The speech made by Valerie Vaz, the Labour MP for Walsall South, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anneusb Marie Morris). It is sad that our Gracious Sovereign missed announcing the Government’s programme, but we look forward to seeing her again in the future.
The cost of living is one of the biggest crises engulfing our nations and regions. That is what people have said to us in the recent local elections; from Cumbria to Westminster, they are facing a cost of living crisis. In April, benefits and pensions rose by 3.1%, yet the rate of inflation was 6.2% and is to rise tomorrow. The Government’s independent fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, says that living standards are set to fall by the largest amount in a single year since records began in the 1950s, and the Resolution Foundation says that the income of an average household will be cut by £1,200 this year. That is the background of life for our constituents, but the Gracious Speech contained nothing to help them.
Some are okay. The oil and gas companies have said they have
“more cash than we know what to do with”.
That is why a windfall tax is the best way to ease people out of this crisis. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) eloquently set out, the proposal has been costed; it is not borrowing. It will raise £2 billion, and will give £600 to each household that is most in need and extend the warm home discount. Even businesses are suffering from the increase in energy prices, but it seems that the Government prefer windfall donations or windfall fast-track contracts for their friends to a windfall tax. A Minister says, “Work harder, people”, yet people have to face more insecurity at work because there were no measures to remove the pernicious fire and rehire policy, which must end.
This Government are wasteful, not innovative: £8.7 billion was wasted on personal protective equipment that was unusable, past its sell-by-date and overpriced; the Government are burning £45 million of PPE a month to get rid of it, and the contract for the waste companies is £35 million; and £11.8 billion was lost to fraud through covid support schemes. Just ask the Minister, Lord Agnew, who said it was
“a happy time to be a crook”.
And £71 million was wasted on the Chancellor’s eat out to help out scheme, which Warwick University said accelerated the second wave of the pandemic. We have also had a Government Minister leaving a note on the desks of civil servants telling them to come back, then a week later leaving the note to tell them that he was going to get rid of 90,000 of them. It might be a new Gracious Speech, but it is the same old Government incompetence.
I want to touch on two other points. Planning was mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and some of those proposals will need to be looked at. I welcome the fact that the Government will enhance the green belt but I am not quite sure what they want to do with the revised national planning policy framework. Street votes would pit one neighbour against another, and they must be based on planning grounds. And what do you do with a council such as Walsall Council? Despite 2,000 residents not wanting a transit site in Pleck, the council went ahead—against the wishes of those people, against the site allocation document and against the planning inspector’s agreement—and put it in one of the most dangerous places, where, by Walsall’s own assessment, the acceptable nitrogen dioxide levels are being breached. Young children will be living on that site. It is costing £500,000, yet the council says it has no money for allotments.
On the subject of tinkering with the Human Rights Act, this is about the right to a fair hearing and to be represented; all it does is enact the convention into UK law to provide an effective remedy. Lord Bingham said that every one of the convention rights was breached in the second world war. Just ask the people of Ukraine if they think there should be a Human Rights Act. The Government must remember that the margin of appreciation doctrine allows our country’s unique legal and cultural traditions to be incorporated without flouting the objectives of the convention, and they cannot fetter the ability of judges to do their job, because they hear the evidence.
I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) about a public advocate. That would end the hurt of the people involved in Grenfell Tower, the Horizon post office system, Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough. Remember that the Hillsborough inquiry took 27 years. I also want to congratulate Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool on winning a fantastic FA Cup.
Our constituents are faced with an increase in mortgages, fuel prices, food prices and energy costs; they are all going up. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has found that wages are now lower in real terms than they were in 2008. Our constituents deserve better. They deserve a safety net in bad times but, most of all, they deserve opportunity and prosperity.