“Nothing more than fool’s gold” – Corbyn on the Queen’s Speech

Jeremy Corbyn
© UK Parliament

Below is the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Queen’s Speech.

Mr Speaker, this year marks the anniversary the 70th anniversary of the 1949 Parliament Act, which asserted the primacy of this House over the House of Lords. And in this anniversary year the House has acquitted itself well in proving its worth. It is also the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Representation of the People Act, which extended the vote for anyone over the age of 18 years.

As we meet today, we should commit to strengthening our democracy and the vital role of this democratic House in holding to account the Executive. By tradition, at the beginning of each parliamentary session we commemorate the Members of the House we have lost in the last year.

Earlier this year we lost Paul Flynn – a fiercely independent, passionate, kind and principled member. I remember him reading out in this House the names of those who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two wars which he had opposed. He briefly served in my Shadow Cabinet, and I think the whole House was enlivened by his performances.

He joked that he was there as part of a job creation scheme for octogenerians. He wasn’t. He was there because he was an excellent orator, campaigner and member of this House, as well as being an excellent representative of the people of Newport West, the constituency he served for 32 years.

Mr Speaker, today’s proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address share a route into this place: both were local councillors prior to entering this House. And I pay tribute all those who put themselves forward to represent local communities as councillors, because without them our local democracy would be worse off.

I was a little surprised to see that the Honourable member for North East Derbyshire had been asked by the Prime Minister to propose the motion today, given they’ve not always enjoyed the best of relationships.

As we know, the Prime Minister has earned a reputation for enjoying life to the fullest. During his time as London Mayor I understand he became incandescent on learning that the Honourable Member – at that time a Westminster councillor – intended introducing a ‘night-life tax’.

Thankfully, he was able to reassure the Prime Minister that the night-life tax only applied to car parking charges, and not other activities. Although on reflection, he may well have missed a revenue earning opportunity.

I suspect it’s no coincidence the Honourable Member for North East Derbyshire has shown great independence of thought as a politician as he grew up in Chesterfield during the 1980s – a cradle of political dissent.

Today, the Honourable member is again in danger of finding himself upbraided by the Prime Minister. This time as a member of the “nose-ringed, uncooperative crusties”. Indeed, he took his fight against fracking into the lion’s den at the 2018 Tory Party conference and predicted that his party’s support for fracking could see them lose seats.

My late friend Tony Benn – the Honourable Member’s MP growing up – called one of his last diaries ‘Dare to be a Daniel’. I hope the Honourable Member continues to dare.

Researching today’s seconder – the Honourable Member for Truro and Falmouth – I believe I have uncovered a secret Conservative project originating in Merton in the 1980s that led directly to Downing Street three decades later.

Chief of “the Wimbledon Set”, as they became known, was the Right Honourable Member for Maidenhead. By her side stood her loyal lieutenants, the Honourable Members for Wimbledon, for Basingstoke, and of course for Truro and Falmouth.

Today those who are part of the Wimbledon Set are described as competent and professional, which begs the question – how did the Right Honourable Member for Epsom and Ewell sneak into the Wimbledon Set?

Mr Speaker, the House may not know this, but in 2013 the Honourable Member and I found ourselves in political agreement. I was happy to support her EDM to mark the anniversary of the death Emily Davidson and I think it’s worth the House hearing some of EDM 164:

“This House commemorates the centenary of the death of Emily Davidson … Salutes her courage on behalf of the suffragette cause … and pays tribute to her and her fellow campaigners for their brave and ultimately successful efforts to secure votes for women.”

Mr Speaker, while I may be dubious of the company she keeps, the Honourable Member for Truro and Falmouth is more than deserving of the honour of seconding today’s loyal address.

Mr Speaker, there has never been such a farce as a government with a majority of minus 45 and a 100% record of defeat in the Commons setting out a legislative agenda they know cannot be delivered in this parliament.

So Mr Speaker, we may only be just weeks away from the first Queen’s Speech of a Labour government. And in that Queen’s Speech Labour will put forward the most radical and people-focused programme in modern times, a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild and transform our country. It will let the people decide on Brexit, build an economy that works for all, rebuild public services that support everyone, tackle the climate emergency and reset our global role to one based on peace and human rights.

Mr Speaker, this government has had three and a half years to get Brexit done and they’ve failed. The only legitimate way to sort Brexit now is to let the people decide with the final say. To pass this House, any deal needs to meet the needs of workers and businesses. That means including a new customs union, a close single market relationship and guarantees of workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections.

A Withdrawal Agreement Bill was announced, but we don’t yet know if the government has done a deal. What we are sure of is that this House has legislated against crashing out with No Deal and that the Prime Minister must comply with the law if a deal does not pass this House.

The Queen’s Speech talked about the opportunities that arise from Brexit, but the government’s own figures suggest a Free Trade Agreement approach would cause a near 7% hit to the economy while a no deal crash out would cause a 10% hit. Those seem like opportunities we could live without.

Mr Speaker, for many people the economy is fundamentally weak. Since 2010, there are more workers in poverty, more children in poverty, more pensioners in poverty. There are more families without a home to call their own and more people sleeping rough on our streets. Fewer people can afford to own their own home and wages are still lower than a decade ago. Productivity is falling and the economy contracted last month. At the weekend I was in Hastings where last year food banks distributed 87,453 meals and one in 7 people live in fuel poverty.

There was nothing in this Queen’s Speech to address our stagnant economy. Nothing to address low pay and insecure work. Nothing to reverse rising levels of child poverty or pensioner poverty. So will the Prime Minister match Labour’s commitments to: scrap the benefit freeze, end the benefit cap, ditch the bedroom tax, scrap the two-child limit and the rape clause and end punitive sanctions?

While we welcome the legislation to ensure employers pass on tips to their workers – something the Labour and trade union movement has long campaigned for – the government must go further and I would urge them to listen to the package of measures set out by my hon friend for North West Durham at the TUC this year.

This speech was supposed to herald an end to austerity and a new vision. Instead, it barely begins to unpick the devastating cuts to public services. The NHS suffered the longest funding squeeze in its history, while life expectancy falls and infant mortality rises. Schools have had their budget cuts, class sizes have risen and headteachers are sending begging letters to parents. Police have lost over 20,000 officers while violent crime soars. NHS England has made clear that core treatment targets cannot be met with the funding settlement offered by the government. They cannot be trusted with the NHS.

The government’s refusal to guarantee key standards lets down the 4.4 million patients on the waiting lists, all those waiting longer and longer in A&Es and the nearly 34,000 patients who waited over 62 days for cancer treatment last year.

With 40,000 nurse vacancies this is an urgent need to restore the nurse bursary. But if he really wants to defend the NHS he needs to end privatisation so that our NHS is focused on making people better, not people on the make.

A universal service free at the point of use. We don’t want just tinkering around the edges. We want to bin the Health and Social Care Act and truly end privatisation in our NHS. Will he support Labour’s plan to provide free prescriptions to people in England as has been done in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? And will he back Labour’s commitment to legislate for safe staffing levels in hospitals?

In the last Queen’s Speech, in 2017, it stated “my government will reform mental health legislation and ensure that mental health is prioritised in the National Health Service in England”. Two years on, all we have are the same warm words.

It is a similar story on social care. The 2017 Queen’s Speech promised “my ministers will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals.” Today we have the same promise after two years of inaction and failure, with 87 people dying every day while they wait for social care.

This Queen’s Speech is shockingly weak on education with no commitments on early years, on colleges or universities. The money announced for schools does not restore the funding lost since 2010.

It is all very well promising extra police but the reason we don’t have enough police is because the Government cut 21,000 police and nearly 7,000 Police Community Support Officers. And if the party opposite want to talk about providing police with protections perhaps they can tell the police why they subjected them – and millions of other public sector workers – to cuts in their pay, pensions and terms and conditions.

I know this government doesn’t have a great record of listening to judges but surely they are aware that judges already have the powers to ensure that the most serious offenders serve more than half of their sentence in jail.

Prisons are severely overcrowded and there are 2,500 fewer prison officers in our prisons today than in 2010. The privatisation of the probation service was a shambolic and costly failure. I hope lessons have been learned and we’ll examine closely any proposals on rehabilitating offenders.

I hope that alongside the tougher sentencing the government will also recognise that too many people are in prison on short sentences for non-violent and non-sexual offences. Our society would be better served by them being subject to community sentencing. And what will he do to address the appallingly low conviction rate for rape and other serious sexual offences?

The dog-whistle rhetoric around foreign offenders, Mr Speaker is a rather ugly mask for the fact that by crashing out of the EU this Government risks losing some of the most effective measures in tackling cross-border crime. The European Arrest Warrant, participation in Eurojust and access to numerous databases.

We will study the detail closely of the government’s proposals on rail reform but it is no good simply changing the way in which Train Operating Companies carry on extracting profit from our fragmented railway system.

Only a Labour government will cap fares and ensure the railway is run for passengers not for profit. And there is nothing in this Queen’s Speech to reverse the devastating cuts to local bus services.

Nine in 10 private blocks with Grenfell-style cladding still haven’t had it replaced. Not a single private block has been made safe since under this Prime Minister. Will he confirm today that he will set a hard deadline for all landlords to replace dangerous cladding; toughen sanctions against block owners that won’t do the work; fund the retrofitting of sprinklers in all high-rise social housing blocks; and restore the budget cuts from the fire service?

And perhaps he can set out what measures there are to address this government’s abject failure on housing that has led to more people sleeping on our streets, more families in hostels and temporary accommodation and fewer people able to buy their own home. Labour will end no fault evictions, tackle the leasehold scandal and kick-start the largest council house building programme for a generation.

The introduction of Pension dashboards is welcome, as is the legislation for CDC pension schemes which will help resolve the Royal Mail dispute.

Sadly, Mr Speaker, these proposals do nothing to address the injustice done to women born in the 1950s. And this Queen’s Speech does nothing to guarantee the free TV license for over-75s.

The government handed our Armed Forces a pay cut for seven years – and cuts to council budgets in England have made it far harder to deliver the Armed Forces Covenant – leaving our veterans, our personnel and their families all worse off.

We will not allow this government to stifle democracy by making it harder for people to vote – there was only one instance of voter personation at the last election. 11 million in this country don’t have a passport or driving licence. There are huge risks in such legislation, which will disproportionately affect working class, ethnic minority and young voters.

Freedom of movement has given opportunities to millions of British people to live, work and retire across Europe. And it has benefited our economy immensely, with EU workers playing a key role in sustaining many UK industries and public services.

No responsible member would vote to rip that up, unless there was a proper plan in place. In the shadow of the Windrush scandal, the Settled Status scheme for EU citizens risks another round of wrongful denial of rights and shameful deportations.

The government says they will be at the forefront of solving the most complex international security issues and global challenges, and yet they are playing precisely no role in stopping the horrors unfolding in Kurdish areas of Northern Syria, ending the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, or standing up for the rights of the Rohingya, the Uighurs, or the people of Palestine, Kashmir, Ecuador or Hong Kong.

They are continuing to cosy up to Donald Trump and sitting idly by as he wrecks the world’s efforts to tackle climate change and nuclear proliferation. The crisis of our age is the climate emergency, as declared by this House in May, but there is no action announced in this Queen’s Speech.

I pay tribute to the climate school strikers and to Extinction Rebellion. Sadly the government hasn’t listened. The Prime Minister derided them as “nose-ringed crusties”, although I note their number included a former Conservative MEP.

So many people are concerned about bad air quality, the failure to invest in renewable energy, the pollution of our rivers and seas, the loss of biodiversity. Only government has the power and resource to tackle the climate emergency but is missing in inaction. It is Labour that will bring forward a Green New Deal to tackle the climate emergency.

Mr Speaker, this legislative programme is a propaganda exercise that cannot disguise that this government has failed on Brexit for over three years. That they are barely beginning to undo the damage of a decade of cuts to our public services. That it does nothing for people struggling to make ends meet, does nothing to make our world a safer place, or tackle the climate emergency.

The Prime Minister promised that this Queen’s Speech would dazzle us – on closer inspection it turns out to be nothing more than fool’s gold.

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