Before I call the mover and seconder, I want to announce the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address: Thursday 22 June—housing and social security; Monday 26 June—Brexit and foreign affairs; Tuesday 27 June—education and local services; Wednesday 28 June—health, social care and security; Thursday 29 June—economy and jobs.
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
It is an honour to have been asked to move the Loyal Address, but it is first important to recognise that we meet in the shadow of some of the most terrible tragedies of modern times. Nothing we say can undo what has happened in north Kensington or, for that matter, on the streets of London or Manchester. What we in this House can do is to join our sovereign in leading the nation in mourning the dead, caring for the injured and the bereaved, and uniting in an absolute determination to prevent any such tragedies and outrages from happening again.
Our tone in this debate and debates in the coming days and weeks must reflect the nation’s horror and sadness at such awful tragedies. The country expects our debates and arguments to be robust, but there is room for consensus too. At times like this, we should reflect on Jo Cox’s words about there being more that unites us than divides us.
I am not the first Richard Benyon to have been asked to move the Loyal Address. My great-great-grandfather was the MP for Berkshire between 1860 and 1876. Although he was a great man in many ways, there is no record of him ever troubling Hansard with any speech, even a maiden speech. He was asked by Disraeli to move the Loyal Address in 1869, but replied that, though mindful of the honour, as a matter of principle he never spoke in Parliament. As you know, Mr Speaker, my father was one of your predecessors as the Member for Buckingham. He told that story to Speaker Thomas, who clasped a hand to his head and said, “How I wish there were more like him in the House today.”
I still think of myself as young, but being asked to do this singular honour reminds me that I am, as golfers put it, on the back nine. In the election that we have all just endured or enjoyed—whatever our perspective—I faced a Labour candidate who was born a year after I was selected to fight the seat I now hold. Teams of therapists will be needed to help me to overcome the brutal reality that I have gone straight from being young thruster to old codger, with nothing in between.
I wrestled the Newbury constituency from the Liberal Democrats at the third attempt. I want it on the record that in doing so, I reduced the number of Members of this House who were educated at Eton by one. That may be why some Opposition Members consider me to be something of a working-class hero. [Laughter.] The Newbury constituency is no stranger to controversy. Greenham Common and the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston have made it a regular tourist destination for the Leader of the Opposition, among others. He will be pleased that one particular sword has been beaten into a ploughshare: the runway at the now decommissioned Greenham Common airbase was taken up and crushed to form Newbury’s new and infamous bypass.
The only other Member for Newbury to have moved the Loyal Address was William Mount in 1905. A year later, he lost his seat, due to a combination of negative campaigning by the Liberal candidate—[Hon. Members: “Shame!”] I know that that is hard to imagine in this day and age—and, crucially, his not being a champion of free trade, the latter a fact not lost on a particular champion of free trade: his great-grandson, David Cameron.
The area I now represent is by all measures a prosperous area—someone once said to me that deprivation in West Berkshire is when Waitrose runs out of balsamic vinegar; they were totally wrong—but we all know, in all our constituencies, areas of need, although not on the scale of deprivation and poverty that I witnessed in my years as a soldier in Belfast in my early 20s. That memory still has a great impact on my political beliefs today. In all constituencies there are areas of humanity that have missed out on the prosperity of the fifth largest economy in the world. A rising tide of economic prosperity should lift all boats in the harbour, but that is not happening everywhere. This Queen’s Speech has at its heart the words of the Prime Minister on the steps of No. 10 a year ago, when she spoke of social justice and equality of opportunity.
The part of England that I represent combines so much of what makes me positive about Britain’s future. Sitting alongside some of the most breathtaking countryside exists an economy of extraordinary excitement and dynamism. In 1985, a small group of people started working on mobile telecommunications in a one-room office above a curry restaurant in Newbury. That company, Vodafone—still based in Newbury—employs 108,000 people worldwide and is worth £59 billion. West Berkshire remains one of the most exciting places to start or grow a business. It attracts companies and investment from around the world, and it is a model for the kind of outward-looking, engaged, modern society that works for Britain today.
Businesses are not just entities or institutions separate from real lives; they are first and foremost about the people who work in them and those families who in turn depend on them. As we tackle the big challenge of this Parliament, let us remember what really matters to our constituents. Too often, this place, and those who report on it, are obsessed with the politics of Brexit; our constituents are concerned with the realities of Brexit. That means the reality for the companies in West Berkshire, and in all our constituencies, that are part of a new generation of creative entrepreneurs in manufacturing, tech, life sciences and the service sector. They need to be able to sell their goods, services and expertise in Europe and around the world, and they need to be able to recruit the best people to keep them competitive.
Like the majority in my constituency, I voted to remain in the EU, but, like the majority of people I represent and most people in this House, I recognise the result of the referendum.
I want to be positive about the future. I want to look back at this time and say that I was part of a Parliament that rose to the challenge and, with a great unity of purpose, helped to ensure that Britain successfully reset its relationship with its European neighbours, successfully negotiated access to key markets for its businesses and, while controlling immigration, still allowed people to come to Britain to study and to contribute to our economy and our society. The referendum was in part about parliamentary sovereignty, so we in Parliament can reflect that by immersing ourselves in the detail of what we can all agree is a great national endeavour.
Let our eyes be not only on Europe. As the United States takes a particular route on the environment and climate change, we should grasp the opportunity to ensure that the UK becomes the leader in clean tech, green innovation and resource efficiency. I welcome, for example, legislation announced in this speech that will promote the development of electric vehicles. This will ensure that we build the cars of the future, maintain our strength in motor manufacturing and make our towns and cities better places in which to live and work.
At times, the problems we face seem massive and there are times when we might let ourselves think that it is all too difficult. Just when all seems bleak, we as Members of Parliament have a means of keeping ourselves grounded in the realities of life. In our constituencies, we can visit a charity, a school or a business that inspires us. We can have a quiet conversation, as I had recently, with a veteran coping with life-changing injuries. These experiences lift our eyes to the extraordinary humanity and strength that exists in this country, never more so than in these most sombre times.
It is the quiet but determined doers—whether they are individuals, in our public services, in industry or in voluntary organisations—whom we meet almost daily who make me optimistic for Britain’s future. Twenty-seven years ago, John Major spoke of his desire to build a nation at ease with itself. It was a phrase that resonated with me. A nation at ease with itself would present its population with the same opportunities whatever part of the country or whatever background they came from. Such a society would enjoy greater prosperity, its citizens would enjoy longer and more satisfied lives, and inequality between the richest and the poorest would be narrowing. By every independently produced statistic, we live at, or at the threshold of, such a time.
Those measured indicators are steadily, if too slowly, being achieved, but none of us can claim that our United Kingdom is a nation at ease with itself. Last year’s referendum and the recent election have shown that divisions remain wide and potentially harmful. The Gracious Speech holds firm to the Prime Minister’s deeply held belief in having an economy and society that work for everyone. These are values that matter to her, they matter to me and I know that they matter to every single Member of this House.
Those we represent deserve to live in a country at ease with itself and with the world. I commend the motion to the House.
Before I proceed, I want to declare an interest: I have ransacked my family vaults and found no letter from Mr Benjamin Disraeli to my great-grandfather or any other member of my family.
It is a great honour to be invited to second this Humble Address, which was moved so eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). He was both charming and funny, and that is a much rarer quality than you would expect, Mr Speaker.
It is wonderful to see everything in its place. We have you, Mr Speaker; we have the Government—[Interruption] —we have a Government; we have the Leader of the Opposition in his place. All is well with the world. I am even delighted to see our old, special friends the Liberal Democrats in their place, still brimming with enthusiasm—albeit without a leader, but we can live with that for a while.
Election day, as we all know, was full of surprises. When the exit poll was revealed there were gasps of anguish, despair and deep, bitter disappointment—and that was only the members of the parliamentary Labour party. We all know how hard the business of putting together a Government has been. We know how tortuous the process has been— the debates, tensions, and difficulties —and we could follow every detail closely in the highly objective, scrupulously fair pages of the Evening Standard.
It is a great privilege for me, the son of Ghanaian immigrants who came to this country in the 1960s, to perform this duty today. My mother lived in Liverpool, where her elder brother was studying medicine. She remembers Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral and Liverpool winning the FA cup. She certainly would never have believed that her only son would become a British Member of Parliament. That is one of the strengths of this country.
I know that people are wondering, as the custom is for this speech to be delivered by a young, thrusting MP. After seven years in the House I was slightly confused about that description. One of my hon. Friends, a former Whip, said, “Oh, you’re meant to be the young one, are you?” In my intake of 2010, I have seen such meteoric high fliers as a Business Secretary, a Home Secretary, and even a Lord Chancellor. Then there is me. May I reassure Members, and may I reassure the Prime Minister, that I am still young, still thrusting.
This occasion is also a great honour for my constituency, Spelthorne, but as MPs, we can all reflect that politics is not all about set-piece occasions and big speeches. When first I walked down the high street in Ashford, I wondered how I would be treated. An elderly woman came up to me, and said, rather surprisingly, “Mr Kwarteng, I am going to vote for you.” Then I made the fatal mistake. I asked the question no candidate should ever ask. “Why?” “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I like seeing your smiley face in the newspaper.” We must never attempt to second-guess at every stage our voters’ motivations.
The borough I have the honour to represent has many political and historic associations. Staines, of course, was where the barons assembled before forcing King John to sign Magna Carta in Runnymede. It was in Staines that Sir Thomas More, one of your less fortunate predecessors, Mr Speaker, was tried, before his execution on Tower Hill—may you avert that fate. One of my recent predecessors, Sir Humphrey Atkins, was Chief Whip, then Northern Ireland Secretary in turbulent times.
These days, my constituency is very much a place of business, with a range of enterprises, from small start-ups to global companies such as Shepperton Studios and BP. Spelthorne has a thriving business community, which of course is greatly helped by our location, with excellent links to London and Heathrow airport. There is also a great innovative spirit in my constituency; as recently as 2015, a study concluded that Staines-upon-Thames was the No.1 town in the country in which to start a new business, with three times as many start-ups every year as the UK average.
Despite changes in the way we do business and the technology that we use, the traditions of the House have withstood the onslaught of time. You, Mr Speaker, uphold the great traditions of this House and our parliamentary system. These institutions have evolved, and they remain—I wondered how I could put this; I was at a loss for words and was thinking of a phrase. Of course: “strong and stable”.
I am delighted that the Government’s programme is ambitious. We have Brexit, and when we look at the great repeal Bill, we have to consider what a great and significant piece of legislation it will be. The original European Communities Act was passed in 1972. Feelings were so strong at that time that it took 300 hours of parliamentary debate before the Bill was passed. Feelings are no less strong today, because the future of the country is at stake. The complexities of the great repeal Bill will be debated extensively in the next two years. It will be a great landmark in the parliamentary and constitutional history of this country. A new Immigration Bill will seek, rightly, to reduce migration to sustainable levels. Once passed, both these Acts will shape Britain very considerably in the years ahead.
In conclusion, Mr Speaker—[Hon. Members: “More!”] The last few months have been, by any standards, horrific. I never thought I would live to see barriers erected on Westminster bridge. The attacks on innocent people—even within the parliamentary estate or, most recently, at the Finsbury Park mosque—have rightly disgusted the overwhelming majority of decent people in this country. Neither did I think that I would see a tower, with 500 people sleeping in their homes, go up in flames. The appalling scenes of devastation in west London last week can never be forgotten.
We can talk of tradition and history, but at a time like the present we must be mindful of human suffering. It is at times like last week that we in this House are reminded of the solemn duties and grave responsibilities that we have been called on by our constituents, and the whole country, to discharge. The recent terrible events remind us of the awe-inspiring trust with which we have been endowed. It is in this rather sombre and reflective mood that I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
By tradition, at the beginning of each parliamentary Session we commemorate the Members we have lost in the previous year. Sadly, this year must also mark the passing of those we have lost in horrific events in recent days and weeks. The fire at Grenfell Tower in west London has killed at least 79 people. What makes it both a tragedy and an outrage is that every single one of those deaths could have been avoided. Something has gone horrifically wrong. The north Kensington community is demanding answers, and it is entitled to those answers. Thousands of people living in tower blocks around the country need urgent reassurance, and the emergency services—especially, in this case, the fire and rescue services—deserve our deepest respect and support.
I also want to pay a very warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad), who in recent days has demonstrated so clearly why her local community put their faith in her. Her determination to ensure that every family is rehoused locally is an exemplary work of a dedicated Member of Parliament, and we welcome her to this House. Lessons must be learned in the public inquiry, and a disaster that never should have happened must never happen again.
The terrorist attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park took innocent lives, causing dozens of injuries, and traumatised hundreds of people, with wilful and callous disregard for human life. The attack in the early hours of Monday morning in my own constituency is a reminder to us all that hate has no creed, that violence has no religion, and that we must stand up to hatred—whoever the target—and stand together against those who would drive us apart. Last night, hundreds of people assembled alongside Finsbury Park mosque to give just that message—from all communities and all faiths.
Our communities and our country are strongest when we are united. As our late colleague Jo Cox said,
“we…have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]
It is just over a year ago that Jo was taken from us by someone driven by hatred. Jo was driven by love and by an infectious energy. It was in the spirit of that energy and passion for people, life and justice that so many events were held in her memory around the country last weekend, including one in Muslim Welfare House in my constituency, near the site of the vile attack that happened a day later. They held a great get-together at the weekend. We should remember Jo and thank her, and make sure these great get-together events do continue year in, year out to unite our local communities.
Earlier this year, we also lost the Father of the House, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who had served his constituents for nearly 47 years, and previously worked for Harold Wilson in Downing Street. Gerald was an iconic and irascible figure in the Labour party. He came from a proud Jewish background and campaigned to bring peace to the middle east throughout his life. It was my pleasure to travel with him in that quest to many countries in the region, and I loved the very many lengthy conversations I had with him—in fact, nobody ever had a short conversation with Sir Gerald. Gerald and Jo will be fondly remembered by all who knew them and worked with them.
I want to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Queen’s Speech. First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) on his speech. My mother told me of the joy of Greenham Common—she was there, and I went to visit her—and I hope that he will understand the deep love of humanity that motivated all those women and others to go to Greenham Common during those days.
I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for taking time out from his considerable responsibilities—looking after his extensive property portfolio and tending to his directorship of UK Water Partnership. I hope a Labour Government may soon be able to come to the aid of his Newbury constituents by taking water back into public ownership, and to the aid of his tenants by ensuring there is a responsibility on landlords to ensure that all homes are fit for human habitation.
I know the right hon. Gentleman will also continue diligently to pursue his other interests in Parliament—his interests in defence, Africa and rural affairs. I do agree with part of what he said, when he spoke of the need for us as a country to adhere to all the agreements on climate change issues around the world, and I thank him for that part of his speech.
I turn now to the seconder of today’s Loyal Address, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), whose speech was typically articulate and very erudite—after all, he is a former winner of “University Challenge”, so he would be able to make such a speech. He mentioned Benjamin Disraeli, and I welcome that, because Benjamin Disraeli once said, “If I want to read a book, I write one.” It seems that the hon. Gentleman has taken that maxim to new levels, writing or co-writing six books during the seven years he has been a Member of this House. I have been looking through the back catalogue of his books, and one book absolutely stands out—it is a must-read. It is absolutely apposite to our times, and I hope it is reprinted. It came out in 2011, and it was called “After the Coalition”. I do not want to cut across any of his present literary representations, but perhaps a sequel may be in the offing—although I understand that the latest coalition may already be in some chaos.
Nothing could emphasise that chaos more than the Queen’s Speech we have just heard: a threadbare legislative programme from a Government who have lost their majority and apparently run out of ideas altogether. This would be a thin legislative programme even if it was for one year, but for two years—two years? There is not enough in it to fill up one year.
It is therefore appropriate to start by welcoming what is not in the speech. First, there is no mention of scrapping the winter fuel allowance for millions of pensioners through means-testing. Can the Prime Minister assure us that that Conservative plan has now been withdrawn? Mercifully, neither is there any mention of ditching the triple lock. Pensioners across Britain will be grateful to know whether the Tory election commitment on that has also been binned.
Older people and their families might also be keen for some clarity around the Government’s policy on social care—whether it is still what was originally set out in the Conservative manifesto, whether it is what it was later amended to, or whether it is now something else entirely. I am sure it is just a matter of historical record, but on looking at the Conservative website today, the manifesto has been taken down in its entirety. It apparently no longer exists. The Prime Minister might also like to confirm that food is not, after all, going to be taken from the mouths of infants and that younger primary school children will continue to receive universal free school meals. On the subject of schools, there was nothing about grammar schools in the Gracious Speech. Does the Prime Minister now agree with her predecessor that
“it is delusional to think that a policy of expanding”
“number of grammar schools is either a good idea, a sellable idea or even the right idea”?
The good news may even extend to our furry friends, if the Prime Minister can guarantee that the barbaric practice of foxhunting will remain banned in this country.
The Government have recently embarked on what are likely to be very difficult negotiations concerning Brexit, which the whole House will want to scrutinise. Unfortunately, there have been some leaks, with the other side in the process expressing dismay at the weakness of the Government’s negotiating skills—but that is enough about coalitions of chaos with the Democratic Unionist party; we must get on to the even more crucial issue of Brexit. Labour accepted from the beginning that the decision of the referendum has been taken—we are leaving the European Union. The question is how and on what terms. The Government could have begun negotiations on a far better footing had Ministers accepted the will of the House in July last year and granted full rights to European Union nationals living in this country. I hope now that this minority Government will indeed listen to the wisdom of this House a bit more and work in partnership with our European neighbours.
During the election campaign, the right hon. Gentleman repeatedly refused to rule out a second referendum on our EU membership. Given that Brexit negotiations have now commenced, will he take this opportunity to rule out a second referendum now?
I am not sure the hon. Gentleman was listening very carefully to any of my many speeches in the general election campaign. I made it clear that we would negotiate sensibly and fairly with the European Union and bring the results of those negotiations back to this House.
It is in all our interests that we get a Brexit deal that puts jobs and the economy first. No deal is not better than a bad deal: it is a bad deal and not viable for this country. We need full access to the single market and a customs arrangement that provide Britain, as the Brexit Secretary has pledged, with the “exact same benefits” as now. Neither must arbitrary targets for immigration be prioritised over the jobs and living standards of the people of this country. Let us decide our immigration policy on the basis of the needs of our communities and our economy, not to the tune of the dog-whistle cynicism of Lynton Crosby or the hate campaigns of some sections of our press, whose idea of patriotism is to base themselves in an overseas tax haven.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the contradiction in his own plans? He plans not to reduce immigration numbers, but he also plans to stop employers recruiting overseas. Is it not the right hon. Gentleman who is a bit wobbly?
Throughout the election campaign and before, we made it very clear that employers who unscrupulously recruit low-paid workers from overseas, exploit them in this country and run away with the profits, at the same time as creating community discord, are wrong; they are making money out of poverty and grossly exploiting very vulnerable people on both sides of the channel.
The Tory position on the single market and the customs union is clear: we are out of both. What is the Labour position on the single market and the customs union?
Again, our position has been absolutely clear. Our position is that we need tariff-free access to the European market to protect industries and jobs in this country. Let us have a little bit less from Conservative Members on the dangerous threat to turn Britain into a tax haven, which would threaten jobs and public services here far more than in mainland Europe.
We do not yet know the official title of the Government’s much-trumpeted great repeal Bill, but if we are talking about taking back control, Parliament must be able to scrutinise legislation. Thankfully, the thin gruel of this Gracious Speech allows plenty of time for longer debates and greater scrutiny. That must include ensuring that the Human Rights Act and our commitment to the European convention on human rights and the human rights of everyone in this country remain completely and totally intact. We will ensure that they do.
It is our determination that by working with devolved Administrations, responsibilities such as agriculture and fisheries will be devolved to those Administrations and not hoarded in Whitehall. On the subject of devolved Administrations, may I also wish the Prime Minister every success in reconvening talks with all parties to restore the Stormont Assembly in Belfast as soon as possible? We also very much hope that any done deal with the DUP in this place respects the overriding priority of the Good Friday agreement to maintain peace in Northern Ireland.
A state visit from the Spanish Head of State was announced for July, but can the Prime Minister update the House on whether she can still expect the United States’ Head of State to visit any time this year, or any time in the future? It is just a question.
As I said earlier, public service workers, such as fire service, police and NHS staff, receive huge praise when they respond to terrorist attacks and other major incidents, but it is not good enough to be grateful to our public service workers only at a moment of crisis and disaster. They deserve dignity—the dignity of fully funded services, and the dignity of not seeing their jobs cut and living standards fall. There are now 20,000 fewer police officers than there were when the Conservatives came into office in 2010. When the police raised this subject with the then Home Secretary, do you know what, Mr Speaker? She accused the police officers of crying wolf.
I hope the current Prime Minister will correct the mistakes of the former Home Secretary. The Gracious Speech promises the police and security services
“all the powers they need”,
but what they deserve and what the public demand is that they have all the resources they need.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) is very prescient and forward-sighted. I thank him very much. The changes would only have moved funding between rural and urban forces, when the real issue is the £2.3 billion cut to police budgets in the past five years.
Our firefighters did an outstanding job at the Grenfell Tower fire, but they worked incredibly long shifts, in part because there are 600 fewer firefighters and 10 fewer fire stations in London—cuts and closures that were forced through by the previous Mayor of London. Talking to those firefighters, exhausted from their work, who went into a burning building to save people, I asked, “Why do you do it? Why do you go in when you know it’s so difficult and so dangerous?” They said, “Because we’re firefighters. That’s what we’re trained to do. That’s why we serve the public the way we do.” We need more of them and there needs to be greater security for all of them. We have to fund our fire services properly, and not just at a time of crisis.
I welcome the fact that there is a public inquiry into Grenfell, but can we take action now? I pay tribute to councils such as Croydon Council, which has committed this week to installing sprinklers in all tower blocks of 10 storeys or more. However, such minimal fire safety standards cannot be left to a postcode lottery, so will the Government make available emergency funds for councils to check cladding and install sprinklers?
The Government should also have committed themselves to passing a public safety Bill to implement the recommendations of the 2013 inquiry into the fire at Lakanal House, and to reversing their guidance that removed the requirement to install sprinklers in new school buildings. They could still do so and they would have our support. That could happen in addition to any recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry.
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said about sprinkler systems for high-rise flats. There are 116 blocks of high-rise flats in my city of Leeds, 26 of which are in my constituency. Only eight—those that are sheltered accommodation—have sprinklers. It would cost £30 million to have sprinklers in all those flats. Will he join me in urging the Government to provide the money for all local authorities to put sprinklers in their high-rises?
I absolutely thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Indeed, during the discussion we held in Westminster Hall about this matter last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) raised a similar point about the number of tower blocks.
I do not suppose that many Members of this House live in tower blocks, but just think for a moment of the sense of fear that so many people would have had when they saw the Lakanal House fire—people living on the 15th, 16th or 17th floor, knowing that there is no fire ladder that can reach them and no helicopter that can land. They are reliant on being able to get out or the fire being contained. We need to give everyone that assurance. Local authorities that have seen massive cuts in their budgets over the past years need the resources now to install the necessary sprinkler and fire prevention systems. We cannot use the excuse that the money is not there; the money has got to be there to ensure that we save lives in the future. We will support the Government if they are able to bring that forward.
On behalf of my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) and for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and myself, may I thank my right hon. Friend for visiting the area and making this issue an absolute priority? Will he and the Government ensure that disaster relief in north Kensington and pursuing the issue of the safety of people in tower blocks are made the absolute No. 1 priority?
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and for the support that he has given my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington in the work that has been done. What happened in Grenfell Tower is terrifying for all those in the area, and the problems that have ensued since indicate just what happens when local authority spending is cut to the bone and local authorities cannot cope as a result. We need properly funded, good-quality public services in this country.
The Prime Minister says that legal support will be made available to the families affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, but they should have had access to legal aid beforehand. When they were raising their desperate concerns about fire safety, they were ignored by a Conservative-controlled local authority. The lessons of the failed austerity programme must urgently be learned. We cannot have council housing—social housing—on the cheap, and we cannot have public services on the cheap. We have to invest in them. So will the Prime Minister now halt the cuts to the police—cuts that the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner this week called “an absurdity”? Those cuts have affected our prisons, too. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons has expressed his concern at the lack of a prisons and courts reform Bill, which could have implemented our election manifesto promise to employ another 3,000 prison officers.
Our children’s schools are facing budget cuts. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether cuts to per-pupil funding are going ahead, and can she clarify for the House the status of the national funding formula? Headteachers and teachers are going through incredible stress, with oversized classes and the difficulty of maintaining teachers in employment.
The Gracious Speech mentioned legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, but does that include restoring legal aid in such cases or restoring the funding needed to reopen the many refuges that have been closed?
We welcome the reform of mental health legislation to give it greater priority, and we would welcome an assurance that no mental health trust will see its budget cut this year, as 40% of them did last year.
Will the Prime Minister call time on the public sector pay cap, which means that our nurses are 14% worse off today than they were seven years ago? As she is aware, some nurses and other public service workers have been forced to resort to using food banks, alongside more than 1 million other people in this country. Rising inflation, the effects of low pay and falling real incomes are going to hit even more families—the 6 million workers earning less than the living wage, the millions of people in insecure work, those subject to the benefit freeze and 5.5 million public servants. We owe them a much better deal than they have been given by this Government in the past seven years.
My party, Labour, won almost 13 million votes at the election, and that was because we offered hope and opportunity for all and a real change to our country. The Prime Minister began the election campaign saying:
“If I lose just six seats I will lose this election”.
When it came to it, she lost more than four times that many seats to Labour alone. From Cardiff to Canterbury, from Stockton to Kensington, people chose hope over fear, and they sent an unequivocal message that austerity must be brought to an end. Seven years of Conservative rule has left wages falling, inflation rising, the pound falling, personal debt rising and the economy slowing. By no stretch of the imagination could any of that be described as strong or stable.
I have given way to three Members on the Government Benches and three Members on the Opposition Benches, so I will continue and conclude my speech. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Thank you.
If we want to boost pay, the most effective means is through strong and independent trade unions—workers collectively defending and improving their pay and conditions—so we would repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and strengthen collective bargaining.
Across Britain, people have shown that they believe there is a better way. In recent years, this Government have thrown away tens of billions of pounds in tax giveaways to the very richest and to big business, at the very same time as closing Sure Start centres and libraries, and tipping social care into crisis and our national health service into record deficit. Under Conservative rule, school budgets have been cut and college courses have been closed, students have been saddled with a lifetime of debt, and per-patient funding in the NHS is set to fall for the first time in history.
Our manifesto—for the many, not the few—and its popular policies set out a very different path, which caught the imagination of millions, and a way for the public really to take back control, so that our key utilities and our railways are taken into public ownership and run in the interests of the many, and not to pay the dividends of the few. We would end austerity by making very different choices; by asking the highest 5% of earners to pay a little bit more while keeping the top 10 percentage points lower than it was for most of Margaret Thatcher’s time in office; and by asking big business to pay a little more in tax, while retaining a lower corporation tax rate than any other G7 country.
Austerity and inequality are choices. They are not necessities. They are not unfortunate outcomes. They are a choice to make life worse for the many to maintain the privilege of a few. If the Government reject austerity, challenge inequality, invest to expand and rebalance our economy, they will have our support, but if they continue down this path of deliberately making people worse off, of deepening division, and of neglecting communities that deserve support and respect, we will oppose them every step of the way.
No. I will continue my speech.
This is a Government without a majority, without a mandate and without a serious legislative programme, led by a Prime Minister who has lost her political authority, and who is struggling even today to stitch together a deal to stay in office.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am simply seeking your advice. I have been in the House for 12 years. Government Members can be somewhat disappointed that the Leader of the Opposition is not a position to answer our questions. Perhaps you can advise on the usual format in these cases.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, said about 10 minutes ago, “In conclusion.” I fear, as time has passed, that he may be in danger of inadvertently having misled the House, and I thought you might want to take the opportunity to set this right.
No. Some people may think that the hon. Gentleman is fastidious and others may conclude that he is pedantic. You pay your money and you take your choice, but there is no disorder here, although if people persist in raising what they know not to be points of order, that would itself be disorderly, and I know that the hon. Gentleman of all people would not want to stray into such misdemeanour.
Just for the record, I have given way six times in this debate and there are six days of debate, so hon. Members will all have plenty of time to make their points during the debate.
We will use every opportunity to vote down Government policies that have failed to win public support. We will use every opportunity to win support for our programme. Labour is not merely an Opposition; we are a Government in waiting, with a policy programme that enthused and engaged millions of people in this election, many for the first time in their political lives. We are ready to offer real strong and stable leadership in the interests of the many, not the few. We will test this Government’s Brexit strategy and the legislation that comes forward against that standard.
This election engaged more people than for a generation—a tribute to our democracy. In the election, Labour set out a vision of what this country could be. It could be more equal. It could be more prosperous. It could have opportunities for all. That is what we on this side of the House will be putting forward in this Parliament—what we will be fighting for in this Parliament; what we will be demanding in this Parliament. The people of this country deserve something better than this thin piece of very little, when they have so many problems they want and demand answers to from this Parliament. We will engage fully and make the case for a prosperous, more stable and more cohesive society in Britain.
I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our very best wishes to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, following the news that he has been admitted to hospital. Our thoughts are with Her Majesty the Queen and the whole royal family, and we wish him a full and speedy recovery.
Let me also join the Leader of the Opposition in condemning the appalling terrorist attack in his constituency earlier this week. I pay tribute to the work he did through the night with his constituents on Sunday. I know that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with the family and friends of the victim who died and all those who were injured. I am sure that the House will want to pay tribute to the police and the emergency services for once again responding with the extraordinary professionalism and courage that makes our whole country so proud of them. This was the fourth terrorist attack on our country in three months, following the attacks here in Westminster, in Manchester and at London Bridge. This time it was an attack on British Muslims as they left their place of worship at a sacred time of year. It was a brutal and sickening reminder that terrorism, extremism and hatred can take many forms, and that our determination to tackle them must be the same whoever is responsible. This Queen’s Speech takes important steps in helping us to do so.
We will review our counter-terrorism strategy to ensure that the police and security services have all the powers that they need, and that the lengths of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences are sufficient to keep people safe. We will work to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning, and encourage tech companies to do more to remove harmful content from their networks. We will establish a new commission for countering extremism as a statutory body to help to fight hatred and extremism in the same way as we have fought racism, because this extremism is every bit as insidious and destructive to our families, and we will stop at nothing to defeat it.
I hope that, whatever our disagreements, we can all at least welcome the focus in the Queen’s Speech on stamping out extremist and hateful ideology of any kind, including Islamophobia. Like all terrorism in whatever form, Monday’s attack sought to drive us apart and to break the precious bonds of solidarity and citizenship that we share in this country. Our response must be to stand together more strongly than ever to show that hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed, and that our values and our way of life will always prevail.
I think that the whole House will agree with what the Prime Minister has said. Does she agree with me that we need to work and engage with communities—all communities—and that they should play a leadership role in ensuring that we reject, once and for all, terrorism?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. When I visited Finsbury Park on Monday, I was struck by the interfaith way in which the various faith communities were coming together. I saw representatives of the Muslim faith, the Jewish community and the Christian community all coming together with one ambition: to drive extremism and hatred out of our society.
This is the first time we have come together since Manchester, London Bridge and, of course, Finsbury Park. Countering extremism and terrorism of all kinds must be a priority for the Government. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on all Members to give our security agencies the tools for which they have asked through the Gracious Speech, so that they can do their job properly?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Given that I believe there is a desire throughout the House for us to deal with terrorism, and to drive out terrorism and extremism of all kinds, I hope that all Members will feel able to support the Government when we introduce measures in order to do just that.
When she was Home Secretary, the Prime Minister made a decision to weaken the surveillance powers of the police and intelligence services by abolishing control orders. Will she now accept that that decision was a mistake? Will she review it, and will she strengthen the powers of the police and intelligence services as they do their very difficult task of monitoring suspects who may have the intention of doing harm, but have not yet committed a crime?
The right hon. Gentleman refers to control orders. What was happening with the control orders, which were introduced by a previous Labour Government, was that they were increasingly being knocked down in the courts. We introduced terrorism prevention and investigation measures, and we have subsequently enhanced those measures. Through the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which we introduced when I was Home Secretary, we have also ensured that our police and our intelligence and security agencies have the powers that they need. What we have seen is an increase in the tempo of attack planning. We have seen the terrible terrorist attacks that have taken place, and we should remember that over the same period, five other plots have been foiled by our police and security services. That shows the increasing scale and tempo, and it is in that context that we need to look to ensure that our security services and our police have the powers that they need in the future. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman joining us and ensuring that we give those powers to our agencies.
The Prime Minister will be aware that concerns have been raised across the country about the cuts in policing that were made in the last Parliament and the impact that they have had on the connection between the police and our communities. Will she now confirm that she will seek to reverse those cuts to ensure that we have such a connection when there are greater demands on police time and we need much more reassurance about the return of that connection with our communities?
As I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, we have protected counter-terrorism policing. We are providing funding for an uplift in armed policing, but we are also protecting police budgets, which of course is a different approach from the view that was put forward by the former shadow Home Secretary—he is now the Mayor of Manchester—who said that the police could take 10% cuts in their budget. We did not listen to that; we protected them.
I would also like to say a few words about the disaster at Grenfell Tower. The whole country was heartbroken by the horrific loss of life and the utter devastation that we have seen. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and families of all those who lost loved ones. Today, we also think of those who survived but lost everything. One lady I met ran from the fire wearing no more than a T-shirt and a pair of knickers. She had lost absolutely everything.
Let me be absolutely clear. The support on the ground for families in the initial hours was not good enough. People were left without belongings, without a roof over their heads, and without even basic information about what had happened, what they should do and where they could seek help. That was a failure of the state—local and national—to help people when they needed it most. As Prime Minister, I apologise for that failure and, as Prime Minister, I have taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right. That is why each family whose home was destroyed is receiving a down payment from the emergency fund so that they can buy food, clothes and other essentials, and all those who have lost their homes will be rehoused within three weeks.
There will also be an independent public inquiry, chaired by a judge, to get to the truth about what happened and who was responsible, and to provide justice for the victims and their families who suffered so terribly. All those with an interest, including survivors and victims’ families, will be consulted about the terms of reference, and those affected will have their legal costs paid. Because it is clear that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has not been able to cope with the scale of the tragedy, we will also develop a new strategy for resilience in major disasters, which could include a new civil disaster response taskforce that can help at times of emergency. We must learn some of the lessons of this and previous disasters when bereaved families have not had the support they need.
An estimated 8% of London’s population live in tower blocks—the same point has been made in respect of other cities. Inner-London authorities such as Westminster have lost 45% of their funding in recent years—that includes funding for environmental health responsibilities—and for Kensington the figure is 38%. Will the Prime Minister today guarantee that local authorities will be fully funded for an urgent review of tower block safety and all remedial action that is necessary, including the installation of sprinklers when appropriate, so that they can proceed in a matter of days with that comfort? Does she agree that regulation is a necessary element of a safe society, not a burden, and will she legislate swiftly when necessary to ensure that all high-rise residents are safe?
All of us across the House share a desire to ensure that people are safe and can have the confidence of being safe in their homes. Work was started immediately by the Department for Communities and Local Government, encouraging local authorities, and they have been working with the fire service to look at the issues in their tower blocks and to assess those tower blocks.
We do not yet know the absolute cause of the fire in Grenfell Tower. Work on that is ongoing, and we will take what action is necessary, including by learning the lessons that come out of it. The hon. Lady speaks about regulation. Of course, rigorous fire regulation is in place. If requirements to change that come out of the investigation that is taking place, we will of course act and do so swiftly.
Just so that right hon. and hon. Members are aware, there are of course a number of investigations. The police have opened a criminal investigation. The fire service and the Building Research Establishment are investigating as quickly as possible the exact cause of the fire so that any action that is required as a result of that work can be taken. Of course, there is also the public inquiry that I have announced.
We must learn some of the lessons of this and previous disasters when bereaved families have not had the support they need, so we will also introduce an independent public advocate for public disasters. That will be a strong independent voice for victims, acting on behalf of bereaved families and supporting them at public inquests and inquiries.
Let me join the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to the two Members of Parliament whom we lost in the course of the last year. Gerald Kaufman was an outstanding parliamentarian who served this House and his constituents in Manchester for an incredible 46 years. We did not agree on everything but, as Father of the House, he was an invaluable source of wisdom and experience for Members on both sides, and he will be greatly missed.
The despicable murder of Jo Cox shocked and devastated this House and the country. Jo was an inspirational MP, a campaigner and a humanitarian whose mission in life was defined by hope and love. Her killer sought instead to spread hate and division, but last weekend, as part of ‘the Great Get Together’, I and many hundreds of thousands of others—including, I am sure, Members of this House—in her honour came together, stood together and pulled together all across the country to unite against that hatred and to prove, in Jo’s own words, that we have far more in common than that which divides us.
I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Jo’s husband, Brendan, for the extraordinary courage and strength that he has shown in dealing with such personal tragedy and for honouring Jo’s memory in such an inspiring way. Whatever our disagreements in this House, may we all honour Jo’s memory and show that in our United Kingdom hope will always triumph over hate.
The House will know that the first part of a successful Queen’s Speech is finding someone to propose the address. That is, of course, intended to be a witty speech, as indeed the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) was today—from my point of view a little too witty, as he took all the jokes I had written in my speech. I have to say—[Interruption.] Wait for it. Over the years that my right hon. Friend has been the Member for Newbury and in the years when he was fighting to take the seat, he has shown a great commitment not only to his constituents, but to the important task of government and building a stronger economy and a fairer society. I know, for example, as a fellow Berkshire MP, the work he has done to raise awareness of an issue that I am particularly concerned about: mental health. He also made a significant contribution during his time as a Minister. I understand that once, as fisheries Minister, he mixed up his cod and his skate, but I am sure that, like the rest of us, he will not fail to welcome the absence in this House today of Salmond.
I have to say to the hon. Lady that the reason why I am not welcoming the former right hon. Member to this House is because he was beaten by a Conservative in the election.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury showed great skill and tenacity over his three years of negotiations on the common fisheries policy. The process started with the UK as a minority of one, and ended with the EU unanimously supporting a reform agenda, the principles of which will be at the heart of the fisheries Bill in this Queen’s Speech. He was also the Minister who secured cross-party support for moving our canals and waterways from the public to the charitable sector, creating the Canal & River Trust, one of the biggest and best endowed charities in this country. He made an excellent speech today in the finest traditions of this House.
The motion was brilliantly seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng). He is a distinguished political historian and a prolific writer, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out. I understand that my hon. Friend has a particular interest in female Prime Ministers. Indeed, Members may know that his most recent book profiled the most testing six months for our country’s first female Prime Minister. It ran to 272 pages; I fear his next book could be somewhat longer.
My hon. Friend is also widely regarded for his good looks. In fact, The Sunday Telegraph once described him as a Tory “heart-throb”, and during his time on “University Challenge”, I gather he even made it to page 3 of The Sun. Perhaps most significantly, he is confounding the Daily Mail, which cited the 1995 “University Challenge” winning team of which my hon. Friend was a member when arguing that
“all too often the brainy winners of the BBC’s flagship programme sink without trace after their moment in the spotlight.”
I could not disagree more. The House has today seen his talents on full display. He gave a tremendous speech with flair, substance and wit. He brings an historian’s wisdom to the challenges and opportunities that our country faces, and I have no doubt that he will make a major contribution in the years ahead.
Let me welcome the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) as the new leader of the Scottish National party here in Westminster. I am also, of course, particularly pleased to welcome to the Conservative Benches my 13 Scottish Conservative colleagues. It is good that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will not have to put up with any more jokes about pandas.
Turnout at the election was higher than in 2015, including many more younger people. While those of us on this side of the House would have preferred more of them to vote for us, more young people going to the ballot box is something that we should all welcome.
Let me also welcome the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) back to his place as the Leader of the Opposition. He fought a spirited campaign and he came a good second, which was better than the pundits predicted and than many of his own MPs hoped for.
The Prime Minister is celebrating her immense triumph following the recent campaign, but I could not help but notice something as she and the Leader of the Opposition went off to listen to the Queen’s Speech. Thinking back to when I was at school and we came back having not seen people for six weeks, I thought, “Has she shrunk, or has he grown?” [Interruption.]
As always, Mr Speaker, I am inclined to agree with you.
I thank the Prime Minister for calling the general election, in which I increased my majority from 93 votes to 9,176. She talks about the increase in the number of young people voting, so why is she introducing voter suppression methods such as obliging people to show identification before they can vote?
I am sure that anybody in this House who values democracy also wants to ensure that that democracy is fair and free of fraud. It is in that spirit that we are introducing requirements for people to identify themselves. That is a perfectly reasonable requirement to ensure that the people who are voting are those who are entitled to do so.
That is an issue on which the hon. Gentleman and I will continue to disagree.
The election also showed that, as we face the big challenges of our future, our country is divided: red versus blue; young versus old; leave versus remain.
As I said here last week, the test for all of us is whether we choose to reflect divisions or help the country overcome them. With humility and resolve, this Government will seek to do the latter. We will do what is in the national interest, and we will work with anyone, in any party, that is prepared to do the same.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. This will reflect the outcome of the very important racial disparity audit, which we introduced virtually as soon as I became Prime Minister last year. I think it is important that we test what is happening in relation to our public services. As Home Secretary, I was struck by the examples I saw; I took action on stop and search—that had never been done by a Labour Government—because I thought it was important that nobody was stopped on the streets of our country because of the colour of their skin. There were other issues that we addressed in government previously. Our racial disparity audit will show us what is happening in our public services, and we will be able to act on the back of that to ensure truly that the approach we are taking is fair and that there is not that discrimination—
I am going to make a little progress before I give way again.
We will work every day to earn the trust and confidence of the British people, and we will make their priorities our priorities, dealing head-on with the major challenges that our country faces—that is what this Queen’s Speech is all about.
I am going to make a little progress and then I will give way again.
This Queen’s Speech is about recognising and grasping the opportunities for every community in our country to benefit as we leave the European Union; it is about delivering the will of the British people with a Brexit deal that works for all parts of our United Kingdom and that commands the greatest possible public support; it is about building a new, deep and special partnership with our European friends and neighbours—because we are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe; and it is about seizing this moment of national change to deliver a plan for a stronger, fairer Britain by strengthening our economy, tackling injustice, and promoting opportunity and aspiration for all. Because, as I have said many times before, the referendum vote was not just a vote to leave the European Union; it was a profound and justified expression that our country often does not work the way it should for millions of ordinary families. This Queen’s Speech begins to change that, by putting fairness at the heart of our agenda.
My right hon. Friend knows that I have been a long-standing campaigner on improving mental health care in this country. The truth is that many people across our country today are not getting the care they need, including many children who, in very traumatised states, are spending too long in queues to get appropriate treatment. What is she going to do to convert the warm words of the Government on parity of esteem into actual action on mental health?
May I commend my hon. Friend, who, as he said, has, while in this House and before, been a champion for mental health and has done important work on it? There are a number of strands to what the Government want to do, one of which is putting in place a new mental health Act, but we will of course consult widely on that. I also want to ensure that every school—every primary and secondary—has a member of staff who is trained to identify mental health problems and knows how to deal with those issues. When I met the charity YoungMinds a few weeks ago, I was very struck by the issue of raising awareness of mental health problems, particularly among young people: the earlier we can address these issues, the better we can deal with them and the better life we can ensure for the people with these mental health problems. Those are some of the things we will be putting in place, but I look forward to working with him on ensuring that what we are doing addresses the issues we need to address.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. It is good to see her here facing the other parties—she has actually turned up, which was not always the case during the election campaign.
The Gracious Speech contained eight Brexit Bills but not one of them covered the environment. Is her failure to propose a Brexit Bill on the greatest challenge that we face because she simply does not care about the environment and climate change, or is it because she has been influenced by the DUP dinosaurs, who sit beside me and who do not want to take that kind of leadership in the future?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Members of my party were elected by the people of Northern Ireland to represent the constituents who elected us to the House. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) to describe us in the unparliamentary terms in which she did, and which I regret? She does not understand my party’s policy on the environment—she should go and read our manifesto—but we have the right to speak for the people of Northern Ireland, and in this Parliament we will.
Let me say two things in response to the, I am sure, sincere point of order from the right hon. Gentleman. First, the use of the word in question is not unparliamentary; it is a matter of taste as to its desirability or otherwise. Secondly, I know how robust a character the right hon. Gentleman is, and I would simply say that the word in question refers to a species that survived for many, many millions of years.
As I said, the Queen’s Speech is about putting fairness at the heart of our agenda. That is about building a stronger economy by delivering a modern industrial strategy so that all parts of our country and all parts of our society share in the benefits of economic growth, and by investing in the world-leading infrastructure that can unlock growth in our economy and improve the quality of people’s lives across the whole country. It is about building a fairer society by increasing the national living wage so that people who are on the lowest pay see their wages go up as the economy strengthens, and by ensuring that every child has access to a good school place.
I am going to make a little more progress before I give way again.
It is about creating a world-class system of technical education, so that all young people have the vital skills they need to do the jobs of the future. It is about acting to make markets fairer by tackling unfair practices wherever they are found.
The Prime Minister mentions opportunity; does she agree that one way we must deliver opportunities is by allowing more young people to get on the housing ladder? Will she reinforce her previous commitment to increase house building to 250,000 homes a year, which is a much bolder and more ambitious commitment than the Labour party has made?
My hon. Friend is incredibly prescient, because my very next sentence was going to be about tackling the housing crisis that locks so many young people out of the housing market. We do indeed recognise the significance of the housing problem in this country. It is about not only building more houses but keeping going schemes that help people to get on the housing ladder and ensuring greater diversity in the housing market. With rent to buy and shared ownership, there is a variety of opportunities for young people.
We will be tackling discrimination on the basis of mental health, sexuality, faith, disability, gender or race.
How is the interim Prime Minister going to convince the country that she can negotiate a successful Brexit with 27 other EU countries within the time limit, when she has not even been able to negotiate a deal with 10 Democratic Unionist Members of this House in the time between the election and the Queen’s Speech?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to welcome the work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has undertaken in preparing our negotiations and starting the formal negotiations on Monday this week. I will be in Brussels for the EU Council later this week to take that work further forward.
I am grateful that the Brexit talks have now started. The ability of those people who have come from the other 27 countries to live and work in the UK, and the status of the UK citizens living and working in the other 27 countries, is going to be a vital part of those talks. They will be waiting to learn of their future. Will the Prime Minister guarantee to the House that she will come here as quickly as possible, without waiting until the discussions have finished, to assure them that they will be able to live and remain in the countries where they have decided to live and work?
We have always said, from the beginning of this process, that we want to address that issue at an early stage of the negotiations. Indeed, that is the agreement that has been reached: it is one of the very first issues that will be addressed in the negotiations. I will make every effort, and I guarantee to my hon. Friend that I expect to be able to come to the House to show the opportunities that the United Kingdom will be setting out for those EU citizens who live here in the UK. Of course, we want to see UK citizens in the European Union being treated fairly as well, but we will soon be setting out our offer as regards EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. The fact is that the Gracious Speech has been made today and the Prime Minister still cannot tell us how her Government will be composed and how it will be supported. Given that she asked for a very personal mandate during the general election campaign and did not get one, the only question is: why is she still here?
Let me just point out a few facts to the hon. Gentleman. Which party got the highest percentage share of the vote, Labour or Conservative? Conservative. Which party got more votes—800,000 more—than the other party, Labour or Conservative? Conservative—[Interruption.] Which party got 56 more seats than the Labour party—[Interruption.]
Order. I will not have the Prime Minister, or the Leader of the Opposition, or any Member of this House shouted down—[Interruption.] Order. Mr Campbell, I’m sure you mean well—[Interruption.] Order. You are wittering away from a sedentary position to no obvious benefit or purpose. I am sure you mean well, but I do not require your assistance at this time.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was merely pointing out that the Conservative party got 56 more seats than the Labour party. We are doing what is in the national interest, forming a Government to address the challenges that face this country. It is a critical time and it is important that we have a Government committed to the national interest.
The Prime Minister just mentioned making markets work better and for everybody. She knows that the energy price cap had wide cross-party support from both sides of this House, so I was delighted to see energy price protection and pro-consumer switching and transparency measures in the Queen’s Speech. Will she confirm that those measures mean the price cap to deliver 17 million customers the £100 savings we promised in our manifesto, rather than the narrower or more anti-competitive counter-proposals from the big six energy firms?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we do indeed intend to take action on this issue. We recognise the problem in relation to energy bills and we want to ensure that we get the best measure in place to deliver what we all want, which is to see people no longer being ripped off by high energy tariffs.
The Prime Minister has talked about the national interest and the need for cross-party support. Does she agree that for her excellent proposal of a commissioner for extremism to work it requires the engagement not just of Government Members but of Opposition Members, if we are to stamp out the evil ideology of extremism that drives terrorism in this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have spoken a lot about the need to deal with terrorism. Of course we need to look at the powers we have to deal with terrorists, but we also need to ensure that we deal with the extremism and hatred that fuel that terrorism. That is why the commission for countering extremism is so important, and I hope, as I said earlier, that it is a measure that can be supported in all parts of the House. It is important if we are to ensure that we drive this extremism and hatred out of our society.
I have already taken three times as many interventions as the Leader of the Opposition, so I will make some progress.
We also want to build a more secure United Kingdom, investing in our defence and national security and enhancing our leading role on the world stage, strengthening the social, economic and cultural bonds between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, delivering on our commitment to devolution by working in co-operation with all the devolved Administrations, and working with all the parties of Northern Ireland to support the return of devolved government. Building a country that is stronger, fairer, safer and more secure for all our children and grandchildren, a country that works for everyone: that is our ambition, and that is what this Queen’s Speech will help to deliver.
The first part of this Queen’s Speech is of course about Brexit—a Brexit deal that works for every part of the country and commands the greatest possible public support. Over 80% of the electorate backed the two major parties, both of which campaigned on manifestos that said that we should honour the democratic decision of the British people, so this Government will respect the will of the British people and see Brexit through. We will seek to build a wide consensus as we do this and as we take Bills through the House, including a trade Bill, a repeal Bill, and an immigration Bill, as has been referred to, and also a Bill to deal with control of access to our waters for fishermen and a new Bill on agriculture to give greater stability to farmers.
I will make a little more progress, then take some more interventions.
If we are going to grasp opportunities as we leave the European Union we need to build a stronger economy. That is right: we have always understood, as Conservatives, that sound money and fiscal credibility are the foundation for everything else. That is why it was right to take the tough decisions we did after the financial crash, and it has paid off. The deficit is down by three quarters; employment is up by 2.9 million; and because of policies like the national living wage and taking 4 million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether, inequality has been reduced to its lowest level for 30 years.
In this Queen’s Speech we will continue to improve the public finances and work towards getting our country back to living within its means. We will also invest in the world-leading digital infrastructure that we need to benefit from the opportunities of new technology, and we will encourage businesses to grow and create jobs by continuing to cut corporation tax, because that is how to raise more money, not less.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that the economy is evolving and changing? If so, will she confirm that the Government are absolutely committed to securing the rights of people in the gig economy who are on different types of contracts from what has been the case historically?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have asked Matthew Taylor to produce a report on the changing workplace and the changing structure of employment, particularly, as my hon. Friend has mentioned, with reference to the gig economy. When the report is published, we will look at the steps that the Government need to take to support people with their rights. As I have said in the past few weeks, we will enhance workers’ rights. We believe in protecting those rights and enhancing them.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that legislation such as measures providing for the next phase of the high-speed rail project and other infrastructure investment mean that we can rebalance the economy to make sure that the whole country benefits from the economic progress to which she referred?
It is good to see my hon. Friend in his place, and to have seen him out on the campaign trail during the general election. I can absolutely confirm that we will put the legislation through for the next stage of HS2, and we will also ensure that we continue to invest, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in the autumn statement last year, in infrastructure projects around the country. I want a country that works for everyone and every part of the United Kingdom, and infrastructure is an important way of helping to deliver that.
May I take the Prime Minister back to what she said about making Brexit work for the entire United Kingdom? Will she tell the House whether a legislative consent motion will be required in the Scottish Parliament for the great repeal Bill?
That matter is currently being considered both here and in Scotland. There is a possibility that a legislative consent motion may be required in the Scottish Parliament, but that matter is being considered between the Westminster and Scottish Governments.
No, I am not going to do so. I am conscious that I have taken a significant number of interventions, and I shall make progress so that other Members can rise to speak.
I have said that we will protect rights and protect people at work as we leave the European Union—and, indeed, as we see changes in the employment structure in our economy. What we will not do is follow the economic prescriptions of the Labour party. There is absolutely nothing fair about punitive tax rises that lead to fewer jobs, lower wages and higher prices for ordinary working families. There is nothing fair about racking up debts for our children and grandchildren to pay. The only Government people can trust to build a stronger and fairer economy is a Conservative Government.
I have mentioned a fairer society. I want Britain to be a genuine great meritocracy, where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and hard work will take them. That is about ensuring that everybody plays by the same rules, that every child has access to a good school place, and that the right technical education is there. The measures in the Queen’s Speech will help to do that, but they will also deal with some of the injustices in our society.
The draft domestic violence and abuse legislation will provide a statutory definition of this hideous crime and ensure that robust protective orders are available and that victims get the justice they deserve. I hope that this measure will be able to command support across the whole House. Many in this House have for many years championed the cause of dealing with domestic violence, and I hope that they will be able to join us in supporting this legislation.
As the Prime Minister is very aware, victims of domestic violence are the direct victims but also the oft-forgotten indirect victims such as children. Can she reassure us that steps will be taken to support those indirect victims too?
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. One of the problems over the years has been that all too often people have looked at the immediate victim or survivor of domestic violence and forgotten, for example, that it is not just a question of whether children have not seen something happening; they know what is happening and are affected by it. We will be looking at that issue.
I note the point that the hon. Gentleman has made about contaminated blood and I will speak to the Secretary of State for Health. I think this has already been looked at, and other ways of dealing with this issue have already been introduced and addressed.
No. Mr Speaker, we are building opportunity and aspiration. We will also deliver a more secure United Kingdom because of the choices that we are making to prioritise our defence and national security. Our armed forces Bill will give those who put their lives on the line in the service of our country the proper respect that they deserve, with more security in the way they live and work. Our commitment to renew Trident means that this country maintains its continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent as the ultimate guarantee of our safety, and with a Prime Minister who is prepared to use it. We will continue to play a leading role in international efforts to tackle mass migration and climate change, to alleviate poverty and to end modern slavery. We have always looked beyond Europe to the wider world and we will continue to do so.
In conclusion, this has been a difficult time for our country. I know that there are many parents who worry about the kind of world that their children are growing up in. I recognise that and understand it. It has been an unsettling time that has tested the spirit of our country, but we are a resilient country. Our response to disaster and acts of terror that take the lives of innocent people must be this: compassion, unity, resolve. We are a great nation and a great people. We have been through and survived the toughest of times before, and we thrived. Once again we can and will grow stronger from the challenges that we face today.
The Queen’s Speech on its own will not solve every challenge that our country faces—not every problem can be solved by an Act of Parliament—but it is a step forward to building a more compassionate, united and confident nation. That is what this Government will aim to achieve and what this Queen’s Speech will deliver. I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.
Order. May I say two things? First, if Members leaving the Chamber did so quickly and quietly, it would be greatly appreciated. [Interruption.] Order. I do not require any assistance from the hon. Gentleman—I do know a thing or two about this place. Secondly, it is a very considerable discourtesy for a Member to walk out of the Chamber by walking straight past the Member who has the Floor. It is so obviously a discourtesy that I am surprised it is necessary to point it out.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
May I begin by echoing the tributes of the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister to Members who have passed away in the last year? I pay tribute to my predecessor, the former right hon. Member for Moray, and thank him for his long service to this House and to the people of his constituency. I am sure right hon. and hon. Members will agree that, in the previous Parliament, Angus Robertson firmly established himself as a true statesman. Although we will miss his contribution to this place, I hope he continues to contribute to public life at a time when, more than ever, our national debate needs considered and rational voices. I also thank him for the leadership he demonstrated for the SNP at Westminster. We on the SNP Benches will miss a good friend.
I must say to the Prime Minister that she made a rather cheap gibe at the previous First Minister of Scotland. Let me point out that, unlike the Prime Minister, Alex Salmond at least won a majority in an election in Scotland. She may have made a rather cheap gibe at Alex Salmond, but she still has a Sturgeon that is very much going to be a thorn in her side.
This is the first time the House has met since the terrible events of this summer. On behalf of SNP Members, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the professionalism, dedication and sacrifice of our emergency services, who have led the response to the awful events of this summer, and to whom we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.
The loss of life at Grenfell Tower was tragic and unnecessary. Family and friends of the victims will be heartbroken and grief-stricken, but many will be angry, too, that this tragedy could and should have been avoided. I speak on behalf of SNP Members when I commit our support to working with all parties in the Chamber to get those families and the country the answers they need and deserve.
Our summer was also marred by the cowardice and reckless violence of terrorism. The whole country is united in grief at the outrage of the attacks in Manchester, at London Bridge and, only this week, at the Finsbury Park mosque. In this place, we must all be united in showing leadership to all our citizens. Despite the despicable efforts of a small minority of misguided individuals, our communities and our society will not be divided. We stand firm against terrorists who attack Muslims, just as we stand against those who wrongly claim to act in the name of Islam.
It is customary to commend the mover and the seconder in proceedings on the Queen’s Speech. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), whose interest in, and knowledge of, agriculture and fisheries issues will be important in the coming months and years, as those two important sectors will be impacted by the kind of Brexit deal that is achieved.
I am told that the seconder, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), is a rising star of the right wing of the Conservative party.
In that regard, the hon. Gentleman is a useful political compass for SNP Members, because if we are in doubt about our position on any issue, we need only position ourselves to be diametrically opposed to the view of the hon. Gentleman.
Although I may be a relative newcomer to this place, I was always under the impression that the Queen’s Speech was intended to be an event that brought stability to the Government and to the country—an event where the Government set out what they intend to do and how they intend to govern. On this occasion, I cannot imagine that many in the country are feeling a sense of stability. To many, these may feel like the most uncertain and unstable of times facing the country. With rising inflation and low wage growth, working families will certainly not be feeling stability—they will feel uncertainty and a threat to their living standards. With a Conservative Government who have perpetuated the most indiscriminate and savage cuts to social security still clinging to power, the disabled and the vulnerable will not be feeling stability and certainty.
I fully agree. This matter was much debated in the previous Parliament. It has demonstrated the hardship that many of my hon. Friend’s constituents will face, and those in other constituencies in Glasgow. It would be an act of compassion by the Conservative Government if they were to do the right thing and remove the threat of closures to the Glasgow jobcentres.
With the threat of a hard Brexit and the loss of access to our most important markets, our exporting businesses will not be feeling stability and certainty. “Strong and stable” is what the Prime Minister offered the country, but “uncertain and unstable” is what she has delivered. Nothing in the Queen’s Speech changes that.
That is most true in respect of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. This is the biggest issue facing the United Kingdom, and it will be the greatest challenge in this Parliament. A strong and stable approach might have involved the Prime Minister seeking consensus and working to protect the country from the most damaging potential impacts of a hard Brexit. That was, after all, what the Prime Minister promised us last year. Instead, we have a Prime Minister who called an unnecessary election designed to crush any opposition to her. Well, how did that work? Her gamble having backfired, she has—[Interruption.] I have to say that it is pretty remarkable to hear the gibes coming from Conservative Members, because we have a Government who are going to have to rely on the DUP to get any of their legislation through. When it comes to the position of Scotland, one cannot get away from the fact that the Scottish National party still won this election. Unlike the Government, we have a majority of the seats in Scotland—something that the Conservatives could only ever dream about.
May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on becoming leader of the SNP group in Parliament? He is widely respected across the House and will, I think, be a brilliant leader for his troops. Does he not find that actually the SNP and the Tories are in the same position, because we both did less well than expectations but we both won more votes in our respective areas?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The Conservatives have still got to realise that we have a stable Government in Scotland concentrating on the day job. If anyone wants an example of strong and stable, look to what has happened in Edinburgh. One cannot get away from the fact that there are 59 parliamentary seats in Scotland and 35 of us who will stand up for Scotland in this Parliament. When it comes to defending the rights and the interests of the people of Scotland, I want to see every Scottish MP following the lead that we in the Scottish National party will give.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new role. He does, indeed, command respect in all parts of the House. He mentioned that we would have to rely on the DUP to get legislation through, but surely there is something in the Gracious Speech—perhaps the proposals concerning domestic abuse—that he would support. We would like to get the support of some in his party for many of our proposed pieces of legislation.
Let me make absolutely clear the role that the Scottish National party will play in this Parliament. We will be a force for progressive politics. I commend my very dear friend the previous hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, who was responsible for pushing through the private Member’s Bill on the Istanbul convention. I will certainly commend to the Scottish National party the idea of supporting the Government on any reasonable moves in that regard. I want to work for us so that we can get the best deal for the people of Scotland, particularly when it comes to Brexit.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being elected the leader of his party. Has he noticed, as I have, that in the Queen’s Speech there are no measures to deal with austerity? That suggests that the Government have learned nothing, particularly when it comes to the plight of WASPI women.
I thank my friend for that intervention, and I agree with him. There is unfinished business, certainly for me, having been the pensions spokesman for the SNP in the last Parliament. We will not leave the WASPI women without a voice. It is utterly disgraceful that some of the worst-affected women were given 14 months’ written notice of an increase in their pensionable age. I have said before that, in this ridiculous situation, a woman born in February 1953 would have retired in January 2016 just shy of her 63rd birthday, but a woman born in February 1964 will not retire until July 2019, when she will be 65 and a half.
Quite simply, a two-and-a-half-year increase in a woman’s pensionable age over a one-year period is unacceptable. Cridland identified in his review of the state pension age that we should not be looking at an increase in pensionable age of more than one year in every 10 years. As I have often pointed out to the Government, there is a very easy solution, which is to reverse the Pensions Act 2011. The cost of doing so would be £8 billion, which is easily affordable given that there is a surplus of £30 billion in the national insurance fund.
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the policy he has set out was shot to pieces when the permanent secretary of the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that it is not even physically possible to use the surplus; and that in many years, the fund is in deficit. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?
I think the WASPI women are due an apology from the hon. Gentleman, because we cannot get away from the fact that the Government Actuary’s Department has indicated that the surplus this year is £30 billion. For goodness’ sake, let us use the surplus in that fund to introduce mitigation for the WASPI women. It is the right thing to do.
I assure the Prime Minister that this issue will not go away. Let me commend Members from across the House, including Conservative Members, who want action to be taken. We cannot defend the fact that women were given only 14 months’ notice, in some cases. That was a failure of communication, and the rise in pensionable age was far too swift. We must address the issue in this Parliament. I confirm that the SNP will not lose sight of the issue; we will stand foursquare behind the WASPI women in the months to come.
I want to make some progress, but I will happily take interventions later.
The Prime Minister’s gamble backfired. She has desperately clung to power—at least for now—and stumbled into the Brexit negotiations on Monday morning regardless, with an almost all-male team equipped with no credible plan, no mandate and, seemingly, no functional Government. I can see that the Prime Minister is floundering. Where is the stable government that she promised us? It is not here.
It is worth reflecting on the fact that last year’s Queen’s Speech was delivered just one month before the nations of the United Kingdom voted on whether to remain a member of the European Union. In that referendum, Scotland voted clearly and decisively to remain in the European Union. Northern Ireland, too, voted to remain in the European Union. England and Wales, of course, voted to leave. There was a democratic divergence across the UK.
I had hoped that a compromise might be found that would work for all nations of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the Prime Minister herself said that article 50 would not be triggered until there was a UK approach and that she was willing to listen to all options. That is why last year the Scottish Government, in good faith and in a spirit of compromise, published proposals in “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. Those are credible proposals that would mitigate the worst impacts of a hard Brexit. They would maintain the UK’s membership of the single market while it leaves the EU or, failing that, maintain Scotland’s membership of the single market within the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new role. Will he set a new tone for his party by recognising that when a referendum has settled the matter that Scotland will remain in the UK and the UK has had a referendum that settles another matter, perhaps it would be good to stand up for democracy? Can we hear something new from his party?
Of course we in the Scottish National party have always accepted the result of the referendum in 2014. That is not in question. I say to Government Members that we were promised that if we voted to stay within the United Kingdom, our future in Europe would be protected.
When we went to the country last year, the Scottish National party stood on a manifesto commitment that if Scotland was dragged out of the European Union against its will, we would reserve the right to give the people of Scotland an insurance policy, whereby at the end of the Brexit process they would be able to have their say. I say to the Conservatives, who are chuntering from a sedentary position, that we won that election to the Scottish Parliament. A vote took place in the Scottish Parliament in which 69 Members of that Parliament voted to enact a referendum if the circumstances were right and 59 Members voted against. That is democracy. The people of Scotland have spoken and it is about time the Conservatives respected the sovereignty of the Scottish people.
The Government’s executive summary to the Queen’s Speech, which was published today, says that powers repatriated from the EU will be held at UK level until the UK negotiates with the devolved Governments. It states that the repeal Bill will
“replicate the common UK frameworks created by EU law in UK law, and maintain the scope of devolved decision-making powers immediately after exit.”
It clarifies that the Government will centralise fisheries and agriculture matters through specific Bills on each. Page 22 tells us:
“Aspects of the Bill will extend to the UK, as international matters are not devolved. We will consult widely with the devolved administrations on the appropriate extent of any legislation.”
This is the great power grab in action.
I wish the hon. Gentleman all the best in his new position as leader of the Scottish National party in this place. Does he accept that some MPs—good and honourable Members—lost their seats because of their position on Brexit, Europe and fisheries? It is important that the Scottish National party Members who are here commit themselves to the policy that we will take in this House to ensure that fisheries across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are preserved, along with people’s jobs.
The important point is that fisheries and agriculture are devolved. We will not sit back and watch this land grab from Westminster. Powers over fisheries and agriculture must remain with the Scottish Parliament. There is a real question for Scottish Conservative Members: whose side will they be on? Will they be on the side of London or on the side of the people of Scotland? Let me tell them that if they do not stand up for Scotland, they will pay a price at the ballot box in future elections. [Interruption.] I know that many Conservatives from Scotland are here for the first time, but may I respectfully suggest to them that if they want to make an intervention, it is perhaps better to rise than to shout from a sedentary position? That is not the way we tend to behave in this Parliament.
My goodness! I think I have demonstrated in my remarks so far that we will of course support progressive policies such as taking action on abuse, domestic violence and so on. If there are measures that are in the interests of the people of Scotland, we will support them.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Scotland Office Minister who will be dealing with agriculture and fisheries will be a member of the House of Lords, and therefore not open to scrutiny by this House? Does he agree that it is a shame that the Prime Minister does not think the new Tories are of sufficient calibre to hold such a position?
My hon. and learned Friend makes an extremely important point. I cannot imagine what some of the new Conservatives must make of it—they win an election, and then a colleague who could not unseat my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is elevated to the House of Lords. Democracy in the United Kingdom—you lose an election, but you still end up in government. Not only that, but we also find—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for having to interrupt him, but Members should not chunter from a sedentary position, which is unparliamentary. [Interruption.] Order. Mr Jayawardena, calm yourself and try to restore your equilibrium. If you are calmer, it will be of benefit to you, probably to Hampshire and certainly to the House. There is quite a lot of eccentric gesticulation with hands taking place, not least among new Members. I hope they will be cured of this malady before long.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I hope that new Members will appreciate your sage advice.
There is an important point here. A failed Conservative candidate is being elevated to the House of Lords and standing down from his position in the European Parliament, and the Conservatives seem to want to appoint to the European Parliament someone who was fifth on their list. [Hon. Members: “They’re getting sued.”] They are getting sued by one of their own members. It is a very strange approach to democracy from the Scottish Conservatives.
Membership of the single market could not be more important for Scotland. It contains eight of our top 12 export destinations, supports 300,000 jobs in Scotland and contributes more than £11 billion to our economy. A hard Brexit would severely damage Scotland’s economic, social and cultural interests and hit jobs and living standards deeply and permanently. That is why we are determined to avoid it—and that is true for the United Kingdom as well.
The Prime Minister must now reflect on the fact that her party stood on a platform of a hard Brexit that has been roundly rejected by the electorate. There is no mandate for a hard Brexit. It is the Scottish Government’s compromise approach that has been endorsed by the Scottish Parliament and now by the people of Scotland as a manifesto commitment at the general election. My message to the Prime Minister is simple: it is time to listen. It is time to get back around the table with the devolved Governments of the United Kingdom and work out a compromise that works for all in the United Kingdom and avoids the devastating damage that a hard Brexit would cause.
My hon. Friend will of course know that the Prime Minister is famous for her U-turns. She currently wants out of the single market and the customs union, but does he expect her to U-turn any time soon, before she takes the UK over a cliff edge? Scotland, of course, has its parachute for safety from the carnage that the Prime Minister is bringing.
I encourage the Prime Minister to listen. It is important that she reflects on what happened in the election. If she is prepared to do that, I would see it not as a U-turn, but as a Prime Minister beginning to show strong and stable leadership.
At the heart of the compromise must be continued membership of the single market. I gently suggest that Labour Members reflect on their position. Voters in Scotland will have sat aghast at the sight of a Labour shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, who is not in her place, who could not say whether she supported Scotland’s voice being heard in the Brexit negotiations. To capitulate to the Conservatives on the single market would be to sell out working families whose wages and prospects will be ultimately damaged by a hard Brexit. My challenge to Labour is to join the Scottish National party in seeking to get the single market back on the table as the best option—the only option—for protecting jobs, the economy and living standards.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s position on unfettered access to the single market, but would he like to comment on what the Prime Minister has said? She said that no deal is better than a bad deal, but the Chancellor has said that no deal is very bad. Both cannot be true—otherwise, a very bad deal would be better than a bad deal. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to get a deal in which we maximise jobs and access to the marketplace?
The hon. Gentleman has to speak to his Labour colleagues. If they want to stand up for the people of this country, they have to join the SNP in demanding that we remain members of the single market. That is the salient point.
The Queen’s Speech fails not only on minimising the impact of Brexit. It fails even harder on reversing the damage caused by almost a decade of austerity. For this Tory Government, austerity cuts are not simply a policy response to a particular economic situation. They are an ideology and a political choice. [Interruption.] I hear somebody shouting “nonsense”. Let me say politely to the Government that, in 2009, we embarked on a policy of quantitative easing. I suspect that all hon. Members supported the need to take monetary policy action in 2009. The situation now is that there has been £430 billion-worth of intervention in the markets. The point is that we have not taken the fiscal measures to deliver sustainable economic growth that had to sit hand in hand with the monetary policy action. We have underpinned the financial markets as a direct consequence of quantitative easing. Those with assets have done well. The financial markets have increased by more than 70% over those years. The tragedy is that real wages have declined. The responsibility for economic management rests with the Government. We have not looked after the working people of this country but have ensured that those with financial assets have done very well. That is the specific charge, and why the Government can and must change course.
That political choice has put certain groups of people in the crosshairs, including working families, those on low incomes just managing to get by, and the disabled and vulnerable who rely on support from social security. I use that phrase for a clear purpose. In Scotland, we talk about social security, but the Government in London talk about welfare. That is why they have a problem. They do not realise that it is about the importance of that safety net. Our society is simply as strong as its weakest link.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those who are most under pressure will find it even worse if the Government continue their shambolic roll-out of the universal credit full service, which is ahead of schedule in the highlands and is hurting people deeply every day—those seeking work, the disabled and those who are working?
I need to make some progress; I apologise.
We know that a decade of austerity will see the highest inequality since the Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher. While Tory Members might proclaim cuts to Government spending, they mean real pain and hardship for people across the country. The SNP has consistently opposed austerity and we are offering a credible alternative. Our approach to the public finances would balance the UK budget for day-to-day spending by the end of the Parliament. It would set debt on a downward path and, crucially, free up an additional £118 billion of public investment over the Parliament to grow the economy, safeguarding public services and protecting household incomes—a clear alternative to five more years of Tory austerity; investment and hope, not more destructive cuts.
Those on low incomes who rely on in-work social security, and the vulnerable and the disabled, face a further £9 billion of additional social security cuts from this Tory Government. There is an alternative. Where Labour has only pledged to reverse less than a quarter of those cuts, SNP MPs will stand against all the further planned cuts to social security. Our pensioners, too, now face real pain from Tory austerity. The Government’s intention to remove the triple lock and raid the winter fuel allowance will hit pensioners hard, at a time when their budgets are hard pressed. In the highlands of Scotland, 77% of pensioners are in fuel poverty. Until we have driven fuel poverty out of our society, we need to make sure that we are standing up for the rights of our pensioners.
I just wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has factored the Barnett formula into the description that he has given of the finances in Scotland. Given that there is such a catastrophe in the Scottish finances at the moment, is the SNP still insisting that the Barnett formula has to be applied?
I find that quite extraordinary, because the real-terms cut to the Scottish budget over the last 10 years has been about £2.9 billion and it is simply because of Tory austerity. Yes, we support the Barnett formula, because it is applied on a needs basis. It is interesting that others have wanted to take it away. It is not the SNP who are a threat to the public finances in Scotland; it is those who want to attack the Barnett formula. Let me make it absolutely clear: in any back-door deal that is done with the DUP, if there is any increase in spending in Northern Ireland, which we would of course welcome, that must be reflected in the Barnett formula. Scotland must be protected by any deal that the Conservatives do.
SNP MPs will oppose the removal of the triple lock, so that our pensioners still see the pension that they worked for rise, and we will continue to support the WASPI women in their campaign to secure fairness. The Government must act with speed to address the WASPI issue. The Prime Minister and her Government must reflect on the circumstances that the WASPI women are in and put in place mitigation.
The most startling impact of austerity is the effect it has on children in working families. The incomes of the poorest third of working-age households will fall by 10% over the next four years, driving a further 1 million children across the United Kingdom into poverty. It was no wonder that in the last Parliament the previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions wanted to redefine child poverty, because the numbers are quite simply eye-watering and shameful. By 2021, more than 5 million children across the UK—a number equivalent to the total population of Scotland—could be living in poverty, in one of the richest countries in the world. Above all, austerity erodes our public services, at a time when we need more than ever to ensure that our public services are well funded and delivering for people in our communities. In this Parliament, SNP MPs will champion our public services.
Over the past 10 years, the SNP Scottish Government have prioritised the health service and we will continue to do so. Our NHS, like health services across the world, faces real challenges. However, in Scotland, patient satisfaction is at record levels. Our hospital A&Es are the best performing in the United Kingdom. Many nurses in Scotland are better paid than in the rest of the UK. Our health service in Scotland will be £2 billion better off by the end of this Parliament. However, we want to go further. If the UK Government chose to increase health spending per head of population in England to the current Scottish level, which is 7% higher, that would mean more money for the NHS, not just in Scotland but across the UK. It would increase the health budget in England by £11 billion more than inflation by 2022, and it would deliver funds to support up to £1 billion of additional investment in Scotland’s NHS.
Ensuring that everyone has a safe, warm and affordable home is central to the SNP Scottish Government’s drive to make this country fairer and more prosperous. Over the last parliamentary term, the SNP Government invested more than £1.7 billion in affordable housing. We are delivering more than 30,000 new affordable homes, and our target is 50,000 affordable homes by the end of this Parliament.
High-quality and well-funded public services, a growing economy with investment in business, and a fairer and more equal country are the alternatives to austerity. Given that they were denied their majority by the public, I had hoped that this Queen’s Speech might signal a Government who were more willing to listen and compromise, but I see scant evidence of that today.
In the last Parliament, the SNP was a real and effective opposition. It was the SNP that led the challenge to the proposed cuts in working tax credits which led to a coalition, here and elsewhere, that forced the Government to change course. It was my friend and colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who championed the campaign against the changes in tax credits for families with more than two children—what became known as the rape clause. We ask the Government again to revisit that issue.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the campaign against the rape clause. Does he agree that there is a great contrast between the Scottish Government’s launch today of a social security system that describes social security as a human right and the fact that the rape clause breaches women’s and children’s human rights?
I absolutely agree. I see that the Prime Minister is present. I hope that she has listened very carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, and that the Government will reflect on the issue and deal with it in short order.
In conclusion—[Hon. Members: “Hurray!”] I could happily go on.
Faced with a right-wing Tory Government pursuing an austerity agenda that they have little mandate to implement, the SNP will table its own amendment to the Queen’s Speech, which will seek a change of direction towards the progressive policies that our public services and the economy need. In this Parliament of minorities, the SNP will take every opportunity to further Scotland’s interests. SNP Members will be prepared to work with parties throughout the House to deliver more progressive, fairer policies that will serve the interests of the people of this country. In this Parliament, SNP MPs will ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard louder and clearer than ever before.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). I congratulate him on his elevation to the leadership of his somewhat diminished party, and congratulate him particularly on his fortitude in the face of the rather clear setback that his party suffered in the recent general election. I think I share some of his feelings, as my party has also lost some good colleagues. Scotland seemed to have a slightly different election campaign. I took the results in Scotland as a serious rebuff to the Scottish National party’s one central cause of holding another referendum in an attempt to break up the Union of the United Kingdom, and I hope that it is terminal on this occasion. I assure my very welcome new friends from Scotland on this side of the House—[Interruption.] They are secure in my support. I assure them, and our friends in the Democratic Unionist party, that I am a stalwart supporter of the Union, and that, whatever happens in this Parliament, I shall certainly be unswerving in that support.
In England, however, this was a Brexit election. In fact, the public are slightly losing interest in the political bubble’s debate about Brexit, and lots of other issues came into the election, but it was designed as a Brexit election, and I think that history will see it, and this Parliament, as such.
As I am entitled to somewhat less of the House’s time than the leaders of the political parties—quite rightly—I shall confine my speech to the issue of Brexit. I should have liked more time in which to welcome the aspects of the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that reflected, yet again, the liberal social conscience which I know she has, and her deep feeling for those who have not prospered enough during the periods of prosperity that we have experienced in this country recently. She recaptured the spirit of her Downing Street address.
I would also like to debate the national economy. I welcomed the sound principles—in my opinion the only possible principles—that she set out in describing how to tackle and get through the present uncertainties and get back to proper growth in a modern and competitive economy. However, I propose to confine my remarks to what history will regard, whatever happens in this Parliament, as the great, lasting work of this Parliament: what kind of deal we achieve as we leave the European Union.
In case anyone immediately starts to disagree with me on the basis that I am challenging the referendum, I point out that I never accepted that a referendum was a sensible way to proceed on such a huge and complex question. I regard the idea of having a second referendum, in case my side might win on this occasion, as a particularly foolish proposal. I thought this was a parliamentary matter. I spoke and voted against the invocation of article 50. I accept that the majority in favour of invoking it was overwhelming on both sides of the House. For this Parliament, I accept that the matter is settled: we are definitely going to leave the European Union.
We now have to debate what we all agree in principle is the best deal we can obtain for the future special partnership with Europe and our new relationships—political and economic—with the rest of the world. The subject that we will have to consider as the Parliament proceeds was scarcely debated in any sensible way by the national leadership of either side in the referendum, as reported in the national media. Nor, I regret to say, was any particular debate in the general election devoted in any sensible way to the content of a new arrangement.
I could make a very long speech if I addressed every question—again, I have to be selective. We are right to concentrate at this moment, as the debate is beginning to do, on our economic relationships with the European Union, and the prospects for trade, investment and jobs. That is obviously most compelling. We must leave for a later stage the dozens of important questions that will arise on security, international crime, environmental standards and so on. At this moment, we are interested in how we will trade with Europe and what the relationships will be.
It is important that we do that because Brexit is already, through its short-term effects, making many people in this country, particularly the less well off, considerably poorer. The immediate effect of the vote was to cause a significant devaluation of sterling. International investors decided that the attractiveness of sterling assets was much less and that the prospects of the British economy were seriously damaged. The pound has fallen and stayed low, and that is feeding its way into inflation, which is exceeding the low wage growth in the economy. Investment is also stalling, so we are seeing a serious slowdown in growth and a drop in living standards, particularly among vulnerable communities. If there are those who believe that eventually we can get a deal that can reverse those things, the sooner we reach a sensible agreement on that and my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary pursues and achieves it, the better.
I just wondered, in the light of the extremely sensible remarks that my right hon. and learned Friend has made so far, whether he would follow up what he said on television at the weekend about not really seeing any reason why we should not stay in the single market. I think he said that he thought we should not leave the single market or the customs union. Does he want to say that now in the context of leaving the European Union as well?
I am about to address that very issue—it is one of the principal contents of the speech I propose to make. I am delighted to debate it again with my hon. Friend. We have debated these matters for a very long time, and I think he and I will eventually have to reach some sort of compromise—only when that is achieved will the votes of the Democratic Unionist party move the Government very far in the same direction. I will certainly bring him up to date with my views on the single market and the customs union, as that is precisely what I intend to go on to.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. He is absolutely right that the economy should be a priority. He has mentioned some of the things that might have to wait until further down the line, but he did not talk about immigration. Having spent a lot of time speaking to people in Chesterfield over the last few weeks, I know that if we end up with some kind of deal whereby we leave the EU but nothing changes in terms of immigration, many of the Brexit voters will feel that their vote for leaving the EU was very much given under false pretences.
I understand the political background to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I get concerned that more and more Labour Members—perfectly reasonable ones—who represent constituencies in the north of England or the north midlands are now suddenly finding reasons for sounding rather anti-immigrant and putting forward that interpretation. We have a problem with immigration—I will address it—but we should not start feeding nonsense like the idea that EU nationals have lowered our living standards or are taking our jobs. The political temptation to start sounding a bit like the erstwhile UKIP opponent should be resisted, particularly by people in what used to be safe Labour seats in the north of England.
Let me turn to the question of the single market and the customs union. We are going to have to seek some compromise, so I start from the proposition that, as far as I am aware, there is not a single protectionist Member of Parliament sitting in this House. Everybody here declares their fervent belief in free trade. It was never always thus in this House. The only real protectionist on my side of the House was the late Alan Clark, which was rather odd as he was Minister for Trade at the beginning of the Uruguay round, although he was exceptional in many matters. The left wing of the Labour party in the days of Michael Foot was ferociously protectionist, as it was ferociously Eurosceptic—it was united with the old imperialist right in our party in opposing the European project.
I am never quite sure where the present Leader of the Opposition has gone to, because he and I have rather consistently stuck to the sort of views we both had when we entered this House many years ago—he a little later than me, but not much. He was one of the stoutest Bennite Eurosceptics in the House of Commons—it was a capitalist plot in those days. He has not exactly had a Pauline conversion. It is not bad, but I kept finding that he was speaking on the same side as me in the recent referendum, although he only seemed able to find arguments about resisting obscure threats to workers’ rights, which I could not see were remotely an issue in the referendum we were holding. But I will accept what he says and his party’s position, so I think that now he probably is in favour of free trade.
Particularly in the referendum, both sides in the campaign were united on the principles of free trade and open trading links with the rest of the EU. I think that everyone would agree that the leave side was led very robustly by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. He in particular was very anxious to dismiss the suggestion that the future of our trading relationships was remotely going to be affected by our leaving the EU—it was said that that was the politics of fear and scaremongering. He repeatedly explained that, as the Germans needed to sell us their Mercedes cars and as the Italians needed to sell us their Prosecco, our trading relationships were obviously going to remain completely unchanged. Indeed, at times, he and one or two others in the leave campaign seemed to imply that we did not really need trade agreements in order to trade in the modern world, as we would simply go out there and sell things. However, if we leave the European Union with no deal and we do not have all the EU trade deals that we have helped to negotiate over the years, we will for a time be the only country in the developed world that has absolutely no trade agreements with any other country. My right hon. Friend, with his usual breezy insouciance, seemed quite undisturbed by that spectacle, but I do not think that that is where we are now.
Let me begin by dealing precisely with the key issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) raised. I hope that I can take it as a given starting point across the House that we will seek to achieve no new customs barriers, regulatory barriers or tariffs between ourselves and the rest of the European Union. Tariffs are important, but they are not as important as the other two for quite a lot of aspects of a modern economy. I take it that all sides agree that we shall not seek to put any obstacles of that kind in the way of future relationships.
In the present circumstances, I am anxious to demonstrate my agreement with our friends in the Democratic Unionist party. I share all their fervour that we should have an open border in Ireland. It would be an absolute catastrophe if we found ourselves closing that border again, with all the threats to the stability of Ulster and the Irish Republic that that would entail. Given that no one would argue in principle with what I have just said about no new tariffs, regulatory barriers or customs barriers, I find it odd that those on the two Front Benches are ostensibly agreed that we are going to leave the single market—that is difficult to understand in the case of Labour—and perhaps the customs union as well. I can only assume that either that is mere semantics, or that we are going to see considerable ingenuity in how we achieve what is to people of common sense on both sides of the channel a desirable goal, while at the same time withdrawing from the single market and the customs union.
I repeat that when we received our instructions from the people—to use the kind of phrase that the Eurosceptics are fond of—in the referendum, I do not recall the question of leaving the single market and the customs union being even remotely seriously raised. Certainly in the rather good debates that I had with intelligent Eurosceptics in village halls and so on, none of them ever suggested that we would do that. This is in line with my experience throughout my time in this House, during which every Eurosceptic has argued that there is nothing wrong with the common market. Every right-wing Tory has always been totally in favour of having close and open trading relations with the rest of Europe. The sole basis of their opposition was the politics of Europe, or their version of what they thought that was.
The remain and leave campaigns agreed that we could not stay in the single market or the customs union, for a variety of good reasons. The first is that we want to have free trade agreements with other countries around the world, and we could not do that if we were in the single market or the customs union. Secondly, it was made very clear that we would have to make budget contributions and accept freedom of movement, which we have no intention of doing. That was one of the few things that the two campaigns agreed about, and we all told the British public that we would be leaving the single market and the customs union. That was repeated in the article 50 letter, and it was appreciated by the EU. It was also voted on and approved overwhelmingly by the House of Commons in the last Parliament. What part of that does my right hon. and learned Friend not understand?
Members in the Chamber will begin to think that, for the first time in my career here, there is collusion between myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, and between myself and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), because my right hon. Friend anticipates precisely my next point: the only reasons I have so far been given for the proposition—the European Union is bewildered by our approach—that we leave the single market and the customs union. The reason for leaving the customs union is, apparently, that we are desperately anxious to reach agreements with the wider world—[Interruption.] I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, with whom I have always had the most amiable discussions about European issues, taking his place in the Chamber.
Everybody in the Conservative party has been advocating greater trade and better trading relationships with the wider world for as long as I have been here. The British Government were widely recognised over the past 40 years as being the Government in the EU who were the most fervent advocates of liberal economics and an open trading policy. British Governments played a very large part in instigating the many trade deals that the EU has entered into with partners around the world and in pressing the other member states to make progress on them—with considerable success. Of course, if you negotiate as the EU, you have considerable negotiating clout—we would have less on our own.
The last time I held office, towards the end of the coalition Government—I am taking a break in my political career at the moment—I was asked to lead for us on the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal, which, sadly, was a very difficult one to get. There was no more fervent advocate of the desirability of an EU TTIP deal than the then British Government, who were led by the Conservatives and in which most of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are now on the Front Bench served. That was our approach, and it is why in recent times we have achieved some extremely valuable free trade deals. The South Korea deal is a spectacular one, and we have even opened negotiations with Japan, which is extremely important. Those deals will go when we leave the EU, unless we reinstate them, yet apparently we will be leaving the customs union to add to those deals. The only quick way in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade will be able to achieve that—this is the first thing I would recommend—will be by suggesting to the other parties to our current deals that we could continue them on the basis that, as far as they are concerned, we are still in the customs union. We would therefore be asking the Koreans to accept that we would sign up to the terms that we had before, and that we would conduct ourselves as bound by the rules and subject to international arbitration—all the things that are essential to have any agreement with anybody. Otherwise, it will be a nightmare trying to reopen them all—
I just want to reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that when partners split up and there are extant treaties, they novate to both sides so we will be able to inherit the treaty, as well as the rest of the EU will, unless the other side objects. I know of no other country that is going to object—they would want to keep the free trade agreement with the UK.
I am very reassured by that, because it means that in this global future, with all the new deals we wish to make—on the horizon that beckons before us of where we are going to go—in more than 50 countries we are going to continue on exactly the same footing as we are on now, taking on all the obligations of the existing EU trade deal and deriving all the benefits. I find that extremely reassuring, and my right hon. Friend and I should make an unlikely delegation to the Prime Minister to urge that upon her as the next step to take. I think the idea is—I will entirely welcome it, of course, when we are out of the EU—that we look forward to new trade deals negotiated with other countries, but I think we grossly underestimate the difficulty of doing that.
For example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade visited the Philippines. He assured President Duterte how much we shared his values, which I found rather startling, but he was on a worthwhile mission of which I wholly approved, trying to pave the way for a proper free trade deal with the Philippines. It so happens that I have been to the Philippines several times: I have made political, ministerial and business visits, most of which have had, as part of their agenda, trying to promote trade and investment in the Philippines. It is not an easy market. The idea that we are going to make rapid progress in the Philippines should not take hold too strongly with my right hon. Friend and his colleagues. If he can make any worthwhile advances in less than a few years, it will be a quite remarkable achievement.
We might be able to get somewhere with New Zealand, and, when they have finished with TTIP, we might be able to get somewhere with President Trump’s United States, but there will be difficulties even there. We must have an agreement with the New Zealanders. They are our best friends in the world on this kind of subject, they run a very well-governed country, they are very well disposed to us, and they share our views on free trade. Nevertheless, their first demand will have to be the lifting of quotas and tariffs on lamb. That will pose problems for our troubled agricultural sector, so we had better prepare to handle that carefully.
The first demand of any American Administration—assuming we even get anywhere with the protectionist and isolationist current Administration—will be that we open up to their beef. Personally, I do not have any hang-ups about hormone-treated beef, but there will have to be some quite hard negotiations about exactly how far we are going to open up our market to the Americans, who are always anxious to get rid of their heavily subsidised agricultural produce. They will not regard us as strong bargaining partners in the situation we have put ourselves in. I shall not go on, but the whole idea of leaving the customs union has its limitations.
Similarly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham chose to raise the question of our paying a financial contribution. Everybody is having to come to terms with that. I wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union well in the main negotiations at the moment and hope that he comes back with the best deal he can get, but he is not going to start the negotiations with the European Union on the basis that we repudiate all the legal, financial and treaty obligations that we have already signed up to, or without a proper, reasonable, objective division of assets and so on. I wish him well in getting a modest figure.
If we wish to have totally unfettered access to the market in the rest of the European Union, which I do, we are completely wasting our time if we turn up saying we are not going to make any contribution to the regional grants that are made to the less developed economies of, for example, eastern and central Europe, which is the basis on which those economies are prepared to enter into free trade with developed economies such as ours. No other country has an agreement with the EU that does not involve a contribution of that kind.
The reason usually given is that we wish to have more control of our borders and deal with the free movement of labour—the point made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). I quite accept that we have a political problem in this country on the subject of immigration; we need to accept that in a serious, professional and civilised manner. I do not have personal hang-ups about immigration—it is certainly no question of culture, race, or anything of that kind, as far as I am concerned. I think British society is very much stronger, healthier and more interesting nowadays than it was in my childhood. I now live very contentedly in a multi-ethnic, multicultural, international society, and I think that is the way the 21st century is going to go in every developed country in the world.
The problem is the numbers of people coming here, but the problem is not, in my opinion, the numbers of other EU nationals in particular. That was not the surge in feeling that lay behind a lot of the votes in the referendum. There are people who do not like foreign languages being spoken on the bus, but I think that they are outnumbered.
It is undoubtedly the case—it is a fairly easy case to make—that EU nationals of all the ethnic groups in this country are the most likely to be in productive and valuable work and the least likely to be claiming benefit, and they are allowed here on the basis that they will take work. Since the referendum, there has been more serious discussion about the devastating effect it would have on various sectors of our economy and key public services if we started, with new rigorous controls, excluding EU nationals from coming here.
I have just had for the first time in my life first-hand experience of the best of the national health service, and the multinational teams who dealt with me at every level contained a very high proportion of EU nationals. The public do not actually get upset about German academics or Romanian nurses or Polish building workers; it is the sheer numbers of other immigrants who come here. UKIP, in its dog-whistle campaigning, always campaigned with posters showing brown or black people trying to enter this country. They never explained that for the huge numbers of people wanting to come here from Africa, the middle east, Afghanistan and so on it was an entirely sovereign decision for the United Kingdom whether they were given legal status to live here and nothing whatever to do with our membership of the European Union, which does not make the faintest difference.
I am quite clear that this country should behave in a civilised and responsible way towards the world’s poor, that we should certainly honour our international law commitments on this subject—on the law of asylum and so on—but we have to reassure people who decided to vote leave because they saw all those pictures of people on the beaches of Libya, and thought our borders had been lost and that it had something to do with the EU that so many of them were trying to come here. In fact, I think, a lot of the problem is not caused by the EU; it is a problem we share with the other nations of northern Europe in particular. Lots and lots of young men take the family savings and risk their lives paying people smugglers, and they mainly head for Germany, Sweden or the United Kingdom. We have been co-operating, and we should continue to do so, with the other member states on issues such as tackling the problem of crossing the Mediterranean, and sealing the outer European border but controlling it in a way that lets in people whom we need or to whom we have an obligation, moral, legal or otherwise. The idea that leaving the European Union means that people will stop trying to get across from Calais or Ostend is an illusion.
More importantly, our big problem, which is normally shoved under the carpet but has been mentioned several times in the media recently, is the huge number of undocumented illegal immigrants in this country. Nobody knows how many there are, but estimates vary between 400,000 and 1 million. Not surprisingly, following the recent horrific tragedy quite a number of them turned out to be living in this tower in north Kensington where we saw such appalling, heart-rending scenes.
All over the country, they are there. They are camping out near the channel ports. British people smugglers are bringing them in. There are people who have been refused asylum but have never left, people who have overstayed their visas. That is the real problem, but how do we deal with it in a way that is not merely cruel and inhuman? It is a tremendously difficult problem. We cannot just deport people who are probably using a false name, who are probably not giving their genuine nationality. We have to try to persuade some country to take them back because we want to deport them, but that country will deny that they want these people or that they are anything to do with them.
To start concentrating on freedom of movement of labour and trying to put in unnecessary barriers to people who, as every study shows, have been making a positive contribution to the economy of this country for most of the past few decades, is a substitute for facing up to the enormous problems of reassuring our public that we are not sacrificing our humanitarian values but we do understand that we cannot take the world’s poor and that we need some system to address that.
I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. I join him in congratulating all the medical staff in Nottingham, essentially for putting him back together again and making sure that his health is even better than it was before, as we can see in all the rigor of his arguments. May I say how much I agree with everything that he says? Does he agree that one of the great tragedies of recent events, in terms of the politics that we face, is that none of those arguments has been made, not only outside the House but in the Chamber? I do not know for how many years we have failed to have an honest debate about immigration. If we had started here, then had the debate out in our communities, we might not find ourselves in the unfortunate situation that we are clearly in.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. We live in a celebrity culture where the referendum was essentially the Boris and Dave show, with very little serious content. The general election had a lot of slogans, and billions of pounds were going to be spent on everything that emerged as a problem, but it was remarkably bereft of policy discussion in the media—that approach is seen not just in Parliament—and in debate. That is a wider issue: in the politics of Nottinghamshire we try to keep up standards, but in the House we need to return to treating these things seriously.
Briefly, because I have taken far longer than I intended, we have to approach this on a cross-party basis. Both the major parties are hopelessly split on the issue. We have just demonstrated that, and the Labour party is equally split. The idea that we will continue in power by getting my right hon. Friends and me to agree on some compromise, subject to a veto on every significant vote to be exercised by the Democratic Unionists, which will give us a small majority in the House, is not the way to have a strong mandate for the Brexit negotiations that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was seeking in the election.
I want to take my right hon. and learned Friend back to his comments on migration. He described the referendum as the Boris and Dave show. It certainly was not the Ken and David show. Neither of us spoke much about immigration in the referendum campaign, but the simple truth is that if we look back over the 20 years since the growth in migration from the east—the then Labour Government did not have a transitional arrangement—the concern of the public at large, not just small groups or people who are bigots, about migration generally went from next to nothing to 80%. It is a little wider, I think, than he has described. There are real problems and issues that require us to behave in a civilised manner, but I think that we should treat that respectfully. We are trying to get a resolution that respects that and delivers an economic outcome that we deserve.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. I always credit him with consistently sound principles. I have the same respect for him that I have for the two right hon. Friends who have interrupted me. [Interruption.] No—I mean that genuinely, as they have not been on all sides at various times. They have argued consistently, in a principled way, with knowledge of the European Union all the way through. There is always an element in politics—we have to have this—where some people change, quite rapidly sometimes, according to the latest headline or the prospect of promotion or whatever it might be. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union cannot be accused of that, and neither can I. I credit him, too, for not using any of the daft arguments during the referendum. I do not remember him saying that 70 million Turks were coming to molest our womenfolk and take our jobs. He did not say that there would be £350 million a week to spend on the national health service—the two big arguments of the national leaders—and I did not use the daft ones on our side either. The result was that we hardly got reported—nobody took any notice, because the national media were not remotely interested.
It is obvious that we are going to have to have some cross-party appeal now, and there are important reasons for that. The Labour party will be tempted by another election. So many Labour Members I know are still pinching themselves at the fact that they are still in the House. I quite accept that the Leader of the Opposition had a personal triumph, but I point out that Labour is still miles from forming a Government. It has 50 fewer seats than the Conservative party, and its chances of forming a coalition with the Democratic Unionist party, the Liberals or the Scottish Nationalist party on the kind of platform it stood on are absolutely nil.
I also think that another general election would be an appalling risk. The public do not like any party. I have never known such—ill-founded, I think—adolescent cynicism to be so widespread among the electorate, who treat the political class with growing contempt. Are we going to start playing party games and have another election when they are so volatile? About 20% of the population changed their minds in the last fortnight of the campaign. It was not with deep conviction: most of them were reassured that they could cast a protest vote for the Labour party without any risk of its winning and taking power. Another election would be a bigger gamble than the last one, with no certain outcome.
We in this House have to prove that occasionally our tribalism can subside and that we are capable of putting the national interest above the short-term knockabout of discredited party politics. The French have been saved by President Macron. They have got rid of both their long-established parties—they cannot stand either of them. A new, hopeful person has emerged from the centre or centre-left. Heaven knows whether he can succeed, although I very much hope that he does. We went in the opposite direction. The two parties surged in support—the electorate went back to the old two parties, but I do not think that they were deeply convinced by the arguments that either was using during the election. Heaven knows what they would do if this Parliament failed or collapsed or some stupid party vote took place and there was another general election. That would be a lottery from which we might all lose.
Let us show that we can rise above things. I am glad to know that channels are already open to the Liberals and the Labour party—as well as the Scottish nationalist party, I am sure. We do not really know the basis on which we are negotiating Brexit at the moment; I think it will have to be carried by what I think would be an extremely sensible cross-party majority that the House could easily command if we were able to put in place some processes to achieve it.
It is an honour to follow a wise speech, and in my shorter contribution I may reflect on some of the points made in it.
I should also like to pay my respects to two colleagues who departed in the past 12 months. The losses of Gerald Kaufman and Jo Cox were deeply and strongly felt. Both people made huge contributions to this place, their constituencies and our wider community. Gerald Kaufman’s career in this place lasted as long as I have been alive. We do not just reflect on his great contribution to the Labour party and our national public life but contrast that with the single, solitary year that Jo Cox spent in this place; in so many ways, she made as big an impact. It is right that we celebrated her life and values in the recent Great Get Together. I hope that that will continue for many years to come as we stand by her, her family and her legacy.
I should also refer to some of the appalling events that have taken place in this country in the past few weeks.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy left many of us utterly speechless. The sense of appalling tragedy, the horror that those people had to go through, and the immense personal loss—the loss of loved ones, the loss of everything —is something we can barely imagine. But there is something very different about this tragedy, in that it is a source—I feel it myself, if I am honest—of great anger. Whatever we say and whatever we do, the implications of what happened—the loss of dozens and dozens of lives—is that some lives in our society are apparently worth less than others. That is how that outrage came to take place, and we must learn from it and take action to demonstrate we have learned from it.
We have all spoken at length about the three terrorist incidents—Finsbury Park just recently, London Bridge and Manchester—and about our horror and outrage at what happened. But let us remember what terrorists seek to do: they seek to divide us, and our response must be to be united. I went to the Muslim welfare centre next to Finsbury Park mosque last night, and among the people I met I had the honour of meeting Mohammed, the young imam, whose dignity shone out on the night of the attack, and who actually protected the assailant from a very dangerous situation. That is a reminder that, when we speak about the different communities in our country, we must do so with care, with love and with inclusion.
It is not just us in politics who should use language in that way, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) rightly pointed out. Dare I say gently that our friends in the media must also be immensely careful about how they report such incidents and, indeed, all matters to do with community relations in this country? If a person living in a non-diverse part of the United Kingdom gets their information about community relations, terrorism and risks only from certain newspapers, they will end up believing that there are problems that, perhaps, there are not, and demonise others when there is absolutely no place for that. We have to work incredibly hard, in uniting our communities, to use language that is right and inclusive, and to make sure we do not allow those who seek to damage and divide us to actually win.
The hon. Gentleman started his speech by paying tribute to Jo Cox and Gerald Kaufman. I hope he does not mind if I also mention Paul Keetch. Paul, who was a comrade of ours, was a Member of Parliament for many years. He retired through ill health and, sadly, died just before the general election. He is somebody we will miss greatly.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. Paul stepped down from the House in 2010, but he was a friend and colleague of mine. I am bound to say that, among his many other achievements, he was the defence spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats during the Iraq war. People will remember—wrongly—that the Liberal Democrats took the popular side in opposing the Iraq war, but we did not: we took the unpopular side. Sometimes it is important to do right, and Paul Keetch sat on the Front Bench, next to the equally late and great Charles Kennedy, making that case at that very difficult time for our country.
May I just reinforce the hon. Gentleman’s message about Imam Mohammed Mahmoud? His words—that, by God’s grace, they managed to stop the attacker being attacked and prevent worse things from happening—should be in everyone’s mind. Heaven knows what would have happened if the attacker had suffered serious damage. The headlines would have been very different, so we owe a great deal to that imam and people like him.
We absolutely do, and he is an example of what genuinely unites us and of our love and concern for others. Indeed, he reflects the values of the colossal majority of Muslim people in this country, and it is important that we reflect that.
In their absence, let me also pay tribute to the humorous, witty and wise remarks of the mover and the seconder of the response to the Gracious Speech, and move on to my own remarks, which I promise will not be all that lengthy—whether they are wise, Members can judge at the end.
The Prime Minister is not in her place now; she is entitled not to be. She and I have a lot in common. We both contested North West Durham in 1992, and neither of us won; we both led our parties in the recent general election, and neither of us won; and soon neither of us will be leading our parties any more, but at least I have got the honesty to admit it publicly. Britain, for all its immense and glorious heritage, its potentially wonderful future, and all its tremendous values, is nevertheless a country in a mess. It is essentially a mess caused by two choices made by two Conservative Prime Ministers who put their party before their country. First, David Cameron called a referendum on Europe for no other reason than to attempt to put a sticking plaster between two sides of the Conservative party. Secondly, our current Prime Minister thought she could gain narrow party advantage by calling a snap election. Pride comes before a fall. It is tempting to be amused at the hubris turned to humiliation that has now come upon the Conservative party, but the problem is that this is a mess that damages Britain—that damages the future for all of our children.
So, to the Gracious Speech. Her Majesty has launched many ships in her time, but never such an empty vessel as the one today. I am not sure whether wasting the monarch’s time is a treasonous act; I hope for the Prime Minister’s sake it is not. The Queen’s Speech shows that we have a Government who have lost touch with their people and lost touch with reality. If they have the first, foggiest idea of what the will of the people is now, they have chosen to ignore it. Why is there no additional investment in health or social care? As two in three of our head teachers across our country in the next few weeks are having to lay off teaching staff, why is there no plan to cancel the £3 billion-worth of cuts to our schools?
I very much agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. He mentioned that there is no extra funding for health. The Queen’s Speech makes reference to prioritising mental health within the NHS. Does he share my horror at the gap between the rhetoric and the reality? The reality is that the constraints that NHS England is putting on many areas of the country mean that mental health is losing out here and now, not being prioritised as the Queen’s Speech claims.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; he speaks with immense experience and capability, and a record in this area. This is a reminder that warm words from the Government are not sufficient when hard cash is not present. During the election, my party offered the British people the opportunity, which of course they did not take, to place a penny on income tax in order to pay for real investment in health and social care, including, as a priority, mental health. I say that because somebody needs to be honest with the British people that if we want the best health and social care in the world, then we will have to pay for it.
I guess we ought to explain to those listening to this debate that Her Majesty never gives public spending statements. I think there will be more money for health and education, and that will be announced at another time by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is a list of laws we are going to pass. Does the hon. Gentleman not see how significant the Brexit law is?
I will come to that in a moment. The Gracious Speech is nevertheless a statement of the Government’s priorities. Given the conversation that we rightly have about our security as a country, the fact that the Government are not seeking to do something to strengthen in number our police force—the most obvious way of making sure we are all kept safe—beggars belief.
I hate to rain on the hon. Gentleman’s parade, but will he remind us whether, when he was in coalition with the Conservative Government, he raised any of the points around, for example, the cuts in police funding, or objected to, for example, the non-prioritisation of mental health and other spending?
The short and blindingly obvious answer is yes. The fact that no savings were made in the security services’ funding whatsoever is testament to that, as is the fact that we have in my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) the person who has done most in living memory to advance mental health in this country from a Government Bench.
As is very clear from recent statements and from the Gracious Speech, the Prime Minister has sought to pursue, and continues to seek to pursue, an extreme version of Brexit, having failed to gain any mandate to do so. There is, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe mentioned, no plan to keep Britain in the single market or the customs union. We will therefore seek to amend the Queen’s Speech to add membership of the single market and the customs union. We are pleased to hear that 50 colleagues from the Labour party take a similar view, believing that we should be members of the single market. Access to the single market is a nonsense; many countries around the world have access to the single market. I could be wrong, but I think North Korea has access to the single market. The issue is: are we members of that market?
The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe pointed out earlier that apparently we all believe in free trade now. Do not believe what people say; believe what they do. People may say, “We are in favour of free trade now,” but if they vote in these Lobbies in the coming weeks and months for us not to be members of the single market—and therefore not just to rip up our biggest free trade deal, which is with the largest and most valuable economy on the planet, but, as a consequence, to rip up the deals that we have at second hand with North Korea and the rest of it—they are not free traders.
I have a genuine inquiry for the hon. Gentleman. If we were to retain membership of the single market and the customs union, what, in his view, would be different about that arrangement in comparison with being a member of the European Union?
I think I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman and I both indicated during the referendum campaign that, according to those who cited Norway as a model, in such a situation we would get the economic benefits of being in the European Union, but none of the political ones. We would not get decision-making powers, and all the rest of it. Norway was always the least-dreadful option on the menu if we were to leave the European Union, and it remains so. I am all in favour of the least-dreadful option, if we cannot have absolutely the best one.
It is fair to say that the lack of clarity over the version of Brexit that the Government are pressing for and pursuing is alarming. What does success look like? What does a bad deal look like? Nobody knows, because the Government’s plan is as clear as mud, and the only details we have had are empty platitudes. The Government today have presented us with a number of so-called Brexit Bills on immigration, customs and agriculture, but how on earth can we be expected to support these things when we have no idea what the end goal is? The majority of people in this country did not put their faith in the Government at the ballot box, and it would be dangerous for any Member of this House to put blind faith in these Brexit Bills without full details of what they will mean for our borders, our trade, our security and our jobs.
As the Brexit Secretary begins the horse-trading and concession-making with politicians in Brussels, the fact is that we are no closer to knowing what Brexit will look like. Those who have expressed concern about this House and the people of this country having insufficient sovereignty over the law of this country must, surely, see the irony in our children’s and grandchildren’s future being stitched up in vape-filled rooms in Brussels and imposed on the British people, without a single inhabitant of this country—outside this House—having any say whatsoever. And yet the Prime Minister still refuses to give the people the final say on that deal, with the right to reject it and remain if they do not think that it is a good deal.
The Prime Minister may pretend that it is business as usual, but clearly that is not the case. She wanted a landslide, but the people said no. She wanted a mandate for her plans for an extreme version of Brexit, but the people rejected that, too. She promised strong and stable leadership, but no Government have ever looked weaker or less in control. The Prime Minister has gone cap in hand to the DUP and tried to stitch up a deal to keep her in power, and now it is making her look like a fool as well.
The hon. Gentleman criticises our approach to the DUP. His party has long advocated coalitions, but now that it thinks them not politically expedient it has abandoned faith in them altogether. For how long will the Liberal Democrats’ moratorium on coalitions last?
We are a party that believes in pluralism. We simply reflect on the appalling nature of first past the post, which gives such unstable and unbalanced electoral outcomes. Perhaps we should change the system.
There have been many things said about the DUP. I will make one observation, which I hope people will consider to be neutral and honest. Peace in Northern Ireland was incredibly hard-won, at great cost. All active politicians in Northern Ireland, including those who are sitting behind me now, are owed great credit for that achievement. The difficulty is simply this: the current minority Government will be perceived to have taken sides for the first time in decades. That is a responsibility that the Government, the Prime Minister and the DUP will need to deal with as we seek to maintain that hard-won peace.
To return to the point that was made a moment ago, I made it clear throughout the election campaign that my party would do no deals and form no coalitions, and that we would support a Queen’s Speech only if we felt that it was in the interests of the country.
The hon. Gentleman’s argument has been employed by a wide range of people. Does he accept, however, that as a party elected to this national Parliament to represent the people of Northern Ireland, we have every right to play as full a part as we choose? Whether we decide that that means supporting the Conservative party or sitting on these Benches, that is our right, and that is what we were elected to do.
For what it is worth, I absolutely accept all that. However, DUP Members do not need me to tell them how sensitive perceptions are. The reality is one thing, but perceptions might as well be reality. My concern is how this will be viewed, and what it means for this most sensitive time in the history of Northern Ireland and, in fact, of the island of Ireland. We all ought to be concerned about that. I do not say that to make a partisan point, or to deny DUP Members the right to represent their constituents or, should they choose to do so, to form some kind of arrangement with the current Government.
We, as Liberal Democrats, could have supported a Queen’s Speech that set out a Brexit negotiating position that would keep us in the single market and the customs union, with a referendum on the final deal once all matters were negotiated. A cross-party approach to the negotiations should have been pursued in the first place. I have called in recent days for a joint Cabinet Committee, to be chaired and led by the Prime Minister and to include Labour Members, Liberal Democrats and nationalists into the bargain, so that a deal could be negotiated on behalf of us all. We would have voted for a Queen’s Speech that set out a real-terms increase in schools funding, gave a cash injection to the NHS and social care and invested an extra £300 million in police officers to keep us safe, as we had argued for. We would have voted for a Queen’s Speech that set out real action on climate change and air pollution and supported renewable energy. But that is not the Queen’s Speech that the Prime Minister has set out, and so my party will not support it.
The opening speeches—although they were, of course, of undiluted magnificence—have taken a little longer than I might reasonably have expected, and therefore it might become necessary before long to impose a formal time limit. There are, I ask the House to accept, good reasons why I do not wish to impose a formal time limit at this point, but I would ask for a degree of self-restraint and for Members to consider the merit of a speech not exceeding 10 minutes. I feel sure that that exacting test can be met with ease by someone of the consummate intellectual brilliance of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. As somebody who was accused during the election campaign of being a red Tory—I think my late father would have found that a strange and vile epithet to be hurled at me—I must say that I was greatly reassured by listening to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). As he touched on many of the subjects that I wanted to talk about, I immediately tried to identify areas of disagreement that I might have with him, and I rather failed to do so. In contrast, I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), but notwithstanding the fact that I rather hoped I would find myself in agreement with him, much of the tone that he adopted—it was of a rather carping and sanctimonious kind—emphasised to me why I am in the Conservative party and not somewhere else.
There is much to welcome in the Queen’s Speech. It has rightly been pointed out that it was the speech of a liberal Conservative; it encompasses liberal Conservative values. Among the key issues that we will be addressing are counter-extremism, dealing with personal data, trying to improve community cohesion by introducing special advocates and public advocates to act in cases of disasters, and working to improve general community relations and the way in which our communities operate. Those are all matters that I greatly welcome and in which I hope to participate. Recently, I have been chairing a commission for Citizens UK on Muslim participation in public life in this country and the report is due to be published on 3 July. I hope that that will make a sensible contribution to a key issue for our wellbeing and our future.
The Government were absolutely right to highlight at the start of the Queen’s Speech that the priority has to be the careful management of Brexit because, contrary to the views expressed by a few of my colleagues to whom I have spoken since the election, it seems to me that Brexit was, without the slightest doubt, the single key issue in how the election was conducted, the reasons behind it and, indeed, the inconclusive outcome, which was in one sense unsatisfactory. It is the elephant in the room; it is the man on the stair who wasn’t there. Even when people sought to discuss other issues, in truth it all came back to the anxieties and concerns, whether in the business community or for individuals, about our collective future precipitated by this single revolutionary act.
I appreciate that revolutionary acts can be conducted by people who believe profoundly that they are acting in the name of traditional values, but revolutionary it undoubtedly is. One only has to look at the Queen’s Speech and see that by the third paragraph we are into the lawyerly detail that will have to be crunched through to achieve even the legal formalities of departure to appreciate the mammoth task we have taken on. Lurking behind it is the key issue of whether our economic wellbeing survives the process and whether the promises that have been made by some in this House of a better tomorrow because of the liberation it will give us are capable of being delivered. Nearly 12 months since Brexit was voted on, I am afraid that I have no greater confidence that we will achieve such a satisfactory outcome than I had at the time the referendum took place. Indeed, on the economic indicators that are developing, which are the direct result of Brexit, it seems to me, speaking bluntly, that the omens are not particularly good.
All of us in this House have a responsibility—it is one of the reasons I was elected—to provide quiet government. Obviously, quiet government does not mean rolling over and doing nothing in the face of challenge. There may be times when we ought to ask people to make sacrifices. However, it troubles me that the one thing that came out of this election was the unquiet state of the country and the extent to which politics generally, including the electorate’s participation in it, had clearly failed to deliver outcomes over the course of the past 12 months that were satisfactory to people, whether it was the young turning out in force to vote at the last minute as a protest because they had not bothered to vote at all in the referendum last year, according to the available evidence, or the willingness to embrace radical policies and solutions that, frankly, do not stand close scrutiny.
The economic package offered by the Labour party in this election was economically illiterate and would have faced this country with financial ruin. Its attractiveness, in my view, was the direct result of the fact that people could no longer see that there was any plan to end austerity and bring a better future to this country, because we compromised that by landing ourselves with massive problems as a result of the way we voted in the referendum last year.
How, then, do we get ourselves out of that problem? First, to agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, I accept the verdict of the electorate—it cannot be undone. As I have said consistently in this place, we have to implement Brexit. However, what we do will determine whether our economic wellbeing is maintained and, with it, our ability to deal with all those other legitimate subjects of debate, such as whether we can provide better public services. Our public services have undoubtedly been under massive pressure for a very long time, precisely because this country finds great difficulty in paying its way—a conundrum that no political party has ever succeeded in resolving.
When I look at all this, it is not the starting point of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech that I question. If she can achieve the Lancaster House speech and if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union can succeed in the negotiations and bring about the package that was identified, we will all have good occasion to rejoice. However, the fact of the matter is that at some point in the next two years, this House will have to start thinking about what happens if we cannot achieve that package. In the lovely way that we do in this country, we push that issue further and further down the road and hope it will go away, but it will not. I am not optimistic that the entirety of the package is obtainable. In fact, I think much less than the totality of it will be available because of the way in which the EU works and because the preservation of its identity means that it cannot give us the special status that we are asking for.
Then, Mr Speaker, we will have to make choices. In that matter, particularly in view of the inconclusive result of the election, the totality of opinion in this House will start to matter very much. We will have to determine whether, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said, it is better to maintain the best free trade arrangement we can have with our closest partners, on whom we are economically massively interdependent, or to sacrifice that for potentially attractive restorations of control that, in my view, amount to very little indeed when subjected to rational analysis. Even if they are successful, we will still need migrants if we are economically successful. The separate issue of global population increase and our ability to grapple on that front internationally is the key question. I think that we could have lovely trade agreements with large numbers of countries, but they would not be a substitute for losing the trade agreements with the countries with which we are most intimately associated.
Given that the right hon. and learned Gentleman feels that there is a risk that the package will not deliver in any substantial way, why is he holding out against the idea that the people might want to have a second say on whether to proceed with such a bad package?
As I have said before, I see no sign that public opinion on Brexit has changed. I have no idea whether it will change in the future, but we have to proceed on the basis that we have to honour the commitment to take ourselves out of the EU. I am committed to supporting the Government in doing that. The question is how we go about it and how, within this House, we succeed in co-operating with each other—or not—to bring it about.
In my view, everything else in politics is subordinate to this issue, because most of the other legitimate issues that are being aired in this Queen’s Speech debate, whether it be social policy, housing, health and safety issues—a subject I know a bit about because I used to prosecute for the Health and Safety Executive—and what may be going wrong in that domain, whether it is fire regulations or anything else, are incapable of being fully addressed until we sort out this key matter. Ultimately, it will be toxic to our political system if we do not come up with the right answers. What I picked up in the election was how the mounting frustration with politics and politicians as a class continues to grow, precisely because we cannot produce that coherent response.
I am sorry to have to say this to those on the Labour Front Bench, but I listened to the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) talking about rage. People are entitled to be angry about lots of things, but I thought that one of the things that we were, in part, deriving from the murder of Jo Cox was that anger followed by rage is usually the precondition to violence. That is something we have seen in this country not just in her murder but in other incidents. Yet we are now reduced to a position where Labour Front Benchers apparently see rage as a key thing to introduce to politics. How will we reach consensual agreements on key subjects concerning this country’s future if we are mired in that sort of rhetoric?
I do not want to take up more of the House’s time, but I simply want to say that I wish the Government well in what they are trying to do on Brexit. I will give them my support—not unqualified, but I will try as a Back Bencher to be helpfully critical. I appreciate that we are going, and I want to work with other Members to try to achieve a sensible outcome that does not damage our economic wellbeing and national security, both of which are at risk. I then want us to be able to start focusing on the issues that matter very much to people in how their daily lives are shaped. We are blessed in this country in that on the whole, despite our mistakes, we succeed in managing fairly competent government—that applies as much to Members on the Opposition Benches as to ourselves. Frankly, if we do not get this right, we will be in very serious trouble. The question is how Parliament goes about ensuring that we come to the right outcome.
As ever, it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). I thank him for his thoughtful contribution and want to pick up on a couple of the points that he made.
Overall, this is a very thin Queen’s Speech. It avoids big issues, some of which I want to talk about, particularly education, housing and health. I will come to those, but Brexit is clearly the dominant issue for this Parliament, and it is notable that the speeches preceding mine have focused almost entirely on it.
Before I talk about Brexit, though, I think it is right that I thank the voters of Hackney South and Shoreditch for returning me for the fourth time as a Labour and Co-operative MP. I was returned with 79% of the popular vote—a sign not of my personal popularity, but of people’s great impatience with austerity. There was no light at the end of the austerity tunnel for many of my constituents. While many people describe my area as achingly cool, in many parts it is still achingly poor.
People were pleased to see the Labour manifesto offering a glimmer of hope, but they were mightily concerned about Brexit as well. Some 78% of them voted to remain in the European Union last year, but now they do not even know what the Government are proposing in the negotiations on leaving. That approach risks a Brexit that will damage the British economy, jobs and living standards. We already see the pound 50% lower against the dollar and 10% down against the euro since the decision was made a year ago, and in April inflation rose to 2.6%, its highest rate for three and a half years. Constituents on the doorsteps said that they were noticing their shopping being more expensive, and that is just the beginning of the impact. It is vital that the Government set out a clear agenda for what they want to achieve.
There are two issues that I think are absolutely essential, one of which is the single market. I would prefer us to maintain membership, but at the very least we need access to it, for all the reasons that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) eruditely explained, which I do not need to repeat. The other is EU citizens in my constituency, who still greet me on the doorstep in tears, a year later, because of the Government’s woeful delay in deciding their future. It is heartening that there are press reports that there might be some fast-track measure, but there was nothing about that in the Queen’s Speech.
The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield picked up a point about the great repeal Bill, and we need to be careful about that. The Queen’s Speech identified a few items that the Government will particularly focus on, but this is the Government who promised to reduce quangos, and the Bill runs the risk of creating more as we transpose many regulations from European law to British law. The Queen’s Speech referred to nuclear, but we could also talk about medicines or animal rights. All those issues will have to be transposed. Frankly, if there is another general election and hon. Members lose their seat, I suggest that they go for a public appointment, because many bodies will have to be created in order to deliver that law. That, however, gives no comfort to my constituents who are worried about the cost of living.
The issue of costs and budgets brings me to education. The Government promise in the Queen’s Speech that they will
“work to ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend a good school”.
All children in my constituency attend a good or outstanding school, but my constituents are very angry about education. I have now fought four general elections in my constituency, and several elections prior to that in other places, and I have never seen such a groundswell of anger from parents, teachers and pupils—so much so that there were seven assemblies in Hackney one Friday during the election campaign. The people there were ordinary parents, not political activists—not that there is anything wrong with political activists—who were galvanised into action by the threat to our children’s future.
During the work that we have done in the Public Accounts Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing in the last Parliament and hope to chair again, the Government have kept telling us that the overall schools budget in England is going up and has been protected in real terms. However, they have not provided for an increase in funding per pupil in line with inflation. On average, that will rise from just over £5,440 in 2015-16 to £5,519 in 2019-20, which is a real-terms reduction.
Added to that, there is the proposal to change the funding formula—there has been some indication that that might be changing but, again, no details. The change would mean that schools in my borough of Hackney would lose 2.8% of their funding—the highest percentage cut in the country alongside that to two or three other London boroughs—which would be more than £5 million a year. Our schools are among the best in the country, thanks to the investment of previous Governments, and it would be short-sighted and frankly bonkers to cut that away now.
We can add to that the existing efficiency savings that schools are being expected to make, which the Public Accounts Committee looked at only a few months ago. That £3 billion of savings, which needs to be found by 2020, includes £1.7 billion through the more efficient use of staff—we know that that already means that teachers and classroom assistants are losing their jobs—and £1.3 billion through more efficient procurement. I am all for efficiencies and for spending every tax pound as efficiently as possible, because we can then spend what we save on other things, but these are often false economies. One headteacher in my constituency is looking at four-and-a-half-day weeks, while others are seriously considering whether they can maintain the full secondary curriculum or if they will have to cut it.
Then there is capital funding for schools. There was no real mention in the Queen’s Speech of changes to the schools agenda—including on grammar schools, so we assume that that proposal has bitten the dust. We need nearly £7 billion of capital funding just to bring existing buildings across England up to scratch, yet we have seen a free schools programme that is expected to cost £9.7 billion by 2020. In London alone, four sites have been bought for £30 million or more each, and only recently I heard of a school in Hertfordshire in an old office block with no sports facilities or playground. The children do their PE in a public car park. Members of all parties have raised with me their concerns about similar examples. We need to invest in our children for this country’s long-term future. Our hope for the future, especially with Brexit looming, is that our children will get the best possible education and start in life. Whatever happens, we face choppy waters on immigration with the potential abolition of free movement.
There was also nothing about housing in the Queen’s Speech, except the banning of unfair tenant fees. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as someone who lets a property. I will personally support that ban, as I hope that my party’s Front Benchers will. However, it is an important but small element. The last Government promised to build 1 million homes in the Parliament to 2020, and I wonder whether that is still a target. What we need to see is not the Government talking about
“fairness and transparency in the housing market”
and helping to
“ensure more homes are built”,
but real numbers and real targets. I look forward to the estimates debates, when we can ensure that we attach money to those words.
Housing is one of the biggest crises in my borough. Education is in crisis at the moment, having been very good, but housing has been a dripping problem for some considerable time. There are problems with home ownership, with prices having risen by 83% since April 2011. Since that year, private sector rents have increased by 27%. In January, the median rent for a three-bedroom property in Hackney was £550 a week, or just shy of £2,500 a calendar month. That is just the median, so many are more expensive. Most people have no hope of getting on the housing ladder in Hackney.
There are also huge issues with social housing. Many households that I see are doubling up, with one family living in the living room and another in the bedroom. That is a real tragedy, because without a stable home, children cannot have a good start in life. If we could sort out housing in Hackney and stop the cuts to education, we would give our children great hope. We have 500 new people applying to be added to the waiting list every month. People do not really move along the waiting list unless they have a serious health problem.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the crisis in social housing will only get worse, given the right-to-buy situation and the fact that the Government are thousands of homes behind the one-to-one replacement target? Does she agree that there is a case for ending the right to buy for social housing and council stock, as the Scottish Government have done in Scotland?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. My borough stands to lose 700 council homes through forced sale. The homes sold in Hackney will be so expensive that they will be hard to buy, but housing association homes sold in other parts of the country must also be replaced. Hackney alone has spent £35 million in the past year to house homeless families in temporary accommodation. Nationally, 120,000 children live in temporary accommodation. That is a national shame. That is not a good start in life, and it is happening at the same time as we are spending £21 billion per annum on housing benefit. We have got it wrong and we need far more action.
I will not go into detail about the NHS, suffice it to say that the Public Accounts Committee under my chairmanship produced more than 20 reports on that in the last Parliament. The details of our cross-party concerns are on record. It is time that the House and the Government started looking at longer-term solutions to NHS funding. It is no good throwing money at a problem when it arises; we need a longer-term solution.
This Queen’s Speech heralds no hope for my constituents. This Government and the preceding one knocked out the rungs of the ladder of opportunity for so many of my constituents. The reach to the first rung is very high. For instance, it is very difficult to get into further education without a loan, or into nursing without the nursing bursary, and we lost the education maintenance allowance six or seven years ago.
Some things will not happen because of the election result—there will be no grammar schools, no badly worked-up proposals on social care, and no scrapping of free school meals for infants—but, after the next election, we need a Government who will look at those who are aspirant and give them the opportunity to succeed. This Government and this Queen’s Speech do not do that.
This Parliament has been given a mighty task by the electorate. A year ago, the voters decided that they wanted to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money. They charged us with that duty, and they recommissioned us collectively in the election just held. Eighty-two per cent. of them voted for the two main parties, which both said that they would deliver Brexit as the referendum requested.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). This Parliament has a duty to have its debates, its disagreements and its arguments, but to do things in the right way. It would ill become this Parliament if it precipitated an early party-based crisis and went back to the electors to seek a new mandate. The electors had criticisms of all our parties. They did not give any party the result it wanted. They knew what they were doing, and it is the duty of this Parliament to do some governing, and some criticism of governing, as are our mutual roles. There is nothing to stop us doing that.
On that central issue that dominates the Queen’s Speech, it is clear that the British public have resolved again—they resolved in the referendum and in the election. Had they changed their minds since the referendum, they would have voted for the Liberal Democrats, who gave them a very clear option to say in effect: “Change your mind. Here is the way to do it.” The Liberal Democrats were very honest about this in the election: they said not only that they wanted a second referendum, but that they would want us to rejoin the European Union. They could not see circumstances in which they would change their mind on that. The electorate said that that was not the way they wished to go.
Those who say that the Queen’s Speech is thin clearly have not understood it. This is perhaps the most important Queen’s Speech I have seen in my time as a Member of Parliament. There is fundamental legislation to give this Parliament back, on behalf of the people, powers over all our lawmaking. Parliament will then be invited to go on to make substantial amendments to how we run agriculture and fishing, how we conduct international trade, and how we carry out many of our arrangements. The purpose of the legislation will be to amend and improve on European schemes that we are currently unable to amend, or able to amend only with the agreement of all 28 member states, which is very unlikely.
I campaigned in the election on a different slogan from the one recommended by Conservative Front Benchers. My slogan was “prosperity not austerity”. I did that deliberately, because I believe we have had enough austerity, and I want to see the promotion of higher living standards and better family incomes as our main purpose. I am conscious that schools and social care in my area need more public money support. That is true of many of my hon. Friends in English constituencies. The good news is that the Government are coming to the same conclusion, and I look forward to the public spending statements and Budget statements that will make more money available for our priorities. We will clearly need more money for the health service—the Government have promised substantial new sums—and we will need to commit to substantial sums for our healthcare over the years ahead.
The Brexit issue is relevant. It was not misleading in the Brexit referendum for the leave side to say that there will be money to spend when we cancel our contributions. I look forward to our negotiators making it very clear to our friends in the European Union that we will pay our contributions up to the point when we leave, but that we do not owe them any great bill, and we certainly will not be paying contributions once we have left. That money is then available for this Parliament, on the advice of the Government, to decide how to spend. I would be happy if we began to spend a bit of it even before March 2019 when we come to the end of our contributions, because there is a need now and our borrowing is under very good control. As we have heard, borrowing is down by three quarters since the programme began after the big crash—the programme was initiated by the Labour Government, then continued by the coalition and the Conservative Government. We need to be prudent and sensible—there is no magic money tree, and we cannot spend all the money we would like to spend, or all the money envisaged in the Labour party manifesto—but to relax in those areas where the public services clearly need it. I believe that that is possible, given the Brexit context.
I was conscious in the election that young people were critical of the Conservative party. They were often very attracted to the Labour party’s offers. The Labour manifesto offered attractive financial changes for current students and those who have accumulated student debt that they have not yet got rid of. I would like Conservatives to take on board the fact that we need to provide a better offer to students and young people, so that next time we can engage rather better with the younger person vote than we do today.
There is one ambition on which younger people above all would like the Conservatives to do better. We are uniquely well placed to help more of them to become homeowners. It is a worrying social change in our country that many people in the 25-to-40 age range feel that they cannot afford to buy a property. We have good schemes to help with deposits and mortgage affordability, and we have schemes to help with the affordability of homes, but it is not enough and we need to do so much more. We need to redouble our efforts to show that we understand that ambition, and that we wish to empower young people.
In practice, the Government are working hard in a number of important ways to help young people. The phenomenal job-generation power