Next week we will once again see a moment of history. His Majesty King Charles III will be giving his first King’s Speech to Parliament.
The State Opening of Parliament signals the formal start of a new parliamentary session. The King will make a speech to Lords and MPs, laying out the Government’s forthcoming agenda. I will be listening closely to understand what it will mean for Stoke-on-Trent and the whole UK. Traditions surrounding the State Opening and delivery of a speech by the Monarch can be traced back as far as the 16th century.
The State Opening is another reminder of how our democracy has evolved over hundreds of years to create the political system and freedoms we enjoy today. During our history, the Monarch and Parliament have not always had a positive relationship, and has even at times been violent. To ensure the safety of the Monarch an MP would be held hostage during the State Opening and it may surprise you to learn that even now, an MP will be taken hostage in Buckingham Palace until The King arrives home safe.
Whilst we look forward to a fresh start in Parliament and wait with anticipation for The King’s Speech, I want to take the time to reflect on the last month. Firstly, I must mention the situation in Israel and Gaza. I am shocked and saddened to see the appalling acts of violence directed towards civilians in Israel and the deaths and suffering of innocent civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of Gaza.
The Prime Minister has taken on personally the task of representing British concerns to Governments throughout the Middle East including Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The UK Government is clear and unequivocal, de-escalation and avoiding the spread of conflict are paramount. I am glad the UK is providing an additional £10 million of support to Gaza, with a total £37 million of humanitarian aid and focus on addressing the challenges of getting aid in via Egypt.
Here in the UK, we have seen terrible and unacceptable rises in hate crime directed against both Muslims and Jews. As the Prime Minister has said, it is vital we ensure our communities are supported through these challenging times. I unequivocally condemn all acts of violence, prejudice and hate directed towards anyone in our Muslim and Jewish communities: we must do all we can to ensure their safety and security.
Earlier this month I was very pleased to hear the announcement from the Prime Minister at Party Conference that Phase 2 of HS2 is being scrapped. I have been very clear, Phase 2 of HS2 was not only costly but also would have blighted many communities locally and not delivered any benefit to Staffordshire. I am very pleased the Phase 2 money is being redirected into local schemes which will make a real difference and still mean we get high speed rail services. The money now freed up from scrapping Phase 2 of HS2 is huge for our city and will mean we can significantly improve our local bus, trains, and roads.
Here are some of the key local transport improvements announced:
- Reopen Meir Station
- Reopen Stoke to Leek Line
- Upgrade junction 15 of the M6
- Upgrade the A50/A500 Corridor
- Share of new £2.2bn Midlands Local Integrated Transport Settlement for local transport improvements
- £2 Bus fare cap extended to keep fares lower
- HS2 services committed to Stoke-on-Trent with at least 2 fast trains an hour to London
I was also very pleased to hear Minister of State for Immigration, confirm in the House of Commons last week the North Stafford Hotel will no longer be used to house asylum seekers. This is only possible due to the progress made in tackling illegal migration and stopping the boats. For too long, Stoke-on-Trent has done more than its fair share in housing asylum seekers and refugees, as a result, we have seen local services pushed to their limit. Stoke-on-Trent is a welcoming city that proudly stands ready to help those in need, but the good nature of our city must not be taken for granted. I will continue to work hard to ensure other parts of the country make a fairer contribution and that we continue to see robust action to tackle illegal immigration.
We have also just learnt the fantastic news of towns including Longton set to benefit from the next round of Safer Streets Funding announced by Staffordshire Commissioner Ben Adams. Following my repeated calls for action, Longton will now see new CCTV, gating of alleyways and other safety improvements. This will help tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in the town centre, ensuring criminals no longer have any place in Longton. I am determined to ensure our town centre is safe and welcoming for visitors, and our high street businesses have the protection they need.
I know that many of our young residents in the city will be looking forward to trick or treating tomorrow for Halloween. I look forward to seeing some of the fantastic and scary costumes and wish you a fun time, but please also be sure to stay safe.
First published in the Stoke Sentinel 30 Oct 23