On Tuesday 11 May, Sir David Amess spoke in the House of Commons after the Queen’s Speech welcoming the legislation of the previous session and the new reforms announced, in particular the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act, adult social care reform and building safety reform.
Sir David Amess said:
I welcome today’s Queen’s Speech and the measures that were announced. While the occasion was a shadow of what it normally is, the one constant was Her Majesty the Queen, in spite of grieving the loss of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara) and for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) on the way that they proposed and seconded the Gracious Speech.
No sooner had we had the election on 12 December 2019 than the world and our nation were hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Thank goodness we have left the European Union. In spite of all the prophets of doom and gloom, the vaccination programme continues to go well, which it certainly would not have if we had signed up to the European programme. Yes, in the fullness of time there must be an inquiry into the pandemic. Just as importantly, we need to find out—or the world needs to find out—how the nightmare started in the first place. I am also very pleased that the Gracious Speech addressed commitments to deal with the impact of the pandemic on public services.
Naturally, I am delighted with the Conservative party’s performance at every level in the recent elections. In Southend we gained three seats, making us overwhelmingly the largest party. Last night, I was outside the official residence of the mayor of Southend, Porters for the unveiling of the new flag post and the illumination of the building. I pay tribute to the outgoing mayor, Councillor John Lamb, and his wife Pat, who have had a challenging year but have raised money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and for prostate cancer. I wish the new mayor well when she is installed next week.
Turning to the details of the Gracious Speech, I welcome the commitment to continue to “protect the health of the nation, continuing the vaccination programme”. I am delighted to learn that the NHS will “innovate and embrace technology. Patients will receive more tailored and preventative care, closer to home.”
It is good to hear that we will be “pioneering new treatments against diseases like cancer”, and I am really pleased that the Government have committed to “support the health and wellbeing of the nation”, particularly with regard to mental health. I hope that they will soon share a draft mental health Bill that ensures that users’ views and choices are respected. I am pleased that there is an emphasis on early detection and coping strategies, and I was very pleased that the Gracious Speech in 2019 included a promise to reform the Mental Health Act 1983—let’s get on with it.
I absolutely understand what a difficult issue social care reform is to deal with, but I hope that the Government act on their manifesto and fix the social care crisis by developing and implementing a clear plan to give every older person the dignity that we very much think they deserve. I have constituents who rely on the carer’s allowance and whose elderly parents have dementia. As if the stress and worry about their parents’ health were not enough, they are also concerned about losing their family principal private residence on paying for dementia care. I hope that the Government will ensure that no one who needs care will have to sell their home, and that cross-party talks take place to tackle the adult social care issue, as promised in the manifesto. There is a disparity between the fees that care homes charge for residents who are funded by the council and for those who are self-funded, and it needs to be addressed.
I am delighted that the Government “will strengthen the economic ties across the union”.
We are so much better together, as we have heard in previous speeches. Whatever commitments are made in the Gracious Speech, the Government must certainly ensure that the public finances are returned to a sustainable path. In so doing, I am pleased that we have committed to “help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent.”
As chairman of the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, I welcome the draft Building Safety Bill, a profoundly important step towards remedying the faults of the building safety regime. We need to ensure that leaseholders are not left to pick up the pieces of the broken building safety system, and that we continue to have dialogue with the new Building Safety Regulator to oversee building safety for higher-risk buildings. There must also be regulation of construction products, with third party certification so that the public have confidence in their safety and quality.
I welcome the legislation that “will support the voluntary sector by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and releasing additional funds for good causes”— a subject that I intend to touch on in my Adjournment debate tonight.
I am absolutely delighted that “legislation will also be brought forward to ensure the United Kingdom has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare”— wonderful news for the animal kingdom. Perhaps one of the greatest recent successes is the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021. I am delighted that the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences has increased from six months to five years, which should, I hope, reduce the incidence of animal mistreatment and pet theft.
I also hope that the Environment Bill will make legislative changes to our natural world that will benefit animals. Now that we have left the European Union, we are free to put environmental principles into law and introduce legally binding targets. I would like the Bill to include increased local powers to reduce coastal and ocean pollution; a control on the use of harmful pesticides, especially for bees; and a plan to work with the Department for Transport to combat harmful pollution from vehicles.
I welcome the announcement that the Government “will strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution”— my goodness, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act did not work well! The Gracious Speech also states: “Legislation will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections”— I very much welcome that. It is ridiculous to have these unnecessarily long election campaigns. Having been a Member of Parliament for 38 years, I have—like others, I am sure—faced online abuse on Twitter, although I can handle it. As the ease with which people can stay anonymous online increases, so does the abuse. I do hope that the online harms Bill will comply with the Equality Act 2010 “in ensuring internet safety for all, especially for children, whilst harnessing the benefits of a free, open and secure internet.”
I note that the Gracious Speech states that “Ministers will deepen trade ties in the Gulf, Africa and the Indo-Pacific.” In that regard, I have in mind particularly Qatar and the Maldives—I happen to be the chairman of both the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar and the all-party British-Maldives parliamentary group. I am pleased that the Government will continue to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering.
In conclusion, we are told, as always, that other measures will be laid before us. It is my earnest hope that, next year, on the occasion of Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee, we will not only unveil a statute of the Queen and a memorial to Dame Vera Lynn, but, yes, it will actually happen and Southend will be declared a city.