I hope that in this new Parliament we can enter an era of real honesty and integrity, and of sustainability in respect of our public finances, about which quite a lot has already been said this afternoon. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) made a good speech, in which he said he welcomed the principles of fairness, freedom and responsibility that will be the hallmark of this Government, but I would just gently say to him that
there was not previously so much responsibility in the management of the public finances and, indeed, that that was the case well before the worldwide economic recession descended on this country. We urgently need to address that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) said. The Government are not printing money any more, so if the Government take money to spend, that is money that is not available for private businesses or to stimulate our economy and generate the private sector growth that is the only way we will get out of the terrible recession that we have been through. We must remember that the last Government have left us with both a debt and a deficit of Brobdingnagian proportions, and we must not repeat that.
I also want to see fair funding across the whole of the United Kingdom. I speak as a member of the Conservative and Unionist party that very much wants to see Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales remain part of the Union, but I have to say that, as an English Member of Parliament, I have detected considerable resentment at the additional spending that is available to parts of the United Kingdom other than England. Let me give a couple of examples. Council tax has been frozen in Scotland for the past couple of years, but there are pensioners in my constituency who tell me that they run down their savings every year just to stay in the home they love and have worked hard all their lives to acquire, and there will come a point when they have to sell that home and move elsewhere because of the increases in council tax. Frankly, I do not think that is fair.
Dunstable, one of the towns in my constituency, has 56 empty shops on its high street. A large part of the reason for that is the very high business rates, and there have been increases in those rates for many businesses in England. Businesses in Leighton Buzzard and Houghton Regis in my constituency face that problem too, yet in Scotland business rates have been abolished for the smallest businesses and cut by either a half or a quarter for other businesses as well. I do not think that is fair, and I think that we, as a United Kingdom Parliament, must move towards a funding formula that is fair to every part of the United Kingdom. We are a Government pledged to fairness, freedom and responsibility, and it is absolutely right that parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should have additional funding because of the additional costs of delivering public services caused by sparsity, deprivation and poverty, but why not apply that same formula across the whole of the United Kingdom so we do not get these discrepancies and great unfairnesses? I worry that that might lead to people wanting to see the break-up of the Union, which I think would be a very bad thing.
I greatly welcome the emphasis in the Queen's Speech on localism, particularly in housing and planning. The previous Government wanted to impose 43,000 additional houses on my constituency. That would have approximately doubled the number of households in my constituency-when I do a leaflet run, I produce about 40,000 copies, one per household in my constituency-which highlights the scale of the additional housing we were being told to build in my constituency.
It was the thoroughly undemocratic nature of that imposition that so angered my constituents. Their local council could do nothing about it. Their elected councillors
had no influence on the process. In Leighton Buzzard, several hundred people took to the streets in protest during the election campaign. Leighton Buzzard is a town where people are not prone to take to the streets about just any matter, yet several hundred came out to demonstrate, such was their strength of feeling.
I wish some Opposition Members had been present, as the rally was a difficult time for the Labour candidate. She had to disown her party's policy because she saw how unpopular and unfair it was and that it would have ruined the balance in our area between infrastructure, transport, jobs and housing. I speak as someone who always supported the previous district council's plans to build about 9,000 extra houses in my constituency to meet local housing need and make a small contribution towards the greater housing needs of London and the south-east. That need is real and we should not deny it.
I welcome enormously the Prime Minister's emphasis, as he stood on the steps of Downing street, on strengthening families and rebuilding family life. When I made my maiden speech nine years ago, I said that strengthening families was a large part of my motivation for entering politics and public life. During the Child Poverty Bill Committee, I was saddened when the then Under-Secretary for Work and Pensions said the Labour Government did not believe that family breakdown was a cause of poverty. The Conservatives recognise absolutely that poverty wrecks families and Government statistics from the households below average income series clearly demonstrate that there is a double likelihood of a child growing up in poverty if its parents separate. We cannot ignore that, so I ask Opposition Members not to let the issue become a party political divide. There are plenty of politicians on the centre left in other countries who recognise the facts and try to do something about them. They try to give families skills and support to make a success of their family life and strengthen it, and I am delighted that our new Government will do that. I hope that we have common ground in that area in the future.
Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): It is an honour and a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). He spoke with eloquence on a mixture of local and national issues but, unlike me, without notes. I applaud what he said.
When I gave my maiden speech in the last Parliament, I opposed the Government's proposal to impose a system of compulsory identity cards, so it gives me real pleasure the first time I speak in this Parliament to applaud the announcement that the ID card scheme is to be scrapped. The scheme is deeply illiberal, deeply authoritarian, intrusive, misguided and unnecessary.
In the last Parliament, I tried my best to hold the Government to account and I promise to try even harder in this Parliament to hold the Government to account. There is too much overbearing Executive power in this country. Regardless of the colour of the rosettes Ministers wear on election day, all Ministers in all Governments would benefit from proper scrutiny in the House of Commons of what they propose and decide to do with our tax money. Indeed, the failure of the House to hold Governments to account explains not only the haemorrhage of confidence in our political
system in recent years but the grossly illiberal and authoritarian governance that has grown up, whereby power has seeped away from people who are accountable to the rest of us and has gone to the quango state-the unelected officials.
We urgently need political reform and I welcome the Prime Minister's announcements today. I particularly welcome the speech the Deputy Prime Minister made last week in which he talked about some of the political reforms. We need to make MPs answer directly to the people, which they have not done, especially when seven in 10 are in safe seats. We need to make the Government answer to MPs-the people's tribunes.
The Queen's Speech does much to decentralise; it promises to devolve power. I welcome that, particularly the localism Bill. I am delighted that the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), has been given a brief to oversee decentralisation. I am delighted that responsibility for planning and housing will be devolved. I have always admired how our coalition partners have been bolder on the centre right than we have, in advocating reform of the local government finance system. Since the poll tax riots, many on the centre right have been petrified of thinking anew about how to reform local government finance. I support an open-minded approach and I hope that the coalition will look again at local government finance and think again about new ways of devolving revenue-raising power from Whitehall to the town hall.
I am delighted that we are to have locally accountable policing. In fact, I have been pushing that idea for more than a decade. There are people who, rightly, have concerns. They want to make sure that under any system of directly elected police commissioners or sheriffs-whatever we like to call them-the operational independence of chief constables will be guaranteed. It is vital that the operational independence of professional police officers is guaranteed and enshrined in statute. I would not support proposals that I thought were putting politicians in control of operational policing decisions. There needs to be separation between the strategic oversight of policing and the operational autonomy of chief constables.
I am delighted that there will be moves towards the decentralisation of control and choice in education, giving mums and dads a greater say in how their children are educated. However, I have questions about some aspects of the decentralisation agenda.
I believe we have said that we are in favour of the election of heads of primary care trusts. I used to agree with that idea; in fact, in October 2002, I published a paper advocating it. However, I have changed my mind for a number of reasons, not least because the ballot-box model of accountability should not really be used for something unless it is exclusively a public good, as the economists would say. I fear that if we were to have ballot-box local accountability over the allocation of finite health resources, there could be distorted outcomes. There could be an over-supply of eye-catching, high-profile health care treatments and an under-supply of less glamorous ones. I remain open-minded, but I shall suggest that other forms of local accountability over health care could be even better.
The Queen's Speech talks about rebalancing the relationship between the citizen and the state. I fully
support that. Indeed, I like to think that some of those ideas were borrowed from the direct democracy localist agenda that I have been pushing. Many people will claim original authorship of the idea for a great repeal Bill, but surely that is the point. It is an opportunity for us to allow everyone-all 60 million people on this island-to have a say in what should go into the Bill, although that is not to argue that Members should necessarily concur with the proposals made by the people. A couple of years ago I put up a wiki-site, which is still available. It allows anyone to make suggestions about which bits of regulation or law should be repealed. More than 150 ideas have been put forward; some of them are kooky and a little bit weird, but some are very wise and I do not think anyone in SW1 would have thought of them.
I support open primaries and recall, and I have even toyed with the idea of some sort of electoral reform, but I have some concern about some of the detail in the reform agenda. I hope that we do not just leave it to politicians to decide what goes into the great repeal Bill, but that we genuinely crowd-source it, to use the wisdom of millions and not just the "wisdom" of those in SW1.
In the last Parliament I introduced a private Member's Bill advocating recall. It is urgent that we make MPs properly accountable to the people they are supposed to serve, and the way to do it is to allow local people to trigger a by-election. However, I fear that if we are not careful our proposals could mean that a committee of Westminster grandees triggers the recall process. Any move towards recall must genuinely be a locally initiated process.
We want to make sure that we do not do the precise opposite of what we intend. We need to ensure that recall is triggered locally. Otherwise, it could become a form of political execution by the Executive. In the last Parliament, which we might call the rotten Parliament, I advocated open primaries as the antidote. I proposed a ten-minute Bill that would allow everybody a say in who got to be their next MP. My proposal would cost the taxpayer nothing extra. It would allow local people to petition a returning officer to have a ballot that piggybacks on the same day as a pre-existing local or European election. I rather like the idea of our choosing our candidates on the day of the European elections. However, I fear that the ideas put forward by some for open primaries would result in taxpayer-funded open primaries. That could strengthen the power of the big, corporate, party hierarchies. I am not sure that that is the intended effect, but we need to be very careful, and we need to scrutinise the details carefully.
I welcome the idea of embracing the Wright reforms in full. It is regrettable that the previous Executive stalled on the process; I do not know whether it was they or Sir Humphrey Appleby who tried to stall the Wright reforms, and I am not sure why it will take us so long to implement the reforms in full, but I welcome the fact that we will do so.
I have a couple of questions about the idea of having an Office for Budgetary Responsibility. We need fiscal responsibility, but the fact is that a succession of Governments have failed to rein in Government spending. One cannot rely on Executive fiat to rein in the Executive. When it comes to using taxpayers' money, upward accountability is not enough; we need a form of outward accountability. Perhaps in addition to making those
who spend Government money accountable to an office of fiscal responsibility, we should make those who spend our money more directly accountable to this House. There will be a way to do that, after the Wright reforms. Under those reforms, Select Committee Chairs will be elected by private ballot, in a way that is free from manipulation by party Whips. Following that, we need to agitate to give the Select Committees greater power-power to confirm ministerial appointments and, crucially, to veto the budgets, and items in the budgets, of Whitehall Departments and their respective quangos. That would ensure real fiscal responsibility, and it would move us towards a separation of powers in Britain.
I finish with a couple of points on electoral reform. I am deeply sceptical about the proposal for the alternative vote system. It is the one change that would actually make our system worse. AV is the politics of second preference. It militates against the politics of the niche, the distinctive, the particular and the local. If one looks at the results of the recent election, one sees that there is an appetite for political representation that is niche, distinctive, particular and local. AV militates against that. I have reservations about it, and I look forward to being able to elaborate further on them.
I was elected by people in my Clacton constituency as a Member of Parliament, and I will be, first and foremost, a Member of this House rather than a cheerleader for any Executive. I pay tribute to a former Member of this House, Mark Fisher; I forget his constituency. He, in his quiet way, argued for reform of the legislature, and for giving the legislature greater control over the Executive. Behind the scenes, he built a cross-party consensus that, in many ways, laid the foundation for many of the changes proposed, and the effect that he had is being seen today.
I welcome this new radicalism and this new political reform. This is an opportunity for us to get the legislature off its knees, to have a legislature that can assert itself against Government, and to renew democracy and public faith in it.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Many Members will be aware of Sherwood forest and its legends, and of all that Sherwood is famous for, so they will not be surprised to know that I am not the most famous person from Sherwood. That honour probably goes to Robin Hood. Like Robin Hood, I have a desire to counter over-taxation, to protect the most vulnerable in society, and to make sure that oppressive government does not bring misery on the people.
At this point I should refer to my predecessor, Mr Paddy Tipping, a most honourable man who decided to retire before the election. I am sure that all Members will join me in wishing him well in his retirement. Paddy was very well thought of, not only in Westminster but in the constituency. Many people whom I meet today tell me what a wonderful man Paddy is, and was as their MP. I should like to put it on record that I congratulate Paddy on the work that he did on behalf of the people of Sherwood.
Sherwood is quite a diverse constituency. Let me try to bring Members up to speed on what Sherwood is all about. There are two really important industries that
have always been in Sherwood, and that will be very important to the country as it moves forward. The first is agriculture and food production, and the second is energy production. Sherwood is very much part of the Nottinghamshire coalfield, and we produced large amounts of coal through the 1970s-and, to a certain extent, in the 1980s, too. As we move forward, energy and food will be fundamental to how we run this country and how we progress, and to the global economy.
Agriculture has always been a big part of Sherwood. There are a number of very efficient and productive farms in the constituency that lead the way, not only in the east midlands but nationally, in their technology and how they produce food to make sure that our nation's shops and supermarkets are full of food and that the nation is well fed. We now have two generations of consumers who have no concept of what food security is all about, and have no concept of what it is like to go to a shop and find that the food is not on the shelves. We have the farmers in our rural areas to thank for that.
Energy will become very important as we move forward. Whether we are talking about the production of renewable energy or clean coal technology, the residents of Sherwood are there to assist, and to make sure that our great nation has enough to move forward. A number of schemes are coming forward involving anaerobic digestion, which allows energy to be produced cleanly and in an environmentally friendly way. There are also willow coppice and other schemes, which allow us to produce energy from agricultural fields.
The one thing that I really want to pull out of the Queen's Speech is the matter of localism and passing power back down the structure. On the doorstep, the issue that I was challenged on all the time was antisocial behaviour. We have heard many references to policing-how we need to change the way in which we do it, and how we need to encourage more police officers-but there have been other references to how there is not money available to make those vast improvements. Often, however, those improvements do not require extra cash. They may be about the process, and about the way in which we carry out policing.
There are two examples of antisocial behaviour that I want to highlight today. At junction 27 of the M1, which is just outside my constituency, there is an enormous issue with what is called car cruising. Hon Members may not be aware of what that is. It is when members of the public change-some would say improve-their vehicles. They make them louder and faster-
Mr Spencer: That is the expression; my hon. Friend helps me with it. These people meet, on a Sunday evening, at junction 27 of the M1. That may not seem like such a big issue until I point out that we are talking about in excess of 250 vehicles. They come on to the highway and tear around at terrible speed, and it causes enormous problems for normal members of the public who want to use the highway in a safe manner.