Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 am on 19th May 2016.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 9:34 am, 19th May 2016

The Leader of the House has nodded, so we can move on.

Can we also have a statement—another statement—from the Foreign Secretary explaining why he wanted to have General Sir Richard Shirreff court-martialled? Leaving aside the Foreign Secretary’s incompetence for not realising that Shirreff reported to NATO and not to him, surely the general should have been congratulated, not threatened, for stating that slashing troop numbers was a “hell of a gamble”.

I love a bit of dressing up just as much as any other defrocked vicar—almost as much as you, in fact, Mr Speaker—but I did think that yesterday was a case of all fur coat and knickerbockers. There were so many ironies. Her Majesty announced that the Government will legislate for driverless cars and space ports—and arrived in a horse-drawn carriage. She announced that the Government intend to tackle poverty—to a room full of barons and countesses dressed in ermine and tiaras. Even the door handles on the royal coach were decorated with 24 diamonds and 130 sapphires.

The Government also announced that they will put the National Citizen Service, which operates just six weeks a year, on a statutory footing, while the nation’s youth service, which works all year round, has been slashed, losing more than 2,000 youth workers, closing 350 youth centres and cutting 41,000 youth service places between 2012 and 2014 alone. Why not put the youth service on a statutory footing too?

That really is what is so truly awful about yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. It was pretending to be a one nation speech; it was all dressed up as such. It was a candy-floss speech if ever there was one—all air and sugar, whipped up with just a hint of pink in an attempt to make us all believe that compassionate conservatism is still alive. But the truth is that the Chancellor puts a stake through the heart of compassionate conservatism every time he stands at the Dispatch Box.

Yes, let us reform the Prison Service, but we should not dare to pretend that the horrendous state of our prisons—with the rate of suicide, murder and other non-natural deaths at a record high; with daily acts of violence; and with drugs freely available throughout our prisons—has nothing to do with this Government’s assault on the Prison Service budget and the loss of 7,000 prison officers since 2010, largely on the right hon. Gentleman’s watch. Yes, let us improve adoption, but we should not pretend that social services budgets in the poorest local authorities in the land are not now so stretched that children are being put at further risk every single day of the week.

The Government can say until they are blue in the face that they want to tackle some of the deepest social problems in society, but when they have pared public services to the bone, inflicted the toughest cuts on the poorest communities and systematically undermined the very concept of public service, all their blandishments are nothing but a sugar coating for a cyanide pill.

I do not know what time you got up yesterday morning, Mr Speaker, so I am not sure whether you were up early enough to catch the Leader of the House on the “Today” programme, when he tried to defend the former Mayor of London. I particularly loved the assertion, repeated four times, that Boris is a historian and he was making a historian’s comment, as though that somehow meant that he could get away with saying anything he wanted. Where on earth do I start? The former Mayor has a habit of making up so-called historical facts. My favourite was his assertion that King Edward II enjoyed a reign of dissolution with his catamite, Piers Gaveston, at Edward’s recently discovered 14th century palace. I do not doubt that Gaveston liked a bit of royal rumpy-pumpy, but since he was beheaded fully 12 years before the palace was built, it is pretty unlikely that he did so there. My only explanation for that so-called fact from the former Mayor of London is that he was a member of the Piers Gaveston society at Oxford with the Prime Minister, where they got used to porkies.