Mr. Speaker: I have to acquaint the House that this House has this day attended Her Majesty in the House of Peers, and that Her Majesty was pleased to make a Most Gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament, of which I have, for greater accuracy, obtained a copy. [ Interruption. ] Order. Could I ask hon. Members [ Interruption. ] I am reading out a statement, and they must be quiet.
My Governments overriding priority is to ensure the stability of the British economy during the global economic downturn. My Government is committed to helping families and businesses through difficult times.
The strength of the financial sector is vital to the future vibrancy of the economy. Therefore, legislation will continue to be taken forward to ensure fairer and more secure protection for bank depositors and to improve the resilience of the financial sector.
A Bill will be brought forward to reform the welfare system, to improve incentives for people to move from benefits into sustained employment and to provide greater support, choice and control for disabled people.
My Government will also bring forward a Bill to deliver a more effective, transparent and responsive justice system for victims, witnesses and the wider public. The Bill would also improve the coroners service, and the process of death certification, and provide increased support for bereaved families, including the families of servicemen and women.
A Bill will be brought forward to strengthen border controls, by bringing together customs and immigration powers. The Bill would also ensure that newcomers to the United Kingdom earn the right to stay.
My Government is committed to ensuring everyone has a fair chance in life. My Government will bring forward a Bill to promote equality, fight discrimination and introduce transparency in the workplace to help address the difference in pay between men and women.
Because the health of the nation is vital to its success and well-being, a Bill will be brought forward to strengthen the National Health Service. The Bill would create a duty to take account of the new National Health Service Constitution that will set out the core principles of the
Service and the rights and responsibilities of patients and staff. The Bill would also introduce measures to improve the quality of health care and public health.
My Government will bring forward a Bill to reform education, training and apprenticeships, to promote excellence in all schools, to improve local services for children and parents and to provide a right for those in work to request time for training.
My Government will bring forward measures to protect the environment for future generations. A Bill will be introduced to manage marine resources and to create a new right of public access to the coastline.
My Government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. My Government is committed to the Northern Ireland political process and will bring forward further measures for sustainable, devolved government.
My Government will work for a coordinated international response to the global downturn, including by hosting the next G20 Summit on financial markets and the world economy in the United Kingdom in April next year and reforming financial institutions. My Government will continue to work as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation including at its sixtieth anniversary summit.
Mr. Speaker: Before I call the mover and seconder, I want to announce the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address. Thursday 4 Decemberhome affairs and justice; Monday 8 Decemberemployment, universities and skills, and housing; Wednesday 10 Decemberforeign affairs and defence; Thursday 11 Decemberhealth and education; Monday 15 Decembereconomy, pensions and welfare.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majestys most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
When I was asked by the Chief Whip to move the Address, I was extremely proud and honoured, not least for my constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, and to be seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman), who, among other issues, has an excellent reputation for bringing autism to the fore.
Christened Thomas, I have throughout my life been instinctively suspicious of well-meaning gestures, even one such as this, so naturally I pondered, Why me? All was revealed when my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham), a man of great wisdom and knowledge, met me in the Lobby. The tone of our conversation reminded me of the fact that as boys we both attended St. Marys school in Coatbridge. In his own inimitable style, he said, I hear youre moving the Address. Thats right, Jim. Do you know why you were selected? No, Jim. Do you want to know? Yes, Jim. He said, According to Alex Salmond, youve the safest seat in this House and you will be the only Scottish Labour MP to be re-elected. Responding, I replied, The right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan claimed Labour would lose the Glenrothes by-election, and we didnt, so were all still here.
There are three distinctive areas within my constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. Historically, the one common feature that connected all three was the contribution to heavy industry. Ironworks, steelmaking and coal mining were once the main sources of employment. I want to pay tribute to those who worked hard to look after their families, as many of them died far too prematurely because of associated illness and disease, often linked with those heavy industries. A special tribute is due to all the women, who, as a consequence, were widowed and left to raise a family single handed.
Today, the older heavy industries have almost disappeared, and newer light industries are taking their place. Coatbridge has a new £10 million redevelopment project at the Summerlee heritage park, which graphically illustrates our history and, just as vitally, our potential.
Chryston embraces communities such as Moodiesburn, Muirhead, Stepps, Auchinloch and Gartcosh. One of the darkest days that that community suffered was 18 September 1959 when an inferno raged deep below in the coal mine. It became known as the Auchengeich disaster, in which 47 men lost their lives. We are approaching the 50th anniversary, and many people still turn out to show their respect each year.
With the utmost humility and poignancy, I wish to add my father to the endless list of men who died as victims of pneumoconiosis without a penny in compensation. My late mother, Mary Gordon, born in Armagh, was left to raise a large family with nothing like the benefits that are rightly paid to widows and families today. That is why I will be eternally grateful that, under this Labour Government, the largest ever financial compensationnearly £7.5 billionwas paid out to miners and their families who had been affected by diseases through working in such appalling mining conditions.
Among the many improvements in my constituency is a large site, formerly the Gartcosh steelworks, which is now well on its way to being redeveloped as part of a multi-million pound regeneration programme. Such investment has laid the foundations for Gartcosh to be completely transformed socially and economically, which is very welcome given the traditions of my industrial constituency.
Bellshill boy Billy McNeill captained Celtic, the first British team to hold aloft the European cup, in Lisbon. Another proud son of the town was Sir Matt Busby, who became the manager of Manchester Unitedfor the record, the second team from Britain to win the European cup.
My predecessor, the late and much loved Jimmy Dempsey MP, lived in Bellshill and his wife Jane still closely observes political events here at Westminster. Jimmy was renowned for his tireless work in helping to bring jobs to the county of Lanarkshire. He would marvel at the volume of employment opportunities in the Bellshill area. Between the business park and the food park, there are approximately 8,500 jobs.
I do not wish to claim that I am alone in working hard for my constituents. In my experience, hon. Members of all parties are genuinely committed to their work in Parliament and their communities. For example, it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to hard-working hon. Members who supported victims of pleural plaques. Tragic sufferers of asbestos-related diseases need a compensation package similar to that paid out to the miners.
During my time here I have served both as a Back Bencher and on the Front Bench. One particular highlight was the time that I spent working under the leadership of the late John Smith, my neighbouring MP, who was destined to become Prime Minister before his sudden and untimely death. When I was shadow Cabinet spokesperson for disability under Tony Blair, I worked closely with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). His Disability Discrimination Act 1995 stands, no matter what else he does, as a
considerable achievement. I hope that my praise for him does not damage his future prospectsor, perhaps more importantly, mine.
It would also be remiss of me not to pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who later served as my Parliamentary Private Secretary and who, in my view, would make an excellent Minister himself. The House also appreciates his hard work as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee.
In my time here I have always tried to work closely with members of other parties, including the Liberal Democrats, such as the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy). Just last week I was speaking in a debate at Glasgow university, where he is the distinguished rector, and I can assure him that he is held in the highest esteem. Indeed, more recently, on a flight down here, I overheard that there might be some imminent vacancies on the Lib Dem Front Bench. If he finds himself back there, I wish him well.
During debates here I often follow my namesake, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). Occasionally, we also receive each others mail. Not long ago, I read a postcard from a woman who wrote:
Dear Mr. Clarke,
You are an absolute disgrace. Having betrayed us on Europe, I will never vote for you again.
Since becoming a Member of this House, I have set myself three priorities: first, and most importantly, to represent the interests of my constituents. Secondly, I feel as passionately about supporting disabled peoples rights today as I did when I helped to steer the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 on to the statute book, and that will never change.
Thirdly, in the year of the Make Poverty History campaign, and with the unanimous support of the House, I succeeded with another private Members Bill, which became the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006incidentally, I acknowledge the role that the then Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), and his ministerial team played. That is why I welcome the Governmentsand especially the Prime Ministersdetermination to achieve the millennium development goals. The figure of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income is still our objective for 2013. I have every confidence that the Government will deliver, and I have noted the support of those on the Opposition Front Benches.
There is much to welcome in the Gracious Speech. The banks responsibility to consumers, the Bill reforming training and apprenticeships, and ensuring an end to child poverty by 2020 are among the priorities that my constituents will find practical and helpful.
In this debate on the Gracious Speech, the dominant issue is the fragility of the global economy, but let us not forget that thousands of UK troops, from almost every constituency, are sacrificing themselves in a war against extremism. In the Congo and Darfur, displaced people face a violent non-future. Here, and across the developed world, people face the threat of losing their jobs and homes. People who are in poverty, people with
disabilities and the people dying in the third world have to overcome many more hurdles than we face in this global downturn, and we should look to their example for inspiration. I passionately believe that, whatever their circumstances, British people have the character to be creative and confident. Working together, we will, we can and we must succeed. In that positive spirit, I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab): It is with great pride that I stand to second the Loyal Address. It is a huge honour for me and my constituents, and I am particularly pleased to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). On every occasion that our paths have crossed, I have thought what a charming man he is, with his soft Scottish lilt, but people should not be fooled: whenever he sets his sights on a target, he goes after it with utter determination and deadliness. During his 26 years in the House, he has campaigned to improve the lives of disabled people, their families and their carers. He has done so with awesome determination and massive success, and I pay tribute to him.
Another charming, and some might say deadly, man is the Chief Whip. I am still in a state of shock because he has invited me to speak today. First, because I have been a Government Whip, I have not spoken in a debate for more than two yearsso no pressure there! Secondly, I do not exactly fit the profile of the young, up-and-coming Members who are usually called on to perform this honour. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) put it another way when I confided in him, in the Tea Room. He said, Thats great, and added, after a pause, No offence, hen, but they normally pick em younger. Whatever the reason that I have been chosen, I am incredibly honoured.
In 1997, I found my way here, as the proud Member of Parliament for Erewash after 25 years in the classroom. So, what exactly is the difference, Miss? asked one of my pupils. The only comment from my dad, who does not hold politicians in high regard, was, Well, at least youve done a proper job first.
My constituency is pronounced Erreywash, not Airwash, and certainly not Earwash, and it is found between Nottingham and Derby. Most of its people live in the market towns of Long Eaton, to the south, and Ilkeston to the north. Sandiacre sits between the two and has a sizeable population. There are also a number of villages stretching out towards Derby. I wonder how many Members were brought up watching Citizen Smith from the Tooting Popular Front. I am glad to say that Robert Lindsay is a local lad.