Tony Lloyd – 2022 Loyal Address Speech

The speech made by Tony Lloyd, the Labour MP for Rochdale, in the House of Commons on 10 May 2022.

It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) making her maiden speech. Like other Members, I strongly empathise with her remarks about David Amess, who was a friend to many of us. He was absolutely somebody who showed the best of this House of Commons of ours. He will be a tough act to follow, but the hon. Lady’s speech shows why she is now the Member of Parliament to take on David’s many battles. As a northerner I thought for a long time that Leigh-on-Sea was as credible as the Wigan pier, but I empathise with the visions of those mac-wearing people changing on the beach, because that happened in the rather cooler climes of Blackpool and Southport in the north of England. I wish the hon. Lady every success in her role.

For many of us, the Queen’s Speech was a tale of two countries. The Prime Minister sought to set out a vision of a country going forward, but the reality for many of our constituents is a country that is frankly in reverse gear. Over the course of the election campaign, many of my constituents and those in other areas where I knocked on doors told me that they are frightened: for example, the constituent whose husband had to wait for seven hours for an ambulance or my constituents who are on waiting lists, which seem to grow, not get shorter. They are frightened about their health and even the possibility of early death while they are on those waiting lists.

My constituents in schools are concerned about their future: the high-quality education that is in the brochure is not delivered on the ground because of underfunding—not lack of good teachers, but not enough teachers and investment in our education.

At the moment, my constituents are particularly frightened about issues such as housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) talked about London. The London housing market is unique, but the lack of social housing and affordable housing is felt right across this country. There is a housing crisis in my constituency, but nothing in this Queen’s Speech touches on that.

Undoubtedly, the biggest issue in this country is the cost of living crisis. I have not personally had such a large number of emails on an issue. Again, we have a tale of two countries. Companies such as Centrica, BP and Shell are making record profits, much of which goes to their already well-heeled shareholders, and yet my constituents—and those of Members on both sides of this House—have seen a 50% increase in the energy price cap and are likely to see an equivalent increase later this year. Our constituents are frightened about what that will mean. People really are frightened to put on the heating or to use the oven. They simply do not know how they will make it through to the end of the month.

A woman wrote to me. She is a teacher and a single parent. She has been able to buy her own home, but is frightened that she may have to sell it because she cannot afford the upkeep. She is not among what we think of as the worst off. A professional teacher should simply not be in that position, but she is frightened—frightened for her children and frightened for her budget.

A wife has told me that, although she is in work, she is concerned that her husband will lose the car that he gets because he is disabled. This car, which gets him around, gives him his own life support mechanism. She is frightened that that will go, and makes the point that his 3.1% benefit increase for his disability is, de facto, a serious decrease in his income, as inflation is likely to hit 10% later this year.

Pensioners are also concerned about how they will make ends meet. They have seen the Government break their promise on the triple lock. They have seen only a 3.1% increase in their pensions, when they know inflation will hit levels way above that. These people are very concerned about the future of this country and cannot see these glossy brochure visions that the Prime Minister has given us. We must do something about that. We must do something about the fact that it is not just those in the lowest economic groupings in our society who are suffering; people across the piece are worried.

There are things that the Government can do. Even increasing the national minimum wage by 50p to £10, for which many on the Opposition Benches argue, would yield in the order of £900 a year. Even after tax, that uplift would go some way to paying the increased energy costs. Why did the Chancellor not do that? These are important issues. We could, even now, take those up. We could see a reversal in some of the tax increases that have been introduced for those on average and lower incomes who have been penalised by the Government. That would be the right thing to do in a responsible society. We should send a message to those who are better off in our society—to people such as me who are over retirement age but who pay no national insurance. That must be wrong in our society. Why should I, who get the benefits of working, not be making my contribution? Why should those on higher incomes not be paying national insurance pro rata? Let the strong look after those who are weaker. We say that to our police officers. We say, “You who are strong look after those who are weak.” We say that to those with the brains to run our hospitals. We say, “Those of you who are strong look after the vulnerable.” Why do we not say to the better off, “You help look after those most in need”? That is the mantra of a fair society.

However, there were other issues that I looked for in the Queen’s Speech. For example, what are we going to do about the climate crisis? This has already been mentioned, but there is nothing in the speech, or even in the Government’s puffing around it, to indicate that there will be investment in home insulation, which is fundamental if we are to tackle the climate crisis. There are many things the Government can do to create jobs and skills. It seems so obvious that a crash emergency programme of home insulation would be part of moving the nation in the right direction, but that is simply not there. It would be good for saving energy costs and great for saving this planet. Let’s do it! But it is not there.

There are many other things I could cover, but I turn to the situation in Northern Ireland. I say this to my friends from Northern Ireland, both here and elsewhere: Northern Ireland is in a political crisis; we know that. When the Stormont Assembly was not meeting, I spent time talking to many people about the need for a constructive and effective Executive in the north of Ireland. The needs of the people of Northern Ireland are very similar to the needs of people in my constituency. They face an underfunded and badly structured health system and the reality that the cost of living crisis is hurting people, and they have real concerns about investment in education in the north of Ireland. Those concerns are felt across the piece; they do not have tribal identities. I say to the hon. Members here that I understand that the debate about the protocol has to go on, and we will agree and disagree on aspects of it, but having an effective Executive matters.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) talks about “permanent political instability”; that is not a message about the constructive process that devolved government should be about. I believe in devolved government, because I believe it is good for the people of Northern Ireland, but as we see at the moment, we will not have that constructive devolution if we once again have a boycott.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)

My party believes in devolution very strongly; indeed, it has done a lot of the heavy lifting to make devolution work—more than many others—but I gently tell the hon. Gentleman that the cost of living crisis is accentuated in Northern Ireland by costs that are in the region of 27% to 34% higher because of the border in the Irish sea. The protocol has to be removed, or that crisis will go on and poison all relationships and the economy.

Tony Lloyd

I understand that the hon. Gentleman’s party is committed to devolution and has been part of making that devolution process work over the years. I know that that transformed the situation on the ground in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister’s protocol is something that must be debated in this Chamber. Members of the Democratic Unionist party are here to debate that in this Chamber, and I hope they take that opportunity. However, reform of the health service, things that could be done about the cost of living crisis and education are issues in the here and now, and I implore DUP Members to think seriously about what stopping reform on those issues would do.

One thing that all parties in Northern Ireland can unite on—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made an important comment about this—is the legacy of the troubles. Over time, I have listened to many victims of the troubles and their families, and their common insistence is still that they want justice. I fear that this amnesty proposal, which would block inquests and other processes, will hinder that search for justice. That unites people across the political divide in Northern Ireland.

Sammy Wilson

I know the hon. Gentleman does not want his speech dominated by the Northern Ireland issue, but will he accept that the Northern Ireland protocol is not only adding significantly to the cost of living crisis in Northern Ireland and slowing down the Northern Ireland economy’s recovery from covid, but poisoning the very essence of the Belfast agreement, and therefore stopping the working of the institutions? It removes democracy, because not only Unionist Members, but all Members of the Assembly will have no say on 60% of the laws. It also removes the principle of consent, because although not one Unionist Member supports the protocol, it will be the role of those Members in the Northern Ireland Executive to implement the very protocol that the Unionist population are being damaged by, economically and constitutionally.

Tony Lloyd

We will, no doubt, continue to debate the protocol and its impact. As hon. Members know, there are those in Northern Ireland who say, “Business wants to get on and make the protocol work.” My central point is that delaying reform of education, important investment and the good governance of Northern Ireland is a very high price to pay for bringing the matter of the protocol before this House.

I have probably spoken enough, but I want to say two kind things about the Queen’s Speech. The first is that the potential to do something about victims is a major, important step forward. The second is that we are seeing some progress on the governance of football. That may seem peripheral to many people, but football matters. It is our national game. I look forward to seeing the detail on this, because it is important to get it right.