Former Dulwich MP Tessa Jowell was in the House of Commons to hear tributes from MPs Steve Reed and Helen Hayes.
Their tributes came during a backbench debate on cancer treatment opened by Croydon South MP Sarah Jones.
Steve Reed told the House: She was one of the Members of Parliament representing the London borough of Lambeth when I was first leader of the opposition and then leader of the council. She was a fantastic, supportive local MP. Despite her serious, significant roles in Government, she was always available to talk to me about my role and the community that we both cherished and loved and for which we wanted to do our best. She became my mentor, and she became my friend.
Tessa was always thinking about how we could do more to help people, particularly the most vulnerable. We worked together to open schools and Sure Start centres. I particularly remember that in the mid-noughties, when there was that terrible spike in violent youth crime and knife crime—similar to what we are seeing now—in Tessa’s beloved Brixton, where she had started her career as a social worker, she took me to see a community-led project called Exit on the Moorlands estate, one of the most deprived inner-city estates in the country, where there was a horrifically high level of youth engagement in violence. Young people knew by name others who had been killed, including friends.
Tessa took me to see that project, which had been set up by the community. It was supported by youth workers and the police, but with the community in charge, and it was making a dramatic difference to the life chances of those young people by getting them out of danger—getting them out of gangs and steering them back on to a safer path that was giving them back the future that should have been theirs as a birthright. Tessa took me to see that project not just because she wanted the council’s support for it, but because she was teaching me an important lesson: it was not my job as a politician to find the answers for people; it was my job as a politician to help people find the answers for themselves, because they would be better answers. I have brought that lesson with me into Parliament; like many of us, I would not be here if it was not for Tessa, and Tessa taught me that people-based politics.
That same compassion, empathy and drive to support and help people is what has led Tessa to turn this great personal challenge in her own life today into a way to bring about change to help others. For that reason, as well as many others, I am very proud to stand here today and support Tessa’s campaign.
As we have been hearing, brain tumour research is underfunded and undervalued compared with other types of cancer research, despite the fact that it kills more people under the age of 40 than any other type of cancer and is the biggest killer of children of any kind of cancer. So we need to match the progress made in survival rates for other forms of cancer, such as leukaemia and breast cancer, by focusing much more on brain tumour cancer and what we can do as a country and a society to help people who find themselves living with that form of cancer.
Responding to a question from Joan Ryan (Lab. Enfield North) We absolutely need to boost participation in clinical trials. Only 6.4pc of adults with this particular form of cancer take part in those trials, whereas over 61pc of people with leukaemia participate, so there is a clear need for a major increase in the numbers participating in these trials if we are to get the data we need to learn. I join my right hon. Friend, too, in congratulating Baroness Jowell on her historic decision to become the first patient to consent to share her data fully and openly, in order to speed up the discovery of new cures and ways to help other people; she is an example to so many people in so many ways, but here again we need to learn from Tessa’s example, because that is how we will help to find a cure for this terrible form of cancer.
I say to Ministers, who will be responsible for regulation as well as funding, that it is important that regulation is not drawn so tightly that it does not allow for innovation and for new treatments to be developed. We must be open to doing things in different ways and to learning from failure as well as success; we cannot regulate against failure, but we can always learn from it so that we can improve.
We must increase the funding going into the kind of research that will find a cure for this form of cancer and put it on a par with other, perhaps more high-profile, forms of cancer that have attracted levels of funding that are making a bigger difference. In that respect, I put my name on record in welcoming and congratulating the Government on the increase in funding of £45 million —I believe that is the figure—announced since the very moving debate, which many of us attended in the House of Lords, led by Tessa Jowell.
Tessa has been a fighter all her life and now she is in the fight of her life, but how typical it is that she has turned it into a fight to allow others to live well, live better and live longer. Every one of us in this Chamber, and many others beyond, are proud to stand with Tessa today. I would like to say this to her, if I may: Tessa, you have all our love and all our respect. Please keep going and keep being the inspiration to all of us that you have always been.
(MPs: Hear, hear!)
Earlier Steve Reed had congratulated Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones on securing the debate: “I remember her telling me, days after her election, about the loss of her father. “It was such a keenly felt loss, but I know how proud he must have felt to see his daughter enter this place—I think he hung on to see that happen. “Had he heard her speech—and perhaps he did—I think that it would justify every ounce of his pride in her.”
Helen Hayes MP:
I pay tribute to my friend and predecessor as MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, Baroness Tessa Jowell of Brixton, who has inspired this debate. When I was selected as the Labour party candidate for the 2015 election after Tessa had announced that she was stepping down, four words seemed to come instantly to everyone’s lips as I went around the constituency speaking to people: “big shoes to fill”. They certainly were.
As a constituency MP, Tessa helped and supported countless individuals and families facing the most difficult of circumstances with compassion and tenacity. My strong memory of my first experiences of doorstep campaigning in the constituency is of how many people offered, unprompted, their gratitude that Tessa had helped them, often going above and beyond the call of duty. More than that, Tessa worked to deliver lasting change for our communities in Dulwich and West Norwood, by campaigning to secure investment to deliver not one, not two, but five brilliant new schools in the constituency. As a Labour Minister, she established the Sure Start programme, which was the fruit of her lifelong passion for supporting parents and babies to address disadvantage early and to enable every child to thrive. Sure Start centres made a difference across the country, including in Dulwich and West Norwood, where they are still highly valued by parents and carers. Through sheer inspirational determination, Tessa also delivered the greatest celebration of London and Londoners that we have ever known—the 2012 Olympics.
Across everything she did as our MP, Tessa established a clear and principled way of doing politics, based on listening to, engaging with and responding to the concerns of local residents; identifying and working on the issues that matter to all of us and that bring people together; using the currency of personal stories, compassion and kindness rather than trading in statistics and cheap political shots; and, most of all, seeking to empower people and to tackle disadvantage and adversity head-on. It is therefore no surprise to Tessa’s many friends in Parliament, in Dulwich and West Norwood, across London and beyond that she is now using the very difficult personal circumstances of her brain tumour diagnosis to work to make a difference for other people in the same circumstances. It is no surprise, but it is remarkable in a situation where many of us would be focused only on our immediate loved ones, and it is extremely brave.
My own family knows the pain of brain tumour diagnosis. In 1983, at the age of 66, just a year after he had retired from his career as a bus driver and spent his life savings on a small house with an indoor toilet and a garden where he could grow his beloved dahlias, my grandfather George Hayes died from a brain tumour. Seven years later, in a situation so statistically rare that doctors had to be persuaded to take her symptoms seriously, my grandmother, George’s wife Olive, also passed away from a brain tumour, at the age of 71. We know as a family the fear and anxiety that such a serious diagnosis brings, the hopelessness of finding that there is very little that can be done, and the pain of watching loved ones deteriorate and lose capacity at the hands of such a cruel disease.
My first thought when I learned the horrible news of Tessa’s diagnosis was of grandparents George and Olive, and my second thought was that the treatment and prognosis for brain tumours must be much better now than it was then. I looked up the statistics, and was shocked to find that, although brain tumour survival rates have doubled since the 1970s, it is only from six pc to 14pc compared with a 10-year survival rate of 50pc across all types of cancer in the UK. Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet just one pc of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to brain tumour research. As a consequence of this lack of funding, there is a shortage of drugs, and patient participation in clinical trials for brain tumour patients is extremely low—just 6.4pc of adults compared with 61.4pc for leukaemia. The survival rates for brain tumour patients after one year are less than 40%; after five years, less than 20pc; and after 10 years, just 14pc. Time is short for patients and their families.
Tessa has rightly called for more funding for research into treating brain tumours, but she has importantly also called for a more flexible approach to participation in adaptive trials. Such trials allow patients who have a diagnosis that without a breakthrough treatment will certainly be terminal to add new drugs to their treatment plan, or to switch between new medications in a trial rather than having to wait sequentially for each trial to conclude. They are really important. It is also important that better ways are found to share the data from brain tumour patients in order that it can be used for research. This is what most brain tumour patients want, and it is what most members of the public would want, faced with an illness that cannot be cured. Our experience and our data should be used to try to improve the prognosis for others in future.
Tessa has also called for improvements in the way that treatment is provided to brain tumour patients and the wider environment of care. There is still too much variation across the country in diagnosis, referral-to-treatment times, access to specialists and clinical trials, and palliative care for those who need it. We have in this country exemplary services in all of these areas, but they are not available to every patient. That must change. Everyone with brain tumour symptoms should be diagnosed as early as possible; be referred to a specialist centre with access to the most up-to-date surgical techniques and drug therapies; and have access to the very best support services, including counselling as well as physio and occupational therapy. If and when the time sadly comes, everyone should have access to the gold standard of palliative care, which exists in some parts of the country but which is currently not available everywhere.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s engagement with Tessa’s campaign for better research, access to clinical trials, treatment and care, along with the work of the brain tumour Task And Finish Group, Brain Tumour Research and others, but we must make change happen. It is our commitment, Tessa, and my promise on behalf of all those who love you in Dulwich and West Norwood that, collectively, we will take on your campaign, and that your vision of people living better lives for longer with cancer, and with brain tumours in particular, will become a reality.
MPs: Hear, hear!
Earlier, John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, said: Just before I ask Sarah Jones to open the debate, it is my honour, privilege and joy to welcome Baroness Jowell—Tessa Jowell—together with David, Matthew, Jess and others to the Under-Gallery, in what will be an extremely powerful and, I hope, constructive debate. Can I say to you, Tessa—and I say it on behalf, I am sure, of all colleagues—that I hope you will feel fortified and inspired by the warm embrace of parliamentary love which you are about to experience? It is now my pleasure to call Sarah Jones to open the debate.
Sarah Jones’s motion: That this House
pays tribute to the work of Baroness Tessa Jowell in her campaign to help people with brain tumours to live better lives for longer;
recognises the Government’s increased funding for research;
and calls on the Government to increase the sharing of health data and promote greater use of adaptive clinical trials.
Question put and agreed to.
Cancer Treatment surgical mesh in the House of Commons 19th April 2018. (Sources: TheyWorkForYou / Hansard)