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We are here to debate a legislative programme, set out by a minority Government, that we are all under the impression has little hope of being delivered. Whether we see it more as a pre-election broadcast by the Conservative party, or as a serious proposition, the question for me remains the same: what does it do to help my constituents with the everyday struggles they face? On that basis, the Queen’s Speech is, in my opinion, a failure. It does nothing to undo the damage caused by a decade of cuts to council funding and other public services. It does nothing to help the most vulnerable or those struggling to make ends meet because of a callous and inhumane benefits system. It does nothing to help our struggling schools, our GP surgeries, the local transport network or the failing housing market.
On the subject of housing, I am very much more concerned with what is not in the Queen’s Speech than what is in it. My constituents, whether those who are hoping to become first-time buyers, renters who want stronger rights, families who are stuck on the council waiting list or those at risk of being homeless, are getting the message loud and clear from this Queen’s Speech that housing and their concerns about it are not a priority for this Government. Where is the plan to tackle the chronic shortage of affordable and council housing in this country?
Let us not forget about the leasehold scandal. Although the Government said a lot in the build-up about what they would do on leasehold reform, with heavy social media plugging, the heavily trailed policies of peppercorn ground rents and a ban on leasehold houses did not feature in the Queen’s Speech. I say this just about every time I speak on leasehold and I make no apologies for saying it again: there are thousands of people who are stuck with leasehold houses that were sold to them with a paucity of information at best or, at worst, as part of a systematic deception. Those people need legislation now. The Westminster Hall debate last month revealed a great deal of support across the House to do something. I would have hoped that the governing party, which does not have a majority, would want to show that it is on the side of ordinary people and that it can make a difference to people’s lives. There is a high degree of consensus on the way forward, and legislation is needed to help existing leaseholds out of the vice they are in.
Only this week, some of my constituents have had a reminder about the pitfalls of leasehold. They have received notification that they are beholden to a new freeholder called Landmark—the new owner of their property. A nice letter came through informing them that their ground rent was going up, of course, but there was also a schedule of fees that they had not seen before that included, outrageously, a £100 charge to obtain consent to have a pet in their own home. How can we allow these rip-off charges to continue? Legislation is needed desperately.
The Government consider law and order to be a priority, with about half a dozen Bills in the Queen’s Speech that fall roughly within that area. What is the point of having so many new laws to deal with criminal behaviour when the police do not have the numbers to deal with existing laws?