Ed Davey – 2022 Loyal Address Speech

The speech made by Ed Davey, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, in the House of Commons on 10 May 2022.

It has always been a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), especially since the current Prime Minister entered office. I agree with a lot of what she said, especially about the need to move ahead quickly with new legislation for people with mental health issues, and I thank her for what she said about social housing.

I would like to pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen. She was missed today very much; on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I would like to send her our very best wishes. We all look forward to celebrating the incredible milestone of the Queen’s platinum jubilee next month. As an MP serving the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, I know that there will be street parties galore across my constituency, demonstrating our patriotic and affectionate support for Her Majesty.

I would also like to pay tribute to three others whose absence we feel very acutely today: James Brokenshire, David Amess and Jack Dromey, parliamentary colleagues who, sadly, have left us in the past 12 months. All three were MPs who commanded respect across the House for their seriousness of purpose and their collegiate way of working. They are all missed in every corner of this House.

I must compliment the hon. Members for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) on their speeches. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness was a well-respected Chair of the Select Committee on Education when he described the reforms of the then Education Secretary as “ill-conceived” and “incoherent”; he will be relieved to hear that his speech was neither of those things. In my opinion, he is neither an old duffer nor a young thruster but, far more valuable than either of those, a Member with an independent mind—a Whips Office dream. His mention of a royal commission to deal with political wrongdoing has given me an interesting idea that I think we should take up with Ministers.

We are all servants of the Crown, but the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire has taken that further than most, having worked for the Prince of Wales as a researcher. I am not sure whether she was consulted by His Royal Highness about today’s Gracious Speech, but her speech was an interesting insight into the complex relationships between Conservative MPs, and I thank her for it.

This should have been a cost of living Queen’s Speech. Families and pensioners across the United Kingdom are facing the biggest squeeze on household budgets and living standards at any time during Her Majesty’s whole long reign, going back to the 1950s, yet the Government’s programme offered nothing. There was a hint in the Prime Minister’s speech—I do not know whether Members caught it. He said that he and the Chancellor would bring forward some measures in the next few days. Yet the press are reporting that the Treasury is saying that it has no idea what the Prime Minister was referring to. It would be wonderful if, at least, a Minister from the Front Bench could enlighten the House because our constituents need some help and there is none in the Queen’s Speech.

Inflation is at 7% and rising. It is at its highest rate for 30 years and predicted to enter double digits by the end of this year. We have all heard, from many constituents, heart-rending stories about the sacrifices that they are making just to try to make ends meet because of inflation. We hear of parents going without meals to ensure that there is enough food for their children, and pensioners huddled in only one room to keep their heating bills down. Families who have already seen energy bills soar by £700 are now being told to expect another £800 rise in the autumn. People desperately need more help from the Government, but what have they received instead? Tax rises, broken election promises on pension rises, and wages rising far more slowly than inflation.

The Government’s unfair tax rises could not possibly have come at a worse time. The increased national insurance contributions, coupled with the freezing of income tax thresholds—which they would like us to forget—are hitting the low-paid very hard. What everyone really needs is an emergency tax cut, which is why the Liberal Democrats want an immediate cut in VAT. That would help everyone: it would help small businesses and high streets and it would cut inflation. By failing to cut VAT and by choosing to make the cost of living emergency worse, the Government have confirmed people’s deep fear that they are a Government who just do not care.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)

Given the reported increase in Treasury receipts owing to inflation and to increased VAT receipts, does the right hon. Member think it would be appropriate for the Government to take that action? Does he also recognise that the VAT reduction could not apply in Northern Ireland and people in Northern Ireland could not benefit from that because of the Northern Ireland protocol?

Ed Davey

I hope that the Government will find a way of working with politicians in Northern Ireland to help people who are struggling, but the right hon. Member is absolutely right about the VAT point. The Chancellor is getting £9 billion more in VAT receipts than the Budget prediction of £38 billion, yet the Government say that they cannot afford a VAT cut. That is clearly nonsense.

At the local elections last week, people across the country rose up to say “Enough is enough.” From Stockport to Somerset, Cumbria to Cambridgeshire, Harrogate to Harpenden, voters chose Liberal Democrats to be their local champions and to fight for a fair deal for them and their communities, and for Liberal Democrats, the fair deal must start with real action to tackle soaring energy bills and rising food prices. That does not just mean a VAT cut; we want to increase and extend the warm home discount to help more than 7 million people with their heating bills, and we want to increase the winter fuel payment to help pensioners betrayed by the Conservatives when they broke their election promise on the pensions triple lock.

Liberal Democrats want to help families and pensioners in rural areas who heat their homes with heating oil or liquefied petroleum gas and are not protected by the energy price cap. We would pay for that with a windfall tax on the super-profits of the oil and gas companies. Only last week, we learnt that BP and Shell are now raking in £1 billion in profit between them every single week from the same soaring gas and petrol prices that are making families suffer so much. Surely even this Government can see that, in the present economic crisis, we need to cut taxes for families by asking these corporate giants to pay a bit more.

The Government are failing so many groups. For instance, there is nothing to back British farmers, who are at once some of the hardest-hit victims of the cost of living crisis and crucial to solving the problem of food inflation for the rest of us. Instead of backing our farmers and our rural communities, the Government are adding to their pain. They are selling them down the river with trade deals that allow low-welfare foreign imports to undercut responsible British farmers, and cutting the payments on which they rely, which is costing some of them up to half their entire income. Quite simply, that risks driving many small farmers out of business altogether. In the south-west alone, farmers will lose almost £1 billion by the end of 2027 as a result of these Conservative policies.

This Government’s programme fails not only to help people with the cost of living emergency but to address the crisis in our NHS and care services. Take our ambulance services: many are in crisis, resources have been slashed and the paramedics and handlers are not being given support that they need. In the south-west, if you are a stroke victim, you now have to wait almost two hours for an ambulance. That is a terrifying statistic. The average wait for an ambulance is now almost two hours, and not just for stroke victims. In Devon, an 88-year-old man, Derek Painter, lay in “excruciating pain” after he fell on the stairs. He waited seven hours for an ambulance. That is just horrific. Thousands of people are watching loved ones in agony and distress; some have even watched loved ones die. This is heart-breaking and it cannot go on. Can Ministers—and the Prime Minister—look these families in the eye in such distressing circumstances and tell them that they have got a grip on this health crisis?

It does not stop at the ambulance crisis. Over many years now, this Government have allowed our NHS to spiral out of control. Local health services are at breaking point following the Conservative Government’s broken promise to recruit more GPs. People are struggling to get appointments and GPs are under more pressure than ever. And then there is the ticking timebomb of NHS dentistry—or lack of it—forcing people to shell out hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds for private work because they cannot get to see an NHS dentist. There was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to tackle these health crises and nothing for the social care crisis either. Last year, the Government promised to reform social care but all we got instead was an unfair tax hike. More than 1 million people are missing out on the care they need right now, and still the Government are doing nothing to help.

Nor are the Government doing anything to support the millions of unpaid family carers who are making big sacrifices to look after their families and loved ones. They were already facing serious financial hardship before the cost of living crisis struck; they are now being pushed to breaking point. They were again forgotten in the Queen’s Speech. I have told Ministers, including the Prime Minister, on countless occasions about the everyday struggles that carers face. The amazing Kingston Carers Network in my constituency tells me that its members, like carers across the country, are desperate for a rise in the carers allowance and for respite services to give them a break. Even the Government’s promise of a week of unpaid leave for carers—surely the very least the Government can do—was missing from the Gracious Speech. It is just not good enough. Without these unpaid carers, these family carers, our health and social care systems would crumble. The Government ignore them at their peril.

Nor can the Government afford to ignore the growing public anger about raw sewage being dumped into our rivers and seas. I see it in the Hogsmill river in my constituency—Kingston’s blue jewel and one of only 210 chalk streams in the world. Sewage pollution is killing these rivers and chalk streams. It threatens the habitats of countless wild animals and spoils the beauty of our precious local environment. I know other Members across the country are also seeing sewage being poured into their local rivers and streams, and into the seas along our coasts, whether in Eastbourne or East Devon. Liberal Democrats have proposed tough new laws to end the dumping of raw sewage and a new sewage tax on water companies. Our constituents will not forget the Government’s failure to listen and include such measures in the Queen’s Speech today.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)

I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of sewage pollution in our rivers. Does he not think the solution is to take all our water companies back into public ownership and stop pouring millions of pounds of our water costs into the profits of the private sector, often in overseas locations?

Ed Davey

I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I want a sewage tax. I want punitive laws and regulations on these companies, which have been getting away with it. That is how we get much quicker progress. We cannot wait any longer; we need clean rivers and seas.

Finally, this Queen’s Speech comes not only at a challenging time for the UK domestically, but at a dark moment for us and our allies as Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine continues. I am proud of how both sides of the House have stood united in our resolve to support President Zelensky and the brave Ukrainians. They are fighting for the same fundamental values that we treasure so deeply: liberty and democracy. But we need to do more and send clear, strong signals. In that regard, one thing was conspicuous by its absence from the Queen’s Speech: the decision to reverse this Government’s cut to our armed forces. The cut of 10,000 troops is a deeply misguided policy at this perilous moment. Our national security must be a priority. I urge the Government to reverse the decision immediately and demonstrate to our NATO allies Britain’s determination to stand up to aggression now and in the future.