4.10 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I start by congratulating all those who have made their maiden speeches today. I have listened to some and they have been excellent, as one would expect, from all parts of the House.

I welcome the broad thrust of the Queen’s Speech. Unfettered by coalition partners, we are now free to pursue a most welcome Conservative agenda. As it would take too long to cover every point in the Queen’s Speech, I have highlighted a few and I shall speak about them in the order in which they were presented in the Gracious Speech.

The first, and without doubt the most important, relates to the economy. Her Majesty referred to

“bringing the public finances under control and reducing the deficit”.

This must be right and we made great strides in the previous Parliament to prevent our beloved country from falling into an economic abyss.

During the election, I could not help but notice the level of vitriol, mainly from the left. The word “austerity” was hijacked and repeatedly and contemptuously spat out to delude voters into thinking that some belt-tightening and control of Government spending was almost evil.

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Balancing the family budget is not evil, nor is attending to the country’s. In the case of the latter, it was imperative, lest we leave our children and grandchildren saddled with debt and the inevitable misery that goes with it.

Secondly, on apprenticeships, our record has been second to none and the Government are to be congratulated on pursuing this important policy even further. Perhaps promising millions more apprenticeships could be reworded along the lines of “We aspire to create more apprenticeships”. I am always uncomfortable with promises, as so often factors outside our control conspire to make the target an impossible one. However, having helped to establish our first two apprenticeship fairs at Weymouth College in my constituency, I have a lot of feedback from local employers. They, too, welcome the general thrust, but agree unanimously that the reward for taking on an apprentice should be higher. May I suggest to the Treasury team that perhaps some money from the welfare budget could be better targeted at apprenticeships?

Thirdly, on the vexed question of giving housing association tenants the right to own their own home, I have some reservations. I agree in principle but have concerns about it in practice. As I understand it, tenants could buy their house at a large discount. The money would then be used by the association to build more homes. It all sounds very enticing and brings back memories of Mrs Thatcher’s successful and empowering policy of allowing tenants to buy their own council house. There is no doubt that the first generation would be extremely grateful, but what about those who follow? In seats such as mine, which is dominated by the green belt, there are few places to build new homes, and selling off the association homes that we have could surely lead to a shortage of affordable housing stock. Will the Government add some flexibility to this policy, particularly in rural seats such as mine?

Fourthly, I welcome plans to ensure that decisions affecting England, or England and Wales, can be taken only with the consent of the majority of MPs representing those constituencies.

Fifthly, the long-awaited EU referendum is now imminent. For me, and I think for many in the country, the question is simple: do we wish to be a truly sovereign nation, with our own identity and laws, or do we want to be consumed by a federalist state run from Brussels? I have no doubt that the majority of British people want the former. With the referendum now promised by the end of 2017, our negotiating hand has been strengthened enormously. I am sure that I am not alone in hoping that the Prime Minister’s demands are stringent and meaningful, and aimed at repatriating powers that for too long have been signed away, not least control of our borders. It is time, after 40 years, to have our say.

Finally, I want to talk about defence. As a former soldier, my heart sank when I read that defence spending is to be reduced by a further £1 billion. Quite apart from upsetting me—and, I am sure, every man and woman who serves in our wonderful armed forces—it caused US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter to speak out. I know from friends who work closely with Americans in the political field that they do not like speaking out against the United Kingdom unless they have a genuine reason for doing so. We should therefore listen to what they are saying. He calls on us to commit to spending at

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least 2% of our GDP on defence, which is the NATO minimum. It is an arbitrary target, and in my view it should probably be closer to 5%, as it was in my day, back in the ’80s and during the Falklands campaign. Of course, the kit is now far more expensive, and our manpower has been depleted to the point that some generals and admirals seriously question whether we have enough men and women to man all the new kit we are going to get.

How on earth can we ring-fence the overseas aid budget when we cannot afford to defend our nation and dependants and meet all our responsibilities? I just do not understand the Government’s thinking. It is beyond me and everyone else I speak to on the subject—everyone else. They just cannot understand it. Have we not learnt the lessons of history? It is no good having all this wonderful kit if we do not have the manpower to operate it. Even if we did, this further cut is bound to affect training, which is key if our troops, sailors and airmen are to be the best. I call on the Government to change tack before it is too late.

How sad I am to end my first speech of the new Parliament on a downbeat note, but I am afraid that I, like many others, am disillusioned, disappointed and angry that our armed forces and the defence of the realm are being treated in such a short-sighted way.

4.17 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I would like first to take this opportunity to thank the people of Washington and Sunderland West for re-electing me as their representative. It has been a privilege working on their behalf over the past decade; I look forward to continuing to do so over the next five years.

Today’s debate focuses on health and social care, which is one of the issues I heard a lot about on the doorstep during the election campaign. The Gracious Speech included sections on health that were similar in tone to policies that Opposition Members campaigned on during the election. However, as too many have learned the hard way over the past five years, we should always take Tory promises on the NHS with a rather large pinch of salt. The Gracious Speech spoke of securing the future of our NHS. That is the same future that five years of Conservative policies have put in dire jeopardy, which is why Labour in opposition must work harder than ever to push the Government to do what is necessary to help our struggling NHS services.

I would like to focus my remarks on the specific problem of continuing health inequalities experienced in many parts of the UK. Compared with the rest of the country, my region, the north-east, has ingrained health inequalities. That is clear from the persistently lower life expectancy, and we also have the highest national rate of early deaths from cancer. The situation will only get worse if the investment into the NHS is not forthcoming and properly tailored. The coalition Government oversaw a number of disastrous policies that put our NHS under increasing strain in the north-east. It will be my job and that of my north-east colleagues to make sure that this Government do not keep ignoring our needs and that something is done not only to cure the problems we currently have but, crucially, to invest in prevention to stop them from taking root in the first place.

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Similarly, all across the country, other health inequalities exist that this Government must do more to address, none more so than the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It is estimated that by 2020 half the entire population can be expected to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, so it is crucially important to make sure that we have a system that works for everyone. This will mean boosting greater awareness, more innovative training of doctors, investing in the drugs needed to treat the conditions, and having the staff available to help people as they go through what is likely to be the most traumatic period of their lives. This takes investment, but it also takes the will to do it. We need the Government to be truly proactive and positive in getting to grips with this issue. I can assure Ministers here today that I will continue to press them on this as, I hope, co-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer, and again I hope, if I am re-elected, as chair of the all-party group on ovarian cancer. I am sure that my colleagues will do likewise.

In my capacity as shadow Women and Equalities Minister, I have been very aware of the shocking health disparities seen among people from BAME—black, Asian and minority ethnic—backgrounds. Incidence rates of myeloma for African and African-Caribbean men and women are twice as high as for white men and women. Mouth cancer rates in Asian females are 50% higher than they are for white women. Black men have higher rates of prostate cancer than men of other ethnicities. These and many other equally alarming statistics make for worrying reading. I was proud to see in Labour’s BAME manifesto that our party made a commitment to focusing on delivering greater health equality. Over the past five years of the coalition Government, however, I have seen nothing to suggest that reducing health inequalities has been anything like a priority for a Conservative Administration. I fear that if that remains the case for the next five years, the situation is only going to get worse.

I fought the general election with a desire not just to save our NHS but to make it the best service anywhere in the world. Our policies would have made great strides towards achieving that, not only helping patients but improving the way we treat the brilliant medical, care and support staff who are the lifeblood of our NHS. Over the past five years, those staff have been overburdened and undervalued. That needs to change immediately, as does our over-reliance on agency staff, which has been all over the news today. According to a recent report from the Royal College of Nursing, spending on agency nurses in 2014-15 stands at £980 million, and the overall spend on agency staff is a staggering £3.3 billion. Surely this is not prudent or value for taxpayers’ money by any measure.

Worrying developments outlined in the Gracious Speech about workers’ rights undermine the already ridiculous assertion by the Conservative party that it is the party of working people. The Prime Minister and Chancellor like to don a high-visibility jacket now and again for a photo opportunity, but that does not fool the people of my constituency that they have their best interests at heart. If they banned exploitative zero-hour contracts, pursued tax dodgers and those who do not pay the minimum wage, tackled the blight of low pay all across the country, stopped punishing and demonising the most vulnerable, and upheld rather than sought to scrap the hard-won rights of working people across our

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country, then perhaps they would start to earn the right to call themselves champions of working people. Perhaps they will surprise us, but I, for one, will not be holding my breath.

I will finish by looking at another area that has been much harder for ordinary working people over the past five years—the provision of childcare. In my newly reprised role as shadow Children and Families Minister, I listened very carefully to the passage of the Gracious Speech on the Government’s commitment to increase free childcare for working parents. In principle, of course, this is a policy that Labour Members believe in. Indeed, we championed it during the election, and then the Tories copied us. Childcare for three and four-year-olds has suffered underfunding problems for some time now, with nurseries in the north-east suffering the worst. That has gone hand in hand with parents being consistently hit hard over the past few years, with childcare costs having reached simply unsustainable levels, going up a staggering 47% in the north-east. I hope the Government understand how badly they need to do something about this and that they cannot cut precious child benefit to plug the funding gap. I will be watching out for that very closely.

4.25 pm

Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): It is a great honour to represent Colchester in Parliament. Colchester is not only the most beautiful town in Britain, but the oldest recorded and the Roman capital of Britain long before they discovered Londinium. We are blessed with rich heritage, including Roman walls, the only Roman circus in the country, a castle that is the largest Norman keep in Europe, and the largest Victorian water tower in the United Kingdom.

Colchester is also famously connected to two significant women in British history: first, Queen Boudicca, who was arguably the original Essex girl and who sacked Roman Colchester in AD60; and, secondly, the late Baroness Thatcher, who worked as a chemist while living in Colchester. Colchester has been a garrison town since the Romans and is now the home to 16 Air Assault Brigade. We are incredibly proud of our armed forces, and the link between the garrison and the town is stronger than ever.

Colchester is the cultural capital of Essex, with our multimillion-pound arts centre, Firstsite, which, although it has been tough, we are growing to love. We also have fantastic venues, including the Mercury theatre, the arts centre and the Minories gallery. It is an admittedly little known fact that Colchester is arguably the home of the nursery rhyme, with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Humpty Dumpty” both being written there.

The final Colchester institution that I cannot fail to mention is, of course, Sir Bob Russell. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, who served in this House for 18 years and, before that, for more than 20 years on Colchester Borough Council, where he served both as council leader and as mayor. He was held in high regard and had a reputation for being a hard-working constituency Member of Parliament. Although he and I rarely agreed politically, I respect him for the decades of public service he has given to our town and this country. As a mark of the tradition started by Sir Bob, I am today wearing the Colchester crest on my lapel, but I make no apologies for drawing a

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line at yellow waistcoats. In seriousness, I would like to put on record my thanks to Sir Bob and wish him well for the future.

It was Richard Nixon who said,

“only if you’ve been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”

I know that all too well. My first election was in 2003, when I was at university in Aberystwyth in mid-Wales and stood for Ceredigion County Council. It was only when nominations closed that I found out that I was the only Conservative candidate in the entire county, the reason for which became clearer on polling day when I received 26 votes—it was especially pertinent that 10 of them had signed my nomination paper. In that context, I cannot put into words my gratitude to the people of Colchester for putting their faith in me and giving me the opportunity to serve both my town and my country.

I am pleased to be making my maiden speech following Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech, particularly as part of today’s health debate, as I am fortunate to represent a town with a large general hospital. Colchester general hospital is currently in special measures, and I very much thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health for visiting the hospital twice this year and for delivering 35 extra doctors and 66 extra nurses since 2010. My constituents will welcome the increased investment in the NHS of £8 billion a year by 2020, as set out in the Gracious Speech. Rest assured that I will be fighting for a considerable sum of that investment to come to Colchester.

Although the trust has a plan to get our hospital out of special measures, the hospital has a significant threat on the horizon, with NHS England due to decide in the coming months whether we are to retain our urology cancer surgical unit. I fully back the campaign to save Colchester’s urology cancer surgery unit. Our local centre serves the whole of north Essex; it is unrealistic to ask elderly patients from Colchester, let alone from as far afield as Clapton or Harwich, to travel the 60-odd miles to Southend for treatment. We have a fantastic cancer centre at Colchester hospital; indeed, we have one of the most modern radiotherapy centres in Europe. We have leading experts providing care to patients. In fact, less than three months ago £250,000 was invested in a urology day unit at Colchester hospital. We should be building on that, not trying to take it away. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on this subject, and hope that he will meet me at his earliest convenience.

Colchester was the first capital of Roman Britain. I intend to be its champion and, where necessary, its gladiator here in Westminster.

4.30 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): It is an unexpected pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Howarth—although Mr Speaker is now taking over just as I say that. It is a pleasure to serve under you both. The maiden speeches that have been given this afternoon have been uniformly excellent, and I am sure that they betoken a bright parliamentary future for those Members. To the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), may I say that I knew Bob Russell well for the 18 years he served here. Our offices were a few doors apart on the

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Upper Committee corridor. If the hon. Gentleman can serve the people of Colchester one tenth as well as Sir Bob Russell did, he will be doing very well indeed.

In my reflections on the Queen’s Speech, I would like to say something about health, if I have the time, but there are other things that I want to say before that. First, perhaps surprisingly, I welcome the inclusion of the European Union Referendum Bill. I have been a supporter of a referendum on our future relationship with Europe, and a few years ago served on the Committee for the European Union (Referendum) Bill, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton). I noticed that he retained his seat with a swing of 4.5% to the Conservatives, as opposed to the 2% swing to Labour in Stockton North, and think that it might have something to do with the role he played in picking up the Bill. It was a reward for his effort.

The Bill was known by the denizens of the fourth estate as the Wharton Bill, but that is not actually true. It was a No. 10 Bill that the hon. Gentleman picked up having been drawn first in the private Members’ ballot. The Committee was an interesting experience, not to mention entertaining, because it was entirely led by the Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington). The hon. Member for Stockton South said not a word until the final sitting and the pleasantries that conclude every Committee stage. We were also entertained by the bizarre sight of the Prime Minister having to pay obeisance to the Eurosceptic right wingers on the Committee, to whom he was in thrall, by sitting in the Public Gallery of the Committee Room on a Tuesday evening. I have tried to check whether any previous Prime Minister has been forced to suffer such humiliation, but so far I have drawn a complete blank. The Bill was a device to hold the Tory party together more than anything else, and it foundered as a consequence.

My support for a referendum is based on the belief that our relationship with and position in the EU needs to be clarified, and only the electorate at large can do that. Polls show majority support for the referendum, even among those who would vote for the UK to remain a member of the EU. I felt that my party’s position at the general election—refusing to support a referendum on the grounds of uncertainty—was always untenable. The only way to remove uncertainty is to deal with it, not to ignore it. Denying people a say on the grounds that they might come up with the wrong answer is unworthy of any truly democratic party. I am neither a Europhile nor a Europhobe; I am what I prefer to call a Europragmatist. I believe that the interests of this country, its economy and its people are best served by remaining in the EU, but I see that there can be life outside the EU, even though I do not think that that is the optimal solution.

I speak as someone—I think I am in the minority in the House—who actually voted in the 1975 referendum, and voted no. However, I offer the Prime Minister a word of caution. Harold Wilson devised the referendum in 1975 largely as a device to hold the Labour party together, and it did so in the short term, but that did not endure. It also resulted in defeat at the next general election in 1979, which left the Labour party languishing on these Opposition Benches for the next 18 years.

Childcare was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech and it is immensely important to hundreds of thousands of families. The Labour party promised an extra 10 hours

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of childcare on top of the current 15 hours, and the Conservatives promised an additional 15 hours, so there is no real difference on the principle. Everything revolves around the practicalities of capacity and cost.

At the moment, it is estimated that under the 15-hour scheme there is a 20% funding shortfall. The average amount that most local authorities pay is £3.88 per hour, but the true cost to those providing the service is 70p an hour more than that. The Family and Childcare Trust, the National Day Nurseries Association and the Pre-school Learning Alliance have all expressed grave reservations about what is being proposed, as well as saying that it is necessary to get things right.

Just a week after the general election I received a letter from somebody who runs a Montessori nursery in my constituency. He is actually a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and also sits on the executive of the private providers, Bromley council partnership group, which represents about 200 private providers in the borough of Bromley. He wrote:

“The reason so many of us are concerned is that MPs and certainly a minister in charge of this portfolio must know how private providers in London and South East are currently subsidising the ‘free’ 15 hours with the additional time purchased by families above the 15 hours at a rate more in line with the real cost of provision. You will also know that raising the ‘free’ entitlement to 30 hours will almost eliminate this approach and I am sure you will not insult our intelligence by suggesting the promised increases in the Government’s rate of funding will get anywhere near replacing this revenue.”

Mrs Hodgson: My hon. Friend is making some extremely valuable points in expanding on what I said towards the end of my speech. Is he as concerned as I am that the Government have not come forward with any proposals about how they will pay for this scheme? Indeed, the only benefit that we have heard might be at risk is child benefit. Is he also worried about that?

Jim Dowd: Yes—I am worried about anything that has not been specifically stated in the Queen’s Speech. I know that the Government have engaged in a review of the implications of this proposal, but they should have engaged in that before promising anything. To put the promise up front and then say, “Well, we’ll sort something out afterwards”, is a recipe for chaos.

What will happen if the Government are not careful is that we will move to the disgraceful position that we have had for many years in residential care for the elderly, whereby it is the private payers who subsidise the local authority residents, because the local authority residents’ rates are fixed and the private payers have to pay a premium on top of those rates. If that is what this proposal results in, it will be a complete and utter disgrace, and it will not work because there is not the capacity in the private nursery sector for everybody to take advantage of it.

Finally, the reservations of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), who is not in his place, about the right to buy for housing association tenants are entirely justified. That proposal is little more than a scandalous bribe to those who are already adequately housed. A discount of anything up to £102,000 in London is not only grossly unfair but an insult to those in the private sector who would dearly love to be given £100,000 to buy a house or to rent. This will add nothing

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at all; it does nothing to deal with the housing crisis, either here in London or anywhere else. It is a sordid Government-sponsored corruption scheme worthy of FIFA.

4.38 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd), and to have heard such excellent maiden speeches from so many Members today: the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford); my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd (James Davies) and for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell); the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire); and my hon. Friends the Members for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Telford (Lucy Allan). I apologise if I have forgotten any new Member.

I welcome the Gracious Speech and in particular I welcome its one nation approach. It is so important that this focus on bringing our country together remains throughout this Parliament and beyond, not only for the nations of our country—important though they are—but for all people, through cutting inequality, achieving full employment and supporting communities.

I welcome, too, the emphasis on working people, but it must be the widest-possible definition of working people. Yes, it must include employees, but the self-employed, parents who choose to stay at home to bring up their children and carers, particularly in this carers week, who commit themselves to their loved ones, are all working people. So when we speak of helping working people get on, let us ensure that it includes the widest possible definition.

The Gracious Speech mentioned supporting home ownership and giving housing association tenants the chance to own their own home. I want to see increasing home ownership, but I also want to see an increased number of social and affordable homes to rent, and any social housing that is sold needs to be replaced one for one, with the associations involved being properly compensated.

I represent Stafford and much of my election campaign was, understandably, taken up with health. My constituents have been through an extremely difficult time with the local NHS. They have seen great improvements in quality, but also a loss of services, which is a subject that I shall address with your permission, Mr Speaker, in an Adjournment debate later this week. I ask that Mid Staffs not be used continually as an example of historic poor care, but that instead we talk about learning the lessons from the Francis report, recognising the huge improvements made since then in Stafford and elsewhere, as we have heard today.

I welcome the five-year NHS plan and the Government’s commitment to fund it, but we need to go further. Let us use the five years of this Parliament to set up a cross-party commission to look at health and social care for the next 20 to 30 years. We have the opportunity to look at its provision, integration and financing. The shadow Secretary of State mentioned the need for the Law Commission’s draft Bill on regulation to be introduced, and I agree. The Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act 2015, which I introduced into the House in the last Parliament, made a start on this work, but it needs to be completed.

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Finally, it is essential, as the Queen’s Speech promised, that the Government continue to play a leading role in global affairs. People around the world look to the UK to take a lead on international development and co-operation and on human rights. Economic success is, of course, important, but it is not everything. I want the UK to be known for the seriousness with which it takes its global responsibilities to the poorest. I will mention just four areas: jobs, of which we need 1 billion around the world in the next decade; climate change; health systems and combating disease; and, of course, extremism.

This Parliament faces many challenges, but we should never forget, as one constituent reminded me during the election campaign, that we live in a wonderful country. If we truly strive, as we do, to bring our nation together, we will ensure that this remains a wonderful country for our children and grandchildren.

4.43 pm

Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this important debate and make my first speech to the House. I also thank my hon. Friends on the Scottish National party Benches for turning out in such great numbers to support me. I have listened attentively and with great enjoyment to the speeches of new Members, and I particularly enjoyed those of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner).

I begin by paying tribute to, and sending my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of, Charles Kennedy, who well earned his status as a towering giant in Scottish and UK politics and was one of the best orators that Scotland has produced. He was well known for his kindness, humanity and humour, and I particularly remember him for taking a courageous stance in leading his party against the Iraq war.

I am privileged to be here serving the people of Glasgow East. I was swept here on a tide of optimism in Scotland. Most importantly, a constituency that has long felt neglected has put its trust in me, and I will stand up for it in this House. I know that for many of those whose understanding of Glasgow extends no further than lazy caricatures, there are stereotypes to be challenged, and I will indeed challenge them.

I am an adopted Glaswegian. It is my home by choice, and I am proud of the city I call home and now represent. I agree that Glasgow should be feared, not because of any misconceptions, but because it is a city that throughout its history has held a mirror to all those who would dare to exploit it and its people. Glasgow’s people represent a powerful but peaceful threat to all of those who have complacently wielded power from this building for centuries. It has constantly served as a social conscience to our society. Above all, its people stand in solidarity with those across the country and it extends a hand of friendship to all those across the world who would make the world better for all.

This House ignores the needs and aspirations of Glasgow at its peril. Its resilience is remarkable. I represent a constituency that contains some of worst and some of the best of Scotland and the United Kingdom. We should all here collectively be ashamed of the poverty,

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inequality and low life expectancy that some of my constituents suffer and have suffered for generations. All of us on the SNP Benches were elected on a platform to tackle austerity, to tackle inequality and to raise the standard of living. In Glasgow, every seat is now represented by the SNP, and we will build on our proud heritage in pursuing social justice and fairness and in standing up for the most vulnerable in our society.

In my role as spokesperson on disabilities, I will put the rights of those with physical disabilities as well as those with hidden disabilities such as mental ill health at the very front of everything I do in this House. We will strive to dismantle the sanctions regime for social security claimants, and we will strive to return dignity to those with disabilities who deserve the state to be their ally, not their enemy. How we treat others is a mark of our humanity and our values. I will not stop until we see the end of the abomination of dawn raids like those that happened in my constituency last week, and I will not stop until we shut down the imprisoning of asylum seekers at Dungavel. We will work with Members of all parties who share these beliefs and who want to go beyond platitudes and actually extend life, tangibly improve health and increase the quality of life for people in Glasgow East and across the country.

Glasgow East is a diverse constituency. We have huge things to be proud of. The participation and political astuteness around the community is incredible. While some elsewhere may talk of apathy, community groups across the constituency are taking action every day and making sure politicians like me know the work that needs to be done. From Hangman’s Brae to Carmyle and Auchenshuggle in the south and Shettleston, Tollcross, Mount Vernon, Baillieston and Garrowhill at its heart to the communities of Easterhouse, Cranhill and Craigend in the north, and the farms—yes, farms and lochs—of the constituency, Glasgow East challenges perceptions at every stage. We have world-class sporting facilities following the Commonwealth Games last year, and Celtic football club is currently the best football team in Scotland. I am a Hamilton Accies fan; I wanted to put that on the record, but I support my local team. [Laughter.]

Before I move on, I would like to say a word about my predecessor, Margaret Curran. Margaret has had a long and distinguished career in the Scottish Labour party— as an election agent to one MP, then as an MSP and then an MP herself. She worked tirelessly to the best of her abilities in every role she took, and I hope she continues to contribute to Scottish politics.

The city of “Red Clydeside” has changed greatly since the days of Maxton and Wheatley, Shinwell and Maclean. Gone are the industries where Glasgow led the world, such as the Forge at Parkhead that now lends its name to a shopping centre, but the spirit that was forged there amidst the smelters glows brightly in the talents of the men and women who live there. Mary Barbour, who together with thousands of women went on rent strike and forced the British Government of the day to act, stands as an inspiration to many. The fact that Glasgow now has a majority of female MPs representing it is testament, via the independence referendum, to that lineage of agitation and campaigning from then to now.

I stand here on the shoulders of many women who have preceded me, like my mum Alice and my aunt, Tricia Marwick and like my constituent, Nicola Sturgeon,

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First Minister. I am held up, too, by the thousands of women who rose up in the referendum. Women for Independence enabled me to find my voice. Now that I have found it, I will never tire. I am but one woman, but make no mistake, there are many, many like me. It is in that spirit that I intend to represent the people of Glasgow East—by holding people to account and advocating for those whom the system has left behind. Our large presence will work here at Westminster to turn neglect into nurturing, poverty into prosperity and premature death into longevity.

I would like to end by thanking all the staff in this Parliament for being so extraordinarily helpful to us in our first weeks here. They are truly a credit to the Parliament. There is much that we in this Chamber will disagree about, but we can work constructively, with respect and with vigorous debate. I welcome the challenge.

4.50 pm

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the chance to make my maiden speech in this debate, as it is on a subject about which I have strong feelings. I congratulate the other new Members on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speeches today. I particularly appreciated the prominence of mental health in several of the messages.

It is an immense honour to be speaking in this Chamber, and I do so with some trepidation, no doubt shared by others finding their feet here. There are many sources of courage in this House. My courage comes from my constituents; from the trust they have placed in me to represent them and give them a voice.

My wonderful constituency, Faversham and Mid Kent, stretches from the edge of Maidstone across the North Downs to Faversham, a historic port with a rich mercantile and maritime heritage, and on across fruit farms, marsh and ancient woodlands to Boughton-under-Blean and Hernhill.

Faversham is known as the market town of kings, and the constituency is proud of its royal heritage, although it has also imprisoned a couple of monarchs and the bones of another have been somehow misplaced. One of its treasures is Leeds Castle, and if I may make full use of the custom that I may speak without intervention, I shall say that Leeds is well known as the most beautiful castle in England. If you head south from Leeds, you rise up the Greensand Ridge to see a breathtaking view of the weald of Kent extending for miles into the distance, and then down in the weald itself you reach the lovely village of Headcorn, the southern tip of my constituency.

The area is renowned for agriculture—fruit farming as well as hop farming, which continues albeit on a much smaller scale than in the past. Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame, thrives in the centre of Faversham. It is the constituency’s largest employer and provided a good reason regularly to seek refreshment during the election campaign.

My constituency is a truly great place to live and work, but all is not as it could and should be. While unemployment is low, some people cannot get jobs, and there are too many people on low wages. We have excellent schools, including outstanding grammar schools, but some children leave school without good qualifications. Most people get excellent healthcare most of the time,

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but local hospitals face serious problems, GPs are overwhelmed and the future of Faversham cottage hospital is an ongoing worry. Residents of villages earmarked for development are fearful of the impact of new houses on their communities, although everyone recognises that we need more homes. During the election campaign, I promised to tackle these problems, and I will keep that promise.

I am fortunate that two of the area’s past MPs, Sir Roger Moate and Sir Hugh Robertson, both live in the constituency and are great sources of wisdom, albeit sensitive to the fact that the job is now mine to do. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me how hard it will be to live up to the standard set by Sir Hugh, and that is just in his role as constituency MP. On top of that, he served as Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Minister for Sport and the Olympics, an event which we can all agree was an outstanding triumph for this country.

Sir Hugh brought to this House his military experience and put it to good use. I hope that I, too, bring valuable experience. I come from a family of doctors, and I nearly followed in their footsteps, but time spent in hospitals as a teenager—not because I was ill; I just did lots of work experience—triggered a different ambition. I wanted to improve the national health service itself. After a stint in telecoms, I spent nearly a decade working in healthcare.

My work with the NHS has been about improving care—the quality of care for patients. The last few years have seen immense progress, especially in respect of improving safety and paying attention to patient experience, but I believe that the NHS must now focus more on the third dimension of quality, which is improving clinical outcomes. How well is the NHS actually doing in helping people to get better? We should all be able to answer that question about the hospitals that care for our constituents, so we need more transparency.

The NHS workforce must be set up to succeed. People talk a lot about doctors and nurses, and we certainly need to train and retain more of them, but I would particularly mention healthcare assistants, who are a vital but often undervalued part of the healthcare workforce.

As we hold the NHS to account, we must get the balance right between scrutiny and support. Aneurin Bevan famously said that the sound of a bedpan dropped in a hospital in his constituency would reverberate in Whitehall; the counterpart is that what is said here reverberates across the country. I have worked in hospitals under intense scrutiny, and I know what it is like. We should be mindful of the impact of what we say on staff morale.

Staff in the NHS hate to see it treated as a political football. In October last year, there was a moment when it seemed that we might have moved on. All three main parties—as they were then—signed up to NHS England’s own plan, the Five Year Forward View. The plan is ambitious, and putting it into practice will involve difficult decisions. I hope that when we in the House are faced with taking a position, we will all avoid the temptation of political opportunism, and will always be sure to pick the side of the patient.

Let me return briefly to my constituency. Faversham is one of 24 towns that own a rare official copy of Magna Carta dating from 1300. This 800th anniversary

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year of the original Magna Carta is a special time for the town. Looking at Faversham’s Magna Carta recently was, for me, a profound reminder of the history of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today. I also read several updated charters written by local schools, which brought the concept of rights bang into the 21st century. They reminded me of my duty not just to serve my current constituents, but to do my utmost to ensure that Faversham and Mid Kent is a wonderful place to live for generations to come.

4.57 pm

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on her speech. In particular, I congratulate her on reminding us that the less skilled healthcare workers are as important as everyone else who works in the health service. She obviously knows that because of her experience of working in the NHS.

As I am speaking in a health debate, I should declare that my husband is the interim chair of West Middlesex University hospital in my constituency, and will hold that post until September 2015.

As a new Member, I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, and all the parliamentary staff for the welcome that we have received, and the work that staff have done to help us get to grips with this place—its labyrinthine corridors, its archaic customs, and the unavoidable ICT challenges.

I am proud to represent the community that has been my home for more than 30 years, where our sons were born and grew up, and where I was an elected councillor until I stood down last week. Before I focus on my constituency and on the subject of today’s debate, I want to pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, Mary Macleod. We obviously had political differences, but as a councillor I had great respect for the work that she did in the constituency and with local residents. I will continue to work on those issues, among many others. Mary Macleod was also a respected Member of the House. She will be delighted to know that, as part of her legacy, a Select Committee on women and equalities is to be established. That is something that she initiated along with colleagues on both sides of the House as part of her cross-party work on the involvement of women in Parliament.

Many people pass through my constituency, and, indeed, pass over it as they head for Heathrow and points west. Historically, Hounslow was the first stop for the stagecoaches going west, and today, if one looks down from a plane’s right-hand windows as it is approaching Heathrow, there we are. When heading west on the elevated section of the M4, one passes through Brentford, my home town, with its resurgent football club. The Grand Union canal meets the Thames in Brentford and the Piccadilly, District and national rail lines for Hounslow and beyond all pass through, as does the Thames itself whose 5-mile stretch borders the constituency from Isleworth to Chiswick where the boat race ends, and from where, as a member of the Chiswick canoe club, I have set off to kayak downstream, past this very building. It is a stunning way to view London.

Hounslow and Hounslow Heath, Osterley, Isleworth, Brentford and Chiswick are all distinct and wonderful

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places with their own characteristics, but all have a strong sense of community. Artists and writers including William Hogarth, William Turner and Vincent van Gogh all lived locally for at least some of their lives. Our cultural diversity has been enriched in recent decades by people choosing to make Britain their home and then giving back to Britain. No one epitomises this more than Mo Farah, whose family settled locally after fleeing Somalia.

The local economy is also diverse. We are home to many small and vibrant businesses as well as well known names: GSK, Sky, Brompton bikes and Fuller’s Brewery. Despite being a Quaker, I am not quite a teetotaller, so can categorically state that London Pride is the best bitter brewed in the UK.

We are at the heart of the TV triangle, west London’s emerging media technology industry cluster, and we have Heathrow to the west. As Britain’s premier airport it is of course a major driver of our local economy, but it is also the major source of noise, air pollution and traffic congestion in my constituency—hence my election campaign on Heathrow, “Better not bigger”.

However, despite the economic vibrancy locally, there are growing inequalities within our community—inequalities in income and health inequalities. A home of one’s own is becoming more unattainable and more unaffordable, even for those earning a reasonable income. While unemployment here is relatively low, the route into well paid work with one of our large employers locally is out of reach for far too many people, young and not so young, because they do not have the requisite skills.

I am glad to be making my maiden speech in the health and social care debate. My constituents are concerned that the proposed closure of the accident and emergency departments at Charing Cross and Ealing hospitals will leave Chiswick residents with long journey times to alternatives, and will mean massively increased pressure on West Middlesex University hospital in the centre of the constituency. I therefore thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), for committing to meet local MPs to discuss A&E services in west London.

I prepared for this speech by asking my friend, a local GP, what changes she would like to see to enable her to better serve her patients. For her and her colleagues, the overall health and wellbeing of her patients are key. She said that great though the NHS is, it cannot meet the challenges alone. Her top priorities are that people should be better supported, and that we should have better and more joined-up mental health, public health and care services, more investment in early years and, finally, more investment in affordable, good quality housing.

Last week I stepped down as a Hounslow councillor. I have had many lead responsibilities over 25 years, and in recent years I have led on the regeneration of our town centres, the introduction of the London living wage, and building the first new council housing for over 20 years. I am proud of what we achieved and the role I played in our borough, and I am glad that my family are here today, and I know that my late father would be proud.

We are of the dynasty that brought Cadbury chocolate to the world, but the Cadburys are also recognised for their social values, values instilled through our Quaker faith. The Cadburys of the first half of the 20th century

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knew that we could not expect working people to be productive, healthy and fulfilled unless the whole person and their family are supported with good pay, good training, decent housing and adequate welfare support. They recognised that for the businesses to maintain their prosperity, their employees needed security too. They provided these services for their staff but they also advocated that the state should provide these, for universal health and social services—the hallmark of a civilised society. They provided for their employees until the foundation of the welfare state and the NHS following the success of the Attlee Government in 1945.

My forebears would therefore be shocked to see the steady erosion of that welfare state over the past five years. They would be asking why there was nothing in the Gracious Speech about increasing the supply of adequate affordable housing, about reducing child poverty or about ensuring that local authorities have adequate funding to provide good quality social care and public health services sufficient for the needs of their communities. I am grateful to the people of Brentford and Isleworth for giving me the chance to give them a voice on these and so many other issues, and I look forward to representing them here for many years to come.

5.5 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech included the welcome commitment to give every child the best start in life. I am optimistic that our Government’s legislative programme will prioritise strengthening families and boosting family stability, particularly given the Prime Minister’s own passion for these issues, which are vital for the nation’s economic and social welfare, and the fact that families were mentioned nearly 100 times in the 2015 Conservative party manifesto. Without the constraints of coalition, we have the opportunity to develop a robust and comprehensive range of family policies.

States have a vested interest in making families stronger. They make a contribution to society by producing a competitive labour force, caring for family members of all ages, playing an instrumental role in healthy child and youth development and putting a heart into local communities. However, there are profound social consequences when, for whatever reason, families fail. The high level of family breakdown in our country costs £48 billion per annum, and disproportionately affects people in our poorest communities, where two thirds of 15-year-olds no longer live with both their parents. With our Conservative commitment to compassion and social justice, we simply cannot ignore this issue. If it is sensitively handled, this could mark us out as the true party of the family.

I urge the Prime Minister to appoint a family champion—a Cabinet-level Minister to strengthen families. Our ground-breaking family test for all policies is welcome, but it is reactive to the proposals of other Departments, rather than proactive in forming a family-strengthening approach across all areas of policy, as a champion for families at Secretary of State level would do. We need to match the promises we have made on economic support for families with more policies not only to prevent family breakdown but to promote healthy relationships, just as we promote physical health and wellbeing. Children’s health and wellbeing are fundamental to their educational attainment, and their ability to thrive in the workplace

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and in wider society rests on their benefiting from safe, stable and nurturing relationships with those closest to them—and for most, that means their family.

We ignore this at our peril. The state cannot be a surrogate family. Supporting family relationships is one of the driving principles of the troubled families programme, which has rightly been extended, but we must do more. We need places in every community where people can go when relationship problems are beginning to emerge, in order to enable everyone—including couples, and parents of toddlers and teenagers—to build strong relationships from the outset and to maintain healthy relationships into later life. This, in turn, could help to address many other challenges, such as mental ill-health, obesity, self-harm, addictions, loneliness and child poverty. However, many families have no role models to look to as the basis for a successful family life. Family life throws out challenges for us all. Real complexities can ensue, as we have seen from the troubled families programme, if families are not equipped to make a go of it. For almost a decade, organisations such as the Centre for Social Justice, and individuals such as its associate director Dr Samantha Callan, have been calling for change.

One important change would be for Sure Start children’s centres to broaden their offer and become family hubs—local nerve centres co-ordinating all family-related support. Relationship support and education, at all life stages, would be part of a family hub’s core offer, whether supporting couples in their own relationship, or as parents, or grandparents, or in marriage preparation, or strengthening father involvement, or supporting families as carers for elderly relatives, or when specific challenges occur. For example, many couples will not, or cannot in a timely way, go to Relate, which is one of many organisations that family hubs could host or help families access. To ensure that as many parents as possible know what is on offer at a family hub, local health commissioners should ensure that all antenatal and postnatal services are co-locate there. The Field review on poverty and life chances recommended that all birth registrations should take place there, too.

The social justice directorate in the Department for Work and Pensions is piloting a family offer in some children’s centres that takes in some of the aspects I have mentioned, but more is needed. More national leadership will be essential if this scheme is to be implemented at a pace that this country needs to strengthen family life. This brings us back to why we need a family champion.

Education, early intervention and prevention will ensure that families are less dependent on social services and welfare. I stress that I am not just talking about deprived areas here. Broadening Sure Start centres into family hubs would provide an effective means of tackling family breakdown, strengthen family life and help deliver the Conservative vision of giving every child the best start in life.

Finally, I urge the Government to work towards a fully transferrable tax allowance for all married couples. Thirty hours of free childcare amounts to £5,000 a year, and the value of the Government’s tax-free childcare offer is £2,000 a year. What message do those figures send out when the marriage allowance for single earners is just £200 per family? It must be recognised that doubling free early years education and making childcare

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tax free when both parents work without reviewing the marriage person’s tax allowance skews support overwhelmingly towards a particular type of family.

Families in which one parent chooses to take time at home—working and caring within it and investing in their children’s future—while the children are young are doing the right thing just as much as those families in which both partners choose to work outside the home. Stay-at-home parents deserve our appreciation, respect and support.

Over this Parliament, reversing Britain’s tragically eye-wateringly high family breakdown rates must be our ambition—it must be a priority—and strengthening families by supporting healthy family relationships at all ages and stages of life and rolling out family hubs to achieve that should be our vision.

5.12 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Let me first pay tribute to the former Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and thank him for his massive contribution over some 32 years and for his dedication and his humour, which were evident to all those whom he met in this House. He was a friend to everyone. I just wanted to put that tribute on record on behalf of my party.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), as there are many issues on which we agree. It has also been great to hear the contributions from some of the new Members on both sides of the House.

It is an honour to be back in this House as the Member of Parliament for Strangford. When I was first elected five years ago, I said that everyone in the House would remember Strangford, and I believe that they do. The Ministers, shadow Ministers and Members who visited my constituency always said that they were mesmerised by the beauty of Strangford and wished to come back. I now extend an invitation to Strangford to all new Members —and old ones as well—of this House.

I am, unashamedly, a Unionist. All four nations bring their qualities, traditions, history, culture and experiences to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and together we are stronger. Having Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England together in the Union is our strength.

As I listened to the Gracious Speech, I was delighted to hear the topics that were raised. I was pleased to hear about the EU referendum and that everybody in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will have the chance to cast their vote. I am pleased to hear about more free childcare, which I hope will be carried over to Northern Ireland, as well as the vital freeze on increases in income tax, VAT and national insurance for five years. I am delighted to hear that 3 million new apprenticeships will be created, that there will be measures to reduce regulation for small businesses and a bid to boost job creation, but I would have been glad to have seen an end to the iniquitous bedroom tax.

Those are debates for other days, however. As the Democratic Unionist party spokesperson for health, I am pleased to hear that there will be legislation to introduce a blanket ban on the production and supply of so-called legal highs.

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David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend agree that although we welcome the legislation on legal highs we must ensure that we have proper enforcement? We have not had much success with the other illegal drugs, so we need proper enforcement.

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for that intervention. He clearly outlines the case, and I want to make a comment about that as well. A young constituent of mine from Newtownards, Adam Owens, a 17-year-old boy, died some six weeks ago because of psychotropic substances, or legal highs, as we all know them. Our community is rightly angry at this loss of the life of a young man and we put on record our concerns for the family and everyone else.

We must address the issue of what is classified as legal, particularly when a young man has lost his life. I have spoken to the Police Service for Northern Ireland, to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and to the Department of Justice to ask for urgent legislative change. They all said that the change would have to come from this place, so I welcome the Government’s commitment in the Gracious Speech.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): My hon. Friend will be aware of the work on legal highs I have done at Belfast City Council. For the benefit of the Minister and the Department here, will he encourage those with the power in England and Wales to take advantage of the legal precedent we have set in Northern Ireland where we have secured not only destruction orders but prosecutions for the sale of legal highs?

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for that comment, and the precedent has been set in Belfast in the past three weeks. I am pleased that we have set the precedent for the rest of the United Kingdom, as we often do in Northern Ireland. That legislative change has been made by local councils and I am pleased to see it.

The loss of that young man to legal highs should not be repeated. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) mentioned previous legislation. In a previous job, as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, I spoke about one substance that was an issue at that time, mephedrone. We changed the legislation in Stormont, but an ingredient was changed, the name was changed and all that good work was set aside. That is why we need this legislative change and why we need it urgently.

We had a rally in Newtownards organised by a teenager and his friends in response to the death of Adam Owens. It was attended by every age group, every social class and every religion, with people all there to express their concern and the need to see change on legal highs. We should bring this matter to the Chamber as soon as possible. As I said to the family, we cannot ease their heartache but we can work together to try to ensure that something worth while comes from the shock—that is, the end of legal highs. If we achieve that in this House, we achieve it not only for Strangford but for every constituency across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is why, although I welcome the Government’s promise to address

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the issue, I must ask for the timeline for the fulfilment of the promise. Perhaps the Minister can give us some information about what will happen.

As a Northern Ireland Member, I am well known for continually pressing for more funding UK-wide that is ring-fenced for the NHS and I am delighted to hear that the Government are responding to those calls and making more funding available for the NHS. Can the Minister give us some idea when the ring-fenced funding in the block grant will be made available to the devolved Assembly and whether there will be any restrictions on the use of the money?

There are many issues in the NHS that we must address. We need to address the long waiting lists that mean that people wait almost a year for simple hernia operations. Justice cannot be done to a pay rise for nurses within the current budget allocated to the Health Department, yet those men and women dedicate much of themselves to a job that most people in this room would find unbearable. It has been impossible for them to be recognised within the current budget. In addition, money should be set aside to make more cancer drugs available in all postcodes, instead of being subject to the postcode lottery that often operates.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way in this important debate on health and social care. Does he agree that a lot of these cancer drugs are trialled in specialised labs in the oncology department in Belfast, and that it is particularly sad that they are not available in Northern Ireland because of the lack of a cancer drugs fund?

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Clearly, that is the issue for us in Northern Ireland. We want the cancer drugs to be made available throughout the United Kingdom.

Great progress has been made in cancer drugs. In fact, 60% of skin cancer cases can now be addressed with medication and chemotherapy. Those are fantastic steps forward. The other issues are all there—for example, GPs’ surgeries and diabetes. I declare an interest as a type 2 diabetic.

There are mental health issues that we need to address, not only for everyone in society but throughout the United Kingdom and for our soldiers too. I understand that there is not a bottomless pot of money, but we must do the best with what we have. It is also important to understand that your health is your wealth, that we must invest in the health of this nation, and that it is essential that such investment is UK wide.

In closing, I am thankful that the Government pledged to prioritise health, to ban legal highs and to take action on all the other issues that have been raised, but we need to have the pledges implemented urgently. They must not be left until next year or the year after. There is good news in the Gracious Speech, but I ask for details, and for implementation to take place as soon as possible, so that every benefit can come to everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

5.21 pm

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. I am conscious that I am following a great many distinguished debuts.

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I confess that there were moments in the past two years of campaigning when I wondered for a moment whether I would indeed be standing before you as the Member of Parliament for Cheltenham. A difficult moment came early on in the campaign when I knocked on a door in Charlton Kings. It was opened by a lady who was immediately and clearly unimpressed. “I know who you are,” she said. “You might be better than your brother, but we don’t want David Miliband either.”

Another dicey moment came during the mayoral visit of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). Initially it seemed to go well, but then came that forensic and dastardly question from the local BBC reporter—“Mayor, who exactly have you come to support?” I have to tell you now, Mr Speaker, that the name that came back was not mine. Instead it was the name of a prominent local estate agent. In mitigation, it was an agent who had been advertising heavily on the roads leading into Cheltenham, and I have been asked by my hon. Friend to make that clear.

But by far the biggest obstacle to winning back Cheltenham for the Conservatives after 23 long years was the sheer calibre of my opponent. Martin Horwood came into politics for all the right reasons. Talented and principled, he served for 10 years as Cheltenham’s MP. He did so with conviction, speaking powerfully on issues that he believed strongly in—the merits of the European Union and Britain’s place in it, international aid, the conditions of the world’s tribal peoples and, perhaps most important of all, the fate of our global environment. Locally, he was a committed campaigner on issues ranging from protecting green spaces to tackling illegal pavement parking. I have great respect for his contribution and will continue to learn from his example.

If it was no surprise to see Martin Horwood rise to chair his party’s parliamentary committee on international affairs, I am bound to say that no such advancement traditionally awaits Conservative representatives for Cheltenham. James Agg-Gardner served for 39 years in the 19th and 20th centuries. In that time he made just two speeches and finished his career as a member of the Commons Kitchen Committee. More recently, the last Conservative Member for Cheltenham—the late, great Sir Charles Irving, whose name continues to inspire great affection and respect 23 years since he stood down—went one stage further. He left Parliament as Chairman of the House of Commons Catering Committee.

But if it was a hard road to get here, I am immensely proud to now represent Cheltenham. Having grown up locally, I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that truly it is the greatest town in Britain. I know that Members traditionally make that claim, but on this occasion I am right and they are wrong. Ranked by The Daily Telegraph last year as the best place in the UK to raise a family, there is so much to celebrate. Cheltenham is architecturally magnificent, the most complete regency town in Britain. It is also home to GCHQ, where some of our most brilliant, dedicated and conscientious public servants work tirelessly to keep our country safe. We host famous world-class festivals, including the science festival recently described by Professor Brian Cox as

“without doubt, the premier science festival in the country”.

Similar praise is due for jazz, literature, music, food and other festivals—and who could forget the horseracing, even if the racecourse does, technically, fall within the Tewkesbury constituency?

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Culture is very important to our town, and if you need confirmation of that, Mr Speaker, I can tell you that one of the 15 hustings that we participated in—yes, 15—during the election campaign was a poetry hustings. Each candidate had to recite their two favourite poems, to be judged by the audience. I did not win, but mercifully the people of Cheltenham are forgiving.

Our town’s motto is “Salubritas et Eruditio”, which translates as “Health and Education”, and we have formidable traditions in both. As well as our excellent acute emergency hospital, we have some of the finest schools in the country. I will stand up for both. A first-class Cheltenham general hospital is essential for our town, and education is the key to the social mobility that many in the House, I know, wish to see, but none more than I. I will continue my campaign to secure a fair funding settlement for Gloucestershire’s schools. Historically, we have received a raw deal, and work has been done by the coalition to redress that, but it is time to put that right once and for all.

In his speech in Downing Street on the morning after the general election, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke powerfully about the need to govern as one nation and to ensure that our national economic recovery reaches all parts of our country. He was absolutely right to do so, and so it must be in Cheltenham. Cheltenham, like Britain, has come a long way since 2010: 1,600 fewer people in Cheltenham are claiming unemployment benefit and 2,900 more people are on apprenticeships, but we should not forget that poverty and deprivation remain. It is not often appreciated that Cheltenham is home to some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Britain, and that is something I am determined to tackle. It is what underpins my plans to promote my constituency as a town of opportunity, where prosperity and life chances reach into every part of the town. It is central to my passion for improving our road and rail infrastructure and promoting Cheltenham as a regional tech hub. So “one nation”, yes, but “one town” too.

There is much to say, but time is short. I will end by saying that it was a son of Cheltenham, Gustav Holst, who wrote the music for that great patriotic hymn, “I vow to thee, my country”, and it is to my country and to my town that I here pledge my service.

5.27 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for calling me during today’s debate to deliver my maiden speech.

I have dedicated 15 years of my life to the NHS, working as a practice manager in a GP surgery—so I have seen at first hand how hard it is to get an appointment—and as an administrator in an out-of-hours GP co-operative. I will be proud to apply the same principles and values as an MP. I stood for election as a Labour and Co-operative candidate, and now I have the privilege of representing the Co-operative movement in the House. With my colleagues, I hope to bring its principles, values and experience to bear on Members’ deliberations.

Among the distinguished list of my Labour predecessors, I pay tribute to Lord Graham of Edmonton, but my immediate predecessor was Andy Love. He was the eighth Member of Parliament for the constituency and

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all his predecessors were men, but I have broken that tradition as the first woman to represent Edmonton. I feel most honoured and proud of the responsibility bestowed upon me. It is a measure of the regard in which he was held that Andy Love served for 18 years in this House, and I pay tribute to him. I have big shoes to fill: he was a tireless representative of constituents, and he will be particularly remembered in the House for his advocacy on behalf of Cypriot communities both here and abroad.

The name Edmonton is of Anglo-Saxon origin. The medieval parish was centred on the church of All Saints, the oldest building in the borough of Enfield, which is still in use. There are several other listed buildings in Church Street, such as Lamb’s Cottage, the Charity School Hall, the former Charles Lamb Institute, and some Georgian houses. In the 1970s it was designated the first conservation area in Edmonton and there are now three others. In 1996 the Montagu cemeteries, comprising the Tottenham Park and Jewish cemeteries, were also designated because of their unique landscape qualities.

Fore Street, an historic main road leading north from London, attracted rapid development in the 17th century. As some of the buildings survive, it was designated a conservation area in 2002. The Crescent in Hertford Road was added to the borough’s list of conservation areas in 2008. Besides the buildings in these special areas, there are other listed buildings—St Michael’s church and vicarage in Bury Street, Salisbury House in Bury Street West, and St Aldhelm’s church and Millfield House in Silver Street.

Since the 1960s Edmonton has been transformed from a predominantly white, working-class industrial suburb into a multicultural area through Commonwealth immigration, asylum seekers and the expansion of the European Union in May 2004. Edmonton Green ward has been identified as having one of the highest numbers of working-age adults living on state benefits in the UK. Much of the industry for which Edmonton was famous—furniture making, electrical goods and electronics —has disappeared or moved to greenfield sites. We do not have one dominant employer to bring an end to adult worklessness in Edmonton, but despite the lack of low-skilled jobs on offer, Edmonton has a growing entrepreneurial spirit. A hub of small and medium-sized businesses along Fore Street make the best of things, whatever the circumstances. True community spirit is fostered and rewarded and we see this in the numbers of small businesses within the constituency.

Edmonton is a community of many contrasts. Alongside increasing prosperity, many people suffer considerable hardship and deprivation. Edmonton is a priority regeneration area. Edmonton Green and Angel Edmonton have been identified as town centres that need improvements to make them look and feel like much better places to shop. There are a wide variety of schemes and projects happening in Edmonton under a Labour-run council to ensure that these priorities are delivered.

Regenerating the wider Edmonton area is focused on improving the shopping centres, creating access to new jobs, and improving the education and health of our local people. These plans will also deliver improvements to transport facilities and links to other areas, such as central London. They will improve the quality of and access to open spaces and parks, as well as restoring and maintaining connections with all the historical sites.

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Up to 5,000 new homes and 3,000 new jobs will be created by the £1.5 billion Meridian Water redevelopment on a former industrial site. This should be completed by 2026. The improvements to the wider Edmonton area and the plans for Edmonton Green will all come under a Labour-led council. I am happy to report that only yesterday Transport for London appointed London Overground as the train operator to run local train services out of Liverpool Street to north-east London. TfL’s presence will bring immediate improvements to Edmonton Green station, improving security and safety for passengers and disability access. This will improve standards for everybody.

It is a great honour to represent the people of Edmonton and I thank them for electing me as their Member of Parliament. I would like to thank all those who campaigned for me and worked hard to achieve a Labour victory in Edmonton.

5.33 pm

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab): It is a privilege to speak on a day when we have heard so many great maiden speeches. I want to thank God and thank the people of Brent Central for returning me to this place, and not only as a Labour gain, but with a majority that makes me blush. I know that a Member of this place can be a maiden only once, but I would like to follow in the tradition of maiden speeches by thanking my predecessor for her congratulatory card and her warm words. She worked very hard for Brent Central and said that it was a privilege to serve.

Brent Central was created in 2010, from the leafy Mapesbury to the lovely Harlesden, but in 2015 it sent a clear message: having suffered under a Lib Dem-Tory coalition, it wanted no more. Unfortunately, Labour failed to win the general election, and lessons will need to be learnt, but as we listen to the Conservatives we could almost be forgiven for thinking that they were not responsible for the bedroom tax, which saw hundreds of people move out of my constituency; or for the young people who decided not to go to university because of the increase in tuition fees; or for the people who do not have enough money to pay for the expensive pre-pay meters installed in their homes; or for the people who cannot afford legal representation; or for the closure of our A&E at Central Middlesex hospital, which means the poorest people of Brent Central have to travel the furthest for emergency care—£25 in a taxi or an hour on a couple of buses—at the A&E at Northwick Park hospital, where last week 575 patients waited more than four hours to be seen.

It has been a tough five years, and I fear for the next five. As one of the founding members of People Against Austerity, I know that I am going to be really busy, because unlike the previous MP, I am not a member of the Government, so I will stand up to them and hold them to account. Just imagine that in the year Magna Carta celebrates its 800th birthday, it falls to the Labour party to stand up for those important freedoms. As a former trustee of Citizens Advice and a magistrate, I see the devastation when rights are taken away. We in the Labour party need to be an effective Opposition. Rev. Oliver of St Mark’s, Kensal Rise, talks about three R’s: reserve, regrets and retreat. We must hold nothing in reserve, have no regrets and not retreat from our founding principle of a country fair for all.

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The people of Brent Central have given me this chance to serve them as their Labour MP. They were so sad on 8 May when Labour did not win the election, and they wonder what lies ahead. Of course, we have tax cuts for millionaires while poor people and the elderly are freezing in their homes. We have the bedroom tax for the poor and disabled, zero-hours contracts, food banks, tax avoidance by the richest corporations, and charities are restrained by gagging laws while professional lobbyists roam free and unfettered around the lobbies of Westminster. While all that is going on, the Government are painting the trade unions as organisations in need of reform. In reality, trade unions defend and protect people who are on zero-hours contracts or who cannot afford legal representation. At that point, Brent Central is going to become the reggae capital of Europe. As a woman with locks, I feel compelled to quote Robert Neston Marley to the Government:

“You can fool some people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

I will hold true to the promises I made on the doorsteps of Brent Central. I will fight for all of you, not just the few. For those in Tokyngton, Stonebridge, Harlesden, Kensal Green, Willesden Green, Dollis Hill, Dudden Hill, Welsh Harp and Mapesbury, I pledge to work on the issues that are important to you, from pre-pay meters to the NHS and legal aid, to name just a few. I will be unstinting in my efforts to represent Brent Central.

Under a Labour Government, my mother’s breast cancer was caught early, and for that I am grateful to the NHS. Three years ago my father died from an infection in hospital. I hope that we can work together with the Government to make the NHS a place that is fair and free for all, but be assured that I will work to hold them to account and ensure that we save the NHS. There may be more Members on the Government side of the House than on the Opposition side—almost, and not today—but on the Opposition side we aim to help the many, not the few.

5.39 pm

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): I want to talk about what the Government call the distressed health economy of Staffordshire—north Staffordshire, in particular—and some worrying recent developments while we were preoccupied with May’s elections.

In February, I was leaked a copy of a report on Staffordshire’s so-called challenged local health economy prepared by accountants KPMG. It was completed last August and was one of 11 commissioned by the Secretary of State on areas of England with NHS deficits. As far as I am aware, though, following the leak, Staffordshire’s is the only one to see the full light of day. It painted a picture of a local health system “in perpetual crisis mode” which suffered from a “generally oppressive culture” and had no “clear long term strategy”. The report was also scathing about the effects of the Government’s top-down reorganisation of the NHS after 2010. There was conflict at the top of many of the bodies and a lack of collaboration between the new clinical commissioning groups. That led to waste, duplication, and, frankly, letting patients down, not least the frail elderly who turned up too often at A&E, were all too often readmitted, and spent too long in hospitals rather than at home. In conclusion, the report said that if nothing changed Staffordshire’s health economy would be £217 million in the red in barely four years’ time.

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The KPMG report was full of questionable assumptions and glaring omissions. These included the impacts on our local Royal Stoke University hospital of taking over troubled Stafford hospital at a cost of an extra £250 million while itself struggling with a £30 million deficit and coping with a crisis in admissions and A&E. Profoundly, the report failed to estimate the investment needed in primary, home and social care to make the planned savings possible without patients in the NHS across the county suffering as a result.

The report’s prescriptions were clearly fundamental to the future of local healthcare and certainly deserve debate, but funnily enough, before the election the Government were not only keen to suppress all 11 reports but even to deny their existence. In early February I tabled written parliamentary questions asking the Government to publish the reports; they declined to do so. I then asked simply when each was started, when completed, and by which consultancy firm. These simple factual questions first gained a holding reply. Then, a fortnight later, in March, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who is in her seat in the Chamber, gave this remarkably considered reply:

“Consultancy firms were not commissioned to produce reports on the local health economies, as described in the question”.

By that stage, I had the “non-existent” “Final Report for Staffordshire” in my hand, as I do now. The Government have therefore hardly been a paragon of truth and transparency in this regard. I hope that now they have conjured £8 billion of NHS investment out of the election air they will mend their ways in future—likewise the NHS itself, not least NHS England, which is, certainly in my view, the least accountable public body that I came across in the previous Parliament.

The conclusions of all that work on distressed health economies are now dribbling out in board papers of the hospitals and the patchwork of CCGs and NHS trusts created by the Government’s reforms. If Staffordshire is anything to go by, however, there is no joined-up information for the public, let alone consultation. Last week, following KPMG’s recommendations, the local CCGs in my area and the newly created Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust announced, from this autumn, the closure of Longton community hospital in Stoke-on-Trent South, as well as cuts in my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme to Cheadle hospital, Leek Moorlands hospital and Bradwell hospital, which cared for both my father and my mother until they passed away—my mum, sadly, only before Christmas just gone. The two CCGs, to quote The Sentinel, a local newspaper, last week,

“say they have already done enough ‘pre-engagement’ on the plans to render further consultation redundant.”

Well, they certainly have not. In fact, there has been no engagement at all, neither pre nor post.

Recent NHS figures show that in January and February, 613 of the total of 912 cases of patients waiting on trolleys at A&E for a bed to be found for over 12 hours —two thirds of all cases—happened at our local Royal Stoke University hospital. Yet another of the KPMG proposals is the removal of 63 beds at the hospital to save £20 million. Currently we do not know where that

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recommendation stands, but the cumulative effect of the cuts could simply make the situation for patients and the NHS at our hospital far worse.

That is why today I have asked all the local NHS bodies to meet local MPs on a cross-party basis and to make plans to engage and consult properly with the public. I hope that the Secretary of State and Health Ministers will not only encourage that, but join in and explain how these cuts and changes fit into the NHS plan and how much of the £8 billion they have conjured up will go into helping the local health economies not only in Staffordshire, but in the 10 other areas around the country facing major challenges and cuts.

5.45 pm

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): It is both a great honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to serve my area of Lanark and Hamilton East, and to have served as a councillor in my hometown of Hamilton. I will seek to return the faith of all those who voted, with hard work, dedication and complete commitment to uphold this duty of public service.

May we take this opportunity to recognise the talent of Charles Kennedy, who dedicated his life to politics? As a former law student at Glasgow University, I recognise Charles’s work as its rector. May I extend my sincere condolences to his family at this time?

May I also take this opportunity to pay my respects to my predecessor, Jim Hood, who served in Westminster from 1987, which, incidentally, is the year I was born? His courage to stand against his party over the Gulf and Iraq wars set him apart and showed his character and principles.

However, I stand here today inspired by great political women, including the remarkable and influential Winnie Ewing, whose Westminster victory in 1967 promoted the possibility that Scotland could prosper and flourish with the Scottish National party. Hamilton is also the birthplace of the late and wonderful Margo MacDonald. Margo and Winnie completely reset the rulebook and taught us that gender is irrelevant in life: when you have the will and the skill to succeed, you can.

My constituency is not just home; it is a colourful and vibrant place. It is innovative and industrious. It is both rural and urban, with a strong agricultural sector and deep respect for our mining history. There is much to champion about Lanark and Hamilton East, and yet still much to improve.

Growing up, I witnessed the poverty and deprivation in my local community, damp council houses and parents working hard yet struggling to make ends meet. As a teenager, I lost my mother to mental ill health. As a young carer, I know only too well about the need to protect our NHS. Most of all, I believe that this kind of desire to see change can be realised through politics and it must be realised through making a positive change. I am sure that everyone across these Benches will join me in that determination.

We must continue to invest in our vital services, health and wellbeing and education. I was lucky to have strong role models and to access education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. I would like to ensure that all young people across these islands have that same opportunity.

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Unfortunately, the story of poverty still echoes throughout many parts of my constituency today. Inequality and a lack of prospects for young people are crippling those who need support the most. We must ensure equality of opportunity, not only for young people but for everyone across all constituencies. Today, hard-working families up and down this country will be faced with a choice between putting food on their table and heating their homes. Let us just think about that: our reliance on food banks while committing billions of pounds on nuclear weapons is wholly unacceptable.

In my role as SNP spokesperson for equalities, women and children, I will continue to shine a light on our successes and highlight the areas that desperately need development. I am proud of our progress in recognising same-sex marriage across Scotland, England, Wales and now Ireland. When I marry my partner next year, I will celebrate the fact that marriage is truly equal, both in law and in life. I will continue to champion LGBT and black and minority ethnic rights, and to ensure that gender imbalance is addressed in our workplaces, in our boardrooms and in this Chamber.

Let us, this term, make history. Let us collaborate and work together to represent with compassion aspirational ideals and progressive politics. The people of Scotland voted loudly and clearly for an alternative to austerity. My team of 55 colleagues and I will work tirelessly with those on the Opposition Benches to ensure that we see an alternative to the damaging cuts to our public services.

I represent the Scottish National party. We are a party that will speak up for everyone with a shared interest in tackling inequality and poverty. Let us share in the spirited debate with respect and objectivity. Let us challenge constructively to achieve positive outcomes. Let us listen to the people and always act in their best interests, and in the interests of the many, not the few. Let us shape and strengthen the opportunities of future generations and our children. Let us promote potential over profit and invest in future generations, not nuclear weapons. Let us serve with honesty and transparency, but, most of all, let us serve.

5.51 pm

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): Thank you for calling me to make my maiden speech, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate the other Members who have made their maiden speeches today.

It is an honour and a privilege to be elected to represent the people of the Neath constituency, which is made up of beautiful villages and towns that are steeped in history, culture and sport. The people are caring and compassionate, with a great sense of humour. I pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Peter Hain, who served Neath diligently for more than 24 years and held many ministerial and Opposition Front-Bench posts, including serving as Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland. His has been a consistent and prominent voice on domestic and international affairs, speaking for Neath, for Labour, for internationalism and for social justice. His and his family’s fight against apartheid and his role in the Northern Ireland peace process will long be remembered.

Peter Hain was elected in a by-election in 1991, after the sad and sudden death of Donald Coleman when he was on his way to the House. Donald Coleman was elected in 1964, taking over from D. J. Williams, who

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was from Tairgwaith and was a self-educated man—a true working intellectual who went to the Central Labour College with Aneurin Bevan and Jim Griffiths. Last Saturday, I visited constituents in Tairgwaith with the Welsh Assembly Member for Neath, Gwenda Thomas, a former Welsh Government Minister for health and social care. She is from nearby Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, famous as the birthplace of the legendary rugby player Gareth Edwards and the actress Siân Phillips. My agent, local councillor Arwyn Woolcock, was with us. He lives in Lower Brynamman, next door to the grandmother of Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones. Wales is just one big family.

Donald Coleman’s life and the history of the Neath constituency is commemorated in a beautiful stained glass window in St Thomas’s church in Neath town centre. I am going to describe the window to give the House a flavour of my wonderful constituency. At the top of the window is the portcullis. Donald Coleman was very proud to be the MP for Neath, as I am now. The red kite and the badger are in the window, illustrating his love of wildlife. Just before he died, he presented to the House the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill, which extended protections to the red kite. The Bill should have fallen, but it was taken through posthumously by the right hon. Ron Davies. I saw a red kite flying over the village of Seven Sisters last week and it was a wonderful sight.

Seven Sisters village was named after the seven daughters of the local coal-owner, Evan Evans Bevan, but do not ask me to name them all. However, I can name the captain of Seven Sisters ladies rugby football team, who have adopted me as their mascot. She is Bethan Howell, Welsh rugby international extraordinaire. She offered me a game with Seven Sisters, but there are already too many left wingers in the team.

The president of Seven Sisters rugby club is the former MP for Aberavon, Dr Hywel Francis, who has returned to live in the Neath constituency. Aberavon’s loss is undoubtedly Neath’s gain.

In March, there was the 30th anniversary of the formation of the miners support group that was set up by Hefina Headon and others. The anniversary was celebrated in the Onllwyn Miners Welfare Club, which is otherwise known as the palace of culture. Bronwen Lewis sang “Bread and Roses”, as she did in the film “Pride”. The words of the song and Bronwen’s beautiful voice reduced us all to tears.

“Pride” was filmed in Banwen, the home of the Dove workshop, which was set up by Hefina, Councillor Moira Lewis and Mair Francis at the end of the miners strike. Dove retrained women to work because the men had lost their jobs, but later it opened its doors to men as well.

Aberdulais Falls is the centrepiece of the church window and one of the top tourist attractions in Wales. Its beauty was captured on canvas by Turner.

The town centres of Neath, Pontardawe and Glynneath have been regenerated with the help of European funding drawn down through the Welsh Government. They are vibrant again, and a reminder of the importance of European Union membership for my constituency, Wales and the United Kingdom.

The children of Ysgol Maes Y Coed in Bryncoch recently visited St Thomas’s church and were so inspired by the window that they have based an exhibition on the

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story of St Thomas’s life. That exhibition has been entered in the national schools heritage competition. These children have additional learning needs. They have created their own windows and made a video on human rights. These are remarkable achievements that deserve the highest recognition.

The last five years have been very tough for the people of the Neath constituency. I am concerned about the lack of employment opportunities, especially for the under-25s. Youngsters have to leave their communities to find work and I pledge to work on their behalf in Parliament. Communities have been split apart by the bedroom tax. The disabled have suffered the most. In-work benefits have soared because of poor wages, and many working people have to borrow from credit unions to make ends meet; indeed, many people have to rely on food banks.

I am afraid that the contents of the Queen’s Speech show that the next five years will be even tougher. It is my job to serve all my constituents without fear or favour to overcome these injustices, and to work with councillors, Assembly members, trade unions and our Member of the European Parliament, Derek Vaughan, who was once the distinguished leader of Neath Port Talbot council. One of Derek’s last duties before entering the European Parliament was to ensure that the new Swansea University campus was achieved, and of course that it was located within the Neath Port Talbot area. The present leader of the council, Alun Thomas, is the only Welsh council leader to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by Swansea University.

I urge the Government to approve the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project, which will bring green energy, jobs, apprenticeships, tourism and water sports to the bay region, of which Neath constituency is an important part.

I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak today.

5.58 pm

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), and I congratulate everybody who has made their maiden speech today; they have certainly put the rest of us under pressure.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have talked about cuts in social care. I will start by giving an example of what those cuts mean in practice. I called at a house one afternoon during the election campaign and an elderly woman in her 70s answered the door. She was dishevelled, distressed and clearly confused. She had an empty bubble-wrap pack of medication in her hands and she said to me, “I don’t know what I have to do”. I called the pharmacist, and she came straight out, but this was clearly a very vulnerable woman on her own. What if I had not called? We saw £3.5 billion cut from social care in the last Parliament, while 87% of local authorities provide care only for people with substantial needs, and, as we know from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Office for Budget Responsibility and the International Monetary Fund, the pressure on public services and funding for local authorities is going to get much worse over the next three years. Some 450,000 fewer people are being supported, and the number of cases like that of the woman I called on is only going to increase.

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We have also heard from right hon. and hon. Friends about the crisis in the NHS, which we can land firmly at the door of the Conservative party and the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In addition, this top-down reorganisation, which is wasting billions, is underpinned by an agenda to privatise the NHS. The Secretary of State refused to acknowledge that section 75 of the Act was entirely about compelling all health services to be put out to tender and that four out of every 10 health services put out to tender have been awarded to private healthcare companies.

At the time, the Government argued—I know because I was on two health Bill Committees—that increasing competition would improve service quality, but there is no evidence for that; in fact, international evidence shows exactly the opposite. In addition to not improving quality, we know—again from international evidence—that it will actually reduce health equity, in terms of access to care and health outcomes. Other effects of the Act have already been mentioned: hospital A&Es not meeting their four-hour targets for 97 weeks on the trot; an increase in the number of urgent operations being cancelled—up 40% on last year—and one in four people not able to see a GP within a week, or two in three in my constituency, according to a survey that I undertook. I think also of the shocking care that our children and young people have to face if they are suffering from a mental health condition—being kept in police cells or shipped hundreds of miles from their families, if they have an acute episode. And, of course, all of that is underpinned by the appalling state of the finances. Unfortunately, these trends will only increase over the course of this Parliament. The pace of the privatisation agenda will increase, and the principles of the NHS as a universal, comprehensive and free service will be under threat.

We heard the Secretary of State refer to the party mantra: “We have a strong economy, and we will have a secure NHS”. But do we really have a strong economy? We have had a flatlining economy for the past three years, with only a tiny spurt of growth in the last year, while the Government have borrowed £219 billion more than they said they would in 2010. They did not clear the deficit; instead, they broke their own law. The debt to GDP ratio is 81%. Even after a global crisis, it was only 60%. They have increased that ratio. Our productivity is the second lowest in the G7, and the 19th lowest in terms of average productivity—the worst since 1992. Where are we going to get all the money needed to invest in our health service, social care and child care?

The Government do not get it. As any successful business will say, its most important asset is its people. Our people should be valued, but instead of supporting, enabling and investing in people—in our skills, our health and our care—the Government’s approach is reminiscent of a Victorian workhouse. Amanda Story is a case in point. In her late 50s, she came to me saying she had always worked as a teacher, but that 18 months before she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. As she went through her treatment, she became more and more poorly and had to take time off work. Eventually, she was made redundant. She applied for and was granted employment and support allowance. Months later, she was also able to take her teacher’s pension. Imagine her horror when she received a letter from the DWP last December informing her that she was being investigated for fraud, because she had not notified

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DWP that she was now receiving a pension. In the physical and emotional rollercoaster that she was going through—cancer, treatment, redundancy—she had not realised that although ESA is a non-means-tested benefit, she was meant to inform the DWP about changes to financial circumstances. Although she explained this in her interview under caution, she was told by the authorities that she was still going to be pursued. This is beyond sense.

One thing I recognise that the Government have done very skilfully—and other parties have done the same—is to demonise certain groups of people. Using language such as “shirker” or “scrounger”, they try to point the finger at others, making us angry and likely to blame others for our lot. They have successfully created the perception that all people in receipt of social security are on the take, lazy or not worthy of support. The facts are against them. Whenever people hear this language, I urge them to think of Amanda and the thousands of honourable people like her—because tomorrow, “it could be you”.

6.6 pm

Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East) (Lab): Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, and allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. It is with a great sense of pride and humility that I rise to speak for the first time in this House.

Let me first congratulate all other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches during today’s debate. As is customary on these occasions, I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessors and to talk a little about the constituency that they represented so well for so long.

I start by paying particular tribute to my friend of many years and my immediate predecessor, Bob Ainsworth, who I know will long retain in equal measure the House’s admiration and the respect and gratitude of his constituents. Bob was an assiduous Member of Parliament who discharged his duties with a blend of integrity, talent, diligence and generosity. I owe Bob a huge debt of gratitude for his help, support and kindness over the past few years, but more importantly for his enduring friendship. He has been a powerful voice for the people of Coventry North East, and I hope to follow in his footsteps and continue his good work.

Bob held positions in several Departments during his time in this place, including the Whips Office, the Home Office and, latterly, the Ministry of Defence, where he was appointed Secretary of State in 2009. I know I speak for many hon. Members when I wish Bob a long and happy retirement. I am sure Bob’s absence from this place will give him the opportunity to refocus his considerable energies on different challenges, the principal of which, knowing Bob as I do, will be the pursuit of a much improved golf handicap.

The first to represent this constituency from 1974 to 1987 was George Park, whom I remember well, as my mother was his election agent. After him, John Hughes held the seat for five years from 1987 until 1992. I remember John for using his considerable tenacity for the benefit of his constituents. Coventry North East was fortunate indeed to have had such worthy and esteemed Members of Parliament. I am proud to follow in their footsteps as the fourth Member of Parliament

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to represent the constituency, and I am extremely honoured to have the privilege of being the first woman to do so, and in being the first female MP in Coventry since 1979.

Like Bob, I too was born and bred in the constituency that I represent. It is where I raised my family and where I continue to live. I know the place; I know the people; I care deeply about what happens there. That passion for, and connection with, my home town is what led me to represent my area in this House.

Coventry North East is a predominantly urban constituency, but it contains and is bordered by some beautiful natural environments. It has a wide demographic mix and is genuinely multicultural. We are fortunate to have people from many different ethnicities, faiths and cultures living side by side, with a real sense of tolerance and integration running through the community.

The constituency includes University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust and the Ricoh Arena, home to Wasps Rugby, Coventry City football club, an exhibition centre, hotel and casino. A once derelict site, it has been brought back into economic use as an extremely impressive leisure venue, creating much-needed employment in the area. But it is the people who make the constituency so remarkable. Coventry people are compassionate, honest, loyal and straight-talking. I am proud to call myself one of them, and I hope to do them proud as their Member of Parliament.

Coventry North East is not without its problems. Poverty and deprivation are entrenched in some communities. This means that, according to recent data, men in the more deprived areas of my constituency are likely to die 11 years earlier than men in the wealthiest parts of the city, just three miles away, while women are likely to die eight years earlier than their counterparts in the wealthiest areas. These health inequalities are reinforced by high unemployment and deprivation and the poor quality of housing in parts of Coventry North East. While past Government initiatives such as the new deal for communities and a range of investments have helped, the level of intervention needs to be a lot greater if it is to produce real and lasting change. If not, gains in employment and reductions in deprivation will ebb away when tough times return.

It is sometimes too easy to talk about these issues and reduce the problems that real people face to brute facts and statistics, which overlook the real turmoil and heartache that these problems cause. I will not do that. I believe that the real life stories of ordinary people can tell us more about poverty and how to solve it than any report that is drawn up by civil servants miles away from the problems that they analyse.

I take this opportunity to say a few words about my parents. They lived in and loved Coventry. They taught me what the Labour party stands for and what it was there to do. My mother passed away at 64 and my father at 69. They were my total inspiration. They believed in equality of opportunity, in the power of ordinary working people to challenge inequality and injustice, and above all they believed that this country needed a Labour Government—and they were right. What residents need is a Government who will make a significant investment in health, housing and skills. Unfortunately, cuts to welfare and to local government, a lack of sufficient investment in health services and a lack of investment in housing are likely to result in a situation in which little if nothing changes for the vast majority of my constituents.

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I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this debate. I also thank my constituents for sending me from Coventry to represent their interests, and I thank the House for its indulgence in listening to me today.

6.13 pm

Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden contribution during this debate on the Gracious Speech. I pay tribute to the hon. Members who have preceded me in making their maiden speeches today, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) and for Neath (Christina Rees). I also thank the staff across the parliamentary estate, who have been so helpful over the past few weeks. I know that others will join me in that.

It is an honour and a privilege to have been elected by the people of the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituency, where I was born and raised and still live. I thank my parents, my partner and my family, along with my agent and Labour party volunteers, for the huge support that they have given me not only in the most recent election but for many years. I have spent many years working in community development and community regeneration in various parts of my constituency. I have thoroughly enjoyed working at the grassroots of local communities, empowering and supporting local people, and I aim to build on that work in this place.

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Dai Havard. Dai was elected to this place in 2001, and spent 14 years representing the people of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, championing the causes of many organisations throughout the constituency. I do not think that his huge contribution to public service in our area has yet been fully recognised. He worked hard to represent working people and to safeguard workers’ rights. One would have expected nothing less from a committed trade unionist. As many will know, Dai also took a keen interest in the Defence Committee, and did much to support the work of our armed forces. I know that his contribution will be missed.

Let me also pay tribute to another of my predecessors, Ted Rowlands—now Lord Rowlands—who served the constituency between 1972 and 2001. Ted and his late wife Janice are still fondly remembered by many in the constituency. My own special recollection is that it was Ted, along with my local councillor Les Rees, who first brought me to this place when I was a teenager, and cemented an already keen interest in politics.

Merthyr Tydfil, both the town and the borough, is a very proud place. It is named after Tydfil, a Welsh princess said to have been murdered for her Christian beliefs in 480 AD. Merthyr has been at the forefront of the fight for social justice for generations, and it was also at the forefront of the industrial revolution. During the 1830s, the Dowlais ironworks was the largest in the world, employing more than 5,000 people. Merthyr became the largest iron-producing town in the world, and was the source of 40% of Britain’s iron exports.

Merthyr is proud of its heritage and history. Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Merthyr Rising festival, which involves a weekend of song, poetry

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and debates. It remembers the 1831 Merthyr rising, when, for the first time, workers marched under the red flag that was later adopted internationally as the symbol of the working classes. Another important part of history was made in February 1804, when the world’s first locomotive-hauled railway journey took place as Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway line of the Penydarren ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil. Merthyr Tydfil also has a special bond with the Labour party, being the constituency that elected James Keir Hardie in October 1900. It was the first time a Labour Member had been elected to this place.

We have also known our share of hurt and pain. People throughout the world will remember the disaster that took place at Aberfan in October 1966, when 114 children and 24 adults were killed. People in my constituency still remember that tragedy, and commemorate it each year.

Merthyr Tydfil makes up two thirds of my constituency. The remainder is Rhymney, or, as it should be known, the Upper Rhymney Valley. The town of Rhymney was established with the ironworks in 1801, and throughout much of the 20th century the town’s collieries employed almost the entire local population. The celebrated Welsh poet Idris Davies was born in Rhymney, and the town is known to many outside Wales because of the folk singer Pete Seeger’s song “The Bells of Rhymney”, whose lyrics are drawn from a poem by Davies.

The Upper Rhymney Valley includes five other settlements, including my home village of New Tredegar. The village is now home to the Winding House, an award-winning museum that opened in 2008 on the site of the former Elliots colliery. It is managed by the local authority and the Friends of the Winding House community group. As you would expect, Mr Deputy Speaker, New Tredegar, like many Welsh communities, has a thriving rugby club in which mini, junior and senior sections enjoy various levels of success.

Tourism plays a part in the economy of my constituency. The history and the heritage of which I have spoken can be found in communities nestled in steep valleys and at the gateway to the Brecon Beacons national park. In recent years, many parts of the constituency have benefited from European funding, which has supported the regeneration of Merthyr Tydfil town centre and its new, iconic further education college, as well as town centre work in Treharris and in New Tredegar, where we have new roads, small business units, a resource centre and a museum. My constituency has received significant investment from Europe and hundreds of jobs in my area have been secured with European funding, which is why we need a yes vote whenever the EU referendum comes about.

The past five years have been particularly difficult for my constituency, with people struggling with the bedroom tax, zero-hours contracts and the cost of living crisis. People need hope that these things will improve, but sadly there appears to be little change on the horizon.

Despite there being some positive aspects, there was much in the Queen’s Speech—the first written by a majority Conservative Government since 1992—that caused me concern. I have been a county councillor for the past 20 years and deputy leader for seven years, and I have never seen local services under as much financial pressure as now, due to the Conservative party’s austerity measures. Local services that people so badly need and

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rely on like buses, libraries and youth centres are under pressure. Thankfully, in Wales we have the Welsh Government which have provided some support, but with their budget under pressure it is unclear for how long this can be maintained. I am sure we will return to these matters in the coming days and weeks.

To finish, I will return to my constituency. The most striking thing about the communities of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney is the people and of course that famous Welsh welcome. There are few places where people would receive a more hospitable welcome than in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. During my time in this place I will work closely with local businesses, my Welsh Assembly Government colleague Huw Lewis and local councils to help attract more secure jobs to my constituency, where they are so badly needed. I will do my utmost to stand up and speak out for equality of opportunity, and of course for all the people of the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituency, and I will try to repay their trust and confidence in me.

6.21 pm

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): It has been a great pleasure to listen to so many wonderful maiden speeches this afternoon, and it is a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), who both gave wonderful guided tours of their constituencies. It is a pleasure to welcome them to the House. I almost feel like I am making a maiden speech myself. Mine was a bit of a solitary affair as I was elected in a by-election in October last year, and it is quite nice to feel the solidarity and camaraderie coming from the new Members, who are all supporting each other.

Before I was elected to this House, I spent over 30 years employed as a biochemist in the NHS and I want to talk in particular about the parts of the Queen’s Speech that referred to seven-day working in the NHS. I am concerned about the push towards seven-day working because I feel the impression is being given that the NHS does not currently operate on a seven-day-a-week basis.

Ever since I was first employed in the NHS, the various pathology departments I have worked in have never, ever closed. One of my colleagues used to joke that if he had his time over again, he would have chosen a job somewhere that closed every now and then. We always provided an emergency service at evenings and weekends via an on-call system and latterly, as the workload became more and more demanding, via a shift system. Not everyone took part in these rotas as it was deemed that some jobs had to be done during office hours and allowances were always made for staff with carer’s commitments and family responsibilities. Staff pay for working unsocial hours in the NHS has taken a hit over the past few years, with staff now providing an around-the-clock service for far less remuneration than previously, and I worry that the current push towards so-called seven-day working is merely an attempt to normalise out-of-hours working in order to reduce further unsocial hours payments to NHS staff.

I was very concerned on visiting an NHS lab recently to be informed that management were attempting to get everyone in the lab to work shifts regardless of whether

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they wanted to or not, or indeed whether their commitments outside of work allowed them to. I worry that the push towards seven-day working is creating a working environment where staff feel bullied into changing their contractual hours because of a perception that seven-day working is now the norm. The fact is that full seven-day working in the NHS will be achieved only by investment in the service. Recognition has to be given that staff working at weekends and on bank holidays are giving up time that would otherwise be spent with their families, and that staff working at night are putting their own health at considerable risk. Sleep disorders, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, stress and psychological issues commonly affect night workers. All attempts to normalise seven-day-a-week, round-the-clock working should be resisted. Such a service does not come without a price.

Another issue that is causing great concern in my constituency is the provision of health visitors, nursery nurses and school nurses. Health visitors and nursery and school nurses in my constituency are retiring faster than they can be replaced. The service they provide is under a great deal of stress owing to an ever-increasing workload. They perform a vital role in child health, safeguarding and protection, yet the service is struggling, with only 16 school nurses for 42,000 children in the borough. The staff are also concerned that their services might go out to tender, and that they could be taken over by the likes of Virgin Health. Those staff are not being listened to, despite assurances that whistleblowers and staff will be protected and listened to. They have raised these issues with the management, but the management are in denial, saying that there are no problems with the service and accusing staff of negativity if they raise concerns.

Just recently, I received a consultation paper on the child and adolescent mental health service in the borough. It contained plans to reduce demand on the CAMHS service by working more closely with professionals who work with children, and yes, school nurses, nursery nurses and health visitors would be among them. The CAMHS service is the cause of many complaints among my constituents. Common issues include the fact that

“you have to fight just to get referred”,


“waiting times are still at 10 to 12 months” ,

and that

“when you get there they are great but the moment you have a diagnosis you are discharged with no other support because they are so busy.”

Funding for the CAMHS service has been reduced under this Government, and a combination of less resources and greater demand has led to the service raising the threshold for access, with initiatives such as the one I have just mentioned, in which one hard-pressed service relies on another hard-pressed service to act as a gatekeeper. None of this is sustainable. Health visitor numbers cannot be maintained with so many leaving because of stress. The average child has 12 minutes of school nursing a year, and parents report that their children cannot access child and adolescent mental health services until their situation becomes critical. I want to ask the Secretary of State what his vision is for the future of health visiting, school nursing and children’s mental health services. These services require investment, the staff need to be listened to, and our children need to be protected.

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6.28 pm

Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): As my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) has just said, it is a real privilege to speak in today’s debate and to follow so many passionate and thoughtful speeches, particularly from new Members. On this side of the House, my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) talked about the great talent and resources in their constituencies, but also about the inequalities in income, wealth, housing and health that hold too many of their constituents back. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) spoke about the closures of vital local services, which have caused—and will continue to cause—real concern in their constituencies, just as they are doing in many other parts of the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) asked us to look through a window into her constituency, and she painted a picture as good as any Turner. But she and my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) also rightly reminded us of the struggles that their constituents face and the urgent need to regenerate and redevelop their areas to boost education, jobs and local services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who is the first home carer to enter this House, warned us about the insecurities facing careworkers and those who depend on care. She also reminded us of the power of the Government to change people’s lives, which is something that we on the Opposition Benches firmly believe in. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) talked about the benefits to his constituency from European funding and the need for a yes vote in the referendum, which is something that I wholeheartedly support.

In the Queen’s Speech five years ago, the former Member for South Cambridgeshire, the then Health Secretary, promised “sustainable, stable reforms” that would deliver excellence and greater efficiency in the NHS. That was the rhetoric, but the reality was so very different. In place of stability, the Government forced through the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS. They said that it would cut red tape, but instead we have seen bureaucracy boom. We now have NHS England, the Care Quality Commission, Monitor, the Trust Development Authority, Healthwatch England, Public Health England, Health Education England, the National Quality Board, the NHS Commissioning Assembly and strategic clinical networks, and that is just at the national level. Then there are four NHS England regional offices, 25 local area teams, 12 clinical senates and commissioning support units. That is on top of 221 clinical commissioning groups and 153 health and wellbeing boards. Are we confused? We should be. Should we care? We must. [Interruption.] The Minister asks why I am going on about this again. I will tell her. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said, the lack of clear leadership and accountability in the NHS, which is a direct result of this Government’s reorganisation, is fundamental to why the NHS cannot make the changes that patients need or get a grip on its finances.

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Mrs Main: The hon. Lady listed an awful lot of bodies. Obviously, she thinks that there are far too many or that it is too confusing. Will she tell me which ones she would like to scrap?

Liz Kendall: Why is the hon. Lady not talking to her Ministers about the problems created in the NHS? Why do the Conservatives never talk about their reorganisation? I will tell you why: it is because they know it has been a mistake. Far from putting power into the hands of clinicians, let alone patients, it has put power into the hands of bureaucrats.

This Government’s addiction to broken promises goes on. Five years ago, patients were promised that they would be able to see a GP from 8 am to 8 pm, seven days a week. That may sound familiar—well, it should. The Prime Minister has had to make the same promise again in the latest Tory manifesto. It is no wonder that he has had to do that, because, under his watch, it has got harder to see a GP. Two million more patients now say that their surgery is not open at a convenient time, and a quarter say that they cannot get an appointment in a week, if at all, let alone on the same day.

The list of broken promises goes on. The Prime Minister said that, under his leadership, we would never go back to the days when patients waited for hours on trolleys in A&E, or months for vital operations. Yet the number of patients kept on trolleys for more than four hours has quadrupled, and the waiting lists are at a seven-year high. Why is that? It is because the Government wasted three years on reforming backroom structures rather than front-line services. They slashed the very social care and community services that should help to keep elderly people at home, piling further pressure on our hospitals instead.

The Government want us to forget their mistakes. But Labour Members will not let them run away from their record. We will hold them to account for their failures every week, every month, every year. I am talking about their failure on NHS finances and the deficits that have soared to more than £800 million and are set to get worse. Those deficits are predicted to be £2 billion by the end of this year.

Mr Jackson rose

Liz Kendall: What will the hon. Gentleman do about that?

Mr Jackson: On the subject of mistakes, apologies and looking back at the past, would the hon. Lady—in her role as a candidate in the Labour leadership election as much as anything else—like to apologise for paying GPs 27% more for doing less work in 2004 through the GPs’ contract, which curtailed out-of-hours services so drastically?

Liz Kendall: I will never apologise for Labour’s record on the NHS, for the investment and reforms that saw waiting lists at an all-time low and patient satisfaction at an all-time high, for rebuilding our hospitals and our public health and primary care or for tackling health inequalities. That is more than can be said for the record of Conservative Members. We will hold them to account for their failure on A&E as hospitals miss the four-hour target for the 97th week in a row, and we will

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hold them to account for their failure on cancer care. The cancer treatment target has now been missed for more than a whole year, and 21,000 cancer patients have waited more than 62 days to start their treatment. Anyone who has a relative or friend with cancer waiting to start treatment knows how desperate that can be, and it is not going to get better anytime soon.

The day before Parliament was dissolved for the election, NHS England snuck out a report saying that the cancer target will not be met again until at least March of next year. Would the Minister like to confirm that? If she will not confirm that, will she tell me how many patients will wait longer as a result so that Members can tell their constituents? Does she think that it is acceptable, and what is she going to do about it? I would be happy to give way to the Minister if she would like to respond. No? Well, that is typical of Conservative Members, who create the problems but refuse to admit to them and do not have a plan to deal with the result.

Five years ago, Government Members made important promises to patients and the public on the NHS. They promised stability, but their reorganisation created chaos. They promised to maintain Labour’s historic low waits for treatment, but waits have risen year on year on year. They promised seven-day access to a GP, but it is getting harder to get an appointment, and they promised to make the NHS more efficient, but they have wasted billions of pounds on their reorganisation, on agency staff, management consultants and soaring delayed discharges because elderly people cannot get the services they need at home. They come to this House today and repeat their promises and claims, but NHS staff do not trust them, patients will not believe them and we will not allow them to get away with five more years of letting patients down.

6.37 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I echo the words of the shadow care Minister, the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall): this has been a very good and passionate debate. We have heard a great deal of expertise and many excellent maiden speeches, to which I shall turn in a few moments. Of course, we have also been treated to rounds three and four of the Labour leadership hustings, which shone through very clearly. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the shadow Health team meetings. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) have already declared for the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), but I think that the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) is keeping his powder dry at the moment. He is not in the Chamber at the moment; perhaps he is away considering his views. He has had a chance to listen to all the prospective leaders now. He is a one-man jury in “Labour’s Got Talent”, and we want to hear from him. We need to hear what he has to say.

The shadow Minister was rightly generous in her tribute to the new hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. It was particularly noticeable how many of them brought relevant health experience to this House. That will greatly enhance our debates over the coming years.

Let me mention in turn the Members from the SNP and from my own party.

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The hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) spoke powerfully on inequalities. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (Natalie McGarry) spoke of the powerful reputation of the City of Glasgow and her role as a spokesperson for disability. I warmly welcome the SNP spokesman for health, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), a very beautiful part of this United Kingdom. I was particularly interested to hear about her experience as a breast cancer specialist; I am sure that will greatly enhance our debates on an issue that we have many debates about, and to which I have responded many times.

On my side of the Chamber, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) spoke about her health campaigning. I was sorry to have missed her speech. I was also sorry to miss the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), but I am at least in time to wish her a happy 40th birthday for today. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (James Davies) spoke about his experience, and that of his constituents, of the Welsh NHS, and I would echo his hopes of improving the health services of people on both sides of the border. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) spoke about her experience of more than a decade of working in the NHS and highlighted the importance of the way we conduct our debates on health matters, and the need to rise above party political lines. Today’s debate has for the most part been an example of how that can be done, but we still have some work to do. I shall return to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) spoke about the challenges facing his local hospital and the investment being put into it. I was very struck by hearing my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) speak of the need to safeguard and champion the interests of children. My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) demonstrated the positive effects that the Government’s long-term economic plan has had on her constituency and focused on the health needs of Telford and her determination to be a powerful voice for her constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) spoke very warmly of his constituency; having heard his speech, I am confident that we can expect great things from him.

Many speeches focused on health. Many speeches brought out what people could contribute in this Chamber on health matters. A variety of other issues were raised and I shall try to cover them, but it might not be possible to get through them all.

It is clear since the election that the public have resoundingly rejected the politics of fear that so often characterises statements on the NHS from the Labour party. [Interruption.] Well, at least it is clear to us that they did that, but, as the hon. Member for Leicester West may reflect when she looks back on the debate, it seems that it is far from clear to many of her colleagues that that tone was rejected by the electorate. The former Leader of the Opposition said he would turn the NHS into a weapon and—thankfully for us and unfortunately for him—that weapon backfired, but a number of Opposition Members do not seem to have taken that message on board. Yes, the NHS faces big challenges. Conservative Members have always been absolutely clear and honest about that—we have said it time and

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again—but we have dedicated staff working on it, and they are stepping up to those challenges and working tirelessly for their patients.

Liz Kendall: As we are speaking of one of the major challenges facing the NHS, will the Minister tell us whether the NHS England business plan published on Friday 27 March said that the NHS would not meet the cancer target until March 2016?

Jane Ellison: That is another example of trying to weaponise the NHS. [Hon. Members: “Answer.”] There were 700,000 more cancer patients treated in the last Parliament. Figures show that 12,000 more people are surviving cancer at the end of the last Parliament than were at the beginning. There were millions more diagnostic tests, for cancer and a range of other issues, so there is a great record here. We acknowledge—

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab) rose

Jane Ellison: No, I cannot give way at this moment.

The coalition Government had an excellent record on cancer. Yes, there is further to go, and that is why we have made it central to our plans. We want to see the NHS go further and faster on diagnostics. That is why NHS England has an independent taskforce looking at this issue. We got its interim report in March. We will get its final report in the summer and we will act on it.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is bluster.

Jane Ellison: The hon. Gentleman says it is bluster. Is it bluster to talk about the £1 billion invested in the cancer drugs fund?

Liz Kendall rose

Jane Ellison: No, I am sorry, I will not give way. As they have demonstrated today, the hon. Lady and many of her colleagues sought to weaponise the NHS in the last Parliament and they are seeking to do so again.

In return for NHS staff stepping up and working so tirelessly for their patients, the Conservatives have committed the money that the NHS says it needs. Two elections running, the Labour party failed to commit the money that the NHS says it needs. Until the Opposition do that and explain how they can deliver the strong economy that is needed to do it, they have no right to speak about this. It is only possible to deliver that if we have a strong economy and a long-term economic plan. Listening to the NHS, not running it down—that will continue to be our approach in this Parliament.