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25 May 2010 : Column 42

The Government intend to legislate to establish a referendum lock for future treaty changes that represent transfers of power, but what would the question be? The Conservative manifesto wanted a yes or no answer to treaty changes, but the Liberal Democrats' manifesto said that the question should be whether we should be in or out of the EU. The problem is not that they want different questions; it is that they want different answers.

The Queen's Speech states that the Government will take forward political reform. Having devolved power to Scotland and Wales and enacted the Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act 1998, our Labour Government can rightly claim to have been a reforming Administration, but there should be further change. Where the new Government strengthen our democracy, we will support them. Where they give the House more power to hold Government to account, we will support them enthusiastically. We support a referendum on the voting system that would promise to increase democratic participation and choice, and I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on the ease with which he has persuaded the Tories to have a Bill on electoral reform-well done. We agree with a right for voters to recall Members guilty of serious wrongdoing and that the House of Lords should be elected. We support the idea of fixed-term Parliaments, although they should be for four years, not five. However, we will insist that if the Government lose the confidence of Parliament, even by one vote, they will have lost their mandate and there must be an opportunity for fresh elections. The coalition partners, lacking confidence in each other, are already preparing for the day when they shrink back from their loveless embrace-it is like a political pre-nup. We will not support a 55 per cent. rule that would allow the Government to cling on to office having lost the support of the House, and they have no mandate for that change. It would be morally unacceptable for the number of seats to be cut and boundaries redrawn on the basis of an electoral register from which 3.5 million people are missing, or for individual voter registration to be brought in without the essential safeguards to maximise voter enrolment.

We object to the Liberal Democrats' request that they should keep the public funding that goes to Opposition parties. Some say that they like to be all things to all people, but even they cannot be both in government and in opposition. They cannot fudge this one-they are in government and cannot claim Short money. People are familiar with the notion of clinging on to the trappings of power, but the Lib Dems are the first party to seek to cling to the trappings of opposition.

We will support the completion of the reforms proposed by the Wright Committee, but we deplore the Government's decision to demote the Leader of the Commons from being a member of the Cabinet, especially in the case of the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who played a significant part in bringing forward the Wright Committee reforms.

The Deputy Prime Minister has proclaimed a progressive agenda on political reform, but it is not progressive to politicise the police by putting them under the control of an elected police commissioner. It is not progressive to scrap the Human Rights Act, pack the Lords and rig the Commons-it is not new politics, and if that is what the Government try to do, we will oppose them.

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The Queen's Speech includes Bills on crime, civil liberties and security. The new Government take over with crime falling. The safety of the public must be the highest priority, and we will judge each proposal on its merits. When, as is so often the case, there is a balance to be struck, we urge the Government to take no risks and to give the benefit of the doubt to the victim.

On keeping DNA records, why do not the Government retain the records that they have and review the evidence in 2012 to ascertain whether it is safe to dispose of them earlier? If the evidence shows that there is no need to retain DNA for longer than three years, we would not object, but if it shows that six years are necessary, the victims should be given the benefit of the doubt.

We ask the Government to reconsider their plans to change the rules for prosecuting rape and their proposal for anonymity for rape defendants. It is often only after many rapes that a defendant is finally brought before the court, and it is often only when previous victims see the name and details of the defendant that they find the courage to come forward. Police and prosecutors say that that is essential in helping get a conviction. To make only rape defendants anonymous sends a message to the jury that, uniquely, a rape victim is not to be believed, and it sends a message to the woman who has been raped that, "We don't believe you." We have made progress on bringing rapists to justice; I urge the Government not to turn the clock back.

Government benefits from strong opposition. Our new team in opposition-our Front Benchers and our Back Benchers-have wisdom and experience, and youth and diversity, with more Labour women and black and Asian Members than the rest of the House put together. The new Government have a great privilege and a heavy duty. They have said that they stand for freedom, fairness and responsibility. The whole country would agree with those principles, and we will make sure that they live up to them.

3.11 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): Before I go on to the tributes, I welcome the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) to her new position. I enjoyed listening to her speech, but I felt that there was something missing. There was not one word of apology for the appalling mess that has been left in this country. She had nothing to say about leaving Britain with a deficit that is bigger than Greece's-not a single idea for getting to grips with it. Until the Opposition learn what they got so badly wrong, I am not sure that people will listen to them again.

Whether we sit on the Government or the Opposition Benches, we have been sent here by our constituents to renew the British people's faith in our democracy. All of us, whatever role we have to play in the House, share a responsibility to ensure that that renewal really happens.

When talking about our democracy, we should first remember those who do so much to defend it. Let me join the Leader of the Opposition and pay tribute to our troops who serve on the other side of the world, fighting day and night to keep us safe. Let us remember those who have fallen since we last met: from 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh, Fusilier Jonathan Burgess; from
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1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, Corporal Harvey Holmes; from 21 Engineer Regiment, Sapper Daryn Roy and Lance Corporal Barry Buxton; and from 40 Commando Royal Marines, Corporal Christopher Harrison and Corporal Stephen Walker. They died serving our country. We will never forget what they did and we will always, always look after their families. I know that everyone in the House agrees that we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

I also join the right hon. and learned Lady in paying tribute to the two Members of Parliament who have died since the previous Gracious Speech in November, Ashok Kumar and David Taylor. Ashok Kumar was much loved by his constituents. He brought-a rare thing in the House-real scientific experience to our debates, which earned him respect in all parties. David Taylor was the model of an independent Back Bencher, never afraid to challenge authority or stand up for his constituents. They were a great credit to the House and we remember them with great affection.

I thought that the Loyal Address was proposed superbly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley). That was a great speech and, like the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham I have tried to do my research. My right hon. Friend is a well known and passionate Eurosceptic, but I know his little secret: it was during the 1975 referendum campaign that he met his wife Gail. She was the local secretary of the European movement and was vigorously campaigning for a yes vote. As my right hon. Friend said, it is their wedding anniversary today. They have been happily married ever since. As someone who has recently got into bed with an ardent Europhile, I should perhaps ask my right hon. Friend's advice about how to hold the relationship together over a long period of time- [ Interruption. ] The way you are going on, it might be.

I have also looked at some of the books that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden has written during his extensive career. There are thrilling titles such as "The End of the Keynesian Era", "Benefits and Costs: Securing the Future of Social Security", "Delusions of Income Policy"-and then suddenly, as if from nowhere, "Common Sense on Cannabis". I think that we will pass over that one.

The one book that I have been looking for is something that my right hon. Friend published in 1974, called "Lessons for Power". The only problem is that the book has been so staggeringly successful that it is now out of print and unavailable. I contacted my right hon. Friend's constituency office, but it did not have a copy.

In government, my right hon. Friend had a strong record of achievement as a Minister. I am very glad that the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham mentioned his work on overseas aid. He worked with Bob Geldof to transform the debate on that in the Conservative party. He did a great job, and in this House he remains a committed advocate for his constituents.

The Loyal Address was seconded-superbly, I thought-by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster). As he said, this is the first time in over 70 years that a Liberal has either proposed or seconded a Loyal Address, since Captain Frank Medlicott did so in 1939. However, the hon. Gentleman did not give us the full picture. As far as I can see, after giving his speech the captain sank
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back into obscurity. He was barely heard of again and then, eight years later, he quietly joined the Conservative party.

I know that, like many people, the hon. Member for Bath is still coming to terms with the new arrangements in the House. However, now that our parties are sharing everything, I have managed to get hold of a copy of his election leaflet, in which he promised to

I cannot possibly think who he meant, but we are delighted to be sitting on the same Benches.

The hon. Member for Bath also tried to play his part in bringing the 2012 Olympics to London. The story goes that he was at Wimbledon, enjoying the hospitality and refreshments, when he was overheard having a heated debate with a young woman about where the games should be held. He argued passionately for London, and she argued vigorously for New York. He could not understand why she was so stubborn-until they were introduced, and he realised he was talking to Chelsea Clinton.

The hon. Gentleman has made a significant contribution to the education debate in our country. He is a powerful champion of international development, and I thought that both speeches were in the best traditions of this House-as was the speech of the acting Leader of the Opposition.

For me, the mystery remains: why is the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham not standing for the leadership of the Labour party? Is she really content to stand aside and leave a field of front runners that consists of two brothers and another man who stopped his wife standing? Surely she would start with a natural advantage. Of course, we hope that she could rely on the vote of her husband, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), whom we welcome to his place today. As deputy general secretary of the Unite union, he would not yield just one vote, but 2 million votes. Never mind transferable tax allowances for married couples-this is far more significant. Let me pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman individually, as he has achieved something remarkable. He is, I think, the first man in history to win a constituency with an all-women shortlist.

For the first time since the Korean war, the Government have changed hands while our troops are at war. This is a vital year for Afghanistan's future. We have had a troop surge in southern Afghanistan, where about 44,000 American forces are now fighting alongside around 9,000 British soldiers. What we need now is a political surge, with more effective and accountable government, a reformed Afghan police force and proper reconciliation at the centre. This Government will play a leading role in helping to bring that about. Already we have appointed that country's first National Security Adviser. We have held meetings of the new National Security Council, and we will continue to work with the Afghan Government and our NATO partners-in particular the United States-to bring about success.

I was pleased that the first leader whom I hosted as Prime Minister was President Karzai. Our aim is clear-it is to create the stability and security that are in our national interest and that will enable us to bring our troops back home. A stable Afghanistan, free from terrorist training camps, is vital to our security, and so is
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an Iran free from nuclear weapons. All the evidence points in the same direction-that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons. Even if Iran were to complete the deal proposed in its recent agreement with Turkey and Brazil, it would still retain around 50% of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. It is that stockpile that could be enriched to weapons-grade uranium.

For the last six years, we have pursued a twin-track policy, offering engagement but being prepared to apply pressure. It is time to ratchet up that pressure and the timetable is short. This Government have a clear objective to ensure stronger UN and EU sanctions against Iran. Specific areas should be covered, including trade finance, asset freezes and action against banks that hold funds for the Iranian regime. I have discussed this and other issues with President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel, and what is needed for European nations to rise to those and other challenges-be they climate change or economic stability-is not another treaty, but political will and practical engagement.

On the subject of EU treaties, let me be clear. Under our proposed Bill, any future treaty that transfers power to the European Union will be subject to a referendum. Never again will a Government be able to surrender sovereignty to Brussels without the full consent of the British people.

This Queen's Speech is the first in 65 years from a coalition Government. It is a Government driven not by party interest but by the national interest, with clear values at its heart- [ Interruption. ] Those values include freedom, because over the past decade the state has become over-mighty and our liberties have been undermined consistently by the Labour party. They include fairness, because after 13 years of a Labour Government inequality is wider, social mobility has stalled, severe poverty is rising and social justice is falling. The third value at the heart of this Queen's Speech is responsibility, because under Labour the age of irresponsibility broke our society and left our economy deep in debt.

Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): On the issue of fairness and responsibility and given that 50% of the funding for the child trust fund would benefit 1.5 million of the most disadvantaged families, is it fair that the Cabinet, who are asset-rich, should take away from those who are asset-poor?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has to understand that, in the words of the outgoing Chief Secretary, we have run out of money- [ Interruption. ] I do not know what they are shouting about. The Labour Government left us with a budget deficit of £160 billion. Of course the child trust fund was a good idea when it was thought up, but today it means that when a child is born we are borrowing money to put into that child's bank account. You broke the nation so badly that we cannot continue with such schemes.

The Queen's Speech has these values running right through it in each and every Bill-devolving power, not centralising it; trusting people, not dictating to them; and saving money, not wasting it. It is a radical programme for a radical Government, and that is exactly what our country needs.

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way and may I congratulate him on his recent promotion?

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I and many of my colleagues were looking forward to an opportunity in this Parliament to reaffirm our support for the Hunting Act 2004, and I understand that many of his Back Benchers were also looking forward to an opportunity to express their view on it. Is there any particular reason why repeal of the Act was not included in the Queen's Speech?

The Prime Minister: There will be a free vote on a motion of the House of Commons and all Members will be able to take part, voting according to their conscience, as they should on this issue.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the proposal for a 55% rule to prolong the life of this Parliament is totally unacceptable? It is a travesty of parliamentary democracy, and if it goes ahead we will see what the 2010 House of Commons is made of.

The Prime Minister: Perhaps I could remind the hon. Gentleman of two important points. First, in its manifesto, the Labour party supported fixed-term Parliaments. Secondly, in order to entrench fixed-term Parliaments in Scotland, almost every Member opposite who was there at the time voted for a 66%, rather than a 55%, threshold. Let me give a little warning: I can tell you, having sat on the Opposition Benches for the past nine years, that opportunism does not work. [Interruption.] It did not take them very long! The context of our Government is an appalling legacy left by Labour. I shall quote in full the letter left to his successor by the former Chief Secretary, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne):

Those 13 words sum up 13 years of complete cavalier arrogance with the taxpayers' money.

This Queen's Speech, put forward by this new Government, is the first step towards putting things right. This country will get the complete opposite of what went before-not spending money for the sake of it, but spending it wisely and saving it; not top-down control and big government, but bottom-up change and the big society; not power for politicians, but power to the people.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister remain in an alliance in Europe with parties that his Deputy Prime Minister described as "nutters" and "anti-Semites"?

The Prime Minister: The answer is yes, but I have been waiting for this question. For five years, I sat listening to all the right hon. Gentleman's questions to the former Labour Prime Ministers on this issue, and never once was I able to remind him of some of the people his party sits with in the European Parliament, so I hope the House will indulge me. Labour is allied to the Lithuanian Social Democratic party, one of whose MPs said:

homosexuality "is a disease".

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I think that is a disgusting point of view. And that is who you sit with; that is who the right hon. Gentleman sits with.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Prime Minister to continue his practice in opposition of using the word "you" to describe Members on the opposite side of the House?

Mr Speaker: The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that it is not in order, but I know that the Prime Minister is not going to do it again anyway.

The Prime Minister: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall endeavour to do my best.

Let me give one other example. In the last Parliament, while the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) was making all these points, Labour was allied to the Self Defence of the Republic of Poland party, whose leader, Andrzej Lepper, said that

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