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David Wright: I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the Government are supporting the armed forces. It is important to invest heavily in accommodation for the forces and we should also remember that many civilian communities provide support across the country. There is a very significant civilian military presence in Shropshire and I am hoping for some
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positive news about moving the regiments back from Germany, preferably into a super-garrison within the county. Shropshire has a strong history of supporting the military and I hope that we continue in that vein over the coming years. I am lucky to have had relatives who served in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. I have long believed it important to protect the title of some of those old regiments. I am not one who likes the combination of regiments, although the new Mercian Regiment has done some sterling work abroad for our nation in recent months.

It is particularly important to pay tribute to members of the armed forces who are working so hard in Afghanistan. I have been watching the TV series about commando training. Indeed, I was involved in the armed forces parliamentary scheme with the Royal Marines a few years ago. They are doing an amazing job out in Afghanistan, and it is important that we support them in their efforts to bring peace, democracy and security to Afghanistan in the long term. Unfortunately, it is likely to be quite a long term, and I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister said today that he would come to the House and make a statement on Afghanistan in the next week or so, which will allow us to understand exactly how to cope with the pressures out there.

One of the issues of major concern is the permeability of the border between Afghanistan, its provinces and Pakistan. As there is greater instability in Pakistan at present, and greater uncertainty among the international community about the direction of the Pakistan Government, the permeability of its border with Afghanistan might impact on our troops fighting out there. The situation in Pakistan must be resolved, and stability brought back to that country, as that is important for our effort to stabilise and improve the situation in Afghanistan.

I want to touch on a number of areas covered by the Queen’s Speech. In particular, I want to refer to affordable housing, and to the opportunities that we need to provide for ordinary hard-working families to secure affordable housing. I was interested in the comments of the right hon. Member for Wokingham on quotas and targets for affordable housing. Having worked for 13 years in housing and regeneration, let me say that target setting is crucial. I welcome the fact that the Government are bringing in concrete targets to develop up to 240,000 homes a year over the next few years. It is extremely important that we do that. I also welcome the attention given in regional spatial strategies to the allocation of new homes to particular constituencies.

I was born in Telford, and I would argue that it is one of the more successful new towns. If we are going to protect areas such as Shropshire, and the broader open space, green space and greenfield sites across it, we must consider more growth and development in towns such as Telford. It is significant that the Queen’s Speech contained proposals for new eco-towns and a return to the principle of the garden cities of today and tomorrow—the great post-war achievement of a Labour Government, setting in place a strategy to provide new towns and communities.

Stephen Pound: I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend, whose contribution to local government housing was recognised for many years in his soubriquet of
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Demolition Dave. As I understand it, he blew up most of the ’60s housing in his area. Anyone who is an admirer of Ebenezer Howard, as I am, will be swift to remind him, however, that new towns started more than 100 years ago; they are not just a post-war achievement.

David Wright: My hon. Friend is right, but most of the enabling legislation to bring in new towns was an achievement of the post-war era. I am proud to say that I was involved in demolishing a significant number of properties in the west midlands that were, in my view, inappropriate for the future needs of communities, and my nickname was Demolition Dave. It is important that we consider an overall approach to taking out system-built properties, which are unsustainable in the long term, and that we redevelop and regenerate communities in a sustainable manner for the future.

I welcome the eco-towns commitment, and look forward to the announcement on where those towns will be. I hope that they will be allied to some existing growth points. I also hope that we will see rapid moves to secure zero-carbon homes. Clearly, the Government have set out an objective to ensure that new housing is built to zero-carbon standards. The eco-town projects give us a real opportunity to see that in action at an early point, and I welcome that move.

The Gracious Speech also proposed a housing and regeneration Bill to aid the delivery of the new homes needed by 2020, and to bring together land and housing through a new homes and communities agency. I have seen the impact that regeneration agencies sponsored by the Government can have in communities. Clearly, the development of Telford was a significant achievement of the development corporation, and we have had significant engagement by English Partnerships over the last few years in providing development sites across the town where mixed development has taken place.

I suggest to the right hon. Member for Wokingham that we need to develop mixed communities containing housing built for rent, sale and shared ownership. Over the last 20 years, the allocation of affordable housing to development sites as a proportion of the overall scheme has often relegated such social housing to a corner of the scheme. We need a system under which rented and shared-ownership housing is built together with housing for sale, so that when we walk down the street we cannot tell the difference between a rented home, an affordable home and a home for sale. Tenure-blind development, as it is called in the trade, enables communities to hold together more successfully.

Improved infrastructure is of key importance. Some of our most positive schemes in Telford, on English Partnerships land and in partnership with the local authority, are in Lightmoor, Lawley and Ketley millennium village, where there are proposals for new schools, restaurants, facilities for communities and centres for leisure and entertainment. We need whole new communities rather than out-of-town peripheral estates. I live on a housing estate that was built in the early 1990s, comprising about 2,000 homes. We have an extensive range of facilities—a post box, a bus stop and a telephone box—which were provided by the outgoing Commission for the New Towns. I hope we do not repeat some of those housing and development mistakes over the coming years. We need to build sustainable communities with a cohesive tenure base.

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We must also establish targets to which local authorities can sign up. We have an opportunity, within the regional spatial strategy structure, to debate the amount of new housing that each local authority area should provide, but it is no good for the Conservatives to say that they will not set an overall target for development. If we are to deliver the homes that families throughout the country need, we require such a target. Over the weekend I discussed the issue with the Opposition’s housing spokesman on Radio 4, who was unwilling to place on record his party’s target for new house building in England and Wales. We cannot allow that trend to continue. We must hear figures from the Conservatives. I hope they will produce them during the passage of the housing Bill, and as we continue to debate housing.

The Queen’s Speech also included education proposals. I believe that we should view education in a different way from the way in which we have viewed it over the past 40 or 50 years. The 14-to-18 agenda is particularly important. I agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham that we should restructure the school curriculum to engage 14-year-olds. Many young people do not want to sit in a formal classroom environment; they want to be in the local college. I am proud to say that Telford has one of the most successful further education colleges in the country, with a superb principal, Doug Boynton. The college is recognised across the board as an outstanding institution. We have a good partnership with local schools, enabling pupils as young as 14 to enter the college and take courses related to engineering and science. It is important that we continue to promote that arrangement in the coming months and years.

Mr. Russell Brown: For the last two or three years in my constituency, students aged 14 or 15 who become disenchanted with what goes on in the classroom, and who yearn for the day when they can leave school and enter employment have been able to go to the local college to gain first-hand experience of what that would be like. When the time comes for them to leave school at 16, they can progress through the college system far more quickly with the benefit of the hands-on experience that they have gained over a period of 18 to 24 months.

David Wright: That is an excellent example of the way in which we can restructure the curriculum to enable those who tend to detach themselves from a formal classroom setting to be re-energised by experience of further education colleges. I do not think we talk enough about FE colleges in this country. They are often omitted from debate, although they make a significant contribution to our education system.

Mr. Redwood: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem is particularly acute for boys? The gender gap is very great when boys are 16, although it has narrowed or disappeared by the time they reach the final degree stage. It seems that the 14-to-16 curriculum is especially off-putting for boys.

David Wright: I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. I think it important, when we do agree, for us to agree across the Chamber. I agree that the 14-to-16 curriculum is a particularly important
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issue for young boys, and that there is a “switch-off” in that boys tend to achieve more at a later point in their education than girls. That should be accepted in the system. I am not suggesting that we should write off academic achievement for boys aged between 14 and 16, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that either, but we need a mixed curriculum and a range of opportunities.

Tony Baldry: The hon. Gentleman is waxing lyrical about further education. If it is so important, why have the Government not yet worked out which Department is responsible for it? Neither the Department for Children, Schools and Families nor the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is taking responsibility. Both recently sent me identical letters saying that they were consulting on which should be the lead Department. It does not say much for the amount of care that the Prime Minister devoted to reorganising Whitehall that further education was completely forgotten.

David Wright: I have met the principal of my local college, who is keen to engage with the Government over the next few months in determining our overall further education strategy.

We should pay tribute to those who work in the sector, and who see further education as an area of growth. Millions of pounds have been invested in the college, which is in the constituency of The Wrekin. We have a sports dome there, and a partnership with the local football club brings young people in and ensures maximum use of education facilities. The football club has a learning centre alongside the pitch, which is run in partnership with the college and with schools. It takes kids out of the school environment when they are aged between 14 and 16 and younger, and inspires them by placing them in a different setting and showing them the opportunities that they can take.

That ties in with the agenda for providing more activity for young people before and after school. Telford has a £200 million Building Schools for the Future programme, which will completely change school premises stock throughout the town. We will have new schools across the secondary sector, many new schools in the primary sector, and some refurbishments of primary and secondary schools. That is particularly important, because it offers us an opportunity to extend school hours beyond 4 or 4.30 pm. When young people feel switched off from activity in their communities, we can use those schools as a resource that we have not had in the past.

We have often said that people should visit youth clubs or community centres in the evenings, and I have always thought it a waste for high-quality school buildings featuring gymnasiums and classroom facilities to be locked up at 4 or 5 pm. We should use those facilities, and the extended school hours, to engage with young people in communities. I hope that one important result of Building Schools for the Future will be schools opening their doors out of hours so that young people have access to learning, leisure and entertainment in a school setting after 4 or 5 pm.

I want to say a little about the climate change legislation. On Friday night I was at an extremely well-attended meeting of Friends of the Earth, along with 30-odd other people. There was real consensus
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among the people who were present that the Government are taking significant action in relation to climate change. There was recognition that they are the first Government to attempt to put such legislation on the statute book. Clearly, Friends of the Earth has concerns about how we produce targets. I suggest that, as a minimum, the Executive should report to the House each year on their progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but there are some challenges for the Conservative party. What is its view generally on nuclear power? Is it going to support the extension of the nuclear power programme? I generally do support an increase in nuclear power and the building of a new phase of nuclear power stations as a mechanism to reduce carbon emissions. What is the position of the Conservative party? I think that we need a mix of energy supply—a mix of renewables and nuclear power. I think that we can and should achieve that as a nation.

I notice that within the Gracious Speech there is a proposal to look again at the regulation of bus services. That is a Bill that people will be particularly keen to examine. I attended a meeting with the pensioners forum in Telford last week. Those pensioners were particularly keen for us to regulate the bus service sector better. They were pleased, of course, that they are going to get free off-peak nationwide bus travel. We are proud of that. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. There are far too many individual conversations going on in the Chamber.

David Wright: Pensioners in Telford are keen to see an extension of the scheme. They like the off-peak travel scheme that has been introduced across Telford. Significant improvements to bus services in Telford have been put in place by the private sector in partnership with the council. If the private sector is doing a good job in partnership with local authorities, it should be left to get on with that. A large proportion of the buses that are running on routes across Telford are new. We have a red line, blue line and green line service, just to keep the official Opposition and other parties happy. We have a mix of routes. We have a tube-style bus service where people know that a bus will turn up within 10, 12 or 15 minutes on particular routes. That is a good scheme. We are trying to put more support into peripheral routes, particularly in rural areas.

Where local authorities are making a good job of local transport planning and there are quality contracts in place with the private sector, we should allow those contracts to flourish and local authorities to get on. Where that is not being delivered in local areas, we should bring in legislation that forces better regulation in terms of quality contracts for bus services, so that we can move people out of their cars and into buses and improved public transport.

The Queen’s Speech encompasses a series of Bills and proposals that will improve family life for people in Telford. We have proposals to increase the amount of affordable housing that is available for families in Telford. We have 5,000 people on the waiting list for rented housing in Telford. We need to see partnership schemes that deliver affordable housing and rented housing in Telford. We have proposals for an extensive
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modernisation of the school stock, allied with elements that will extend educational opportunities for those aged up to 18. That is significant. We have opportunities to extend school hours—opportunities for schools to stay open beyond 4 or 5 o'clock to engage young people, take them off the streets and replace and replenish youth services that have been run down in the past 20 or so years in our community. Therefore, there are real opportunities for local people to improve their housing, their education and their skills base. I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.

6.3 pm

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): Coming in the wake of the rather fanciful circumstances that led to the general election that never was, this is without doubt the Queen's Speech of a rather chastened Prime Minister, and deservedly so. For those of us who have participated in these debates over the years and indeed over the decades, the lack of a sense of occasion is in part a reflection of that fact.

There is no doubt that this is a rather curious Queen's Speech. It is curious for the governing party because it might well have been the Queen's Speech that was never delivered. One can only speculate. The general election could have been held last week. Let us suppose that the governing party were returned, with a smaller, an equivalent or, who knows, even a larger majority. What kind of Queen's Speech might we have been looking at today, or whenever it would have been delivered? There is that slight sense of unreality about the Executive at the moment, given recent events. That permeates rather a lot of the measures that appear—and in certain circumstances, do not appear—in the Queen's Speech today.

I want to refer to two broad points and then make a couple of quick constituency points. First, although one subject has not been greatly discussed today, it continues to cast its shadow across our society and the international stage. Let us look at the context and the wording of the Queen's Speech. Now, thankfully—it is a cause for celebration—Northern Ireland no longer appears in a specific category of its own towards the end. It is now grouped with the Parliaments and Assemblies within the UK. In a sense, it is normal politics at last, thank goodness. However, for Northern Ireland, now read Iraq. I wonder how many more Queen's Speeches will feature the word “Iraq” in the way that this one does.

This week, many of us from all parties will be in our areas with our communities at Remembrance day events, paying tribute to those who have made that ultimate sacrifice. I wonder how many more will lose their lives as the dreadful state of affairs that we have got ourselves into in Iraq persists. Of course, it continues to feed so much of the legislative programme of this Government. Today is not the occasion to get yet again into an argument about the extent to which this country is more at risk from, or is experiencing directly to a greater extent than might otherwise have been the case, international or domestically grown terrorism following our actions on the international stage, but, whether there is a direct causal link between the one and the other, it cannot be denied, as Select Committees and the Joint Intelligence Committee
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themselves have observed, that the way in which we chose to act with the United States Government, without the backing of the United Nations, was bound to hasten the degree of danger for this country. Now terrorism legislation is back before us. The 28 days issue will be back before the House again.

I was much involved, as leader of my party at the time, when the Government first tried to make progress on that matter. As we all recall, it became a cause cél├Ębre. There was talk of the House of Lords having to sit all weekend to try to get some agreement. In his usual rather Houdini-like fashion, the then Prime Minister, at the 59th minute of the 11th hour, was able to cobble together a degree of compromise with the then leader of the Conservative party and the issue was put off for another day.

Many of us involved in those discussions, from prime ministerial level downwards, in all parties, felt that there was an awful lot of party political posturing on the issue at that point. The Government are now bringing the matter back and they are saying this time that, although they have indicated an intention and a preference to extend the period of detention without charge, they genuinely want all-party discussions. It cuts both ways. If the Government are genuine about that, equally, Opposition parties that have been critical, our own included, have to say that, if the facts change, they are prepared to change their minds. However, it has to be said—both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives alike are saying this with one voice at the moment—that we have yet to be presented with persuasive facts that would lead either party to change its mind. I hope therefore that, if the Government do feel that they are in possession of those facts, they will go about it on a much more constructive basis and take a more rational approach than they did a year or two ago.

Secondly, I should like to pick up on some of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). We will have lots of opportunity during this Parliament—as every week goes by, it looks as if it will be a longer, rather than a shorter, Parliament—to debate Europe and more domestic UK concerns, not least the position and role of Scottish Members within the UK Parliament post-devolution.

I was my party’s spokesman on Europe at the time of Maastricht, when almost a year of my life—a night without end—was spent in this place. I recall the Conservative night-watchmen of the period: Jonathan Aitken, Teddy Taylor, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). The roll of honour goes on and on, as did the nights without end. I always compare it to the passage of the seasons. We began in mid-winter and there was brilliant summer sunshine when the then Prime Minister imposed the three-line Whip to get the legislation through.

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