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25 May 2010 : Column 92

I mentioned Corus, but I should also like to mention One North East, our regional development agency. The new Business Secretary has said that he will keep it, and we are very grateful for that. A programme worth £60 million was introduced on the back of the mothballing of Corus, and that money is very important for us. The programme is going ahead, although I have been told by way of a last-minute message that the £1.5 million pledged by the previous Labour Government to help Corus employees through the Teeskills bursary may be reconsidered. That would be a grievous blow to the people who have been made redundant.

In the speech that the Prime Minister made on the steps of No. 10 Downing street just after he became Prime Minister, he talked about how he would look after the frail, the elderly and the poorest. It was a noble statement on his part and we will keep him to it. One can hardly say that the Government have not hit the ground running in this post-election period. We had the statement from No. 10, the original coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats, the formal agreement and now today the Queen's Speech. I almost forgot the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, in which he reduced the deficit-or whatever the right hon. Member for Wokingham wants to call it-not by £6.2 billion, but by £5.7 billion net.

We have heard many comments about the deficit and the reasons for it. The Governor of the Bank of England has been invoked to support the Government, saying that it is important that we show the world how we intend to reduce the deficit. We have heard a great deal about the Greek economy, although I have no idea why the Greek economy came to the forefront during the election. The Greeks had a problem with the euro, which was not our problem. The Chancellor said that we had a greater deficit than Greece, which just goes to show what you can get away with saying-of course we have a greater deficit than Greece, because they have 2 million citizens and a very small economy. Why would we wish to link our deficit with those in the eurozone when we are not a member of it? Indeed, the right hon. Member for Wokingham vaunted that fact, saying how wonderful it was that we had stayed out of it, now that it was having a crisis. It is not a crisis, but a difficulty, and its members will come to terms with it.

Angela Merkel put forward a proposal for budget controls for European member states, with which-much to my surprise-the right hon. Gentleman agreed. But President Sarkozy does not agree with that, and nor do I. I do not believe in treaty changes, and it was peculiar that the Queen's Speech said that no more treaties would be ratified without a referendum, because no more treaties will come out of the European Union. No one wants a treaty, including Sarkozy and the French, the Dutch-anyone you ask. So it is an empty promise.

I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been to Europe and that they both realise that our future is in Europe. Whatever the criticisms of the European Union and the euro-whether we should be in or out is an argument that died a death a long time ago, so the concession by the Liberal Democrats was an empty one-the eurozone will sort out its problems. As the Prime Minister said, it is in our interests that it does so.

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We had an interesting speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East. I have welcomed the hon. Member for Watford, and I also wish to welcome the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who is not in her place but happens to be the sister of my right hon. Friend. I wish her a great career here and I am sure that she will enjoy every moment.

The Queen's Speech began by saying:

Who on earth would disagree with that? They are fine social democratic principles. As Max Hastings wrote in the Financial Times, we are all social democrats now. He argued that there will never be another right-wing Conservative Government. Remarkably, this coalition has squeezed the right of the Tory party and the left of the Liberal Democrats. My guess is that, as the years pass, the Liberal Democrats will be very squeezed in the middle. Those who wish to go the Conservative way will do so, and those who want to come the Labour way will do so. However, they are experiencing the aphrodisiac of power at present, and we wish them well. They are well meaning, and we hope that they succeed in what they set out to do. We will follow events with great interest.

We support in the main much of the essence of the Queen's Speech. The attacks on the public service-and 300,000 jobs are in the frame under the proposals set out in the Financial Times today-in the statement yesterday, and that are likely in the Budget on 22 June and the spending review in September, will contain a lot of pain. That pain will be felt in the public sector. The Government have not yet understood the balance between the public sector and the private sector. The private sector has lost out in the global economy over many years and our manufacturing is down. On Teesside, we are looking into green technologies with the £60 million coming from One North East. As that imbalance has been created, work has been found and jobs created in the public sector, and that has helped the private sector. If it is the philosophy of the Government to modify that arrangement again-the recalibration that we saw under Labour-there will be more unemployment, and that will not be good for the country. Lord Lamont, when he was Chancellor, said that unemployment was a price worth paying. We are getting the same message now, and we will counter it, argue against it and expose it.

We wish the Government well. I want them to succeed, because I want the country to be stable. We do not want a political crisis on the back of the financial difficulty. We will give them a fair wind, and I know that they act with great sincerity in all that they do. Of course, we will also be Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. We will be strong and alert in Opposition, and we will hold the Executive to account, as will their Back Benchers. This is a new Parliament and a fresh beginning for us all. It can be an exciting, great and a noble undertaking, especially for all 232 of the new Members. I wish them all well.

6.16 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) on a truly outstanding speech. It was a model for other colleagues who are waiting to make their maiden speeches-short, witty and genuine in every sense. My hon. Friend showed a real command of
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what is needed to create business in this country. The tribute that he paid to his predecessor was well judged, and he showed great commitment to his constituency. Since I have been a Member of Parliament, I have noticed that new Members are initially delighted to have been elected and to be able to serve their constituents, and then ambition sets in. My hon. Friend has made a real commitment to Watford, and I pay tribute to him for that.

When I made my maiden speech, which was from these Benches, I was not the first of the new Members. Indeed, I was practically the last. The first person to make their maiden speech in that Parliament was Edwina Currie, and later I became her Private Parliamentary Secretary for a short time. I wonder what the future has in store for my hon. Friend. In any event, I wish him well.

When I was first elected, there was a large intake of new Members of Parliament then, too. At that time, as a new Member I did not really know how this place worked. Now I am observing this huge influx of new Members, and I wish them all well, especially with their maiden speeches. Colleagues on both sides of the House will recognise that a maiden speech is a special occasion. I left mine until the second reading of the Rates Bill. I followed Sir Edward Heath and the Chamber was absolutely packed. I do not know what advice colleagues have been given about their maiden speeches, but I hope that they will be special occasions for them. After all, it is the only time that the House listens to them without interrupting.

I find myself in a difficult position. For the first time in 13 years, I am going to praise the Gracious Speech and so will have to sing a different song. However, for two or three minutes, I would first like to have a bit of a rant about the outgoing Government. As we look at those on the Opposition Benches who have returned, all of us recognise that we have had a pretty bloody battle for the past three or four weeks-in fact, some of us thought that the election campaign had gone on for three years. Lots of hard words were spoken, not only on the doorstep but certainly during the three televised broadcasts.

I never thought for a moment that I would be on this side of the House again supporting a coalition Government. I signed up to the Conservative party manifesto on very clear principles, and on those principles I will not shift, but, having read the Gracious Speech very carefully, I am delighted to support the 21 proposals in it. It was extraordinary to listen to the acting leader of the Labour party at the Dispatch Box. She made a splendid speech-one of the jokes was fantastic, and I shall use it in the future-but she was in complete denial about what has happened over the past 13 years. The outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury is a great guy, and I know he is saying that the note he left to the new Chief Secretary was a joke, but it told the truth: we have no money and are bankrupt.

The acting leader of the Labour party talked about all the wonderful things that the outgoing Labour Government did, but they all cost money-and we have no money. This country is absolutely broke, and it is no good Labour Members, in the weeks, months and years ahead, being in denial about it. In 1997, this country's finances were in good order, and I will not accept that what has happened was the result of a global recession.
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There is no doubt that one of the big mistakes the outgoing Prime Minister made was to take away the traditional regulatory role of the Bank of England, and I am sure in time that that and many other matters will come to the surface.

As for other matters for which the outgoing Labour Government were responsible, I listened carefully to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley). His speech and that of the seconder of the Loyal Address were splendid. He made some careful remarks about Afghanistan-he probably would have said a little more about Iraq as well-and I agree with him completely. However, there are many other matters for which the Labour Government were responsible, and which I hope this House will take careful note of in the weeks, months and years ahead.

I believe that the outgoing Government destroyed not only the country but Parliament. And here we go again: it is the first day of a new Parliament, and where is everyone? I suppose attendance is reasonable, but is it as one would expect on the first day of the debate on the Loyal Address? Absolutely not. The Labour Government and Tony Blair, who hated the House of Commons-he thought it was a nuisance-fundamentally destroyed and undermined what went on in this place. I am sure that everyone, as they were knocking on doors, began to reflect on what has happened to this place. This Parliament, which was the mother of all Parliaments, has lost all its powers, and to what has it lost them? It has lost them to the nearly 800 unelected, unaccountable quangos. Opposition Members may look horrified, but we have lost great powers to quangos. When we address the deficit, therefore, we will have to reform the concept of these unelected quangos.

I am not going to touch on local matters in Southend West because I have been very fortunate to secure an Adjournment debate on Thursday, when I will share with the House a number of local matters. However, I want quickly to talk about a few of the points in the Gracious Speech. I am delighted that we will limit the number of non-European Union economic migrants entering the United Kingdom and end the detention of children for immigration purposes. If any Member did not think that immigration and asylum were issues on the doorstep, it must have been a very strange election that they were fighting. Even the previous Labour Government admitted at the end that it was a big issue. So I am delighted that this new coalition arrangement has agreed to do something about it.

I am also delighted that the new Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), will introduce this legislation-he has called it giving schools academy status, which to my thinking goes back a bit to grant-maintained status for schools. I know there is an argument about grammar schools, but in the area that I represent we have four grammar schools, and I am delighted that they will not be under threat. I am also delighted that, in various parts of the country, there will be the opportunity to set up these new schools and give our professionals more power.

On health, I am delighted that the new coalition Government will match the committed funding of the previous Labour Government. Again, on the doorstep
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we kept hearing that there were too many managers in the health service and not enough people doing the job that health care is all about.

Now for the police service. I want to share with the House one little example of what has happened to policing in this country. A few weeks ago, I took three constituents down to the door of No. 10 Downing street-hon. Members have that privilege-to have the usual photograph taken. When I saw the anonymous police officer, I said to my constituents, "You watch what happens." I said to the police officer, "Do you mind taking a picture of me and my constituents outside No. 10 Downing street?" He said, "I'm sorry sir, but if my chief was watching, it would be more than my job's worth. In any case, sir, I can't do it for health and safety reasons." Again, as we were canvassing, we heard from our police officers-when we found them-that there is too much bureaucracy and paperwork. I am delighted, therefore, that this coalition Government are going to do something about it.

Of course it is right that people can demonstrate on a range of things, but what is going on on Parliament square at the moment is absolutely insane. That is a dangerous roundabout! Of course, it was the then Prime Minister Tony Blair who went to America and the White House, one side of which looks marvellous, but on the other side of which are all the demonstrators. As I moved into my rather nice new office at the weekend-I am not trying to wind colleagues up, but having occupied a converted broom cupboard for 10 years, I feel that I deserve a decent office-I watched what was going on on Parliament square. It was crazy. No one stopped what, frankly, turned into a folk festival. Then someone took a spade and planted a tree in the middle of the square-I did not know people could do that-and someone started sowing crops, and someone climbed on top of St Margaret's church, and no one did a thing. The new coalition Government should do something about what is happening on Parliament square.

I also say to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who I think has responsibility in this area, that I am delighted that the role of social enterprises, charities and co-operatives in our public services will be enhanced. As money will be very tight, we will have to encourage more and more people to get involved in what the Prime Minister has described as the big society.

I am delighted that the Government will propose parliamentary and political reform to restore trust in democratic institutions and rebalance the relationship between the citizen and the state. My goodness, that needs doing in every sense.

I am absolutely delighted that the new Government are going to give power back to local authorities. What has gone on in planning and other areas is crazy. Yes, local authorities have grand titles-they have cabinets now, and all sorts of responsibilities-but when I was a councillor, donkey's years ago, they had real power. Councils do not have that power now. I say again to the House: we do not need all these quangos. The money given to quangos should be given directly to local authorities, which will be far more effective than what we have now.

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I am delighted that the British people will have their say on any proposed transfer of powers to the European Union. I say again: this is a wonderful agreement that the coalition Government have arrived at.

I am also delighted, as the former chairman of the all-party group on the Holy See-I know that we have to reform these groups-that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is visiting in September.

Finally, following what my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) said about things that were not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, I am delighted that when the Prime Minister gave interviews before and during the election on abortion, embryo research and other matters, he said quite clearly that there would be a free vote. He said clearly that he felt personally that the limit should be reduced from 24 to perhaps 22 weeks. I will very much welcome the opportunity to vote on that issue.

I welcome the Gracious Speech. I never anticipated four or five weeks ago that I would be sitting on the Government Benches again, supporting a coalition Government. Like the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), I wish this Government well. I hope that the House will judge issues on merit and that by the end of this Parliament this coalition Government will make Britain great again.

6.32 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to address the House for the very first time, Mr Deputy Speaker.

This is a particularly poignant moment for me, because 34 years ago-on this day, I think; it was certainly this month-a predecessor of mine, Phillip Whitehead, who represented Derby North from 1970 to 1983, recruited me to the Labour party when I was a young apprentice bricklayer. Little did I know at that time that I would be following in Phillip's esteemed footsteps and representing Derby North as I am today. I am also conscious of the fact that 110 years ago Derby sent the first Labour MP in England to this House, so I obviously have a good deal to live up to, as I look back at the esteemed colleagues who have gone before me.

My immediate predecessor, Bob Laxton, who, like me, was formerly the leader of Derby city council, was an excellent constituency Member of Parliament. He was very much a people person. Indeed, there is hardly an individual in Derby who does not know Bob Laxton. I was looking at his maiden speech the other day, when I was preparing to make mine, and I was struck by one of his comments. He said that it could sometimes take him an hour or two to get through what is a relatively small city centre, because he knows so many people. Bob's record in bringing resources to our city is second to none. I am therefore pleased to be able to follow in his footsteps. I hope that I can live up to his reputation for representing the people of Derby North.

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