Paul Maynard – 2022 Loyal Address Speech

The speech made by Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, in the House of Commons on 10 May 2022.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas). He always speaks with great insight and I always find him worth listening to. I am sure he would agree that, after local elections, whichever party is represented, when a councillor loses their seat, we should have some sympathy. Whether in Harrow, or anywhere else in the country, those councillors were all engaged in public service, just as we are, and they will be disappointed that they have ceased to serve the public. Whether in Harrow, where Labour lost seats, or in other parts of the country where the Conservative party lost seats, we should think of those diligent public servants who have lost their chance to serve.

It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), a fellow coastal MP. There is nothing he said in his analysis of the needs of his constituents with which I would disagree one scintilla, and he has saved me from making many points.

It has taken me 12 years to work out that the best time to speak in a debate on the Queen’s Speech is on the day of the speech itself. I get 10 minutes, not just the three we normally get on the day after the speech, or the day after that, so I will make the most of them. I normally do not like the day of the Queen’s Speech debate. For me it is a matinee pantomime of “yah boo sucks” and, in my view, often, those early debates, when we are all crammed in the Chamber, show the House at its worst. Today, it seems a little different. It might have been the slightly low-wattage contribution from the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps it is more likely to be down to the seriousness of the times with which we are confronted, whether in Ukraine or domestically in our constituencies, as the people we represent face a cost of living crisis and a challenge to their financial security day in, day out, at every moment.

I often hear a cry from politicians, the media and constituents that what the Government are doing is not enough. At the moment I am not quite sure what “enough” would look like. The Government cannot craft a solution whereby global costs rise but no one feels the consequences in the UK. But that does not mean that nothing can or should be done. The inflationary pressures that we currently face are largely external: the rising cost of foreign oil and gas; the disruption to global supply chains caused by covid, which lingers on and reoccurs in China thanks to its zero-covid strategy. We cannot change China’s approach to covid—only harsh economic realty will do that. What does matter, however, is the speed and agility of our domestic response here in the UK, and I say candidly to all Conservative MPs gathered here this evening—all one of them—[Interruption.] I mean the Back Benchers, not those on the Front Bench. I say to them that we have to stop campaigning like it is 2016, and start governing like it is 2022. None of my constituents who live in eight of the 10 poorest neighbourhoods in the country give one fig about what box I crossed in a referendum six years ago. They want to know what I, and the Government I am supporting, are doing to tackle the cost of living crisis at the moment.

Some argue that the answer is to increase public spending left, right and centre, and to put more money into the economy, but in my view that would have an inflationary impact. At the risk of sounding unfashionably Thatcherite to what is at times rather a left-ish Government, I argue that we have to drive inflation out by controlling the money supply, not fuel it by responding to the front pages of tabloid newspapers. That is not inconsistent with protecting the most vulnerable in our society. Nothing will have a worse impact on my constituents than rampaging inflation. It harms the most vulnerable in society; it harms the poorest the most. That is why inflation is our biggest enemy, as many have said today.

I therefore welcome a number of the proposed Bills, particularly the financial services Bill, which is a chance to tackle some of the small print of the cost of living crisis. In particular, I welcome the provisions on access to cash—an issue that I have not shut up about in this place for the past two years. I will scrutinise the detail, and if I am not satisfied, amendments will be tabled. I also want much faster action on the regulation of buy now, pay later products—an issue on which I and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) have campaigned for many years. I know the Government’s consultation closed on 6 January, and they are cogitating and contemplating what to do next, but things are changing rapidly in that sector and we hear ever more common stories of people using buy now, pay later products to pay for groceries. This is no longer about buying discretionary items or clothing during lockdown; this is about people using buy now, pay later products for the essentials—for energy or for food. The importance of getting regulation in place is massive, and it must happen now.

I very much welcome the pilots that the Government are introducing for no-interest loans, which are being undertaken on behalf of the Government by Fair4All and Toynbee Hall. That must move so much more urgently. The idea has been floating around the Government for years, and it cannot be just a curiosity for policy wonks. It has to be an urgent priority for the Government to help move people away from loan sharks who charge extortionate interest rates. No-interest loans must be the way forward. I also hope to see interim provisions in the financial services Bill to improve the regulation of funeral plan providers. We have seen the collapse of Safe Hands, and I am sure many hon. Members have been contacted by constituents who now face great uncertainty over how the funerals of their loved ones will be paid for. The Government have to step in, but I am not hearing much from them.

Having learned the delights of amending legislation for the first time in the previous parliamentary Session, by trying to amend the Building Safety Bill, I now have a taste for it. I am looking forward to having a go with the financial services Bill, as well as the Online Safety Bill, which I am getting a bit nervous about because no one seems able to define “harm”. Let me help them by offering one definition of harm, which is physical harm.

In the few minutes I have left I want to speak about a campaign by a young man called Zach Eagling, who has epilepsy, as do I. At times, rather unpleasant and cruel people seem to think it is a good idea to send over social media flashing images that are designed to trigger epileptic fits in those with epilepsy. To me, that is a form of online harm—who could disagree? The Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill agreed and argued that such a clause should go in, as did the Law Commission, but as of yet there is no such a clause. If we are struggling to define “harm”, let us start with physical harm, because that can be quantified. It could be fatal to force an epileptic fit, which could occur in any circumstance, and the outcome cannot be guaranteed.

I would have loved to have seen other Bills in the Queen’s Speech, including private Members’ Bills that I have promoted in recent years. Why was abolition of the House of Lords not in the Queen’s speech, for heaven’s sake? The compulsory introduction of the optional preferential vote—a tentative step towards proportional representation—was also not in the Queen’s speech. Whatever came over the Government? My favourite —once again, this is aimed at the Front-Bench—is an annual review of ministerial competence undertaken by an outside body to assist the Prime Minister in making decisions on who should be appointed to Government. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who is on the Front Bench, would pass with flying colours, but it is incumbent on the Government in a cost of living crisis, when our constituents are under such immense pressure, to do their best to have the very best people working on these intractable and difficult problems.

It is not simply a matter of finding a switch, as I think the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) mentioned. We can pull all the switches we like, but there are some fundamentals in our society that must also change. That is what the Conservative party should be doing: not looking back to 2016 but looking forward to a brighter Conservative future.