It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate, which provides an opportunity to make observations and comments on the entire Gracious Speech. I was pleased to see that the Government intend to bring in legislation to deal with reform of the prison system and bring forward provisions regarding adoption and children in care. Previous Labour Governments spent billions and billions of pounds on the education and health sectors, and put money into rehabilitation programmes and detoxification centres, so I am pleased about these provisions, which should help to tackle some of the issues and challenges in our prison system.
I am disappointed, however, that several things are not included in the Gracious Speech, and I will touch first on a couple of international issues. All Governments, irrespective of their political complexion, have systematically failed to deal with two of the oldest historical disputes ?that followed the collapse of the British empire after the second world war. On Palestine and Israel, the Prime Minister has accepted that the state of Israel has undertaken half a million illegal settlements and the collective punishment of the people of Gaza. It is one of the biggest festering wounds in the middle east, and it needs to be resolved properly. On Kashmir, a UN resolution from 1948 states that Jammu and Azad Kashmir should be restored democratically through a free, impartial plebiscite, encouraging both the nuclear states to come together to deal with the issue. As a state that was involved with the two countries, we should be able to bring the two parties together and help to find a resolution.
I was concerned, and perhaps dismayed, when I heard about the counter-terrorism proposal and how the Prevent strategy will become even harsher. The way in which the strategy has been rolled out over the past few years has shown it to be ineffective and counter-productive. It has traumatised many young people who have been subject to it, and 90% of referrals have had no follow-up action. Even when such action has happened, it did nothing much apart from traumatise young children. The Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who is present, must have heard about the numerous examples of young people being taken into the system. For example, one young person called a terraced house a “terrorist house” and another was carted off for talking about Palestine. Young children of six, seven or eight are completely traumatised by the experience of having to sit with intelligence officers and police officers. Even if they were not thinking about anything, they will certainly start thinking something after that.
I am not saying that radicalisation, of any sort, should not be dealt with or that it should be ignored, but it can be dealt with under the rubric of internet safety and teaching about online dangers, such as sexting, online bullying and child predators. One component of such training could be on violent extremism. It is a safe, sensible way of dealing with the situation, rather than trying to criminalise people. Even Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Manchester and head of Prevent, has said that Prevent is a waste of time, and the National Union of Teachers has also passed a motion to that effect. I therefore urge Ministers to re-examine the whole of Prevent, how it is being rolled out and how it is being dealt with in schools and universities. We all want to be safe. I was out of the country when the July bombings happened in London, but I used to take that bus route frequently when going to my chambers and I travelled at about that time of day. If I had not been out of the country, I could have been directly affected by that bombing. Obviously, the safety of people in this country is paramount to me and to everybody else, but the things we put in place to deal with these issues have to be effective.
I was also disappointed that the Queen’s Speech contained no mention of house building; the abolition of the current system for personal independence payment assessments; whether steps are going to be taken to get more GPs and nurses into our NHS system; and reversing the rules on pension rights for women in their 50s. There was also nothing to address the situation of pensioners who live abroad. There seem to be two sets of pensioners, with one getting inflation-linked pensions and the other not getting them, despite having paid in ?about the same amount. In addition, no constructive proposals have been made as to how to get children out of poverty.
I welcome the U-turn on forced academisation, but this approach of having everything academised by a certain date should also be dropped. As has been alluded to by other Members, it should be left to individual schools, along with the parents and the community, to decide whether they go for academisation. The Labour Government introduced academies, but that was for schools that were struggling; it was not brought in for schools that were already successful. Essa Academy, in my constituency, was one of the first to become an academy under the Labour Government. Its students speak 46 different languages and it has new international arrivals, yet it has been a pioneering school in the United Kingdom in the use of mobile technology in its education system. Schools from across the UK have come to see its practices, and countries in Scandinavia such as Sweden and Denmark, are following its systems. This school is producing interactive textbooks, and that allows for the accelerated cognition of complex processes. These books will become free to the whole world. I have an invitation from the acting chief executive and the principal, Dr Chohan, for the Secretary of State to visit the school, because he feels that if it was in London, all the Ministers, shadow Ministers and so on would be visiting it. This invitation is for our shadow Secretary of State as well.
Finally, I ask the Government to consider some targeted funding for schools in socially deprived areas. What do I mean by that? I am talking about extra provision for young children who are struggling in maths and English, and who will need extra help outside the classroom. I am talking about extra money for teaching English as a foreign or second language for mothers and parents of some of these children who struggle with English. That would be a constructive step towards helping those people whom we say should be helping their children. I am talking about more provision to help schools identify issues of bullying, drug addiction and gangs bullying young people into committing crimes. A lady came to my surgery recently crying and saying that she did not know what to do about her young son, who was being pushed by gangs into criminal activity. That is not an isolated incident, and we need more targeted resources. When a child gets into trouble schools do try to deal with it, so we are reactive, but we need more proactive policies in place so that we can identify and look at the concerns, challenges and dangers.
Finally, I wish to mention something that has nothing to do with education. I want to make a plea to the Chancellor: can I have a pot of money for my constituency so that I can get the roads repaired, as they have loads of potholes in them? I am happy to send a full costing of that to him.