Ed Miliband's rather good response to the Queen's speech.
Wednesday 4 June 2014
Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, responding in the House of Commons to the Queen's Speech, said:
This Friday we will mark seventy years since the Normandy Landings, where wave upon wave of allied forces poured onto the beaches of Northern France.
It marked the beginning of the final chapter of the Second World War which preserved the freedoms we enjoy today.
So I want to start by honouring the service of those veterans and the memory of their fallen comrades.
A feeling I'm sure shared across the whole House.
And I am sure across the House today we will also want to remember and pay tribute to the work of our armed forces over the last decade in Afghanistan.
At the end of this year, British combat operations will come to an end.
We should be incredibly proud of the service of our armed forces.
They have fought to make Afghanistan a more stable country, and a country with a democracy and the rule of law.
And a country that cannot be used as a safe haven to plan acts of terrorism here in Britain.
We grieve for the 453 members of our Armed Forces who have been lost and our thoughts are with their families and friends.
All of our armed forces have demonstrated, as our Normandy veterans did all those years ago, that they represent the best of our country.
At the beginning of each Parliamentary session, we also remember those members of this House we have lost in the last year.
In January, we lost Paul Goggins.
He was one of the kindest, most honourable people in the House, and someone of the deepest principle.
At a time when people are very sceptical about politics, Paul Goggins is a reminder of what public servants and public service can achieve.
Let me turn to the proposer of the motion who carried off her duties with aplomb and humour.
She can only be described as we saw from her speech, as one of life's enthusiasts.
Before coming to this House she has had a varied career as a magician's assistant when a teenager, and then a job nearly as dangerous, running the foreign press operation for President George W. Bush.
She made headlines for her recent appearance on Splash.
With an admirable line in self-deprecation saying about her performance, "I have the elegance and drive of a paving slab..." which seems somewhat unfair.
Since she got to the quarter finals I'm not sure what it says about the other contestants.
It certainly takes guts to get in a swimming costume and dive off the high board.
Can I say to her if she is looking for a new challenge she should try wrestling a bacon sandwich live on national television.
In any case, it is clear that today she deserved her place on the podium.
Turning to the seconder of the motion, she made an eloquent speech.
She came to this House with over twenty years teaching in further education and the Open University behind her.
Since being elected in 2001, she has campaigned with distinction on children's issues and has been an assiduous local MP.
She voted against tuition fees, has described being in the coalition as "terrible" and says the Lib Dem record on women MPs is "dreadful".
By current Lib Dem standards, Mr Speaker, that apparently makes her a staunch loyalist.
But on gender representation she will have taken real consolation that she can now boast that 100 per cent of Liberal Democrat MEPs are women.
As she said she will be standing down at the next election and for her outside experiences, her wisdom and her all round good humour and kindness, which I saw when I first became an MP, she will be much missed.
Before I turn to the loyal address, let me say something about one of the most important decisions for generations, which will be made in just a few months' time.
The decision about the future of our United Kingdom.
The history of the UK, from workers' rights, to the defeat of Fascism, to the NHS, to the minimum wage, is the story of a country stronger together.
A country in which representation from Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland and England has helped us to advance the cause of social justice.
It is a decision for the people of Scotland but I passionately believe this Kingdom should remain United.
Mr Speaker, the ritual of the debate on the loyal address has existed for centuries.
Today, we do not just debate the Queen's Speech, we assert the importance of this House and the battle it has fought over hundreds of years to exercise power on behalf of the British people.
But what the recent elections show is that more than at any time for generations, this House faces a contemporary battle of its own.
A battle for relevance, legitimacy and standing in the eyes of the public.
The custom of these debates is to address our opponents across the despatch box in this House.
But today on its own that would be inadequate to the challenge we face.
There is an even bigger opponent to address in this Queen's Speech debate:
The belief among many members of the public that this House cannot achieve anything at all.
Any party in it.
About 10 per cent of people entitled to vote, voted for UKIP in the recent elections.
But, as significant, over 60 per cent did not vote at all.
And whatever side we sit on, we will all have heard it on the doorstep:
"You're all the same, you're in it for yourself, it doesn't matter who I vote for."
Of course, that's not new, but there is a depth and a scale of disenchantment which we ignore at our peril.
Disenchantment that goes beyond one party, beyond one government.
There is no bigger issue for our country and our democracy.
So, the test for this legislative programme, the last before the general election, is to show that it responds.
To the scale of the discontent.
And the need for answers.
In this election, we heard concerns about the way the EU works and the need for reform.
We heard deep-rooted concerns about immigration and the need to make changes.
But I believe there is an even deeper reason for this discontent.
Fundamentally, too many people in our country feel Britain doesn't work for them and hasn't done so for a long time.
In the jobs they do and whether their hard work is rewarded.
In the prospects for their children and whether they will lead a better life than their parents, including whether they will be able to afford a home of their own.
And in the pressures communities face.
Above all, whether the work and effort people put in is reflected in them sharing fairly in the wealth of this country.
The Governor of the Bank of England gave a remarkable speech last week saying inequality was now one of the biggest challenges in our country.
We should all be judged on how we respond to this question, right as well as left.
There are measures we support in this Queen's Speech including tackling modern slavery, an Ombudsman for our Armed Forces and recall.
But the big question for this Queen's Speech is whether it just offers more of the same or whether it offers a new direction, so we can genuinely say it works for all and not just a few at the top.
This task starts with the nature of work in Britain today.
It is a basic belief of the British people that if you work all the hours God sends you should at least be able to make ends meet.
All of us say that if you do the right thing, you should be rewarded.
It is a mantra that all sides of this House repeat.
But we should listen to the voices of all of those people who say that their reality today is that hard work is not rewarded.
And it hasn't been for some time.
All of us will have had heard this during the election campaign.
Like the person I met in Nottingham, struggling with agency work, total uncertainty about how many hours he would get.
Every morning at 5am, he would ring up to find out if there was work for him.
More often than not, there was none.
He had a family to bring up.
The fact that this is happening in 21st century Britain today, the fourth richest country in the world, is something that should shame us all.
This is not the Britain he believes in.
It's not the Britain we believe in.
And it shouldn't be the Britain this House is prepared to tolerate.
We have seen the number of zero-hours contracts go well above one million.
We need to debate as a country whether this insecurity is good for individuals, families and the country as a whole.
It is not.
And if it isn't we should be prepared really to do something about it.
And we need to debate the wider problem.
Five million people in Britain, that's one in five of those in work, are now low paid.
And this shocking fact:
For the first time on record, most of the people who are in poverty in Britain today are people in work, not people out of work.
So much for hard work paying.
None of our constituents sent us to this House to build an economy like that.
And at a time when we will face significant fiscal challenges into the future, it is costing the taxpayer billions of pounds.
It is no wonder people in the country don't think this House speaks for them.
To show a new direction for the country and show it is not just more of the same, the Queen's Speech needs to demonstrate to all of those people that it can answer their concerns.
There is a Bill in this Queen's Speech covering employment.
But the Bill we need would signal a new chapter in the battle against low pay and insecurity at work, not just business as usual.
It would set a clear target for the minimum wage for each Parliament, so that we raise it closer to average earnings.
If you are working regular hours, for month after month, you should be entitled to a regular contract not a zero-hours contract.
If dignity in the workplace means anything it should clearly mean this.
We could make it happen this Parliament and show the people of this country that we get what is happening, but this Queen's Speech does not do that.
Britain, like countries all around the world, faces a huge challenge of creating the decent, middle income jobs that we used to take for granted.
And many of those jobs will be created by small businesses.
There is a Bill in the Speech on small business.
But we all know that we have a decades' long problem in this country of banks not serving the real economy.
Companies desperate to expand, to invest, to grow can't get the capital they need.
For all of the talk of reforming the banks, is there anyone who really believes the problem has been cracked, with lending to small business continuing to fall?
The choice facing this House is to carry on as we are.
Or say that the banks need to change.
Break up the large banks so we tackle our uncompetitive banking system.
And create regional banks that properly serve small business.
But the Queen's Speech doesn't do this.
And a Queen's Speech that was setting a new direction would also be tackling another decades' long problem.
That's happened under governments of both parties.
And would be devolving economic power away from Whitehall to our great towns and cities.
Lord Heseltine was right in his report.
We do need to give our towns, our cities, our communities the tools to do that job.
Even more importantly when there is less money around.
More powers over skills, economic development and transport.
And the government should be going much further.
But none of that is in this Queen's Speech.
So the first thing this Queen's Speech needed to have done is to signal a new direction in the jobs we create in this country and whether hard work pays.
It does not rise to this challenge.
We support measures on childcare, which is part of the cost-of-living crisis, although the scale of that challenge means we would go further on free places for 3 and 4 year olds.
And we also support the Bill on pensions although we want to ensure people get proper advice to avoid the mis-selling scandals of the past.
But the next task for this Queen's Speech is to face up to another truth:
For the first time since the Second World War, many parents fear their children will have a worse life than they do.
No wonder people think that politics doesn't have the answers when this is the reality people confront.
And nowhere is that more important than on housing.
We all know the importance of that to provide security for our families.
And we know this matters for the durability of our recovery too.
The Bank of England has warned that the failure to build homes is their biggest worry.
And this is a generational challenge which hasn't been met for 30 years.
We are currently building half the homes we need and on current trends the backlog will be 2 million homes by 2020.
The question for this House is: are we going to act to meet the challenge or carry on as before?
A new town at Ebbsfleet as this Queen's Speech proposes is fine, but it does not do enough to set a new direction in building homes.
Tackling the fundamental problem of a market that's not working, with a small number of large developers not having an incentive to build at the pace we need.
We know there is a problem of developers getting planning permission, sitting on land, and waiting for it to accumulate in value.
There are land banks with planning permission for over half a million homes.
We can either accept that or change it.
We could give councils powers to say to developers, use the land or lose it.
And give local councils the right to grow where they need more land for housing.
And this House could commit today to getting 200,000 homes built a year, the minimum we need.
That is after all what in the 1950s a One Nation Conservative Prime Minister did.
But the Speech does none of these things.
And a Queen's Speech rising to the challenge on housing, would also do something for the nine million people who rent in the private sector.
Over one million families, with two million children, with no security at all.
Children who will start school this September but their parents will have no idea whether they will still be in their home in 12 months' time.
And we wonder why people are losing their faith in politics.
When we published our proposals for three-year tenancies some people said they were like something out of Venezuela.
If something as modest as this is ridiculed as too radical, is it any wonder that people who rent in the private sector think Parliament doesn't stand up for them?
These proposals would not transform everything overnight, but they would tell 9 million people renting in the private sector that we get it and something can be done.
And there is another area where people are fed up being told there is nothing that can be done.
Their gas and electricity bills.
It is eight months since Labour called for a freeze on people's energy bills.
Just this week we've seen figures showing the companies have doubled their profit margins.
This is a test of whether this House will stand up to powerful vested interests and act, or say that nothing can be done.
The companies can afford it.
The public need it.
The government have ignored it.
This Queen's Speech fails that test.
The test for this Queen's Speech is also whether it responds to the anxieties people feel in their communities.
We all know that one of the biggest concerns at the election was around immigration.
I believe immigration overall has been good for our country.
I believe it as the son of immigrants.
And I believe it because of the contribution people coming here have made to our country.
But we all know that we must address the genuine problems about the pace of change, pressures on services and the undercutting of wages.
Some people say we should cut ourselves off from the rest of the world and withdraw from the European Union.
They are profoundly wrong.
We have always succeeded as a country when we've engaged with the rest of the world.
That is when Britain has been at its best.
Others say that there is nothing that can or should be done.
They are wrong too.
We can act on the pace of change by insisting on longer controls when new countries join the European Union.
We need effective borders where we count people in and out.
And this House could act in this session of Parliament to tackle the undercutting of wages.
Not just increasing fines on the minimum wage, but proper enforcement and stopping employers crowding ten to fifteen people into a house to sidestep it.
We all know it's happening.
Stopping gangmasters from exploiting workers from construction to agriculture.
We all know it's happening.
Stopping employment agencies from only advertising overseas or being used to get round the rules on fair pay.
We all know it's happening.
It is no wonder people lose faith in politics when they know it's happening and Parliament fails to act.
If this House thinks these things are wrong then we should do something about them.
Responding to the concerns we have heard about work, about family, about community is the start this House needs to make to restore our reputation in the eyes of the public.
At the beginning of this speech I said there is a chasm between the needs and wishes of the people of this country and whether or not this House and politics is capable of responding.
We need to rise to that challenge.
This Queen's Speech doesn't do it.
But it can be done.
And that is the choice that the country will face in less than a year's time.
This is what a different Queen's Speech would have looked like:
A Make Work Pay Bill to reward hard work.
A Banking Bill to support small businesses.
A Community Bill to devolve power.
An Immigration Bill to stop workers being undercut.
A Consumers' Bill to freeze energy bills.
A Housing Bill to tackle the housing crisis.
And an NHS Bill to make it easier to see your GP and stop its privatisation.
To make that happen, we need a different government, a Labour government.
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