I am grateful to be called to contribute to the debate on the Queen’s Speech and very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown).
I want to start by covering a few transport issues. It is good that the Government are taking action on drones, which are a nuisance and in danger of even becoming a menace to commercial aviation. However, the big absence in the Secretary of State’s speech was any reference to aviation expansion and the decision on the Airports Commission report which, as we all know, is long overdue. As such, it was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and the hon. Members for Bath (Ben Howlett) and for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry).
It is 40 or 50 years since there has been any increase in airport capacity in the south-east. We have had the 2003 White Paper, the 2008 decision by the previous Labour Government, the withdrawal of support for the third runway at Heathrow in the 2010 Tory manifesto, the coalition decision stimulated by the Lib Dems, the U-turn in 2012, the Airports Commission in 2013, and the promise year on year that we will get a decision. We are still awaiting that decision, so we hope to see it sooner rather than later. My preference is for Heathrow, but I would not like Gatwick to be frustrated, because aviation is an important economic tool for the UK internationally, and it is important for parts of the UK that rely on international connections. It therefore would be good to see movement on this.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey also mentioned shipping, to his credit. It was disappointing that the Secretary of State did not mention shipping in any sense, because it is important to the UK economy and still contributes billions of pounds. Notwithstanding the challenges to which the SNP’s spokesman referred, the Government have a fairly good record on supporting shipping, so I am surprised that they did not want to make more of that. Perhaps when the Housing and Planning Minister winds up the debate, he will say, “Shipping is important to the UK Government.”
As the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South, said, deregulation of buses outside London has not worked. The Secretary of State blamed Labour policy from 1999, which was a little time ago. Quality contracts have not worked, but privatisation and franchising have worked in London, because they have been regulated, so that should be done elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) has said that the approach should not be restricted to those local authorities that have elected mayors; it should apply to all local authorities right around the country. I am grateful to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association for its briefing, to which several colleague have referred, on how successful the talking buses campaign has been in London and why it should be replicated across the country.
I have another two points to make about transport before I move on to housing. On road safety, in 2010 the Government eliminated targets for reducing the number of people who are killed or seriously injured on our roads, because the then Secretary of State did not support any targets that the Government might not be able to meet and failure would give others the opportunity to criticise them. There has been consensus across the House for more than 30 years about the ambition to reduce deaths and serious injury on our roads.
I would be delighted to listen further to the hon. Gentleman, but I just want to correct him on this point: targets are not the same as results. I am sure that he will celebrate with me the fact that British roads are safer than they have ever been. One death on our roads is too many, however, and we continue to work effectively to drive down both the number of road deaths and the causes of accidents.
I do not for a second underestimate the Government’s ambition to reduce deaths and serious injury; my point is that we need to demonstrate that ambition. We have had targets to reduce deaths and serious injury on our roads for more than 30 years. They started under Mrs Thatcher, when the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) was the road safety Minister, and they have been successful. Basically, such targets say to people, “This year has been unacceptable, so next year we’re going to try to do this.” For the past 35 years, the numbers have been scaled down, but for the past six years they have plateaued, and in one instance increased. That is an indictment not of the Government, but of the fact that we have lost sight of ambition, so the Government should bring that back.
I have spoken about this to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who has responsibility for road safety, and the Secretary of State, and I know that they are sympathetic. The approach is contradictory, because the British Government sign up to European Union and United Nations targets while our roads are among the safest in the world. We should be proud of that and broadcast it, but the fact is that we are in denial.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his earlier comments. On road safety, does he agree that if one of the driving principles behind developing driverless technology in the UK is increased safety, it should apply across the length and breadth of the nations of the UK, not just in urban areas?
The hon. Gentleman is correct. Most people who listen to media reports might think, “There’s nobody in charge of driverless vehicles, so they’re more dangerous and riskier.” The reality, however, is that the technology now exists for automatic stop, electronic stability control and anti-skid brakes, which make the vehicles much safer. It is the human element—people who are on their mobile phones, who have been drinking or taking drugs, who are not wearing seatbelts, or who are speeding—that causes most crashes and deaths. If we take out the human element, we will see the number of road crashes tumble and a fall in deaths and serious injury. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the proposal should be extended right across the piece.
My only other point on transport relates to air quality. Transport contributes to more than 20% of emissions. With the advent of new technology, there is real scope to reduce that figure. I hope that the Government will work with the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on his commitment to address the issue more seriously than it has been for years.
On housing, the biggest issue in my constituency, London and the vast majority of the country is the need to build new homes. The Housing and Planning Minister has acknowledged that I do not think that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 will help. Selling off the most expensive properties in Tower Hamlets will not help our housing crisis, because it is the bigger homes that will be sold off and that will affect larger families. The imposition of market rents in and around Canary Wharf means that local people will not be able to afford them. On the sell-off of housing association homes, we need local replacements. A percentage of all new developments need to be affordable homes.
London needs people working in the city. For example, how do we expect Palace of Westminster staff to be able to get here 24/7, from all parts of London and the south-east, whether they be security officers, police officers, cooks, cleaners or involved in other duties, if they do not have somewhere affordable to stay in London? We are pricing them out of the market and making it more difficult for them to get in. London’s economic infrastructure will be negatively affected if we do not make sure that affordable housing is available.
Finally on housing, I want to refer to the speech that the hon. Member for Worthing West made on leasehold reform yesterday, which can be found at columns 71 to 75 of Hansard. I thank the Housing and Planning Minister for his interest in the matter. We have had several meetings with him and his civil servants on leasehold reform. The hon. Member for Worthing West has also been to No. 10. I hope we can make progress on leasehold reform, including the right to buy, retirement homes and private sector sales, which represent the vast majority of new properties. The sector is raising its own standards, but most of us believe that it requires regulation and statutory reform. The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership is working very hard to help people who are in a very difficult situation.
I am disappointed that there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech on banning the use of wild animals in circuses. On Tuesday I attended a photocall at No. 10 with kids from Devonshire Road Primary School in Bolton. This is a Government commitment, and the Prime Minister has made a personal commitment, that it will be in the legislative programme by 2020. I am sure that it will come, but it is disappointing that it is not happening now. It is not a major issue in general national politics, but it affects a lot of people around the country.
Business rate retention for local authorities is great news for my constituency in Tower Hamlets. We are on the City of London fringe, and Canary Wharf is at the heart of my constituency. Holding on to those business rates will result in us moving from being one of poorest to one of the richest boroughs in the country. Obviously, the Government will have a mechanism to equalise, which has always been the case. I am not clear on how that is going to work, so I look forward to hearing the Minister explain it later, if he has time.
During business questions this morning, the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), said that he welcomed the National Citizen Service being put on a statutory footing, but youth services have been cut right across the piece. There are some great organisations in my constituency, including 2nd East London scout group, 31 Tower Hamlets air cadet training corps, the Marine Society and Sea Cadets, and the Prince’s Trust, which has recently moved its London and south-east headquarters to Mile End. They are doing fantastic work and it is equally welcome to see an adult service being put on a statutory basis. Organisations such as Keep Britain Tidy will be very much in support of that.
On local government and planning, when we passed the Planning Act 2008, the shadow Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), who is on the Front Bench and might speak later, led on the Bill for the Labour Government. We introduced an independent planning commission for nationally significant infrastructure projects. One of the first things the coalition did was repeal that Act, and five years later the Conservatives recognise that a fast-track planning procedure is needed for nationally significant infrastructure.
There is a real conflict for local councils that have the prospect of shale extraction and fracking. Notwithstanding the clamour from the environmental movement and the Greens for shale extraction not to be proceeded with, I think the vast majority of people in the country would much rather that we use our own natural resources than import gas from the US, Qatar or Russia. Shale extraction makes much more sense for our economic security, but the Government have to address the conflict between local communities being panicked and scaremongered into opposing shale extraction applications and the need for that national industry to be developed.
The measures on counter-extremism, anti-terrorism and security are all welcome. We are living in much more dangerous times, and getting the right balance between civil liberties and the opportunity for the security and intelligence forces to protect us is a real challenge. When the three girls from Bethnal Green went to Syria, people asked why the security forces and the police had not intervened, but exactly the same people objected when the Government tried to improve security, intelligence gathering and interception. I supported identity cards under the Labour Government. I thought it was wrong that we did not proceed with them, and it is wrong that the current Government are not doing so. They would be a simple mechanism and a positive step forward at a time when we are all carrying ID in the shape of credit cards, contactless payments cards or whatever.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Department of Health is due to publish soon the NHS health action plan on hearing loss. Does the Leader of the House know whether there is a date for when that might happen, and whether it will be in the form of a written or an oral statement? A number of us will be bidding for Adjournment debate time to discuss the matter. It is a good news story for the 3 million hard of hearing and deaf people in the UK. A lot of great work is being done in the Department and by the NHS, and it would be really good to see the Government leading from the front on this.
I know that the Government are working on that. I do not have an exact date yet, but I am sure that they will want to update the House fully. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that there will be an oral statement, but I suspect that, when it happens, there will be a desire by the Department of Health to inform the House as widely as possible. I am sure that it is the kind of issue that may well end up being debated either in an Adjournment debate or in a Backbench Business Committee debate once the new Chair is elected. Let me pass on my commiserations to the former—and potentially future—Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for the events of the past couple of weeks. Who knows, he might bounce back quickly.
You don’t have to be a good cook to foster, revealed children and young people in foster care as part of a new survey conducted by The Fostering Network to mark the start of Foster Care Fortnight 2016 (16-29 May).
Instead the overwhelming call was for foster carers who can provide them with security, support and love.
261 care experienced children and young people were surveyed on a range of issues aimed at identifying what they consider to be the key qualities and skills needed to foster, and about the difference these qualities made to the lives of children living in foster care.
The top three qualities that these children and young people identified as key to making a good foster carer were:
making them feel safe and secure (67 per cent)
supporting and helping them (61 per cent)
loving them (54 per cent)
Adam, 19, is living with his foster carer in Scotland, said: ‘Foster care saved me and rebuilt me. I was shy, timid and awkward with little life prospects.
‘Fostering opened the doors to a vast amount of opportunities: allowing me to go to university, allowed me to take up almost every hobby know to the world and allowed me to become a member of The Scout Association.’
When asked what made a good foster carer, Adam said: ‘This may sound really silly, but caring. There needs to be a passion to deal with these young people who often come from horrific conditions and you need invest time, belief and strength in them. It cannot be underestimated the importance of a strong role model on a young person. You need the skill of seeing light in times of darkness because these young people will lean on you through some of their lives.’
Jim Fitzpatrick, Member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse said: “Potential foster carers may have been reluctant in the past due to their cooking skills but this survey proves that they are not necessary. Instead, having a passion for foster care is seen by actual children and young people in care as far more crucial. I hope this finding encourages more potential carers to push the boat out.”
While important for some, only 14 per cent thought that being a good cook was an important skill in a foster carer. Stars of The Only Way Is Essex, Debbie Douglas and Lydia Bright, took part in a 20 minute bake off to highlight the fact that a child comes into care needing a foster family every 20 minutes in the UK.
Debbie Douglas, star of The Only Way is Essex, has been a foster carer for more than 20 years and understands what the children in her care need. She said: ‘We’re certainly not a baking family, but every child who has entered our home has enriched our lives, as we hope we have enriched theirs. I think sticking to reality TV and making sure that the children who come into our home feel loved and secure works best for us!
‘You don’t have to be a superhuman, you just need to be loving, understanding and resilient. Becoming a foster carer can be daunting but it’s something that many people would be capable of doing. I urge anyone who thinks they have the skills and personality to make a positive impact on these children’s lives to talk to their fostering service about becoming a foster carer.
‘Stop thinking, just do it and pick up the phone. Being a foster carer is knowing that you’ve made a difference.’
Lydia Bright, who grew up in a fostering family from the age of two, said: ‘I’ve never known a life without being part of a fostering family. My friends at school used to complain it was boring at home, but being a part of a fostering family meant I never felt alone as a child.
‘No parents have a child and don’t want to look after it, but some can’t. That’s why you should never stereotype, because every child has come into care for a reason that’s nothing to do with them.’
The Fostering Network is calling for 9,070 foster families to come forward right across the UK to give loving homes and supportive family environments to children (7,600 foster families in England, 800 in Scotland, 500 in Wales, and 170 in Northern Ireland). In particular there is an ongoing need for more foster families to provide homes for teenagers, disabled children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, and sibling groups.
Without more foster families coming forward during 2016 some children will find themselves living a long way from family, school and friends, being split up from brothers and sisters, or being placed with a foster carer who does not have the right skills and experience to best meet their specific needs. There is then a significant risk that a child’s placement will breakdown, further disrupting an already traumatic childhood.