Business Questions 15 March 2018

I raised at Business Questions the Government’s Green Paper on the integration strategy in which Walsall was mentioned. My constituents have contacted me about this because they resent the fact that Walsall is seen as a place that is not integrated. Places for social cohesion such as Pleck Library have been closed, Sure Start Palfrey children’s centre has been outsourced to a private company and we had to fight for ESOL, English for speakers of other languages, mandation funding from Walsall adult community college.

You can read my full speech below:

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business. It is an interesting programme.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will know that the Bill to be debated next Monday consists of only one clause—actually, two clauses: the long title and the main clause. May we have the list of ministerial responsibilities, which has not yet been published? When will the debate on restoration and renewal finally be scheduled, as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is still in the other place and is not due to come back until, possibly, May?

The shadow Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), raised a point of order after the debate on Tuesday about the Government not pressing ahead with plans to phase out childcare vouchers for the next six months. I know that the Leader of the House has said that we have to wait 12 weeks before a Minister responds. However, we now have two time limits— 12 weeks and six months. Could we have a bit of clarity on this for our constituents?

Given that there is nothing scheduled after 26 March, could the Leader of the House please schedule an Opposition day debate? Or perhaps we could have a debate on early-day motion 937, which deals with the statutory instrument abolishing nursing bursaries for postgraduate nursing students. I have asked for this before. We thought that the Chancellor would make an announcement in the spring statement, but obviously as it was a spring statement he could not do that.

The Chancellor now describes himself as “Tiggerish”. If he has read the tweets of some of his Back Benchers, he will know that they are asking him to bounce out of the Cabinet. He may be Tiggerish about the growth forecast, but the OECD says that the UK’s economy is the slowest growing of all the G20 countries, so when he goes to Buenos Aires he will be last in the queue—and this is even before we leave the EU.

I want to share this really interesting point that the Prime Minister of Luxembourg made on the EU: “We had a special relationship with the UK, before they were in with a lot of opt-outs and now they are out, they want a lot of opt-ins.” I think that kind of sums up exactly where we are. I did not quite glean from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union whether he has actually visited Brussels. Will the Leader of the House place in the Library information on whether he has, or on when he last visited? He did not say that he had visited the Northern Ireland border within this millennium. Will the Leader of the House urge him to do so? Has the Prime Minister visited the Northern Ireland border?

In yesterday’s statement on the Green Paper on the integration strategy, Walsall was mentioned. I was a bit upset that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government did not alert me to the fact that he was going to mention Walsall as one of the key areas. People in my constituency have already contacted me about this because they resent the fact that Walsall is seen as a place that is not integrated. I heard at 10 o’clock this morning that the Secretary of State was visiting my constituency. It would have been helpful if he had spoken to me and I could have shown him some decent areas.

In July 2015, I raised at business questions, from the Back Benches, the ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—mandation funding from Walsall adult community college. We had to fight to get it back. My constituent, Ray Simmonds, is now offering training courses to women in childcare and in levels 1, 2 and 3 numeracy and literacy. He struggled to get a place to hold those training courses. He tried to get Pleck library, but that has been closed, as have over 500 other libraries, 300 children’s centres, and 500 playgrounds. My Sure Start Palfrey children’s centre, which was twice rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, has been outsourced to a private company. These are the places for social cohesion.

May we have a debate on the National Audit Office report which found that councils are spending less on services and more on social care, and that Government funding has fallen by 49.1% in real terms? The report also suggests that about 15 councils will be at risk of following Northamptonshire County Council in imposing emergency controls. It is the funding of the infrastructure of local government that helps with social cohesion. It is austerity that fuels division as people think there are not enough resources to go round and blame other people who seem to be taking them. May we, then, have a debate on the National Union of Teachers and Runnymede Trust report on visible and invisible barriers to black, Asian and minority ethnic teachers, or an urgent statement on the young black boy who was tied to a tree in Bath and hit by white boys as he was called names? There is no Government strategy to tackle that.

Finally, I do not want to end on a sad note, but I am afraid I have to, in acknowledging the passing of some very eminent people who have made a major contribution to our country. Brenda Dean, from the other place, was the first female general secretary of a British trade union, having joined a trade union as a teenager. Professor Stephen Hawking was 52 years a fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. I have read “A Brief History of Time”—I will have to read it again—and I have visited the large hadron collider at CERN and seen how scientists from all the different countries collaborate. He was also part of the litigation to stop the accountable care organisations, which recently won a cost-capping case on judicial review. In his memory, we must ensure that the UK continues the fantastic collaboration in science with the rest of Europe. He said that a publicly provided NHS was the most efficient system, and so those who say we cannot afford the NHS are wrong; we cannot afford not to have an NHS. Finally, Sir Ken Dodd. I actually saw him at the Palladium when I was younger—a long, long time ago. We hope to see his like again. We will miss not only his jokes and songs, but the image of a man wielding a feather duster.