Today the Government announced its legislative agenda for the next two years. What we needed was a commitment from the Government to address the cost of living crisis, alleviate the crises facing our public services, and urgent steps to tackle the climate and nature emergency. Sadly, the Bills announced will do nothing of the sort.
Instead of addressing the climate emergency, the nature bill has been scrapped and the Government are instead scaling up attacks on peaceful protesters. Instead of ending the cost of living crisis there is nothing to help those struggling and nothing new on insultation. Instead of making all conversion therapy illegal, they are excluding trans people from the ban. Instead of extending and defending workers’ rights, their long awaited employment bill is nowhere to be seen. And on top of all of this they are also trying to scrap the Human Rights Act.
This is not a legislative agenda to address the multiple crises we are facing, this is a Tory Government pandering to the whims of lobbyists and its own backbenchers.
Here is a more detailed summary of some of the Government’s proposed legislation, and a number of my concerns:
- The Energy Crisis: For the millions of families facing the catastrophe of soaring energy bills, the government’s Energy Bill is hopelessly inadequate. Nothing to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, nothing to bring forward the emergency energy efficiency measures we need, nothing to ensure the green energy sprint which could bring down bills. The Government could today have introduced much greater support for working families and pensioners facing rising bills, funded by a windfall tax on oil and gas companies making near-record profits during this crisis. But they have not. Nor did the Bill contain the measures desperately needed for a green energy sprint which can bring down bills over the years to come.
- Animal Welfare: The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill breaks a 2019 manifesto commitment to “ban keeping primates as pets” by announcing simply a “rigorous licensing scheme for those keeping primates”. The Government have dropped their ‘Animals Abroad Bill’ that would have banned the sale of foie gras and fur as they previously promised.
- Nature: The Tories have completely abandoned nature with no bill to protect and enhance the natural environment. Nothing on tackling air quality, waste or legislating on tackling sewage.
- Access to cash: I welcome that the Government – after years of delay – has finally announced that it will be bringing forward access to cash legislation. However, it’s disappointing that there was no mention of how the Government will be protecting essential face-to-face banking services, which the most vulnerable in our society often depend on for financial advice and support. The government claims that people will have access to their own banknotes and coins “with ease”, but this is a bold claim from a government whose proposals to achieve this we have yet to see. Under their watch, almost 6,000 bank branches have closed since 2015 – leaving thousands of vulnerable people without access to basic banking services.
- Crime: The government could have legislated to protect women, by requiring specialist rape and sexual offence units in every force area and creating a national register to monitor serial sexual offenders. Instead, having already pushed through one draconian bill on protest rights, they are now simply doing the same thing again – re-introducing measures they tried to tack onto the bill last year.
- The Levelling Up Bills announced today are still desperately lacking in ambition, and as thin as the white paper. The substance amounts to little more than the Government marking its own homework on 12 “missions” lacking in new money and new ideas. Major decisions will continue to be made in Whitehall, with communities made to compete for small pots of money handed out by Tory ministers (with many of the poorest areas not receiving anything). We need action now to deal with the cost of living crisis, building in a far more fundamental rethink of our economic settlement, with real power handed to communities and a relentless focus on bringing good jobs back to places that have seen them lost in managed decline.
- Power over planning: Having abandoned their flawed attempt to further liberalise the planning system and drastically reduce the public’s involvement in it, we welcome the fact that the government are now willing to look at how residents might have a greater say over how their areas are developed. We will continue to make the case for the planning system to be overhauled so that it is more reflective, rational, transparent, democratic, and better resourced – putting communities at the heart of good place making that delivers high-quality, zero-carbon affordable new homes in the places where they are so desperately needed.
- Social housing: Nearly five years on from the horrific Grenfell Tower fire, legislation to improve conditions and safety in social housing and ensure the concerns of tenants are listened to is long overdue. I therefore welcome the announcement of a Social Housing Regulation Bill in the Queens Speech but await its publication to determine whether it will noticeably drive-up standards in social housing, ensure tenants are really heard, and that they finally have effective means of redress.
- Private renting: The Conservatives pledged to ban section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions three years ago. They promised ‘Renters’ Reforms’ in the 2021 Queen’s Speech yet failed to deliver. They are now promising a white paper later this year and the private rented sector didn’t even get a mention in the Queen’s Speech. It is not good enough. There are nearly one million more people now in private rent than when the Conservatives came to power in 2010. Too many are stuck in a system with no power to challenge rogue landlords, no savings to get on the housing ladder and in housing that falls well below acceptable standards. Renters need a deal that gives them the security and dignity they deserve.
- Ethical investment: I am greatly concerned about the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill and the far-reaching consequences it will have. I support the right of councils and other public bodies to take consistent ethical decisions in relation to how public funds are invested, including upholding high standards on the environment, human rights, worker’s rights and adhering to international law.
- Procurement: Today’s announcement is nothing more than warm words and wishful thinking. The public want to see a genuine commitment to reshape procurement, from the integrity of the process to the delivery of real social and economic value. The Conservative Government has shown it can’t be trusted on public procurement after wasting billions of taxpayers’ money on dodgy PPE and crony contracts through its VIP lane. A personal relationship with a Tory minister should have no bearing on whether a company gets a contract. A Labour government will clean up government contracting by strengthening FOI, introducing a new Independent Anti-Corruption Commissioner, and an Integrity and Ethics Commission to make us a world leader in good governance and transparency.
- Mental Health: The proposed overhaul of the Mental Health Act has been long awaited. Service users must be at the heart of the legislation going forward. There must be advances to the mental health equality framework and there must be culturally appropriate services and the freedom for local areas to look at their specific populations in order to have suitable approaches. The commitments in this draft bill rely on a workforce – our fantastic frontline mental health staff, of which there are simply too few at present. Only Labour has a plan to invest in an additional 8,500 mental health staff, to treat more patients and drive down waiting lists.
- Education: After two years of unprecedented chaos and disruption to children’s education, the Conservatives are obsessing over structures instead of improving children’s experience in the classroom. This Government’s Schools Bill contains no plan to support children’s pandemic recovery. No plan to improve teaching and tackle the exodus of school staff from our classrooms. No plan to ensure more young people gain essential qualifications. No plan to give children the broad education that young people, parents and employers want to see.
- Safety online: I welcome the Online Safety Bill, however despite going through two redrafts it is still not up to scratch, overly focusing on policing and regulating content, rather than ensuring tech companies have systems in place through a broad Duty of Care. This is because Ministers are more interested in buying off Conservative backbenchers worried about free speech, than building consensus and listening to the experts to bring in a workable Bill that delivers for children and communities. Labour has repeatedly called on the government to take tougher action to make the Bill work and ensure people have security and respect online. As the Bill enters Committee we will work to close loopholes that threaten children’s safety online, ensure small high harm platforms cannot slip through the net, and put in place stronger measures to ensure families facing a cost of living crisis are not victims of online fraud.
- Channel 4: Selling off Channel 4 to a foreign bidder is a huge distraction from the cost of living facing families. Families want the government to strain every sinew to help them make ends meet, not pursue a vendetta against a broadcaster whose news content the Conservatives don’t like. Channel Four has a unique role in British broadcasting as a company owned by the British public, which costs the public nothing, and ploughs its profits into commissioning new programming, creating jobs and discovering new talent across the country.
- Football clubs are at the heart of communities. They’re much more than businesses, but great sources of pride in our towns. Football reform is urgent, yet the Government has confirmed a new regulator won’t be in place until at least 2024. This distracted Government is failing to deliver, and kicked the can down the road, meaning lower league clubs will miss out on millions of pounds in a make or break few years. We need to urgently bring in new laws to stop any more clubs going bust, or being used as a play thing for the wealthy.
- Equity: This Queen’s Speech will do nothing to make Britain a more equal place. By failing to deliver for women and disabled people, making no mention of LGBT+ people, and having no plan to break down the barriers that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people face, it holds our whole country back. There’s no plan to tackle the inequalities facing Black, Asian and minority ethnic people so visibly exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet again the Government has reneged on its promise to introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting, ignoring calls by the CBI and TUC to bring it in.
- Women’s Health: Women were promised a dedicated health strategy over a year ago, but the Government still can’t say when it will produce one; and there’s nothing here to support women at work. Women are always an afterthought for this Conservative Government.
- Conversion Therapy: The Government is also breaking its promise to ban all forms of conversion therapy, ignoring the advice of experts from the BMA and mental health charity Mind; and it’s ploughing ahead with an absurd consent loophole that makes a mockery of any ‘ban’.