2017 07 – Parliamentary Notes

Parliament Notes

by Dick Barry

Queen’s Speech

21 June 2017

Mr Speaker I have to acquaint the House, that this House has this day attended Her Majesty in the House of Peers, and that Her Majesty was pleased to make a most gracious speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament, of which I have, for greater accuracy, obtained a copy. I shall direct that the terms of the speech be printed in the Votes and Proceedings. Copies are available in the Vote Office.

The Gracious Speech was as follows:

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

My Government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union. My Ministers are committed to working with Parliament, the devolved administrations, business and others to build the widest possible consensus on the country’s future outside the European Union.

A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses. This will be complemented by legislation to ensure that the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit, establishing new national policies on immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture, and fisheries.

My Government will seek to maintain a deep and special partnership with European allies and to forge new trading relationships across the globe. New bills on trade and customs will help to implement an independent trade policy, and support will be given to help British businesses export to markets around the world.

My Ministers will strengthen the economy so that it supports the creation of jobs and generates the tax revenues needed to invest in the National Health Service, schools, and other public services.

My Government will continue to improve the public finances, while keeping taxes low. It will spread prosperity and opportunity across the country through a new modern, industrial strategy.

My Government will work to attract investment in infrastructure to support economic growth. Legislation will be introduced to ensure the United Kingdom remains a world leader in new industries, including electric cars and commercial satellites. A new bill will also be brought forward to deliver the next phase of high-speed rail.

My Government will continue to work to ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend a good school and that all schools are fairly funded. My Ministers will work to ensure people have the skills they need for the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future, including through a major reform of technical education.

The National Living Wage will be increased so that people who are on the lowest pay benefit from the same improvements in earnings as higher paid workers. My Ministers will seek to enhance rights and protections in the modern workplace.

My Government will make further progress to tackle the gender pay gap and discrimination against people on the basis of their race, faith, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Legislation will be brought forward to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse.​

My Government will reform mental health legislation and ensure that mental health is prioritised in the National Health Service in England.

Proposals will be brought forward to ban unfair tenant fees, promote fairness and transparency in the housing market, and help ensure more homes are built.

My Ministers will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals for consultation.

My Government will ensure fairer markets for consumers, this will include bringing forward measures to help tackle unfair practices in the energy market to help reduce energy bills.

A priority will be to build a more united country, strengthening the social, economic and cultural bonds between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

My Government will work in cooperation with the devolved administrations, and it will work with all of the parties in Northern Ireland to support the return of devolved government.

A new law will ensure that the United Kingdom retains its world-class regime protecting personal data, and proposals for a new digital charter will be brought forward to ensure that the United Kingdom is the safest place to be online.

Legislation will also be introduced to modernise the courts system and to help reduce motor insurance premiums.

My Government will initiate a full public inquiry into the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower to ascertain the causes, and ensure that the appropriate lessons are learnt.

To support victims, my Government will take forward measures to introduce an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests.

My Ministers will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces, meeting the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence, and delivering on the Armed Forces Covenant across the United Kingdom.

My Government will bring forward proposals to ensure that critical national infrastructure is protected to safeguard national security.​

A commission for countering extremism will be established to support the Government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread.

In the light of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, my Government’s counter-terrorism strategy will be reviewed to ensure that the police and security services have all the powers they need, and that the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences are sufficient to keep the population safe.

My Ministers will ensure that the United Kingdom’s leading role on the world stage is maintained and enhanced as it leaves the European Union.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, committed to spending zero point seven per cent of national income on international development, my Government will continue to drive international efforts that increase global security and project British values around the world.

My Government will work to find sustainable political solutions to conflicts across the Middle East. It will work to tackle the threat of terrorism at source by continuing the United Kingdom’s leading role in international military action to destroy Daesh in Iraq and Syria. It will also lead efforts to reform the international system to improve the United Kingdom’s ability to tackle mass migration, alleviate poverty, and end modern slavery.

My Government will continue to support international action against climate change, including the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Prince Philip and I look forward to welcoming Their Majesties King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain on a State Visit in July.

My Government will host the Commonwealth Summit in April of next year to cement its relevance to this, and future generations.

Members of the House of Commons

Estimates for the public services will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

Other measures will be laid before you.

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

 

Debate on the Address

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) By tradition, at the beginning of each parliamentary Session we commemorate the Members we have lost in the previous year. Sadly, this year must also mark the passing of those we have lost in horrific events in recent days and weeks. The fire at Grenfell Tower in west London has killed at least 79 people. What makes it both a tragedy and an outrage is that every single one of those deaths could have been avoided. Something has gone horrifically wrong. The north Kensington community is demanding answers, and it is entitled to those answers. Thousands of people living in tower blocks around the country need urgent reassurance, and the emergency services—especially, in this case, the fire and rescue services—deserve our deepest respect and support.

I also want to pay a very warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad), who in recent days has demonstrated so clearly why her local community put their faith in her. Her determination to ensure that every family is rehoused locally is an exemplary work of a dedicated Member of Parliament, and we welcome her to this House. Lessons must be learned in the public inquiry, and a disaster that never should have happened must never happen again.

The terrorist attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park took innocent lives, causing dozens of injuries, and traumatised hundreds of people, with wilful and callous disregard for human life. The attack in the early hours of Monday morning in my own constituency is a reminder to us all that hate has no creed, that violence has no religion, and that we must stand up to hatred—whoever the target—and stand together against those who would drive us apart. Last night, hundreds of people assembled alongside Finsbury Park mosque to give just that message—from all communities and all faiths.

Our communities and our country are strongest when we are united. As our late colleague Jo Cox said, “we…have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]

It is just over a year ago that Jo was taken from us by someone driven by hatred. Jo was driven by love and by an infectious energy. It was in the spirit of that energy and passion for people, life and justice that so many events were held in her memory around the country last weekend, including one in Muslim Welfare House in my constituency, near the site of the vile attack that happened a day later. They held a great get-together at the weekend. We should remember Jo and thank her, and make sure these great get-together events do continue year in, year out to unite our local communities.

Earlier this year, we also lost the Father of the House, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who had served his constituents for nearly 47 years, and previously worked for Harold Wilson in Downing Street. Gerald was an iconic and irascible figure in the Labour party. He came from a proud Jewish background and campaigned to bring peace to the middle east throughout his life. It was my pleasure to travel with him in that quest to many countries in the region, and I loved the very many lengthy conversations I had with him—in fact, nobody ever had a short conversation with Sir Gerald. Gerald and Jo will be fondly remembered by all who knew them and worked with them.

I want to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Queen’s Speech. First, I congratulate the right hon.Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) on his speech. My mother told me of the joy of Greenham common—she was there, and I went to visit her—and I hope that he will understand the deep love of humanity that motivated all those women and others to go to Greenham common during those days. I would like to thank the right hon.Gentleman for taking time out from his considerable responsibilities—looking after his extensive property portfolio and tending to his directorship of UK Water Partnership. I hope a Labour Government may soon be able to come to the aid of his Newbury constituents by taking water back into public ownership, and to the aid of his tenants by ensuring there is a responsibility on landlords to ensure that all homes are fit for human habitation.

I know the right hon. Gentleman will also continue diligently to pursue his other interests in Parliament—his interests in defence, Africa and rural affairs. I do agree with part of what he said, when he spoke of the need for us as a country to adhere to all the agreements on climate change issues around the world, and I thank him for that part of his speech.

I turn now to the seconder of today’s Loyal Address, the hon.Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), whose speech was typically articulate and very erudite—after all, he is a former winner of “University Challenge”, so he would be able to make such a speech. He mentioned Benjamin Disraeli, and I welcome that, because Benjamin Disraeli once said, “If I want to read a book, I write one.” It seems that the hon.Gentleman has taken that maxim to new levels, writing or co-writing six books during the seven years he has been a Member of this House. I have been looking through the back catalogue of his books, and one book absolutely stands out—it is a must-read. It is absolutely apposite to our times, and I hope it is reprinted. It came out in 2011, and it was called “After the Coalition”. I do not want to cut across any of his present literary representations, but perhaps a sequel may be in the offing—although I understand that the latest coalition may already be in some chaos.

Nothing could emphasise that chaos more than the Queen’s Speech we have just heard: a threadbare legislative programme from a Government who have lost their majority and apparently run out of ideas altogether. This would be a thin legislative programme even if it was for one year, but for two years—two years? There is not enough in it to fill up one year.

It is therefore appropriate to start by welcoming what is not in the speech. First, there is no mention of scrapping the winter fuel allowance for millions of pensioners through means-testing. Can the Prime Minister assure us that that Conservative plan has now been withdrawn? Mercifully, neither is there any mention of ditching the triple lock. Pensioners across Britain will be grateful to know whether the Tory election commitment on that has also been binned.

Older people and their families might also be keen for some clarity around the Government’s policy on social care—whether it is still what was originally set out in the Conservative manifesto, whether it is what it was later amended to, or whether it is now something else entirely. I am sure it is just a matter of historical record, but on looking at the Conservative website today, the manifesto has been taken down in its entirety. It apparently no longer exists. The Prime Minister might also like to confirm that food is not, after all, going to be taken from the mouths of infants and that younger primary school children will continue to receive universal free school meals. On the subject of schools, there was nothing about grammar schools in the Gracious Speech. Does the Prime Minister now agree with her predecessor that “it is delusional to think that a policy of expanding”​ the “number of grammar schools is either a good idea, a sellable idea or even the right idea”? The good news may even extend to our furry friends, if the Prime Minister can guarantee that the barbaric practice of foxhunting will remain banned in this country.

The Government have recently embarked on what are likely to be very difficult negotiations concerning Brexit, which the whole House will want to scrutinise. Unfortunately, there have been some leaks, with the other side in the process expressing dismay at the weakness of the Government’s negotiating skills—but that is enough about coalitions of chaos with the Democratic Unionist party; we must get on to the even more crucial issue of Brexit. Labour accepted from the beginning that the decision of the referendum has been taken—we are leaving the European Union. The question is how and on what terms. The Government could have begun negotiations on a far better footing had Ministers accepted the will of the House in July last year and granted full rights to European Union nationals living in this country. I hope now that this minority Government will indeed listen to the wisdom of this House a bit more and work in partnership with our European neighbours.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con) During the election campaign, the right hon. Gentleman repeatedly refused to rule out a second referendum on our EU membership. Given that Brexit negotiations have now commenced, will he take this opportunity to rule out a second referendum now?

Jeremy Corbyn I am not sure the hon. Gentleman was listening very carefully to any of my many speeches in the general election campaign. I made it clear that we would negotiate sensibly and fairly with the European Union and bring the results of those negotiations back to this House. It is in all our interests that we get a Brexit deal that puts jobs and the economy first. No deal is not better than a bad deal: it is a bad deal and not viable for this country. We need full access to the single market and a customs arrangement that provide Britain, as the Brexit Secretary has pledged, with the “exact same benefits” as now. Neither must arbitrary targets for immigration be prioritised over the jobs and living standards of the people of this country. Let us decide our immigration policy on the basis of the needs of our communities and our economy, not to the tune of the dog-whistle cynicism of Lynton Crosby or the hate campaigns of some sections of our press, whose idea of patriotism is to base themselves in an overseas tax haven.

Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con) Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the contradiction in his own plans? He plans not to reduce immigration numbers, but he also plans to stop employers recruiting overseas. Is it not the right hon. Gentleman who is a bit wobbly?

Jeremy Corbyn Throughout the election campaign and before, we made it very clear that employers who unscrupulously recruit low-paid workers from overseas, exploit them in this country and run away with the profits, at the same time as creating community discord, are wrong; they are making money out of poverty and grossly exploiting very vulnerable people on both sides of the channel.

Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP) The Tory position on the single market and the customs union is clear: we are out of both. What is the Labour position on the single market and the customs union?

Jeremy Corbyn Again, our position has been absolutely clear. Our position is that we need tariff-free access to the European market to protect industries and jobs in this country. Let us have a little bit less from Conservative Members on the dangerous threat to turn Britain into a tax haven, which would threaten jobs and public services here far more than in mainland Europe.

We do not yet know the official title of the Government’s much-trumpeted great repeal Bill, but if we are talking about taking back control, Parliament must be able to scrutinise legislation. Thankfully, the thin gruel of this Gracious Speech allows plenty of time for longer debates and greater scrutiny. That must include ensuring that the Human Rights Act and our commitment to the European convention on human rights and the human rights of everyone in this country remain completely and totally intact. We will ensure that they do.

It is our determination that by working with devolved Administrations, responsibilities such as agriculture and fisheries will be devolved to those Administrations and not hoarded in Whitehall. On the subject of devolved Administrations, may I also wish the Prime Minister every success in reconvening talks with all parties to restore the Stormont Assembly in Belfast as soon as possible? We also very much hope that any done deal with the DUP in this place respects the overriding priority of the Good Friday agreement to maintain peace in Northern Ireland.

A state visit from the Spanish Head of State was announced for July, but can the Prime Minister update the House on whether she can still expect the United States’ Head of State to visit any time this year, or any time in the future? It is just a question.

As I said earlier, public service workers, such as fire service, police and NHS staff, receive huge praise when they respond to terrorist attacks and other major incidents, but it is not good enough to be grateful to our public service workers only at a moment of crisis and disaster. They deserve dignity—the dignity of fully funded services, and the dignity of not seeing their jobs cut and living standards fall. There are now 20,000 fewer police officers than there were when the Conservatives came into office in 2010. When the police raised this subject with the then Home Secretary, do you know what, Mr Speaker? She accused the police officers of crying wolf.

I hope the current Prime Minister will correct the mistakes of the former Home Secretary. The Gracious Speech promises the police and security services “all the powers they need”, but what they deserve and what the public demand is that they have all the resources they need.

What was briefed to the media yesterday about scrapping the changes to the police funding formula is insufficient. The changes would only have moved funding between rural and urban forces, when the real issue is the £2.3 billion cut to police budgets in the past five years.

Our firefighters did an outstanding job at the Grenfell Tower fire, but they worked incredibly long shifts, in part because there are 600 fewer firefighters and 10 fewer fire stations in London—cuts and closures that were forced through by the previous Mayor of London. Talking to those firefighters, exhausted from their work, who went into a burning building to save people, I asked, “Why do you do it? Why do you go in when you know it’s so difficult and so dangerous?” They said, “Because we’re firefighters. That’s what we’re trained to do. That’s why we serve the public the way we do.” We need more of them and there needs to be greater security for all of them. We have to fund our fire services properly, and not just at a time of crisis.

I welcome the fact that there is a public inquiry into Grenfell, but can we take action now? I pay tribute to councils such as Croydon Council, which has committed this week to installing sprinklers in all tower blocks of 10 storeys or more. However, such minimal fire safety standards cannot be left to a postcode lottery, so will the Government make available emergency funds for councils to check cladding and install sprinklers?

The Government should also have committed themselves to passing a public safety Bill to implement the recommendations of the 2013 inquiry into the fire at Lakanal House, and to reversing their guidance that removed the requirement to install sprinklers in new school buildings. They could still do so and they would have our support. That could happen in addition to any recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab) I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said about sprinkler systems for high-rise flats. There are 116 blocks of high-rise flats in my city of Leeds, 26 of which are in my constituency. Only eight—those that are sheltered accommodation—have sprinklers. It would cost £30 million to have sprinklers in all those flats. Will he join me in urging the Government to provide the money for all local authorities to put sprinklers in their high-rises?

Jeremy Corbyn I absolutely thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Indeed, during the discussion we held in Westminster Hall about this matter last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) raised a similar point about the number of tower blocks.

I do not suppose that many Members of this House live in tower blocks, but just think for a moment of the sense of fear that so many people would have had when they saw the Lakanal House fire—people living on the 15th, 16th or 17th floor, knowing that there is no fire ladder that can reach them and no helicopter that can land. They are reliant on being able to get out or the fire being contained. We need to give everyone that assurance. Local authorities that have seen massive cuts in their budgets over the past years need the resources now to install the necessary sprinkler and fire prevention systems. We cannot use the excuse that the money is not there; the money has got to be there to ensure that we save lives in the future. We will support the Government if they are able to bring that forward.

Andy Slaughter On behalf of my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) and for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and myself, may I thank my right hon. Friend for visiting the area and making this issue an absolute priority? Will he and the Government ensure that disaster relief in north Kensington and pursuing the issue of the safety of people in tower blocks are made the absolute No. 1 priority?

Jeremy Corbyn I thank my hon. Friend for that, and for the support that he has given my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) in the work that has been done. What happened in Grenfell Tower is terrifying for all those in the area, and the problems that have ensued since indicate just what happens when local authority spending is cut to the bone and local authorities cannot cope as a result. We need properly funded, good-quality public services in this country.

The Prime Minister says that legal support will be made available to the families affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, but they should have had access to legal aid beforehand. When they were raising their desperate concerns about fire safety, they were ignored by a Conservative-controlled local authority. The lessons of the failed austerity programme must urgently be learned. We cannot have council housing—social housing—on the cheap, and we cannot have public services on the cheap. We have to invest in them. So will the Prime Minister now halt the cuts to the police—cuts that the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner this week called “an absurdity”? Those cuts have affected our prisons, too. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons has expressed his concern at the lack of a prisons and courts reform Bill, which could have implemented our election manifesto promise to employ another 3,000 prison officers.

Our children’s schools are facing budget cuts. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether cuts to per-pupil funding are going ahead, and can she clarify for the House the status of the national funding formula? Headteachers and teachers are going through incredible stress, with oversized classes and the difficulty of maintaining teachers in employment.

The Gracious Speech mentioned legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, but does that include restoring legal aid in such cases or restoring the funding needed to reopen the many refuges that have been closed? We welcome the reform of mental health legislation to give it greater priority, and we would welcome an assurance that no mental health trust will see its budget cut this year, as 40% of them did last year.

Will the Prime Minister call time on the public sector pay cap, which means that our nurses are 14% worse off today than they were seven years ago? As she is aware, some nurses and other public service workers have been forced to resort to using food banks, alongside more ​ than 1 million other people in this country. Rising inflation, the effects of low pay and falling real incomes are going to hit even more families—the 6 million workers earning less than the living wage, the millions of people in insecure work, those subject to the benefit freeze and 5.5 million public servants. We owe them a much better deal than they have been given by this Government in the past seven years.

My party, Labour, won almost 13 million votes at the election, and that was because we offered hope and opportunity for all and a real change to our country. The Prime Minister began the election campaign saying: “If I lose just six seats I will lose this election”. When it came to it, she lost more than four times that many seats to Labour alone. From Cardiff to Canterbury, from Stockton to Kensington, people chose hope over fear, and they sent an unequivocal message that austerity must be brought to an end. Seven years of Conservative rule has left wages falling, inflation rising, the pound falling, personal debt rising and the economy slowing. By no stretch of the imagination could any of that be described as strong or stable.

If we want to boost pay, the most effective means is through strong and independent trade unions—workers collectively defending and improving their pay and conditions—so we would repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and strengthen collective bargaining.

Across Britain, people have shown that they believe there is a better way. In recent years, this Government have thrown away tens of billions of pounds in tax giveaways to the very richest and to big business, at the very same time as closing Sure Start centres and libraries, and tipping social care into crisis and our national health service into record deficit. Under Conservative rule, school budgets have been cut and college courses have been closed, students have been saddled with a lifetime of debt, and per-patient funding in the NHS is set to fall for the first time in history.

Our manifesto—for the many, not the few—and its popular policies set out a very different path, which caught the imagination of millions, and a way for the public really to take back control, so that our key utilities and our railways are taken into public ownership and run in the interests of the many, and not to pay the dividends of the few. We would end austerity by making very different choices; by asking the highest 5% of earners to pay a little bit more while keeping the top 10 percentage points lower than it was for most of Margaret Thatcher’s time in office; and by asking big business to pay a little more in tax, while retaining a lower corporation tax rate than any other G7 country.

Austerity and inequality are choices. They are not necessities. They are not unfortunate outcomes. They are a choice to make life worse for the many to maintain the privilege of a few. If the Government reject austerity, challenge inequality, invest to expand and rebalance our economy, they will have our support, but if they continue down this path of deliberately making people worse off, of deepening division, and of neglecting communities that deserve support and respect, we will oppose them every step of the way.

This is a Government without a majority, without a mandate and without a serious legislative programme, led by a Prime Minister who has lost her political authority, and who is struggling even today to stitch together a deal to stay in office. We will use every opportunity to vote down Government policies that have failed to win public support. We will use every opportunity to win support for our programme. Labour is not merely an Opposition; we are a Government in waiting, with a policy programme that enthused and engaged millions of people in this election, many for the first time in their political lives. We are ready to offer real strong and stable leadership in the interests of the ​many, not the few. We will test this Government’s Brexit strategy and the legislation that comes forward against that standard.

This election engaged more people than for a generation—a tribute to our democracy. In the election, Labour set out a vision of what this country could be. It could be more equal. It could be more prosperous. It could have opportunities for all. That is what we on this side of the House will be putting forward in this Parliament—what we will be fighting for in this Parliament; what we will be demanding in this Parliament. The people of this country deserve something better than this thin piece of very little, when they have so many problems they want and demand answers to from this Parliament. We will engage fully and make the case for a prosperous, more stable and more cohesive society in Britain.

On 28 June, Diane Abbott for Labour moved to add the following at the end of the  Question:

“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to end cuts to the police and fire service; commend the response of the emergency services to the recent terrorist attacks and to the Grenfell Tower fire; call on the Government to recruit more police officers and firefighters; and further call on the Government to end the public sector pay cap and give the emergency and public services a fair pay rise.”

The amendment was lost by 323 votes to 309.

Of the 309 votes in favour of the amendment, 256 were Labour, 35 SNP, 12 Liberal Democrat,4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green and 1 Independent.

Of the 323 votes against the amendment, 313 were Conservative and 10 were DUP.

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