The Queen’s Speech debate is now underway, with MPs debating the announced bills and themes over five parliamentary sessions from today to next Tuesday.
The opposition has proposed the following subjects to be debated in detail:
- Tomorrow: Britain’s place in the world
- Wednesday: Public services
- Thursday: The climate emergency
- Monday (21st): The NHS
- Tuesday (22nd): The Economy
Lee Rowley, MP for North East Derbyshire proposed the speech to begin the debate and Sarah Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth seconded. These speeches are more light-hearted in their tone and content but often point to a backbench MP who the Government tips to be a “future star.” Rowley’s speech focused on the key message of getting Brexit done, describing the current situation as a “toxic & crippling fog.” Newton focused on the environmental aspects of the Queen’s Speech including plans to create an independent regulator to scrutinise environmental policy and law.
Jeremy Corbyn described the Queen’s speech as ‘fool’s gold’ stating the Government is barely beginning to undo the damage of a decade of cuts to our public services. Labour reiterated its attack line that this Government does not have the legitimacy to bring forward a legislative agenda, lacking both a majority and a single win in Parliament. It is worth noting that the Labour Leader opted to attack the Government on its domestic agenda, such as public services and employment, rather than focusing on the opposition’s Brexit positioning. This gives an insight into the areas Labour feel they are strongest on and shows the likely battle lines for a General Election.
Corbyn also set out Labour’s alternative agenda saying that the country could be weeks away from a Labour Government.
Corbyn restated that Labour do not trust the Prime Minister and therefore will not agree to a General Election until the threat of a no deal Brexit is off the table. He restated Labour will let the people decide on Brexit and will seek a deal that meets the needs of businesses and workers.
Labour was critical that there was nothing in the Queens Speech to address, as they see it, our stagnant economy, low pay and insecure work. Corbyn devoted some time to benefit reform restating Labour’s commitment to scrapping the benefit freeze, ending the benefit cap, removing the bedroom tax, removing the two-child limit and the ‘rape clause.’ He also welcomed the legislation to ensure employers pass on tips to their workers and urged the Government to listen to the package of measures set out by the TUC.
Labour pledged to rebuild public services that support everyone, stating that the new funding promised does not replace the cuts from previous Conservative governments. Jeremy was critical of school funding levels, describing headteachers having to resort to ‘begging bowls’ in an attempt to fill the funding gap left by Conservative cuts. On education he also criticised the speech for not addressing early years funding, colleges or universities.
Corbyn also said Labour will study the detail closely of the Government’s proposals on rail reform but stated that only a Labour Government will cap fares and ensure the railway is run for passengers not for profit. He was also critical that there was nothing in this Queen’s Speech to reverse the devastating cuts to local bus services.
Remembering the terrible loss of life at Grenfell, he highlighted that nine in ten private blocks with Grenfell-style cladding still haven’t had it replaced and claimed that not a single private block has been made safe under this Prime Minister. He called on the Government to 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.” Corbyn recommitted Labour to ending no fault evictions, tackling the leasehold scandal and kick-starting the largest council house building programme for a generation.
EQUALITIES AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Corbyn criticised the Government for giving the Armed Forces a pay cut for seven years highlighting that cuts to council budgets in England have made it harder for local authorities to deliver the Armed Forces Covenant.
He also highlighted what he viewed as a threat to democracy, supported by an intervention from Angela Eagle, claiming the Government’s reforms to Voter Registration and Identification are designed to disenfranchise young, working class and BAME voters. Corbyn highlighted that eleven million people in this country don’t have a passport or driving license and that there are huge risks in such legislation.
On immigration, Corbyn stated that freedom of movement has given opportunities to millions of British people to live, work and retire across Europe. He challenged MPs stating that no responsible MP would vote to end freedom of movement unless there was a proper plan in place. He also stated that the Settled Status scheme for EU citizens risks another round of wrongful denial of rights and shameful deportations similar to the Windrush scandal.
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS
He was critical of the Government for failing to stop “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”, accusing the Government instead of “cosying up to Donald Trump.”
Corbyn also paid tribute to the climate school strikers and Extinction Rebellion stating only Labour will bring forward a Green New Deal to tackle the climate emergency.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP
Boris Johnson’s tone and approach to his speech took on his usual optimistic vision of the UK being the “best place in the world to live” and reiterated his key message of how the Government will meet the 31st October deadline to leave the EU. Like Corbyn, Johnson’s speech was not as Brexit heavy as some had expected, instead focusing on a “Queen’s Speech that delivers on the people’s priorities”. Building on the Conservative party’s conference announcements, the PM focused on healthcare, policing and education – all of which are extremely likely to be a core part of a Conservative election pitch.
This was packaged in a “One Nation” message, a label that Johnson now seems to be aiming to reclaim by heralding a new age of opportunity for the whole country. Johnson proactively championed the free market, stating that it is crucial in finding the solutions to some of the country’s biggest problems but also to provide the Government with the ability to rapidly increase investment into public services and infrastructure.
In what will likely form a key part of the Conservatives’ election message, Johnson heavily criticised Corbyn’s position on Brexit claiming he had altered his view numerous times and that Labour were abandoning immigration control all together. This was in stark contrast to the Government’s will to “get Brexit done on the 31st October.”
Johnson fiercely advocated “a high trade, low tax economy” to boost post-Brexit Britain and strong fiscal discipline to allow for investment in growing our economy across the country. He attacked Labour to say that a Corbyn Government would be a “far-greater” threat to business than a no-deal. It is clear that this will remain a key attack line for the PM: “What we have is a choice between a semi-Marxist opposition that would set the country back decades, and a one-nation Government that understands the vital importance of wealth creation.”
On education, Johnson focused on new funding for primary and secondary schools but also increasing investment in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities system and support for parents with setting up new special free schools. On health, Johnson committed his Government to the Long-Term NHS plan and to change how the Mental Health Act works to ensure a more effective support system.
CRIME AND JUSTICE
Much had been made of the Queen’s Speech strengthening the justice system (e.g. introducing a Sentencing Bill) but in his remarks, Johnson borrowed from Tony Blair’s philosophy and phrase book to “deal with crime and the causes of crime.” He highlighted a massive investment in youth clubs and prisons as an example of this. Johnson stated that “no one should escape justice for a crime that they have committed”, underlining how he will put the police covenant into law to support the forces on the ground.
There was discontent from both sides of the House regarding Veterans’ issues. Conservative MP Bob Stewart was critical that there was no mention of the historic convictions that some veterans are facing, and the PM reassured him that legislative measures would come forward to protect former armed forces personnel.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT
The PM committed to achieving the “biggest infrastructure revolution of our lifetime” and added that he would “level-up” investment across the country.
“We believe in boosting the productivity of all regions – through great infrastructure and transport connections to allow business to flourish, Government must lead to create the right conditions but allow free market economics to deliver the solutions we need”.
However, the PM was less committed on HS2 and the Williams Review which he was questioned on numerous times by MPs (especially from the East Midlands) – he would not commit to any detail, instead stating this would be covered in the 6th November budget.
He claimed that the UK is “leading the world on the environmental issues” – Johnson stated that the Government is setting a “blistering pace” on tackling climate change due to the Government’s economic record.
Johnson spoke of his “vision for a Britain where fairness and balance are at the heart of what we do,” underlining that he would achieve this by funding superb education and healthcare with an open, dynamic economy and by delivering the will of the people on Brexit.