The speech made by Theresa May, the former Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 7 November 2023.
I draw the House’s attention to two entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am director and chair of the Global Commission for Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, and I chair the Aldersgate Group, which brings businesses, non-governmental organisations, academics and others together to champion a prosperous, net zero emissions, environmentally-sustainable economy. Both of those roles are unpaid.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Alistair Strathern) is no longer in his seat. I wanted to take the opportunity to welcome him to the House, despite the fact that I worked to make sure he did not get here. The reason I wanted to welcome and congratulate him is that he is my first cousin once removed. I am not sure whether that connection will do more damage to his career or mine. In case hon. Members are wondering about the family, we share a relative who, I am told, toyed with communism in his youth and another relative—my cousin, the hon. Member’s uncle—who was the former Liberal Democrat leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, so we cover all bases.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) on what I thought were witty, incisive, thoughtful and excellent speeches proposing and seconding the Humble Address.
There are things in the King’s Speech that I welcome, some of which may not have been spotted by other Members of the House. I welcome the fact that it is proposed to amend the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which was important groundbreaking legislation when it was brought through when I was Home Secretary. As things have developed, it is right that we look at it again, so we ensure we have the right legislation to keep us safe.
I also welcome the important references to taking more action on child sexual abuse, including grooming. Having seen T-levels introduced and having long thought we need to ensure an equivalent between academic and technical or vocational qualifications, I welcome the Government’s intention to do just that. Indeed, I welcome the long-term ambition that the Government have expressed. They need to take long-term decisions because good government is not about grabbing at short-term decisions to get a headline, but about doing what is in the national interest and the long-term interest of the country.
On that point, I was surprised to receive an email in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, sent out, I think, by the Conservative party, that read:
“From net zero to HS2, smoking to education, we are going to tackle the challenges that other politicians have been afraid to even talk about.”
Since I read that, I have been racking my brains as to which Prime Minister put net zero in 2050 into legislation. Answers on a postcard, please.
As I say, I welcome the long-term approach that has been taken by the Government, but some elements should have been in the King’s Speech and I am concerned that they are missing. The first is on modern slavery. Back in 2022, the legislative reform agenda published by the then Prime Minister’s Office for the late Queen’s Speech outlined plans to reform the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and, in particular, to introduce stronger measures in relation to businesses and their supply chains. Businesses can be transformative if they really look into their supply chains and take action if they find forced labour and exploitation in those supply chains. So I am very sorry that we have not seen amendments to the Modern Slavery Act brought forward in this Gracious Speech.
I am also concerned about the lack of commitment to a new mental health Act. It was back in 2017 that the review into the Mental Health Act was announced. That was completed in 2018. There was a White Paper in 2021 and a draft Bill in 2022. The Joint Committee finished its legislative scrutiny of that draft Bill in January this year. Several months on, we have not seen a Government response to that report and, from 2017 to 2023—six years on—we have not seen a commitment to a new mental health Act. It is important that we do this. Many voters will want to see it being done. I hope that, in the other measures that the Government bring forward, they will consider including a mental health Bill.
Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)
I am extremely grateful to my right honourable Friend for making that powerful point about a mental health Act. Does she agree that ending the archaic elision of conditions such as autism and neurodiverse conditions with mental health would be another benefit of bringing that legislation forward? The legislation is needed now, not next year.
My right hon. and learned Friend has been a champion for those on the autistic spectrum. He has long raised the issues in relation to autism and neurodiversity. He is absolutely right that these changes are needed now—they should not be delayed further. I sincerely hope that, in the other measures, the Government will consider bringing that new mental health Bill forward.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to pupils at Cox Green School in my constituency. We talked about various issues. The teacher asked them to raise their hands if they were concerned about mental health—the majority did—and then to raise their hands if they were concerned about climate change and the environment. Again, the majority raised their hands. In relation to the King’s Speech and the Government’s programme on climate change and environmental degradation, the Government are missing an opportunity. What we need to do now is to press the accelerator on transition to a green economy, not try to draw back. The King’s Speech says that
“my Ministers will seek to attract record levels of investment in renewable energy sources,”
but I fear that that ambition is not sufficiently strong to make sure that the Government make that transition quickly enough to ensure that we reach net zero in 2050. It is no good waking up on 1 January 2045 and saying, “We have five years to do something, let’s do it now” because that will be even more costly for members of the public.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) rose—
I call Jim Shannon.
This is my maiden intervention in this term.
I commend the right hon. Lady for what she is saying. In Northern Ireland, we do not have the contract for difference scheme, but people have it here on the mainland. I have been keen to pursue this matter with the Government. It would help the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to meet its net zero figures if Northern Ireland were part of that. It needs to be a part of it, but the contract for difference scheme—
Order. Mr Shannon, sit down for a second. We know that this is on net zero, but the point is that this is a speech, not a question, so quickly come to the end.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that we in Northern Ireland want to be part of the net zero scheme? Is it not right that we should do that through the contract for difference scheme?
I am tempted to say to the hon. Gentleman that, when he was called to speak, it was only 4.23. Of course we want to make sure that all parts of the United Kingdom are part of our plans. I do not know the contract for difference details that he talks about, but we want to make sure that every part of the United Kingdom is able to contribute to the work to reach net zero, and there are things the Government must do to enable that.
Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I completely agree on the need to keep focused on the pathway to net zero. I am a member of the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, and we are told that unlocking the grid and making faster approvals for new energy schemes to come on to the grid is most vital in that pathway. Does she welcome what there was in the King’s Speech about transforming the speed at which decisions can be made about new power coming on to our grid?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that getting those grid connections right and making it easier and faster for people to make them are critical for us to reach net zero. I am pleased that the reform of grid connections was in the King’s Speech; we wait to hear the details of what the Chancellor and the Secretary of State will bring forward on that.
There is one other aspect of the move to the green economy that the Government need to address now, and not in 10 years’ time when the advanced British standard comes on board: the green skills agenda. We must ensure that the young people of today are being trained in the skills needed for the green economy and that people already in work are being retrained. Gas engineers must be retrained to deliver heat pumps, for example. There are many areas where we must make sure that we have a workforce fully trained to meet the needs of that new economy. I hope that the Government are going to press the accelerator on that.
Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD) rose—
Sir Robert Goodwill rose—
I am being inundated. I will give way to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) first.
The right hon. Lady is making a most interesting contribution. In years gone by, we had the skills to construct massive structures for the North sea. If we can pass those skills on to the next generation, they can contribute to the green economy. The trouble is that the people who did that in the past are getting old and near to retirement, so surely time is of the essence.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I think time is of the essence anyway, regardless of whether we are looking at people who have had those skills in the past. We must look at our training and skills and at our education system to make sure it is training people up for those future requirements.
Sir Robert Goodwill
I am sure my right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, in Scarborough, a green construction skills village was part of our town deal, and those skills are already being delivered to young people and to older people who need to reskill.
That is absolutely excellent and I thank my right hon. Friend for informing me of it. I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but yet again it would seem that Scarborough is leading—I am reliably informed it is not in Lancashire.
Green skills are important, but I also worry that we are sending mixed messages to investors. They need to have the confidence to invest in our transition to a green economy and we need to show that the Government are pressing the accelerator on that. The best long-term decision we can make is on climate change. The long-term future of this country and its people depends on us dealing with climate change and environmental degradation, so I want the Government to press the accelerator, not to roll backwards.