I beg to move an amendment, at the end of the Question to add:
“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to include legislative proposals to prevent a repeat of the economic fallout from the September 2022 Growth Plan, by amending the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011 to give the Office for Budget Responsibility the power to produce and publish forecasts for any Government fiscal event which includes tax and spending decisions with long-term effects over a threshold to be specified in a new Charter for Budget Responsibility.”
It is fair to say that the UK is not exactly gripped with excitement at the contents of the Conservative Government’s King’s Speech. It is as if Ministers have rummaged down the back of the sofa and found legislative loose change, a broken biro, some old Bills covered in fluff and even an old Prime Minister. In this current Tory era of three-word slogans, the country is thinking not, “Five more years!” but, “Is that it?”
It is clear what the Government’s approach is in the run-up to that election. They have given up on trying to improve the country, so all they can now do is attempt to divide it. But they will fail because the Conservatives simply do not understand the priorities, hopes and values of the people of Britain today. After five Prime Ministers—one of them recycled—and seven Chancellors since 2010, the Conservatives find changing personnel rather easier than changing our country for the better.
I am listening to the right hon. Lady’s speech about values. The values of my constituents are such that they are calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Does she support those values?
We have just had an hour and a half’s worth of questions on that issue. I am going to focus on how to grow the economy and tackle the cost of living crisis.
I wish that today we were debating the Government’s significant economic reforms and new measures to get our economy back on track after 13 years of Tory economic failure—but there weren’t any. Their big tax reform is to consult on bringing in a new duty on vapes. Their big energy Bill does not even lower people’s energy bills. In fact, a third of the Bills in the King’s Speech are reheated from the previous Session. How out of touch must the Prime Minister be to peer down from 10,000 feet up in his helicopter and conclude that everything is going so well that there is no need for legislation and Government action to help unlock growth? This is the final King’s Speech before the general election, and yet this set of proposals will not quicken the pulse, get the economy roaring or lift people’s living standards. Where is the ambition? Where is the plan?
As the British Chambers of Commerce has pointed out:
“The King’s Speech opened with an aspiration to increase economic growth—but it failed to outline how that will happen.”
Does my right hon. Friend share the concern of many that rather than improving, economic growth is forecast to go into reverse next year under the Tories? Does she agree that this new Tory economic failure does not bode well for people’s living standards next year?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She will have seen that the forecasts published by the Bank of England just over a week ago show that the economy is expected to flatline not just throughout the rest of this year but all through next year as well.
There is something quite apt, even revealing, about the Conservatives wanting to use this King’s Speech to protect the users of driverless cars from the damage they might inflict on others. The Conservative Government have been driving quite dangerously for 13 years. The current named driver of the vehicle—the third in four years—is nowhere to be seen, but there will be no protection for the Prime Minister or his party from voters’ verdicts at the general election, whenever that comes.
The Government’s King’s Speech was a lost opportunity for our country. There was no legislation to reform the antiquated planning process and accelerate decisions around our critical national infrastructure. Instead, planning processes continue to hold back the success of our offshore wind sector, life sciences and 5G. There were no pension reforms to encourage growing British companies to stay here instead of being forced abroad for funding, which contributes to the UK’s stagnating growth. There was no serious plan to help get energy bills down. The energy price cap has increased by half in this Parliament, yet the Energy Secretary has admitted that the Government’s energy Bill
“wouldn’t necessarily bring energy bills down”, whereas Labour has plans for clean power by 2030, a national wealth fund, insulating homes to lower bills, and the creation of GB Energy.
There is no focus from the Government on industrial strategy or on putting an industrial strategy council on a statutory footing to help drive the growth and investment that we need. Instead, the Government reach for sticking plasters when important sectors hit crisis. We need positive, long-term plans to make the most of our assets and create good-quality jobs here in Britain.
I commend the right hon. Lady for her strong and wise words. Like me and others in the House, she believes that the life sciences sector can grow and do much more. In 2019, the pharmaceutical sector alone provided 18% of research and development spending. There are almost 600,000 jobs in the industry and it contributes £36.9 billion in gross value added to GDP. Does the right hon. Lady agree that if we are to ensure that everyone can gain from life sciences, there must be better distribution across all of this great United Kingdom of GB and NI, and that NI must be a part of that?
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Our life sciences sector is key for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and yet too many businesses are looking to relocate, including to the Republic of Ireland, but we want those jobs and those investments here in Britain.
There was no legislation in this King’s Speech for fairer tax measures. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have been so quick to raise taxes—they have done so 25 times between them—that we now have the highest tax burden in 70 years. It is the biggest tax hike ever in a single Parliament, with working people and businesses hit hard, yet the Government allow unjustifiable tax loopholes to remain. I believe that if people make Britain their home, they should pay their taxes here, too. That is why we will abolish the non-dom tax status and introduce a modern scheme for people who are genuinely living in the UK for short periods. Why is it so hard for this Prime Minister to say the same?
There was no legislation in this King’s Speech to increase security at work or to update employment rights. Having confidence to plan a family’s future should be not a luxury but something that working people deserve, and we need to grow our economy from the bottom up and the middle out. If an economy is not working for working people, it is not working at all. This King’s Speech has no serious plans for tackling the cost of living crisis or for growing the UK economy.
The Conservative economic failures are piling up high: a failure on growth; a failure on infrastructure investments; a failure on the cost of living; a failure on public services; and a failure on tax. The responsibility for such disappointment and damage has been a Conservative team effort these past 13 years. The Government cannot get our economy back on track or make our country better off. The Conservatives cannot and have not tackled the cost of living crisis because they are the cost of living crisis.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The truth is that the combination of austerity, which was five Prime Ministers ago, Brexit without a plan—which relates to most of them—and the kamikaze Budget has contributed to the parlous state of our economy and the cost of living crisis that we are enduring today.
This is a party led—and I say “led” in the loosest sense of the word—by a Prime Minister with no mandate whatsoever and with no authority or vision for the future. This Prime Minister appears to be spending more time polishing his CV in conversation with Elon Musk than fighting for the livelihoods of manufacturing workers in Scunthorpe, Port Talbot and Derby.
And it is the previous Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss, who still sets the tune for so many in the Conservative party. She wanted to scrap the bankers’ bonus cap in the kamikaze Budget last year, and that has now been dutifully delivered by this Prime Minister and this Chancellor. When the previous Prime Minister called this year for delaying the timetable for new electric cars by five years, undermining both the net zero consensus and the British automotive industry, this Prime Minister and this Chancellor delivered. Today, the former Prime Minister’s so-called growth commission is setting out its demands for next week’s autumn statement, oblivious to the damage already done. Will the Chancellor tell the House whether he agrees with the person who appointed him to do the job he is now doing and her proposals to slash corporation tax, abolish inheritance tax, abolish stamp duty and other unfunded commitments that make last year’s mini-Budget look like small fry, with tax cuts announced totalling £80 billion?
Labour will never gamble with the livelihoods of working people, as the Conservatives have. Labour’s economic approach is built on a rock of fiscal responsibility, with respect for taxpayers’ money. We will work in partnership with industry to bring about the change that our country so desperately needs. We know what the Tories did last autumn. They blew up our economy with their reckless, unfunded promises and a trashing of our economic institutions. It was a collective failure from the Tories. It was not just one bad apple, but a whole orchard of irresponsibility. The Conservative leadership contest of summer 2022 produced a sum total of £200 billion of unfunded promises. The Chancellor did not want to be left out. His leadership candidacy might not have been as successful or lasted as long as he may have wished, but there was still time for him to make almost £80 billion of unfunded commitments himself on corporation tax, business rates and defence, with no idea how those commitments would be funded.
Following the leadership election last year, Conservative Cabinet Ministers tried to blindfold the nation and global financial markets by preventing the Office for Budget Responsibility from publishing its assessments. The Conservatives knew that the truth would hurt, but they continued to gamble with the livelihoods of our country. The pound crashed, pensions were put in peril and interest rates soared. Working people were made to pay the price for the Conservatives’ kamikaze Budget and reckless eagerness to cut the taxes of the wealthiest few. It was reckless, it was irresponsible, and with Labour it will never happen.
The result is an average Conservative mortgage penalty of £220 each and every month for hard-working homeowners. This out-of-touch Government do not have a clue about what that really means for people. That is a lot of money to try to find from nowhere each and every month. It means holidays cancelled, spending cut back and life made harder. Some families are having to downsize, and others who have been trying to get on the housing ladder for years have had their dreams snuffed out. Meanwhile, rents rise as landlords see their mortgages go up and want to pass the costs on.
My right hon. Friend is making a good point about housing costs and the shortage of housing in this country. Is it not therefore astounding that, given the climate we are in, there is not one single word about housing in the whole King’s Speech? There is not a single word about the shortage of housing or the rising costs of housing, no long-term proposals to build on this vague commitment of 300,000 homes, and no idea how to build them.
My hon. Friend speaks powerfully on what he knows well. On top of the big challenges with house building and the Government getting rid of their housing targets, the number of homeowners in arrears on their mortgage is also up a staggering 18% compared with a year ago. The Conservatives are no longer the party of home ownership. Higher housing costs are the last thing people need in a painful cost of living crisis. It should never have happened in the first place, and it must never happen again.
Labour’s approach is brownfield-first. We also know that there is land designated as green belt that is no such thing. For example, there is a petrol station in Tottenham that people cannot get planning permission for, because it is classified as green belt. People want that land built on, and I think we can all agree across the House that we need reforms to allow that to happen, but this Government scrapped the house building target. Home ownership is falling under the Conservatives. The Conservatives were once the party of home ownership; they can no longer claim that mantle. It is Labour today that is the party of home ownership and of aspiration for working families.
Today the Conservatives can show that they have learned a lesson from last year. They can back Labour’s commitment to strengthen the Office for Budget Responsibility in our amendment. We believe that where a fiscal event is making significant and permanent tax and spending changes, the OBR should be able to freely and independently publish a forecast of the impact of those changes. No Government of the day should be able to stop it from doing so. In the event of an emergency, where changes must be introduced at speed and a forecast cannot be produced in time, the OBR would be allowed to set a date for when it can publish a forecast. The public should be able to read an independent assessment on the health of our economy, to understand the consequences of proposals and to see the prices on the menu.
The amendment should not be remotely controversial, and I look forward to seeing Conservative MPs and Ministers joining us in supporting this sensible measure today. If they do not, it will show that they have not learned a thing, and that the Conservatives continue to present a real and present danger to our economy.
What will be the legacy of 13 years of this Conservative Government? They have damaged our economy, trashed our public services, failed to invest in the industries of the future, squeezed people’s living standards and caused a calamitous cost of living crisis. A Labour Government will clean up that mess. We will clamp down on waste and fraud from the pandemic, because the country is sick of being ripped off and we want our money back. We will tax fairly, spend wisely and grow the economy. We will get the NHS back on its feet. The Conservatives have broken our public services before, but Labour Governments have fixed them in the past, and we will do so again.
As bad as the public finances are under the Conservatives, there will always be choices, so we will abolish the non-dom tax status and use that money to help our NHS tackle record waiting times and introduce free breakfast clubs for all primary school-aged children. We will close the tax loophole that gives private equity managers a huge tax break. We will close the tax loopholes benefiting private schools, which gain from not having to pay VAT and business rates, and use that money to support the 93% of children attending our state schools. If the Conservatives want to have a fight over who is most aspirational for our young people when the ceilings are crumbling in our schools, I say bring it on.
After 13 years of Conservative Government, the questions that people will be asking at the next election are simple: “Do my family and I feel better off after 13 years of Conservative government? Do our schools, our hospitals and our transport infrastructure work better than when the Conservatives came to office 13 years ago? In fact, does anything in Britain work better today than when the Conservatives came to office?” The answer is a resounding no. This King’s Speech is not remotely up to the task of changing our country for the better and meeting the challenges head on.
Real change cannot come from five more painful years under the Conservatives, but only from a fresh start with Labour. The Labour party is the only party of economic responsibility and with the ability to provide the change of direction and confidence that our country needs. As this King’s Speech shows, this desperate, decaying Government are out of ideas, out of excuses and increasingly out of time. If the Prime Minister and Chancellor are so confident about the Conservatives’ record, let us take it to the ballot box and let the British people decide.
It is an honour to speak in the first King’s Speech debate for more than 70 years. Her late Majesty was a figure of grace and continuity, and we now look forward to His Majesty the King leading us, as she did, through troubled times.
It is always a pleasure to debate with the shadow Chancellor, although in a whole year of my being Chancellor, this is the first time we have had an economy debate, and now we know why: she has been busy writing a book, or, rather, Wikipedia has been busy writing her book. Today, I see she has been busy copying and pasting Conservative language about tax. May I tell her gently that that will take her only so far? Conservative Members will never forget what happened under Gordon Brown, who she campaigned for: income tax up, national insurance up, stamp duty up, fuel duty up, pensions up and multiple other taxes up.
Let us turn to some of the shadow Chancellor’s assertions. She said that the economy was flatlining. What she did not tell the House was that since Labour left the economy in the deepest recession since the second world war, we in this country have grown faster than Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany or Japan. She did not mention that after a global pandemic and energy shock, our economy is nearly 2% bigger than it was pre-pandemic. That is higher, for example, than countries such as Germany, whose economy is only 0.3% larger, not least thanks to the furlough scheme introduced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
The shadow Chancellor also did not mention that when it comes to the fastest-growing industries, we are doing even better. In the last 13 years under Conservative Governments, we have built Europe’s largest tech sector—double the size of Germany’s and three times that of France; it is the third-largest in the world. We also have Europe’s largest life science sector, saving more lives than any other country globally with vaccines and treatments discovered in Britain. We have more offshore wind than anywhere in Europe bar Germany and Norway—it is the third-largest sector in the continent. We also have a world-leading creative industries sector, including Europe’s largest film and TV industry and a thriving publishing industry that has even produced a book written by the shadow Chancellor, which helpfully collates some fascinating information from the world wide web.
The Chancellor talks about what he sees as some successes. Why does he not address the problems of small modular reactors? Sheffield Forgemasters in my constituency could be building SMRs, but it has been waiting for months for the Government to make a decision on a go-ahead for the right techniques. ITM Power, which is a leader in green hydrogen, is building plant in Germany, which is spending £7 billion on it in the next few years, while in this country we are spending £1 billion, so we are losing the international race on that.
The first big infrastructure decision that I took was on nuclear, when I assigned £700 million to Sizewell C. I completely agree with the hon. Member about the potential of SMR. That is why we set up a competition, and with the previous Energy Secretary I stipulated that it should finish by the end of this calendar year so that we can proceed as quickly as possible on SMR, because it could be an important part of our net zero future.
The shadow Chancellor’s central argument is that we can get growth only by borrowing £28 billion a year more. [Interruption.] Well, I was listening to her words. She may not have mentioned this in her speech, but on
On investment in renewable energy, EY has confirmed today that the UK has slipped further back on the attractiveness index, so it is now behind India, China and Australia. On offshore wind, the Chancellor knows that allocation round 5 was a disaster. What will he do to rectify that? On nuclear, he talks about SMRs being the future, but they are not. There is not a successful SMR anywhere in the world, and NuScale in the United States has just been abandoned after rising to an estimated cost of $9 billion.
I do not accept that we are not an extremely attractive place. We have third largest renewables sector in Europe and are the largest European provider of offshore wind. Can we do more? Yes, we can, particularly by improving access to the grid. The House should expect to hear more from us on that.
We had a lot of talk from the shadow Chancellor about the cost of living crisis, but she barely mentioned that the biggest pressure on the cost of living is caused by the rise in inflation—in fact, it did not get a mention at all in her conference speech. Because we have taken difficult decisions, inflation has fallen by 40% since its peak. Core inflation is now lower than in nearly half the entire EU membership. I say gently to her that if she were to reflate the economy by ramping up borrowing by £28 billion a year, prices would go up and families would end up paying more for their petrol, their food, their electricity and their mortgages. That is why that is the wrong approach.
One issue on borrowing that has not been talked about is that it is now four years since this place agreed that we should regulate the buy now, pay later lenders. Under this Government’s watch, the number of people borrowing from these companies to make ends meet during the cost of living crisis has doubled, and 40% of those people are struggling and borrowing from other lenders to pay their debts, yet we have still seen no regulation at all from the Government. If the Chancellor wants to prove that he is actually on the side of the people and understands the bills that they have racked up paying for this Tory Government’s failures, will he finally commit to regulating these loan sharks?
As the hon. Member might have heard if she had been at oral questions, we are acting on this and have been consulting on a solution since March this year—I started that at the spring Budget—but we want to get the answer right. We want to crack down on rogue lenders but also ensure that the financing that appropriate people can offer responsibly is available.
I want to talk about the pressures on ordinary families, because the shadow Chancellor also talked about incomes and the tax burden on working families. What has happened since 2010 to adults on the lowest legally payable wage? When we took over from Labour, that wage was £5.93 an hour; today, it is £10.42 an hour. After inflation, gross pay for those on the lowest legally payable wage has gone up by 20%. The number of people on low pay, defined as less than two thirds of median hourly earnings, has halved. At the same time, because Conservative Governments want to make work pay, we increased the thresholds before which people start to pay tax or national insurance from £5,700 to £12,570. Take-home pay after tax for people on the adult main minimum wage has therefore gone up by more than 25% after inflation. That is a bigger percentage increase than for people on much higher incomes.
Notwith-standing what the Chancellor has said, my constituents in Edinburgh West, like those in much of the rest of the country, were listening intently to the King’s Speech for a Bill or anything that might help them with the cost of food and specifically energy this coming winter, but there was nothing, and it has been admitted that the petroleum Bill will not do anything to help households in this country. Does he appreciate why ordinary working families think that the Government are simply out of touch?
With respect, I think the hon. Member needs to look at the facts. We have given an average of £3,300 in cost of living support to families across the country this year and last. In Scotland, 700,000 households have benefited from our cost of living payments, which have reached more than 1 million pensioners.
I want to return to my main point about the impact of making work pay. As a result of that change, not only have a lot of people been lifted out of poverty, but unemployment has gone down by a million, after going up by nearly half a million under Labour, and the unemployment rate has halved. That is the difference: if we make work pay, as the Conservatives do, we lift people out of poverty and put people into work.
I simply say that we did not just build on that reform but improved it massively more than Labour proposed, because we turned it into the national living wage, which is far more generous than the original minimum wage.
According to the House of Commons Library, in 2022 the tax burden on the lowest income decile was 25.5%. On the top income decile, it was 12.5%. Is that fair?
Because we believe in a progressive tax system, we introduced the changes that I just outlined, which mean that people on the lowest legal wage are getting 25% more after tax. That is a significantly bigger increase than for people on higher deciles.
One of the main things the shadow Chancellor mentioned was her amendment on the OBR. I understand the political game of trying to draw attention to the mini-Budget, but she should know that the OBR is already legally required to publish two forecasts a year, as will happen under this Government at successive autumn statements and spring Budgets. Today’s proposal is dangerous because, despite what she says, it would hamper the Government when acting in an emergency, as we did in the pandemic. I will tell her why. Instead of taking decisive action, Governments would feel obliged to enter a 12-week process with the OBR in case the outcome of the independent process that she advocates made any crisis worse by highlighting a significant loosening of the fiscal rules.
What is most extraordinary about the amendment is that, at the same time that the shadow Chancellor tries to claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility in this House, only this morning she briefed the papers that she wants to unfreeze income tax thresholds—a £9 billion commitment—and make full expensing permanent, which is a £10 billion commitment. That is all without an OBR forecast in sight. That kind of irresponsibility from Labour is exactly why we set up the OBR in the first place.
This is an argument not just about jobs and work but about poverty. Labour tried to eradicate poverty by tinkering with the benefits system and Gordon Brown’s tax credits. We all remember the “poverty plus a pound” idea, whereby if someone just below the poverty threshold is given £1, they are somehow magically lifted out of destitution. Instead, the Conservative Government have reduced the numbers in absolute poverty after housing costs by 1.7 million people by making work pay and by reducing the number of children living in workless households, because they are five times more likely to be in absolute poverty than households in which the adults work. Making work pay is a moral duty and not just an economic necessity, as only Conservatives understand.
My reflection is quite simply that the Labour party does not understand how to lift people out of poverty. Labour Members do not like us talking about the fact that nearly 2 million people have been lifted out of absolute poverty under Conservative Governments, because that does not fit their austerity story, but the reality is that a Conservative Government have been responsible for a very important piece of social progress.
I want to turn to the autumn statement, because as we start to win the battle against inflation we can focus on the next stage, which is growth. Next week, we will see an autumn statement for growth. Because no business can expand without hiring additional staff, I will address labour supply issues to help fill the nearly 1 million vacancies we have, working with the excellent Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. That will build on the 30 hours of free childcare offer that I announced for all eligible children over nine months in the spring Budget. I will also focus on increasing business investment, because despite the fact that our growth has been faster than that of many of our European neighbours, our productivity is still lower.
My right hon. Friend talks about growth and productivity, and he knows that it is my strong view that steel is an incredibly important material for growth here in this country. Will he reassure the very concerned steelworkers in Scunthorpe that he is concentrating on that, and working on it on our behalf?
My hon. Friend has talked to me consistently and powerfully since I became Chancellor about the issues facing the steel industry. She is a strong advocate for her constituents. It is at the top of my mind, as we try to chart a better future for British Steel. We will bear in mind the many comments she has made.
The shadow Chancellor said in her conference speech that she would remove the barriers to business investment, by
“backing the builders not the blockers”.
Only weeks later, her party promptly U-turned and became a blocker by watering down changes to the rules on nutrient neutrality, which would have unlocked the building of 100,000 homes. That is 100,000 families whose future is on hold because of Labour’s political games.
On top of all the measures in the autumn statement, we will have the Bills from the King’s Speech, including a trade Bill that will confirm our membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, making us part of a group that wields a combined GDP of £12 trillion and a presence in the Indo-Pacific, where the majority of global growth will be. The Automated Vehicles Bill, which the shadow Chancellor mocked, will make the UK one of the first countries in the world to have a legal structure to allow driverless cars. The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will modernise our digital laws to boost online shopping by making it safer. The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will secure our energy independence by replacing imported oil and gas with domestically produced fuel as we transition to net zero.
The Leader of the Opposition called the King’s Speech something that will only bring more of the same. In a way, he is right: more growth, more jobs, more pay, more opportunity and more prosperity. We are not following the easy path of opening the national cheque book and maxing the country’s credit card by borrowing £28 billion a year more; we are taking a path that is more difficult, yes, but more durable, and one that will turn us into one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. I commend it to the House.
Order. Some 40 Members are seeking to contribute to the debate, and we have until 6.30 pm. After the Scottish National party spokesperson, I propose to introduce an immediate time limit of six minutes, which may have to fall to five. I call the SNP spokesperson.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I did not hold out much hope of enlightenment from this debate, and it is fair to say that I am underwhelmed. This is a truly zombie Government, so bereft of ideas and talent that they have scoured the sheds of Chipping Norton to find a former Prime Minister who, along with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, set most of the economic woes on their way for Scotland and the other nations of the UK, and resurrected him into their Cabinet. What a signal; what a shambles.
It is to the shame of Westminster that the Government spend so much time reliving past failures, continuing to do the same thing over and over—culture war rhetoric, punishing the vulnerable, and ignoring the suffering of the most vulnerable and the poorest. One of the many former Prime Ministers of this failing Government—although, to be fair, an elected one—used to talk about those people “just about managing”. I have news for her and for this place: they ain’t just about managing any more. They are struggling. Many more each day are failing to get by. Food bills, energy bills, mortgages and rents are crushing them.
Given the misery that the Government have wrought through austerity, the infamous mini-Budget and everything else, they should have put the cost of living at the forefront of the King’s Speech. They should have listened to those struggling to pay their electricity bills, put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Instead of talking about tents, they should have been talking about rents. While they pound the slogans of division by saying “stop the boats”, I trust the public will ensure that all they do for this terrible Government is stop the votes. Of course, being accountable and elected is not an issue for this place. The Tories and Labour will always simply create another Lord to do their bidding if they need to do so.
In a time so obviously marked by escalating living costs, the No. 1 concern on the doorsteps of Scotland—and, I contest, the other nations of the UK—is the cost of living. The King’s Speech glaringly overlooked the need for policies to assist households grappling with food and energy costs, mortgages and rents. While the Scottish Government have made a concerted and targeted effort to shield Scots from the brunt of Westminster policies, the omnipresent shadow of these often cruel Westminster directives remains inescapable.
The King’s Speech starkly underscored the unreliability of Westminster Governments in serving Scotland’s interests, with both the Tories and Labour wedded to a low-growth, Brexit-anchored economy. Independence and a return to the European Union, where all partners are treated as equals, is the only viable path for the prosperity of Scotland. The Scottish Government, within their limited capacity, strive to cushion Scots from Westminster’s harshest policies, yet Scotland’s full potential remains constantly stifled under the UK’s policy regime—a theme I will return to shortly.
On the hon. Gentleman’s logic, if Brexit is the impediment to growth, why is it that since pre-pandemic times Britain has grown faster than either France or Germany?
Tory Members keep peddling this line, but what they know, and what everybody else knows, is that they started from a lower base because they tanked the economy in the first place. They have to live up to that responsibility. They claim higher growth from a lower point of entry. [Interruption.] They can try to shout me down, but I will make progress.
The King’s Speech, which was alarmingly brief on tackling the cost of living crisis, was a missed opportunity to offer concrete measures for relief. It paid lip service to reducing inflation and easing living costs, but lacked substantive policy proposals. Labour, too, is offering little on the cost of living crisis. Where are the measures that could be taken now to help people in their homes? Completely absent. Of course, that is just part of Labour’s “don’t scare the Tory voters” approach to securing office. The UK’s economic stagnation, which is evidenced by recent data, underscores a systemic failure to foster growth, post financial crisis. There is nothing in the King’s Speech to help support people, our food and drink industry, or our tourism and hospitality sector. That is something the Chancellor will need to correct before next week.
In a UK battling—unlike what the Government claim—rampant destitution, the failure of the King’s Speech to prioritise poverty reduction is indefensible, with millions, including a shocking number of children, unable to meet their basic needs. The situation in the UK is dire. Scotland’s lower destitution rate is a testament to SNP policies such as the Scottish child payment, but there is no attempt to replicate that anywhere in this House or to suggest that we do so. The eradication of poverty remains a more distant prospect under the current Westminster regime. Labour’s stance, echoing Tory rhetoric and policies, leaves independence as Scotland’s only hope for a fair and dynamic economy.
The SNP spokesman is outlining to the Chamber his utopian world under an SNP Government. Can he outline why under the SNP Government education standards in Scotland have fallen at record levels and NHS standards in Scotland have fallen at record levels, and why his Government have failed the people of Scotland on the delivery of public services?
That is what the hon. Gentleman has in his prepared statement, but when we look at the facts, we see that that is not correct. Scotland’s accident and emergency departments, for example, have outperformed the rest of the UK for the past eight years. We have more doctors and nurses per head of population than anywhere else in the UK. On public services, the Tories are pushing councils to bankruptcy in England. In Scotland, we are managing to negotiate with unions to avoid strikes and keep the economy moving, which is not being replicated by this Tory Government down here.
Despite constraints, the Scottish SNP Government have implemented significant policies to alleviate the cost of living crisis. We have frozen council tax, introduced the Scottish child payment, supported disabled children, offered free school meals and provided free bus travel. Those are just a few examples of the Scottish Government’s proactive steps. Those measures, though effective, highlight the limitations of devolution under the Westminster system, underscoring the urgent need for greater powers in Scotland, for Scotland, to support its citizens fully.
Despite being a nation rich in energy resources, our people still face the pressing challenges of fuel poverty and high energy costs. Current UK energy policies and management continue to fail the people of Scotland. The fact that our energy wealth is significant is not open to challenge. Despite numerous attempts to tell the people of Scotland that their oil and gas resources are running out, the UK Government now say that they will grant new licences every year. Scotland is producing six times more gas than it consumes. However, that abundance contrasts sharply with the high prices they are expected to pay and the increasing fuel poverty faced by our elderly in particular. In just two years, the fuel poverty rates among pensioners are a concerning trend that highlights another disconnect between resource richness and public benefit. Westminster policies have continually failed to translate Scotland’s natural energy wealth into tangible benefits for its populace—they have done quite the opposite. They have resulted in an oppressively toxic cost of living and inflationary effect for Scottish households.
The lack of targeted measures in the King’s Speech to address energy bill support further underscores that. Critics from various sectors have voiced their disappointment, emphasising the need for far more action on prices, investment and insulation, and many more renewable energy sources. The SNP has said we should have a £400 energy bill rebate and action on basic costs. We should have mortgage interest rate tax relief and there should be action on food costs, but of course we have not heard that from anywhere else in this Chamber.
In response to the challenges posed by Westminster’s policies, the Scottish Government have been proactive in implementing measures to mitigate the impact on its residents. Those actions include, as I mentioned, freezing council tax and providing additional support for heating costs for the most severely disabled children and young people during winter. Furthermore, the Scottish Government’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainability aligns with the broader goal of transitioning to a cleaner, more self-sufficient energy future. Westminster has singly failed to invest, most notably over a decade of dither and delay on the Peterhead carbon capture opportunity and subsequent potential hydrogen bonanza, and in its abject failure to meet the Scottish Government’s £500 million investment in the just transition—incidentally another area where the Scottish Government have had to step in to plug the gap on reserved Westminster inaction.
The transfer of energy, employment, welfare and economic powers to the Scottish Parliament is essential. With those powers, the Scottish Government could implement more effective policies to support their citizens through the ongoing energy and cost of living crisis.
Looking globally, nations comparable in size to Scotland boast vibrant economies that benefit their citizens. Countries such as Iceland, Norway and Denmark exhibit lower income inequality and poverty rates, and higher social mobility compared with the UK. That comparison raises a crucial question: why should Scotland remain tethered to a Westminster system that fails to resonate with its values and hinders its potential to be fairer, wealthier and happier?
The King’s Speech was a stark reminder of Westminster’s detachment from Scotland’s needs and the UK’s broader societal challenges. It highlighted the necessity of independence for Scotland—the only path that leads towards a more equitable, prosperous future in line with the aspirations and values of the Scottish people.
It has been said that we enjoyed a holiday from history between the fall of the Berlin wall and
Our world seems increasingly dangerous, and around the perimeters of NATO we see terrible conflict and lots of mischief being played to stir up conflict. As a proud member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I know how important it is that NATO countries continue to show unity and that our door is open to new members such as Sweden and Finland, as well as, of course, Ukraine, Moldova and, I hope, Georgia; I draw attention to my interest in that country. It is time that Putin realised that annexing his neighbours gives him more NATO on his borders, not less.
In His Majesty’s Gracious Speech, there was not a lot to distract the Treasury Committee; that will come in next week’s autumn statement—and let me add, in case colleagues are interested, that in addition to our Committee’s scrutiny of that statement, the Bank of England and the financial regulators, we currently have open inquiries into access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses, quantitative tightening, sexism in the City and central bank digital currencies.
I am glad that His Majesty, and also the Chancellor today, have emphasised the focus on increasing economic growth. I am glad that everyone now agrees that we should continue to take action to bring down inflation, ease the cost of living for families, and help businesses to fund new jobs and investment. I am also glad that Ministers will help the Bank of England to return inflation to target. It is the Bank of England that has raised mortgage rates, and the Governor of the Bank of England has acknowledged that the only increases that mortgage payers are now seeing are thanks to its efforts to control inflation and are nothing to do with the decisions of our now responsible Treasury.
These decisions will help household finances, reduce public sector debt and safeguard the financial security of our country, about which my constituents care deeply. Tomorrow we should see a milestone in the quest to reduce inflation: the market expects the consumer prices index to decline to 4.7%, and, combined with wage growth of more than 7%, that means that real wage growth has returned to our economy. We have also seen low pay fall dramatically: fewer than 10% of the many millions more people who are now in work are low paid, thanks to the national living wage.
There was one omission from the Gracious Speech, in respect of what I regard as constitutional sexism in our country. No steps were announced to end the indefensible system of “men only” seats in the other place. The 92 hereditary peerages are almost exclusively for men, and the Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill, which I tried to get enacted in the last parliamentary Session in order to change that, sadly did not make it on to the statute book. I shall try again to get a good slot in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, and if I do so, I will reintroduce that Bill. If I do not get a good slot, I will invite my colleagues to take up the baton.
We now come to a maiden speech.
It is a real honour to be here, speaking in this King’s Speech debate, after a by-election campaign that went on for one or two months longer than I think some of us anticipated. However, it left me with friendships and experiences that I hope will stay with me throughout my lifetime. There are perhaps one or two memories of slightly scarring use of statistics in leaflets, but the maths teacher in me hopes that I will be able to forget those rather sooner.
Most of all, there was an overwhelming sense that the community I represent is looking for change, a change back to a stable Government looking to the long term with a plan to get our future back on track: to make sure our communities can plan for the future with confidence again, rather than worrying about where the next setback will come from; to ensure that our businesses of the future can invest with confidence again, and seize the benefits of the industrial transitions to come; and to ensure that our fantastic rural farming community can get back to ploughing on with confidence, putting food on our plates and looking after our fantastic countryside.
This being my maiden speech, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Nadine Dorries. I think it fair to say that we differ somewhat in politics and personal style, but it is clear to me that she broke through many barriers on her way to this House, and she should take great pride in that. I also want to thank not one but two Prime Ministers for their incredibly warm welcome to the House over recent weeks, although I have to warn the current Prime Minister that although there are some areas in which I differ from my predecessor, I intend to continue her proud tradition of robust opposition to this Government.
Let me give credit where it is due, though. I am aware that by-elections over recent weeks have deprived the Government of a number of Members to take up Front-Bench positions, but I have to applaud the Prime Minister’s surprise creativity yesterday in filling one of those spots. It has given me an unexpected opportunity to repay that bipartisanship, and to extend a warm welcome back to the former Prime Minister as he returns to frontline politics. As a fellow Aston Villa fan, though, I really hope that his time as Foreign Secretary will not deprive him of an opportunity to enjoy our beloved team at the London stadium. [Laughter.]
I am embarrassed to admit that if some time ago someone had told me that I would be standing here as the Labour MP for Mid Beds, I would have responded in language that could only have been described as rather unparliamentary. While they may come from very different backgrounds, my friends, my family—who are here today—my former pupils and my former colleagues at the Bank of England may all be having a similar reaction to seeing me here in the Chamber. However, I could not be prouder to have the honour of representing part of the county I grew up in. Although the name of my constituency may suggest otherwise, there is absolutely nothing middling about the beautiful 48 towns and villages of Mid Bedfordshire.
Taking full advantage of the convention that maiden speeches are made without interruption, I fully intend to make use of this opportunity to talk at great length, in great detail, about each and every one of those 48 towns and villages and what makes them special. I know that Members will welcome that: I can feel the enthusiasm in the Chamber. [Laughter.] I am sorry to disappoint some, however, but I will try to keep it brief, as I explain why those who were unable to join us on the by-election trail really did miss out.
From the beautiful village of Shillington to our picturesque market town of Shefford to our fantastic Norman monastery in Woburn, Mid Bedfordshire really does have something for everyone. In Cranfield, Members will find one of the best examples of our world-leading research, innovation and enterprise combined. Cranfield Aerospace is propelling forward green aviation, leading on proposals for hydrogen-fuelled flight based on research undertaken at Cranfield University. Along the Greensand Ridge, walkers will find some of the best countryside that Britain has to offer, from Woburn through Millbrook to Ampthill and beyond. That will also give Members the crucial chance to keep those steps up ahead of any future by-elections.
As they near Flitwick, Members will find Woburn Center Parcs, with which many families from right across the country will be familiar from getaways and celebrations over the years, and where hundreds of my constituents work all the year round to bring joy to holidaymakers. Let me draw the attention of the Whips on both sides of the House to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. As well as a great place to spend an afternoon, I suggest that it might be a more amenable option for the Whips to offer Members should they approach them in the future, feeling the lure of an escape to the jungle that might be on the cards and wanting some advice about what to do next.
But as anyone who has been to my constituency will know, it is not just the place that is so special; it is the people living there. People like Rob and Sue who, having formed a closer bond with their community in Harlington through covid, wanted to do more to bring them together after lockdown. They founded the fantastic Hub and Spoke café, which continues to go from strength to strength in delighting residents, and also recently impressing as robust a critic as the odd “Newsnight” journalist. People like Richard and the whole Ampthill fireworks organising committee, who stepped up when the treasured local firework display was under threat back in 2011 to ensure that it continued. They put on a display each year that wows thousands and raises many thousands more for really fantastic charities across my constituency. And people like Lou and Shaun, who have put so much into making the Brewery Tap in Shefford such a beloved pillar of our community. They run charity breakfasts and organise armed services days, and crucially, they have recently had to put up with rather more visits from a certain Labour parliamentary candidate, now the MP, than any publican should have to endure, but they did so with a brave and smiling face.
From these stories, Mr Speaker, you might be under the impression that all is well in my constituency and that life for everyone is rosy, but sadly the great potential of my place is not on offer to all my residents. Take Margaret from Broom, who is in her 60s, partially sighted and in poor health. For months she had been waiting to see her GP. For months she had been phoning up at 8 am and waiting until 9 am, only to be told yet again that there were no appointments available. Yet again, she would have to phone back another day. After months of waiting, her understandable anxiety about her health got too much for her, and she had to spend the limited savings available to her to see a GP privately, paying for something that should have been free to her at the point of use. This cannot be right.
Or take Steven and his family in Stewartby. They did everything right. They saved up, worked hard and bought the family home of their dreams on a nearby estate. But when mortgage rates rocketed up, their repayments went up by nearly £400 a month. That is an amount that no ordinary family can be expected to have to hand, and it meant that hard choices had to be made: holidays cancelled, enriching opportunities forgone and lives narrowed under the brutal reality of having to budget for an economic situation that was not of their making.
Or take Sarah and her daughter. Sarah had to wait for over a year just to have the authority recognise the need for her daughter to have an education and health assessment, and after that, she has been waiting over two years for the assessment to take place. Every day in the meantime she has to go through the heartbreak of seeing her daughter struggling in a school that is doing everything it can to support her but is being set up to fail.
The courage shown by all these families, and the determination they have shown in the face of adversity, should give all of us encouragement and hope for the future, but they cannot be expected to build that better future alone. They need their representative to speak up for them in this place, and they need the Government to act for them with the urgency that these challenges demand. Because every hour Margaret spent waiting on that phone line, filled with anxiety, is an hour that she is never getting back. Because every holiday cancelled and every opportunity forgone by Steven’s family is a childhood memory that will never be made. Every day that Sarah’s daughter goes to school and is unable to thrive is a day’s potential that will be forever have been wasted. This is an urgency that I feel deeply and that I pledge to carry with me every day that I am lucky enough to serve my constituents in this House.
At a time when global and national challenges can be so wide ranging as to feel almost insurmountable, it is so important that our politicians remain bold in keeping hope alive. At a time when actors seek to exploit divisive and thorny issues to sow division among our communities, we need our politicians to stay principled and act with the integrity and good faith this House demands. At a time when the disruptive opportunities posed by the green transition and technological developments also bring with them understandable anxieties, we need our politicians not to run away from them but to be bold in bending those forces to the needs of our communities and seizing their benefits for our country.
I am under no illusion that I will face great challenges in living up to these principles in this place, but my door will always be open to anyone from right across the Chamber who is willing to work with me—and not just because of the number of times over the last few weeks that I have managed to lock myself out of my office. To those back home in Mid Bedfordshire, I would like to say thank you. Thank you for the positivity and warmth you showed me every day on the campaign trail. Thank you for the ideas and creativity you brought to me every month that filled me with such hope for the future. But most of all, thank you for the privilege of my life: the opportunity to serve you here as our MP.
I warmly commend Alistair Strathern on what I thought was an excellent maiden speech. The movement has a funny way of delivering its ends these days, but I think it has come up with an excellent candidate in him and I wish him an enjoyable career in this place and serving his constituents. As he rightly says, it is the privilege of one’s life to represent where you grew up and I know he is obviously very aware of that, and given that we have all had the opportunity to enjoy Mid Bedfordshire at length over recent months, I share his diagnosis of its charm.
It is an absolute privilege to open the Back-Bench speeches this afternoon on the main topic of our debate, because my community, like the hon. Gentleman’s, is also looking for change. On Teesside, we need no lessons about the legacies of the last Labour Government. Frankly, we have had to live with them for too long: an industrial base abandoned; lives blighted by welfarism and low unemployment; and public services characterised by mediocrity and failure. This comes the week after British Steel announced that steelmaking is coming back to Teesside, which is a decision of huge significance for my local economy and follows a string of major successes, from the SeAH offshore wind factory, the new Net Zero Teesside power station and carbon capture and storage—all the things that our Mayor Ben Houchen, working together in lockstep with the Conservative Government, is helping to deliver for a part of the country that needs this success and opportunity.
I look forward to the autumn statement this week, and I welcome the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Laura Trott to her position in my former bailiwick as Chief Secretary. The autumn statement represents an enormously important moment and all of us—on the Government side of the House at least—want to see pro-growth measures, the lowering of the tax burden when possible and a robust commitment not to take us back to the disastrous economic prescriptions of the Labour party. We have to recognise that it is at a time of global challenge here at home that we have some of the most important policy levers to improve our constituents’ lives.
I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to act on leasehold and renters reform, but I also believe that we need to recognise the need in the housing sector for serious, sustained reconsideration of our planning laws if we are to ensure that the potential of this country is fulfilled. Ultimately, the honest truth is that we need to earn growth and not duck the fundamental reasons why it is so lacklustre. Many of us were aghast at the decision last week to block a new, much-needed £2.5 billion datacentre on the site of an old quarry adjacent to the M25. It was blocked on the basis that it would
“harm the openness of the green belt” and would have been visible from bridges over the motorway. This is madness. We can delude ourselves all we want about being a science superpower or a new silicon valley, but if we do not will the means, we will not secure the ends that this country needs to see.
Our crippling lack of predictable, secure land supply is testament to a wider political failure. That applies on a cross-party basis. Ultimately, one could point the finger at the Mayor of London and his dismal record on housing just as much as one could at my own side of the House, but we need to move forward on a cross-party basis at local and national Government levels to achieve a better system of planning. Ultimately, the current discretionary system is not delivering for my constituents or for my country, and I believe that a move, as the Growth Commission has suggested this morning, to a zonal planning system along the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson when he was Prime Minister and by my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick when he was Secretary of State, would be the right thing to do.
Schroders has estimated that house prices are at their least affordable compared with earnings since ’76. That is not the long hot summer of 1976 but 1876, the year Victoria became Empress of India. All our infrastructure capacity is being hamstrung by the underlying problem that we cannot build quickly enough where we need to. Roads, rail, data, energy and, most of all, good affordable homes are being delayed, made more expensive and in some cases being prevented entirely by this British disease.
Apart from the usual Westminster knockabout that a debate like this inevitably engenders, I think there is a serious point for Members across the House to consider, which is that there is a broken planning system at the heart of our society. Whether in central Bedfordshire or in Middlesbrough, we need to do more to make sure we can unlock growth, jobs, homes and opportunity.
Our politics deserves better and the public deserve better. This is not a right versus left issue; it is about growth versus stagnation, prosperity versus poverty or ambition versus relative decline. I hope that, over the months ahead, the Government will do much to take forward an ambitious agenda in this space.
I pay tribute to the outstanding speech by my hon. Friend Alistair Strathern. It was one of the very best maiden speeches I have heard in this House. It had humour and seriousness. He succinctly described his predecessor in a couple of sentences, and in one sentence he demonstrated his superior knowledge of football compared with the Foreign Secretary. Many people watching across the country will now be reflecting, “If that is the quality of representative we could get by voting for change, perhaps we will give it a go at the next general election, too.”
Housing was not mentioned in the King’s Speech. We have a housing crisis in this country, and both sides of the House share an aspiration to build 300,000 homes a year. I agree with Sir Simon Clarke that we are not building enough homes—that is true—but who has just changed the planning system to take away housing targets from local areas? We will never get to 300,000 unless each area has its own housing targets that add up to that number.
A further problem is that we will never hit 300,000 through the private sector alone. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee produced a report four years ago saying that we need to provide at least 90,000 units of social housing through housing associations and councils. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee is holding an inquiry now, and all the evidence shows that we simply do not have the resources.
There is a challenge for both Front Benches. We will have to find more money at some point to build more social housing in this country, both to get the numbers we need and to get the numbers that people can afford, as people cannot afford to go into the market to buy in the current circumstances. So many people have to save for years, even beyond retirement, for a deposit on a home. Rising mortgage costs are certainly not helping.
There was a promise to abolish section 21 notices in the private rented sector, but we are now told the Bill will wait until some future time—we do not know when—when the court system has been reformed. Yes, the court system needs to be reformed, and we ought to have a dedicated housing court, but the cost to local authorities of dealing with homelessness and temporary accommodation has risen by 50% in the last two years alone. That is due to section 21 notices, the local housing allowance freeze—many people cannot afford even to rent a home in the private sector—and the Government’s asylum policy, which is all over the place and is putting great pressure on local authorities in some parts of the country to house people while they are having their asylum position confirmed. We have a massive challenge, and there is nothing in the King’s Speech to deal with it.
We ought to address how we build homes for the future. Four years ago, the Government had a working party on modern construction methods, but they have forgotten about it. They have given up. I went to visit Lighthouse, a firm in my constituency that has just taken on 100 workers. The firm has doubled in size and is venturing into modern methods of construction for social housing. The Government should be encouraging that at national level, but there is nothing at all. There is no policy, no strategy and no plan for the future.
Levelling up was not mentioned in the King’s Speech either. Germany saw the inequality across the country after reunification, so it had a 30-year programme. The inequality in this country is now as great as it was in Germany on reunification, yet all we have had is £4 billion in scattered pots of money for local authorities to bid for. There is no strategy and no long-term solutions.
Levelling up, again, appears to have been forgotten but, if we are to get our economy growing as a whole, we have to address the disparities in gross value added, productivity and income levels between different parts of the country. Productivity in the north of England is now lower than in the Czech Republic. GVA in our major cities is lower than the national average, which is completely different from what happens in Germany and France. We need to get the whole country and the whole economy growing but, again, there is no plan, no strategy and no long-term future for this country.
There are one or two good things in the King’s Speech, and I welcome them. We have not yet seen the details of the leasehold reforms, but certainly stopping the building of new leasehold houses and allowing people more easily to purchase their freehold are good measures that we need to implement as soon as possible. Addressing the problems of service charges and outrageous permission fees also needs to be in the Bill. I also welcome the proposals on football regulation. It is about getting a fairer distribution of funding and giving fans the legal right to be consulted on important things that affect their club; again, we will have to see the details.
Finally, I completely condemn Hamas’s attack on innocent Israeli citizens, but I condemn just as strongly what Israel is now doing. The killing of innocent women, children and other civilians in Gaza is not acceptable and cannot continue as it is. I want to see a humanitarian pause and an end to the blockade to get aid into Gaza, and I want to see that as the basis for a ceasefire. A ceasefire cannot just be announced; both parties need to sit down and agree to one. That has to be done, and it has to be a stepping-stone to moving forward to a two-state solution: safety for Israel and a free Palestine, free of Israeli occupation. That is what we should be moving towards.
I also welcome my hon. Friend Laura Trott to her new post. Her promotion is richly deserved.
One thing on which I am sure we can all agree in this House is the need to create non-inflationary growth in this country. The question is how we go about it and, to some extent, how we define it. I say to my hon. Friend that gross domestic product, as a measure of growth, is becoming an increasingly less relevant index in our economy because, although economic growth has been low across the western economies, balance sheets and net worth have tripled; there is a dislocation there.
GDP needs to take domestic unpaid labour, such as child or elderly care, into account. It excludes a huge proportion of what happens online, as well as intangibles such as intellectual property, and is much less suited to a service economy than to a manufacturing economy. It also has the perverse incentive of making us want to encourage immigration, rather than discourage it. When we have the wrong analysis, we are likely to have the wrong targets and, ultimately, the wrong policy. That needs to change. We need to concentrate on wealth creation, which happens when we take unique IP from any of us and turn it into a good or service that does not currently exist, or into a better good or service than exists today.
We have a problem that, in a capitalist economy, we cannot get that sort of wealth creation if there is not sufficient access to capital. One problem in the UK is that 85% of company scale-ups here are done with bank lending and 15% are done with private equity, whereas it is 80:20 in the other direction in the United States. We need to have deeper and wider access to private equity and venture capital in this country if we are to maximise the benefits of our hugely creative and innovative population, and if we are to stop the IP leakage, especially to the United States.
We also need to create more wealth by improving our share of global trade, by which I mean the share of global markets that are expanding fastest, and not our obsession with the European Union. The latest Institute of Economic Affairs report shows that trade continued to grow between 2016 and the conclusion of the Brexit transition in 2020, indicating that Brexit had no main effect on trade. UK goods exports rose by 13.5% to EU countries and by 14.3% to non-EU countries between 2019 and 2022, so we need to put that issue behind us and instead focus on the world’s growing markets. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast said that Brexit barriers would result in a 15% drop in trade volumes, contributing to a 4% lower GDP in the long run, and that is already clearly wrong. I ask those on the Government Front Bench to request from the OBR a much more updated and realistic assessment of where our trade sits at the present time.
Contrary to what many people will perceive, and certainly to what the Labour party will tend to suggest, 82.5% of all the jobs in this country are in the private sector and only 17.5% are in the public sector. From listening to our media and politicians, we would often think this was 50:50. Some 61% of those private sector jobs are in small and medium-sized enterprises. I know that if we are able to cut taxes, many of my colleagues will want to see personal taxes cut, but our priority should be to cut taxes for small businesses, because they are the ones that create prosperity and employment. They are the mainstay of our economy. In particular, I would like to see more Government action on late payment, particularly by local authorities; this is taxpayers’ money that should be getting through to SMEs on time, and the fact that it is not is a scandal. I would also like to see the retail, hospitality and leisure business rates discount extended to give many of the companies struggling in that sector the help they require.
We also need to look at other elements, including the broadband infrastructure in our country. Constituencies like mine still contain places with no broadband. It is ridiculous that we are putting public money into the programme and yet leaving parts of our economy without any of the advantages they require to participate fully in our economy. We were told that we would get that broadband at the end of 2022 and then we were told it would be in spring 2023. It was then to be October 2023, and now we have no idea when we will get it. I say to the Minister that the Treasury needs to give a kick up the proverbial to other Departments to make sure they are carrying out the promises that the Government made at the last election to stop some of the limitations in the rural economy and to get that infrastructure in place.
Finally, I want to say a quick word about the Bank of England. It has operational independence, but where is the accountability? We were told that inflation would be transitory and that there were external influences involved. I looked at the letters between the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor, and not once did they mention monetary stability or the fact that we had had an expansion of our money supply for far too long, at far too great a level. These are not rounding errors. If we get extra inflation created by monetary expansion that is too fast, it will affect the poorest in our society and the balance of our public finances, and it will cost taxpayers money. I have no problem with the Bank of England having operational independence, but what I want to know is: when it gets it wrong, who is it accountable to? Ultimately, it is the taxpayers and the people of this country who pay the bill, not those who are well paid in the Bank of England.
After 13 tortuous years, the policy programme in the King’s Speech reaffirms once more that this Conservative Government are out of ideas and out of time. Unfortunately, the resurrection of a former Prime Minister will not save them here. Given Lord Cameron’s disregard for standards in public life, which included dubious dealings during the covid pandemic on behalf of Lex Greensill, who is still being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, it says a lot that the Prime Minister is prepared to appoint him despite that.
The Prime Minister needs to take responsibility for the consequences of 13 years of regressive economic policies and economic mismanagement, which have led to a flatlining economy and the misery that so many people are facing in this cost of living crisis. Over the past 13 years, we have seen inequalities widen, as covid has so cruelly exposed and amplified. Once again, we have seen the north-south health divide revealed, with 17% more covid deaths in the north than in the rest of England. Some here will recall the Black report in 1982, which was quickly followed by the health divide report in 1984, where for the first time the extent of the north-south health divide was revealed.
Some 40 years on, the same thing has been allowed to happen again under yet more Conservative Governments. It did not just happen; Professor Sir Michael Marmot warned us about this in 2010, 2016 and early 2020 in his various reports about the UK’s declining life expectancy, which was driven by socioeconomic inequalities. He made very sensible recommendations to address the situation but, again, where were those in this King’s Speech?
Worryingly, recent analysis found that a deprived area in the north of England had a higher level of covid deaths compared with an equally deprived area in the south; there was an “amplification of deprivation” effect. Contrary to levelling up the country, this Government have not learned any lessons from covid and why the north was worse affected than the south, or why people on the lowest incomes, those who were disabled and those who were from an ethnic minority community were more likely to get sick and die. As the Northern Health Science Alliance’s recent report shows, the implications of these regional health inequalities on the economy are vast. Before the pandemic, people in the north were living, on average, two years less than people in the rest of England. In addition to living shorter lives, they were living in poorer health for longer, were at increased risk of losing their job because of that ill health, and were put on lower wages if and when they returned to work.
The NHSA estimates that £13.2 billion a year would be added to regional GDP if the health of the population in the north was equivalent to that of the rest of England, as a result of improved productivity. The disproportionate ill health that people experience in the north reflects decades of under-investment there after the decline of many traditional industries, the ensuing poverty and inequality that accompanied that, and the fact that this has persisted over many generations. Where was the cross-departmental working to ensure health in all policies in the King’s Speech? Where is the joined-up working with the devolved nations and regions? Where are the fair funding formulae, not just for the NHS but for education, local authorities and public services as a whole?
Economic inactivity across the UK has stayed at about 21 % for a number of years, with a short blip in 2022, with covid. The Government’s response to that should not be to penalise people who are sick or disabled by withdrawing even more social security support, for example, through sanctions or cuts to universal credit, as was reported yesterday, but to provide the right type of support for people in the right way. I am calling on the Chancellor to ensure that he increases social security support by at least inflation. I also hope he listens to the many charities in this area, including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Trussell Trust and the Child Poverty Action Group, and supports an essentials guarantee pegging UC to the cost of basic essentials. Without that, I fear that the 200 claimant deaths that the Department for Work and Pensions has investigated over the past three years, which we know are the tip of the iceberg, will increase.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to lead a compassionate Government; ensuring a compassionate social security system that will help to reduce the poverty and inequality that millions are experiencing is just one example of how he can do that. The absence of this compassion for our fellow citizens, and indeed for our brothers and sisters overseas, is revealing uncomfortable truths about the attitudes of some to our common humanity. We believe that as human beings we are all equal, with equal rights, as set out in the universal declaration of human rights. It is evident not just in the covid inquiry, but every day in foreign and domestic policy, and in the policy programme in this King’s Speech, which embeds rather than tackles inequality, that for this Government some people are more equal than others.
It is a pleasure and an honour to contribute to the debate. I congratulate His Majesty on delivering the King’s Speech last week, following in the footsteps of his late, great mother and undertaking his constitutional duties to Parliament and our country. I also wish him a happy birthday today.
With the autumn statement just eight days away, it is clear that we need to see ambitious fiscal measures introduced to complement the economic growth provisions outlined in the King’s Speech. Tackling inflation has rightly been one of the Government’s priorities: we understand the corrosive effects of inflation on the economy, economic growth and households around the country. We need the rate to fall further, to manageable levels, but we must also increase supply through reforms and lower business costs to ultimately help bring down inflation.
There are many measures I would like to touch on in the time I have available. One, which I spoke about earlier this year, is the 5p reduction in fuel duty that the Chancellor maintained in the spring, which was incredibly welcome. Such measures are essential, as they can make a huge difference to households and businesses across the country. Against an inflationary backdrop—although we know it is decreasing—this matters because it helps to bring costs down across the whole economy and, importantly, can help businesses and motorists. I say that as an MP from Essex, where we are proud of white van man and where drivers come into London, in particular. Let us not forget that there are other pressures on motorists in London because of the additional burdens they now face, such as the ultra low emission zone.
Alongside that, there is the issue of business rates, which I often speak about. They are a fixed cost to businesses, but actually impede growth on our high streets. As we know, our high streets and town centres are struggling for many reasons. If addressed in a considered way by Government, a freeze in the business rates multiplier can help small businesses and firms to keep their costs down. I press the Government to maintain the freeze in the multiplier and look at reforms to lower the cost burden of business rates, which is having such a corrosive impact.
Some 80% of my constituents are employed by SMEs, which is 20% higher than the national average. We are very proud of that. Essex is an entrepreneurial county and we are risk takers. We like running our own businesses and being self-employed, but that means that the share of the burden on those smaller businesses is much higher. As Conservatives in government, we must always look to tackle that.
To return to my other favourite subject, the Government are aware of my concerns about the OECD plans for minimum levels of corporation tax and the way the Government are rolling them out. I fundamentally maintain the position I have taken on this issue, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given me assurances over the assessment and analysis that will be carried out of its impact. We touched on this during discussions about the Finance (No. 2) Act 2023, but those measures will make our country less competitive. They will have an overall impact on businesses, foreign direct investment and investment in our country, so I will want to press Ministers on the reviews of them going forward.
I also maintain my position on income tax. The tax system needs to be simplified and fairer, and we need to reduce the burdens on families and businesses, including levels of personal taxation. One of the core missions of the Conservative party is to support economic freedom and liberty by cutting taxes, ensuring people can keep more of what they earn and encouraging the development of a property-owning democracy, which has been a topic of discussion in the Chamber this afternoon.
Universally, we in this Chamber know we need reforms on planning and that we need to do more on social housing, as well as growing housing across the country in a sustainable and suitable way. People are struggling and the cost of owning property, or even getting a foot on the housing ladder, is astronomical, so we need to do more. I could go on to other statistics, but in the interest of time I will raise another couple of local issues.
In Essex, we are crying out for infrastructure investment. I will happily write business cases to the Treasury on dualling the A120 and expanding the A12. We have had a tremendously successful programme of investment on the great eastern main line because of a business case that went to the Treasury 12 years ago. We are proud of that, and that growth is now paying off.
I want to press the case on pylons and the Winser review. In Essex, we have concerns, which the Treasury must listen to, about the implications of the review. I support the wider measures on energy production and the introduction of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, but more needs to be done.
To conclude, I welcome the framework of measures, but we have to look at the detail on supporting supply-side reform, lowering taxes for businesses, making sure our economy grows in a sustainable way and dealing with the challenges of inflation, so that we ensure our economy grows for decades to come.
The King’s Speech opened with an aspiration to raise economic growth, but was devoid of a single clue to how the Government intend to achieve that. There is nothing about a skills development strategy, nothing to address declining apprenticeship numbers for 16 to 18-year-olds, and nothing on the investment required to get Britain working again. The Chancellor now wants us to believe that all will be put right in the autumn statement—methinks we’re going to need a bigger statement. The Government foisted Brexit on us without a plan to implement it, so what does the Prime Minister do in his hour of need? He brings back the planless man whose reckless behaviour caused so much difficulty. It is like Oliver Hardy asking Stanley for help.
At 6.7%, inflation is still a long way from the 2% target, with little evidence that Government action, rather than commodity price reductions, is accounting for the limited progress that we have seen. In fact, the interest rate rises forced on the Bank of England are more likely to damage business and living standards. Increased mortgages will cost UK households £9 billion over this year and next.
How will we raise economic growth with a Government who cannot even secure our ability to produce our own steel? Some 2,000 jobs are at risk in Scunthorpe while the Government do nothing. Just how safe and secure should anyone feel with a Government who have entrusted our steelmaking to the Chinese?
Last year, this country experienced what happens when Governments speculate with unfunded tax plans. There is always a price to pay when gamblers lose control, but it is the British people who are paying that price with wrecked living standards. The behaviour of the Conservative party has destroyed the prospects of families the length and breadth of this country. When will the Government take responsibility for the misery that they have caused? This is a Government of 25 tax rises, but what do we have to show for it? We have crumbling schools, an NHS on its knees, crime out of control, living standards plummeting and even life expectancy falling in 21st-century Tory Britain. The truth is that virtually nothing works anymore. There is hardly a family in the land, apart from the covid profiteers, who can claim to be better off than they were 13 years ago. Just think what we could do with the estimated £7.2 billion of fraudulent covid payments over which this Prime Minister presided and which this Government are prepared to write off.
Lest it appears that I think there is nothing of benefit in this King’s Speech, I welcome action to curtail drip pricing and subscription traps, which I hope will eventually be delivered via the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. It is long overdue.
It is time that online businesses paid their fair share of taxes. It is time to breathe new life into our high streets by abandoning outdated business rates, and—I say this in Respect for Shopworkers Week—cracking down on retail crime, which, according to new research from Thruvision and Retail Economics, will reach £7.9 billion this year. It is turning shops into dangerous work environments and no-go areas for too many customers.
Let us think of the possibilities for jobs, growth and wealth creation in life sciences, creative industries, the green economy and financial services if only we had a Government who knew the value of an industrial strategy and were prepared to secure the necessary investments. Instead, we have a Government who make us a laughing stock over their inability to build a modern railway, and manage to let HS2 end up £30 billion over budget. Just who will be called to account for that incompetence?
I want to be able to offer hope to the brilliant Kath’s Café in Druids Heath as it struggles with increasing supply costs and customers’ declining living standards, to Cameron-Price, a great local manufacturing business that is toiling to find the skilled workers it needs, and to Loaf organic bakery, a popular and entrepreneurial venture, but without any Government support in the face of crippling electricity costs. We need a King’s Speech to offer hope to the homeless, to support well-paid jobs, to tackle the mental health crisis and to address the gangs and the scourge of antisocial behaviour disfiguring our communities. We need a King’s Speech to get Britain working again. This is not it.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to her new position. Last week we were all allowed to see the historic spectacle of the King giving his first speech to this House. There are many historic spectacles associated with the speech, and today, entertainingly, the shadow Chancellor played her role, which is to claim that nothing has ever gone right with the Government and that there is nothing in the King’s Speech at all.
Of course, on bald numbers the shadow Chancellor is wrong, because it is clear that since 2010 the UK has had the third-highest growth in the G7 and 3.9 million more people are employed. However, that does not mean that growth should not be a priority, especially given the long-term supply002Dside shocks this economy has had from covid and the current crisis in Ukraine—although that seems to be forgotten at the moment—causing other energy shocks. It is therefore encouraging that the preoccupation of the King’s Speech and of this Government is to promote economic growth.
It is right to start by talking about supporting the Bank of England in taking measures that will reduce inflation. Inflation is economically corrosive, and it is the job of Governments to be financially responsible. When inflation is stable at lower levels, we see the encouragement of personal savings, which is a benefit, we see less pressure for people from what is described as the cost of living, and we see businesses investing. It reduces some of the inefficiencies that economists talk about and rigidity in the economy. It is key that we take measures and encourage the Bank of England to bring down inflation in order to have higher growth.
One such measure is to ensure that, for the next part of the 21st century, we look at the industries that both the Government and the private sector can foster so that we see sustained economic growth. The United Kingdom has the chance to be the world leader in many high-tech industries. The shadow Chancellor was right to welcome what the Government did in the spring statement with 100% expensing; it is the right thing to do, because it encourages businesses to invest. However, we can make it permanent only if we do away with some of the grants and take other actions to make it fiscally neutral, and it is of more benefit if it does not go only into plant and machinery. I urge the Government to look at a system that allows research-intensive industries to put research and development costs into full expensing as well.
The industries of the future were mentioned in the King’s Speech. I welcome the measures that we will see and discuss in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill and the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. Another industry of the future in which we must ensure that we remain a world leader, having been a world leader in it for the last 40 years, is the car industry. We must do more to encourage the electric vehicle industry. There are some simple measures that the Government could enact to encourage more people to take up electric vehicles. The first is the stabilisation and equalisation of VAT, so that people charging their vehicles in a public or a private place pay the same rate. The second is to put a presumption on local authorities to have byelaws permitting safety gullies, to allow charging by those who do not have access to their own off-street parking. Those are simple things that the Government will do to encourage growth.
The Government rightly recognise the importance of the quality of infrastructure and getting more people to invest in it. One thing that was not in the King’s Speech but is being circulated is the new rail reform Bill. I welcome some of the measures in that Bill, but we will need to look again at it because there is far too much emphasis on what the public sector does, and not enough on what the private sector could do—it could do more.
I welcome, and hope to see more use of, initiatives such as the Mansion House compact. I encourage the Government to think about how first-time buyers could use their pension funds to fund deposits, using something similar to what we have with self-invested personal pensions, which allow people to take out 25% tax free.
Economic growth for everybody across the world is difficult to achieve at the moment, but there are measures in the King’s Speech—as, I have no doubt, there will be in next week’s autumn statement—that will allow that growth to prosper. I welcome the King’s Speech.
The question that all our constituents are asking is: “Is that it? After 13 years, is that all this Government have to offer?” This is a King’s Speech so pointless that it could be an answer on the game show. It comes from a Prime Minister who is acting like one of the contestants on “I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!”—desperate to do anything to stay in charge.
Frankly, our constituents deserve better. Many Members have spoken about the deep-seated challenges in our country, such as the lack of growth. After 13 years of this Government, we have a society in which the bank of mum and dad determines outcomes, not talent. In the last decade alone, housing and stocks and shares have earned far more than any hard work or effort that our constituents could undertake, because of sluggish productivity and the Government’s failure to invest in our communities.
Our kids cannot get apprenticeships; they are struggling to stay in university. [Interruption.] The Minister is shaking her head. I invite her to come and meet my local residents, who beg me for apprenticeships. They are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic. They are scarred by where they live and who their parents are, because that is what determines their outcomes. It is a mark of shame for us that we live in a country in which the exam results of black children are, on average, almost 10% lower than those of their white counterparts. Nothing is changing any time soon, and the King’s Speech will do little.
My hon. Friend Mr Betts set out the housing crisis. When I see the other crises that we are facing, I suppose I should be careful what I wish for, because when faced with the climate crisis, the Government’s response is to go hard on fossil fuels rather than recognising that renewables are cheaper and that, if we are to tackle both the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis, we should put those things together rather than asking our communities to choose.
Of course, nothing in the King’s Speech deals with the elephant in the room that is Brexit. I am sad that Dr Fox is no longer in his place after his valiant attempt to claim that Brexit has had a positive impact on our country and communities. The economic data suggests otherwise, so let me give him some other figures. Eurostat figures show that exports have fallen by 14% in the last year and that UK to EU trade of goods is down 16%. European Central Bank research shows that 77% of firms in this country say that the Brexit deal is not helping their sales. Indeed, our constituents are facing a £250 surcharge on their food bills alone.
The King’s Speech could have dealt with the fact that, in the coming year, Brexit’s impact on inflation will get a lot worse. Our constituents will face a £43-a-time charge on anything imported into the UK. Food will get more expensive—not my words but those of the Government’s own record. There will a £10 charge to enter the UK. What will that do to our stuttering tourism industry, which is trying to recover after the pandemic? The King’s Speech is silent on all those challenges, and tries to suggest that trade through the CPTPP will make up for the trade lost on our doorstep.
The King’s Speech offers a Criminal Justice Bill, which I welcome. It is time that we finally sorted out the inequality that means that my Walthamstow constituents have fewer human rights when it comes to choosing to have an abortion than constituents in Belfast. Sentencing guidelines will not deal with the fact that hundreds of women are now being prosecuted under outdated abortion legislation. It is time for decriminalisation, and perhaps one of the few positive things we can do in the year to come is to sort that.
I wish to correct the record. Earlier I said that in the time it has taken for the Government to fail to do anything about buy now, pay later lenders, the number of people borrowing from these companies has doubled—it has actually tripled. Forty per cent of people who are borrowing from buy now, pay later companies say they are in direct financial difficulty because of it, and these companies are benefiting from the Government’s failure to regulate them. I care as much about legal loan sharks in the private sector as I do about those in the public sector. The regulation of these companies is long overdue, and if this Government does not do it, waiting for a Labour Government to do it will mean another year and another explosion in the millions of people borrowing from them.
In the next year, we will see a crisis in our childcare industry, because the Government have pushed up the cost of childcare without providing the subsidy for it. We need to go further. It is not just about providing high-quality childcare; it is about helping every family to make the choices they want. Only 5% of dads report taking shared parental leave, because our shared parental leave system does not work; it asks the mum’s employer to pay the costs, rather than sharing them. Some 80% of dads say they do not have enough time with their kids as a result. These are challenges that we could deal with, but this King’s Speech will do nothing to solve them.
As I said, public sector legal loan sharks need to be dealt with, too. In the next year alone, private finance initiative deals will cost this country £9.8 billion in repayments. PFI is something that all Governments have used, and we need to tackle it. We have £200 billion-worth of commitments coming our way—money that could be going back into our public services if we fought for a better deal for our taxpayers.
What we are seeing is small responses to big challenges, not least to the biggest challenge of all, which is the uncertainty and conflict around the world. Everybody in this Chamber wants the bloodshed to stop in Israel and Gaza. Everybody in this Chamber, I hope, stands with people like my constituent whose parent has been kidnapped by Hamas and wants to see them returned and to see the dismantling of Hamas as a terrorist organisation. A humanitarian pause would require the same type of negotiation as a ceasefire. Let us stand together with our international partners and put pressure on those partners who can put pressure on Hamas to get people round the table. Let us challenge Israel to stand up for international humanitarian law, and let us stop the bloodshed. This King’s Speech does nothing to achieve that, but it could have done.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on the King’s Speech. It was poignant to attend the House of Lords last week to hear His Majesty’s first King’s Speech. It is perhaps appropriate that this debate takes place on Charles III’s 75th birthday, and we all wish him a very happy day indeed.
At the beginning of this Parliament, almost four years ago, I do not think anyone could have predicted the events that would unfold after just a few months, with the global covid-19 pandemic. It is quite remarkable and not by accident that the UK economy has had one of the fastest and strongest recoveries of any in Europe, including Germany and France, and elsewhere in the world, including Japan. I welcome the investment of over £20 billion a year in research and development. It is no accident that this country is decarbonising and reaching our 2050 net zero carbon emission goals more than any other country in the G7.
I welcome the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill, which was announced in the King’s Speech. Yesterday evening, the New Zealand high commissioner was here in Parliament. I welcome the trans-Pacific partnership, which truly is a demonstration of global Britain and global reach post Brexit.
We are an island trading nation, and that is why economic growth has to be supported by a thriving British aviation sector. It has suffered hugely as a result of the pandemic but is coming back extremely strongly. I am delighted that later this month, Virgin Atlantic Airways, which is headquartered in my constituency, will be flying the first ever 100% sustainable aviation fuel fight, transatlantic from London to New York. However, we need to do more to support the sustainable aviation fuels industry, which has the potential to create over 100,000 jobs in this country. It is better for our economic and energy security to produce SAF here in the United Kingdom than to be reliant on importing it from abroad, with all the expense involved.
Another area in which we could boost our economic growth would be to use a Brexit freedom to introduce duty-free shopping on arrivals. Most of the rest of the world does so: parts of Europe that are not in the European Union have introduced duty-free shopping, including Norway and Switzerland, as have many other countries around the world. It is a freedom that we should be using. It would not cost the Treasury any lost revenue, but it would onshore those sales to UK shops and create employment.
Turning to animal welfare issues, I very much welcome the livestock exports Bill. Live animal exports for slaughter and fattening have not taken place for a number of years, but certainly in the past, that was an extremely cruel practice that caused great distress to animals who were trafficked over long distances to meet a very sad end. It is very good that that practice will come to an end in law, so that it can no longer take place. That is another Brexit animal welfare benefit, and something that my late mum would have been very pleased about. Many years ago, she often used to write to her local MP calling for an end to live animal exports. It is great that that is now being achieved.
Finally, a manifesto commitment that the Conservative party made four years ago and that featured in most of the main parties’ political manifestos, was the banning of trophy hunting imports—the import of endangered species’ body parts into Great Britain. In the last Session, I tabled such a ban in the form of a private Member’s Bill, but unfortunately that Bill was filibustered, blocked and eventually timed out by a very small number of peers—one of them a hereditary peer—in the other place. The ban passed this elected House unanimously, has widespread public support and was a Government commitment. If the Minister wants to intervene on me to say that the Government will bring forward that legislation in this Session, I would be delighted. I understand that she probably does not have that brief in front of her, but hopefully the Government can confirm that they will legislate in Government time to achieve that manifesto commitment, end what is a very cruel practice, and lead the world further in animal welfare measures.
It is a pleasure to speak in this King’s Speech debate on securing economic growth; I only wish the Government had offered us something in His Majesty’s Gracious Speech that would turn that vision into a reality. This Conservative Government have wrecked the economy, and they continue to make everyone else pay for it. They have given tax breaks to big banks and the oil and gas giants while the rest of us have suffered higher taxes, higher mortgage bills and spiralling inflation. The King’s Speech revealed a Government with absolutely no interest in tackling the cost of living crisis. There was nothing to address food price inflation, nor to support struggling households with their soaring mortgage payments, and it ignored the need to protect the most vulnerable from high energy bills this winter.
If there is one thing that all parts of the political spectrum can agree on, it is that the UK needs to grow its economy. Under the Conservatives, so much of the UK’s potential is going untapped, with anaemic growth, weaker investment and falling living standards. Years of stagnating growth look set to persist, with the most recent figures showing that our economy has flatlined, as household budgets are squeezed by higher interest rates. It could not be clearer that the Government’s approach has failed.
Unprecedented economic challenges have only been compounded by a Conservative Government who have no cohesive economic strategy, and who have chopped and changed time after time. A perfect example is the Prime Minister’s decision to row back on crucial green commitments—a decision that not only jeopardises our fight against climate change and keeps families stuck in draughty homes paying higher energy bills, but destroys the certainty that businesses need to invest in a greener future. It moves the goalposts, throwing into question carefully crafted business plans. What a colossal wasted opportunity for the climate, green growth and new jobs, and this is yet more proof that this Government do not have a plan—not for our planet or for our economy.
If the UK is to keep up with our international partners, we urgently need to restore business confidence and boost investment in growth industries. At the heart of the Liberal Democrat plan to achieve this is an ambitious industrial strategy, which would co-ordinate policy across key areas and set strategic objectives, such as supercharging green technologies, creating good local jobs and boosting international trade. It would create stability, give the private sector clear investment signals and revitalise business conditions by equipping our workforce with the skills it needs, investing in key infrastructure, encouraging the adoption of digital technology and creating financial markets that truly work for all businesses. Yet at every opportunity, the Government refuse to set a clear direction of travel or to implement a cohesive long-term industrial strategy, and this King’s Speech was no different.
One piece of legislation I was pleased to see is the Pedicabs (London) Bill, and I congratulate Nickie Aiken on all her work in securing this commitment from the Government. This Bill will create a regulatory framework for rickshaws. While the intention for this legislation may be to control the unruly service that operates in central London, I believe that rickshaws could be a real game changer for those in my constituency and elsewhere who cannot access active travel. This could be a particular benefit as an interim transport solution across Hammersmith bridge, which has been closed to motor traffic for almost five years. I was pleased to meet Trudy Harrison when she was a Minister in the Department for Transport to discuss the potential opportunities for rickshaws in my constituency. Now that the Bill has finally been introduced, I would welcome a further meeting with the Department for Transport to discuss the possibility for Hammersmith bridge and the surrounding areas to run a pilot scheme for a new licensed pedicab service.
Of the 21 Bills offered in this King’s Speech, there was not a single piece of legislation to tackle the crisis facing our NHS and nothing to ensure that the 7.8 million people on waiting lists can access treatment. Mental health is one of the top issues in my constituency, and I know that many of my constituents are deeply disappointed that plans to reform the Mental Health Act 1983 have seemingly been scrapped. My constituents were also looking to the King’s Speech to provide a solution to the sewage crisis polluting our waterways, but it completely fails to introduce measures that would stop water companies pumping sewage into rivers and oceans, and it fails to introduce a new tougher water regulator to hold water companies to account.
In my constituency of Richmond Park, Thames Water has become synonymous with poor-quality work and dubious environmental practices. Alongside failing to attend burst water mains for days and taking weeks to repair relatively simple issues, the company is spending millions on a project intended to replace water from the River Thames near Ham and Petersham with highly treated sewage in times of drought. Given the company’s history of frustrating business practices and an appalling environmental record, how are my constituents supposed to trust Thames Water to do its job? How will the Government ensure that the agencies responsible for monitoring Thames Water have the powers needed to hold it to account?
I hope that the King, on his 75th birthday today, has received some decent gifts and is enjoying a special day, because I am afraid that his Government have nothing to offer the families and businesses across the UK that are crying out for change. There is no plan for economic growth, no plan to protect our natural environment and no plan to tackle the crisis facing our NHS. This shows a Government that are out of ideas and will soon be out of time.
This afternoon, I thought I would revert to my role as a one-woman tourist board for North Devon, home to the only cold water surf reserve in the world and the UK’s only world surf reserve. With stunning beaches alongside beautiful countryside and magnificent moors, there really is something for everyone who wants to get a bit of the great outdoors.
Hospitality in North Devon contributes over a quarter of a billion pounds to the economy. Indeed, our local economy is hugely reliant on our tourism and hospitality sectors. The pandemic saw a surge in people enjoying a staycation and visiting previously unseen parts of the UK. However, this year has seen a 20% drop in visitor numbers, in part as these visitors head to overseas destinations again, but the sector is also struggling to recruit staff, with many venues open for only part of the week, unfortunately driven in part by the huge surge in short-term holiday lets alongside a rush of second home owners.
I have two pleas to the Treasury: to keep the business rate discounts, as swathes of hospitality businesses are set to close their doors this January if discounts are reduced, and to reverse the Osborne tax reforms and level the tax playing field between long term and short-term rentals, to help resolve some of our housing and, hence, staffing challenges. During an economic downturn, we all know that eating and drinking out is one of the first things to go, so I say to those of us in North Devon and beyond: let us support our local pubs and restaurants this winter.
But I fear that there is more at play. I know from speaking to beach managers and surf schools that far too many people visiting our beautiful beaches are fearful of the sea, despite eight of the 11 bathing beaches in North Devon having excellent water quality and being among the cleanest beaches in the world. I know that that phrase makes opposition councillors rush home to write complaints about me to the local paper, but it is true. The so-called “sewage scandal” so loved by opposition parties is not what is happening to North Devon’s beaches.
Yes, when it rains, a lot of the storm overflows run—they are mostly rainwater—but less than 1% of the water pollution in North Devon comes from human sewage. These overflows have run for more than a century; we only know about this now because they are monitored. In North Devon, much work has already been done to hold water further up the catchment and to reduce the impact of heavy rains, as well as installing extra storage capacity to reduce the frequency of storm discharges. Yes, there is more to do, but it is vital to those businesses along the coast, and everyone who wants to enjoy our stunning beaches, to recognise that North Devon’s beaches have already undergone huge improvements, and the water quality is significantly better than it was 20 years ago. Indeed, even Surfers Against Sewage, whose app generates more content in my inbox than anything else, conceded in writing to me this month:
“With regards to the beaches in your constituency, we totally agree that huge improvements have been made to water quality there”.
Yes, there will always be more to do, but I wish the opposition parties would not talk down North Devon.
Lib Dems called for sewage to be tackled in the King’s Speech. They clearly failed to turn up, as they so often do, when we passed the Environment Act 2021, which is the reason we are monitoring and know where the real problems are. Anti-business rhetoric from Lib Dems is so damaging in a constituency such as mine. A Lib Dem council runs our biggest town, Barnstaple, which has a very busy high street, for a whole host of reasons, not least the great range of fabulous independent retailers alongside big brand names. But it is being held back because the council has not prioritised reopening the bus station. I have had complaints for over a year about the lack of toilet facilities and shelter. Rural bus journeys into town are long. The council is paid by bus companies to run the station, but it chooses to spend that money on business rates rather than on providing the commercial services that travellers need. I know that the plan is to sell it to the town council and open a community centre, which is very lovely, but there is a local coffee shop owner who is interested in opening a café. Why cannot we do something more commercial?
Our hospitality sector and, indeed, virtually every business I visit, as well as all our public services, cannot recruit staff because there is nowhere to live for working-age families. I attribute that to the failings of the Lib Dem-run council to get to grips with planning. The council officer staff work flat out to deliver the plans that are put together, but where is the Lib Dem vision for Barnstaple to thrive and improve its economic output? Where are the affordable homes that we so desperately need?
Yes, Government money is coming to help redevelop the high street and rebuild the hospital and its vital staff accommodation, but more commercial thinking is needed at a local level. Our Lib Dem council leader advised the BBC that I was electioneering when I suggested reopening the bus station. Fortunately, the council staff at the town council recognise the need for a bus station, as does everyone else I talk to. We need our businesses to thrive. We need to support them and provide the right associated facilities for shoppers to make long journeys into town, taking advantage of the Government’s £2 bus fare, which is a huge saving for long rural journeys.
While I work locally to help resolve some of these matters, I very much hope that more people will contribute to North Devon’s local economic growth. If they have not booked their next staycation, I can highly recommend my beautiful constituency. North Devon is a jewel in our country’s tourism crown, and this Conservative Government will continue to support it, not talk it down.
It is an honour and a privilege to represent the people of Newcastle upon Tyne Central. It is the city I grew up in and, quite simply, the best place in the world. My question in this King’s Speech debate is: why are the Government letting Newcastle down?
Replacing the woman actually elected to lead his party, the Prime Minister promised to get the economy growing, but the IMF now forecasts that our country will have the lowest growth in the G7 next year, yet taxes are at their highest rate since 1949. What are my constituents paying for? It is not a better health service, better schools or safer streets; we are paying for Tory failure. This King’s Speech does nothing to change that.
I suppose it should not be surprising that an old Harrovian failed Prime Minister thinks the answer is an old Etonian failed Prime Minister, but it is not. That Tory failure will continue in my constituency. I see it on the doorstep, at my surgeries and on our streets, with young people trying to get on the housing ladder, but held back by Tory Britain’s systemic failure to build. We have businesses contending with inflation, as well as the scourge of late payments. We have pensioners choosing between heating and eating. Less than half of children in England saw a dentist in the past year. We have supermarket security tags on half a pound of butter. Some 42% of children in my constituency are growing up in poverty, 17% of households are in fuel poverty and almost one fifth of adults in Newcastle are estimated to be in problematic debt.
It is little wonder that this year, the citizens advice bureau in Newcastle is on course to help more people with crisis support, food bank referrals and charitable support than in any other year on record. Behind each statistic, there is a living family. One example from Newcastle City Council’s cost of living helpline is of an adult with two children. The parent has not eaten anything for three days, saving food so that the kids can eat. There is no gas and no electricity. They are going to warm places in the city to spend the day and wrapping up in multiple layers at night. That is impacting on the mental health of everyone in the family. This is Newcastle in 2023 under the Tories. This is the human cost of Tory economic chaos.
I am immensely proud of our local food banks such as West End food bank, Newcastle United supporters trust food bank and Kenton food bank. I am proud of the work of our council, and I am proud of the work of all the charities helping Geordies to survive, but it should not have to be this way. Newcastle’s wonderful industrial heritage inspired me to go into engineering. Whether it is renewable energy, life sciences, start-ups or innovative manufacturing, Newcastle has exciting prospects for the industries of the future and a green industrial manufacturing future. In our long-standing areas of strength, such as our world-renowned hospitality sector, which adds more than £300 million of GVA each year in my constituency, I can see enormous potential for growth, helped by Labour’s plans on business rates, energy markets and the planning system.
Labour has a plan to make people across the whole country better off by growing the economy, boosting wages and bringing down bills. Our industrial strategy would bring together our excellent universities, skilled workforce and deep capital markets to turbocharge growth in constituencies such as mine. Our planning reforms would make it possible to build the infrastructure we need, and switching on Great British Energy would bring down bills, create hundreds of thousands of high-paid jobs and put the UK on course towards energy independence.
The record speaks for itself. People in Newcastle upon Tyne Central would be better off with Labour. Under the Tories, disposable income is forecast to grow by just £42 between 2010 and 2025. Under Labour, it grew by £11,000 per person. The Tories low-growth, high-tax economy has meant hardship and setbacks for my constituents. We need a Labour Government and a Labour King’s Speech to restore pride and purpose to our country and to give Newcastle upon Tyne Central and the whole country our future back.
It is a pleasure to follow Chi Onwurah as we debate long-term economic growth in all parts of the United Kingdom.
I cannot help but address a sentiment that has long lingered in the hearts of many in north-east Wales and my constituency: it often feels as though we are a bit invisible and forgotten by both Westminster and Cardiff Bay, and as a constituency we long for our voices to be heard and our potential to be unleashed. It is essential that both the UK and Welsh Governments acknowledge the challenges faced by regions like ours and respond with tailored policies and investments. We need infrastructure development, improved access to education and skills training, and targeted support for local businesses and industries. Only through those measures can we unlock the true potential of the regions that have been overlooked for far too long.
Across my home county of Flintshire, residents in all towns and villages see investment from the Welsh Government going into south Wales, they watch the news and see the UK Government investing in the north-east of England, and they yell at their TV screens, “What about the north-east of Wales?” We must strive for a future not where prosperity is confined to a select few, or to constituencies where Governments of whatever colour want to shore up support with investment, but where instead prosperity flows to every corner of the country, empowering individuals, families and communities to thrive.
With that in mind, I will first touch on the exciting opportunity that lies within the heart of region: the Flintshire and Wrexham investment zone bid. This collaborative endeavour holds immense importance and significance to both areas as they join forces to unlock their true potential and pave the way for a brighter future. Not only does the local authorities’ collaborative working call for praise; the manner in which the bid is being spearheaded by local industry and partnership, especially the fabulous Joanna Swash from Moneypenny in Wrexham, who is chairing the bid, shows exactly what can be achieved when frameworks are put in place that businesses can take advantage of.
The impact of the investment zone bid may be transformative to the region, not only by generating direct employment but by creating a ripple effect, creating opportunities, fostering entrepreneurship and driving economic growth in industries and supply chains across the region. We should embrace the bid, which I support wholeheartedly, as the zone will mean that we can all witness the remarkable transformation that awaits both Flintshire and Wrexham.
Secondly, devolution is holding back Wales. Every week—we have heard it several times today—Opposition Members shout things like, “You’ve had 13 years and it’s just getting worse.” I politely ask them to reflect on how Labour has been in power in Wales for 26 years and outcomes are worse in almost every measurable way. In 1997, average incomes in Wales and Scotland were almost identical; in 2023, Wales finds itself with incomes 20% lower than our northern British friends. It has become clear for a multitude of reasons that power must be taken back into hands of the UK Government, and I shall table a Bill to allow a referendum to take place to get rid of devolution in Wales as soon the parliamentary schedule allows.
Returning power to Westminster does not mean abandoning the unique identity and cultural heritage of Wales; on the contrary, it would allow for a more cohesive approach to governance, with decisions made in the best interests of all citizens in mind, rather than just those south of Welshpool. In fact, when that was put to the First Minister of Wales at the Welsh Affairs Committee recently, he did not even try to deny that that was happening. We must get back to focusing on outcomes rather than process. It does not matter where decisions are made or who makes them; what matters is that they are the right ones. People currently trundling to work at 20 mph in Wales down roads that are full of holes and crumbling because the Welsh Government will not repair them or build any new ones know that it is the outcomes that matter, not the process.
Devolution in Wales has been a resounding failure. The Welsh Government have proven incapable of delivering on its promises, leaving our nation lagging behind in critical areas. It is time to recognise the shortcomings of devolution and take the necessary steps to rectify the situation for the good of everyone in Wales.
The core principles of conservatism call for reducing taxation, removing regulatory burdens, increased empowerment, increased entrepreneurship and opportunity, and community collaboration. It is time to shift our focus towards empowering individuals, restoring personal responsibility and minimising state interference in people’s lives. That includes removing superfluous levels of government that add nothing to the lives of the people we are here to serve.
The way this Government run the economy does not work for the vast majority of people who live in Scotland or for those across the UK. It is frankly a disgrace that so many of my constituents, who live in the energy-rich country of Scotland, cannot afford to pay their energy bills. Let there be no doubt about it: the fault lies at the door of the UK Government. In Scotland and across the UK record numbers of people are struggling to afford food, energy and housing, yet there was a glaring omission of any tangible policies to help struggling households in the King’s Speech.
People in Scotland have so far been cushioned from the full impact of Westminster policies by Scottish Government action, but no amount of Scottish Government action can fully protect people in Scotland from regressive Westminster policies. Macroeconomic power and the real power to transform our society still lie in Westminster. The Scottish Parliament is only a devolved Parliament; it does not have the power to truly transform Scotland’s economy and society. That would come only with independence, and that is why I support independence.
I am here to scrutinise this Government. Climate change and the cost of living crisis are the two biggest challenges we face in Scotland and across the UK. The failure to include any meaningful action to tackle them in the King’s Speech is a gross dereliction of duty. With vision and a green new deal, this Government could tackle both the climate and the cost of living crises and transform the way our economy works to benefit all our constituents. But they have neither the desire nor the inclination to do so.
We have heard much about oil licences, but oil from the Rosebank oilfield will not increase energy security for the UK, nor will it lower energy bills for my constituents. It will be sold on the international market and we will have to buy it at the same price as everyone else. It will make Equinor and Ithaca a lot of money, but UK taxpayers will pay for it. As Jess Ralston from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said, it is clear that this Prime Minister would rather give tax breaks to oil companies than lower energy bills. Taxpayers across the UK will fork out around £4 billion to the developers of the oilfield—money that could have been used to insulate millions of homes, many of which are set to be colder and poorer this winter. The UK Government did not even attach any net zero carbon conditions to the new oilfield. I wonder whether they plan to do so for the promised future licensing. The UK Government’s new-found enthusiasm for drilling oil and gas in the North sea tells us that Scottish voters were lied to during the 2014 independence referendum, when Unionists from both the Conservative and the Labour parties said that the oil in the North sea was about to run out. Why should people in Scotland trust anything either of them say ever again?
While the UK Government continue to sell off the energy in the North sea to the highest bidder, there are no meaningful plans for the much-promised just transition. That is why Scotland—and, indeed, the UK—needs a green new deal. That phrase was first coined in the United States, and the Biden Administration have gone some way to putting a green new deal into action, with an industrial strategy that involves the world’s most generous package of climate incentives, under the Inflation Reduction Act.
In Scotland, the Common Weal policy think-tank has produced some excellent work on what a green new deal would look like for my country. During the pandemic it produced a blueprint for a comprehensive green new deal for Scotland, which would involve a process of public planning, organised and implemented by public bodies and paid for out of the public purse. It would be a whole new scheme for Scotland’s energy, agriculture and housing, with huge benefits of employment, prosperity and skills. It is a plan not just for our environment but for our economy and society.
A green new deal might work by tackling the problem of the cold, draughty homes in which many of our constituents live. We need to insulate and retrofit them, and we could do that if we supercharged our construction industry. That could be combined with a programme of transformative land reform to allow for reforesting to produce the wood needed for construction work. Reforestation done properly would also assist carbon capture and expand biodiversity. Once buildings are properly insulated, they could be heated by district heating systems provided by a combination of solar, thermal and geothermal systems. We could also use inter-seasonal heat storage to store heat from the summer for use in winter. All of that costs less and could feed into the grid much more quickly than new nuclear power. It would be a huge engineering feat, but other countries have managed it and it could create well-paid jobs.
The UK covid inquiry has heard evidence about how, during the pandemic, privileged Government figures could not comprehend the lives of the people for whom they were making decisions. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor are all rich men. How can they possibly understand the lives of the people I meet week in, week out at my constituency surgeries who are struggling to pay for basic necessities? We will not get sustainable economic growth for everyone until we tackle climate change, energy insecurity and the cost of living crisis. The King’s Speech was just another missed opportunity to do that.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. The first King’s Speech in over 70 years outlined the Government’s commitment to deliver for the British people, including the people of Stoke-on-Trent. We have a Government focused on delivering for the whole country and cities like Stoke-on-Trent thanks to levelling up and, of course, thanks to Brexit. I am glad that the topic of the debate today reflects that understanding. Those beyond London must benefit from growth and we must no longer be left behind.
After decades of decline under Labour, Stoke-on-Trent’s fortunes have revived. Our iconic industry, ceramics, gives our city its sense of place as the Potteries and our sense of purpose as a local centre of world-class manufacturing for the global market. Provided that free trade is rules based, particularly against outrageous dumping, our ceramics industry has much to gain from the trade Bill. That includes manufacturers of advanced technical and industrial ceramics upon which our future industries depend. We need to help our fantastic businesses in north Staffordshire to trade right around the world more of the amazing products that we produce. It is also vital that we further support energy-intensive sectors, which provide important skilled jobs. Measures to address energy security are welcome, but further support is needed. Alongside a number of colleagues, I have recently written to the Chancellor to express the importance of supporting the ceramics sector with energy costs and not applying too rigid net zero policies when technology is yet to offer viable alternatives. If we do not get this right, it risks offshoring an industry to countries that have a far worse environmental and human rights record.
Digital industries are also increasingly important in Stoke-on-Trent, as we emerge as a leading hub for gaming. Indeed, our industrial heritage buildings are being repurposed for gaming industry disruptors, who appreciate, and feed creatively from, those buildings in all their quirky and authentic glory. According to Ofcom, gigabit full fibre connectivity in Stoke-on-Trent enables download that is 15 times faster and upload that is 70 times faster than the UK’s average, so I welcome the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which will safeguard small and disruptor firms from any egregious behaviour by bigger players.
The Government have been extremely generous in providing investment through the transforming cities fund, levelling-up fund, heritage action zones and more. Our town centres and high streets, however, need further investment and it remains disappointing that Stoke-on-Trent has missed out previously on future high streets funding, town deal funding and the latest round of funding for towns, which did not include a single town in the whole of Staffordshire. I encourage the Government to do more to help our high streets across north Staffordshire with planning reforms and, of course, investment.
More funding is always welcome, but we also need the city council, Network Rail and others to get on with actually delivering things. It is concerning that the Labour council has already reverted to type, rolling back on levelling-up schemes, lacking entirely the ambitious leadership our city needs. We also see a lack of ambition when it comes to our local public transport. Yes, we need to improve bus services, and we are delivering that through bus service improvement funding, but rail improvements are also vital to our city, and should not be flippantly dismissed as we have seen Labour do locally. Only rail can provide a rapid alternative to cars, reducing road congestion and improving air quality for all.
Fortunately, the Government have had the wisdom to see that phase 2 of HS2 failed to deliver good value. For Staffordshire, it would have meant all the pain with no gain. The £36 billion released is now available for local schemes that will make a real difference. The reopening of Meir station and the Stoke to Leek line—including a station at Fenton Manor—must now be fast-tracked and delivered. Meir has some of the worst transport deprivation in the country. By bus it can take up to an hour to reach the university, the college and the main station. Reopening Meir station will put those destinations reliably within 10 minutes by rail, and that will level up many more life chances locally than HS2 could ever achieve.
We also need to make rapid progress with lifts at Longton station, and develop plans for a station to serve Trentham. Levelling up our city’s transport infrastructure so that it is back where it should be is the surest way of levelling up its potential as a place to live, work and visit. The inclusion in the King’s Speech of a draft rail reform Bill is welcome, not least because Great British Railways will be based in Derby, and I suspect that nothing will increase the chances of improving services on the Crewe-Derby-Nottingham line through Stoke-on-Trent quite as much as having GBR on it. We particularly need to increase the frequency of trains on that line to two an hour. For too long, east-west rail links like this have been dismissed. However, I also look forward to investment in the local elements of the national road infrastructure work. Investment in junction 15 of the M6 and the A50/A500 corridor, for instance, is long overdue.
The foundation for our success as a growing city in a growing national economy will lie in ensuring that it is a safe place to be: safe from crime and antisocial behaviour, safe from the scourge of monkey dust, and safe from the most heinous criminal offenders. I therefore welcome the Criminal Justice Bill, the Victims and Prisoners Bill and the terrorism Bill for the part that they will play in keeping us safe.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate on the King’s Speech. I believe that His Majesty is visiting a food poverty project today. It is marvellous to see our monarch and Head of State taking more interest in food poverty than our Government.
It is notable that the King’s Speech fell during UK Parliament Week. Last week I met many of the uniformed youth organisations, and many children from schools across my constituency, who had numerous questions to ask me about the King’s Speech and the processes that we have here in Parliament. One of them asked me how a man in a gold hat could sit on a gold chair and talk seriously about a cost of living crisis—but that, I thought, might not be the spirit in which to enter this debate, so instead I will raise some issues about democracy, because I do not think we talk enough about it in this democratically elected Chamber.
UK Parliament Week should have given us an opportunity to talk seriously about democracy, and about the need to ensure that the public feel they have a say in what we do in this place. One of the great ways in which we do that is through the public petitions system. As Chair of the Petitions Committee, I feel that I must raise the fact that action had been promised in the King’s Speech on two public petitions that gained huge support across the House, but that action was very much missing. The first, which asked for pet theft to be made a specific offence, has widespread support in the House but huge support among the public, many of whom see pets as very much a member of the family. Given that we are a nation of animal lovers, I know a Bill on the subject would also have huge support in the House, and I think it a crying shame that it was missing from the King’s Speech.
The other petition concerns the banning of conversion therapy. It is a horrible thing and I think the word “therapy” is very misleading. The petition has cross-party support and has received a huge amount of support from members of the public when there have been e-petitions on the subject. I ask the Government to think again about finding time to legislate for changes that have cross-party support and, more importantly, huge public support.
There was nothing in the King’s Speech about housing and housing shortages. I have been meeting housing advisers in my own constituency, and I know, for instance, that housing allowance continuing not to rise with costs has caused an enormous increase in the already rising number of cases of homelessness. This used not to be a problem in my part of Lancashire, but we are seeing a vast number of families being made homeless by section 21 no fault evictions and rents rising at a record rate. The only thing I can see coming from this Government on housing is allowing landlords to do a net zero U-turn to keep energy-efficient homes there for tenants, but all the while we have seen a 50% rise in the cost to local authorities of addressing things such as homelessness.
On transport, Network North is all promises, but we have already been promised an awful lot in the north and it has failed to be delivered. Is this going to be yet another broken promise after so many broken transport promises? We know that 85% of the announcements so far have been reannouncements.
What about rural bus services? My constituents in villages such as Forton, Scorton and Winmarleigh desperately need access to public transport, but they remain cut off. There was nothing in the King’s Speech about active travel, walking or cycling. As someone who is incredibly concerned about air quality in the village of Galgate and on the one-way system in Lancaster city centre, I know that we need to encourage active travel but in a way that is safe for public health as well. I had the pleasure of visiting, with the Canal & River Trust, a stretch of the Lancaster canal that is desperately in need of renovation, and the Government’s cuts to the trust will have a hugely detrimental impact not only in my constituency but across our canal network.
When one in seven people in England are awaiting NHS treatment and childcare is unaffordable, it seems to me that Government are going about things a bit back to front with their announcements on work and pensions. They are doing nothing to tackle the root causes of people being out of work. It is clear that the country needs change, but it is not being offered change by this tired and out-of-ideas Government. Only a Labour Government will bring about the change that my constituents in Lancaster and Fleetwood need.
I represent two universities, and I recently conducted a survey among students about the cost of living crisis. Students are acutely affected by the cost of living crisis, and they are often unable to work the hours they need to work to meet the shortfalls in their rent. I would like to see something from the Government to address the student cost of living crisis. Also, my rural constituents struggle to access reliable and fast broadband, but there was nothing in the King’s Speech to address their needs.
An issue that is very close to my heart is redress for those who have been victims of sodium valproate, which harmed countless numbers of children who are now grown-up adults with huge needs and disabilities. The women affected were lied to by medical professionals. They continued with their pregnancies while being prescribed drugs that harmed their unborn babies. It is important that we give redress to the victims of a scandal that has spanned decades and generations. Sodium valproate continues to be prescribed today, and for some women it will be the only medication that will control their epilepsy, but where it is not, we must go further and faster to ensure that they can transition to other medication that does not have a harmful effect on their unborn child. I urge those on the Treasury Bench to hear my calls as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for valproate and other anti-epileptic drugs in pregnancy, and to ensure that redress is given to the families who need it.
It is imperative that we secure high, sustained economic growth right across the UK. Some welcome policies are already being implemented and there are some good initiatives in the King’s Speech, although we face enormous challenges. The focus of my comments will be on coastal communities and on East Anglia.
I suggest that to deliver enduring economic growth, we need to address six issues. First, there is the cost of living crisis. Covid has a long and vicious tail, the cost of living crisis is still very much with us and this winter is likely to be very tough for many people. The household support grant has been successful and must continue, and other measures such as an increase in the local housing allowance must be given full consideration. Welfare reform must provide a clear and supported pathway for those who are some distance from the workplace.
Secondly, we must build more houses, particularly for social rent. The vehicles of delivery are primarily the housing associations, many of which are currently facing significant challenges, and Homes England. The recent announcement of funding to redevelop the former Sanyo site in Lowestoft is particularly welcome.
Thirdly, in coastal Britain, in places such as Lowestoft, there are exciting new jobs emerging in the renewables sector. Last week’s announcement of funding for local skills improvement plans, including for Norfolk and Suffolk, was welcome, but we need to ensure that trainers and colleges such as East Coast College in Lowestoft receive realistic revenue funding settlements. Progress has been made in recent years, but further education still receives a raw deal.
Fourthly, investment in infrastructure right across the UK is vital—in Lowestoft, construction of the Gull Wing bridge is well advanced—and there now needs to be an emphasis on improving regional connectivity, whether road, rail or the digital highway. Around the UK, to encourage investment and to protect homes, coastal communities must be made secure from the more prevalent extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing. With an eye to the opportunities arising from offshore energy and sustainable fishing, there must be fiscal incentives to encourage investment in port infrastructure.
Fifthly, net zero must be seen as an opportunity to revitalise coastal communities all around the UK. I can understand, and I support, the rationale for the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, but it must be part of a long-term strategy up to 2050 and beyond, to maximise private sector investment. Energy policy must be set in a 30-year, not a five-year, framework.
Sixthly and finally, we need to revitalise our towns, which for centuries have been hubs of economic activity all around the UK. Town deals, of which Lowestoft is a recipient, are welcome, as is the recently announced long-term plan for towns, but those initiatives can provide financial support for only a limited number of centres, and we need to put in place a growth framework for all towns that promotes their revitalisation and ensures they remain honeypots for setting up SMEs. That framework could include making it easier to set up banking hubs—at present, there is a very high bar to setting them up—and continuing the reform of business rates. We made a start in the Non-Domestic Rating Act 2023, which received Royal Assent last month, but it was only a timid move towards getting the business rates multiplier back down to between 30p and 35p in the pound. That is needed to ensure that businesses can plan with some certainty, rather than having to wait each year for the cliff edge of whether the Chancellor will extend business rates relief.
We should also consider the zero-rating of VAT for redevelopment in and around our town centres. Town centres across the UK have an awful lot of heritage that, properly realised and embraced, could help to promote them and get them back to being magnets and catalysts for economic growth.
It is a pleasure to follow the balanced and thoughtful speech by Peter Aldous. Securing high, sustained economic growth in every part of the country is an ambition we should all have in this House. The challenge lies in how we go about achieving that ambition.
The Government’s plan just is not working. At the start of the year, the Prime Minister and Chancellor promised to get the economy growing; instead growth is flatlining, as the shadow Chancellor mentioned. The Bank of England has downgraded its economic forecasts and the International Monetary Fund forecasts that the UK will have the lowest growth in the G7 next year.
Labour does have a plan: one that will grow the economy and get Britain building again. We need faster approval of critical infrastructure, we need investment in the industries of the future, we need to get more people owning their own homes and we must raise living standards. In my constituency, we have oven-ready schemes that would help achieve our ambition—schemes would unlock the delivery of more than 3,000 homes, enable the development of world-class health and care research facilities, and create thousands of jobs and opportunities across growth sectors. The Government are aware of those schemes, and should and could have supported Manchester and Trafford to deliver them.
The two town centres in my constituency, Wythenshawe and Sale, submitted bids to the last round of the levelling-up fund. In Wythenshawe town centre, Manchester City Council has invested £20 million in plans to provide a once-in-a-generation programme of regeneration, including more than 1,600 new homes—it should not be this difficult. Those homes will breathe new life, jobs and vital economic activity into the town centre.
In Sale town centre, in addition to the successful regeneration of Stanley Square by Altered/Space, Trafford Council has bought and is demolishing Sale magistrates court in order to build dozens of new and affordable homes on the site. It has regeneration plans for other locations in the town centre, including the leisure facilities and the public realm. However, both bids to the levelling-up fund—for Wythenshawe and for Sale—were rejected by the Government.
We have an approved masterplan for Wythenshawe Hospital in my constituency, which will see the transformation of the increasingly out-of-date hospital campus into a state-of-the-art health village, with affordable housing for nurses and an aparthotel. It will also create world-class research facilities in the health and care sector, a sustainable campus that delivers a commitment to be net zero by 2038, and other complementary uses, such as hotels, conferencing, training and retail. All of that will be done while delivering inclusive growth, which will derives maximum benefit through local job creation and employment and training opportunities, ensuring that it is local people who see the benefit, in addition to those in the region.
The delivery model proposed for the development of Wythenshawe Hospital is a financially driven, phased construction approach, using blended funding. That funding solution could leverage the many commercial, health and social-related investment opportunities afforded by the site’s prime location, while supporting the requirement of reduced levels of NHS capital. However, to realise this opportunity, Government and Treasury support is needed to unlock a technical solution to the current NHS capital regime. It is now more than 18 months since the approval of the masterplan and we have seen zero progress from this Government on a workable solution, although I am grateful to Lord Markham for engaging with me and with Homes England on this issue. This is not getting Britain building; it is blocking Britain building and flatlining our economic growth.
My area also has the Airport City masterplan. Manchester airport in my constituency is the largest UK airport outside London, and it provides international and domestic passenger and freight connectivity for the whole of northern Britain. I welcome the Government’s pledge in the King’s Speech to begin to look at consumer protection and the consumer experience in our airlines industry. The current transformation plan at my local airport will support 50 million passengers by 2030. There is still much to do; surface transport, the fabric of the estate and active travel all need to be addressed. The plan is set to deliver up to 5 million square feet and 16,000 jobs, with companies such as The Hut Group, Amazon and DHL already working on site.
Wythenshawe and Sale East has a plan to get Britain building and to grow our economy. We have a world-class airport, an Airport City enterprise zone, the Wythenshawe Hospital masterplan and plans for the development of Wythenshawe and Sale town centres. This is the Prime Minister’s first King’s Speech, yet he has nothing to say on housing and it includes more division and more of the same. What is needed to deliver the economic growth our country needs is change. Change is the question at the next election and the answer is Labour. A Labour Government will offer a decade of national renewal and replace the 13 years of national decline that we have had.
I welcome the emphasis in the King’s Speech on improving the life chances of young people through the provision of academic and technical education, which is key to securing high and sustained economic growth in every part of the country, including beautiful Hastings and Rye.
Ensuring that young people have the knowledge and skills to succeed is especially important in Hastings and Rye—a coastal community that, like many others, is struggling with higher levels of educational and vocational deprivation, resulting in a local workforce whose skills do not adequately meet the local need, especially in our wonderful engineering and manufacturing businesses, such as Focus SB, Technoturn, General Dynamics, Marshall-Tufflex and Torr Scientific, to name but a few.
Academic education is not the only path for our young people and it is right to have equal focus and funding for technical and vocational skills. Skills are key to economic growth. They are a form of currency in the working world. In today’s ever-changing job market, employers are often more interested in hiring employees with a specific skillset rather than those who simply have a university degree. Therefore, the focus on apprenticeships is fantastic, but in coastal communities such as Hastings, these must centre on young people and SMEs.
We have an increasing number of NEETs—those not in education, employment or training. According to the Youth Futures Foundation, if we match the lowest NEET rate in the OECD, which is in the Netherlands, we could see a £69 billion boost in GDP. A focus on revenue funding for youth services, rather than on capital funding, is needed so that organisations, such as Xtrax and the Y Centre in my constituency, can do their thing.
Coastal communities have huge potential to become a resource—a coastal powerhouse—to the UK, rather than a problem to solve. It is fantastic that Hastings received £24 million in the town deal. Hastings and Rother both have levelling-up partnerships, and Hastings will receive an additional £20 million over the next 10 years, but our coastal communities also need a policy focus to unleash their potential and become a valuable powerhouse for the UK.
Our coastline and coastal communities should be at the forefront of nature-based solutions to climate change and renewable energy industries, including offshore wind developments, green hydrogen production and wave and tidal-stream energy. The Government should be ramping up investment in those areas, leveraging in private investment and boosting coastal communities.
Skills must evolve with the needs of the modern labour market and specific action is needed to generate new skills, to encourage more diversity of employment and to meet the needs of local employment opportunities. We have in Hastings and Rye, besides wonderful career opportunities in tourism and hospitality, an incredible engineering and manufacturing sector that wants to grow but that needs a skilled workforce. Through the towns fund, East Sussex Coast College has developed an important regional-scale project at its Ore campus that will improve skills provision in the new green and low-carbon technologies.
As regards recent announcements about education, the new advanced British standard will take the best of A-levels and T-levels and replace them, bringing together the technical and academic routes into a single qualification, which will widen the breadth of British school education. The proposed qualification will require a sea change in education thinking and will rely on the Treasury funding a new qualification for thousands of young people. The standard’s success will rely on Ministers encouraging the delivery of technical subjects at pre-16 levels, and the Government have cited the education models of many European countries as proof that we need the standard. However, a key feature of those countries’ models is technical education from the ages of 13 or 14, which has become a rarity in the UK.
That is why I am an advocate of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust’s university technical college sleeves. A decision by Ministers on the proposal for UTC sleeves within existing secondary schools is anticipated soon. Baker Dearing is aware of a significant number of large, highly regarded multi-academy trusts that wish to introduce the UTC sleeve model into at least one of their secondary schools, because they can see the benefit of that approach in improving student engagement, attendance and outcomes among certain pupil cohorts, and have witnessed the increasing interest in high-quality apprenticeships for leavers aged 18. All of that will contribute to economic growth.
Affordable housing is also key to economic growth for many reasons, not least that children and young people can access education and employment opportunities only if they have safe and secure homes.
Finally, improving transport connections and roads, and providing faster rail and bus services, is essential for Hastings and Rye and East Sussex as a whole to encourage and facilitate economic growth. Poor transport connectivity continues to blight Hastings and Rye, and it would help if Transport for the South East were made a statutory body.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on His Majesty’s first King’s Speech.
The news last week that the UK economy flatlined in the third quarter of this year was hardly a shock. It is the result of 13 years of Conservative choices that have delivered low growth, skyrocketing mortgages, soaring prices, crumbling public services and house building at its lowest rate since the second world war. Every family and business in Britain has paid the price of the Conservatives’ failed energy policy, leaving Britain the worst hit country in western Europe.
Listening to the King’s Speech last week, I was disappointed by the absence of a serious agenda on planning, infrastructure and growth, with no housing targets or planning reform, weakened proposals for leasehold and renters’ reform, and the binning of the Government’s manifesto promise to deliver 300,000 homes a year.
Meanwhile, my constituents are left spending nearly two fifths of their income on rent, even before tax; living in housing that is cold, damp, mouldy and expensive to heat; and with a Tory mortgage penalty that is estimated to take £2,600 out of the pockets of families in Birmingham, Edgbaston this year. To his credit, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities admitted that the UK’s housing system is broken, but it is hard to see what this King’s Speech does to change that.
That brings me to my first point about the length of time it takes for anything to get built under this Government. HS2 is a great example. The previous Labour Government completed HS1 on time and under budget. This Government had 13 years and they failed, which meant that the biggest infrastructure project in Europe was cancelled. My constituents understand that modern public transport is not just about journey times to London, but about freeing up capacity and connectivity to all the other major cities and towns, so that people can travel for work, leisure, education and training. It can widen the horizon of their ambitions and bring the whole of the region closer together. What are they left with now? They are left with a gaping great building site in the centre of Birmingham for years to come; all the disruption and delay of the works at Curzon Street for a high-speed rail to nowhere; more delays to the east Birmingham metro, which, under Mayor Andy Street, will cost taxpayers £150,000 per metre of track; and, to top it all, no alternative to Avanti on the west coast main line. Having achieved the dubious distinction of having the most complaints of any operator, and consistently ranking as one of the worst performing on the entire rail network, this Government decided to hand Avanti a lucrative new contract. What did Avanti do? It announced swathes of cuts to services on the west coast main line before the ink had dried.
At the root of so many of the problems besetting British infrastructure and our housing crisis is the planning system. Surely no one in the House would agree that the current regime is fit for purpose. When we have millions locked out of the dream of home ownership, bills soaring and huge national infrastructure challenges such as the race for net zero, we cannot go on like this.
There are currently £200 billion of clean energy projects stuck in the queue for connections to the national grid. This country once built the national grid in less time than it now takes to get a connection to it. Labour has set out a plan for Great British Energy, which will procure the grid supply chain that Britain needs and bring down bills. The Government’s flagship King’s Speech energy policy will not take a single penny off energy bills, and even the Energy Secretary has admitted that.
The UK has some of the least energy-efficient homes in Europe, and Birmingham has some of the worst rates of mould and damp in the country. As we face another cold winter, with energy bills as high as they have been in living memory, my constituents are seriously worried about the toll on their finances and their health. What was in the King’s Speech for them? A primary school teacher contacted me about a pupil in year 3, just seven years old, who told her that she could not sleep at night because the mould exacerbated her asthma and she could barely breathe. My constituent Agnes, a junior doctor living in privately rented accommodation riddled with mould and damp, told me she felt helpless, as she could not end her contract and her landlord would not help. Birmingham has nearly 22,000 rental homes with category 1 hazards such as excessive cold, mould and damp.
The council is now getting on with taking rogue landlords to task and has launched the 3 Cities Retrofit scheme with Coventry and Wolverhampton, to help to shape the local retrofit market using their combined 116,000 social homes—but where are the Government supporting them? Where is the Government’s version of Labour’s warm home plan to upgrade 19 million homes, cut energy bills and create thousands of good jobs for electricians, engineers and construction workers across our country?
My constituents cannot afford a Government that will not grasp the difficult issues or take the long-term decisions the country needs. Whether on house building, national infrastructure or the cost of living, this King’s Speech does nothing to measure up to the scale of the challenges that the economy or my constituents face. Labour, meanwhile, will build 1.5 million homes over five years, with a planning reform blitz, planning passports for urban brownfield development and a devolution package to spread power out of Westminster and into communities on housing, transport, energy and more.
That is the ambition we need—a national mission to get Britain building again and grow our country from the grassroots, a plan to expand the country’s productive capabilities and at the same time to change who benefits. Does it not say it all that after 13 years of the last Labour Government, disposable income had risen by more than 40%—that is £11,000 per person back in people’s pockets—yet disposable incomes are now forecast to grow by just £42 between 2010 and 2025? Last week we should have had a King’s Speech that put working people first and a plan to get Britain building again, securing high, sustained economic growth in every part of the country. Only Labour will get Britain’s future back.
It is a pleasure to speak in the first King’s Speech debate in nearly 70 years. I looked back at my comments during the last Humble Address debate, where the Government promised to make hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of upgrades to my local hospital and construct a new specialist emergency care hospital. I am grateful that the first set of funds has now been released for that.
The King’s Speech contains a lot to be welcomed, including the Media Bill, the draft rail reform Bill, the Renters (Reform) Bill, the Sentencing Bill and the Victims and Prisoners Bill. Turning however to the theme of today’s debate, securing high, sustained economic growth in every part of the country, I commend the Government for focusing on economic growth. Only with economic growth can we pay for those public services that our constituents rely on, and I want to touch on a few of those today.
I will start with rail. Although Carshalton and Wallington is in a London borough, it is one of the worst-connected parts of Greater London and would hugely benefit from a more efficient rail network to enable people to travel not just in and out of central London, but across London as well—a fact consistently lost on the Mayor of London, as we consistently come last out of all 32 London boroughs for investment from this Mayor. I invite the Government to look again at the redistribution of funding from HS2, to see whether any of that funding can be allocated to the Croydon area remodelling scheme to unlock the Brighton mainline and deliver improvements on that important link.
Moving on, I want to talk about being safe online. Many of my constituents raise with me issues including scams on social media platforms such as Meta. I look forward to seeing how the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will be able to bring back consumer confidence online and provide a robust legal framework so that people can trust the services provided to them.
I want to touch on other elements of the King’s Speech. I welcome the Government’s ambition to make people’s safety and security paramount for the next parliamentary Session. That is particularly salient in Carshalton and Wallington, where the Mayor of London continues to fail to grasp the problem of violent crime in the capital. He promised a violence reduction unit, but we are yet to see any details of that unit’s operations or what effect it has had. We have recently seen a number of attacks locally, including an horrendous knife attack on the Roundshaw estate.
Many of my constituents are waiting with bated breath to see how the Criminal Justice Bill will tackle the scourge that is knife crime and violent crime. Tougher sentencing is an important step forward, but I remind those on the Treasury Front Bench of my interest in restorative justice and the part that that could play in breaking the cycle of reoffending. I look forward to the conclusion of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and I hope that a right to access restorative justice services will be included in it so that we can help people to break the cycle of reoffending. Of course, punishment must be part of that as well, and creating a criminal offence for the possession of a bladed article with intent to cause harm will help to take more knives off our streets and stop the next generation taking up knives in the first place.
Lastly, let me touch briefly on the Renters (Reform) Bill, which will affect many of my constituents and many Londoners. I hear from many renters that there is no way of holding their landlords to account and that housing quality is not kept up to standard. The privately rented property portal will, I hope, be able to provide some security for tenants. Landlords will also benefit from the Bill, as they will be able to evict antisocial tenants more easily and disputes will be quicker and easier to resolve. I hope that, as the Bill makes progress through the House, we bring more harmony between landlords and tenants, and make the UK a much safer place in which to live and rent, cracking down on wrongdoers while supporting innovators.
Overall, I very much welcome the measures in the King’s Speech. I absolutely welcome the Government’s focus on and commitment to economic growth because—to repeat what I said at the beginning of my remarks—without economic growth, through backing wealth creators and entrepreneurs, we will not see the improvement in public services that we desperately want.
I will address the crisis in the middle east and the Government’s failure to back the growing calls for a ceasefire from the UN Secretary-General and beyond, and I will speak to amendment (b), tabled by my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana, of which I am a sponsor.
Already, after just five weeks, more than 11,000 people in Gaza and more than 1,200 Israelis have been killed. It is the duty of everyone in this House to help save life—both Palestinian and Israeli—to help stop the bombing, to help end the suffering, to help free the hostages, to stop the war crimes, and to get the aid that is so desperately needed into Gaza. That means that we have to work for a ceasefire, and that work needs to happen now—there is not a second to waste.
The UN Secretary-General says that the way forward is a ceasefire, and so does the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In fact, the heads of all major UN agencies are calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, so why do our Government think that they know better than the world’s leading humanitarian agencies? President Macron has now called for a ceasefire, so France joins other European nations such as Spain, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland and Ireland, as well as the UN Secretary-General, in that call. Other major nations, such as Brazil, and middle eastern nations including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, are all calling for a ceasefire.
Securing a negotiated ceasefire—one binding on all sides—is achievable but it requires a huge diplomatic effort. It is time for our Government to add their weight to the push for a ceasefire rather than dismissing out of hand a proposal that has growing international support—especially when polls show that two thirds of the British public want a ceasefire. I am afraid that the Government have instead sought to distort what is being demanded, so let us be totally clear: a ceasefire means that all sides stop firing. That requires negotiation, so our Government should be straining every sinew, using every possible diplomatic avenue, and talking to Governments of all persuasions—those with sway in Israel, and those with channels to Hamas, such as Qatar—to secure a negotiated ceasefire that is binding on all parties, and bring an end to this crisis.
Of course, securing a ceasefire will not be easy, but it will not happen if Governments do not even bother to try. Once we secure that ceasefire, instead of more bloodshed, more suffering and occupation, let us turn this moment—as difficult as it now seems—into the moment when we secure, alongside Israel, the viable Palestinian state that is so needed for the cause of justice.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is an honour to speak in the first King’s Speech debate in over 70 years, and I pay tribute to His Majesty the King for the grace and dignity with which he has taken up his duties and delivered his first Gracious Speech. There is much to welcome in this Gracious Speech, which sets out long-term measures to safeguard our country’s future, whether it is keeping communities safe through tougher sentencing of prisoners, securing our energy security while maintaining our net zero commitments or securing economic growth across every part of our country.
I know that my constituents in Burton and Uttoxeter are really feeling the effects of recent high inflation and the impact it has had on household finances. Earlier this year, the Office for Budget Responsibility reported that the economic and fiscal outlook had “brightened somewhat”, but there are still challenges. We must encourage productivity, growth and business investment, but we need the infrastructure in place to support that growth.
I am very proud to be the project champion for the A50/A500 corridor, which runs through my constituency and is a key strategic link for many international businesses, including JCB, Toyota, Rolls-Royce, Nestlé and many more. Unfortunately, this key piece of our nation’s manufacturing infrastructure is currently costing our economy £8 million each year due to delays impacting residents, commuters and businesses. At several pinch points, the corridor is slow and unreliable, with average rush hour speeds of 20 mph.
Vital improvements need to be made to unlock the potential of this corridor, and the proposals put together by Midlands Connect offer a long-term programme of interventions to improve reliability and shorten journey times. This is about not only improving connectivity for residents and businesses but creating jobs, driving innovation and reducing emissions through alternative fuels and electric vehicle infrastructure. These improvements would support 30,000 new homes and 17,000 new jobs by 2030, as well as improving air quality made worse by chronic congestion. I was delighted when the Prime Minister announced that as part of Network North, this vital corridor will finally see the investment it needs, which will mean a 30% improvement in journey times and, as Midlands Connect found in its recent report, the potential to generate £12 billion for the economy.
Further investment in our region will allow the world-class businesses based here to expand, develop and unleash the potential of new green technologies. New hydrogen engines are being developed, which will be used in passenger transport and heavy plant machinery of the future. I pay tribute to the work being undertaken by Staffordshire County Council to promote the region as the UK’s hydrogen valley, and I look forward to working with Ministers through this Parliament to deliver these improvements at pace and realise the benefits of economic growth for my constituents and those who live and work in the area.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. “Thin”, “empty”, “just depressing”,
“lost the will to lead” and
“nothing in this for the public”.
Those are the reported words of Tory MPs describing the measures or lack of measures in the King’s Speech. Others were pleased, as the thin legislative programme gave the optimists more time to campaign in their constituencies ahead of a general election and the realists more time to look for a new job.
The PM claims he is taking difficult decisions, but it is the people in this country who are making the difficult decisions every single day, as they make sacrifices and grapple with a cost of living crisis made in Downing Street. Figures released yesterday show that not only has poverty risen in the UK but that in 2022, nearly 4 million people experienced destitution, and thousands of babies and toddlers are being admitted to hospital with lung conditions believed to be from living in damp and mouldy homes. Despite this, there was absolutely nothing in the King’s Speech to help those families. Not that long ago, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited the UK and found that Conservative Governments had inflicted “great misery” through
“punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake “social re-engineering”, rather than by economic necessity. This month, his successor reiterated those concerns, stating that UK policies continue to inflict misery.
Even in a pandemic, the Government could not prioritise children. First, we had the chaotic voucher scheme. Then Tory MPs voted to withdraw support for free school meals. The holiday activities and food programme was hard fought for from 2017 onwards, but it was not until 2021 that the Government decided to roll it out. My fully costed School Breakfast Bill would have seen nearly 2 million children start the day with full stomachs; instead, the Government introduced a scheme that provides support to only 2,500 out of the 8,700 schools they identified as eligible. My cost-neutral Healthy Start Scheme (Take-Up) (No. 2) Bill would ensure that eligible families automatically receive free fruit, vegetables and milk; instead, the Government claim that financial regulations are preventing auto-enrolment, despite the payment and card operators saying that it would be entirely possible if only the Government would co-operate.
Evidence given to the child of the north all-party parliamentary group shows that children in the north are more likely to live in poverty. We heard testimony from expectant mothers who have been forced to have abortions because they cannot afford another mouth to feed and clothe. It is estimated that 4 million children now live in poverty. In my part of the world, the north-east, we have the highest rate of child poverty in the United Kingdom, at 38%, and in South Shields that figure rises to over 42%. It is clear that levelling up, just like the northern powerhouse before it, is a vacuous, empty phrase that was never intended to, and never will, do anything to improve the life chances of the children in my area.
If the economy does not work for everyone and consigns millions of children to poverty, the Government have failed. It is time for a general election, so that my party can do as we did last time and ensure that every single child has the very best start in life.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the first King’s Speech for more than 70 years, particularly today on the occasion of His Majesty’s 75th birthday, and particularly when the topic is economic growth, which goes to the heart of everything we are here to do in this place. Economic growth is not about statistics, percentages, and headlines in the Financial Times: it is about the real impact on households, residents and businesses across our constituencies and the whole country.
I would say this, but in my constituency of Burnley and Padiham, we probably have the best set of local businesses anywhere in the country. They do not just stand ready to help us with our future economic growth; they are doing it already. I am thinking of brilliant businesses in Burnley, including multinationals like VEKA and Safran Nacelles and big bakeries like Warburtons and Cherrytree. In Padiham, we have businesses like LP Technology, which is expanding at a rapid pace, and so many more. That is what we do in Burnley and Padiham: we make things and we export them.
That is the first thing about the King’s Speech that I want to touch on. Since the 2019 general election, we have passed some exciting legislation and signed some exciting trade deals with countries including Australia and New Zealand. I was privileged to sit on the Bill Committee during the passage of the Trade Act 2021, in which we rolled over a whole swathe of trade deals from our membership of the EU. It is very exciting that we are now looking at those same trade deals and seeing where we can go further, strengthening our relationships with fast-growing countries. That is exactly what the new legislation for CPTPP will do. Growth in countries like Vietnam and Canada is faster than almost anywhere else in the world; those are the countries where our businesses can seize opportunities. LP Technology—one of the businesses in Padiham that I just mentioned—is going to countries like Australia and signing massive business deals. That is only possible because of the amazing work of our trade negotiators and the team in the Department for Business and Trade. The more of that we can do, the better.
Economic growth is centred in our communities, and that is why I was delighted to see the long-term plan for towns mentioned in the King’s Speech. Since 2019, we have done an incredible job in Burnley and Padiham of working with Government to secure levelling-up funding. We secured £20 million from levelling-up fund 1 and £12 million from levelling-up fund 2, and the Prime Minister came to Burnley personally to announce that we were one of the towns to get a further £20 million as part of the long-term plan. We are going to use that to work with communities to find the things we need to do to secure extra economic growth. In the second town in my constituency, Padiham, we have a flood defence scheme worth almost £18 million that is securing the future of the town, the local economy and the residents who live there.
None of that would be possible without employment, and I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Chancellor speak at the opening of this debate about his plan in the autumn statement next week to make progress on helping people get into work. Unfortunately, in Burnley we continue to have an unemployment rate that is higher than the national average, and that applies to both adults and young people. We are making massive progress in tackling that issue, and it is important we tackle it because of the real impact it has on people and families. The best thing we can do to help families in Burnley is to help them get into work, and that is particularly true of households that have been out of work for some time. I hope that in the autumn statement next week we hear more from the Chancellor on the work he has been doing with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on tackling long-term out-of-work households.
I will end by talking about the final thing that I think makes a massive difference to economic growth, even if it is a politician’s hobby horse, and that is potholes. Our roads in Burnley and indeed across Lancashire need upgrading. We have brilliant logistics businesses in Burnley that take the products I have mentioned and send them around the world, but we can only do that with roads and infrastructure that are fit for the 21st century. My final ask of those on the Treasury Bench is that, as we look to the autumn statement and the Budget, we continue the focus on potholes and on the infrastructure that makes our country work.
It is a pleasure to follow Antony Higginbotham.
Even by the standards of this shambolic Government, this King’s Speech is a wafer-thin effort. That might be forgivable if we were living in a country where public services were in good shape and the economy was going gangbusters, but we are not. The reality is that, after 13 years of Tory neglect, Britain is breaking and nothing works any more. There is an NHS waiting list of 7 million, schools are literally crumbling and trains are unreliable, extortionately expensive and packed to the rafters. Some 90% of crime is going unsolved, with dreadful conviction rates and victims facing three-year court delays, while raw sewage is being pumped into our rivers and child poverty has tripled since 2017.
This is an utterly shameful record, but it is not only our public services that the Conservatives have broken. They have also taken a wrecking ball to our economy, with a kamikaze Budget that cost £30 billion, and it is working people who are paying the price, with mortgages up almost £3,000, rents up 40% and the weekly food shop up 11% on last year. Their approach to the economy is plain to see. Low public investment has led to the UK having the lowest private investment in the developed world. A sclerotic planning system and rampant nimbyism have hindered house building and stymied our wind farm development, and the abandonment of our manufacturing sector has led to the UK being the most regionally imbalanced economy in the developed world.
If we are to clear up this Conservative mess, we are going to need a decade of national renewal delivered by a mission-driven Labour Government. So Labour’s first two missions are to deliver the highest sustained growth in the G7 and to make Britain a clean energy superpower. The crucial point here is that these two missions go hand in hand. They will be the mutually reinforcing drivers of the green jobs revolution that Labour will deliver.
Just look at the opportunities in floating offshore wind in my Aberavon constituency. FLOW is a prime example of where Wales’s geography offers huge competitive advantage, with the potential to create 16,000 jobs, deliver energy security and lower household bills. But we need central Government to match these ambitions, delivering on the full potential of 20 GW of clean energy by offering a fair strike price for developers in return for ensuring that the manufacturing supply chain jobs are kept here in the UK. If we get this right, Port Talbot could become a green energy and manufacturing hub, with our steelworks making the steel for the floating turbine substructures in a new plate mill, and those very turbines then providing the energy to run the Port Talbot steelworks as well as powering tens of millions of homes across the UK. This bold, ambitious, pioneering plan can become a model for a new economy. South Wales was the cradle of the first industrial revolution, and a Labour Government in Westminster, working in close partnership with the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay, will put our proud country at the heart of the green industrial revolution.
Whichever way we look at it, we need to make, buy and sell more in Britain. Labour knows that this begins with the steel industry, with our £3 billion clean steel renewal commitment dwarfing the Government’s dangerously unambitious and short-sighted approach. The Conservatives are failing to understand the growing commercial opportunities that a strong British steel industry would be well positioned to seize, and they are failing to recognise the risks of over-reliance on other countries. Decarbonisation is, of course, important, not least because consumers are increasingly demanding greener products, but decarbonisation must not become a byword for deindustrialisation. It would be utterly unforgiveable if the deal that the Government have done with Tata Steel leads to the offshoring of production, good jobs and carbon emissions to other countries that use dirtier steelmaking processes and that do not always have Britain’s best interests at heart.
This King’s Speech is noteworthy more for what it does not contain than for what it does. There is nothing on the cost of living crisis, nothing on the crisis in our public services, nothing to address our protracted productivity crisis, and nothing to tackle the epidemic of 6,000 business bankruptcies that we saw this summer. That is because this is a Government who have given up on governing. They just sit there desperately clinging on to power for power’s sake and arguing with one another.
The British people want a Government who see a problem as something to be solved, not something to be exploited. The choice is clear: five more years of the same Tory chaos or a Labour Government who will give Britain its future back.
Transport infrastructure and regional connectivity are key to increasing both regional and national economic growth—they are the key to truly levelling up. Yet, as was the case with actual measures to tackle the cost of living, neither the Chancellor nor, indeed, the shadow Chancellor said anything whatsoever about them in their speeches earlier today.
The Williams rail review was commissioned three Transport Secretaries ago, in 2018—although I did wonder yesterday if I might have to change that to four Transport Secretaries ago. It recommended the formation of Great British Railways, and ever since then Secretaries of State and Rail Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box and promised the legislation necessary to deliver GBR, which Grant Shapps promised would be a “rail revolution”. Well, it is a very sedately paced revolution. If George Washington and co had proceeded with their revolution at the same speed, there is a fair chance that they would still be using pounds, shillings and pence, and happily drinking tea in Boston harbour. It is ridiculously slow.
When I asked in June, the Government had already spent more than £64 million on the Great British Railways transition team. But what transition? If there is only the promise of a draft Bill in this Session, that kicks any action down the track until after polling day. We were told that GBR is vital to the future of the rail network. If it is so vital, we in this place should be debating and voting on it before polling day.
At least the Government managed to find room in their legislative timetable to deal with the menace of pedicabs in London—a topic on which I am sure Members outwith the M25 have been absolutely inundated with correspondence. The home counties and areas inside the M25 have, as ever, been doing well from UK Government spending. Stage 1 of East West Rail is projected to cost £1.3 billion, Crossrail £19 billion, Thameslink £7 billion and the remnants of HS2 nearly £50 billion. The Treasury’s own figures show that the east midlands sits at under a third of per capita transport spending compared with London, with the south-west at 35% and the north-east at 37%. That is not levelling up or securing high, sustained economic growth in every part of the country—it is leaving the regions of England with scraps from the table, while London gets gold-plated investment each and every time.
Meanwhile, Scotland has a Government who actually do things, such as rolling electrification, reopening lines, trialling peak fare abolition and the full public ownership of rail services under Scottish Government control. Clearly there is a lot more to do, but instead of pushing value for the taxpayer by gouging passengers and cutting spending, ScotRail and the Scottish Government are targeting gains in revenue by boosting usage, with the result that passenger numbers are up by 33% on last year across the network, the highest by a country mile of any UK rail operator. That shows what ambition can mean and can deliver. It is high time that the UK Government showed the same level of ambition, so that the rest of England is not left even further behind.
We have also seen the UK Government publish their minimum service level regulations. It is a disgrace that we have a Government who use Victorian milliners as the template for industrial relations in the 21st century, with lists of the rail services that workers will be compelled to operate under penalty of prosecution published on the website. It is surely no coincidence that European countries with progressive employment laws, where employees are treated with respect and are social partners, have some of the best-performing economies with the highest standards of living. There is simply no way to secure high sustained economic growth in every part of the country when Government policy is to treat skilled workers as chattels. To be absolutely clear, the Scottish Government will play no part in this forced labour scheme, and we will not co-operate with the UK Government on the implementation of this appalling measure in our transport network or in any other area of devolved policy.
People in Scotland have had no faith in the Conservative party to deliver a better economy for decades. Its last election win in our country was in 1955, and since the ’80s it has remained a rump in Scottish politics. It is the only main party not to have held office in Holyrood—a fact unlikely to change any time soon. Conservatives’ defence of the Union as an engine of economic development has been threadbare for years, but ever more so as the few remaining strands keeping the UK aloft are being picked apart by their own actions. Brexit and the cost of living crisis continue to wreak havoc on communities across Scotland and the rest of these isles. Jobs and industry are downscaling and closing all the time, with both main UK parties committed to the insular and dogmatic “Rule, Britannia” policies so beloved of the Daily Mail. There is an opportunity for Scotland to build a better future. It is time that both UK parties stop blocking that opportunity and respect the right of the Scottish people to grasp that future and choose independence.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this King’s Speech debate. After 13 years in power, five Prime Ministers, seven Chancellors, an economic crash and a Brexit without a plan, last week we were presented with a wafer-thin programme that honestly could be done by Christmas. Many of the Bills carried over are watered down and weakened versions of their original selves. One example is the Renters (Reform) Bill. We had to wait four years to debate the Bill. There were five months between First and Second Reading, yet the Bill goes nowhere near far enough to protect renters properly, particularly from no-fault evictions.
Court proceedings for no-fault evictions are at a seven-year high. My borough of Enfield has been hit particularly hard by this eviction crisis, having the highest number of section 21 evictions in the whole of London. It leads to a massive increase in homelessness, increased use of temporary accommodation such as hotels, a huge financial burden on local authorities as they try to grapple with the cost of that accommodation, and increased fear and anxiety for families across the country. I fear that the Government know all too well the impact that these evictions are having on people, but they either do not care or cannot stand up to their party.
Last week, we had the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, declaring war on the use of tents on the streets, disgracefully stating that homelessness is “a lifestyle choice”. According to the charity Crisis, the loss of private tenancy is the leading cause of homelessness. In Enfield, the risk of homelessness increased by 38% because of section 21 notices last year. This Government have chosen to delay banning section 21 evictions for four years. These are not lifestyle choices—they are hard evidence of Tory failure.
These evictions are not only deeply distressing to renters, causing grief and hardship, but costly to the public purse. In fact, Enfield Council faces spending an additional £20 million on temporary accommodation this year alone—that is £20 million that the local authority can no longer spend on public services, despite the dire need for investment and reform. That is funding it can no longer spend on housing or on stuff like social care—the list goes on. Rents in the UK were recently reported to be the highest on record. Far too few homes are being built, mortgage rates are spiralling out of control, and families in my constituency of Enfield North are paying an extra £350 on their mortgages every month, all thanks to 13 years of economic mismanagement and the Tory party’s mortgage bombshell.
Things like working hard, buying a home and raising a family are difficult enough as it is. People expect the Government to keep the economy stable so that their family’s future is secure, but meeting monthly payments is now forcing tough choices, from having to cut back on the weekly shop to abandoning family holidays. A food bank in my constituency recently told me that demand this year is out of control. All those problems demand the very best from the Government, but sadly they have no plan to fix them.
Our economy, like our country, is crying out for change. We need a Government who are on the side of working people and who have ambition, energy and ideas, but this is a tired Government who have lost their goal to govern. The Prime Minister and his Government have failed my constituents and the country. The only way to deliver the change he talks about and which the country needs is to call a general election.
The words in the title of the debate, “economic growth in every part of the country,” feel like some kind of cruel gaslighting given the dire economic conditions that too many of our constituents face. After 13 years of this Government, we have had devastating austerity, public services slashed, local government decimated, the growth of privatised monopolies and the creeping privatisation of everything from healthcare to our very own data. Given that track record, I do not think that anybody expects the shortest monarch’s speech since 2014 to contain the seeds of Britain’s salvation. It is increasingly clear that only a change of Government will achieve that goal. Therefore, in many ways, my contribution is not just for the current Government but for any Government who may come to power in the near future.
Genuine levelling up, which many of us in this place believe in, implies that everyone and everywhere that contributes to the UK’s prosperity should share in the bounty they help create. It is a simple principle. If we accept it, by that metric, former British Caribbean islands should be at the front of the queue when it comes to levelling up. This is known internationally as reparatory justice: namely, recognition of and compensation for transatlantic chattel slavery, which was the greatest atrocity in the history of humankind, without parallel in its brutality, in its 400-year length and in its profitability. At its 18th century height, slave plantations were making £4 billion to £5 billion a year in profit at 2010 prices, making Caribbean economies the single biggest source of imperial gain ever seen.
The recent Brattle report commissioned by the University of the West Indies estimated that the UK owes £18.8 trillion in compensation to Caribbean islands for the hundreds of years of exploitation. That is not just for chattel slavery but for the continued brutal and bloody exploitation that took place after emancipation. For that emancipation, the slave owners, not the slaves, were paid billions of pounds of compensation, and we as a country—everyone in the Chamber—only finished paying off the debt for that in 2015.
When recently I went back to the Caribbean, I had the chance to speak to everyone from Dickon Mitchell, the Prime Minister of Grenada, through to Avinash Persaud, a key economic adviser to Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados. I must admit that I was a bit of a stuck record. I asked why my constituents should be expected to pay reparations to the Caribbean when many of them will struggle to heat their home and feed themselves this winter. The answer was intriguing. I was told that they should not. Arley Gill, chair of the Grenada National Reparations Commission, was very clear. He told me that the families, corporations, banks and other institutions that have exploited the Caribbean for centuries and continue to do so are the same ones that hoard that wealth in the UK or the various British overseas territories for tax avoidance purposes.
Unless we in this country are prepared to tax wealth more, deal with the imperial legacy of Britain’s network of global tax havens and challenge corporate power, whose extractive and exploitive practices have now boomeranged back from empire to almost every aspect of our lives here in the UK, we will never be able to fix our broken economy. By boomeranging I mean housing, water, energy and transport being privatised, and health on its way. Nearly every aspect of our lives these past 50 years has become financialised, leaving millions of our constituents in poverty and debt. Thus, the structural adjustment of the Caribbean became austerity and privatisation for the UK.
If we in this place are to live up to our stated rhetoric of equality, fairness and justice, we need to understand that our responsibility stretches to all who have contributed to this country’s wealth, wherever they may be. As such, let us start that process with a simple statement of acknowledgment on this country’s prosperity: Britain did not develop the world; the world developed Britain.
I want to concentrate on the Northern Ireland economy, as this is primarily a debate on the economy. First, however, I want to touch upon the situation in the middle east, and in particular the need for a ceasefire. I utterly condemn the actions of Hamas as terrorism. However, we must recognise that Israel’s response has been disproportionate, represents collective punishment and sees ongoing breaches of international humanitarian law. We have all been deeply touched by the images we have seen on our televisions, and we know that there is a massive humanitarian crisis ongoing in Gaza.
Hopefully, we all recognise that there is no military solution to the situation. The only way forward lies in both Israel and Palestine having freedom and security, and the reaching of a political accommodation, notably with a two-state solution. Continued death and destruction achieves nothing—arguably, it makes the situation even harder, because it will only compound people’s sense of bitterness and feed extremism. It also risks wider regional escalation. A ceasefire, which must include the release of hostages and humanitarian access, requires a collective international effort, as does the renewed peace process that should follow any initial ceasefire. I hope I can speak with some degree of authority on peace processes, given my experience in Northern Ireland.
Moving on to the situation in Northern Ireland, our economy continues to function and businesses are continuing to invest, but our economy is being held back massively by the absence of a devolved Executive. We need an Executive for political stability and investment in skills, infrastructure and research and development. As a former Minister for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, I appreciate the importance of skills. Rather than further investment in those areas in Northern Ireland, we are seeing budget cuts. The impact on further and higher education is mirrored more widely in health, education and other public services.
I want to see a restored Executive working closely with the UK Government to address Northern Ireland’s current financial crisis through two key interventions. The first is the introduction of what is called a fiscal floor. Northern Ireland is structurally underfunded by around £400 million a year. A fiscal floor would need to be set at the correct level, taking into account policing and justice needs based on the most relevant period, 2010 to 2015, adjusted for inflation, as that was based on actual need as assessed by the Government at that particular point. We have the precedent of what happened in Wales, fed by the Holtham commission. That model could be replicated with adjustments for Northern Ireland relatively quickly.
We also need a transformation fund. We cannot fix public services in Northern Ireland from a burning platform of cuts and further cuts. We need an invest-to-save programme for both public services and our economy, as part of a renewed financial package. Of course, we have to learn lessons from previous financial packages in Northern Ireland. I say to the Government that I fully accept that there will be a need for a certain degree of conditionality around any intervention, but unless we have that financial package, we are never going to turn the situation around in Northern Ireland.
We have a very particular opportunity in Northern Ireland through the presence of the Windsor framework. I welcome the Government’s efforts to secure it earlier this year. I am disappointed that others are failing to see the importance of that breakthrough and to return to the Executive as a consequence. Without a functioning Executive and those key interventions in our economy, we will not be able to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by the framework, particularly in terms of dual market access.
Finally, I will touch briefly on climate change. It is by far the deepest, most far-reaching challenge facing the world, including us in the UK. While the Government’s targets may remain, there is a clear sense that the brakes are being slammed. It is a false narrative to pitch economic wellbeing against climate change. Through a green new deal, we can address not just economic change but social justice, alongside climate change. I strongly suggest that the narrative needs to change around a green new deal, both UK-wide and in Northern Ireland.
One of the greatest risks we face today as a country and as a global community is the climate and ecological emergency. It is also one of the greatest risks to economic growth. We need to align UK law with what science tells us is required for a liveable future by passing the cross-party backed climate and ecology Bill. That is why I tabled amendment (e), which would deliver a science-led, joined-up strategy to build a greener, fairer future for all and prioritise the protection of nature.
The housing sector is on track to use almost 50% of the Climate Change Committee’s recommended carbon budget. That trajectory is unsustainable if we are to uphold our commitments under the Paris agreement and play our part in limiting global warming to 1.5°. We need homes fit for the future. The Government have now prioritised stepping up the pace of retrofitting, driving progress towards decarbonisation while providing much-needed assistance to our constituents during the cost of living crisis.
On planning, we are told that England will soon have a new biodiversity net gain policy, which will mandate that any new development must leave biodiversity in a better state than before it was constructed. The Oxford Nature Positive Hub has exposed serious challenges that threaten the integrity of the policy’s outcomes, including the oversight, monitoring and enforcement of biodiversity improvements. Under the policy, developers have three ways to offset their biodiversity liability—the damage their project does to nature—but the process will be overseen by local planning departments, which are often lacking in capacity and expertise.
We must prioritise the protection of nature. The leaders’ pledge for nature was a welcome international commitment to not only halt nature loss by 2030, but set it firmly in reverse. That was also the ambition set at COP15 last December, which I attended, and which the Government signed up to. It is the apex nature target of the climate and ecology Bill that I am proud to draw attention to via amendment (e).
“He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig-tree”.
Rev. Matt Broughton of St Giles then gave the eulogy. He drew attention to the fact that the same land that is being fought over now was being fought over 3,000 years ago. Micah was under threat of attack and assault, but he could see the need for peace and a peaceful settlement, and the need to turn those swords into ploughshares. He also drew attention to the fact that the only settlement would be through negotiation, as we ourselves saw in Northern Ireland and as the Spanish saw in the Basque country.
Although, as Matt Broughton said, now is a time of uncertainty, disharmony and fear, we need to look to the future and think about how we can recreate two states for two peoples. It is incumbent on us, as the UK Parliament, and on the UK Government to join the international efforts that are being made. Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, has proposed that there should be a peace conference after the conclusion of the conflict. It is important that we create an intergenerational peace for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine. This is not a goal that should be seen as too lofty or too difficult. It is the only way in which we will move beyond the current conflict, and beyond the discussions we are having about the cessation of hostilities or a ceasefire. It is the only way in which we will bring peace to both peoples. Some say that there are not the partners for peace on both sides, but if we are to reach this goal, the international community must make it their top priority to find those individuals who exist in both Israel and Palestine, and promote and support them.
In this debate we are discussing economic growth, and it is fitting that my constituency is being represented, because it has consistently delivered some of the highest economic growth in the UK, largely through being the premier distribution and logistics hub for our country. However, even in North West Leicestershire I am seeing the prosperity for which we have worked so hard being undermined by an evident lack of leadership and accountability on the Government’s part. We need honest, immediate change. The Government’s responsibility is to protect and serve its citizens, not to pander to the World Economic Forum, the World Health Organisation or other supranational bodies.
We appear to be sliding towards Marxism and the disruption of our traditional norms and values—our history, our religion and our institutions. What we desperately need is leadership that champions truth, freedom and economic prosperity. We are grappling with skyrocketing inflation, especially in food prices, with a looming financial crisis, out-of-control monthly mortgage payments, and energy prices that will reach new highs this winter and increase fuel poverty across the country.
We ended up here because of fiscal profligacy with zero accountability, in addition to a decade of reckless money printing by the Bank of England. Let us look at a few of the most outrageous project losses that we have seen. HS2 has meant tens of billions lost, while useless personal protective equipment and track and trace have lost us £100 billion and £40 billion respectively. There is the financing of the war in Ukraine, which could have been brought to peace last March, while our own people struggle to make ends meet. There is the economic crash, and the stunting of economic growth because of HS2, with 22 miles of North West Leicestershire blighted for a decade. There is the decade of delay to the regeneration of Measham, my most deprived village. I am pleased that the Government have decided to reopen the Ivanhoe line between Burton-on-Trent and Leicester, but concurrent plans to terminate it at Coalville are insufficient. It needs to go all the way to Leicester so that it can benefit the South Derbyshire, North West Leicestershire and Bosworth constituencies.
Asylum seekers in hotels are costing us more than £10 million a day. I do not think it fair that, given that there are seven constituencies in Leicestershire, 51% of the asylum seekers have been located in hotels in North West Leicestershire.
Taxes are higher than they have been at any time in my life. Taxes are used to modify behaviour, which is why we penally tax tobacco and alcohol, but we are penally taxing work when we want economic growth. I believe the Chancellor said, “You cannot borrow your way to economic growth,” but I did that many times when I was in business; I borrowed money, invested it in the business, grew the business, and paid the money back. It would appear that the Chancellor thinks we can tax our way to prosperity, but I do not think we will be able to do that either.
We are spending £200 million on a covid inquiry that is not asking the right questions. We need an admission from the Government and the Opposition that the flawed pandemic response was the cause of many of the problems we are suffering from now.
At a time when our country is in crisis and families are struggling to make ends meet, why do this Government persist in pressing forward with their nonsensical net zero agenda? I appreciate that the Prime Minister has announced a delay—maybe some would argue that it is a retraction—for some of the targets, but it is not enough. He needs to go further. The fact is that the UK accounts for less than 1% of global emissions, and on that basis we are voluntarily rejecting entire industries while at the same time communist China is allowed to increase its emissions by more than our total emissions in every year of this decade. If we press on with net zero, it will cost £1 trillion or possibly £3 trillion—slamming money on to the national debt in a way that our heirs and successors will not thank us for.
The debt is now completely out of control, and the global economy is on a knife edge. Many are foreseeing a major crash or another run on the banks, and this could pave the way for programmable digital central bank currencies—I hope not; I will oppose that—and a social credit scoring system. Our national debt is now £2.9 trillion. Why would we trust the central bankers again when they have got us into trouble twice in two decades? We must immediately instate the effective fiscal process used in August 1914, whereby the financial collapse was checked by introducing a Treasury bond known as the Bradbury pound. This was accepted and it stabilised the markets at the time. It is not debt and it is not interest-bearing; it is Treasury money. We do not need to trust the central bankers; we need to use Treasury money to solve the crisis, exactly as we did in 1914.
I will speak to amendment (b), tabled in the name of my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana, to which I am a signatory. It is a great shame that the King’s Speech paid little heed to the immediate need for a ceasefire in Gaza. It is over a month since the dreadful attacks on Israeli civilians on
Hamas’s attack was contemptible and rightly condemned, but the evils committed on
Given the terrible suffering of the people of Gaza, most of the British public now support a ceasefire—a position that is not reflected by this Government. A ceasefire is crucial to stopping the violence and allowing vital humanitarian assistance to find its way into Gaza. It is also essential to restarting a peace process that would see a secure Israel coexisting with a legitimate Palestinian state. However, on this issue the international community and the UK in particular have failed. Illegal settlers supported by the Israeli Government have, for years, seized land and property from Palestinians in the west bank, undermining the territorial integrity and sovereignty of any potential Palestinian state. Israeli forces have continually attacked worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, Palestinian families and businesses have been forced out of East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza has continued unabated for many years. There are clearly elements within Israeli politics who have no wish or desire to see Palestinians co-exist alongside Israel, and who have used various means to prevent this from happening.
In this context, the much-needed leadership of countries such as ours in the peace process has been absent. There is still no indication of when the UK will formally recognise the state of Palestine, despite years of promises. Earlier today, we heard statements about a two-state solution. For a two-state solution there have to be two equal states, both of which have to be recognised. Of the 193 member countries of the United Nations, we are one of 55 that do not recognise Palestine. How can we talk about a two-state solution when we do not even recognise them as equals?
The Palestinian people have been abandoned, and now, in their time of greatest need, this Government cannot bring themselves to call for an immediate ceasefire. That is why, along with my colleagues in this House, I will continue to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. When half a million people taking to the streets to demand a ceasefire has been labelled by some Members as a “hate march,” we realise that humanity has failed.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate, particularly as this is my first King’s Speech since having the honour of being elected as a Member of Parliament by my constituents in Chester.
As grand as the occasion was, I am disappointed by the content of the King’s Speech. I have looked for what it will mean for my constituents, especially as so many continue to face the gruelling challenges of the cost of living crisis. Sadly, it offers them nothing. Proposing just 21 Bills, it is clear that the Government have simply run out of ideas. Six Bills have been carried over from the last Session, and any that were meant to address important reforms, such as the long-awaited leasehold reforms—an important issue to people across the country —appear to have been watered down from what was originally promised. We shall see.
Some promises have been completely omitted, including the shameful U-turn on banning conversion therapy. That move has abandoned LGBTQ+ people who face this abusive practice.
Change was a key theme in last week’s speech, and I agree that the country is crying out for change. However, that change cannot come about with the continuation of this Conservative Government—the same Government who crashed the economy just over a year ago, plunging so many hard-working people into further uncertainty about their lives and finances. The lack of ambition in the legislative programme for the next Session simply does not address the serious challenges facing the country.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister promised a growing economy, and instead we are seeing growth flatlining, the Bank of England downgrading its economic forecasts and the International Monetary Fund forecasting that the UK will have the lowest growth in the G7 next year.
As we have heard, taxes are the highest they have been for 70 years, with households paying a staggering £4,000 more in tax each year. Mortgages and rents have skyrocketed, with home ownership being a very distant dream for many young people. Housing is the most prominent issue facing my constituents in Chester, and the King’s Speech has failed to deliver, with no sign of local housing targets or the needed reform of our planning system. It is clear that this Government have no plan to fix the housing emergency.
The worries do not stop there. They are everywhere we look. Our councils, schools, hospitals, police and fire services are all starved of resources. Local authorities are facing serious financial challenges. I know that Cheshire West and Chester Council is dealing with an unprecedented number of children in care, with never before seen levels of complexity, which will impact on all aspects of the council’s finances. It did not used to be like this and it does not have to be. Labour has a plan to make working people in all parts of the country better off, by growing the economy, boosting wages and bringing down bills. Labour has a plan to retrofit 19 million homes, which presents an ambitious opportunity to boost growth, cut bills and develop skills. Labour would deliver by making Britain a clean energy superpower, building an NHS fit for the future, making Britain’s streets safe and breaking down the barriers to opportunity at every stage. That is the real change that people, not only in Chester, but up and down the country, are crying out for.
The King’s Speech is yet another lost opportunity to deal with the cost of living crisis, the climate catastrophe and the scandalous underfunding of public services in my country of Cymru, Wales, and across the UK. This Government’s priority remains tax cuts for a wealthy minority of the type that crashed the economy last year, which the shadow Chancellor’s amendment today seeks to prevent. As the TUC has said:
“The UK is stuck in a Conservative doom loop”— which amounts to—
“low growth, terrible living standards, and repeated doses of austerity.”
Our distorted economy is still able to deliver millions of pounds to a few at the top, just so long as millions at the bottom accept living on a few crumbs here and there.
The King’s Speech did nothing to deal with those problems. On pay, the Government should have pledged to legislate so that they always deliver pay rises for public sector workers that at least match inflation and provide pay restoration. We must ensure that our hard workers do not receive real-terms pay cuts again and that their salaries match real value in society. The Government must address that issue and do that in the autumn statement. On social security, we need payments to rise, but we hear that the Government plan to make new savings. They are reportedly planning to cut £4 billion from health-related benefits, which will, according to more than 100 disability organisations, plunge disabled people into poverty and could lead to unnecessary deaths. On energy bills, we have heard the Energy Secretary tell us the oil and gas stunt in the speech will not
“necessarily bring energy bills down”.
What we should be doing is cutting out the vast waste of shareholder dividend payments and restoring energy provision to the public sector.
Unlike Mr Roberts, who spoke earlier, I strongly believe that we need more devolution in Wales. We need a fair needs funding settlement, devolution of the Crown Estate and the £5 billion owed to us in consequentials from the HS2 England-only project—I could go on.
I want to focus my final comments on public sector funding. The Welsh Government have announced in recent weeks that they have to find savings of £600 million to balance their budget and maintain health spending. That is solely down to UK austerity and a Conservative economic agenda that harms our Welsh economy, Welsh public services and the living standards of Welsh people. One in four people in Wales are eating smaller meals or skipping meals altogether. Almost 3 million people in Britain are using food banks. As usual, it is the poorest in society who are paying the highest price, which is why I am supporting our local TUC in organising a hunger march later this month. Communities such as mine in Cynon Valley and across Rhondda Cynon Taf organised the first hunger march to London back in 1927, and it is a sad reflection on, and indictment of, our society that we are having to do the same again in 2023.
The impact of repeated rounds of austerity and the extractive nature of the economy means that there is a need and a desire to look at new economic models, at integrated community-based economic and social development. In Wales, this is being done under a vision of “Cymunedoli which translates as “communitisation” and is similar to community wealth building.
Cymunedoli is an economic model that ensures that communities own and manage their resources and labour, rather than being exploited for the benefit of others, as has long been the case throughout Welsh history. A fair, inclusive, prosperous and sustainable economy is created for the benefit of everyone, through generating and retaining wealth within local communities. The examples of cymunedoli that are being pursued in Wales are successful: local investment in jobs, paying for local training, paying local suppliers and staff, and finances recycled and retained within the local community, rather than extracted. We need to see more of that.
The Tory Government have spent 13 years cutting services and creating a cost of living crisis. That has to stop now and we need the Tories out. Diolch yn fawr.
Those who have participated in the debate should aim to be in the Chamber for about 6.30pm.
We are now facing the 14th year of Conservative rule. In that time, the Conservatives have presided over the worst growth in GDP per head since records began, a sustained decline in living standards and a huge housing crisis, while our public services are disintegrating.
It is clear that the economic policies of the past decade have totally failed to address the biggest challenges faced in our everyday society. We are in the midst of the worst pay crisis since the Battle of Waterloo. Real income is still below levels of 2010. In fact, our entire economic system is a stagnant, economic disaster zone—as the New Economics Foundation has put it,
“a stitch-up between large, distant institutions and large, distant corporations.”
My constituents in Ilford South feel the full force of this economic malaise every day, whether it be in the shops, navigating the ever-growing prices of basic goods with an ever-shrinking pay packet, or perhaps most acutely in their very homes, where they face ever-rising rents, crumbling houses and the constant threat of no-fault evictions.
The private rented sector is the worst case of this—a highly deregulated mess that has enabled rents to skyrocket as quality declines, with freeholders looking to grab as much ground rent as possible. The English Housing Survey says that almost a quarter of occupied private rented properties, amounting to nearly 1 million properties, fail the decent homes standard.
Private tenants are almost three times as likely to be exposed to damp and mould as social housing tenants. Even if the property tenants reside in is liveable, there is always the looming threat of a section 21 no-fault eviction. Since the Government first promised to end section 21 no-fault evictions, over 70,000 households have been evicted and threatened with homelessness, and in the past few months, section 21 claims have risen by a shocking 38%. Section 21 is now a leading cause of homelessness in this country, but it can also be used as a weapon by unscrupulous landlords to quash any demands from tenants who complain about failure to meet basic standards and conditions.
While it is welcome to see that the Government are finally bringing forward the long-awaited Renters (Reform) Bill, which will end section 21 evictions, it seems to be too little, too late and appears to be indefinitely delayed. How much longer do tenants in my constituency in Ilford have to live with the constant fear of a no-fault eviction hanging over their heads?
The Bills presented in the King’s Speech do nothing to address the cost of renting. The past year has seen the biggest rise in rents since records began, forcing private renters to fork out huge proportions of their income on living costs. Sandra, in my constituency, said to me recently:
“Initially, our monthly rent was at a reasonable level, but we were shocked when our landlord proposed a substantial rent increase of £450 extra per month…As law-abiding citizens who diligently pay our taxes, we find ourselves in a bewildering and unjust situation. It is disheartening to see individuals and families, who were once stable in their homes, being pushed into homelessness or temporary accommodation due to these unreasonable rent increases.”
This will be a familiar story to countless families across London, as many London MPs will know. The average advertised rent in London is now a record £2,501 per month. Record rents are a symptom of the housing crisis and a broken private rented sector. Thankfully, the Mayor of London is urging the Government to act now, because London is one of the few global cities without any form of rent controls. We can learn from international precedents to design an effective system of rent control for London. Our Labour Mayor proposed two-year rent freezes, which could save average renters in London £3,374. I hope that the Minister will consider granting the Mayor of London the powers that his counterparts in Berlin, New York and Scotland have to introduce rent controls.
This is a failing sector that has pushed more and more families into disastrous temporary accommodation. When I speak to my constituents who are trapped in temporary and emergency accommodation, I hear how they have been waiting upwards of 10 years for a social home. As MPs, we have all heard the horror stories. This is a complex issue, with no silver bullet. The long-awaited and yet further delayed Renters (Reform) Bill is a welcome step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. It does nothing to tackle excessive rent increases and it fails to close loopholes that will allow unscrupulous landlords to continue to exploit tenants. If this Government, and indeed any future Government, are serious about tackling this crisis, they must go further. They should give local leaders the power to issue rent controls and empower tenants with proper rights and guarantees. We need more Becontree estates, once homes fit for heroes, not Battersea power station monuments with luxury flats for the super-rich.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on His Majesty’s first King’s Speech.
The Prime Minister was right to say in his response last week that the country needs change, but if the people of Portsmouth needed any more evidence that this change will not come through a fifth Tory term, this King’s Speech provided it. It contained more words than any since 2005, yet had the fewest Bills since 2014, and is a perfect symbol for the latest incarnation of Conservative Government that our country is having to endure. It is a party that governs with slogans rather than actions, and that promises to level up, to provide strong and stable Government, to grow our economy, and to cut NHS waiting lists, but the reality is that for more than a decade now the only thing that this Government have provided is an impeccable record of over-promising and under-delivering.
People in Portsmouth are facing serious challenges after a decade of Conservative Government and decline, with skyrocketing mortgages, rising rents, soaring bills, and taxes at their highest level for 70 years. It was sad but not surprising to see this week that the number of food bank parcels issued in Portsmouth by the Trussell Trust has risen by nearly 70% over the past year.
People are really struggling. This King’s Speech could have focused on tackling these huge problems, but instead there was nothing to help people with the cost of living crisis; nothing to tackle rising levels of shoplifting, which are now topping 1,000 incidents per day; nothing to finally stop the sewage pollution; nothing to ensure that every child succeeds and thrives; nothing to secure the investment that our community deserves; and nothing to address the fact that there is only one dentist and GP for every 2,300 people in Portsmouth. Those are the priorities of the people of Portsmouth, those are my priorities and those will be the priorities of the next Labour Government. Sadly, though, at the moment we have to live with a Prime Minister who has given up on governing, who is content to carry on with the failures of the past decade, and whose idea of change is bringing back a failed Prime Minister from a decade ago.
With so few Bills included in the King’s Speech, there is absolutely no excuse for some of its omissions. Much-needed Bills on mental health, for renters and to support victims have been dropped. The failure to ban so-called conversion therapy represents a complete betrayal of all LGBT+ people at risk of this abhorrent treatment. We should be clear: conversion practices are abuse and it is nothing short of disgraceful that they have not been outlawed yet.
Where this Government seek to sow division, Labour will unite the country, offering people hope around a mission to get Britain’s future back: by getting Britain building again to deliver transformational infrastructure and homes for millions; by switching on green energy to create jobs, cut bills and boost energy security; by getting the NHS back on its feet so that everyone can access a dentist and GP when they need it; by ending the Tory sewage scandal so that our waters can be clean again; by taking back our streets, with 13,000 more police officers tackling crime; and by breaking down barriers to opportunity so that young people’s futures are not defined by the circumstances they are born into.
The people of Portsmouth want new ideas and a plan to get our country’s future back and to bring about the change in my city and our country that is so desperately needed. This damp squib of a King’s Speech shows that that change will not come with the Tories. It is becoming ever clearer that the Tory party is out of energy, out of ideas and—hopefully, for all our sakes—soon to be out of Government.
I want to talk first about housing, because that is the issue on which I receive the most casework in my constituency inbox. In recent years we have seen an escalation of section 21 notices, extortionate increases in private rents and a general increase in household costs. It is vital that the Conservative Government end the freeze on local housing allowance.
I am also extremely concerned about the level of homelessness, the demands on social housing providers in Stockport, and the financial demand on my local authority of meeting emergency and temporary housing costs. Stockport has seen a significant increase in homelessness: more than 2,300 households sought assistance from the council in 2022-23—an increase of 22% on the previous year—and, sadly, I see that trend becoming worse.
Stockport is the best place to live in England, but private rents have shot up in recent years. The housing emergency is now a full-blown crisis; it is placing those on low incomes in a very difficult place, and the Conservative Government are failing them. A constituent contacted me recently because her rent had shot up from £600 to £900 per month, causing her immense financial hardship. That rent increase seems entirely unreasonable. She now faces an eviction via section 21 notice from a home she has lived in for 15 years, at a time of her life when she should feel secure and comfortable in her own home.
The current housing emergency cannot be fixed overnight, but ending the freeze on the local housing allowance would have an immediate impact on those in need ahead of another difficult winter for the nation. People deserve the security and opportunity to get on in life, but under the Conservatives the foundations of a good life are crumbling. Homeowners face eye-watering mortgage rates, young people are struggling to get on the housing ladder and the dream of home ownership has been snatched away from so many people who are stuck paying unaffordable private rents. Labour’s plan for secure homes will put an end to the Tories’ housing emergency, and we support fundamental reform of the private rented sector.
I also want to cover NHS waiting lists. I recently spoke to a constituent regarding her mother, who is in a care home. In Stockport, unfortunately, the wait for an assessment by NHS continence services is 31 weeks, which is far too long. My constituent, whose mother is 90, contacted me in distress regarding the very long period of time her mother had to wait to get an assessment. I am told that the assessment should take no longer than 12 weeks, but in this case it took 31. That is a very serious matter and I will write to the Department of Health and Social Care about it.
There are almost 8 million people on NHS waiting lists in England. The Prime Minister promised to cut those waiting lists, yet last month they rose to a record high of 7.7 million people, meaning that one in seven people are currently waiting for NHS treatment. That is simply unacceptable.
I recently wrote to all NHS-registered dental practices in my constituency, asking them whether they had any availability for registration for NHS treatment. In my local hospital, Stepping Hill, 365 patients had to visit A&E over the past year to get emergency treatment for tooth decay. We are in a crisis. I thank the British Dental Association for the work it is doing on this issue, but the Government have forgotten about NHS dentistry and it needs fundamental reform. From the letters and emails I have had from dentists in my constituency, I know the service is underfunded and people who cannot afford dental treatment simply do not get it; they have to do DIY dentistry at home, which is very dangerous.
On local government funding, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council—my local authority— has delivered over £140 million in savings since 2010. It is also facing further savings of £44 million by 2027-28. The current cost of living crisis, caused by the Conservative party, is having a severe impact on my constituents and on people across the borough of Stockport. The council needs much greater funding certainty from central Government, and the national local government funding settlement falls short. I call on the Treasury to address that urgently.
I will finish with a comment about Respect for Shopworkers Week, which is this week. We have seen a significant rise in physical and verbal attacks and threats against shop workers. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—my trade union, as a former retail worker—is campaigning on that issue, and the Government need to bring in legislation to address it.
We need a general election now so that we can replace this tired Government.
This will be the last Back-Bench contribution before the wind-ups.
The King’s Speech was an opportunity for the Government to address the serious issues facing the country. Instead, it offered little in the way of hope for the millions waiting for NHS appointments, for the millions struggling to pay their bills, or for the millions of adults who struggle to read and write; and it dashed the hopes of everyone who is concerned about the climate emergency.
The NHS is in crisis, with more than 7 million people on waiting lists for routine treatment in England. Government spending on health has not kept pace with need. “The Rational Policy-Maker’s Guide to the NHS”, published by The 99% Organisation, presents the average annual change in per capita health spending—adjusted for population and demographic factors—by UK Governments since 1979. It shows that the Labour Government between 1997 and 2010 oversaw an average annual increase in per capita health spending of 5.67%. However, there was an annual average reduction of 0.07% under the coalition Government, and the Conservatives presided over a reduction of 0.03% between 2015 and 2021. Tory austerity is destroying our NHS.
This year, integrated care boards are required to make average efficiency savings of an eyewatering 5.8% at a time when we have massive waiting lists. Not only does that deliver misery to millions of patients, but it is damaging the economy, as people waiting for vital treatment have their recovery delayed, and so too their return to work. A Government who fail the NHS fail the economy, so I urge the Government to change tack and use the autumn statement to provide the NHS with the resources it needs.
Our levels of poverty and inequality are a source of shame and need to be addressed urgently. More than 14 million people in the UK, including 4.2 million children and 2.1 million pensioners, were living in poverty in 2021-22—about 1 million more people than in the previous year. Analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that an estimated 1.8 million UK households, containing nearly 3.8 million people, including a million children, experienced destitution at some point in 2022. Shockingly, the study found that rates of destitution have more than doubled in the last five years as a result of benefit cuts and cost of living pressures. Paul Kissack, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said that the Government are “choosing not to” act. Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, described poverty levels in the UK as “simply not acceptable” and said that the Government are violating international law.
OECD figures suggest that, compared with European Union countries, the UK has high levels of income inequality. Poverty and inequality are not inevitable; they can be addressed through progressive taxation, social security and investment in skills and education. The Government should start by abolishing the two-child limit and increasing child benefit. A Government who keep a large proportion of the population in poverty and ill health are a Government who have failed.
Illiteracy among adults is another driver of poverty and inequality. In the King’s Speech, the Government have yet again ignored the 7.1 million adults in England—one in six, or 16.4% of the adult population—who are functionally illiterate. Poor literacy skills make it harder for people to get good jobs, find and secure decent housing, and access services and use public transport, and it impacts on the wellbeing and educational development of their children, too. I call on the Government to carry out a review of adult literacy levels, and to come forward with strategy to improve them.
The climate and ecological emergency that we are facing affects us all, yet this irresponsible Government have announced a Bill that will support the future licensing of new oil and gas fields. It is sheer folly for the Government to be prioritising fossil fuels when we face climate disaster. The challenge we face is immense, and we need a Government who will invest in home-grown clean power and insulate 19 million homes, as Labour would do.
The Government have still not come forward with an outright ban on underground coal gasification, a risky technology to extract fossil fuels that has the potential to destroy the important ecosystem of the Dee estuary in my constituency. My constituents are adamant, as am I, that they do not want to see UCG under the Dee. Nor have the Government come forward with an outright ban on fracking—again, something that my constituents and I are opposed to. I call on the Government to ban both those technologies once and for all as a matter of urgency.
This King’s Speech shows a Government who have no intention of addressing these very serious issues: the future of the NHS, poverty, inequality, the cost of living crisis, illiteracy in adults and the climate crisis.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate this afternoon. In particular, I congratulate my hon. Friend Alistair Strathern on his brilliant maiden speech; it is great to see him here today. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), the Chairs of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee and the Petitions Committee, for their contributions on behalf of their Committees.
We heard excellent speeches from many colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), for Enfield North (Feryal Clark), for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali), for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan), for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) and for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood). That long list shows the importance that Opposition Members place on growing the economy on the bedrock of fiscal responsibility. We heard that, from skills to housing, infrastructure to net zero and public services to poverty and inequality, there were a whole host of issues missing from the King’s Speech that we would put into a Labour King’s Speech if we were to win the next general election.
I am pleased to conclude the debate on behalf of the Opposition this evening. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was appointed to the shadow Cabinet just over two months ago, yet even within my short tenure, I already find myself in a position to welcome a second Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Laura Trott, to her place. As I said earlier, I look forward to holding her to account for what No. 10 has described as her core task, which is to grow the economy.
We all know that any number of Conservative reshuffles will not hide the failures of the past 13 years of Conservative government. Indeed, the latest Conservative Prime Minister is so keen to remind us of the past 13 years of Conservative failure that he has decided to bring back one of the Conservatives’ failed former Prime Ministers as his Foreign Secretary—a promotion that we can only assume is a testament to the lack of available talent on the Government Benches.
Let us look at the King’s Speech and the prospects for our economy. The good news is that the latest Conservative Prime Minister keeps telling the country that his plan is working. Indeed, he thinks it is working so well that he did not put anything meaningful on the economy in the King’s Speech at all. The bad news is that, while the Conservatives tell the country that everything is fine, we all know from our own lives that that is not the case and that their plan has failed. We see the cost of living, the cost of our rent and mortgages, the spending power of the pound in our pocket, and public services so close to broken that many people have given up trying to access them at all.
The latest Conservative Prime Minister might have his head in the sand, but we all know that the Conservatives’ plan is not working, because nothing is working in our country, which begs the question, why? The Chancellor is taking more money from us than ever before, thanks to 25 Conservative tax rises in this Parliament alone, but most of that extra cash is being spent on paying the interest on our national debt, to the tune of a whopping £112 billion in 2022-23 alone, which is more than we spend on our schools.
Why? Because for year after year of the past 13 years of Conservative failure on the economy, the Tories have had to borrow more and more money to cover up their failures—not just in response to Brexit, covid or the energy crisis, but in each and every year since they came to power in 2010. Let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker: it is working people who pay the price, not just through their taxes but through a lack of access to good-quality public services. People across the country will be saying, “We have never paid so much and gotten so little in return.”
How do we get ourselves out of this high-tax, high-debt spiral of Tory failure on the economy? The short answer, of course, is for the latest Conservative Prime Minister to call an election so that a Labour Government can be given the chance to clear up the Tories’ mess for them. The longer answer, and Labour’s plan, is to grow the economy so that working people are better off, because all the Prime Minister managed to reveal in the King’s Speech was his empty hand. There was no planning reform to get Britain building, no pension reform to kick-start investment in Britain, no industrial strategy and no new skills policy to help train workers for the jobs of tomorrow, nor were there any fairer choices on tax, such as ending non-dom status. Those are all Labour policies that sit on a bedrock of our mission for the country.
As we have heard repeatedly, this Government are out of touch and out of ideas. Only Labour has a plan to grow the economy, boost wages, bring down bills and make working people better off. Prosperity for every corner of our country can happen only with political and economic stability. That is why we invite Conservative Members to join us in the Aye Lobby this evening to vote for our amendment, which would give new statutory powers to the independent Office for Budget Responsibility —an uncontroversial amendment that should not trouble any Member on the Conservative Benches. It aims to prevent from happening again what the former failed Conservative Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss, did this time last year when she crashed the economy.
That is why a Labour Government will introduce tough new fiscal rules to create solid foundations for growth—never again the Tory way, playing fast and loose with the economy and leaving working people paying sky-high mortgages. We will roll up our sleeves and partner with business, rather than stepping aside and letting investment relocate overseas. We will modernise our public services so that they work for patients, parents and public servants once again, and we will get Britain building, rather than allow outdated planning laws and ongoing division within the Conservative party to hold back our country.
The unpalatable truth facing the British people is that each day this Conservative Government remain in power is another day when our country is held back from achieving its potential, and that the biggest risk to the economy is the Conservative party itself. That is why I find myself in the unusual circumstance of agreeing with Suella Braverman, who was until recently the Home Secretary. She has described the leadership of the Conservative party as
“uncertain, weak, and lacking in the qualities of leadership that this country needs.”
I could not agree more. Even Conservative MPs agree that the choice facing the British people at the next election is between more chaos and uncertainty under the Conservatives that leaves Britain worse off, and the security of a changed Labour party that will unleash a decade of national renewal and make working people better off once again.
It is an honour to participate in the debates following the first King’s Speech for more than 70 years. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate, including Darren Jones both for his warmish welcome and for his remarks. He and I are both quite new to our posts, and much as we might disagree quite fundamentally on major topics such as taxes and spending, I am sure he agrees that it is a privilege to be closing today’s debate.
During my time at the Department for Work and Pensions, I saw at first hand the impact that Government decisions have on people, and the hugely positive effect that work has on households and regions. I will continue to hold that understanding as I take on my new role, and I look forward to working with Members across the House to make sure that the economy grows, that the wealth spreads, and that the Government are responsible and restrained with the public purse strings. I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises, as I do, that the Chief Secretary’s job is a vital one that shows a clear difference between our two parties, and I am sure we will have robust discussions in the months ahead. I very much look forward to those opportunities.
We live in a changing world. Even since this Government set out their previous legislative agenda in 2022, we have seen huge upheavals. Putin’s appalling war in Ukraine has now dragged into another year of suffering and brave defiance; the terrorist actions of Hamas in the middle east have caused unspeakable suffering in Israel and Gaza; and all the while, the spectre of inflation haunts the globe, as the financial echoes of Putin’s war, covid-19 and the global financial crisis continue to ring out. What will work to address them is the careful, deliberate efforts that this Government are pursuing, which we will continue in the Chancellor’s forthcoming autumn statement. This is what the Government have done ever since we came to power, and this is what the King’s Speech does now.
Before I turn to the measures in the King’s Speech, it is worth taking a look at what this Government have already achieved. We came to power with a duty to tackle what was then the worst recession since the second world war: 2.5 million people were unemployed and 1.4 million were stuck on out-of-work benefits. What has changed since 2010? Unemployment is down by 1 million people, and 1.7 million have been able to lift themselves out of poverty thanks to a new living wage.
While many in the EU are experiencing a recession, here in the UK, as my right hon. Friend Dr Fox regularly points out, since 2010 we have grown faster than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Japan, and our recovery from the pandemic has been one of the strongest in the G7. We have grown our economy by 65%, and cut our emissions by almost 50% since 1990. Perhaps most impressive of all, we have done this while slashing our borrowing by 70% between 2010 and the start of the pandemic. This is what a Conservative Government deliver.
Here I should consider the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, although I will be brief as Opposition Members did not cover it much. If their amendment had been in force in 2020, we surely would have found ourselves in a much worse position. It would have hampered the Government from acting in an emergency, as we did during the pandemic, because instead of taking decisive action to support people and businesses up and down the United Kingdom, we would have been forced into a 12-week process with the OBR before we were able to deliver any support whatsoever. I am sure even Opposition Members would recognise that that is not an optimal outcome. Indeed, the Opposition seem to have put forward a plethora of new spending commitments today prior to an updated OBR forecast, which I would suggest is not in the spirit of their own amendment.
Turning to some of the measures mentioned today, the shadow Chancellor criticised the lack of action on the cost of living, yet did not once mention inflation. It is up there with Edward Miliband forgetting the deficit. Getting inflation down is the ultimate solution to the cost of living pressures we face. It requires disciplined, unglamorous work, which means keeping inflationary spending down. There was not one proposal in the shadow Chancellor’s speech to address it. It is true that she did not mention the deficit-busting, inflation-producing £28 billion of borrowing in her speech, but that is another Labour policy well overdue for a U-turn.
Key to driving non-inflationary growth will be boosting trade. The Brexit zombies on the SNP Benches fail to recognise the potential of the trade deals we have with the rest of the world. My right hon. Friend Henry Smith and for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) know the benefits that our open, international, free trading stance will bring. Deals such as the CPTPP with the fastest-growing economies in the world will deliver the clear benefits of Brexit, and we should be talking them up, not down.
Indeed, there was too much talking down in the debate today. Steve McCabe asked who is better off. I will tell him who is better off: the 1.7 million people who have been taken out of poverty since 2010, the 200,000 pensioners taken out of poverty, those helped by the 40% drop in youth unemployment, those for whom it now pays to go out to work, children learning in schools that are more likely to be good or outstanding and, as my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin said, the low-paid, the number of whom has dramatically fallen since the national living wage was introduced. Since 2015, the proportion of people on low pay has halved.
My right hon. Friend Sir Simon Clarke, with whom I hope to engage a lot as I hugely respect the work he did as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, pointed out the dramatic impact that a Conservative Government and a Conservative Mayor, the brilliant Ben Houchen, have had on Teesside. He talked about Labour’s legacy there as one of mediocrity and failure, and he is right. With steelmaking back, carbon capture and storage, and a new net zero power station, this is levelling up in action, and that is what a Conservative Government deliver.
Turning to growth and supply side reform, which lots of people have mentioned today, at the spring Budget we announced a comprehensive employment package designed to remove the barriers that are preventing people from getting back into work. This is the welfare reform that was called for by my hon. Friend Peter Aldous and others. At the autumn statement, the Government will announce a package of long-term measures, creating an investment economy by unlocking business investment.
I welcome the remarks by my hon. Friend Jack Brereton about the digital network Bill and the importance of broadband. I am glad to have heard the hon. Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) bring up childcare. This is an important measure for growth as well as the right thing to do, and I hope that they welcome our £200 million investment. I do not think that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood is in her place, but I note her remarks on sodium valproate and will make sure that they are fed into the Health team. That was very important.
On the supply side, many Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley, for Burton (Kate Kniveton) and for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), Gavin Newlands and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, talked about the importance of transport in their local areas and of protecting consumers travelling by air.
Housing has been brought up by a number of Members. We are on track to deliver the 1 million houses over this Parliament, and the Chancellor is looking at what more we can do to support planning reform, particularly on infrastructure. I was slightly incredulous to hear the Opposition talk about boosting housing when they have just blocked a measure that would have added 100,000 much-needed homes. Being in opposition is as much about what to support as it is about what to oppose, and that was a mistake. However, I welcome the Opposition’s support, albeit grudging, for the Renters (Reform) Bill and the leasehold Bill.
Before I close, I should mention the brilliant maiden speech by Alistair Strathern, whose beautiful constituency we have all been seeing a little bit too much of recently. It was a gracious and accomplished maiden speech that spoke to his decency in the way he conducted the campaign. I wholeheartedly agree with him that there is nothing better than to represent the place in which one grew up. It is the world’s greatest privilege. This place, across the House, does an enormous amount of good. I hope and expect that the family, colleagues and friends that he brought along today were proud to see his excellent speech, and I look forward to further contributions.
We are taking the actions that will make this country better. The King’s Speech aims to push the UK into the spotlight on the international stage, embracing our role as a champion of global free trade, open for business and investment from around the world. Just look at our decision to scrap HS2, a one-route project where the right decision was postponed and kicked down the road as costs mounted up. The £36 billion that we are saving by cancelling HS2 will be reinvested to deliver Network North, improving journeys and infrastructure between and within the towns and cities of the north and the midlands, instead of just giving the people of the north a quicker way to move south.
The legislative agenda cuts through the noise of those who want to talk Britain down, who speak freely about our challenges but are tight lipped on solutions, and provides clarity, certainty and stability for those who need it most.
The last years have not been easy; the coming ones will offer their own challenges. I understand those who want to wish those truths away, but this Government’s instinct is to treat the public like adults. It is important that the public understand the challenges that we face, so that they can understand the changes we have made to safeguard their future. This Government’s legislative agenda recognises that, balancing the delivery of both security and opportunity. The Government have a track record and a long-term plan to do just that, and I am hugely proud to play my part as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
That is why we will deliver licences for fresh oil and gas fields, continue to work to halve inflation and bring forward the trade Bill, cementing our place in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, locking in long-term rights for UK firms to do business in the fastest growing region of the world.
None of this is easy. These decisions involve tough trade-offs, but because of our history of delivery and our long-term plan for the future captured in this King’s Speech, I know that the Government can achieve their aims for this country and help every part of the country to reach its potential. I commend the Loyal Address, unamended, to the House.