- Posted by: Valerie Vaz MP
- Category: News
The King opened Parliament on Tuesday, 7 November 2023 which is the start of the new legislative session. Black Rod knocked on the door of the Commons and summoned Members of the House of Commons to the House of Lords to hear the King reading the speech setting out the Government’s legislative agenda for the new Parliamentary session. Two backbenchers on the Government side traditionally speak to open the debate. This was then followed by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. There follows 5 days of debate on His Gracious Sovereign’s Speech.
I spoke in the debate on Monday, 13 November. You can read my full speech below:
“Let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to follow the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). I also welcome the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell), who will make his maiden speech; he will know that we campaign in slogans but we sometimes have to make difficult decisions when we represent our constituents, as we have seen with the international issues taking place in Israel and Gaza.
I say to the right hon. Member for Gainsborough that we are talking about a ceasefire not only to enable the hostages to be released but to stop the killing of innocent civilians. When organisations such as the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development cannot even enter Gaza and do the work they need to do, and when 44% of the United Nations workers have been killed, we have to do something. We cannot sit back and do nothing, which is why I will add my voice to the calls for a ceasefire to enable our brilliant diplomats to try to find a solution to this intolerable situation. People may have seen what took place at the weekend, but let me say that I was writing this speech and I just could not carry on, as it was incredibly upsetting to see babies’ bodies lined up—that is just a horrific thing. They have done absolutely nothing; they have just come into this world, and for what—just to be dead? Parents and all sorts of people are facing incredible difficulties, not being able to eat or drink; doctors are even unable to carry out operations.
We have had the first speech of our gracious sovereign and he set out the Government’s business until the next Session, with 21 Bills proposed. They do not represent the urgency of what is needed, and I want to focus on energy and climate change, public services and empowered local government, and keeping us all safe through the criminal justice system. In the gracious sovereign’s speech, the Government say they want to strengthen the UK’s energy security, but there are no measures set out to bring down bills. Onshore wind projects have recently stalled, as there are no new applications, so investment is being driven abroad. However, new licences for oil and gas are set out in the King’s Speech. Despite 13 years of North sea licences, only small amounts of gas have been found—the equivalent of nine weeks of usage; we are talking about 12 fields and nine weeks. Despite six rounds since 2010, only five new fields have been discovered, and the Sillimanite gas field is 30% owned by the Russian gas giant Gazprom. How is that making us secure?
His Majesty’s Opposition’s Gracious Speech, which we hope to produce fairly soon, will include the Energy Independence Bill. That will include a target to achieve clean power by 2030—we have nothing from this Government on targets. We will bring forward the planning and regulatory reforms for clean power by 2030 and establish “Great British Energy”, a new home-grown publicly owned clean power generation company with a mandate to produce profit-free power for our citizens. All of that will cut energy bills, create good jobs, ensure energy security and protect the planet for future generations.
Our children are choking and dying from inhaling particulate matter. Dr Sarah Moller from the University of York found that the people who experience the highest levels of nitrogen oxide emissions are those who live nearest roads and in areas of higher density—deprived communities—so what did the Government do? They cancelled a major transport project that would have enabled people to use high-speed trains for capacity and connectivity. To make things more difficult, the Government have done a U-turn. Ticket offices are there to help people use trains; the Government want to close them. Accessible train stations should be a right for people with disabilities. That is what I am trying to ensure with Bescot Stadium station. Our next Gracious Speech will have a Bill on energy independence.
We have seen the recent pronouncement of the Bank of England that the economy is flatlining. Inflation, mortgage costs, and food and energy prices are creating a crisis in every household. There was nothing in the speech to help those on the frontline who are providing statutory services. The Government-funded part of local authority spending has fallen in real terms by 52%. Instead of giving local authorities a grant based on a formula that calculates need and deprivation, the Government have retained funding and purports to dish it out by ensuring that local authorities have to bid against each other for a particular fund. Most local authorities are struggling to provide child protection and other statutory services, but there was nothing in the speech to deal with the issues surrounding vulnerable children, which have increased since the pandemic and have had a major impact on local authority budgets. Local authorities are on the frontline, and they should be in a position to provide these services face-to-face. They are there to support our constituents, not to close down or turn people away. Again, there was also nothing in the Gracious Speech about NHS waiting times or decent wages for staff.
There was also a lack of clarity in the Gracious Speech regarding the criminal justice system, which is collapsing, Mr Deputy Speaker—and he will know as a former barrister. Some 90% of crimes are going unsolved. Arrests on thefts are down 40% on just a few years ago. Shoplifting has reached record levels. Those who work on the frontline in supermarkets are suffering abuse. The charity Retail Trust found that 40% of workers—two in five—face abuse from customers weekly. Those workers were the ones who helped us through the pandemic. I saw a gang when I was in a local convenience store, looking at the CCTV. I was wondering what the owner of the shop was looking at. Basically, someone had wheeled up a van, and lifted a clothes bank and took it away. That is what is happening now. We still have 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police. In Labour’s first Gracious Speech, His Majesty’s Opposition will put 13,000 more neighbourhood and police community support officers on the street. We want to introduce respect orders, with criminal sanctions for antisocial behaviour.
The Government have not even looked at prisons; there was no mention of those difficulties in the King’s Speech. I asked a prison governor in my constituency, “What’s the capacity in your prison?” He said, “99%.” I said, “What should it be?” and he said, “70%.” That is what is happening, and it has to be dealt with. We need a return to extended court sittings to address the backlog of cases, and we should perhaps bring back Nightingale courts, which we used to have. We need to see respect for the rule of law. The legal system needs proper representation for all, and it is vital, as you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that both sides are represented. Judges are having to fill in for claimants and for the defence because they need to explain procedures to people so that they know exactly what will happen to them.
There was also not a single word in the Gracious Speech—I did check—about public services, apart from a statement that public service estimates will be laid; there was nothing about how to deal with the present crisis. We have a dithering, do-nothing Government. The biggest discussion is whether a Minister or Secretary of State should be sacked. We told the Government about the Northern Ireland protocol. They then had to put it right and rename it, and that came in only in February this year. We told them about the Horizon programme, and how our brilliant scientists were being prevented from continuing to take part, until finally the Government agreed that we should get involved in the Horizon programme. It is so difficult for scientists because they have to plan ahead and apply for grants. Yet only in September this year did the Government agree on the Horizon programme. They dithered about it, and could have saved everyone time. Some 28% of music industry workers have not had any work in the EU for the last two years.
I know people say, “So what are you going to do?”, so I want to set out what will be in His Majesty’s Opposition’s King’s Speech: breakfast clubs, so all children can benefit from a good start; getting the NHS back on its feet by cutting waiting lists, delivering out-of-hours treatment and doubling the number of scanners to provide faster treatment; and getting Britain building again, with 1.5 million homes built in five years and first-time buyers being allowed to bid for those houses in their local community.
I walked past the flats that were there for the Commonwealth Games village. They are lying empty and I would like to know what is happening with them. Homeless people are being put up in hotels when those flats are lying empty and should be used.
We need to switch on “Great British Energy”, a new British company giving us cheaper bills and new high-paid jobs; and to take back our streets from gangs, drug dealers and fly-tippers, with stronger policing, guaranteed patrols in town centres and more criminals put behind bars. That is what will be in His Majesty’s Opposition’s King’s Speech.
Finally, I know the Prime Minister is very interested in “Star Wars”—he is a “Star Wars” geek—so I say this to him: “Red 326 standing by.”