Debates between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon

There have been 20 exchanges between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon

1 Wed 12th October 2016 Gypsies and Travellers 3 interactions (340 words)
2 Wed 29th October 2014 Callum Wark (Sentencing of Foreign Drivers)
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (2,668 words)
3 Tue 13th May 2014 Human Rights (North Korea)
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
2 interactions (1,141 words)
4 Wed 9th April 2014 Finance (No. 2) Bill
HM Treasury
2 interactions (619 words)
5 Wed 5th March 2014 Adult Autism Strategy
Department of Health and Social Care
3 interactions (1,128 words)
6 Tue 22nd May 2012 Littering and Fly-tipping
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
3 interactions (1,494 words)
7 Wed 4th May 2011 Family Policy
Department for Education
2 interactions (2,154 words)
8 Tue 10th November 2020 Obesity: Covid-19
Department of Health and Social Care
3 interactions (3,289 words)
9 Thu 19th March 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
3 interactions (258 words)
10 Tue 15th October 2019 Unregulated Accommodation: 16 to 17-year-olds
Department for Education
3 interactions (647 words)
11 Thu 16th May 2019 National Marriage and Mental Health Awareness Weeks
Department of Health and Social Care
2 interactions (3,831 words)
12 Wed 27th February 2019 Dental Health: Older People
Department of Health and Social Care
5 interactions (2,464 words)
13 Thu 25th October 2018 International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day 7 interactions (2,457 words)
14 Mon 10th September 2018 Gypsies and Travellers
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
3 interactions (561 words)
15 Thu 6th September 2018 Integrated Care
Department of Health and Social Care
2 interactions (2,480 words)
16 Thu 19th July 2018 Perinatal Mental Illness
Department of Health and Social Care
2 interactions (3,421 words)
17 Tue 6th February 2018 Statutory PHSE Education
Department for Education
2 interactions (1,569 words)
18 Tue 30th January 2018 Marriage in Government Policy
Department for Work and Pensions
2 interactions (1,583 words)
19 Tue 16th January 2018 Junk Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity
Department of Health and Social Care
2 interactions (1,311 words)
20 Mon 13th November 2017 Police Funding: Bedfordshire 5 interactions (795 words)

Gypsies and Travellers

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Wednesday 12th October 2016

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and in doing so speaks up for her constituency.

The skate park I just mentioned was being defecated on, and local children had had their bicycles stolen by the Travellers. Other mothers have said that children have been too scared to go to the leisure centre for their swimming lessons, as they find the Travellers very intimidating. Even the staff of the leisure centre are too scared to ask them to pay. I was bitten by two of the Travellers’ dogs as I walked around the site.

In respect of the life chances and vulnerabilities of Traveller children, I learned that last month one of my constituents witnessed a fight between Traveller children. When their father came out of his caravan, instead of stopping the fight he taught them how to really hurt one another more effectively. I argue that children’s services would have a better chance of protecting children like that if the 24% of Travellers who live in caravans or mobile homes were to join the 76% who live in houses, flats and bungalows. Neighbours witnessing behaviour like that would at least have an address to report.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that greater attention must be paid to the education of the children? This needs to be done in a very sensitive fashion, because the community feel attacked and marginalised. As such, co-operative help within the community is needed by all to help with their education and move them from where they are to where they could be.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I totally agree. Traveller children should be able to aspire to be engineers, scientists or anything else they want to be.

One of my parish councillors wrote recently saying that his village had frankly felt under siege this summer and that help was desperately needed. Local landowners and the local authority are facing the constant expense of having to go through the courts to have caravans moved and are then left with the foul job of cleaning up the disgusting mess and excrement left behind.

Callum Wark (Sentencing of Foreign Drivers)

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Wednesday 29th October 2014

(6 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Ministry of Justice
Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) for securing this important debate and highlighting the issues surrounding the tragic death of Callum Wark. In particular, I thank him for putting on record his comments about Callum’s personality in the House of Commons today. I am sure that others will also have been particularly touched by the story of Callum turning back during a race that he probably would have won to help a friend with learning disabilities. That speaks volumes about the kind of fine young man he clearly was.

Any death on our roads is a tragedy. Road deaths lead to unimaginable pain for the families and relatives of the victims. Such deaths are made worse when they are caused by bad driving under the influence of alcohol and could have been avoided. It is particularly troubling that Callum was only 19 and had his whole life ahead of him. Most Members will know of similar cases in their own constituencies—we have already heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in that regard—but I hope that they will appreciate that I do not want to go into the details of their individual cases during this short debate.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell has said, Callum Wark was killed by a lorry driver, a Bulgarian national, who was found to be driving dangerously and well over the drink-drive limit. The lorry driver entered a guilty plea to a number of offences including causing death by dangerous driving. He was sentenced to seven years and eight months’ imprisonment on 20 March this year. He was also banned from driving for 10 years.

My hon. Friend raised a number of issues that arise from this case and other similar cases, which I will try to deal with in my remarks. It is, of course, right that our independent courts should decide on the sentence for an offence. It is the court that has the full knowledge of the case and the offender, and it is best placed to decide on a just and appropriate sentence. It is also important to remember that we have sentencing guidelines that the courts are required to follow—unless it would be unjust to do so—which lead to greater transparency in the level of sentence likely to be imposed and increased consistency in sentencing practice. For certain offences, the Attorney-General can refer a case to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the sentence is unduly lenient—that includes cases involving causing death by dangerous driving. Anyone can make representations to the Attorney-General to consider making such a reference. There is a 28-day time limit to appeal against an unduly lenient sentence, and in this case no appeal was lodged.

In keeping with the current law and guidelines, the driver in this case had his sentence reduced for pleading guilty to the offence at an early stage. The reduction for an early guilty plea is not just about saving money and court time; it is designed to ensure that victims, their families and witnesses are not required to relive dreadful events in court. I pay tribute to North Yorkshire police and others in the criminal justice system in North Yorkshire for enabling this case to be concluded with sentencing occurring less than three weeks after the incident. As the police themselves have noted, the family were spared the trauma of sitting through a protracted court hearing.

My hon. Friend also raised concerns that the offender in this case will be released at the halfway point in his sentence. As my hon. Friend will know, release before the end of sentence is not new. Since legislation was introduced in 1967, successive Governments have maintained that approach, and the current arrangements are contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. In most driving cases, a standard determinate sentence will be imposed by the court, and the 2003 Act provides that such prisoners must be released automatically as soon as they have served half their sentence. The second part of a custodial sentence—the licence period—is an important part of the sentence, as it provides for the supervised transition of an offender into the community and the prospect of recall to prison for breach of the licence. If there were no licence period, offenders could be in prison for many years and then be released with no support or supervision, which would increase the risk of reoffending. If a foreign national prisoner is to be removed from the UK, it would make little sense to impose licence conditions to ensure an offender could be supervised in the community, given that they will not be released into our community. That is why after the period spent in custody for the purpose of punishment of the offence, we seek, where possible, to remove foreign national prisoners to their own country.

The driver in this case is a foreign national and, as a convicted offender, may be subject to deportation at the end of his sentence. I am aware that the judge in this case made a recommendation that the offender be deported after serving his sentence. The Government are committed to ensuring that foreign national offenders, including those committing serious driving offences, should be removed from the UK whenever possible. In some cases, offenders may serve some of their prison sentence in their own country under a prisoner transfer agreement. In other cases, an offender may be released from custody in order that they can be removed from the UK. A foreign national prisoner can be returned to their home country up to 270 days before the halfway point of their sentence, and we need to strike a balance between ensuring that foreign nationals are removed to their own country and ensuring that they are properly punished for the offences committed in this country.

On the wider issues of penalties, it is worth stressing that although sentencing is a matter for the courts, setting the framework that the courts work within is for Parliament. This Government want to see maximum penalties that allow the courts to respond to the full range of cases they are likely to face. The offence in this case, causing death by dangerous driving, already has a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. The same maximum is available for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. Where there is a failing in the law we have moved to remedy it. In the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 we created a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, with a five-year maximum penalty.

More recently, in response to the awful case of Paul Stock who was killed by a disqualified driver, we have, in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, proposed an increased maximum penalty for those disqualified drivers who kill or cause serious injury. The current maximum sentence is two years for causing death, but will increase to 10 years when those provisions become law.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I welcome what the Minister has said about more stringent and stronger penalties. I also want to hear whether he has had any correspondence or discussions with the relevant Minister in Northern Ireland as it is a devolved matter, but I want to ensure that there is some consistency in punishment and that we are, across the whole United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, working towards the same goal. Will the Minister tell us whether that is happening?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am not aware of any communication between UK Ministers and Ministers in Northern Ireland. I will ask the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, within whose responsibilities this issue lies, to respond directly to the hon. Gentleman.

We recognise that it is important to respond quickly where there is a clear gap in the law or where a maximum penalty is clearly inadequate. We also need to ensure that there is a consistent and proportionate sentencing framework. That is why earlier this year we announced our intention to look, across the board, at the maximum penalties for offences involving bad driving. That review, which looks at a number of issues that many Members of this House have already raised, is currently under way and being conducted by the Ministry of Justice working with the Department for Transport. I am particularly pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), is here on the Bench with me this afternoon. The review will focus on the maximum penalties and gaps in current offences. It will soon be taking the views of victims, families of victims, road users and criminal justice professionals. I do not want to pre-empt any findings, but I hope that the review will lead to recommendations that the next Government can act on in the early stages of the next Parliament.

In addition to the custodial sentence imposed in this case, the offender was also banned from driving for 10 years. He was also ordered to complete an extended driving test before he can regain a licence to drive in the UK. Driving disqualification and extended testing requirements are an important element of dealing with drivers who kill and are a mandatory requirement.

The length of a driving ban is for the court to set. Guidance already makes it clear that the court should consider the time spent in custody so that the ban is not extinguished or severely diminished by the time the offender is released. Provisions in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 reinforce that message by placing a statutory duty on courts to extend driving bans when imposing a custodial sentence. We have recently sought to make amendments to that legislation in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to enable those important provisions to be commenced as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend raised concerns about the Crown Prosecution Service and its understanding of bereavement. Let me say that in any case involving a death, the CPS should be sensitive to the need to minimise the extra distress criminal proceedings are likely to cause the victim’s family and friends. The CPS guidance on that is very clear. In murder, manslaughter and fatal road traffic cases, the CPS will provide an enhanced service to family members. In such cases, the prosecutor should offer to meet the victim’s family from an early stage to explain how the case will be handled and what is expected to happen at each court hearing. The prosecutor will also explain the likely sentence should the defendant be convicted. The prosecutor will inform the victim's family that they can make a victim personal statement, and he will bring the statement to the attention of the court. If my hon. Friend has a specific concern about the handling of this case, I would be happy to pass that on to the Director of Public Prosecutions who has responsibility for the CPS.

On the question of mutual recognition of driving bans across the EU, I should say that such a system is in place with the Republic of Ireland, but not, as my hon. Friend says, for other countries in the EU. We agree, in principle, that co-operation over disqualifications between member states, other than Ireland, is desirable. Any EU member state may wish to enter into similar arrangements to those we have with Ireland in the future. It is important to understand that a practical and effective system of mutual recognition across the EU would have to be ratified by the vast majority of member states. In the case of the existing 1998 convention, only a small number of states have ratified. I should stress that the offender in this case will not be able to drive in the UK as a result of the driving disqualification for a decade.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of deportation of foreign national offenders. The Home Office considers for deportation all foreign national offenders who are sentenced to a period of imprisonment following a criminal conviction. For European economic area nationals, the deportation consideration process takes account of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006. Deportation will normally be pursued where the person is sentenced to two years’ imprisonment or more, as in this case, or 12 months’ imprisonment for a sexual, drug or violent offence. Where an EEA offender receives a shorter sentence, deportation will be pursued where it can be justified in accordance with the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations, taking into account the particular circumstances of the case. For non-EEA nationals, there is a duty for the Secretary of State to deport a non-EEA foreign national who is sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 12 months or more.

My hon. Friend will know that the regulations covering cross-border haulage firms are detailed, and are governed in the UK by the Department for Transport. In short, those who operate commercial vehicles on international journeys will need a number of authorisations and permits. The authorisations will depend on the countries in which the vehicle is to travel, but include driver certificates of professional competence, community licences and a standard international operator’s licence. These requirements include regulating the amount of time a driver spends at the wheel through the EU drivers’ hours rule, as well as a requirement for an EU driver to have undertaken the certificate of professional competence. The principal aim here is to ensure better trained drivers across the EU, who are up to date with current legislation. As my hon. Friend will realise, this is a technical area of regulation, and I would be happy to pass on specific concerns raised by my hon. Friend to my colleagues in the Department for Transport.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of the length of a driving ban and suggested that there should be a lifetime ban for those who cause death. The length of a driving ban is a decision for the judge in the individual case. In some cases a driving ban of a specific length provides an incentive for offenders to comply with their sentence in order that in time they can regain their licence. Where offenders are given a life ban, they may be more likely to flout that ban and drive illegally and irresponsibly. But I do recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes in regard to those who cause death, especially by dangerous drink-driving. We will be looking at the current sentencing practice and driving ban lengths as part of the driving penalties review, which will report early next year. I suggest that my hon. Friend sends a copy of this debate and a submission to that review, and that will be most welcome.

Let me conclude by again thanking my hon. Friend for securing this short but important debate, and by offering my own condolences to the family and friends of Callum Wark. Mercifully, the number of people dying on our roads continues to fall, aided by better cars, better roads, more awareness of road safety, better policing and advances in emergency medicine. But I know that that will be of no consolation to the family of Callum and his many friends.

But the criminal justice system also has an important role to play in dealing with those who continue to drive badly and put themselves and others at risk. The Government have already shown their willingness to ensure that the courts have the powers they need to deal effectively with drivers who kill or cause serious injury to other road users. We have created new offences where there was a gap in the law, and we have increased maximum penalties where the courts were frustrated by a lack of sentencing power. We are now actively reviewing the sentencing framework for the range of driving offences. We want to ensure that sentences are consistent and proportionate, but that the law also ensures that those who kill innocent people, such as Callum Wark, are punished appropriately.

Question put and agreed to.

Human Rights (North Korea)

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Tuesday 13th May 2014

(6 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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My hon. Friend is right and I agree with him—the evidence available to us shows that despite the restrictions and the regime’s best efforts to stop them, more and more people in North Korea are managing to listen to such broadcasts.

Recently, Stephen Bosworth, the former US ambassador to the Republic of Korea and former US special representative for North Korea policy, said:

“I would like to lend my support to the effort to bring the BBC World Service to North Korea. I believe the interests of the people of North Korea and the rest of the world are best served by opening North Korea to information from the outside. The BBC World Service could clearly play an important role in that process.”

The all-party group on North Korea, the Conservative party human rights commission and the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, among others, have addressed many of the questions put forward by the BBC and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, particularly on cost-effectiveness, commercial opportunities, availability of shortwave radios in North Korea and availability of transmitters to broadcast. Has the Minister had an opportunity to read “An Unmet Need”, to assess the information provided by various groups in response to BBC and Foreign Office concerns and to review the Government’s position?

Last night, I was e-mailed by one of Radio Free Asia’s correspondents in Washington, and gave a radio interview over the telephone with that station. Given that today’s debate is in the British Parliament, it is a little ironic that perhaps the only broadcast into North Korea to be mentioned today will be one from an American-run radio station, and not a British radio communication.

There are many other concerns; I will briefly highlight some, in the hope that other Members might elaborate on them during the debate. First, there are the severe violations of freedom of religion or belief in North Korea, and particularly the extreme persecution of Christians. There is China’s policy of forced repatriation of North Korean refugees, which returns them to a dire fate and is in breach of international law. Further, there are the desperate humanitarian needs of the people of North Korea and the question of whether the United Kingdom could and should be providing aid. There are also concerns about possible breaches of existing sanctions and the need for more targeted sanctions to prevent the export of North Korean resources produced by forced labour in political prison camps and slave labour in the mining sector, as well as the trade in blood minerals.

Finally, there is a need to develop a much better understanding of how the brutal regime in North Korea works by engaging regularly with North Korean defectors, of whom there are several hundred in the United Kingdom. Last week, one prominent defector, Jang Jin-sung, addressed the all-party group ahead of the launch of his new book, “Dear Leader”. He provided a detailed insight into the centrality of the regime’s rather Orwellian- sounding Organisation and Guidance Department, or OGD. Understanding the key power structures in the North Korean regime is essential if we are to use our levers of influence in the most effective way.

In 2010, The Times published an editorial, headlined “Slave State”, which stated:

“The condition of the people of North Korea ranks among the great tragedies of the past century. The despotism that consigns them to that state is one of its greatest crimes.”

The UN inquiry and the courage of an increasing number of North Korean exiles and international NGOs are at long last beginning to shine a light on those crimes and awaken the conscience of the world. In this House, we have a responsibility to do all we can to ensure that the light shines brighter, the darkness is exposed and the appalling suffering of the North Korean people is brought to an end.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to make a contribution to this debate. I commend the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for his introductory remarks, which set the scene clearly. I also commend the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), in anticipation of her speech; I know she will make a vast contribution.

It is always good to come along to debates such as this, because we can remember those in other parts of the world who do not have the freedom that we have in this country. North Korea is certainly a country where freedom is in very short supply and life is cheap. Human rights in North Korea simply do not exist: freedom of association, of worship, of movement and even of thought are all denied. Everything in North Korea is controlled and monitored, and life is not at all the same there as it is in our country. Often in my office we make jokes about dictators, but when we think about the dictator in North Korea we are increasingly aware of how blessed we are to live where we live and have the freedom that we have.

As Jong-un was educated in the west there was a brief hope that he would bring a more modern approach to running North Korea, but that hope has been dashed. A US intelligence assessment published in The Wall Street Journal depicted Jong-un as

“a volatile youth with a sadistic streak who may be even more unpredictable than his late father”.

We thought his late father was bad, but when we look at the suffering now it is manifestly even worse. When we discuss North Korea we have an opportunity to remember those who do not have human rights or even the very basics for life—we must be mindful of those people.

In North Korea now, there is to be no modernisation of thought, but simply of warfare, and with the dictator firmly established there are to be no kind of human rights. It is home to the world’s fifth largest army, of 1.2 million soldiers and 8.3 million reservists, and there is a monopoly of state-run media—TV, radio, and the press—that indoctrinates the population with the party’s propaganda. We know of the existence of 14 concentration camps, some of which hold as many as 50,000 prisoners. Some of those people do not even know the crime for which they have been imprisoned, but others know exactly why they are there—it is because of their faith and the fact that they want to tell others of that faith.

The precise number of Christians in North Korea is unknown, but it is estimated that there could be as many as 100,000 or more. Before the communists came to power, numbers were higher but during the Korean war of 1950-53 many fled to South Korea or were martyred in North Korea. Those who remain are forced to hide their faith or face terrible consequences. That is why it is important to make our point today on behalf of those in North Korea.

Finance (No. 2) Bill

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Wednesday 9th April 2014

(6 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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There is relatively good news on the under-occupancy penalty. More families have been able to move, with nearly 200,000 one and two-bedroom properties available for families to move into. I have seen families who are better off because they are paying lower rent and lower heating bills, or are nearer a bus stop or a sick or disabled relative. We must remember the 1.7 million people on social housing waiting lists and the 300,000 people who are very overcrowded.

The general point the hon. Gentleman makes is of course important. There are many stresses on families today. The Government are cognisant of that fact and are introducing a whole suite of policies—freezing council tax and fuel duty, increasing the personal allowance and increasing the minimum wage—to try to make life easier for people. The good news on jobs and growth will also make things easier. We should not seek to divide people. As has already been said today, we know that over half of lone parents believe strongly that there should be both a mother and a father involved in bringing up children. That is something we need to remember as well.

I strongly support what the Government are doing. The sum can always be increased when the public finances allow it—at present, the Chancellor is playing with a limited amount of money—and we are returning to a policy that was well supported until 2000 and is common among OECD countries. I ask Members to focus on the widespread extent of family breakdown in our country, and to see this as one important policy for increasing the family stability which we know is so important to children.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

In the past, both here and in Westminster Hall, I have spoken frequently about issues such as child poverty, food poverty, benefits for single parents, social exclusion and other social problems. On this occasion, I want to express my support, and that of my party, for the married couple’s transferable tax allowance. We gave a manifesto commitment to support it in our Parliament, and we are pleased to be able to support it today as well.

I respect the opinions of Labour Members, and I do not wish to be divisive. I want always to be respectful to Members whose opinions may differ from mine. However, I have a hard-held opinion about this particular issue. I want to help everyone, but I think it is time that married couples had an opportunity to see some benefit from legislative change. Those who support the recognition of marriage in the tax system have waited a long time for the Government to introduce this policy. I expected it to be introduced a long time ago, in view of the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for what was a headline manifesto commitment, but I am very pleased that, at long last, it is being introduced now.

We have heard some excellent speeches from Members on both sides of the House. I particularly commend the way in which the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) set the scene. I recall a debate in the House about two years ago to which the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and I contributed. That was one of my early introductions to the cut and thrust of politics here. Most of the Members surrounding me opposed what I was saying, but I held fast to my opinion, and I am very pleased to be able to express it again today.

Let me begin by highlighting some of the powerful public policy benefits of marriage. I shall then explain why I consider clause 11 to be an appropriate public policy response, albeit rather modest—I should have liked to see more.

Adult Autism Strategy

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Wednesday 5th March 2014

(7 years ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department of Health and Social Care
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her valuable contribution. Yes, I agree; I think all hon. and right hon. Members would. Churches have intervened to help in a number of complex cases in my constituency. What is not complex for us is complex for people with autism. There is a clear role to be played in that regard. Only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time employment; again, that results from some of the issues that they suffer from, including epilepsy, sleep disturbance and mental health problems. Many out there are trying to help and assist.

I ought to give a Northern Ireland perspective, because we have done good, helpful work there, health being a devolved matter. The Minister is aware of that good work because he has visited a number of times. Perhaps he might comment on that in his response.

The Northern Ireland Assembly put in place the Autism Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, which is the most comprehensive autism and single disability legislation in the whole of Europe. The need to do something was recognised at an early stage, as was the fact that the power was there to do it within the devolved Administration, and that was done. It is the first legislation in Northern Ireland requiring by law all Departments to plan and work together on the delivery of the strategy. The cross-governmental attitude that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham requested is there. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who both intervened on me, have confirmed that that should happen. Departments worked together on the delivery of a strategy. No cross-Department barriers are allowed at all. When we say “comprehensive”, we mean it. I am delighted that the debate is calling for such a strategy.

Autism Northern Ireland was at the centre of the campaign for the Autism Act (Northern Ireland) with its grass-roots campaign. There was no money or external lobby company—just hard work, and determination to make it happen and to gain support from all parties, which was forthcoming. It had autism ambassadors—health and education party spokespersons—to build up expertise on issues of concern. It also formed a partnership with Autism Cymru, which was already working with the Welsh Government on implementing a Wales autism strategy. That was the foundation of the Celtic Nations Autism Partnership—Celtic as in “keltic”, and certainly not “seltic”. No offence to any Celtic supporters who might be here, of course. That is a partnership with the autism societies of Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, which has led to initiatives in the USA. The CNAP and Members of the Legislative Assembly visited the US Congress and the European Parliament.

When we say that the approach is comprehensive, we are talking about looking across Europe and the world; examples were considered and discussions took place. That led to the Autism Act (Northern Ireland). A partnership was initiated with Autism-Europe and MEPs to develop a comprehensive and well-thought-out European autism strategy.

In 2012, I highlighted the difference between the Autism Act (Northern Ireland) and the English Autism Act 2009: the Northern Ireland Act is equality-driven and lifelong-focused. Perhaps the Minister will indicate whether the Government are trying to achieve in England the equality and lifelong focus that we have in Northern Ireland through the Autism Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. That Act amends our disability discrimination legislation, too, to include those with social communication disabilities such as autism. That supersedes the Great Britain Equality Acts, which only give recognition and guidance in primary legislation. That is significantly different from how we did it back home, where we have attempted to address adult autism.

I again thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham for securing the debate. She, like me and everyone else in the Chamber, sees the gaps in the strategy and the need to enhance provision by including an adult strategy. I have raised today the cases of a young girl and a young adult male. The strain on families grows greater with time as the child becomes an adult and more difficult to handle. The legislation should be amended to provide more state help.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Hansard -

I apologise for not being here earlier, but I was unable to get out of a meeting. One of my constituents contacted me to say that now that her daughter is 20, none of the professionals dealing with her daughter will speak to the mother. Does the hon. Gentleman think that we should make changes, so that with the young person’s permission, if they are over 18 and want their parents involved, all the different organisations work with the parents, who are there for their autistic children as they get older?

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I agree entirely with that most helpful intervention. In my experience as an elected representative, that is exactly what people want. We should help whenever we can. The Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland has been anxious to collaborate with the Department of Health on what is working well in Northern Ireland. I have great respect for the Minister of State, Department of Health, but perhaps things could work better. There are examples of good work on the mainland. I looked through the background notes this morning before the debate, and one thing that caught my eye is that there is a specialist autism unit at South Devon college called the LODGE—Learning Opportunity for Development and Guided Education—which has been shortlisted at a national award ceremony in recognition of the education it provides to young adults with autism. There are many good examples of how Departments can do better for young adults with autism, and we should be trying to make that happen.

I am keen to assist and work with the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham to ensure that adequate legislation is introduced to make changes that will greatly affect the lives of those with autism and their carers. Never forget the carers, who also need support. They love their children, but they need help, because things are not simple. They want their child to have the best future possible, which does not include an institution. How will we deal with ageing parents? I know that I am not the only one who is aware of ageing parents. What will happen to these children and young adults when their parents pass away? They may no longer be able to look after their children and young adults alone. The answer is clear: they need support, and we must put it in place. Hopefully today is a first step towards providing that support to families across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I support the right hon. Lady and her proposal.

Littering and Fly-tipping

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Tuesday 22nd May 2012

(8 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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I am very grateful to Mr Speaker for granting this debate on a subject about which I have always felt strongly. I spoke of my dislike of fly-tipping in my maiden speech on 2 July 2001, and unfortunately, despite more money being spent on clearing up litter and fly-tipping, the problem has got worse and not better.

Although the Government have reduced the deficit by a quarter in the two years they have been in office, they are still spending more than their income, which is why the £863 million spent on street cleansing in 2011 is such a huge sum. If we add the cost of cleaning the highways and railways, and the cost of removing fly-tipping from public and private land, the actual amount of public money spent on cleaning up litter in England is well over £1 billion annually. If people behaved responsibly and cared for their local areas by not littering, that money could be used to care for the needy and the vulnerable in our communities.

My argument is that we need rigorous and robust action from the Government, the police and local authorities, as well as a massive increase in personal responsibility and care for our local environment from an army of concerned citizens. I pay tribute to street cleansing staff up and down our country. They do an important and valued job, and I thank them for it, but they cannot keep our country clean on their own, which is why I wholeheartedly welcome the Daily Mail “Spring Clean for the Queen” campaign and pay tribute to the Campaign to Protect Rural England “Stop the Drop” campaign. I also note that the Country Land and Business Association says that it costs its members an average of £800 per incident to remove non-toxic fly-tipped waste, and several thousand pounds per incident if the waste is hazardous and includes, for example, asbestos.

All of us have a responsibility not to drop litter and to keep our immediate environment clean. We can all keep the area around our homes clean. Shopkeepers can clean in front of their premises, and businesses can keep their immediate environment clean as well. Public servants should also join in. When I go round schools in my constituency, one of the ways in which I judge head teachers is whether they pick up litter as they show me around their school. I have noted that the schools in which the head teachers pick up litter tend to be cleaner. If it is not beneath the head teacher to pick up litter, the other staff tend to get the message fairly quickly.

I also commend the material to combat littering produced by the Campaign to Protect Rural England for use in our schools. This work is really important. If children are not learning at home that littering is wrong, they need to be told this very clearly in schools. I was delighted to read recently that Mrs Patricia Prosser, in the village of Stanbridge in my constituency, has just been nominated as villager of the year for the regular litter-picking that she undertakes in her village. She does not have to do it, it is not her job specifically, and she is not paid to do it, but she does it because she cares about her village and her environment. All of us could well follow her example, whether we live in a town, village or city.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this important issue before the House tonight. Does he think that increased penalties for those who drop litter and fly-tip are the way forward? In Northern Ireland, council officials have the authority to issue fines on the spot to those whom they observe littering. Is that the way forward, rather than letting people get away with it?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I hope that he will have been pleased, as I was, by the announcement made by the Government today that they will make it a criminal offence regularly to dump rubbish in gardens and that those who are guilty of “persistent unreasonable behaviour” and who have ignored warnings to clear away unsightly rubbish will be subject to on-the-spot fines of £100—which is higher than some of the current penalties—or a court-imposed fine of up to £2,500. All of us know how it ruins a neighbourhood to have sofas, mattresses or fridges lying around in gardens, making an area look a complete mess. It is not fair on the decent householders who have to live in proximity to such situations. I urge the Government to bring in these community protection notices as quickly as possible as they are very much needed.

Much of the litter in the UK is thrown from vehicles and I was very interested to see that some London local authorities now have the power to impose a £100 fine on the registered owner of vehicles whose occupants throw litter from those vehicles and that this has become a civil offence. Can this scheme be spread across the whole of the United Kingdom?

I understand that local authorities across the UK and not just in London can now introduce similar byelaws into their areas. Can the Minister explain how local authorities can go about this? A poll released by the AA yesterday of 8,800 of its members showed that 61% think that people caught throwing litter from cars should be punished with three points on their licence, a fixed-penalty fine and possibly a community service order. There seems to be a public appetite for taking more robust action on this issue, and when the newsreader, Alice Arnold, recently threw a plastic bottle back into the car in front of her whose occupants had just chucked it on to the road, she was rightly widely praised for her actions.

I wonder whether we could make it possible for fly-tipped waste to be taken to tidy tips for no charge. We need to make it easy for landowners, both public and private, to clear up fly-tipped waste—after all, it is not their fault it is there—and not disincentivise them from doing so. It might be helpful if the local authority certified that the waste had been fly-tipped.

I also wonder whether it is possible to increase the fines for littering. I understand that in Los Angeles the fine for dropping litter is $1,000 and that it is vigorously enforced by the police. People do not tend to drop litter in that city, and unsurprisingly it is much cleaner than many British cities as a result. Do the Government plan to increase fines? Does the Minister believe that more police officers should be involved in enforcing the penalties? I understand that, at present, the issuing of fixed penalty notices is mainly done by local authority officers and police community support officers. Does the Minister think that there is scope for all police officers to join the front line of the fight against the litter louts?

We need to take every opportunity to tell the public that littering is offensive and wrong, and will be punished. I am pleased, therefore, that the Highways Agency is trialling anti-littering signs on its electronic gantries across motorways in three areas. I would like this initiative rolled out across the whole UK.

In many European countries, plastic bags are simply not offered at supermarkets. Customers can either buy a permanent bag for a few euros or are given a brown paper bag. Unsurprisingly, those countries have many fewer plastic bags littering the countryside. Plastic bags do not biodegrade easily and consequently remain as litter for very long periods. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s plans to vastly reduce the number of single-use plastic bags being used in the UK?

Some other countries also have deposit refund schemes. Do the Government believe that such schemes could be introduced in the UK? I understand that the CPRE has done some research in this area and believes that such schemes would make a difference and could be introduced at no cost to the Government. What assessment have they made, then, of how successful these schemes are in other countries?

All Members care for our country and want to make it a better place. We all have a role, therefore, in trying to make Britain a country in which there is less litter. The amount of litter throughout our country is symptomatic of how people view their country and their local community. If someone litters, it means they do not care about their immediate environment or the impact their actions have on others. Litter is about personal responsibility and whether we, as citizens, care about the country we live in. As we approach a moment of great pride in our country’s history, celebrating the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, I hope that we can all—those in authority and individual citizens—play our part in making this country one that has far less litter and fly-tipping in it.

Family Policy

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Wednesday 4th May 2011

(9 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, and he is absolutely right. The recent study by the Relationships Foundation put the cost of family breakdown at £42 billion. In a recent speech, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put it at between £20 billion and £40 billion per annum. Whatever the figure, we can all agree that it is massive, and if we can reduce it, there will be many better uses to which the money could be put in our constituencies; indeed, we could also reduce taxes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that point so firmly on the record.

As I said, success or failure in marriage and relationships is not merely a matter of luck. Nor do people in a troubled marriage or relationship have just two options—to stay together and be miserable or to split up. That is absolutely and emphatically not the case, and I want to spend the rest of my time explaining why. I also want to praise the Government for some of the things they have done recently and to commend the Minister for some of the excellent initiatives she has introduced. I will perhaps also outline some of the areas where we can go a little faster and a little further to match the scale of the problem.

I praise the recent funding from the Department for Education for a range of relationship support initiatives, from Relate to Care for the Family and its Let’s Stick Together project, which I am particularly keen on. I commend the Minister for that excellent start, which is an early down-payment on the coalition’s promise to take this issue seriously. I also commend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who has committed his Department to recognising marriage in its data and analysis. Under the previous Government, the issue was just wiped off the piece, and we could not look at the data on it. I am not talking about tax, which the Minister and I will disagree on as far as marriage is concerned, but about having an honest analysis of the data. Such an analysis is a good thing, and we should just see what the data say. That is a significant issue.

I want to comment a little on the funding that the Minister has given Care for the Family to roll out the Let’s Stick Together course. People ask what we can do about family breakdown, and this course is really practical. It is run by health visitors up and down the country for new parents, whatever type of relationship they are in. It takes an hour or so. Often, it is run by new parents who have recently done the course. It gives some of the basics about how to have a healthy, strong and happy relationship or marriage that will last. The early feedback is very positive and suggests that the course is well received. Surely, it is better to give people the tools, support and skills to make a success of their relationships than to come round and sort things out afterwards, when everything has gone wrong. In Bristol, where the course has been trialled, it now reaches nearly 30% of new mothers, and there has been very positive feedback. I commend Harry Benson of the Bristol community family trust, in particular, for the pioneering work that the trust has done. I also commend Bristol health visitors for the enthusiasm with which they have picked up the course. If that can be done in Bristol, why can it not be done in every other great city, and in every market town, village and rural area, in our country, because this really matters?

I hope that we will see a little more support from registrars for marriage preparation. Two thirds of all weddings take place in registry offices, but registrars do not offer good enough signposting towards the marriage preparation that is available from local and community groups. That is an obvious thing we could do, it would not cost any money and it would lead to better outcomes. What do we have to fear? What is there to prevent us from doing that? I hope that we can go further and faster on that.

At the moment, all our local authorities are preparing local child poverty strategies. I welcome that exciting development, which is taking place alongside the Government’s excellent work nationally to reduce child poverty. We can see different and pioneering initiatives at the local level, and I hope that strengthening families will be a key part of what local authorities look at. From the early evidence I have seen of some child poverty strategies, however, I am not convinced that that is yet the case. I know that we are all localists now, and that we are not really in the business of telling our local authorities what to do, but an emphasis on strengthening families would be enormously helpful and useful, given that a child who grows up with one parent rather than two is twice as likely to grow up in poverty as one whose parents stay together. I therefore hope that strengthening families will be an aspect of local child poverty strategies and that authorities will work with the community and voluntary sector. There is a community family trust in my constituency, which could do this work very well with my local authority, and that would be helpful.

My hon. Friend talked about the importance of parenting courses, and I completely agree with her. The additional point I would make is that internationally peer-reviewed academic work, particularly from Professors Cowan and Cowan at the university of Berkeley in California, shows that parenting work is even more successful if the relationship between the two parents can be enhanced at the same time. Where parenting work is being done and there are two parents, let us also strengthen the couple’s relationship. We could usefully do that, and it would not cost us any more money where parenting work was already being done. That would lead to better results.

We can also do more in our schools. I recognise that our school curriculum is completely packed, and whenever anyone tells me that they want to add something to it, I ask them what they want to take out. However we do have assemblies in our schools, and teachers and head teachers are often looking for material to present. There is very good material around. Care for the Family has its evaluation material. There is also an excellent charity called Explore, which is based in Hampshire. I have met both, and they have really excellent material, which is welcomed by students in schools. It speaks to children in a language they understand and tries to give them some of the skills and support they need to make a success of adult relationships when they leave school. We could do more work on that.

My final suggestion to the Minister before I sit down, as many colleagues want to speak, is not to ignore what we can do in prisons. That might seem an odd area to mention; however, strengthening the relationships of prisoners is important. It is not a fuzzy thing to do, akin to giving prisoners televisions in their cells. The academic evidence tells us that prisoners who have a strong relationship to return to after they leave prison are 35% less likely to reoffend when they come out. If their relationship breaks down while they are in prison, they are 40% more likely to reoffend. Why does that matter? Because you and I, Mr Meale, are less likely to have our back door kicked in on a Saturday night, or our car radio stolen, if we can support the relationships of prisoners. We might not immediately think of that when we discuss family policy, but it is important.

Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response; I commend her for the excellent start her Department has made. However, I would say it is a massive challenge. If we are to make Britain the country we all want to see, we need to go a little further and faster in this area.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) on raising the subject. All of us believe that family values are important; I certainly do as an elected representative. They are the core of society, and it is important that they are in place. That is the thrust of what was said by the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). I missed the beginning of the hon. Lady’s contribution, but I understand that she mentioned Kate and William’s marriage as an important example. That was also important for me: it was not just the pageant, the grandness of the occasion and that 2 billion people around the world watched; it was that it was about two young people in love. That is the core of the marriage relationship. They are two ordinary people, if one takes away all the grandness of last Friday.

I have a couple of points to make about marriage. In correspondence that we all received as elected representatives, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Prime Minister clearly stated that family values are important to them. They intended to take action to help, which I would welcome. I will return to that later, but I am conscious that others want to speak, so I will not deliberate for too long.

I have one of those long-suffering wives who from the beginning realised that the guy was going to be away most of the time, and that she would have to look after the family, which is what happened. The role of the lady is important in any marriage. Ultimately, they run the household and look after the children. That bond between mother and child is stronger—perhaps more than it should be—than the one between the father and child. Statistics indicate that 90% of those in a married relationship are happy, and a similar percentage of those cohabiting are also happy. That is an indication that lots of people are committed to the married or cohabiting relationship.

It is not just about the relationship between the mother and father; it is also about the families and the time they spend with their children. The only mealtime I spend with my children is on a Sunday. There is an indication that families should eat together on a more regular basis. A family eating together three times a week provides that strong bond for a marital relationship.

My comments focus on the marriage relationship and the need to build upon it, and the need for Government to play a role. Words are all very well, but actions are needed to back them up, and I want to see that happen. If my wife is watching, she would probably say that that man is talking about love and romance, and wondering whether that is the man she married. I hope it is, but maybe we do not always show our emotions in the way that we should.

Will the Minister indicate the progress of the Conservative promise of a tax break for married couples? I do not think that we should base marriage on finance alone. People do not get married because of a house, car or good job; I hope people always marry for love. The Conservatives and the coalition have clearly stated that they wish to bring in a tax break for married couples, so I want to hear from the Minister where that features in the process. We heard the suggestion discussed a lot in June and July last year but not much since. In Hungary, it has been proposed that families should be allowed an extra vote on behalf of their children. I am not saying that we should do that here, but I am interested to see what we are doing to assist families with a tax break.

My final point is about breaking up. The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire hit on the fact that not every marital relationship works out. We all have friends who tried hard but the relationship fell down. That happens. We must have a process in place to ensure that those who experience marital break-up can survive and get by. I hope the Minster will state whether there should be a mediation process. I believe that there should be. Should both parties be committed to that mediation process? Yes, they should. That has perhaps been overlooked. It is all too easy, when a relationship falls down, to walk away and leave it. It is almost a part of the disposable society: the car breaks down, get a new car; household appliances break down, get a new one; the marriage breaks down, move on.

Obesity: Covid-19

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department of Health and Social Care
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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10 Nov 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered obesity and the covid-19 outbreak.

This issue has come to my attention so many times over the past few months—I am highly aware of it. I applied for this debate in March, but because of the covid-19 restrictions I was able only to introduce a petition. I am glad to have reached this pinnacle of opportunity to speak on the matter.

I thank colleagues who supported my application for the debate and the Backbench Business Committee, which kindly found time for us to discuss this important issue. I also thank Members for attending the debate and for emailing me to register their interest in speaking in it. I look forward to hearing from the shadow spokespersons of the SNP and Labour party, and especially from our Minister, who is always courteous to everyone, with the answers we hope to hear from her on this topic of great importance.

For the first time in many a month this nation can smile, following the news this morning that it is hoped a vaccine will be available. I do not want to pre-empt the final trials, but for once the nation smiles with hope that better days lie ahead, which must good news for us all.

Obesity is one of the country’s greatest health challenges. The UK has, unfortunately, the highest obesity rates in western Europe, and they are rising faster than those of any other developed nation. We cannot ignore that, which is why we are debating it today and why the Minister is here to respond. We are a majority-overweight nation, with more than six in 10 UK adults being overweight or living with obesity. That has a significant effect on the nation’s health, on the NHS and on the quality of life of each and every one of us living with the condition.

Obesity increases the risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes, and I declare an interest as a type 2 diabetic. I was once a 17 stone, overweight person.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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10 Nov 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I was having Chinese takeaway five nights a week with two bottles of Coke. It was not the way to live life, but I had a very sweet tooth.

Until about a year before I realised I was a diabetic I did not know the symptoms. My vision was a wee bit blurred and I was drinking lots of liquids—two signs that should tell you right away that something is not right. I took a drastic decision to reduce weight and lost some 4 stone, which I have managed to keep off.

We need to look at our diet and our lifestyle. We all live under stress, and we all need a bit of stress because it keeps us sharp, but there is a point where we draw the line. I recall the day I went to the doctor and he told me, “We are going to put you on a wee blood pressure tablet.” I said: “If that is what you think, doctor, I will do what you say.” He added: “When you start it, you have to keep at it. You cannot take a blood pressure tablet today and then not take it next week, because your system will go askew.”

Obesity leads to high blood pressure and some types of cancer and is strongly associated with mental health and wellbeing, which is so important in the current crisis. There are strong links between the prevalence of obesity and social and economic deprivation. People living with obesity face extraordinary levels of stigma and abuse. We need to be careful and to be cognisant of other people’s circumstances, because they might have a genetic imbalance, which I will speak about later.

The outbreak of covid-19 makes the obesity epidemic more urgent. It is deeply concerning that obesity is a risk factor for hospitalisation, admission to intensive care and death from covid-19. The facts are real. People with a body mass index of 35 to 40 are 40% more likely to die from covid-19 than those of a healthy weight. In people with a BMI of 40-plus, it rises to 90%. That places the UK population in a very vulnerable position.

In the latest report from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, which audits intensive care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, almost half—47%—of patients in critical care with covid-19 since 1 September had a BMI of 30 or more. In other words, they were classified as obese. Those figures show that almost half the people in critical care had a lifestyle that they needed to address. That figure compares with the 29% of the adult population in England who have a BMI of 30 or more. People with obesity are much more likely to be admitted to critical care with coronavirus.

We also know that covid-19 has a greater impact among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Currently, 74% of black adults are either overweight or living with obesity. That is the highest percentage of all ethnic groups. That is a fact—an observation—not a statement against any group, but we have to look to where the problems are and see how we can reach out to help, because we need to reach those groups.

It is encouraging to see the Government setting out the steps that they will take to support people to live healthier lives and reduce obesity. Those steps will make a positive contribution to the environment we live in and will encourage people to make healthier choices, helping to prevent obesity. I will also speak about other groups, because it is sometimes those in a certain financial group who do not have the ability to buy the correct foods and are driven by the moneys that they have available.

The Government now have to implement their proposals and fund them adequately. Then they need to measure their success and to review what more can be done. Three childhood obesity strategies have been published since 2016, and the proposals have not yet been fully implemented. One reason we are here today is to see how those proposals can be implemented, and we need a timescale. I know we are on the cusp of finding a vaccine, but we also need to address the issue of obesity in the nation as a whole. Perhaps covid-19 is an opportunity to address it. We cannot afford a delay. It has to be an urgent priority for the Government and the Minister if we are to protect people from severe illness from covid-19.

Furthermore, we need to address the structural drivers of obesity. Inequality is a key element, as I mentioned a little earlier. Obesity prevalence in children is strongly linked to socioeconomic deprivation. Families with lower incomes are more likely to buy cheaper and unhealthier food because what drives them—let us be honest—is what is on offer this week and what budget is available to buy the food that is on the shelf. We do not always check the labels. Is it high in calories, sugar and salt? Those are things that we probably should check, but we do not, because the driver is money.

A report by the Food Foundation in 2018 found that the poorest 10% of households need to spend 74% of their income on food to meet its Eatwell guide costs. That is impossible for people on low incomes. When the Minister sums up, perhaps she will give us her thoughts on how we can address that issue directly.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to the support for schoolchildren and school meals. It is good news; it is good to know that the four nations in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are united in taking action on that issue. Scotland is doing it, Northern Ireland is doing it, Wales is doing it and now England is doing it. That is good news, because by reaching out and offering those school meals we will help to address some of the issues of deprivation and how the mums and dads spend the money for food in the shop. This is a way of doing that. We all know that school meals have a balance as well, so it is really important over the coming school breaks and other times that children have the opportunity to have them. In Northern Ireland, the Education Minister set aside £1.3 million to help to provide school meals over the coming period.

The Government need to work more closely with the food and drink industry as well, to make the healthy option the easiest option. However, while we need to support healthier choices and behaviours, there is no point in seeking to make individuals’ behaviours healthier if the environment in which they live is not suited to healthy behaviour. It is okay to say these things, but how do we make them happen? We need to look further at the social factors that lead to obesity, and we need to address them to make them more conducive to healthy living. To give just two examples, eating more fruit and vegetables and walking, which gives the opportunity to be out and about, are among the things that we need to look at.

There is a long-term process, which involves planning, housing, the workplace, the food supply, communities and even the culture of life in the places that we live in. It is about the groups of people we live with and the people we have everyday contact with. Earlier, I mentioned genetics, which is also an important factor in causing obesity. Again, it is a fact of life that there are people who may carry extra weight because of their genetics. Indeed, it is suggested that between 40% and 70% of variance in body weight is due to genetic factors, with many different genes contributing to obesity. Again, I am sure the Government have done some research on that issue, working with the bodies that would have an interest and even an involvement in it. It might be helpful to hear how those people who have a genetic imbalance, for want of a better description, can address it.

Without going into the motivations and challenges faced by people living with obesity, and particularly those living with severe obesity, it is clear that it is not always easy for them to lose weight. Let us be honest: it is not easy to lose weight. Some people say, “Well, what do you do? Do you stop eating? Do you cut back on your eating?” But if someone enjoys their food—I enjoy my food, although in smaller quantities, I have to say—and overeats, we have to address that issue as well.

We want to encourage people to improve their wellbeing and mental health and to have the willpower. There are a lot of factors that need to be part of that process. I was therefore pleased that the Government strategy sets out plans to work with the NHS to expand weight management services. Again, perhaps the Minister will give us some idea of what those services will be.

Support for people to manage their weight can range from diet and exercise advice to specialist multidisciplinary support, including on psychological and mental health aspects, and bariatric surgery. We have the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on these treatment options, which sets out who should be eligible for them, yet they are not universally commissioned, which means that many patients cannot access support even if they want to. Given the urgent need for people to reduce weight to protect themselves against covid-19, we need to make these services more accessible by increasing their availability and the information provided about them to patients and the public.

Over the years, I have had occasion to help constituents who probably had a genetic imbalance and were severely overweight. The only way forward for those people—men and women—was to have bariatric surgery. On every occasion that I am aware of involving one of my constituents, bariatric surgery was successful. It helped them to achieve the weight loss that they needed and it reduced their appetite. That made sure that their future was going to be a healthy one.

We have strict acceptance criteria in the NHS for obesity treatment that are not found with other conditions. If a person has a BMI of 50, they must follow diet and exercise advice and receive a multidisciplinary specialist report. These services are otherwise known as tier 2 and tier 3 services. We are almost sick of hearing of tiers 1, 2 and 3, but they are a fact of life for obese people before they are even eligible for surgery.

If a patient does not complete those courses, they must start again, which can make some people lose motivation. The lower levels of support are absolutely necessary and effective for the appropriate patients, but it would be better to remove the loopholes and duplications. That would allow more people to achieve the appropriate support, even before additional resource is provided.

Currently, the United Kingdom performs 5,000 bariatric surgeries every year, which represents just 0.2% of eligible patients. If more people had the opportunity to have that bariatric surgery, they would probably take it. Can the Minister indicate what intention there is to increase the opportunities for surgery? We lag behind our European counterparts when it comes to surgery for obesity, despite it showing benefits in terms of cost, safety and the ability to reverse type 2 diabetes.

Many reports in the papers in the last few months have indicated how people can reverse their type 2 diabetes and the implications of that. Talking as a type 2 diabetic, I am ever mindful that if people do those things and reduce their weight, it helps, but it may not always be the method whereby type 2 diabetes can be reversed. When I lost that weight, I found that my sugar level was starting to rise again after four years, and I moved on to tablets and medication, which controls it now. Ultimately, the control will be insulin, if the level continues to go the wrong way.

The British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society has recommended that the number of surgeries should increase incrementally to 20,000 a year—a massive increase from 5,000, but we believe it will heal some of the physical issues for the nation. This is a small proportion of the total number of people with obesity, but they would also benefit the most. This debate is not about highlighting the issues, but about solutions. I always believe that we should look at solutions and try to be the “glass half-full” person rather than the “glass half-empty” person, because we have to be positive in our approach.

For people who require nutritional, exercise or psychological advice, face-to-face services were closed during the first wave of the pandemic. I understand the reasons for that. While digital and remote services can provide help to vulnerable people during lockdown, these new ways of working cannot reach everyone. How do we reach out to all the people who need help? That is vital as the country moves through future stages of the pandemic. We hope we have turned the corner, but time will tell in relation to the trialling for the new vaccine. Obesity continues to be a priority, and services should remain available.

Lastly, in future, obesity services should not be cut as part of difficult funding decisions. I understand very well the conditions in the country and the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the Health Ministers not just here in Westminster, but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is vital that the inequity in access to these services is corrected to ensure that people can access support, no matter where they are in the country. What discussions has the Minister had with the regional Administrations—with the Northern Ireland Assembly and particularly with the Minister, Robin Swann, and with our colleagues in Scotland and Wales? If we have a joint strategy, it will be an advantage for everyone. I would like to see the person in Belfast having the same opportunities as the person in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and across the whole of this great nation.

I have three asks of the Minister, along with all the other questions I have asked throughout my speech—I apologise for that. Can she reassure us of the continued political prioritisation of the prevention and treatment of obesity? I call on the Government to implement, evaluate and build on strategies to reduce obesity. Can the Minister tell us how have discussions on that been undertaken with the regional Administrations across the UK? I also call on the Government to work with local NHS organisations and local authorities to ensure that services are available to our constituents who wish to manage their weight.

In summary, given the range of secondary conditions caused by obesity—this also applies to covid-19—would it not be more prudent to address their underlying cause before they occur? I always think that prevention, early diagnosis and early steps to engage are without doubt the best way forward, and it would be helpful for the nation as a whole if those things were in place. I believe that would help to reduce the impact of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnoea, many types of cancer and more. The problem with covid-19 is that although our focus should rightly be on covid-19, we must not forget about all the other, normal—if that is the right word—health problems that people have, because dealing with those is very important for our nation to move forward.

The NHS currently faces huge demands, but reducing obesity now would significantly reduce demand on wider NHS services. It is a question of spending now to save later, if we are looking at the financial end of it. It is not always fair to look at the financial end, but we cannot ignore it, because there is not an infinite budget available to do the things we want to do; we have to work within what our pocket indicates. And we have to do that while also protecting people who are vulnerable to coronavirus.

I commend the Minister and our Government for their focus on obesity. I very much wish their new obesity strategy success. How it will work across the four nations is important, but we need to do more, in both the short and long term, to prevent and treat obesity, and we must do so with adequate funding, which is crucial to enable the operations, strategies, early detection and early diagnosis to be in place.

I hope that our future strategies to reduce obesity will continue to focus on how people can also be supported to live healthily. When it comes to these things, we have to be aware that it is not just one person who is living with the obesity; the family also live with it. Sometimes we forget about the impact on children, partners, wives, husbands and so on. Whenever someone sits down for a meal, is their meal the same as what the rest of the family are having? It would be better if they were all eating the same food, in terms of diet and content. I believe that if we can achieve that, we will find a way forward.

May I thank in advance all right hon. and hon. Members for taking the time to come to this Chamber and participate in the debate? Like me, they are deeply concerned about how covid-19 is affecting those with obesity issues. Today is an opportunity to address this issue, and I very much look forward to hearing other contributions; I am leaving plenty of time for everybody to speak.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Thursday 19th March 2020

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for explaining the situation in his constituency, and I can tell him that the use of church buildings by other Christian denominations is considered a very good use for any redundant Church of England church. The normal procedure is that the views of the local Member of Parliament, the local authority and local residents would be considered, so if there are closed churches in his area, he will have an opportunity to get involved in that process.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the hon. Gentleman outline what advice for smaller congregations is in place at this time? Is it his interpretation that the closure of all churches, regardless of size, is optional, or that small congregations can continue to meet, even if they do so in small numbers?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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As my hon. Friend knows, I speak purely for the Church of England in this place, and the Church of England is following exactly the health advice from the Government. I can tell him and the House that while public worship has been suspended for the time being, churches remain open for prayer and in particular for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Self-distancing will be required. Numbers in churches will be kept to a minimum, and no one self-isolating must attend the ceremony. Parishes are being trained in live-streaming services where they can. Wellbeing and mental health resources will be published soon, and churches are of course encouraged to support the vulnerable who are self-isolating and to continue to support food banks and night shelters in particular.

Unregulated Accommodation: 16 to 17-year-olds

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Tuesday 15th October 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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15 Oct 2019, 7:16 p.m.

“This cannot be right.” Those were the words of Dr Jackie Sebire, the assistant chief constable of Bedfordshire police, after her officers had spent four to five days trying to find a 16-year-old boy who had gone missing from his unregulated accommodation in Bedfordshire. Her officers had spent an enormous amount of time and effort to return the child to a provision that was inadequate, in which no local Bedfordshire authority would place one of their own children and for which there was no regulatory oversight.

The standards in the accommodation in which the 16-year-old was placed were so poor that this young man regularly went missing, and shortly afterwards he became involved in organised crime and went on to recruit other young people into organised crime. So we have, in effect a multiplier of misfortune as a result. The Local Government Association and the police are concerned that children are being drawn into organised crime, including county lines, from unregulated homes. About 2,000 16 and 17-year-olds are placed outside their home local authorities in this type of unregulated provision. That is a doubling over the last five years. Around 5,000 children in total are in this type of unregulated provision—a 70% increase in the last decade.

Let me provide some further illustrations of why regulatory oversight is needed urgently. We know from the brilliant investigation undertaken by Sally Chesworth and her team at “Newsnight” that a 16-year-old girl was brought to a room in one of these homes late at night. It was freezing cold and had no bed sheets and no curtains, even though it was a ground-floor room looking straight out on to a road. We know that staff regularly enter rooms without knocking. We know that a 17-year-old girl was hit in the face by a 6-feet male staff member who would not let her speak to the police about the incident. We know that staff members are being abusive. One child was told, “It wouldn’t matter if anyone kills you. No one cares about kids in care.” Members of opposing gangs were sent by one London borough to the same home in Bedfordshire, where one duly stabbed the other.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

15 Oct 2019, 7:17 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this debate to the House. I sought his permission beforehand to make a comment. The Social Care Inspection blog on the gov.uk website states that unregulated care homes

“should be used as a stepping stone to independence, and only ever when it’s in a child’s best interests”.

Given what we now know from the BBC investigation, which concluded that young people were at risk of organised abuse, is it not time for the Government to at least examine the ways in which the regulatory regime governing such accommodation is structured?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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15 Oct 2019, 7:18 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I will go on to call for exactly what he has just highlighted to the House.

Many of these homes also have adults up to the age of 25 in them, and we know that drug taking is prevalent in many of them. We know that a young man on bail for knifepoint robbery was placed in a home with 16-year-old girls. We know that two girls were placed alongside a male sex offender, and that one 17-year-old boy was murdered by another resident. The home had not told either sending local authority about an earlier fight between the two boys.

The impact on police forces of the number of missing person incidents from unregulated homes is significant. Police officer availability is an extremely precious resource to local communities. Quite rightly, a missing child is always a high priority for any police force. If there is a significant increase in the episodes of missing children in a police force area, that means that other vulnerable children and adults in the population area of that police force are left much more unprotected than they should be.

National Marriage and Mental Health Awareness Weeks

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Thursday 16th May 2019

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department of Health and Social Care
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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16 May 2019, 1:58 p.m.

First, I will say a big thank you to the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for having set the scene. She is always a strong supporter of marriage, and I wholeheartedly support the issues that she brings before this House, whether here in the Westminster Hall Chamber or in the main Chamber. Furthermore, without speaking for the hon. Lady, whenever I bring issues to either Chamber, she is always there to add her support. I thank her for that. She has been very much at the forefront of ensuring that National Marriage Week and the issues of family life and family values are heard about in this House whenever the occasion arises. It is a real pleasure to speak in this debate.

Marriage is a wonderful thing but, like all things of worth, it is not easy. In all honesty—I speak as someone who, on 6 June, will have been married for 32 years—I have a very long-suffering wife. The truth of the matter is that she has suffered long and hard, but she is still there, and that is one of the good things about married life. If my dad had lived another two weeks—he has been dead for four years—he and my mum would have been married for 61 years. They were a long time together, and that is not counting the time they were going together way back in the early ’50s. I have no idea how and why my wife Sandra has stuck me for so long, but I thank God every day that she has.

A strong marriage requires two people who choose to love each other even when there are times they do not particularly like each other. That is the fact of it. If Sandra was here, she would say, “Amen to that.” She would wholeheartedly know what I mean when I say that, because we have some exchanges of opinion now and again. I think it is good to have those release valves. It does not mean we have fallen out; it means we can have differences of opinion. My wife is not politically motivated at all; she only became interested in politics when she married me. The fact of the matter is that whenever I bring up issues to do with politics, truthfully she is perhaps not that interested, but she supports me well and she has an opinion on political matters. She is quick to tell me about those things.

Marriage is tough, and my heart goes out to those who are unable to make things work despite the hard work put in. The reality is that relationships break down. That is a fact, even with the best relationships. No one gets married to get divorced; people get married to spend the rest of their lives together. That is how it happens, but sometimes things happen along the way. As elected representatives—we are all here speaking in this debate as elected representatives—we are probably confronted every day in our advice centres with people who have had marital breakdowns. If they are churchgoers, I genuinely usually say, “Have you spoken to your minister?” If not, I say, “Have you had a chance to talk things through with someone in Relate to see whether it is possible to pull things together?” Sometimes that works. I am not a Relate councillor with great skills, but I try to point people in the direction where some things can be brought together. That sometimes works, but it does not always work. Sometimes when they come to me as the MP, or when they did in my past life as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, things have broken irretrievably. Those are difficult times.

I read an incredibly interesting report by the Marriage Foundation, which had some noteworthy analysis and statistical presentations. Analysis carried out on the millennium cohort study data on 10,929 mothers with 14-year-old children reveals that mental health problems are especially prevalent among children whose parents split up. We have just finished the main inquiry on education in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Some of the figures on education in Northern Ireland are truly scary and worrying. We have the highest levels of anxiety and depression among children of primary school and secondary school age for the whole United Kingdom. That is very worrying. This debate is so important—the hon. Member for Congleton has referred to it—because it shows the importance of having a normal home life. I say that honestly, because having that does in some way help things.

It is incredibly difficult for a child to watch a break-up, and all too often they are in the middle. It happens so often. I thank every parent who makes the determination that, regardless of the relationship status, they will not allow their child to be a pawn or used as a weapon. A story came to my memory when I was sitting here. There was a sad, sad story last weekend in one of the papers. A mother and father were breaking up and they had two children from that relationship. The really sad thing was that neither the mother nor the father wanted custody of the children. I said to myself, “How sad is that?” Neither the mother nor the father felt that the children could be with them and they wanted the other one to have them. I do not know what the outcome of that will be. Sir David, you and I have talks about many things. You are chairing this sitting, so you are independent, but I know that you and I very much agree on the importance of married life and what it does for a relationship and the children that come out of it.

I have three sons from my relationship with Sandra. Two of them are married. The big fella, Jamie, has been married 11 years, and the second married just last year, and out of that comes the grandchildren. We could never get a wee girl—it was always wee boys—but Sandra always wanted a wee girl. She now has two wee granddaughters, Katie and Mia, and just before Christmas a third grandchild was born to my second son, who was married just last year—the product of that is a wee boy called Austin. How much do we as grandparents enjoy the grandchildren, ever mindful that at 7 o’clock at night we can give them back? That is a big, big thing. We get all the enjoyment, smiles and laughter, but when they get tantrum-y and want to go or argue, we can phone up to say, “They’re ready for going home.” That is always something to remember, but I say it because of the enjoyment they give to us as parents.

The findings show that the influence of family behaviour on teenage mental health extends far beyond parental conflict. Family breakdown is the single biggest factor for girls and equal top influence for boys, along with parental relationship happiness. Whether parents are married and happy, and stay together and remain close to their child all make a unique contribution. I believe that parents have a strong responsibility; they need to be reminded that children watch and note their every word, action and deed. Therefore, the role of the parent is critical in setting an example for children in how the family gets on together.

The positive effect of marriage on mental health is clear and there for all to see. It is particularly interesting that the Marriage Foundation study showed that the effect of marriage extends well beyond stability and selection effects. For boys, whether their parents were married when they were born remains one of the two biggest influences on their subsequent overall mental health, even after taking into account their mother’s age, education, ethnicity and relationship happiness when the child was born, and whether the parents stay together. We cannot ignore—and nor can parents—the influence that parents have on their children.

The 2016 report by the Marriage Foundation found evidence that marriage boosts self-esteem for boys and girls. It is good that that happens. The report relied on the data of 3,822 children from the British household panel survey. It revealed that teenage boys living with continuously married parents have the highest self-esteem, while teenage girls living with continuously cohabiting parents have the lowest. The data outlines that the mother’s education has a smaller effect on self-esteem, while the child’s age and the mother’s income have no effect at all. Some of those stats are particularly illuminating because they give an idea of how what happens in the family home can affect children. Although those differences are all relatively small, they are highly significant and provide robust evidence that the wellbeing of teenagers and their future life chances are influenced by whether or not their parents are married. I am not making it up—the stats come from organisations, and they cannot be ignored.

Teens of either sex who live with continuously married parents have higher self-esteem and acceptance than those who live with continuously cohabiting parents or other family types. In outlining all this, I must be very clear: I do not believe that if a family is not united by marriage, a bad outcome is predetermined—it is not; far from it—but I am referring to the findings and how the information was collated. Data shows that children from married families show a higher level of wellbeing and mental health. That should be noted and highlighted.

The institution of marriage, to which I happily subscribe, has stood the test of time, and its benefits to society are clear. I believe that the House must acknowledge that, which is why I am so happy to support my friend, the hon. Member for Congleton, and I thank her for allowing us to highlight that wonderful institution once more. I am someone who is convinced of the benefits of marriage, and in June, my 32 years of marriage will be an example of just that.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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16 May 2019, 2:09 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friends—they are my friends—the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on two excellent speeches. It is very good to see the Minister, who I know takes this area seriously. She has responded to other debates of this nature in Westminster Hall, and is a deep and serious thinker on these issues. We are lucky to have her responding to today’s debate.

The debate quite properly has marriage in its title, because it is National Marriage Week, and mental health, but every single Member in the Chamber, myself included, is here for every type of family. We are here for every one of our constituents, whether they are married, single, cohabiting, widowed or divorced—whatever their state. It is important to put that on the record, because occasionally such debates, and this issue, can end up in an unnecessary culture war. We have moved on. As MPs, we are for absolutely everyone. However, it is also right that at least once a year we come to the important issue of marriage.

On the cross-party consensus, I was really encouraged, as the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the prevention of adverse childhood experiences, that I, as a Conservative, could sit down recently with a Labour Front-Bencher and a Liberal Democrat MP. The three of us, from different parties and traditions, were united in wanting to do more to promote couple stability, because we understand the links with inequality and poverty. I think all three of us would describe ourselves as true social justice warriors, as the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned. It is really important to put that on the record.

In 2016, 47% of all children in single-parent families were living in poverty. Frighteningly, the Resolution Foundation recently predicted that children in single-parent families will make up two thirds of all children living in poverty. Like every Member in the Chamber, I came into this House to eradicate poverty. That is the heart of what our politics are about. If children grow up in poverty, they do not have the life chances that we all want for them. They cannot make the most of their God-given gifts in terms of their education, career and contribution to their community.

I will focus on why this issue matters to Members in every party—the Scottish National party, the Democratic Unionist party, the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives. I want us all to be united on this. We need to get behind the family/relationship aspect of poverty if we are serious about engaging with social justice issues and tackling poverty.

Given the fairly terrifying figures—currently, 47% of children in single-parent families are in poverty, which is predicted by the Resolution Foundation to rise to two thirds—we know that we want to try to keep mum and dad together in order to keep children out of poverty. Why, however, does marriage matter, and why have a debate on it? Is it not just another structure among many?

It matters for this reason: sadly, unmarried couples are six times more likely to break up before their child’s fifth birthday. If we are all on the same page in wanting to tackle poverty and reach a serious, evidence-based recognition of the fact that family breakdown, and the increasing numbers of children in single-parent families, is a major contributor to child poverty, we need to look at the type of relationships that will give our children the best chance of not growing up in poverty.

At this point, the argument is always challenged. “Okay, those are the facts,” people say, “but is that correlation or causation?” In other words, do a particular type of people decide to marry, which is why fewer of them are in poverty? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton that we should dig into the data and compare like for like—people living in the same circumstances. I am absolutely assured by the researchers I have spoken to over the years that marriage still has a protective effect against child poverty in low-income communities, which many single-parent families live alongside.

That, in essence, is why marriage matters. If people accept my argument as I have laid it out so far, we need to be concerned about a number of facts. First, the marriage rate itself is in free fall; the figures show that it is really declining. As I said, I am genuinely delighted that today’s Minister will respond, because I know that she cares about this issue. I suspect that she was asked to reply to the debate because of the mental health part of the title. Had the debate been just on marriage, I wonder which Minister the Government would have put forward. I hope that it would have been her; perhaps it would have been someone else.

We might have had the new Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), as family policy is currently centred in that Department. However, if we are a Government and a Parliament that is four-square behind bearing down on child poverty, this issue needs to be at the heart of Government policy, not tucked away in one or two Departments. To my mind, it should be in the Cabinet Office, and there should be regular accountability through the Cabinet Office of all Government Departments on what they are doing in this area.

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that the marriage rate is in free fall. However, it is even worse than that because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton said, marriage rates among the better off are holding up quite well. A company director or university lecturer is 48% more likely to be married than a building worker or office cleaner, and that gap is growing. In 2000, the gap was only 22%. Basically, marriage is almost completely disappearing from low-income communities. We have to call a spade a spade and recognise that fact.

I am really pleased that there are Labour Front Benchers who understand that fact and are concerned about it, because if we are to bear down on child poverty, we have to use every tool in the kitbag. Certainly, the Government, the welfare system, schools, youth clubs, community groups, the voluntary sector, the health service and all manner of different central Government and local government institutions have a role. However, we cannot ignore what is happening in our families up and down the country if we are really serious about this issue. The Marriage Foundation tells us, in a similar statistic put another way, that 87% of mothers from high-income groups get married, as opposed to only 24% from the lowest-income groups. We have to do something about that.

I am grateful to Tavistock Relationships for the briefing that they gave me for the debate. Its representatives sent me some research from Paul Amato, who they say is generally recognised as one of

“the world’s leading researcher on marital quality, divorce, and other family related issues”.

His research has shown that common mental health problems are much

“more prevalent in people who are experiencing relationship distress than those who are happier in their relationships”.

He warned against viewing marriage and cohabitation as interchangeable, stating that

“we should consider the fact that cohabitations are less stable than marriages”,

as I pointed out a moment ago.

Tavistock Relationships has a particular ask of the Department of Health and Social Care, because it believes that the huge overlap between relationship distress and depression is being largely ignored by the NHS. It points out that within the excellent IAPT— improving access to psychological therapies—programme, only 49% of the relevant NHS services provide couples therapy for depression. It is calling for that figure to be increased to at least 90%, although it would be best if couples therapy were universally available. I ask the Minister to take that point back to her Department.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton and the hon. Member for Strangford, I pay tribute to the many organisations up and down the country that are working hard to strengthen relationship quality and provide relationship support and education. They should be much more prominent in our national life and much better known in Whitehall and Westminster.

In no particular order, let me mention the four organisations that make up the Relationships Alliance: Relate, which is perhaps the best known and the largest, Tavistock Relationships, which I have already mentioned, Marriage Care and OnePlusOne. They are fantastic organisations and are at the front and centre of dealing with these issues and providing support day in, day out. In my view, they need to play a more prominent role in our national life in the fight against child poverty, because they are absolutely part of the solution.

I would like to mention the work of Nicky and Sila Lee, who run the marriage preparation course and the marriage course. I will also namecheck Jonathan and Andrea Taylor-Cummings of Soulmates Academy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton mentioned. I commend them for their recent TED talk on this important subject and for their excellent work, particularly with employers. Many employers are beginning to realise that there is not a watertight seal between what happens at home and at work. Relationship distress and emotional distress at home have an unquestionable impact on performance and productivity at work.

We need the private sector to get a bit more engaged in the issue, because it is not just about the Government. Everyone always asks the Government to do everything, and while the Government have a role, employers and those in the private sector need to get with the programme and realise that they have a role to play too, alongside the community and the voluntary sector.

I will make a silly analogy that some colleagues will have heard before. I would guess that most of us in this Chamber own a car. It is the law that every year we have to give that car an MOT. We spend time and money taking it to the garage and having someone check under the bonnet so that the car is serviceable to go back on the road for another safe year’s motoring, which is the object of the exercise—and quite right, too. Should not our relationships and marriages have the same treatment? Are they not just as important?

I use the phrase “marriage MOT” or “relationship MOT”. Some people may have done a little preparation before getting married, but will that last a lifetime? In my own marriage, I have got into bad habits and have had to be corrected by my wife or by good friends. I have gone on marriage MOTs from time to time with my wife and with other couples, and have found them helpful. We should try to make that more normal and mainstream. It is not just about therapy, but about something that all of us need: a little advice and assistance to get out of bad habits and maintain good ones. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton for mentioning some of the practical things that are involved.

Research shows that the No. 1 reason why children present at child and adolescent mental health services is family relationship issues at home. The hon. Member for Strangford spoke about the huge growth—the epidemic—in children’s mental health issues, which can extend until they are university students. Recent studies have shown that a quarter of all young women at university and in their early 20s experience some form of mental health issue. Very often, family relationships are at the core of those issues.

I will conclude with a quotation from an excellent article by Ed West that appeared in The Spectator in December 2017. The Spectator is not a magazine that I read very regularly, but I commend the article to anyone who is interested. I will read out his final paragraph, because I found it so striking. On the subject of marriage, he writes:

“How much does the government care? The answer is not very much. About a decade ago, David Cameron said he’d be the most pro-marriage leader the Tories have had in his lifetime, but his enthusiasm cooled quickly.”

Actually, I think that the last Prime Minister did some good things in the area. I would have liked him to do more, but I think that that criticism is a little harsh. The article continues:

“Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to be talking about family values, which is a shame because a true social justice warrior would be obsessed with this issue. Marriage is becoming a luxury item, a trend that is likely to cause ever-increasing inequality down the generations. Any government that is genuinely concerned about helping those at the bottom should think about what it could do to make marriage for the many, not the few”—

a phrase that perhaps the Labour party could think about. I think that those are powerful words on which to conclude my speech.

Dental Health: Older People

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Wednesday 27th February 2019

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

27 Feb 2019, 8:03 p.m.

This Adjournment debate provides an opportunity to discuss a very important but often overlooked issue, which can have a major impact on the wellbeing of older people: their oral health. Many of us will have older relatives who have reached the stage where they need some extra support. It might be that they live in a residential care home, have a carer who visits them in their home a couple of times a week, or just require a bit of extra help from us personally to stay independent.

However, one issue that often slips under the radar when we think about an older relative’s needs is their oral health; it can often seem like a small issue, but in fact poor oral health can have much wider implications. Having a painful oral health problem can impact on someone’s ability to eat comfortably, to speak and to socialise with confidence, and on the ease with which they can take medication, something which may be a particular issue if an older person is living with other long-term health conditions. Maintaining good oral health can also become much more challenging for older people with reduced dexterity, who may for example have more difficulty with brushing their teeth. Furthermore, for the most vulnerable older people, such as those with dementia, who may have difficulty communicating where they are experiencing pain, an oral health problem can be especially distressing.

Ensuring that older people are supported to maintain good oral health, and have access to dental services when they need them, is therefore very important. However, while data on this issue is limited, the information that we do have suggests that these are areas in which we often fall short.

The Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons published a report on “Improving older people’s oral health” in 2017, which estimated that 1.8 million people aged 65 and over in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could have an urgent dental condition such as dental pain, oral sepsis or extensive untreated decay. Moreover, the Faculty of Dental Surgery also highlighted that this number could increase to 2.7 million by 2040 as a result of several demographic factors, thereby increasing pressure on dental services in the future. As well as the ageing nature of Britain’s population, increasing numbers of people are also retaining their natural teeth into old age; while this is good news, it also means that dental professionals are facing new challenges as they have to provide increasingly complex treatment to teeth that may already have been heavily restored.

Separately, in 2014 Public Health England published the findings of research looking at oral health services for dependent older people in north-west England, which found that access to domiciliary and emergency dental care can often be very challenging for those living in residential care homes or receiving “care in your home” support services. More recently, Public Health England last year published the results of a national oral health survey of dependent older people living in supported housing. This revealed that nearly 70% of respondents had visible plaque and 61% had visible tartar, indicators of poor oral hygiene, and that in some parts of the country, such as County Durham and Ealing, over a quarter of dependent older people would be unable to visit a dentist and so required domiciliary care in their home.

It is difficult to get a complete up-to-date picture of the oral health needs of older people across the country, partly because there has not been an adult dental health survey for 10 years, an issue I will return to later. However, these figures, as well as anecdotal reports from dental professionals working on the frontline, suggest there is a real issue here which potentially impacts on large numbers of often vulnerable older people.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this important issue to the House. As he said, 1.8 million elderly people across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have problems, which is shocking. The hon. Gentleman outlined some of the solutions such as extra attention on domiciliary care and in residential homes, and for those at home and dependent on carers. Does he agree that older people’s confidence can also be diminished by not having their teeth correctly done? My mother went this week to have her teeth done; she is 87 years of age and she depends very much on her dentist. She has attended over the years, but many have not, and we need to have that care at all those different levels.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

27 Feb 2019, 8:04 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving us his personal family experience of this issue.

There have been some welcome developments over the last few months, including the recently published NHS long-term plan highlighting oral health as one of the priorities for NHS England as it rolls out a new “Enhanced health in care homes” programme across the country. However, I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to five particular areas in which more could usefully be done: training for health and social care professionals; access to dental services; data; regulation; and the social care Green Paper.

First, on training, health and social care professionals regularly do a brilliant job of caring for older people, but as I have mentioned, oral health is one issue that can easily fall between the cracks, particularly if someone is living with a range of other health conditions that also require care and attention. One example of this is oral care plans. Ideally, whenever someone is admitted as a resident to a care home, their oral health needs should be considered as part of their initial health assessment. Those needs should then be reflected in an oral care plan that all their carers are aware of and that will, for example, set out whether the resident needs extra help brushing their teeth.

There is some good guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, but this can often be overlooked. In Public Health England’s research in north-west England, 57% of residential care home managers said that they did not have an oral care policy, and one in 10 said that an oral health assessment was not undertaken at the start of care provision. Knowing how to provide good oral care is especially important when it comes to supporting those with more complex needs. For example, for those with dementia, electric toothbrushes can sometimes be quite intimidating, and it makes a big difference if a carer knows that they should use a manual toothbrush when helping with tooth brushing. More broadly, if someone who is living with dementia refuses oral care, this can become an obstacle to maintaining good oral health, so it is important that carers understand how to manage these situations, ideally with input from a dental care professional.

Equally, for those with dentures, it is important that training and procedures are in place to minimise the risk of a denture getting lost, even if this is a simple thing such as ensuring that they are kept in a jar by the bedside when not in use. A lost denture takes weeks to replace, and this can be a devastating experience for an older person who relies on them to eat and speak. This is particularly sensitive if someone is coming to the end of their life, when it may not be possible to manufacture a replacement in time as they spend their remaining days with loved ones. An understanding of good denture care is particularly important in these situations.

Improving awareness of oral health among health and care professionals should therefore be a priority, and was a key recommendation in the Faculty of Dental Surgery’s 2017 report. This highlighted schemes such as the Mouth Care Matters programme, in which mouth care leads are recruited to provide oral care training to staff in hospitals and care homes, and I would be interested to know from the Minister whether there were any plans to replicate such initiatives nationwide.

Secondly, ensuring that older people can access dental services when they need them is essential. It is not uncommon for people to think that if someone has no teeth, they cannot be experiencing pain or other oral problems. Sadly, this is not the case and they should still have an oral check-up once a year, not least because the majority of cases of oral cancer occur in people over 50. There are all too many tragic instances of an older person being diagnosed with oral cancer too late—the saddest two words in the English language—simply because they had not seen a dentist in a number of years. Attending a dental appointment can be a particular challenge for those with reduced mobility—for example, if they are unable to climb stairs to reach a dental practice on the first floor—in which case, domiciliary visits are vital. However, evidence suggests that access to domiciliary dental care can be challenging, particularly for those living in care homes or supported housing, and I would appreciate the Minister’s thoughts on how we can address this.

In 2015, Healthwatch Bolton reported that it was easier for a local care home resident to get access to a hairdresser than to a dentist. In 2016, Healthwatch Kent reported that care homes had told it about accessibility problems for wheelchair users within dental practices. In 2016, Healthwatch Lancashire reported that care home staff said:

“The residents don’t get regular checks; they are only seen when there is a problem.”

Healthwatch Derby was concerned about the lack of information for social care providers about how to access dental services for their residents. While the commitment in the NHS long-term plan to

“ensure that individuals are supported to have good oral health”

in care homes under the “Enhanced health in care homes” section is welcome, there is no mention of a similar commitment for older people who use domiciliary care agencies. Those people should not be forgotten, so what do the Government intend to do about that for domiciliary care agency users under the NHS long-term plan?

Thirdly, the intelligence around older people’s oral health is quite limited, making it difficult to build a full picture of the level of need or assess the barriers that older people face in accessing dental care. The most immediate action that could be taken to address that would be for the Government to commission a new adult dental health survey. It is one of the few resources to provide detailed, national-level data on standards of oral health among older people, and it is a key reference for many commissioners, policy makers and dental professionals. The survey has been conducted every 10 years since 1968, but the last edition was published in 2009, so a new one is due. However, the Government have yet to give any indication of when or if a new survey will be taking place, which is causing increasing concern within the dental profession, so an update on that would be most welcome.

There are other steps that would help to improve our understanding of such issues. For example, NHS Digital publishes a regular set of NHS dental statistics for England, which reports on the proportion of children aged zero to 17 who attended an NHS dentist in the preceding 12 months, as well as the proportion of adults aged 18 and over who attended an NHS dentist in the past two years. That data provides a useful measure of access, and expanding the figures to include attendance rates for older people would help us to develop a clearer picture of whether there are particular groups or areas where access to an NHS dentist is a problem.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

27 Feb 2019, 8:12 p.m.

Many elderly people are independent and proud, and one of the things that puts them off attending the dentist—I see this in my constituency—is that they think they have to pay for the treatment, but they do not. Perhaps we need to put out a reminder about that.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record.

Fourthly, in addition to health services, care home providers and dental professionals, regulators can play an essential role by monitoring standards of oral care and driving improvements. The Care Quality Commission in England does not explicitly look at oral health during its inspections of hospitals and care homes, although I understand that it is doing a lot of work behind the scenes to try and push that on to the agenda for care providers, which is obviously welcome. Health and care regulators in other parts of the UK can also make a valuable contribution to ensuring that the importance of oral health is recognised by those that they inspect.

Lastly, I continue to look forward to the publication of the Government’s long-awaited social care Green Paper. Given the importance of oral health to our wider health and wellbeing, an all-encompassing model of care for older people must include dental services, so it will be important that the Green Paper clearly sets out how social care and dental services can work together in the future and what more can be done to ensure that older people have access to dental services when they need them. As I have mentioned, one of the most valuable things we can do to improve older people’s oral health is to ensure that it is not overlooked amid the many other issues that we are dealing with, and I hope that the Government will show leadership on that in the Green Paper.

Oral health can sometimes seem like a small issue, but it has a significant impact on quality of life. The Minister will be aware that we have spoken a lot in recent years about the need to improve children’s oral health, and quite rightly so, but it is also essential that we do not take our eye off the other groups who need support. For an older person who is in pain because of an oral health problem, finding it difficult to eat or speak, or who may be distressed at the loss of a denture that will take weeks to replace, such issues are very real. We can all contribute to addressing them, including Members who care for older relatives in our everyday lives. Indeed, the Faculty of Dental Surgery published some useful advice over Christmas about using visits to older relatives as an opportunity to check their oral health and for how to spot the signs that they might have an oral health problem. That is something that Members could do over Easter when visiting elderly relatives, and we could encourage our constituents to do the same. However, I hope that the Minister will recognise that Government also have an important role to play and will look carefully at what can be done to help improve oral care for our older people.

International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Thursday 25th October 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Oct 2018, 1:33 p.m.

I absolutely agree. Wherever there are human rights abuses—abuses of journalists or whatever else—we should certainly speak out. I thank the hon. Lady for reminding us of that case.

Just today I tabled a question to the FCO asking whether it will make a public statement in support of a full, independent investigation into allegations of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China. Others will speak about killings along religious lines in Nigeria.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Hansard - -

25 Oct 2018, 1:34 p.m.

Before the hon. Gentleman moves on from China, I am sure that, like many of us, he is alarmed by the recent BBC news reports that millions of Muslims in China are being interned, seemingly because of their faith and not much more. Although we rightly want to do lots of trade with China, does he agree that we should take that issue up at the highest levels with the Chinese Government?

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Oct 2018, 1:36 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of that case. He is absolutely right. The stories in the press in the past few days have been horrendous. We have seen the establishment of what cannot be called anything other than stalags—concentration camps—where people are subjected in every way, emotionally and physically, to efforts to change their views. Those Uyghur Muslims are among the people we speak up for today. I chair the all-party group on international freedom of religion or belief, which speaks out for people of Christian faith, of other faiths and of no faith. I also chair the APPG on Pakistani minorities. I am particularly interested in the issue the hon. Gentleman mentions, and I thank him for doing so.

Closer to home—we should not take away from what is happening here—there has been a 40% increase in hate crime on the basis of religious belief in England and Wales, and it is reported that churches in occupied territories in Ukraine have been denied registration and declared illegal. I am sure hon. Members will discuss those issues in much more detail—I intend to give just a general introduction—but I raise them to highlight the grave importance of International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day. Now more than ever, we must come together to stand up for those who suffer intolerance and persecution.

Break in Debate

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Oct 2018, 1:39 p.m.

I thank the right hon. Lady for making that point. We highlighted the persecution of religious minorities when we visited Pakistan. To illustrate her point, 13,600 people have been abducted in Punjab province, and there have been 2,900 rapes and 190 gang rapes of women. The level of sexual violence against women is despicable and bothers me greatly, as I am sure it bothers everyone else in the House. That is an indication—it starts with that and then goes on to everything else. The right hon. Lady is absolutely right, and the horrendous statistics back up her point.

Of course, protecting FORB not only is vital for individual welfare but plays a key role in preventing social instability. Although stability is a complex phenomenon, the case of Myanmar shows how unaddressed Government and social persecution of religious groups can explode into violence, undermining stability and creating humanitarian crises. Indeed, the UN specifies that discriminatory practices, or targeting communities based on their identity, is a key risk factor for atrocity crimes.

In September, the House of Lords International Relations Committee published evidence from the UN and the World Bank highlighting that

“the tipping point for joining a violent”

terrorist

“group was usually some sort of violation of law, or a sense of violation of law”.

That goes back to what the right hon. Lady said. That shows that making sure that human rights are protected can play an important role in ensuring stability and preventing violent conflict, which in turn is vital to long-term economic development.

The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recently stated:

“Promoting the rule of law and democracy globally is key to developing the UK’s prosperity.”

In the short term, the Committee stated, the Government

“will face conflicting priorities between human rights and other Government policies, especially trade deals.”

We need to be careful about those. The Committee continued:

“This may create short term conflicts, but the prioritisation of human rights is in the UK’s long-term commercial, as well as moral, interest.”

I hope the Minister can tell us something positive about that in his response.

Given the importance of protecting FORB and marking International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day, I want to make five recommendations that might help in the significant efforts being made to advance FORB. I will then briefly discuss FORB issues in several countries in south Asia and the middle east, namely Pakistan, India, Nepal, Turkey, Egypt and Iran.

My first recommendation is for Departments that are significantly affected by FORB issues, such as the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, to produce strategic plans for how they can advance this fundamental right and for them to work regularly with Lord Ahmad to co-ordinate their work. That is important. Would the Minister be willing to encourage those Departments to develop such plans? Will he also push for FORB literacy training for staff, so that they can understand the religious dynamics and tensions that clearly exist in the countries in which they work?

Secondly, DFID operates in many countries that have severe levels of discrimination and violence towards certain religious or belief groups. In these countries, DFID could encourage more non-governmental organisations to develop programmes that promote the welfare of marginalised communities and help to reduce tensions between religious or belief groups in conflict. Would the Minister be willing to encourage and support DFID to take such action? I know he would—I know I am pushing at an open door, to be honest—but I want to put the point on record. Will he ensure within DFID that modules that teach respect for people of all faiths and none are included in more education programmes, as well as capacity building programmes for police, civil servants, NGOs and other groups? I will not steal anyone else’s thunder, but it was important to see the police and other departments in Pakistan working to ensure that these things happen as well.

Finally in this section, I commend the Minister for the Government’s role in developing country-specific strategies for advancing FORB. Will he continue to work with FCO heads of mission and DFID country heads to produce more of these plans for promoting FORB?

The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston, the noble Lord Alton of Liverpool and I made a trip to Pakistan; the hon. Lady will speak about that and I will let her refer to it, because it is important to do so. Religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and other groups face very significant persecution in Pakistan and are severely marginalised.

When we were there, we visited some of the slums where the Christians, for example, were living. It is very hard, and none of us was not touched by what we saw. Any slum where any group lives is horrific, but we went to the Christian slum in particular, where there were 48,000 people living in 8,000 houses. It was quite unbelievable. I call them houses, but they were rudimentary. They were never more than a single block or a wooden frame with a carpet thrown over it. There was a single hose that ran through the slum, and open sewers. One thing about it, which the hon. Lady will speak about, is that the children were happy, smiling and clean. There was certainly a willingness to try to do something.

I do not do the pools, but if I did, or if I won the lottery, I would certainly give whatever money I won to do a project there. I have spoken to the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), and I intend to put forward some programmes that he might be sympathetic to assisting out there for all those who live in slums—all those minority groups, whatever they may be. It is important to do that.

I want to comment quickly on the 5% employment quota for non-Muslim Pakistanis. It is all very well for the Government to set a 5% quota for religious minorities to achieve jobs, but if people do not have the education to get those jobs and achieve the goal, it does not matter very much. The Minister has kindly said that he will look at that as well.

I also want to speak about possible reforms to the criminal law to prevent the persecution of religious or belief minorities in Pakistan. I will not go into too much detail, because some of it has been highly confidential, as the Minister knows, but I will say that we had the opportunity to meet two of the three judges who will decide the fate of Asia Bibi, who has been in prison under a death sentence for eight years, separated from her husband and family. We need a law that does not penalise people or treat them adversely, because someone with malicious intent can make an allegation, which is clearly what we have seen in this case. We made those comments clear, although I will say no more about that, other than to say that the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston will comment on it.

Next, I will speak about the FORB situation in India. Despite Prime Minister Modi’s pledged commitment to “complete freedom of faith”, since his election in 2014 there has been a significant increase in anti-minority rhetoric and mob violence against Muslims and other minorities. Let us be quite clear: I am here to speak for every religious minority, as the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), who intervened earlier, knows. I am here to speak for all religious minorities, wherever they may be. We have spoken about the Uyghur Muslims in China; we will speak about the clear persecution of Muslims in India. I want to speak up for those people as well and ensure that the Indian Government are aware of their commitment to international religious freedom through the UN. There have also been hundreds of attacks on Christians.

Worryingly, at the end of July 2018, in Assam State, the Indian Government effectively stripped 4 million people, mostly Muslims, of their citizenship, branding them illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. How annoying and frustrating is it to watch a democratic country specifically targeting those of other religious beliefs? The situation bears worrying similarities to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, who in 1982 also had their citizenship removed and were labelled Bangladeshi before being attacked by the Burmese military.

It is hard not to get emotional, strongly agitated and full of angst about what is taking place across the world, because there is so much happening. This debate is a chance to reiterate those points, and others will do so. All this is very concerning, not only for obvious reasons, but because violence and discrimination could cause significant grievance among the 250 million-strong non-Hindu population of India, leading to instability. Mob violence has already increased significantly across India, and in the past few months both ISIS and al-Qaeda have called on India’s Muslim population—predicted to be the second largest, if not the largest, in the world—to “take revenge”. We have a difficult situation developing in that country, and if the Indian Government do not start to do something about it, we are in great trouble.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

25 Oct 2018, 1:48 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman used the phrase “across the world”. While there are excellent organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide that operate in this space, I have always been particularly struck by Open Doors’ “World Watch List 2018”. Going back to that phrase “across the world”, is it not shocking that we can draw a line from the west coast of Africa all the way through the middle east to the Pacific ocean and in every single country along that route there is persecution of Christians? Does he think it might be a good idea if every Christian place of worship in this country had the Open Doors “World Watch List 2018” up in its hall or reception as a visual reminder of what some of our brothers and sisters in the faith have to put up with?

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Oct 2018, 1:49 p.m.

That is a salient reminder for us all. We have one in the Freedom of Religious Belief office here. I am regularly in contact with Open Doors and many of the other organisations—Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International and the Barnabas Fund—and our churches all have them as well. The hon. Gentleman will know this, but every morning in my and other people’s prayer times, when we go around the countries of the world, there are 50 or 60 countries where persecution is rife. That is always a reminder to me at the beginning of the day of the freedom that I we have here, and that others do not. He is right and I thank him for his intervention.

We had the ISIS-inspired attack in Madhya Pradesh in India, in which 10 people were killed. For the benefit of both India and its potential for a stable long-term relationship with the UK, we must take a stand against growing human rights violations there. I hope that the Minister can work with the Indian Government at least to make them aware that we are concerned.

I will speak quickly about Nepal. As the Minister knows, the Nepalese penal code 2017 contains problematic provisions that criminalise religious conversion and “hurting religious sentiment”. Those words give the Government power to do a lot of things to persecute religious minorities. We have had reports of 20 Christians being arrested and four churches being burnt down. Where does this stop? The Nepalese Government receives some DFID funding and gets support from our Government. The laws are insensitive to the feelings of religious minorities and their positions, and we believe that the legislation relating to criminal liability for doctors, and the issue of arrest warrants, is completely irrational and illegal. There is an excellent opportunity for the UK to suggest that Nepal reconsiders its problematic provisions in order to stay in line with its obligations as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Members of the Human Rights Council must adhere to its principles.

Turkey has become a difficult country. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton referred to journalists, and Turkey’s clampdown on journalists and the media has been atrocious. Pakistan has been asked to send 230 Turkish teachers back to Turkey to make them accountable and to have their rights taken away. I have written to the Minister suggesting that we do all we can to ensure that the Turkish Government cannot do that. An early-day motion in the House this week also refers to that.

Gypsies and Travellers

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Monday 10th September 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

10 Sep 2018, 9:36 p.m.

Given the extra time we have tonight, I am happy for other Members not only to intervene, but to make their own contributions after I have spoken, because the Minister will still have plenty of time to respond to all the concerns expressed around the House.

I am extremely proud to represent an area that has successfully integrated different nationalities over the years, resulting in good community cohesion. Italians, Polish and Irish nationals are all well established and make a fantastic contribution to the area that I am proud to represent. My constituency has many Traveller sites, but a planning policy of segregation and separation makes integration and community cohesion hard to achieve. The 2011 census showed that over three quarters of Gypsies and Travellers generally live happily among the settled population, and I have some heart-warming examples of Travellers becoming settled residents, with the children now attending school regularly and the parents in formal work.

My constituents have had to put up with far more than their fair share of “misery”, as one constituent described it to me on Friday, as a result of current Gypsy and Traveller policy. One of my sites has had three major incidents of modern slavery, with 24 slaves saved by the police on the first occasion. Threats, violence, theft and other forms of intimidation have become everyday occurrences to some of my constituents, and Bedfordshire police, with an already overstretched budget, are not able to respond in as timely a manner as they would wish, leaving many of my constituents living in fear. A lady wrote to me in June to say that she will be moving away from the area as she no longer feels safe, having been assaulted by Travellers, Travellers having trespassed in her garden, having been followed by Travellers and her husband’s tools having been stolen from his car three times, causing a loss of income. That lady also has human rights that have not been respected. Of course, there are many decent, law-abiding Travellers, and all groups have good and bad in them, but I hear too many accounts like the one I just recounted.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Sep 2018, 9:37 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential that local authorities have appropriate training to enable them to deal with the cultural differences of the travelling community? If people are approached in the correct manner, a resolution often can and will be found.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

10 Sep 2018, 9:38 p.m.

As always, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We should always deal with such issues with humanity, decency and respect, but we also need to see equality under the law. As I am sure he would agree, the two are not mutually exclusive, but he makes a welcome point.

My main concern is with current planning policy, which allows many Traveller pitches in some areas when others have none at all. Multiple Traveller sites lead to many unauthorised encampments. In 2017, there were 116 unauthorised encampments in Central Bedfordshire, and clear-up costs in the area were around £350,000. Over £200,000 of that was spent by Highways England, with one encampment requiring over 100 grab lorries to clear up to 250 tonnes of litter. My constituents are understandably outraged to be told that there is no money for more of the public services that they want when they see huge sums being spent with no ability to recoup the money from those responsible.

Integrated Care

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Thursday 6th September 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department of Health and Social Care
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Sep 2018, 2:04 p.m.

It is a pleasure to speak on this matter. I commend the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for setting the scene, and the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) for making such a valuable contribution. I do not have the expertise of those two hon. Members—far from it—but I have a deep interest in the health service, and the treatment and service that is provided, which is why I am here. I thank the hon. Member for Totnes and all those who made a contribution to the Health and Social Care Committee’s seventh report, “Integrated care: organisations, partnerships and systems”.

We are ever-mindful of the anniversary of our own NHS. A lot of minds have looked back over the past 70 years, and we have all looked back over the years that we have been here, and we are thankful for the institution, which has been a beacon of the best of British by far. Just last weekend, I was present as my local council, Ards and North Down Borough Council, conferred the freedom of the borough on the NHS as a gesture of good will and a vote of thanks to those who work so hard in adverse conditions to provide care to those we love. As an active representative, I speak to those who work in the NHS and are recipients of NHS services every week. The hon. Member for Totnes made many telling comments, but one that I took from the very beginning of her contribution was that the purpose is to deliver a better service for patients. That really is the core of what we are about in the NHS, and at the core of the report’s recommendations.

Until recent years I had little cause to visit doctors or use the NHS but, as often happens, with age came complications, and diabetes was one of those. The doctor then said, “You need a wee tablet for your blood pressure. Well, you don’t really need one, but we’ll give you one anyway, just to keep you right.” Along with that, last year I was in hospital on three occasions for surgical operations. Not having been there for more than 40 years, suddenly finding that I was almost a regular visitor to the hospital gave me a really good idea of what our NHS is like today. I put on record my thanks to all those who made valuable contributions to those operations. I know it was down to the skills of the doctors and surgeons, but it was also down to people’s prayers.

We all know that the NHS is hanging on by a thread in many cases. It sometimes seems like that, but when I hung in the balance the NHS rose to the challenge. Sometimes we think that the NHS cannot deliver, but very often it does, and it delivers well. Any discussion about the NHS must begin with thanks to those who make it work against all the odds and who make what should be impossible possible. All of us here—myself in particular—say, “Thank you.”

I thank every person involved in the report, and I thank the Minister who is here to respond to it; I know he will do so very positively. As I began to read the report, the massive amount of work that went into it became abundantly clear. We need to bring on board the people with the vision for the NHS, as put forward in the report. I can see the vision for the NHS—I can read it on paper anyway, and then picture it. I understand the rationale behind the vision, but I also see the fear of secret privatisation, which people believe to be taking place. Some of the hon. Members who intervened referred to that.

We have all seen what happens when things move from public to private, and people fear a lack of services. That is easy to understand when talking about the loss of a rural bus link, but not when discussing whether a mother who is 72 years of age and has cancer will get treatment on the NHS. There is a fear among the general public that risk assessments will mean that we do not give such people a chance. I know that that is not the case, but we have to consider public opinion, and how people assess and see the situation. People see things quite simply at times. It is good to see things simply, because it makes it easy to follow through with the solution—those are my feelings anyway.

My feeling is that something has to change in the NHS. We all understand that bandages are not enough—it needs clinical surgery and massive intervention, some elements of which are in the recommendations. However, in order to be able to do that, we need to first prep the patients—the general public. We need to convince them that the proposed changes are for the better. We need to do a better job of preparing the public and explaining exactly what the plans are.

As the report was at pains to show, people do not fully understand how the NHS works. Information is not shared between emergency services and GPs in the detail and with the connections that it should be, and healthcare is provided from different sections who are not working together as well as they should. The integration referred to in the report can only work through partnerships that are truly trying to work together. When there is no understanding there is fear, and while people may not understand the current system, by and large they trust it. They trust that when they dial 999, an ambulance will arrive and bring them for care to their local emergency unit. When we tell them things are changing and we abbreviate terms using initials that save time but increase complexity, they fear that the very thing that they can trust no longer exists, because it is different from what it was five or 10 years ago, and they do not quite understand what is being said. That is why it is important to keep it simple. Of course, however we change the NHS, an ambulance will always be sent in response to a 999 call, but the simple fact is that people do not trust to that, so they will be unsure about what will unfold.

As a lay person, without the expertise that many on the Committee have—I bow to their knowledge and expertise—it is my humble opinion that we must do better in informing people how things are working now and how they can improve with changes, but understanding takes time and it is better to bring the public along, clarify uncertainties and address the issues at an early stage. Such corrective surgery has to take place, but the theatre must be prepped. People must be allowed to understand and that has to come with co-ordination and better working relationships with the press, as well as one-on-one discussions with patients when possible. It must happen with easy-to-understand information and it must happen before the changes are implemented.

I congratulate the hon. Members involved in preparing the report. I look forward to the Minister’s response, as well as the contribution of the shadow Minister.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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6 Sep 2018, 2:13 p.m.

It is a pleasure to contribute to this important short debate this afternoon. As has been said, for most of our constituents, this world of ICPs and various other acronyms is a bit of an enchanted forest or secret garden that they do not really understand—they just want their healthcare to go on being delivered properly and professionally—but it does of course matter. I completely agree with the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston); we need to keep seeing this from the patient’s perspective.

Like many others, I was struck by the clarity with which Don Redding, the director of policy at National Voices, explained how this should look from the patient’s perspective. He said that patients

“want to feel that their care is co-ordinated, that the professionals and services they meet join up around them, that they are known where they go, that they do not have to explain themselves every single time, and, therefore, that their records are available and visible.”

That is a succinct, powerful way that encapsulates what we are all trying to achieve—what the Government are doing and the purposes in this debate this afternoon. The last part of that sentence—making sure that their records are available and visible—is highly topical, given what the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said this morning. He is absolutely right to make sure that the NHS has the technology so that its brilliant workforce get the information they need to give first-class patient care, and that patients can use that technology to their own benefit and to the benefit of the health service generally.

I remember a Department for Work and Pensions initiative from some time ago that was called “Tell us once”. In terms of benefit claims, all of us as Members of Parliament will have had constituents who come in and recount giving their details, endlessly, to different parts of the Department for Work and Pensions. The principle should be the same in health. Our constituents’ time is precious. It is not just Members of Parliament who are busy people; our constituents lead highly busy, demanding lives, juggling work, family and everything else. The more we can make it simpler to capture what they say once, the better for them and the better for hard-pressed NHS staff, and it has to lead to a better outcome. I hope that is part of what our excellent new Secretary of State, who follows the last excellent Secretary of State, is looking to achieve, in light of his speech in Manchester this morning.

There were various highlights in the Committee’s inquiry. The one that stood out for me above all others was our visit to the Larwood practice in Worksop. I have spent a large part of the summer speaking to every single general practice in my constituency. I asked them to tell me about the pressures they face and what the NHS and the clinical commissioning group can do to help them, because I am very aware that general practice is under a lot of pressure. I know the Government are recruiting 25% more doctors, which is brilliant, and last year 3,157 of those doctors went into general practice, which is also brilliant, but we have to retain them as well and some of the workload pressures are challenging.

When the Committee arrived at the Larwood practice, it was incredibly exciting and invigorating, because we saw a practice that was joining up primary care, secondary care, social care and the voluntary sector. It was using paramedics and had its own pharmacy on site, so that people are not sent down the road in the rain to get their prescriptions. There was a buzz about the place. The GPs who worked there were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, because I think they knew they were delivering a good service and serving their patients well. I am aware of the variability across general practice. If integrated care is going to mean something, the Larwood practice—which was selected for us by NHS England because it is doing well—and practices like that show the way. My challenge to the Minister is, how do we help all those other GP practices to rise up and perform in the same way?

Although not the direct subject of the report, the other huge area of integration that is so important that I cannot fail to mention it is the join-up between health and social care. The Committee wrote a separate report on that earlier in the summer, jointly with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which I thought had excellent recommendations. I am absolutely convinced that integrated care providers will not succeed in providing the integrated care we want unless social care has been put on a proper and sustainable financial footing so that it really does work hand in glove with our NHS at every level, primary and secondary.

Our report has been really useful in slaying a few myths about privatisation. Some of those myths have been around for a very long time. When Simon Stevens gave evidence to the Committee, he did a particularly good job—he went back through some of the allegations of privatisation of the past 20 years or so and showed that, over that period, those various allegations had not proved well-founded.

I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to amend the legislation where necessary, and where helpful to provide better-integrated care. That is a sensible and pragmatic step, which I would expect from the Prime Minister and the Government. It is very welcome

I very strongly agree with what the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) said about prevention. He said something very true about the Committee that I have never forgotten: he said that we are a Health and Social Care Committee, but sometimes we could be mistaken for an NHS Committee. That is not because he and I do not think that the NHS—the organisation that is there to look after our health—is absolutely brilliant, but because health is wider than the NHS.

Unless we are absolutely passionate about dealing with childhood obesity—I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on obesity—and improving air quality levels in our inner cities, where children with asthma and other illnesses are deeply affected by breathing in poor air every day; unless we get more of our fellow countrymen and women walking and cycling; unless we do something about reducing the proliferation of takeaways, which sell highly calorific food; unless we do something about getting our supermarkets and big food producers to do better in producing healthier food, we will not succeed in this key area of prevention.

It comes down to detailed things such as planning policy for local authorities, which should not have to fight a rearguard action against the Planning Inspectorate to limit the number of takeaways in an area. They absolutely need to ensure, as we build new houses—which we desperately need to do—that cycle routes are built into new housing developments so that as many people as possible, including children, can cycle to stay fit and healthy.

It is worth noting that the integrated care partnerships are helping that to happen. The Committee heard from Ian Williamson from Manchester Health & Care Commissioning. When we were in Sheffield, he said that he thought conversations were now starting up about how Manchester could reduce childhood obesity and reduce the emissions and pollution that harm the local population. Such conversations are happening, but we need more than conversations; we need action, and we need to join up these different policy areas and produce results, because they are urgently needed.

Perinatal Mental Illness

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Thursday 19th July 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department of Health and Social Care
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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19 Jul 2018, 1:59 p.m.

It is an enormous pleasure to follow my colleague on the Health and Social Care Committee, the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams). I commend him for a tour de force of a speech, which was extremely comprehensive. I will not speak for as long as he did and I will try not to cover the points that he did, because this is a large area and there is a lot to say about it.

It might be a little surprising to some that two men are opening this debate on perinatal mental illness, but I strongly disagree with anyone who thinks that we should not be, because the strapline of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance is that this is “Everyone’s Business”. That is exactly what it is. We need men advocating and agitating, if this issue is to be taken seriously and dealt with properly.

The Health and Social Care Committee and the Education Committee, in a report earlier this year in response to the Government’s Green Paper on transforming children and young people’s mental health, included a contribution from our excellent Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield. In evidence to both Select Committees, she said:

“I would like to see a comprehensive starting point that looks at children from birth and pre-birth onwards, and recognises that problems develop along the way; and the earlier and the nearer to home they can be treated, the better it is going to be for the child.”

I think that is a really important point. While there is a lot to be commended in the Government’s Green Paper, we know that in early intervention the earliest years are key.

The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have allocated an extra £20 billion to the Department of Health and Social Care. That gives us an enormous opportunity. Quite properly, the Government are not rushing decisions on how that money will be spent. We will be thoughtful and considered, to ensure that we make wise choices. For my money, prevention and early intervention would be a good use of that money. I am sure that the Minister will push hard in the Department, to ensure that this area is prioritised.

The hon. Member for Stockton South, who spoke so well, talked a lot about the GP checks. I want to press the Minister on how this is supposed to be working at the moment, so that we can learn from it and get it right when the GP contract is renewed in September. My understanding is that Ministers have made it clear that all GP surgeries must offer a six-week post-natal check, to assess how a woman has experienced her transition to motherhood, which includes a check on her mental health. Further, I understand that GPs who opt out from doing so receive a reduction in funding. Until fairly recently, Ministers had been informed that only four practices in England had opted out. Given that information from the Department of Health and Social Care, and given that we are paying for that service and it is supposed to be happening, how is it that 22% of the women in the National Childbirth Trust survey said that they were not asked about their emotional or mental wellbeing at their appointment? Are we, as taxpayers, paying for a service that many GP practices are not providing? I ask the Minister to address the oversight and accountability of GPs in this area.

I realise that we need more GPs. The good news is that 3,157 medical students qualified as doctors and went into general practice this year. That is the highest number ever. We are increasing by a quarter the number of medical students we are training in this country and not before time, because other countries have been training more than we do. Globally, we need 2 million more doctors. I want to see a lot more British doctors—bright British children able to come into this fantastic profession. Of course, we are grateful for the doctors we have from all over the world, but we need to train more of our own and that is exactly what we will do.

The reality, which I understand, is that a lot of GPs, because of the pressures of the job, are working part-time, not full-time. I learnt recently that the average GP works four days a week, rather than five. We also know that a number of them are leaving general practice in their mid-50s, which is a crying shame. We cannot afford for them leave in their mid-50s. We cannot force people to work as GPs, but in their 50s they have so much experience and they are so needed. There is an issue of making the role of the GP less stressful and more enjoyable. In general, the Government need to think more about ensuring that public servants across the board have greater job satisfaction, so that they enjoy and look forward to going to work each day. If we have more GPs and they are less stressed, they should be able to do this work better.

I do not think I received a briefing from the Royal College of General Practitioners for this debate—perhaps I missed it. I am grateful for the briefings we had from a number of Royal Colleges and different organisations, all of which have been extremely helpful, but it would be good to have the full involvement of the Royal College of General Practitioners in addressing the incredibly important issue of perinatal mental health. Hon. Members are absolutely right to raise the training issue.

Earlier this week, I chaired the all-party parliamentary group for supporting couple relationships and reducing inter-parental conflict. We were looking at the issue of loneliness. New parents are one of the groups in society who often feel quite alone, if they do not have all the support networks that we would ideally like them to have. Someone at that meeting said that raising mental health touched on GPs’ anxiety that they would open a Pandora’s box of issues that would take them some time to deal with. GPs generally work to 10-minute appointments. We need to ensure that they have the time, in a relaxed environment, to go into these issues properly. It cannot be done in a rush or on a tick-box basis.

I want to pay attention to the important role that fathers and the partners of women with newborn children have in this area, because it needs to be properly recognised. Unsurprisingly, mothers report that fathers are their main source of emotional support. Yet fathers can sometimes feel left out and not as fully involved as they could and should be in dealing with perinatal mental illness, while the mother of the child wants the father to be involved. We have not always done as well in that area as we should.

I understand that there is evidence that a father’s involvement in pregnancy increases the likelihood that a woman will receive pre-natal care in her first trimester by 40%. The Royal College of Midwives also reports evidence that teaching massage and relaxation techniques to fathers to assist during labour is an effective way of increasing couple satisfaction and decreasing post-natal depressive symptoms, as well as providing psycho-social support for women. We also know that the mother’s relationship with her partner is a key determinant of antenatal maternal stress. This suggests the importance of assessing and addressing a range of attitudes and behaviours on the part of expectant fathers—not just domestic abuse but their own mental health, substance abuse, hostility, infidelity, rejection of the pregnancy and so on. Those issues must be dealt with, because they will have a huge impact on the wellbeing of the mother.

As I have said, poor paternal mental health has an impact on maternal mental health. Research suggests that a father’s mood and anxiety disorder can exacerbate the effects of a mother’s poor mental health and escalate the risk of a child developing emotional and behavioural problems, while fathers with better mental health can provide a buffer against the negative impacts. Fathers and partners are very important, and I am grateful to the Centre for Social Justice for pulling together some of that research.

Again, I am grateful to the Centre for Social Justice for drawing my attention to Greenwich Mind, which is a practical example of a service that provides answers to some of the issues that I have described. It works in partnership with Tavistock Relationships and other local providers to run post-natal support groups and parenting workshops in local children’s centres for parents with or at risk of depression. Those activities specifically focus on the co-parenting relationship, not least in terms of how it is affected by adjusting to parenthood. Evaluations show that relationship quality and mental health improved as a result. That is an example of a good service that we need to see more of.

We must remember the wise words of the hon. Member for Stockton South about the impact that maternal mental health has on children’s development. The health and mental wellbeing of our children is key. I also serve as a vice chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adverse childhood experiences. We are a bit behind the curve in this area in England. The research in America is overwhelming. As an English Member of Parliament, it concerns me that the understanding of it is better in Scotland than in England; the same could be said for Wales and Northern Ireland. I look forward to the time when England is at the same level of understanding.

I will not repeat what the hon. Gentleman said about the earliest years of a child’s development, but those issues really matter. The wellbeing of the mother—indeed, of both parents—in those early months is critical for how our children develop and for giving them the best chance to flourish.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

19 Jul 2018, 2:13 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), and I thank the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) for setting the scene so well. He obviously has a passion and a knowledge of the subject—not just as a father, but from his previous job. I have a knowledge of it through people who work for me and who I have social involvement with, including the lady who writes all my speeches—she is a very busy girl—who always wanted to be a mother and had two miscarriages. I am very conscious of her story, and I will tell that today.

The wife of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), Lindsay Robinson, who set up a charitable group in Northern Ireland, has also given me permission to tell her story, which I will do in the way she told it to me. It is important to record those stories. We have come together on a Thursday afternoon to tell the story of why perinatal illness is very real, and to think about how we can help, which is the real reason for being here. I always say that we try to provide solutions so we can do things better. For the record, I should say that I have already apologised to the Minister and the shadow Minister, and to you, Mr Davies, for having to leave early, because I am committed to a later debate.

The work of the NCT is vital and a great support to parents all over the world. In Northern Ireland, we have three active branches that offer local mums, dads and families vital information, resources, connection points, community and friendship when they need it most. I thank the charity for the time and energy it has put into the research for the #HiddenHalf campaign, which has focused our attention on the issue of maternal mental health. It is clear from its work, and that of all those in the maternal mental health arena, that too many women go undiagnosed and unsupported. This debate must be a way to address those issues verbally, and we look forward to the Minister’s response about how she will help us.

NCT’s #HiddenHalf statistic that the problems of almost 50% of women who were surveyed, and who struggled, were not identified by a healthcare professional and that they did not receive any help or treatment is shocking. We must work together to change that. All the hon. Members who have spoken so far have reiterated that point.

My parliamentary aide, Naomi Armstrong-Cotter, who is also a local councillor, has spoken out in a personal way about her experience of miscarriage, of successful pregnancies afterwards, and of the fact that a leaflet handed to someone is not enough to give them the tools to deal with the emptiness of that loss. Our local paper, the Newtownards Chronicle, gave her an opportunity to tell that story; coincidentally, that appeared last week. Her plea was for greater support during and after pregnancy; for a network whereby someone did not have to search for help, but it was ready and waiting; and for follow-ups to be given more effectively. She is now blessed by God with two children, and I have no doubt that her family’s support kept her life together when she was having great difficulty trying to adjust to what was happening to her.

My party fully supports the #HiddenHalf campaign and I attended an excellent event in Parliament two weeks ago to raise awareness of its work on the issue, where I heard stories from mums whose lives have been marked by the illness and by not receiving the timely help that was necessary to make a difference. The event was hosted by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East, who understands only too well the devastating impact that maternal mental illness can have on women and the wider family unit. He was the other half who lived with the difficulties that his wife Lindsay was having. She struggled and suffered for two years before getting help. She has given me express permission to use her experience in this place to highlight the failings and the need for a brighter future.

From her experience, Lindsay spearheads the campaign in Northern Ireland for mums, dads and their families to get the support they need and deserve via her movement, “Have you seen that girl?” At the event that I and others attended, the impact of the NCT NI volunteers was clear. She also plays a role in the Maternal Mental Health Alliance’s Everyone’s Business campaign, of which NCT is also a part. Many charities and bodies have come together to offer support.

From the point of view of the two ladies whom I have referred to—my permanent parliamentary assistant and speechwriter and the wife of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East—the Church has also helped. It is important to have a faith and to have access to that at an important time.

Having met Lindsay—I spoke to her this morning, just before she left here—I understand that 80% of Northern Ireland still does not have access to specialist perinatal mental health services and that funded community-based peer support is limited. I understand that the Minister is not responsible for Northern Ireland, but from a Northern Ireland perspective, unfortunately, I would be surprised if we were not behind the rest of the UK, which is not good. We need to be up alongside and equal to other countries across the United Kingdom, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said, but treatment and support is a postcode lottery with too many mums and families being let down when they are at their most vulnerable.

The campaign for change is based on three areas. There should be provision of a mother and baby unit. Unlike in England, Scotland and Wales, a mother and baby unit is not available in Northern Ireland, which is disappointing—nor is it on the whole island of Ireland. The Minister is not responsible for that either, but it shows hon. Members that across north and south Ireland, we have not moved to make that happen. That means that mum and baby have to be separated should in-patient treatment be required. That is a very negative thing. I want to give a perspective on where we are in Northern Ireland and also say what has happened there recently. Some headway has been made—not enough, I have to say, but some at least.

The situation is simply not good enough and can have further negative effects on the mum and the family. There are five health trusts in Northern Ireland, but such specialist services for mothers are currently only available in one: the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. Although that trust’s services are fantastic, they cannot meet the needs of the whole population of Northern Ireland; that would be impossible for one trust. Mums and families outside the Belfast trust’s area also deserve access to specially designed care and support.

Community-based peer support is also important. I am informed that currently great support is provided in the community and in the voluntary sector, often by mums themselves. How often do mums all come together to support each other? My wife had great support when we had our children; that was not only family support but support from other mothers who had had children at the same time. Again, however, in Northern Ireland we are without proper funding to successfully grow that kind of work.

I make a plea. I am aware of the NCT’s Parents in Mind programme, which is running very successfully here in England—on the mainland—and doing tremendous work. MPs from the mainland will know that and welcome it. NCT Northern Ireland volunteers are keen to source funding to bring that programme, or a similar one, to parents in Northern Ireland. We look forward to the day when that happens. For many parents, peer support is a lifeline, offered by those mothers who have faced a similar battle and who are keen to receive training so that they can provide help to others.

I am also aware from my party colleagues in Northern Ireland that Lindsay Robinson and Tom McEneaney, working with the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, led a team of campaigners to meet the all-party working group on mental health at Stormont; although Stormont and the Northern Ireland Assembly are still not functioning as they should, meetings still take place. The campaigners presented the information and asked all the Northern Ireland parties to sign a consensus statement, pledging their commitment to action all of the issues that I have mentioned as soon as possible. I am delighted that my party—the Democratic Unionist party, for which I am the health spokesman—has signed up to that, and I am assured that other parties have also signed up to it. We are keen to meet further with the team and give them our support. I hope that we are considering a strategy that will take us right through the next period, hopefully with a functioning Assembly. However, the strategy will certainly work, whether or not the Assembly is up and running.

I will close now, Mr Davies; I am always very conscious that there are other speakers to come. In closing, I again offer my full support to the NCT’s #HiddenHalf campaign and its goals here in England—on the mainland—and I thank the NCT for its continued support for the campaign in Northern Ireland. The NCT is supporting our campaign in Northern Ireland and we thank it for that, because it is very important that we have that support. As I have said often, we are better together—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—with all regions working on things that are of mutual interest to us all. I understand that the NCT is fully behind all that is happening and will become further involved in the coming months, and I look forward to that.

Also, I commend Lindsay Robinson and all those who have been campaigning in Northern Ireland for improvements to maternal mental health. We know that they are making a difference, both to the parents in their communities and also with decision makers. However, we must also take action in this House. We must do what we can to honour the bravery of those who lay their experience on the line for people to see and bring about changes that support mothers and families across the UK.

Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South on securing this debate and other Members who have spoken or who will speak; I look forward to hearing all the contributions to the debate.

Statutory PHSE Education

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Tuesday 6th February 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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6 Feb 2018, 9:45 a.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on an excellent speech on this important subject.

When I was visiting one of my local schools a week ago, I was handed a copy of all the subjects it teaches in its PHSE syllabus. I must say that I was impressed: it is a sensible, measured group of subjects, all dealing with issues that young people need to get to grips with, which will hugely help them as they embark on adult life.

I do not intend to speak for long, but I will talk about one specific issue I would like to see addressed in PHSE education. I will do so as a result of having been visited by one of my constituents, Denise Coates from Houghton Regis, who is a cancer survivor and an ambassador on the issue for the Luton and Dunstable hospital—perhaps the best-performing hospital in the country. As a cancer survivor, Miss Coates is passionate about the early diagnosis of cancer, something that I note absolutely fits with the priorities of the Department of Health and Social Care and its new 28-day target to diagnose cancer.

On the list of PHSE subjects, which I got from one of my local upper schools, I was pleased to see that children are taught “What is cancer?” That is an excellent first step. We know that around 2 million people are living with cancer in our country; in my clinical commissioning group area, Bedfordshire, there are about 2,300 cancer cases and 960 cancer deaths per year. Denise Coates has a simple and straightforward request, which, if we are already teaching children about what cancer is in PHSE, it is possible, practical and extremely worth while to grant: that children be taught about the importance of early detection of cancer for themselves and to spread that learning within their families. That is potentially life-saving. All of us in this room will have lost family members to cancer. I lost my stepsister, who had four children, at the age of 49 and my mother died of cancer when she was 66. I know I am not unusual in this room.

We know that the golden key to cancer is early detection. If we teach that to our children, both girls and boys, when they are young, they have no embarrassment about examining their own bodies and know what to look out for. If they take that message home to their families and ensure their families do likewise, we can do much better. We know there is a particular issue, for example, with many in the Asian community in this country presenting late for cancer. That is tragic, because sometimes it will be too late—the saddest words in the English language. That is something we could prevent.

I have a very simple request. I have written to the Department of Health and Social Care, as a member of the Select Committee on Health, to seek its support on the issue. I implore the Minister to listen to my representations this morning. I say to the schools in my constituency and in every constituency up and down this country, “If you are already telling children about cancer, just go that extra step. Talk to them about the incredible importance of early detection. It is life-saving. It could save their lives or their family members’ lives.” I pay tribute to my constituent Denise Coates, who first brought the issue to my attention. I am doing my part this morning to further her campaign.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Feb 2018, 9:49 a.m.

I did not expect to be called so early in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on bringing this matter to the House for consideration. I will concentrate on two things in the short time I have: mental health and some of the projects undertaken back home in Northern Ireland.

I received, as did many other Members, a briefing from the Shaw Mind Foundation that outlined that mental health is currently only taught as an optional component of PHSE, despite 75% of mental illnesses starting before the age of 18 and data showing that three pupils in every classroom suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition. In addition, child suicide calls to ChildLine are at a record high, while self-harming among girls is up 68% and is getting worse every year. In her introduction, the hon. Lady referred to our needing focus. I think we need to focus on mental health—particularly children’s mental health. Despite those figures, the NHS currently spends 11% of its budget on mental health services, and we are always asking for more resources for that.

Research shows that pupils and parents strongly support further mental health education. In Northern Ireland, a scoping paper on adolescent mental health gives some shocking statistics. More than 20% of young people suffer significant mental health problems by the time they reach 18, and the demand on resources is higher than ever. Rates of mental ill health are estimated to be 25% higher in Northern Ireland than other parts of the United Kingdom, and suicide rates among those up to the age of 19 are disproportionately higher as well. The emotional wellbeing of children and young people is poor, and it takes almost 10 years between young people presenting first symptoms and getting support.

All those things tell us the story of where we are. I know Northern Ireland is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I want to state the facts, because they will hopefully add to the debate and will make other parts and regions of the United Kingdom understand where we are. There are also specific groups of children who are more likely to face discrimination in the realisation of their right to the highest attainable standards of healthcare, including those living in poverty and economically deprived areas and children in contact with the criminal justice system. All those things tell us we need to do more and to focus on this.

Researched conducted by Ulster University on behalf of the Commission for Victims and Survivors found that almost 30% of Northern Ireland’s population suffer from mental health problems. Most of that is down to the troubles. You will probably understand that better than most in the Chamber, Mr Robertson; your past membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee perhaps gives you a wee bit more knowledge.

The rates of suicide among under-19s are disproportionately higher in Northern Ireland compared with other parts of the UK. We need to ensure that people are trained and available to deal with that. The increase in prescribing antidepressants for under-16s is unfortunately happening in my constituency and I suspect others as well. I have spoken with teachers, youth workers, church volunteers and many parents who are concerned about children and how they handle the traumas in their lives. The overarching theme in their comments is that there is not enough support or key workers to help children in need of someone to talk to.

I will give an example of some small things we have been doing, which will perhaps add to the debate. A good friend of mine, who is not a member of my political party—I have tried many times to bring him over; I am working on it, and maybe someday I will persuade him—recently described to me a very small pilot he has going on in his local community group, of which he is chairperson. He told me he had managed to source funding to meet with six of the estate’s troubled youths. A few of them have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and others have other problems, but all are crying out for attention.

He told me that he secured funding to take them on outings after they had small group discussions or were successful in small tasks. He gave the example that some of the kids were frightening an older lady by using her fence and garden as a racing hurdle of sorts. Instead of telling the boys off, he used class time to take them to help to tidy her garden, so they were invested in the work that was done. That was followed by a trip to McDonald’s, which is usually something to look forward to. The boys discussed what they were thinking and how they felt with Big John—I will call him that, because that is what they know him as—who is trained to work with children and had the time to counsel them.

The scheme is open to only six youths at present, but the effect on their mental health and wellbeing could be the difference in how they function in their adult lives. We need more people who are trained and more funding available to allow schemes like that to run in all sectors of the community. I commend Big John and Big Catherine, who is also involved. They give up their own time to make it happen.

One in five children in Northern Ireland are hurting from mental health pain and need help as urgently as if they were bleeding. We would not withhold a bandage on the NHS and we cannot withhold this healing process either. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead on bringing the issue forward. Other Members will contribute, but I believe that we need to focus on mental health, and PHSE classes should be only the first in a number of the steps that we need to take.

Marriage in Government Policy

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Work and Pensions
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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30 Jan 2018, 9:44 a.m.

I apologise in advance that I will not be able to stay for the whole debate; I am a member of the Select Committee on Health, which is sitting at the moment, and I need to attend that, too.

We need to tread gently in this area. Marriage is often an issue of great cultural controversy, but it does not need to be. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) said, we represent every single one of our constituents, whatever their family situation, but that does not mean that we should not strongly support healthy, respectful and mutually encouraging marriages. We can do both those things without creating unnecessary cultural controversy.

Of course I recognise that some marriages need to end. My parents sadly divorced, and—my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) said something similar—my wife would say that I have often been very much less than a perfect husband. However, I am strongly pro-marriage as a public institution, for three reasons. First, we know that it reduces poverty. I came into the House to reduce poverty. I spoke about it in my maiden speech; for me, it is at the heart of what the Conservative party is about.

Secondly, marriage increases wellbeing across an enormous range of indicators—perhaps a wider range than we realise. On any measure—overall physical and mental health, income, savings, employment, educational success, general life contentment and happiness, sexual satisfaction, and even recovery from serious disease and healthy diet and exercise—married people rate markedly and consistently better. We should want the best possible wellbeing for all our constituents.

Thirdly, I believe that sustainable public finances are the only future for this country, and strong families and marriages are essential to helping the Government live within their means. Given his portfolio in the Department for Work and Pensions, the Minister will be well aware of that.

There are lots of reasons to be positive about marriage. We sometimes approach the subject slightly gloomily, as if it is all going irreversibly downhill and there is nothing we can do about it, but I am grateful to the Marriage Foundation and Paul Coleridge for giving us reasons to be cheerful at the start of 2018. It is a fact that most marriages—around 62%, according to the Marriage Foundation—still last for life. Most parents who marry before having children stay together, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said. Most marriages are happy, and the divorce rate is at its lowest since 1973. The trend away from marriage has stopped; its popularity is stabilising. Marriage has remained consistently strong among certain income groups. Finally, this is a royal wedding year. Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011 was followed by the biggest increase in marriage since the war—weddings increased by 23% in the first quarter of 2012 and by 11% in the second quarter—so we might well see something similar after May.

I am concerned by the social divide in marriage. The better-off have always married in large numbers, and they continue to do so, but in our poorest communities, which have the most challenging circumstances, the marriage rate is plummeting. It is my strong contention that a respectful, healthy, mutually enabling marriage is a bulwark against poverty and all the difficulties that life throws at us from time to time.

I have four policy requests of the Minister. First, will he ensure that registrars, who conduct about 70% of weddings, signpost people to good-quality marriage preparation in their area? That is not difficult to do, and we are not talking about forcing people to do anything. However, there is generally good feedback from people who do marriage preparation, and they often want to follow it up with marriage MOTs later on to keep the marriage strong, which is also a sensible idea. Can we therefore please do something to spread good-quality marriage preparation, followed by marriage enrichment later on?

Secondly, can we do something in antenatal education for all families? At that time, mums and dads turn up in huge numbers before a child is born, so let us do something to strengthen relationships then.

Thirdly, the Government are about to launch guidance on relationships and sex education. We need to talk about marriage there, while recognising that families come in many different shapes. It is crucial that marriage is not absent from that document, and those of us on the Government Benches will expect to see it.

Finally, I reiterate the point made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives. We need to measure this issue. We value what we measure, and we measure what we value. We need to get marriage back in the statistics. We need to know what is happening, to track it and to ensure there is an upward trend.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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30 Jan 2018, 9:51 a.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing the debate. I was happy to go to the Backbench Business Committee and support him in his request, and I am happy to see the culmination of that request. I am well known as a supporter of marriage, especially in Government policy. I have been happily married for 30-plus years—believe it or not, 30-odd years ago I had thick, curly black hair. Then, I needed a brush; now I just need a chamois.

The fact of the matter is that I have supported married life over a long period, I am totally committed to it and I want to see Government policy on it. Since I came to the House in 2010, I and the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is in her place—she will not mind me saying this, because it is true—have shared in many issues of common concern, and this is one of them. In the past, she has worked consciously in the Conservative party, as I have done in the Democratic Unionist party, to try to formulate Government policy. By working together across parties—not just in the confidence and supply agreement that we have now, but long before that—we have had some success with the marriage allowance. We were instrumental in making that Government policy. I want to put that on the record early on.

I and my party worked extremely hard to bring in marriage tax allowance transfers as a recognition of the stabilising effect that marriage provides to our community. The public policy benefits of marriage are significant. The hon. Member for St Ives outlined some of them, and I will add these facts and figures: three quarters of breakdowns of families with children under five come from the separation of non-married parents; children are 60% more likely to have contact with separated fathers if the parents were married; the prevalence of mental health issues among children of cohabiting parents is more than 75% greater than among children of married parents; and children from broken homes are nine times more likely to become young offenders—they account for 70% of all young offenders.

Those are some key figures. However, I want to be clear: in no way whatsoever am I am attempting to say that the only unit that works is the married family unit. I see this in my office every week, and just now my staff will be dealing with many people who are single parents. I see hundreds of wonderful women who singlehandedly run their homes, and their children are well adjusted and thriving. I increasingly see single men taking on the two-parent role and doing a great job. As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said, society is changing, and we have got to look at that. The intervention from the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) reaffirmed that. We must adjust our focus and way of thinking to how things are today.

I understand as much as the next person that marriage is hard and relationships are hard. Sometimes, no matter how much one person may try, it simply will not work. In our relationship, my wife has been understanding. The hon. Member for St Ives referred to time away, and most of my life has been away from home. My wife reared the children and now has the role of rearing the grandchildren as well. Simply, people have to try hard, otherwise it will not work.

I have also seen too many women widowed in the troubles. I relate very much to that, back home in Northern Ireland, where women have to be both mother and father to their child in the midst of tremendous grief and ensure that their child has not simply a house to live in, but a home to grow in. The role of those tasked with the responsibility of looking after children is so important. I make no judgment on anyone’s ability to provide a great home for their child being intrinsically linked with marriage, but statistics show why I believe that marriage is key and why it should be key in any Government policy. I wish the Minister well in his new role.

One massive issue to recognise is that the commitment of marriage is a driver for stability, quite apart from wealth. Crucially, even the poorest 20% of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20% of cohabiting couples. In that context, it is entirely appropriate that our tax system now recognises marriage. That is something we pushed for and the Government recognised in the previous Parliament. It is good to have that.

Junk Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Tuesday 16th January 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department of Health and Social Care
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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16 Jan 2018, 10:02 a.m.

I could not be more grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. The daily mile started at St Ninians School in Stirling in Scotland, and it is a fantastic initiative. If children cannot run, they can walk it. They do not have to bring in special gear. The teachers do it as well, and the health benefits have been phenomenal. The headteacher has said that pupils all look like rosy-cheeked children from the 1950s. Colds and sniffles have disappeared from the school, virtually no one sees the school nurse, and obesity and weight problems have come right down. My hon. Friend has mentioned another fantastic example of a whole-community approach, and that is the approach I encourage the Government to take when they come up with their new plans in March.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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16 Jan 2018, 10:02 a.m.

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) on setting the scene so very well and giving us the chance to participate.

As a type 2 diabetic, I have had to learn to have a new lifestyle. I used to have a takeaway almost every night, and two bottles of coke on top. Add stress to that, and all of a sudden I was 17 stone. I am pleased that I am now keeping my weight down to about 13 stone. What is important to say is that I knew there was something wrong but did not realise what. If only I had known that the symptoms were diabetes-related. When I was diagnosed some 11 years ago, food management was important but it would have been more important 10 or 15 years before that, when my lifestyle was grossly affecting my health. I say that as an adult who does not want his grandchildren, Katie and Mia, to be in the same position, with a preventable life-changing illness.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) for his Westminster Hall debate on childhood obesity way back in November 2011. Even at that stage changes were afoot. I suppose the question today, six years later is: have they made a difference? I want to give some Northern Ireland stats. The Northern Ireland Department of Health’s “Health Survey (NI): First Results 2016/17” highlighted something that was not so much a shock as a disappointment: about 75% of children aged two to 15 were classed as either normal weight or underweight. That is interesting. At the same time, 17% were classed as overweight and 8% as obese. Over the last decade, the proportions of children classed as overweight or obese have remained at similar levels. Although some might consider that a victory, I would say it is a disappointment, because we should be trying to lower the figures. To have 8% of children classified as obese does not bode well for the ticking time bomb of diabetes. More clearly needs to be done.

I will give some detail about what we are doing back home to show why it is important to be on top of the matter. I recently met constituents who were part of a pilot programme that used social media and games to address healthy eating with children and parents. There has been discussion of funding for permanent schemes since the successful pilot but, as usual, funding is hard to source. Before I left the hotel this morning, I saw on TV children exercising in a school—in London, I think—with Gabby Logan as part of the backroom team. The children did not seem to be doing a lot of exercise, but it was enough to make a difference at that age. There are a number of schemes across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and we, in this place, must determine to have schemes like that one back home, setting aside funding to train children, and also to re-train their parents.

Schools in Northern Ireland have attempted to bite the bullet, as it were—if I may use a pun for us in Northern Ireland—with schemes that allow children to come in early and have their breakfast at a subsidised cost. They have also altered school meals so that they are healthier options and have implemented school rules under which only water and fruit are allowed at break-times. We have a scheme in Northern Ireland—my hon. Friend can probably confirm this—whereby up to 100,000 portions go out to schools. That might not seem a terrible lot, but it is when compared with the population and the number of children we have.

I congratulate the schools on attempting to do everything in their power, but the fact remains that something must be done to help parents understand how their choices affect children. If children are eating healthily—eating their wee bit of fruit—it is terrible if mum and dad, and I say this with respect, are tucking into pizza, chips and a bottle of coke. They must set an example in the home; it is not for the children alone to eat healthily. If children are asked whether they prefer a chocolate bar or a piece of fruit, the vast majority opt for the unhealthy snack. That is fine in moderation, but the fact is that people do not give their children snacks in moderation, and we need to help to change that.

The so-called sugar tax has undoubtedly helped. I welcome what the Government have done and I supported the legislation as it went through Parliament but, as was mentioned in an intervention and as I have stated before, we need to address fat and salt as well. Some of my colleagues, friends and others in the House might say that the nanny state is not what we want, but I very much believe that we sometimes need it to enforce what is best for people. Chocolate bars are made smaller to keep the prices down, which is great, as the bars obviously contain fewer calories. We have implemented packaging requirements that ensure that products clearly show how much fat and calories are in them, and that is great as well. Well done to Tesco for allowing children to eat a piece of fruit as their mothers shop, but are three-for-two offers on junk food wise when someone sets out to buy only one but wants a bargain? Yes McDonald’s is fine as a treat, and well done to the company for allowing healthier options in “happy meals”, but it is not great if people have them on a regular basis.

It all comes back to the message: all things in moderation. All those initiatives are great, but they are not doing the job quickly enough. Under the smoking initiative, we have greatly monitored and lessened the amount and form of advertising, and that needs to be done for junk food with equal pursuit, zeal and enthusiasm. I am happy to swallow the accusation of a nanny state if it means that my grandchildren and other children are healthy, happy and content with their fruit at school and with their wholemeal bread and balanced diet, along with the occasional treat. We should not deprive them of their treats, but we must ensure that treats are not an everyday occurrence.

A better way of handling advertising would help parents to teach their children balance without the children feeling hard done by, or different from what they see on TV. We must do all we can—I must do all I can—for the future of our children and grandchildren in the hope that the lessons will also impact on how adults eat and live their lives. The nation as a whole will benefit. I look to the Minister for the comprehensive response we always get from him. I have already apologised to you, Mrs Dorries, the Minister and the shadow Minister, but I have to leave for a meeting with a Minister.

Police Funding: Bedfordshire

Debate between Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon
Monday 13th November 2017

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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13 Nov 2017, 9:25 p.m.

I hope that the Government will listen to the chief constable, because damping—which, as I think the hon. Gentleman would admit, has been happening under Governments of both parties for a long time, starting in 2004—has had a cumulatively serious effect on Bedfordshire police.

Between 1 April 2016 and 31 August 2017, Bedfordshire experienced a 12.2% increase in crime, a 24% increase in the number of calls requiring an immediate response and a 48.9% increase in burglary, compared with the same period in the previous year. In my constituency, in 2013-14 Houghton Regis had an average of 391 crimes per month, which has risen by 13% to 440. In Dunstable an average of 235 crimes a month has risen by 24% to 292, and Leighton Buzzard’s average monthly crime has risen by 57%, from 136 to 214. I am acutely aware of the impact of rural crime, particularly on people in isolated communities. Many years ago, Bedfordshire police officers lived in the villages for which they were responsible, but that is no longer the case. We are also dealing with an unprecedented level of unauthorised Traveller encampments, which further increase the demand on already overstretched police resources.

Between 2011-12 and 2017-18, the Bedfordshire police force has already achieved savings of £34.7 million, but Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services has spoken of

“an inability to maintain a preventative…presence across Bedfordshire.”

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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13 Nov 2017, 9:27 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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13 Nov 2017, 9:27 p.m.

I will, briefly.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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13 Nov 2017, 9:27 p.m.

Given the number of police officers who have lost their jobs and the number of forces whose size has decreased, I assume that community policing also faces a downturn. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about that? Does he recognise the importance of policing that not only interacts with the community, but serves as the eyes and ears of the police force?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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13 Nov 2017, 9:28 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. Community policing plays a vital role in prevention.

In Bedfordshire, 40% of the force’s activity takes place in Luton. While there is insufficient police capacity to deal with the challenges in that town, it means that the rest of Bedfordshire has less than its proportionate share of police cover, for which its residents also pay. A small police budget that has suffered from 13 years of damping would be serious enough even without the fact that Bedfordshire faces unusually high levels of serious threats and criminality which are not normally dealt with by a force of that size.

Let me spell this out. Bedfordshire has the third highest terror risk in the country, and its police force must deal with the fourth highest level of serious acquisitive crime in England and Wales. It has a higher proportion of domestic abuse offences per head of population than the much larger forces of Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Thames Valley and Hertfordshire, and 40% of all firearms discharges in the eastern region take place in Bedfordshire. The number of reports of missing persons between April and June this year was 350% higher than the number during the same period in the previous year. As a Bedfordshire Member of Parliament, I am not happy that the people of my county do not enjoy the same levels of police protection and response in an emergency as are available to the people of Hertfordshire and Thames Valley. We pay no less tax than they do, so what is fair or right about that?

In one incident of gang-related violent disorder this year, no response resources were available and CID detectives went to the scene with no uniform or protective equipment, and a number of officers were injured as a result. In one incident in Luton recently, a single female officer made three arrests on her own and called for assistance, which took eight minutes to come while she was in danger. At present, each Bedfordshire police officer is expected to investigate 12 to 13 crimes at any one time. The level of stress affecting Bedfordshire police officers is leading to burn-out and psychological and physical illness; that is unacceptable, as we owe them a duty of care.

Bedfordshire police are not able to respond to all the daily calls seeking a fast response, nor to all the daily incidents requiring a community response. Recently a Leighton Buzzard businessman being threatened by a man wielding a metal bar dialled 999 and officers failed to attend.

As guardians of taxpayers’ money, the Government are absolutely right to demand efficiency, effectiveness and value for money from our police forces. Bedfordshire police have already achieved £34.7 million of savings between 2011-12 and 2017-18. Bedfordshire also already has one of the most extensive blue-light collaboration programmes in the country, and its tri-force collaboration is improving effectiveness and delivering savings. Some 25% of its resources are already allocated to tri-force and regional collaboration.