All 26 Parliamentary debates on 13th Nov 2023

Mon 13th Nov 2023
Mon 13th Nov 2023
Mon 13th Nov 2023
Mon 13th Nov 2023
Mon 13th Nov 2023

House of Commons

Monday 13th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Monday 13 November 2023
The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

Monday 13th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

Monday 13th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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14:34
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I would like to make a short statement.

I do not usually discuss urgent questions, but today I received one and rather than discuss the matter in the Chamber, I thought it would be better for me to set out my thoughts on a particular issue that involves procedures of this House.

The House will be aware that the Prime Minister has today appointed the right hon. David Cameron as Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs. This is not the first time in recent years that a Cabinet Minister has been appointed in the House of Lords but, given the gravity of the current international situation, it is especially important that this House is able to scrutinise the work of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office effectively.

I have therefore commissioned advice from the Clerks about possible options for enhancing scrutiny of the work of the Foreign Secretary when that post is filled by a Member of the other House. I also look forward to hearing the Government’s proposals on how the Foreign Secretary will be properly accountable to this House. I do not propose to respond to points of order on this subject today, until the advice I have referred to has been received and until I have heard the Government’s own proposals, but I can assure the House that I am fully aware of the need for hon. and right hon. Members to be able to hold the Government to account in this area, especially at the current time, and I shall do everything I can to ensure that they are able to do so.

As colleagues will know, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is elected each Session. Nominations are now open and will close at 1pm on Wednesday 15 November. Nomination forms are available from the Vote Office, the Table Office and the Public Bill Office. Only Members from the party not representing Government may be candidates. Candidates need the support of no fewer than 10 Members from the Government side of the House and no fewer than 10 Members from the party not representing the Government or from no party. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place on Wednesday 22 November from 11am to 1pm in the Aye Lobby.

Oral Answers to Questions

Monday 13th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp (East Devon) (Con)
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1. What steps his Department is taking to help improve workplace support for women experiencing the menopause.

Mel Stride Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride)
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We take the challenges of the menopause very seriously, which is why the Government appointed Helen Tomlinson as the menopause employment champion for England. In terms of progress, I point my hon. Friend to the report, “No Time to Step Back”.

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp
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I welcome the work by campaigners and Devon’s NHS to improve access to menopause services in Devon. Almost 80% of menopausal women are in work, yet all too often support can be lacking. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to raise menopause awareness among employers?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his extensive work as my constituency neighbour, pushing for proper support in all GP practices across the county. We lead by example: 64% of the Department’s staff are female and we have a menopause and workplace policy, which sees 350 menopause ambassadors across our DWP network.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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Almost 900,000 women in the UK have quit their jobs due to the menopause. The right to flexible work is a key part of tackling economic inactivity, and it would particularly benefit people managing menopause symptoms. What conversations have taken place between Cabinet colleagues on removing the onus on employees to request flexible working and instead ensuring that that is provided as a day one right, by default?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The hon. Lady’s question is best directed to the Department for Business and Trade rather than DWP, as it relates to employment legislation and regulation. However, I am pleased to tell her that we have our 50PLUS champions, work champions in our jobcentres, the Midlife MOT and many other measures that are there to help exactly the people she describes.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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2. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of AI on the functioning of the welfare system.

Mel Stride Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride)
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We have a number of projects that use artificial intelligence within the Department to drive performance, efficiency and the service we provide to our customers. One important point to bear in mind is that we never replace a human when it comes to judgments relating to a claim or an appeal.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what assessment he has made of the potential merits of the use of AI in fraud protection? How will his Department ensure that appropriate safety measures are in place?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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Let me take the second of my hon. Friend’s points first. As I have outlined, there is always human intervention when it is appropriate. None the less, he is quite right to raise the issue of fraud and error. We have seen a reduction in the Department over the past year of some 10% across the benefit system, and much of that has been driven by machine learning and data analytics.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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3. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of children experiencing destitution.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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4. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of children experiencing destitution.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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8. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of children experiencing destitution.

Keir Mather Portrait Keir Mather (Selby and Ainsty) (Lab)
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9. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of children experiencing destitution.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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23. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of children experiencing destitution.

Mel Stride Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride)
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Child poverty and its reduction is absolutely core to the mission of my Department, which is why we have focused on cost of living payments, why we have put up benefits across the board by 10.1% and why the Chancellor announced £3.5 billion in the spring statement to support our back to work programmes to raise people out of poverty.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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One of the crowning achievements of the previous Labour Government was to lift 1 million children out of poverty. How does the Secretary of State think that that compares with the Conservatives’ record given that new figures show that children are experiencing destitution, and that that has actually tripled since 2017?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I think that our record is extremely clear. Since 2010, we have 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty, 400,000 fewer children in absolute poverty, and 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty. Under Labour’s watch, we had 1 million people parked on long-term sickness benefits for more than 10 years.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist
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There has been a shameful increase in the level of destitution in the UK, with 1 million children not having their basic needs met. In my constituency of Blaydon, nine children in every classroom are living in poverty. Across the north-east, there has been a 12% increase in emergency food bank parcels in the past year. Does the Minister agree that his Government have completely failed the most vulnerable children in the UK?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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No, I am afraid that I cannot agree with that at all. I have just gone through the various figures pointing to the decline in the level of absolute poverty, including 400,000 fewer children in absolute poverty since the hon. Lady’s party was last in Government. The cost of living payments, the increase in the level of benefits, and the £3.5 billion that the Chancellor has made available to help people back into work are helping to drive poverty figures in the right direction.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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The Minister’s responses are disappointing. If the Government do not recognise the problem of child poverty in this country, how will they fix it? One million children experienced destitution in the UK last year. Organisations such as Chantelle’s Community Kitchen, Little Village and Wandsworth Foodbank in my constituency work tirelessly to fill in the gaps, but they say that there is increasing hardship and they are worried about the winter ahead. What impact does the Minister think that crashing the economy and unleashing a cost of living crisis have had on child poverty?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The common theme in all the questions that we have had on this substantive question is a lack of memory as to what happened under the previous Labour Government. Under that Government, we had 1 million more workless households and 680,000 more children in those workless households.

Keir Mather Portrait Keir Mather
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In the past six months, the Trussell Trust has issued 769 emergency food parcels for children in my constituency. In some schools that I visit, teachers bring food from their homes to feed hungry kids. Will the Minister step up and take responsibility for this, or, instead, move out of the way for a Labour Government committed to making child poverty a thing of the past?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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Heaven forbid that we do have another Labour Government, Mr Speaker, because I have just set out the case against the last one and their appalling record on poverty. When it comes to cost of living payments, those went to 8 million low-income households and to 6 million people with disabilities. There will be further payments of £300 for pensioners alongside the winter fuel payment in the coming months.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Dhesi
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I wish to draw your attention, Mr Speaker, to a very distressing case in my Slough constituency. A single mother, a victim of domestic violence, is struggling to pay her rent and meet basic needs due to cuts in her universal credit after being compelled to find part-time work. Her living conditions, including mould in her home, are very badly affecting the health of her children. Will the Secretary of State explain how current policies are helping to support such vulnerable families, and what immediate measures will he put in place to ensure that we do not have such dire situations of destitution?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I cannot comment on the specific case that the hon. Gentleman has put forward, other than to say that what he has described is of concern to me and I will want us to look into that extremely carefully. I will be happy to make sure that he has the appropriate time with the appropriate Minister—I think the Minister for Employment—to look into those matters.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
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In “A Christmas Carol”, published 180 years ago, Charles Dickens wrote of a world where children lacked shelter, clothing, heating and food. They were represented by a boy called Ignorance and a girl called Want. Dickens died in 1870 and we live in the sixth-largest economy in the world, so why, in 2022, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, did 1 million children experience the type of destitution he chronicled long ago? We have heard the Minister quote figures and programmes, and launch attacks on previous Governments, but simply, as a human, would he not agree that just one child living in destitution is one child too many?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that one child in destitution is one too many. One person in poverty is one too many. One person who is unemployed and badly wants a job to support their family is one too many. The question we have to ask is how best to go about improving those situations. I say it is through encouraging people into work and through those cost of living transfer payments for those targeted through universal credit, which his party originally opposed, so that we can help those who are most vulnerable and most in need.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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The cost of living crisis is plunging many families into destitution. We know from the JRF that 1.8 million households and 1 million children were plunged into destitution last year. Will Secretary of State use the upcoming autumn statement to bring forward the mortgage interest tax relief and action to tackle soaring food prices, and to reintroduce that £400 energy bill rebate? Otherwise, more and more children will fall into destitution. He has the power—will he respond at the autumn statement?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The hon. Gentleman raises mortgage payments in particular; we have extended the scope of the support for mortgage interest arrangements, particularly for those who have not long been on universal credit. I cannot comment on what may or may not be in the autumn statement, but I can assure him that the kind of issues he has raised are always at the centre of our thinking.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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5. If he will undertake a review of the Personal Independence Payment assessment process for people with multiple sclerosis.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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The Department closely monitors all aspects of the assessment process, including how we assess fluctuating health conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Following the publication of the recent White Paper, we are looking at ways to further enhance the delivery of personal independence payments to all disabled people.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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Orkney has the highest prevalence of multiple sclerosis anywhere in the world, so we have seen the problems caused by PIP assessments that do not cope properly with fluctuating conditions. We now have the adult disability payment in Scotland, but that still uses some of the same eligibility criteria. As the Minister carries out the review, will he speak to Scottish Ministers to make sure that we have a system that works for every MS sufferer, wherever they are in the United Kingdom?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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It is fair to say that I have a collaborative and strong working relationship with Ministers in the Scottish Government, and I would definitely be keen to talk them about the tests and trials that we are introducing, which I hope will help to better capture fluctuating conditions and help people to provide all of the right evidence as early as possible in the claim journey, so that we get people’s awards rights and make the right decisions. We should certainly look to work UK-wide where we can.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)
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Learning the lessons of our changes to special rules for the terminally ill and the principles of the severe conditions criteria should allow us to look at those who sadly have degenerative conditions such as MS and motor neurone disease. Will the Minister confirm that, as part of the testing and piloting, the Department is looking at the potential for automatic entitlement for those with degenerative conditions, which would lift around a quarter of a million people a year out of unnecessary assessments?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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My hon. Friend has been a strong advocate for the severe disability group work that we have been taking forward. I am pleased to be able to say that Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the British Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine have agreed to work in partnership with the DWP to test the SDG. Reducing the assessment burden where it is inappropriate, and ensuring that people get the right support and help, is the right thing to do.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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6. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the hospitality sector-based work academy programme in Cities of London and Westminster constituency.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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We are working with UK Hospitality and local providers up and down the country—from Liverpool to Manchester to Coventry; in London, of course; and also, to come, in Wales—to ensure that we have a hospitality work programme that provides employment training, work experience and a guaranteed job interview. It is free for all DWP jobseekers. It is early days, but the signs are promising.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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May I first thank the Minister for Employment for joining me this morning at Ben Venuti, a brilliant café and deli in Pimlico, to celebrate hospitality in Cities of London and Westminster? I am delighted that the hospitality SWAP pilot has been launched in my constituency, where we have thousands and thousands of hospitality jobs. One of the businesses involved in the pilot is the Raffles London hotel, just up the road at the Old War Office, which I visited with UK Hospitality recently. What further steps is the Department taking to ensure that the scheme benefits minorities and those struggling the most with the cost of living crisis?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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It was a tough ministerial visit to an award-winning coffee shop this morning—somehow, I missed the earlier hotel visit. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are driving forward that hospitality pilot to try to tackle the recruitment issues in that vital sector, which permeate all across the United Kingdom. She will be keen to know that every person who passes gets a hospitality skills passport, which we believe can genuinely make a difference across all age groups and all sections of the community.

Michael Shanks Portrait Michael Shanks (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab)
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7. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of work capability assessments for people with neurological conditions. [R]

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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May I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his place in this House? The work capability assessment is a functional assessment based on how a person’s condition affects them, not on the condition itself. Work capability assessors have training across a range of health conditions, including neurological conditions, and can access a range of resources that have been quality-assured by relevant external clinicians.

Michael Shanks Portrait Michael Shanks
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My entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests has not been published yet, but I am a trustee of an epilepsy charity. I thank the Minister for his welcome and for that answer, but for people with neurological conditions, particularly multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, the condition is not uniform. One week they might be affected in one way, and the next week in a different way. so the capability assessments have to match that so that they meet people’s capabilities as they are. The published consultation on reforming the assessments is still causing a lot of concern for people with those conditions, so what more can the Minister do to make it a holistic process that recognises people’s needs as they are?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I am not in a position to set out the outcome of recent work capability assessment consultation, but a key principle underpinning the test and trials that I touched on earlier is to take better account of fluctuating conditions, helping people to provide high-quality evidence as early as possible in the claim journey. We are spending a lot of time working with stakeholders to develop that work, and I would be very willing to have a conversation with the hon. Gentleman about that.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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10. What steps his Department is taking to support people in Essex into employment.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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Employment in Essex is up 4% on 2020 figures and better than in 2010. Full credit goes to the Essex jobcentre staff, who, working across the county with local skills providers, are providing real opportunities for local men and women. They held a 50-plus event in Witham recently, for example, and my right hon. Friend will be aware that there is a jobs fair in Maldon on Wednesday, just down the road from her constituency.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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My hon. Friend is well aware of the fact that Essex is a powerhouse when it comes to employment, job creation and economic growth. That said, many businesses are still frustrated because they find recruitment and training difficult. We have the autumn statement coming up, but will he touch on some of the cross-departmental discussions he has been having to look at how we can support businesses by lowering taxes, getting rid of regulation and red tape, and helping them to employ more people and grow the economy?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her question, and for her robust championing of Conservative values and support for businesses and jobs in her constituency and across Essex. We at the DWP are working across Government to ensure that we consider different ways of supporting jobs, investment, childcare support, higher-paid skills and pathways into work. The views of my right hon. Friend are strongly put, and I am quite sure that Treasury Ministers and the Chancellor will have taken due notice.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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11. What steps his Department is taking to reduce youth unemployment.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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The level of youth unemployment is down by 43.8% since 2010, and this Government remain committed to delivering targeted support to young people through our expanded DWP youth offer, providing comprehensive employment support for 16 to 24-year-olds claiming universal credit. That offer includes intensive support through the youth employment programme, youth employability coaches and youth hubs across Great Britain.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson
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I visit businesses on a weekly basis, and one thing they tell me in Ashfield is that they struggle to recruit apprentices. One of the barriers is the requirement for English and maths, because a lot of these young people would make great apprentices but they either messed about at school or have not had that support. What more can we do to get those young people into apprenticeships, and then support them with their maths and English at a later stage?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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We fund apprentices to achieve English and maths qualifications by the end of their apprenticeships. We understand how important they are for people’s long-term career prospects, and we are boosting the rate for those qualifications by 54% from January. We are also piloting flexible English and maths requirements for young people with learning difficulties or disabilities, to ensure that they are not overlooked when it comes to apprenticeship opportunities.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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Economic inactivity due to ill health has more than doubled for 18 to 24-year-olds over the past decade. Why does the Minister think that is? Could she also please look again at the closure of the local jobcentre in Halton Lea in my constituency because of building safety issues?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question—I will happily take away his second point, have a look at it and get back to him in writing. I want to assure him and the House that having DWP youth hubs together in one location helps those young people who have been going through very difficult times because of covid. They help local youth experts and local partnerships to come together and overcome those barriers, and ensure that young people have the skills and confidence sought by local employers to take up the opportunities that are around them, just down the road. It is really important that we are there to support them through those mixed youth hubs, which are a big focus for me and for our Department.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Sir Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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Anglo American and its contractors have just announced 70 new job opportunities at its Woodsmith mine just outside Whitby, with workshops both in Whitby and on Teesside for those interested. Does the Minister agree that these sorts of opportunities in the mining industry are just the sorts of opportunities that young people need to grasp with both hands?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, which goes back to the point about knowing what jobs are just down the road for young people, so that the labour market comes closer to home for them. That is what our youth employability work coaches do, and we saw that with the kickstart programme: 163,000 jobs were created by employers who want young people in their businesses. Their feedback shows that they absolutely got something from having young people in their businesses, and I appeal to employers to keep doing what is happening in Whitby.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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But the number of young people unemployed in Denton and Reddish is still far too high—the latest figures show a 7% youth unemployment claimant count, which is not good enough. Given that the share of young people not in full-time employment or education rose last year, what more is the Minister doing to make sure that young people in places such as Denton and Reddish get the life chances they deserve?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I absolutely agree that, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and more widely, it is absolutely right that young people get the opportunities they deserve. In fact, since September 2020 the DWP’s youth offer has seen over 600,000 starts. As I mentioned earlier, our comprehensive support for young people now encompasses those from age 16.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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The Minister began answering these questions by claiming credit for having better youth unemployment figures now than in the aftermath of a global financial crisis, which seems to me to be a low ambition. As she has heard, we have problems with inactivity and we have more young people who are not doing anything. What account can she give for the fact that, even after 13 and a half long years of Conservative Government, we have worse youth unemployment than Ireland, Norway and the Czech Republic, and that here it is double what it is in Germany and treble what it is in Japan? What on earth has gone wrong?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I think that is a reminder to continually speak up for opportunities for our young people. The current youth employment rate is 53.9%, up three percentage points since 2010. It has been my absolute mission in this Parliament, over the last four and a half years, to focus on young people, with around 140 new youth hubs to support the complex needs of young people. I humbly suggest that the hon. Member goes and looks at the changes that are happening, to see the difference being made in communities up and down the land. We are not writing young people off; we are making sure that we support them. I went to see a new youth hub only last week, and the work being done on housing and with partners is innovative. It means young people with smiles on their faces and their futures in their hands.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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12. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of benefit levels in the context of rises in the cost of living.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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The Government have never spent more on welfare and benefit support than we presently do. From April 2023, we uprated benefits by 10.1% and increased the benefit cap levels by the same amount. That is on top of the cost of living support that has been made to multiple households and individuals to address the rising cost of bills.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I thank the Minister for that answer, but he will be aware that the Trussell Trust has warned that food banks are at “breaking point”, as more and more people across the UK are unable to afford the essentials, with new figures showing that 1.5 million emergency food parcels were distributed through the charity’s network between April and September this year. Will the Minister therefore back its joint campaign with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation calling for an essentials guarantee within universal credit, to ensure that the basic rate at least covers life’s essentials and that support can never fall below that level?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The hon. Member will be aware that there has been £94 billion of cost of living support over and above the 10.1% increase in benefit rates. That support is over 2022-23 and 2023-24. For example, the winter fuel payment will be paid to the tune of £600 or £500 over the next few weeks.

Nigel Mills Portrait Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con)
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Would the Minister agree that the journey we have been on with benefit rates for the last decade and a half has perhaps been a little haphazard, and it is pretty unclear to most people exactly what basket of goods and services benefits are actually meant to buy? If the Minister does not agree with the case for an essentials guarantee, will the Government commission their own study to work out if benefits are at the right level?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which is clearly a matter for the Secretary of State and the Chancellor when they make their decisions on uprating, and I am sure they will take that on board. There are always ongoing discussions about how one assesses this process but, with respect, this is the system we have had for some considerable period of time.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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13. What recent steps his Department has taken to help disabled people to find and remain in employment.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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There are a range of initiatives for supporting disabled people to start, stay in and succeed in work. This includes disability employment advisers, the Work and Health programme, intensive personalised employment support, Access to Work, Disability Confident, the information and advice service, and support in partnership with the health system.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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Research by the charity Versus Arthritis has found that one in five people described as economically inactive have a musculoskeletal—MSK—condition. Arthritis and MSK conditions were the cause of over 23 million working days lost in 2021 alone. Will the Minister ask the Chancellor for additional support in the autumn statement, to help people with arthritis and MSK to find and remain in work, and will he meet me and Versus Arthritis to discuss this serious issue further?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I am always happy to meet colleagues to discuss such issues. It is fair to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put a real emphasis on this policy area in his previous spending announcements; no doubt he will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments in advance of the upcoming autumn statement. When we consider initiatives such as Work Well—our work in respect of occupational health and the consultations on that—we see that a lot of effort and energy have gone into recognising that retention is just as important as job starts.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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In his conference speech, the Secretary of State said there would be a revolution in employment support for people with health conditions and disabilities. Does this revolution include a backlog of 22,432 people waiting for an Access to Work decision, with an average delay of 48 days? Ministers need to get a grip of support for disabled people, rather than vilifying them. The Government’s lack of real action often prevents disabled people from working. Labour has a plan for delivery, so instead of endless reshuffles, why does the Minister not ask his boss to call a general election now?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I think I will pass up on the invitation at the end of the hon. Lady’s question. The fact is that this Government are concentrating on working hard to support more disabled people into work. We are unlocking that potential with all the help and support around it. The hon. Lady specifically mentioned Access to Work; we now have more than 500 full-time staff members working on that, compared with 375 in March. We are focused on prioritising job starts and streamlining things to make it easier for claims to be processed and for people to get support quicker, as well as that staffing increase. We have a comprehensive plan; the hon. Lady’s plan is hidden somewhere—I am sure we would all love to hear it.

John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP)
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14. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of Government support for pensioners in the context of rises in the cost of living.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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The Pensions Minister is unavoidably detained in No. 10, so they have wheeled out the old Pensions Minister to attempt to address the hon. Gentleman’s question. The reality of the situation is that April saw the biggest ever rise in the state pension, by 10.1%, thanks to the triple lock. Every pensioner is entitled to a winter fuel payment and will receive a cost of living payment this winter. The poorest pensioners will receive a £900 further cost of living payment.

John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally
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I thank the Minister for his answer, but many older people in my Falkirk constituency are living below or on the poverty line. Furthermore, 2 million older people in the UK live below the poverty line, with many more hovering precariously above it. Research by Independent Age has shown that older people are significantly struggling and urgently need additional cost of living support to help them through the coming winter. By expanding the eligibility criteria for the existing cost of living payments to people on housing benefits and those who receive a council tax reduction, we could help to support this group of older people who desperately need it. Will the Minister commit to that?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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With no disrespect to the hon. Gentleman, we have committed to that, which is why there is the £900 further cost of living payment, a doubling of the winter fuel payment and the highest state pension we have ever had. This Government are passionately supporting our pensioners and our most vulnerable on an ongoing basis.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Gill Furniss Portrait Gill Furniss (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)
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New figures on pension credit update have shed light on the catastrophic failure to get money to the people who desperately need it. Up to 880,000 pensioners are now missing out. Thousands of households would be so much better off and able to keep the heating on and food on the table this winter. Underpinning the figures is a huge drop in uptake among the under-75s, with a fall of up to 20%. With so many new pensioners seemingly unaware of their entitlement to pension credit, will the Government stop burying their head in the sand and get a grip now?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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It is good to welcome the hon. Lady to the Dispatch Box; I have not previously had the chance to answer her questions. We have undertaken TV campaigns, internet campaigns and campaigns on the radio, in print and on social media—the great Len Goodman assisted us in that regard before his passing—so there is fantastic support across all aspects. The hon. Lady should be aware that pension credit applications were up 75% in the year to May, and we have never had so many people as we are now seeking to encourage to apply. Absolutely, the Government are fully behind the pension credit campaign.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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15. Whether he has made an assessment of the potential impact of proposed reforms to work capability assessments on the (a) financial and (b) mental wellbeing of people with Parkinson’s disease.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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The Department has developed estimates of the number of claimants impacted by options considered in the work capability assessment consultation. Estimates are not based on specific conditions, because the work capability assessment is based on how a person’s condition affects them, not the condition itself.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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The proposed changes to the work capability assessment could actually see half a million people forced to look for work they are not cut out for and then at risk of sanctions. The proposed changes on continence, mobility and social engagement are putting thousands of Parkinson’s sufferers at risk of being denied the benefits they need, causing needless stress and financial pressures. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Parkinson’s UK to discuss the impacts on those suffering from Parkinson’s? Hopefully the Government will then change their mind on these cruel proposals.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that no decisions have been made. It is right and proper that the consultation responses are properly considered in the normal way. I would be happy to meet with Parkinson’s UK again; I met it previously, and it is an important stakeholder for the Department. We do think it is right that we look at the work capability assessment and review it periodically, not least because of the changes we have seen in homeworking and flexible working in recent years.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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16. What steps his Department is taking to support more parents into work.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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There have been transformational changes in childcare, skills, training and support for future employers, as announced at the spring Budget. It is absolutely the case that from April 2024, eligible working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare per week from the term after the second birthday, plus there will be the delivery of more support for working parents of children over the age of nine months with 30 free hours of childcare. There is nowhere in the world that compares with our childcare offer on an ongoing basis. We have virtually Scandinavian levels.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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I am a huge supporter of the bold action that the Government are taking to tackle the costs of childcare and get more parents into work. However, some settings in my constituency report that the rate the Government pay does not cover the full costs of providing that place, putting them in an untenable position. Can my hon. Friend work with me, alongside the Department for Education, to ensure that the scheme is fully working and that the childcare places are actually there to be able to take up this generous Government support?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am happy to convene a summit with the Department for Education, my hon. Friend and his unitary authority to discuss the ways in which we are ensuring that. We are already working in partnership with the DFE to deliver this campaign, and clearly the Government are committed to ensuring that the implementation of the expansion to 30 hours is dealt with in an appropriate and seamless way.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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17. What steps his Department is taking to expand the support available through jobcentres.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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I am on a one-man mission to support my hon. Friend, who is a doughty champion for Don Valley and getting more people into jobs in his Yorkshire constituency. It was a pleasure to visit his constituency recently and meet the jobcentre leads in his patch, to understand what we can do to drive forward greater employment. He will be aware of the £3.5 billion package of support across the country, some of which is being spent in Yorkshire.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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I thank members of Doncaster and Thorne jobcentres for the job fairs they have done, subsequent to my meeting with the Minister at Yorkshire Wildlife Park. Job fairs do a fantastic job. Does the Minister agree that many people in their 50s are busying themselves at home, when they could be having a wonderful second career like me? If he does agree with me, what can he do to help them jumpstart into a new career?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend will be aware of the 50-plus champions that we have up and down the country. The midlife MOT is being rolled out across the private sector and across jobcentres up and down the country. Older Workers Week is coming up, and there is no doubt that there are successes up and down the country of workers beyond retirement age who are doing amazing work, whether that is the 96-year-old shop owner I met in Macclesfield, or many of the others I have met in the past few months. These are great people whom we want to support into work on an ongoing basis.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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Last week, I received a letter from the Minister for social mobility, youth and progression, the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), saying that she intends to close down the Jobcentre Plus on Renfield Street, which was opened on a temporary basis in 2021. I know from having met the staff there that they have done a huge amount of work to get people in through the door—and in particular to work with employers—and into employment, including a programme for Ukrainians. Why does the Department want to throw that all away and close it down?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I think the clue is in the name: it was a temporary jobcentre during covid. I am happy that the specific Minister will write and further explain the situation.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to topicals.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) (Lab)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Mel Stride Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride)
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Given that remembrance is still fresh in all our minds, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the armed forces champions who work across our jobcentre network looking after armed forces personnel and their families. They do a fantastic job, and we should be very proud of them.

These are financially challenging times, but the DWP is up to that challenge, hence all the cost of living payments that we have been hearing about during questions. Inflation is coming down and real wages are beginning to move up. We continue to take a balanced and fair approach to encouraging employment, which has resulted in economic inactivity falling by about 300,000 since its peak, and almost three quarters of a million since 2010.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan
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The Trussell Trust has reported a 68% increase in the number of emergency food parcels provided to Portsmouth people in just one year. Does the Secretary of State agree that more and more people being pushed into poverty is not a lifestyle choice and that urgent Government action is required to tackle the cost of living crisis ahead of another difficult winter for constituents in my patch?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that poverty is not a lifestyle choice. We have gone through various statistics during questions, with 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty since 2010, 200,000 fewer pensioners in poverty since 2010 and 400,000 fewer children in poverty since 2010. We have also gone through the cost of living payments, the increases to the national living wage and all the other support that the Government are providing.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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T3. The good people of Kettering would like to know what proportion of working-age adults are neither employed nor actively seeking employment and what the Department is doing to reduce that.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for Kettering. He will be aware that 20.9% of working-age people are inactive, down 0.7 percentage points from last year and down 2.7 percentage points from 2010, showing that our drive to get more people into jobs is paying off. The UK now has a lower inactivity rate than the US, France and Italy. We are doing more every single day, but we are also aware that there is more to do.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab)
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The health of our nation is critical to the health of our economy, but after 13 years of this Government, both are in a dire state. The Secretary of State should know that the number of young people out of work due to long-term sickness has doubled on the Government’s watch, predominantly driven by poor mental health. Labour’s plan will recruit 8,500 more mental health staff, with support in every school and hubs in every community to tackle these problems early on. Because I am feeling generous today, Mr Speaker—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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So am I—at the moment. [Laughter.]

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall
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I would like to make the Secretary of State an offer. If he is serious about getting Britain working, why does he not swallow his pride, do the right thing and adopt Labour’s back to work plan?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The reason for that—I am feeling rather less generous—is that we have seen Labour’s plans in the past, and no Labour Government have ever left office with unemployment anything other than higher than when they came to office. Under the last Labour Government, we saw 1.4 million people parked on long-term benefits for over a decade, with many of them exactly as the hon. Lady described: long-term sick and disabled. Under this Government, we have near-record low unemployment, and we have 4 million more people on payroll employment than we had in 2010.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall
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I am afraid that the Secretary of State is living in cloud cuckoo land. Record numbers of people are out of work due to long-term sickness. We are the only country in the G7 whose employment rate has not gone back to pre-pandemic levels. It is not just young people but the over-50s. The Office for Budget Responsibility said that the rise poses a serious risk to our prospects for growth and the stability of the public finances. Where on earth is the Secretary of State’s plan to sort it out? Perhaps I am being a bit unfair, because it turns out that the Government can get the over-50s back to work, but only if they are former Prime Ministers.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I have been through this time and again. When Front Benchers want to have an argument, they need to come in earlier please, and not soak up the time of Back Benchers, whom I now need to get to urgently.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall
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Will the Secretary of State have a word with the current occupant of No. 10, and ask him to put as much effort into saving other people’s jobs and livelihoods as he does attempting to save his own neck?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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Very briefly, I have set out our employment record, which we are proud of. In his last Budget, the Chancellor set aside £2 billion to fund measures to tackle long-term sickness and disability. That includes a consultation on occupational health, the roll-out of universal support and Work Well, about which the hon. Lady will hear more presently.

Paul Maynard Portrait Paul  Maynard  (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con)
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T6.   The proportion of new claimants for incapacity benefits who receive the highest amount with no work requirements has gone from 21% 10 years ago to 65% now—an astonishing increase. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that following the proposed reforms to the work capability assessment, it will work as intended, and that those who want to work, and seek work, are able to get the help they need to do so?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I thank my hon. Friend for his typically astute question and for his advice in this area over a number of months. We have gone out to consultation on the work capability assessment. We have not come to our conclusions on how to move forward, but right at the centre of that will be a strong belief that if people can work, with our support and encouragement, that is the best of all outcomes.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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The freeze on local housing allowance is having a devastating impact on housing providers. Scotland’s Housing Minister wrote to the Secretary of State on 25 May to make that point and to make the case for restoring it to the 30th percentile. Why has he not replied? Will the Government use the autumn statement to raise it back to the 30th percentile?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I will certainly look into the letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I assure him that LHA and other housing matters are under constant review, and form part of the discussions that my Department has with the Treasury from time to time.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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T7. What steps is the Minister taking to help ensure that parents pay child maintenance and that the system is fair, particularly if there has been a difficult divorce or separation?

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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The Government are committed to ensuring that parents meet their obligations to their children and that the CMS has robust enforcement powers where parents refuse to pay child maintenance that they owe. The Child Support (Enforcement) Act 2023 received Royal Assent in July, and will substantially and rightly speed up that process.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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T4. Due to a series of errors made by the CMS, a constituent of mine has failed to receive child maintenance payments and is now on the brink of homelessness. I have been in contact with the DWP, but this case needs to be expedited. Will the Minister assure me that my constituent will receive their payment and will not be made homeless? Will she meet me to discuss this extremely important case?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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The hon. Lady is right; every child maintenance arrangement plays a vital role in ensuring that both parents play their part to support their children, whether they live with them or not. I am happy to take up that case urgently, on behalf of our noble Friend in the other place.

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)
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T9. Pension auto-enrolment has been a great success, but it has led to millions of people getting a new pension pot every time they change jobs. Millions of people now have multiple pension pots that they struggle to keep on top of, causing confusion and increasing costs. Does my hon. Friend agree that employees should have the option to save into a workplace scheme of their choice, enabling them to build up a pot for life—a pot to save in, not a pot to smoke?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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Automatic enrolment has transformed savings across the country. I welcome my hon. Friend’s strong support and his passion in this area. The pot for life model offers attraction, with the potential to help engaged individuals with their pension savings if it maintains the gains achieved under automatic enrolment. I am sure he will discuss that with the future pensions Minister.

Anne McLaughlin Portrait Anne McLaughlin  (Glasgow North East) (SNP)
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T5. If life is so peachy for pensioners and if the Minister really is as passionate as he says he is about supporting pensioners, why does Independent Age say that, despite the long list he has given, the uptake in pension credit is not reaching the people who need it the most? Why, in my constituency of Glasgow North East, are pensioners, who I am passionate about supporting, still missing out on several million every year? Will he use that passion to follow the Scottish Government and have a proper targeted benefit uptake strategy?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The hon. Lady will be aware that pension credit applications are up 75%. Clearly, we are trying to get that even higher. There is a nationwide campaign, which includes Scotland.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
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According to the latest figures, there are 1,825 households receiving pension credit in Banff and Buchan, but what more can we do as Members of Parliament to encourage more pensioners to apply?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend’s campaign in his constituency has been a massive success and I thank him for that. It builds on our nationwide campaign to support pension credit. There is much we can do to promote it locally, which I know my hon. Friend is doing, through our local councils, Citizens Advice and voluntary organisations.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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T8. Does the Minister share my horror at rising homelessness among refugees who have been granted asylum because the timescale from decision to their being transitioned to mainstream benefits is a mere 28 days? Will she meet me so that we can work together to stop those who have been granted the right to a new life here being forced to begin that new life in destitution on the streets this winter?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. Other ID forms are there to help claim sooner. Those granted refugee status have recourse to public funds and are able to apply for universal credit as soon as they can. DWP staff are instructed to consider all available evidence and work with the Home Office directly to confirm status where unsure. We are reviewing our public guidance to ensure that all those getting that status claim support as soon as possible.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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The cost of living payments from the Government are undoubtedly bringing real benefits to my constituents, but what support is available for those who are not eligible for that specific support?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity to mention the household support fund, providing local authorities with further funding which is discretionary for those most in need, particularly those ineligible for cost of living payments. The latest year-long extension in England runs to March next year. Buckinghamshire Council received nearly £4.8 million in its latest extension.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
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The proposals in the work capability assessment activities and descriptors consultation will mean some claimants will lose £390 a month if they are reassessed, pushing them even further into poverty. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State please explain this huge financial impact on low-income people with disabilities or a serious health condition?

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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No final decisions have been made. We have had the consultation and we will respond appropriately in the normal way.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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May we have specific detail on the help that jobcentres are giving to armed forces veterans, who must live with the consequences of decisions made by Governments?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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A very pertinent point after the weekend when we paid tribute in our local communities and after what we saw on the Elizabeth Tower. The DWP continues to work to identify universal credit claimants who are members of the armed forces community, with 11 dedicated forces champion leads and over 50 armed forces champions across our jobcentre network working with spouses and partners, too.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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Those Trussell Trust figures published last week made grim reading. Does the Secretary of State recognise that if working-age benefits are uprated by less than September’s rate of inflation in April next year, there will inevitably be another big surge in food bank demand and destitution?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The right hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. I take the uprating process extremely seriously, and, as he will know, I look at a number of factors, including the effects on poverty. However, as he will also understand, I am not able to comment on a parliamentary process that has not yet been concluded.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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May I ask a question about auto-enrolment and pensions? What can the Secretary of State do to build on our good record by extending and increasing the total amount that young people—I see that there are schoolchildren in the Public Gallery—who retire on defined-contribution pensions are likely to be able to save in their retirement?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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There are two key points here. Consolidation will make a massive difference, but more important is the transformation of workplace savings through auto-enrolment for young people. The figure has risen from below 40% to well over 80%, and it will get bigger as time moves on.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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For those who suffer from endometriosis, Crohn’s disease and colitis, incontinence is a daily challenge. For the purpose of the Government’s proposed changes in the incontinence descriptor, what capability assessment has been done, and was there any consultation with those sufferers?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I hear the point that the hon. Lady has raised. We have, of course, had the consultation, and many views were expressed. We will now consider those views very carefully, and come forward as appropriate in the normal way.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I take advantage of a rather quiet news day to ask if there is any way in which I can place on record the appreciation of right hon. and hon. Members for the wise advice, quiet efficiency and unfailing courtesy of Mr Peter Barratt, who recently left the service of this House after more than 30 years?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I made a statement last week to thank Mr Barratt for all his service, so it has not gone unnoticed and has certainly not been forgotten.

Debate on the Address

Monday 13th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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[4th Day]
Debate resumed (Order, 9 November).
Question again proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Building an NHS Fit for the Future

Monday 13th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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15:32
Helen Whately Portrait The Minister for Social Care (Helen Whately)
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It is a pleasure to open this debate on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, and to have the opportunity to speak about the long-term decisions that the Government have been taking for a healthier future for our country, for our national health service, and for our social care system.

We are building our health and care system for today and for tomorrow. We are increasing the capacity of the NHS and social care systems, boosting primary care and community care, investing in diagnostics and in treatments, building our NHS workforce with the long-term workforce plan and building our social care workforce with our 10-year vision, putting people at the heart of care. We are giving people choice and control over their health and care, and investing in the facilities and technology that need to be at the forefront of care and sustainable for the long term. We are driving reforms to prevent ill health, joining up health and care in integrated care systems and delivering a shift towards prevention and proactive care, keeping people out of hospital and enabling them to live independently in their communities.

Every day since last winter, we have been planning and preparing for the challenges that lie ahead this winter. The first ever NHS long-term workforce plan underpins our plans for the future of the NHS. It will double the number of medical training places, almost double the number of adult nursing places, and expand GP and allied health professional training numbers, giving the NHS the staff it needs for the future, creating new roles, building new training pathways and delivering a huge boost in diagnostic capacity.

By the end of this year, we will have opened 160 new community diagnostic centres. That is the biggest investment in MRI and CT scanning capacity in NHS history. Community diagnostic centres will bring care closer to home, on high streets, in supermarket car parks and at football stadiums. They have already done more than 5 million tests and scans, getting patients faster diagnosis for cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions. That is not all we are doing to diagnose conditions faster. The number of people receiving blood pressure checks at local pharmacies has more than doubled, reducing thousands of people’s risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

We are expanding primary care, too. There are now over 30,000 more primary care professionals working in GP practices than in March 2019. We will deliver 50 million more GP appointments by the end of next year and we are investing more than £200 million in tech to end the 8 am rush for GP appointments. Pharmacy First will give people another choice, giving pharmacists the power to prescribe treatments for seven common conditions, freeing up as many as 10 million GP appointments, and as we put test results on to the NHS app, that will free up GP time again.

That is also one of the ways that this Government are giving patients more choice and control. Just as we are going to give people more choice in where they are treated when they are referred by their GP for specialist care, we have committed to giving patients a choice between by five providers so that they are treated based on what matters to them—be that shorter waiting times, seeing a particular doctor or getting care closer to home. We have given patients who are waiting more than 40 weeks the right to request treatment elsewhere, making better use of available capacity across the NHS and bringing in more capacity from the independent sector.

On patient choice, there is a clear dividing line between the Government and the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition calls the Welsh Government the blueprint for what Labour would do in power, yet in Wales, under a Labour Government, there is no legal right to patient choice, and patients there wait on average five weeks longer for treatment than in England. We know where Labour’s plans would lead. We just need to look at its Welsh blueprint: less choice for patients, longer waiting lists and more bureaucracy for doctors and nurses who just want to get on with the job.

Before the most disruptive industrial action in NHS history stalled progress, we were reducing the longest waits. Last summer we hit our target to eliminate two-year waits for planned operations. This June we had virtually eliminated waits longer than 18 months. We are spending more than £8 billion between 2022 and 2025 to increase elective activity, including opening over 140 new surgical hubs to deliver 2 million more operations. We are investing almost £6 billion in beds, equipment and technology, and this year we started preparing the NHS for winter sooner than ever before.

Back in January, we published our recovery plan for urgent and emergency care, setting clear targets to improve A&E waiting and ambulance response times and using £1 billion of dedicated funding to provide 5,000 more permanent staff beds and 800 new ambulances. We are seeing results. In October, average category 2 ambulance response times were more than 90 minutes faster than in the same month last year. Delayed discharges have been coming down and we have brought forward flu and covid vaccinations, protecting the most vulnerable from illness this winter and reducing the likelihood that they will need hospital treatment.

A strong social care sector is also vital this winter and into the future. That is why we have made up to £8 billion available over this year and next to boost adult social care across the country. This is enabling local authorities to buy more care packages and help more patients to leave hospital on time, together with 10,000 “hospital at home” beds which mean that patients can receive their care where they are most comfortable, recovering in their own homes with support from secondary care when they need it. Through social prescribing, thousands of people up and down the country are benefiting from activities such as reading circles, choir groups, walking and football. We are driving reforms to the intermediate and proactive care framework, which sets out how local systems should support adults who need support after discharge, freeing up hospital capacity for those who need it most and giving people more care as they need it—in their community, away from A&E and out of hospital.

We are rolling out technology that will give patients life-saving treatments now and in the future. By the end of the year, every stroke network in England will have AI technology that can examine brain scans an hour faster, cutting stroke patients’ risk of suffering long-term consequences by as much as two thirds. What is more, almost half of NHS acute trusts have won a share of £21 million to invest in AI, accelerating the analysis of X-rays and CT scans for suspected lung cancer patients. That will save radiologists’ time, boost efficiency and cut waiting times. For the long-term, we are investing a further £100 million to use AI to unlock treatments for diseases that are incurable today, be they novel treatments for dementia or vaccines for cancer.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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Can the Minister say something about the availability of new and specialist drugs that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is not recommending? Will an effort be made to make these specialist drugs, which in many instances are effectively regarded as miracle cures, available for cystic fibrosis and cancer treatments, for example?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I know how strongly families and patients feel about this. It is not for me, as a Minister, to step on the independence of NICE, which has a remit to take those decisions. I am sure that the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and other Ministers in the Department will continue to listen to the concerns of families about access to those treatments.

If we want to fully embrace preventive care, we must tackle the single biggest preventable cause of ill health, disability and death, which is smoking. Unlike drinking alcohol or eating fatty, salty or sugary foods, there is no safe level of smoking. It causes almost one hospital admission every minute, one in four cancer deaths and 64,000 deaths a year.

Four in five smokers start by the time they are 20, so the best thing we can do is to stop young people smoking in the first place. That is why this Government will automatically raise the smoking age by one year every year, so anyone who is 14 or younger today will never be able to buy tobacco legally. Increasing the smoking age works. When it rose to 18, smoking rates dropped by almost a third in that age group. Restricting choice is never easy, but this time it is the right thing to do. Existing smokers will not be affected, but the next generation will be smoke-free, saving thousands of lives, reducing pressure on the NHS and building a brighter future for our children.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
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I hear what the Minister says about the Government’s commitment to this policy, but can she explain why the Government are allowing a free vote rather than whipping Back Benchers to vote for Government policy?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I am not going to stand here and explain whipping policy, which is not my job as a Health Minister, but I am delighted to see the potential of this legislation. As with so many other worthwhile Government policies, such as increasing funding for the national health service, I would be delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members support this policy.

We are also cracking down on the alarming rise in vaping among children. There is no doubt that vaping is safer than smoking and is a terrific tool to help adult smokers quit, but, like Members across the House, I am concerned that one in five children has tried vaping, which can be hugely damaging to their health. The whole House knows that no child should be using nicotine.

The rise in youth vaping is no coincidence. Disposable vapes are consistently marketed at children and are available at pocket-money prices, with many retailers ignoring their duty not to sell them to young people. With more than 5 million being thrown away every week, disposable vapes are also damaging our planet. We are acting now to protect our children and our planet. We are looking at banning child-friendly flavours, restricting colourful packaging and mandating that vapes are displayed only behind the counter. We are also exploring a ban or a restriction on disposable vape sales and empowering local authorities to dish out on-the-spot fines for selling vapes to children. All these proposals are being developed with parents and teachers across the UK, and they will strike a balance between giving adult smokers a choice to switch to vaping and preventing our children from taking it up.

I recognise the disappointment that the mental health Bill was not included in the King’s Speech, but I can assure hon. Members that this Government are committed to achieving genuine parity between mental health and physical health, improving the care of those detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 and bringing forward the Bill when parliamentary time allows.

We are not going to wait for legislation to make change. We will continue to pilot models of culturally appropriate advocacy, providing tailored support to hundreds of people from ethnic minorities to better understand their rights if they are detained under the Mental Health Act. This comes on top of the record investment and staff numbers we are putting into mental health. Since 2010, the mental health workforce has grown by more than 20%, and by March we will have invested over £2 billion more in mental health than four years ago, meaning that 2 million more people, including more than 300,000 children and young people, will benefit from mental health support.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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One of the biggest issues raised by every school I visit in my constituency is mental health support, and I am disappointed not to see the mental health Bill in the King’s Speech. Will it be addressed in any other way? Where is it?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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As I said a moment ago—let me remind the hon. Lady of this—we are not waiting for legislation in order to bring forward mental health reforms. That is why, for instance, we have already been rolling out mental health support teams in schools. We are already ahead of schedule on that; we are giving a quarter of England’s school and college children access to mental health support teams a year ahead of schedule. In addition, thanks to this Government, dormitory accommodation for mental health patients will soon become a thing of the past.

It has been a pleasure to work with the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), and a huge honour to work with my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) as part of a Government taking the long-term decisions to build a health and care system for the future, one with more doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physios and care workers, better mental healthcare for adults and children, more proactive care in the community, greater capacity, the newest technology and more choice, where conditions are diagnosed quicker or prevented altogether, thus helping people to live longer and healthier lives.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

15:46
Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)
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I congratulate the Minister on being the great survivor of the Department of Health and Social Care. She must surely be due a carriage clock or the long service medal by now. The only long-term decision for a brighter future seems to be that she is still in her place, although she did not offer much of a brighter future.

More positively, I see far more than one nervous face on the Government Benches—I see lots of nervous faces among those contemplating the next general election—but one is undoubtedly that of the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell). I congratulate him on his election and wish him well for his maiden speech, which I can confidently say will be the best speech we hear from those on the Conservative Benches all day.

At a time when patients cannot get a doctor’s appointment, families are struggling to pay the mortgage and major conflicts are having an impact on our economy and security, the Prime Minister has spent the past five days deciding whether to sack his Home Secretary for publicly disobeying him, undermining the police and inflaming tensions on our streets. Finally, having had the sheer poor judgment to have appointed someone to such high office when she had already been forced to resign for a serious national security leak, he has summoned up the guts to sack the worst Home Secretary in history. Yet, as we see, the merry-go-round of the Conservative clown show continues. After 13 years, the Conservatives have run out of names at the bottom of the barrel, so they are starting all over again. May I offer my sympathies to the Conservative Members who did not get the call from No. 10 today? What kind of message does it send to their constituents that their own party leader cannot find a suitable candidate for Foreign Secretary among the 350 Conservative MPs who sit in this House?

The arsonist has today returned to the fire, because when it comes to the national health service, Lord Cameron has quite a lot to answer for as the architect of austerity and the biggest top-down reorganisation in the history of the NHS—a £3 billion disaster that has led straight to the biggest crisis in the history of the NHS. That is before we even begin to take into account his record of ushering in the “golden” age between Britain and China; taking 20,000 police officers off our streets; and having food bank Britain leave more than 1 million people dependent on charity to feed themselves and their families. That is Lord Cameron’s legacy and as the current Prime Minister admits, “some mistakes were made”. Who is he trying to kid when he tells us that this recycled Conservative Government offer the change our country needs?

I would welcome the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) to her position, but of course she is not here this afternoon, having just been appointed earlier today. She is the fifth Secretary of State for Health and Social Care that I have faced in this job in less than two years, although, to be fair, two of those appointments were the right hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay). The Government said they would make

“Long-term decisions for a brighter future”,

but they cannot even deliver a long-term Secretary of State for Health.

We know where the Secretary of State is—she will be in the Department being briefed about the challenges of the job and being brought up to speed. No doubt she and new Ministers will want to review the decisions she is inheriting and to start to think afresh about whether she wants to proceed with those decisions as they have been working through the machine. That is why it is so grossly irresponsible to change Ministers every five minutes and constantly churn from one face to another, when it is clear to everyone but the Prime Minister that it is not just a change of faces around the Cabinet table that we need, but a change of Government.

As the Secretary of State sits in the Department being briefed by her civil servants, I will help them out with the induction by offering her a primer on what she inherits: millions of patients a month unable to get a GP appointment when they need one; 24 hours in A&E—not just a television programme, but a reality for far too many; ambulances not arriving on time, if they arrive at all; the 12th month of the worst strikes in the history of the National Health Service; NHS dentistry in managed decline, to the point where people are forced to pull out their own teeth—DIY dentistry in 21st century Britain; a generation of young people who have paid the price for lockdowns with their mental health, forced to wait years for the support they need; the longest waiting lists and the lowest patient satisfaction in history. That is the record of the Secretary of State’s seven predecessors: failure, upon failure, upon failure, upon failure, upon failure, upon failure, upon failure.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that list of failures—it is shocking. I would like to add to the list that over 2,000 autistic people or people with learning disabilities are detained in inappropriate units, when this Government promised over 10 years ago to close them all down.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting
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I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. As I make progress through my speech I will come back to the breath-taking complacency about mental health we heard from the Minister a moment ago.

Given the scale of the crisis and given that the Prime Minister has made fixing waiting lists one his five priorities, hon. Members might have expected something in the King’s Speech to deal with it. Instead, we got nothing on the NHS as it heads into its most challenging winter yet and we got nothing on social care, just kicking the can down the road and delaying reforms until after the election. There was nothing on dentistry, despite even Conservative Back Benchers crying out for a rescue plan, and nothing on mental health, despite the Conservative party committing to reform, not just in its last manifesto but in its last two manifestos.

It was the longest King’s Speech in almost a decade, with the fewest Bills. Does that not just sum up the modern Conservative party? Plenty of slogans, but no solutions. What we got was a Bill that will not come into effect until after the general election and a sack-the-nurses Bill. On the tobacco and vapes Bill, the question is not whether Labour will support it, but whether the Conservative party will support it. Government Members will remember that I first proposed that smoking ban back in January. I say they will remember, because they made their feelings known in newspapers at the time. They called it “nanny state” and

“an attack on ordinary people and their culture”.

They accused me of “health fascism”. Well, they can now make their considered and nuanced views known to the new Secretary of State—I am sure she is looking forward to receiving them. It just demonstrates that where Labour leads, the Government follow.

The Prime Minister may be too weak to whip his Back Benchers to vote that crucial measure through, but on the Opposition Benches we will put country first and party second. Labour MPs will go through the voting Lobby and make sure that the legislation is passed, so that young people today are even less likely to smoke than they are to vote Conservative.

I am afraid to disappoint the Government, but we will not be supporting the other Bill in the King’s Speech that relates to health. Most people look at the crisis in the NHS and think it needs more doctors and nurses. The Conservative party looks at the health service and concludes that we need to sack more doctors and nurses. The Government are saying that public servants should be sacked for failing to provide minimum standards on strike days, but the Government have not met the four-hour A&E standard since 2015; they have not met the standard for treatment within 18 weeks since 2016; and they were doing so badly on meeting cancer waiting time standards that they have simply got rid of the standards altogether. If the Conservatives are proposing to sack doctors and nurses for failing to provide minimum service levels, can we now sack Ministers for failing to meet minimum standards on non-strike days?

The new Health and Social Care Secretary has an opportunity to break with the past year. Strikes are crippling the NHS and they are putting patients in harm’s way. Her predecessor may have thought that they were a useful excuse for his failure, but they were, and are, a misery for patients and staff alike. The Government must stop the scapegoating of NHS staff, go into these negotiations with good faith, work at finding a solution, and, finally, bring these strikes to an end. There will be no progress on turning around our national health service until the Government make some progress.

When summing up I hope the Minister will explain why action was not taken on the Mental Health Act 2007, because, I am afraid, the Minister’s opening remarks were entirely unsatisfactory. The Bill has gone through Committee. It has cross-party support. It is ready to go, so where is it? The treatment of people with learning disabilities and autism under the current Act shames our society. The disproportionate impact on black people, who are four times more likely to be sectioned than white people, is appalling. Prisons and police cells are no place for people with mental ill-health. Surely that is not controversial in 2023. It is, as the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), said, “a burning injustice”. I cannot understand why the Government have broken their promise to address that matter finally.

It is long past time that mental health was treated with the same seriousness as physical health. Labour will not only reform the Mental Health Act in our first King’s Speech, but recruit thousands more mental health professionals, provide hubs in every community, and set up mental health support in every school, so that young people can get the help they need when they need it. [Interruption.] The Minister says that they have done that. What planet is she living on? This is the problem with these Ministers. Even when the faces change, the lines remain the same. The Minister has not changed, but she is still reading from the same failed script. This is the problem with the Conservative party. Its message to the country is simple: “You have never had it so good. Everything is going really well. The reason we are churning all the Ministers in our Cabinet is that they are doing such a good job. It is job done and time to give someone else a chance.” I am afraid that that is why these Conservatives are so out of touch and will struggle at the next general election if their message to the country is that it has never had it so good.

Furthermore, unlike this Government, who crashed the economy in the most reckless way, we will pay for our policies, making sure that they are fully costed and fully funded—in this case, by ending tax breaks for private schools and private equity fund managers. Politics is about choices: Labour chooses the wellbeing of the many, not the interests of the few, and we will fight the election on those lines any time. I say call the election tomorrow, because we are ready.

When it comes to dentistry, I should also say farewell to two former Ministers, the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Harborough (Neil O’Brien). As the hon. Member for Harborough departs Government, I hope that he does not take with him his pledge to bring forward a recovery plan for NHS dental services. It has been seven months since he announced that such a plan would be forthcoming, yet it is now nowhere to be seen. Indeed, last week, integrated care systems were given permission to raid their dentistry budget underspends and to remove the ringfence. That follows a pilot in Cornwall, trialling making NHS dentistry available only to children and the most vulnerable. It is the managed decline of NHS dentistry before our eyes. If people want to know what the future of the NHS would look like with five more years of the Conservative Government, they need only look at the ghost of Christmas past in NHS dentistry. The Conservatives blame the previous Labour Government, but they have been in power for 13 years. In 2010, we stood on a manifesto committed to reforming the NHS dental contract. They have had 13 years to do it, and they have failed again and again, leaving us in the situation that we are in today, with Dickensian stories of desperate people performing DIY dentistry and tooth decay being the most common cause of children aged six to 10 being admitted to hospital. It did not need to be this way.

I say to the new Secretary of State and her team that she may not have a plan, but Labour does, and she is more than welcome to nick it. We will deliver 700,000 more urgent appointments a year, recruit dentists to the areas most in need, introduce supervised toothbrushing in schools to prevent children’s teeth from rotting, and reform the NHS dental contract so that everyone who needs an NHS dentist can get one—

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting
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The Minister says, “Is that it?”. It is 700,000 more NHS dentistry appointments than her Government are providing. It is ridiculous. The extent to which Ministers continue to parrot these ridiculous lines is embarrassing. If they want to intervene, make my day. I am perfectly prepared to confront any Member with their own Government’s record. Of course, they do not want to defend the Government’s record; they have a hard enough time doing that on the doorstep.

Turning back to His Majesty’s Gracious Speech, there may not have been any Bills for the health service last week, but we did see the white flag being waved on the Prime Minister’s pledge to cut waiting lists. Hospitals received a letter telling them to cut the number of operations and appointments they are aiming to offer this year. At the same time, an extra funding pot was announced, so we are literally paying more and getting less. No wonder the NHS is in such a state. No wonder waiting lists have trebled since 2010. No wonder hundreds of thousands more patients are waiting for treatment today than when the Prime Minister first made his pledge.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I want to make a plea for those 10,000 young people with cystic fibrosis, who have to take multiple medications and endure daily physiotherapy, blood tests, X-rays, and hospital visits—waiting on many occasions—as part of their normal routine just to stay well. The shadow Secretary of State and the Labour Opposition have given a commitment to endeavour to do better for the NHS. Will he do better for those 10,000 young people who have cystic fibrosis?

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention. I am deeply concerned about the situation facing children with cystic fibrosis in particular, given that there is radically life-extending treatment available that offers the hope to those young people not just of longer, happier, healthier lives, but of reduced admissions to hospital. It is right that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence makes those judgments in a rigorous way, looking at the evidence. I hope that it will be successful in bringing down the price of those drugs by negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies to make sure that we can get affordable drugs to families who desperately need them and are desperately anxious that the announcement they have read about means shorter lives for their children. No family should go through that agony, and I hope that a resolution can be found.

The Government and the previous Health Secretary got into the habit of stealing Labour’s policies—I say that not as a complaint, but as an invitation. It is clear that the Government do not have a plan to cut NHS waiting lists, but we do: £1.1 billion will be paid straight into the pockets of hard-pressed NHS staff to deliver 2 million more appointments a year at evenings and weekends, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status, because patients need treatment more than the wealthiest need a tax break—[Interruption.] Conservative Members groan when we mention charging non-doms their fair share, they groan when we talk about closing private equity loopholes and they groan when we talk about taxing private schools fairly. They did not groan when taxes went up on working people. They did not groan when benefits were cut for the poorest people.

We know who the Conservatives are in it for. They are in it for the few; we champion the interests of the many. That is the Labour difference. We believe strongly that people who live or work in Britain should pay their taxes here too. There is still time for the new Secretary of State to lobby the Chancellor ahead of the autumn statement. This genuinely is an oven-ready plan, unlike some of the plans we have heard from the Conservatives, and I encourage the new Secretary of State to nick it.

After 13 years, we have an NHS that gets to people too late. We have a hospital-based system geared towards late-stage diagnosis and treatment, which delivers poorer outcomes at greater cost. We have an analogue system in a digital age. We have a sickness service, not a health service, with too many lives hampered by preventable illness and too many lives lost to the biggest killers. It could not be clearer: the longer we give the Conservatives in power, the longer patients will wait. This was an empty King’s Speech from a Government who have run out of road, run out of steam and run out of ideas; a Conservative party too busy tearing itself apart to govern the country; a Prime Minister who cannot decide whether it is time for a change or to go back to year zero.

The future of the NHS after another five years of the Tories is emerging before our eyes: a two-tier health service, where those who can afford it go private, and those who cannot are left waiting behind—our NHS reduced to a poor service for poor people; our country viewed as the sick man of Europe. It does not have to be that way. The Prime Minister was right when he said,

“It’s time for a change”,

but only Labour can deliver it.

Labour has a different vision for our country in which no one fears ill health or old age; people have power, choice and control over their own health and care; the place people are born, or the wealth they are born into, does not determine how long they will live or how happy their lives will be; patients benefit from the brightest minds developing cutting-edge treatments and technology; and children born in Britain today become the healthiest generation that ever lived.

Only Labour has a plan to get the NHS back on its feet and make that vision a reality: a plan to cut waiting lists, delivering 2 million more appointments a year; a rescue plan for NHS dentistry, delivering 700,000 more appointments, recruiting dentists to the areas most in need, introducing toothbrushing for three to five-year-olds in schools and having an NHS dentist for all who need one; a plan to double the number of scanners so that patients are diagnosed earlier; a plan to recover our nation’s mental health from the damage of lockdowns; a plan to cut red tape that ties up GPs’ time, so that we can bring back the family doctor; a plan for the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history—a plan so good that the Government adopted it and gave us a head start; and a plan to reform the NHS to make it fit for the future. To those who say that that cannot be done and that things cannot be better, I say this: the last Labour Government delivered the shortest waiting times and the highest patient satisfaction in history. We did it before and we will do it again.

It is not a change of faces we need but a change of Government. It is time to call a general election and give the British people the choice: more of the same with the Conservatives or a fresh start with Labour. Call a general election now, so that Labour can give Britain its future back.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We come now to a maiden speech, so there will be no interruptions. I call Steve Tuckwell.

16:07
Steve Tuckwell Portrait Steve Tuckwell (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to deliver my maiden speech. Many words have been dedicated to this summer’s by-election campaigns and the subsequent result in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, so I hope you will allow me to add just a few more words based on my own experiences, rather than the conjecture offered by many commentators.

Let me begin with ULEZ—the ultra low emission zone—and its expansion across outer London. It will come as no surprise to anyone that this is not the first time I have mentioned those four letters in this Chamber. Even though the extended charge zone has now come into being, I stand here—no longer the local candidate, but the Member of Parliament—still determined to fight the Mayor of London’s money grab and reduce the burden placed on my residents and local businesses.

For me, however, the by-election was about much more than ULEZ and its unnecessary expansion. It was about a variety of local issues, such as securing a new hospital, keeping Uxbridge police station open, providing further support for childcare places, and protecting our green spaces for future generations. It was a by-election campaign fought on multiple local issues of substance. So, rather than dwelling on ULEZ, may I suggest that what also drove residents to the polls was the motivation to have an MP who understands the needs of the community, who appreciates the complexities of the community, and who is truly embedded in the community?

Since 2018, I have served as a local councillor for the London Borough of Hillingdon. Hillingdon Council is well respected, and in some cases even envied, for its consistent year in, year out performance in core services that residents expect, be they weekly waste collections, which are quite rare these days; refurbishing libraries, not closing them; and being one of the greenest boroughs in London, with 67 green flag awarded parks and open spaces. All of this and more is achieved through Hillingdon Council’s continual focus on sound financial management that puts residents first. I pay tribute to the leader of Hillingdon Council, Councillor Ian Edwards, and his executive cabinet, as well as Sir Ray Puddifoot—the former leader for over two decades—my fellow councillors, both past and present, and of course the officer team and frontline teams across all departments who deliver great services for their residents and my constituents.

During the by-election, Uxbridge and South Ruislip saw intense campaigning, with a media frenzy and a whopping 17 candidates, but being the centre of attention is not something new for my constituency. Uxbridge is home to the Battle of Britain Bunker—one of the most popular heritage destinations in my constituency for visitors near and far. The bunker played a key part in the allied defensive network across Britain during the second world war, and it was from that bunker that No. 11 Fighter Command was controlled. No. 11 Fighter Command, based in Uxbridge, played a crucial role in securing victory during the battle of Britain. Indeed, it was at the entrance to the bunker that Winston Churchill first uttered his famous words,

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

He repeated those profound words in this very Chamber four days later, on 20 August 1940.

A bunker mentality was right for that time, but now is not that time. This is a time not to hunker down and hide away, but to face the many complex challenges that face us here in the UK and across the globe. The Prime Minister, the Government and my party are quite rightly looking at the long term, and have outlined clear and decisive policies that are designed to tackle the challenges we face. They are not easy decisions, but decisions that build on the long-term horizon, rather than easy short-termism that has no foundation or substance. I was elected to stand up for the interests of my constituents. I was born and raised in the constituency that I now have the privilege of serving as an MP.

A number of years ago—probably a few more than I would care to admit—I was born at Hillingdon Hospital. The hospital holds a special place in my heart: my children were born there, and there have been plenty of visits and treatments for myself and my family over the years. I pay tribute to the entire team at Hillingdon Hospital, past and present, as they continue to demonstrate exceptional professionalism and dedication to the surrounding communities. Much has been said about the condition of our hospital, some of it rather harsh and sensationalist in the heat of by-election campaigning. With that in mind, I am incredibly proud of the work that has been completed as part of the delivery of a new hospital for Hillingdon. Thanks to the combined efforts of all involved, including the local NHS trust and Hillingdon Council, work has begun on delivering that new hospital.

I pay a specific tribute to my predecessor, Boris Johnson, for his tireless efforts in support of Hillingdon Hospital during his time as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. He campaigned continuously for the funding to be secured and for the project to become a reality. That was one of many local campaigns that Boris championed across the constituency, and I thank him for his dedication in supporting many businesses, charities and community groups. While developing a new hospital is a large and complex project, I look forward to working with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that we can deliver long-term positive health outcomes and a state-of-the-art new hospital for my constituents.

To be stood here among these historic and world-famous green Benches is a great honour. It is incredibly humbling to follow in the footsteps of John Randall, who back in 1997 also became MP for Uxbridge as a result of a by-election. I am incredibly thankful for his advice and support on my journey to becoming an MP, and I hope to achieve as much as he did when he represented Uxbridge and South Ruislip. To be the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip—the place where I was raised, where I have worked and where I live—representing friends, neighbours and strangers alike is a true honour. Immediately after the by-election, my work as an MP started: meeting some of the many faith and cultural groups that make Uxbridge and South Ruislip such a vibrant place to live, and visiting many local businesses that help keep residents in good, decent jobs and contribute to keeping our high streets bustling.

I thank the Hillingdon chamber of commerce for its engagement so early on. It is clear that we share the goal of supporting our businesses and keeping our community thriving, as well as encouraging other businesses to set their roots in our local economy. There are some fantastic businesses from small, home-based entrepreneurs and medium-sized exciting businesses such as Mills Ltd in Cowley, which is supporting gigabit infrastructure through the supply of essential tools and equipment, to a number of large national and international businesses such as Coca-Cola, Hertz and Brunel University, which all create employment opportunities for local people.

One of my priorities for Uxbridge and South Ruislip is to support business and promote our high streets. I am looking forward to taking this further through building on the work this Government have already done to protect businesses against the pressures of the cost of living. This includes a tax cut for 38,000 British pubs earlier this year through the Brexit pubs guarantee, and to ensure that our fantastic local pubs—like my local, the Middlesex Arms in South Ruislip—remain at the centre of the communities they have helped for many years. [Interruption.] A pint tonight, yes!

As I have already mentioned, much has been written about the by-election campaign. Even though local issues ultimately won over attempts to frame it with a national outlook, I want to take this opportunity to declare that I will be a Member of Parliament for all residents regardless of how or if they voted. I am incredibly proud of Uxbridge and South Ruislip and its civic pride from our active community-focused residents’ and volunteering groups to our dynamic, hard-working charities such as the Daniella Logun Foundation, which does amazing work to help children and their families with brain tumours and in raising awareness of childhood cancer.

As I have already said, we are a truly vibrant community, and through my priorities—they include a new Hillingdon hospital, securing even more police officers, protecting our green spaces, delivering improved special needs provision, supporting local businesses and improving our high streets—I stand here ready and determined to do all I can as a Member of Parliament to ensure that my community remains a great place to live, a great place to raise a family, a great place to work and a great place to grow to grow old in.

Mr Speaker, as I am sure you are aware, old habits die hard, so as a former postie, I will continue to deliver for the people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Thank you.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the SNP spokesperson.

16:17
Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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It is of course an absolute pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell). He made a very compelling maiden speech, although maybe not quite as compelling for me as a nationalist following him.

It is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of my party in a debate centred on our NHS. Few know more about the NHS than the man who contributed to its present-day financial struggles, the new Foreign Secretary, who obviously is not here because he is not elected to this place. It is incredibly unfortunate that this big set-piece event in the parliamentary calendar did nothing to address the increased privatisation in NHS England. Perhaps that is something we can look forward to being addressed in the autumn statement, but for now I will summarise the issue that was overlooked in the King’s Speech.

Privatisation is creeping in through the back door in NHS England, and while health is devolved and we have our own NHS in Scotland, this has dire consequences for our NHS in Scotland through Barnett consequentials. The reality is that money spent by the British Government on England’s NHS dictates how much the Scottish Government have to spend on our NHS up the road. Despite cuts to Barnett consequentials for our NHS in Scotland, the Scottish Government are continuing to invest in new and innovative ways to reduce health inequalities and to protect our NHS for future generations.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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My colleague in the Scottish Parliament, the MSP for North East Fife, Willie Rennie, has raised the issue of a £10.9 million funding shortfall in NHS Fife, and that is before we see the winter surge. Does the hon. Member agree that, although we might see higher spending in Scotland, there are failures in how the SNP is delivering for our health services there?

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan
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I thank the hon. Member for her contribution, but I would say that there are definitely structural funding issues because of being tied to this financial Union, which is the point I was just about to make. I hope she recognises that, and will maybe reflect on the fact that being part of this Union does have dire consequences.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. I remind the hon. Lady that she has to face forward.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan
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The First Minister’s pledge of £300 million to cut NHS wait times is an example of the fantastic work that the SNP Scottish Government are doing. There will be 100,000 fewer patients on our NHS wait lists come 2026, because of that incredible investment.

Despite the year-on-year reduction in Barnett consequentials for health, NHS Scotland staff remain the best paid across these isles. What does that look like in practice? A band 2 porter in Scotland earns £2,980 more a year than their counterpart in England, and a band 5 nurse in Scotland earns £3,080 more a year than their counterpart in England. This is all despite the increased privatisation in NHS England. Under the SNP, the Scottish NHS fares much better than its counterparts across these isles, but under the current funding structures only the UK Government can deliver the funding necessary to get the NHS back on its feet. Down here, the Treasury gives money to private companies to provide a service for NHS England. That means less capital investment into NHS England, which means less money for the Scottish Government to spend on NHS Scotland.

I have always found the monarch’s speech quite baffling, but particularly so over the past few years, with so many broken promises and so many shallow, unfulfilled commitments. I think of promises to ban conversion therapy, commitments to reach net zero and pledges for a mental health Bill. The Government think my party does not respect this place, yet it is them who make a mockery of it by not fulfilling the policy agenda that they set for themselves. Perhaps this threadbare King’s Speech is perfect for them: less to fail on.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I thank the hon. Lady for her empowered speech. One issue with Barnett consequentials is that although Scotland perhaps is not getting its full complement, Wales does, and I am grateful that it does, but Northern Ireland does not. We have asked for the Barnett consequentials for Northern Ireland to be looked at and reviewed to enable us to be at the same level as Wales; perhaps the hon. Lady would like to see that for Scotland.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan
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I absolutely would like to see the same for Scotland. The Barnett consequential system in itself is quite frustrating, because we do not see the full complement we should get because of how the British Government exercise spending decisions. I would absolutely like to see a different funding structure exercised down here. The way it is spoken about is complicated in itself, and a bit of truth around that would be useful.

I have been struggling with the image of the King delivering his speech from his gilded throne while innocent people in Palestine are dying. It feels a ridiculous thing for this Parliament to have been focusing on. We are witnessing the biggest humanitarian crisis that many, if not most of us, have ever seen. It bears witness to how soulless this British Government truly are. Children are dying, refugee camps are being bombed and hospitals are being destroyed. For each second that Members throughout this House fail to call for a ceasefire, more innocent people are dying in Gaza.

Not just a humanitarian pause but a ceasefire is necessary. Riham Jafari of ActionAid Palestine so aptly described the difference between a humanitarian pause and a ceasefire:

“What use is a four-hour pause each day to hand communities bread in the morning before they are bombed in the afternoon?”

Innocent men, women and children in Palestine continue to die. I make a plea to colleagues on both sides of the House: walk through the Lobby with us on Wednesday night to vote for a ceasefire. They need you to show leadership. We need to show leadership and vote for the SNP’s common-sense humanitarian amendment to the humble address.

In preparation for this debate, I found myself reflecting on the words inscribed on the mace of the Scottish Parliament: “Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity”. The mace is not just about tradition, and it is not a bit of a pantomime like in this Parliament. In Holyrood, the mace is there to signify the relationship between the people, the Parliament and the land.

No institution better represents the link between the people and the state than our precious NHS, but being tied to this financial Union means that our NHS is suffering terribly. We have workforce shortages, medication shortages and equipment shortages—shortages, shortages, shortages. I got into politics because of the rampant health inequalities I saw in my part of the world when I took unwell as a teenager. We all know health outcomes are impacted, whether directly or indirectly, by the quality of our support network. I saw first-hand the effect of poverty on outcomes. That is why I am so proud that our SNP Scottish Government implemented the young patients family fund, which helps to prevent income from being a barrier for families being able to support a young person through ill health. Scotland is leading the way in transforming lives and outcomes with that fund.

It would have been nice to see some flickers of hope and progress woven through the King’s Speech, but given the British Government’s lack of willingness to learn from good practice elsewhere on these isles, it is relatively unsurprising not to see it. The pomp and pageantry of this place, its traditions and its reactionary main parties seem to me to be a distraction from the real work and hard conversations that neither of the two main parties want to have. Instead, we have a celebration of the dance we call debate in this place.

I will now reflect again on the words inscribed on the Mace of the Scottish Parliament. Let us take a look at each and see whether they apply to the British Government. I will start with the wisdom that is being shown—or not shown—in this place where Brexit was forced through, despite the broken promises it was built on. What has come with that wise decision endorsed by both the Government and the Labour party? We have severe medicine shortages, meaning that people are unable to access vital treatments such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs and hormone replacement therapy, as well as a shortage of staff to supply and distribute them. That oven-ready Brexit deal that the public were promised was lacking one key ingredient: wisdom. My constituents in East Dunbartonshire applied wisdom in advance when they overwhelmingly voted to remain within the European Union, but the structure of the Union meant that their voice was ignored.

Moving on to justice, where is the justice in there being so many material changes of circumstances since the 2014 referendum, while the British Government continue to deny the people of Scotland the right to choose our own future? Some might say that that is an injustice.

Moving on to compassion, there are many ways in which I could question the compassion of this place, but there is nothing more timely or truly horrific than the ongoing attacks on civilians in Gaza. We are witnessing the biggest humanitarian crisis many of us have seen in our lifetimes, and this place has rightfully expressed compassion for those killed and suffering in Israel, yet the compassion is lacking for those children in Gaza. Each day that this place fails to unite behind a ceasefire, children die. Where is the compassion for those children?

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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Would the hon. Member get behind a unilateral or a bilateral ceasefire?

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan
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I would get behind a ceasefire. We are talking about a ceasefire.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan
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Yes, with both sides stopping. The hostages should be returned to Israel and we should see a ceasefire. I think that is relatively straightforward, is it not?

Finally, moving on to integrity, integrity should be the foundation of politics. Having trust that manifestos will be implemented and that policy agendas, such as the King’s Speech, will be taken through Parliament in the form of legislation is the bare minimum that folk at home expect. Instead, the British Government have thrown integrity out the window. It will be interesting to see, over the next parliamentary year, how much of what was in the King’s Speech is actually delivered.

I received a desperate appeal from the Linda Norgrove Foundation—it is named for a brave British aid worker murdered by the Taliban—for the UK Government to reopen the Afghan citizens relocation and resettlement schemes to allow 20 female Afghan medical students to come to Scotland specifically to complete their studies. It is now clear that the Taliban will never reopen schools and universities to girls. These young women are now prisoners in their own home, unable to show their face in public or to leave the house without a male guardian. Many live with the terrifying threat of forced marriage. The Linda Norgrove Foundation will pay for them to get here, and the Scottish Government have readily agreed to waive their tuition fees so that they can finish their studies. The only thing stopping these women from finding sanctuary in the UK is the British Government’s refusal to open the Afghan citizens relocation and resettlement scheme and create a legal pathway for them to do so.

That simple change would save 20 incredible women from brutal oppression at no cost to the British Government at a time when our NHS is also in desperate need of qualified doctors. I cannot think of a reason, other than performative cruelty, why the Government would withhold that permission.

I will once again say these words that are so sorely lacking down here: wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity. What could not be clearer is that Scotland’s NHS is not safe while we are tied to the financial structures of Westminster. Broken Brexit Britain is damaging our precious NHS through workforce shortages, equipment shortages and medication shortages. I look forward to a day when an independent Scotland rejoins the European Union, leaving broken Brexit Britain behind.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. As you can see, there is a lot of interest in the debate. We will try to proceed without a time limit, but I will give an indicative amount. If Members do not go wildly over eight minutes, we should get everybody in. Let us give that a go to begin with.

16:31
Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
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Waiting lists are rightly one of the Government’s top priorities. To the best of my knowledge, Mr Deputy Speaker, you could not perform a knee replacement—one of the most waited-for operations—and if I were to give you £1 billion, I suspect that you would still be unable to do so. Too often, debates focus on money and how much has been put into the NHS—the Government have put record amounts into the NHS—but it is about more than money; it is about people.

On this, the 75th year since the NHS was founded, the workforce plan is a milestone in the NHS’s history, and one that I am very pleased to see. It is an essential step towards creating a more productive health service where we can expand training and recruitment while retaining the amazing pool of talent that we have in the NHS. My constituents will be particularly pleased to see the plans to increase the number of dentistry students by 40%, because many are struggling, as has been said, to see dentists. We will also double the number of GP training places by 2031, which is welcome.

These changes will take time, because doctors take a long time to train. One of the first things that the Conservative Government did was to put in place steps to open the new Lincoln medical school. It has opened and is training doctors, and it will not be long before the first new doctors will graduate, which is excellent news for my constituents. I am also pleased for my constituents that we have got a new diagnostics centre opening in Grantham, which will accelerate patients’ diagnoses and treatment.

I have been pleased to hear in the last few days about the streamlining of processes for clinical trials. That will help us to find the new treatments and diagnoses that will be the miracle cures. The Health and Social Care Committee recently visited Singapore, where we met a professor who had identified the benefits of chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy and treated Oscar, the little boy from Worcester whom many of us will remember from the news. Thankfully, he has recovered from his leukaemia. Such groundbreaking, world-beating discoveries will be made only if we make it easier to conduct safe clinical trials. However, we also need to look at how we incentivise people to do them.

The NHS has advertised roles for equality and diversity staff at more than £90,000, yet there is currently an advert for a professor of synthetic biology at Cambridge University—they will lead global clinical research—for a little over £67,000. We need to look at how the state values the people who will bring about world-leading discoveries and how it can support them in their quests so that our brightest children will want to do that not just through moral desire but, essentially, to turn their A-levels into cash.

The NHS has been crippled by strikes this year, and more than 1 million appointments have been cancelled. That is not helping with waiting lists, and patients are being left to suffer. Cancer diagnoses are being delayed, and patients’ conditions, when they are in pain, are being left unrelieved. As a paediatrician, I understand the desire for better working conditions and more money, but I cannot understand morally the desire to leave patients behind in order to achieve that. Morally, I do not agree with the strikes and I support the Government’s prioritising patients and their commitment to maintaining minimum service levels during industrial action.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that people often forget about the huge amount of pension rights quite understandably provided to people in public service? Junior doctors who are continuing their action do not take account of the huge benefits that they will accrue in later life.

Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Johnson
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I should mention that I have an NHS pension, but my right hon. Friend is right. The Government took a big step earlier this year to improve pensions, by changing the tax regime to make it easier for more senior doctors to remain at work and not feel they have to give it up because of punitive tax levels. Ultimately, doctors are paid well—they could be paid better, of course—but for me it is a moral question: morally, I do not think it is right to leave patients in order to advocate for more money.

I am pleased by the steps that the Government are taking to crack down on tobacco products. The proposal will not please everyone, but it shows the Government’s boldness and earnestness when addressing public health issues. Prevention is better—and usually far cheaper—than cure. A preventive approach to smoking will reduce the burden on our healthcare system and improve people’s quality of life. Colleagues will not be surprised to hear that I am especially pleased by the Government’s commitment to restrict the sale and marketing of vapes to children. I am glad that the Government have included some of my proposals in their upcoming consultation on vaping, including regulating their flavours, branding and visibility in shops, as well as giving local authorities the power to issue on-the-spot fines for those selling them to children.

I am glad that the Government are consulting on banning the sale of disposable e-cigarettes, which time and again have been the vape of choice for children. I was shocked by figures published last year that found that 1.3 million vapes are thrown away every week in the UK. Subsequent figures released in September show that, staggeringly, in the space of just one year that number has more than tripled to 5 million every week. Those disposable vapes would fill this Chamber from top to bottom twice over every single week—heaven forbid, Mr Deputy Speaker. That is the scale of the problem we are dealing with.

The UK risks falling behind if it does not seize the agenda quickly. I eagerly await the results of the Government’s consultation, as I know many colleagues do. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find issues on which figures from across the political spectrum are strongly aligned, but I am confident that the House will unite behind the Government’s recent proposals on vaping.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making some compelling points. It strikes me that disposable vapes are often available at the point of sale where we used to find things such as chewing gum and packets of Polo mints. That makes it very easy for children to access them. Does she think that regulating point-of-sale products is a massive tool to tackle the problem? Let us remember that established tobacco companies have to have their multi-use vapes on sale behind the screens that tobacco is sold behind.

Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Johnson
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I completely agree that putting vapes where children can see them makes them more available and makes children want them more. That is why they need to be in plain colours and flavours and out of the sight and reach of children. My understanding is that that is part of the Government’s consultation, and I hope they legislate and make regulations as soon as they can.

Overall, the King’s Speech is a good one, and I am proud to support it.

16:38
Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
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First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell) on making his maiden speech. Having mentioned his local boozer, he will no doubt be forever welcomed there with open arms. I welcome him to his place and thank him for his speech.

I note the historic event last week of the King making his first Gracious Address as sovereign. It is just a pity that the speech written for him by the Government was so thin, with little content and little vision. It was a clear demonstration that the Government not only are running out of steam, but have none left at all.

People know that I have campaigned on mental health for many years. It is 11 years since the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and I spoke, in a mental health debate, about our own mental health. I think attitudes have changed for the better over that period, and it has clearly moved up the political agenda. I was therefore, like a lot of campaigners and professionals, very disappointed that the reform of the Mental Health Act 1983 was dropped from the King’s Speech. The Act is outdated and archaic in parts, and its language is more fitting to the Victorian era. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) said, in some cases it is leading to people with learning difficulties and autism being locked in the system for many years, without any voice to raise their plight.

The Minister, in her address, seemed to dismiss that as though it was somehow not important, but depriving people of their liberty is a very serious thing. To deprive somebody of their liberty, you have to ensure that they not only have rights, but care. My concerns about the Mental Health Act relate to those with autism and learning disabilities, some of whom have been locked in the system for years without a strong advocate. There are people in the criminal justice system locked into a Kafkaesque system that we have created. The Minister more or less threw that aside. I am sorry, but if you are a black teenager in the criminal justice system or an adult with learning difficulties, the system needs reforming and it needs reforming now.

It is not as though the Government started with a blank sheet of paper. We had Sir Simon Wessely’s excellent review in 2018. The Government made a manifesto commitment in 2019 to bring forward legislation. There was a draft Bill last year and a Joint Committee to scrutinise it. One would have thought it was a clear priority for the Government to move the issue up the political agenda, but what we have had from the Department of Health and Social Care is not just no Bill, but inaction. The Joint Committee spent a great deal of time looking at the Bill and put forward 36 recommendations. Ten months later and they have not yet even been answered by the Government. This is not just the Government abandoning the Bill and a broken Conservative party manifesto promise; it is a dereliction of duties. Politics is about priorities and, for me, this is a priority. Some 50,000 people a year are sectioned under the Mental Health Act. For some, I accept, it is life changing. For others, however, it leads to a system that they get into and cannot get out of. It is right to reform the Act and it is absolutely shocking that that is not in the King’s Speech. It will certainly be a commitment for the next Labour Government. I and many on the Labour Benches will make sure it is a commitment.

The Minister, in her Gatling gun approach to her speech, was more or less saying that it does not matter because everything else is okay in mental health. I am sorry, but it is not. In April 2022 we had, with much fanfare, the 10-year mental health and wellbeing plan. Over 5,200 individuals and mental health charities responded to a consultation, only to find out in January this year that it had been completely scrapped. The Minister talks about mental health being a priority, but the facts do not support that. Unless we have a proper joined-up approach to mental health, we will not get on top of the issue of individuals who need help, or have a system fit for a modern country such as the UK.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on raising this matter. Throughout my time in the House he has spoken up significantly for those with mental health issues, and he understands the subject very well. One group who seem to fall below the radar are veterans. In Northern Ireland, a large number of people who have served in the forces suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those veterans who are suffering greatly must be a priority in addressing mental health?

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As a former veterans Minister, I did a lot about veterans mental health. We now have a disjointed system with a veterans Minister who, in Trumpian style, says that everything is perfect and everything is working, when it is clearly not. We need to ensure that veterans receive the best mental health care in their local areas, and that means adopting a joint approach.

If we are to get on top of the nation’s mental health, that must be done through a public health approach. It must be done at local level, and it must ensure that public health takes a lead. Less than 2% of the mental health budget is spent on preventive work, which needs to be done not just in schools but in communities generally. Fortunately for my constituency, a new initiative has been launched in Chester-le-Street where GPs and local community groups divert people from mental health services by securing them the help they need, and I congratulate those who are involved.

Tobacco affects mental health, with 50% higher smoking rates among those with a mental illness and two-thirds higher death rates, so I support the movement for a smoke-free generation, although I note that the Government will not ask their Back Benchers to support the policy because they know they will not receive it. Action also needs to be taken on illegal sales of counterfeit tobacco, but that cannot be done in the present circumstances, because the number of local trading standards officers has been cut by 52% since 2009. We need to ensure that more money is put into trading standards and policing. The Government keep saying how wonderful it is that we have extra policing, but in fact County Durham has 140 fewer police officers than it had in 2010. It is important for us to have the enforcement side, because without that some people will be driven into the illegal tobacco market, but we cannot see it as a silver bullet that will justify cuts in public health budgets. We need continued, dedicated local smoking cessation programmes, because without them we will not make the strides that we want to make.

I shall say something on two other issues. First, on leasehold reform, let us look at the facts, as opposed to what the Government are saying. The Government have given the impression that this reform will affect every leaseholder, but it will not; it will apply only to new buildings. There is no roll-out of the commonhold for new flats, which constitute the majority of leasehold properties. This outdated feudal system needs to change. There will be a great many disappointed people who, having assumed they would suddenly be given more rights, then find otherwise. Let us be honest: this has been fuelled by the Government’s right to buy scheme, which is being used by Persimmon and other big house builders as a way of making extra cash, mainly at the expense of the taxpayer and those poor individuals.

Secondly, on transport, I have heard the references to the Network North plan. I will not dwell on it too much, because I do not believe anything in it. We know that 85% of it has already been announced, but some of those announcements have been withdrawn very quickly. In the north-east, for example, the Government argued that the Leamside line, which would help my constituency of North Durham, would be reopened, only for that announcement to be withdrawn within 24 hours. I doubt that many of these projects will see fruition.

With my role on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I welcome the investigatory powers reforms, which will be important in ensuring that the right safeguards are in place for the way our security services collect bulk data, and in bringing some of the oversight up to date. It is also important that the Government work closely with the ISC—something they did not do on the National Security Bill that went through in the last Parliament. We are still waiting for a response to some of our arguments around how the ISC is run. This legislation will be important to ensure that we give our security services the necessary powers to protect us all, and to ensure that we get the proper oversight.

This will be the last King’s Speech before the general election. It was half-hearted and full of gimmicks that were designed to be eye-catching, but it has no long-term plan for the future of our country. That is the disappointing thing, and that will only change when we get a change of Government at the next general election.

16:51
Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell) on a superb election victory and on a great speech from a real local champion. That result shows how important it is for the Government and the Mayor of London not to get ahead of public opinion on green energy. We all want more green energy but it must be economically driven and we must take the general public with us. I am afraid that the Mayor of London, certainly in outer London, has not taken the public with him. In Lincolnshire we have an aspect of green energy that affects my constituency, with 10,000 acres ringing Gainsborough to be put under solar panels. That will involve a huge loss of agricultural land, enough to feed the city of Lincoln every year. We all want solar panels as long as it is proportionate, but 10,000 acres ringing one small town in Lincolnshire is overdevelopment.

The advantage of the King’s Speech debate is that we can range quite widely, and in the few minutes I have, I shall raise a few general points. We have a new Foreign Secretary, a new Home Secretary and a new Health Secretary. The challenges facing the Foreign Secretary are enormous, both in the middle east and in Ukraine. On the earlier intervention, I am all in favour of a ceasefire, but it must be by both sides, and there is no intimation yet that if Israel were to announce a ceasefire, Hamas would follow suit. If Hamas are now prepared to commit themselves to a permanent ceasefire with Israel and respect the right of Israeli citizens to live in peace and tranquillity, I am sure we can have a negotiation on that basis, but I do not see that happening.

We also need to have a tone of compassion for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people are not Hamas. I was quite impressed by what President Macron was saying on this. The Israeli Government have the right to defend themselves, but it must be in proportion, and I think we are all devastated and concerned about the plight of women, children and babies in Gaza. The Israeli Government have to deal with this issue in a proportionate way.

On Ukraine, I do not suggest a ceasefire, because that would simply benefit President Putin, but if there is a stalemate, I am not sure that we can go on thinking that we can solve the problem by pouring in more and more weaponry. Eventually there will have to be some sort of settlement.

This is a debate primarily about the NHS. We in Lincolnshire suffer from a poorly performing NHS. I have constituents—people of my age—who have paid taxes all their lives and who suddenly fall ill, go to A&E in Lincoln and have to stay there for 24 hours, often in pain and difficulty. More and more doctors are insisting that people who want an appointment have to go online, and fewer and fewer doctors are providing prompt face-to-face service. The NHS simply cannot continue as it is.

We have a new Health Secretary and, as I have said before, I think we need fundamental reform. Frankly, our counterparts on the continent, in France, Italy and Germany, get a much better service. We have to look at some sort of social insurance system by which people who pay taxes all their life are entitled to treatment within a certain period and, if they do not receive that treatment, the state will assist them to go private.

I have made the point many times that a previous Conservative Government gave tax relief for private health insurance. This Government have not progressed that idea, which I do not think would be a wildly popular one, but we have to do something. The NHS is consuming an ever-larger proportion of the national budget and delivering a worse and worse service.

Over the next 12 months up to the general election, I hope the new Health Secretary will think big ideas to try to give people, particularly those of pensionable age, some right to the healthcare that they have paid for all their life and that they do not get at present. Having more children brushing their teeth at school under a putative Labour Government will not solve the problem; it is far greater than that.

Of course, we also have a new Home Secretary, who has an enormous challenge. I have confidence that he will speak up for Conservative Britain and Conservative voters who are deeply unhappy about the very high levels of both legal and illegal migration. It is completely unsustainable to carry on with the current net migration rate of some 600,000 people a year, which is overwhelming our services, the NHS, housing and everything else. It is said that we need these people to work in the NHS or in care homes, but we need to provide proper wages so that people who already live in Britain want to work in the NHS or in care services.

We should not allow employers to think they can solve their problems by constantly importing labour from abroad. There is a simple solution to help solve this problem. The average wage in the UK is about £34,000 a year and, at the moment, a person can enter this country for a job paying £26,000 a year. If we said that migrants have to earn a minimum of, say, £34,000 a year, we would bring in high-quality staff and not undercut our own indigenous labour.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Jayawardena
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have a structural problem because of our country’s ageing population, and that we need to have more children in this country so that we meet our replacement rate for the first time since the 1970s?

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh
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I have made a personal contribution by having six children. They are all now in their 20s and 30s, and they are finding it unbelievably difficult to get on the housing ladder. The Government really have to solve this problem. We cannot just fill this country with more and more people so that our young people cannot get on the housing ladder and cannot find a place to rent.

I am a bit dubious about reforming how landlords can evict tenants. I just want supply-side reforms to ensure there is more housing coming on to the market for young people to rent. I want the Government to be far more proactive on building houses, if necessary in grey areas on the green belt. That might not be universally popular with my colleagues, but we certainly have plenty of room in Lincolnshire. If people want to come up to Lincolnshire and build houses, they are very welcome. We will do our bit.

I am very dubious about the smoking ban and, as a libertarian, will vote against it. It will not solve the problem, and I believe it will result in a massive increase in criminality. Every time we ban something, we simply increase the criminal class. I am not sure a ban is even enforceable. In 50 years’ time, old boys will go into a tobacconist and say, “I am 64 years old and am entitled to buy cigarettes, but my friend here, who is 63, cannot buy cigarettes.” It is ridiculous, and it is not enforceable. I do not smoke, and smoking is decreasing all the time. The people who smoke are heavily taxed. I do not believe we can solve this or any other problem by banning things. Conservatives have to be primarily about freedom. They have to be about low taxation and deregulation. We have to give something for our own people to vote for, which is why I have talked about these issues and, in particular, curbing legal and illegal migration. I am a victim of that, as is the Home Secretary, because the previous Home Secretary was going to open a camp for asylum seekers in his constituency. I do not know whether the Home Secretary is still going to do that; if he decides to row back on that idea in his constituency, I hope he will not close that camp in Essex but keep open the putative camp at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, as that would be completely unfair. Being a fair-minded person, he will not do that, I am sure. I shall be knocking on his door soon to say that we need a compromise, as we cannot have 2,000 illegal migrants overwhelming local social services. After that brief run around the King’s Speech, I am sure you will be grateful if I now sit down and let others have a go, Mr Deputy Speaker.

17:00
Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)
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Let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to follow the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). I also welcome the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell), who will make his maiden speech; he will know that we campaign in slogans but we sometimes have to make difficult decisions when we represent our constituents, as we have seen with the international issues taking place in Israel and Gaza.

I say to the right hon. Member for Gainsborough that we are talking about a ceasefire not only to enable the hostages to be released, but to stop the killing of innocent civilians. When organisations such as the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development cannot even enter Gaza and do the work they need to do, and when 44% of the United Nations workers have been killed, we have to do something. We cannot sit back and do nothing, which is why I will add my voice to the calls for a ceasefire to enable our brilliant diplomats to try to find a solution to this intolerable situation. People may have seen what took place at the weekend, but let me say that I was writing this speech and I just could not carry on, as it was incredibly upsetting to see babies’ bodies lined up—that is just a horrific thing. They have done absolutely nothing; they have just come into this world, and for what—just to be dead? Parents and all sorts of people are facing incredible difficulties, not being able to eat or drink; doctors are even unable to carry out operations.

We have had the first speech of our gracious sovereign and he set out the Government’s business until the next Session, with 21 Bills proposed. They do not represent the urgency of what is needed, and I want to focus on energy and climate change, public services and empowered local government, and keeping us all safe through the criminal justice system. In the gracious sovereign’s speech, the Government say they want to strengthen the UK’s energy security, but there are no measures set out to bring down bills. Onshore wind projects have recently stalled, as there are no new applications, so investment is being driven abroad. However, new licences for oil and gas are set out in the King’s Speech. Despite 13 years of North sea licences, only small amounts of gas have been found—the equivalent of nine weeks of usage; we are talking about 12 fields and nine weeks. Despite six rounds since 2010, only five new fields have been discovered, and the Sillimanite gas field is 30% owned by the Russian gas giant Gazprom. How is that making us secure?

His Majesty’s Opposition’s Gracious Speech, which we hope to produce fairly soon, will include the energy independence Bill. That will include a target to achieve clean power by 2030—we have nothing from this Government on targets. We will bring forward the planning and regulatory reforms for clean power by 2030 and establish “Great British Energy”, a new home-grown publicly owned clean power generation company with a mandate to produce profit-free power for our citizens. All of that will cut energy bills, create good jobs, ensure energy security and protect the planet for future generations.

Our children are choking and dying from inhaling particulate matter. Dr Sarah Moller from the University of York found that the people who experience the highest levels of nitrogen oxide emissions are those who live nearest roads and in areas of higher density—deprived communities—so what did the Government do? They cancelled a major transport project that would have enabled people to use high-speed trains for capacity and connectivity. To make things more difficult, the Government have done a U-turn. Ticket offices are there to help people use trains; the Government want to close them. Accessible train stations should be a right for people with disabilities. That is what I am trying to ensure with Bescot Stadium station. Our next Gracious Speech will have a Bill on energy independence.

We have seen the recent pronouncement of the Bank of England that the economy is flatlining. Inflation, mortgage costs, and food and energy prices are creating a crisis in every household. There was nothing in the speech to help those on the frontline who are providing statutory services. The Government-funded part of local authority spending has fallen in real terms by 52%. Instead of giving local authorities a grant based on a formula that calculates need and deprivation, the Government have retained funding and purport to dish it out by ensuring that local authorities have to bid against each other for a particular fund. Most local authorities are struggling to provide child protection and other statutory services, but there was nothing in the speech to deal with the issues surrounding vulnerable children, which have increased since the pandemic and have had a major impact on local authority budgets. Local authorities are on the frontline, and they should be in a position to provide these services face to face. They are there to support our constituents, not to close down or turn people away. Again, there was also nothing in the Gracious Speech about NHS waiting times or decent wages for staff.

There was also a lack of clarity in the Gracious Speech regarding the criminal justice system, which is collapsing, Mr Deputy Speaker—and he will know as a former barrister. Some 90% of crimes are going unsolved. Arrests on thefts are down 40% on just a few years ago. Shoplifting has reached record levels. Those who work on the frontline in supermarkets are suffering abuse. The charity Retail Trust found that 40% of workers—two in five—face abuse from customers weekly. Those workers were the ones who helped us through the pandemic. I saw a gang when I was in a local convenience store, looking at the CCTV. I was wondering what the owner of the shop was looking at. Basically, someone had wheeled up a van, and lifted a clothes bank and took it away. That is what is happening now. We still have 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police. In Labour’s first Gracious Speech, His Majesty’s Opposition will put 13,000 more neighbourhood and police community support officers on the street. We want to introduce respect orders, with criminal sanctions for antisocial behaviour.

The Government have not even looked at prisons; there was no mention of those difficulties in the King’s Speech. I asked a prison governor in my constituency, “What’s the capacity in your prison?” He said, “99%.” I said, “What should it be?” and he said, “70%.” That is what is happening, and it has to be dealt with. We need a return to extended court sittings to address the backlog of cases, and we should perhaps bring back Nightingale courts, which we used to have. We need to see respect for the rule of law. The legal system needs proper representation for all, and it is vital, as you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that both sides are represented. Judges are having to fill in for claimants and for the defence because they need to explain procedures to people, so that they know exactly what will happen to them.

There was also not a single word in the Gracious Speech—I did check—about public services, apart from a statement that public service estimates will be laid; there was nothing about how to deal with the present crisis. We have a dithering, do-nothing Government. The biggest discussion is whether a Minister or Secretary of State should be sacked. We told the Government about the Northern Ireland protocol. They then had to put it right, and rename it, and that came in only in February this year. We told them about the Horizon programme, and how our brilliant scientists were being prevented from continuing to take part, until finally the Government agreed that we should get involved in the Horizon programme. It is so difficult for scientists because they have to plan ahead and apply for grants. Yet only in September this year did the Government agree on the Horizon programme. They dithered about it, and could have saved everyone time. Some 28% of music industry workers have not had any work in the EU for the last two years.

I know people say, “So what are you going to do?”, so I want to set out what will be in His Majesty’s Opposition’s King’s Speech: breakfast clubs, so all children can benefit from a good start; getting the NHS back on its feet by cutting waiting lists, delivering out-of-hours treatment and doubling the number of scanners to provide faster treatment; and getting Britain building again, with 1.5 million homes built in five years and first-time buyers being allowed to bid for those houses in their local community.

I walked past the flats that were there for the Commonwealth games village. They are lying empty and I would like to know what is happening with them. Homeless people are being put up in hotels, when those flats are lying empty and should be used.

We need to switch on “Great British Energy”, a new British company giving us cheaper bills and new high-paid jobs; and to take back our streets from gangs, drug dealers and fly-tippers, with stronger policing, guaranteed patrols in town centres and more criminals put behind bars. That is what will be in His Majesty’s Opposition’s King’s Speech.

Finally, I know the Prime Minister is very interested in “Star Wars”—he is a “Star Wars” geek—so I say this to him: “Red 326 standing by.”

17:10
Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about the NHS and our nation’s health and wellbeing. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to prevention and early detection of disease. For the long-term stability and affordability of our NHS, it is vital that there continues to be a laser-like focus on diagnostic centres and more medical staff. The stronger role for pharmacists is very welcome, but there is still so much more that we need to do to provide adequate GP provision and dentistry. That is acutely felt in my Gosport constituency.

I have spoken many times in this House about childhood cancer, which is the biggest killer by disease of children under the age of 14 in the UK. Early detection is more crucial here than almost anywhere, yet over 50% of children’s cancers are missed in primary care and picked up at A&E, meaning longer, harsher and more invasive treatment, along with a long-term impact on the children themselves, their families and loved ones, and the NHS as well. There are no long-term impact studies in the UK, but studies by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States reveal that everyone who has undergone treatment for cancer as a child will experience some long-term health implications in adulthood, from infertility to blindness.

The title of today’s debate is “Building an NHS Fit for the Future”. A future-focused NHS means smarter, more efficient and more appropriate treatment, as well as earlier detection and, ultimately, prevention. We already lead the world in genome sequencing and we should be harnessing its power; that means a childhood cancer mission. I must say that found it disappointing that such a vital piece of the puzzle was missing from the King’s Speech. I look forward to hearing the new Health Secretary talking more about this in the future.

Prevention, as much as cure, is the key to managing the health of the nation, and I am glad to see the tobacco and vapes Bill in the Government’s legislative programme. Smoking is the biggest entirely preventable cause of death and disease. Although vaping is an important tool for quitting smoking, it is absolutely right that more is done to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to our young people.

As Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I have seen and heard about the huge value that grassroots sports have to the health and wellbeing of people—young and old—across the country, so I was pleased to see the guidance from the Government earlier this year on preventing and dealing with concussion in grassroots sport. The Committee’s work in this area, alongside the work of the all-party parliamentary group on acquired brain injury, has shown that signs and risks of concussion, including possible links to dementia, are not yet well enough understood. It is right that the focus is on encouraging everyone in sport—players, parents, coaches, teachers and administrators—to make sure they can recognise and act on concussion, so I look forward to hearing more about what the Government are going to do on that vital issue.

I cannot move on without paying tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton, whose memorial service was today. He was a giant among British sportsmen and will be sorely missed by our football fraternity.

At the grassroots and professionally, women’s sport is thriving in the UK. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee are both considering what more can be done to support women in sport. It is such an important component to women and girls’ physical and mental health and wellbeing. It is crucial to make sure that women have access to the facilities that they need—whether that is schools providing the opportunities to play a range of sports, local clubs providing women’s changing rooms, or training schedules that are not based principally on the convenience of male players. It is also about national institutions finally waking up to the value of women’s sports and ending the disgraceful situation where the England women’s cricket team have never played a test match at Lord’s, the so-called home of cricket.

I look forward to the Committee completing our inquiry in the new year, bringing recommendations from the Government and sporting bodies to improve the provision of sport for women, and I look forward in the new year to revisiting the Committee’s work on discrimination in cricket as the England and Wales Cricket Board begins to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Equity in Cricket.

Looking more widely at sport, it is fair to say that English football has been in the grip of an existential crisis. The failed European Super League, the collapse of Bury FC and the impact of the pandemic called into question the sustainability of our national game. The fan-led review, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and the Government’s White Paper were both important steps to reform. The promise of a football governance Bill in the King’s Speech is the biggest step in the right direction.

Earlier this year, my Committee published our report on football governance. We want to see the Government getting on with setting up the independent regulator, and for it to be ready to step in to prevent the collapse of more clubs and to ensure fair funding and revenue sharing throughout the football pyramid. We will wait to see the detail of the Bill, and I hope that the Department will be able to introduce it at the earliest possible opportunity.

I also strongly welcome the inclusion of the Media Bill in the King’s Speech and the decision to introduce it so early in this Session. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill earlier this year, and our key recommendation in both our report on the radio measures and our report on the Bill overall was that this legislation needs to be enacted, because it is vital to protecting the long-term health of the media in this country.

I especially welcome the fact that the Government have listened to the Committee and strengthened the legislation to ensure that specific genres of content are still relevant to the public service remit. I welcome, too, that the Government and Channel 4 have worked together to ensure that the channel is sustainable, while also protecting independent content producers. The Bill balances the ability to adapt to future changes in TV and radio, while ensuring that viewers and listeners have necessary safeguards in place, and I look forward to seeing that Bill progress.

Much of our country’s culture, media and sport does not need legislation to flourish. They are remarkably resilient, imaginative and innovative sectors, but I am glad that the Government continue to act where it is necessary. I am pleased that the Pedicabs (London) Bill will tackle one of the antisocial rip-off behaviours that is targeted at visitors to London, but there is much more that the Government could be doing to support our tourist industry. Tomorrow, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will be taking evidence on what more can be done, whether that is through restoring tax-free shopping, improving our visa system or growing investment. I look forward to continuing to press for more action wherever it is needed.

17:17
Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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My constituents in Nottingham South are deeply disappointed by the thin offering of Bills promised by the Prime Minister for the last year of this Parliament before he finally lets them have a vote on his unelected Government’s dismal record. The legislative affairs team at Downing Street should be applauded for inserting the Automated Vehicles Bill—a Bill about driverless cars—into the speech. Perhaps there is a telling allusion to the absence of leadership behind the great wheel of state at 10 Downing Street.

This Mr Micawber-esque King’s Speech offers precious little change from the past 13 years of the Tories’ mismanaged decline of our country. The only hope emanating from it is the desperate hope coming from the Prime Minister that something might turn up to save his sinking premiership, but, then again, perhaps he has already given up. After all, he seems more interested in interviewing big tech billionaires with a view to a new job in 2025 than rolling up his sleeves and addressing the many challenges facing our country.

When the Prime Minister replaced his short-lived predecessor, he promised to get Britain back to its salad days. Instead, the state of our country now more resembles that of last year’s ill-fated lettuce. This dereliction of public duty is most evident in the stark decline of our national health service, which is already under immense pressure as we enter yet another difficult winter season. My local hospital was forced to declare a critical incident in October. How much worse will things be come January?

Just as the electorate and the Opposition are eagerly waiting for the Prime Minister to call an election, an unprecedented number of people are waiting to be seen by our NHS because of this Conservative Government’s neglect. When the Prime Minister entered 10 Downing Street last year, he pledged to cut NHS waiting lists, yet just last month, and despite the incredible efforts of hard-pressed staff, they rose to a record high of 7.75 million. One in seven people in England are waiting for treatment.

In Nottinghamshire there are still around 60 patients who have been waiting more than 18 months for a procedure, and 1,200 patients who have been waiting for more than 15 months—waiting with their lives on hold, worried and often in pain and discomfort. For some it is worse, because for too many that waiting will have a profound effect on the outcome. The Public Accounts Committee’s finding that waiting times for patients suffering from cancer are at their worst recorded level is hugely concerning.

Many Members of this House will, like me, have received often heartrending testimony from constituents whose families have spent hours waiting for an overwhelmed ambulance crew to arrive to help them in their time of need, waiting in an ambulance outside an overwhelmed emergency department, waiting in overstretched emergency departments in pain and distress, waiting on a trolley in a corridor to be admitted to a ward, waiting for a social care package to be in place so they can leave hospital, or waiting weeks for an appointment just to see their family GP. We have all been waiting 13 long years for the Tories to sort out the growing NHS staff shortage, which is at the heart of many of the issues afflicting our health service.

As a result of the Tories’ inaction, our NHS is now short of 125,000 much-needed staff. That is the population of a small city, and those chronic shortages are leading to all-too-predictable delays in diagnosis and treatment, despite the fact that working people are paying the highest levels of taxation since the end of world war two. We are all paying more and getting less. In many other walks of life that would be deemed a breach of contract. It is therefore no surprise that public satisfaction with the NHS has fallen to its lowest level since 1997. The public, and NHS staff, deserve so much better than this Government.

We have also been waiting for a reformed mental health Act. I have been contacted in recent days by constituents shocked that despite promising to do so in their 2019 election manifesto and, as I mentioned, also promising to do so in their 2017 manifesto, the Conservatives have now refused to introduce a replacement Bill before the next general election. I know that health professionals and the public are rightly concerned that the Mental Health Act 1983 is outdated and that reform is required so that our NHS can treat people with greater effectiveness and dignity, while also giving them greater control over their treatment.

During his failed Tory leadership bid last summer, the Prime Minister also promised a plan to restore NHS dentistry and a review of dentists’ contractual arrangements and incentives. The sad reality is that I am surely not the only Member in this House to receive a depressingly regular number of letters from constituents who are angry that they have been waiting for years to register with an NHS dentist, let alone see one. Research has found that an estimated 4 million people cannot access NHS dental care and cannot afford to go private either. We have heard about DIY dentistry, tooth decay putting children in hospital and increasing levels of oral cancer.

Again, that is a crisis of the Tories’ making. What did they expect when they cut funding for dental services in England by 8% in real terms since 2010? I know the Prime Minister wants everyone to learn maths until the age of 18, but they did not need to be Pythagoras to work out that that would lead to droves of dentists quitting and many remaining NHS practices not taking on new patients, creating so-called dental deserts. After waiting a year for the Prime Minister to implement his plan to save NHS dentistry, the British Dental Association stated that there are still

“no new dentists, no new contract and no new money.”

All this waiting would have tested even the patience of Vladimir and Estragon to breaking point. This King’s Speech has shown that the Conservatives have no plan to keep staff working in the NHS, no plan to cut waiting lists and no plan to reform our health service. The Government are more focused on in-fighting and waiting in the vain hope of something better turning up.

Only the Labour party has the ideas and the ambition to save our NHS, restore the vital services it provides us all, and reform it so that it is ready to face future challenges. We are the party with a mission and a 10-year plan to change and modernise our NHS by training more doctors, nurses and health visitors, to lower waiting times, and to raise standards for patients. We will provide 2 million more appointments by paying staff extra to work evenings and weekends, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status. We will take the hard decisions to tackle finally the problems with the NHS dental contract so that it properly delivers for patients and staff. And it is Labour that will introduce a new NHS standard that guarantees everyone in England the right to treatment for their mental health within a month, and will back up that commitment by recruiting more than 8,500 mental health professionals to provide support in every school and set up mental health hubs in every community.

The public are rightly fed up of waiting for a change, and the Labour party wholeheartedly agrees with them, not just on health, but on all my constituents’ priorities: help with the cost of living, help creating good jobs, tackling crime and antisocial behaviour, reducing homelessness, ending child poverty and giving every child the opportunities they need to thrive, cutting energy bills, and reaching net zero. We, the Labour party, will give the public the change that they want and cut the waiting.

17:26
Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con)
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I am delighted to contribute to the debate because the Gracious Speech not only marks an historic first for His Majesty, but signals the Government’s clear commitment to focusing on the right long-term decisions to put our country on a stable footing in the face of global instability created first by covid-19 and latterly by the conflicts in Ukraine and the middle east.

When His Majesty’s grandfather, the late King George VI, made his final address to Parliament from the throne in October 1950, the Gracious Speech prepared by the then Labour Government made no mention of public health or any health-related legislation. Yet just fifteen months later—although it was never officially acknowledged—the late King, who was conservatively estimated to have smoked 40 cigarettes a day from his early teens, succumbed at the age of just 56 to the effects of two smoking-related diseases: lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is therefore bittersweet that, in the first King’s Speech of his reign, His Majesty announced new legislation to create a smoke-free generation by restricting the sale of tobacco so that children currently aged 14 or under can never be sold cigarettes, and restricting the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children. I will focus my remarks on those specific measures.

By committing to raising the age of sale for tobacco by one year, each year, making it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products across England, the Government will not only save countless lives, but will continue to level up areas of our country such as my Erewash constituency, where smoking rates remain unacceptably high. I take great pride in the fact that, thanks to the actions of the Conservative Government, the majority of the 1st Sawley Scouts, whom I met last Friday as part of Parliament Week, will never legally be able to buy cigarettes. When we discussed this topic, and the measures to address inappropriate vaping, there was wholehearted support from the scouts and their leaders.

I pay tribute to Dr Javed Khan for the work he has done and the role he has played in getting us to this stage on tobacco control. I was privileged to be part of the ministerial team who asked Dr Khan to dig deep into how we, as a nation, can become smoke free by 2030. One of his flagship recommendations was to raise the age of sale. To some, that may seem illiberal, but others—I am definitely in this group—would ask: “What is illiberal about protecting individuals from a killer?” Smoking remains the biggest single cause of preventable illness and death.

Shockingly, cigarettes are the only legal consumer product that will kill most users. Two out of three smokers will die from smoking unless they quit, and more than 60,000 people are killed by smoking each year. That is approximately twice the number of people who died from covid-19 between March 2021 and March 2022, yet it does not hit the headlines. Add to that the fact that in 2019, a quarter of all deaths from cancer were connected to smoking. The annual cost of smoking to society has been estimated at £17 billion, with a cost of approximately £2.4 billion to the NHS alone and more than £13 billion lost through the productivity costs of tobacco-related lost earnings, unemployment and premature death.

Achieving a smoke-free society by 2030 will not only save the NHS money; more importantly, it will save lives. Increasing the age of sale will undoubtedly be a key intervention that will make that happen. Age-of-sale policies are partly about preventing young people from gaining access to age-restricted products such as cigarettes and alcohol, but more importantly, they are about stopping the start. When smokers are asked when they started smoking, the majority say that it was in their teens. The longer we delay the ability to legally take up smoking, the fewer people will take it up, so fewer will become addicted. Let us face it: never starting to smoke is far easier than trying to quit. We have already proved in the UK that raising the age of sale leads to a reduction in smoking prevalence. Increasing the age of sale from 16 to 18 in 2007 led to a 30% reduction in smoking prevalence among 16 and 17-year-olds in England.

The last time I spoke about vaping in this place, I made a number of asks of the Government. I am delighted that I have been listened to, and that many of the measures I requested have been included in the Gracious Speech. Those asks were to regulate vape packaging, flavours and product presentation, and to enable further enforcement around the sale of vapes to children and young people. Those measures are a good start, but the message we need to put out is that vaping is an aid to quit smoking, not a recreational product. We are already hearing of children—yes, children—who have medical conditions as a result of vaping.

I believe that one way to change the way adults and children perceive vaping is to ensure that e-cigarettes are available on prescription. In October 2021, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency updated its guidance on licensing e-cigarettes as medicines. Being licensed would allow e-cigarettes to be available on prescription. Just over two years on, we are yet to see the first MHRA-licensed e-cigarette, so when the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions closes the debate, will he update the House on the progress made in enabling e-cigarettes to be available on prescription? That would undoubtedly put out the message that vaping is a serious way to quit smoking, not something to be consumed like sweets. That message needs to be loud and clear, because the scouts I met last Friday informed me that children in year 7 at their school were already vaping. We have no time to waste on this issue.

I will briefly mention the NHS long-term workforce plan. The focus of that plan has always been on nurses and doctors, but I want to put in a plug for other NHS workers. We need more radiologists and radiographers; we need more pathologists and biomedical scientists. Let us make sure we have all the supporting NHS staff in place that the doctors and nurses will need to conduct their business in an effective manner.

In our 2019 manifesto, we committed to levelling up, and that commitment has been reinforced by the actions of our Prime Minister and the Government he leads. Levelling up is about so much more than infrastructure; it is also about levelling up our health and our life chances. That is particularly important for my constituents in Erewash, where the prevalence of smoking—16.6%—is higher than the national average. It is estimated that the average annual spend by someone with a 20-cigarette-a-day habit is upwards of £3,000, while research recently conducted on behalf of The Daily Telegraph suggests that those under the age of 26 are spending around £2,700 a year on disposable vapes to satisfy their daily habits. Consequently, these measures should not just be considered in a health context. By becoming smoke free by 2030, the Government can lift around 2.6 million adults and 1 million children out of poverty altogether, which would represent a significant victory for our levelling-up agenda.

17:34
Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) (LD)
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It is my pleasure to speak in this debate in response to the King’s Speech—the King’s first—on behalf of my North Shropshire constituency. I particularly welcomed the Government’s ambition to cut NHS waiting lists, but, frankly, I was shocked to see no reference to some of the most pressing health emergencies in my constituency. There was no mention of emergency care and ambulance waiting times, and no acknowledgement of the lack of access to NHS dentists and GP appointments and, indeed, of our catastrophic cancer treatment situation. Some of those issues are literally ones of life and death in North Shropshire.

The proportion of patients at Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin integrated care board who started cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral was just 38% in June, according to Macmillan. The national target sits at 85%. It is shocking that in 2023 access to timely NHS cancer treatment is still a postcode lottery. Liberal Democrats have pledged to give people a legal right to cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral, and I urge the Government to make a similar commitment, rather than watering down their targets for lifesaving treatment.

I was also disappointed that the crisis in NHS dentistry was overlooked in the King’s Speech. In North Shropshire, the number of adults seen by a dentist between 2019 and 2022 fell by more than 10%, down to just 35.4%, and less than half of local children have seen a dentist in that time. Local dentists report a shocking increase in child tooth decay when a parent is unable to register and take their child along. Seven months ago, the Government promised that a dental recovery plan would be published specifically to deal with this problematic issue, so I am concerned that no reference at all was made to it in the King’s Speech. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions provided an update on the progress of the plan in his closing remarks and confirmed on what date we should expect to receive it.

I was frustrated to see a lack of reference to adult social care and carers in general in the King’s Speech. The support that carers provide is a lifeline to elderly and rural residents in my constituency, yet the workforce is shrinking at an alarming rate. In the last few years, the number of vacancies nationally has skyrocketed to 165,000. Of course, that is having an impact on A&E departments and on ambulance services, because hospitals cannot discharge patients and allow a good flow through the hospital for those who are admitted when critically ill. I hope that the promised plan to transform the workforce of the NHS will not ignore the vital but creaking care sector. The Government must resolve the crisis there by reforming staff retention and recruitment; tackling the importance of pay in a sector that is in competition with retail and hospitality for new recruits; and recognising the importance of carers’ roles by providing the sector with minimum professional standards.

In Shropshire, the care sector faces the logistical challenges of delivering these vital services over a large rural area. I hope that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will agree that it is vital to consider rurality when drawing up NHS and care workforce plans.

People in North Shropshire know that accessing healthcare is nigh on impossible without access to their own car. I have spoken in this place many times about how poor the public transport links are in my constituency. They prevent people from accessing vital health services, and from accessing job opportunities and higher education. It is welcome that the Government want to improve journeys in the midlands but, to be blunt, in my constituency there are very few public transport journeys to improve. People without a car rely on friends and relatives for lifts—we are resilient and we get by—but when will the Conservatives realise that rural Britain is home to 20% of the population and that we are worth investing in, rather than simply taking us for granted?

The Government have also said, and I welcome it, that they want to ease the cost of living and provide help for businesses. I am glad that both statements were included in the King’s Speech, but I feel it is necessary to spell out exactly what it might look like to deliver that for constituents in places such as North Shropshire. For rural residents, the cost of living has only exacerbated long-standing inequalities. Rural residents earn 7.5% less on average than people in urban areas, but because council services are much more expensive to provide, their council tax payments are on average 20% higher.

Not only that, but off-grid energy users are still waiting for the Government to provide substantial support with their energy costs. The Countryside Alliance has reported that, on average, rural households spend £800 a year more on fuel than those on the grid. The Government need to reassure people in North Shropshire and the rest of rural Britain that their commitment to easing the cost of living crisis includes them, by addressing the lack of an energy price cap for people who live off-grid and extending rural fuel duty relief to those forced to drive long distances for work, for education or to access essential healthcare.

Rural businesses obviously have to battle with the cost of supplies and energy bills, but they also struggle because of a depleted workforce and the lack of digital connectivity. Just 46% of rural businesses have a stable 4G broadband connection, so it is no wonder that the Federation of Small Businesses reported that in 2022, 6% fewer rural businesses reported that they planned to expand. If the Government want to help with this issue, they need to understand the factors that have put rural businesses on the back foot and put in place policies to help them cope with the discrepancies that come with sparse and spread-out populations. I suggest that allowing rural roaming on mobile networks would be a great place to start. Much of my constituency is in a notspot or a partial notspot. Anyone who has tried to phone me will know that a continuous conversation is almost impossible across large swathes of North Shropshire.

The Government have committed to promoting trade with economies in the fastest-growing regions of the world through the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. It is crucial to ensure that our farming industry has the opportunity to promote the fantastic produce that we grow in the UK and expand its export activities, but the deal endangers farmers’ businesses as well as animal welfare and environmental standards. Because of the deal, imports that have a lower production cost but a much higher animal welfare and environmental one will be for sale in this country, which risks undermining our world-leading British farmers and food producers. Surely future trade deals must avoid any further damage to this vital sector.

I was glad to hear the Government commit to the promise to reform the archaic leasehold system—something that Liberal Democrats have been calling for since Lloyd George. I hope the leasehold legislation will include new protections for homeowners with a freehold who have been trapped into a fleecehold arrangement because the shared areas on their development are managed by a private company and not the local authority. I have been campaigning for this issue to be resolved following shocking cases in my constituency, and I have been contacted by freeholders throughout the country with unbelievable stories of their experiences with rogue developers.

In conclusion, 95% of the land in North Shropshire is used for agriculture. We are typical of rural Britain. I am disappointed to stand here and explain to the Government, yet again, the ways in which they have failed to address the challenges we face. The Government have proven that they have run out of ideas for rural Britain, having taken its votes for granted for so many years. Now, here we are in a debate to discuss ways to get the NHS back on its feet. After eight years of disastrous Tory management, the only viable answer to that question is surely to hold a general election and start afresh.

17:42
Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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It is not really surprising that, having spent two years of this Parliament with large chunks of the economy and the NHS shut down while we fought a disease, we still face challenges coming out of that. When I listen to speeches from around the Chamber, with the constant wish lists for more and more money, I think we all ought to remind ourselves of that. We should also remind ourselves that lots of people who run businesses up and down the country are being taken for granted, with additional burdens being put on them. They are carrying the additional debt that we, the guardians of the taxpayer’s pound, have taken on, given what we have spent. In fighting the pandemic, we have taken on what is, in effect, a wartime debt. We must recognise that that has consequences. We would all have been much better off and could have afforded to be much more generous with taxpayers’ money had we not been through that.

Let me focus on some issues that were included in the King’s Speech and some that were not. One issue that was not included is reform of the Mental Health Act 1983. I add my voice to those around the Chamber who have expressed regret about that. I was the Minister who commenced that work five years ago, and it is particularly personal to me, because we raised expectations that we really were going to deliver parity of esteem by changing the Act. The Mental Health Act was passed in 1983, an era when we viewed people with severe mental health issues as a problem to be managed. We all wanted to look the other way; it was not something we wanted to deal with.

We have seen a sea change in public attitudes towards that issue, and it was finally being recognised in government. It was a privilege for me to sit down with a lot of campaigners, who told me of their experiences. What makes it personal to me is that I witnessed them reliving the trauma that they experienced under detention. I feel personally responsible for the fact that, having raised their expectations five years ago, we have let them down by not legislating.

My message to those on the Front Bench is that the legislation, although it was not in the King’s Speech, could still be brought forward. I encourage them to do that, because until we do, we are not genuinely delivering parity of esteem. It is all very well saying, “We are putting more resources into schools and we are tackling suicide prevention,” but they are two different things. We need a proper approach to dealing with severe mental ill health that will enhance the rights of people who are having to be treated.

There are occasions where people need to have their liberty taken away, but it is not an absolute; they still have ownership over what happens to them. When we hear stories about people in detention being constantly medicated by drugs, that is not something that I equate with our society. It is important that the Government’s first priority is to make sure that they do their best for the most vulnerable.

Another item of legislation long-promised that was not in the King’s Speech was the ban on conversion therapy. I issue a word of warning to the House. It is clear to me that there is a majority in this Chamber for a ban on conversion therapy. It is also clear to me that every one of us, I would hope, would wish to see abusive and coercive practices designed to cure people of their sexuality banned or outlawed. The thing that bothers me is that when we are talking about these abusive and coercive practices, we use the term “therapy.” Therapy is designed to alleviate distress. The practices we want to outlaw cannot in any way be described in such a manner.

I have been pleased by the engagement I have had with Government and campaigners on all sides about how we get the language on this right. We have moved a long way in the right direction, but we are looking at abusive practices designed to cause harm. I know that lots of discussion is happening, but I say to those Members perhaps thinking about bringing forward a private Member’s Bill to resurrect the ban on conversion therapy: can we just remove this term “therapy” from anything designed to change people’s sexuality? We know that ultimately therapy should be used only to describe processes designed to alleviate distress.

Turning to some more local issues, I want to talk about the national health service in south Essex. For a long time, we have had a challenging position in south Essex. We sit right next to London. We know there are much more attractive places to work for NHS professionals when there are the great teaching hospitals in London. We have always found it difficult to recruit the staff we need in south Essex. In fact, in Thurrock we have been without enough GPs for decades. When we have an NHS dealing with the backlog caused by the pandemic and waiting lists, we are seeing some acute problems. I was drawn to an article in the press just this weekend, where I read that along the Thames—just a little bit down the road in Southend—as many as one in five people are awaiting treatment on a waiting list. I am sad to say that was not a surprise to me.

Going back to 2015, the Ministers at the time gripped the challenge with the provision of health in south Essex. Great focus was put on it. There was a proposal for developing the integrated care system. We looked closely at what made the best health economy, and there was recognition that improving primary care in south Essex should be a priority, but we seem to have lost that focus. My challenge is this: what has happened to our commissioning system for that to happen? We thought that moving towards ICSs would give a better focus, but it seems to have fundamentally failed.

Six years ago, as part of the process, my local NHS brought forward a proposal to close what remained of Orsett Hospital in Thurrock. That hospital ceased to be a general hospital decades ago, but it retains a great deal of affection among my constituents, mainly because most of them were born there. I took it upon myself to support my local NHS when it said that it wanted to close what remained of that hospital and reinvest it in new services in the community. I was prepared to take the political flak. It is difficult to deliver that message to constituents, but I believed the local NHS when it said that it would bring new facilities—it promised me an urgent treatment centre in Grays in my constituency, and three new integrated medical centres—but I have not received any one of those things in six years.

I took the flak and persuaded my constituents that that was in their best interests, and now I look a fool. That is basically because there is a circular system in the NHS commissioning system whereby lots of papers get produced but there is no actual delivery. We really do need to get to grips with that. When we raise issues about the NHS, people think, “How dare they criticise our doctors and nurses.” Actually, we are not; we are criticising failings in how services are commissioned. Every time we look at this, we never see any improvements.

In Tilbury, I am looking at the hoardings around a site where we will build an integrated medical centre—they have been there for two years. We have cleared the site and it is ready, but we are still getting that circular conversation with the NHS in south Essex. That really needs to change.

I will use the last bit of my time to talk about the covid inquiry and what it tells us about how Government works and what we should be doing with our institutions. It is really not very pretty, is it, to see some of the film that is coming out? As we move on from the King’s Speech and we are having a new Government assembled in front of us, we should reflect on some of the really bad behaviours being highlighted as part of the inquiry. In the last few years we have seen some very bad behaviour here in Parliament, as well as in relationships between Ministers and civil servants in Whitehall.

We should remember that the impartiality of our civil service is to be valued. The way in which our Governments have operated has given us stable government for decades. We have seen a massive expansion in the number of special advisers, which has led to the marginalisation of junior Ministers in this place and a subsequent lack of accountability. Here is where the action should be. Ministers are responsible to Parliament for what happens in their Departments, and special advisers seem to be breeding apace but doing nothing to improve the quality of that government.

17:53
Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
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The shadow Health Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), raised the fact that there have been five Health Secretaries in two years. The Conservatives have also had 12 Culture Secretaries since 2010, so perhaps it should not surprise us that, among the many glaring omissions in the Gracious Speech, there was an absence of any measures to support those who work in Britain’s cultural sector, and particularly musicians. I want to focus on that.

Music industry leaders tell me that their sector feels left behind. Freelancers feel left out in the cold without the financial stability they deserve. In too many communities, cultural provision is now dependent on the good will of talented individuals who are prepared to manage on shoestring budgets with low income levels. We can do so much better in this country. As a music leader recently told me:

“The warning bell has been ringing for years, and this Government seems to have taken for granted the drive, passion and sacrifice which has somehow kept the industry alive.”

I have been told repeatedly that the problems faced by creatives come back to this: a decline in arts education, which is leading to skills shortages; falling funding levels; and the challenges to touring caused by the Government’s failure to get a visa waiver for touring in the Brexit deal. The Government choose to ignore those problems and pretend that they are supporting the sector adequately—even today they are setting ambitious growth targets for the creative sector. I want to begin by looking at the squeeze on arts education, and in particular the decline in music education.

We know that state-funded schools are increasingly unable to provide strong music education—or in some cases any music education. Policies such as the English baccalaureate, combined with the crisis in music teacher recruitment and squeezed school budgets, have led to a reduced provision of music education for young people in state schools. On average, music provision in state-funded schools is only 47 minutes a week. That is significantly below the Government’s target of one hour, which is a bare minimum. Compare that paltry target with parts of Germany, where secondary school students study music for at least two hours a week, or Finland, where music is studied for eight hours a week. Meanwhile, the uptake of music at A-level has fallen by a catastrophic 45% since 2010. There is a similarly worrying picture when it comes to studying music at GCSE.

In this difficult environment for schools and teachers, the role of music education hubs is all the more important, yet those hubs have had their funding reduced by 17% in real terms since 2011, and Government plans to reduce the number of hubs risk a further deterioration of the music offer. The Government’s failed education policies mean that the opportunities to gain the skills necessary to be a musician are becoming increasingly the preserve of those young people whose families who can afford to pay privately, either through attending independent schools or through private music tuition. As a result of those Conservative policies, less than a quarter of the music and performing arts workforce now come from a working-class background.

As well as fewer opportunities in schools, there are now barriers to both budding and established musicians touring beyond the UK’s borders. The failure of the former Culture Secretary to obtain a touring agreement with the European Union for cultural workers resulted in an appalling mess of red tape and extortionate fees for bands and orchestras looking to perform in EU countries. Agents, promoters, record labels and musicians have all told me that this is proving devastating for artists, particularly those trying to break into the industry. The freelance opera singer Paul Carey Jones said:

“As ever, it’s those at the start of their careers, without the backing of an established reputation, who will suffer the most…the consequent long-term damage to the UK’s position as a global force in the performing arts is incalculable.”

In a recent interview on LBC, the Culture Secretary implied that sorting out the mess of visas for touring musicians is not under the control of her Government, but it is up to the Government to renegotiate it and to find a solution for touring musicians.

Then there are the financial challenges that many musicians face. A recent survey by the Musicians’ Union found that musicians earn, on average, just £20,700 a year from music. Nearly a quarter of musicians reported that they did not earn enough to support themselves or their families, even after their lengthy training. There is a direct link between the working conditions of musicians and decisions to cut arts and culture budgets. Local authorities are the biggest funders of culture in the UK, but, as we know, they have suffered a 40% real-terms reduction in central Government spending since 2010. That has meant a £1.4 billion shortfall in spending on culture, heritage and libraries. Meanwhile, Arts Council England had its per capita budget reduced by 13% between 2009-10 and 2021-22. It is therefore no surprise that the number of filled jobs in music is falling.

In the last year alone, the number of filled jobs in music performing and visual arts fell by a tenth—a drop of 35,000 roles. That reduction is even greater in roles relating to instrument manufacture, sound recording and the operating of music venues. How can we expect children and young people to aspire to work in the music industry if there are no jobs for them to go into?

Funding shortfalls may also sadly have an impact on the important work undertaken by music organisations in health and care. For example, the Liverpool philharmonic has just celebrated 15 years of its music and health programme, which works with the NHS to help people access music to support their recovery and their wellbeing. Another brilliant health initiative is the English National Opera’s “Breathe” programme, where ENO chorus members have used singing techniques to aid recovery from covid-19 or long covid. There is also a great deal of work involving musicians bringing joy to people with dementia and those living in care homes.

The failure to support musicians and other creatives is not a peripheral issue, because expression in all its forms is central to the task of recreating a sense of community, identity, pride and hope, and our creative workers are at the heart of that potential. We will never achieve the diversity needed for the arts sector to thrive under the Tory policies I have discussed. The systemic failure to protect creative workers under this Conservative Government has led to working-class representation in the creative industries halving since the 1970s.

Today, the Culture Secretary is in Manchester, praising the creative industries as a driver of economic growth. At the same time, she is presiding over the cutting of the funding streams that feed them, and expects them to run on empty, doing more with less, year after year. It is time for this Government finally to accept that their policies have failed, and that Britain’s culture sector would be better off under a Labour Government.

18:00
Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell) on his excellent maiden speech.

Let me begin by paying tribute to His Majesty on his first Gracious Speech. As he reflected in that speech, we were all reminded of the selflessness of his mother, Her late Majesty, which he continues to exemplify. It was fantastic to hear the wonderful speeches of the proposer and the seconder of the motion on the Loyal Address, my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie). They are both fellow Yorkshire folk and both great friends. My right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby has regaled friends and colleagues alike for many years with his jokes. It was wonderful to hear his entire repertoire in just one sitting. He told us that his first parliamentary contest was, just like mine, in Redcar, where I lived as a child and went to school. It was also where my mum served as an NHS community midwife, so I saw at first hand the incredible work of the NHS from a very early age. Fast forward to the present day, I have the privilege of representing the town, and the hospital where my mum undertook her nursing training. That was some years before I was even born, but still I regularly meet constituents who worked alongside mum in the 1960s.

I welcome the Government’s focus on building an NHS fit for the future. As I visit dentists, doctors and Darlington Memorial Hospital and I speak to constituents at my surgeries, it is clear that despite this Government’s strong record of investment, with record funding, record doctors and record nurses, much more needs to be done. Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys is our local mental health trust. It has some immense challenges to deliver the mental health care that my constituents need. My surgery regularly features people with heartbreaking stories, where the support they need has not been there. That is why I welcome more funding to deliver mental health support.

I regularly see families in my surgery affected by the tragedy of suicide. Those terrible stories of pain and suffering are incredibly difficult to hear. That is why the Government have my full backing in their suicide prevention strategy. However, I think they should bring forward long discussed mental health legislation, just as I believe that we need progress on banning conversion practices. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) in her comments on the terminology used. Abuse is abuse, not therapy.

I also welcome the £8 billion commitment for NHS and adult social care. As a solicitor before being elected to this place, I found that the biggest single concern of those planning for later life was how their care would be covered. Our elderly should have confidence in the care and support they need in later life. I welcome the steps being taken to deliver that.

On hospices, I am privileged to follow in the steps of Jack Dromey as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for hospice and end of life care. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a hospice trustee. The Government rightly supported our hospices incredibly well during covid. However, with patchwork commissioning from our ICBs, and despite clear direction in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to commission palliative care, many hospices are vulnerable to closure or reduction in services, putting increased pressure on our NHS. It need not be like that, with ringfenced funding in ICB budgets for palliative care.

Darlington is still not getting sufficient dentistry. Ministers say that is down to the ICBs; the ICBs say it is down to the dentists; and the dentists cannot make the contracts work. Even when additional funding is found, as it has been recently following the closure of one practice, we still cannot get the dentists we need. Is it time to insist that every dentist trained here spends a number of years providing NHS services before they move to exclusively private work? I welcome the expansion in dental skills and urge Ministers to go further to accelerate growth in numbers.

Tackling the challenges of tobacco, illegal tobacco sales, disposable vape sales, the child grooming that flows with that and the organised crime that lies behind that, is of deep concern to parents in my constituency. I welcome the measures to clamp down on tobacco use and disposable vapes, and I would welcome the licensing of sales of legal tobacco as a further way of cracking down on that.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Respiratory health is very important. Across the United Kingdom, one of many issues is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The hon. Gentleman is well aware of that, for he has spoken before about it. We have the worst figures in all of Europe except for Denmark. Some 33% of COPD patients are readmitted within 28 days of discharge, even though readmission has been found to be strongly related to post-discharge mentality. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that for that 33%, the NICE system in place for COPD needs to be reviewed, and a better service needs to be delivered?

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
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I concur with the hon. Gentleman’s calls for further work on that. It is deeply concerning to see children using disposable vapes and suffering severe traumas that result in hospitalisation. More must be done to clamp down on the illegal sale of those products.

I am pleased that the Government are focused on building an NHS fit for the future. Finally, can we please see more dentists in Darlington?

18:07
Rosena Allin-Khan Portrait Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting) (Lab)
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“A profound betrayal”, “An insult”, “Incomprehensible”, “A major breach of trust”, “A huge blow”, demonstrating “what little regard the current UK government has for mental health”, having “broken its promise to thousands of people”—not my words but those of mental health experts in response to the Government’s scrapping of the reform of the Mental Health Act.

Back in 2017, there was hope of real change when the Government pledged to reform the Act. Six years later, and after much posturing from Government Ministers, that promise has sadly been broken. I sat for many months with colleagues from across the House on the Joint Committee of the draft Mental Health Bill. We took evidence from experts and those with lived experiences. Many had to unpick painful, traumatic experiences, and did so willingly so that no other person would have to endure the same. That would all be for nothing. Trauma relived for nothing. Recommendations made for nothing. The Government never even bothered to respond to the Committee’s report.

Black people are five times more likely to be sectioned. More than 2,000 people with learning disabilities are held in mental health hospitals, of whom 200 are children. That is the reality of the Mental Health Act in modern Britain. All that is set amid years of Tory failure on mental health. Waiting lists are through the roof, standards of care are falling and staff are burnt out. Poor standards of social housing, the cost living crisis, the decimated benefits system and growing job precarity are the social ills driving the mental health crisis we now face. Those ills have been intensified by a Conservative Government who have underfunded our NHS and public services. That is the hallmark of a Government who simply do not care.

This Government do not care if children languish on waiting lists. They do not care if parents have to give up their jobs to sit at home on suicide watch because their children cannot get the help they need. They do not care about people in all our communities. Health is something that bridges the economic divide and the class divide. It is a factor that matters to every single one of our constituents in some way or form.

But the failures are not just in health. Across Tooting, whether they live in a council house, rent privately or are a homeowner, the Government have failed everyone. Not content with selling off over 20,000 council homes in Wandsworth, leaving thousands of children homeless each winter, the Conservatives then made it impossible for people to get on the housing ladder. Average rent in Tooting for a two-bedroom flat is £2,300 a month, with bills. In what world is that feasible or even acceptable? Homeowners are no better off either. After the previous Prime Minister crashed the economy, which Conservative Members all supported, homeowners across Tooting are having to pay hundreds of pounds more on their mortgages. Everyone deserves the security and safety of their own home.

Speaking of safety, talk to people across Tooting and they will tell you of their worries about antisocial behaviour and crime, with multiple incidents of children—children—being mugged after school and of drug dealing not being addressed. Why? Because the police are under-resourced and overstretched. My local police teams are absolutely incredible. Local police teams do their best and I pay tribute to their efforts, but we all know that most low-level crimes go unsolved, and they are often a feeder for the most serious stuff, such as drug dealing. This the direct result of real-terms budget cuts and a cut to safer neighbourhood teams.

The Government are record breakers, but it is not something to be proud of. Waiting lists for NHS treatment have reached a record high of 7.7 million people. That includes many people from across Tooting. They are waiting in pain for a hip replacement, worried their cancer might spread, or stuck in a bay for many, many hours in A&E, where I do shifts. Back in 2010, patients waiting more than 12 hours in A&E were pretty much non-existent, but that was the sad reality for 44,000 people last month alone. In 2010, when Labour left office, doctors like me were not having to perform intimate exams in cupboards and patients were not having to line the halls waiting to be seen, lying on the floor. With yet another Health Secretary coming into post, nothing will change and Tooting people will continue to be let down by the Government.

This was a King’s Speech lacking in ambition and failing to address the problems faced by people across the country on a daily basis; a King’s Speech that is truly a testament to broken Britain and the Government who caused it. We now need a Government willing to give Britain its future back. We need a Labour Government.

18:12
Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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On behalf of the people of the city of Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, I wish to express my gratitude and respect for His Majesty. Her Majesty the late Queen Elizabeth II is still much missed in Southend, but His Majesty has acceded the throne with all the dignity and gravitas that we came to expect from his mother. It was a true privilege to witness the first King’s Speech in 70 years.

I judge all new legislation against my three priorities to make the new city of Southend safer, healthier and wealthier. I am pleased to say that the King’s Speech hits all three of those priorities, although today we are, of course, talking about building an NHS fit for the future. That goes right to the heart of much of the work I have undertaken since being elected. As many Members have done, I welcome very much the commitment to creating a smokefree generation, cracking down on youth vaping, growing our NHS workforce and cutting waiting lists. However, I would like to talk a little about capital funding.

I welcome very much that core spending by the end of this Parliament will have increased from £140 billion to £193 billion in 2024-25. We have invested record sums in our NHS. That is an increase of £53 billion in cash terms, or a 37% increase. I welcome the fact that that includes capital spending of £83 million in the current spending review going into Southend Hospital, with another £19 million set to come on top of that, meaning a total of £102 million into my local hospital since the last election. I welcome that wholeheartedly, but we must do more to speed up the arrival of NHS capital funding.

The House is well aware of my campaign to get £118 million of capital investment that was promised to South Essex hospitals in 2017. The lion’s share of that, £52 million, was promised for Southend Hospital and it is much needed. I termed that money the missing millions and I have mentioned it 11 times in this House. Last year, I got £8 million to secure improvements to our emergency department, and two years ago I was absolutely delighted to hear that the rest, the £110 million, was finally confirmed and would be delivered in full. That will mean a modern endoscopy suite for Southend, an upgraded refurbished main theatre, more hospital beds and an upgraded emergency department: better and faster hospital care in better surroundings for all Southend’s residents and those around who come to our hospital. Better late than never, but we must do more to get that money through the bureaucracy faster than we have managed so far.

That investment will be moot if my constituents cannot get to the hospital. Ministers are aware that last year elderly residents were left stranded literally overnight when First Bus withdrew the No. 21 bus service, literally cutting them off from Southend Hospital. Working with First Bus I managed to reroute the No. 3 bus, but that is not good enough because it runs only once every two hours. I reiterate the need to restore that bus service. I am delighted that, working with the previous Roads Minister, bus funding of almost £1 million is now coming to Southend over two years, which should help to protect and enhance local bus services, including getting the No. 21 back. I am now looking forward very much to working with the new Roads Minister—as soon as I know who that is!

Money is not the be all and end all for the future of our NHS. We are investing record sums, but what we need to 100% focus on religiously is reform and prevention. Here, I want to talk about something called the fracture liaison service. I recently visited the fracture clinic at Southend Hospital, which is to launch a new fracture liaison service in spring next year, with the support of the Mid and South Essex integrated care board. This will be the first fracture liaison service in the UK to have a single FLS across an entire area, supporting consistent care across Mid and South Essex. In our region, there are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 fragility fractures every year in adults aged 50 or over, often causing patients to spend extended periods in hospital, taking up hospital beds and staff time. Over five years, the new Southend FLS is expected to prevent 550 fractures, saving half a million pounds and 1,300 bed days every single year. If that is scaled up nationally, we will be saving 74,000 osteoporotic fractures and releasing 750,000 hospital bed days. Services like this are truly the future of the NHS. Their benefits are unquestionable. I look forward to seeing all regions following our lead in Southend to deliver savings and free up beds across the board.

On waiting lists, I was extremely disappointed to see The Times reporting erroneously that Southend is England’s NHS waiting list hotspot. The number quoted on waiting lists did not include the total catchment population for Mid and South Essex, where waiting lists today sit at approximately one in seven people, not one in five as was quoted. It is disappointing to see prestigious leading national newspapers irresponsibly pumping out the wrong information and not getting their facts straight.

Of course I am not happy for any of my constituents to wait longer than they should, but we must recognise that industrial action has played a part in the extension of waiting lists across the NHS. Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust has a recovery plan, and provided that there is no further industrial action it will virtually eliminate 65-week waits—except in the case of some specialist services—by next March. However, we must have sustainable staffing in order to cut waiting lists, which is why I welcome the proposal to deliver the NHS long-term workforce plan. Like others, I also welcome the commitment to creating a new smoke-free generation. That will save thousands of lives, and it goes without saying that a healthier future for our children means a more sustainable NHS.

Community pharmacies are already saving 619,000 GP appointments every week—roughly 32 million a year—and removing the need for about 3.5 million people a year to visit A&E departments and walk-in centres. Given such staggering results, we must surely consider moving more health services out of hospitals and into the community.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Jayawardena
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Is it not also important for us to educate the public so that they know how much they can obtain from their local pharmacies rather than always relying on GP appointments or, indeed, associated professionals?

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth
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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and he has brought me neatly to my next point. The brilliant Belfairs and French’s pharmacies in Leigh-on-Sea are run by an inspirational pharmacist, Mr Mohamed Fayyaz Haji, known as Fizz. The range of services that those pharmacies deliver is incredible, including cholesterol and blood pressure checks, health advice and prescribing, and they are now expanding into primary and community care, from ear syringing to community phlebotomy, earlier diagnosis measures such as measuring prostate-specific antigen levels to test for prostate cancer, electrocardiograms, ultrasound screening for sports injuries, and services for pregnant women. This is a model for community pharmacy care around the country that will keep people out of hospitals unless they really need to be there.

I am delighted that one of my key campaigns has made it into the King’s Speech. My campaign to ban all forms of zombie knives will be enacted through the criminal justice Bill, which will increase the maximum penalty for those who sell dangerous weapons to under-18s and create a criminal offence of possession of a bladed article with intent to cause harm. Being stabbed is the No. 1 fear for young people in Southend for the second year in a row, and I welcome the fact that the Bill will make our streets in Southend safer.

I see you looking at me, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will summarise my next few points. Bleed kits must be rolled out, because the first person to reach a stab victim is often not an ambulance driver but someone from a pub, a club or a police car. If we support Julie Taylor’s award-winning campaign and roll out those bleed kits, we will save more lives.

No speech from me would be complete without my mentioning Southend United. I wholeheartedly welcome the football governance Bill, which will deliver a more sustainable future for football clubs such as Southend for generations to come.

I believe that this King’s Speech will deliver a healthier future, a stronger economy, and a safer future for all the residents of Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, especially children, and I look forward to voting for it later this week.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. I was merely glancing at the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) because I believe that the previous occupant of the Chair encouraged Members to speak for about eight or nine minutes so that we can get everyone in equitably.

18:24
Ian Lavery Portrait Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab)
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The issues that we have all been discussing today, and will discuss further, are extremely important, but looking at what is happening globally, they appear extremely trivial. The unbearable terror, suffering and death of innocent civilians in the middle east, in Gaza and Israel, must stop, which is why I have added my name to the call for an immediate ceasefire.

This country is in crisis. Our public services are collapsing, a climate change crisis is upon us, and working-class people are suffering a horrendous cost of living crisis that is draining them of the resources that they and their families need just to lead basic, decent lives. In my constituency of Wansbeck, ordinary families are bearing the brunt of this Government’s utter failure. Child poverty is surging, mutual aid groups and food banks are stretched to the limit, and businesses are suffering because of the lack of available finances. A Government with even an iota of human decency would have presented to the House a legislative plan for the next year that could address those grave crises, but instead they have delivered an agenda that will do absolutely nothing to alleviate the strain that these problems are causing our people. In fact, they are happy to draft statutes to make the crises even worse.

The people I proudly represent in south-east Northumberland know what it is like to be forgotten, to be neglected, and to be offered nothing by this Government. They also know that it is Tory Governments who have caused many of the problems that they face—not just those caused by the past 13 years of disastrous Tory rule, but the legacies of previous Tory Governments as well. It is the Tories who, over the years, have not only destroyed the industrial base that we have needed to produce well-paid jobs, but passed and continue to pass anti-trade union legislation that will deprive working-class people in my area and all over the UK of the means to obtain the decent wages that they deserve.

We are living with the legacy of the anti-trade union laws that began with the Thatcher regime. That legacy is a low-wage economy in which even workers in what should be very well-paid jobs struggle to make ends meet. Those laws have made it harder for unions to organise themselves in workplaces, and have created rules for industrial action that are some of the most restrictive in the world. The legal obstacles to organising a successful strike ballot are immense, and have given the employers an unfair advantage in disputes in which trade union members have rightly asked for a fair wage. It is not surprising that many workers now face falling living standards, and the stressful day-to-day torment of trying to make ends meet.

Where in the King’s Speech was the much-promised employment Bill to protect people in employment? Where was the abolition of zero-hours contracts, and the abolition of fire and rehire in the workplace? The last 13 years have seen wages across many sectors decline in real terms, forcing many of our fellow citizens to take strike action. They have been determined enough to fight these injustices that they have overcome the treacherous anti-strike laws designed to thwart them. The Government have antagonised workers up and down the country, including many who were classified as key workers, who drove the country through the worst pandemic and some of the darkest times in history. Strikes and industrial action continue at the likes of the bus company Go North East, and balloting is taking place even at Oxfam—an organisation that prides itself on looking after the deprived and the poor—which has amassed a fortune, but still not enough to pay the workforce properly. There are pockets of strike action in the civil service and elsewhere in the public sector. I ask again, where is the employment rights Bill that the Government have promised for so long? In the private sector, individuals have seen their wages decline at the same time as company directors and CEOs have seen their remuneration packages grow grotesquely. In the public sector, many of those we value so highly and who showed their dedication to serving us so courageously during the covid pandemic have been forced to take action not only to seek to restore their own wages but to try and redress the crippling staff shortages caused by Tory neglect.

In the NHS, staff shortages have been created by a long-term Tory public sector wage squeeze, which has also made staff retention and recruitment extremely difficult. That has been a major factor in the decline of our public services, especially in the NHS. The NHS is held together by the glue that is the dedication, passion and commitment of the staff, and we should all pay tribute to every single one of them. Where in this King’s Speech was there anything to do with the deterioration of our people’s health, caused as a direct result of the wilful Tory neglect of the NHS? For instance, why was there nothing to improve the cancer waiting lists that are endangering so many lives? In my area, the privately operated Rutherford Centre was being used by the NHS for cancer scanning and treatments. In June 2022, the company that owned it went into liquidation and it remains closed to this day. It remains empty and its treatment rooms are silent through Tory indifference. It is locked up and idle, but it could be helping individuals with cancer.

The King’s Speech could have been used to announce full compensation payments to parents and children who have suffered the loss of loved ones as a consequence of the blood contamination scandal. These people have been promised time and time again that full compensation would be paid. It was undoubtedly the worst tragedy in the history of the NHS, and I fear that many more victims of this tragedy will die before the Government agree to pay full compensation as well as interim repayments to some of the individuals. My constituent Sean Cavens was among those victims. They have all suffered and they have been tret terribly. The King’s Speech could have recognised their suffering and that of so many others, but it did not, because the Tories simply do not care.

This issue cannot continue to be kicked into the long grass. Victims are dying on a daily basis, and the recent reshuffle, only hours ago, means that the Minister in charge of the contaminated blood tragedy has now left their post, leaving the victims at a loss over who will take charge of this absolutely desperate situation. I would love the Minister who is summing up to tell the victims of contaminated blood who will be in charge and, as victims of the NHS failing to comply with the regulations all those years ago, tell them when they will receive fair and right compensation.

The Government have announced in the King’s Speech that they intend to use the powers they created under the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 to lay down minimum service levels during strikes in the health services, transport services and other sectors. That will force many into work against their will and allow them to be sacked if they refuse. It will be done without negotiating with the unions, in the dictatorial manner that we have come to expect from anti-trade-union fanatics. It will be chaotic, undemocratic in the extreme and probably illegal under international labour law. The Government consistently manifest their disdain for democracy, whether by attacking people’s right to strike or through undermining our freedom to protest, yet they have the nerve to say that they are the true guardians of British values.

Let us not forget that this Tory Government recently revealed that their only constant principle was to encourage greed and help those who have the most already. In a country in which we have the disgrace of families having to rely on food banks to live, the Tories think it is more important to remove the restrictions on bankers’ bonuses than to meaningfully address the needs of the poor and the low-paid. That is in sharp contrast to the values shown by the shadow Deputy Prime Minister, who has pledged that within the first 100 days of a Labour Government, the recent anti-strike measures will be repealed and measures will be created to allow trade unions to organise more freely.

There is lots more, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I see many others waiting to speak. I wanted to hear something in the King’s Speech about the gigafactory in my constituency, which was again neglected; it never received a penny from the Government, from the automotive transformation fund, to progress lots of jobs in my area. That did not happen. Why was it not in the King’s Speech? I represent a mining area. Why was there nothing in the King’s Speech on the surplus that the Government are robbing from the mineworkers’ pension scheme, and why was there nothing on the changing regulations on pneumoconiosis and mesothelioma, when people are dying on a regular basis? The Government are dying, and they have nothing to offer but further chaos and despair. The King’s Speech was evidence of this terrible state of affairs, and we need to strip aside the worst Government in living memory.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I emphasise that we need to think of others and try to stick to the advisory guidance.

18:36
Robin Walker Portrait Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will do my very best.

I agree with one thing that the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said. He talked about the contaminated blood scandal, and I want to see that compensation moved forward as swiftly as possible.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell) on his excellent maiden speech and welcome him to his place. He is clearly a great local champion and I look forward to him delivering for his constituents. I apologise to colleagues if my speech slightly errs from the main topic of this debate on the NHS to focus on education, but as Chair of the Education Committee, there are important things I have to say and unfortunately we were in session while the education debate was taking place.

Touching on health, I welcome the focus in the Gracious Speech on supporting the NHS, cutting waiting lists and implementing the much-needed NHS workforce plans. In particular I welcome the change to that plan to allow the three newly approved medical schools to begin training doctors from next year rather than from 2025. That will make a huge difference in Worcester, and I am grateful to the Health Committee for having me as a guest when we were examining officials on that and pushing the case for it. I also raised it with the Prime Minister in the Liaison Committee. Allowing those doctors to train in Worcester will help with retention and recruitment, and it will support our local NHS.

I welcome more investment in mental health services, but I would observe from my work on the Education Committee that in child and adolescent mental health services that cannot come soon enough. I support the aim of creating a smoke-free generation, which I believe strikes a sensible balance between public health and individual freedoms. This Government have delivered a great deal for my local NHS, and a massive £15 million expansion of the emergency department at the Worcester Royal Hospital is only the latest stage of that investment, but we continue to suffer from a capacity challenge in our Worcestershire hospitals that has been in place since the last Labour Government closed Kidderminster A&E without properly planning for space in either Worcester or Redditch. I sincerely hope that the new emergency department, with its dedicated paediatric emergency department, will make a real difference alongside the pipeline of new and much-needed junior doctors through the medical school. The recent decision of the acute trust to declare a critical incident at the very star