It is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), who in the short time that she has been here has certainly made a name for herself as an excellent MP for her constituency.
I am grateful to be able to take part in today’s debate on Her Majesty’s programme for government. Can I say what an honour it is to be here today for the Queen’s Speech and to hear Her Majesty’s remarks? As always, I offer thanks to her and prayers for her continued health each day.
Although we have not yet had the information that we were looking for and cannot speak to the detail of the proposals, there are a few areas that I would like to highlight and seek some clarification on if possible. As the Democratic Unionist party spokesperson on health, I was pleased to see reference to changes to strengthen the NHS. However, I had hoped to see specific reference to the mental health needs that are rife across this nation—something that perhaps has not been mentioned today. Information from the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that we are seeing record numbers of referrals to mental health services, with the most recent figures for December 2020 showing an 11% increase compared with the same time last year. The “UK Household Longitudinal Study” found that during the peak of the covid crisis average mental health distress was 8.1% higher. Looking towards the delivery of the five-year forward view for mental health, the Government have set targets that so far have not been achieved. NHS public data shows that two out of three extra posts are unfilled, so we have more pressure on this unstaffed sector. I would be grateful if the Government would set out how they will seek to address this shortfall legislatively rather than aspirationally. In Northern Ireland—indeed, in my own constituency—we are facing a mental health crisis like we have never seen, and we must know that we can and will deliver better. I urge the Government to give this the priority that it warrants and designate a mental health Bill specifically to turn aspirations into legal obligations.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister referred to his commitment to a social care Bill. That is good news. In the weekend just past, I had a family approach me where the lady has advanced dementia. Her house is going to have to be sold and the family may go into debt to try to deal with these things. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) referred to this and I want to highlight it as well.
I also want to highlight the petition that is going about for increasing the moneys for carers. Those who leave good jobs and then try to take on the position of carers in looking after family members find that they are on about £70 a week—a massive drop. I ask respectfully that the issue of increasing the wages for carers is looked at.
Another issue is the lost learning referred to in the Queen’s Speech. I welcome that, because it is really good news, especially for those in early years. The Duchess of Cambridge has recognised that the lack of support for parents in this area is a huge issue. The effect of the pandemic on lockdown babies who have never attended a mother and toddler group, never learned to play and share with another child and never sung a nursery song in a group in a room has a huge impact that will carry into other years.
A teacher in my constituency who specialises in early years and reading has told me that she can tell the difference between a child who has been socially active and one who has not. She can tell when a child was read to regularly, and for those who have not been, it can take intense therapy to get this right. For the 14, 15 or even more months that have been lost, too many children will be impacted not only in learning their letters but in social behaviour and mixing. It is imperative that we make free-of-charge, safe classes available through every trust and even through willing faith-based groups hosting mother and toddler groups through the summer, when these things usually end. That is in the Queen’s Speech, and it is good to see it, but we need to work with the voluntary sector to address the issue of lockdown toddlers before it becomes a crisis.
I also want to speak about the Union, which is vastly important. I am sorry that colleagues from the Scots Nats party are not here. My reading is that the polls were clear. The majority of people in Scotland said that they were not in favour of independence and the figures indicate that. A majority of seats for the Scots Nats does not mean that a majority of all the people in Scotland voted for them. There is a task for Government and us all to do to sell the good points of the Union for everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. By doing so, we can hopefully convince our Scots Nats friends that their future does not lie in independence with the EU; it lies with us in this House and the great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I note that the Queen’s Speech referred to strengthening economic ties through rail and bus links, but I do not see a terrible lot coming for Northern Ireland in that, so what is happening there? I have referred to the air passage to Northern Ireland and the importance of connectivity and a reduction in air passenger duty. We need to see those things.
I commend the Government for their proposed voter ID legislation. We have that in Northern Ireland and it has not stopped people voting. Indeed, it has given people identification for other purposes, such as travelling. With the ID cards, it turned out to be a small fee for a photograph and that was it. I am also pleased to see the welfare strategy and the commitment to having a carbon-neutral nation. That is good stuff in the Queen’s Speech and things we should all welcome, and I am pleased to see them. It is important for the transport sector to deliver sustainable change. These are all good things, as is the commitment to human rights and a global effort to get 40 million girls across the world into school.
Finally, I will speak about the armed forces covenant being passed into law, the proposals for additional national insurance contribution breaks for veterans and the treatment of veterans in Northern Ireland. I assume that Her Majesty’s reference to addressing the “legacy of the past” is directed at correcting the lack of progress in the last Session, but my party and I are very clear about what we were looking for. We were waiting with great anticipation for the work to bring into line all veterans, regardless of when and where they served—that is, in certain spheres of the world, but in Northern Ireland as well.
I ended the last Session highlighting the needs of Northern Ireland veterans, and I start this one in the same way. Veterans who served in uniform and operated legally, with honour, great courage and great fortitude, deserve to be treated with equality. I ask the Government to please do the right thing and bring forward legislation on this issue. Let us show that our moral and legal obligation extends to those who have served on every occasion and from every region of this great nation of ours, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. An assurance was given, and now is the time to see the evidence of it.
I thank the Government for the Queen’s Speech and the programme they have set out, which seeks to bring us through covid to better times with the bounce for the economy that we are all looking for, and looks to what we can all achieve and enjoy together. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is always better together.
In 1945, in the aftermath of the second world war, a transformative Labour Government were elected on a promise to win the peace. Instead of returning to the old, unfair and unequal society of the past, they promised to build a country for the future and for the people. They created the NHS, and built the welfare state and millions of council homes. They brought industries into public ownership, to be run for the people and not for private profit. They borrowed to invest, taxed the richest and set out to eradicate poverty and unemployment. They faced a country brought to its knees by war. It was a crisis like no other, but they rose to that challenge.
Today, as we emerge from the pandemic, we, too, face crises like no other. We face a crisis of public health, with a Government who let bodies pile high in their thousands and underfunded the NHS for a decade. We face a crisis of poverty, inequality and unemployment, with a Government who hand out billions in dodgy contracts to wealthy Tory donors but refuse to give working-class kids food in the holidays. And looming over us is a climate crisis that threatens the future of us all. This is not a time to tinker around the edges or return to the old, unfair and unequal society and economic model that got us here in the first place. It is time to match the scale of the challenges we face with an ambition like that which the Labour Government had in 1945.
That is why at the heart of this Queen’s Speech should be a people’s green new deal, a state-led programme of economic transformation to build a country that can not only avert the climate emergency, but truly be one that works for the 99%, not just the 1%. It is a programme designed and discussed by trade unionists, think tanks, activists and policy experts that would create millions of well-paid, unionised, skilled green jobs. It would do so by mass investment in green technologies; expanding and electrifying public transport; building electric vehicles, with investments in gigafactories in places such as Coventry; creating a national care service; and retrofitting the country’s homes, cutting both costs and carbon. We would go from an economy controlled and run for profit to a society that is working for all of us. To do that, we need to bring industries into public ownership—rail, mail, water, energy and more—and we need to empower workers, which means repealing anti-trade union laws, so that the needs of many come before the greed of the few.
This programme could revitalise industries in Coventry, across the west midlands and across the country. It would kick start a green industrial revolution, building everything from electric cars to wind turbines. While we do that, we need to be tackling inequality, raising the minimum wage and ending poverty pay once and for all. We need to be giving our NHS workers a 15% pay rise, to make up for a decade of lost pay, and raising taxes on the very richest and the biggest businesses, with a windfall tax on corporations that have made obscene profits during the pandemic. A programme such as this can rise to the challenges we face. It meets the needs of the people and takes on the fossil fuel billionaires who are polluting our planet.
That is what a true people’s Government would do, but it is not what this Queen’s Speech is doing. Instead, it tries to take us back to business as usual—to the rigged economy of the past. Let us look at what is in it: “reforms” to planning and the NHS. We have seen what Tory “reforms” mean. They mean cuts and deregulation, creating the
“next generation of slum housing.”
That is not what I am saying; it is what the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects has warned about the White Paper. Today, a Campaign to Protect Rural England branch has called the plans a disaster. Health academics have described the NHS White Paper as consolidating the “market paradigm” in the NHS. Although the Queen’s Speech contains promised new laws for property developers and private healthcare companies, there is absolutely nothing about workers’ rights. There is not a sight of the promised employment Bill. There is no ban on fire and rehire and no end to zero-hours contracts. There is nothing for more than 5.7 million people in low-paid or precarious work, nothing for the 4.2 million children growing up in poverty, nothing for the one in seven adults without access to the social care they need and absolutely nothing that comes close to tackling the climate emergency.
This is not building back better. This is building back for big business and bad bosses, for Tory donors and property developers, and while it is deepening economic inequality, it is also attacking our democratic rights. The Electoral Reform Society called the Government’s voter ID plans “dangerous, misguided and undemocratic”. This is not about stopping voter fraud; it is about voter suppression and stopping young people, black and ethnic minority people and poor people voting. In short, that means people who are less likely to vote for this Government in the first place. If we do not like that, the police crackdown Bill represents an unprecedented attack on our right to protest, as groups such as Liberty have warned. If the Government get their way, not only will people be disenfranchised, but even our right to protest will be curtailed.
This past year, we have seen that it is not millionaire bankers or hedge fund managers who keep society going; it is our nurses, cleaners, teachers, shop assistants, taxi drivers and bus drivers. It is the working class in all our diversity. It is about time that we built a society run by and for them.
Yes, indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing. I thank everybody at Watford General Hospital for the support they have given throughout the pandemic, particularly the volunteers, who play a massive part in our vaccination roll-out programme. I fully support the NHS cadet scheme—part of our work to establish a volunteering legacy for young people following the pandemic.
It is a true privilege to speak today. Along with colleagues and the people of Guildford, Cranleigh and our villages, I extend my heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the royal family on the loss of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. It has been heartwarming to see the community Facebook pages of my constituency full of fond recollections of his visits to us, along with unified messages of respect for his long service.
I wish to focus my brief remarks on the impact of his legacy throughout the Commonwealth. His visits to my native New Zealand were always special. That applies especially to the Commonwealth games in 1974 and 1990, which His Royal Highness attended. He left a lasting impression and a positive impact on the country. What stays long in the minds of New Zealanders is the first ever royal visit to the country in 1953, a year that saw the coronation and the whole country turning out to see the gorgeous royal couple when they arrived in December.
After two devastating world wars, life was on the up. Never before seen footage emerged last week of the Duke larking about on a lilo in a swimming pool on Christmas day, but what many may not know is that, late the previous evening, New Zealand suffered its worst ever rail disaster, where a bridge collapsed at Tangiwai and 151 souls lost their lives. Her Majesty expressed her condolences to the people of New Zealand in her Christmas day address, and it was Prince Philip who attended the state funeral of many of the victims and comforted those who were bereaved and mourning.
We are now in national mourning for His Royal Highness, and, sadly, owing to coronavirus restrictions, we cannot show our respects in person as we would normally like to do, so I am grateful for this opportunity to offer a short karakia or prayer:
“Kia hora te marino
Kia whakapapa pounamu te moana
Hei huarahi mā tātou I te rangi nei
Aroha atu, aroha mai
Tātou i a tātou katoa”
This translates as: May peace be widespread, may the sea be like greenstone, a pathway for us all today. Give love, receive love. Let us show respect for each other.
Haere ra. Farewell to His Royal Highness. Our grateful thanks for all that he has done for our country and the Commonwealth nations in his lifetime of duty and service.
It is in grief that we assemble today. The death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh has reverberated through the heart of our nation. Together with all whom I have met in Wakefield and countless others from around the world, my thoughts and prayers remain with Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family. We not only mourn his death, but celebrate his extraordinary life and his great accomplishments. Prince Philip was a man who dedicated his life to serving his country and demonstrated a selfless commitment to his duties in peace and in war.
Muslims believe that the best way to serve God is by serving his creation. If we take this as a metric of measurement, Prince Philip’s life is an exemplar of merit, whether that be in serving his country and his family or tirelessly supporting communities and championing innovation, engineering and conservation.
The Duke of Edinburgh will long be celebrated for far more than his great service and duty. He possessed an insatiable intellectual curiosity and was able to stand toe to toe with some of the greatest minds of our age. Prince Philip’s intellectual prowess and range of interests were exceptional and have had an impact on people and communities across the world.
When Ayub Khan, the second President of Pakistan, visited the UK in 1960, Prince Philip, who always maintained an interest in the country as patron of the Pakistan Association, told him of a brilliant young Pakistani physicist at Imperial College London by the name of Abdus Salam and recommended that President Khan meet him. The Duke was deeply interested in science and invited Abdus Salam and his wife to the Palace a number of times, well before Salam’s fame as the first Muslim Nobel laureate. Shortly after receiving this advice, Salam and Khan met and he was appointed by the President to direct the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission in 1961. The Duke’s robust interest in the sciences and in the people of Pakistan played a key role in firmly establishing this important relationship.
Today, we mourn the death of Prince Philip, but let us always celebrate his life and service, both to Her Majesty the Queen and to the entire Commonwealth. His life serves as a shining example that I pray will continue to inspire people for generations to come, regardless of their age, their background or their beliefs. God save the Queen.
Yes, indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the problem of differential learning. Unquestionably, some kids, and some families, in some parts of the country have suffered more of a break in their education than others; there is absolutely no doubt about it. That is why we are going to focus so much on the catch-up funds that I have identified. Of course, Greater Manchester will be targeted for all the measures that we have outlined this morning and more to come.
My hon. Friend and I have visited wonderful schools in his constituency together; we know the fantastic job they are doing. I know from talking to those teachers and those pupils how much they will be looking forward now to getting back into school. I can tell my hon. Friend that we will do everything we can to speed it up, but we must be cautious; we must make sure that we do it in tandem—pari passu—with the roll-out of the vaccine.
After sharing many conversations with friends around the House and on various Benches, I am sorry to say that I disagree with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and many on the Opposition Benches. I am going to vote, alongside Members of the Dáil and Parliaments around Europe, to back this treaty. I am going to recognise that the European Union has made an offer and we have accepted it, and that we have made one and they have accepted it, and I am going to respect that. That is why I am going to vote with the Government today.
After the last four years, nobody can claim that breaking up is easy, so I am delighted that I was here to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) speak, because what he said, he said with his usual candour. He respects our interdependence, and he respects that that interdependence comes at a cost when we assert independence from it. I respect that; he is right. He also made it clear that sovereignty is deeper than deals: it is in the Government’s robustness and preparedness and in their willingness to defend our interests with vigour. Great Britain, as he rightly said, has guarded its sovereignty in this agreement.
After years of acrimony and anger, it is time to end the constitutional Kama Sutra that has left us all bruised, exhausted and distracted from our families, our friends and our communities. It is time to move on.
I absolutely agree. We have been in the EU for only 47 years—that is the lifespan of a Hohenzollern empire. We are leaving the EU, just as Germany left that empire, and we will find a new way of working together. This deal is but the first step on that journey; it is just the concordat that bridges the channel and looks to future co-operation.
Many areas are overlooked; many people have mentioned them, and I know will build into them. Building on the rule of law, our close partnership with like-minded democracies, our new alliances with European countries and other countries around the world, and our global ambition—in many ways that was the building block for the Union of our four nations, which still lives in the hearts of our people today—we can see our people prosper in security and peace for years to come. Indeed, we have achieved that as an island nation for longer than almost any other nation.
The history of that stability is one reason why the Foreign Affairs Committee has heard from people such as the King of Jordan and the former President of Liberia, Nobel peace prize winners, former Foreign Ministers, business leaders and diplomats that British leadership has been missed for too long. They recognise that what we offer is worth having. We need now to invest in our foreign services and co-ordinate our Departments to deliver abroad, and we need to do more than roll over trade deals.
Wars are not won by defence but, as NATO doctrine puts it, by offensive action. We need to be bold if we are to chart a different future and we need to build on the Prime Minister’s coming visit to India and the wider alliance that is coming together in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. We would be welcomed hugely, and I have been told clearly by many, particularly by the Pacific democracies. We have a chance to renew international co-operation and commit ourselves to the environmental revolution that is so essential as we chair the G7 and COP26. This Government have the chance to set the agenda that the world needs to protect democracy at a time of autocracy and to defend the rule of law. We can make Glasgow the next milestone after Paris in the path to a greener world. Britain will succeed if we remember our friends in Europe, the Commonwealth and the world, if we renew our alliances and build new partnerships, and if we develop new, greener markets and industries, innovate and invest in ourselves. This is a new beginning and we alone are responsible for seizing it.
I am proud of this Government’s record in raising the living wage by record sums. The hon. Lady will have heard what I said earlier about continuing with our support for universal credit—continuing with the uplift in universal credit—for the whole of this financial year.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the reasons why the Prime Minister wanted to have the high-level meeting yesterday—one of the reasons why the three presidents wanted it as well—was precisely in order to accelerate progress towards securing a deal. We are ready for life outside the single market and the customs union, come what may, but it is our devout intent to secure a deal. I hope my hon. Friend can tell businesses in Watford, whom he represents so effectively, that their voices are heard loud and clear in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.
We absolutely want to ensure that all LGBT people are able to secure that support during the crisis. That is why we have extended the contract of Dr Michael Brady, and where we are able to provide those services we are ensuring that we do. I will follow up on the specific issue my hon. Friend raises with Dr Michael Brady to ensure that those services are available.
Since 2010, there has been a 31% increase in girls’ entries to science, technology, engineering and maths A-levels in England, and a 34% increase in the number of women accepted on to full-time STEM undergraduate courses in the UK. Increasing the number of women in STEM industries is vital for our country’s economic success and also for equality of opportunity.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is still the case that women make up only 25% of those employed in manufacturing and 30% of those in information technology. We need more women in those fields to use their amazing talents. We are committed to removing the barriers to success for women and to celebrating those who have achieved, such as Ruth Amos of StairSteady, who has invented new areas of engineering, which we should continue to celebrate.
I really think the right hon. Gentleman needs to consult his memory better. He would find that this country and this Government have persistently called for the end of the Assad regime, and indeed have led the world in denouncing the cruelty of the regime towards Assad’s own people. That has continuously been the policy of the British Government.