“May I first thank the people of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney—the constituency where I was born, raised and still belong—for doing me the honour of re-electing me to represent them in this place.
“As we come to the last days of debate on this year’s Gracious Speech, it is difficult to find positive things to say, mainly because the speech is devoid of detail. Clearly, this is no reflection on Her Majesty but a reflection on the shambles of the Government who are camping out on the Government Benches. The speech is indeed a threadbare document, which has highlighted the Tory party’s inability to put forward a proper programme of government.
“We know that the Tory-led Governments since 2010 have promoted the mantra of austerity. We know that austerity is a political choice. After seven years of austerity, we know only too well the effect that it has had on our communities and our public services. As a former county councillor, I have seen at first hand what the Tories’ austerity agenda has done to local services—services that many, many people use and appreciate. Services such as leisure centres, libraries, youth centres, Sure Start centres and many, many more have been cut or closed as a result of Tory austerity. Under the previous Home Secretary, who is now Prime Minister, since 2010 we have seen police numbers cut by 20,000. South Wales police and Gwent police, who cover my constituency, have, like other forces across the country, lost police officers from the frontline. That has had a huge impact on the police service and its ability to deliver a visible assurance to many communities. The police have got on with the job, because they are professional people who serve our communities, but the service that they provide is under huge pressure. Something that has all but disappeared is neighbourhood policing. In my constituency, the ability of the police to provide effective neighbourhood policing teams in our communities is just not there.
“A few years ago, most electoral wards had a police constable and possibly two police community support officers not only to engage with the community and solve low-level crime and deal with nuisance behaviour, but to gather intelligence about the issues brewing in the areas that they covered. That does not happen anymore, and the teams that once covered one electoral ward now cover five or six wards, so the level of engagement is minimal. Some may say that neighbourhood policing is not important and that there are higher priorities—they may have a point—but in many communities the lack of neighbourhood engagement and reassurance from the police is coupled with cuts in youth service provision or leisure services, so once again, as in the 1980s and ’90s, communities have to manage disaffection and disengagement among some of our young people— and other sections of the community, for that matter.
“Taken alongside the other concerns of 2017, including Brexit, low wages, zero-hours contracts and the rise of food banks—all issues on which the Tories have failed to act—we are beginning to see a bleak picture, which is why I support the amendment introduced by the shadow Home Secretary.
“Finally, I would like to express concern about the deal between the Tory party and the DUP. We have been told over the past few years that there is no money to invest in public services, yet money has been found to cut inheritance tax, income tax for the top earners and corporation tax, so money is available when it suits. There is no clearer example of that than the latest deal with the DUP. The Tories are so desperate to cling to power that they have offered up to £1 billion to cover Northern Ireland over the next two years. This is great for Northern Ireland, but the same should apply across the United Kingdom. In Wales, we have seen the Welsh budget cut by 8% since 2010. Public services are suffering and the communities that I represent, many of which are deprived, are among those that are the hardest hit.
“Furthermore, the deal does nothing to safeguard the Union of the United Kingdom. In fact, it helps to sow further division. The Conservative and so-called Unionist party has done more to put the Union at risk over the past two years than at any other time in my memory, and that is deeply regrettable.”
Hansard. H.C. Vol. 626, Col. 685 (2017)