I was pleased to be able to support the Prime Minister as he delivered his speech to Party Conference in Manchester today. He set out an ambitious and bold agenda, making clear that his focus isn’t on short-term, quick fixes but on long-term decisions which will make a real difference to us all.
My own concerns about HS2 are long-standing and well-known. I have long felt that it is too costly of a project with an environmental impact too large. The Prime Minister has made the right decision to cancel the rest of the project. Every penny of the £36 billion saved by this decision will instead be invested into hundreds of transport projects in the North, Midlands and across the country. These rail and road upgrades will see more investment in our region than HS2 would ever have brought. We must make the most of the opportunity to secure funding for our own local infrastructure.
At the heart of the Prime Minister’s approach is his vision of a better future for the next generation. Nowhere is this clearer than in his commitment to overhaul our education system for 16-19 year olds. The Prime Minister has put forward his plans for a new Advanced British Standard. This will bring together A-Levels and T-Levels into a single qualification for school leavers. Under this standard, all children will study some form of English and maths to 18, spend at least 195 hours more with a teacher and study an average of five subjects.
The Prime Minister’s focus on improving the lives of future generations extends beyond education. Smoking is the largest preventable cause of ill health, causing 64,000 deaths a year – a quarter of all cancer deaths. This is why the Prime Minister has proposed to raise the smoking age by one year, every year. This will not take away the right of those who currently smoke to do so, but will ensure that children now aged 14 or below will never legally be able to buy a cigarette. It is right that this will be a free vote in Parliament, but we cannot ignore the pressure smoking puts on the NHS – costing our country £17 billion a year.
Together, these reforms demonstrate the Prime Minister’s commitment to our country. He is determined to do what is right, not what is easy, to build a brighter future for us all.