Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 45 Number 17, June 6, 2015 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Necessity to Organise against Government's
Proposed Anti-Trade Union Legislation

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

Necessity to Organise against Government's Proposed Anti-Trade Union Legislation

The Fight against Privatisation and for the Right to Speak Out and Organise

The Crisis in FIFA and the Contention of the Big Powers

From the Debate in the House of Commons on the Government's Legislative Programme

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Necessity to Organise against Government's
Proposed Anti-Trade Union Legislation



The Queen's speech threatened that the government would “bring forward legislation to reform trade unions and to protect essential public services against strikes”. This has posed the question within the working-class and trade union movement on the necessity to organise against such anti-worker, anti-social legislation. Trade union leaders have voiced their opposition to the government's attacks on the right of working people to defend their interests. It is crucial that a broad movement to turn back the government's attacks is developed.

The very opposite of the government's presumptions is the case. The Conservatives are suggesting that the trade unions are the ones which are attacking and wrecking society and public services and need reforming. Other voices are conciliating with this reactionary suggestion. What the organised workers' movement sees is that the anti-social offensive and the austerity agenda are harming not only the interests of working people but of the functioning of society and are wrecking public services. Therefore not only the interests and dignity of working people is at stake, but so is the broad issue of the public good. “Reform” of trade unions and outlawing strikes in public services is an attempt to crush and criminalise the resistance of the working class and people to the austerity agenda with its associated privatisation, cuts to public services and attacks on workers' rights and interests. It is an attempt to prevent the workers from bringing their numbers and organisation into play in this resistance, and is itself an abuse of power by the government for which they have no mandate.


During Margaret Thatcher's era, the neo-liberal agenda was born and developed, bringing with it the destruction of the manufacturing base and overturning the functioning of the social contract between labour and capital, and between the state and working people. To do so required setting out to smash the fighting capacity of the working class movement. The most militant trade unions were seriously weakened by the closure of so many of the large-scale manufacturing and energy industries in Britain. Following this the public sector employers were often the biggest employers across the industrial wastelands created in this period, where only smaller mainly unorganised workplaces existed. As a consequence the services and pay, terms and conditions of the public sector workers remained better protected by their trade union organisations, which also benefited everyone except the rich. This is why the government is proposing to take on mainly the public sector trade unions with more legislation under the hoax that it is to “protect essential public services against strikes”. The real aim of this legislation is to stop workers being able to organise in any way, and further impose monopoly right above public right.

On the day of the Queen's speech many workers were discussing these issues as the proposals were announced. A very big concern is the fate of facilities agreements – time-off for trade union duties during work – which allow workers to represent their members in negotiations in their workplace and represent them over grievances, when sick, or being disciplined and so on. This facility time had constantly been attacked by the Coalition government ministers previously, and now unions know that the government plans a further assault on this. Previously, the Coalition government had torn up the facility agreement with the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) in the Civil Service, disrupting the right of workers to get proper representation and forcing trade union representatives to use up their holidays to represent members and attend trade union conferences. The new government now hopes to run this out throughout the public sector so as to make it impossible for public sector workers to exercise their right to organise in a trade union and defend themselves.


Demonstration at the Royal Cornwall Hospital,
Treliske, in Truro, on May 28, organised by 38
degrees and the National Health Action Party
Also of concern is the government's plan to end members' direct payment to their unions via their pay (DOCAS). Already the Coalition government had forced government departments not to enter into agreements with PCS to deduct membership fees from pay. Now the intention is to impose this on the whole public sector even though it is a service the unions pay the employers to carry out. This starkly highlights the anti-union, anti-worker nature of these plans of the ruling elite to try and break the trade union finances and organisation.

Another issue is the fact the bill would legislate on the political fund, requiring members of a union to “opt in” to payment of the union's General Political Fund and Affiliated Political Fund rather than having to “opt out” as at present. There is concern that this is aimed to try and sabotage the right of trade unions to act in a political way to defend their members, and provide funding to the Labour Party and any other party to which the trade unions had decided to affiliate. It is part of the attacks on the cohesion of society, denying that collective rights exist, or that there are common interests other than the imposed values of the fraudulent “one nation”. It is also a step to consolidating parties such as the Labour Party as cartel parties without mass participation.

The government wants to implement with this legislation a measure which the government hopes will rule out any strikes in the public sector with trade unions having to get members to return a ballot of 50% of their members with 40% of eligible union members voting for the strike. The irony, of course, is that the Conservative government itself has formed a government with only 24% of the electorate voting for it.


A People's Question Time held in Milton Keynes
to discuss organising against the austerity agenda
The aim of the government, on behalf of the monopoly elite they represent, is to wipe out any issue of organised workers having a say in anything at work and in society. They want to stop workers being able to organise in any way while they enable the diktat of the ruling elite to ride roughshod over the public sector workers, further excluding them from decisions, cutting jobs, pay and privatising services. The issue is how to build resistance and defend the workers' organisations against this new offensive.

Within this is the issue of organising the unorganised sections in the public sector caused by fragmentation and privatisation of the health and other public services. There is also the concern for the whole working class of how to organise the unorganised manufacturing workers and the unemployed. Overall, the government's proposed legislation aims to criminalise opposition and resistance to the austerity agenda and the attacks on public services and those workers who deliver them. These are questions that must be seriously considered and taken up by the working class at this time as part of building its Workers' Opposition and defending the rights of all.

There is no lack of genuine concern within the working-class and trade union movement. This has been demonstrated time and time again both by the rank and file and at TUC Congresses, and in the many demonstrations that have been held during the period of the Coalition. There has been resistance to the neo-liberal austerity agenda and a growing consciousness of fighting for the alternative. Now the question presents itself in all earnest of how to be effective in fighting back and restoring the equilibrium against the attempts of the Cameron government to target the trade unions as “the enemy within”. The issue is to entirely reverse the direction that the government is taking society. The government must not be allowed to succeed with its Trade Unions Bill! All must organise and take a stand!

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National Gallery Struggle:

The Fight against Privatisation and for
the Right to Speak Out and Organise


Candy Udwin
On Saturday May 30, Trafalgar Square was filled with thousands of people who came to support the workers at the National Gallery in their fight to stop the privatisation of this major symbol of Britain's cultural heritage. They also came to protest at the sacking of Candy Udwin, a National Gallery worker and senior PCS representative, who was part of the union’s negotiating team at talks at the conciliation service ACAS. She was accused of “breaching commercial confidentiality” and suspended by the National Gallery management in February before the first of the strikes and then sacked last month.

The demonstration was organised and led by the National Gallery workers' union, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and was the culmination of waves of strikes by the workforce since February. PCS members have been on strike for more than 30 days against the Gallery's decision to privatise up to 400 of its 600 staff including those who look after security of the paintings, look after 6 million visitors a year and handle requests for information about the collection, complaints and school bookings. This would mean that the commitment, knowledge and dedication of the workforce would be replaced by private agency staff. On the day of the demo they started their 31st day of action and would be on strike until June 4.


Speaker after speaker called on the National Gallery management to stop their privatisation plans and re-instate Candy Udwin.

PCS president Janice Godrich hailed the “brilliant turnout” and said: “We’re here to send a clear message to that building over there that we are not going to allow victimisation or privatisation. And we’re also here to tell that lot sitting down there in Downing Street that over the next five years they are going to meet constant obstruction and protest.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said to the crowd: “We are so proud of the strikers. We will not give way to the speculators and spivs who want to see the privatisation of everything.” He went on to praise the “incredible commitment” of the strikers and the courage of Candy Udwin: “People in that building should hang their heads in shame,” he said. "Victory to the National Gallery strikers.”

Labour MP John McDonnell and trade unionists including Christine Blower from the NUT and Steve Turner from Unite spoke in support of the strikers and activists all demanding the end of privatisation and victimisation.


Ken Loach
Film director Ken Loach was among a number of celebrity supporters representing the arts, including artist Bob and Roberta Smith, who condemned the National Gallery management. He said that they were “mean spirited, narrow minded and short-sighted” and, along with other speakers, pointed out that included amongst the trustees of the National Gallery were “bankers, investment managers, hedge fund managers”. To loud cheers for the assembled strikers, he said: “These people here represent the very best of the struggles of the trade unions. Victory to the strikers.”

Charlotte Monro, a health worker for the Barts NHS Trust, sacked for speaking out against the cuts in health care, said, in a personal capacity, that she brought “the support of thousands of health workers in the fight against diktat and corporate interests”. She told the crowd to great applause that she had won her fight and had been re-instated, pointing out that her victory had been made possible through the massive support she had received. She said, “It is not OK to attack trade union reps for speaking out in the public interest.” She pointed out the great effect her winning had had and said that “your victory will have the same impact”.


Charlotte Monro
Candy Udwin to great applause said: “We’re not going to let them privatise the gallery and turn it into a playground for the rich. We’re not going to let them bully or silence us. This government is giving the green light to employers like the National Gallery. This government is coming for us and they are going to attack freedom of speech and our trade union rights and our human rights. But it simply shows they are scared of us.” She ended by calling for more strikes, protests and solidarity in the fight against austerity and privatisation. She said, “The support we’ve had has kept us going. Together we can win and turn the tide.”

Mark Serwotka ended the rally by explaining that the strikers lined up in front of the stage were all wearing gags to symbolise that they have been banned from talking to the press. To huge cheers for the strikers he said that the fight against privatisation would go on, and that when it was won everyone would come together again to celebrate: “When we work together, we are stronger. We are going to fight privatisation and reinstate Candy.”

Many speakers at the rally pointed out that the National Gallery is part of our cultural heritage and belongs to the people, not to the gang of money grabbing spivs who run it. The struggle of the National Gallery tellingly symbolises the bankrupt philistinism of our ruling class who have no regard for ordinary people or our rich cultural heritage but only rampant greed. The management of the National Gallery are in fact directly appointed by the Prime Minister. The struggle of the National Gallery workers is a vivid example of the struggle against austerity imposed by this extremist dictatorial government which does not recognise the right of human beings and their collectives and is opposed to the right of people to be the decision makers.

Sign the petition against privatisation.

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No to Imperialist War!

The Crisis in FIFA and the Contention of the Big Powers


The government has announced that it is eager to play a leading role in the crisis currently engulfing the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in the wake of its recent congress. Although ostensibly the crisis is about the wide-scale corruption that has bedevilled FIFA for many years, the arrests of top FIFA officials co-ordinated by the US and Swiss authorities appear to have been designed to forestall the re-election of Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, and have now resulted in his resignation. However, it must also be noted that the one of the other major agenda items at the recent FIFA congress, the demand by the Palestinian FA for the suspension or expulsion of Israel, was mysteriously withdrawn at the last moment as the crisis intensified. The arrests themselves relate to allegations of corruption concerning the staging of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa and the staging of the competition in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, although such corruption remains an integral part of the capital-centred economy.

The government and monopoly-controlled media in Britain have been quick to associate the arrests of top FIFA officials with the English Football Association’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals, which was ultimately awarded to Russia. Speaking in a debate on the subject in Parliament, John Whitingdale, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, did not disassociate the government from calls for a boycott of the 2018 World Cup, which have also been supported by leading Labour Party politicians, or even from those demanding that a rival tournament should be organised. At the same time he has aligned the government with those claiming that FIFA is too democratic, since each of the 209 member countries has one vote. Whitingdale’s contention is that since FIFA, under the Blatter regime, has promoted and financed football even in “small” countries, these countries necessarily support the status quo. In fact the Blatter regime was noted for promoting the sport in some of the world’s largest countries such as India as well as in many other parts of Asia and Africa. Moreover some commentators have made much of the fact that the balance of power in FIFA has changed and that recent World Cup tournaments have been held outside Europe and North America and awarded to three of the BRICS countries, South Africa, Brazil and Russia.


Russia 2018
The inspiration for demands for a boycott of the next World Cup in Russia appear to have emanated from the US, where only last week John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, and Senator Robert Menendez, who has himself been indicted on corruption charges, wrote an open letter to the FIFA congress urging delegates not to support Blatter because of what were referred to as his “continued support for Russia hosting the 2018 Fifa World Cup – despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and other challenges to the post-WWII security architecture”. The letter demanded that the FIFA congress “deny the Putin regime the privilege of hosting the 2018 World Cup”. This followed a previous letter from McCain and twelve US senators sent to Blatter in April which demanded FIFA move the location of the 2018 World Cup on the grounds that, “Allowing Russia to host the World Cup inappropriately bolsters the prestige of the Putin regime at a time when it should be condemned and provides economic relief at a time when much of the international community is imposing economic sanctions.” Blatter specifically opposed such demands and argued that sport should be free from such political pressure. As he pointed out, only a few months ago the UN, which is central to what the government refers to as “the rules-based international system”, passed a resolution specifically recognising the “independence and autonomy of sport” and its governing bodies.

The FIFA crisis continues to unfold yet it is already clear that international sport remains an arena in which the great powers are in contention and in which the most powerful openly flout the “rules-based system” and the resolutions of the UN on the basis that might makes right. That rivalry has been even more evident in recent statements by the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, in which he referred to Russia as a key “strategic competitor … intent on destabilising eastern Europe with the threat of a new and highly dangerous form of hybrid asymmetric warfare”. He was more than happy to boast that Britain was at the forefront of efforts to counter what he referred to as the “Russian assault” and “Russian aggression”. In this context Hammond was adamant that Britain must play a leading role in maintaining the EU/NATO sanctions imposed on Russia and be prepared to lead the 28-member EU in imposing further sanctions if this aided its contention with Russia.


Qatar 2022
In his recent statement to Parliament on Britain's role in the world, Hammond not only singled out Russia but also China as the two powers that are allegedly not abiding by the “rules-based system of conduct in which international norms are respected”. According to the Foreign Secretary China is “asserting territorial claims with a vigour that is alarming her neighbours and increasing the risk of escalation” – that is to say acting to defend its sovereignty in the South China Sea in a way that is not to the liking of Anglo-American imperialism and its allies which have their own ambitions in that region. For its part the US government has brazenly asserted that nothing that China does will stop it from maintaining its presence in that region. The governments of both China and Russia have voiced their fears of encirclement by the US and its allies and there have been bellicose statements on all sides.

The machinations that are evident in regard to FIFA, and in particular the calls that are being made to prevent Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup tournament, are clearly connected to the growing economic, political and military contention between the big powers. It is evident that the growing instability holds great dangers and threatens the world with the prospect not only of local conflicts but even global ones. It is a situation in which the peace-loving people of the world must remain vigilant. There is clearly the need for the people to redouble their efforts to reclaim international sport from the clutches of the moneybags and maintain it as a factor for friendship and peace. At the same time there is an urgent need to step up the struggle to stay the hands of the war-mongers and establish anti-war governments.

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For Your Reference

From the Debate in the House of Commons
on the Government's Legislative Programme

In this issue, we continue our coverage of the debate in the House of Commons on the Queen's Speech. Last week, we reproduced extracts from the general debate on May 27, and the debate on home affairs and justice on May 28 [ww15-16.htm#second]. Below are reproduced short extracts from what was said during the debates on Monday, June 1 – Britain in the world; Tuesday, June 2 – health and social care; Wednesday, June 3 – devolution and growth across Britain; and Thursday, June 4 – the economy.


Britain in the World

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The UK is one of only a small number of countries with both the aspiration and the means to play a significant role in world affairs. Maintaining that engagement is very much in our national interest. As one of the most open economies in the world—a nation that earns its living through trade in goods and services across the global commons—we have a greater stake than most in securing: a world that operates according to a rules-based system of conduct in which international norms are respected, differences are resolved through the application of legal principles and the zero-sum game approach is rejected in favour of a recognition of mutual benefit through international co-operation; a world in which the majority of nations work together with a common agenda and resolve to isolate rogue states and suppress terrorists and others who threaten the rule of law; and a rules-based international order that is in Britain’s interest but is also in the interest of building stability, security and prosperity for the world’s population as a whole. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a leading member of the EU and NATO, as well as the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth, Britain is in a better position to help deliver that ambition than most.

[…]

The three key immediate challenges we face are clear: repelling the threat to the established order from Russia and developing a response to its doctrine of asymmetric warfare; crushing the evil and poisonous ideology of ISIL and extremist Islamism more generally; and resolving Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Hilary Benn (Shadow Foreign Secretary)

We support the action the Government have taken to participate in the high readiness NATO force in eastern Europe, including sending four RAF Typhoon jets to be part of the Baltic air policing mission, because that is a clear demonstration of the UK’s commitment to collective security.

[…]

There are now over 4 million Syrian refugees, which is the largest exodus of people since the end of the second world war—that is the scale of what we are having to deal with. I welcome the Government’s significant contribution to meeting the needs of these refugees, but the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs appeal is still way short of the funding it needs and we must continue to encourage other partners to live up to their responsibilities.

[…]

We know that civil wars result, on average, in 20 years of lost development. It is no accident that Afghanistan has the highest rate of infant mortality in the world and that many of the Earth’s poorest people live in countries at risk of, or recovering from, war. In the years to come, we may well see people fighting each other not about their politics and their religion, but about water, energy and land. Whatever their character, what these conflicts have in common is that the countries in which they are happening have been unable or unwilling to secure the lives of their citizens. The way forward is clear: replace violence with good politics—its your choice; compromise; build good governance, security and the rule of law; promote economic opportunity, land rights, and trade; improve transport and telecommunications; and encourage openness to the world.

Alex Salmond (Shadow SNP Spokesperson, Foreign Affairs; Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader, International Affairs and Europe)

If it is important to learn the lessons of what is happening in Ramadi, is it not even more important to learn the lessons of what provoked this nightmare in the first place? It is now 12 years, two months and 13 days since this House voted for the illegal invasion of Iraq. It is five years, 11 months and 14 days since the announcement of the Chilcot commission. I hope that when summarising this debate, the Front-Bench spokesman will be able to give us some indication, after five years, 11 months and 14 days, when the country and Houses of Parliament are going to be informed of the findings of that commission, and whether there has been a foreclosing of any possible legal consequences for those who may or may not be criticised.

[…]

The implications of withdrawing from the European convention or revoking the Human Rights Act are of course serious. There is no majority in this House for withdrawal and no majority in the House of Lords for withdrawal. There is absolute opposition in the Scottish Parliament, where the European convention—the Human Rights Act—is embedded into the devolution legislation. There is little support for it in Northern Ireland, where the European convention is part and parcel of the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements. With all that clearly impinging on the Government’s abilities, then surely it is time to abandon this nonsense of reneging on these obligations to human rights.

[…]

The SNP Members and party want to see positive things from Europe. We want a Europe that deals with the migrant crisis and the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. We want a Europe where the living wage is promoted as part of a social Europe, not impeded by competition policy. We want a Europe that acts on climate change, as opposed to losing its credibility by inaction on climate change, as one of the European Parliament’s Committees recently said. It is on that positive Scottish campaign—the Scotland in Europe campaign—that we on these Benches and in this party will found our arguments, which will be vastly and overwhelmingly supported in the referendum by the people of Scotland.

Gerald Kaufman (Father of the House of Commons)

The problem of Palestine has existed since May 1948. It began with the creation of Israel and what the people of Palestine call the Nakba—the catastrophe. After the six day war in 1967, there was a huge upheaval. Refugees fled across the Jordan. There are refugee camps in Jordan, on the west bank, in Lebanon—dreadful, appalling conditions there—and in Syria, too, where people are going through incredible traumas.

Having created the refugee problem, the Israelis have followed up by building hundreds of settlements—every one of them illegal—in the occupied territories; by fighting a war that is also illegal; and by setting up checkpoints that make it almost impossible for Palestinians to travel freely around what is supposed to be their own country. In addition, there have been two intifadas—uprisings—and three fruitless Israeli military attacks on the Gaza strip resulting in thousands of casualties, including huge numbers of civilians, and the intolerable destruction of homes, schools and the Palestinian Parliament in Gaza itself, none of which can be properly reconstructed because of the Israeli blockade of what the Prime Minister himself called the “prison camp” in Gaza.

Efforts have been made, but they are being abandoned. Tony Blair has resigned as the envoy of the Quartet and John Kerry, who has just suffered a dreadful accident, made an enormous effort, as United States Secretary of State, but was not given the backing of President Obama. The situation is now more immobile than it has been for decades. One reason is that Israel now has the most extremist Government in its entire existence. On election day in Israel a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu referred, in a racist statement, to the “hordes” of Palestinians going by bus to vote. He refused and threw himself back from any notion of a two-state solution, yet the UK Government support Israel proactively.

The Foreign Secretary talked about what he called the Government’s work for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, yet last month, at the nuclear non-proliferation review conference, an attempt to hold a conference next year to review the situation of non-proliferation in the middle east was blocked by three countries—it was blocked by the United States, by Canada and by the British Foreign Office, whose Foreign Secretary today claimed to be working for non-proliferation.

Jeremy Corbyn (Labour, Islington North)

The wars of the future will largely be about resources, water, food and food security. We have to face up to global inequality and the widening chasm between the wealth of the minority in the wealthiest countries and the poverty of the majority in the poorest countries of the world. If we are complaining about refugee flows at the present time—awful as the conditions from which those people are escaping are, and tragic as the deaths in the Mediterranean, the Andaman sea and elsewhere are—the situation will get worse as global inequality becomes greater, particularly on issues of food and environmental security. We have to be far more serious about how we approach inequality.

[…]

I heard on the radio this morning that the US Defence Secretary is very concerned about Britain’s position in the world and that we might be becoming a laggard—he wants us to boost our expenditure. Presumably, the US is giving the same message everywhere else, so that it can carry on influencing NATO policies, including in Europe, while building up its military might all over the Asia-Pacific region, which in turn encourages China to do exactly the same, just as NATO expansion eastwards has been paralleled by increasing Russian expenditure. Surely we need a world dedicated to disarmament and rolling down the security threat rather than increasing it. I see a huge danger developing in the current military thinking.

[…]

Let us think about what influence in the world is about. Last week or the week before, I was in New York for the last two days of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference. It was a desperately sad occasion, as Britain and the other permanent members of the Security Council lined up together to protect their expenditure on and the holding of nuclear weapons. They did not do anything positive to bring about a good resolution of that conference, and no good resolution has come out of it. A conference on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the middle east, first called for more than a decade ago, still has not happened

[…]

Shaker Aamer has been in Guantanamo Bay since 2001. He was sold to bounty hunters in 2001, brutally treated in Bagram airbase, and taken by a rendition process to Guantanamo Bay. He has been there on hunger strike and been making other forms of protest ever since. He has never been charged, never been prosecuted and never been through any legal process. He has twice been cleared for release by President Bush and later by President Obama. He has never seen his 13-year-old son whom I had the pleasure to meet when he came to Parliament. I also met him last Friday evening at a meeting in Battersea, at which we called for his father’s return and release.

[…]

We need a world of peace, not of war. We need a world of human rights and justice, not of injustice and imprisonment. We achieve those things not by greater militarisation but by trying to promote peace, human rights and justice all over the world.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South)

In the four minutes I have, I wish to concentrate on something very sad: the total lack during the general election campaign of debate about Britain’s role in the world and about foreign policy—there was not even a serious debate about our future in Europe. We were obsessed with micro-issues, and, from the Labour side, we had no narrative, no vision and no sense of where our country was going. Unfortunately, that allowed our opponents to set the agenda far too much.


Health and Social Care

Jeremy Hunt (The Secretary of State for Health)

The facts on privatisation are that it increased from 4.9% at the start of the last Parliament to 6.2% towards the end of the Parliament.

[…]

I happen to agree with the shadow Health Minister [...] that what is best is what works. Where it is best for patients to use charities or the independent sector, I support that, but I do not think it should be decided for ideological reasons by politicians.

[…]

Nye Bevan’s vision was not simply universal access or healthcare for all. The words that he used at this Dispatch Box nearly 70 years ago, in 1946, were “universalising the best”, which meant ensuring that the high standards of care that were available for some people in some hospitals were available to every patient in every hospital.

Andy Burnham (Shadow Secretary of State for Health)

The simple fact is that the NHS does not have enough money. In fact it is seriously short of money. It is facing a £1 billion deficit this year, with two thirds of hospitals in the red, which marks a major deterioration from what the Conservatives inherited in 2010, when there was a surplus of over £500 million.

[…]

The Secretary of State has also tried to paper over the cracks with a headline promise of £8 billion. There are three problems with that. As I said to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), it represents an IOU for five years’ time, but it will not deliver real money now, which is what the NHS needs. Secondly, the £8 billion makes sense only if the NHS manages to make £22 billion of efficiency savings by 2020. That is the five-year plan, as I am sure Members agree. To date, the Secretary of State has not provided any real details of where those £22 billion of savings are going to come from. Many of the people I speak to in the service say that the NHS has already had five years of hard efficiency savings, and that savings on that scale cannot be achieved without causing real harm to services. Does the £22 billion involve cuts to staff? Does it involve service closures? Does it involve more rationing of drugs and treatments? Will he now set out a plan for those £22 billion-worth of efficiencies? People have a right to know how he plans to achieve them.

Thirdly, can the Secretary of State tell us where this £8 billion is coming from? During the election, Ministers repeatedly failed to answer this question. The Chancellor was asked about it 18 times on the “The Andrew Marr Show”, and his evasion was excruciating. So can the Secretary of State now give us an answer? If he cannot, people will conclude that the Conservatives either knew they were going to break this promise or did not want to people to know where the money was going to come from. But people need to know, because the Government could be about to repeat the big spending mistake that they made in the last Parliament.

Five years ago, I warned the Government that it would be irresponsible to pay for the NHS by raiding social care, but that is exactly what they did. Around a third of a million vulnerable older people lost social care support at home and, unsurprisingly, many of them ended up in hospital. Those cuts to social care had terrible human costs, but they also created huge operational and efficiency problems for the NHS, with record numbers of frail people occupying hospital beds. I say this again to the Secretary of State: if you let social care collapse, it will drag the rest of the NHS down with it. It is a false economy on a grand scale to cut social care to pay for the NHS. Will he be clear today: will he confirm that, if the Government have no plans for new taxes, the money for the NHS will come from cuts to other unprotected Departments? If that is the case, are we not looking at even deeper to cuts to local government and social care in this Parliament than we saw in the last?

The Secretary of State cannot keep dodging those questions. The Gracious Speech promised plans to integrate the NHS and social care, but there will be nothing left for the NHS to integrate with if he carries on in this way. The care cuts in the previous Parliament were the root cause of the A&E crisis. Hospital accident and emergency departments have now missed the Government’s lower target for 97 weeks in a row. If they cut social care again, we will have to deal with a full-blown NHS crisis.

Attendances at A&E departments increased 10 times faster in the four years after 2010 than in the four years before 2010. That was caused not just by the ageing society, as the Secretary of State likes to claim, but by his failure to look after that ageing society.

Where was the action in the Queen’s Speech on the scandal of 15-minute care visits? The truth is that there is no solution for the NHS without a solution for social care, but the only plan on offer from this Government is more cuts, and those cuts will pile pressure on an already over-stretched NHS. This is where the NHS finds itself at the start of this Parliament.

The Secretary of State has promised us a seven-day NHS, which we all support. He has promised us 8 am to 8 pm GP opening. How on earth will he deliver those promises when he cannot say where the money is coming from, and when the NHS is facing a huge financial deficit? He will make a grave mistake if he tries to introduce seven-day working in the NHS on the backs of NHS staff. Staff who work the most unsocial shift patterns often face the greatest cost. For instance, they have no choice but to use their car if public transport is not running. It would be utterly wrong to pay in part for seven-day working by removing the unsocial hours payment, and we will oppose any attempt by him to do that. Good will is evaporating in the NHS and we cannot afford to lose any more.

Ben Bradshaw (Labour, Exeter)

Last February the Government commissioned a series of reports on what they called the most financially challenged health economies in the country, of which Devon was one. Since then, nothing has happened: the Government have refused to publish those reports. I tabled a freedom of information request just before Dissolution asking where the consultants’ report was, and was told it could not be published because it would, in time, inform the making of decisions that would affect local NHS services in Devon. Why have we been waiting so long for action by this Government to address the financial situation, which in the meantime has got much, much worse?

Let me give some of the figures for my area. My local commissioning organisation, the Devon clinical commissioning group, announced last week that its deficit has risen to £40 million this year. My local hospital, the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital, which is one of the best performing and best managed hospitals in the country and which had never registered a deficit until the last two or three years, is now going to register a £20 million deficit this year; and Derriford hospital in Plymouth is looking at a deficit of £30 million. That is £90 million in deficits in just part of a county in part of our country. It is simply unsustainable for the Government to claim that there is no problem with NHS finances. The longer the Government delay action, the bigger the impact will be on services and on patient care.

Joan Ryan (Labour, Enfield North)

Between 2010 and the summer of 2014, we saw 12 GP practices in Enfield close, with only one new GP practice opened. In fact, there is not a single GP surgery in Enfield Chase, the ward in which Chase Farm hospital is located. Enfield is facing a serious shortage of doctors. The number of GPs in Enfield is expected to have to rise by 84 from its current levels of 167 over the next five years—an increase of some 50%, and that just to get adequate cover by 2020. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, that leaves Enfield the 17th worst hit clinical commissioning group out of 212 across the country. I suggest that that is a record to be ashamed of.

Once again, promises made have not been kept, and it is very difficult to get a GP appointment in Enfield. That brings me back to Chase Farm hospital, which has now been taken over by the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. In December 2014, the Prime Minister said that the Government had set aside “£230 million” to redevelop the site. In reality, the Government are contributing only £82 million, and the rest of the costs must be provided through land sales and from the Royal Free itself. Despite many misleading statements by the governing party locally and nationally, the money is not going solely towards the construction of new buildings. A lot of it is to be used to maintain facilities and help to cover the hospital’s multi-million pound deficit. The redevelopment will cut Chase Farm hospital in size by almost a third, with no A and E, no maternity and no intensive care units either. It is certainly not going to be recognisable as the district general hospital it once was.

At the time of the announcement I mentioned, we were given a two-hour extension to the urgent care centre’s opening hours. That was in December, just five months before the election. A review of the urgent care hours is due this summer, but it is easy to imagine how cynical the two-hour expansion will look if those two hours are then to be cut. I believe that we need Chase Farm’s urgent care centre upgraded and its opening times permanently extended. Chase Farm has been gutted of frontline services. Acute care provision is under immense pressure. Enfield faces a shortfall in primary care provision, especially in relation to the number of GPs. Our mental health trust is anticipating an increased financial deficit of about £10 million this year, and funding for public health, which has been frozen, leaves Enfield 13.6% below the target figure for funding recommended by the Department of Health. This is a health care crisis in Enfield, and it behoves the Secretary of State to meet me to discuss the situation in person so that he can give an absolute commitment to me and, more important, the people of Enfield, that these issues will be addressed. I am holding him and his Government to account.

Rachael Maskell (Labour/Co-operative, York Central)

I must pay tribute to the NHS staff whom I have represented as Unite’s head of health. They are dedicated, professional, selfless, compassionate, innovative, caring and loving in all they do 24/7. I must also declare an interest: I have worked in the NHS for 20 years and am the first ever physiotherapist to become an MP. Although our reputation goes before us—I trust that that has been positive and not too painful—I can assure Members that I will not be using my position to massage facts or manipulate statistics. Instead, I will exercise my voice to benefit those whom I represent in my constituency of York Central.

Sharon Hodgson (Labour, Washington and Sunderland West)

I would like to focus my remarks on the specific problem of continuing health inequalities experienced in many parts of the UK. Compared with the rest of the country, my region, the north-east, has ingrained health inequalities. That is clear from the persistently lower life expectancy, and we also have the highest national rate of early deaths from cancer. The situation will only get worse if the investment into the NHS is not forthcoming and properly tailored. The coalition Government oversaw a number of disastrous policies that put our NHS under increasing strain in the north-east. It will be my job and that of my north-east colleagues to make sure that this Government do not keep ignoring our needs and that something is done not only to cure the problems we currently have but, crucially, to invest in prevention to stop them from taking root in the first place.

Ruth Cadbury (Labour, Brentford and Isleworth)

We are of the dynasty that brought Cadbury chocolate to the world, but the Cadburys are also recognised for their social values, values instilled through our Quaker faith. The Cadburys of the first half of the 20th century knew that we could not expect working people to be productive, healthy and fulfilled unless the whole person and their family are supported with good pay, good training, decent housing and adequate welfare support. They recognised that for the businesses to maintain their prosperity, their employees needed security too. They provided these services for their staff but they also advocated that the state should provide these, for universal health and social services—the hallmark of a civilised society. They provided for their employees until the foundation of the welfare state and the NHS following the success of the Attlee Government in 1945.

My forebears would therefore be shocked to see the steady erosion of that welfare state over the past five years. They would be asking why there was nothing in the Gracious Speech about increasing the supply of adequate affordable housing, about reducing child poverty or about ensuring that local authorities have adequate funding to provide good quality social care and public health services sufficient for the needs of their communities.

Liz McInnes (Labour, Heywood and Middleton)

Before I was elected to this House, I spent over 30 years employed as a biochemist in the NHS and I want to talk in particular about the parts of the Queen’s Speech that referred to seven-day working in the NHS. I am concerned about the push towards seven-day working because I feel the impression is being given that the NHS does not currently operate on a seven-day-a-week basis.

Ever since I was first employed in the NHS, the various pathology Departments I have worked in have never, ever closed. One of my colleagues used to joke that if he had his time over again, he would have chosen a job somewhere that closed every now and then. We always provided an emergency service at evenings and weekends via an on-call system and latterly, as the workload became more and more demanding, via a shift system. Not everyone took part in these rotas as it was deemed that some jobs had to be done during office hours and allowances were always made for staff with carer’s commitments and family responsibilities. Staff pay for working unsocial hours in the NHS has taken a hit over the past few years, with staff now providing an around-the-clock service for far less remuneration than previously, and I worry that the current push towards so-called seven-day working is merely an attempt to normalise out-of-hours working in order to reduce further unsocial hours payments to NHS staff.

I was very concerned on visiting an NHS lab recently to be informed that management were attempting to get everyone in the lab to work shifts regardless of whether they wanted to or not, or indeed whether their commitments outside of work allowed them to. I worry that the push towards seven-day working is creating a working environment where staff feel bullied into changing their contractual hours because of a perception that seven-day working is now the norm. The fact is that full seven-day working in the NHS will be achieved only by investment in the service. Recognition has to be given that staff working at weekends and on bank holidays are giving up time that would otherwise be spent with their families, and that staff working at night are putting their own health at considerable risk. Sleep disorders, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, stress and psychological issues commonly affect night workers. All attempts to normalise seven-day-a-week, round-the-clock working should be resisted. Such a service does not come without a price.

Another issue that is causing great concern in my constituency is the provision of health visitors, nursery nurses and school nurses. Health visitors and nursery and school nurses in my constituency are retiring faster than they can be replaced. The service they provide is under a great deal of stress owing to an ever-increasing workload. They perform a vital role in child health, safeguarding and protection, yet the service is struggling, with only 16 school nurses for 42,000 children in the borough. The staff are also concerned that their services might go out to tender, and that they could be taken over by the likes of Virgin Health. Those staff are not being listened to, despite assurances that whistleblowers and staff will be protected and listened to. They have raised these issues with the management, but the management are in denial, saying that there are no problems with the service and accusing staff of negativity if they raise concerns.


Devolution and Growth across Britain

Chuka Umunna (Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills)

I turn to the Queen’s Speech and the relevant Bills. Of the 21 Bills, clearly, the cities and devolution, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Bills are all of direct relevance to this debate and, when exploring growth, the enterprise and housing Bills too. Arguably, the European Union Referendum Bill, the tax lock Bill, the energy Bill and high speed rail Bills are also of relevance to our debate today, but there have been opportunities and will be another tomorrow to discuss those issues. For the purposes of our debate this afternoon, we will focus on the six primary Bills that I have mentioned; in closing, the shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will go into more detail about housing in particular.

[…]

I want to move beyond the economic case to make the democratic case. We know that levels of trust are higher in decisions made locally, but we also know that the contempt people have for politics is fuelled not only by a sense that we are all in it for ourselves, but by a sense of powerlessness—a sense of citizens’ powerlessness in shaping what the system does for them and a lack of confidence in politicians’ power to change things in the face of powerful global forces. What better antidote to that sense of powerlessness is there than to give people more power in their localities and communities?

[…]

The Government say that their Scotland Bill aims to deliver in full the Smith commission agreement, to which the five main Scottish political parties signed up in November 2014. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the vow—a promise made and a promise to be delivered —made on the eve of last year’s referendum is delivered in full to make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world. As we set out in our manifesto, we will work to amend the Bill to give the Scottish Parliament the final say on social security and the power to top up UK benefits.

Geoffrey Robinson (Labour, Coventry North West)

The worrying thing is that we do not yet have a clear idea what the Government have in mind. If the House will forgive me for saying so, they are adopting the position of the whore through the centuries—the phrase was used to describe the British press about 100 years ago. We do not know what the Government want, yet they will use their huge influence and power over local authorities but take no responsibility for what emerges. The likely outcome is that they will create a bigger muddle than the one they are trying to sort out—a cumulative muddle from successive reform attempts, starting with the right hon. Edward Heath and his Government back in 1970. They issued a diktat for a total strategic reorganisation of local government, which, as some Members may remember, ended in the total muddle that we are living with today.

We need to know why the Government are obsessed with the idea of metro mayors.

[…]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government must be aware that, barely three years ago, we had referendums in no fewer than 11 cities throughout England and Wales. It was only one city—I think it was Bristol—that decided in favour of a mayor. In the other cities, most notably in Birmingham and Coventry, the idea was resoundingly rejected by the electorate. Now it has been put to us again, quite insidiously, by the Government. This came out at a meeting that he attended earlier this week with the leaders of the midlands powerhouse, which is how the Government are attempting to describe us.

Chi Onwurah (Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne Central)

It is not enough simply to repeat the talk about the northern powerhouse when the Tory party actively dismantled the northern powerhouse we had in the 1980s. The Prime Minister may try to rebrand the Tory party as that of the working people, but we remember it as the party of putting people out of work.

[…]

During the last Parliament, we lost disproportionately: £650 million was effectively transferred from the north of England to the south, and the cut in spending in Newcastle was £266 per person, compared with £130 per person on average nationally. Ministers must not hamper devolution by crippling councils with further unsustainable reductions in spending power. It is not only that money was moved south; despite the rhetoric, power and budgets were brought back to Whitehall in the past five years. Now that the Government clearly have no mandate in the north-east, we demand the powers we need to build the kind of economy that matches our aspiration and our values.

[…]

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which will receive its Second Reading in the House of Lords on Monday, is supposed to devolve powers to large cities that choose to have mayors, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) said. Newcastle was one of the nine out of 10 cities that chose to reject an elected mayor. The Government’s intention to free the north-east will therefore come at the cost of a top-down reorganisation of local government. I believe that we need to improve the accountability and transparency of combined authorities like the North East Combined Authority, but I hope that Ministers will work with our local authorities to come up with something that we can agree on, rather than impose something.

Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton, Pavilion)

To counter the chief of the austerity myths, I say again that the cause of the deficit was not and is not spending on schools, hospitals, public services and social security, but the result of a global financial crisis. The evidence is clear: averaged over its first six years in office, between 1997 and 2002, Labour kept the budget in balance. Between 2003 and 2007, the deficit rose at 3.2% of GDP a year, which was still perfectly manageable. More importantly, the rise in deficit over those years was not due to increased welfare spending; social spending as a proportion of GDP was more or less constant at about 9.5% of GDP a year. It is a crying shame that those facts are not being heard more loudly and effectively. That has allowed the Government to reframe an international financial crisis as one of public spending and to offer up the idea of cuts as a solution.

Government investment can cut public debt much faster in the long run if that investment is directed towards infrastructure, R and D and other areas that stabilise the economy, raise revenues and lower social spending.

Jack Dromey (Labour, Birmingham, Erdington)

Birmingham is a great city, with a great history, at the heart of England. It is the city of Chamberlain—the city that saw the foundation of municipal governance and municipal enterprise; the city of a thousand trades; the workshop of the world. It is a city with great strengths to this day—world-class companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, world-class sectors such as life sciences and world-class universities—but it is a city that has been hard hit. It was hard hit in the 1980s by Thatcher’s closures, when half our industrial base went. It is a city that still has high unemployment, and one in which too many are on low wages: about 24,000 are on the minimum wage, and in my Erdington constituency, average earnings are £60 less than the national average. It is a city now suffering the biggest cuts in local government history, with every single household losing £2,000 as a consequence of what this Government did in their first term.


The Economy

George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Secretary of State)

In every year of the previous Parliament, Government Departments kept their spending not just within budget but well under budget. Outside key protected areas like the national health service, those budgets have been reduced year on year to more sustainable levels. At the start of this Parliament, it is important that we continue to control spending in the same vein. Two weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the new Chief Secretary asked Government Departments to seek further savings beyond the £13 billion of savings that they are already delivering this year. I can report today that together we have got straight back to the task in hand. We have found a further £4.5 billion of savings that we can make to the Government budget this year, including sensible asset sales. Some £3 billion of these extra savings come from finding more efficiency in Whitehall Departments and from the good housekeeping of coming in under budget. The breakdown per Department is being published by the Treasury today.

There is another component to this: I am today announcing that the Government will begin selling the remaining 30% shareholding we have in Royal Mail. It is the right thing to do for Royal Mail, for the businesses and families who depend on it, and, crucially, for the taxpayer. That business is now thriving after we gave it access to investment from the private sector in the last Parliament. There is no reason we should continue to hold a minority stake. That stake is worth about £1.5 billion at current market prices.

Ed Miliband (Labour, Doncaster North)

This is what Disraeli said in his novel “Sybil, or The Two Nations”, published 170 years ago this year, about what he was fighting against:

“Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets”.

For many people, that will sound like the description, in old-fashioned language, of some of what afflicts our country today: a divide between the top 1%, or even the top 0.1%, and everyone else. Facing up to that is a challenge for any Government of any colour, but particularly, if I may suggest, for one claiming the mantle of one nation.

A huge question facing all western democracies in the next five, 10, 20 years is whether we are comfortable with the huge disparities that exist, whether we are fated to have them and whether we want to even try to confront them. Personally, I believe we will have to, and I believe this is an issue for right and left.

[…]

Within the profound and growing challenge of inequality lies the specific problem of in-work poverty. I would say that it is the modern scourge of our time. For the first time, as many people in Britain who are in poverty are in work as out of work. I believe that the left and right can agree that it should be a basic principle that if you go out to work, you should not be living in poverty. But we are very far from that in Britain today.

The minimum wage has played its part in countering the worst exploitation, but I believe it needs to do more. In Doncaster, which I represent, 28% of men and more than a third of women workers are paid less than the living wage of £7.65 an hour. The UK is one of the low-pay capitals of western Europe. There is an irony here: the Low Pay Commission is a great success, and indeed a lasting achievement, of the 1997 Labour Government—to be fair, the last Government continued to operate with the Low Pay Commission—but I fear that the way it operates has become too much a recipe for the lowest common denominator.

Stewart Hosie (SNP Deputy Leader; Shadow SNP Spokesperson, Economy; Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader, Economy)

The Chancellor said some things today, particularly about in-year cuts and asset sales in certain Departments, but nowhere near enough to explain what he plans to do. Perhaps he or one of his Ministers might decide to come clean with this House later today and tell us where the axe will fall.

Will they really restrict carer’s allowance to those eligible for universal credit, so that 40% of claimants lose out? Will they really increase means-testing for the contributory element of employment and support allowance, or of jobseeker’s allowance, which would see 30% of claimants—300,000 families—lose £80 a week? Will they remove the tax-free status of disability benefits to save £1.5 billion? Will this Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions really take the axe to those most in need to deliver £8 billion of tax cuts, which right now, and I have heard nothing today to change my mind on this, are completely unfunded?

[…]

The Scottish Government are mitigating the consequences of this Government’s welfare reform, promoting gender equality, investing in early years education and care, and setting targets to ensure that everyone—irrespective of their background—has the chance to go to university. Essentially, that economic strategy sets out a vision of an economy based on innovation rather than insecurity; on high skills, not low wages; and on enhanced productivity rather than reduced job security. We want to climb the global competitiveness rankings on quality, rather than racing to the bottom on costs, and we want to deliver positive change in the real economy to drive changes in the big fiscal numbers. So we have to improve productivity, we need to encourage innovation and exports, and we must support business growth and job creation.

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