidence of an agenda. Whether it could be said to be a coherent mission or—dare one say?— evidence for a vision is more debatable, but at least it is a fresh start. Many of the measures are necessary, and most are desirable.
The Home Secretary is herself, as I noted when I intervened on her, a breath of fresh air. I am going to say some very nice things about a former Home Secretary in a minute, just in case she was worrying that I would not. The Home Secretary said that many of the measures are to address freedom from fear. Fear and doubt pervade too much of Britain. In too many places, too many people we represent live lives of fear, and crime perhaps strikes the greatest fear in our constituents’ hearts. The continuing threat of terror is the apex of those fears, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who earlier made such an impressive contribution to this debate, mentioned in her final Prime Minister’s questions, at the Home Office I was able to introduce measures to tackle terrorism, but I could not have done so without her guidance and leadership. There is no one more resolute in their determination to tackle that threat than my right hon. Friend.
The fear that people feel daily, however, is the fear of disorder, and many of the measures in this Queen’s Speech are welcome because they begin to address that kind of disorder. The daily experience of lawlessness blights lives, diminishes communities, damages and sometimes destroys individuals and families. The figures that I looked at in preparation for this debate are stark. The year of my birth was 1958—I know that hon. Members are wondering how that could be so, but I was indeed born in 1958, and you probably know the date, time and place, Mr Speaker, given your approach to these things. In that year, there were 261 murders or manslaughters. In 2018, there were 732. In 1958, there were 1,692 robberies; in 2018, there were 82,566. As far as arson is concerned, the numbers have gone from 722 to more than 25,000. There is no doubt that crime of all kinds has grown at an alarming rate over my lifetime. It has to be said that unfortunately most of the snowflake elite who run too much of Britain are in denial about that and about how to deal with it.
Absolutely. The Queen’s Speech and the spending provisions that the Government have made allow for more police officers to be on the beat to tackle crime, to reassure potential victims of crime and to solve as well as to anticipate the incidents that cause so much misery.
The denial that I described is as plain as this: there are many people, including, I am sad to say, some people in this House, who simply will not face the fact that many of the people who commit crimes are cruel, vicious, heartless thugs and villains who deserve to be caught, deserve to be convicted and deserve to be locked up for as long as possible. That is what our constituents would say, and the fact that we do not say it frequently enough creates a gulf, at least in their perception, between what the people affected by these things, who live on the frontline, know and what people in this place think.
I can certainly reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I have never been called a snowflake. He must accept that if he was to look back at the 1800s and at the type of crimes being committed then he would see just how many were done by people stealing to survive—stealing clothes to wear and food to eat. Accepting how much of today’s crime is driven by poverty and absolute desperation is not being a snowflake; it is understanding the underlying social causes that lead people to commit crime.
Crime is caused by many things, but the idea that crime is an illness to be treated rather than a malevolent choice made by certain individuals has been the pervasive view of those dealing with crime—criminologists and so on—throughout the period I have described, and that view is out of tune and out of touch with what most people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and mine know and feel.
Of course there are many causes of crime. Earlier, I heard the shadow Minister describe her working-class credentials. No one in this Chamber could trump my working-class credentials, and on the council estate where I was brought up most people were law-abiding. It was ordered. I do not remember much vandalism, and there was certainly not much crime. People lived in relative safety. If we went back to that place now, I suspect none of that would be true. There would be a high level of drug addiction, a high level of family breakdown, a lot of lawlessness and all the symbols of disorder. That is just the stark reality, and it has to be addressed. This Government are trying to do so in the measures they have introduced in this Queen’s Speech, and those measures deserve support because they strike a chord with the sentiments of the people we represent.
I was delighted to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who is always a thoughtful contributor to our considerations. He exemplified what was once taken as read: that the duty of people in this House is to make a persuasive argument, to attempt to offer a thesis and then to advance their case. I have to say that the shadow Minister stood in sad and stark contrast to that principle. It is not enough simply to string together a series of exhortations with a beginning and an end. That is not what proper consideration of measures in the Queens’s Speech or elsewhere should be about, and it does nothing for the quality or life of this Parliament.
The immigration Bill is also welcome, although I share some of the doubts expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead. A points-based system is good in theory, but regulation and enforcement was certainly a challenge and we will need to look at that very closely. What is absolutely clear, rather as with crime, is that the liberal establishment in this country is out of touch with the views of most of our constituents. Most people in this country, in every poll taken on the subject, think that we have had too much immigration for too long and that it needs to be controlled. It is not contentious to say that; it is not controversial. It simply reflects what most people feel and know. Having said that, all advanced countries enjoy immigration because it is necessary sometimes to bring in people because of their skills and for other reasons.
Good, well-funded public services are the lifeblood of a decent society. They are absolutely vital in allowing people and communities to develop their potential. At the beginning of today’s debate, we heard the Home Secretary talk about the importance of good local services to prevent vulnerable young people from becoming engaged in crime, yet this Queen’s Speech does not contain any firm commitment to reversing the savage cuts to local services that have been perpetuated on local councils since 2010.
Liverpool City Council has lost 63% of its Government funding for local services. This is particularly traumatic in a poor place such as Liverpool, where a 1% increase in council tax will raise only £1.75 million; in leafy Surrey, a 1% increase in council tax will raise £7.28 million. The more that the Government reduce this commitment to poorer areas, the greater the problem of poverty will be.
Mayor Joe Anderson, together with Liverpool City Council, has performed miracles, both in protecting the people of Liverpool from the most savage consequences of the cuts and in regenerating the city of Liverpool. It is through that regeneration that we have seen jobs and businesses prosper, and the Government have cut back on local services. This year, the city council and the people of Liverpool are facing a major crisis. There are more cuts staring them in the face and nothing in the Queen’s Speech or in the recent financial statement for next year that gives any confidence whatsoever that there will be any reduction in those cuts or their consequences for the people of Liverpool. I call on the Government to engage with Liverpool City Council and the people of Liverpool to find a way to deal with this very critical situation.
As a former civil servant from a family of teachers, I strongly agree with the hon. Lady about the vital importance of really good public services and the funding for them. Does she agree that the extra funding for the police, education and the NHS is really important, and that, despite cuts in local government funding, places such as Gloucester City Council have achieved extraordinary things by doubling the number of play areas over the past decade?
I agree that the hon. Member makes important points, but Merseyside police force has lost 1,100 officers since 2010 and the Government’s proposals are to replace only 70 of them. That is hardly addressing the problem.
I now want to turn to the scandal of the unfinished new Royal Liverpool hospital, which was due to open its doors in March 2017. Now, two and a half years later, the hospital has not been finished and there is no date for it to open its doors. First, there was the collapse of the PFI as Carillion went under. Following that, there was the new scandal of the major demolition of key parts of the new building that was put up by Carillion, which is, of course, now defunct. Major parts of the new building, including beams, had to be demolished because they were unsafe. All of the cladding on the new hospital needed to be replaced, because it too was deemed unsafe.
This deplorable situation demands an inquiry into how that took place. Even more than that, it is absolutely essential that funds are made available quickly to complete the building of the hospital, and that the funds are not taken from other health budgets that are equally important to the people of Liverpool. The people of Liverpool need their hospital. Vital health services are required. Although the current staff at the Royal Liverpool hospital are excellent and work extremely hard, they are battling against a failing building. The new hospital should be taking its place on the campus, together with the new Clatterbridge cancer centre, to bring top class cancer treatment to the people of Liverpool. The new hospital is also part of Liverpool’s regeneration and a part of its thriving health and biomedical centre. The hospital, its medical services and its research must work with the groundbreaking international work already done by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Institute of Infection and Global Health, parts of Liverpool University, which are renowned for combating tuberculosis and other diseases—and, indeed, combating poverty—throughout the world. The hospital is therefore absolutely essential to provide top class services to the people of Liverpool and essential to the city’s regeneration.
It is absolutely deplorable that we are in this situation. Two and a half years after the new hospital was promised, no end is in sight. I have asked Ministers repeatedly—three new Ministers in the past few months—for an answer about what is happening and for a meeting to discuss the situation. I have not been offered a meeting and I have not been given a proper answer to these key questions. I have been told that a business case is being prepared and that much is being discussed. I would like to make it very clear today that that is simply not good enough. The hospital has to be completed. The funds have to be made available. They must not be taken from any other source, which would create more problems for other parts of the health sector and for the people of Liverpool and elsewhere. It is the Government’s responsibility to finish the hospital, and finish it soon. I will persist in asking these questions and I will not be going away, at least until the new hospital is operating.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman), who makes a very passionate case for the public services in her constituency. I hope to do the same. Public services go to the heart of this debate and to the heart of my speech. Like the hon. Lady, I will focus very much on my constituency, which is the Isle of Wight.
It has long been argued that the Island needs an island deal that recognises the additional cost of providing public services on an island. Throughout the UK, in order to support islands and isolated communities, the Government have generally provided either a bridge, as in the case of the Isle of Skye, or increased levels of funding, as in the case of the Scottish islands needs allowance. The Isle of Wight has to all intents and purposes been treated as part of the mainland United Kingdom, because we have never had additional support despite the additional costs. In various conversations I have had with the Prime Minister, he has been generous enough to agree the need for an island settlement. He has done so on visits to the Island in June this year, on record in the House on 25 September and in private conversations with me. I therefore hope that this is a discussion on content and not principle, but I am very happy to make either argument to the Secretary of State. I am delighted to see him on the Treasury Bench today.
Is not part of the problem the deal-making nature of such conversations, with areas pitched against each other? Does the hon. Gentleman support the Local Government Association’s recommendation for an independent body to assess local government need in every area to make sure that everyone gets their fair share?
I know of no such case, but what I do know is that the Island is the only significant population on an island in the UK that has neither a fixed link nor increased funding. I am not necessarily playing my constituency off against other isolated communities, but there are specific additional costs that I would like to mention which I do not think have been met structurally by Governments for the past 50 years.
I intend to show to the Secretary of State an evidence-based case outlining what the additional costs are. By way of background, there is a wealth of evidence internationally, relating to the Isle of Wight and other islands in the UK, that shows the extra cost of providing public services on islands to the same extent as the mainland. Multiple surveys have found structural and economic challenges of severance by sea, which is the technical term, including extra costs from forced self-sufficiency and diseconomies of scale—smaller markets, fewer competitors in those markets. There are six, potentially seven, areas that I would briefly like to raise with the Minister and to put on the record now.
First, on local government services, the University of Portsmouth in 2015 estimated that the additional cost of providing good public services to the same standard as the mainland on the Isle of Wight was £6.4 million. Adjusted for inflation, that is now £7.1 million. Three specific factors were taken into account: the additional cost of doing business—for example, it costs 30% extra to build a building on the Isle of Wight because of the importation of materials via ferry; dislocation, with smaller markets and fewer entrants to those markets; and what is known as reduced spillover. A duel carriageway in Southampton does not help us and, vice versa, a duel carriageway in Cowes does not help the folks in Southampton because of severance by sea. We are asking that an agreed formula be devised—I make this speech with the full support of the Isle of Wight Council; we are working on this together—as part of a potential island deal that recognises these additional challenges, which amount to approximately 3% of the funding we receive.
Secondly, on healthcare, we have half the population needed for a district general hospital, yet we need to provide a district general hospital on the Isle of Wight because of the Solent. You cannot give birth on a helicopter; you cannot give birth on a ferry. We need to provide a decent level of care at a district general hospital on the Island, but we lack the throughput, the tariffs per head under NHS funding, to fund that. Our NHS trust believes the cost of 24/7 acute care is £8.9 million, the cost of ambulance services is £1.9 million, and the cost of patient travel to the mainland, of which there were over 40,000 journeys last year, is approximately £560,000. That is a total of nearly £11 million.
Thirdly, on local agriculture infrastructure, the Island is 80% rural and our rural economy is very important to our overall economic prosperity. However, we are again hampered by our dependence on the mainland. For example, under EU regulations—maybe gilded too much by UK officials—an Island abattoir became uneconomic. Livestock raised on the Island is shipped to the mainland for slaughter even if it is then imported back to the Island. That is less humane than local slaughter. It also adds costs and fuel miles. Considering we are trying to become carbon neutral, it is an unnecessary waste of resource.
A few key pieces of infrastructure would help us enormously—we have an Isle of Wight grain collective, so the Island is keen to explore the idea of forming collectives to solve these problems, but we could also do with some grant funding in recognition. These pieces of infrastructure are an abattoir, tanker and extra milk storage facilities, grain storage and milling facilities and a box erector for vegetables.
Fourthly, on housing, there is the need for an “exceptional circumstance” to be granted. In my opinion, the housing targets given to us meet the Government’s definition of unsustainable. They are bad for the Island and I believe that the methodology is flawed. The targets are nothing more than a projection based on historical trends that do not consider our future desire, first, to produce housing for Islanders and, secondly, as part of a national agenda, to shape a more sustainable and green future.
Developments on the Island, sadly, are too rarely designed for local people, but are instead designed for mainland—very often, retiree—demand. This forces our youngsters off the Island. We also do not have the infrastructure to support those additional homes, because we are an island. Our hospitals are full, public services are under pressure despite the extra funding, which I am grateful for, electricity and sewerage are at capacity and a third of our water comes from the mainland. The Green Book calculations do not serve the Island well. We intend to present an Island plan to Government that will have a significantly reduced figure, which our landscape and population can cope with, but which supports local demand. That is extremely important, and I would welcome Government support and understanding from the relevant Secretary of State and Ministries, so that we can make sure we get this through and help to create a sustainable, balanced demographic and a sustainable economy, and start paying into the Treasury.
Fifthly, on public services, I would like a unique public authority on the Isle of Wight that combines the work of our local authority, NHS trust and clinical commissioning group. Because of the nature of the Island—it is quite small-scale; social scientists tend to love us because we are an island, so we are easily measurable —this could be, along with areas such as Manchester, a role model of how to achieve much greater levels of integration throughout the country. However, we need a small pot of money and a sense of understanding of how this could work to make a success of it.
Lastly, on transport, we have the most expensive ferries in the world. They have very high profit margins, which Islanders, who earn 80% of the national average, have to pay for. My preference would be for Government support to look at different models of ownership and public service obligations.
Before I come to my summation I want to say that there may be additional costs from special educational needs provision. However, I did not want to hold up the letter to the Prime Minister, so they may come additionally.
Hopefully, I have outlined an evidence-based case looking at the additional costs of public services, and I look forward to following this up with Ministers.
Like other Opposition Members, I see this Queen’s Speech as a bit of a fraud. It is being used in the most cynical way by those who see Parliament as no more than window dressing for their latest plot. The Prime Minister claims that his proposals reflect the people’s priorities. Some of them certainly reflect the anxiety and damage resulting from Tory austerity and the Brexit chaos that he has created. Of course, I am pleased that our police will be given the power to arrest foreign criminals, although, in large part, we already possess that power through the European arrest warrant. Of course it is good that we are being offered some new police officers to compensate for the 21,000 that the Tories have cut since they have been in office, but these promises are designed to deflect attention from the fact that the people who caused these problems are sitting on the Government Benches.
I welcome promises of longer jail terms for serious sex offenders and stopping the early release of sex offenders already behind bars, but we do not need new legislation to achieve that. The Prime Minister does not need a Queen’s Speech, nor does he even need a parliamentary majority. He could encourage his Ministers to do that today. We could stop letting out the people we have behind bars.
Then there are the proposals to tackle electoral fraud, based on almost as many allegations of fraud as the number levelled at the Prime Minister in his dealings with his American muse. It is just as well that we cannot change the law based on those allegations or he would be in real trouble. We know that 3.5 million people do not have any photo ID and that the idea has the potential to deprive thousands of the opportunity to vote. It could be an electoral Windrush, although it would be no accident this time; it would be the deprivation of a fundamental right by deliberate design.
If this programme was really intended to reflect people’s priorities, there would be a children’s mental health Bill, measures to address the IVF postcode lottery for those suffering from infertility, and action to address the shocking delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment that are costing lives needlessly. There would also be a recognition that if a five-year-old with cystic fibrosis in Scotland can get access to the drug Orkambi, so should young Jemima in my constituency and every other child like her, the length and breadth of this country.
If this was not fantasy and fraudulent politics, we would have legislation to address the shambles that is social care, but we all know what happened the last time the Tories dared voice their true intentions on this, so this time they are going to avoid it altogether—just like they are avoiding a Bill to provide carers with an entitlement to statutory leave, a promise also outstanding from their last manifesto.
If the Prime Minister really cared what the public thought, there would be legislation to protect private tenants, powers to tackle rogue landlords, and measures to redress the balance between local communities and the rights of developers, especially when it comes to conversions of family homes to houses in multiple occupation and the constant building of inappropriate accommodation against local wishes. Of course, there would also be real help for homeless families, those in the Travelodges, the run-down hotels and the bed and breakfast joints, and an end to the waste of millions of pounds on pointless lottery schemes designed to sell off housing association properties. We could divert precious resources from that silly scheme tomorrow and use it for an emergency programme to get the homeless off the streets before winter bites.
If the Conservative party was listening to my constituents, it would want to do something about the women born in the ’50s and diddled out of their pensions. It would own up to and put right the mess they have made of universal credit, and it would offer a targeted apprenticeship scheme to tackle stubborn unemployment that means that in constituencies such as Selly Oak unemployment is twice the national average. It would acknowledge the awful violence suffered by shopworkers, and in its approach to serious violence, it would bring in legislation that recognises just how seriously we regard an attack on any person, any worker, simply doing their job.
There is no shortage of things that need doing and no limit to the number of issues where this Parliament could make a difference, but that needs a Prime Minister and a Government who take Parliament seriously, who treat people seriously, and who are determined to tackle injustice and put things right. Sadly, we have a Prime Minister and a Government who seem to revel in creating injustice and care only about the rights that benefit their own. That is why the Queen’s Speech is wrong. That is why it is a phoney and that is why it is a fraud.
It is a great pleasure to participate in this Queen’s Speech debate and to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). Although I could not agree with a word he said, it was a good story.
I warmly welcome the content of the Queen’s Speech, which has a strong emphasis on the people’s priorities. Of course Brexit is paramount and needs to be implemented, but the provision of public services—health, education and policing—is vital to the people of our country, whatever part of the country they live in. It is right to concentrate on these, as the Government have done in the Queen’s Speech.
I want to concentrate on education. I was privileged to have a good state education, and subsequently to be a teacher and a lecturer, so I have seen education from both sides, as a worker within it and as a student. I passionately believe that every child deserves the best possible start in life, regardless of their background or where they live, and that access to good schools is essential to building the foundations of success in later life.
While the shadow Education Secretary’s speech was powerful in performance, it lacked constructive content. It retained the old-fashioned Labour approach of putting ideology before children’s education, though no mention was made of the fact that they want to abolish Ofsted, scrap the free schools programme and abolish independent schools. That was all lacking in her contribution. We should all be proud of what the coalition Government and this Government have done in education since 2010: not only are there more good or outstanding schools —the proportion is now 85%—but 1.9 million children are now in a good or outstanding school, and the attainment gap continues to narrow.
I listened to the shadow Secretary of State explain her position on scrapping independent schools. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that there was no explanation of where all these pupils would go within the system, should Labour abolish them and raid their assets overnight?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I agree totally.
I will return to what we have done in education: the academy programme, which the coalition Government began and this Conservative Government have continued, has transformed the education landscape, while a record proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds are now participating in education or apprenticeships, which is good news, as, too, is our shaking up of the GCSE grade boundaries and the increasing number of excellent education results in our schools.
Nevertheless, there is still much to be done. Despite the many successes, we need to address social mobility to allow people to dream—as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) put it, to dream their dreams and achieve their ambitions. That is what education should be all about. We are fortunate in Bexley to have many brilliant local schools, both primary and secondary, and a wide range of job opportunities. More importantly, the number of apprenticeships is going up. We have a diverse provision of different types of school across the borough: grammar schools, Church schools, comprehensives, single sex—really good schools where children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds are helped to achieve excellent results and are given access to a wide range of opportunities. It is no surprise that Bexley is listed as a social mobility hotspot.
That said, much more needs to be done across the country, and even in parts of our borough, to make sure that every child reaches their potential. Disengagement and lack of aspiration remain issues among certain sections of our school pupils, and we have to do more—I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a passionate supporter of that. We need to change that and inspire people to achieve their potential. I therefore welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to ensuring that all young people have access to an excellent education so that they can unlock their full potential and prepare for the world of work.
Funding, of course, has been an issue—it is always raised when I go round schools—so I welcome the Government’s commitment on two fronts: one, making sure the per pupil premium is increased and fair, and two, increasing teachers’ starting salaries to encourage the best and brightest people into teaching. It is a great career and a great opportunity to mould and help young people to maximise their life opportunities. I regularly visit schools across my constituency, and I know that there are other issues to address, including behaviour, discipline and teacher retention. The increase in money and support for teachers will hopefully make sure we retain more teachers and give them opportunities and support from parents, governors and the local community, because that is the way to keep good people in teaching. We need them.
Funding is not the only issue. Higher and further education also need to be looked at. I want to say a few words on further education because I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is particularly interested in that. Training, opportunities and technical subjects are the key, and funding is an important issue in further education. While we have seen the biggest injection of new money in a single year—£400 million for 16-to- 19 provision next year—we still need to do more. This extra money will enable further education providers to strengthen their provision and provide students with more options, but our country will need these skills post-Brexit. I welcome the money, but I make this plea to my right hon. Friend: more needs to be done.
The colleges have been rather the Cinderella service of the education world. The universities and the schools have had more funding, but there is a real role for further education colleges. I am passionate about this. Bexley College is part of London South East Colleges, the others being Greenwich, Orpington and Bromley. These colleges are doing fantastic work. The technical and media departments are outstanding. I give that example to highlight how passionate I am about further education and how important it is that we look at our FE colleges and lecturers’ salaries, which are not as good as teachers’ salaries.
I know that the Government are committed to creating a country where everyone has the same opportunities. From listening to the Labour party one would not think so, but we in the Conservative party passionately believe that everyone across the country should have a fair opportunity. The core of that is the Prime Minister’s one nation conservatism, which strongly endorses the belief that wherever people are or come from they should have the opportunities to maximise their potential in whatever they want to do. We need to encourage people from a young age to engage in education and to give them the opportunities they need to develop their talents. [Interruption.] Sedentary chuntering from the Opposition will not get us anywhere; constructive discussion and comment is what we are after.
Education gives us an understanding of the world around us and changes it into something better. It develops our perspective on life, helps us to build opinions and points of view and, more importantly, facilitates the social mobility that can enable us to achieve our ambitions. I strongly support the measures in the Queen’s Speech. It should be welcomed across the House as we take positive action to tackle the social and economic divisions in our country and give everyone the opportunities they want, deserve and need.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett). Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with some of what he said, particularly about further education.
I want to speak about tertiary education, rather than making a distinction between higher and further education. When we are talking about young people, we should be talking about positive destinations and trying to make sure that every young person has the opportunity to go on and be successful, wherever that should be. It gives me great pride to stand here as an MP from Scotland knowing that Scotland has the highest percentage of positive destinations for our young people anywhere in the UK.
The Queen’s Speech was full of money promises that cannot be met. The Prime Minister in his speech on Monday referred to a free trading United Kingdom and a high-wage, low-tax economy. That does not add up. It is not possible to continue cutting taxes and have well funded, well resourced public services. A recent “Panorama” programme painted a grim picture of the reality at the chalk face. Since 2015, schools in England have had real-terms cuts, with billions having been cut from school budgets, and this has had a huge impact on teachers and young people in those schools. A recent report from UCL on education reforms was critical of how these changes had fuelled inequality. For example, high-performing and improving schools are accepting fewer children from poorer backgrounds, and high levels of exclusions and the continued use of off-rolling—a practice not allowed in Scotland—mean that statistics and measures of success are skewed. More fundamentally, young people are missing out on their education.
The success or failure of any school rests with teachers, but with the advent of academies schools can choose to pay teachers at scales of their making. That means that they can bypass negotiated national pay scales in order to stretch budgets further.
We hear politicians talk about our dedicated teachers. Perhaps we should ask them whether they would be willing to teach a class of 30 teenagers on a salary of £24,000 a year. One teacher said to me, “ I would be better off working in a supermarket. At least I would earn some overtime.” Thankfully, in Scotland we do see teaching as a profession. We have protected and increased teachers’ pay. After their probation year, they earn £32,000 a year, £6,000 more than their counterparts south of the border. It is simply not good enough that teachers in England have been treated in this way.
The Government are supposedly committed to science, but university fees in this country are the highest in the industrialised world. Student loans are going through the roof, and it has never really been possible to tackle student debt. We are saddling young people with debt for the rest of their working lives. We now know that much of it is eventually written off anyway, so why are we doing this to them?
The greatest threat to our higher and further education sectors is, of course, Brexit. According to today’s edition of The Times, a Royal Society report states that funding for Horizon 2020 has fallen by a third, or half a billion euros, since 2015, and there has been a drop in UK applications. Critically, the UK is being seen as less attractive, and 35% fewer scientists are coming here through key schemes.
A hostile environment is the greatest challenge to academia. Immigration systems that talk of skill levels but make no allowance for skill needs cannot work for the sector. Research groups require people at many different levels, from technicians up to professors. We should be looking at skills rather than salaries. The research groups that we are trying to attract to the UK will want to come here in their entirety. If the professors and the leaders of the groups cannot bring their whole teams, they simply will not come. We also know that early-stage researchers—post-graduates—do not find the UK attractive. That affects our public services: it affects our education system, and it affects our NHS.
We welcome the change in the Government’s rhetoric on post-study work visas, but we need some details. When will the new system come into play? Has it been promoted? Young people from abroad are now seeing the UK as a possibility. Will the system be for entrants starting in 2020, or for students who are currently here?
A massive concern for us is the European temporary leave to remain visa, which has been described by Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, as an “act of deliberate malice”. Why would students consider coming to Scotland if it cannot be guaranteed that they will be able to complete their courses? The same applies to students coming to other parts of the UK for longer courses, such as medical or engineering degree courses. We need those people to come here.
This week, the Royal National Mòd, a celebration of Gaelic music, language and culture, is taking place in Glasgow. However, although Gaelic schools in Glasgow and across the central belt are bursting at the seams, we cannot keep up with the demand for teachers. There are teachers in Canada who want to come to the UK, but we cannot take them here because of immigration decisions made by the Home Office. We cannot get what we need for Scotland. Gaelic authors and singers, including one of my constituents, cannot come to Scotland because that decision is made by Arts Council England. Yes, immigration powers need to come to Scotland, and yes, we need them now.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) will take an interest in the new immigration Bill.
It will come as a big surprise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to learn that I am an ethnic minority immigrant. I cheer for England in Japan, but I put my money on the All Blacks! I came here as a newly graduated health professional just before the UK entered the common market. I was allowed in on a work permit. That system enabled the UK to encourage the people whom it needed to come here, and they came from a number of countries, most of them in the Commonwealth.
Many of those countries were our kith and kin, and many supported the allies in world war two. Immigrants were selected for their expertise on application from outside the UK. That stopped when we entered the common market, and even visitors from those nations entered through the “alien” gates at our airports. A considerable proportion of the people who might have brought their expertise to the UK transferred their interest to nations such as Canada and America, and we lost out. I hope that we will now broaden our intake to include those countries under the new system, attracting the people whom we need.
Let me now raise a second and parochial point. I am delighted by the proposed boost to research and development funding and the launch of a comprehensive UK space strategy. In Holmbury St Mary, a tiny village in the southern hills of Mole Valley, is the UCL space station. It is hidden in the forest, in an old manor-type house. Just inside the front door is a huge entrance hall, where there are two 20-foot old-fashioned—now—rockets. Behind the manor are modern research buildings enabling world class research to take place. The station has research partnerships across the world, leading space research for the UK, and has been providing advanced, state-of-the-art instruments in many international space ventures. I hope that the Government’s proposed comprehensive space strategy will help that unit to increase the contribution that it already makes to this country.
Also of personal interest to me are the proposed new regulations for internet companies. The main aim—but not the only aim—is to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and radicalisation. Notwithstanding what some Members have said today, the UK leads innovations on child protection. It is one of a number of issues on which Members on both sides of the House, whatever Government have been in power, have worked closely together over the past few decades. For example, in 2002 and 2003 I joined a number of professional experts working in a team for the Home Office and reporting to David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, and we introduced the groundbreaking legislation that made it a crime to groom a child for sexual purposes. I hope that the same co-operation will apply when the new regulations are introduced. I also hope that Members with an interest in child protection will be aware of the need to reflect further on some aspects of the serious violence and victims Bills in the context of child protection and care.
In 1994, I was the MP for the then constituency of Croydon Central. In one of the big council estates, a popular, well-liked Metropolitan police officer, Sergeant Robertson, was murdered by Robert Eades. Eades and two brothers, Terry and Christopher Snelling, attempted to rob a local post office on the estate. Sergeant Robertson, on his own and armed with a truncheon, tried to stop the robbery. The three escaped, although they were later caught. As they escaped, they fought with Sergeant Robertson, who was knocked down, and Eades stabbed that gallant police officer persistently with a weapon called a black widow dagger. The police officer died in minutes. He left a wife as a widow, and two small children.
The Snelling brothers went down for 12 years, but at least one of them was released after six. On conviction, Eades was sentenced to life with a minimum of 25 years. That means he can apply for parole next year. Mrs Robertson and her children lost a husband and a father for life—not for six years, not for 25 years, but for life—and for this reason and many others I will be specifically watching the new sentencing Bill with deep interest.
There are quite a number of other Bills in the Queen’s Speech that I am enthusiastic to see through to the statute book either before or with a returning Conservative Government after the election. I suspect that many Members on both sides are in their heart supportive of many of the proposed Bills in the Queen’s Speech and, in the past, whatever the Government, cross-party support has happened.
It is a privilege to follow the distinguished hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and to be able to say a little in response to the Queen’s Speech on behalf of my constituents in Stalybridge and Hyde, Mossley, Dukinfield and Longdendale.
If I were to begin by saying something positive about the Queen’s Speech, I would say that it is good to have the opportunity to discuss some issues other than Brexit. Brexit is clearly very important, but in itself it does not solve any of the pressing issues in my constituency, and the neglect by Government of other issues in the last few years is now evident. But that is where my praise ends because, as I listened to the Queen’s Speech, I did not feel that this was a serious, considered programme for the future of the nation. It felt like something between a publicity stunt and a response to what people in focus groups list as all the things they dislike about the Conservative party. The last Conservative Government were notorious for being pretty soft on crime and reducing the number of police officers to unsafe levels, so this Queen’s Speech says, “We will recruit a load of police officers, even though there is no basic guarantee we will go back to the levels we had before we first came to power.”
The last Conservative Government presided over some of the most miserly funding settlements for the NHS—since 2010, there have been very low funding settlements by historical standards—so this Queen’s Speech says there will be 40 new hospitals, although apparently the number now is barely six.
Many Conservative MPs have mentioned school funding today. The figures for my constituency are very depressing and I have just had an email telling me that 83% of schools in the country will have their funding reduced, effectively, next year, so I am afraid I am not convinced on that point either. I feel that the British people will see through all this.
Of course I recognise, and am pleased, that there seems now to be a recognition that austerity must end and that it has caused real damage, pain and suffering, but I do not just want the Government throwing money around to address their brand negatives; instead, I want it spent on the things that will make a difference, and for me that has to start with in-work poverty.
The number of people in Britain in work who are in poverty is a disgrace. I want us to spend money on some of the burdens that working families have difficulty with, whether it is school meals, uniform costs, prescription charges or in much bigger terms the social care bill when you need support as an older person. If we have money to spend, we should spend it there, and then I want to see us target resources on measures that will raise investment, productivity and wages.
That means acknowledging that the Government’s strategy of cutting corporation tax to the bone to stimulate private investment has not worked. Other countries with considerably higher rates of corporation tax than us have much higher levels of corporate investment. What we have now is a tax base that is simply insufficient to meet the kind of public services that people in this country expect, because we need to invest big money in some areas. For me there is no bigger area than transport. We need new rail infrastructure and subsidies to build urban transport networks that are comparable with what this capital city has—every morning my constituents tweet me pictures of the overcrowding on the railways—but instead of that every day what we get is a daily menu of possible cuts to HS2.
Although I appreciate this is probably unlikely from a Conservative Government, I also think that there has to be an acknowledgment that, while the gig economy has many upsides, for too many people it makes them vulnerable because they have a fundamental lack of power and control over their own working lives. Whenever we on this side of the House propose an increase in employment rights, we are accused of wanting to return to the winter of discontent in the 1970s. I was not yet born during the winter of discontent, but I was a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee when we did an inquiry into the working practices at Sports Direct, and I will never forget the evidence we received in confidence from members of staff: workers not being paid the minimum wage, one woman who had to give birth in the warehouse toilets, and young female employees explaining that they were promised full-time employment contracts but only in exchange for sexual favours.
I am not in favour of a return to the winter of discontent, but I am in favour of making sure that such employment practices have no place in modern Britain, and that requires fair and independent representation in the workplace.
This is one of the most shocking abuses I have heard of late. People in my constituency are losing 15 minutes of salary every time they have to leave the floor to go to the toilet. One of my constituents has been deeply distressed as a cleaner because, on emptying a bin, she found it was full of faeces and urine; people were using the wastebaskets rather than lose salary. That has to stop.
That is completely unacceptable and I would hope there was agreement across all sides of political opinion on that, but the question I have is: will this post-Brexit free trade world deliver the employment rights that will combat that? At the minute I am, frankly, unconvinced.
I would also like to have seen some action in this Queen’s Speech on absolute poverty. I have no problem with universal credit simplifying the benefits system and I want a system with a taper mechanism that makes it cost-effective for people to increase their working hours if they can do so, but the five-week wait is pushing too many people into a level of destitution that is unconscionable by any reasonable standard. The charities say so, the Churches say so and, frankly, most of us say so, too, and I do not know what more evidence or arguments the Government need to see or hear before they are willing to treat people with the minimum level of dignity they should reasonably be able to expect.
Due to time constraints, I want to make just one more point about something that is in the Queen’s Speech: the proposal to introduce photo ID to cast a vote in elections, which risks being an injustice of significant proportions. It has already been said in this debate that 3.5 million people do not have access to photo ID, and if it is restricted to a passport or driving licence the figure is 11 million.
It would, to be fair, go some way to doing that: if the Government were willing to say, “If there is a new standard of proof to be able to cast your vote, we will provide that free of charge to every citizen in this country before this measure comes into effect,” that would allay some of my concerns, but of course the cost of that would be significant and I have not heard anything mentioned that suggests that is possible.
It would in effect be a national ID scheme, as my hon. Friend says, and that in itself has other implications. That is why the Electoral Reform Society has called this measure “dangerous, misguided and undemocratic.”
Occurrences of election fraud are, thankfully, very rare in the UK and, where they have occurred, they have been disproportionately Conservative party scandals, but that is not the point: the fact is that no one should be seeking to import the voter suppression tactics of the Republican party in the US. Yet it seems that, having failed to gerrymander the constituency boundaries in the last Parliament, this time the Conservatives are going to go straight to gerrymandering the electorate directly. I say to all fair-minded people: please think again.
It is uncertain whether this Queen’s Speech actually has a majority in Parliament. It is very hard to predict the future and perhaps we will know more about where Brexit is at after this weekend’s sitting, but I believe this country is crying out for a more ambitious agenda, one that rebuilds the basic sense of equity and national solidarity that all successful nations need. That is what my constituents tell me they want and that would truly be a Queen’s Speech worthy of the name.
I welcome the measures the Government are bringing in to improve patient safety. I trained as a nurse and worked in the NHS for 25 years, and to this day I remain proud of the training I received at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. That training has stayed with me to this day; it was about standards and demonstrating respect not just for the patients in our care, but everyone we work with. It was about an understanding that nothing but the best will do. Therefore, adopting a similar approach, as the airlines do, to safety is not before time. There should be no circumstance where patient safety is compromised in any way at all.
I also welcome not only the measures on mental health but the changing attitudes to mental health that I have witnessed since I was first elected in 2005. I well remember my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) speaking movingly in 2012 about their own mental health problems. Anything we can do to ensure that we have freely available mental health services delivered in a timely fashion is to be welcomed, in the community, in our prisons and in schools. I welcome all the legislation that will improve this.
While money for hospitals will be welcomed, hospitals are not the whole story as far as our NHS is concerned. The Royal Surrey County Hospital in my patch does an excellent job. It has done a superb job in raising standards of care, and nowadays, rather than receiving letters of complaint, I receive letters and emails praising the staff there. This week, I was at a Guild of Nurses event, surrounded by nurses many of whom were of a similar age to me—really quite young—but who had, in effect, trained on an apprenticeship. I was proud, as the Minister for apprenticeships, to have reintroduced nurse apprenticeships and a pathway for all to train up to the level of registered nurse. The university rout might be right for some, but if we use only that route we will miss many women and men who would make exactly the sort of nurses we want to see—caring, compassionate and with a real sense of vocation. I urge the Secretary of State for Education, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, to continue the apprenticeship programme without restriction and to ensure that there are sufficient funds to do so.
However, money for hospitals is not in itself sufficient. Hospitals rightly grab the headlines because of the phenomenal work they do, but although most of the costs in the NHS are incurred in hospitals, the vast majority of patient contact occurs in the community. I think 80% of patient and people contact occurs in the community, and all our community healthcare services need help. That activity in the community goes on without headlines, carried out by committed and skilled NHS staff, and it is struggling with budgets. I have recently seen some of my local GPs. My local GPs have almost never contacted me. They provide good services, but they are extremely concerned about the crisis they are facing in general practice. It is now almost impossible to recruit new partners. Ten years ago, they would have expected around 100 applicants when they advertised for a new partner; they are now getting no applicants at all. Guildford is an attractive place, and even when other places have had issues with recruitment, it has never done so. This stark reduction in the number of applicants is of note.
The practices can and do employ salaried GPs, but they charge high rates and the GP partners are still left with the problem of who will continue to run the practices when they retire. Younger doctors simply do not want to take on those responsibilities. All this is exacerbated by the limits on pension pots and the taxation changes that make early retirement an attractive proposition. It is high time the Treasury recognised the impact of its policies on public sector staff. My GPs understand that integrating practices is the right thing to do, and they have done it. They take many of the risks but do not get many rewards. This is not just about money; it is about de-risking things such as leases, which would certainly help to demonstrate that the Department understands some of the issues that GPs and other community services are facing.
New technology improves access for many people and saves them time, but it does not necessarily save the GPs time. In fact, many telephone appointments can take longer than those held in the surgery. My local A&E finds the local GP services extremely valuable in reducing the A&E workload considerably. GPs are the place of first, and often last, resort. However, despite all the valid and positive changes that have taken place in the NHS, I am afraid that we are probably about to see the baby run down the plug hole with the bathwater. A surgery in Burpham is probably going to close due to loss of premises, and I have also received concerns from St Catherine’s Village Association about primary health care in south Guildford. This is on top of the issues that the university and students have raised with me about new students being unable to register with GPs because they have closed their lists. The clinical commissioning group is working hard to resolve these issues, and it has been extremely helpful, but amid the good announcements and good Bills in the Queen’s Speech, I urge the Government to be aware of how much hospitals depend on our community health services.
The mental health of our young people is now well recognised, and the online harms Bill is very welcome. The Government are doing much to improve awareness and support in schools. However, concerns were recently raised with me by a local councillor, Steven Lee, about the real crisis in the health and wellbeing of young people in schools today. I welcome the investment in mental health services, particularly in children’s mental health services, but this is still a long way from getting to the frontline. There is a historical shortage of staff that we have to do something to address.
I welcome the money and I welcome all the measures in the Queen’s Speech, including the online harms Bill, the legislation on patient safety and the money going into mental health, but I urge the Government to do everything in their power to ensure that these things become a reality on the ground. They need to move away from the tabloid headlines and put the money where the contact is and where the care is carried out.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who I know shares my passion for public services.
We are doing this in the context of a potential general election, and we have to address the elephant in the room: what will happen if we go ahead with a no-deal Brexit, or indeed any Brexit at all. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that if we go off the cliff edge of no deal, we will be looking at this country’s borrowing rising to a 50-year high. The finances of this country will pale into insignificance compared with even the worst of the financial crash. There is only one way to ensure that we properly fund our public services, and that is to stop Brexit altogether, which is what the Liberal Democrats want to do. We want to do that because we care deeply about our NHS and our schools and about the day-to-day things that make a real difference to people and that save their lives. Unless we stop Brexit, we will not have the money to pay for all that, but I am sure that we all agree across the House that what we want to do is fully fund our public services.
We have a short amount of time today, and it will perhaps be unsurprising that I shall focus my remarks specifically on schools. As ever on such occasions, I have looked at the text of the Queen’s Speech. I looked and looked for a mention of schools, but I found only one “motherhood and apple pie” statement about them. Just one, at a time when our schools are going through an incredible funding crisis. I like to judge people by their words, but given that there were so few, let us instead judge this Government by their actions.
Even this year, even now, with all the funding announcements that this Government have made, schools are under enormous financial pressure. They include my own, where I am a governor, and all the others in the surrounding areas. I had an email from Liz from Botley, who is the mother of a child at a local school. She said of the headteacher:
“They have now asked parents to contribute a recommended donation of £10 per month per child. What a disgraceful state of affairs that the education of our young people is just left for parents who can afford it to pick up the bill. This is obviously totally unfair, and if allowed to continue, this will lead to a disastrous two-tier system where parents that can afford the top-up will be ‘buying’ into better-funded schools. No one cares as deeply as the parents that the education is the very best it can be, so we are unfairly pressured into filling the hole left by central government.”
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration that so many of the Government’s policy pledges on education in the past few weeks appear to be so much more about electioneering than actual meat on the bone? That is certainly the case for education, but also in many other areas.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Yes, as a maths teacher, I have been rather frustrated by the headlines coming out of this Government, such as “£14 billion over three years,” when we will not get back to former levels until 2020. In fact, the money that schools are seeing right now is not enough. This year’s OECD teaching and learning international survey shows that the top thing that schools spend money on is more teachers. We heard that there would be a welcome rise in the amount of money available to first-year teachers, but that needs to come out of school budgets, as and when they are increased. The state gives with one hand, but it takes with the other.
Importantly, where the state has taken, it has taken from the most vulnerable and poorest areas. According to the National Education Union, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders, 90% of secondary schools in the highest free school meals band will still face a funding shortfall in 2020-21, and funding cuts were above average in seven of the 10 poorest local authorities in England. Schools need the money now, not later. As a result of not providing that money, the Government are failing our children.
Teaching assistants are being sacked, with 50% of schools either considering it or already having done so in the past three years. Cash-strapped councils are struggling to support children with the most complex needs. Education, health and care plans increased by 16% between 2017 to 2018, yet schools need to make up the first £6,000 and so are penalised for doing the right thing. More than 200 schools in England have cut short the school week or are actively consulting on it, including schools in my area. We want and deserve world-class schools, but this Government will not be able to deliver them. They have not done that so far, and even with more money, where are the ideas to do it?
This is not just about funding. In fact, we are above average on the OECD funding table, so why are other countries leaping ahead? This Government are ideologically driven to deliver an education system that may have worked 50 years ago, but it is not based on the evidence of what works now. It is about high-stakes testing with little care for actual learning. We know about the narrowing of the curriculum, and we know that high-stakes tests cause anxiety for our children. In fact, I was written to in May by Aoife, who was in year 6 at the time, and she told me that her school prepares her for SATs with
“huge numbers of SATs practices that I have to do, sometimes up to two a day… since Christmas! I feel as though we often spend more time on practices than we do on actual lessons… Please can you do something in government to try and make the focus more on the teachers and less on us, so that we do not have to do so many practices and can do some fun learning.”
I could not agree more with Aoife. In fact, looking across the world at high-performing systems, that is exactly what they do.
The Liberal Democrats demand better. We would let our teachers get on with their jobs, rather than make them have to penny-pinch to buy the basics. We would invest in the most disadvantaged children and give councils the first £6,000 of any EHCP, so that schools are not penalised for taking the children that they want. We would spend £1 billion to save our colleges. By the way, “Love Our Colleges” badges are in all the Whips Offices, and I hope that everyone will wear them today, because colleges have been the Cinderella service of our education system. We would extend the pupil premium to age 19, because deprivation does not stop at 16. We would scrap SATs and replace Ofsted with an even more rigorous system that puts at its heart what the data is showing drives real attainment and wellbeing. We need a bolder agenda for education—not just paltry funding pledges, but real reform of the whole system, led by evidence, that will make the most of every child in our country.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), but I cannot agree with what she had to say. Indeed, when I look at the positive measures in the Queen’s Speech, it is the news on schools and school funding that shines out and gives me real hope forthe future of our country and, indeed, for children in Cheltenham.
I am sure that the House can agree that education is probably the single most powerful tool to drive social mobility. That is certainly essential in Cheltenham, because there is a misapprehension about the place I represent. It may be that hon. Members take the view, perhaps after heading down to the incredibly successful Cheltenham literature festival, that it is a land of unalloyed affluence, but nothing could be further from the truth. Of the 18 wards that I represent, the income per capita in three of them is in the bottom decile not just in Gloucestershire, not just in the south-west, not just in England, but across the entire United Kingdom. This Government realise that schools and education can do the most valuable job of bridging that gap.
Contrary to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), does my hon. Friend welcome the fact that schools and education have been put front and centre? I can quote from the Queen’s Speech for the hon. Lady:
“My Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2019; Vol. 800, c. 2.]
The Conservatives are putting education front and centre.
That is absolutely right because the Government did put education front and centre, and it was rather telling that the hon. Lady did not quote from the Queen’s Speech. I must also take issue with her suggestion that standards are going down when the opposite is the case. How wrong it is not to pay tribute to the fact that 160,000 more six-year-olds are on track to achieve good literacy scores than in 2012. We should be applauding that, not denigrating it. It is certainly the case in Cheltenham where, year after year, our brilliant teachers and headteachers, supported by their governors, are delivering improved literacy, numeracy, A-levels, GCSEs and so on.
The reason I am so pleased with the Queen’s Speech is that the settlement proposed within it addresses two running sores, the first of which is fair funding. Under the decades-old unfair funding formula—generated, I believe, in the 1990s—schools in Cheltenham were treated wholly unfairly compared with schools in London, Liverpool or Manchester by dint of the fact that Cheltenham sits within the rural county of Gloucestershire, and it was stipulated that we should receive less funding per pupil. The logic went, “Well, of course, these affluent rural counties simply do not have the same social problems.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Cheltenham has its fair share of social problems and challenges, and it was a completely unsustainable injustice that my constituents should have been short changed in that way.
If we strip aside the bluster, what has actually happened? In 2015, when I was elected, secondary schools in my constituency, because of the unfair funding formula to which I have referred, received a little under £4,200 per pupil. If this Queen’s Speech is passed, they will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil, and schools such as Pittville School and All Saints’ Academy will receive considerably more. By the way, all that comes before one adds on money for low prior attainment, English as an additional language and so on. All that is a significant improvement, and it has been difficult for people like me to listen to hon. Members—often on the Labour Benches, but not exclusively—complain about the fact that funding per pupil in their urban constituencies was due to go up from £5,500 to £5,600. We were on £4,200 in Cheltenham, and it is this Queen’s Speech and this Government that are addressing that to bring funding justice to my constituents. We should not downplay that; we should celebrate it.
The second issue that the Queen’s Speech addresses is the problem of special educational needs and disability funding. For reasons that are poorly understood, schools and teachers in my constituency have done an extraordinary job in dealing with an unexplained surge in pupil complexity. Whether it is Belmont School, which is meant to deal with moderate learning difficulties, or Bettridge School, which is meant to deal with severe learning difficulties, the truth is that they are having to address need that is far beyond that which existed only 15 years ago. Mainstream schools are having to hold on by their fingertips to children who, in the past, would have gone into special schools, because they recognise that putting those children into a different educational setting could put intolerable pressure on special schools. The schools are doing a magnificent job.
The reasons for the change, as I said, are poorly understood. Some say it has to do with family issues, and some say—this is a difficult point to make, and I do not know whether there is any truth to it—that, because of the marvels of modern medicine, some children are surviving childbirth who might not have done so in past. Thank goodness that is the case, but it is potentially having a knock-on impact. The fact is that schools in Cheltenham are dealing with it.
I finish with an anecdote. I met a teacher at a school that deals with moderate learning difficulties. He has been a teacher for some 20 years and he told me that, when he first became a teacher, the pupil-teacher ratio was in the order of 16:1. In other words there were more teachers per pupil, but that modest increase was there to address the needs that existed. Now he says it is simply impossible because of the level of complexity that exists.
The Ridge Academy in my constituency deals with children with emotional and behavioural needs, and the complexity that is now being presented requires that additional resource. What is this Queen’s Speech doing? It is increasing the funding available in Gloucestershire from £60 million to £66 million, a 10% increase. That is an enormous increase, and it means that schools in my constituency can look forward to the future with confidence and that teachers who have done such a heroic job of continuing to go to work, knowing they may face a volatile situation, can do so with the confidence of knowing there is space available in the budget for the additional resources and the additional staff to keep the children safe, and to keep the teachers safe, too.
Of course there is more to do, and of course I would like more funding and all sorts of additional things, but this Queen’s Speech sets Cheltenham schools and Gloucestershire schools on a better path. If this House truly believes in social mobility and in ensuring that people go as far as their talents will take them, we have to make sure that the most powerful lever of social mobility is properly supported. That lever is in our schools, and it is this Government who are supporting them.
School- children are taught that a Queen’s Speech follows the election of a new Government and sets out the programme that the Government want to enact. The next time I visit one of my schools, I will have a tough job explaining what exactly we are doing here this week. We have a new Prime Minister elected not by the people but by a diminishing band of Conservatives, a party in government with a majority of minus 45 and a Queen’s Speech setting out 26 Bills, few of which have any chance of being passed by the current Parliament, with a general election possibly weeks away.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not mean to mislead the House, but what he said is not accurate. A Queen’s Speech starts a new Session of Parliament, but it does not always follow a general election. A Queen’s Speech usually happens almost every year throughout a Parliament. It is not an unusual occurrence.
I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says, but what is extremely unusual is the manner in which the Prime Minister tried to shut down and prorogue Parliament. I will return to that.
A general election, which is possibly weeks away, would render the whole programme null and void. I note that the Prime Minister’s former employer, The Daily Telegraph, called it “a pointless exercise”. Even Her Majesty must have been wondering, “Is that it? Where are the remaining pages? Perhaps the Prime Minister is too busy trying to mislead me, trying to illegally shut down this amazing, beautiful and historic place and trying to stop hon. Members holding him to account. Maybe that is why he forgot to hand over the remaining pages.”
This is Alice Through the Looking-Glass stuff, with nothing how it should be and everything the opposite. What should I be telling those schoolchildren? It is obvious that this was not a Queen’s Speech but an election manifesto. If we take away the ermine and the jewels, we can see naked electioneering ahead of a nationwide poll. If any further evidence were needed, consider why, out of 26 Bills, seven are on law and order—the Conservatives’ old pre-election favourite, and an automatic headline generator for the Tory-supporting press.
It will not work this time, however. Why? Because, after a decade in office, the Conservatives have surrendered their claim to be the party of law and order. People in Slough and elsewhere have seen reductions in their police and in their police community support officers. The Conservative police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley has raised the precept by over 10%, but the money raised is only plugging the gaps. PC Craig O’Leary, the chair of Thames Valley Police Federation, said at the time that the rise in council tax would
“just literally keep us standing still.”
Nationally, the picture is the same. Police forces in England and Wales lost 21,732 officers between March 2010 and March 2018, a reduction of 15%, according to the Home Office’s own figures. The number of police community support officers patrolling the streets fell by nearly 40% during the same period, from 16,688 in 2010 to 10,139 in 2018. Civilian staff were cut by 21% during the same period. That means the police are stretched to the limit. There are not enough detectives, not enough patrols on the streets and the estates, and not enough support for victims and witnesses.
One type of crime in particular makes us all feel less like things are getting done and more like things are getting out of control, and that is knife crime. In Slough this year we have had the tragedy of the murder of Elton Gashaj. Aged just 15, he was the victim of a stabbing. That tragic and senseless loss of a young man left a family in grief and a community in shock.
The BBC named Slough alongside Manchester and Liverpool as one of the areas outside London where knife crime is a growing problem. Local people have real concerns, which is why I joined Pastor Sola Ogunniyi and the congregation of Redeemed Christian Church of God as they marched from Langley to central Slough with the message, “Stop knife crime.” That reminds us of the important role played by faith organisations—churches, gurdwaras, temples, mosques and synagogues—in mending our fraying society, and they are not alone in their concern.
People in Slough want more police, more PCSOs, more probation officers, more prison officers, faster justice and more support for victims, but they want something more. They want youth services, and they want to see the youth centres and the youth clubs reopen. Youth services have been cut by a staggering £1 billion since 2010, and we have lost 14,000 youth workers. People want: thriving high streets and late-night shopping; park and recreation facilities that are safe for families; jobs and apprenticeships for young people; and a strong society in which individuals and families can thrive.
Now we have the pre-election promise of extra police officers. If someone steals £50 from my wallet and then promises to give me £40 several years later, does that count as a £40 increase? Of course not. This Government have abandoned the field to the gangs and the lawbreakers, deserting decent citizens and tearing apart the bonds of community in the process.
Another area that is vital to a strong society, to individual fulfilment and to a prosperous economy is education. This is the dog that did not bark. There are seven Bills on law and order, but where is the equivalent on rebuilding our schools, recruiting teachers and classroom assistants, driving up standards, opening opportunities, rebuilding our further education institutions and providing lifelong education through nursery, school, vocational qualifications, learning at work and into retirement?
The Government have nothing to say. We are fortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) has plenty to say about rebuilding our education system, a national education service, Sure Start Plus, lifelong learning and abolishing tuition fees—a truly transformational approach.
Finally, will the Secretary of State for Education address the issue of maintained nursery schools, such as Cippenham Nursery School in my constituency? We cannot build success on uncertainty, yet there has been no promise to continue the £60 million of funding beyond August 2020, to prevent more closures of maintained nursery schools. When pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), the Secretary of State said that it was “under review”. That just is not good enough. These important schools must stay open and have the funding they need.
The Prime Minister wants to trigger a pre-election debate about the best future for Britain; if this Queen’s Speech is the best he can do, I say bring it on.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), although I am not sure that many Members on the Government Benches will agree with his assessment of the Queen’s Speech.
The Queen’s Speech presented to Parliament this week was an opportunity for the Government to get on with their domestic agenda, focusing on public services and aiming to deliver what the people want us to do. For too long, hour upon hour of Government time—in fact, almost 500 hours—has been eaten up by furthering of the Brexit debate. That time could, no doubt, have been spent on other things, but we continued on around the Brexit merry-go-round while so few recognised that the country wanted to move on. Although the previous Session was dominated by Brexit, we must not forget that more than 70 Bills received Royal Assent in that Parliament—in stark contrast to the 26 passed in the Scottish Parliament. My constituency of Angus had the fourth highest leave vote of any constituency in Scotland, but when I am out on the doorsteps, as I have been almost every weekend since I was elected, people say they want us to get on and get Brexit sorted. They also want to leave the constitutional debate in Scotland to one side—perhaps even for a generation.
Monday’s Queen’s Speech focused absolutely on public services—the issues that matter to everyone’s everyday lives. Although some measures will not affect Scotland, as the chair of the all-party group on eating disorders I was pleased to see a renewed focus on mental health. I recognise that efforts will predominantly focus on those in detention in hospitals and police custody, but we must always increase our ambitions in this policy area. We must never forget that there will be people in this Chamber, across the estate and in every workplace, school and university who are suffering from mental health issues. I want ours to be a more open society so that people can recognise that the support is there if they are willing to come forward and get it.
The Queen’s Speech also mentioned the pension schemes Bill, which I warmly welcome because several hard-working plumbers in Angus were in a defined pension scheme and faced potential financial ruin. They entered into a multi-employer scheme without ever imagining that they would face demands for six or seven-figure sums. I have worked hard to represent their views in this place. That Bill will give those in such difficult situations further support by requiring a statement from trustees on their funding strategy. Although that may not help those in my constituency, it will ensure that similar situations do not arise again.
Two important Bills mentioned in the Queen’s Speech that do affect Scotland are the fisheries Bill and the immigration Bill. The fisheries Bill will enable us to depart from the European Union and allow the fishing industry in Scotland to prosper in a sea of opportunity. No Scottish Member of Parliament can deny that leaving the common fisheries policy will deliver for our fishing industry. It is incumbent on both the UK Government and the Scottish Government to improve infrastructure and support the industry as it enters a new and exciting era.
Of course, the fishing industry will also require labour, which leads me to the immigration Bill. Along with the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), I welcome the two-year graduate work visa announcement, and also the review of the £30,000 annual salary cap—both issues on which Scottish Conservatives spoke up at the time. I want the immigration Bill to ensure that we can bring in the skills and labour that we require as we depart from the European Union. Migrants contribute so positively in Angus and throughout the country. Whether it is in fish processing in Arbroath, manufacturing in Montrose or the agricultural industry throughout my constituency, including the soft fruit industry, they contribute to our local area and to our society. They and their families are welcome, and they are welcome to lay down roots in this great country.
Does the hon. Lady not recognise that the previous Queen’s Speech included the Immigration Bill and the Fisheries Bill, which could easily have been enacted without having to have this Queen’s Speech? Not only that, but an enormous amount of time and effort had already gone into the previous Fisheries Bill, which fell because of the Prorogation of Parliament.
Hopefully, when the legislation comes back to the House, we will be able to fast-track it through this place. We will have even better legislation because we will have had that debate before.
A positive immigration scheme is exactly what we want and exactly what Scottish Conservatives have been standing up for. We must never forget that migrants are absolutely welcome to our country and add very positively to our local communities. I welcome the fact that there will be no discrimination based on where they come from, but instead an open and fair system, as operates so well in other countries around the world.
What is most important about the Queen’s Speech is that when the Prime Minister came into office, he said that his focus was on healthcare, policing and education, and now, only weeks later, we see a bold and robust Queen’s Speech that will deliver in all those areas. That is what all those who vote us into this place want to see: they want to see us deliver in the areas that matter to them. That is in stark contrast to Nicola Sturgeon, who this week stood up at her Aberdeen conference, spoke for 45 minutes and did not once mention healthcare or education. Education was supposed to be what her record would be judged on, yet there are now 3,000 fewer teachers than there were in 2007, the SNP has binned the education Bill, and Scotland is way down in the international standards. But of course, that can all wait because independence comes first.
The UK Government have done well to build our economy. We have the lowest levels of unemployment and the highest levels of employment since the 1970s. It is unfortunate that a report out in Scotland today from the Fraser of Allander Institute shows that Scotland has seen one of the biggest increases in unemployment in four years and a decline in employment over the past three months. It is important to recognise that we cannot blame that on Brexit, because we have seen a completely different picture in the wider United Kingdom.
Before I finish, let me mention briefly the importance of the Union, which was also mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. The Union is the reason I am here, and it is my absolute priority to stand up for it as a Member of Parliament. It is what my constituents want me to stand up for, and that is what I will do. We know the importance of the dividend we get from being part of the Union, whether that is in respect of finances, security or defence. It is incredibly important that we continue to stress that message loud and clear. While the SNP wants to create barriers at Berwick, we want to ensure that we strengthen our ties with the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Queen’s Speech was a clear statement of intent from the Government that the domestic agenda is absolutely imperative—from being tough on crime to levelling up NHS funding, and from ensuring that we have a fishing industry that is ready to prosper to an immigration Bill that will ensure we have the labour we require. These are truly the issues that the people of our United Kingdom care about, and that is—as we must always remember—the reason we are so privileged to sit here.