Ed Davey slams “illiberal, catastrophic, sickeningly cruel” Queen’s Speech

Ed Davey condemned many of the measures outlined in the Queen’s Speech yesterday, particularly the measures to make it harder for people to seek asylum in the UK – “sickeningly cruel” he called it.

He slammed the Government for failing to bring forward proposals on social care again.

He also described the voter suppression measures as being straight out of the Donald Trump playbook “the actions of despots.”

He did not hold back.


The Queen’s Speech comes at a time like no other—after a year in which so many families have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one, when we have all experienced isolation from friends and family, and when so many have lost businesses, jobs and hard-earned savings. That is why we are all so grateful to the scientists, NHS staff, care workers and community volunteers who have delivered the vaccine roll-out and given us all hope. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

Before I move on to the Gracious Speech, let me join in the tributes to the people this Parliament has lost in the past year. I shall focus on two remarkable women. The first is our friend Dame Cheryl Gillan, who sadly passed away last month. She was a truly dedicated public servant, warm, friendly, and liked and respected in all parts of the House. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this sad time.

The second is Shirley—Shirley Williams. The Liberal Democrat family are not alone in mourning the loss of Shirley. Shirley was a giant of British politics for over half a century. She combined a remarkable intellect and a wholehearted compassion with fierce determination like no one else I have known. Shirley was at once a wonderful human being and an unstoppable force of nature. We already miss her wise counsel, forceful arguments and boundless energy.

I pay tribute to the hon. Members for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara) and for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher). The proposer’s speech was mostly excellent, although I was slightly disappointed by two omissions. First, the hon. Gentleman omitted to tell the House how the Liberal Democrats have removed the Conservatives from power in his county of Cambridgeshire. Secondly, he was a distinguished Northern Ireland Minister, resigning on principle against the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). He argued—I quote his resignation letter—that her withdrawal agreement would mean Northern Ireland being

“subject to a different relationship with the EU from the rest of the UK”.

I was hoping to hear an analysis of how the EU trade deal and the Brexit deal was impacting Northern Ireland, because he voted for that despite the fact that its impact on Northern Ireland is worse than that of the withdrawal agreement.

The speech by the hon. Member for South Ribble was entertaining, but, given her stated passion for a beer, I wish she had told us more about her time as a biology student at the University of Nottingham—my hometown, where there is a great night-time economy, which I am sure she enjoyed. Wikipedia tells us that during her student days she worked as a nursing assistant in an elderly care home, so I hope we can look forward to her support as Liberal Democrats press the Government to deliver on their promises on long-delayed social care reform.

The Government’s programme needed to heal the nation, learn the lessons from the pandemic and prepare our country for the enormous economic, social and environmental challenges ahead. I regret to say that, with this programme, the Conservative Government have failed on every single account. To heal the nation, we first needed to look after people who have been bereaved, especially children. I have been campaigning for a better deal for bereaved families for many years, drawing on my own experience of losing my father at the age of four, when my mother was widowed in her 30s with three boys under 10.

With this pandemic, the need to help bereaved children in our country has never been greater, especially those whose mums and dads were unmarried and who currently get no help at all after losing a parent. The Childhood Bereavement Network estimates that about 3,000 children have lost an unmarried mum or dad during covid. A caring Government would give them support now, yet I have to tell the House that this Government are dragging their feet on even basic help for such children who have lost their mums and dads. They have even fought two court cases to prevent bereavement support from going to families, just because their parents were unmarried—as if the parents’ marital status was the fault of the grieving children. Fortunately the Government lost twice in the courts, thanks to the Human Rights Act—the Act that they ominously want to undermine with their threat in the Queen’s Speech to judicial review.

Even though the Government lost in the courts, Ministers have still tried to escape the rule of law, dragging their feet on obeying the court ruling, so that many children who lost their mum or dad to covid have gone without. That is a scandal. I have raised it with the Prime Minister himself time and again, most recently in a face-to-face meeting last month. He promised me action, but there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech for bereaved families or children. So, I am working on a cross-party basis to amend the Queen’s Speech so that the Prime Minister is forced to obey the rule of law—forced by the courts and this House to help children whose mum or dad has died during covid.

Liberal Democrats want us to emerge from covid as a more caring country. The Liberal Democrat vision of a fairer, greener, more caring country is the programme that our country needs now. Fairer, with an economic recovery that leaves no one behind. Backing small businesses to create jobs of the future, so that people have genuine opportunities, wherever they live. Supporting the self-employed, instead of cruelly excluding 3 million people from Government help during the pandemic. Greener, with investment in secure, well-paid green jobs of the future in every part of the UK, and a climate change action programme far more ambitious than the rhetoric of a Prime Minister who once wrote that a wind turbine

“couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding”.

The Prime Minister was opposing renewable power when Liberal Democrat Ministers were fighting his Conservative colleagues, and winning, to make Britain the world leader in offshore wind power.

We want a more caring country, too—yes, for the bereaved families and children I have talked about, but also by strengthening our NHS, reforming social care and properly supporting Britain’s 11 million unpaid carers looking after loved ones at home. As such, I am genuinely saddened to see that the Government’s agenda bears little resemblance to such challenges, or to the concerns of people up and down the country. Alarmingly, this Queen’s Speech will instead erode individual freedom, snatch powers away from local people and undermine our very democracy.

Take the planning reforms mentioned by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead—I agreed with her points about those. The Conservative Government’s proposals for new planning laws will ride roughshod over the views of local people and create a developers’ free-for-all. As millions of pounds of campaign donations from property developers pour into Conservative party coffers, local communities will be silenced. That is not democratic, and it is not right. There is a much better way to get the homes we need. The local neighbourhood planning reforms that Liberal Democrats champion would produce a community-led planning system, not a developer-led one; where it has been tried, it has been hugely successful. Neighbourhood plans put the houses where communities want them, with the facilities and infrastructure that those communities need. Those undemocratic planning reforms are, I am afraid, just another example of this authoritarian Government. Their plans to crack down on protests, restrict judicial review and undermine the Human Rights Act are about taking power away from individuals, undermining the rule of law and silencing any opposition to this Government.

Then there is the plan to force people to show identity papers just in order to vote—a plan ripped straight from the Donald Trump playbook—despite, or maybe because of, the clear evidence that it will disproportionately impact ethnic minorities, older people and those on lower incomes, who are just trying to vote. Coming hot on the heels of the Government’s unworkable, expensive and divisive plans for covid ID cards, people can now see that this is an illiberal Government—cracking down on protests because they make the Government’s life uncomfortable, weakening the courts because they sometimes rule against Ministers, and making it harder for people to vote because they do not always vote for them. These are the actions of despots, not democrats. Liberal Democrats will fiercely oppose these plans, defend British democratic traditions and defend individual freedom and the individual’s ability to challenge Ministers and participate fully in our democracy.

The service of those working in the NHS during the pandemic moved the nation to stand on our doorsteps, week after week, to applaud them. However, the Government’s failure to fund our NHS before the pandemic was thrown into the sharpest relief imaginable, as our nurses and doctors had to struggle so hard at the beginning of the pandemic. It is scary to think what would have happened without the tireless sacrifices of our NHS and care staff under unbelievable pressures. So it is simply unacceptable that the warm words and applause of Ministers for NHS workers are not being followed up with a fair pay deal. With the vacancies and shortages of NHS and care staff made worse by Brexit and by the pandemic, to deny NHS staff a better pay deal is bad for patients. Only today we have seen the latest warning from the Royal College of Anaesthetists, showing that nine out of 10 hospitals have at least one vacancy for an anaesthetist, with the Royal College warning of a “workforce disaster” threatening millions of operations. This Government’s support for the NHS disappears when it comes to paying NHS workers properly.

Then we come to social care. There is nothing of substance in the Queen’s Speech to address the huge and growing crisis in social care. This pandemic has reminded everyone that caring for people’s health does not stop at the hospital exit or the GP’s surgery door. We can improve the NHS only if we fix social care too. If we care about the NHS, we must care about care, and yet the Government say in the Queen’s Speech:

“Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward”—

no detail, no timetable. The Prime Minister’s last Queen’s speech said that

“Ministers will seek cross-party consensus on proposals for long-term reform of social care.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 December 2019; Vol. 801, c. 7.]

Well, I have written to the Prime Minister three times in an attempt to build that cross-party consensus, and I am still waiting for a reply. The Queen’s Speech before that one said:

“My Government will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2019; Vol. 800, c. 2.]

There is nothing but promises, promises, and delay and delay. Meanwhile, people go without care.

The Conservatives’ failure to implement the social care reforms that Liberal Democrat Ministers passed into law based on the Dilnot commission has meant more than 1 million people missing out on care. The uncaring party opposite should be ashamed: instead of action, which we put forward, we see council budgets in crisis, care services stretched to breaking point, and more than 11 million unpaid carers left to shoulder the burden. This pandemic has shown that we are a nation of carers. There are millions of carers looking after their loved ones at home facing big challenges every single day—challenges made harder by covid. These family carers deserve our support, but they are being forgotten and ignored by this Government, as shown by the fact that they were not mentioned even once in the Queen’s Speech. Let me help. The Government can begin to correct that by including unpaid carers explicitly in the forthcoming health and care Bill, with a duty on the NHS to identify and support them. I urge Ministers not to miss that opportunity.

Another reason why I find this programme for government so dreadfully disappointing is that it further entrenches the Government’s isolationist tendencies. It is not just the recovery-threatening EU trade deal that is bad for Britain and bad for business, but the shockingly poor diplomacy ahead of hosting COP26—the crucial international climate change talks. Having led the UK delegation at three UN climate change talks and helped the UK and the EU to create their position ahead of the most successful climate change talks ever, in Paris in 2015, I am deeply alarmed by what I see and hear about the preparations for Glasgow.

Let me give some examples. Diplomatic relations with the EU ahead of COP26: throw some insults, send a warship. Relations with the US now that, thankfully, we now have a President who gets climate change: reduce the size of our Army and ignore President Biden’s warning over Northern Ireland. Relations with the developing world: slash our aid budget in the middle of a global pandemic. To cut foreign aid—to hurt the world’s poorest—is disgraceful in and of itself, but it is shocking during a pandemic. To undermine Britain’s global leadership just when the world’s future depends on it the most is nothing short of a catastrophe.

Then we have the disgraceful proposal in the new sovereign borders Bill to make it even harder for the world’s most vulnerable people—people in unimaginable hardship who are fleeing their home because of war or persecution—to find sanctuary in the United Kingdom, against all British tradition. The idea that this Government think it is a priority to make it even harder for people to claim asylum is sickeningly cruel and uncaring.

The Liberal Democrats want a plan for recovery that is fair, green and more caring, with no one left behind. Anyone who has seen their business fail or who has lost their job must be supported to get back on their feet. Any young person who has been robbed of months of their education must be supported with educational and emotional recovery. We want to see investment in reliable, well-paid green jobs, not only to tackle the climate emergency, but to power our recovery. We want a well-resourced NHS and social care system ready to meet the challenges of the future, and we want proper recognition of and support for the 11 million carers in our country to help heal our nation, not least for bereaved families and children.

I am sorry that this Government’s programme simply does not deliver the fairer, greener, more caring plan for recovery that our country needs. The Liberal Democrats will oppose it.

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  • Geoffrey Dron 12th May '21 - 12:03pm

    “The construction of this new progressive movement should start with an open dialogue between like-minded Labour and Lib Dem members and the non-aligned. Otherwise, we will be in the dreary business of fighting with a cause which is unclear, our hands tied behind our back, on a ground we didn’t choose in a battle we can’t win, against a foe which doesn’t deserve to triumph; and hoping that another defeat will bring the clarity of purpose we should embrace now. It won’t.”

    Tony Blair in New Statesman

  • Ruth Bright 12th May '21 - 1:09pm

    When I got married I had to prove who I was. Was that an act of despotism on the part of the staff at Oxford Registry Office working as the instruments of an illiberal state?

    Just wondered.

  • nigel hunter 12th May '21 - 2:08pm

    Road Haulage and Brexit .I have noticed in my 2 supermarkets I visit a shortage of soft cat food on the shelves.Hauliers say they cannot get the drivers,they have all gone home abroad plus other handicaps.Is this the start of MORE shortages of goods as the consequences of Brexit grow?


    Immigrants getting here illegally WHAT LEGAL WAYS HAVE THEY GOT.

    It is about time that our politicians talked tough language in Parliament

  • “Illiberal, catastrophic and as sickeningly cruel”, as this ?????

    They work for you : voting record.

    • On 26 Nov 2014:Edward Davey voted to keep the penalty for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms; against freezing energy bills; and against measures to increase pay rates in Wales.
    • On 12 Nov 2013:Edward Davey voted in favour of reducing housing benefit for those deemed to have excess bedrooms.
    • On 12 Nov 2013:Edward Davey voted for a reduction in housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms.
    • On 27 Feb 2013:Edward Davey voted in favour of a housing benefit under-occupancy penalty.
    • On 24 Oct 2012:Edward Davey voted to introduce under-occupation criteria applying to housing benefit for working age claimants in the social rented sector and to set the rates of Local Housing Allowance which applies to private rented accommodation.
    • On 15 Jun 2011:Edward Davey voted to introduce Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments and to restrict housing benefit for those in social housing deemed to have excess bedrooms.

  • George Thomas 12th May '21 - 2:22pm

    The Mirror journalist Mikey Smith highlighted that the DFE had used two examples to justify ‘free speech on campus’ bill – both are examples of legitimate protest, and neither infringed on anyone’s freedom of speech.

    The LD’s are right to point out proposals within this speech are illiberal but please also use specific examples of freedoms lost to show how aggressively and unnecessarily illiberal these proposals are. Vagrancy act still carries on, social care reform is delayed further but Universities and courts are challenged because mountains are being made out of molehills. This lot have their priorities all wrong.

  • nigel hunter 12th May '21 - 2:31pm

    To wait till spring of next year for the Covid enquiry to start is pathetic.

  • nigel hunter 12th May '21 - 2:39pm

    I would like to think that those still in Parliament have learnt bitter lessons from those days in coalition and can be resolute in future. Bitterness and anger solves nothing

  • @Ruth Bright

    I appreciate the point but it appears that you don’t need *photo* id to get married if you were born before 1st Jan 1983 – https://www.gov.uk/marriages-civil-partnerships/documents-youll-need-to-give-notice

    It strikes me an additional problem may be that people who get married may possibly change their name on the electoral register but wait until their passport expires to update that.

    And many younger people – well into the 20s or 30s – may keep the address on their passport and/or driving licence at their parents address and/or wait until it expires to update and indeed fewer younger people are driving now.

    In general there are very, very few things that you need *photo* id to do in this country to do.

    You have to ask yourself

    Is it a problem? No – outside Northern Ireland.

    Virtually no allegations or convictions for personification.

    And even those wouldn’t have changed the result.

    The Government don’t keep statistics on how many tendered ballot papers are issued according to a parliamentary question by Lord (Chris) Rennard.

    A tendered ballot paper is given to someone who goes along to a polling station and it is marked that they have already voted and they are given a different coloured ballot paper to vote – but it is not (normally) counted. Some may be clerical mistakes – the polling clerk putting the line by the wrong name but If there were a lot then it would indicate fraud might be taking place and it doesn’t seem that there are. But if there is a legal challenge and a close election a court can look at them. Remember ballot papers are not secret so it can be worked out if they would have changed the result of the election.

    Frankly I think that parties have better uses of their time on polling day than trying to organise systemic impersonation.

    And actually I believe if they are worried about it, the candidates can appoint polling agents to sit alongside the clerks and monitor problems with personation etc. and I have *never* known a local party of any colour do be worried enough about it to appoint polling agents.

    So if it is not a problem – why are the Government changing it?

    Could it just be that the younger and less well off are less likely to have photo id and be put off voting and they just happen to be less likely to vote Conservative. Pure coincidence I am sure!

  • Are there really “11 million unpaid carers looking after loved ones at home”? Or are the vast majority just families and friends helping each other out like they have always done.

  • “Very few things you need photo ID for”………….some people must lead the life of a hermit.

    Driving licence, railcard, disabled parking badge, passport, bus concession card, ID card university student, research students admission card to e.g. the Bodleian Library, the National archives, the National Library of Scotland.

    Some people will get wound up about Feline libertarianism by making cats have to have a microchip in the Queen’s Speech next.

  • Helen Dudden 13th May '21 - 9:49am

    I feel that new freedoms to build, will resort to the building of what makes them vast profits. Student builds is one, even when there is protests on the continued applications they have been overturned by government.
    An expensive roll of wallpaper is the cost of feeding a family, heating and other costs. Heating a very outdated property, that has old fashioned electric heating without the much needed insulation.
    Asbestos, seems to the another that is flagged up, in property builds in different era.
    I write on the total lack of category 3 homes, a Care Home is not the place for someone young or the only place available. Actually Care Home costs, can be much more than a home. So a false economy.
    The long waiting lists for medial treatment, the reason not to have the much needed Public Inquiry into the handling of the virus is needed now to prevent a further lock down
    and be accountable on the spending.
    In Portugal it was reported that 50 euros was the cost of a test for the virus, testing here is causing problems, the cost much more.
    We also have new fire alarms going into the sheltered housing where I live, one in every room but the bathroom. The costs have increased, as the fire alarm and help button are separated. I may still be charging my Power Wheelchair behind my front door, but the many fire alarms and cost increase, as with the cost of health care. I’m told its affordable.
    In the tower block that caught fire, disabled people were at the top of the building trapped. Still the cladding is in place on many homes and buildings.
    As i write this, I feel quite shocked on the need to write, for so long things have been not where they should be.

  • Ruth Bright 13th May '21 - 5:52pm

    Michael 1 its interesting that Mums are only just about to be entered on marriage certificates. Until a few days ago it didn’t matter if your Dad was absent, dead, in prison or generally useless he had to be on your marriage certificate and you couldn’t have your Mum instead!

    But I digress…Sorry!

  • David Evans 13th May '21 - 6:58pm

    David Raw, you ask a very pertinent set of questions about Ed’s voting record. I actually had the chance to ask him in a hustings meeting the Question “Why when the Lib Dems were in coalition and our party was collapsing year after year, did you do nothing to save the party?” After a sharp intake of breath from the Chair of the meeting, his reply can be summed up as “As a minister, I was bound by Cabinet Collective Responsibility.”

    When I followed up by pointing out that several Conservative Ministers had just broken Cabinet Collective Responsibility regarding Theresa May’s Extension to the Transition Period and stayed in Cabinet, he replied that the Conservatives were a rabble, which got a round of applause. Of course, less than 9 months later that Rabble had massacred the Lib Dems once again. Isn’t it funny how life works out?

  • @ David Evans. Thank you for that, David. Sir Edward’s answer is enlightening and illustrates the knot this party has got itself into. I’m afraid the knot will not be untied during his leadership. A visit to St Albans is becoming increasingly necessary.

    As to Scotland, an unlimited echoing attachment to a right wing Tory Government which is infinitely more nationalist than any Nationalist has brought the party down. I suggest a visit online to look at the BBC Scottish news tonight will make the point :
    a) with the swearing in at Holyrood, and
    b) events in Glasgow Southside where a UK immigration van was stopped and two men eventually released : details below

    Police release men from immigration van blocking Glasgow street. “In order to facilitate this quickly and effectively, Police Scotland is asking members of the public to disperse from the street as soon as possible. Please take care when leaving the area and follow the directions of the officers on the street.” Earlier the force stressed that it did not assist in the removal of asylum seekers, and that officers were at the scene to police the protest and to ensure public safety.

    Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is also the MSP for the area, said she disagreed fundamentally with Home Office immigration policy. She said: “This action was unacceptable. To act in this way, in the heart of a Muslim community as they celebrated Eid, and in an area experiencing a Covid outbreak was a health and safety risk.”

    She said she would be “demanding assurances” from the UK government that they would not create such a dangerous situation again. She added: “No assurances were given – and frankly no empathy shown – when I managed to speak to a junior minister earlier.”

    Humza Yousaf, the Scottish government’s justice secretary, said: “the action they [the Home Office] have today is at best completely reckless, and at worst intended to provoke, on a day the UK government would have known the Scottish government and MSPs would be distracted by parliamentary process.” He added that the situation “should never have occurred”, and that “the UK government’s hostile environment is not welcome here.”

  • Indeed David, The loyalty to some inappropriate mechanism, designed to make life easier for the PM (whose ministers are tied to whatever he wants) and for bureaucrats, (who don’t like the slightest sniff of uncertainty) was totally misguided, in a two party coalition.

    However, how allegedly thinking Lib Dems, who knew the old system was broken, could not have thought through an alternative to adopt, was quite simply breathtakingly naive. But but even getting consideration of that point by those at or around the top of our party 10 years on is impossible.

    We may not agree on the probity of the SNP – I look at what Blackford did to Charlie K and add to that a total mistrust of all politicians as conniving, duplicitous individuals until proved otherwise – but we can both clearly see what has gone wrong with our party and how no-one has even begun to address the failings that are clearly still there.

    It really is a great sadness that it has come to all this.

    All the best

  • Peter Hirst 25th May '21 - 2:22pm

    When a Party starts legislating to keep itself in power it is time for it to go. If the only way this can be achieved is by collaborating then the country demands nothing less. It is time for the forces of fairness, decency and honesty to rise again as they have done so many times during this country’s history.

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