Before I call the mover and seconder, I want to announce the proposed subjects of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address, which are: tomorrow—Britain’s place in the world; Wednesday—public services; Thursday—the climate emergency; Monday—the NHS; Tuesday—the economy.
I shall first call Lee Rowley to move and then Sarah Newton to second the Address.
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 a great honour to move the Loyal Address, both for me and the constituency of North East Derbyshire, my home, which I am so proud and privileged to represent. First, however, I stand here this afternoon to right an historic and terrible injustice: no Member from my great county of Derbyshire has moved the Loyal Address for over 100 years. The delay has been long. It last happened in 1903, when it was moved by Colonel Gretton, representing the constituency so ably now served by my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler).
I took to reading that speech to get some inspiration for the rather terrifying job I now have. I am afraid to report that it only increased my nervousness at the task ahead. I discovered that before the good colonel even uttered a single syllable, Hansard noted, with that courteous understatement that Hansard is famous for, that he was heard “with much difficulty”. What that is an Edwardian euphemism for is lost to time. I will seek to avoid the challenge that faced my county forebear by speaking both loudly and, at least at the start, by avoiding Brexit.
Secondly, another worry arose, if not for me, for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The subject to which Colonel Gretton turned first was not education, health, welfare or taxes, or even his constituency, but a subject that is returned to time and again in this place: Venezuela. [Laughter.] The colonel was keen to explain that the recent policy successes in South America had been achieved without the destruction of personal property. I wonder if our Venezuelan friends will have the same pre-eminence in 2019 that they did in 1903.
Finally, I was struck by the response of the Prime Minister, Mr Balfour. His initial remarks were not focused on great matters of state. Instead he was keen not to impede the impending dinner hour of the Members present. I hope not to do so today by applying some Derbyshire common sense and knowing when to sit down.
I am relatively new to this place, having only been here since the 2017 general election. Having just turned 39, I hope that I tend—just—towards the more youthful end of the parliamentary age range. That is true not least—if he will forgive me—when I compare myself with my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), who was in customary fine form this morning and who has been providing quips to this House since a decade before I was born. [Laughter.]
Having witnessed only one Queen’s speech, I searched for advice about how to do this, and I discovered that the definition was laid out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) in a speech in the 1990s. My joy quickly turned to horror when, having read his remarks, I found I had been given a privilege by the Treasury Bench usually accorded to
“some genial old codger on the way out”—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 56.]
I know that Brexit has aged us all in the last three years, but I did not realise that my right hon. Friends in the Government thought it had affected my youth so badly, nor how keen they were to get rid of me.
We meet today in troubled times, at the end of the longest parliamentary Session since the civil war. It is a time that more experienced Members tell us newer recruits is just not normal. Our precious body politic lies bloodied, poisoned by rancour and enmity, and, until the hope of the last few days, paralysed by competing legitimacies. Our politics is fought over, sometimes viciously, by us here in a way that I have never known in my lifetime. I say that as a working-class kid who grew up in the north during the miners’ strike, who is the nephew of someone who worked for the National Union of Mineworkers, and whose grandparents toiled under some of the villages I now have the privilege to represent. So I have some knowledge of challenge and tumult.
We are in a hard place, and all of us, whatever Bench or Chair we sit on, are responsible for where we end up. In the last few days, there has at least been hope that this toxic and crippling fog we have created might just be lifting, as the Prime Minister sketches an outline of a way forward. I speak as someone who has been robust in my review of previous proposals, but the House must surely see, as I do, that we have debated long enough, this is a moment for decision and we were elected to make decisions. If there is light at the end of the tunnel later this week—heaven knows, I hope there will be—we have a fundamental responsibility in this place to try to resolve this most vexed of problems, and allow our despairing and embittered country to move on. For the health of our democracy and to restore faith in this most venerable of institutions, we simply must get Brexit done.
I hope that, deep down, this place realises it is time to get back to the other priorities of our country—if it does not, this shattered Parliament will be given even shorter shrift than the residents of North East Derbyshire have already given it. They speak plainly and honestly in my 41 towns, villages and hamlets. They are good, honest, industrious men and women who are the quiet backbone of our great country. In Dronfield and Killamarsh, they seek only to get up every morning, get a fair crack of the whip and be able to get on. In Eckington and Clay Cross, they seek betterment in life for their families and their children, recognising that communities are built from the ground up, not imposed from the top down, and understanding that Governments should do some things well, not lots of things badly. They want Governments who prioritise technological advancement and innovation in healthcare, to allow people to get better quickly and to live longer; they want people who stand shoulder to shoulder with our brave officers on the frontline, through a police covenant; and they want Governments who make it their mission to deliver fast broadband to all of our nations. That is why there is so much to be welcomed in this Queen’s Speech and why we must move beyond Brexit.
My constituency sits around the towering presence of a church that has been there since the 12th century and can be seen for miles around. It is famous for a spire that twists and bends unconventionally into the sky. I am the son of that crooked spire and am so very proud to represent some of its domain today. The values of those sons and daughters of north Derbyshire are the same as those of other proud working-class northern and midlands towns across the country. They are the values that propelled me here today: hard work; aspiration; a hand up, not a handout; freedom: liberty; society; real opportunity for ourselves and for our communities; and a desire to be set free to allow our talents to let us achieve what we can, and not to be told how to live our lives.
Last Friday, I returned to my old school, St Mary’s in Chesterfield, to talk about the importance of democracy. It reminded me of the first time I came here some years ago, on a sixth-form trip, when we were welcomed by our Member of Parliament at the time, the much-respected Tony Benn. I come from a very different political tradition from Mr Benn, but he is still held in high esteem in my constituency. In the same year as he kindly showed me and my fellow students around these Benches, he stood somewhere in here and asked five questions of politicians, as he did regularly. They are as pertinent today as they were then:
“What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?”—[Official Report, 22 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 510.]
I hope we remember that in the days ahead.
As we turn the page on one of the most tumultuous parliamentary Sessions of our lives and dare to hope of new beginnings in a new one, I close by turning back to the Prime Minister, Mr Balfour, who responded to the last Derbyshire MP to propose a Loyal Address. Mr Balfour was a remarkable man, who contributed much to our civic and political life in this country. He was reputed once to have said:
“Nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all.”
That may or may not be true, but in this most tempestuous of times, I hope and believe that most of us in this place recognise that the coming days do matter, and that our nation is watching, anxious with hope and belief that we can move on. North East Derbyshire wants to move on and return to the priorities of the people so outlined in this programme of government—I think the country does too.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who made an outstanding speech and demonstrated yet again what a champion he is for his constituents.
When I was asked to second the Humble Address, I felt honoured, but I also felt some consternation. Of course, it is always an honour to represent my constituents in this place. Although the House may very much tire of my talking about Cornwall, I will never tire of speaking up for the Duchy and its great people. I imagine there are many people watching this debate at home, and I think they might prefer to be casting their eyes over that dark-haired and handsome Member of Parliament for the 18th century—of course, I am referring to Ross Poldark, my fictional predecessor who represented Truro. I have to confess that even when I was in the Whips Office, I was not any use with a scythe. As my ancestors were Cornish tin miners, I think of myself more as a Demelza than a Ross, but we can all occasionally indulge in a bit of wishful thinking. I felt a degree of consternation —probably along with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire—because I was asked to give a speech that I felt was reserved for those people the Whips had found to have reached the high water mark of their career in this place. I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I still very much feel like I am 35 and that the best years are ahead of me.
It is nearly 10 years since I first spoke in the Chamber, when I described beautiful Cornwall and highlighted my creative, inventive, enterprising and determined constituents. Those qualities are as evident today as they were then. Thanks to the steps taken by Governments since 2010 and the work done with the many can-do people in my constituency, we are making real progress in improving the quality of people’s lives. Along with the recently announced increased investment in our public services, the Bills announced today will mean that we will be able to move further and faster in ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential—from improving education opportunities and access to high-quality health and care services, to better paid and high-quality jobs. The increase in the number of detectives who painstakingly research and gather evidence to solve crime in our streets is most welcome. The funding attached is enough for 20,000 officers—or one Coleen Rooney.
Most important of all is that we will be leaving our natural environment in a better condition than we found it in. Our excellent local enterprise partnership has rightly identified Cornwall’s abundance of natural resources, which, when harnessed, will make a massive contribution to the Government’s clean growth strategy. In my maiden speech, I singled out the potential for deep geothermal energy as a significant renewable energy technology. I am delighted to report to the House that we now have the hottest, deepest hole in the UK, and the trials to generate electricity are well under way. It has been a long journey and the determination of all involved in the project clearly illustrates the UK’s global leadership on tackling climate change. We are now working on floating wind in the Celtic sea, which has even greater potential.
The UK has decarbonised faster than any major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990. We know that we need to go further and faster, which is why I am proud that it was a Conservative Government who supported the world-leading net zero target and who have today set out measures that will enable us to do that. The landmark environment Bill is a huge step in ensuring that we leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it in. The Bill will enable a comprehensive framework for legally binding targets, including a target for air quality and the establishment of a new office for environmental protection. Together with the threat to our natural environment, climate change is the most serious challenge that we face today. Our response must be comprehensive, with action taken across the whole economy. I am confident that we can do it. Why? Because there is now widespread concern and support for action, and because we have what it takes to rise to the challenge. It is a real opportunity to grow our economy more sustainably, but also an opportunity to grow our economy more successfully.
Like Members across this House, I have meetings every week with a wide range of people who are fully invested in wanting us to succeed in meeting our net zero target. If we are to harness that enthusiasm and expertise, it cannot just be about distant international summits with acronyms that few people understand.
When the UK hosts the international UN climate summit in Glasgow next year, it must ensure that every sector of society is involved in the conversation. With an issue as big as climate change, we need everyone’s collective brainpower to find the right solutions, and we must have everyone on board if we are to implement them. Post Brexit, the country needs to unite around a shared national purpose, and I believe that this is it.
By enabling comprehensive action on climate change across the whole of society, with everyone involved and no one left behind, we can start rebuilding a truly United Kingdom—one of which we can all be proud. But that is the thing, Mr Speaker, to have that unity of purpose, we now have to agree on the one thing on which we have not been able to agree—the one thing that is holding the nation back—and that is our future relationship with Europe. It has been tough going, and we have debated the subject thoroughly for years, but it is this week—this week above all others—when we must redouble our efforts, compromise and find a consensus on our way forward.
I have been thinking about what we could do in this place to create the right atmosphere and the right mood—one that will promote trust, generate harmony and result in consensus and that unity of purpose. I was thinking about what we do when we are under pressure, when we are anxious, when success seems so far away. What do we do in our personal lives with our families, in good times and bad, and in our communities when we get together—whether in collective acts of worship or when our beloved football or rugby teams are playing? What we all do on those occasions is sing. We sing because it makes us all feel good. Gareth Malone has inspired the nation’s workplaces and has proved that singing together increases feelings of trust and common purpose between people. So I thought about what songs we could sing to help us on our way this week. I thought that, perhaps, we should begin with Queen’s “Under Pressure”, which would be apt as the ticking of the Brexit deadline approaches at the end of October. “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” by Fleetwood Mac could focus our minds on our future relationship with Europe—
It could also focus our minds on the need to respond to the threats of climate change. To encourage greater co-operation between all Members in this House, we could be singing, “We’re All In This Together” from “High School Musical”, or “Meet Me Halfway” by The Black Eyed Peas. I hope that, as we work our way through this songbook, we would eventually unite in a rousing rendition of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”, leading us ultimately, I hope, to Gloria Gaynor’s “Let’s Make A Deal”. Returning to our own shores, the Beatles can point us in the right direction with their song, “We Can Work It Out”. After all, that is what the nation expects us to do.
This year marks two anniversaries. The first is the 70th anniversary of the Parliament Act 1949, which asserted the primacy of this House over the then hereditary House of Lords. It is worth remembering in our deliberations this week the primacy of the House of Commons over that and over the Executive. The second is the 50th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1969, which I remember very well because it extended the vote to everyone over the age of 18. As we meet today, we should commit to strengthening our democracy and the vital role of this democratic House in holding the Executive to account.
By tradition, at the beginning of each parliamentary Session we commemorate the Members of the House we have lost in the past year. Earlier this year we lost our great friend Paul Flynn—a fiercely independent, passionate, very kind and very principled Member of this House. I remember him reading out in this House the names of those who had died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—two wars to which he was opposed. He briefly served in our shadow Cabinet, and I think the whole House was enlivened by his performance. He joked at the first meeting of the shadow Cabinet and when he spoke from the Floor of the House that he was part of a job creation scheme for octogenarians. He was there not only because he was an excellent orator, campaigner and Member of the House, but because he was also an excellent representative of the people of Newport West, the constituency that he served so well and so passionately for 32 years.
Today’s proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address share a route to this place; both were local councillors prior to entering the House. I pay tribute to all those who put themselves forward to represent local communities as councillors, because without them our democracy would be worse off. They work hard and for long hours, and are often not particularly well rewarded or appreciated for the work they do. We should recognise that they are part of our democracy.
I was a little surprised to see that the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) had been asked by the Prime Minister to propose the motion today, because I understand they have not always enjoyed the best of relationships. As we know, the Prime Minister has earned a reputation for enjoying life to the fullest. I understand that during his time as London Mayor he became incandescent with anger and rage on learning that the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire—at that time, a Westminster councillor—intended to introduce a nightlife tax. Thankfully, the hon. Gentleman was able to reassure the now Prime Minister that the nightlife tax would apply only to car parking charges and not to other activities—although, on reflection, he may have missed a great opportunity of earning a great deal of revenue for the people of Westminster.
I suspect it is no coincidence that the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire has shown great independence of thought as a politician, as he grew up in Chesterfield during the 1980s—a cradle of political dissent. Today, the hon. Gentleman is again in danger of finding himself upbraided by the Prime Minister, this time as a member of the “nose-ringed…unco-operative crusties”. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman took his arguments against fracking into the lion’s den of the 2018 Tory party conference, and predicted that his party’s support for fracking would see it lose seats—in North East Derbyshire, I assume. My late, great friend Tony Benn, who was the Member for Chesterfield, gave one of his last diaries the title, “Dare to be a Daniel”. I hope that the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire continues to dare, and that he will also emulate the daredom, the experience and the wit of his constituency neighbour and my great friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). [Interruption.] He is my great friend.
Researching today’s seconder, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), I believe I have uncovered yet another secret Conservative project originating in Merton in the 1980s that led directly to Downing Street three decades later. Chief of the Wimbledon set, as they became known, was the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). By her side stood her loyal lieutenants—the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and, of course, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth. Today, those who were part of the Wimbledon set are described as “competent and professional”, which really begs the question, how did the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) ever sneak into the Wimbledon set? [Interruption.] The most expensive Transport Secretary we have ever had—don’t worry about it.
The House may not know this, but in 2013 the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth and I found ourselves in political agreement. I was happy to support her early-day motion to mark the anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison. It is worth the House hearing some of EDM 164. It said that the House
“commemorates the centenary of the death of Emily Davison…salutes her courage on behalf of the suffragette cause…and pays tribute to her and her fellow campaigners for their brave and ultimately successful efforts to secure votes for women”.
While I may be dubious about the company she keeps, the hon. Lady is deserving of the honour of seconding today’s Loyal Address.
There has never been such a farce as a Government with a majority of minus 45 and a 100% record of defeat in the House of Commons setting out a legislative agenda they know cannot be delivered in this Parliament. [Interruption.] Hon. Members heckle about a general election. I said to the Prime Minister last month, “Get an extension, take us away from the dangers of a no deal, and then we are in a position to do that.”
We may be only just weeks away from the first Queen’s Speech of a Labour Government. In that Queen’s Speech, Labour will put forward the most radical and people-focused programme in modern times—a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild and transform our country. It will let the people decide on Brexit, build an economy that works for all, rebuild our public services that support everyone, tackle the climate emergency, and reset our global role to one based on peace and human rights.
The Prime Minister gave the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity of having a general election tomorrow. Had that general election taken place tomorrow and he had been successful, he would have been going to the Council of Ministers this weekend to negotiate. Why did he reject that opportunity when he has been calling for it all the time?
Quite simply because we do not trust the Prime Minister.
This Government have had three and a half years to get Brexit done and they have failed. The only legitimate way to sort Brexit now is to let the people decide with the final say. To pass this House, any deal needs to meet the needs of workers and businesses. That means including a new customs union—a close single market relationship—and guarantees of workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protection; and, if I may say so, guarantees that the Good Friday agreement will not be damaged or undermined in any way. A withdrawal agreement was announced, but we do not know yet if the Government have done a deal. What we are sure of is that this House has legislated against crashing out with no deal and that the Prime Minister must comply with the law if a deal does not pass this House.
The Queen’s Speech talked about the opportunities that arise from Brexit, but the Government’s own figures suggest that a free trade agreement approach would cause a near 7% hit to our economy, while a no-deal crash-out would cause a 10% hit. Those seem like opportunities that we could all live without. For many people, the economy of this country is fundamentally weak. Since 2010, there are more workers in poverty, more children in poverty, more pensioners in poverty, more families without a home to call their own and more people—fellow citizens—sleeping rough on our streets. Fewer people can afford their own home, and wages are still lower than they were a decade ago. Productivity is falling, and the economy contracted last month.
At the weekend I was in Hastings on the south coast, where last year food banks staffed by volunteers distributed 87,453 meals, and one in seven people in that town live in fuel poverty. Are those not shocking figures in this country in the 21st century? There was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to address our stagnant economy, nothing to address low pay and insecure work, and nothing to reverse the rising levels of child poverty or pensioner poverty.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the challenges of rising child poverty, compounded by the mental health issues that young people face and rising special educational needs not being met due to our education system lacking the resources it needs, are contributing to the next generation growing up in despair, for which the country will pay the price for generations to come?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. We have almost a lost generation. Children are going to understaffed schools with very few teaching assistants, where headteachers are going to parents with a begging bowl to try to match school budgets, and too many young people are growing up in bad housing, with incredible levels of stress and worry about the future. That contributes to the mental health crisis that this country as a whole must address.
Will the Prime Minister match Labour’s commitments to scrap the benefit freeze, end the benefit cap, ditch the bedroom tax, scrap the two-child limit and the disgusting rape clause, and end punitive sanctions in the benefit system? While we welcome the legislation to ensure that employers pass on tips to their workers—something that the Labour and trade union movement has long campaigned for—the Government must go further, and I urge them to listen to the package of measures set out by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) in her brilliant speech at the TUC last month. This Queen’s Speech was supposed to herald an end to austerity and a new vision. Instead, it barely begins to unpick the devastating cuts to public services.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the climate and nature emergencies demand so much more than the six words they were accorded in the Queen’s Speech and an Environment Bill that will widely weaken the protections we currently enjoy as members of the EU? Will he join me in calling for a comprehensive green new deal to decarbonise the economy by 2030, so that we can show we are genuinely serious about the climate crisis?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am coming on to that in a moment, but I absolutely agree: what we need is a green new deal. We need a green industrial revolution, and we have to face up to the reality of the climate emergency. If we do not, the damage to the next generation and the one after it will be even worse.
Our national health service has suffered the longest funding squeeze in its history, while life expectancy is falling and infant mortality rising. Schools have had their budgets cut, class sizes have risen, and headteachers are sending begging letters to parents. Any Government Member who is concerned about that should simply take a walk down the road and speak to any primary school headteacher about the stress that they and their pupils are going through. The police have lost more than 20,000 officers, while violent crime soars.
If only they were, it would be a good thing. All the off-the-cuff announcements made by the Prime Minister since July do not add up to addressing the austerity created by the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats during their period in coalition.
NHS England has made clear that core treatment targets cannot be met within the funding settlement offered by the Government. They cannot be trusted with the national health service. Waiting lists are going up, waiting times are going up, and the shortage of GPs continues to create problems at every doctors’ surgery. The Government’s refusal to guarantee key standards lets down the 4.4 million patients on the waiting lists, all those waiting longer and longer in accident and emergency departments, and the nearly 34,000 patients who waited more than 62 days for cancer treatment last year.
With 40,000 nurse vacancies, there is an urgent need to restore the nursing bursary for the nurses of tomorrow. If the Prime Minister really wants to defend the NHS, he needs to end privatisation so that our NHS is focused on making people better, not on people on the make—a universal service free at the point of use. We do not want just tinkering around the edges. We want to bin the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and truly end all privatisation in our national health service.
I have news for the hon. Lady: it is her Government who ended the nurse bursary system—simple.
Will the Prime Minister support Labour’s plans to provide free prescriptions to people in England, as has been done in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Will he also back Labour’s commitment to legislate for safe staffing levels in all our hospitals?
The previous Queen’s Speech, in 2017, stated:
“My Government will reform mental health legislation and ensure that mental health is prioritised in the National Health Service in England.”
Two years on, all we have are the same warm words. The mental health crisis continues to get worse and worse, as many people in great stress are told that there is no therapy available for several months. As a result, terrible things can happen.
It is a similar story on social care. The 2017 Queen’s Speech promised:
“My Ministers will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2017; Vol. 783, c. 6.]
Today we have the same promise after two years of inaction and failure, with 87 people dying every day while waiting for social care that is not provided.
This Queen’s Speech is shockingly weak on education, with no commitment on early years, on colleges or on universities. The money announced for our schools does not restore the funding lost since 2010. It is all very well promising extra police, but the reason why we do not have enough police is that the Government cut 21,000 police jobs and nearly 7,000 police community support officers. If the Conservative party—the party in government—wants to talk about providing police with protections, perhaps it can tell the police why it subjected them and millions of other public sector workers to cuts in their pay and pensions, damaging their terms and conditions of employment.
I know that this Government do not have a great record of listening to judges, but they are surely aware that judges already have the powers to ensure that the most serious offenders serve more than half their sentences in jail. Our prisons are severely overcrowded. There are 2,500 fewer prison officers in our prisons today than in 2010—hence many of the problems throughout our prison service. The privatisation of the probation service was a shambolic and costly failure. I hope that lessons have been learned, and we will examine closely any proposals on rehabilitating offenders. I hope that, alongside the tougher sentencing, the Government will also recognise that too many people are in prison on very short sentences for non-violent and non-sexual offences. Our society, I believe, could be better served by their being subject to community sentencing and restorative justice.
What will the Prime Minister do to address the appallingly low conviction rate for rape and other serious sexual offences? The dog-whistle rhetoric around foreign offenders is a rather ugly mask for the fact that, by crashing out of the EU, the Government risk losing some of the most effective measures in tackling cross-border crime: the European arrest warrant, participation in Eurojust and access to numerous databases.
We will, of course, closely study the detail of the Government’s proposals on rail reform, but it is no good simply changing the way in which train operating companies carry on extracting profit from our fragmented railway system. Only a Labour Government will cap fares and ensure that the railway is run for the passengers, not for profit. There is nothing in this Queen’s Speech to reverse the devastating cuts to bus services all over the country. A Labour Government will restore rail and bus services, and the integration of those services.
Two years ago, the horror of Grenfell happened. We all remember it very well and we remember the response of the public and in this House. But I have to say that nine out of 10 private blocks of flats with Grenfell-style cladding have still not had it replaced. Not a single private block has been made safe under this Prime Minister. Will he confirm today that he will set a hard deadline for all landlords to replace dangerous cladding, that he will toughen sanctions against block owners that will not do that work, and that he will fund the retrofitting of sprinklers in all high-rise social housing blocks? Will he restore the budget cuts to our fire service, who acted so heroically on that dreadful night of the Grenfell fire?
Perhaps the Prime Minister can set out what measures there are to address the Government’s abject failure on housing. That has led to more people sleeping on our streets, more families in hostels and temporary accommodation, and fewer people able to buy their own homes. Labour will end no-fault evictions. We will tackle the leasehold scandal and kick-start the largest council house building programme for a generation. It will be Labour that will fix the housing crisis in this country.
The introduction of pension dashboards is welcome, as is the legislation for CDC—collective defined contribution—pension schemes, which I hope will help to resolve the Royal Mail dispute. Sadly, the proposals do nothing to address the injustice done to women born in the 1950s. That injustice must be put right. Additionally, this Queen’s Speech does nothing to guarantee the free TV licence for the over-75s.
The Government handed our armed forces a pay cut for seven years. Cuts to council budgets in England have made it far harder to deliver the armed forces covenant, leaving our veterans and our personnel and all of their families worse off.
We will not allow the Government to stifle democracy by making it harder for people to vote. There was only one instance of voter personation at the last election. Some 11 million people in this country do not have—[Interruption.] This is serious. It is about elections and it is about democracy. Some 11 million people in this country do not have a passport or a driving licence. There are huge risks in the legislation being proposed which will disproportionately affect working class, ethnic minority and young voters.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way on that point. Does he agree with me that the decision to require voters to have photo ID at the ballot box is clearly an attempt by the Conservative party to suppress voting, and is designed deliberately to hit the poorest hardest?
There is no question. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This legislation is designed to hit the poorest the hardest: those who do not have passports or access to other forms of identity, and who will thus lose their right to vote and decide who governs in the future. [Interruption.]
Freedom of movement has given opportunities to millions of British people to live, work and retire across Europe. It has benefited our economy immensely, with European Union workers playing a key role in sustaining many of our industries and public services. No responsible Member would vote to rip that up, unless there is a proper plan in place. In the shadow of the Windrush scandal, the settled status scheme for European Union citizens risks another round of wrongful denial of rights and shameful deportations. I look forward to the Prime Minister assuring those European Union citizens, who have made such an enormous contribution to our lives and our society, that they will have a secure future in this country.
The Government say that they will be at the forefront of solving the most complex international security issues and global challenges, yet they are playing precisely no role in stopping the horrors unfolding in the Kurdish areas of northern Syria, ending the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, or standing up for the rights of the Rohingya, the Uyghurs, or the people of Palestine, Ecuador or Hong Kong. They are continuing to cosy up to Donald Trump, and sitting idly by as he wrecks the world’s efforts to tackle climate change and nuclear proliferation.
As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said in an intervention, the crisis of our age is the climate emergency as declared by this House in May, but there is no action announced in the Queen’s Speech. I pay tribute to the climate school strikers and to Extinction Rebellion. Sadly, the Government have not listened. The Prime Minister derided them as “nose-ringed…crusties”, although I note that their number included a Conservative former Member of the European Parliament, who I believe is related to the Prime Minister. So many people are concerned about bad air quality, the failure to invest in renewable energy, the pollution of our rivers and seas, and the loss of biodiversity. Only this Government have the power and resource to tackle the climate emergency if they wanted to, but they are missing with inaction. It is Labour that will bring forward a green new deal to tackle the climate emergency.
The legislative programme is a propaganda exercise that the Government cannot disguise. This Government have failed on Brexit for over three years. They are barely beginning to undo the damage of a decade of cuts to our public services. It does nothing for people struggling to make ends meet. It does nothing to make our world a safer place or tackle the climate emergency. The Prime Minister promised that this Queen’s Speech would dazzle us. On closer inspection, it is nothing more than fool’s gold.
This Government exist to serve the British people and this Queen’s Speech delivers on their priorities by strengthening our NHS with the biggest programme of hospital building for a generation, by putting 20,000 more police on the streets and by unlocking the potential of the whole country with new infrastructure, better education and high technology, from gigabit broadband to a new national space strategy. We aim to create a new age of opportunity for the whole country.
As we prepare to get Brexit done by 31 October, we are setting out now our vision of an open, global, free-trading United Kingdom: a high-wage, low-tax economy with the highest environmental standards and new protections for animal welfare, the best place to invest, the best place to start a business, and the best place to start a family and send your kids to school. Without being chauvinistic or disrespectful to anywhere else in the world, in important respects this country is the greatest place to live and to be—the greatest place on earth.
Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech was proposed superbly by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley)—the first Conservative to represent his seat since 1935, when presumably, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) departed for Bolsover. If hon. Members are wondering whence my hon. Friend derives his passion and his oratorical gifts, it may interest them to know that his aunt was secretary to Arthur Scargill. I doubt that he shares many of the convictions of the former miners’ leader, except one: that we should obey the democratic will of the people and get Brexit done by 31 October. My hon. Friend is also a passionate collector of airline memorabilia. His home is allegedly stocked—a museum of airline washbags, airline socks and a vast fleet of model planes, including a model Extinction Rebellion protester glued to the roof. All I can say to him is: “Cabin crew, doors to automatic and cross-check”, because his career is “planely” about to take off, and his speech was in the very finest traditions of the House.
The Loyal Address was brilliantly seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), who comes, if I can continue with the aeronautical metaphor, from a very different wing of the party—the modern Tory party is a vast and capacious low-carbon plane, by the way—and who has been highly successful as a campaigner for the rights of disabled people. Though she is known for her calm manner and her dulcet tones, when it comes to defending the interests of her native Cornwall or protecting the pasty against the fiscal depredations of former Chancellors, she can be as fearsome as any Falmouth seagull going for your chips. On the most divisive issue in modern Britain, which plagues us to this day, it is well known that she has come down on one side and will not be budged: it is jam first, not cream, on scones. She is Cornish to her roots and her speech too was in the best traditions of the House.
Let me join the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) in paying tribute to the much loved and greatly missed Paul Flynn, who served his constituency of Newport West for 31 and a half years. He was a proud and witty Welshman who earned this obituary from Goldie Lookin Chain, a south Wales rap ensemble, straight outta Newport. They said:
“As an MP he was well respected, since 1987 when first elected.
Across the parties Paul was revered, and it’s just possible he was born with that beard.
Across the floor, far and wide, respected across the political divide,
Regardless of your own stance, left or right, raise a glass to Paul tonight.”
I have no idea as to the political preferences of the band members 2Hats or Eggsy—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady’s sedentary interjection may be right, but I have no doubt that the whole House will agree with that tribute to Paul Flynn.
The speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for North East Derbyshire and for Truro and Falmouth were in the finest traditions of the House, and the speech from the Leader of the Opposition was in the finest tradition of the tergiversating Leader of the Opposition. First he was opposed to no deal; now he seems to be opposed to any deal. First he was in favour of delivering Brexit; now he wants a second referendum. First he wanted an election—actually, he had wanted an election for quite a long time; but now he would much rather not. He resembles a Janus, a pushmi-pullyu facing in both directions at once and unable to decide for either. His policy on cake is neither having it nor eating it. Frankly, I fear for his political health, because we can all see the Soviet-era expulsions that are taking place in his circle, as one by one his lieutenants are purged, as Lenin purged the associates of poor old Trotsky. There is Lenin, the veteran fabricator of GLC budgets. As the shadow Chancellor tightens his icy grip on the Labour party, the contrast becomes ever starker. Contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition just said, we are putting up wages with the biggest expansion of the living wage ever seen. He would put up taxes. We will control immigration with a points-based system—
Let me anticipate the point that my hon. Friend is going to make. We will also look after the interests of the 3.4 million. Labour wants to abandon immigration controls altogether, to judge by what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. We back our armed services; that side were their enemies, historically. He has said he would like to disband them. We want to strengthen, and we will strengthen our United Kingdom; he would break it up.
The Prime Minister was just saying how his Government back the armed services. He will be aware that our Army is almost 40,000 fewer than it was when the Conservatives came to power. He will be aware that people serving in the armed forces have seen their wages cut in real terms for seven years in a row. What would he do for armed forces he was not backing?
The hon. Gentleman should support —and I hope that he will support us in the Divisions— a Government who are putting another £2.2 billion into our armed services, increasing spending on our armed services by 2.6%, investing massively in shipbuilding and taking our armed services forward. As he may know, measures will come forward as a result of the Queen’s Speech that will do more to protect our armed services.
Defence is linked to foreign policy. Britain is respected around the world for the values it stands up for. One of them is freedom of religion or belief. It is not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, but yesterday parliamentarians from across the House, led by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, were at the Holy See for the canonisation of Cardinal Newman. Can the Prime Minister confirm that religious freedom will always be a key priority for our Government?
I thank my right hon. Friend. I know that he really cares about legacy prosecutions and what is happening to soldiers like Dennis Hutchings, but there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of looking after our veteran soldiers from Northern Ireland. I know that my right hon. Friend intends to do that, so what are we going to do about it? In the case of Dennis Hutchings, it is urgent.
My hon. Friend has anticipated a point that I am about to come to, but let me deal with it out of order, as it were, and say that we will be bringing forward legislation to protect serving and former serving personnel. As he will know, the consultation on that matter has just come to an end.
I have drawn several important points of distinction between this Government and the party led by the Leader of the Opposition, but, for our present purposes, perhaps the most immediate is that we want to get on and deliver Brexit on 31 October whereas he wants to dither and delay. I cannot in all conscience believe that that is the right way forward for this country.
The right hon. Gentleman recently said that he was “daunted” by the prospect that he might actually become Prime Minister. Well, I have to say that he is not alone in that fear—so are most Opposition Members, judging by their actions, most of the House of Commons, and, indeed, most of the country. I can give him the reassurance —the consolation—that I intend to do everything I can to prevent that from happening.
I hope very much that, in spite of some of our differences, the right hon. Gentleman will support at least some of the measures in the Gracious Speech. At the heart of the speech is an ambitious programme to unite our country with energy and with optimism, but also with the basic common sense of one nation Conservativism. Contrary to some of the gloomier things that we heard just now, we have unemployment at its lowest level since 1974, we have inward investment at record highs, we have 700,000 fewer children in workless households than there were in 2010, and we are leading the world in so many sectors of 21st-century business and technology. It is because of that economic success, that free market success—and I see the shadow Chancellor recoil at the notion of a free market success like a Transylvanian in the sunlight—that we will look after those who look after us and keep us safe. That is how we will spend another £2.2 billion on the armed services, which brings me to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)—and yes, as I said, we will bring forward legislation to protect our serving men and women.
I should be very clear about this. The Government understand that no one can escape justice for a crime that they have committed, but we also understand that there should be no unfair prosecution when no new evidence has been produced; and yes, in the same spirit we will protect our brave police—who run towards danger to keep us safe—by putting the police covenant into law and by giving them the political support that they need in order to do their job, even if that means difficult and intrusive procedures like stop and search, because those procedures save lives. As we back our police and insist on serious sentencing for serious crimes—and I think it was the Labour party that instituted automatic early release—this Government, this one nation Government, also insist—
I congratulate the leader of the Conservative party, our Prime Minister, on delivering an excellent Queen’s Speech—one of many over the years, I trust. He said, rightly, to the Leader of the Opposition that there should be no further dithering and delay, and I agree entirely. As we exit the EU on 31 October, can he confirm once and for all that the immigration Bill that his Government will bring forward will absolutely and unequivocally enshrine in primary legislation the rights of my mother and father and 3 million other EU nationals?
Can the Prime Minister give us an assurance that, in keeping with his one nation philosophy, the legislation that he intends to introduce to protect members of the armed forces will include those who served in Northern Ireland, and that he will not be distracted from that by the efforts of the Northern Ireland Office, which would try to placate Sinn Féin rather than protect soldiers?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that he campaigns passionately on this issue and I merely repeat what I think he would agree with: no one should escape justice for a crime he or she may have committed, but it cannot be right that people should face unfair prosecutions when no new evidence has been forthcoming, and that applies across the whole of our country.
This is a one nation Government who insist on dealing not only with crime but the causes of crime—as a former Labour leader once put, it by the way—and on tackling all the causes of mental ill health or alienation in young people. That is why today we announced a new programme to purge online harms from the internet and to invest massively in youth clubs. We vow, as one nation Conservatives, never to abandon anyone—never to write off any young person because they have been in prison, but to help them into work, and, by investing in prisons, as we are, to prevent them from becoming academies of crime.
When we tackle crime as one nation Conservatives, and when we tackle the problems of mental ill health, we are doing something for the social justice of the country, because we all know that it is the poorest and the neediest who are disproportionately the victims of crime, and we know that it is the poorest who are most likely to suffer from mental ill health. It is our job, as a campaigning Government, to level up investment across the nation, and I am proud that we are now seeing the biggest programme of investment in the NHS for a generation. In 10 years’ time, as a result of decisions being taken now, there will be 40 new hospitals. We have fantastic NHS staff—the best in the world—and it is time to give them the funding and facilities they deserve.
Opposition Members have shouted about education. I am proud we are levelling up with a £14 billion programme of investment in our primary and secondary schools, and I hope they will support that, because we believe that is the best way to create opportunity and spread it more fairly and uniformly across the country, to give every child a superb education.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech and its emphasis on the people’s priorities. Is my right hon. Friend aware that in my borough of Bexley people want Brexit done, but then they want a one nation Conservative Government going forward with all the other policies that we have in the Queen’s Speech for the benefit of all of the people? We do not want to go back to the Labour period of the 1970s, which was a failure.
I am very grateful that the Prime Minister has given way to a woman MP. In the Queen’s Speech there was very little information about the climate change emergency; will he give a little more detail on what the Government will do in relation to this pressing issue that is affecting so many young people and their mental health?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She raises a very good point. At the heart of the Queen’s Speech is provision for a new independent environmental regulator that will invigilate this Government and any Government in the future as we achieve our climate change targets. That is how this country can hope to be carbon neutral—to be net zero—by 2050, and that is what we are going to achieve. That is our programme.
The Prime Minister rightly said a moment ago that those who are poorest are the hardest hit by crime. Can he therefore explain why, having lost 1,120 police officers, the Merseyside force has been told by the Home Office that it is allowed to recruit only 200 more?
The hon. Lady raises a reasonable question. The answer is that this is the first wave—[Interruption.] Well, there are 7,000 or 8,000 being recruited this year, and the volume of applications is, I am delighted to say, very high. I believe that our approach is right.
I should like to pick up on the point about the environment. The Leader of the Opposition seemed to suggest there was not much about the environment in the Queen’s Speech. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the UK is leading the world on the environment and on helping developing countries to fight back against climate change, and that in this Queen’s Speech, which I have in my hand, there are new measures on water quality and air quality, on committing to reduce emissions and on protecting our wildlife, our plants and our planet?
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend, because she gives me the opportunity to point out that it is this Government who are doubling spending on climate change to £11.6 billion over the next five years. That is a colossal sum—more than any other country—and we are leading the world in tackling climate change and setting a blistering pace for our friends and partners across the world.
We are able to do that because we support a dynamic free market economy, and that is how we are able to fund education across the country. We believe that that is the best way to create and spread opportunity, rather than setting out, as the Leader of the Opposition would, to mutilate that system by banning all fee-paying schools, thereby saddling the taxpayer with a £7 billion bill. We want to give every parent the confidence that comes from properly inspecting schools, and I think it is frankly insane to scrap Ofsted with no plan to put anything in its place, when parents rely on Ofsted to keep their kids safe. It is because we one nation Conservatives believe in opportunity that we insist on standards in schools and on investment. It is to allow young people to make the most of their education and their talents, and to boost the productivity of all the UK, that we are embarking on the biggest programme of infrastructure investment for a generation.
How does the Prime Minister think young people’s education opportunities are going to be affected, given that the aerospace, chemicals and food and drink industries’ associations have written to him saying that the manufacturing sector is going to be badly damaged by his deal? Those industries employ more than 1 million people and are worth just under £100 billion to the UK economy each year.
May I respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that might be a good reason—if it were true, which it is not—for his party to support a deal. I must say that I find it most peculiar that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has been off to see Mr Barnier in Brussels to beg him not to give this country a deal. That is a really quite extraordinary state of affairs. We believe in boosting the productivity of every part of this country—
Schools in Cheltenham, and teachers in particular, are doing a fantastic job of driving up standards while coping with a dramatic increase in demand for special educational needs provision. Does the Prime Minister agree that this Queen’s Speech meets that demand with huge additional investment to allow schools to ensure that their pupils go as far as their talents will take them?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is why there is a massive increase not just in primary school funding, not just in secondary school funding, but in SEND funding across the country, giving local people the power to set up special educational needs schools where they desire. We will fund them, and we will support them.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. He visited St Albans and found it fabulous, but my St Albans private schools, including one of the oldest in the country, are hugely worried about the asset grab proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. Will the Prime Minister give all private schools the reassurance that they will not be just the first of the charitable organisations whose assets will be under attack from the Leader of the Opposition?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, that is not the only act of wanton expropriation—theft by the public sector of the private sector—that is envisaged, because Labour wants a massive £196 billion programme of nationalisation. That is the destruction that it would wreak on the UK economy.
By contrast, we want to boost the productivity of the whole UK with massive investment. We will begin Northern Powerhouse Rail, we will banish the rattling old Pacer trains, and we will invest in roads across the country and fleets of clean green buses. We understand that that is the way to create the platform for economic growth. If we have great infrastructure, great transport connectivity, and gigabit broadband, we have the environment in which business can flourish. We need business to flourish, do we not? Labour does not like business, but we need business to flourish not just for the tax yield, but because so many of the solutions to our problems, not least the environmental problems, are provided by the free market and by capitalism.
If we look at the battery technology in which this country now leads the world, or the designs for wind turbines or solar panels in which this country also leads the world, we see that it is not the Government who make that stuff. Yes, of course, the Government must lead and create the right fiscal and regulatory frameworks, but the Conservative vision is of a nation full of innovators, entrepreneurs and start-ups. That is not only how the green economy will take this country forward, but how we will become carbon neutral by 2050. That point is understood by proud free market Conservatives, including, as the Leader of the Opposition was kind enough to point out earlier, some of my relatives—my crustier relatives, I should say—who joined the protests in the past few days but who understand the vital importance of free market economics for delivering the solutions we need.
What would Labour do, by contrast? Labour avowedly wishes to destroy capitalism. The Leader of the Opposition wants to foment the overthrow of capitalism. Not just that, he wants to whack up taxes on virtually everything, from income tax to pension tax to inheritance tax. He envisages having the highest corporation tax in Europe and a £196 billion programme of renationalisation.
I am most grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I am listening to his exposition on the merits of free market capitalism. When was the transition to that position from his previous position, which was, “F*** business”?
The destruction that Labour would do to business is, I think, the single gravest concern that this country faces—far greater than any fears that business may have had about a no-deal Brexit.
Worst of all for the certainty and confidence of business is what this Opposition would do were they ever to obtain power, because they would simply delay Brexit with yet more paralysis and pointless procrastination. I say let’s not wait—we cannot wait. Let’s get Brexit done so that we can take back control of our money, our borders and our laws. Let’s get Brexit done so that we can regulate differently and better: getting life-saving medicines faster and more cheaply to market for the NHS; galvanising coastal areas with a constellation of new free ports; and organising our immigration system ourselves so that we are open to talent and open to scientists.
The Prime Minister talks about getting Brexit done, but he knows it is a painful journey and not an end point. Why has he not included a trade Bill to enable this House to scrutinise the trade bills that will come week after week? We will not be able to see those bills, so we will end up importing hormone-impregnated food, asbestos and the like. Where is the trade Bill?
One of the things my constituents care deeply about is social care, so I welcome the proposals set out in the Queen’s Speech. Does my right hon. Friend agree we must get Brexit done so that we can focus on the needs of the most vulnerable people in society?
My hon. Friend is completely right, and the entire country is yearning for this House to come together and to work together to get Brexit done. If we can get a deal, I think it would be the will of the people of this country for us to move that deal forward, because that is the way to get on with the priorities of the British people—not just controlling immigration, but ensuring that we look after the interests of young people growing up in this country and give them the skills and investment they need to match their talent.
The Prime Minister talks about Brexit. We all know that, whichever way we do Brexit, it will reduce jobs and our future prosperity. Is that why there is no mention of HS2b in the Queen’s Speech? Has he given up? [Interruption.] Yes, I know he is having to ask what HS2b is. It is the line via Toton in my constituency to Leeds that will serve the east midlands and, indeed, Yorkshire. Have the Government now given up on that vital piece of infrastructure?
When I was re-elected at the 2017 election, I and all the MPs for surrounding constituencies, including the Labour MPs, were elected on a very clear pledge to deliver Brexit. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will not tolerate any attempt to get a second referendum? A second referendum is about one thing: it is about giving backword on the solemn pledge we gave in the 2017 election to respect that result.
The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) asked a question that is very important to our region of the country. The Prime Minister has announced a review of HS2, which I understand, but I hope he gave no commitments during his leadership campaign on the future of that project. Will he ensure that the review carefully consults on the economic impact on the east midlands—Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire particularly —if the whole HS2 project to Leeds and the developments at Toton were abandoned?
I can certainly give the Father of the House exactly that assurance.
The objective of Brexit is not just to give business the certainty of concluding this whole affair; it is, of course, to get on and take back control of our borders, our money and our laws to enable us to champion our food and farming sector as we would desire and to alleviate, perhaps, the unnecessary burdens of bureaucracy that farming sometimes faces in this country. Let’s take back control of our fisheries, so that Scotland can make proper use of her incredible marine wealth.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way on a point that, as he is well aware, is important for my constituency. Does he agree that the new fisheries Bill will not only restore the UK’s status as an independent coastal state and bring back a fairer deal for our fishermen, but will, as its No. 1 objective, improve the sustainability of our fisheries policy?
My hon. Friend is completely right on that, and I congratulate him on everything he is doing to advance the cause of Scottish fishing, in stark contrast to his opponents on the Scottish National party Benches. As I never tire of pointing out, their whole policy is to hand back control of Scottish fishing to Brussels.
Brexit will bring all sorts of commercial, economic and also humanitarian objectives. It is very relevant to the concerns of this country that we will be able, for the first time, to ban the exports of live animals, which have offended people in this country for so long. I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Islington North has even considered that. Those are among the things we can get done once we get Brexit done, but even before we get Brexit done, let us get on—
I hesitate to intervene on the Prime Minister and spoil his splendid peroration, except to say this: Brexit gives the opportunity for us to revisit the issue of the common agricultural policy, which has disadvantaged our farmers and growers for years. Does he agree that we need to make more of our food in this country and so we need to back our farmers?
My right hon. Friend has spoken with his customary wisdom and he is entirely right: that is one of the opportunities Brexit gives us. But even before we have achieved it and even before we have got Brexit done, let us get on with the measures announced in this Queen’s Speech. Let us get on with our vision for a Britain where fairness and balance are at the heart of what we do, a Britain where we fight crime and demand justice for the victims, but where we also insist—I agree with the right hon. Member for Islington North on this point—on rehabilitation of offenders and education in prison.
I am very grateful, because I welcome the Prime Minister’s opportunity to revisit the Marxist-style expulsions from the Conservative party. While doing that, he can perhaps look at moving HS2 out of Eddisbury, where he could save £100 million on the route and invest it in energy-efficiency infrastructure projects.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. I must direct her back to the answer I gave a moment ago: we are looking very carefully at HS2, and she should wait until the review concludes.
We have a vision of a balanced, just and fair society, where we fight crime and demand justice for victims, where we educate in prison and demand rehabilitation, where we fund superb education and healthcare, not in spite of our belief in the free market—again, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) flinches at the mention of the free market—but because we understand that a dynamic wealth-creating economy is essential to pay for those public goods. That is the vision for the society I believe in: a generous, tolerant, outward looking and humane society. That is the vision at the core of this Queen’s Speech, and I commend it to the House.
Before I begin my response to the Queen’s Speech, Mr Speaker, I am sure that you are aware of the news from Spain. A number of Catalan politicians who have been arguing for self-determination, including a former Speaker of that Parliament, have been imprisoned. It is right that politicians here and elsewhere around the world have the right to argue for self-determination. I am proud to say that, at the Scottish National party conference, which has met today in Aberdeen, we have passed a motion in solidarity with our friends in Catalonia. We stand with the Catalans who have been imprisoned for standing up for the right of self-determination.
I rise to respond to the Queen’s Speech. In the usual tradition, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who talked about the longest Session of Parliament since the civil war—although I did wonder whether he was talking about the civil war in the Conservative party.
Actually, no, there is no civil war in the SNP. The hon. Gentleman will find that the SNP is absolutely united.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), who talked about singing. I am sure that SNP Members could make a number of suggestions —perhaps the “Anthem of Europe” or, indeed, “Freedom Come-All-Ye”.
Let me move on to the serious situation in which we find ourselves. We have entered very dark days. In just 17 days, the UK is set to leave the European Union. I wish to take some time to reflect, with the House, on why this Government’s actions are leading to such a tragedy—and, Mr Speaker, I do not use my words lightly. Leaving the European Union is a tragedy. At the inception of the European Community, it was stated:
“The contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.”
Perhaps the Prime Minister might show some respect to the debate, rather than sitting and laughing about those who established the European Community.
The European Community was born in the aftermath of the second world war, after two devastating world wars that brought death, destruction and misery. The European Union is the greatest example of political co-operation and peace, leaving behind the scars of war and the pain of loss and instead choosing to take the hand of friendship across the continent. The United Kingdom joined with European partners to say that never—not ever again—would we compromise peace and stability, and that the European Union would work as a beacon of hope and the guiding light for continued peace, to avoid conflict and the loss of more lives. That is the European Union that my colleagues on the SNP Benches are so proud of.
For decades, the United Kingdom has played its role as an equal partner with member states across Europe in the pursuit of inclusion, tolerance, solidarity, freedom and peace. Through the European Union, we have prioritised human dignity, worked together to deliver equality, protected human rights, and preserved the importance of the rule of law and democracy.
I will come on to fishing and agriculture, but when I am talking about the principles and what the European Union has meant for peace and stability, that is the response that we get from the Conservatives. Frankly, that is telling. I am amazed that the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have respect, has lowered himself to a situation where he is talking about fishing when we are talking about the peace and stability that the European Union has brought us.
We have not yet left the European Union, yet we already have a preview of the Prime Minister’s contempt for democracy and lack of respect for the rule of law. Leaving the European Union risks the protection, rights and values that have made our democracy possible. The rights that we have all shared as EU citizens—to live, to work and to receive an education in each member state—are about to be torn from us if this Government get their way. They are rights that perhaps many of us have taken for granted. The great right of freedom of movement is to be stopped by a Government whose warped sense somehow sees this as a victory.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. We have our political differences, but the fact is that he represents the biggest constituency in the UK and I represent the second biggest. When it comes to fisheries, the EU has, over many years, paid for whole harbours such as Kinlochbervie, paid for roads, paid for airports and paid for bridges. Is it not utterly reprehensible that there is nothing in the Prime Minister’s plan to replace this crucial money for my constituents?
I thank the hon. Gentleman—I did not think we had that many differences, but there we are. He is absolutely right. As I travel around Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and as he travels around Caithness and Sutherland, it is absolutely the case that the signs of what the European Union has brought to our constituents are everywhere—the signs of the investment that Europe has brought to our constituents and the European Union citizens who have found a home in our constituencies, including those who are prepared to say that the highlands and islands are their home. We, too, are glad to welcome them as part of our community.
Let me turn back to freedom of movement for one second. It happens so often that Members on the Conservative Benches, historically illiterate as they are, cheer the end of freedom of movement in this country. Is it not the case that freedom of movement remains, and will probably always be, the greatest economic, social, cultural and peaceful diplomatic achievement anywhere—not just in Europe but, frankly, in the world?
My hon. Friend is correct and we celebrate all those who have come to live in our countries, given our membership of the European Union. I stand as someone who has worked in the Netherlands. My son lived and worked in the Netherlands. My grandchildren are losing the automatic right to live, to work, to get an education and to benefit culturally from everything that Europe has meant. And why? Because of the narrow ideology of the Brexit fanboys who sit on the Government Benches.
The rights that we have all shared as EU citizens to live, to work and to receive an education are about to be taken from us—rights that perhaps many of us have taken for granted. That great right of free movement is to be stopped. That is a backward, retrograde and isolationist step. Brexit poses a serious, significant and lasting threat to democracy and to the values that we cherish.
I stand here today not only as a Member of Parliament for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and as the SNP Westminster leader, but as a social democrat and a proud European who wholeheartedly believes in peaceful co-operation across these islands and across the continent. I am deeply saddened. In truth, I am, like many people across these countries, frightened—frightened of the future that this Prime Minister and this Government are planning for citizens across Scotland and across the United Kingdom.
The terms “crisis”, “chaos” and “catastrophe” are now everyday terminology in the United Kingdom, and that is alarming. I fear that the past few years have numbed many of us to the looming disaster of a no-deal Brexit and to the real dangers of the Vote Leave occupants of No. 10. Britain is in a difficult position, with a dangerous Prime Minister who has no majority and no mandate for office. He and his toxic party must be stopped.
Today the Prime Minister has vowed to make the UK the “greatest place on earth”. That is a comment straight out of the Trump playbook, and it is celebrated by the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr); that just about says it all. Members across this House—from across Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom—know that neither Donald Trump nor the Prime Minister have a hope of making America or the United Kingdom great again, simply because both egotists are obsessed only with making life for Trump and for the Prime Minister great again.
Order. I do not know whether it is something to do with the melodic susurrations emitted by the leader of the Scottish National party, but there is an unfailing tendency of those on the Government Back Benches to holler at the right hon. Gentleman in a most over-excitable—bordering on demented—fashion. Calm yourselves. There is a long way to go and nothing on earth will prevent the right hon. Gentleman from continuing his speech until its conclusion, so lie back and think of either England or Scotland, and get used to it.
I think the Leader of the House might need a bit more space if he is to lie back as he is prone to do.
This is a serious matter. We know that, if Scotland is taken out of the European Union against its will, it will cost us up to 100,000 jobs. We also know, because the Government have told us through the Yellowhammer document, that there is a threat to the supply of food and medicines. And now the chief medical officer for England is telling us that there is a threat to lives. At the end of the day, it is the Government who are responsible for this situation and it is the Prime Minister who has it within his gift to recognise what a calamity a no-deal Brexit would be.
The Prime Minister could stand up in this House today and say that he will respect the rule of law and the Benn Act, and that under no circumstances will we leave the European Union on a no-deal basis at the end of October. To do so would be an act of dignity and an act that respects the rule of law. I will happily give the Prime Minister the opportunity, if he so chooses, to rise now and tell the House that he will respect the law and that he is never, ever above the law. Well, there we are. There is the answer that the House needs. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister might be tying his laces, but he is tying the Conservative party in knots.
It is worth noting that 10 of the Bills introduced by the UK Government during the 2017-19 Session did not complete their passage through Parliament despite the length of the Session, emphasising the chaos at the heart of this Government. In contrast, just last month, the Scottish Government set out their latest programme for government and continue to pass progressive legislation such as the Climate Change Bill, committing Scotland to becoming a net zero society by 2045.
The Government have announced 22 Bills today, but they are not truly proposing the pathway for governance. It is blatant, egotistical electioneering—another toxic Tory agenda, presenting wish lists for a Prime Minister who carries no majority in Parliament. This Government’s top priority is to leave the—[Interruption.] You know, it gets a bit rich for someone who is behaving as if he is a barrack-room lawyer to shout out repeatedly. I tell you what—I look forward to the people of Stirling being able to give their judgment on the behaviour of the hon. Gentleman. That the Government’s top priority is to leave the European Union shows contempt for the majority view of Scotland that we should remain in the European Union. It is about time that those who are temporarily here from Scottish seats representing the Tories recognised that they should be standing up for the people of Scotland, who want to stay in the European Union, not stabbing them in the back.
These legislative proposals will be devastating for Scotland. Despite the rouge and the fanfare around today, the Prime Minister is not really interested in delivering a new legislative programme; he is only interested in showcasing his party’s manifesto—and what a regressive manifesto it is. The Queen’s Speech is a missed opportunity to address years of austerity and punishing cuts in social security support. We call it social security, by the way—you lot call it welfare, and that is the difference. The Queen’s Speech completely failed to address the social security disaster the Tories have overseen since 2010. The Scottish National party is clear that universal credit should be radically reformed, and that the disgraceful—absolutely disgraceful—two-child cap on child tax credits, along with the appalling rape clause, must be scrapped immediately. It is astonishing that this Government continue to pursue a policy of inflicting hardship and economic harm on people across the United Kingdom.
The sheer hypocrisy of saying that this Queen’s Speech is heavy on law and order, coming from a Prime Minister who is prepared to break the law: you really couldn’t make it up. The Prime Minister was found by the Supreme Court to have given unlawful advice to the Queen. Then he told the Commons he would not abide by the Benn Act. However, he then gave a sworn promise to the Scottish courts that he would obey the law and issue a letter for extension if no deal is agreed by 19 October. The Prime Minister must deliver that letter but, if not, I give him this promise: he will find himself back in the courts next week and answerable to them.
On Thursday 3 October, the Prime Minister told the Commons that his proposals would not create physical infrastructure on the Irish border, which the Taoiseach then called out, stating simply that United Kingdom proposals would mean infrastructure on the border. Many across the UK will find it hard to stomach a Prime Minister talking about law and order when he himself shows the rule of law absolutely no respect.
In terms of law and order, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Conservative party has lost any shred of reputation with regard to keeping our communities safe? In constituencies like mine, knife crime and violent crime are the highest on record and communities are no longer feeling safe because more than 21,000 police officers, 7,000 police community support officers and 5,000 specials have been cut. That is why we need to get rid of this Conservative Government—does he agree?
I absolutely agree. The hon. Gentleman makes a great deal of sense and he is absolutely correct. The harsh reality is that the Conservative Government have cut police numbers alarmingly over the past seven years. That stands in direct contrast to the performance of my Government—the Scottish Government—who have increased police numbers in Scotland, recognised the challenge that violent crime and knife crime presents, and dealt with that in a progressive manner north of the border.
In the context of everything that we are discussing today, we cannot ignore the behaviour that is exhibited in this place, and in particular the language that is used—language such as “the surrender Bill”, and accusing those of us who wish to stay in the European Union, which our constituents voted for, of being collaborators. The Prime Minister and his cronies talk about freedom of speech, yet they blithely ignore the abuse, online threats and death threats that many Members—[Interruption.] I find it remarkable, when many Members of this House have spoken eloquently of the death threats they have faced, that what we had from the Government Benches was loud guffawing—we lost a Member of this House a few short years ago, and we have that kind of behaviour.
Too many Members of this House are being threatened, and the behaviour that is exhibited in this place is a clarion call to those who wish to send threats to Members of Parliament. I appeal to everyone to think about where we are and the importance of the next few days. All of us—and I mean all of us—have a responsibility to call out misbehaviour whenever it happens, across the House, whichever party it comes from. We have a duty to ensure that we create respectful debate and dialogue, and I commit myself and my party to that.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point about the way that we conduct ourselves in this place. I am sure he will agree that it behoves us all to be careful with our language, and that includes the language of our supporters. I have had all sorts of abusive texts from all sorts of people, but I have to tell him that that includes supporters of his own party. [Interruption.] Conservative Members should not get too excited, because I have had those texts from supporters of that side of the argument as well. Wherever it happens, and whoever it comes from, it has to stop.
I thank the right hon. Lady, and I agree with every word she said. We must call out abuse wherever it comes from—wherever it comes from, it is not acceptable. We are all political leaders in this place, and we need to get away from the toxic environment that we live in today.
I make it clear that my colleagues and I believe that our days in this place are numbered, because we want Scotland to become an independent country in Europe. The one promise and the one commitment I give is that—
You couldn’t make it up. We are trying to deal with the issue of abuse in politics, and someone shouts, “Will there be a hard border?” The point I was about to make is that, as far as we can achieve, I want any debate on Scottish independence to be respectful. It has to be about the future of our country. It has to be respectful of all points of view, and everybody has a responsibility to ensure that that takes place.
One of the most depressing sets of conversations I have had in the last few days is with Members who have decided not to stand at the next general election; a number of them have said that they will not do so because they are frightened for themselves, their families or, more often, their staff. Regardless of the conversation about how we conduct ourselves in here and elsewhere, it seems ludicrous to me that it has taken more than three years for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the House authorities to come together to agree protocols for ensuring that there are proper security arrangements in every constituency home and constituency office. Is it not time we got that right?
I commend the hon. Gentleman, because he speaks with absolute sense. We have to be cognisant of what is going on. I suspect there are not many Members of this place who have not had threats, many of them death threats. Let us be under no illusion: this is increasing—we all know it is increasing. Of course we need to ensure in particular that our staff members get protection. We have to cool the temperature in this place. We have to accept the position of leadership that we all have. The next few days are going to be absolutely challenging. Let us show some responsibility and leadership in what is a time of crisis.
The right hon. Gentleman has asked Members of this House to call out misbehaviour. Does misbehaviour include the leader of the SNP saying that the SNP wants to radically reform welfare but does not want the powers transferred from this House to Holyrood? Does it include the leader of the SNP saying that Scotland’s crime figures are better, when serious and violent crime is at its highest level in Scotland under the SNP? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the SNP Scottish Government, led by Nicola Sturgeon, dodges the big ideas, makes bad policies worse and makes good policies bad? Those are not my words, but those of Robin McAlpine, the “Yes” supporter who said in an interview this weekend that the biggest impediment to independence is the SNP.
The United Kingdom Government’s Queen’s Speech, placed before the House by the Prime Minister, states:
“As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, my Government will ensure that it continues to play a leading role in global affairs, defending its interests and promoting its values.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree that leaving the European Union diminishes the position of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the global order, and plays no part in supporting people such as my constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal, or Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in determining their freedom and ability to return home?
I have to say—I take no joy out of this—that my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We should be discussing Nazanin. We are glad that Nazanin’s daughter has come home, but where is the Government intervention? There is no question but that our voice will be diminished internationally by the fact that we will not be around the table with our European partners.
I have taken a number of interventions and I must move on. Nothing in the Government’s speech is designed to enhance the rights of Scotland, our Parliament or the voices of the Scottish people. Most notable is the fact that this Government plan to reintroduce the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill, showing contempt for our devolution settlement and seeking to sideline and silence the voices of Scotland. Under the Prime Minister’s predecessor, powers over fisheries and agriculture were removed from Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament—powers that the Scottish people had voted for back in our devolution referendum in 1997. They were taken back to Westminster without the consent of the people of Scotland. I want firmly to put on the record that the Scottish National party, while here in Westminster and in Scotland, will do all that we can to resist the downgrading and dismissal of our devolved rights and powers. When Westminster talks of taking back control of fishing and agriculture, it means taking back control not from the EU but from Scotland.
The day is coming, and coming fast, when the people of Scotland will have their say on Brexit Britain and on whether they wish to be an independent country in Europe. Let me remind the Prime Minister, who is not in his place—he seems to have gone, despite the protocol that he is supposed to be here for two speeches after he finishes—of the words of Parnell:
“No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation.”
Prime Minister, you must heed those words.
Not satisfied with the hostile environment, this Tory Government want to legislate to end freedom of movement once and for all. That is not only morally deplorable, but economically nonsensical. In Scotland, our economy relies on immigration to support key public services—not least our health service. EU citizens from outwith the UK living in Scotland make up 3.9% of our population and 5% of our workforce. They enrich our culture, strengthen our society and boost our economy.
Leaving the EU and ending freedom of movement could cost Scotland up to £2 billion in lost tax revenues. Restricting the rights and freedoms of citizens to come to Scotland will risk the delivery of key public services. But what do we expect from the Tories? Closing up borders is driven not by fact or reason, but by an ideological, fundamental position from the governing party: that immigration is bad. We have recently seen that fundamentalism in practice, as the Government refused automatically to guarantee permanent residence to all EU nationals in the UK, along with their families. The Government are risking leading us into another Windrush scandal, making life impossible for thousands of EU nationals. The UK Government should be working to keep citizens here and enable a fairer immigration system to deal with sectoral needs across Scotland and the UK, rather than focusing on forcing people to leave their homes here. The Conservatives need to stop playing with people’s lives and drop the hostile environment once and for all.
Is my right hon. Friend as confused as I am? I listened to the Queen’s Speech and heard the Prime Minister talk about the economic opportunities and how the economy is thriving under this Conservative Government. How, then, can they still somehow not find the money for women born in the 1950s who paid in for their pensions but have not received a penny back? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is completely unjustified and that the Prime Minister would do well to remember that all those women have votes in the election that he seems so desperate to get?
My hon. Friend is correct. Some 3.8 million women are affected by these pensions changes. We have been over this time and again: the lack of notice given—in some cases, only 14 months. Some women have lost years of pension entitlement—in some cases, tens of thousands of pounds. The callousness, the lack of consideration! The fact that many of these women are suffering is absolutely disgraceful, and they have had nothing but contempt from this Government.
I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the pensions of women born in the ’50s. Has he noticed that something else was missing from the Queen’s Speech? There was no commitment to do anything about the issue of pensioners’ television licences either. Does he agree that that should have been included?
I very often agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I absolutely agree with him on this. There ought to be a commitment in the Queen’s Speech that the TV licences of those over 75 will be paid by the Government. My question to the Prime Minister is: where is that? Let us have a signal that those over 75 will have the comfort of being able to watch television and having their TV licences paid for.
We have just heard about the attack on women born in the 1950s and the assault on free TV licences, and we know about the changes to universal credit. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that this Queen’s Speech has done nothing to halt that relentless attack on pensioners?
Absolutely—and pensioners will be better off in an independent Scotland than they are under this Conservative Government.
What a missed opportunity the Queen’s Speech has been! Although the SNP welcomes progress on bringing forward legislation on the pensions dashboard, the Bill falls short in a number of areas. We have discussed the 1950s women: the Government have a responsibility to address the hardship visited on hundreds of thousands of those women. It must be addressed in this legislation. It simply cannot go on any longer.
Moreover, the Scottish National party has consistently called for the establishment of an independent pensions and savings commission to deal with policy gaps in delivering dignity in retirement. If the Prime Minister and his Government are really interested in delivering on preparation for later life, they need to get real. Not everyone has a Tory trust fund to fall back on. We need robust and responsive policy to deal with the crisis in pensions saving that we simply cannot wait for. I therefore plead with the Government: do not mess this up; establish the commission and use the opportunity to deliver a pensions Bill that actually delivers fairness for older people, rather than uncertainty, complexity and hardship.
The Government have said that as part of their efforts they will bring forward a new environment Bill to set legally binding targets to reduce the use of plastics, restore biodiversity, improve water quality and cut air pollution. We on the SNP Benches say about time. The Government might at last have woken up to the reality of the climate crisis, but the devil will be in the detail. Already, the United Kingdom Government are lagging behind the Scottish Government in their commitment to ending the climate crisis. The SNP Scottish Government already have more robust targets in place, so I say to the UK Government that if they are ready to face the reality that our world demands action now, then they should follow the lead of the SNP Scottish Government.
Members across the House know that the single market has been achieved by removing barriers to trade and having a single set of trade rules across all member states.
I want to move on, because I am conscious that other right hon. and hon. Members want to speak.
For businesses in Scotland, that means being able to sell their goods and services to 500 million people, without paying any tariffs and without having to adhere to completely different rules in each country. An estimated 300,000 jobs in Scotland rely on our trade with the rest of the EU. A Tory trade Bill will end all the economic progress that has been made.
Furthermore, not unexpectedly, the Government have announced a Bill on the withdrawal agreement, an agreement this Government have yet to reach with the European Union—or indeed with this House. Let us call it a fantasy Bill. Yet media reports suggest that the Prime Minister is looking possibly to legislate for the agreement on 19 October. That is this Saturday. Announcing on Monday a Bill on an agreement that does not exist and expecting it to pass through this House on Saturday —Mr Speaker, what recklessness!
The Prime Minister has offered a Queen’s Speech today not to set out his vision to protect our economy and communities from a disastrous no-deal Brexit, but to platform his election campaign days before he intends to drive the UK off the cliff edge. The Prime Minister is fooling no one. This is not the beginning of a new Parliament; it is the end. We in the SNP are crystal clear that we want it to end on our terms, not on the Prime Minister’s. Deal or no deal, the Prime Minister is driving Scotland and the UK into economic catastrophe. His proposals do not keep Scotland in the single market and the customs union, and that will cripple our economy, risking jobs, livelihoods and delivering a race to the bottom on fundamental rights. These are not acceptable to the SNP; nor should they be acceptable to this House.
There is a piece of legislation that should focus the minds of all Members today: the Benn Act. In just five days, the Benn Act legally requires the Prime Minister to ask for an extension. His public utterances suggest that that will not happen. We all know that we cannot trust this Prime Minister to act in accordance with the law. We cannot even trust him to turn up to Parliament. I have to say that I am sceptical about the possibility of compromise. What exactly is the Prime Minister compromising and who is he compromising with? Internally, the Prime Minister is seeking to play a crude numbers game, hoping that a number of Labour Back Benchers come to his rescue for any shoddy deal that he might be able to force through at the final hour.
I want to make the opposition of the Scottish National party clear for the House, and I hope that the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats listen carefully: only by taking control of the House this week can we bring down and end the days of this Government. That is the only way that we can ensure that we can secure an extension and make sure that no deal cannot become a reality. We cannot wait and trust the Prime Minister and his cronies in No. 10. Any Member in this House who caves in on bended knee to a deal cooked up by the Prime Minister is trying to escape the inescapable reality that any Brexit will destroy opportunities and the totality of relationships across these islands as we know them. We must stop this Government riding roughshod over the rights and freedoms of all our citizens. We cannot allow a dangerous Prime Minister to remain in office. We cannot allow the Vote Leave campaign to suffocate Parliament into submission. We must resist.
If Opposition parties come together, we can take no deal off the table and resolve the deadlock once and for all by holding a general election to clear the decks. We must put our trust in the people. We must trust that after years of uncertainty, chaos and instability, the public want something better than this Tory Government. That is our job. That is the job of any Opposition—to oppose the Government—and to offer a better way.
The SNP will not play into the Prime Minister’s hands and partake in his charade. We will vote down this Queen’s Speech. We are not in the business of backing Tory manifesto pledges; nor should others be on these Benches.
It is a great privilege to speak at the start of this debate celebrating a new parliamentary Session, especially after the paralysis of the domestic agenda since the last Queen’s Speech. While I recognise that we still have to deliver Brexit, and, contrary to what the Scottish National party leader, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) was just saying, it is refreshing to have the opportunity to talk about other issues that mean a great deal to people outside this place.
There is much to welcome in the Queen’s Speech, including further protections for our police officers, a possible ban on the import of hunting trophies, the continued passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill and the Commonwealth games Bill, making sure that Birmingham can deliver a spectacular event in 2022.
The hon. Lady mentioned the police. As she knows, in the last Session of Parliament, we brought forward—on a unanimous, cross-party basis—new legislation to protect the police and emergency workers. I hope that any new measures in the Queen’s Speech that might affect the police might also affect all emergency workers, because the number of attacks on emergency workers is still growing, but my anxiety is that the legislation that is already on the statute book is not being fully enforced. Do we not need to do that as well?
I was very pleased to support the hon. Gentleman in that piece of legislation—the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018—and I now have a vested interest, in that my nephew has joined the police. It is very important that we protect not only our police officers but all our emergency workers, who do an absolutely fantastic job as first responders, so I support the hon. Gentleman very much in that initiative.
As someone who is working on a project to green a school in one of the most polluted parts of my constituency, as a signatory to The Times clean air pledge and as a member of the Conservative Environment Network, I very much welcome that the environment Bill will set out binding clear air targets as well as cutting plastic use, protecting biodiversity, reducing our carbon footprint and investing in better, cleaner technology. I hope that the Bill will get full cross-party support to make its passage through Parliament swift for the benefit of those—such as some of my constituents—who live in unacceptably highly polluted areas, as well as for the future generations of this country.
The hon. Lady will know that 2.6 million children go to polluted schools. Does she accept that if we are to meet the World Health Organisation guidelines by 2030, we will have to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030 and not 2042, as has been agreed in Sweden, Ireland and many other countries? Does she agree that it should be 2030 if we are serious?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he has done on the Clean Air Bill, and I was pleased to attend an event he sponsored in the House to sign up to the pledge in The Times on that. I agree with him about how we can protect children, especially around schools, from high pollution. One school in my constituency is planning a protest to stop parents driving their children to school, and that is something that he has campaigned on as well. I appreciate that a lot more work remains to be done.
I also welcome plans in the Queen’s Speech to update the Mental Health Act, but I hope that it will include measures to ensure that no person can be discharged from residential care without a care plan, as unfortunately I have several such cases in my constituency. It leads to heightened pressure on the families of those suffering from severe poor mental health.
Does the hon. Lady agree with Sir Simon Wessely, who carried out the Mental Health Act review on behalf of the last Prime Minister, that the issue is not just about legislation change but needs resources too? If we are seriously to address the mental health challenge in this country, we need £800 million extra to go into our mental health services, according to Sir Simon Wessely.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on all the work that she does on mental health and the changes that have happened in our time in this place: we have seen some real progress. I recognise the issue of resourcing, but we also need to put the right resources in the right places. I work closely with clinical commissioning groups and other partners in my constituency to ensure that we are getting the right mental health support to those who need it most.
Unfortunately, there are some real gaps in mental health provision. For example, children under 11 in my area get some really good support, but there is a gap in the support for those aged between 11 and 18, which can be an acute time. Nor do we necessarily have the right mental health support for men who are suffering from poor mental health. We certainly do not have the right level of trained support for those who have been in the armed forces and have a different type of mental health condition that requires specialist care. It is incumbent on all of us to look at the detail of the mental health proposals in the Queen’s Speech and, if required, work cross-party to ensure that we have a significant and good piece of legislation.
The hon. Lady mentioned veterans and mental health. There are many good charities that do a lot of good work with the Ministry of Defence, but every week in my office—and perhaps in hers—we find that many people slip under the radar. Does she agree that the legislation and the Government’s strategy should ensure that we capture those people and make sure that they are helped, rather than their falling between stools and disappearing, meaning that their problems are never sorted?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. One of the issues that we have is making sure that people do not slip under the radar. Now that we are talking more about mental health than ever before, I hope that we will have other ways of capturing those people and getting them into the support systems. As I have said, one concern I have is that those in the system who have a particularly severe mental health condition and have spent some time in a residential unit are discharged without the right care plan or home visits. That is not fair on the person suffering from poor mental health or on their families and loved ones who are trying to support them.
Another Bill in the Queen’s Speech that I very much support—but again I look forward to seeing the detail—is the new offences Bill. It is right that we increase the prison sentences for those found guilty of serious violent and sexual offences, but I hope it will also include reforms relating to the misuse of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, bringing sports coaches in line with the rules relating to teachers, and will finally increase the sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving. I have been lobbying for an increase, having had a desperately sad case—unfortunately not a unique one—raised with me by local residents who tragically lost their son. We made a commitment in that regard in 2017, but as yet it has not had parliamentary time. I hope that we can now do that. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to deal with the loss of a loved one in such horrendous circumstances. Knowing that justice has been served must be an important part of coming to terms with that loss, and after such a welcome announcement two years ago and the subsequent delay, I very much hope that the Government can finally present the legislation to Parliament as soon as possible. I am sure that it will have broad support across the House.
Those measures could easily have been set alongside others relating to, for example, road safety, and I should have liked to see more work in that area of domestic policy. After a constituent’s partner was killed while recovering another vehicle from the M25, I, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), have been campaigning for greater protections for people who work to rescue those who have broken down on our road network. They include minor changes in traffic regulations, such as allowing recovery vehicles to go through red lights rather than just amber, but they also include a full-scale review of our smart motorway network.
I have actively campaigned against the roll-out of a smart motorway on the M20, because I am not convinced of its safety. I have seen and heard the statistics from Highways England, but I share the view of the Birmingham Solihull coroner—who was presiding over the inquest into the sad death of an eight-year-old boy killed in an incident on the M6—that there needs to be greater clarity about the safety of the smart motorway network, including a vastly improved system to recognise stranded vehicles. I feel deeply uncomfortable with the concept of smart motorways, as they effectively strip a driver of the option to pull over. Given the higher proportion of heavier vehicles on motorways, even a collision at a slower speed between a large vehicle and a stranded smaller vehicle can have fatal consequences. The announcement of a review in the Queen’s Speech would have been greatly welcomed by drivers, recovery workers and, of course, the families of victims, and I hope that it will be considered as part of a future legislative programme.
However, the Bill to replace the rail franchising system is very welcome. Long-suffering commuters in Kent have been left in limbo in respect of the future of the Southeastern franchise, as the competition was delayed and delayed again by the Department for Transport, and was eventually cancelled altogether in August this year. It does not seem all that long ago that the franchise timetable was torn up following the Brown review in 2013, which resulted in a 50-month extension of the current franchise. Ultimately, it is the passenger who loses out from all the uncertainty created by a chaotic franchising system. Kent Members of Parliament have lobbied hard for improvements in the service, and welcome much of what was included in the new franchise proposals—including greater capacity—but given that passengers face ever-increasing rail fares, it is time that those improvements were actually delivered.
Let me raise a specific matter related to my constituency. Since becoming an MP in 2010 I have lobbied, along with colleagues in west Kent, for improved services to the City on the Maidstone East line. They were due to be introduced in December this year, with a new Thameslink service, and we wrote to the Secretary of State in May and again in September asking for assurances that they would be delivered. It was therefore desperately disappointing to be told that the roll-out would not take place in December as planned, and, incredibly, to be given no concrete assurances about when it would happen. While that is bitterly disappointing for passengers, it is, unfortunately, entirely in keeping with the complete shambles of our rail franchising system. Anything that will create more transparency and, critically, accountability, including stricter penalties, is to be welcomed. It is about time we had a rail franchising system that worked for the passenger and not the rail industry.
However, rail is just one part of our creaking infrastructure. One area of domestic policy on which I would have liked to see legislation relates to roads. I shall be lobbying the Chancellor hard for more funding for Kent roads, including major investment in junction 3 on the M2 and junctions 5 and 6 on the M20. With the prospect of the lower Thames crossing coming on stream, it is essential that we invest now to minimise the negative impact of increased traffic going through my constituency and, indeed, the county as a whole.
It is important for us not to forget that there is a world beyond Brexit. I welcome our new domestic agenda, and I hope that it is passed next week so we can get on with delivering on our pledges to improve the lives of our constituents.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). Her remarks about the importance of mental health were particularly worth listening to.
On behalf of my colleagues on the ever-expanding Liberal Democrat Benches, let me associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about Paul Flynn. He was a thoughtful man, an independent spirit who spoke truth to power, and he will remembered with great affection.
I should like to spend a moment remembering another former Member of this House whom we said farewell to in the last year: the former MP for Yeovil and leader of the Liberal Democrats for 11 years, Paddy Ashdown. He led an energetic life of public service in the special forces, in this House and indeed in the other place, and in his role in Bosnia. He was bold, fearless and determined, and he is very much missed.
I pay tribute to the mover and seconder of the Humble Address. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) took us on a grand tour from Derbyshire to Venezuela and surely guaranteed himself good coverage in tomorrow’s “Red Box” in The Times by quoting the favourite catchphrase of Matt Chorley, “This is not normal.” As a fellow child of the 1980s I would just like to put on record my thanks to him for confirming to the House that 39 is clearly still considered “up and coming.”
The hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) is a well-respected former Minister liked on both sides of the House for the way in which she genuinely engages. I understand from looking at her Wikipedia entry that she was head girl at school, and that she graduated with a history degree from King’s College London and then a Masters as a Rotary scholar. Some might call her “a girly swot”; I would say to her that she should know that, at least from these Benches, that is meant as a compliment. I did start to worry slightly, however, when she mentioned Coleen Rooney, and I was grateful that she did not seek the House’s opinion on the recent Instagram controversy, because surely we have had enough division—although perhaps the next time the Prime Minister needs someone to do a leak inquiry there is an obvious candidate.
It is perhaps a sign of our political times that the Humble Address was proposed by a leaver who has three times voted with me against a Brexit deal and seconded by a remainer who has three times voted for a deal to leave the European Union.
On these occasions it is of course traditional to try to lighten the mood with the odd joke, and I see that even the Queen today managed to include something to make us all laugh when she said:
“The Government’s new economic plan will be underpinned by a responsible fiscal strategy”,
because this Queen’s Speech is predicated on the UK leaving the European Union in just over two weeks and analysis after analysis shows that that will leave a massive hole in the public finances.
Much of the last three years has felt a little bit like groundhog day for many of us, but there was something about the last week that has felt particularly familiar to me, and then it dawned on me: we have all been sat in meetings where a woman puts forward an idea and it gets shouted down only a little later for a man to suggest virtually the same thing and pretend it was his great idea all along. But the Liberal Democrats are crystal clear: whether it is a hard or soft Brexit, whether it comes with a red rosette or a blue rosette, whether it is proposed by the former Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, there is no form of Brexit that will be good for our country. And the Liberal Democrats will continue to fight to stop Brexit: to secure a people’s vote with the option to remain in the European Union, to give the public the final say on the Brexit deal, because there is no deal that will ever be as good as the one we currently have as members of the European Union.
There was nothing in this Queen’s Speech that will bring comfort to the factory worker set to lose their job or to the many thousands who already have; nothing to bring comfort to families when they are having to pay more and more to put food on the table; nothing to bring comfort to our young people who are being stripped of the right to live, work and study in 27 other countries; nothing to bring comfort to our NHS on the cusp of yet another winter crisis and having lost more than 5,000 EU nurses in the past two years; and nothing to bring comfort to the cancer patients who fear delays to drugs will mean delays to treatments and risks to their own health.
Nothing in this Queen’s Speech will give the 3 million European citizens any comfort. Bina is with us today. She is a Dutch national who moved here in 1999. After the birth of her second daughter she decided to become self-employed, but despite paying her taxes just as she should, the Home Office asked for proof after proof before finally granting her settled status after weeks of anxiety and uncertainty and weeks of being treated like a second-class citizen in the place she calls home.
Jennifer is also with us today. Her daughter, who is 38 years old, was born in Strasbourg and is severely disabled. In 1986, Jennifer moved her family to the UK, where Marie could get better care and education. Marie has settled status now, but only because her mother was there to help and to ensure that her daughter’s rights were protected. There are so many other vulnerable EU citizens in our country who cannot rely on a family member or friend to help them through the complicated application process.
Last but not least, my constituent Kristin has travelled down with her mother to be with us today, too. Margot moved to the UK 45 years ago from Norway. Two years later, she married Geoff in Liverpool and then Kristin was born. After raising her family, Margot went back to work, paying her taxes every step of the way. As required, Margot applied for settled status, but she struggled to get her application approved. After 45 years of contributing to our society and our economy, the Government treated her like a bureaucratic problem, causing unnecessary anxiety and fear to an elderly couple trying to enjoy their retirement years. Their family are fearful that they will be torn apart.
My right hon. Friend is movingly describing the huge anxiety that a lot of EU citizens face as a result of an unfair and unsuitable application process. It should have been a registration process, but this Government just do not treat EU citizens fairly. Does she agree that they have never counted the human cost of this anxiety?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is also a desperately anxious time for British citizens living elsewhere in the European Union who face not knowing whether they will be able have healthcare or what will happen to their pensions six months from now? This is intolerable, and entirely avoidable.
My hon. Friend is quite right. In this place, we often have the debates, the braying and the back-and-forth across the Dispatch Box, and it can feel like the pantomime or theatre, but this is people’s lives that we are talking about, and some of them are sitting in the Gallery today. I was going to ask the Prime Minister, but he is no longer here, so I hope that the Ministers will have the courage to look Kristin, Margot, Bina and Jennifer in the eye and apologise for the anxiety that they have caused to them and to the 3 million other citizens from the EU27. Our country is better than this. We do not turn our back on those who have come over to be our doctors and nurses, teachers and carers. We do not turn our back on our family, friends and loved ones, and we do not turn our back on those who, like the rest of us, only want to make our country a better place. That is not who we are.
There is little more British than getting all dressed up and taking part in pomp and ceremony, but there is a time and place for that and today should not have been it. Today is a distraction from the fact that our country is fast hurtling towards catastrophe, and that the Prime Minister is more interested in hanging on to power at any price than in what is best for our country. This hard-line Brexit Government have no majority, no plan and no clue, and they are putting the future of our great country at risk.
The Conservatives are clamouring for a general election, and we are ready to give them one. All they need to do is sign a simple letter and secure an extension to article 50. I have said this before in the House, and I will say it again: I relish the opportunity to take the Prime Minister on at the general election. I cannot wait to take to the country the positive alternative vision that people deserve—a vision of a country where, if someone works hard and plays by the rules, they are rewarded with a decent home and enough money to get by and live with dignity, where every child and young person is nurtured and supported to become whatever they want to be, no matter who their parents are, how much money they have or the colour of their skin, and where the most vulnerable can always get the help they need with no judgment or sanction.
We know that our country is better than what this Government want it to be. We can be open, generous and collaborative. Our politics can be one of hope and inclusion, firmly set on the better future that we want to create, but this Government want to turn us into an insular, closed, selfish country, trading in fear and division to get their way. That is what this Queen’s Speech is all about and that is why the Liberal Democrats will not be voting for it.
I am most grateful to have the opportunity to contribute relatively early in this Queen’s Speech debate, and I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It is, of course, a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), the leader of the Liberal Democrats. She and I worked together during the coalition Government—a rather good Government, Mr Speaker, I hope you might agree—and I echo her comments about Paddy Ashdown, whose memorial service a number of us attended in Westminster Abbey just a few weeks ago. I worked closely with him during the coalition. He was a tremendous force for good in the international development world as well as being a great parliamentarian with a hugely distinguished career in politics behind him. I can honestly say that we miss him very much indeed in the international development firmament, so it was good that the hon. Lady chose to say what she did.
I also congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Loyal Address today, a task which I undertook 27 years ago, although it feels like only yesterday. I can still remember the fear and trepidation that attended me as I sat where my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) is sitting and announced that the address was being seconded by
“an oily young man on the make”.—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 56.]
You can tell, Mr Speaker, that not much has changed in that respect.
I am one of those who believes that today’s Queen’s Speech encapsulates the most important principles of a one nation approach in Britain today. I have the privilege of being the secretary of the one nation group of Conservative parliamentarians and, away from the sound and fury of politics in the run-up to the approaching general election, there is much in the speech that can be welcomed. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) set out several of the key measures that ought to carry strong support across the whole House.
The wings of the momentous decisions on Europe that we will be making in the next few days span the whole of British politics. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire said much about Europe that is of concern to all of us. However, she was, in a way, talking about a world before the referendum. Once the referendum had taken place, these arguments were put to bed. In my view, we are all committed to implementing the referendum result and I speak as someone who voted to remain and whose constituents declined to support that—but only just. I think that the sooner we are able to implement the result of the referendum, the better.
With the greatest of respect, the hon. Lady has something of a brass neck by intervening with that. Most Conservative Members, most of the time, voted in favour of a deal and it is the party opposite that has not voted in favour of a deal. I respect the result of the referendum and I voted for the deal on the past two occasions it came before the House, believing that at that point there was too little room for manoeuvre and that it was in the best interests of those I represent in the royal town of Sutton Coldfield to vote for it. So I can see no reason not to support the deal I expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to put before the House shortly. The message I get, particularly outside the M25 beltway, is that people want this done. They want to move on. When the House meets in extraordinary circumstances next Saturday, they want a deal to be secured and for us to move on to the next phase. It will only be the next phase, of course, but it will be psychologically important to the markets.
I reinforce the point I made to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Any form of Brexit is potentially so damaging to the interests of my constituents. I must put my constituency first, which is why I cannot vote for any form of deal. I want to make that plain and have it on the record. My constituents must come first.
To be fair, across the House, nearly all of us are doing what we think is in the best interests of our constituents. In my judgment, the best interests of my constituents are represented by drawing a line and moving on. There are tremendously important negotiations to come, of course, but once we have left the European Union, as we are bound to do following the referendum, we can start to repair two key things that need so much to be repaired. The first is the deep, deep divisions that run throughout our society, throughout all our constituencies and throughout the four kingdoms of the United Kingdom. A second referendum, which will clearly be very much in contention over the next few days, is a ghastly prospect, particularly as it would put back yet further the important and necessary act of healing the terrible divisions that disfigure our country.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that people out there are saying they want Brexit to be over? They do not want to get Brexit done; they want to get it over. The simplest way to get it over is to put the deal to the people, and then we could see Brexit as it really is, warts and all. The people could then decide, once and for all, whether this is what they want. Is it more money, more control and more jobs? No. People do not want it. Let us get it over, and let us have that vote. Otherwise we will not be getting it done; we will have years and years of trade negotiation and poverty.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think he is arguing for a second referendum—a confirmatory vote. I cannot think of anything more likely to exacerbate and perpetuate these deep, deep divisions that disfigure our country than going on, month after month, for a second referendum. It is now for the House to decide whether we can secure a deal, and I very much hope the House will decide that on Saturday.
The second thing, and it bears upon the Gracious Speech, is that a resolution to Brexit at the weekend will allow Britain to re-engage internationally. As the House will be aware, our reputation has plummeted over the past three years. We have been absent from parade on a number of big issues where Britain had previously shown great leadership, such as migration, climate change, protectionism, terrorism and the desperate threats that the Kurds face today. Britain’s voice needs to be heard trenchantly on these issues and, over the past three years, Brexit has prevented that from happening.
Climate change, for example, was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. I have talked to some of the Extinction Rebellion people who blockaded the streets around Westminster over the last week or so. It is easy to mock these people, but there is something rather noble about the cause they espouse. Talking to some of them while negotiating my way through Trafalgar Square on my bicycle has been interesting and constructive, but the problem is that, in attacking this Government, they are attacking the wrong target.
Britain has been a leader in tackling climate change at the major international forums of the UN and elsewhere. I pay particular tribute to important work by Lord Turner and his colleagues on the Committee on Climate Change. Britain has put its money where its mouth is in tackling climate change internationally, as well as domestically. Starting with the coalition, when I had some responsibility for these matters, we allocated some £7 billion for the international climate fund. For 2016 to 2021 we allocated £5.8 billion, from our hard-pressed taxpayers, for adaptation and mitigation of climate change. As the Prime Minister said, we are projected to spend £11.6 billion between 2021 and 2026. In addition, we are streets ahead of some of our European friends and neighbours in developing the technology, and here I highlight the Ayrton fund, which has allocated £1 billion for innovative technology. Britain has standards and an approach to climate change, both in adaptation and mitigation, that have been enormously effective. It is also worth bearing in mind that, this year, for the first time since the industrial revolution, we will consume more energy from renewables and nuclear power than from coal and gas.
I concur entirely with the right hon. Gentleman’s aspiration for Britain to continue to lead internationally on key issues such as climate change, but does he not agree that Britain’s role internationally will be diminished if it is no longer a member of the EU? Britain has played a leading role on these issues within the EU and internationally partly because it has been a member of the EU, and it will be difficult for us to retain our status if it departs the EU.
The argument the hon. Lady puts is the one that led me to vote to remain. I did not feel that the architecture of the EU was enormously compelling, but I did think that most of the problems, some of which I listed, were best handled by a more international approach. That is something where we are on the back foot. Nevertheless, it would be wrong not to conclude that, even outside the EU, working closely with our allies and partners in NATO, the United Nations, Europe and the Commonwealth, we can still have an immense footprint in tackling these important issues.
I wish to mention one way in which, under climate change funding, we can do more of this. We have seen Britain leading in the vital, world-changing area of educating girls. That was certainly done in the Blair and Brown years, and it was given a strong boost during the coalition years through the girls education challenge fund, which was designed to get 1 million girls into school in areas where they have been denied any form of education. Of course the Prime Minister, both in his current role and as Foreign Secretary, has made a staunch stand in favour of that.
I want to see, as a result of the Queen’s Speech and of policy development, Britain doing much more to clean up the oceans of the planet. That is a good use of the development budget; millions of very poor people earn their living from the seas. Plastic has now reached almost the remotest places on earth. It has been found 11 km deep in the ocean and even on the island of St Helena, which is thousands of miles from the nearest landform and where, incidentally, the airport is proving to be such a success. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans of our planet. The Government’s policy domestically has been very successful in terms of curtailing the use of plastic bags and microbeads, and from April next year we will ban plastic straws. The Government have also been very successful in using the market to achieve these desirable results wherever they can. This is an area where British leadership could have a big impact. So I urge the Government to put not only the money from the international development budget—or a proportion of it—but the considerable intellectual weight of British thinking and activity in the international forums behind that initiative.
The next point I wish to make about the Queen’s Speech certainly complements a one nation Queen’s Speech and, I hope, a one nation Budget in due course. I wish to stand up for capitalism and free markets, which are under great pressure, not least from the Leader of the Opposition, as was said earlier. We need to do more to stand up for capitalism and free markets and to explain why free enterprise has been such a powerful engine of advancement and social elevation, particularly for those who are among the least well off. It has always been the case that Governments have hedged around the free market system with rules, taxes and laws to stem excesses and excessive greed.
We recently watched the sad demise of Thomas Cook—now mercifully in the hands of Hays Travel—with a consequent loss of livelihoods and jobs and the inconvenience caused to hundreds of thousands of people who were coming back from their holiday. Is it right in Britain today that the chief executive officer of that company has been paid £8.3 million since 2014, with a £2.9 million bonus in 2015? The two chief financial officers have been paid £7 million since 2014, and the non-executive directors have been paid £4 million, including £1.6 million for the non-executive chairman. Effectively, these were the directors of the UK’s oldest travel agency, and they appear to have presided over the destruction of the business while awarding themselves collectively £47 million in pay and bonuses in the past 10 years. I submit that that brings the free enterprise system and the laws that this House should make into disrepute.
Sixty-one FTSE 100 companies do not pay the living wage to their employees. The living wage was championed effectively by the Prime Minister when he was Mayor of London and by the former Chancellor, George Osborne. For those 61 companies, the average chief executive pay is just under £4 million per year. The arguments for capitalism and free enterprise are under attack, as we shall see in the forthcoming general election. They need to be explained, defended and propagated. One of the ways in which we do that is by demonstrating fairness in the way that the system works.
Let me conclude on another point relating to one nation fairness. It has to do with homelessness. Led by our West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, we are doing our best to eradicate this problem. Last Friday, our Mayor was at Aston Villa with 130 people who slept out voluntarily to raise money to help to tackle the curse of rough sleeping. Throughout the west midlands, good progress has been made in offering rough sleepers accommodation: via Housing First we have got 94 people into accommodation—far more than the other two pilot areas have achieved. Housing First also provides the support that individuals need, including drug and alcohol programmes and mental health support. We all understand and know of the complexities involved. Progress is being made, but it is not just about money. The Government have been pretty generous, with £100 million going towards the rough sleeping strategy. In Sutton Coldfield, we currently have four rough sleepers. We have two extremely well-run food banks that operate and help in a wider area than just the royal town. One man has been sleeping rough in our park for more than 20 years.
The reason I mention that is that I do not think any of us can sleep easy knowing about the extent of rough sleeping throughout Britain and in our cities. In November 2018, the count of rough sleepers in Birmingham stood at 91. That was an increase from the previous year and a big increase indeed since 2010. The number of new homeless is showing no signs of slowing. It is a complex and difficult problem and it is not just about finance and funding, but I hope that this good, one nation Queen’s Speech, which I strongly support, will not neglect this vulnerable cohort in our communities and will regard reversing this most unfortunate trend as a very high priority indeed.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). I was in the Chamber 27 years ago when he seconded the Loyal Address—it was my first ever Gracious Speech. It is a tribute to him that, 27 years later, he is still quoted by those who ably proposed and seconded the Loyal Address today. I congratulate him on the longevity of that speech in 1992.
This Queen’s Speech is dominated by Brexit, but it also contains policy announcements on justice and policing. It also has some measures that even I, as a Labour Member, will welcome in due course, such as those on trophy hunting and on the restoration, potentially, of the devolved Government in Northern Ireland. It also, in my view, requires some additions, which I shall touch on briefly in a moment. It reminds me that the Prime Minister appears to be running against what his own Government did over the previous 10 years, with his emphasis on increasing policing, increasing investment in education and increasing investment in health. The proof of that pudding will be very much in the eating, because what is on offer is really a counter-balance to the austerity that the Conservative Government have forced through—dare I say it with the help, in their first five years, of members of parties who now sit on the Opposition Benches.
None the less, the Queen’s Speech is dominated by Brexit, which is the Government’s first priority. The opening line of the Gracious Speech is that the Government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 October. You will know, Mr Speaker, that the terms of that departure will potentially be set this week on 17 and 18 October at the European Council. Government Members have said that we on the Opposition Benches should vote for a deal. I confess that, as of today, which is five days before we are expected to vote on a deal in a Saturday sitting, we have no clear idea of what that deal will be. We have no clear idea of what the terms of that deal could be, what the boundaries of that deal could be, and what impact that deal could have on my constituents who make cars, who make planes, who make paper, who export sheep products, who provide tourism and who require safety and security through policing and through the support of international agreements on security.
I say to those sitting on the Government Front Bench that, first and foremost, I voted to trigger article 50. I stood on a manifesto that said that we would respect the referendum, but in the 2017 general election, which was called not by me, but by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who wanted a mandate to force through her form of Brexit, I made commitments to things which I still do not know will be in the agreement that comes before us on Saturday. I stood on a manifesto that was against no deal, and I have voted against that. I stood on a manifesto, which, in my terms as a representative in Wales, was for a customs union and for a single market. I do not yet know what the outcome of those discussions is.
I cannot say whether I will vote for the deal on Saturday, because we do not know what it is. I have to ask whether it is going to be better, because the Ministers in the Gracious Speech today have said that they will implement new regimes for fisheries, for agriculture, for trade and for opportunities arising from the European Union once we have left. Again, I do not know what those opportunities will be, but I have seen some adverts on the television this week that tell me that, on 1 November, if we go ahead with any form of deal—or no deal—that the Government are proposing, I will have to check whether my healthcare is still valid in Europe; check whether and how I can send goods to Europe from businesses in my constituency; check my insurance on travel, because it will not be valid in the great new world that we face; and check whether I can still drive in the European Union after 1 November.
I still do not know about any of those things or whether we will have something positive or negative at the end of this week. None of that was on the bus when it came driving through the United Kingdom on 23 June 2016. We still have no details in the document that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster produced last week on what will happen to the European arrest warrant, what will happen to European policing co-operation, and what will happen to the second generation Schengen Information System, under which we exchange information about paedophiles, criminal gangs, and drug abusers. As a former Policing Minister and a former Justice Minister, I cannot vote for anything when I do not yet know whether we have police co-operation and international co-operation on preventing drug trafficking, child pornography and child abuse. I do not know whether we have that yet, and I hope that during the course of this debate we can get some clarity on that so that we know what we might be asked to vote for on Saturday.
It also strikes me that the farmers in my constituency who currently export sheep to Europe do not yet know whether they will face a 40% tariff. Vehicle manufacturers at Toyota and Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port—employing thousands of people in my constituency—do not yet know what the tariff regime will be or what form it will take, and neither do the aircraft manufacturers at Airbus. There should therefore be a real sense of urgency on the Government’s part to pull together what we might be voting on. I have already voted for some forms of the deal that the Government have brought forward; I have also voted against some forms of the deal. But right now we have no clarity on what the deal presented to us on Saturday might be.
It strikes me that the only way in which we are ultimately going to be able to bring this together is to settle on a deal—whatever it might be—and then to put that deal back to the people so that they can decide through a confirmatory vote whether to support whatever deal comes before Parliament. As I have done in the past, I will support a confirmatory vote in due course. I hope we can find a way to bring a deal back so that people can see what Brexit means, because even now—four days from a vote—we do not yet know what it means in practice.
The Queen’s Speech is not all about Brexit. There are some measures regarding violent offenders. The question for me is: what has happened to the excellent work that was being done by the former Justice Secretary, the right hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), who was talking about trying to abolish sentences of six months or less because they can cause people to struggle? Many people need clarity about how the Government are approaching the question of sentencing, because the Queen’s Speech seems to include sentence inflation for serious offences, which we can debate and discuss in due course, but we have no statement about what is going to happen to people who are being imprisoned for less than six months on a regular basis. In such situations, there is no opportunity to intervene in offenders’ behaviour or to turn their lives around, and we do not have the potential to make an impact on them through the prison system.
I would like to look in more detail at—but will probably welcome—the police covenant proposal that is included in the Gracious Speech. I met representatives of the Police Federation at the Labour party conference in Brighton this year, and they were very keen on the police covenant. We want that to happen and I can give Ministers cross-party support on that measure. We can also give Ministers cross-party support on replacing lost police officer numbers. The key test of that pledge is whether and how those police officers are going to be recruited, and over what period. There are questions to be answered such as how many police officers we are losing and how many we need to recruit to replace the 21,000 officers removed by this Government since I was the Policing Minister exactly 10 years ago, when there were lower levels of crime, including violent crime, more police officers, more security and more resolution of community issues than now. Over this 10-year period, violent crime has risen and crime has been more damaging. The sudden realisation that those police officers are needed is welcome, but we need to see how the plan will be delivered.
I welcome Helen’s law, which will mean that murderers who have been concealing the location of their victim’s body will not be allowed to leave prison until they reveal that location. That is fair and proper, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for driving that measure forward.
I welcome the measures on trophy hunting. Again, we want to look at the details, but it is appalling that people can go on holiday to shoot tigers, leopards, lions, giraffes and a whole range of other animals, with impunity. Stopping the import of materials resulting from trophy hunting is a very welcome proposal. I want to look at the details to see how UK citizens who are taking part in trophy hunting will be restricted in bringing back trophy-hunted animal parts to the United Kingdom.
I welcome the potential restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland, which is also key to the whole settlement of the Brexit issue. The helpful explanatory notes to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, which we need to return to in due course, state that we are going to:
“Clarify the immigration status of Irish citizens once the free movement migration framework is repealed. This means Irish citizens will generally not require leave to enter or remain in the UK.”
I question what the word “generally” means, because the Good Friday agreement, and the work I did as a Northern Ireland Minister, meant that people can identify as British or Irish, feel comfortable in that, and move around the United Kingdom and Ireland based on their identification. I worry about what “generally” actually means in practice.
I welcome the potential of some of the issues in the national infrastructure plan. We have a north Wales growth deal, as the Minister will know from when he briefly but successfully navigated his role in the Wales Office until he moved to his new position. I am sure he misses the Wales Office tremendously. I hope that he will be able to secure the north Wales growth deal as part of the national infrastructure plan as a matter of some urgency.
I want to finish on two issues that I had wanted to be included in the Gracious Speech. With regard to the forthcoming violent crime reduction Bill, the Minister and the House will know that there is severe concern about attacks on shop workers in their place of work. About 115 shop workers per day are attacked in the course of preventing shoplifting and upholding legislation on alcohol, tobacco and solvent sales—and now on knife and acid sales. Those shop workers are upholding the laws that we have passed in this House, and yet they have limited protection from this House accordingly. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) is here because, as a member of the Co-operative party, I know that it has pushed very hard for action on support for shop staff, as has my own trade union, USDAW. We secured from the Government a consultation that has been ongoing and is now closed. When the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), had responsibility for the issue of attacks on shop staff, she undertook to report back on the consultation by the end of November. I hope that the current Policing Minister will do so and that there will be outcomes from it that give protection to shop staff in their daily lives.
I hope that when the violent crime Bill is brought before the House, there will be an opportunity for action to be taken on protecting shop staff by giving greater support to measures that will discourage violence against them and ensuring that they live free from fear about their daily workplace. It is very important that we do that. There is certainly cross-party support in this House, but also from the British Retail Consortium, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, USDAW, the Co-operative Group, and small supermarkets and stores right across the board. Nobody apart from the current Government has resisted the potential for action on this. I hope that the consultation that the Government have undertaken will prove fruitful, but I want to see it come back before Christmas, as promised.
My final point is about air weapons safety, on which I know there is a range of views in the House. In December 2017, the Government launched a review on the use and control of air weapons. I have an interest in that, because constituents of mine have been killed accidentally by the use of an air weapon when a lockable cabinet or a safety lock would have made a real difference to the safety of that weapon. That is one of the facets of the consultation. The consultation commenced on 12 December 2017. It closed on 6 February 2018. It is now 14 October 2019, and the Home Office has still not responded to the consultation on air weapons safety. My plea to Ministers is to conclude that consultation. I do not mind what Ministers say on that, but there is an opportunity to conclude the consultation. Constituents of mine have invested time and energy in putting points to the consultation, which is about the loss of their loved ones, to find that no response has been given to date. I want the Government to produce the consultation response. If they want to introduce measures on producing better airgun safety, such as requiring that airguns are kept in lockable cabinets, that could be done in the serious violence Bill. It could be done as part of the Home Office Christmas tree Bill, which we know will be in any Session, subject to any general election that occurs. My plea is for clarity on the outcome of the consultation, so that it can form part of legislation.
In conclusion, can the Minister give us some idea of what is happening on Saturday, and can he give us some idea of what is happening with the consultations on shop staff attacks and on airguns? Let us work together on areas where we have co-operation, including trophy hunting and infrastructure plans. Let us fight at some point the battle about the wider political discussion that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield touched on, about capitalism versus Government intervention in an active, positive society. I believe that Government intervention and government is a force for good. It has given me the health service and health in life. It has given me education in life. It has given my family security of housing in life. It has given opportunities to millions of people across this country. An active Government who take a role in the future is what I seek in a future Labour Government, whenever the election comes.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, talked about Paddy Ashdown, our former colleague. He was one of the people who, in part, worked for my father in Geneva in the 1970s, and he is an example of why it is wrong to say that people who come into Parliament cannot do anything else.
There are many people who did many things before they came into Parliament, whether with domestic responsibilities or in professional or voluntary work, and there are many who do the same thing again when they leave. We ought to look on our debates in this place as a way of recruiting many others to stand for election and make contributions here.
Our contributions in this place are often about justice as much as law, and those two come together in the Queen’s Speech in leasehold reform. The Government have said that they want to enshrine it in law that ground rents should be zero and that houses should not be sold unnecessarily as leasehold. That is a start, but a great deal more needs to be done.
Leasehold reform was accepted as a key element in the findings of the Government White Paper “Fixing our broken housing market”. That White Paper produced a number of consultations, all of which accept the urgent need for reform. We have been seeing leaseholders abused over the last 10 to 20 years, partly by mistake, partly by crooks and— too often, in the last 10 years—by ordinary commercial organisations that realise they can stuff their own pockets and those of their shareholders by exploiting the weakness of individuals, whether under Help to Buy or in other ways. I am grateful for the commitments made by Government on that.
The Government have accepted Lord Best’s report recommending statutory regulation of managing agents. They have asked and funded the Law Commission to undertake a major review of leasehold and commonhold law. The Government have tasked officials in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government with supervising that work and asked them to carry out their own work on leasehold reform. Earlier this year, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, led by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), produced an amazing report—as I have said before, it is one of the best Select Committee reports I have read in my time here—urging the Government to do even more.
The Competition and Markets Authority is, with a bit of encouragement, currently considering a potential investigation of major mis-selling activities by developers. I ask the Government to assure us that the reforms that have been considered over a number of years will now come forward. We have the chance to make big progress. It is in a bipartisan area, and it will make a difference to many of the people who live in the 5 million to 6 million leasehold homes—that might be 10 million people, which is a very high proportion of our electorate, to whom we are responsible.
I declare, as a matter of form, that I am a leaseholder in my constituency. We and five others bought the freehold. We had a good freeholder and a good managing agent. Separately, in about three years’ time, I expect to buy a leasehold flat somewhere near here. I say that to avoid people thinking that I am serving my own interest.
I want to turn to two other issues, both relating to justice. The first is the case of Krishna Maharaj, who is in his 80s and who was convicted more than 20 years ago of two murders in Florida that he did not commit. I will then turn to the case of Gurpal Virdi, a Sikh former Metropolitan police sergeant who is still seeking justice for the way in which he was treated and prosecuted—unsuccessfully, obviously—for indecent assault.
Before that, I do not think one should totally ignore the contribution of the leader of the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who keeps saying interesting things, often very loudly, and then drops his voice and says we should all be very calm in this place. I say calmly to the SNP that, if we are talking about elections, let us remember what happened in the 2017 election compared with that in 2015. The Scottish National party’s share of the vote went down from 50% to about 37%, while the Conservatives’ national share went up from about 37% to about 42%. The SNP always floats the idea that it has a majority, but that did not happen last time and I hope it does not happen next time.
I could have said that as well, and as gently too, but it is also worth remembering that having a greater number of seats does not mean that those Members speak for all the people in Scotland. I think they will accept that getting 37% means that other parties got 63%, and they deserve to talk, if not shout, as much as the hon. Gentleman’s party.
I first met Krishna Maharaj in a Florida jail 22 years ago. It was two days after the funeral of Princess Diana, which is why I remember the date. He was said to have killed two people. There was no evidence that he had done so. The investigation was clearly wrong, and the work of Benedict Kuehne and Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve has now proved that beyond reasonable doubt.
In fact, a magistrate in Florida has concluded that there is an at least 87% chance that the conviction was totally wrong; 87% is seven out of eight, meaning that there is only a one in eight chance that the prosecution was justified. Clive Stafford Smith has done really well. For those who want to look it up, I refer them—I am afraid that this is a bit detailed—to case No. 17-21965-CIV-Martinez/Otazo-Reyes of the United States district court of the southern district of Florida. The petitioner was Krishna Maharaj and the responder was Mark S. Inch, secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. It was submitted by Benedict Kuehne and Clive Stafford Smith, and delivered on 7 October 2019.
On behalf of someone who is in his 80s and has been in jail unnecessarily and wrongly for more than 20 years, I ask the Florida state to stop going for delay after delay. For someone of that age who has suffered an obvious injustice, the case should be reheard as soon as possible, and Krishna Maharaj should be released. He is British. He is from Trinidad. The whole saga is in Clive Stafford Smith’s book. Following the magistrate’s decision, I ask our American friends to ensure that the Florida authorities re-examine the case in court and then this injustice can be ended.
Krishna Maharaj’s case reminds me of the days when I used to talk more often on such subjects. About seven times a year we would discover that people had been convicted in this country of murders that they either could not have committed or where the conviction was not safe. Some of those cases involved IRA attacks. Sometimes the authorities go too far.
I strongly support criminal justice reform and the need to ensure that the police can do their job more easily, more effectively and more openly. I pay tribute to the Metropolitan police and to members of the police services of other parts of the country who have come together in the past week or so to deal with the street campers and protestors in London.
I was surprised to discover that the so-called Extinction Rebellion had so much money that it could provide up to £400 a week in expenses to people who are ruining the lives of others trying to get to work in the capital city and earning less than £400 a week.
Given the selfishness and, if I may say so, foolishness of those who think it is a good game to take a holiday or receive expenses to come down to London and spread around lots of nylon and plastic tents, most of which seem to get abandoned as though it is the Glastonbury festival, I think they ought to look themselves in the mirror and ask, “Are we doing the right thing in the right way?” I would argue that they are not. When I asked a number of them one evening, “Which G20 country has done more than this country?” none of them volunteered the name of another major country.
I will give the police all the support I can as they work with councils and schools to eradicate the rash of adolescent violence in some of our seaside towns. Young people should be involved in worthwhile activities. They should not be going around in gangs. When they start going astray, they ought to be caught and redirected to ways in which they can actually make something of their lives. Just because someone’s family has a bad past is not an excuse for them to have a bad future. We need to turn people’s lives around, and that is what I think justice should be.
Gurpal Virdi has been a friend of mine for about 30 years. I will not go through his previous experiences, but he is one of the very few minority ethnic officers who has actually got through to full retirement with the Metropolitan police. He was once fired for allegedly sending himself a National Front leaflet saying that black and Asian people were not wanted in the police. That got resolved in his favour. I was there when Bernard Hogan-Howe presented him with an award for exemplary conduct.
Following an attack similar to that on my constituent Stephen Lawrence, Gurpal Virdi left his police station in Ealing, found two of the attackers and the attack weapon, and went to see the family to give them information and comfort. After he retired, he did various things voluntarily and for money. Importantly, he stood as a Labour candidate and was mentored by the present Mayor of London, whom I suggest should get in touch with him to give him the support he should have given him all the way through.
Gurpal Virdi was told that he was being charged with indecent assault, with an extendable truncheon, on someone under the age of 16. The police investigation was not done by the historical sexual offences group; it was passed to the directorate of professional standards, which had been at fault in some of his other disputes with the police.
The one thing it knew all the way along was that extendable truncheons, which the complainant was certain had been shoved up his bottom, were not made available until 10 years later. The police statements from others then serving in Battersea said that they had not seen one until 1997, and the alleged offence took place in 1986.
Every single statement of so-called fact by the complainant was contradicted by the only serious witness put forward by the police. The fact that the event did not happen, that the witness was not there and that Gurpal Virdi was not involved can be viewed as side issues, because the statements made by the so-called witness contradicted what the so-called complainant said in his so-called claim.
It was also known that Gurpal Virdi had arrested this complainant five months later in the company of another named officer. The only known records were the identity of the officer in charge who had arrested the complainant in November 1986; that Gurpal Virdi and another officer had arrested him in March the following year when there was a warrant out for him; and that the police knew that Gurpal Virdi had taken the complainant’s fingerprints in March 1987. That was not disclosed on time to the defence. The officer who was with Gurpal Virdi in March ’87 was not interviewed. The police officer who was in charge in November ’86 did not put a statement to court; we heard later that he had said that he could not remember anything about the incident, which had probably been only a simple arrest, as used to happen. When Gurpal Virdi asked the then Independent Police Complaints Commission to look into the matter, it was passed on to the Metropolitan police, who passed it to the department of professional standards—the investigator into whose conduct the Met was supposed to be looking. The department said that it had done everything right. I say that it did everything wrong, and I ask the new Independent Office for Police Conduct, if it has the powers, to form its own investigation. I ask the inspectorate of police to do that, too.
I conclude by saying this. Operation Midland, into what “Nick”—Carl Beech—said, is going to be reviewing a number of things. I ask for two things. One is that Ministers and the Metropolitan police consider getting someone such as Sir Richard Henriques to give a week to looking at the Virdi case—it would not take more than that.
I then ask the review of Operation Midland to look into Operation Gianna and ask especially how the gold group, the supervising group in the Metropolitan police—I think it went from the deputy commissioner all the way down—managed to overlook every single bit of evidence showing that Gurpal Virdi was innocent. He should not have been charged. There should have been a proper investigation, and he should have been exonerated.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). Let me be the latest Member to congratulate him on his long-running leadership of the campaign for leasehold reform; I am thinking of my constituents who have had to suffer from the mismanagement of their leasehold arrangements by Redrow and Persimmon. The hon. Gentleman’s case for more substantive leasehold reform is well made, and I hope that there will be urgent action on that. As a Member of the Co-operative party as well as the Labour party, I have always supported the principle of commonhold. However, I recognise that we have much to do to establish commonhold as the norm in England and Wales. I hope that reforms will allow that to happen.
I want to concentrate my remarks on the state of our public services and on Brexit. As a proud Co-op MP, I am disappointed, but not entirely surprised, to see once again nothing in a Queen’s Speech about how the Government might want to help the co-operative movement expand. There is nothing to help energy co-operatives expand to grow the usage of renewable energy still further, which is essential if we are to get our emissions down quicker. There is nothing to help housing co-operatives expand to tackle the housing crisis, particularly, but not exclusively, in London. There is nothing to help co-operative schools either.
I share the disappointment of the co-op movement that there is no commitment in the Queen’s Speech to bring forward as a matter of urgency legislation to reform the rules on credit unions. The Government know that there is a growing consensus within the credit union movement on what needs to happen to release credit unions from some of the red tape that holds back their expansion, yet there is no commitment to legislate on that. Some of the legislation that governs other forms of co-operatives dates from the Victorian era and needs to be modernised. Work by the Law Commission and a commitment to legislate for reform would have been timely.
It is the biggest co-op businesses that struggle on occasion to get access to the level of capital that they need to expand, and that is where there is the most urgent need for Government legislation. Withdrawable shares could help the biggest co-ops, such as the Co-op Group, to expand and go to the capital markets without their co-operative status being threatened. Such legislation has been successfully introduced in Australia, and I hope that the Treasury will move forward on this issue in the next 12 months.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) set out, the Co-operative party has long supported action to reduce violence against shop workers; his leadership of the effort to get the Government to legislate has been notable. I add my voice to his in hoping that we will see significant Government movement on that very soon.
It feels as if there is nothing in this programme suggesting that the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary, the Education Secretary or the Home Secretary truly have a plan to tackle the crisis in our public services. The crisis in the national health service and social care facing my constituents is the most urgent issue that I want to address. The three major hospitals serving my constituency are all either directly in crisis or clearly exhibiting signs of the huge pressures that they are under. Alternatives to acute care in my constituency and the neighbouring ones are being closed. Three walk-in centres have either closed or are being closed. Primary care in my constituency is under growing strain. GP surgeries report increasing difficulties in recruiting staff, and the users of those surgeries report increasing difficulty in getting appointments. The clinical commissioning group and the trust are millions of pounds in the red and have often been in the red in the past. Nothing suggests that the deficits that they have at the moment are likely to get significantly better in the coming years.
I turn to something that many on these—and, I suspect, the Government—Benches will recognise. Years ago our local council had to give up providing social care to all but the most chronically in need. It is fair to say that it is struggling even to do that successfully, given the shortage of funding in local government. In May, an independent inquiry by clinical experts ruled that Mount Vernon Hospital, one of the three that serves my constituency, can no longer operate safely—that it is unviable and cannot maintain the safety of its patients. It is a 117-year-old cancer hospital. It is so dilapidated and short of doctors and nurses that it cannot provide modern cancer care or even basic elements of treatment, such as consultants undertaking daily ward rounds, new in-patients being reviewed within 14 hours of arrival, or rapid access to diagnostic testing and results.
It is the first time in the history of the national health service that a major facility, specialising in this country’s biggest disease—cancer—now poses a direct risk to patients and has been declared unfit for purpose. It was therefore astonishing that when the Health Secretary recently announced funding for building six hospitals and for work on a bunch of other hospitals, Mount Vernon Hospital was not included in the mix. I hope that we will shortly hear some sense of a plan for investment in Mount Vernon Hospital to keep the hugely valued cancer facilities there, which until now have been hugely successful. There is a huge affinity with the hospital and its staff, and it urgently needs the Government to show it a little care and attention.
Central Middlesex Hospital serves my constituents in part and it also needs a little love and attention from the Government. Only 10 years ago, after considerable investment, it was being marked out as the future for the NHS—a hospital able to get people in and out very quickly. Ten years on, its accident and emergency department has closed—permanently, some five years ago—and now its urgent treatment centre has closed at nights. Many in its vicinity worry about what is coming next.
The major acute hospital serving my constituency is Northwick Park Hospital, which is under huge pressure. Northwick Park Hospital last met the four-hour accident and emergency target—95% of attendance lasting no longer than four hours—over five years ago, in August 2014. For the first half of this year, from April to September, demand for A&E services was up again, by 4%, which is vastly higher than the average of 0.2% across the rest of London. Occupancy rates for bed usage across the trust are above the national average. Staff vacancy rates appear to be significantly above the national average too, at almost 20% for medical staff and over 13% for nursing staff. Porters, cleaners and caterers, who do such essential jobs, are being paid less than the London living wage, while the chief executive of the company they work for, Medirest, has a salary of over £1 million. It is hardly surprising that the staff should be contemplating industrial action.
It is, however, the scale of backlog maintenance at Northwick Park that particularly bears highlighting. According to its risk register, over £38 million is needed to tackle the high and significant risks that have been identified around the Northwick Park estate.
Some seven years ago, Ministers and Conservative Members of Parliament decided to use north-west London as a health experiment and brought forward a document, “Shaping a Healthier Future”. Over six years, they set out to close a number of A&E departments and spent over £75 million on consultants. This was going to be the way in which other services, including those that serve my constituency such as Northwick Park, were going to see additional investment. No additional investment has been forthcoming. After huge campaigns, two of the four A&E departments that Ministers wanted to shut, Ealing and Charing Cross, have been saved. However, Hammersmith and, as I alluded to earlier, Central Middlesex, have closed. It is difficult to see what has been achieved to make things better for my constituents directly, other than increasing demand on our acute hospital.
To be fair, some of the original analysis in the “Shaping a Healthier Future” programme was prescient, even if the resulting strategy was deeply flawed. We have a significantly growing population. There are huge health inequalities in our area. We have an ageing population and modern lifestyles are exacerbating some of the care needs that my constituents face. “Shaping a Healthier Future” did set out a need for significant new investment and a bid for over £500 million was submitted to the Department of Health and Social Care and the Treasury last year. Included in that were efforts to tackle the maintenance backlog across all the hospitals in north-west London, including Northwick Park, which serves my constituency. That bid was rejected last summer and, so far, nothing has been brought forward in terms of significant new moneys to tackle the issues that “Shaping a Healthier Future” originally identified.
Seven years ago, the authors of that document were a little prescient in that they wrote:
“Unless things change, we predict that most hospitals in NW London will end up in financial difficulties.”
That has certainly been proved right for Brent and Harrow. London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Central Middlesex and Northwick Park hospitals, is over £30 million in the red. Harrow clinical commissioning group, which serves my constituents, is over £40 million in deficit. It has been in deficit since it was first set up and no one expects that to change any time soon unless there were to be, as there should be, a significant increase in funding for the NHS. What is even more worrying is that London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, to try to reduce the scale of its deficit, had to sell off land owned by the NHS.
The particular issue that my constituents have noticed in the crisis in NHS care is the closure of walk-in centres. In November last year, Alexandra Avenue walk-in centre closed. It had been open from 8 am to 8 pm, 365 days a year, allowing people in my constituency to walk in off the streets and see a nurse or a doctor usually within 15 or 20 minutes. Belmont walk-in centre, which serves the constituency of Harrow East primarily as well as some of my constituents in Wealdstone, is set to close at the beginning of next month. The Pinn medical centre, which serves the northern part of my constituency but is located in Pinner, Ruislip and Northwood, is being earmarked for closure, too. There is a funding crisis in the NHS and it needs to be sorted as a matter of urgency, in particular in my constituency.
It is now seven years since we had a police force in Harrow that was recognisably up to the task of tackling violent crime and antisocial behaviour. Then, we had a sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers in every ward of my constituency. The Mayor of London has done what he can do to make sure there are dedicated police constables and a PCSO in each ward, but £1 million extra a year needs to go into the Metropolitan police budget if we are to be able to return to having dedicated neighbourhood, ward-based teams with sufficient officers to tackle crime.
I echo the concerns of other Opposition Members about our future relationship with the European Union, which is the big issue dominating the Queen’s Speech. I am a pragmatic pro-European. As a Minister who went to Brussels on what sometimes felt like more than a regular basis, it was not always easy to feel passionate about the European Union. One saw it up close, warts and all. However, when one stands back from those occasional frustrations, the case for staying in the European Union remains compelling: our economy is stronger, our security is enhanced and our influence on the world stage is much greater.
Following the referendum result, I voted to respect that result by triggering article 50 to allow formal negotiations to begin. However, every Brexit scenario advanced by the Conservative party suggests that our economy would be significantly poorer and our influence on the global stage much more limited. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn rightly alluded to the fact that until our future relationship with the European Union is resolved crucial elements of the security of our country remain very substantially at risk. To his list, I would add the issue of people smuggling. We have to co-operate across the European Union to tackle the gangs who try to transport people illegally into our country.
A no-deal Brexit is without question the worst of all the Brexit scenarios that have been advocated. One heard last week the statement by the president of Nissan that there may well not be a future for Nissan in the UK under a no-deal Brexit scenario. Manufacturers giving evidence to the International Trade Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit, set out the huge damage to the steel sector a no-deal Brexit would deliver. There is, perhaps, a compromise to be had. It requires the current occupant of No. 10 to be a little bolder in taking on the European Research Group on his own Back Benches and to agree that any deal he negotiates must be put back to the British people. Then and only then should we have the election that I suspect we all want, on both sides of the House.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that this is an odd time to be having a Queen’s Speech. It does not answer any of the significant challenges facing our country and I look forward to opposing it next week.
I support today’s Gracious Speech. I have spoken on the first day of every Gracious Speech debate since I was first elected to Parliament, but never under these circumstances. The atmosphere is a little strange. We are all a little subdued, perhaps because colleagues are stressed out for various reasons, although that is not to say that the quality of the speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who is no longer in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) was not absolutely splendid.
This really is a broken Parliament, but I have some good news. I, a Scottish National party Member, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who happens to be in the Chamber, and some Labour and Conservative colleagues were all in Rome yesterday for the beatification—
The canonisation of Cardinal Newman —it was the first of an Englishman for 50 years. The House should know that we asked the Holy Father if he would pray for a miracle so that we can deliver Brexit—[Interruption.]. When we asked him if the next canonisation would be of a British Member of Parliament, his eyes lifted up to heaven. A number of us are feeling slightly spiritual at this rather sombre occasion, as today has been thus far.
That was a faux pas on my part, but I think we got on pretty well. We share similar levels of stress and we just want the thing to be over.
I voted initially for us not to join the European Union. I voted for us to leave the European Union when we had the referendum, never thinking for a moment that we would have another referendum, and I was absolutely shocked at the result. No Liberal Democrat Members are in the Chamber at the moment, but I pay tribute to them because their view has been consistent. However, I do not see anything liberal or democratic about their policy.
I had the privilege of helping to chair the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill Committee. There was a first-class debate in the Chamber from Members on both sides of the House. Reflecting on that debate now, I simply do not understand why, when it came to the vote to trigger article 50, such a huge number of Members voted for that process. If we had not triggered the process, we would not be where we are now. Anyway, I hope that a miracle happens, Brexit is fixed and we leave the European Union on 31 October.
The reason I like to speak on this particular day is that we can speak about anything, as a number of colleagues have demonstrated, but bizarrely, I will keep my remarks close to the Gracious Speech. The Leader of the Opposition made an interesting speech, but I did not feel an atmosphere of good will. He seemed reluctant to say that he would support any of the measures. Surely in a broken Parliament, there are at least half a dozen measures that, cross-party, we could support. He said one particular thing that I agree with and I will come to that later.
The last Session was, of course, the longest parliamentary Session since the civil war. I attend business questions every Thursday. Opposition Members said, “When are we going to get the Queen’s Speech?” Well, we have it, so it should be celebrated that we have a new Session. The point I am particularly interested in is the wonderful line about measures to be announced. Besides the 22 measures, there will be many more. As far as Brexit is concerned, I have given my view already. Even if I had a different view, I would follow what my constituents voted for in the referendum: 58% voted to leave and 42% voted to remain.
In terms of cross-party support, I would have thought that the Opposition could support the animal welfare measures. We recently had a debate about the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. It fell at Prorogation, but it can be carried over, and everyone should be pleased that “dumb animals” will have protection if the legislation is carried. We will ban the imports of trophy-hunted animals and all the other barbaric practices whereby going on safari is advertised and when people get there, the animals are all caged up. How people can celebrate standing on such a beautiful thing as an elephant or a rhinoceros, I do not understand, so the House should support those measures.
Over the years, we have spoken about laws to recognise the sentience of animals. The UK has been a global leader in this area for as long as I can remember, and I pay tribute to the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, of which I am a patron. I am very glad that the Queen’s Speech suggests that we will do something about that issue.
I know that no Minister sums up this debate on the first day but, if we ever get to day six, I would like an answer to the question about pet passports. In terms of when we negotiate the withdrawal Bill, a number of my constituents have asked whether we are going to continue with the reciprocal arrangements, so that those remain in place for them when they take their dogs or cats abroad.
There is another point that the House should surely agree on. Only last week, we had a wonderful debate about the Domestic Abuse Bill, when the House was at its very best and we heard a number of splendid speeches. I am absolutely delighted that that Bill has been carried over. If we really are going to vote down the Queen’s Speech, it would be a great shame if that Bill is lost.
I was on the Health Committee for 10 years. You reach a point where you just go round and round in circles in the inquiries that are held, but I was really pleased that we announced in the Queen’s Speech that we would have an integrated care Bill. Our NHS is a huge organisation. The treatment that we get from general practitioners, hospitals, pharmacists and other services is absolutely essential, but it is important that we have joined-up healthcare. I hope that that is what the Bill will mean, and it is certainly something that the Conservative party has been promising ever since we formed the coalition Government in 2010.
The morale of our staff who work in the NHS is very important. I am very glad that they have been given a reasonable pay rise. I visited my local hospital recently. Every single ward does a splendid job. I suppose that this will go down like a lead balloon, but I am going to pick out the Elizabeth Loury ward, which deals with particularly ill patients. I thought that the staff were absolutely amazing and when I went to congratulate them, a patient who was hooked up to all sorts of machines heard what I was saying and forced their way out to say, “I want to agree with you: they are doing an absolutely wonderful job.” I would have thought that all Members of Parliament would agree that we should praise the work that they do. All this talk about the privatisation of the health service is absolute rubbish, as far as I am concerned.
The Royal College of Nursing’s staffing for safe and effective care campaign was brought to my attention at the recent Conservative party conference, and I am glad that the Queen’s Speech included matters relating to support for the NHS workforce, which the RCN believes should be at the heart of Government policy.
Earlier this month we had another really good debate on women’s mental health, led by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who is no longer in her place, with first-class contributions from colleagues. I think it was the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger)—she has recently joined the Liberal Democrats—who said that we need more money for mental health services. We would all say amen to that, but it is a question of balance. In that debate, I spoke about two inspiring local women, Kelly Swain and Carla Cressy. Both those ladies run charities in my local area, and I know that access to Government funding would represent a significant boost to their organisations. I hope that we will look at how clinical commissioning groups and the Department of Health and Social Care can work together to ensure that money goes to small charities.
I said I agreed with the Leader of the Opposition on one point, and that was Grenfell. We all remember waking up after the election and seeing the terrible scenes. The hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad), who was newly elected, made a fantastic speech, and we have had some very good debates. I am the chairman of the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, and I absolutely agree with the Leader of the Opposition that we should fit sprinklers retrospectively in high-rise buildings. No new school should be built without sprinklers being fitted, and I agreed with his point about new building safety standards. Following Dame Judith Hackitt’s review, it is important that the House gets behind the legislation, about which I hope to hear more detail.
At the recent Conservative party conference, I met the British Heart Foundation, and the statistics it gave us on UK air pollution were truly shocking. From the reports that I have read, the environment Bill about which we have heard today will address not only poor air quality but the protection of landscapes and habitats. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We all know that to deliver a clean environment we must promote electric cars. I am surrounded on these Benches by experts in the technology of electric cars. I am no expert, but I now understand much more about hybrid cars than I did. At the conference, I met representatives of the industry who mentioned serious concerns about the lack of charging points available across the country, with just one charging point in my constituency, and a total of five in the whole of Southend. It is essential that the infrastructure legislation that will be introduced improves that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) mentioned Extinction Rebellion. I do not want to be a hypocrite about this. I collected my tree, as did a huge number of colleagues. I got a beech tree, which will be used for hedging. Umpteen people locally would like more trees. I promised the chap who gave me the tree that I would mention his opinion that, while what the Government are doing at the moment with tree-planting programmes is good, we need to plant billions of trees. Quite where billions of trees could be put, I do not know. All I would say is that in Southend West we have an active tree-planting campaign, and I am sure there is plenty of space in Scotland to plant even more trees.
I eat my words. If my hon. Friend has room for 70,000 trees in Chelmsford, perhaps we have a bit more room in Southend, although we are a bit restricted by the Thames estuary. I will look at that with the local authority. Even though the protests were controversial, I thought the tree planting thing was worth while.
I recently had a meeting with the excellent new Exchequer Secretary about the cost of vehicle excise duty, and I was joined by the National Caravan Council and the Caravan and Motorhome Club. All Members have caravan and motorhome owners in their constituencies. Recent changes have meant a 705% increase in vehicle excise duty on those vehicles, which I think is totally unfair. It is meant as an incentive for owners to buy alternative products, but they are not available at the moment. Many of the owners are of modest means. They have saved diligently to enjoy their retirement and they cannot afford an extra £2,000. I am delighted that we will have a Budget on 6 November and I hope that we can do the trick there.
I am glad about the announcements on law and order in the Gracious Address. I have always thought that the number of people in prison should not be a badge of honour. The fewer people in prison the better, and the present situation just shows that prison does not work. Prison should be for the most violent offenders, and I hope that we can get the balance right.
On the subject of law and order, Harvey Proctor was my predecessor in Basildon and a near neighbour. Ted Heath and Leon Brittan were also colleagues, and Lord Bramall was a Member in the Lords. I know Harvey Proctor very well, and his life has been destroyed and broken. He has lost everything. When he had to leave Parliament, he only survived because half a dozen colleagues had a whip-round and set him up in a shirt shop. What has been done to his life is a disgrace. I hope that he gets compensation as quickly as possible and that the conduct of that case is carefully considered.
I am pleased about education: with our excellent Minister for School Standards, the minimum level of funding per pupil for secondary schools is up to £5,000 and £4,000 for primary schools. I was lobbied by the musicians’ passport campaign, and I ask the Government to agree to introduce touring visas for musicians and other creatives. A constituent raised with me the issue of blue badges, and whether they will be reciprocal when we leave the European Union.
If I was disappointed by any element of the Queen’s Speech, it was the lack of a sentence about Southend becoming a city. There was a big moment for me on 25 July, because the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box that Southend could become a city. I will hold him to that. I have already had a letter from a Minister saying that we need some sort of royal event to hold a city contest. Well, the Duke of Edinburgh is coming up to 100, so we could make that the reason, and the Queen will soon be the longest reigning monarch anywhere in the world. It was a splendid Queen’s Speech, and I am just so glad that Southend will become a city next year on the centenary of our mayoralty.
Order. This is obviously a magnificent debate, and I do not want to place any undue stress on colleagues, but there are still 14 Members wishing to speak. If colleagues speak for more than 15 minutes, it may put a bit of pressure on others later.
I will endeavour to be a tad briefer than some of my colleagues on both sides of the House.
This Queen’s Speech was delivered against a backdrop of chaos and a political crisis that we have never seen before. It was nothing more than an expensive distraction from the shambles that is Boris Johnson’s premiership. While I am more than happy to pay tribute to the hon. Members for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), who opened the debate, I think it is clear that, as was said, the Government are desperate to hold on to the Union of this Kingdom. Perhaps a more apt choice of Fleetwood Mac lyric than “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” would have been “Chain, keep us together”, because that is what they are hoping for. The fact is that, despite the pomp and ceremony, none of the announced Bills will be implemented before a general election, and I think that the Government know that.
The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) outlined his ambitions to scrap the benefit freeze, the rape clause, the two-child tax and the bedroom tax. I was pleased to note that he had a copy of the 2017 Scottish National party manifesto. We have been espousing those policies for the best part of five years, and it is good that he has finally caught up with our programme. It was good of the SNP to help him out by writing his manifesto; I know that he needs a bit of inspiration.
Sadly, the Queen’s Speech cannot be delivered by this Government. In their current form, they would be lucky to do so. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) said that he was praying for miracles. Let me say with the greatest respect: the Government need a miracle to get this Queen’s Speech passed.
Not only did the Prime Minister lie to the Queen about Prorogation, but he has now brought her to this place to launch his election campaign. If we hear the words “Get Brexit done” one more time—perhaps someone will tell me, and the rest of the UK, exactly what that means. In fact, it is meaningless, and it detracts from the real problems that we face across the UK, and with which the Government have to deal. We have heard vague promises of hospitals, police on the streets and better education. We in Scotland know exactly how to deliver an education system, a police system and a justice system, because we in Scotland have been doing that successfully. In the crisis that is Westminster, it is the SNP Government who are delivering for Scotland.
Ironically, the Government appear to be putting law and order front and centre of their ambition to return to power. That would surprise most people, given that the Prime Minister was recently found to have broken the law by the highest court in the land, and consistently says that he will do the same again at the end of the month. We have a Parliament in turmoil, a Government without a mandate and a Prime Minister with no power, yet we find ourselves in the House delivering the election manifesto of the Conservative party through the vehicle of the Queen’s Speech.
The Government are cutting taxes for the rich while cutting services for the rest of us. Rather than using the Queen’s Speech to address the glaring inequalities across the country, the Prime Minister used it to announce a crackdown on our European neighbours entering the country, a move that would be devastating for my constituency and for Scotland. In Scotland we have a problem with emigration, not immigration, and this proposal proves how out of touch the Government are with the wishes of the people of Scotland. It does not need to be said again, but I will say it again none the less: Scotland voted to remain in the EU, and the Government have shown a flagrant disregard for the will of the Scottish people. [Interruption.] I am happy to take an intervention, if the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) would like to make one. No? Then I will carry on.
As I was saying, EU citizens from outwith the UK who are living in Scotland make up just over 3% of our population. They enrich our culture, strengthen our society and boost our economy. Leaving the EU and ending freedom of movement could cost Scotland up to £2 billion in tax revenues. I would like to understand how MPs who also represent Scotland on this side of the House intend to answer to their constituents when the general election comes. For Scotland that is not a price worth paying, and Scotland is not willing to pay it.
In my constituency, thousands of EU nationals are anxious about their future. I recently held a surgery specifically for those who are concerned about their future in the UK post Brexit, and the response was heartbreaking. Women in their 80s are planning to leave the place they have called home, families fear that they will have to return to a place that their kids will not recognise because they have never lived there, and young people are angry about the fact that their opportunities are being removed by this Government. Their anxiety was not relieved when the Minister for Security threatened EU nationals with deportation from the UK if they did not apply for settled status. We all know that the Government’s response has been woeful.
Europeans who work in our health service, support local businesses and help to grow our economy now face the full force of the Tories’ hostile environment. As if it were not bad enough to be happy to target anyone who does not look like a British citizen, they now want to target EU nationals who contribute to healthcare, contribute to the economy and contribute to Scotland. They are happy to tell us that those people must apply for settled status in a home in which they have lived for most, if not the entirety, of their adult lives.
I cannot support a Queen’s Speech that is inward-looking and ignores the problems that my constituents face. Rather than focusing on blocking EU nationals entering the UK, the Government could have used today’s events to announce a halt to universal credit, a failed policy that has been wreaking havoc in my constituency, causing people to turn to food banks and crisis grants just to feed themselves. That is this Government’s record. That is the record that we are not hearing about from the Prime Minister, but that is the record that the Government will face at the ballot box: a policy that is leaving local authorities out of pocket by millions of pounds, and picking up the pieces for a private sector that is increasingly reluctant to accept universal credit claimants.
The Prime Minister could also have announced compensation for the 1950s women whose pensions were removed from them with no consultation, or he could have called an end to the benefits freeze—another policy that has been in our manifesto for quite some time. Instead, in a room full of lords and ladies, the Queen, sitting on a golden throne, read a party political broadcast written by an unelected Prime Minister with no working majority, announcing the continuation of punitive policies that have harmed the most vulnerable in society.
Today has proved again how out of touch this place is. Scotland deserves the choice of a better future than the one that is being imposed upon it. It is clearer than ever that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests properly is for it to become an independent country.
I am most grateful to be called to speak on this first day of the Queen’s Speech debate. I echo colleagues’ remarks about the excellence of the speeches that we heard at the beginning from my hon. Friends the Members for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton).
I do not know whether you recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the House of Commons gift shop used to sell a fridge magnet featuring the words of a certain British comedian, Spike Milligan. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) remembers it. Those words were “One day the don’t knows will get in, and then where will we be?” I fear that there is a danger that we shall be known as the “don’t know Parliament”.
This is the second Long Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West referred to the first Long Parliament and he may recall what Oliver Cromwell said on 20 April 1653:
“Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d…In the name of God, go!”
My hon. Friend is nodding.
I pray, in the earnest sense of the word, that on Saturday this House determines this matter of Brexit. I speak as a just-remainer who represents a midlands constituency that voted 60:40 out. I believe I have a moral duty to get my constituents out of Europe, and that the authority of the electorate—we delegated power to the electorate—supersedes anything passed by this House. It may be a legal nicety that the referendum was not legally binding, but woe betide this House if it ignores the will of the people.
We need a bit of luck in politics, and I cannot believe my luck seeing the Minister for Health my hon.—or probably right hon.—Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) sitting on the Front Bench, because I am intending to talk about health. Of course, one of the problems with the Queen’s Speech is that if we try to talk about the subject we wish to talk about someone like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, gets up and says “We have to restrict the debate to four”—or three or two—“minutes,” so we end up with no debate at all. As my perspicacious hon. Friend the Member for Southend West knows and pointed out, one of the joys of being lucky enough to be called on the first day, however, is that we might get a chance to make a longer speech, so I am particularly grateful to be called, and I want to talk about the health measures in the Queen’s Speech and, if I have time, say a word about the environment.
I absolutely welcome the 40 new hospitals that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has committed to, and I am particularly excited because Leicester, with the Royal Infirmary, the General and Glenfield, is going to be part of that massive hospital upgrade programme. I would like to think that when my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary came to Hinckley and saw what we were doing there—he visited an integrated healthcare clinic, where he saw chiropractors and massage therapists working together, apart from the main hospital—that might have influenced his decision.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it will be no secret to you and possibly the Minister of State that I have argued pretty much all my parliamentary career for integrated healthcare. I note that an integrated healthcare Bill was referred to in the Queen’s Speech, but I do not think it is quite the integration that I have been looking for, which is a wider range of treatments available on the NHS. I will go further today, in what might be my last speech—it will certainly be my last contribution to a Queen’s Speech debate—in what has so far been a 32-year career as I am standing down and say that, despite my support for these 40 hospitals, I think we need a new health paradigm. If we look around at what is happening outside—the Attenborough effect, worries about plastics and the Antarctic, not to mention activities recently—we can see that what we really need now is a sustainable healthcare policy. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) is getting a phone message.
I am glad, and I wasn’t expecting that; Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope you will waive the rule that says electronic devices are not allowed to be used in support of a cause.
We really need a new paradigm. We need a new health paradigm and that paradigm must look at the carbon footprint of drugs among other things, and it must look at how we are deploying resources in the health service. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Minister that there is a reluctance on the part of the medical establishment to share any space or any resources with anything it does not control itself. I cite in evidence the Osteopaths Act 1993 and the Chiropractors Act 1994. I sat on both those Bills; they were private Members’ Bills and they became Acts of Parliament. We were told beforehand, “The osteopaths and chiropractors do not have proper regulations so how can we bring them into the health service?” Well, they have now got proper regulation; they are regulated by Acts of Parliament, but where in the country do we find them working with orthopaedic surgeons? The osteopaths and the chiropractors have a carbon zero footprint—and the western acupuncturists for that matter have a carbon zero footprint—and they can help these practitioners in our hospitals. I would like to see a small percentage of the money going to these new hospitals put towards a broader base of treatment.
The Professional Standards Authority was set up by the Government to regulate, with oversight, a whole range of professions from sports therapists to all sorts of other therapists. I have argued so many times that the Government should respect the PSA’s own request that it be taken seriously and be able to refer cases that it sees to doctors. It is almost as if it does not exist. The Government speak with forked tongue on this, and I am really concerned about it, so I ask my hon. Friend—who perhaps will be winding up the debate—if she will look at that.
One third of the world’s population already has sustainable healthcare so this is hardly a novel approach. China, which has a population of 1.4 billion, has its traditional 4,000-year-old herbal medicine system and acupuncture, and India has a sustainable health ministry and a 4,000-year-old medical system plus the world’s greatest usage of homeopathy.
I have just been to India for a week at the request of its Government; I was invited by the Government to see what was going on. I went because on 17 January I had a chance to ask a question of a man I respect, Sir Andrew Dillon, who is the chairman of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. I said to him, “I can’t understand why you and your committee are dithering over whether acupuncture works for lower back pain—it has been on and off. Have any of your team been to China or India where the critical mass is, to see what is going on?” and he said, “No, we haven’t; we haven’t got the money.” In fairness to NICE, its budget has been cut by 30%.
I do not pretend to be an academic—I am a politician—but I did do research at Oxford under Professor Sammy Finer of All Souls and Gillian Peele at Lady Margaret Hall for a research degree in the ’80s, and they always said to me, “If you’re doing research, go to the biggest base of information you can find.” Yet NICE has been making decisions on tiny numbers of people—a few homeopaths in Liverpool, a couple of different groups of herbalists and acupuncturists. Why on earth are we not looking at the two biggest countries in the world that use these systems?
As I have said, I have been to India for a week as the guest of the Government. The Secretary of State knows all about this as I have talked to him about it; I was their guest and I shall declare it in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, but I paid for the flights. The AYUSH Ministry—Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy—covers a range of disciplines, but I want to dispose first of one component, and that is homeopathy. I want to dispose of this to give some idea of the scale of the operation. Here in the UK, the tiny group of homoeopaths has been under constant pressure in recent years from so-called sceptics saying that there is no evidence. When I was in Delhi, I met Dr Raj Manchanda who runs the Government services in Delhi. Delhi has 6,000 homeopathic clinics, with 15,000 registered homeopathic practitioners, of whom 80% are doctors who have had five years’ training. They practise in almost every street. I also went to the homeopathic institute and teaching hospital in Calcutta. On a 14-acre site, I found three different lines of patients waiting in areas the size of the New Palace Yard. The hospital was treating some 2,000 patients a day, off season, and 3,400 in the hot season, with 100 doctors and postgrads on duty at any one time.
This is the evidence we could look at. How can we possibly accept that there is no evidence when in the whole of India homeopathy—which was exported from London to India during the British time and caught on—has 300,000 practitioners, 250,000 of whom are doctors, treating an average 20,000 patients a day? I will leave that now. I know that not everybody wants to hear me going on about homeopathy—[Interruption.] Well, doesn’t it make it look ridiculous? There are a quarter of a million homeopathic doctors there, yet somebody here who is not very well qualified is saying that there is no evidence. I really think we should look at this. A lot of Indian homeopaths come back to the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine to do research degrees, and they regard it as the ultimate to come back here and do that work.
I was honoured to have a meeting with Shripad Naik, who is the Minister in charge at AYUSH. He is actually the equivalent of a Secretary of State. Here, the Secretary of State here has responsibility for 66 million people; Shripad has responsibility for 1,300 million, which is 1.3 billion. I think I have got that right; I never was a mathematician. I spoke to our Secretary of State about this, and he would be happy to receive an invitation from Minister Naik to visit India and look at these medical systems—I went round 12 hospitals—and also to establish a working group on traditional medicine such as the one India has with Germany. I would say to the Minister of State, before she gets distracted, that Minister Naik is in the process of opening 5,000 integrated health clinics with allopathic medicine, complementary medicine, the Ayurveda medical system of India and homeopathy. AYUSH, with its medical system including naturopathy, yoga and homeopathy, has 700,000 practitioners, 700 teaching institutions and 200 postgraduate institutions, with an annual intake of 46,000 for its degree courses and 6,000 for its postgrad course. It runs 3,000 Government hospitals that are integrated healthcare hospitals, and it has 28,000 dispensaries. It has 9,000 Government manufacturing units and there are six AYUSH practitioners per 10,000 population.
That is a massive operation, and I suggest that my hon. Friend the Minister really needs to look at this, because it offers us a chance to have a much better regulatory regime in this country. I do not think that our complementary and integrated healthcare regime is thorough enough, in the sense that it is scrappy and fragmented; I know that from working in this field. The AYUSH Ministry was set up by Prime Minister Modi in 2014 as an independent ministry—I remind colleagues that he has just been re-elected for another five-year term—and he has doubled the AYUSH budget twice. It has gone up four times in five years because AYUSH is so effective at treating people. It is extraordinary. It controls research, through central regulatory bodies and research councils. It controls 11 national educational institutes and it controls drug quality care regulation with two central pharmacopeia laboratories and a national medicinal plant board.
Looking around at the landscape outside the House now and at the general attitude that has got very intense—including people’s anger about plastics—I believe that it is only a matter of time before a tsunami of anger comes round the corner because people here are not allowed these services across the health service. I really encourage my hon. Friend to look at this, because they provide solutions where antibiotics are failing, and they provide solutions to opiate addiction. The three main services that AYUSH offers are: Ayurveda; yoga and naturopathy; and homeopathy.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you are smiling at me and I really appreciate that. I do not think you are standing to be the next Speaker—[Interruption.] You might be; perhaps you are, so you could be smiling for two reasons. Certainly, one of your reasons is to try to get me to sit down, so I will finish on this.
In 2013, I was acting Chairman of the Health Committee for a short period of time in the interregnum between our other hon. Friends who were Chairs, and I put out the report—HC401—entitled “Managing the care of people with long–term conditions”. It contains evidence from the late great Peter Fisher, the Queen’s homeopath, and George Lewith, who ran a department at the University of Southampton. What I found, going round 12 institutions and research laboratories in India, was that homeopathy was used frequently for long-term conditions with multiple problems because it can find the root of the problem, and I just ask my hon. Friend to look carefully at that and perhaps visit the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, which is world-famous.
I hope that I may get called to speak again one day, Madam Deputy Speaker, but with that, I will sit down.
It is great to have this opportunity to contribute to this afternoon’s debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I assure you that I will not outstay my welcome.
I want to make a few remarks arising from the community consultation that I have just finished with people from across my constituency. I do this every September during the recess, and this year almost 1,000 people were involved in one of 37 events over three weeks. More than 1,000 shared their views by completing a survey that I circulated. They set out their concerns and the issues they wanted me to raise, and today’s debate provides a first opportunity to put some of those on the record.
Inevitably, Brexit dominated, and in the survey that formed part of the consultation, 71% of people said they wanted a further public vote; only 18% were against the idea; 77% said that they would vote to remain; 15% said they would support leaving with a close relationship; and only 8% wanted to leave without any agreement. That was reflected in the meetings, too, and it was reflected even more strongly among young people. The Government need to recognise that if they lead this country to a damaging Brexit on a false prospectus, there is a rising generation who will never forgive them.
For that young generation—and, indeed, more widely across all age groups—there was a real concern to see stronger action to address the climate emergency, on which they felt they had been failed over the past nine years and about which they will see little comfort in today’s Gracious Speech. I was interested to hear the Prime Minister’s comment that we lead the world on addressing carbon emissions, and that comment has been echoed by a number of Members during the debate. I have taken the opportunity—on the odd occasion when I was not paying attention—to google every survey I could find, and none of them indicates that Britain is leading the world on this. Other countries—Sweden, Morocco and many others—are playing a leading role, and there is much more that we can do. We also have a responsibility to do much more, given our historical contribution.
A wide range of different issues were raised across the meetings and events that I organised, but there was a common theme. I heard how difficult it is for carers to access the necessary respite, without which their lives are challenging. There was frustration that the Government have failed to meet their post-2017 promise to bring forward proposals to tackle the crisis in adult social care and, indeed, to meet the needs of young carers. Domiciliary care workers told me about how their capacity to care had been eroded by 15-minute appointments, poor support, poor training and inadequate supervision. During the consultation I was conducting, one local residential home announced its closure due to inadequate funding, and we all know that many more across the country will follow that path. There was a real sense that we need a complete paradigm shift on how we meet the challenges of an ageing population and how we provide the resources to support that change.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing up that group of young people and for talking about carers. I made a point at a meeting that the continual contracting out of services causes so many problems for voluntary groups. Does he agree that the Government ought to pay attention to that?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall return to that point later in my comments.
On health, I was told about the difficulties in securing timely appointments with GPs, sometimes acute difficulties with waiting times in A&E, and difficulties in accessing other services. Young people told me about the pressures that are contributing to the rise in mental health problems, on which the system is failing them badly. Schools told me that they were dipping into teaching budgets to provide support for students in mental health crises. Teaching budgets are there for teaching, but that money has been diverted to cover the crisis in young people’s mental health. We need even more support and substantial investment in child and adolescent mental health services. Young people told me that waiting times of 25 weeks between first diagnosis and a referral to the first opportunity for help are the norm, not the exception, but early intervention is critical to tackling mental health crises.
Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities told me heartbreaking stories of their struggle to get education, health and care plans that met their children’s needs. Parents also talked about the challenges that schools face in delivering the plans once they are in place because of the lack of resources. We know that our schools have been hit by an 8% real-terms budget cut, but the particular failure to address special educational needs and disability funding is causing an enormous crisis.
Young people were increasingly worried about crime, talking about knife crime in particular. They made the case for the out-of-school activities that used to be common before the cuts, which have had a disproportionate impact on our local authorities and have led to a collapse in youth services. In other meetings, people highlighted how we miss Sure Start and the difference that the centres made in supporting families during the crucial early years. They talked about how school exclusions, driven by the lack of resources to support the most difficult children, are feeding gangs with recruits and sucking young people into knife crime.
A big worry across all ages and among all parts of the community was the rise in homelessness, rough sleeping and street begging. At a meeting on housing, we talked about the rising number of people in temporary accommodation without a permanent home of their own, the rise in sofa surfing, and the increasing dependency on friends and relatives for accommodation. People were clear that the only solution is a concerted programme of building affordable social housing. The problem of rough sleeping and street begging is clearly more complex, and we talked about mental health and alcohol and drug dependency problems that need intensive interventions to support people into getting off the streets and rebuilding their lives. There was a huge willingness from people in statutory services and the voluntary sector to resolve such problems, but there was also a real sense that the problems had risen over the past nine years as a consequence of the cuts that had affected statutory services’ ability to support and work with the voluntary sector in a way that has a real impact.
Those are all different issues, but there is a common theme. Nine years of cuts have sapped the capacity of our public services and much of the voluntary sector to meet the needs of those who need them most. Austerity has corroded the quality of too many lives, but it did not have to be like that. Such decisions were not forced by necessity, but by political choice, and those choices need to change. The Gracious Speech offers a few convenient headlines, but there is no real recognition of the scale of the change that we need: the fundamental new direction for our country that my constituents spoke about and which this Government clearly cannot provide.
It is a real pleasure to contribute to this Queen’s Speech debate on day one, which is certainly a first for me, and I am grateful to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). As one can probably imagine, I did not agree with a lot of what he said, but he started by speaking about climate change, and I echo his comments on that. We may have different views on Extinction Rebellion and its methods and manner, but I hope we can all agree that climate change is the largest geostrategic challenge we face and that we must work together. We may claim that we are the best in the G20, but we can do better, and I have already called on this Government to bring forward their ambition of being carbon neutral by 2050.
I certainly welcome some aspects of the domestic agenda, not least on law and order—more police officers on the frontline will go down well in Bournemouth—and on environment, health and immigration, and on national infrastructure, which is divided into two. First, on greater investment in our trains, Boscombe railway station needs more funding and infrastructure support. Secondly, on digital capacity, Bournemouth University will appreciate that, because it is at the forefront of our understanding of how the digital world is changing.
My right hon. Friend mentions the railways, which is my favourite subject and on which I hope to address the House a little later. Does he agree that we really need the holistic policy right across transport and communications that is proposed in this Queen’s Speech? Does he also agree that we need to cancel HS2—certainly phase 1 of it—because there would then be the money to invest in Boscombe?
My right hon. Friend gives us a teaser of what we can expect her to speak about, which I am very much looking forward to, and I am pleased that she would like to see investment at Boscombe station—[Laughter.] I will now move on from that sensitive but important subject.
On a more serious note, I make no apology for focusing on international security given our ever greater reliance on the economy, access to global markets, trading alliances and, of course, international peace and security, including the links with our own security environment. The first line of the security and defence review talks about the symbiotic relationship between national security and economic security—we cannot have one without the other—so I welcomed the Prime Minister’s illustrating a desire to continue to play a role in global affairs and to champion global free trade. I certainly welcome the renewed commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence, but I want to make it clear that I do not believe that is enough.
The challenges we face are growing and the threats are accumulating. While we can manage and contain the threats today, we face an increasingly dangerous and complex world. We often speak about the erosion of the rules-based order; just look at what happened last week when we saw Turkey breach international law with its military incursion into northern Syria. Let us be honest: a busy, distracted and disunited world is essentially looking the other way. Given the increasingly volatile and changing times, it is a sad testament to the failing international cohesion that once saw the west stand with resolve to defend international norms and values.
The US is our closest and most critical ally, but we must be strong enough to call it out when errors are made. President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops has triggered a humanitarian crisis and has undone much of the good work to bring stability to the region. The defeat of Daesh has been set back. We have unleashed a chain reaction of events that is seeing instability and humanitarian crisis unfold.
What message does this send to our competitors and adversaries around the world? Again, I cite the example of China. Twenty years ago, China’s military spending was on a par with ours; today, its defence budget is $250 billion. In our lifetimes, China will spend more on military than the United States does, and it will become bigger economically than the United States. China is watching what is happening. We must see what is happening in the South China sea—China is able to dominate in that arena—and stand together to support the international rules-based order.
That is for another day and another debate, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. China dominates on a scale that we simply cannot comprehend over here. Its technological capabilities and its investment in quantum computing, and so on, mean it already owns 40% of the world’s data, and it is moving further afield. Once a country moves into the Chinese way of thinking—Huawei, and so on—it is very difficult to get out.
It is only a matter of time before countries that are already financially compelled or obliged to support Chinese methods and systems will have to move over to China’s global positioning system, and so on. Then they will have to move over to the Chinese reserve currency, instead of the dollar. We will potentially see the world split into two huge domains unless we check it, but that is for another debate.
Back to Turkey and Syria, I make it clear that the Syrian Democratic Forces were our allies. They were our boots on the ground, and now we see them pivoting towards the Assad regime—a regime against which we rightly launched weapons strikes because it was using chemical weapons and barrel bombs against its own people.
This has been a disastrous week for international foreign policy. We are losing any leverage in pursuing a peaceful outcome in Syria, so I cannot stress enough the implications of Turkey’s incursion. I simply ask the Government to lead calls for Turkey to withdraw, and I call on them to impose an arms embargo until that happens. Let us lead Europe. Let us stand up and bring America with us, if it will not lead on this front.
We cannot complain about the erosion of the international rules-based order if we are not willing to defend it. Ironically, as the west becomes more risk averse, the world is becoming more unstable, giving space for our competitors to avoid effective scrutiny and to advance their own interests illicitly beneath the threshold of any international response. Simply put, the old Bretton Woods organisations that stood us well after the second world war are now out of date, and they are being rejected by newer nations, too. We need to step up to the plate, recognise what is actually happening and lead on updating the standards and norms by which we expect nations to abide.
I make it clear that the threat picture has also changed, as illustrated by the rise of non-state actors such as Islamic State. Their ability to recruit and finance themselves through the internet, and so on, will not go away. We need to recognise that we had no viable plan for the aftermath of the combat phase in Iraq and Syria. Thousands of hard-line jihadi fighters, who for months sat behind barbed wire guarded by the SDF, are now able to escape and our counter-Daesh partners are being attacked by a NATO ally.
It is not enough for Britain to deny dual-national fighters any right to return to the UK, while expecting the SDF to process them and their families. We are now seeing orphans caught up in this with nowhere to go. If the United States, to give it its due, can take back youngsters and orphans who are caught up in the mess over there, so can we. Let us get on the front foot and lead by example. Let us show other nations around the world what we can do.
I encourage the Government to show much needed international leadership and help to update international protocols so that all countries can take responsibility for their own nationals and dual nationals, rather than abandoning them to fate, with the very real prospect of allowing them to regroup to fight another day. This is about national security. Please do not say I am making Britain less safe. This is at the forefront of my mind, not just from a personal perspective but because of my interest in Britain’s national security. We need to sort out this problem. It is not an unconditional surrender, as we saw in the past; it is a new phenomenon that we need to get our heads around.
Changing technologies are another critical aspect of the Bill that is affecting the threat picture. Over the next decade, technology will advance to dominate our lives, with machines talking directly to machines, smart city infrastructure, artificial intelligence and automation. Our reliance on the infrastructure supporting this new technological world is critical, so I am pleased that we are investing in this area and that we have leading businesses capable of doing so.
Our ever greater reliance on technology comes with a risk. Cyber and space capabilities are so integral to civilian, commercial and military applications that a total or even partial loss of their use would have an instant and dramatic impact on our lives. Our ability to communicate, share information, conduct transactions, use the internet, fly planes or predict the weather would all be severely affected.
I welcome the 2% commitment, but it will soon be inadequate to meet the wide spectrum of threats that we face, especially our technological vulnerability. Data is now taking over terrain as the arena of choice to disrupt an enemy. Why resort to conventional attacks when greater devastation can be caused to an economy or an electoral outcome simply with a laptop?
We are now also seeing the weaponisation of space. In military terms, space has become the ultimate high ground. We require a space command, so we need to follow the United States and France. We saw the evolution of the Air Force 100 years ago and we now need to do the same for space, because both Russia and China have reorganised their military structures to include space as a fighting domain. We need to recognise the changing parameters of conflict and adapt in that area, too.
We also need to invest in our conventional forces. On a day when we have seen the F-35 land on the aircraft carrier, we can be very proud. In the Gulf War we had 36 fast-jet squadrons, but today we have just six. Our main battle tank is now over 25 years old and is in dire need of an upgrade. Our Navy is getting smaller and smaller, and China is increasing its navy by the size of our Navy every single year. If we want to protect our trading routes after Brexit, we need a surface fleet that is able to do that.
Listening to this debate, I feel that colleagues, in some cases, are not even aware of what is actually happening this week. There is a small possibility that we will strike a deal—not a no deal, as SNP Members spent their entire time talking about—but I stress this is part 1. This is getting us to the transition. Part 2 is the relationship beyond that.
I am pleased that last week we saw some consensus, a sense of compromise, with people being willing to step forward from their original anchored positions to say, “This has gone on long enough. Let’s move forward.” I wish more colleagues were able to think that way, rather than going back to their original position and saying, “I am not willing to discuss this.”
I will not give way, because I am running out of time. I do apologise.
The nation has now watched this debate continue for three years, and there is now talk of dragging it beyond 31 October. I have made my views on a no deal absolutely clear. I do not want a no deal, but the SNP Members spent their entire time saying that it is our objective. It is not my objective. I want to get this across the line, and it can happen. The planets are aligning, and we are hearing voices from the EU saying that it is possible. Technical talks are taking place, so let us wish them the best at the EU summit. Let us come back on Saturday and get this deal done.
We have to conclude that Brexit has damaged the reputation of this Parliament and has not been good for the country, the Government or the Conservative party. I am pleased to hear the Prime Minister speak about the importance of one nation, because the complexion of my party has been challenged a bit during this difficult period. I am a Conservative. I believe in fiscal responsibility. I believe that a right-of-centre Government are good for Britain in their approach, being progressive, modernist and willing to speak for and represent the entire country. We cannot do that if my party moves to the right, and becomes smaller and more condensed. We can do it if we remain a broad church, and I am pleased to see the Prime Minister articulate that very message.
We should also remind ourselves that we are good at things in this country and we have much to be proud of. We lead in oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, creative industries, life sciences, aerospace and financial services. Those are things we do well. Not only that, but this is a great place to invest: we are a champion of free trade; we have a legal and justice system that people can rely on; we have low corporation tax; and we have stable governance. We should be proud of who we are, but perhaps in all this debate we have lost sight of that.
If global Britain is to mean anything, let us step forward with international reach and resolve, to confirm and update the respected standards for the rule of law. We must start with a sober view of the Bretton Woods organisations, recognising that the world is changing from a technological perspective and that this is a crucial week. This is the biggest week for me as a parliamentarian and it is arguably our biggest week for a generation. It is up to us in this House to take a binary decision: do we want Brexit to continue and pursue our own pure form, or do we call an end to this, support this deal and allow the nation to move forward?
I have a huge amount of respect for the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who was diligent and well-respected as a Minister and is proving to be the same on the Back Benches. Clearly, we have a bit of a disagreement about Brexit. If we have spoken on these Benches about the risk of a no deal, it is because that risk remains very real. Many people might say it remains an extreme possibility. It is one that the Government seem willing to contemplate, despite the fact that, if there is a majority for anything in this House, it is for avoiding no deal. That will be the situation we end up in come the end of this week, one way or the other.
Several Members have commented that this is a slightly unusual Queen’s Speech, with a slightly unusual atmosphere and slightly unusual timing. For the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who opened the debate, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and myself, it is taking place during our 40th year. We have all celebrated our 39th birthdays; indeed she and I share a birthday, so we will look forward to celebrating that next year. Who knows what situation we will be in. The hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) noted that the temperature goes up and down, but we have a role to fulfil, which SNP Members take seriously, as the third party in this House and as the largest party in Scotland. We have never claimed to speak for all of Scotland, although I would draw the House’s attention to the remarks made by our former leader, Angus Robertson, in his first speech after the 2015 election, when he recognised that we won considerably more seats than was proportionate to our vote and that we did have a responsibility to be aware of the broad range of political opinion that exists in Scotland. But there is consensus in Scotland, and every constituency in Scotland voted to remain in the EU. We will not shy away from speaking up for that point of view.
This Queen’s Speech is also slightly unusual because this debate is taking place while the SNP annual conference is going on in Aberdeen. No matter how many representations my predecessor and I make through the usual channels about according our party the same respect as all the other parties get in terms of a conference recess; or about how the parties should work to obliviate the need for a conference recess, here we are nevertheless. But it is political party conferences that are the place to lay out manifestos and make broad political declarations and plays to attract voters, not the ceremonial opening and the state occasion of the Queen’s Speech. However, that is what today’s Queen’