Deidre Brock MP

Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith

The Queen's speech: my response in full

... - House of Commons

Here's a video link to my speech on Wed 18/5/16 in response to the Queen's Speech, transcript (from Hansard) below.

This has been a very interesting debate. It has been quite lengthy, but some interesting points have been made. It has almost been cuddly at times and quite consensual, but I am afraid to say that I will not be so consensual in my speech. It is the duty of those of us on the SNP Benches to make points where we see them that need to be raised.

The longer I spend in this Chamber looking at the Conservative party, which pretends to be a Government, and at many in the Labour party, on the Benches to my right, which pretends to be the official Opposition, the more I deeply regret our failure to take Scotland out of this Union in 2014 and the more I worry about the kind of shambles we might be tossed into if we are ripped out of the European Union in June.

I have found myself scrolling back and forwards through the Human Rights Act, trying to see which bits arenot British, and which bits most upset the stiff upper lips. Is it the right to life; the right to a fair trial; the right not to be tortured; the prohibition of slavery and forced labour?

by Deidre Brock MP

We heard today a Gracious Speech focused on driving Conservative prejudices down the throats of English voters, ploughing ahead with privatising school education, turning five-year-olds into commodities. That is not something we have to care about very much if tuition fees for private schooling are paid out of daddy's offshore accounts, but it is something we have to be concerned about if we want our local community to carry on having schools for children whose parents do not have offshore trusts or family companies that do not pay tax.

Prisons are getting the same privatisation treatment as those schools, too. It is as if the private sector has fairy dust to sprinkle everywhere and there is no record of failure in private enterprise. That is not true. It cannot be denied that many private enterprises get ahead by saying, "Devil take the hindmost", or that many private enterprises fail. That is a process of attrition that I think is singularly unsuited to public services—and I know that that view is shared by my hon. Friends. It winnows itself down by allowing the less successful to die, and no one should ever be doing that with schools and prisons—not if we want to protect society. We cannot just close a school because it is struggling, and we cannot just close a prison because it is not an income generator—not that that is a consideration of this Government.

The move to abolish the Human Rights Act suggests a Government intent on delivering an ideological change, rather than making for a better country. I know that the intention is to have a British Bill of Rights, but I have found myself scrolling back and forwards through the Human Rights Act, trying to see which bits are not British, and which bits most upset the stiff upper lips. Is it the right to life; the right to a fair trial; the right not to be tortured; the prohibition of slavery and forced labour? Would it be the improvements to the treatments of the disabled while in police custody that upset them?

A leader in Scotland, who won an election a couple of weeks ago, puts human rights at the centre of her politics. I would like to quote from a speech Nicola Sturgeon gave in September last year:

"Human rights aren't always convenient for Governments—but they're not meant to be. Their purpose is to protect the powerless, not to strengthen those in power. That's why if you weaken human rights protections—and this is contrary to how things are sometimes portrayed—you're not striking a blow at judges in Strasbourg, lawyers in London or politicians in Scotland. You're striking instead at the poor, the vulnerable, and the dispossessed."

She was right then, and she is right now: the protection of human rights is vital.

I know that some Members think that the human rights of criminals or suspected terrorists are far too often protected when they should not be. Those Members are wrong, and I will tell them why. Unless the human rights of criminals and terrorists are protected, and unless the human rights of the weak are protected, along with those of the infirm, the different, the odd, the outsider, the radical, the truth is that no one's human rights are protected. If the human rights of, say, Abu Hamza are not protected, neither are mine, neither are yours and neither are those of people calling for his protection to be withdrawn. Human rights are not divisible; they are not negotiable, and they cannot be given to one human and not to another. Any human being has those human rights.

That same consideration should be extended to the refugees fleeing Syria—they are human beings and they have human rights. We should treat them with respect and reach out to help them. We should greet them with blankets and food, not with the cold stare of a bureaucrat demanding to see passports and to take fingerprints. We should be sending aid to Greece, treating the flood of refugees as the humanitarian disaster that it is.

I believe that the Government's efforts should be directed towards putting their own house in order and collecting the moneys that are due, rather than squandering billions on in-house incompetence.

by Deidre Brock MP

If the much-vaunted role of the UK as a world leader is to mean anything, it should surely mean compassion, humanity and respect. Unfortunately, these do not seem to be the driving impulses of this Government.

There does not, in fact, seem to be much driving this Government. The high-speed rail Bill appears to have returned for an encore in this Session. If the speed of that Bill is an indication of the speed of the trains, I think the Bill is badly named—it is more Thomas the Tank Engine than the Flying Scotsman! On that note, I see that high-speed rail, if such it is, will not reach Scotland. Perhaps it would be better to start building it where it is actually wanted—in Scotland.

On the digital economy Bill, there is the fantastic news that every household will have a legal right to a fast broadband connection, with the kicker that anyone living in a remote area will have to pay a chunk of it themselves. There is great news from the UK Government: "You have a legal right to things that you can afford to pay for."

Broadband is just another addition to a long list that includes access to justice, access to medicines when people are ill, and, of course, access to higher education. Tuition fees will rise again while the higher education sector is deregulated. Some would say, "Get a degree from the university of Starbucks, and pay through the nose for the privilege. No taxes involved." Some Conservative Members seem to believe that they have to think in this way because they are Tories, but that plan suggests that they are sending England's universities down the same paths that the banks took before the 2008 crash.

I am sure that there will be some degree of welcome for the turning of the screw on visitors who come here on holiday and have the cheek to get ill and need treatment. Charging more for treating them, cutting out some visitors from the European economic area and recovering the full cost of treatment is a wizard wheeze which I am sure was expected to be very popular—except among constituents who discover that the arrangements are reciprocal, and find themselves abroad in need of medical treatment but without the means to fund it.

As has already been pointed out, the move towards driverless cars in the transport Bill may come to be seen as a metaphor for a driverless Government, transfixed by the oncoming headlights of the EU referendum.

The costs of Trident are spiralling out of control, this time into the billions, and the renewal has not even been agreed upon.

by Deidre Brock MP

Never let it be said, however, that a nationalist would come here armed only with criticism and with no suggestions. I would never do such a thing. Indeed, my party has already presented an excellent alternative Queen's Speech, which, as was pointed out earlier by the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), focuses a little more closely on the needs of Scotland than the original. Let me offer the Government some small ideas for improving their programme: some pointers with which to up their game.

Instead of focusing on their small and mean proposals, let us focus on what will really matter to the people whom they are supposed to be governing. Let us think about reforming welfare so that the poorest, most vulnerable, weakest members of society do not ​have to rely on food banks to feed their children—and, while we are there, let us go the whole hog, and provide a bit of support for disabled people instead of a cold heart.

The Government could listen to the Black Triangle campaigners in my constituency while there is still time. Those campaigners have noted that it is an offence under Scots law for a holder of public office to neglect his or her duty, and have reported the right hon. Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) to the police for actions that they took when they were Work and Pensions Secretary and Employment Minister respectively.

I understand that Police Scotland is considering the evidence with which it has been presented, and will form a view in due course. It could be that the actions of Black Triangle will commend the ingredients of the Government's poisoned chalice to their own lips; that would be even-handed justice.

The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, listens week after week as the incompetence's of the Government are laid bare before us. Week in week out, we hear about the most appalling failures to control Government spending—not on social security or welfare benefits, but on the pet projects that Governments and Ministers pursue. The electronic system for controlling the UK's borders, which began under the Blair Government, has cost tens of millions of pounds, and still does not work. The costs of Trident are spiralling out of control, this time into the billions, and the renewal has not even been agreed upon.

The Home Office told the Committee that it had reviewed the details of the highly paid consultants and temporary specialist staff on its books, and found that it was buying in skills that its permanent staff already had. Other Departments did not bother to check.

The estimate of the cost of electrifying the great western railway main line tripled to £2.8 billion, a cost overrun that puts other rail projects in doubt.

HMRC indicated that tax fraud was costing about £16 billion a year. It also indicated that there was a gap of about £13 billion between the VAT that should be collected and what it was actually collecting, and a tax gap of £34 billion a year.

I believe that the Government's efforts should be directed towards putting their own house in order and collecting the moneys that are due, rather than squandering billions on in-house incompetence. It is not the poorly paid, the disabled or the unemployed who are causing the problems; it is the Government.

As has already been said many times today, austerity is not a necessity; it is a choice, a preference, of this Government. The UK is being failed by this Government and failed badly. This Queen's Speech is merely the latest example and it is time the record was changed.

Stop what you are doing and do something else instead. Develop a vision for the UK, at least. Make it, though, a vision where the weakest are protected, where children can go to school and learn about evolution, science and religion without someone else's prejudices being the guiding factor. Do not sell the education of those children—invest in it instead. Make decent people proud of what the Government are doing.

How about a Bill to formalise good treatment of refugees, of asylum seekers, of human beings fleeing here in fear of their lives? How about a human rights Act that says that we recognise that human rights are universal? UK foreign policy should include provisions to promote human rights, to stand against violence against women and girls and work towards equality?

There could be so much more than this small and narrow vision of what the UK is and can be. I urge the Government to lift up their eyes, set their sights higher, inspire the next generation—inspire this generation—and work towards a better world. It does not have to be delivered this week—God knows, we will be debating this fairly poor example of a Queen's Speech for the foreseeable future so it will take a while—but surely we can start now.

Friday Constituency Round Up
Brock responds to Queen's Speech: time for Tories ...


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