“All we have today are empty words” – Corbyn’s response to Queen’s Speech

Jeremy Corbyn

Below is the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the House of Commons following today’s Queen’s Speech.

Mr Speaker, it is a tradition at the beginning of each session of parliament to commemorate former Members of this House who have died. Even though it has been only two months since the last state opening of parliament in that time we have sadly lost our friend Frank Dobson. Frank was a committed health secretary from 1997-99, who began the rebuilding of our NHS after it had been run down by years of Conservative neglect. He was always a friendly face. He will be greatly missed by all.

We have also lost David Lambie at the magnificent age of 94. David was a Labour MP from 1970 until 1992 and a committed campaigner for peace.

On Tuesday the Prime Minister and I remembered Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt the wonderful young friends who died in the appalling terror attack in Fishmongers’ Hall. And it is right that we pay tribute to them again today.

Mr Speaker, I would like to congratulate the proposer of the loyal address. The right honourable member for Chatham and Aylesford showed passion and integrity. It’s what she has become known for since her principled resignation over the government’s failure to restrict fixed odds betting terminals.

But I am afraid there we part ways, for if there is anything that can drive a wedge between two people – even more than a Brexit vote in this place – it’s the North London rivalry: Arsenal or Spurs.

These things may seem trivial to some but as the great Bill Shankly once said: “Some people say football is a matter of life and death. I am disappointed in that attitude – it is much more important than that.” Or to put it another way, Arsenal has won 13 league titles, Tottenham only two. We have to take our victories where we can find them.

And can I also congratulate today’s seconder of the loyal address, the member for Walsall North, on his speech? Members opposite are renowned for their memberships of various clubs, from the Bullingdon or the Reform. But I was overjoyed to learn he is a member of the greatest and most prestigious club of them all.

The honourable gentleman is a trustee of the Walsall Wood Allotment Charity. A fantastic honour, I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker. He will understand more than most, the ecstatic pleasure that we allotment holders get from our allotments. I hope this will provide an opportunity for genuine bipartisanship across the House.

Mr Speaker, it was just two months ago that the Prime Minister made the Queen come here in the rain as part of a pre-election stunt. Since then, he has made many promises to many different parts of the country. He has promised to address problems that are the result of his own party’s actions in government and their political choice to impose austerity cuts.

There can no longer be any doubt that austerity has caused unnecessary suffering to millions of people.nThe communities to whom the Prime Minister made his promises will now judge him on whether he keeps them. In this Queen’s Speech the government has tried to mimic some of the priorities and much of the language of Labour Party policies but without the substance.

On austerity, on investment, on regional inequality, on the NHS we can see how the terrain has shifted. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, even if it is a pale imitation. But I fear that those who were swayed by the Prime Minister’s promises will be sorely disappointed.

As this Queen’s Speech shows, what the government is actually proposing is woefully inadequate for the scale of the problems our country faces. Mr Speaker, our NHS, this country’s most precious institution, is on its knees due to this Tory government. The government now talks about enshrining the funding settlement in law. Enough of the gimmicks. Just fund it properly.

I don’t remember the last Labour government having to pass a law to force itself to invest in the NHS, yet it increased NHS funding at a rate of 6% a year. This government is proposing little more than half that – less, in fact, than the historical average. The gap between the government’s rhetoric on the NHS and the reality is enormous.

Last week, for the first time ever, every single major A&E unit in England failed to hit its four-hour waiting time target. Every single one – under his government. The number of people in England waiting for an operation is the highest since records began – 4.4 million. And the number of unfilled staff vacancies has ballooned.

The Prime Minister’s promise of 50,000 extra nurses was quickly revealed as a sham. 19,000 of them already work for the NHS. And his promise of 40 new hospitals turned out to be reconfigurations to just six. Mr Speaker, the public will remember this. They will not look kindly on promises that are not kept.

The government says it will take action on hospital car parking fees, following Labour’s lead. But where we proposed to abolish them, only some people will be entitled to free parking under their plans.

It was the disastrous Health and Social Care Act, brought in by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition, which flung open the door to privatisation and is the cause of so many problems in our NHS. Yet the Queen’s Speech today says nothing about it.

Mr Speaker, not so long ago the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and announced he had a plan to solve the social care crisis. So where is it? It wasn’t in his party’s manifesto and all we have today are empty words about bringing forward proposals. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised – all we had in the last Queen’s Speech were empty words about bringing forward proposals.

And in the Queen’s speech before that, what did we get from the Conservatives? Empty words about bringing forward proposals. Cuts to adult social care are expected to reach almost £8bn by the end of 2019/20. But the government is only putting £1bn back in. It’s like taking £8 from someone and expecting them to be grateful when you give them back £1.

And when it comes to young people, Mr Speaker, the government has just given up all together. This is yet another Queen’s Speech that’s miserably weak on education. There’s nothing for early years, nothing for colleges, nothing for universities.

The government clearly hasn’t heard the anxious cries of parents and teachers about school funding. The funding promised for schools will still leave them hundreds of millions of pounds worse off in real terms compared to 2010.

Mr Speaker, when it comes to Brexit, the election result demonstrated a strong determination from many people across our country to end the mess and paralysis of the last three years. We understand that people are desperate to move on. That doesn’t mean we will just accept the Prime Minister’s reckless approach to how that is done.

He has now deliberately resurrected the threat of no deal at the end of next year, which would decimate industry and destroy people’s jobs. That threat is now written into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

The Prime Minister has shown his priority is a toxic deal with Donald Trump that will sell out our NHS and risk the safety of our food, our environmental protections and our workplace rights. We don’t want our NHS given over to US corporations. We don’t want more expensive medicines with extended patents. And we don’t want foods like chlorinated chicken on our dinner tables.

We know that the Prime Minister’s deal won’t put Brexit to bed, it will be just the beginning of years more drawn-out negotiations. It has been reported that the government wants to scrap the Department for International Development, a proud creation of the last Labour government. Will the Prime Minister confirm that his government will not close DFID?

And will he ensure that 0.7% of UK spending continues to be used to help end global poverty and destitution? I note the commitment to develop a sanctions regime to directly address human rights abuses. This doesn’t sound like good news for Saudi Arabia. Should the Saudi regime be worried?

Or will the government continue to ignore their human rights abuses and their war crimes in Yemen that have resulted in famine and a humanitarian disaster? According to the UNHCR there are almost 71 million forcibly displaced people around the world today. Where is the government’s commitment to do anything for those people are fleeing war, violence and famine?

Around the world Britain should stand up for human rights and democratic rights including the rights of workers facing exploitation and abuse. So it is very worrying that, here at home, this Conservative government is planning an assault on the right of workers to withdraw their labour, beginning with transport workers.

No worker goes on strike lightly. We will oppose any attempt to curtail that right. We already have some of the most draconian anti-worker laws and now the government seeks to take us even further back in time in breach of conventions of the International Labour Organisation. In a country where pay is too low, work too insecure and bad bosses too common attacking the rights of working people to stand up for themselves is completely wrong headed.

And on the subject of transport with planned transport investment in the North less than half that in London what assurances can the Prime Minister give that the commitments on investment in the Queen’s Speech are not just another failed gimmick, like the Northern Powerhouse?

We should take it as a form of flattery that, on investment the words of the Queen’s Speech echo what Labour has long argued – that investment is desperately needed in every part of our country. But the scale of the investment planned by the government falls woefully short of what is required.

Speaking of falling woefully short, this Queen’s Speech contains nothing of substance to deal with the colossal challenge of the climate and environmental emergency. Net zero carbon emissions by 2050 which is the government’s target is too late and in any case, at the current rate of progress we won’t reach net zero until 2099. Any target date will be fanciful if action doesn’t start now. What are the Prime Minister’s plans on climate for this year and for each year after?

It is clear that COP 25 this year was a failure. Next year, Britain will be hosting COP 26. Frankly, I think it will be embarrassing for us as the host such a vital conference when we are doing so little to reduce our own carbon emissions. The government needs get serious and put young people’s futures before those of the big polluters who fund the Conservative Party.

Mr Speaker, this Christmas thousands of people will be sleeping on the streets thanks to this government. Rough sleeping has doubled on its watch. Everyone who sees people huddled in doorways in the cold in the fifth richest country on earth knows it is morally wrong. Shelter says 280,000 people will be homeless on Christmas Day in England alone – either rough sleeping, or living in temporary housing and hostels.

So can the Prime Minister explain why there is no mention of homelessness in the Queen’s Speech? And why is there so little to address the housing crisis? Could it be because he doesn’t want to upset the billionaire landlords that back his party? The Prime Minister has used Labour’s idea of offering discounted homes to first-time buyers but that’s OK, it’s more flattery, let’s see the substance.

What reassurance can he provide that this won’t go the same way as the failed Starter Homes programme? Remember, we were promised 200,000 starter homes in 2015 but as yet we’ve seen zero. The fire at Grenfell Tower exposed a housing system that is fundamentally broken. Yet, two years later, 319 of the 446 buildings covered in aluminium composite cladding have not had it removed. Imagine living in one of those buildings, feeling at risk. So will the Prime Minister now set a hard deadline for all landlords to replace dangerous cladding? And will he fund the installation of sprinklers in high-rise social housing blocks, and reverse budget cuts to the fire service?

We will look at the findings of the government’s royal commission on the criminal justice process … but any changes to sentencing must be done in consultation with anti-terror experts, and not as a knee-jerk reaction to make political capital.

Mr Speaker, this Queen’s Speech is notable for what is not in it. It does nothing for students who are being lumbered with huge debts. It does nothing for older people unable to pay their heating bills this winter. And it does nothing to address the levels of poverty in our country.

This year the United Nations – the United Nations – had to take our government to task over the shocking fact that 14 million people are living in poverty in the fifth richest country in the world. Shouldn’t that be a source of shame for this government? Shouldn’t their Queen’s Speech contain something to address this?

Why is there not even a mention of Universal Credit, the cruel policy that has ruined so many lives? Why is there no commitment to immediately raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour … so that people no longer have to work their fingers to the bone just to remain in poverty?

Those things aren’t in this Queen’s Speech because this government, this Conservative Party, does not stand for the people on the receiving end of their policies. Despite all their promises that is what today’s Queen’s Speech shows.

Mr Speaker, the central aim of the Labour Party is to stand up for working people, for people in every part of our country, for the many not the few to deliver social justice, prosperity and a society that works for all. As this government ploughs ahead with its programme of gimmicks and false promises we will be holding it to account every step of the way and campaigning inside and outside Parliament and across the country for the real change that this government will not deliver and our country so desperately needs.

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