The speech made by Theresa May, the Conservative MP for Maidenhead, in the House of Commons on 10 May 2022.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It is indeed a privilege to speak in the debate on the Humble Address in Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee year. As others have already said, everybody across the House, including me, wishes Her Majesty all the very best and thanks her for her unstinting service and exemplary devotion to duty.
I would also like, as others have, to recognise the passing of three excellent Members of the House: Sir David Amess, James Brokenshire and Jack Dromey. They all came into the House to make a difference and improve people’s lives, and they worked unstintingly to do just that.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) on their excellent speeches in proposing and seconding the Humble Address.
I want to speak about a few of the elements of the Government’s programme that I very much welcome. The modern slavery Bill will cement the Government’s commitment to enhance the provisions on supply chains. I understand that the first element will be an extension of the requirements on supply chains to public procurement, to Government Departments. That is important. In 2019, as Prime Minister, I committed the Government to use our power of public procurement to ensure that we were cleaning up supply chains and cracking down on modern slavery. I genuinely believe that dealing with supply chains is one of the key ways we can ensure that we eradicate modern slavery. Business has a huge role to play here and so do Government. Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was important, but of course it does not actually require action other than putting something in reporting accounts, which might be to say that nothing has been done about modern slavery. It is therefore excellent that the Government are now moving this forward and will enhance the legislation. I think it could be transformative.
I welcome the social housing regulation Bill. One of the clear messages that came from residents and survivors of the terrible tragedy that was the fire at Grenfell Tower was the concern that for not just months but years the voice of residents in social housing had not been heard and had not been listened to by those in authority who had a responsibility to respond. That, we discovered from consultation across the country, was not unique to Grenfell Tower. Sadly, there were too many occasions where those responsible for social housing were simply not listening to the points their tenants were raising. It is important that we enhance the ability of tenants to have raise their voices and enhance the regulation regime. We must also ensure we do something that is so important: raise the value of social housing for people, so that stigma is not attached to social housing and being in social housing. We are all one community. The type of housing we live in should be irrelevant to how we are treated.
The renters reform Bill is also important. I note that the briefing says it will provide 4.4 million households with more secure and higher quality homes. Renting is the only option for more and more people. For some it is the flexible option that they actively want, but it is not easy if people then live with the feeling that they could be evicted through no fault of their own. Dealing with no-fault evictions is a commitment that has been made previously—I seem to remember my Government made it—and I sincerely hope it will now be enacted through the Bill.
On housing, it is important for the Government to recognise the many concerns that were expressed by the public, and by Members across the House, about elements of the Government’s planning White Paper. I understand that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), has heard those messages and is looking carefully at what should be in the planning Bill. We need more homes and we need to ensure that they are in the right place. We also need to ensure that their designs are in keeping with the community and the neighbourhood in which they are set.
I believe that the Housing Secretary is interested in street votes, so that if somebody in a street wants to extend their house by two floors there could be a vote in the street and the street would decide whether that was a sensible thing to do. I simply say to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others on the Treasury Front Bench that the Government need to be very careful about the potential unintended consequences of such a move. I can well imagine a situation in which somebody persuades their neighbours in a street to agree to the sort of development that might enhance the value of their houses but which actually has a negative impact on the wider community and wider neighbourhood.
On planning—this ties in with issues relating to the energy Bill—I urge the Government to take the opportunity to move ahead on building regulations to ensure that we embrace now the standards that will be required for us to reach net zero. New homes are still being built with gas boilers. They will be retrofitted in a few years’ time, so would it not make more sense for the regulations to ensure we make the moves now for net zero? However, I welcome the energy Bill. There is much in there that will help us to move to net zero, and that is excellent.
I also welcome the national security Bill, which I expect will enhance our ability to deal with threats from hostile states. That is very important—it is increasingly necessary—and it is very timely.
On Northern Ireland, there is reference in the Queen’s Speech to the legacy Bill. It is important, as I have said in the House, that we reach a point where there is the ability to try to draw a line under the past, but that must be done sensitively, in recognition of the sensitivities of all communities.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I call Jim Shannon—welcome back.
I think an explanation is needed: I was at the Nigerian embassy getting my pass so that I can go to Nigeria at the end of May.
It is really important for my constituents, for those who have lost loved ones—I could name the Ballydugan Four, Stuart Montgomery and my cousin—that people were murdered by the IRA but nobody was ever made accountable. I want justice; my relatives want justice; my constituents want justice. Does the right hon. Lady agree?
We welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his place. That is why it is important that these issues are addressed sensitively. They have been looked at consistently by some of my colleagues in relation to veterans who may find themselves being caught before justice, but it is important that people who lost loved ones during the troubles—the majority of those losses will have been at the hands of terrorists—can feel an understanding of, and are able to know, what happened. That is one of the things driving the Government’s intentions in relation to that Bill. Such people will want to feel some sense of closure, which they have not been able to have for so many years.
I note that there was no reference to what has been referred to in the papers as a Bill in relation to—I am going to use this phrase—the Northern Ireland protocol and possibly to varying the terms of the treaty unilaterally. I say to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—he will not be surprised to hear this—that I do not feel that that would be the right move for the Government. The Government need to consider not just some immediate issues, but the wider sense of what such a move would say about the United Kingdom and its willingness to abide by treaties that it has signed.
Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
I say to the former Prime Minister, with the great respect in which I hold her, that surely what is more important here is the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and the need to protect the political institutions. I stood in the election last week, and not a single Unionist Member who supports the protocol was returned to the Assembly. There is no consensus for that. It needs to be dealt with: it is harming our economy, driving up the cost of living and undermining political stability in Northern Ireland, and it threatens the Good Friday agreement.
I put a deal before the House that met the requirements of the Good Friday agreement and enabled us not to have a border down the Irish sea or between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Sadly, the Democratic Unionist party and others across the House chose to reject that, but it was an opportunity to have what the right hon. Gentleman wanted.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that I am deeply disappointed that we see only draft legislation on a new mental health Act. The process for a new mental health Act was started in 2017. I said in the previous Queen’s Speech debate that I feared that we might not see a new Act until 2023. I now fear that we might not see a new Act until 2024, and given the proximity of a potential general election, that we may not see a new Act in this Parliament at all. Those suffering from mental health issues deserve better from the Government, and I encourage action on introducing a new mental health Act.
I am also disappointed that we do not have an employment Bill, particularly to put through the policy of ensuring that tips that are left for waiters actually get paid to those individuals. It was a popular policy and I hope that the Government will think again about putting that through.
The final issue about which I am disappointed is that we do not see a commitment to an independent public advocate, which was a 2017 manifesto commitment. I recognise that my right hon. Friend did not put it in the 2019 manifesto, but it was one of the key recommendations in the report that I commissioned from Bishop James Jones. Thirty-three years on from the Hillsborough disaster, it is time that we took action to provide much greater support for families who lose loved ones in public disasters—and there have been other disasters since Hillsborough. It would be a very fitting legacy for those who, sadly, have lost their lives at Hillsborough and in other disasters for that support to be provided through an independent public advocate. May I say to those on the Front Bench that the Government do not need to do any work, because the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) has a Bill that is written, which I am sure she aims to reintroduce to this House and which could be supported?
Underlying the Government’s programme is the desire to level up the economy and encourage high-wage, high-skill jobs. Having a country that works for everyone is about levelling up opportunity across the country, but the economic background against which the Government are working does not make delivering those aspirations easy. The cost of living crisis is making life difficult for many across the country; we have rising inflation; we need to restore public finances; the number of people who are economically inactive in this country is rising; we have seen a hit to sterling; and forecast growth is well below trend. All those things make for a very challenging environment.
At a time like this, the Conservative principles of sound public finances and competent economic management are needed more than ever. As we level up across the country, we should ensure that we are not a Government who work just for certain parts of the country, but a Government who truly work for everyone.