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Mr Dodds: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. What I am proposing does not require legislation, so I did not necessarily expect it to be reflected in the Queen’s Speech today, but I look forward to steps being taken in this Session to tackle this long overdue issue.

I want to come to another issue on which we have not received many demands for legislation, but about which we have heard many complaints and expressions of concern. The issue has not been raised in the debate so far, but it received an enormous amount of coverage in the run-up to the Gracious Speech: so-called gay marriage. I have to say that I am pleased that no Bill on so-called gay marriage has been proposed for this Session, but I understand that it is the Government’s clear intention to introduce a Bill at some point. I hope that they will reconsider that in light of the fact that well over 500,000 people have signed the Coalition for Marriage’s petition against changing the definition of marriage. That is more people than have signed any petition on the Government’s own website. I hope that there will be a solemn and sincere reconsideration of any suggestion to bring forward such a measure.

Once again, this issue highlights the question of whether we are prepared to connect with the views of the vast majority of the people we purport to represent in this House or we remain disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people in the community. We have already legislated for civil partnerships, and this issue of gay marriage does not have the support of people out in the country. Rather than fixating on issues like that, if the Prime Minister were to come to my constituency—no doubt other hon. Members will hear the same thing in their constituencies—he would hear about the issues that matter, such as the high and rising price of petrol and diesel, and the high and rising price of energy. In Northern Ireland, where we suffer higher petrol and diesel costs than any other part of not just the United Kingdom but the European Union—hard as that is to believe—this is a very important matter indeed, but I am sorry to say that the Gracious Speech contained no reference to any measure that would tackle the high and rising price of fuel.

I know that people will say that the Government have taken action to deal with the problem, and I accept that measures have been taken that have made the price of fuel lower than it would otherwise have been. However, people are inundating me and other DUP Members with complaints about the proposed 3p rise in fuel duty next August, which will undoubtedly make things very difficult for families and businesses. It will, for instance, have knock-on effects on the price of food. People simply cannot understand why we are seeing these taxes go up while taxes on millionaires are coming down.

There is no doubt that the increase in VAT, which has already been mentioned today, has added enormously to the burden on families. In November 2008, the present Chancellor said that he would remind the then Government about the Labour party’s plans to increase VAT from 18.5%

“every single day between now and the next general election.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 741.]

He said that it was a shame, and all the rest of it. The tune has changed dramatically since the Opposition became the Government, but what was said then about the burden that the increase would inflict on individuals, businesses and families was absolutely true, and it is still

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true today. The VAT increases have added considerably to the cost of living, but I do not believe that VAT has been used to help stimulate the economy.

Businesses are facing extreme pressures as a result of bank lending policies and credit tightening. The Greek and French elections have taken place in recent days, and the results have shown a desire to move away from nothing but austerity to an emphasis on growth. Of course we need to deal with the deficit, but I for one am glad that emphasis is now being placed on the need to secure growth in the economy. We cannot deal with the deficit only by cutting expenditure or raising taxes; we must have economic growth as well. The priority of this parliamentary Session must be growth, growth, growth, and we will support the Government in respect of measures that deliver that essential, but so far elusive, piece of the economic jigsaw.

4.52 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), and it is a privilege to be the first Liberal Democrat to speak in this Session of Parliament. [Interruption.] Apart, that is, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), to whom I am about to pay tribute. Let me start, however, by paying tribute to the soldiers whom we remembered at the beginning of the Session—and all who serve in places of danger in Afghanistan and elsewhere—and to our colleagues who died during the last Session.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) for his speech, and for his reminder of how diverse a country we are and how we benefit from that. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon, whom I ignored only accidentally and briefly, for his speech. He has served in this place continuously for nearly 29 years, and has been the most loyal and steadfast friend and colleague for all that time. He has been a wonderful representative of Aberdeen, of Aberdeenshire, of his constituency and of his country. He has served this Parliament with great distinction, not least today. We are very grateful for his public service, and I think we would all like to put that on the record. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] He is a very valued colleague.

On the second Wednesday in May two years ago, the coalition agreement was signed—within five days of the last election result being declared and within 24 hours of the new Prime Minister taking over at the request of the Queen, the deal was done. Two years later, I say on behalf of all my colleagues that I am perfectly clear that that was the right decision at the time. It was the right decision at the time for us to enter the coalition, in the national interest; and it was the right decision to continue for the past two years in the coalition, in the national interest; and it will continue to be the right decision to remain in the coalition, in the national interest, for the remaining three years of this Parliament. When we joined together, we did so knowing it would be a five-year programme, and knowing we were committed to seeing it through, and it absolutely is in the national interest that we do so.

It was obvious from the beginning that returning Britain to economic stability would not be achieved in one year or in two years, and that instead a full five-year Parliament would be needed. That was the truth then

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and that is the truth now. We were therefore right to legislate to make the constitutional reform necessary to have a fixed-term Parliament, in order to give the certainty that the county needed. If anyone does not believe that political certainty is a good thing, they should look at what is happening on the other side of this continent at this very moment. In five days, we were able to bring certainty to our country, despite an indecisive election result.

May I remind the House what the election achieved? The Conservatives won 306 seats, and got the support of just over a third of those who voted.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Are we talking about the council elections?

Simon Hughes: No, this was two years ago. Labour won 258 seats and just under 30% of public support. We won 57 seats with 23% of public support. Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined did not make a majority. Indeed, Labour and the Liberal Democrats along with the next largest party, the Democratic Unionists, would not have made a majority—we would still have been short—whereas the Conservatives plus the Liberal Democrats made a majority, and the country needed a majority Government. We therefore did our duty, by agreeing to work with people who were normally our opponents, in the national interest, to deliver a common programme. We have done that twice in Scotland, working with Labour in the national interest, and once in Wales, again working with Labour in the national interest. I believe it was right to do so on all those occasions, and that it was right to do so on this occasion, too.

Meg Hillier: Given the Prime Minister’s not-so-ringing endorsement of Lords reform from the Dispatch Box, is the right hon. Gentleman absolutely sure that the coalition is still joined together in a common purpose?

Simon Hughes: The answer is yes, and if the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will deal later with Lords reform, as it is in the Queen’s Speech and the programme for the coming year.

We need to remember where we were two years ago: there was turmoil in Greece and in the eurozone, and our constituents were paying out of their money—not our money—£120 million a day just in servicing the interest repayments on our debt. That is not a way to use taxpayers’ money for the good. There was a financial crisis caused by a banking system that was entirely focused on short-term gain for the people at the top—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said regularly in the previous Parliament—rather than on creating long-term value for the many small businesses that provide work for most people across the country. The public finances were out of control, we had the largest public deficit in the developed world and the living standards of those on low and middle incomes were being eroded, which had been gradually reducing the spending power of the British consumer over the previous decade. The cost of living was spiralling; for younger people, certainly in constituencies such as mine, a home had become an unaffordable dream. The economic system often encouraged

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people to take as much as possible for themselves rather than incentivising them to create long-term value and spread wealth and work as widely as possible, and the economy was reliant on energy from scarce resources, the price of which was rising year after year.

Two years later, we are still not where we need to be. We have unacceptably high unemployment, especially youth unemployment, which started long before this Government came to office and was on a significant upward trend in the last years of the Labour Administration. We are in an economic recession and banks are still not lending enough to viable small businesses, as we all know from our constituency casework, whereas the pay of those at the top is rising more than can possibly be justified by their performance. We heard the figures just this week: an 11% increase in salaries at the top last year, whereas the increase for the working population as a whole was 1%.

It is therefore absolutely right that the Government continue to focus on doing all we can to promote economic growth and recovery, it is right that we continue with the programme we set out and it is right that we have a programme that, as the last Budget did, seeks to put more money into the pockets of those low and middle income working people and to make work pay. The programme should regulate the banks, encourage the growth of renewable energy and put the public finances back on a sustainable footing so that the spending priorities of the Government, about which we care—health care, education and support for the less well-off—can be adequately financed. No Government have ever invested in better schools or hospitals by bankrupting themselves.

It has been difficult and we on the Liberal Democrat Benches know that. There was no parliamentary majority for getting rid of tuition fees and we were not able to deliver that—it just became undeliverable. The Health and Social Care Bill, the Welfare Reform Bill and the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill needed significant changes and we changed them and made them hugely better—all of them. The evidence is there in the legislation that is now on the statute book.

The Budget was grossly misrepresented. Its most significant element was that many millions of people were taken out of paying tax. Many more will be lifted out of tax next year and the year after, so that nobody will have to pay anything in tax on their first £10,000 of income. It was also forgotten that last month pensioners had the largest increase ever in the state pension since it was introduced by the post-war Government. Then there was the youth contract, the huge growth in the number of apprenticeships, and the support for further education.

There has already been huge success, but we must ensure that we focus on the priorities. The Gracious Speech started by setting them out very clearly: economic growth, justice and constitutional reform. We are proud on the Liberal Democrat Benches that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), will see through the creation of the green investment bank in Edinburgh, for which some of us, as members of an environmental party, have argued for many years and will now see delivered. We are proud that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, our right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), will introduce an energy Bill to give us low-carbon energy generation and to develop renewables, which

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have a fantastic future—not just onshore, but offshore, tidal, wind and wave, and not just around Scotland but in the whole of the United Kingdom. We are determined to deliver cheaper electricity and greater security of supply.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) and others have campaigned for ages for a grocery code adjudicator Bill, and we are delivering that. It will ensure that farmers, local suppliers and local growers get good value for their products and are not trampled on by the power of the monopoly supermarket in their area. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my good and hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb)—a Liberal Democrat Minister for Pensions—and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with whom he works so well, are determined to deliver the new single tier pension to ensure that by the end of this Parliament people will have, rather than the sum of just under £100 a week they get as the state pension at the moment, about £140 a week. That is particularly valuable to women, the low paid and those who have been self-employed. After 30 years of work, people will have a citizen’s pension, for which we have always fought.

The Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather)and others are determined, as the Deputy Prime Minister has been, that we should have flexible parental care leave, flexible parental leave and the right to flexible working. Why? They are not just good for the parent and the child, but they allow the parent to stay in work rather than giving it up and to be able to mix work, home, children and a career. That is really important for women’s equality in this country. Why do we not have many women in this place or on boards? It is partly because we do not have those flexible arrangements.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those provisions on shared parental leave also provide choice for families at a very important time, when they are having children?

Simon Hughes: Absolutely, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her commitment to families and women in her profession. She is right—we absolutely need to do that.

We outline in the Gracious Speech the support for those with special educational needs, adding to early-years places for the rising fives so that there is a commitment that 40% of rising fives will be able to have support before they go to school. So, there is much for hard-working, ordinary families and their children in the programme. It is not a programme without legislative plans at all—quite the reverse.

A defamation Bill will deal with the fact that our libel laws still restrict the liberty of speech in this country. I pay tribute in particular to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who has worked very hard to make sure that this Bill is in the legislative programme. There is a strong proposal for a National Crime Agency to deal with terrorists and people who do not have the interests of this country at heart. We also have proposals for community sentences for restorative justice. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) has been absolutely clear about the value of such sentences not just in reforming people but in value-for-money terms.

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We have been careful about the difficult issue that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) raised about data and how to deal with it. It is perfectly reasonable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said, to respond to the security services’ request that we make all species of communication areas of consideration for regulation of data control—not so that people can know what one is saying but so that we do not have no-go areas for the security services. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches will not sign up to legislation that will add to the intrusion into citizens’ lives that we saw so often from the Labour party when it was in government. Under Labour, we had a Big Brother state with identity cards and proposals for 90-day detention. Neither we nor the Conservatives are going down that road, and that is why there is a draft proposal, which we will look at carefully. Only if it is acceptable will it get through.

Let me say a word about the comments of the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) on gay marriage. May I say, as a member of the Church, that I think it is entirely reasonable that in a modern society in which we have accepted that both gay and straight couples should be able to have permanent, recognised relationships, the state should allow that to happen in an equal way? It happens in many other places in the world and it does not mean that any denomination of the Church or any other faith group has to accept that, endorse it or carry out such ceremonies in its buildings—it is simply about saying that the state recognises it when two people want to live their lives as adults together. This is not in the Gracious Speech and was never going to be, because the consultation has not ended. However, we should recognise that there is a civil liberties issue at stake for many of our constituents. We should not forget that. I bet there are people in every constituency in the United Kingdom who want us to make sure that this issue remains on the agenda.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): Many people will have written to the right hon. Gentleman, as they have written to me, about this issue. Does he agree that when it is explained to people that there is a clear difference between a civil marriage and a religious marriage in terms of what is proposed, most of them are reassured? It is our duty to point that out.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right; that is exactly the experience I have had. I have Evangelical Christian friends who are concerned about this issue, but when one explains that it does not suddenly make something sacramental if that is not what the Church or what the individual believes, they are reassured. It is a similar issue—I say this respectfully—as that of tax advantages for people who are married and those who are not married. In our book, if a couple have lived together for 25 years but have not married, they should enjoy the same position in the tax system as those who have chosen to marry. We have to respect people’s different life choices as adults.

Those issues are all important, but the most important legislative proposal for my constituents in a constituency that faces the City of London from across the river is none of those—it is banking reform. It is about making sure that we divide the banks into retail banks that will deal with people’s day-to-day business and separate

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them from the speculative, international playing with money that has brought us to the state we are in. In my view, the most important aspect of that Bill, for which my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary’s Department is also responsible, is that which allows shareholders to control the scandal of executive pay. This week, we have at last seen the beginning of a change in attitudes at the top; shareholder power has at last begun to be exerted. We absolutely need to give shareholders the power not only to advise and express their view but to say, “I’m sorry—if you don’t perform, you are not getting the money.” What has happened previously has resulted from an “if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” attitude in the boardrooms, with people offering each other packages and salaries that are beyond the comprehension of most of our constituents. It was obscene and it is unacceptable, but it was allowed, encouraged and developed under a Labour Government, and that should be to their eternal shame.

Malcolm Bruce: Does my right hon. Friend agree that shareholders have come to their senses? They recognise that paying directors bonuses for reduced share prices and dividends is not a good deal for anybody.

Simon Hughes: Absolutely. If we can have a real rise of shareholder power over the next few years—individuals and pension funds—it will be a really good thing.

There are two more things I want to say. The first is about constitutional reform, in part to answer the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). We are right not to forget constitutional reform. The Liberal Democrat party is a party of reform. We have agreed fixed-term Parliaments—a good thing. We have agreed that there should be no transfer of powers to the European Union without a referendum, which is an absolutely reasonable thing. We have agreed that whatever the number of constituencies, they should at least have the same size electorate—a good thing. We have agreed to look at devolution to England, which I have argued for a long time, because there is unequal devolution. Since I have been in this place we have had fantastically successful devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and I welcome it. England needs a bit of the same.

We have agreed that Back Benchers should be more powerful in determining the agenda in this place—a good thing. We have agreed that there will be a change in the laws of succession to the Crown—absolutely a good thing. I hope it will soon be part of the legislative programme. We have more work to do, to make sure we scrutinise legislation better in this place. We do not do it well enough in either place; often we do not have enough time here and we leave it to the other end of the building. That is not a plea for more legislation. In every Parliament I have sat in, we have asked for less legislation and I am glad that we are not trying to jam in all sorts of things that the public do not want. We want fewer regulations and less legislation, but we want to do it better.

Tony Baldry: Does my right hon. Friend think that the Opposition have suddenly started mischief-making over Lords reform, by asking for a referendum? Is it

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because they hope that in so doing they will cause Liberal Democrat Members to go slow on the equalisation of constituency boundaries? As Labour Members do not want equalisation of constituency boundaries, they hope that by frustrating Lords reform they can frustrate that idea. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he and his colleagues are committed to ensuring that a vote in Southwark is worth the same as a vote in Banbury, or in Wales or Scotland?

Simon Hughes: I am keen that we have a system whereby votes in all parts of the country are fair. Of course I would like a proportional system, but I accept that I shall not have that in this Parliament. Friends on the Plaid and other Benches know of my Welsh background. The Welsh have the most advantageous position at the moment, because many constituencies have far fewer electors. We need a fair system.

I do not know what the motives of Labour Members are, but if they try to play silly games and prevent the other place from changing from an entirely nominated or hereditary Chamber to a democratic one, it will be to their eternal discredit. This is the best opportunity they have ever had—especially as they did not do it—to change our Parliament. Why? There are only 15 countries in the world that still have a predominantly appointed second Chamber; I am sure Labour Members would think that Belize and Burkina Faso are good examples. In only one other country is heredity a determinant for membership of the legislature—Lesotho. It is a lovely country, but I am not sure that it is the best model for democratic, 21st-century politics.

There are more Members down the other end of the corridor who are over 90 than under 40. There are 818 Members there already—92 hereditary—and the balance between men and women is 638 to 180. The Chamber is not representative by gender, ethnicity or age. It is not representative in any way. Why not? Because it exists by patronage and heredity. We just have to move on. It has been on the agenda for 100 years and we have to finish the business.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: No.

I say to hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches who are not entirely persuaded about Lords reform that I understand that it is a lovely place, that they look lovely, some of them are lovely, and that it is part of our great, historic constitution and offers a job for life— I am not going there, but they might want to—so I understand why it touches a soft spot, but come on, guys: we have to move on. If the Tory party is to be the modern party that it wants to be and that the Prime Minister says it needs to be, it, too, must deliver. We can talk about the detail, the percentages and the length of the term of office, but we must end up with a second Chamber that is predominantly democratically elected.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that the regional variations are significant. On the point his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made about the reduction in the number of constituencies, is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House this afternoon that

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what we are all seeing on social network websites is wrong and that there will be no frustration as a result of that reduction?

Simon Hughes: First, I am surrounded by colleagues who say that those who believe social network websites are in trouble. Secondly, most things on them are wrong. Thirdly, they are sometimes libellous. Seriously, I understand the general point the hon. Gentleman is making. I am not a member of the Government and so cannot speak for them, but I can speak for my colleagues here. What we want is a package of constitutional reform that has a fair constituency system. There is an argument about how many constituencies there should be—I was never in favour of the number going down quite as far as it has done, but there was an argument for making it smaller—and there is a strong argument for having equal numbers, but there is an equally strong argument for Lords reform. I hope that Labour will support us in delivering both, and we will be watching.

Meg Hillier: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: No, because other colleagues wish to speak and I am bringing my comments to a close.

The new President of France said after he was elected on Sunday that his two priorities were a fairer country and support for the next generation, the young people of France. I think that those are good things for us to champion for our country from these Benches. We need a redistribution of wealth and of work, an end to the obscenity of top pay and a closing of the gap between rich and poor. We need to make sure that work always pays, to create more apprenticeships and a more skilled work force, to give more opportunities for employment and self-employment and to build the largest opportunity for infrastructure investment that we can manage, in all countries and regions of the UK, and the largest affordable programme for housing that we can deliver, particularly social rented housing, which is desperately needed in my constituency and elsewhere. I guess that there is not a single colleague who does not have constituents coming to their surgery every week pleading with them to find somewhere where they and their partner, or they and their parents, or they and their children can live. Young people need a decent careers and youth service, decent work experience, decent mentoring, good apprenticeships and good further and higher education.

To the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, I say, “You were right, of course, to take as many poor people out of tax as you have, but please do not again reduce tax rates for the well-off.” Whatever the balance of equity, it came across very badly, it did not look as if we are all in this together and the evidence does not show that any further reduction will do any greater good for the economy. We have had one Budget which does this and we know the outcome, but no more please. Let us take the poorer out of tax, not the people at the top.

To colleagues here who sometimes have disagreements with the Government—we all do—I say that we have to remain strong, united, determined, liberal and radical. We have to be committed to the things we came here for: the spreading of wealth and power and a cleaner, greener, safer and, above all, fairer Britain.

To the people outside who wonder what we are doing in this difficult coalition, I say that we are clear that we cannot achieve everything we want because in a coalition,

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by definition, that is not possible, but it is better to be in government influencing a huge amount than in opposition influencing nothing. We are determined to use our influence not unfairly, disproportionately or unreasonably, but this is a partnership of two parties. That is the deal and that is what we will stick to.

We won 16% of the vote in the local elections the other day; we won 23% in the general election. It is not an impossible task over three years to build confidence, but it depends on whether we can get the economy going, help growth, make sure that we are seen to be economically competent and deliver a fairer Britain.

I think that we can do it, and Asquith gave us something 100 years ago this year as an encouragement on our way. In his speech in Nottingham to our party conference, at a time when he was leading one of the greatest Governments in British history, he said this—

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Were you there?

Simon Hughes: I was not there, no—not even in my previous life!

Asquith said:

“If we have—and I believe you will see that we have—concentration of purpose, unity of spirit, and unshaken firmness of resolve, then, long and stormy though the voyage may have been before it comes to an end, the ship will find her way with a full cargo into the desired haven.”

Liberal Democrats are determined to deliver us safely on the other side and, much more importantly, to deliver our constituents to a better Britain, with better prospects, higher employment, lower unemployment and a much more secure economy for the five years following 2015 than the one we inherited when we took over in 2010.

5.20 pm

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who I know takes a great interest in Hartlepool—largely because he spent most of the 2004 by-election there trying to stop me becoming a Member.

In his opening and closing remarks, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned elections both general and local, and I have to tell him that after Thursday’s local elections, on Hartlepool borough council the Liberal Democrats now have no representation whatever, which shows the scale of the challenge that he and his party face in terms of getting into bed with the Conservatives.

Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): I am confused by this continuing slur of “getting into bed with the Conservatives”, because in Scotland we now have coalitions of every possible hue, including Labour and Tory coalitions. Does the hon. Gentleman attack those coalitions with the same vigour that he attacks this one here?

Mr Wright: I use the phrase “getting into bed with the Tories” not because it is of my own making, but after speaking to my constituents and people elsewhere who were thinking about voting Liberal Democrat, who might have fallen out of love with Labour following the 2005 general election and who wanted to consider something else in 2010, but who now feel let down and

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betrayed. That is the scale of the challenge that the hon. Gentleman’s party faces with regard to reinvigorating the trust of the people.

Almost the first words that Her Majesty said in her speech today were:

“My Ministers’ first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability.”

Those words were almost identical to the ones that the Queen uttered in the first Session of this Parliament, two years ago, when she stated:

“The first priority is to reduce the deficit and restore economic growth.”

In the intervening two years, the Government have done little that they set themselves on both counts. They have had to borrow about £150 billion more than they originally forecast back in 2010, and they have failed to deal effectively with the deficit and to restore economic growth, because they have focused exclusively—some might say almost obsessively—on the former, reducing the deficit, instead of giving sufficient priority to the latter, economic growth. It should not be an either/or game. Tax revenues are lower because of weak demand and reduced consumer spending, while expenditure is rising because of the need to pay out more in unemployment benefits. The British economy is now in a more perilous state than when the Government took office two years ago.

The Prime Minister and the Chancellor will trot out the excuse of the difficulties experienced in the eurozone, and there is some truth in that, but they cannot escape the fact that the retreat into recession has been caused almost directly by their actions and policies. We are experiencing this country’s longest downturn since the 1920s. Britain is emerging from the deep global recession of 2008-09 more slowly than from previous recessions and, crucially, more slowly than our main economic competitors, meaning that our rivals in the global marketplace are stealing a march on us. The actions of this Government today are compromising our competitiveness in the global economy of tomorrow.

The US economy grew by 3% in the last quarter of 2011 and by 2.2% in the first quarter of this year. Alongside Greece and Italy, Spain is generally—almost universally—acknowledged to be one of the economic basket cases of the eurozone, but even the Spanish economy grew more in 2011 than Britain’s. Today’s publication of UK retail figures, which show a 3.3% fall year on year—the largest fall in more than a year—demonstrates the general weakness of the economy, the lack of demand and the fragility of consumer confidence.

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman congratulate the Government on maintaining our triple A credit rating status and acknowledge the fact that we have among the lowest long-term interest rates in the world at the moment? That is a major achievement.

Mr Wright: We do have those things, but we have no growth. I fear that the rehashing of phrases in the Gracious Speech today—often word-for-word repeats of what was said in 2010—will mean that the Government will continue to insist on economic policies that consign the country to a decade of stagnation, anaemic growth, mass unemployment and rising social division.

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Dr Murrison: Will the hon. Gentleman explain how high interest rates will stimulate growth?

Mr Wright: High interest rates do not stimulate growth, but, equally, low interest rates indicate that there is no economic stimulus whatever. We need a rounder, more holistic approach to economic policy that focuses not solely on reducing the deficit, but on making sure that we can stimulate the economy to embark on jobs and growth.

Meg Hillier: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the challenges is the issue of businesses not being able to get loans? The Prime Minister spoke with enthusiasm about Project Merlin and the loan guarantee scheme, but that is not delivering to businesses. There is no contradiction between cutting a deficit and getting banks to lend. It is in the Government’s power to do so, but they are not acting.

Mr Wright: I absolutely agree. Later, I want to mention that we need more investment and to unlock investor confidence and provide more business investment. That is at terminally low rates at the moment.

Emphasis should have been given to a new finance Bill with measures to boost demand in the economy and put more money in the pockets of millions, rather than prioritising tax cuts for millionaires and tax rises for pensioners. Communities such as mine in Hartlepool and the wider north-east see a Government presiding over unprecedented cuts to income, living standards and public services, huge rises in unemployment and matters being made worse by Government measures such as the rise in VAT, hikes in student fees, cuts to tax credits and increased taxes for pensioners.

At the same time, the Chancellor is insisting that the country can afford to give those earning more than £150,000 a year a tax cut and that, in the current climate, millionaires should be given priority and pay about £40,000 a year less in tax. A new finance Bill could have set about repairing some of the damage from the previous Finance Bill, which has been carried over into this Session; it could have put us on the path to economic recovery, jobs and growth.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con) rose—

Mr Wright: I hope that the hon. Lady will agree.

Andrea Leadsom: It seems rather astonishing that the hon. Gentleman should be suggesting that the Government should be spending more money. Does he run a household budget as I do? When people are trying to feed a family, it is clear that if they borrow lots of money and pay extremely high interest rates—because their intention is to borrow even more money—that will not get them into any position to balance their budget or move on from the parlous state in which they find themselves. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that we are already paying £200 million a day in interest, just to service the debt that his Government incurred?

Mr Wright: What I am suggesting is that if the Government were serious about economic growth and promoting the conditions for competitiveness and enterprise, they would be doing a lot more to stimulate growth and job creation. For example, they could have announced a

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British investment bank Bill, which would have provided a clear and welcome acknowledgement that active partnership between Government and productive businesses will allow the state to ensure that growth capital is provided to the small and medium-sized businesses that need it, for which the market has failed.

Active partnership between Government and businesses can work. Successful modern economies such as Singapore and Germany do it, and their economies will see long-term, sustainable business success and economic growth as a result. Even the US, supposedly the most free market economy on earth, does it; we saw the likes of fast-growing young companies such as Apple and Intel receive growth funding through the US Government’s small business investment company programme. On the subject of active government in the US, why did not the Gracious Speech include the British equivalent of President Obama’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which is designed to increase the number of jobs and to kick-start initial public offerings for companies and ensure that they have access to finance for growth? We should be doing the same here.

Mel Stride: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that according to Companies House there were more new business start-ups in the last quarter than at any time since this Government came to office?

Mr Wright: You will never hear from me, Mr Deputy Speaker, any criticism of trying to get as many start-ups as possible. I would welcome a culture of enterprise and allowing businesses to grow, but firms that are starting up are being penalised by not being given access to finance and capital to allow them to do so.

The Gracious Speech referred to the introduction of

“legislation to reform competition law to promote enterprise and fair markets.”

I hope that the Government will confirm that that Bill will contain measures to curb excessive executive remuneration and encourage increased shareholder activism, as that was not specifically mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. I also hope that they will legislate to implement all—I emphasise all—the sensible and widely accepted recommendations of the High Pay Commission earlier this year on matters such as simplification of executive remuneration, standardisation of reporting to ensure that meaningful comparisons can take place, and, importantly, the inclusion of employee representation on remuneration committees. Recent events at the likes of UBS, Trinity Mirror, Barclays, AstraZeneca and Aviva have shown that there is shareholder appetite for ensuring that poor performance is not rewarded through excessive pay. I hope that the High Pay Commission’s recommendations will be implemented in full.

I hope that the reference in the Queen’s Speech to “repealing unnecessary legislation” will not mean stripping away workers’ rights. Making it easier to fire people does not create jobs, employment or economic growth; instead, such an environment creates a Victorian-mill-owner culture of bad bosses being accepted and enshrined in legislation. It will do nothing to stimulate consumer confidence or growth in demand, which are so very vital. It is also wrong to suggest that the level of employment protection and rises in unemployment are closely correlated, as David Blanchflower points out in his article in The Independent today. He argues that

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Germany and the Netherlands have much higher levels of employment protection than the UK but experienced a much smaller rise in unemployment during the recession and its aftermath.

Andrea Leadsom rose—

Mr Wright: I hope that the Government will recognise that point in taking forward legislation, and that the hon. Lady will recognise it as well.

Andrea Leadsom: I agree that we have got into a position in this country whereby certain big businesses have behaved extremely badly towards their employees, and towards capitalism itself. That has not been about true entrepreneurism but just money for old rope. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the answer to that is to change the way in which we do corporate governance by introducing new powers for shareholders to ensure that they can hold to account the chief executives and boards of such companies?

Mr Wright: I would certainly agree with making improvements to this country’s corporate governance model. Germany has a good model, and although it cannot be replicated exactly, it is something that we should consider. I have mentioned the recommendations of the High Pay Commission, which referred to employee involvement in remuneration. I hope that that approach will continue. By having a responsible capitalist agenda, we can make improvements to secure long-term sustainable growth in this country. Perhaps the hon. Lady and I can agree on that.

Mrs Grant: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that extreme and unreasonable levels of employment protection can be a disincentive to enterprise?

Mr Wright: I speak to businesses in my constituency and elsewhere virtually every day, and they are not telling me that they are hindered in that way. This goes to a wider point about the Queen’s Speech and about the Government’s having the wrong priorities and the wrong values in this respect. I am arguing that we should be concentrating on increasing employment and having a system whereby we can secure long-term sustainable business growth for this country. We should be making it easier for people to hire workers, not fire them.

I hope, too, that the reference in the Queen’s Speech to the limiting of state inspection of businesses will not serve as a cover for further cuts to the Health and Safety Executive’s budget or an undermining of the safety regime in the workplace. On 28 April we commemorated workers memorial day and were reminded that 20,000 people would die prematurely this year from injuries sustained or diseases contracted as a result of unsatisfactory health and safety in the workplace. Fatalities in the construction industry have risen in the past year, and responsible Governments and businesses recognise that a comprehensive safety regime, suitably audited, actually enhances productivity and efficiency and ultimately has a beneficial effect on the bottom line. I therefore hope that workers’ health and safety rights will not be stripped away.

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The Queen’s Speech referred to the Government’s commitment to

“improve the lives of children and families”,

with which the whole House would agree. However, today’s report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation forecasts that child poverty will increase in the next decade. It concludes by stating that the Government should take a more targeted approach to employment programmes and aim them at families in my constituency and elsewhere who often have not seen meaningful or sustained work for three generations or so. That could break the cycle of unemployment, poverty, deprivation and the loss of ambition and aspiration. There was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to allow that to take place.

The most serious issue facing Hartlepool both socially and economically is the level of unemployment, which is higher now than it was at the height of the global recession in 2008. Youth unemployment is a particular concern. One in four young men in my constituency are out of work, which will cause immense social and economic problems in the next 20, 30 or 40 years. The Government really need to deal with that, and measures such as the abolition of the future jobs fund, the cancellation of education maintenance allowance and the hike in tuition fees do not help young people in my constituency. I wanted to see in the Gracious Speech something like a future jobs fund or a skills and retraining Bill, to ensure that my constituency and others were best placed to come out of their economic difficulties in a better position than when they went into them. Sadly, the Queen’s Speech was lacking in that regard.

Mrs Grant: Does the hon. Gentleman not agree, though, that policies on flexible working and shared parental leave will have the effect of keeping people in work?

Mr Wright: I believe the balance that the Labour Government struck was probably about right. There will always be different emphases, but I reiterate the point that I made in answer to a previous intervention. Businesses say to me, “We want to have the conditions for growth. We want to be able to hire workers. The issue is not about being able to fire workers more easily—that is not what we are about.” The emphasis and priorities that the Government have set out in the Gracious Speech and elsewhere are completely wrong.

It astonishes me that after only two years, the Government seem to have run out of steam. The rehashing of words and phrases in the Queen’s Speech is evidence of that. It is difficult to think of the big reforming Governments of the past century—the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark mentioned Asquith, and we can think about Attlee, Thatcher or Blair—being devoid of policy areas only 24 months after being elected. Governments used to talk about relaunches after two terms of office, not after two years. The Government have no sense of national mission and have not set out the values that are really needed or what they want the British economy to look like in 2020 or 2030. They lack, in the eloquent words of the Business Secretary, a “compelling vision” of where they want to take the economy.

As The Sunday Times stated this weekend:

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“People now regard this as a government that fails on the three i’s: it is incoherent, incompetent and has run out of ideas.”

Today’s Queen’s Speech provided the opportunity for a true and meaningful relaunch, which could have ensured that the Government reassessed their values and priorities and tried again. They failed to do that. This country and my constituency, particularly its young people, will suffer the consequences of that missed opportunity for decades to come.

5.39 pm

Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) was on stronger ground when he talked about the importance of policies and opportunities to create growth to address the unemployment that affects his constituency and many others. Although I did not agree with many of his policy prescriptions, I agreed with his definition of the challenge—I think, from his speech earlier, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did, too. However, I did not follow the hon. Gentleman into the closing stages of his speech because he is simply wrong to say that the Government do not have a clear view about what they are trying to do.

I welcome the Queen’s Speech precisely because it refocuses the minds of hon. Members and supporters of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, and more importantly, of those beyond the political world, on the objectives that we set ourselves when the coalition Government were formed. To me, that is the key win in the Queen’s Speech.

Some members of my party have, in the past few weeks, and particularly in the past few days, sought opportunities to strengthen the Conservative flavour, as they see it, in the coalition. I want to offer one or two responses to that, based on the Queen’s Speech, and comment on one or two specific proposals.

As a lifelong Conservative, I have no problem in arguing the case for Conservative ideas. However, I have a problem with those who seek to reinterpret the Conservative case excessively narrowly. There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech that cannot be argued full heartedly as a mainstream Conservative proposal. All the measures can be traced to proper Conservative roots and, indeed, to roots in the Liberal Democrat tradition.

There has been much debate, including in the House this afternoon, about House of Lords reform and whether there is a proper Conservative narrative for it. I argue strongly that there is. I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) to remind him that it is nearly 50 years since Lord Hailsham, who happened to be Margaret Thatcher’s first Lord Chancellor, described our system of government as possessing inadequate checks and balances on the powers of the Executive. He described it as an “elective dictatorship”, so when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Lords is quoted in today’s Financial Times as arguing the case for reform of another place on the ground that it will make that Chamber,

“‘stronger, more independent’ and better able ‘to challenge the decisions of the Commons’”,

I allow myself a gentle cheer. I think that Lord Hailsham, from his grave, would cheer the prospect of our seeking a structure that allows Parliament to be a more effective check on the Executive.

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We either believe in the case for less and better government, and more checks and balances in government —as a Conservative, I do; that Governments should be subject to checks and balances and accountability is a core Conservative belief—or we do not. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Lords clearly does. I am delighted that the Government, from both Conservative and Liberal Democrat traditions, believe in the case for more effective checks and balances and accountability to Parliament. I look forward to the conversion of that big idea into precise legislation as the Session goes on.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, who makes a strong case. I do not know what we will end up with, but does he agree that one way of improving the checks and balances would be through avoiding the strict timetabling of every single measure that comes before the House?

Mr Dorrell: I have much sympathy for that point of view. I have been here for perhaps rather more years than I should, but I remember long debates when parliamentary scrutiny was more effective than it often is now. Before the last general election, there were repeated occasions on which complex legislation passed through on a timetable that suited the Government rather than provided for proper parliamentary scrutiny.

There will be those—I am certainly among them—who will look for ways to strengthen the voice of the House of Commons, as we should. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who referred to the strengthening during this Parliament of the Back-Bench voice, which has been a step forward and a good thing. However, those who look for effective checks within the legislature on Executive enthusiasms do well to look at another place as part of the answer to that, in addition to reform of House of Commons procedure.

Therefore, to those in the Conservative party who ask, “Where is the Conservative provenance for House of Lords reform?” I say, “Read the history books.” I will certainly be uncomfortable if we are manoeuvred into a position in which we appear to defend what I regard as a wholly unacceptable Blairite compromise, which we opposed vigorously at the time of the legislative proposals at the beginning of the Labour Government.

Having said all that, it is clearly true that such reform is an important internal process within the Westminster village, but not the key issue that our constituents look to the Government, the Queen’s Speech and the House to address. To again pick up a theme developed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, we should remind ourselves that the Government are a coalition. Because they are a coalition, they have a large working majority in the House of Commons, which is a good thing in terms of the stability and strategic purpose it provides. However, the majority is more important in another respect: the two parties that make up the coalition have a broader electoral base in the community outside Westminster than has been the case for any recent Government. We have a stable Government with a clear purpose, which was redefined and re-emphasised in the Queen’s Speech and in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and not just a Government cobbled together in the immediate aftermath of the last general election.

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At the very heart of the purpose of the coalition Government is the intention to create a stable economic base not merely to address the deficit, but to move on from that to create the environment in which growth begins to re-emerge, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool said. The purpose of economic policy is not to make the books balance—as the Prime Minister said over the weekend, it is not an exercise in accountancy—but to create the environment in which interest rates are low, confidence returns, and growth starts the process of creating jobs in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and elsewhere.

I find the argument of the shadow Chancellor wholly unpersuasive. He appears to believe that we lack a Government appetite to borrow. How a British Government deliver stability in the Europe of 2012 by building on their already excessive borrowing rate and building more borrowing into our public finances is simply beyond me. I believe that that is unrealistic, but more seriously, I also believe that the shadow Chancellor knows it is unrealistic. If he does, it is not only unrealistic, but dishonest.

The purpose that brought the Government together, which enlists the support of every Conservative and Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, is the prime objective of recreating economic stability to create growth, so that we can deliver the wealth required to deliver improving standards of living and improving public services. How do we do that? The hon. Member for Hartlepool argued that what we need is a state bank that would make better investment decisions than the private banking sector. I do not agree with that.

What I do agree with are the two key Bills in the Queen’s Speech, one of which is the Bill on banking reform, to address some of the failings that have been identified, not just by politicians but by the Governor of the Bank of England last week and by many commentators. One of the learning experiences of the events of 2005-09 was that the banking system did not have proper risk assurance to reduce the risks that the taxpayer ended up picking up. The process of banking reform is important and I welcome the fact that the Government are pressing forward with it.

I also welcome the fact that the Government are pressing forward with the reform and accentuation of competition policy, because I strongly believe that, once the Government’s finances are under control, the real answer to the question of how to recreate growth, confidence and prosperity in the economy is through a banking system that works and a competitive, free-enterprise economy. That is at the heart of the Queen’s Speech. It has obvious provenance in the Conservative tradition, and it has equally obvious provenance in the Liberal Democrat tradition, and that is why this stream of ideas comes together to create a strong coalition Government.

The Government are not, I am pleased to say, just about economics. They also have a broad-based programme for the reform of public service delivery—in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education in particular is carrying forward a programme of reform that will deliver strong improvements in our school system and our wider education system as a result of the ideas that we share across the coalition. We also have a shared commitment to the promotion of environmental policies through the Green investment bank. That such ideas are shared across the coalition is the key point that I want to draw out of the Queen’s Speech.

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I wish to focus on one specific policy—social care. This is a more techy point than a political ideas point, but it is an extremely important point from the perspective of the people who rely on our health and social care system. There was, of course, an expectation of legislation on social care reform in this Session. What we now have is a commitment in the Queen’s Speech to a draft Bill reflecting a continuing thinking process within the Government—I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), the Minister with responsibility for social care, is in his place. I shall not seek his comments on what I am about to say, but I am glad that he will hear it.

Tony Baldry: In the briefing that hon. Members were sent before this debate by organisations including Carers UK, they actually asked for a draft Bill so that it could be properly considered before final legislation was eventually brought forward.

Mr Dorrell: My hon. Friend leads me neatly to my next point. It seems to me to be an odd argument to suggest that if the Government have not yet clearly made up their mind precisely how they propose to deliver the important issue of social care reform, it then becomes a source of criticism that there is not a Bill with a commitment to legislate. I am old-fashioned enough—as my hon. Friend suggests most of us interested in this issue are—to think that the most important issue is to deliver a clear policy and then to legislate. I do not criticise the insistence that we have a clear policy before we have a Bill and a commitment to legislate.

I welcome the fact that the process of clarification of policy is continuing, provided that it takes us beyond discussion about funding. While Dilnot made some important points about the need for a fairer system of distributing the cost burden among those who pay for social care—some of those ideas will be part of the eventual conclusion on health and social care—the problem is that he was asked to answer the wrong question, and that is becoming increasingly obvious as the public discussion continues. The question put to Dilnot was how to restructure the payment arrangements for the existing structure of social care. But if we step back from the question of funding and look at how care is actually delivered in each locality—between the social care system, the primary health care system and the community health care system—the inescapable conclusion is that the structure is no longer fit for purpose. It was designed primarily to deliver health care to people who had a burden of disease that was the pattern 30, 40 or 50 years ago, whereas today’s health and care system needs to meet the needs of a very different group of patients. It is a difficult thing to measure, but depending on how one chooses to do so, between two thirds and three quarters of the resources employed in the health and care system are devoted to people with long-term, complex needs. Their requirement is for joined-up care that supports them and enables them to lead lives that are as full as possible during the period of their longer life expectancy.

Meg Hillier: As a former carer for two adults with complex needs, I counted that at one point I was dealing with 13 different agencies to provide their care. The

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right hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that simplification of the system is as important as proper funding. Funding may be a big challenge, but simplification is vital if we are to deliver the domiciliary aspect of care.

Mr Dorrell: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady’s view. Reform of social care is not the same thing as reforming the funding system. In my view, we cannot deliver a good value, high quality health and care system just by changing funding flows. What is required is something more fundamental, which is changing the way in which care is delivered in each locality, in order—as the hon. Lady rightly says—to reduce the number of competing, and often non-communicating, bureaucracies in the system.

If the time that the Government are taking will be used to answer the question of how to deliver more integrated, joined-up care, and then how to pay for it, it will be time extremely well spent. If it is simply a delay while we try to solve the problems of how to pay for the existing system, we will continue to ask the wrong, unanswerable question.

On social care, I have made a specific point, but on the Queen’s Speech as a whole, I have made a more important point with a broader political reach. The Government have a clear purpose, both in our economic policy and in our broader views about the type of society that we are seeking to create. It is not a coincidence that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden spoke today about liberty and justice, or that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark focused on the importance of individual responsibility and rights as opposed to the collective tradition that comes from parties on the political left. I support the Queen’s Speech and this Conservative-led coalition, because it already has achievements of which both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats can be proud. The Queen’s Speech makes clear the continuing commitment on the part of the Government to build on and follow through the achievements of our first two years.

5.59 pm

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell), who has once more shown that he is a master of his brief. His remarks about care were thoughtful. Over the coming weeks, we can develop some of the thoughts he has expounded, and undoubtedly he will make an important contribution to this debate, if he has not done so already.

I am tempted into the arena of reform of the other place. I will be honest: it is the least of my worries. As we all know, it began in 1911, and for all I know, in the next century we will still be talking about it—well, we will not, but others will be. I recall the valiant efforts of the late Robin Cook, for example, who was effectively stitched up to fail by the Labour Whips. There are very powerful forces at work within and without the usual channels, so let us not get too excited about sudden reform.

I am sure that Members will recognise, however, that the other place needs reform. Clearly, any Chamber with even a partly hereditary principle has got to be wrong and due for reform, but how do we reform it? Each suggestion seems to have consequences we have not thought about. For example, would elected or appointed

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Members next door have the same validity, legitimacy and so on? If we empower the other Chamber, will we have a political boxing match with them all the time as we often have within this Chamber? I am sure that we will address those questions, but personally I will not hold my breath in expectation of imminent reform—although I might be wrong, as I often am.

That is not to say that I favour the status quo, but I do foresee problems—some visible ones, some undercurrents —that could stymie our debate. We might come up with wonderful solutions, but with the best will in the world, will they happen? [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) wish to intervene? I would be pleased to accept an intervention. [Interruption.] It was just the way he was sitting. I beg his pardon.

Dr Murrison: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his invitation to intervene. He referred to excitement in his remarks. How much did he detect across the country in the run-up to the recent elections? I looked but could not find any.

Mr Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman has hit an interesting note. The good people of Dwyfor Meirionnydd were hugely underwhelmed at the thought of House of Lords reform, given that there were at least another 210 subjects they wanted to talk about first.

For what they are worth, I shall leave those comments on Lords reform up in the air—pointless, as they may well be.

The Gracious Speech contained several interesting proposals, but as always the devil is in the detail. Nevertheless, I shall speak on the basis of what I know now of the speech. First, though, I would like to congratulate Her Majesty on her reign and on having been an excellent monarch for many years. I fully welcome the Government’s intention to bring in the groceries ombudsman—I think that is what it is called—in the Gracious Speech. Many of us throughout the House have championed such a thing for a long time. I first came to it in about 2004—2005 possibly—and many people in the Chamber and outside have argued similarly.

As we know, a draft Bill was published and scrutinised during the last Session and might well be the basis of the legislation coming before us shortly. Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I and everyone in the Chamber are aware of the crisis in the milk industry, for example. We need an ombudsman with real powers and teeth to tackle these problems, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said. We owe it not only to the farming community but to the many other suppliers to ensure that the ombudsman can act to good effect. Unless we do that, I am afraid that the measure might prove a damp squib.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be sensible to seek amendments to ensure that the ombudsman’s powers are in the Bill and not kept in reserve?

Mr Llwyd: I am always in favour, where possible, of putting the powers in the Bill, because many things happen by way of secondary legislation that slip through on the nod, and suddenly we have unintended consequences and law that is not as workable or useful as we might have thought. I agree, therefore, with the hon. Gentleman.

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I have heard it said that there will be a power to name and shame. That is one thing that supermarkets, for example, would be concerned about, but equally there must be a power to impose substantial financial penalties. Small financial penalties will not do the office justice; they must be substantial if they are to mean anything at all.

I referred to the dairy industry. The problems are not unique to Wales—they are across the board—but since 1999 the number of Welsh dairy farmers has halved. This week’s tuppence cut by Dairy Crest has wreaked havoc on many people in north, mid and south Wales. It is said that a cut of between 3p and 4p, for example, means a loss of £65 million to the Welsh dairy sector. I would like the EU dairy package on contracts introduced on a compulsory rather than a voluntary basis, and I hope that DEFRA Ministers will hold a full and frank discussion with devolved Ministers on that basis.

This issue does not only concern dairy farmers, however; suppliers in general are being hammered by the unfair contract terms and pressures being applied. I remember seeing several Ministers about this matter, including Lord Bach, who said, candidly, “I need six or seven names and examples of pressure being applied”, but dairy farmers, concerned about being victimised and losing their contracts, were not prepared to put their heads above the parapet. As one said to me, “Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.” So, there we are. I understand that there will now be a right to complain anonymously.

I will give the House the example of a farmer in the constituency whom I have the privilege to represent who bottles water—the purest water in Wales, apparently. On occasion, I have even drunk it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): When desperate.

Mr Llwyd: Well, with something else. [Interruption.]

The farmer came to an agreement with one of the large supermarkets. Believe it or not, it came out like this: the supplier was allowed 1.5p profit per litre of water, but the water was sold by the supermarket for more than 80p. He declined to do it. That 1.5p included travelling from mid-Wales across to Shropshire to deliver the water every day. It simply was not worth his while, yet apparently those terms are typical. We need to get to grips with these issues, otherwise all our home producers —of good vegetables, apples and so on—will say, “Well, it’s not worth it. We’re packing up.” That is the last thing we want.

Dr Murrison: I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about producers and farmers. Of course, my constituents, many of whom farm, would expect me to say that. However, my constituents also require good value for money from supermarkets. Does he agree that it is important that supermarkets can apply pressure to large multinational chains that produce goods and from which consumers need good value? There is a clear difference between the two.

Mr Llwyd: Yes, and one hopes that the ombudsman will be involved in that scenario as well. We shall no doubt consider the Bill shortly, and I hope that that aspect will be covered; otherwise, we will be doing only half the job. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says.

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I shall move on swiftly to the notion of televising court proceedings, which has not yet been mentioned. As a lawyer, I am not in favour of televising advocates, because there could be a danger of their playing to the gallery. I am not saying that many would do so, but some might. I understand, however, that the proposals will follow the Scottish model, which would be very sensible. They would confine the televising to the judge’s summing up and sentencing remarks. That would be helpful, because sentencing remarks give out not only a warning to the public but an indication to practitioners of the penalties that certain offences attract. A period of experimentation would be helpful in this regard.

Much has been said about the recent flurry of activity from active shareholders in companies such as Trinity Mirror and Aviva. I will not rehearse those arguments, but I hope that we will see a strengthening of shareholder democracy. It is abominable that share values can go down while bonuses go up. That makes no sense whatever. We also believe in a maximum wage, with a set differential between those at the top of a company and those at the bottom. That is not a new idea. In fact, it was first floated by the successful financier J. P. Morgan more than 100 years ago. It seems to work well in many spheres, and I would like to see it happening in this context. I would also support workers’ representation in the boardroom, to provide perspective for companies on remuneration and on the business of the company in general. Perhaps we can learn from structures that are already in place in successful countries such as Germany.

I wholeheartedly welcome the notion of the separation of retail and investment banking. The Chancellor will know that that proposal has the support of the whole House; it is long overdue.

Proposals have been put forward for a single-tier pension and, from what I have heard, that seems a good idea. We floated the idea in 2010, with what we called the living pension. This seems to be a similar idea and, whatever it is called, if it is pitched reasonably, it will be a good measure. We all have examples of widows telling us that they have missed three or four years’ work while they brought up their children, and that they are now condemned to receiving a much lower state pension. A single-tier pension would be simpler to administer and better all round. I welcome the notion, at least, although we will need to look into the details that will no doubt appear before long.

On the proposals for procedural changes to adoption, there is certainly a case for ensuring that youngsters who come up for adoption are taken care of with the minimum of fuss and delay. Delay only adds to the heartache. I have no doubt that we all have the best interests of the children at heart, but we must remember that 40% of our courts have now been shut down and tens of thousands of court staff have been laid off. Those staff would have assisted families in their first encounter with the court process. In addition, hundreds of people at the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service—which prepares reports on families involved in placement and, ultimately, adoption—have also gone, and there have been huge cuts in the probation service. There have been cuts in social services as well. How are we going to improve the adoption service against the background of those cuts? I think that there

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will be problems ahead. I hope that we will be able to achieve those improvements, because there is certainly a case for doing so, but I am afraid that there will be problems.

I can add nothing to what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said about the proposals for internet surveillance. He put forward his views on them in the clearest possible way. I actually believe that there is a case for surveillance to enable the security services to carry out their work, but there must be safeguards in place. I am sure that we will be able to discuss that matter further. The proposals for secret courts are doomed to failure from the beginning. What the right hon. Gentleman did not say—unintentionally, no doubt—was that several special advocates have resigned, over the years, because they find the concept so one-sided and unjust that they do not want to be part of it. Should we be perpetuating and extending that system? The answer, quite frankly, is no, and anyone with any concern for the court process would undoubtedly say that that is the proper response.

I am surprised that there was no mention in the speech of the High Speed 2 rail link. We have heard a lot about it over the past few months, but it seems to have gone to ground for the time being. I was rather looking forward to Wales receiving a Barnett formula consequential of around £1.9 billion, which could be spent on improving transport infrastructure across Wales and electrifying the lines that sorely need it.

Geraint Davies: I agree that we should be campaigning for that £1.9 billion consequential for Wales. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in addition to the case for electrification, there is a case to be made for a reduction in the Severn bridge toll? Traffic across the bridge was reduced by 7% last year, but we need that connectivity to the south-west if we are to build the economy of south Wales.

Mr Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman is right; that is becoming an issue. The decrease in traffic across the bridge in the past two years has been quite stark, and that is not going to help anyone’s economy. I am sure that there is a case for such a reduction, and we should look carefully at it. Otherwise, there could be a drag on further development in that part of Wales, if not the whole of the country.

I would have welcomed further steps towards devolving powers relating to energy generation projects over 50 MW to the Welsh Government. Some of us who took part in the deliberations on the last Wales legislation did not understand how the figure of 50 MW had been arrived at. The result has been that potential developers, often multinationals, can get their developments—windmills, for example, which not everyone is in favour of—pushed through on the nod by the Department in London over the heads of those in the Welsh Government. That is not right. The other side of that coin is that several thousand people in mid-Wales make their living out of developing sustainable energy materials and projects. I would like to see that expanded, which is why I would like the limit of 50 MW to be removed. We need to develop that industry further. It is already moving forward; mid-Wales is like a mini-silicon valley, with thousands of jobs involved. We need to carry on encouraging that, and we are well placed to do so.

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I would also like to see Jobcentre Plus devolved to Wales, provided that the relevant budget was also devolved, and there has been talk of that happening. The closer to home that all these matters can be dealt with, the better. The buzz word in European circles used to be “subsidiarity”. The devolution of the jobcentre system to Wales would be an example of subsidiarity at work. There was no mention of it in the Queen’s Speech, but I understand that there is talk of it happening. I can tell the House that, if the system had been devolved, the Remploy factories in Wales would not now be under threat; that is for sure. I believe that that provides a stark example of what not to do in such circumstances.

I do not see any one particular policy in the Gracious Speech to develop economic growth, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) said in a speech that concentrated on that point. I think economic growth should have been in there. That said, there are some good elements in the Gracious Speech, and I look forward to participating in the debates over the coming months to strengthen some aspects and bring them forward. There is, however, precious little to work on when it comes to creating growth. I believe, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool and others believe, that if cuts are necessary, we need a parallel movement to increase economic growth—otherwise we are tilting to just one side. However, as I said, there are some good things in this Queen’s Speech and I look forward to participating in the debates over the coming weeks and months.

6.20 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I think that Members of all parties would endorse the support of the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) for the Queen’s Speech proposal to introduce legislation to establish an independent adjudicator to ensure that supermarkets deal fairly and lawfully with suppliers. That is clearly one of many proposals that will have all-party support.

In reflecting on the Queen’s Speech, it is probably sensible to consider where we are and where we have been. In recalling where we are, it is important to remember that the Prime Minister’s party does not have a parliamentary majority. After the general election, it was clearly in the nation’s interest to form a coalition. A coalition, however, requires compromise every day. To govern, the Prime Minister has to agree policy initiatives with a political party very different from his own. In practice, the coalition is working a lot better than many would have imagined. The fact is that the Conservative party did not win enough seats or votes to enable us to deliver all our manifesto pledges. The solution is not to blame the coalition, but to seek to win more votes next time.

Notwithstanding the challenges of the coalition, the Government have, since the general election, embarked on a vast reforming programme unprecedented in modern times to reduce the structural deficit and to put through reforms of the NHS that will enable GPs better to design local NHS services for their patients. The Government have reformed primary and secondary education, introduced a new system of university tuition fees and completely overhauled the welfare system to ensure that as many people as possible can live responsible and worthwhile lives free of state dependency. The Government have capped housing benefit and passed

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the European Union Act 2011 so that in future any EU treaty that transfers powers to the European Union will be subject to a referendum, and never again will a Government be able to surrender sovereignty to Brussels without the full consent of the British people. On Europe, too, the Prime Minister and the Government have vetoed the fiscal pact. Ministers have swept away pages and pages of planning regulations, but in so doing have still managed to protect the green belt, while providing local councillors and local communities with the opportunity to design and develop their own local plans free of top-down Whitehall directives such as regional spatial strategies.

The Government are introducing elected police commissioners and reforming public sector pensions that would otherwise become unaffordable and unsustainable. Importantly, the Government have taken millions of the low-paid out of income tax and have cut corporation tax. We inherited corporation tax at 28% , but by 2014, it will be reduced to 22%. As a result, the UK will have the lowest main corporation tax rate in the G7 and the fourth lowest in the G20. To help businesses further, the Government have introduced a £20 billion national loan guarantee scheme to get cheaper loans to businesses. These have been bold reforms and they have all been achieved without a Conservative majority.

It is not only that the Prime Minister has had to govern with a party that does not have a parliamentary majority, as the second reality is that the Government have no money—and it is not unreasonable to think that a Government with no majority and no money will have problems. We should never forget that the Labour Government left Britain with a deficit that, at £160 billion, was bigger than Greece’s. The Labour Government gave us the longest and deepest recession on record, so that we were one of the first countries into recession and one of the last countries coming out of recession. We should never forget the telling letter left to his successor by the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne):

“Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards—and good luck!”

That pithy 13-word message—whether it was tongue in cheek or not—well summed up the 13 years of the Labour Government.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Does my hon. Friend think it important to remind the House and the country that we are only two years into this historic coalition Government, and considering the economic mess that we were left, it is remarkable how many positive things are in this Queen’s Speech?

Tony Baldry: Yes, this Government have probably achieved more in two years than the Blair Government achieved in the whole of their first term.

Gavin Shuker: Why does the hon. Gentleman believe that we are in the first double-dip recession for 37 years?

Tony Baldry: The hon. Gentleman has just heard me comment on the legacy of his Government, so I find it extraordinary that he has the cheek and audacity to ask such a question. The Labour Government left the country with no money and the biggest debt crisis of our lifetime. Indeed, over many years, this country built up massive

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debts, which we have to pay off. Of course, it is much more difficult to do that when so much of the rest of Europe is in recession. As I suspect France will soon demonstrate, trying to pile debt upon debt is what got Britain and Europe into such difficulties in the first place. It did not work for Britain over 13 years of a Labour Government and would not work now. The eurozone’s troubles are caused by too much debt, the burden of excessive public spending and the burden of excessive public borrowing. It is not surprising that Government are seeking the approval of Parliament relating to the agreed financial stability mechanism within the euro area.

It is no mean task recovering from the deepest recession in living memory, accompanied as it was by a debt crisis. Our banks had too much debt; our households had too much debt; and the Government had too much debt. As Sir Mervyn King, commenting on the performance of the last Government, observed in “The Today Lecture” that he gave last week while the House was in recess:

“Bailing out the banks came too late though to prevent the financial crisis from spilling over into the world economy. The realisation of the true state of the banking system led to a collapse of confidence around the world...unemployment in Britain rose by over a million....to many this will seem deeply unfair and it is. I can understand why so many people are angry.”

One can speculate only that perhaps more than a million people may have lost their jobs unnecessarily because the previous Government failed to act on warnings from the Bank of England.

Notwithstanding the challenge, Britain has so far hung on to our triple A credit rating. We have kept a lid on borrowing costs and, compared with other countries in the eurozone, many of which are in the process of changing leaders or just starting to tackle their debts, we are thriving.

John Cryer: I thank the hon. Gentleman—or is it right hon. Gentleman? [Interruption.] Well, I am sure he should be right hon., and I shall put down an early-day motion tomorrow to achieve it! Returning to the last election, is the hon. Gentleman aware that at that time both unemployment and the deficit were falling, yet they are both now rising? The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that the deficit is going to be a lot higher at the end of this Parliament than was predicted two years ago.

Tony Baldry: I think we need a bumper book of excuses from the Labour party, explaining why it was not responsible for getting us into the difficulties we face. Let us develop a bumper book of excuses and put all these various contributions into it, saying “Nothing to do with us, guv”! That would be impressive. We must not be complacent. The UK has to rebalance its economy. We need a bigger private sector; we need more exports; and we need more investment. In short, we need to do everything possible to boost growth, competitiveness and jobs.

Geraint Davies: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the big debate is the balance between the need for growth and the need for cuts to lower the deficit? Does he accept that, as we entered 2010, two thirds of the deficit was caused by the banks and the remaining third by the then Labour Government—who had invested more than they were earning, but who had done so with

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good reason to project a positive growth trajectory? With hindsight, does he accept that the balance between growth and cuts is wrong, and that we should act on the mandate in Europe and invest more in growth and less in cuts?

Tony Baldry: Since the general election the Labour party has engaged in a wonderful exercise in propounding the motif that cuts are being made too far and too fast. In his autobiography, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer responsibly acknowledges the mistakes made by the last Labour Government. Opposition Members, however, have tried to develop a line that will enable them simultaneously to go around the City of London saying “We are being sensible and responsible about the deficit and about the need to reduce public spending” and, when campaigning, to present the impression privately, on the doorstep of every household in the country, that, given their own way, they would not reduce any individual item of public expenditure. That is a circle that the Opposition cannot square, and until they get real in explaining to the country and the markets how they will actually tackle the budget deficit, they will not be taken seriously as an Opposition, let alone as a Government in waiting.

We must never forget that the present Government inherited a budget deficit of 11%—bigger than Greece’s, bigger than Spain’s, and bigger than Portugal’s. We all know that if we do not deal properly with our debts and with the nation’s deficit it will be impossible to keep interest rates low, and that, quite apart from the benefit that low interest rates provide for businesses and those paying mortgages, they offer us the best prospects of getting out of our present difficult economic situation.

The Government and the Chancellor inherited a deeply dysfunctional economy in which, all too often, the taxes generated by the financial and property sectors in the south paid for higher public spending in the north. As Sir Mervyn King so tellingly testified in his speech last week, it was an economy in which the City had been poorly policed, and in which growth was too dependent on debt. Making clear that we intended to have a credible fiscal plan has helped us in Britain to maintain our top international credit rating and has brought interest rates to record lows, making family mortgages and business loans cheaper. Sticking to the deficit plan means that, having inherited a deficit larger than those of Spain or Greece, we have interest rates similar to those in Germany. Indeed, the IMF’s latest forecast for the UK expects it to grow faster than France or Germany. In considering where we are now, we should not forget that the recent Budget cut taxes for 24 million working people.

Chris Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tony Baldry: I love the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)! He left the Chamber for a considerable period, has been back for two seconds, and now wants to intervene. However, because he is very supportive on Church matters, I am happy to give way to him.

Chris Bryant: So much excitement was being engendered by the hon. Gentleman that I felt the need to return to the Chamber. Then I started to listen, which is where I made my mistake. I think the hon. Gentleman said

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that the present Government had cut interest rates. Can he tell us when they did so? My understanding is that they have been entirely flat since they changed under a Labour rather than a Conservative Government.

Tony Baldry: The hon. Gentleman was so excited by my speech that he misheard me. I made no reference to the Government’s cutting interest rates. What I said was that the Government’s financial and economic policies had enabled us, and were still enabling us, to keep interest rates low, while also ensuring that our interest rates compared with those of Germany. I have absolutely no doubt that if we followed the economic policies advocated by Opposition Front Benchers, we would soon see interest rates, including mortgage interest rates, soaring as a consequence.

The Government have taken 2 million people out of tax, they have continued to freeze council tax, and—as I have already observed—they have cut corporation tax so that we can compete with the rest of the world. Moreover, notwithstanding the challenges at home, Britain is meeting its commitments overseas. We are behaving as one would expect of a permanent member of the UN Security Council, honouring our obligations in Afghanistan, seeking to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation—particularly with Iran—and helping to bring greater stability to the horn of Africa. We are supporting democrats in Libya, and, through the Department for International Development, we are helping to tackle poverty around the world.

We should be proud that Britain is sticking to its aid promises. We are a friend to the world’s poorest, and giving aid represents the best of British values. Some 40 years after they first promised to give 0.7% of their national income in aid, rich countries are less than halfway there. Among the major economies, only we in the UK are on target to meet our commitments. Some of the more Poujadist elements of the press claim that public support for aid is diminishing. I suspect that that is because some two thirds of the public think that we spend up to 20 times more on foreign aid than we actually do. Once people know that our aid budget is just over a single penny in every pound spent by the Government, they are much more supportive.

Understandably, the Session of Parliament since the general election has been unusually long, but it is still impressive that the Government have passed more than 30 main programme Bills since the election to help to reduce the UK’s budget deficit and reform our public services. Their programme has been guided by the three core values of responsibility, fairness and freedom. The new Session will be shorter, so it will provide scope for fewer Bills. I do not think that there was any doubt on the doorsteps about what our constituents want us to focus on. They want us to continue to get the economy going, continue to improve the NHS, and continue to sort out welfare and education; and, importantly, they want us to demonstrate that we are on the side of those who are working hard and doing the best they can for their families.

One of the best-kept secrets of the last Budget is that the Chancellor raised personal allowances—the amount that people can earn before being taxed—so that 24 million middle-earning taxpayers will keep more of their money, and, from next April, 2 million low-paid people will not pay income tax at all. I can tell those who call for tax

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cuts that this year we have already made the largest tax cuts for more than a decade. I think everyone would agree that we should be doing all that we can to help families who are trying to do the best for themselves.

Of course we need to focus on jobs and economic growth. I am very glad that the proposals in a report by my constituent Adrian Beecroft for streamlining of the rules that make it hard for businesses to hire and fire employees are to be taken up. Redundancy rules, employment tribunals and rules about unfair dismissal all need to be changed, as Adrian Beecroft’s well-researched and well-argued report clearly demonstrates. We should be doing everything possible to encourage employers to expand and employ more people.

It is good news that the Government will reduce burdens on businesses by repealing unnecessary legislation and legislating to limit the state inspection of businesses. It is also good news that they will reform competition law in order to promote enterprise and fair markets. I think that many businesses will welcome the news that there is to be strengthened regulation of the financial services sector, and that the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking are to be implemented.

I also welcome the proposals relating to pensions. I think everyone agrees on the need to modernise the pensions system and reform the state pension, and on the importance of creating a fair and sustainable foundation for private saving. Governments must always seek to be on the side of those who save for retirement. I do not think that anyone seriously believes that it is possible to avoid reforming public service pensions in line with the recommendations of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on carers, I particularly welcome the news that a draft Bill is to be published to modernise adult care and support in England. The health White Paper of July 2010 promised legislation on adult social care in a second session of the present Parliament. We have all had plenty of time in which to read and digest the Dilnot report, which recommended a system under which people would pay the first chunk of nursing care costs and the state would pay after that. Given our increasingly ageing population, we need clarity, and cross-party talks have been taking place for a long time.

I also welcome the news that it is to be a draft Bill. Given such a major overhaul of social care legislation that needs to stand the test of time, and given the number of Select Committee reports on the issue, it is vital that we have an opportunity to get it right by co-operating with the Government, the Opposition and, indeed, every party in the House to produce legislation that seeks to achieve the right outcomes for everyone concerned.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I agree about the need for cross-party agreement on care for the elderly. We do not want a repeat of what the Conservatives did when they were in opposition, however; they played games over this issue to try to gain short-term political advantage. What we need is a long-term solution.

Tony Baldry: I think we all want a long-term solution, which is why it is sensible for a draft Bill to be published so that everyone can agree the way forward, and so that when a Bill is presented to the House it has all-party support.

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May I say in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner that I welcome the introduction of a Bill to reduce the burdens on charities by enabling them to claim additional payments on small donations? Many Members of Parliament are involved in charities, perhaps as trustees or patrons. Church groups often rely on Sunday collections and small giving by large numbers of people. This move will allow extra support for charities.

Like all Members of Parliament, a fair amount of my constituency casework involves helping families with disabled children and children with special educational needs, so I greatly welcome the proposals in the Queen’s Speech to introduce measures to improve provision for such children, and the arrangements for supporting children in family law cases and reforming court processes for children in care. That is important, painstaking and detailed work that should improve the lives of many children.

I do not think too much should be read into the fact that the Queen’s Speech does not contain a specific proposal for a hybrid Bill on High Speed 2. The matter is now before the High Court, which is having to consider several applications on judicial review involving points of law on both the process and substance of the HS2 project. Notwithstanding any judicial review proceedings, however, I continue to hope that the Government will reflect that the economic case for HS2 simply does not stack up.

It is clear that in this Session of Parliament the Government will continue to strive for smaller government, freer competition and greater international trade, and they will continue to pursue policies that have been proven to work in the past and that will also work in the future.

Chris Bryant: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On 25 April, I told the House that the Leveson inquiry had published certain information regarding meetings that had been held between Rupert Murdoch and the Prime Minister. I believed at the time that that was the case, but it has subsequently turned out not to be true. I have, of course, apologised to Lord Justice Leveson, but I thought I should take this opportunity to apologise to the House as well. I hope the apology will be accepted. I had no intention of misleading the House; that was purely inadvertent.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I am grateful to you, Mr Bryant, for your point of order and for putting that apology on the record.

6.42 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I had not intended to talk about Lords reform today, but I have been provoked to do so by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). He said that one of the reasons for House of Lords reform was to encourage more gender diversity in the Lords. He is no longer in his place, but I would point out to him that there are more men in the House of Commons today than the number of women ever elected. We must look at parliamentary reform across the board, not just in the House of Lords.

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Greg Mulholland: I agree with the hon. Lady’s point, but does she also agree that we should have a fairer system of voting for Members of both Houses of Parliament?

Meg Hillier: Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to continue for a short while?

One of my principal objections to the current House of Lords reform proposals is that I do not agree with the argument that we are making the House of Lords more accountable by having Members elected for a single term of 15 years without being able to stand for re-election. I cannot see how, in a democratic system, that is accountable. Members of the House of Commons have to face the electorate once every five years, and we have witnessed colleagues losing their seats as the electors have made that decision based either on the individual or their party. That is true accountability, although it has been weakened by proposals to change the boundaries every five years, as some electors will therefore never have the chance to vote again for the MP who has represented them. The Government are doing great damage by reducing the accountability of the Members of both Houses. That is a backward step, but it is being dressed up as reform. We must reflect and improve on these proposals if we are to have real change.

I come at this subject as a democrat. I believe that it is beyond the pale to have even an element of heredity in the House of Lords, and that that is rightly out of kilter with modern attitudes. We must not rush headlong into trying to improve the situation and see any change as an improvement. Instead, we must take measured steps and ensure that Parliament properly represents the people, and that we do not fill the House of Lords with stooges who have been selected by party leaders and who never have to face the electorate.

Although I look forward to our debates on this subject, I have to say that it was not raised even once on the doorsteps in my constituency during the most recent election campaign. Indeed, I am usually out on doorsteps while on roving surgeries a couple of times every month, and the last time I canvassed opinion on this topic everybody said they supported a democratically elected House of Lords save for one person who was of Nigerian origin and believed there was some merit in the hereditary principle. His was a lone voice, however. We need democracy, but not in the way that is being proposed.

The Queen’s Speech was a big disappointment. When I was watching it, I suddenly realised that it was nearly over, but many of the issues I had hoped it would address had not been mentioned. It is flimsy and expresses no compelling vision of what the Government want to achieve for this country. We agree with the opening sentence, but its sentiments were not backed up by proposed legislation. There is also no strategic approach to the economic crisis. We repeatedly hear about the need to tackle the deficit, but there are other issues that need to be tackled alongside dealing appropriately with the Government’s finances.

The Queen’s Speech demonstrates that the Government are out of touch and unfair, and we are also increasingly seeing signs of incompetence. The Prime Minister acknowledged that the economy is a higher priority than House of Lords reform, but the Queen’s Speech does little to tackle the economic problems, and I am particularly concerned for the businesses in my constituency and about unemployment.

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The unfairness is seen in the retention of the cut in the 50p tax rate, helping the top 1% of earners in this country, while many of my constituents are keen to work but are unable to find the extra eight hours they will need to continue to receive tax credits. At one end, therefore, families who are doing everything they should—they are working hard and trying to work more, but are unable to find those extra hours—are losing out. What they need is some extra hours from their employer, as it is currently very hard to find another job. At the other end, however, millionaires are saving thousands of pounds in tax. That does not strike me or my constituents as fair.

Fortunately for the Government, I do not have sufficient time to dwell on their increasing incompetence. I might mention, however, the border controls fiasco that has been going on since last autumn. It is continuing now, which is especially serious given that we are in the run-up to the Olympics. I might also mention the youth unemployment figures. The Government’s incompetence in that regard will affect a generation of our young people and their families. There are also the ministerial dalliances with BSkyB, which demonstrate a real lack of appropriateness, to put it politely.

There were some announcements in the Gracious Speech that I welcome. I have long been a supporter of the Green investment bank. My big concern is that it is being introduced too late, even though there will be £3 billion of funding—although not all of it is certain. Will the bank be able to move quickly enough to ensure we secure the green investment required to help businesses grow and create the jobs we so desperately need? The environmental ship might have already sailed to other ports in Germany, China and other countries, whose Governments are far ahead of ours.

I also welcome the flexible parental leave proposals. It is important that people have that choice, but it must be couched in the right way so that women do not feel forced to go back to work and pass over the care of the child, whom they may still be nursing, to their partner. The principle of allowing families freedom over how they manage their own affairs is important, however.

Overall, the Government’s economic policy is hurting and it is not working—not in my constituency. Unemployment is rising. It is the worst we have seen for 16 years and of course, youth unemployment—I am on the record as having spoken about this a number of times before—is a real scourge of our society.

There are a couple of proposals I welcome. I welcome the intention to ensure through the children and families Bill that there is an all-through assessment for children and young adults. Too often, my constituents have experienced breaks in the support for their children, either at the age at which they transfer to a different school or when they transition into adulthood. Personal budgets provide a real opportunity for those young people and their families to have control as long as there are safeguards for the many families with whom I deal who would not be able to manage those budgets themselves. We must not throw out the baby with the bathwater and although I welcome the personal budgets, we must ensure that there is a safety net and support for those who are unable to do the necessary paperwork and to manage the employment side of it. The detail will matter if the good intentions in the Bill are to be met, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on my Front Bench to ensure that those needs are considered.

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I hope that the children and families Bill will talk about ensuring that children are protected and supported. That seems to be the general feeling. I am concerned, however, that although the Government are considering protecting and supporting certain groups of children on the one hand, actions by other Ministers on safeguarding—such as the suggestion that faith leaders should be exempt from vetting and, if necessary, exempt from being barred from working with children—are a very worrying step. We must be vigilant about ensuring that we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Government are very keen to talk about rolling back the frontiers of the state and rolling back red tape, but as far as the protection of children is concerned, when we put our children—and vulnerable adults, too—in the presence of a stranger, we need some surety that that stranger has been properly vetted. It is not acceptable to rule out one group simply on the basis that they are faith leaders.

Businesses in Hackney have been struggling for some time. We have had some great successes—Silicon roundabout is in my constituency—but they are largely small start-ups and are finding it hard to grow. We have some very innovative business models in a very innovative part of London, but businesses in Hackney are struggling to get loans and even, in many cases, an overdraft facility from their bank. The Prime Minister spoke earlier about Project Merlin, saying that it had worked and that the loan guarantee fund was generous. It is not so much the level of a loan that is an issue, however, but the fact that banks will not loan in the first place. There is an opportunity that has perhaps not yet been missed in the Gracious Speech—we will see whether it has when we have the detail of the legislation—to consider alternative funding methods for businesses. Innovators out there are prepared to fund innovative businesses in a different way and we must ensure that they are properly supported and regulated so that investors and businesses are protected. There are opportunities for more mutuals in the banking sector, which ought to focus on investment in their own areas, helped by their understanding of their locality. They would, of course, be owned by their members.

That brings me on to one thing that was missing from the Gracious Speech. As a Co-op and Labour MP, I was keen to hear the co-operatives consolidation Bill debated during the next Session, but it is not here. Where has that Bill gone? It would have been supported across the House. The previous Government did a great deal to change the law on co-operatives and to provide new legislation that made it easier to set them up, but as that was done piecemeal through different Acts of Parliament, there was room to bring it all together. Consolidation Bills, by their nature, are complicated and difficult, but it would have provided the platform for the introduction of yet more opportunities for mutuals and co-operatives. There is a feeling across this House, shared by members within every party—although it is not necessarily the view of every party—that there needs to be a different way of doing business in this country. If there is a better way of doing business than mutuals, which are owned by their members, who benefit from and see the direct outcomes of that ownership, I do not know what it is.

There is no commitment in the Queen’s Speech to introduce any mutual models at all, as far as we can see. The water Bill would have offered such an opportunity

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and the energy Bill might have offered opportunities for some mutual solutions, as would, of course, the banking Bill. We need new measures on demutualisation and we have already missed an opportunity through the selling off to the highest bidder, rather than remutualisation, of Northern Rock. If the House is united on the need for banking reform, why not join that up with the idea of the mutual model and ensure that businesses as well as individuals are supported by mutuals?

Another element missing from the Bill that is a concern to my constituents and to me is the antisocial behaviour legislation that we had hoped might be introduced. The message is very confused. One whole year ago, the Government’s consultation on antisocial behaviour finished. They have done the work, yet 12 months on there is no Bill in the Gracious Speech to deal with those issues. A year ago, the Government all but announced their intention to end antisocial behaviour orders, but there is no Bill to do that and the police and residents are left confused about where they stand.

The Government regularly pass the buck to local police forces when challenged on crime issues, but they are robbing them of the tools to do the job. We know that ASBOs require better enforcement and we accept that they are not perfect in every way, but they could be strengthened to deal better with the problem of repeat victimisation. The Government should be trying to build on what is in place and on what has been shown to work, rather than starting again from scratch. We hear that the Government has a plan for a community trigger, which would only guarantee action if five different households reported the same incident. For me, if one person complains, that incident of antisocial behaviour needs to be tackled. It should be taken seriously and investigated.

We also have an alphabet soup of other proposals. The crime prevention injunction and criminal behaviour orders do not do what they say on the tin. I know from experience with gang injunctions in Hackney that it can take a very long time for agencies on the ground to get used to the new powers, for the Crown Prosecution Service to deal with them properly, for courts to understand them and for them to embed. ASBOs might not have been perfect, but they were in the language of my constituents and of constituents up and down the country. People understood them and so did the system. To throw them out without having proper plans in place to replace them is a big mistake.

My constituency has a number of challenges. We have heard from others about youth unemployment. In my constituency, one in four young people under the age of 24 is out of work. Our overall unemployment rate is 12.7%. Those challenges have a major impact on child poverty. There are still children in my constituency who turn up to school in September after a long summer holiday malnourished, because their parents have chaotic lifestyles and have been unable to get them fed. We all support measures to get people into work, but to have a whole generation of young people who are unable to get work or work experience will, I fear, lead to greater challenges for their children.

I do not have time to go into the figures for the ethnic breakdown of unemployment, but let us just take the example of young black men. About 55% of young

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black men are out of work, which is a staggering figure and much higher than the general norm. It risks becoming a real divide in this country if it is not tackled. It might not be an issue for every hon. Member in this House—as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) said, his is not a kaleidoscope county—but let me tell hon. Members that my constituency is a kaleidoscope constituency, as are many others. It is a great strength of our area, but we must not have one group of people so badly affected by Government policy.

Other issues have not been tackled. Housing benefit levels have been cut, rents have continued to rise by a great deal in my constituency and house prices have risen, too. That means that my constituents face a real challenge on housing and homes and nothing in this Queen’s Speech will tackle that, which is a serious mistake. It demonstrates again how the Government are very much out of touch with what really matters to people. Families want to be in a position to support themselves and my constituents’ requirements are very limited in many respects. They are not as demanding as they should be, I believe, but they want a job, a good school for their child, a health service that will work and to know that they can afford a roof over their heads. The job and the roof over their heads are particular challenges at the moment, so although we have these esoteric debates in the Westminster village about House of Lords reform—an issue not once raised on the doorstep—and as much as I think we need to reform the House of Lords, right now the energy of this place should be focused on how to move this country forward, invest in jobs and growth and ensure that we create job opportunities and homes for constituents in my constituency and up and down the country.

6.59 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I congratulate the Government on the Gracious Speech and the measures in it. There are two proposals about which I am concerned—House of Lords reform and the televising of court proceedings—which I shall address in a moment. First, however, I have to say how lucky we are to have a monarchy in this country. We tried a presidency under Tony Blair, and what a disaster it was: indeed, we are still suffering the consequences of that presidency, which took us into an illegal war with Iraq, destroying the United Kingdom. How I wish that I and the other 17 Members of the House who wished to impeach him at that time had been successful. Now, he is going around not only our country but the rest of the world still earning money at our expense.

Charlie Elphicke: Has my hon. Friend noticed that as well as earning money at our expense Tony Blair does not seem to pay an awful lot of tax?

Mr Amess: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, Tony Blair gave evidence at the inquiry last year and I hope that when the report comes out, the matter will be dealt with. To have him as a special peace envoy in the middle east is absolutely ridiculous.

So, I rejoice in the fact that we have a monarchy. I always think that Conservative Queen’s Speeches are better than Labour Queen’s Speeches and today is no exception. I am delighted that we heard today that the Prime Minister is determined to reduce the deficit and

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restore economic stability. I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) who was right to remind the House what a disastrous economic legacy Labour left us.

I absolutely agree with the remarks that a number of Members made about policies that we talk about in this House that are not mentioned on the doorstep by our constituents. Last Monday, some Conservative Members got together and had a party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the election of a Conservative Government on 9 April 1992. At that party, which the Prime Minister attended, we were delighted to launch a pamphlet called “Basildon—Against all Odds”. The Prime Minister generously referred to the victory in Basildon, and I was delighted that he visited my old constituency yesterday and talked broadly about policies because I think we need to reflect on the things that took us back to government in 1992. There in Basildon, 20 years ago, voters locally wanted to support what were then the Conservative party’s policies. What were those policies? Giving every woman, man and child the opportunity to make the most of their God-given talents. I know that 20 years later our country and the world have changed but I say to my Conservative colleagues that we should reflect on the policies that brought us back to government in 1992 and I recommend that they read “Basildon—Against all Odds”, which is a very good pamphlet.

Meg Hillier rose—

Geraint Davies rose—

Mr Amess: Ladies first.

Meg Hillier: The hon. Gentleman might regret giving way. It seems to me that he is living in the past. Why is he having to celebrate an electoral victory from 1992? Is it because there were not enough electoral victories to celebrate on Thursday?

Mr Amess: I am very happy to talk about Thursday. I think that during the whole day the BBC’s parliamentary programme broadcast pieces about the 1992 election. It was something worth celebrating.

Speaking of irrelevant issues, last week I got a phone call from someone about the Leveson inquiry and so I got quite excited.

Geraint Davies: On the 1992 election, will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Amess: Of course.

Geraint Davies: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in 1992 his party was laying the siege for 1997—doubling crime, cutting the health service and having 15% interest rates with soaring debt and unemployment? That is precisely the same template as his Government are adopting now, so for once I find myself agreeing with him.

Mr Amess: I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says but I am sure that you would get a little tired, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I were to rehearse all that has gone on in this place in terms of the Conservative party leadership.

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I hope that the House will be interested in the telephone call I got regarding the Leveson inquiry. I thought, “Fantastic—someone has hacked my phone: I’m in the money.” But instead I was told that my phone number had been found in a journalist’s phone book. Well, for goodness’ sake—so what? I am sure that many journalists have our phone numbers. I was very disappointed to learn that my phone had not been hacked. Frankly, I cannot think that some of the politicians whose phones were hacked would have had any conversation worth listening to. I am interested in colleagues’ phone calls only if they happen to concern me. There is an obsession with hacking at the moment. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) just came and apologised about something to do with the Leveson inquiry, but none of our constituents are raising these matters on the doorstep. Honestly, the amount that this inquiry is going to cost us—millions of pounds—is crazy.

Similarly, no one on the doorstep is mentioning House of Lords reform. I go back to the point that what people were concerned about in 1992 was the fact that they did not trust the noble Lord Kinnock and the Labour party to run the country because of their economic policies.

John Cryer: On economic competence, I hope that the hon. Gentleman had a good celebration in 1992, but does he remember that a few months later we had Black Wednesday, when £20 billion was spent on propping up the currency and interest rates rose twice in a day, ending up at 15%? Does he recall that with the same fondness?

Mr Amess: I remember that only too well because I happened to be in Japan with the now Foreign Secretary who was then the parliamentary private secretary to the Chancellor; I was the PPS to Michael Portillo, and we got called back. The hon. Gentleman wants to lead me down a track to do with Europe and shadowing the Deutschmark, but I shall not succumb.

I congratulate the Government on the banking reform Bill. Shortly after the election, the Chancellor announced the creation of the Independent Commission on Banking, which was asked to consider structural and related non-structural reforms to the UK banking sector to promote financial stability and competition. Any reforms should be implemented by 2019. No doubt there will be lots of discussion about this legislation, which I hope will at long last bring about fundamental reform of the banking system. It will include the ring-fencing of retail banking and measures on capital adequacy requirements. There will be radical reforms in the Bill which are needed entirely because the Labour Government and the previous Prime Minister completely destroyed the banking sector through what went on with the Financial Services Authority. They should be absolutely—[ Interruption. ] Some Labour Members, although not all, have a very short memory about what happened at that time. The financial crisis originated in the financial sector and so I believe that regulation is very important. London is the capital of the financial world and we need to lead the globe in these reforms.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the legislation on changes to banking, which we agree with and look forward to. Does he think

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the banks should be listening to what is happening now so that they can make changes in anticipation of the legislative changes to enable small and medium-sized businesses to acquire the money they should already be able to get but which is being denied them at the moment? We hope the new legislation will give those businesses that opportunity.

Mr Amess: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Some of the banks have forgotten everything that happened. They are not lending particularly to small businesses and I agree with him that they should act now rather than wait until the Bill becomes an Act.

The right hon. Member for—it is a Welsh constituency —[Hon. Members: “Dwyfor Meirionnydd.”] Well, it is in Wales. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) mentioned the draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. In 2008, the Competition Commission conducted an inquiry into the UK grocery market, because of concerns that supermarkets were exploiting their supply chains. The right hon. Gentleman was spot-on with the points he raised. The draft Bill was published last year and will establish an adjudicator. The right hon. Gentleman expressed some concerns about the powers, and another Member—I think it was the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker)—asked whether they should be in the Bill. It is good that an adjudicator will be appointed, with the power to investigate a grocery firm with revenue in excess of £1 billion if it is suspected of breaching the code relating to its suppliers.

It is vital that we do everything we can to help small businesses in these troubling times of austerity. That certainly includes grocery suppliers that are often family-run local businesses. There is no doubt that the major supermarkets have a monopoly in the United Kingdom grocery market, so I welcome any steps to prevent them from using their powers to leave their suppliers out of pocket.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the importance of having a grocery ombudsman. Over the last three years, 3,000 small businesses related to farming and the supply of large stores have gone out of business. That is a real concern. Does he feel that legislative change will prevent that and does he think it will come quickly?

Mr Amess: I believe that the Bill will achieve that end and that it will be effective. I know how tough things have been for farmers, particularly in Northern Ireland.

It is important to have a balanced grocery market, where suppliers get a fair deal. There will be further benefits for consumers, because they will be able to buy the best of British produce, which will make the market more sustainable.

The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), among others, mentioned adoption and family matters. Pro-life Members will have been sad to hear that Phyllis Bowman died at the weekend. With the late Lord Braine, she did iconic work on pro-life matters and I pay tribute to her.

I was delighted to see that there will be a Bill on adoption and family matters. Some years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) introduced

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a measure on adoption, but we badly need updated legislation. It will remove the absurd barriers that make the adoption process difficult. A new six-month limit on care proceedings will be introduced in England and Wales, and the law will be changed to ensure that more children have a relationship with their father after family break-up. All Members get letters from constituents about that difficult issue.

I welcome the provision for mothers and fathers to swap their parental leave allowance after the birth of a child. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Opposition would support the measures. The Prime Minister is right to be passionate about giving children a good start in life.

I welcome the measures to deal with the royal succession that were announced by Her Majesty in the Gracious Speech. Very much in the future, when there is a change of monarch we shall have King Charles, but if Princess Anne had been the oldest child she would not have succeeded. Anyone who knows Princess Anne applauds her hard work; she does a wonderful job. I am delighted that there will be a change to the law on royal succession. As a Catholic, I suppose I am biased, but I am also delighted that Catholics will finally be allowed to marry into the royal family.

I am already sick to death of hearing about Lords reform, even before we spend 18 months going on about it. If anyone wants to know what is wrong with the House of Lords, I can tell them that it is the Labour party, which completely messed up the House of Lords without a plan for dealing with it. I do not address my remarks to Labour Members elected in recent years, but it was a bit rich to listen to speech after speech from Labour Members who condemned the House of Lords and everything it stood for, and the next minute accepted a peerage. There is no consistency.

When the Labour Government took office in 1997, they thought for narrow class reasons that they would get rid of the House of Lords—all those hereditaries, all terribly posh—but there was no actual plan for reform. As a Conservative Member of Parliament, I am totally against the Americanisation of our system, so I am opposed to a wholly elected second Chamber, which would definitely be in competition with this place. I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, who asked how it could be fair to have Members elected for 15 years. It certainly is not fair. I hope that we shall not waste hours and hours of precious time arguing about House of Lords reform. I know that the Liberals are keen on it—

Martin Horwood rose

Mr Amess: Here we go.

Martin Horwood: On the subject of consistency, House of Lords reform was in the Conservative manifesto. Surely, if we all agree on a predominantly elected second Chamber, it should not take that much time.

Mr Amess: I suppose the get-out clause is that we did not have a solely Conservative Government, but a coalition, so there was a compromise. I certainly was never in favour of reform. In the other place, there are women and men of wonderful experience, who bring great

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value in a revising Chamber. I am totally opposed to having the second Chamber in competition with this place.

Charlie Elphicke: My hon. Friend is being extraordinarily generous in taking interventions. Is not part of the problem that the House of Lords used to be a brilliant revising Chamber but then Tony Blair, who is now to be found in various parts of the world making money and not paying tax, stuffed it full of cronies and wrecked the flavour and excellence of that House? He made it the broken place it is today because of Labour’s galactic incompetence in government.

Mr Amess: I agree with my hon. Friend that there are now so many peers that apparently they cannot all find a place for prayers. It is crazy. There are too many Members in the House of Lords—nearly 1,000. It is a complete mess and I do not want this Chamber to waste hours and hours talking about something on which we will never agree. It is certainly not No. 1 in the list of priorities of the British people.

I welcome the proposal for a National Crime Agency. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) is an expert in such matters and I shall not compete with him; I will speak in more simplistic terms. Phasing out the National Policing Improvement Agency is a good thing. Creating a National Crime Agency will help further to tackle serious crime in the UK. As we have seen over the past year, our border forces and urban police forces can be overwhelmed, so the establishment of the agency will help to ease the burdens and protect us against one of the most serious threats facing this country—organised crime. It costs the United Kingdom between £20 million and £40 million in social and economic terms, and affects the most vulnerable people in society. Only yesterday, we heard the judgment in the terrible case of girls who had been groomed. I hope that the Bill can deal with that sort of issue and tackle it head-on. I hope the whole House will come together to support such welcome measures.

On the defamation Bill, I do not know how honourable colleagues feel, but I am certainly libelled morning, noon and night and do not have the money to defend myself. A range of concerns have been raised about the detrimental effects that the current law on libel is having on freedom of expression, particularly in academic and scientific debate, the work of non-governmental organisations and investigative journalism, and about the extent to which this jurisdiction has become a magnet for libel claimants. I do not want to upset my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), who is a Queen’s counsel, but the law has become so expensive in this country that I do not know how ordinary women and men can possibly defend themselves.