What steps the Government are taking to implement their levelling-up agenda. (902413)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention Ben Houchen, the Gareth Southgate of local government. It is appropriate that, as the Treasury and the Department for International Trade are recruiting new roles in Darlington and there is more investment in Teesside, we must make sure that we have proper connectivity, including first-class rail travel as well as improved digital connectivity.
I absolutely will. There is nothing left behind about Clacton and Frinton and the communities that my hon. Friend so ably represents, and I look forward to visiting them. I understand that there is a fantastic local community theatre that he has played a part in championing, among many other local endeavours. Levelling up is about culture as well as connectivity. I look forward to coming to Clacton and making sure that it is firmly on the map and at the centre of our levelling up plans.
Transparency drives everything that the Government do—that and a commitment to levelling up and ensuring that our Union is stronger. That is why we are moving jobs to Glasgow, a beautiful city that, sadly, has not flourished as it might have done under the Scottish Government’s stewardship over the course of the last 14 years. It is also why we are moving jobs to York, the city that the hon. Lady so ably represents alongside my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy). We will be increasing the number of Cabinet Office jobs in York by 50% in the coming months, and it is not just the Cabinet Office; other Government jobs will be coming to York as well, because, as she rightly points out, its transport connectivity, its historical connections and its potential for brownfield renovation all make it a superb site for investment.
Thanks to my hon. Friend, I never give Clacton anything other than serious consideration. Clacton, Frinton and the communities that he so ably represents contain talented people who have a contribution to make, and of course we will do everything possible, not necessarily by relocating civil service departments to that part of Essex, but by ensuring that there are opportunities through apprenticeships and the civil service fast stream, to ensure that talented young people in Essex have an opportunity, like him, to serve.
I sympathise very much with the hon. Lady’s constituents and the pupils who have to put up with disruption caused by flooding. I know that the Environment Agency continues to work very actively with the county council to resolve the issues and that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister has written to her about what more can be done.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which I am sure will be heard with great interest around the country. There is just such a review being carried out after consulting pub owners, brewers and others, and I know that the Chancellor is looking very closely at the findings.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because she is raising a very important point. Getting kids back into school has been the most important objective that we have had over the last few months, and I am glad that it has got under way, but she is right in what she says about the digital divide. That is why we are investing massively in online education, giving 2,200,000 laptops and tablets, and putting routers in schools across the country. That is what we are going to do, and I want to see a world in which every school in our country has full gigabit broadband, with the equipment that will give pupils the access to the internet that they need.
That is a very important point. Obviously the job retention scheme has been very effective in keeping people in work, but there are of course people who do not have employment of that kind. That is why we have given £1.57 billion to support the creative, culture and media sectors, including the theatres. We will do whatever we can to support the freelancers who my hon. Friend describes, because they are the backbone of our theatrical world, which, as he knows, is the jewel in the crown of the London cultural economy.
I yield to no one in my admiration for the Duchy of Lancaster. I recognise that as the Government decide where agencies of both Government and Parliament should go we should think fondly of the north-west as well as Yorkshire and the north-east, but I cannot help saying to the hon. Lady that when she talks about fratricidal conflict in mediaeval times, when people were putting each other to the sword, she reminds me of nothing so much as the deputy leadership contest of the Labour party.
The reason that, in just 10 days’ time, we on this side of the House are getting Brexit done is so that we can drive growth across our United Kingdom. From Clacton to Caithness, from Holyhead to Hull, we will be investing millions of pounds in communities, not least £2.5 million in the coastal community of Clackers.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and he is absolutely right. No matter what happens, when the money comes across, we need to have a Minister in place to ensure that the moneys do go to the Department of Health where they are needed, and are not swallowed up in the block budget and therefore do not become as effective as they could be.
We need to address the issue of appropriate staffing pay and working conditions, as well as having acceptable waiting lists. There are waiting lists for occupational therapy referrals, hip replacements or cataract operations. There are massive numbers of people waiting not just to be assessed, but to have such operations, so it is really important that we have this in place so that we can serve the people of Northern Ireland better. I do not blame our current permanent secretary or his senior civil servants, who are attempting to do the job of running the Department that belongs to an elected representative and which they have been asked to oversee without the power of the position of a Minister. They are being asked to run the largest Department with one hand behind their backs, and I believe that that must end.
I spoke to many nurses and families of nurses on the doorsteps in the run-up to and on the day of the election, and they told me that even with the pay rise, the lack of staff on the wards makes their position untenable. We need the Department of Health—this is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland—to employ extra nurses, not to have all the temporary staff they have, which is a large cost on the health budget in Northern Ireland. I support the Government’s desire to raise staffing levels and to put in additional funding to achieve this, but I am asking, in the same way the House believed it appropriate to step in and legislate for abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, that it steps in and legislates for life-and-death matters, and sorts out the pay scales in the trusts and the pension issues as a matter of urgency. As I said about the Labour amendment in the last Session, if the House and the Government can rule on this issue, there is a responsibility to continue the interference and to step in for our hospitals and for our schools.
It is very important that we have a system in place that can respond positively to what is happening on universal credit. I see that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), who speaks for the Scots Nats on this, has just left the Chamber, but he and I have the same opinion on this. Universal credit should be suspended. At the moment, we have a scheme that disadvantages the people of my constituency, and I want to put that on the record. People are losing out on four to five weeks of possible help and of moneys to help them through this process. I am very fortunate to have a very good manageress in the local social security office, but she cannot work miracles with the system she has. I ask the Government to look at this again because it has thrown many into poverty across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, especially in my constituency.
In Northern Ireland, we are coming to the end of the welfare supplementary payments and the food banks in Northern Ireland are already oversubscribed. I put on record my thanks to the Trussell Trust food bank in Newtownards, which is run through the Thriving Life church. It does a magnificent job, but it tells me that more and more people are being disadvantaged and are going to the food bank because of the delays in benefit payments. That has to be looked at.
The middle and working classes are about to implode, without intervention, and in the absence of a functioning Assembly, this place must do the right thing by Northern Ireland and get the ball rolling, starting with health and education funding and decision making.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling). The Queen’s Speech introduced by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) stated:
“My government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal”,
and mentioned working with the devolved Administrations and business. That was then dropped to become, “My priority is to secure a deal by 31 October, do or die”, and now we have 31 January.
Hon. Members know that we have a different system for referendums—they are one person, one vote, which decided the referendum in 2016—compared with elections for constituency MPs. Under the one person, one vote system, other than generating a significant Conservative majority, this election also generated 16.5 million votes for remain parties, and 14.5 million for leave parties, which is 2 million fewer. If we consider the number of parties that do not agree with the deal that is being railroaded through, which includes the Brexit party, that is 18.1 million people who do not agree with the deal as it stands. Nevertheless, this deal will be hammered through on the basis of an election that was thrust on us on a cold, dark night, and that disadvantaged poorer people who do not have cars and so on.
The election was engineered in such a way because the Conservatives realised that they could unite the smaller pro-Brexit vote, divide the remain vote, secure a majority, and hammer Brexit through on the back of a few slogans such as “get Brexit done”, and “oven-ready” convenience food. We all know that living on oven-ready convenience food is not particularly good for our health, but we are where we are. I am sad that we have lost so many good Labour MPs, and our next task is to ensure that people’s jobs, livelihoods and environments, and workers’ rights, are secured in this deal through democratic scrutiny. I fear that that will not happen, that those things will not prevail, and that we will end up with a Brexit that will make us all poorer, weaker and more divided.
Given that, it is incumbent on the Government to deliver a Queen’s Speech that counteracts the negative economic impacts of Brexit by making as its centrepiece a re-engineering of our economy to deliver the white heat of technology focused on sustainability, given that we have a climate crisis—a new green economic renaissance. Sadly, we did not see that in the Queen’s Speech. We saw “get Brexit done”—whatever that means—and, yes, we will have some trade deals, but there will be no scrutiny. Instead, we will stand alone, weak against China and weak against the United States, as we turn our back on the European market.
We should have accelerated our ambition to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and put in place a fiscal strategy to deliver excellent green technologies and products that would form an export base for a new economy. I welcome the fact that we will host the COP26 summit, which will give us an opportunity to showcase ideas. I very much hope that the Budget will focus on fiscal strategies and incentives for investment to push that agenda forward.
As the chair of the all-party group on air pollution, I welcome the legally binding targets in the Queen’s Speech. The devil, however, will be in the detail. It is important that we meet the World Health Organisation target on particulate matter—the target to reach PM2.5 down from the 15 micrograms per cubic metre we have in London now to 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030. Microparticulates will penetrate unborn babies and we are seeing dreadful public health problems in Britain. The latest estimate on premature deaths from air pollution is approximately 62,000 people a year, at a cost of £20 billion a year. It is therefore very important that we focus on this issue. People doubted much of the economics in the Labour manifesto, but according to the Royal College of Physicians the cost of air pollution is £20 billion a year. If we saved £3 billion—a fairly modest saving—that income stream could service, at a 5% interest rate, a borrowing of £60 billion to invest in green manufacturing.
We need a transition towards the electrification of all our trains and buses sooner rather than later. We need to incentivise, through scrappage schemes, the switchover to electric cars for normal consumers. It is unfortunate that the roll-out of much of the electric grid is in the hands of BP, which has a vested interested in slowing it down in order to sell more petrol and diesel. We need to re-engineer our duties to incentivise people towards a sustainable future and for the Government to invest in public transport alternatives. There are a lot of technological opportunities. Our subsidy focus should move from fossil fuel to renewable energy—whether wave, wind or solar—and towards the manufacture of associated products.