Some people have asked about a particular amendment that was put to the Queen's Speech in Parliament this week, on public sector pay. I know this is crucially important to you and many others and I want to thank you for sharing your concerns.
I know that public sector pay restraint has been hard. It has, though, helped protect thousands of jobs and front lines services.
I didn't vote for the particular amendment for two reasons. Firstly, it didn't distinguish between the lowest and highest paid in the public sector so would have handed a raise to the top bosses - already often paid far, far more than the front line - rather than use taxpayers' money most wisely.
Secondly, to have voted against this Queen's Speech would have been tantamount to voting 'no confidence' in the government. Now, some might like that. But they did not win the election. The Conservatives did, gaining a historic number of votes and most seats in the Commons. That means that Theresa May has the right and the responsibility to form a government and to set out a programme for government in the Queen's Speech.
The main thing that programme will do is to ensure good prospects for the country, working or studying or retired, public sector or private sector, because it focuses on making a successful deal out of Brexit.
Beyond Brexit elements of the speech, there will be a number of measures to build a stronger economy so we can improve people’s living standards and fund public services, such as our NHS and our schools, on which we all depend. In fact, one of the Government’s first acts was to provide Norwich with an additional £1 million to better fund the NNUH A&E department. The Government means what it says when saying that it is going to work hard for all of the UK and this money proves that.
However, back to the issue of public sector pay: the Government is listening to people’s concerns. The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, responded directly in the House of Commons: "We will not make our decision on public sector pay until the pay review body has reported. We will listen to what it says, and to what people in this House have said, before making a final decision.” This covers the issue of NHS pay specifically, but I hope it goes some way to making it clear that reviews are under way. The Defence Secretary also mentioned that he will be looking at Army pay and what the Government can do to ensure our military service personnel are fairly remunerated. He said: “This is something we have to consider, not just for the army, but right across the public sector as a whole.”
I appreciate the funding Northern Ireland is set to receive is grabbing the headlines at the moment. However, I wanted to put that into context. Northern Ireland has a very different past to the rest of the UK, with the effects of conflict still touching people's lives. For example, the unemployment rate is the highest out of England, Scotland and Wales. There are serious concerns in areas of education and disadvantage, for example as Northern Ireland has the highest rate of people with no formal qualifications. And some of those effects of conflict arise directly as mental ill-health.
This is why it is fair to spend additional funds in Northern Ireland, to improve health, education, infrastructure and more, including a special project for its most deprived areas. The money will be spent to benefit everyone in Northern Ireland, and is therefore not for the DUP alone. While Northern Ireland's need is clearly significant, some of these funds are comparable to the kind of "City Deals" which other parts of the UK have enjoyed, including us in Norwich since 2013, and the Government is still spending considerable amounts around the rest of the country in any case including extra billions on the NHS.
Some people have posted about MPs cheering as the result of the vote was announced. I understand MPs reacted about the overall context of the vote, rather than the specific issue in the amendment, and I personally had cast my vote and left the chamber before any cheering.
And finally, some have concerns about MPs’ pay – MPs no longer have a say in setting their pay and pensions, so this is not a decision for the Government or for MPs, it is the responsibility of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which is a body entirely separate from Parliament.
Now that Parliament has passed the Queen's Speech the Government has the authority to get to work, and I do back it to work for everyone. As your MP I will very closely follow the issue of public sector pay, and will represent constituents' concerns to Ministers.