28th June 2017

Sir Nicholas Soames’s speech in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, Wednesday, 28th June 2017.

I want to start by extending on behalf of all my constituents our most profound sympathy to the victims, and their families, of the horrific events that have recently taken place in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury, and the appalling Grenfell Tower fire. I think the whole nation was greatly taken by the Queen’s response after the fire that she was

“profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need.”

It is incumbent on us all to measure our language as we deal with these events, and I wish to place on record my deep shock at the words that the shadow Chancellor has recently used—that the fire at Grenfell Tower amounted to murder. That is an inexpressibly appalling thing to say. In a civilised society, there can be no room for such talk. It is not normal, it is not politics as usual, it is disgraceful and it is intolerable. All of us in public life have a duty to measure with care what we say in an era of brutal untruths, and to try to retain the language of reason and proportion.

The Queen’s Speech is a moment for the Government to set out their programme and for the rest of the country to regain its sense of balance. I want, as do my constituents, to see the Government exercise resolution, prudence, integrity and humility at a very difficult time in our affairs. I also want the Government to exercise what Field Marshal Lord Montgomery rightly called “grip”, and to govern effectively and with vigour, determination and energy. I place on record that I think our Prime Minister has all those qualities in abundance and I strongly commend and support her. If the Government manage to do that, my constituents, to whom I am yet again most grateful for their confidence, will be content.

Quite apart from the immense complexities, difficulties and grave uncertainties of the Brexit negotiations, this country has more than its fair share of major issues with which the Government must deal. What is it in our system that seems to mean we cannot arrive at a sane national plan—unlike Denmark, the Netherlands or Japan—that deals efficiently, humanely and decently with care for the elderly in all its complexity? I say to the Government, “Just get on and do it. Work across all the parties, and with all the considerable expertise in this country, to get this done.” Incidentally, I worry very much about the denigration of expertise at all levels when a deeply complicated world demands it more than ever.

There are many issues that can no longer be shirked: reform of care for the elderly; housing policy; prison reform, including the training of prison officers to enable them to do their very difficult job better; skills shortages; and nursing and leadership in the NHS. The Government must exercise their will to see that they are dealt with. The Gracious Speech sets out a good way ahead: promote fairness and transparency in the housing market; tackle unfair practice in the energy market; secure good, properly funded schools, which is a very important issue in Mid Sussex; secure high-wage jobs for the skilled; and get an increasing living wage for those in work. I think our constituents expect us to see to it that that is all done, along with an unrelenting effort for the continued building of a strong economy in the safe hands of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and, more obviously, a return to the Conservative facts of life of enterprise, aspiration, opportunity, wealth creation, sound money, good defence and, above all, the really effective running of our public services.

In my 34 years in this House, I do not think I have ever seen a way ahead that is more complex or difficult for our country, in particular the ongoing, desperately worrying low level of basic educational achievement in too many parts of the country; a separate lack of skills; low wages for too many; geographical economic and wealth inequality; intergenerational inequality; and what I am afraid to say is a very naive approach indeed to international trade relations. Leaving the single market will obviously restrict us from accessing the world’s most skilled peoples. Unless a good way is found to resolve that, it will further negatively influence our productivity. That is relevant to many of our industries, and of course to our universities, which are widely regarded as some of the very best in the world. My views on immigration are well known, but I have to say that in my judgment, persisting with the inclusion of students in the immigration targets makes no economic sense whatever. Surely it is absolute madness to have halved our student intake from dynamic India to the benefit of America and Germany. Whatever happens with Brexit, we should be wanting to attract even more of those talented young people to our country. This is all of a piece with the need for Britain to retain a global view of the world.

Britain seriously lacks key skills. There is a grave shortage of graduates in engineering and science, which is made all the more acute by the clampdown on immigration. I have to tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that that is already dissuading important young talent from coming to these shores, as any employer of PhDs will confirm. I have a suggestion in this regard: the Government should scrap tuition fees for the core STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths, all of which are critical for our survival as our transition from the industrial to the digital world goes on apace, a fact that hardly seems to have appeared on the Government’s radar.

Finally, may I make a respectful suggestion to the House and to the Government? I think pretty much all of us in this House are deeply concerned about the question of trust in public life. The Government have some very difficult tasks ahead of them. They need to remember that competence generates trust and respect. I want that to be their aim: to secure competent and effective government, and thus the trust of the people who did and did not elect us.

| Hansard

Wednesday 28 June, 2017   
Volume 626
No 8. Col 617

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