Today was my first opportunity to challenge the government as Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. The government controls most of the parliamentary timetable and weekly Business Questions are an opportunity to scrutinise them closely.
Up against my opposite number Jacob Rees Mogg, I first asked about the government’s attempts to restrict voting by requiring photo ID. This is a scandalous attack on democracy.
Next, I asked about social care. This is more urgent than ever. It is now 659 days since Prime Minister said he had a plan to fix it, and 10 years since Dilnot Commission proposed such a plan. When will the government act?
I went to ask about the building safety crisis. Four years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the government is still push thousands of people into debt, for a problem they did not cause.
I closed the session demanding real accountability in the public Covid inquiry. We’ve had one of the worst death rates and economic downturns of any country. We owe it to the country to find out what went wrong – and the government must learn from mistakes.
You can watch my full speech – and the government’s answers – here.
My speech in full
I thank the Leader of the House for that, and, in this role, I look forward to working with him and with you, Mr Speaker, especially on making this world heritage site the most accessible it can be, and in particular autism-accessible in tribute to our late colleague, Cheryl Gillan.
The news and images from the middle east this morning are truly horrifying. We join the Government in urging calm. We ask them to do all they can to halt the terrifying attacks and loss of life and to work with allies to help restore a peace process.
My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), has a remarkable work ethic, championing colleagues and staff in this place and showing calmness in a crisis, and I thank her. She is a hard act to follow.
I was also pleased to see in recent elections the high regard that the people of North East Somerset—the Leader of the House’s constituents—have for their previous MP, his predecessor. They voted in large numbers for Labour’s Dan Norris as our metro mayor. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Dan on his successful election as the Mayor of the West of England? Will he support Dan’s call for a better deal for his own constituents from this Government?
I know that the Leader of the House prizes democracy, one of this country’s greatest exports, so will he agree that it does not deserve the treatment it was given in the Queen’s Speech? The Government propose to restrict the right to vote by requiring photo identification, yet a mere 0.000002%—I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for that figure—of the votes cast in 2019 were found to be fraudulent. The reason given for this attack on democracy is one conviction, out of more than 47 million votes. Ministers have said that as we have to ID to pick up a package, we should need it for voting, but 3.5 million people do not have photo ID. In any case, these Ministers are clearly not picking up their own parcels, as they would know that many forms of ID without photos are accepted. Will the Leader of the House please explain to his own constituents why they cannot vote by giving their name to a clerk and being counted by a teller, when that is how their own MP votes in this place—in normal times, at least? Will he join me in saluting the respect the British public have for democracy and reconsider the Government’s reckless, expensive and anti-democratic decision?
The Queen’s Speech was astonishing for the lack of understanding of the problems that we had before the pandemic—problems made worse by it—and for the lack of ambition to tackle them. We need urgency and boldness to create those decent, secure jobs, to halt climate change, to build truly affordable homes and to boost productivity.
We also need to know what has happened to the Prime Minister’s much-hyped plan to fix social care. After a truly terrible year in which the need for this plan could not have been any clearer, there is barely a whisper of it in the Queen’s Speech—a paltry nine words. Meanwhile, there have been £8 billion of cuts from social care budgets by successive Tory Governments since 2010, and we have a welfare state for the 2020s built on the life expectancy of the 1940s. It is 659 days since the Prime Minister promised us a plan, but, nearly 10 years after the Dilnot commission published its recommendations, which could be that plan, older people who made this country what it is have had to spend their own hard-earned money on a care system that is urgently in need of such a plan. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to come to this House and explain this dereliction of duty?
The Government fail to appreciate the strength of feeling across Parliament and the country about the cladding and fire safety crisis, exposed so tragically and cruelly by the Grenfell Tower fire. Members of all parties know the struggles of their own constituents. They have repeatedly tried to get the Government to stick to their promise—oft made—that residents would not be made to pay for dangers they did not cause, so will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to lift the burdens from residents in buildings both above and below 18 metres and place those burdens firmly on the industry that caused them? Will the Leader of the House urge him also not to wait until the Building Safety Bill, but to act now and vote with Her Majesty’s Opposition next week on our building safety motion?
Finally, the Leader of the Opposition has, of course, welcomed on our behalf the Government’s announcement of a public inquiry into covid and the Government response, but the Prime Minister needs to heed the cry of bereaved families, who have been calling for this inquiry for over a year and want lessons to be learned urgently, not next year—they want them in time to inform any further waves, which are still, sadly, a risk because of the variants. Will the Leader of the House ask the Government to publish the lessons learned review urgently and to heed the words of survivors and bereaved people?
The covid memorial wall, with its thousands of red hearts facing us across the Thames, bears witness to the loss and pain of the last year. We owe it to those people who died, to their relatives and to the country to make sure that the Government are openly and speedily transparent. They deserve no less, and we in the Opposition will, on their behalf, hold the Government to that.