Dean Russell MP proudly supported the Queen's Speech in Parliament this week.
Dean's contribution focused on his Tips Bill, Watford's successful Mental Health First Aider Programme, tackling loneliness and promoting online safety.
The speech started with silence. Dean reinforced how important it is for us all to reflect on how many people are lonely and how we as a nation should try and tackle this heart breaking problem.
He continued with thanks to everyone involved with the Mental Health First Aider Programme which has trained more than 500 people in Watford.
Dean's Tips Bill has galvanised support in Parliament and in the wider community. The Bill seeks to ensure that workers directly receive their tips, which has not always been the case in every business.
The Online Safety Bill was a hugely successful piece of work undertaken by MP's and presented to the Government. 66 of the recommendations were accepted, and we look forward to hearing updates on this vital issue which will seek to hold the social media platforms to account.
Dean Russell (Watford) (Con)
If I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will pause for a moment; I hope Members will join me. That was just five seconds, but imagine if that had been an hour, a week or a month in which we had no one to speak to and no one to listen to us. Loneliness is one of the worst parts of the injustice in our society, and we have an opportunity, as a nation and as parliamentarians, to tackle it. Although the first year of the pandemic was such an awful time, a lot of light was brought out during that darkness. I was fortunate to go out to campaign and work with local charities, including One Vision, of which I am now a trustee, Small Acts of Kindness, the Salvation Army and many others. In the first year, I found myself in a rather bizarre situation in that I delivered more bags of shopping to vulnerable people than I did political leaflets. That was so important, because it was not just about taking food to people; when we were knocking on people’s doors, there was a sense that they knew that somebody cared. For me, that was about feeding their soul and their spiritual needs as much as it was about feeding their stomachs—I know, because I certainly have one to feed. During that time, I saw communities getting on and supporting one another, helping their neighbours, and looking up from their phones and seeing the doors that they had perhaps not seen neighbours behind for a long time. People’s action to help and support one another was so important. It was about the community acting not just on behalf of national or local government, but on its own behalf. There is a huge role for that. I was pleased, therefore, that trying to cut more red tape was part of the Queen’s Speech so that there is more levelling up at a local level and communities have more say in what they want to do and where they work. Mental health was a big aspect of that. I was pleased that mental health first aid in the workplace was raised in the opening speeches today; I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on that a year or two ago. I have continued to lobby and to work on that with Government to ensure that people in the workplace can speak to somebody—just as they would ask for first aid if they cut their thumb—and be signposted to the right guidance and correct information to tell them how to support themselves if they have mental wellbeing or even mental health issues. That is so important because, in the post-pandemic world, we need to start having a holistic view of a person, and that includes their mental and physical health. We need to ensure that there is justice and fairness in the workplace. That is why have I been pushing my Tips Bill since last year. It would make sure that people who work in hospitality—they make up a big part of my Watford constituency—could fairly access the tips that they are given by people who want to thank them, and that businesses were not allowed to take that money from them. I will continue to push that, and I intend to move forward with another such Bill again this year, post Queen’s Speech. I have seen the important role of creative services in the hospitality sector. Often, bars and restaurants are part of theatres, and in Watford, we have a fabulous theatre called the Pump House, which is celebrating its 50th year. I have seen the creativity there; it is a place where young people are given hope and the opportunity to unleash their skills, and to level up—because levelling up is not just about planning and building; it is about people’s future and opportunities. I think about when I was growing up. As a kid, I never thought that I would visit London. I definitely never thought that I would visit Parliament and that I would one day be an MP. I want to reach out to kids like me and say, “You know what? Wherever you live in the country, there is an opportunity for you to level up, to unleash your potential and to inspire others in your community.” There is also the built environment. In Watford, we have lots of debates about planning and how we make sure that we do not have overdevelopment. Tall buildings are one of my concerns, and I have been pushing that with Government. Local people should have a say in what happens in their community and on their streets, and especially about the height of buildings. I was pleased that the Queen’s Speech seemed to indicate that people will have more say on a street level, and perhaps even street votes, so that they can say, “This is what I want in my area and to happen on my street.” Building beautifully is very much part of the answer. This Queen’s Speech is also about tackling really serious issues. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), who is responsible for homelessness, is on the Front Bench because, through our work with him, we in Watford have managed to get rough sleeping pretty much down to zero during the past two years. We will always need to continue to work on that, and to make sure that people are being supported. However, we do not just want to get people off the streets; we want to give them opportunities and ensure that they are not just surviving, but thriving as they look to the future. The Queen’s Speech offers an opportunity to do that. As well as thinking about the built environment for the next generation, we should also think about the virtual environment. Last year, as a member of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, I was much involved in the cross-party work done across both Houses to scrutinise the Bill and come up with suggestions. The Government took on board 66 suggestions from our report, and I look forward to the Bill passing through Parliament, because when we think about mental health, exercise or how people work together as a community, we need to look at the way the world is going; things are being done much more virtually and technologically. Kids are not like I was 30 or 40 years ago; they see the world in a totally different way. They see not just the community on their road, but the whole global community. We need to ensure that people who want to do them harm are prevented from doing so, but still need to enable innovation and opportunity. There are great opportunities and great things coming forward, but I urge the Government to push forward with my Tips Bill, because it is a great opportunity to tackle the cost of living and help people on low incomes to get the money that they have been given and deserve; to ensure that we push forward with mental health first aid and awareness in the workplace, and that people at work are supported and signposted to the right guidance; and to ensure that when we look at society, we look at the entirety of communities, not only in the built environment and in our neighbourhoods but online, so that people are safe, and so that this Government can support them in aspiring to be the best they can be. I support this Queen’s Speech.