Queen’s Speech Debate

Yesterday Catherine spoke in the debate in Parliament on the Queen’s Speech. You can read a copy of her speech below – or watch it .here.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)

This Queen’s Speech is nothing but a wish list, setting out a programme for government that completely ignores the new reality that looms large over our economy: the big unknown that is the post-Brexit world. The Government’s withdrawal agreement marks the most profound peacetime transformation of the economy in our country’s history.

That is why, in my brief but timely tenure as interim Chair of the Treasury Committee—I welcome and congratulate the newly elected Chair, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride)—I wrote to the Chancellor last week to ask the obvious question: what is the Treasury’s analysis of the economic impact? Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s reply flatly declined to provide any such analysis. He ended his letter by saying:

“trust in democracy and bringing an end to the division that has characterised this debate over the past three years is something that cannot be measured solely through spreadsheets or impact assessments, important though they”.
What patronising drivel! This Government think they can take us for fools.

The Chancellor does not think there is any need for an economic assessment. He tells us that the previous assessments do not apply, but he will not produce a new one. He says that the new deal is “self-evidently in our economic interest”, but it is not at all self-evident.

The overwhelming evidence is that any Brexit would lead to a weaker economy compared with staying in the EU. If the Government had evidence to the contrary, they would produce it. The Chancellor is basically telling us to ignore the economics.

How can the Government have any credibility when they announce their Budget next month? If the Treasury is not interested in the economics, who in government is? Economic analysis matters. It affects our constituents’ jobs, taxes, spending, prices, interest rates, wages, and imports and exports. Surely we should have the latest and best economic evidence as we make a decision of this magnitude. We must make this decision with our eyes wide open. It is the least the public deserve from us.

As founder and co-chair of the all-party group on the East Coast Main Line, I want to highlight the pressing need for investment in my region. The details of the Government’s proposals on rail reform are still to be finalised, but simply changing the way train operating companies work will not improve our railways in the way we need.

The East Coast Main Line is a critical piece of national rail infrastructure. It is one of the country’s most strategically important transport routes, linking the north-east to London, the east of England, the east midlands, Yorkshire, the Humber, and the east and north of Scotland, but the line cannot cope with the demands upon it. Instead of being an asset, it is now holding back the communities and economies it serves.

It does not have enough capacity for today’s growth in passenger and freight, let alone for the future. Figures from the House of Commons Library show a 73% rise in delay minutes on the London North Eastern Railway route connecting Newcastle and London, and around 60% of that is due to Network Rail. The Government must commit additional funding for Network Rail as a matter of urgency so it can invest in the east coast main line and improve reliability.

That is not enough though: we also need HS2 to go ahead. If we want to run more regional and local services, we need the capacity that HS2 will free up, and I am pleased to have had much support from business communities and stakeholders on this.

I can understand why fellow northerners might look at the cost of HS2 and think that this money might be better spent elsewhere, but I have never seen this as an either/or choice. London has multiple infrastructure projects at any one time. Do we ever suggest it should only have one?

There are worrying rumours that the Government are planning to scrap HS2. It would make a mockery of the Prime Minister’s pledge to empower the north and do nothing to solve the problems on our network. If they scrap the investment in the north, will we really get it back in another form? I do not think so.