I spoke in the debates following the Queen’s Speech this week to highlight some of the key areas of legislation which were missing from the government’s agenda; including reform of the benefits system for terminally ill people; tackling the scourge of insecure work; action on steel; clarification on future funding for Wales; and policing.
You can read my speech from the debate in full below:
Ahead of the Queen’s Speech, Opposition Members called on the Government to prioritise jobs in the recovery from the pandemic. As the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, after a year of sacrifice we needed a Queen’s Speech that rose to the scale of the challenge and was transformative for our economy, public services and society, but what we got lacked ambition and a plan to meet that challenge.
For example, we did not get an uptake on the long-awaited and much needed employment Bill. It is imperative that the Government take swift action to deal with the scourge of insecure work, including by putting an end to exploitative working practices such as fire and rehire. I know constituents who have been caught in such traps—most recently at British Gas—and met some of them during the recent election campaign. Their accounts of the way they have been treated, often after years of loyal service, are deeply unfair. It is a reminder of the urgent need to reform employment practices so that everyone is treated with dignity and respect at work.
The Queen’s Speech was notable for what it excluded as much as for what it included. For all the talk about levelling up, there was no meaningful indication of support for an industry that should be at the very heart of that agenda: steel. Steel communities are a key part of our industrial future. There cannot be an advanced economy or an economic recovery from the pandemic without a resilient steel sector. Our steel producers need action on industrial energy costs—we have been going on about that for ages—and we need to ensure that British steel manufacturers, such as those in Newport East, are at last at the front of the queue for Government contracts.
Platitudes about levelling up across the regions and nations of the UK are popular with Government Ministers, but these Ministers are less keen on talking up Wales, Toggle showing location ofColumn 205and there was scant mention of Wales in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. We are still waiting on assurances from Tory Government Ministers on their “not a penny less” promise on the replacement of European structural funds and on long-overdue investments in our transport network. It is wrong that Wales accounts for 11% of the UK rail network but receives only 2% of rail investment enhancement from the Department for Transport.
I express my deep disappointment, and that of campaigners and charities throughout the country, that the Queen’s Speech failed to incorporate long-awaited reform of the benefits system for terminally ill people. We are now approaching the two-year anniversary of the Government’s review of access to welfare benefits for the terminally ill and we are still no closer to the scrapping of the cruel six-month and three-year rules that force people to spend their final months grappling with a complex and uncaring system.
We have continuously raised the issue with Ministers over the past year, alongside the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Marie Curie and other campaigners, to whom I pay tribute for keeping it high on the agenda, especially on social media. The responses have been vague and non-committal, with promises of updates “soon” followed by inaction. Ministers say that they are receptive to the campaign and acknowledge the need for reform, but I question why we are stuck in this limbo. Two years since the review was announced, thousands have died while waiting for a decision on their benefits claim, so will Ministers on the Front Bench today convey to the Department for Work and Pensions people’s anger and frustration and ask the Department to sort the situation out?
Finally, on policing, despite warm words from the Government, the truth is that they have still not addressed the impact of their swingeing cuts to policing over the past decade. Today, the police workforce nationally has 23,824 fewer personnel than in 2010. Operation Uplift is welcome, but it still does not take things back to 2010 levels or beyond. The Government must do better for our police services and for communities such as Newport East.