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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:22 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:22 pm, 17th October 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech today, but she will know all too well that we are being asked to participate in a charade, in which the Queen’s Speech is not a serious plan for government and in which most of these Bills will never see the light of day. It is quite clear from everything that the Prime Minister has said that he intends to call a general election at the earliest opportunity. We will then find ourselves back here, with a different Government, we hope, and certainly with a new Queen’s Speech. So, we cannot be asked to consider this proposition seriously. It is as near to an election broadcast as we are likely to see, with uncosted promises, sweeteners and posturing that do nothing to address the real economic and climate change crises that challenge this country.

Let us be honest: the crises that face us today are all of this Government’s own making—nine wasted years of failed economic policies, a divided nation and the madness of a Brexit policy that will rip up our trading relations with our closest partners, undermining our trade with 500 million consumers across 27 countries. This is the inevitable consequence of leaving the single market and the customs union, which, Mark Carney has made clear, will lead to escalating job losses and business closures. Just as inevitably, it will lead to lower food, consumer, employment and environmental standards in the push to do cheap trade deals with free-market cowboys and protectionist-in-chief Donald Trump.

Let us look at the economic legacy an incoming Government will inherit. Nine years of ruthless austerity Budgets have squeezed the life out of public services and left local government unable to fund even its statutory services. There is a crisis of low pay and stagnating wages, with workers’ real wages still lower than they were before the financial crisis. The productivity of British workers fell at the fastest pace for five years in the second quarter of 2019. A struggling construction sector faces a growing skills crisis. The Government’s botched business-rate revaluation has created a huge destabilising burden for businesses, with many high streets becoming ghost towns. And the UK’s longer-term economic outlook is darkening, as years of uncertainty have prevented businesses investing in people or capital.

As ever, the Government’s response has been too little, too late. On 4 September the Chancellor announced his spending plans for 2020-21, with departmental spending increases of 4.1%. However, the £13 billion that this plan represents is less than one-third of the £47 billion of cuts introduced by the Government since 2010. It goes nowhere towards resolving the backlog of funding in the NHS and social care, for example, which is seeing standards falling and the elderly suffering alone. No wonder it was met with a universal shrug of the shoulders when it was announced.