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
|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||
Department for Education
|2 interactions (2,154 words)|
|8||Tue 10th November 2020||
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||
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)|
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
(8 years, 9 months ago)Commons Chamber
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?
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.
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.
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.
(11 months, 3 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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”
“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.
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.
(2 years, 6 months ago)Commons Chamber
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?