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The Queen’s Speech, with all its pomp and circumstance, is the government’s first official opportunity to set out its legislative programme for the parliament.

We could have assumed that Theresa May was overflowing with ideas for the next year or more of Parliament, given that she proposes to cancel next year’s Queen’s Speech, and that she called a General Election two months ago! In reality, however, the Tories’ Queen’s Speech was utterly threadbare, devoid of ideas, and notable more for what was missing than what was being proposed.

I’m delighted that Theresa May’s threats to reinstate grammar schools, to repeal the ban on fox hunting, to take away Winter Fuel Payments – all keystones of the Tory manifesto - were all absent from the Queen’s Speech. Labour opposed all these proposals vigorously in our election campaign and the voters of Bristol West showed that they agreed with us. Less welcome absences, however, are the gaps on funding for schools and the NHS, the strain on our social care system (mentioned, but only just) and a continuing lack of plan for Brexit. Our schools and our health services are in crisis now; they’ve been struggling for years. Staff are taking the strain so pupils and patients don’t have to, but colleagues in the health service and in schools tell me serious problems are right in front of us. Some Bristol West schools are facing the prospect of cutting vital help with core subjects which help all children to thrive.

And what was there in the speech did not amount to an awful lot.

  • An announcement to ban unfair letting agency fees  - a Labour policy from the 2015 manifesto but one which they had already announced their support for before the general election!
  • A nebulous Great Repeal Bill which aims to write all EU rights and protections into UK law, but which doesn’t include any commitment to make sure UK workers’ rights, environmental protections or consumer rights keep pace with the EU.
  • And a promise to improve provision for mental health in the NHS – a promise that rings hollow when there are now over 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were in 2010, even after they promised the same thing in their 2015 manifesto!

Theresa May’s reckless decision to waste time with a general election immediately after setting the clock racing on our negotiations with the European Union has backfired. She has gone from talking about strength and stability, to being unable to put together a proper programme for government.

Labour stand ready to put forward a Queen’s Speech which addresses the big challenges facing Britain. Jeremy Corbyn’s Queen’s Speech would propose a real living wage of £10 an hour by 2020. It would establish a National Education Service which would cut class sizes below 30 for all 5, 6, and 7 year olds. It would halt the current restructuring of the NHS under the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) and work out a proper funding deal. And it would pledge to take real action to tackle our housing crisis by building at least 100,000 genuinely affordable homes by the end of the parliament.

Labour stands ready to form a government, to undo the damage of seven years of unnecessary austerity, and to work to create a fairer, more equal society. By contrast, Theresa May has scrabbled unsuccessfully to put together a government. The weak and wobbly Queen’s Speech she put forward today showed just how few ideas the Tories have. And, as she looks around the House of Commons in the days and weeks to come, she may come to realise just how few friends she has as she attempts to deliver even this threadbare programme.

A wafer-thin Queen's Speech

The Queen’s Speech, with all its pomp and circumstance, is the government’s first official opportunity to set out its legislative programme for the parliament. We could have assumed that Theresa...

We have all been horrified by the Grenfell Tower fire in London and dismayed at the tragic loss of so many lives. Not surprisingly I have been contacted by some constituents who live in some of our Bristol West high-rise blocks, now fearful of their own safety, and I’m aware that many more have voiced their concerns to local councillors and others.  

I know Bristol City Council has acted swiftly, with a letter to all residents in the 59 high-rise blocks in our city, to give reassurances on the safety measures in place. And I have spoken at length to Councillor Paul Smith, Bristol Council Cabinet Member for Housing, and representatives from Avon Fire and Rescue Service to get further reassurances about the safety of these homes. They’ll continue to keep me fully briefed over the coming days.

Today I have received from Avon Fire and Rescue Service a schedule of visits to the 31 council tower blocks in the Bristol West constituency. 

You can find the schedule of visits in Bristol West here.

 Mayor Marvin Rees will join councillors, officers from Avon Fire and Rescue Service, and neighbourhood officers from Avon and Somerset Police throughout this week on these visits. They'll aim to update residents and address any concerns they may have about safety. Meanwhile, Avon Fire and Rescue Service have stressed to me that any resident (whether in social housing or private accommodation) can book a free home fire safety visit if they are still worried: https://www.avonfire.gov.uk/our-services/home-fire-safety-visits.

It still remains unclear what caused the devastating fire in London. But I do know that our Bristol homes have many different safety features to the ones in Kensington. For example, Bristol City Council has carried out an extensive programme over the last five years to improve fire safety in our blocks so that they meet fire safety standards, and that programme will continue for the next ten years; all of our blocks have a firebreak on every floor, so any fire cannot spread upwards; every flat is wired with smoke alarms; all 59 of our high-rise blocks have been properly checked by the Avon Fire and Rescue Service in the last three months; and any cladding added to our blocks in recent years has been installed with completely different materials, system, and contractor to those used in Grenfell Tower.

The government has initiated a public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, with a report expected more quickly than usual. I already have assurance from the council that any recommendations from the inquiry will be implemented promptly, if they don’t already feature in our Bristol blocks. I’m very aware that the coroner’s recommendations after the 2009 fire in the Camberwell high-rise block –such as an overhaul of building regulations – were not carried out by the government, despite assurances. So I’ll work as hard as possible, with other colleagues in the opposition, to pressure the government into acting on all of the recommendations arising from this public inquiry. And I’ll do what I can to make sure the view of Bristol’s residents are raised in Parliament.

Fire safety in Bristol’s high-rise blocks

We have all been horrified by the Grenfell Tower fire in London and dismayed at the tragic loss of so many lives. Not surprisingly I have been contacted by some...

Like many, probably most, people in Bristol West, I am horrified by President Trump’s announcement last night that he is reneging on the US’s commitment under the Paris Climate Change agreement. The obligations for the US run for many years, they are supposed to be legally binding, and they include commitments to help fund work in poorer countries.

The Paris agreement set ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, agreed ways of sharing the burden fairly, and decided on ways to help developing countries to develop technologies for renewable energy. This was the right thing to do.

It was a Labour government that created the world’s first Climate Change Act in 2008, setting targets for reducing emissions and investing in renewable energy technologies. Many other countries have followed that Labour example and I am very proud that environmentalism is built into our constitution as one of our key principles.

It is extraordinary that Donald Trump sees this as defending American people and jobs. We will all be affected by climate change, a clear and present danger for the entire planet’s population. Many countries have recognised investing in renewable energy is where many jobs of the future are.

But he is the President of the United States. He is accountable to Americans and they can, and hopefully will, hold him to account for this at the ballot box. What is unforgivable about Trump’s decision is that it will affect millions of people around the world who cannot vote him out of office.

My cousins who live in Chennai, a megalopolis on the east coast of India, are already amongst the millions experiencing the harm of climate change. With rising annual temperatures, decreasing reliable rainfall and resulting floods when the rains come (as the ground is too dry to absorb the water), they have suffered financially and emotionally. It’s pretty distressing to be trapped with your children for five days in a second floor flat with no power or water supply and floods up to the floor below, as happened to them in December 2015.

The only way we can tackle climate change is to work together. Every country in the world had signed up to the Paris Accord in 2015, other than Syria and Nicaragua. If the USA is allowed to get away with letting down the rest of the world in this way we will all suffer, including Americans.

A Labour government would implement our energy policy built on a commitment to meeting our climate change targets and transitioning to a low-carbon economy. We would ban fracking, insulate four million homes and use public procurement to support the creation of local energy companies and new co-operatives. We would introduce a Clean Air Act to cut dangerous emissions in our towns and cities. And we would ensure, through investment in renewable energy, that 60 per cent of our energy comes from low carbon or renewable sources by 2030.

Building a clean energy system for the future is the most important thing we can do for the next generation and generations to come. Many Americans are already challenging their President about his announcements – 60 US Mayors have already said they will stick to the commitments their city has made. I call on all Americans to join them in challenging Donald Trump – the planet and the world’s population cannot wait.

Response to Donald Trump's statement on the Paris Climate Change agreement

Like many, probably most, people in Bristol West, I am horrified by President Trump’s announcement last night that he is reneging on the US’s commitment under the Paris Climate Change...

Thangam Debbonaire was the MP for Bristol West constituency until the dissolution of Parliament on 3 May 2017. She is now standing for re-election at the General Election on 8 June 2017. 

If you would like to contact Thangam, please use the campaign email: thangam_debbonaire@labour.org.uk. 

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