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What has now happened under a European Court judgment is that the European convention on human rights is being absorbed into the corpus of European law and will become an instruction on this House, against the wishes of Labour and against the wishes of the rest of us in the House at the time. I think the House should now move an amendment to the European Communities Act 1972 expressly ruling out that grab of power by the European Court of Justice on this issue, reflecting the words of the treaty we signed and reflecting the words of the legislation that this House passed. Unless this House is prepared to do this at some point on some important issue, this House is in no sense sovereign any more. We can claim to be sovereign only because all the powers of the European Union today are technically the result of our passage of the 1972 Act, but if we are never going to amend or revisit that Act, those powers have gone and we are completely under treaty and ECJ law.

Another area that we may need to look at is the promise by Governments of all persuasions that matters relating to taxation and social security would remain national issues, because they involve the money of our taxpayers and the money going to people in our country who most need help. Surely this Parliament should control our taxation, and our expenditure of substantial sums of it on benefits.

Mr Stewart Jackson: My right hon. Friend is making a characteristically powerful speech. Is not another mark of a sovereign nation that it controls the integrity of its own borders? Is it not high time that, even if we fall foul of the European Court of Justice, we look again at the ramifications of the free movement directive and possible changes to it? Should we not employ some of the changes that Spain, for instance, has made, to protect the integrity of our borders within the European Union?

Mr Redwood: I agree, although I do not think the legal case is quite so clear on that matter, which was why I concentrated on one on which were given assurances that a power had not been transferred. I believe the previous Government transferred a lot of power over borders, so it might be more appropriate to consider the matter by way of renegotiation. However, if my hon. Friend has particular examples of the ECJ or the Brussels Commission exceeding the powers that were granted to it, exactly the same argument will apply as with the human rights convention. We need at some point to make changes if we cannot effect them by negotiation and agreement with our partners. When negotiating, it is always a good idea to have a plan B just in case they do not see it our way. I always find that that concentrates the mind somewhat.

The Gracious Speech will reinforce the recovery, and that is what matters most to many of our constituents, who wish to have better jobs, better living standards and access to better housing. We are the inheritors of mighty constitutional turmoil, and we can no longer put off the business of England. Whatever result comes from the Scottish referendum, this House must engage earnestly with the business of England as surely as it has, on and off, with the business of Scotland and that of Wales and Northern Ireland in recent years. Above

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all, because we need to be in control of our own destiny and represent our people in ways that our forebears would respect, this House needs again to say that there are limits to European Union power, which will be prescribed here and dictated from this House. We can then look the British people in the eye again and say, “Yes, we will redress your grievances. We still have the power to do so, and we have the political will to act.”

4.47 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): It gives me great pleasure to react to today’s Gracious Speech.

Today’s Queen’s Speech should have laid out a grand plan for this country, tackled some of the issues that matter to my constituents and set the tone for how the general election will be fought in a year’s time. It should have raised the level of that debate and ensured that the Government of the day addressed the issues that matter to people. Sadly, it falls short on those points, possibly because the coalition has run out of steam as a working operation.

Any Government need to act to improve people’s lives, but we heard a rather ragtag set of measures that will go only part of the way to tackling some issues. I want to touch on three of those issues in particular, and on a number of smaller issues that Her Majesty mentioned earlier today. I will touch first on housing, which is a huge issue in my constituency, secondly on the child care measures that the Government are introducing, and thirdly on infrastructure, particularly broadband, which is crucial in my constituency.

Housing is a huge issue in Hackney South and Shoreditch and in Hackney borough as a whole. Prices are rising for those who want to buy homes, and rents are spiralling out of control, yet alongside those seismic economic changes there has come no greater security for highly mortgaged home owners or private tenants. I say “seismic” because the average house price increase in Hackney from 2013 to 2014 has been 19%, which is not affordable in any way and is causing a great deal of difficulty. Although this was not in the Gracious Speech, the Government’s calls for social housing rents to increase to 80% of those private rents are pricing the poorest, the low paid and the moderately paid out of my city and my borough. I applaud Hackney council—led by the newly elected mayor, with 59% of the popular vote—for standing up to the Government and saying, “No, Hackney will not raise rents on new social housing to 80% of incredibly high private rents”.

I mentioned high rents, so perhaps I should give the House a couple of examples—I imagine they are rather different from rents in your constituency, Mr Speaker, affluent though it may be. The median gross monthly rent for a one-bedroom flat in Hackney between October 2012 and September 2013 was £1,235, and for a three-bedroom flat it was just short of £2,000 at £1,993—out of the reach of families. If we add to that child care costs and the other costs of living that we know are causing families trouble, and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) is constantly highlighting, how can a family afford to rent privately in Hackney? My constituency has more people renting privately than owning outright, with 12,899 people renting privately and 10,394 owing their homes. This is a real issue now for people, but what have the Government

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said about it in today’s Gracious Speech? Nothing. That is in contrast to those on the Labour Front Bench, who I am pleased to say are looking at reform.

I declare an interest as a landlady. I welcome the measure to introduce three-year tenancies when tenants want them, putting power in the hands of tenants. With the 19% increase, the average property price in Hackney has risen from £441,000 last year to £525,000. Again, what family can afford that? Banks are constantly restricting borrowing, and even with the Government’s initiatives to try to improve borrowing, the problem in Hackney is not even scraped.

What is the solution? It is, of course, to build more homes. I was pleased to hear Her Majesty say that the Government will sell Government land for housing, but I am somewhat sceptical of that promise because over 20 years we have seen—I have seen this directly as an elected representative in London—how Treasury rules have stymied such moves at each stage. I remember being a councillor in Upper Holloway in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) when the Royal Northern hospital site was being sold off and we sought to turn that into housing. What better legacy could there be for a former hospital than to improve public health by having decent, family housing for people in need? But no, it had to be sold, mostly for private housing and to the highest bidder.

Mr McCann: That point highlights the difference between the Opposition and the Government. When the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) talked about giving people the opportunity to buy houses, it demonstrated an obsession by the Government with buying homes, even though a lot of people are looking for rented, affordable accommodation and do not want to buy homes. The numbers that my hon. Friend gave the House demonstrate why they cannot buy a home, and that is why we should build more council houses.

Meg Hillier: Absolutely; I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We need a complete, radical overhaul of the rental market so that it is a stable, long-term investment for investors that provides stable long-term housing for families. One reason there has been discussion about the three-year tenancy is that many single young professionals do not want to tie themselves down, but families do. What family would choose to rent privately if they did not have to? They are pushed from pillar to post.

The Government talk about Government-owned land being made available, and we need clarity on that, which I will be seeking over the next days, weeks and months. For example, does it include land owned by the national health service’s PropCo? That amorphous body was set up and has snatched land from the hands of local communities—land such as the St Leonard’s hospital site, which was passed to the centre of the NHS and PropCo, rather than being available for local decisions and local housing. That site is now in the hands of a central organisation. Local people are crying out for affordable, decent homes, but what is the incentive for PropCo to provide that? As with all Departments, the incentive is to maximise income from the sale of the land, which does not mean social housing. Social housing will not provide maximum revenue, but it will give long-lasting social and economic benefits to hundreds

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and thousands of families across London and the UK who really need it. Those people are working but cannot afford to rent or buy in the private sector, and they certainly do not qualify for other social housing. We need to increase the supply to make that more available.

I represent one of the youngest constituencies in the country with more than one in five Hackney residents under the age of 16. I think—rather to my horror given that I am a shade over 21 these days—that more than a third of residents are under 35. Those taxpayers of the future—those young people—need access to quality child care and early-years education. Their parents need affordable, available child care to help them to work when they want and when they can do so. Instead, the Government take a muddled and ineffectual approach. The Queen’s Speech includes a £2,000 cashback offer for a working parent if they spend £10,000 up front on child care, but for many parents who access workplace child care vouchers, such as me, the existing system works. Instead of adjusting a system that works and perhaps extending it, the Government want to rip it up and start again, adding complexity to the system and confusion for parents. Many child carers might have to register with new schemes. Only this Government would reinvent the wheel to make things more confusing.

The Government are promising to give with one hand, but let us not forget that, with the other, they have removed certain child tax credits and child benefit from higher income earners, of whom there are a number even in my poor constituency. If someone has three children, they would have to earn £4,000 gross extra in order to replace the child benefit. The giveaway is a little less generous for many.

To make matters worse, there are rumours—I hope the Government will clarify them—that Atos will run the new scheme. Atos was ripped to shreds in the Public Accounts Committee, of which I have been a member, for its abhorrent handling of the personal independence payments contract. I hope that, if the Government are minded to go ahead with that crazy approach—reinventing the wheel by introducing the new scheme of which I cannot see the benefits compared with current provision—they take a sensible approach on who delivers it. I am not here to protect the reputation of the Government, but I am here to protect the parents who will use the scheme and who need it to help to pay for their child care. You could not make it up, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is like an episode of “Yes Minister”. Ministers are not saying yes or no and are confused about what they are trying to do.

I am perhaps more radical than Opposition Front Benchers because I have previously called for a child care revolution in the UK—the shadow Chancellor would probably not like to commit to that, but I am working on him. I look to Denmark as an example. The day care Act there means that local councils provide 8 am to 5 pm child care for everyone. The better-off contribute and the poorest get free child care. We see that in some exemplary local authorities in the UK. My children have been through local authority child care where people pay according to their means, which means that children mix and get good quality child care. It is not universal, but I would like it to be universal. In Denmark, the provision means that 76%—more than three quarters—of women work. Child care is a priority in Denmark and other parts of Scandinavia, and children and parents are at the centre.

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Mr MacNeil: The hon. Lady makes a good point on child care. When women are back in the workplace, increased tax revenue pays for those very schemes.

Meg Hillier: In the past when I have raised that in the House, Government Members have accused me of saying, “Women must work and should always work.” I am a great supporter of maternity leave and benefits, which allow women to take a good year off when they are nursing their child. Those who can afford it and find a way can take longer. Women are the first educator of children and it is important that people make their own choices, but many women—women at the school gates whom I have met over the years—want to work and often have to give up work or reduce their working hours because of the lack of affordable, available, safe and secure child care.

For the economic recovery, that proposal is a no-brainer. We need everybody on board the boat to be rowing in the same direction. Allowing parents and particularly women to work is crucial. That proposal makes economic sense, gives women full access to the workplace and removes the discrimination that exists for women who are parents.

I was interested to see that the Queen’s Speech includes an infrastructure Bill. I am not privy to the No. 10 press briefing, which has the full details, but according to leaks to today’s papers and other information, the Bill does not include broadband. I believe it should, and I am not alone. I represent an inner-city constituency where speeds and physical connectivity are woeful and inadequate for many businesses, and yet for the past couple of years everybody has passed the buck, saying, “It is somebody else’s fault and somebody else’s problem.” The Public Accounts Committee has seen the well-documented problems with the rural broadband programme. I am frustrated—I am not the only one—by the intractable nature of this problem, with everyone blaming somebody else and even BT saying that in Shoreditch in my constituency only two thirds of businesses have access to fibre-optic broadband. Quite simply, the Government have to get a grip. The Bill could provide a vehicle for that, but some issues do not need new legislation. Some of this is about enacting what can already be achieved through existing measures.

I ask the Government to do two things in particular. First, they should recognise that universal superfast broadband is as much infrastructure as a new road or railway. Infrastructure is not necessarily about big physical projects, and universal superfast broadband is vital to the future of Britain’s economy and to equality across the piece. Secondly, the Government should come up with an affordable plan that delivers infrastructure and, critically, a competition regime that delivers for households and businesses.

There are a few other measures that warrant a mention. The draft riot damages Bill is very welcome and I give the Government credit for that. I saw the challenges at first hand that businesses in my constituency suffered after the August 2011 riots. I think of Siva in his shop on Clarence road, which I visited the day after it was trashed. It was his life’s work. He had worked seven days a week for nine years or so to support his young family and to establish them here in the UK. He saw his livelihood damaged. Steps to improve, speed up and simplify access to funds are vital if riots happen again, although I hope the draft Bill is never needed. I will be

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watching the detail to ensure that my experience, and those of other colleagues whose constituencies suffered, will be taken into account. I hope Ministers are listening to that experience in drawing up the proposed legislation.

On access to business finance, I welcome anything that improves the delivery of finance, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises. I was in Shoreditch yesterday for the launch of LaunchPad Labs, which is helping small and medium-sized enterprises to set up by providing mentoring and access to financial advice. There is a critical difficulty for a business when turnover reaches about £20,000 and needs to grow to about £60,000—the financing challenge. At the moment, the Government’s track record has been woeful. Project Merlin promised a lot in encouraging banks to lend more, but it is not delivering for businesses. Frankly, high street banks are derelict in their duty. They do not understand businesses in their community and they are not lending to them properly. The correlation between people’s borrowing and the lending that banks do back to the community does not match. In all the discussions on finance, we are letting high street banks off the hook.

On pubcos, I have already seen too many pubs close in my constituency. This is probably too little too late for many, but any measures that begin to put power back into the hands of landlords—business people trying to run their businesses—and away from the big companies that force a particular business model on them, can only be welcomed.

On public sector redundancy clawback, we understand that the Government may be offering to claw back the money from people who have been made redundant and are then rehired, particularly in the NHS. I have raised this issue in the House repeatedly. My simple view is this: if it is the same pension scheme it is the same employer. If someone who is made redundant takes a redundancy package and then gets a job with the same pension scheme within a few weeks, that redundancy payment is null and void and should be returned.

I acknowledge and support some of the proposed measures relating to the plastic bag tax. People use far too many plastic bags. From my many trips to the Republic of Ireland, I know that a tax can change attitudes. We have to be careful, however. We must not get too excited and think that a tax simply solves the problem. The British Plastics Federation, which is based in my constituency in Rivington street, has told me that carrier bags make up 0.02% of household waste in the UK.

Jim Shannon: Northern Ireland is an example of how well it can be done. It has achieved an 80% reduction in the use of plastic bags and contributed £6 million to the Department of the Environment to use on environmental and consultation projects. It can do good even in a small place such as Northern Ireland, which has a population of 1.75 million people.

Meg Hillier: I thank the hon. Gentleman. Both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have set an example for the British Isles on this measure. I am in broad support, but we should look closely at measures on which the House agrees because of potentially perverse outcomes. Keep Britain Tidy says that carrier bags account for about 3% of the rubbish at sites that it observes. With DEFRA acknowledging that re-use stands

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at about 78% to 80%, with up to 50% of plastic bags taken from a supermarket being used as bin liners, we need to be clear that if people are not getting plastic bags at the supermarkets, they may well be buying bags elsewhere, so we need to think more about the consequences. It is about looking at the issue in the round. In Northern Ireland and Ireland—Eire—I have seen this working.

On a recent visit to Rwanda with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I discovered, after arriving there and turning up at the presidential palace with my leaking mosquito repellent in a polythene bag, that the country had some time ago banned all polythene bags. Happily, I was let into the presidential event, after my polythene was confiscated on the way in, but it showed that a country such as Rwanda—20 years ago it faced a horrific situation—can make many strides ahead of the UK on the issue. I support the Bill, but believe that we need to reflect more on the consequences.

We have talked a lot about the successes following the Olympics, but very little, I think, about the Olympic legacy. As an MP representing a constituency that hosted part of the Olympics and still has the Copper Box and other Olympic facilities, I know that we have not seen the dividends that we should have done. For physical activity across the board, we have seen activity levels rise, but it is the same active people doing more rather than inactive people taking up sport.

I believe the Queen’s Speech provided an opportunity for the Government to revisit the issue of VAT on some fitness activities. In my constituency and many others up and down the country, GPs have for many years prescribed fitness activities at the local leisure centre, but when that prescription runs out, individuals have to pay if they want to continue, with the taxman—or, with Lin Homer as the permanent secretary, the taxwoman—taking a cut very quickly. A tax of 20% on fitness seems perverse, reducing the likelihood of people continuing with their health measures. I am not talking about reductions for luxury gyms, as the issue is sometimes reported, because many of my constituents are very poor and have to count every penny in every pound at the end of the week. Constituents such as a young woman who came to see me at my surgery the other week—she is contemplating surgery to deal with her weight problem, but she is not on a high income; she is a single parent not working at the moment but wanting to work—find it hard to pay for these things. She wants to be fit and active and to live long so she can be a good mother to her child, but having to pay an extra 20% for her fitness regime would make a considerable difference, possibly putting her off continuing with it.

There is, then, a little to be welcomed in the Queen’s Speech, but I think it is a missed opportunity, failing to tackle the cost-of-living issues that my constituents and people I have spoken to elsewhere really feel on a day-to-day basis. It seems but a drop in the ocean in comparison with the problems that constituents are facing. I will work to try to improve such measures as are in place to ensure that my constituents benefit as much as possible from the meagre offering they have been dealt.


5.8 pm

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Unlike the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), I welcome this Queen’s Speech, which contains some

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very constructive measures, but we need to recognise the mountain that we have been climbing and continue to have to climb. The economy collapsed by more than 7% in 2009, and we inherited a public sector deficit that was bigger in percentage terms than that of Greece. Lord knows that Government Members have had to take some very tough and difficult decisions at a time when our trading partners have also been trapped in recession, which has made it even more difficult to get the economy growing again.

Now that we can, at last, see strong sustainable growth across all sectors, it is to be hoped that from this year on, people will at least begin to feel the benefits of recovery. Having gone through such a long period with no growth, we know that getting growth going again does not happen overnight; it will take time for many people. As a Liberal Democrat, I would stress that this is a coalition Government and that Liberal Democrats have shaped many of the key reformist policies. If we do not say this, nobody else will, but it is important for people to understand how coalition works.

The Queen’s Speech pledged to deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. It is a Liberal Democrat mantra that the Queen uttered this morning—although I do not know whether she realised that—and it has underpinned our approach to government. I want to give the lie to the idea that the Government’s key achievements could or would have been secured without the Liberal Democrats. I want to make it clear that this is a coalition, in which we share the responsibility, the decisions and the policies.

The fact is that many of the things that have happened would not have happened without the Liberal Democrats. Let me explain what I mean. First, there seems to be a theory out there that the coalition was not even necessary, but there is a real likelihood that, had we not entered the coalition in 2010, there would have been a run on the pound, a great deal of market uncertainty, and a sharp rise in interest rates.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I do not know whether I misheard the right hon. Gentleman. Did he really suggest that there would have been a run on the pound had the Liberal Democrats not been part of the coalition?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: What I said was that had there not been a coalition delivering stability in Government, there would have been a run on the pound, or it is likely that there would have been a run on the pound, and there would have been a sharp rise in interest rates—and as the only coalition possibility was the one that actually happened, yes, I am saying that had we not entered the coalition, that would have been a real risk.

There is also a presumption that, a short time after the 2010 election, there would have been, or might have been, a second election, which might have produced a similarly indecisive result because the economy had been seen to deteriorate even more, but which, in some people’s opinion, would have produced a Conservative majority Government. I can only say that if that had happened, we should have heard a very different Queen’s Speech from the one that was delivered today. For instance, I do not believe that the Government would have delivered the raising of the tax threshold to £10,000 this year, and the further increase to £10,500 next year.

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That was not in the Conservative manifesto, and the Prime Minister said that it could not be done, but it has been done, because we were there fighting for it. It has been popular, and of course Conservatives want to be associated with it, but it was and is our policy. It will cut income tax for 24 million people by £800 annually from next year, and it has taken 2 million people out of tax altogether.

If there had been a Conservative majority, we would certainly not have introduced the latest round of the most radical reforms of our state and private pension arrangements since the days of Lloyd George, who, as some Members may recall, was a Liberal. Our pensions Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), has secured a legacy as a great reformer. He is probably the best informed, best qualified pensions Minister that the country has ever had, and I believe that the measures he has introduced will serve as the foundation for both public and private sector pensions for decades to come.

Those two measures in themselves represent huge and positive reforms that have happened only because Liberal Democrats have been in government, but Liberal Democrat Ministers have also been the driving force behind the growth of apprenticeships, and we are on target to achieve 2 million by the end of the current Parliament. Liberal Democrats, led by the Deputy Prime Minister, have secured extra child care support, free school meals for every infant, and targeted support for disadvantaged pupils. Those measures have made a significant difference to families and others living in deprived circumstances, and are having, or beginning to have, a qualitative effect on the outcome of education.

Liberal Democrats have led the way towards a reform of the electricity market which, unlike the measures proposed by the Opposition, would keep the lights on, keep bills down and promote green energy. Liberal Democrat Ministers have secured a commitment to zero-carbon homes and to international agreement on climate change. Numerous other Liberal Democrat measures pepper the Queen’s Speech, including restrictions on plastic bags, support for garden cities, protection for pub landlords, a definition of child cruelty through a Cinderella clause, tough powers to tackle female genital mutilation, and legislation for the recall of Members of Parliament. None of those measures would have been in the Queen’s Speech if Liberal Democrats had not been in the coalition.

There are other parts of the speech which I warmly welcome, too. As I represent a constituency in the north-east of Scotland, I welcome the fact that maximising North sea resources is committed to in the Queen’s Speech, as is implementing the proposals of the Wood review, which the Government—indeed, the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary—commissioned and which was supported by the Prime Minister. This will be achieved first through co-ordination between the Government and industry and also by maintaining a tax regime that encourages development. I hope the Government can simplify the tax regime over time, because it is becoming complicated. That is serving to unlock investment but it is also making it very difficult for businesses to assess that against international comparators. We also need to stimulate exploration, which is essential for future development.

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I should say in passing that the industry has a concern. It will support this co-operation between Government and industry to maximise returns and to co-ordinate the use of infrastructure, but the regulator that is required to achieve that could be costly and it believes that if there is shared co-operation the costs should be shared, not imposed entirely on the industry. However, this calculation has, in the end, to be made: whatever is done has to enable the industry to make the investment that will ensure we get the maximum returns in the long run.

I also welcome the implementing of new financial powers for the Scottish Parliament. It is the essential next step in devolution. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) has left the Chamber, but he was right to say that if—or when, as I believe—Scotland votes to stay in the United Kingdom, the further transfer of powers to Scotland and what is happening in Wales and Northern Ireland will lead to a demand for devolution within England. I recognise that that is a matter for English MPs, but I personally think it would be a welcome development, leading to decentralisation and more localism.

This is the reality in Scotland: the coalition Government had to tackle the recession and the hole in the finances and had to take all the tough decisions, whereas all the Scottish Government had to do was spend the block grant, but they have done that while hurling abuse at all the difficult measures which, frankly, any Government would have to take, and while having no responsibility for those decisions. Giving the Scottish Parliament the responsibility to raise its own revenue and not just spend the block grant will increase transparency and accountability.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that had we given the Scottish Parliament those powers of full control in raising and spending revenue at the time of the 1998 Scotland Act—this point was made back then—we would have reduced the demand for independence?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I do agree. I would not say “full” in this context, because in a quasi-federal system each tier in Government needs to have access to its own tax base, but I agree that if the Scottish Parliament could have accessed most of its own revenue and resources, that would, indeed, have been the case. I think it would also have led to a more adult debate in Scotland about how priorities are determined. It is very easy for MPs in the Scottish Parliament to attack the difficult decisions involved in dealing with the deficit, as they have no responsibility for making those decisions.

Mr MacNeil: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most important reasons for the Scottish Parliament having full control over its tax revenues through, hopefully, independence is that that will enable it to grow the economy? The laudable aims of making Parliament more transparent and politicians more responsible is all well and good, but the most important thing for people in the street is that the economy grows, and we can do that through independence.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: The hon. Gentleman will know that I am not going to go down the route to independence. I believe the Scottish Parliament has got substantial powers and, frankly, I believe that the Scottish Government

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would have served the Scottish people better if they had spent more time using those powers and less time promoting the case for independence. They even let their current tax-raising powers lapse: they did not want to use them as it might have been a bit unpopular or they might have been accountable for that. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument because what independence does, of course, is raise barriers to the very means of growing the economy. My argument is, yes, we should have access to taxes that help fund the Scottish Parliament, but that we should contribute to, and share in, the whole of the United Kingdom.

If I may, I will pay tribute to someone. Just in the past week, a great champion of Scotland’s role in the UK, Maitland Mackie, died—I am going to his funeral on Friday. People might have heard of him, as he was famous for Mackie’s ice cream and was a great pillar of the Scottish agricultural community. One of his uncles was a Liberal Democrat MP and another was a Labour MP. Maitland Mackie was committed to the view that Scotland would thrive provided it had control over its own affairs domestically but shared in the full benefits of the Union; as he pointed out, 80% of his ice cream is sold south of the border, and he did not wish to undermine that. I pay tribute to him, because he was a very fine example of Scottish enterprise and success—

Mr McCann: Unlike Scottish Enterprise.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: He was a former chairman of Grampian Enterprise Ltd, but he recognised that that enterprising Scottish business flourished better inside the UK.

Mr MacNeil: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about selling ice cream; he is trying to give the impression that if Scotland were independent it would sell less ice cream outwith its borders. I ask him this: where is most Guinness sold? It is not sold in the Republic of Ireland; it is sold worldwide. The idea that borders would stop that trade is nonsense, and he knows it.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I do not know that, because I do not know what the currency transactions would be—because we have not got an answer on that from the Scottish Government. The problem is that all the uncertainties—the potential barriers and the potential changes—will have an effect. Like Maitland Mackie, many others in the food industry who are doing business in England daily are overwhelmingly concerned that independence will damage their market and are privately saying that they do not want to see Scotland vote yes in September.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the thing that finally swung the Quebec independence campaign referendum was the fact that the rest of Canada made it very clear that it wanted Quebec to stay within the union? Does he agree that we can throw all the facts and figures we like at the Scottish people but if we could get it across to them that they are actually wanted by the rest of the United Kingdom, that would do more good?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: It is a simple statement as far as I am concerned and the better way to put it is that if the United Kingdom breaks up, we are all diminished:

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Scotland is diminished; Wales, Northern Ireland and England are diminished; and everything we stand for together is diminished. It is as simple as that. When all the ins and outs—the costs and the figures—are taken into account, the reality cannot be measured just in money. We will all be diminished, and our influence and standing in the world will be diminished.

Mr MacNeil: On that point—

Sir Malcolm Bruce: No, I am not going to accept another intervention. I say to the hon. Gentleman that on the doorsteps—this is not about slogans—people are increasingly telling me, in very simple terms, “You know what, we are better together.” I believe that will be the prevailing argument.

In my role as Chairman of the International Development Committee, I wish to say that I share pride in our achievement of 0.7% of gross national income being spent on official development assistance. When I say “our achievement” I mean the achievement of this Parliament, across parties; it could only have been achieved because all parties supported it. I welcome the fact that we have achieved it and that the Queen’s Speech specifically sets out a commitment to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria. On the information that my Committee and I have—we will be publishing a report in a few weeks’ time—UK support has been crucial to being able to provide access and support to people in distress which other countries have not stepped up to the plate to deliver. We should recognise that this country has every reason to be proud of that.

I also welcome the explicit commitment in the Queen’s Speech to preventing sexual violence in conflict worldwide. We have all seen too many horrors recently, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan to name but a few, of the appalling ways in which women are treated: how they are valued—how they are undervalued; how they are denied access to education; how they are abducted; and how they are murdered. This is an intolerable situation. The UK alone cannot prevent those things from happening, but as the world’s second largest bilateral donor and an internationally acknowledged force for good we can provide leadership that can make a difference. I welcome the fact that that is explicitly set out in the Queen’s Speech, and I hope that Members on both sides of the House can unite behind that.

I conclude by saying that I believe that, for the last Session of this Parliament, with only 10 months to run, this is an excellent Queen’s Speech containing a lot of very substantial and worthwhile measures. It is substantially a Liberal Democrat Queen’s Speech and for that reason I am very happy to commend it to the House.

5.24 pm

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce). I should like to acknowledge Her Majesty’s Speech, which she delivered from the Throne today. The words may not have been hers, but the delivery certainly was. We are richly blessed as a country—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—to have Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, as our Head of State. I am sure that we all wish her continued health and strength; long may she reign.

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I associate myself with the remarks that were made by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition concerning our troops who are leaving Afghanistan. I pay tribute to their sacrifice and say that they come home with honour. Because our troops served their country in Afghanistan, many families have been bereaved, and we extend our sympathy to them.

I also associate myself with the remarks that were made about Paul Goggins who, as a Minister in Northern Ireland, served with distinction. Certainly my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have many happy memories of him during his time there.

Her Majesty’s speech contains many elements that we warmly welcome. There are other elements on which we will be seeking more information from the Government, and there are some omissions with which we are disappointed.

First, let me start with the positive elements. The Democratic Unionist party welcomes the actions of the Government in addressing the ongoing scourge of human trafficking and organised crime. In this country, we are rightly proud of the role played by reformers such as William Wilberforce in bringing about the destruction of slavery throughout the British empire and other places in which our influence was felt. Despite that historical legacy, the sad reality is that slavery is still going on within our borders, and we have a moral obligation to act in that regard and to punish severely those who trade in human misery and suffering.

My colleague in the other place and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley, is pioneering legislation through the Assembly. His Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill contains many measures to tackle the evil of human trafficking, to punish those responsible for the suffering and to afford help and protection to the victims. The central feature of that legislation is the adoption of the Nordic model in relation to paying for sex, and I strongly encourage the Government to go down that path as well.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another EU member state. A key element of fighting crime across that border is the work of the National Crime Agency, the importance of which has been acknowledged in the House. However, I am sure that the Government would agree that the behaviour of some parties in Northern Ireland, namely Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour party, which are currently blocking the establishment of the NCA in Northern Ireland, represents a gross and monstrous betrayal of the safety and security of their and my constituents. Those parties should reverse their position, and allow the people of Northern Ireland to enjoy the protection and the benefits afforded by the NCA. We must tackle serious crime, and those who stand as obstacles in the way cannot plead innocence and should be condemned.

Jim Shannon: On that subject, the obstacles that have been placed by certain political parties in Northern Ireland to the formation of the NCA have contributed to a loss of perhaps as much as £100 million of revenue to the Treasury because of the deals in which they have been involved.

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Dr McCrea: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is correct that fuel and tobacco smuggling is a big thing, and the revenue that has been lost cannot be properly tackled without the benefits of the NCA. I ask the Government, once again, to act and to encourage the Social Democratic and Labour party, especially its Members who attend this House, to stop putting obstacles in the way—to remove them—allowing us to make progress on the protection and safety of all our citizens in Northern Ireland.

The DUP is a low-tax party. We believe that people, rather than Government, should decide how to spend their money. We therefore welcome the measures announced in the Gracious Speech pertaining to reducing taxation on personal saving. It cannot be right that, when people behave responsibly and set money aside to pay for home improvements, their children’s education, their health care expenses or their retirement, the Government take a slice out of such saving. Equally, measures designed to afford greater flexibility in how people draw down their pensions are to be welcomed. Nevertheless, it is important that a degree of education is afforded, so that people do not run out of money before their retirement comes to an end.

It was interesting to hear the right hon. Member for Gordon. He took all the credit for everything that he looks on as positive in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech—not only this one, but ever since the coalition started—and all the difficult things that were hard for people to stomach, the Lib Dems, of course, had nothing to do with; those were simply down to the Conservative party. Honestly, that is hard for us to stomach, because that is not the reality. This is a coalition Government and, whether they were difficult decisions or easy ones, all the fingerprints will show the Lib Dems’ thumbprint on every one of them, just the same. They must take responsibility, and when they go to the electorate they are finding out that they are taking the responsibility. The recent elections to the European Parliament certainly showed that. They were left with only one MEP. To endeavour to take all the credit for things that were beneficial to the people, saying that that was Lib Dem policy and everything else Tory or Conservative policy, is rubbish and should be binned.

Mr McCann: Can I ask the hon. Gentleman about something he said about pensions? Does he not think that the coalition Government have got themselves in a bit of a pickle with the concept of people being able to take all their money at one time, when there was tax relief on that money when they first paid it into the pension pot? There is a great danger that people will receive large sums of money and spend it unwisely unless some protective measures are introduced by the Government to ensure that that does not happen.

Dr McCrea: I certainly accept that there could be problems. That is why I believe that there must also be a strong degree of education for those taking out pensions, to be sure that they are doing it for the benefit of the rest of their days, rather than for the immediate moment. Such a decision should be considered carefully, and the proper advice given to them.

It is also imperative that the Government give the lead by ensuring that future Governments spend taxpayers’ money responsibly, so I welcome that commitment in the

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Gracious Speech. Wastage of public money on gimmicks and non-essentials makes the public cynical about the good stewardship of the nation’s finances, especially at a time of cutbacks on essential services for the population.

In further reference to the Gracious Speech and its relevance to Northern Ireland, the over-reliance of Northern Ireland’s economy on the public sector is a continuing cause of concern. The DUP believes in the rebalancing of our economy, but the answer is not to be found in the slash-and-burn approach. Public sector reduction in Northern Ireland needs to be commensurate with private sector expansion. Northern Ireland is moving forward in that regard, and there have been significant and welcome job announcements over the course of the past 12 months—I certainly experienced that in my own constituency. We are seeing the recovery gathering pace in the Province. My party stands ready and willing to work closely with the coalition Government to continue to bed down the recovery and to enable further private sector growth. My colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that our economic recovery in Northern Ireland is stable, sustainable and enjoyed not only in parts, but in every part, of our Province.

We also welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to make the United Kingdom the most attractive place to start, finance and grow a business. I await the details that will outline how the Government intend to support small businesses by cutting bureaucracy and enabling them to access finance. Promises have been made on these issues in the past which have seemed to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises in my part of the United Kingdom, across the rest of the Province and across the United Kingdom as a whole, but the results have fallen short of expectations.

We must ensure that banks will lend money to businesses to allow them to grow. We seem constantly to hear that small businesses will be enabled to access finance, but unless banks lend to them they cannot access it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister have both encouraged banks to do that from the Dispatch Box, but banks seem to be above even the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We must therefore force them to ensure that the money goes to small businesses to allow them to grow as they desire.

Meg Hillier: There have been some attempts to map the amount of money people borrow from a bank for mortgages and so on and the amount of money that is then lent out to businesses in the same area, but they have been based on wide postcode areas. Will the hon. Gentleman support me and others in asking to have that carried out in a much more detailed way so that we can see the business of the banks and what they are doing in our communities?

Dr McCrea: I would certainly be delighted to see that, because it would bring out revealing statistics as well as the reality of what is happening on the ground. My constituents are still finding difficulties every time they go to the bank. As for those who desire mortgages, let us see exactly what the real situation is rather than the spin that even the banks put on it.

The Gracious Speech referred to a shared future. Members from throughout the rest of the United Kingdom might not be familiar with the concept in reference to Northern Ireland. In a nutshell, it entails a future in

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which people’s culture, identity and religion are celebrated and afforded dignity and respect. In that context, the Parades Commission’s most recent determination, made today, about the return parade to Ligoniel Orange hall represents a stark contrast with the concept mentioned in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. The Parades Commission has bowed once again to undiluted fascism and the threat of dissident republican force. These are people who support the murder of police officers and soldiers, yet the commission has given in to their demands. Sadly, on top of that, the fingerprints of Sinn Fein agitation can also be seen and today’s decision is repulsive to the ordinary decent law-abiding loyalist and Unionist community. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has the power to overturn this ludicrous determination and I strongly urge her to do so.

The DUP welcomes the freeze in fuel duty, but we do not believe that it goes far enough. In Northern Ireland, we pay the highest fuel bills of any region of the United Kingdom. During the years of the Labour Government, fuel duty was a major public concern that resonated throughout the country. In 2000, when the average price was 80p a litre for unleaded and 80.8p a litre for diesel, rising fuel prices prompted protests that brought the country to a standstill. The depth of public anger directed towards the Government of the day over the issue was such that it was the only time during the 1997 to 2001 Parliament that Labour fell behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls.

In many areas throughout the Province, cars are the only mode of transport, as public transport is limited. People can journey to our major cities, but bus timetables mean that getting home later in the evening is absolutely impossible. Public transport can take someone there, but they must stay there because they cannot get home. Trains cover only a limited part of the Province, so they are out of the question. The mode of transport is cars, and fuel costs are a heavy burden on those who have to travel to gain employment.

Jim Shannon: Fuel poverty is an important issue in Northern Ireland, and as 38% of the population of Northern Ireland live in rural communities they are dependent on cars. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Treasury consulted across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on a fuel pilot scheme that would reduce prices in specific areas and that it received 30 responses, 19 of which came from Northern Ireland? Not one of those schemes will be for Northern Ireland, even though almost two thirds of the responses came from Northern Ireland. Does he feel as annoyed as I do about that?

Dr McCrea: Yes, I do feel annoyed about it, and so do my constituents, who acted responsibly in responding to this only to be cast aside when it came into operation. They certainly feel that they have been pushed aside.

Mr MacNeil: As one of the Members who pushed in the last Parliament for rural fuel derogation and was successful in this Parliament, I urge the hon. Gentleman to keep going, but to go for a higher rate than 5p. It should be 7.5p a litre.

Dr McCrea: On this occasion, I am happy to listen to and consider carefully what the Scottish National party has to say. I emphasise “on this occasion”, because on

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its other policy on the United Kingdom I will not listen to anything that it has to say because it is living in a dream world. I hope that the United Kingdom will remain solidly together after the referendum.

As Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister made much of his intention to introduce a fuel duty stabiliser, which would protect hard-pressed families and businesses against any rises in the price of crude oil. Basically, what happens is that as the price of crude oil goes up, the rate of fuel duty charged on petrol goes down to keep the prices stable and avoid the massive fluctuations that we have witnessed recently. On 12 April 2010, some three weeks before people cast their votes in the general election, in relation to the fuel duty stabiliser a Conservative party spokesman said:

“We are very straight with people. This is not a tax giveaway—instead it is a sensible, balanced policy that protects families from big increases in the oil price.”

I wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments. It really annoys my constituents that when crude oil prices increase, there is an immediate increase at the pumps, but whenever they decrease, there is a long period before consumers get any of the benefits. Even when they do go down, they do not go down to the previous level. The Government must look carefully at that.

I welcome the fact that the Government are to introduce measures to protect people who seek to intervene or help in emergencies. If a genuine sense of community spirit is to be re-established, it is imperative that those who seek to help another citizen in distress or danger can be assured that the force of law is on their side and that their community spirit will not result in their being prosecuted for doing what is right.

I want to reflect on another matter that exercises my colleagues in Northern Ireland that is not in the Gracious Speech. As shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) toured the Province trying to rally support for the then alliance between the Ulster Unionist party and the Conservative party. One way in which that was attempted was to tell people that the ongoing payment of public moneys to MPs who did not attend this House and fulfil their duties would be ended. That has not happened, and that is a disgrace. Amidst all the other cuts in public expenditure, elected Members of Parliament receive moneys for not participating in debates in this House and representing their people here. That must be acted on. This is the last Gracious Speech of this Parliament and the Government should have delivered on their pledge. I regret that they have not done so, and I urge them once again to do so. We must bring this matter before the House, perhaps through a Back-Bench debate, because it is wrong that people who do not represent their constituents in this House should receive this money. Sinn Fein should not be receiving this money for not representing their constituents in this House.

Jim Shannon: I want to mention an important issue for us as Unionists and for the people of Northern Ireland in general. We understand that Sinn Fein has been able to claim £600,000 for not sitting on these green Benches. That money would have been better spent on things such as building schools or hospital extensions.

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Dr McCrea: It is important that even now we raise this matter in the House; no party in the House can justify people receiving money when they do not come here to represent their constituents. They can use that money. As elected representatives, we have to answer for our money; IPSA certainly has a right to look at all our expenditure, although that is not so for those who receive money but fail to represent their constituents.

Finally, on reform of the European Union, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) mentioned Members from Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales speaking about English issues. I would say that that is less offensive—we are elected to a House of the United Kingdom—than European legislators legislating for our constituents, telling us what our laws should be and taking sovereignty over certain sections of our legislative process, when this House should be doing that on behalf of our people. The Prime Minister should be encouraged to see what changes he can get. However, at the end of the day, the people of the United Kingdom should make their decision in a referendum. I trust that the promise made by the Conservative party will be supported by Her Majesty’s Opposition and that the referendum will be brought forth sooner rather than later to allow the people to make their decision. They have a right to speak.

We have to look at zero-hours contracts, which have been considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly. We should do everything we can for the working poor; quite a number of people go out to work every day but are caught in a poverty trap. We have to see how we can alleviate much of their and their families’ suffering at this time.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Before we move on, I should say that a large number of Members still wish to speak. So far, speeches have averaged 20 minutes or more. Rather than imposing a time limit, I ask Members to aim for 15 minutes or less. In that way, everybody will get in before 10 o’clock. Otherwise, some Members will be disappointed.

5.47 pm

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea). It was good to hear about his passion for the role of Members in this House and participation in its debates.

I am delighted to welcome this Queen’s Speech following my two able colleagues who proposed and seconded the motion. I single out my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who made an absolutely superb speech; I tweeted that it was a Tina Turner moment—“Simply the Best”. She was a credit to the House and her constituency.

It seems as though there are only a few days before we face a general election. What we needed in the Queen’s Speech was a mature approach to this last year in government and in the legislative programme. That is what we have got from the Government today. Eleven new Bills were set out and they covered a wide range of subjects. Before the Leader of the Opposition stood up, it was put about that this would be a zombie Queen’s Speech. It was far from that. I notice that that term has been dropped from the commentary given by Her Majesty’s

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Opposition. They can no longer call it a zombie programme because it is a full one that builds on and consolidates our economic progress and the way in which this Government have been taking the country forward. It is a credit to my colleagues that far from being finished, they are showing that they are preparing for the election and, I hope, to leading this country in a pure Conservative Government next time.

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): A real Conservative Government.

Mrs Gillan: As my hon. Friend says, a real Conservative Government.

This Queen’s Speech does not bring forward much-required measures on immigration and on enshrining the EU referendum in law, but the Prime Minister and my colleagues in the Cabinet in the Conservative party have been held back by their coalition partners. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood)—I want that referendum. If a Conservative Member is high up in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, I very much hope that they will take forward the valuable work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton).

On the economy, I was pleased to hear the reassurance that we will continue with our tax cuts and reducing the deficit, and the news on personal allowances. I particularly welcome the proposal to recognise marriage in the tax system—something for which my constituents have been asking for a long time and hoping we would fulfil. I am glad that it is finally being brought forward in this Queen’s Speech.

I am pleased that we are again paying attention to small businesses’ needs with the small business, enterprise and employment Bill. Access to finance has always been a problem for small businesses in my constituency. In many instances, they have said that it is the prime factor holding them back from development. If the Government can speed this matter forward, we will all welcome it.

On the provisions on child care, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and I have something in common. I am passionate about women being able to go back to work if they want to, and having the correct child care provisions is extremely important. There has been a 27% increase in child care costs since 2009. Across the country, the average weekly cost of child care is about £109 for a 25-hour nursery placement for a child under two, and having a childminder for 25 hours could cost £99. The problem is that returning to work is often a marginal decision for professional women. Yesterday I talked to a physiotherapist who works in the national health service and who has just given birth to her second child. She would like to return to work, but she did the calculations and found that, on the basis of working three days a week, it would be a marginal decision as to whether she did so. Yet she is desperate to go back, not only because she has to keep up her professional qualification but because she is devoted to the national health service. I hope that some of our provisions will assist women like her and others so that they can go back to work and make the valuable contribution right across the economy that women do make.

Meg Hillier: I welcome the right hon. Lady’s support. We should be dealing with this as a cross-party matter because it is fundamental to the future of our society.

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I hope that she would embrace not only a wider vision of an increased supply of child care but an acceptance that it should be available. When we get our child care we should not have to all dance around feeling grateful that we have got something; it should be provided and it should be good quality so that we are able to work.

Mrs Gillan: I agree. I almost intervened on the hon. Lady earlier because half my family live in Denmark, so I am familiar with the child care facilities there. The importance of this issue is now being recognised in the highest echelons of Government.

As we are legislating not just for child care but for the protection of children, I would like the Government to consider again an important matter that I have raised before—the mandatory reporting of activity around children by those engaged in regulated activities. Since 1950, the reporting of suspected and known abuse of a child by a member of staff at a school or location of a similar regulated activity has been entirely discretionary. Despite legislation in 2002, nothing has changed. There is still no legal requirement to report abuse of a child in an institutional setting. The statutory guidance says only that such abuses or allegations “should” be referred to or discussed with the local authority designated officer.

Given the flood of non-recent cases of child abuse in schools that we see reported every week in the media, we now know that discretionary reporting does not work. Mandate Now has done some terrific work of which I am very supportive, as are a number of MPs across the House. We should consider a law that requires professionals who work with children in regulated activities and who know, suspect, or have reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting child abuse to compulsorily inform the local authority designated officer or, in appropriate circumstances, children’s services. Failure to do so would be a criminal offence. At the moment, the guidance is frequently ignored. The legislation that the Government have proposed on the protection of children could allow us to consider introducing this measure in this Bill at this time. I hope that they will at least consider that.

The Government are legislating not only for those at the start of life and our young people but for those in the twilight of their years. I welcome the pension provisions, which are long overdue and welcomed by many of my constituents. However, I remind the Government that there is still a running sore in the pensions world—that is, Equitable Life. The fact remains that nothing has been done for the people who took out pensions with Equitable Life before 1 September 1992. I pay tribute to Paul Braithwaite and the Equitable Members Action Group, who have done so much work in this area. As the economy is now starting to grow and to look much healthier, now is the time for the Government to strike—to go back and collect those people, who are getting fewer and fewer in number. I very much hope that my words will be heard in the Treasury. The compensation scheme needs to be seen to be fair. At the moment, there is some controversy about the fact that the actuarial firm that is calculating the compensation payouts and the one assessing the validity of appeals is one and the same. I hope the Government will look at that, because it does not send out a message that the situation is fair and equitable.

I have had a long and privileged association with the land of my birth, Wales, and I am pleased to see the proposed measure on carrier bags and plastic bags. We

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often think that devolution is a one-way street, with us giving things to the countries that have devolved powers to themselves, but this is just a little proof that we can carry out a measure in Wales or in Northern Ireland and bring it back to this House. However, although the measure will take a large number of plastic bags out of circulation, let us not be lulled into a false sense of security that it will save the environment. At first, people’s habits are formed by the charge, so they save their bags and take them to the supermarket, but then they forget and buy the 10p bag for life, so the number of bags for life mounts up at home in the same way as the little, thin, annoying bags mount up from every visit to the supermarket. I want to avoid having to re-legislate on this matter, so I hope the Government will look closely at the detail of the Bill, but so far, the action taken has been a force for good. When I did some research, I found that since 2007 Marks & Spencer has charged 5p for all its standard food carrier bags—as I know to my cost, because when I do not have a bag with me, I end up having to juggle a large number of parcels or buy a bag for 5p. The profit from that charge goes to charities—the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Marine Conservation Society—and towards educational projects in primary schools to promote awareness of marine life. I believe that since the measure was introduced in Wales, it has raised some £4 million for good causes, which is something we could all support. We could bring about a similar result from making these charges across the board.

I was also pleased to have it reaffirmed that NATO will meet in Wales. I think it will have a warm welcome and enjoy very good facilities in the Principality.

The proposed change in the planning laws to ease access to land for the process of fracking will prove controversial. I hope the Government will learn a lesson from the experiences of my constituents about to access to land and High Speed 2. It has not been a happy event. HS2 and the Government do not have statutory powers to access private land without the owner’s consent; that will only happen once the hybrid Bill has been approved by Parliament. I wonder whether the Government’s new proposed provisions will override those in the HS2 hybrid Bill with which my constituents have come to terms, and whether they will allow, in effect, compulsory access to people’s land. Many of my constituents have been very concerned that giving access could result in them losing some rights over their land. Indeed, I think that some 40% of the phase 1 route of HS2 has yet to be examined, in some cases because landowners have refused access.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): On the change in law regarding hydraulic fracturing, may I, as the chairman of the all-party group on unconventional oil and gas, reassure my right hon. Friend that my understanding is that it is simply about access to drill at a depth of greater than 300 metres beneath a property? It should not give any right of access to the property above the surface.

Mrs Gillan: I am grateful for that clarification. Perhaps I am seeing problems where none exist. However, my message to the Government is that if they are going

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to engage with landowners about any infrastructure development or fracking, they need to make sure that that engagement is correctly done and appreciated by the people in the communities that will be affected, because that has not been the case with HS2.

Dan Byles: I entirely agree.

Mrs Gillan: I am glad my hon. Friend entirely agrees on that important point.

I am pleased that the Government are now going to limit large pay-offs for people who leave the public sector, but that conflicts with a recent request from HS2’s chief executive to lift all pay controls on HS2 personnel so that she can get the best people for the job from the marketplace. That implies that the best people would not be satisfied with the public sector salaries available to our very good officials right across the board. There seems to be some tension between that and what the Government are doing. I hope they will make sure that those working on Government projects will get the same rate across the board. That is important.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I, like my right hon. Friend, have been involved in HS2 for a long time and sympathise with her constituents who are affected by it. Does she agree that those whose properties are affected deserve provision for generous terms of compensation from the Committee studying the hybrid Bill, and that if the Government were to concede that, there would be far less opposition to the Bill?

Mrs Gillan: The matter of compensation has been extremely badly handled. Not only did the courts find against the Government, but we are still waiting for a compensation consultation. We do not have the dates yet and we still do not know what the final compensation package will be. I have always said that if the Government are going to press ahead with HS2, they must do two things: they must protect absolutely the area of outstanding natural beauty that will be violated by it and they must deliver the best possible compensation to the people most affected. Nothing else will do. I am sure the House will look at the issue. The Chair of the hybrid Bill Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms), is present and I hope he will have noted my words, which were not directed at my Front-Bench colleagues on this occasion.

Media reports lead me to think that the long-awaited power of recall will be reasonably controversial. Personally, I do not think it is necessary. However, if it is there to make sure that people trust and have confidence in their elected representatives, I will support it, because that is considerably more important than any luxury we may have to serve continuously even if we commit a crime, including one that results in a custodial sentence. There is, however, an inequity: if MPs are going to be subject to the power of recall, why not other elected representatives, such as Welsh Assembly Members, Members of the Scottish Parliament and Northern Assembly Members?

Mr David Davis: What about MEPs?

Mrs Gillan: Why not MEPs and why not councillors? We need to make sure that elected representatives are treated fairly across the board. I hope the Bill will

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examine the possibility of applying the same conditions to other elected representatives in other parts of the United Kingdom, so that we do not just single out MPs. That is really important.

I think that now is also the time to consider Cabinet collective responsibility, which is an extremely difficult issue. It seems to be observed by some and not by others. I speak from my own experience of the difficulties I had when I was a serving member of the Cabinet. I was delighted and privileged to hold that position, but I could not, of course, talk in public about how HS2 was affecting my constituency so badly. I would not like to see others go through such an experience. If we are going to consider recall and the constitutional position of an MP, this may also be the time to refresh our views on Cabinet collective responsibility and perhaps allow some exceptions in the future. That would make life a great deal more agreeable.

This is a good Queen’s Speech. The economy is going in the right direction and we have a long-term economic plan, which was markedly absent in the earlier contribution of the Leader of the Opposition, who did not seem to have a plan for anything. I hope we will increase people’s sense of well-being and their financial security. We have shown that we are a party that is firmly in charge, and I look forward to the day when we can escape the Liberal-Democrat-limiting coalition and offer a clean constitutional and legislative programme to the electorate at the next election.

6.8 pm

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I am grateful for being called to speak. It is 22 years since I first addressed the House on the first day of debate on the Gracious Speech. It struck me that it would be a good idea to look back at that speech to see what has changed on this planet since. Interestingly, some phrases recurred today, which should be of serious concern to us all.

In 1992, the John Major Government said that they required

“full Iraqi compliance with Security Council resolutions”,

and that they would

“work for a peaceful settlement in Yugoslavia”

and

“support moves to bring lasting peace to the middle east.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 May 1992; Vol. 537, c. 7.]

Those were matters of profound importance and there has been some good news since then, but it is possible to compare it to today’s Queen Speech, which noted:

“My ministers will strive to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria, to reduce violence and promote a political settlement. It will work for a successful transition in Afghanistan, and will work towards a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Major issues still affect the middle east in particular. As this is the last time that I will address the House in a debate on the Queen’s Speech, it is worth putting down a marker that, even after that long period, we still have to look at this intensely difficult area of the world. None of us from any party should either shirk our responsibilities in addressing some of the challenges or pretend that we can ignore them.

The second and obvious point relates to budgetary discipline. In 1992, the Government said that they would

“promote sound finance and budgetary discipline.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 May 1992; Vol. 537, c. 7-8.]

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They obviously did not succeed, because there is still apparently a need to

“strengthen the economy and provide stability and security”.

That phrase constantly occurs in every Queen’s Speech, irrespective of the Government for whom it is delivered. That is clearly a matter of great importance, especially as we move towards the next general election, because it will be the determining factor in whether the Government can persuade the electorate that they have succeeded.

Contrary to some of the figures that one hears bandied around in the Chamber, the experience of my constituents is markedly different, and many of them simply do not believe the Government figures. A gentleman came to my surgery last weekend to complain that he could not get on to a training course that is available to the vast majority of unemployed people in my constituency. He is not entitled to receive any benefits because of his wife’s earnings, which means that he is not counted as unemployed. He profoundly feels that he is unemployed, and that he has been badly let down by this Government. Many people in that situation—either in such cases, or because their income is based on zero-hours contracts and low-wage jobs—are really struggling, and they simply do not believe the figures presented by the Government.

The third area that I want, perhaps slightly teasingly, to draw to the attention of the Conservative party—there now appear to be only Members from one party on the Government Benches—is the question of Europe. Today’s Queen’s Speech says:

“My government will work to promote reform in the European Union, including a stronger role for member states and national parliaments.”

I remind Conservative Members that the Queen’s Speech in 1992 stated that the Government would

“lay before Parliament the treaty of Maastricht and introduce a Bill to implement it.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 May 1992; Vol. 537, c. 8.]

Of course, that Bill was very controversial. You will remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we spent many a late night in the Chamber—sitting until the early hours of the morning for weeks at a time—while the Government drove it through. To pretend that the Bill and the treaty that it incorporated did not have an impact on the relationship we now have with Europe is simply to ignore history. At least one historian, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden), is on the Opposition Front Bench today, and I am sure that he could draw to our attention other examples of how what was said in previous debates has been conveniently forgotten. In several areas, there are similarities—as well as some profound contradictions—in what the Government have said.

It is a pity that the mover of the Loyal Address, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), is not in the Chamber. I know her constituency extremely well, having lived and worked in the Portsmouth area until the 1970s. I remember one of her slightly eccentric predecessors Brigadier Terence H. Clarke, who was the first person in the Conservative party with whom I came into conflict. He was succeeded by Frank Judd, now Lord Judd in the House of Lords, and then by Syd Rapson and Sarah McCarthy-Fry, so the seat has had some strong representatives over the years. The hon. Lady gave us some of the background to the issues that are having an impact on her own city, of which everyone who has an association with Portsmouth is proud.

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Obviously, the naval ones are hugely important in the context of my opening remarks about international security issues. I also happen to agree with her about the success in rescuing Pompey football club from a bunch of cowboys and getting it into the hands of decent people, but that is perhaps another story.

I want to touch on some other areas. I first want to refer to the section in the Queen’s Speech about cutting bureaucracy and enabling small businesses to access finance. During the last Parliament, I chaired the Regulatory Reform Committee, which did a huge amount of work then, and some work has been done in this Parliament. This matter has a huge impact on the well-being of small businesses. The warning note that I want to send to the Government is that they should not, for goodness’ sake, come back to us with some mixed-up Bill that seeks to diminish employment rights in small businesses. That is not the solution to the problem.

Yes, there are ways in which the bureaucracy impacting on small businesses can be improved dramatically and, cross-departmentally, the Government need to take into account a lot of considerations to ensure that such improvements have an effect. For example, it always seems to me to be pretty daft that a small business that perhaps employs only a handful of people might find itself regulated by four or five agencies under different Departments, with no joining-up between one and another. If that is the kind of regulatory reform impacting on small businesses that the Government want to introduce, fine; if, on the other hand, they mean removing rights that involve the necessary protection of workers—both in terms of employment rights and health and safety conditions—they will certainly not have the support of Labour Members.

Some bits are obviously missing from the Queen’s Speech. There has just been an interesting exchange on hydraulic fracturing. Given where the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) lives, she understandably has real difficulties with HS2. Of course, if HS2 were two miles below her constituency, she would not be raising such issues. We need to get across to the public some important points about the development of what is called unconventional oil and gas, rather than allow emotive arguments to dominate.

I perfectly understand the people of Chesham and Amersham’s concerns about the impact of the railway on their community if they get no direct benefit from it. On the other hand, as has happened in my area, if a pilot well is drilled a couple of miles below the land on which I live, it has no impact on my house or its value. In fact, some of the oldest fracturing operations in the United Kingdom, such as BP’s operations down at Wytch Farm in Dorset underneath some of the wealthiest landowners in the country—at Sandbanks and places such as that—have not exactly knocked value off their houses, have they? We need serious engagement with the public and must take the science to the public, rather than allowing the emotive arguments to dominate this incredibly complex debate.

Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. The Wytch Farm oilfield, one of the largest onshore oilfields, is hardly noticed by anybody. It is well done and has no adverse impact on the Poole and south Dorset area.

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Andrew Miller: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s interest in that site. I first went there 40-odd years ago and saw oil extraction going to Fawley on a regular basis.

We need to get it across to the public that there are answers to some of the technical issues that have been raised. There are perfectly legitimate questions about the intensity of fracturing processes, the protection of watercourses and so on, but it is possible to address them. We need proper and transparent engagement with the public to ensure that we reach the right answer. In the recess, I was involved in two debates. One was organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology at the Daresbury laboratory. The other was organised by the university of Chester at its new campus at the Thornton research centre, which is now called the Thornton science park. Those debates tried to engage with members of the public on these complicated issues. That is how it has to be done.

The whole issue of science was the missing link in the Queen’s Speech. There was a great big gulf. There is a cross-party consensus that, in future, our economy will be driven by science-led businesses. However, that was a great missing part in the Queen’s Speech.

Finally, I will refer to the section on schools. As I said recently in an article in Tribune, which not too many Government Members will have read, I profoundly disagree with all the nonsense about the structure of schools. We have to get back to releasing inspiring teachers from the burdens on them and enabling them to get on with the job that they are good at. Having a constant debate about structures is not the answer. We have to release more time for those people who are brilliant at their job. We have all been inspired by teachers. We must ask how they did it and ensure that such teachers are freed up to empower other teachers and students. That is the answer to the education debate. We must get away from the nonsense about whether it is a free school, an academy, this type of school or that type of school. We must engage with teachers and get the best out of that group of people who do a great job of educating our young people.

This is an incredibly wide-ranging Queen’s Speech, given that we have only a few parliamentary weeks to implement it. I look forward to seeing the proposed legislation. I hope that we make some progress so that the people who are standing here next year have something to build on. However, I fear that much of the rhetoric in the speech will not be backed up by substantive Bills and that we have a sham of a Queen’s Speech.


6.24 pm

Sir Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), who made a perfectly sensible and balanced contribution to this debate. He said that it is 22 years since he first spoke in the House on the first day of the Queen’s Speech debate and he talked about Portsmouth and its naval traditions. I was just musing on whether he had the same grey, sea-dog beard that he is sporting today.

Andrew Miller: It wasn’t so grey.

Sir Richard Ottaway: I am obliged.

As someone who spent 19 years in the Royal Navy and the Royal Naval Reserve, I join others in paying tribute to an absolutely first-class opening speech by my

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hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). It illustrated that the Government’s position is strong. This is a Queen’s Speech that shows that we are not running out of steam.

As someone else who is addressing the House during the Queen’s Speech debate for the last time, I declare my interest in the welcome pension reform that has been proposed. It is long overdue.

I welcome the proposed Bill on modern slavery and human trafficking. Human trafficking is the world’s second most lucrative crime. I pay tribute to a former colleague, Anthony Steen, who used to be the Member for South Hams. He has done much to progress this issue.

I welcome the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that the President of Singapore will visit the United Kingdom. We have an awful lot to learn from that country, particularly on pension reform.

When I heard Mr Speaker announce the subjects for debate over the next six days, I asked myself, “Where is the debate on foreign affairs?” That decision is made by the Opposition. A quarter of the Gracious Speech refers to foreign affairs and yet there is no debate on that. It is remarkable that a party that seeks to be the next Government does not feel able to contribute anything on the field of foreign affairs.

Never have there been more foreign challenges than are facing us today. In an increasingly unstable world, we face huge challenges in Ukraine, Syria and Iran. Where is the debate on energy security? Russia is making it perfectly clear that it uses energy as a tool of foreign policy. It has just announced a major hook-up with China in the Russia-China gas deal, which has profound geopolitical consequences and implications, and yet there is nothing from the Opposition on the subject. In a few months’ time, there will be a NATO summit in Wales, which was expressly referred to in the Queen’s Speech. Again, that is of fundamental importance, because we need to increase defence spending. The Opposition have nothing to say on the subject and cannot find the time to debate it.

I hope that the House will understand it if I focus on international issues. In June 2014, we must address how the world will look in the post-2015 era. We still have to deal with the fallout of the vote last August on Syria, when 80% of the House voted for intervention. However, the ghost of the Iraq debate of 2003 hung over the House. That illustrated the loss of trust in intelligence. Perhaps when the Chilcot report is eventually published, it will shine some light on that episode. The question that we have to address today is whether that debate set a constitutional precedent. Must we have a vote every time there is an intervention on foreign soil? Legally, the Prime Minister still has his prerogative and, in my opinion, he should not hesitate to use it. However, we have to address where we have got to on that subject. We must also address the brutal question of why so few countries around the world were prepared to follow us on that occasion.

This year, 2014, is the 100th anniversary of the first world war. I took the opportunity over the Easter break to visit the battlefields of northern France. It was with some emotion that I stood in the exact spot where my wife’s grandfather was wounded on the first day of the battle of the Somme. The Prime Minister and the

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Leader of the Opposition rightly paid tribute to the 450-odd soldiers, airmen and sailors who have lost their lives in recent conflicts. It is sobering to remind ourselves that on the first day of the battle of the Somme, 19,000 men were killed and a further 39,000 wounded. I hope that puts into perspective how war was fought in those days. It is quite revealing to compare the state of world affairs in 1914 with today. In 1914 Britain started its relative decline. After two world wars, it is still, to its credit, one of the top five economies of the world.

The lesson that we learned in 1914 was that we cannot ignore Europe. Then, Russia was seeking to reassert itself, as it did in 1918 after the first world war. We are entering a period of instability. Today we see that the established world order is on the march. We see the rise of China as a world superpower. We see instability in north and west Africa. In all this our key ally remains the United States, but there has been a marked shift in its policy position in recent years. When President Obama walked into the White House in 2009, 180,000 troops were deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today there are only a handful. It is unclear when the United States would still be prepared to intervene on the world stage. In an important speech by President Obama just a couple of days ago, he said that when article 5 is invoked—the US’s membership of NATO—and when the US sees mass genocide, it will be prepared to act. I welcome the fact that the United States put down a marker yesterday by announcing a $1 billion European reassurance initiative for the Baltic states, with increased exercises and detachments being deployed, building partnerships with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

We can agree with the United States that the enemy remains terrorism, and we can co-operate on counter-terrorism policy, but we must recognise that this is a new era for the United States. The US cannot solve all the world’s problems, but few of the world’s problems can be solved without the US. Despite the vote on Syria, the US remains our key ally and it remains in our interests to stay close to the US.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: My right hon. Friend quoted the number of deaths at the Somme, but more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria and the butchery, kidnapping and starvation still go on. Does he not think that the west needs to revisit its policy on Syria? Even if we do not give lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, we should at least reconsider what assistance we can give.

Sir Richard Ottaway: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I was, of course, comparing men in uniform with men in uniform, but he makes an important point about the loss of life in Syria. I was a signatory of the letter to The Daily Telegraph yesterday inviting the Government to revisit their policy on that. Given that the United States is now arming the rebels in Syria through the provision of anti-tank weapons, there is a case for our going down the same road.

The other great change since 1914 is globalisation and the unbelievable impact it is having on the way that we all live. Foreign investment and global supply chains are interconnecting Governments, nations and markets. The world’s growth in the 1990s was 3.3%. It comes as quite a surprise to colleagues when I tell them that in the 2000s world GDP increased by 3.7%, which illustrates that globalisation works and the effect that it has. It is

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enabling the rise of new players. We see the emergence on the world scene of the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China. Globalisation is connecting us in a way that we have never seen before. UK corporations are now investing globally and we have to think globally. We have to stay interconnected and build alliances around the globe.

The commercial challenge that we all face comes from China. China is not a threat to us. The United States looks at China strategically; we see it as an economic competitor. However, we have to accept the fact that we face a painful readjustment in our position on the world stage. In 2000 the US, Japan and the European Union accounted for 71% of world GDP. China, Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for 11%. It is forecast that by 2018 those figures will be 48% and 27% respectively, a marked shift and a trend that will continue. The winners are those who compete in open markets—countries such as China and Brazil with big single markets. In the European Union, Poland quadrupled its GDP in 20 years, whereas Ukraine, outside the single market, had static growth.

We must continue the reform of the single markets, continue the negotiations with the United States and get the benefit of the agreements that we have with Japan, Thailand and India. Now is not the time to isolate ourselves on the fringes of world markets. It is not the time to leave the European Union. We should ignore the siren calls of isolationist parties. The European Union is 7% of the world’s population and 22% of its economy. The UK is less than 1% of the world’s population and 2.7% of its economy. Trying to survive in those marketplaces through a network of bilateral treaties would lead to disaster.

I understand those who call for our withdrawal from the European Union, but they are engaging in an emotional argument. It is a policy of the heart, not of the head. We have to work through international treaties and organisations and build alliances based on common interests. Of course, the European Union must reform. It was designed to fight war, hunger and communism and it has been a success. There is no need for it to be a federation, but we must have the benefit of the single market. Although for more than 50 years we have been a member of the European Union, we are still independent. We retain our parliamentary democracy, we raise our own taxes, we drink pints, we drive on the left, we choose to drop bombs on Libya but not on Syria, and we do what we want in our education, health and social security systems. We just need the EU member states to co-operate more closely together. In her famous Bruges speech Margaret Thatcher said:

“My first guiding principle is this: willing and active cooperation between independent sovereign states is the best way to build a successful European Community.”

So let us follow the Dutch principle: Europe if necessary, national when possible.

The elections last week make the case for the Conservatives’ pledge to reform the European Union. This Government have already proved that they can deliver, with our campaign to cut the EU budget. We can make alliances, too. Other countries are pressing for change—Germany, Austria and Netherlands are all backing our initiative to reduce EU spending. They are

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all on board with our efforts to limit benefit tourism and illegal immigration. Even the President of France has called for change. I would like to say at that point, “I rest my case, m’lord.” If France is beginning to recognise the force of our arguments, there is plenty to benefit from.

In conclusion, I shall pick up on a point raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, when he spoke about the origins of mass migration from the Mediterranean. That is the basis of a report recently published by the Foreign Affairs Committee. In the Sahel, the strip to the south of the Sahara desert, the high population growth in sub-Saharan Africa is seeing hundreds of millions of young men and women born into an economic desert. They have no prospects, no opportunities and no quality of life. It has become a fertile ground for conflict, as was recognised in the United States by the 9/11 report. For a couple of dollars a day, young men are picking up a rifle and going in on behalf of whoever will pay them.

We saw that when the Government of Mali were very nearly brought down, but for a quick reaction by the French. We saw it in the attack on the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria. We see it now in the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, a part of the Sahel that bears no relation to the prosperous south of Nigeria. We need to get alongside these countries, because such attacks are having a profound impact.

Apart from young men and women going into conflict, we are now seeing mass migration. People are beginning to walk across the Sahara desert to the ports of north Africa, and they are not stopping. They are getting into boats, as we saw with the tragedy when a boat sank off the coast of Lampedusa and everyone on board drowned. We see it in Melilla, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, where people have been killed trying to get over the fence, because if they get into Melilla they are in the European Union. That is why it is such an attractive target.

We need to get alongside the countries affected, such as Mali, Chad, Nigeria, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, and try to stabilise them. All those countries need our support. We need to give them confidence to strengthen their security, and we need to provide assistance on good governance and bring in economic aid packages. In that way, we can stabilise them and take away the migratory pressures.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman. In the past few months, 40,000 people have made the journey from those north African countries, many in perilous situations in boats that have sunk, with lives lost. Does he agree that it is imperative that we crack down on those who bring them here with the false hope of getting into the European Union for a better life? We should concentrate not particularly on the migrants but on the criminal gangmasters.

Sir Richard Ottaway: I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is absolutely right. People trafficking is now a serious business in north Africa, along with smuggling, prostitution and drugs. Organised crime has moved into all those fields, and getting to the root cause of it will solve the problem.

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Charlie Elphicke: Speaking as the Member for Dover, may I add to the point about that concern? I went to the camps in Calais before they were cleared and asked everyone there, “Who here has paid to be here?” Every single hand went up. We need a campaign against international trafficking gangs and an international counter-offensive.

Sir Richard Ottaway: I absolutely agree. The key question is what the policy is if an air patrol spots a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. Is it to persuade the people on it to go back to north Africa, or to usher it to safety in Lampedusa, Italy, Greece or Spain? There is no policy at the moment, and the EU needs to address the issue. We cannot do so on our own. The major powers—Britain, France and the United States—need to get together and come up with a co-ordinated policy. We then need to get our EU partners to row in behind us diplomatically and politically, and in some cases militarily if they are prepared to bite the bullet.

We are all affected by migration. When I became the Member for my constituency in 1992, the non-white ethnic component was 8%. In the 2011 census, that figure had risen to 28%, and in my local primary schools it is 38%. That shows the changing demography, which is particularly relevant to those of us with London constituencies and produces pressures such as the shortage of housing that Members have mentioned and pressures on public services. We have to address all those matters. I believe we have the willpower and willingness to do so, but we have to make more progress than we are at the moment.

6.43 pm

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on the Gracious Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) said that this was his 22nd year of Queen’s Speeches, and I believe that the same is true of the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway). It is my 27th year of Queen’s Speeches, and it is the last one that I shall attend.

The right hon. Gentleman made a thoughtful and informed speech, in which he mentioned that foreign affairs do not feature in the timetable for debating the Queen’s Speech. Environmental issues do not either, and there is huge synergy between the two. He talked about the origins of mass migration, and unless we deal with climate change, we shall be dealing with far more mass migration throughout the planet years from now. I would therefore have liked environmental issues to be included in the programming of the debates, but I will pick up on them in my speech.

The tone of the Leader of the Opposition’s response to the Gracious Speech was exactly what we needed, especially in the weeks after the European elections, at which we saw a great deal of disengagement with Parliament and low turnout. Perhaps people do not understand Parliament’s role and we are not getting our message across about the thoughtful debates that go on here and the need for the Government’s policies to be properly scrutinised and fit for purpose.

Many Members have picked up on the theme of the 100th anniversary of the first world war. When we attend remembrance services around the country, we

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are reminded that 100 years ago, and in every conflict since, people gave their tomorrows for our todays. The policies in the Gracious Speech should balance the pressing needs to deal with today’s issues and the long-term issues. It is often difficult for Members, with an eye on who is going to vote for them and how they will get re-elected, to consider long-term issues, given how many pressing matters need to be resolved. It is important to try to find a way of solving both sets of issues through the legislation that will come from the shopping list presented today.

Perhaps the reason why so many people felt the way they did at last week’s elections was that they are concerned about the here and now—what is happening to their lives and families. There might be a sense of an economic recovery in London and the south-east, but it is not the same north of the Watford gap. In my constituency, people are still crying out for jobs with real pay and real contracts of employment, so that they are not exploited on zero-hours contracts. They are crying out for homes, both new build and refurbished. They are crying out for welfare support and pension support in old age—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who chairs the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, will want to refer to such issues.

I am disappointed that there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech about those who are too ill to work, or those who are waiting for the Department for Work and Pensions and Capita to make decisions on personal independence payments and so on. Just today, my office has dealt with three urgent cases of people who are terminally or seriously ill but cannot get payments. I wonder how many more people will have to die or commit suicide before the Government do something to ensure that people are assessed properly. If they are entitled to the personal independence payment, there should be no further delay in their getting it.

Another way in which we can balance the needs of today with long-term needs is by dealing with environmental issues across the globe. That is related to international affairs, as it will help to resolve conflict. When the coalition agreement was produced, the Government said that they would be the greenest Government ever. Those were the heady days when everybody believed the Government’s photos with the huskies and so on. It looks more and more like a lost cause, and we must do everything we can to scrutinise legislation and get those aspirations back on track. It is about how we reconcile that with the needs of today.

Tomorrow is world environment day and a reminder that we have not inherited the earth from our grandparents as sometimes we might think, but that we have borrowed it from our grandchildren. That should remind us to take our duties in this House seriously, however electorally difficult that might be, and consider how we can work together to make a safe, secure and sustainable world. The Gracious Speech needs to measure up to that.

Of course I welcome the fact that the Queen’s Speech states:

“Ministers will also champion efforts to secure a global agreement on climate change.”

and that is as it should be. I believe, however, that we must do everything we can to ensure a strong outcome at the United Nations talks in September this year, and

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at the forthcoming Paris conference in 2015. Those talks are under way now and must link to the whole agenda of sustainable development and millennium development goals. For that to happen there must be clear and strong direction from the Government, which I believe means this House and the Government doing what they say and walking the talk.

One issue that concerns me that is not being addressed is the fourth carbon budget, on which we have complete uncertainty. There are dangers if the House and Government delay adopting that budget at a time when we need to step up everything that we must do on climate change. That was recently confirmed by the fifth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The evidence is there and there is a sense of urgency. To get that outcome from the climate change talks and negotiations, we must start right here with no further delay to the fourth carbon budget.

Other environmental measures have been touched on by previous speakers and relate to the planning and infrastructure Bill. I mentioned jobs and homes, and I believe that a truly environmental infrastructure Bill would contain new proposals to improve the homes of people who are struggling with fuel bills or in fuel poverty, and also address the terrible impacts of that on health. Do the Government intend to use the infrastructure Bill to direct funding where it is most needed to deliver better economic outcomes and create the right conditions for sustainable growth, and will that include investment in a major home energy efficiency programme? That would deliver better economic outcomes than almost all other forms of investment, as well as homes that are cheaper to keep warm, which would have a major impact on environmental and public health. It would also help indirectly with costs to the NHS and the crisis of the extra investment that is needed, about which we know all too well from our constituencies. For me, homes that are capable of keeping people warm and healthy are perhaps the most vital infrastructure the UK can have, not to mention the benefit that that would bring to constituencies such as mine that are crying out for jobs, skills and so on.

Another aspect of the infrastructure Bill is fracking, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). I think the Government are making a huge amount of what seems to have become a dash for fracking—something to be done at all costs. It seems a little like jam today, but do not worry about tomorrow. Deregulation measures are already going through Parliament, and we heard about proposed changes to legislation that will make it easier for developers to be granted access under people’s homes.

I will not mention the climate change aspects of fracking, but given that this measure has been brought forward, I want to know who is looking at the safety implications of fracking and at what seem to be loopholes in existing legislation. In the late ’80s and ’90s I did a huge amount of work because of constituency problems related to mining, especially coal mining, and to mine shafts and coal mining subsidence. We ended up with many homes that were unsaleable. People were desperate because they could not sell their homes, and they were concerned about subsidence. Today, virtually every major conurbation in Britain has mining beneath part of it,

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and in many cases that is coal mining at depths of less than 50 metres. Mining is not restricted to coal but relates to other minerals all over the country—bath stone and all kinds of different minerals. A statutory remedy enables coal to be mined beneath property without unacceptable concerns to the property owners and mortgage lenders, but who has looked at the potential effect that vibrations and tremors caused by fracking could have on destabilising shallow old workings in an unconsolidated condition, further resulting in collapse, movement and damage to property and services? How can we proceed with fracking without some liability route to protect home owners and provide repair to property?

I tabled an amendment to the recent Water Bill, and Lord Whitty raised similar issues. The Government have referred to the safeguards, but what about major infrastructure? The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham mentioned railways and High Speed 2, and there is also the issue of pipelines. How will those be affected, and what are the resulting implications for public safety? Shallow coal mine workings exist beneath significant lengths of the east and west coast main lines, and that will almost certainly apply to HS2 routes as well. Where is the protection, and without it how can there be public support for this dash for fracking that we appear to have?

Another apparent green credential in the Gracious Speech is for new homes to be built to a zero-carbon standard by 2016, and the prospect of legislation for off-site allowable solutions if emissions cannot be mitigated on site. There is the replacement of the code for sustainable homes with standard level 5 of the code for building regulations, which allows homes to be built at level 4 if allowable solutions are used. That may sound good and as though further progress is being made, but when we get to the small print in the Government papers issued today we see that small-scale house builders will be exempt. It all hinges on the definition of small scale and comes down to further consultation. It seems as if once again the Government are caving in to developers, and we will not have the zero-carbon homes we need if we are to meet the carbon commitments to which we have signed up. The environmental measures are therefore not what they seem, and I cannot help thinking that some greenwash is coming through. It is important that Parliament scrutinises what goes forward in the name of environmental progress on some of these issues. The Government appear to reassure people that they have measures in place for our future and that of our grandchildren, but they do not quite add up in the way that they need to.

Finally, I will briefly mention plastic bags because in one sense that issue just about sums up the approach to the environment. I do not feel that this measure should be as hyped up as it has been in the Gracious Speech, because legislation has existed since the Climate Change Act 2008 to introduce a charge for short-life carrier bags. The previous Government and this one have backed off until now, but from the perspective of biodiversity, dealing with litter and so on it is important that we deal with plastic bags. Yes, it will be difficult for all of us, me included, but that behavioural change is necessary.

I welcome the announcement on plastic bags. It is wrong that we are damaging nature to the extent that we are with them. They are an unnecessary use of natural resources and contribute to litter, and the cost

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of clean-up is not factored in. However, the question is how fit for purpose the proposed scheme is. It is not quite the same as the scheme in Wales. We need an exemption for biodegradable bags, and I am concerned about the way in which smaller retailers will be exempted. The Environmental Audit Committee inquiry said that if we are to have a truly effective scheme that gets everybody on board, the charges on plastic bags need to be introduced in such a way that everybody understands them. We need a simple and clear way of charging. I realise that there will be further consultation, but the current proposal will not provide the clear and simple solution we need.

I hope the Government will listen to Parliament when they introduce legislation. I hope they listen in all cases to the informed reports of Select Committees, including the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair. I hope that in the consultations they take note of what non-governmental organisations say, many of which have far more members than the political parties represented in Parliament. I hope they take on board the recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee on energy subsidy, green finance and the code for sustainable homes.

We need balanced policies that refer not only to short- term economic outcomes, but long-term environmental and social gains, so that the newer Members of Parliament for the next 28 years can make lasting progress on factoring in environmental issues into economic aspects. We need economic outcomes today, but we must not lose sight of our tomorrow.

7.2 pm

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley). I do not agree with everything she has said, but her belief, clarity and lucidity shone through in her very good speech.

The House will probably know that I would not be embarrassed to criticise the coalition Government if I felt it necessary. I was a little nervous in the run-up to the Queen’s Speech by the possibility that, with 10 months to go and two parties anxious to jockey for electoral advantage, it would be a hollow vessel. Indeed, we saw a bit of that in the contribution of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), who is sadly not in the Chamber—his speech was clearly about who gets the credit for the good bits of the speech. In fact, I need not have worried. This is a remarkably good Queen’s Speech, particularly for one that must fit into the last 10 months of the Parliament. I had a wry smile when my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) referred to the comments from Labour Front Benchers about a zombie Government. That is rich coming from them. They depend on rent control, price control and a variety of policies that did such horrible damage the last time they were used that I thought they were dead and buried at the crossroads with a stake through their hearts. It was an interesting comment, but wholly wrong.

I agreed very much with the brilliant speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and the equally brilliant speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway), the Chairman of the Foreign

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Affairs Committee. They dealt with much of what I had to say, so you will be glad to hear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that means my speech will be much shorter.

I want to focus on just a few parts of this valuable Queen’s Speech. The centrepiece in domestic policy terms is undoubtedly the pension reform proposals. They have their genesis in all parties, not just the Conservative party. Indeed, they have their genesis abroad, in Holland. In many ways, they are overdue. The Dutch pension provision system has long been better than almost anybody else’s, and it has certainly been better than ours following the difficulties engendered by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) as Chancellor a decade or so ago. The Dutch system has been much less expensive and has provided much better returns over a 25-plus year period, which is what we have to look at for pension returns. It is something like 30% to 40% better than what we achieve in this country—it achieves astonishingly higher numbers than we do.

The proposal is therefore a very good one, but it is just the foundation stone. As we saw in 2008, the British financial services industry has something of a habit of using the asymmetry of information between the provider and the consumer to the advantage of the provider. For example, with-profits life policies were similar in principle to the proposal, but they did not work well because the benefits went to pension fund managers and not to customers. Therefore, the Bill must include very strong trustee management to make up for that asymmetry of information and to ensure that schemes are run firmly in the interests of the customers—pensioners.

The proposed schemes must also have very good communications. Even a scheme such as the one proposed must accommodate a tightening of the belt from the point of view of pensioners when the markets turn down dramatically. However, to give the House some context, in 2008, the Dutch had on average a 2% reduction in benefits given. The biggest reduction was 6%. In Britain, annuity values dropped by 20% in the same time. That must be communicated so that pensioners and customers understand it, but the scheme will be far more robust.

The scheme is enabling rather than mandatory, so it will work only if employers take it up. They must understand that it is a defined contribution scheme. Their liabilities will be minimal, so it ought to be beneficial to them and encourage a great deal of take-up. I know that a number of large companies want to take it up. That is why the National Association of Pension Funds, the CBI, the TUC and pretty much all parties in the House are in favour of the proposal. However, I flag up one concern. When there is no controversy between those on the two Front Benches, the legislation is almost invariably bad and flawed and goes wrong later. We therefore ought to be ultra-careful.

The proposal is not of itself a complete policy. Pension policy is one of the neglected areas of modern politics. We need a much more comprehensive policy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham mentioned the Equitable Life scandal and the fact that the Government are just about providing appropriate benefits or compensation—it is still not good enough, and they must revisit it.

I have one point to make and I hope those on the Front Bench will note it. The policy must not just be about automatic enrolment and the pension proposal I

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have described; it must also be about our tax approach to pensions. At the moment, there is hypocrisy in that. The Treasury run by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath introduced the lifetime allowance, the purpose of which, I believe, was to stop people using pensions as a tax avoidance facility. That is fair enough and perfectly understandable, but the regime has been tightened so that, currently, somebody on the salary of a head teacher, a GP, a middle-ranking manager or a reasonably successful solicitor—in other words not mega-millionaires, but ordinary people who have had moderately successful lives and who earn about half as much as Cabinet Ministers—will run into pension taxation of 55%.

Currently, that applies to perhaps 1% or 2% of the population, but if the pension scheme works and provides 30% greater returns, it will apply to a much bigger proportion of the population. What is more, when the Treasury is dependent on such a large tranche of money for a while, it is unable to retract it. I therefore ask the Government to think about that. If we are once again to have a successful pension system and one of the best systems in the world, we should think not just about the systems we use, but the tax treatment, which can be unfair on good citizens who have done the right thing and put in money in the proper way.

In what was, I think, a flash of good intentions, the coalition Government promised a recall Bill at the beginning of this Parliament. They have regretted it ever since, because it has proved unpopular with colleagues for fairly obvious reasons. The Deputy Prime Minister’s proposals received pretty rough treatment from the relevant Select Committee for a number of reasons. I support the idea of recall—I guess I am the only person in this House to have recalled myself; I failed and got sent back—but I have one simple concern. I fear that the original proposal—to make a recall subject to a House of Commons trigger—would be very unfair.

Looking back over about 20 years of the Privileges Committee and the other mechanisms that penalise Members for greater or lesser misdemeanours, it is as plain as a pikestaff—I am not going to pick out individual cases, so please do not intervene to ask—that people outside the system, the mavericks who are perhaps not popular with those on their own Front Benches, receive a different standard of treatment from those inside the system such as Cabinet Ministers and shadow Cabinet Ministers. Members do not need to take my word for it, but need only look at the list of the most draconian and least draconian penalties. I therefore resist fiercely any proposal that gives the decision to any organisation controlled or influenced by the Whips Office—I used to be a Whip—by those on the Front Bench of either side, or even by the establishment of the House. I would rather see a solely democratic recall that originates in constituencies—right enough, with a decently high hurdle so that it is not misused—than one under the control, whether indirectly or directly, of the establishment in this House. I give warning to those on the Government Front Bench that I shall be actively pursuing this case and trying to ensure that the vice I have described is avoided.

In every Queen’s Speech, there is the phrase:

“Other measures will be laid before you.”

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All of us hope that that will lead to legislation on matters left out that we would rather see in the speech. I want to raise an issue that will surprise my colleagues on the Government Benches: there is no reference to a national health service Bill. Many will be wiping their brow thinking, “Thank God for that.” In modern times, NHS Bills have always had some ideological content that has divided the parties and often those within parties. The Labour party has had its internal divisions, as has the coalition—of course, one NHS Bill pretty much crashed and burned. That ideological battle has covered up the serial failures of the health service—such as at Mid Staffs, the lack of use of best practice or the tens of thousands of people every year who die unnecessarily for a variety of reasons. A responsible Government—and the coalition Government have shown in the past year that they are a good one to take this up—therefore have the scope to take some non-ideological action on the health service. I shall cite one example, although I could cite dozens, but Madam Deputy Speaker would like me to be brief.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence was set up by the Labour Government with the very best of intentions. It was a sensible idea: since we have the rationing of drugs and therapies, we should have a rational approach to that. Sadly, although it has done a reasonably good job, over the years it has become apparent that many of its approaches are incredibly judgmental. It is clear that the so-called quality adjusted life years are very judgmental. It makes forward-looking judgments or predictions on the effectiveness of drugs, and that is done as a rationing and cost control mechanism. It has become out of date in the last year or two, because there is now a deal between the Government and the pharmaceutical industry that limits the maximum spend on drugs. A rebate will be paid back from the industry to Government in the next two years—I think it is £12 billion—and, after that, there will be a limited growth rate. This means that new drugs have, in effect, a zero marginal cost.

Nobody in the health service has thought things through. The problem has been raised once or twice, but we ought to change NICE’s approach to make it far more aggressive, far more experimental and far more willing to try out a drug for a year or two in the marketplace to see if it actually delivers. That will have two effects. First, it will save thousands of lives. Secondly, because of the way the rebate mechanism works, the innovators will gain and the non-innovators will lose. I put that out as one example, but it is by no means the only one.

Charlie Elphicke: My right hon. Friend’s idea is interesting and powerful. What would he say to those who worry about new drugs and massive innovation in the marketplace? New drugs sometimes go wrong and people worry about negligence claims and the claims that are made against pharmaceutical companies.

Mr Davis: Drugs already have their safety protocols established by the time they are put in front of NICE, so safety would not be a problem. In an article the other day, Professor John Waxman cited the use of drugs for those with prostate cancer who are going to die. The drugs are for the extension of life, not complete rescue.

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Safety is not an issue but the use of such drugs affect the prospects of life for people with terminal diseases, so they are well worth using.

Finally, I would like to make a constitutional point, precipitated by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, on collective responsibility. One of the most contentious issues in the past year or two within and outside the coalition has been a referendum on the European Union. Last year, of course, the Conservative party, in effect, introduced a private Member’s Bill. Why did that happen? Although there are approximately only 60 Liberal Democrat MPs on the Government Benches, both sides of the coalition have an effective veto on introducing legislation. That is entirely improper and undemocratic. Let us take my example of the referendum Bill, although the problem does not just apply to it. If there is an argument inside the Government, why not let the House of Commons decide by putting the Bill to the House of Commons? After all, we no longer accept that a vote lost in the House of Commons will lead to a fall in the Government. That is explicitly prevented in the Fixed-terms Parliament Act 2011, so why not put such things to the House? When we go into the next election, people would then be able to see exactly how everybody voted and we would no longer be relying on the promises of parties, but on their actions. Something has gone wrong in the structure. It may well be something in the civil service or the original coalition agreement, but if we are going to have a proper coalition, it should be more open than closed. It should give more power to the House of Commons, not less. If we did that, it would really make this an extraordinarily good Queen’s Speech.

7.19 pm

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister reminded the House that the day after tomorrow, 6 June, is the 70th anniversary of D-day. During the second world war, my late father rose from the ranks and was commissioned as an officer. He did not land in Normandy on D-day, but he fought in France, in the Netherlands and in Germany, and was awarded the France and Germany star. I have the great honour to have been invited by President Hollande to join the presidential tribune at the official international ceremony in Normandy on Friday.

The event ought to make us all reflect on the things that we and France have in common—for example, the defence agreement concluded between our two countries when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, which has been supported by both Prime Ministers since; and the support we gave to France during its recent military operation to protect Mali from being taken over by terrorists. It should remind us, too, of the overwhelming and continuing importance of the transatlantic relationship. Above all, of course, it should remind us of the courage and sacrifice of British and allied servicemen and women who secured the freedoms that we as Members of this House enjoy every day that we sit and speak here and every time we stand for election.

This year is also, of course, the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war. Both that, and the second world war, should make us reflect on the severe consequences when defence and deterrence fail.

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Russia’s occupation of Crimea and its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine is a wake-up call that we should all hear. It is 25 years since the fall of the Berlin wall, and since that time our country and others in our alliance have put out a hand of friendship to Russia, helping it to build more democratic institutions and a more liberal free-market economy. We have helped it to join, for instance, the World Trade Organisation and, indeed, we have tried to build a partnership between Russia and free Europe to replace the sterile zero-sum game of the cold war and its military and nuclear stand-off. Yet Russia’s actions in Ukraine indicate, I believe, that that trust in partnership and co-operation, which we made, has been betrayed.

We, I suppose, had notice of Russia’s new aggressive foreign policy in 2008 when it was at war with Georgia. We have seen Russia’s occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so Russian policy in Ukraine shows that President Putin is establishing a pattern of behaviour—a pattern of unacceptable and illegal use of Russian force. Are we seriously expected to believe that the appearance of heavily armed, well-trained and uniformed militias in eastern Ukraine has nothing whatever to do with the Kremlin? Are we to accept that the Potemkin referendums in Crimea and eastern Ukraine reflect real public opinion in those areas, and are we to believe that the human rights of 97% of Crimea’s population were in imminent danger from the other 3%?

President Putin’s policies in Ukraine are bad enough, but, worse still, he has said in his speeches that he reserves the right to intervene—militarily, if he judges it necessary—in other countries with Russian-speaking minorities, including NATO member states, such as the Baltic states, Poland and Romania. I have just returned from a weekend representing our country at the NATO parliamentary assembly held in Lithuania, so I can tell hon. Members that in the countries that border Russia or are close to it, there is a real sense of apprehension—a recognition that the Russian bear has broken loose from its chain and is acting irresponsibly, aggressively and illegally. Those countries want support and solidarity from their allies to control that behaviour.

Those are countries to which we as members of NATO have made the most profound commitment possible through article 5 of the Washington treaty, whereby an attack on any one of us is deemed an attack on us all because we are mutually committed to collective defence. President Putin is, I believe, testing that commitment, so I view it as essential that at the NATO summit in September this year we reaffirm article 5 and show through our actions that we mean it.

We should ask ourselves why President Putin feels so emboldened and so willing to test us by annexing Crimea and threatening eastern Ukraine. I think that there are four principal reasons. The first is that Russia, having been enriched largely by petrodollars, is now stronger economically than it was a decade or two ago. Secondly, a number of countries in central and eastern Europe have become too dependent on Russian energy and are therefore less willing than they otherwise would be to criticise Russian foreign policy. Thirdly, under Obama’s presidency, the United States has announced a policy to pivot, or rebalance, its foreign policy away from Europe to address new threats in east Asia and the Pacific. Fourthly, President Putin has watched as we in this and other countries in our alliance have cut our defence

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spending. Over the last five years or so, since the banking crisis, we have cut our defence spending while Russia has increased its expenditure.

What, then, do we need to do to deter further Russian aggression? On the economic front, we need sanctions. We certainly need to reduce our dependence on Russian exports. In relation to energy in particular, we need to reduce European dependence on Russian oil and gas. I believe that there is a key role for the European Union here, as this is not something that the UK or any individual country within the EU can do on its own. This need should be reflected in the energy Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech. We clearly need to generate more energy from renewables in this country and across the EU, while we also need to improve energy conservation and energy efficiency.

We need, of course, to frack more. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) about the need to be sure about the science, but we certainly have to produce more energy of our own so that we are less dependent on energy from Russia—and we need to import more from alternative sources, such as from central Asia through the new southern pipeline and from north America as it produces more gas, which we should import as liquefied petroleum gas.

On the pivot, we need to recognise that the security risks identified by the United States in east Asia are real and that by addressing those risks more directly, the Americans will bring a benefit to us in Europe as well as to themselves. We face many cyber-attacks in this country: they affect our government and our businesses, and they even affect eBay. Many of those attacks originate from China, so this is not some zero-sum game: more American interest in east Asia is not necessarily bad for us in Europe.

We need to grapple with the issue of defence spending. Since 2008, Russian defence spending has increased by more than 10% a year in real terms. That means that over the last five years it has increased by more than 50% in real terms. Over the same period, defence spending by NATO’s European allies has been cut by almost 10% in real terms. President Putin, of course, draws a conclusion from this. In the UK, although we started from a higher base than many of our European allies, according to the Government’s public expenditure statistical analysis published last year, our defence spending between 2009-10 and 2014-15 has been cut by 18% in real terms. Some people are arguing for further cuts as we bring our troops home from Afghanistan. Indeed, Government expenditure plans assume that the MOD’s delegated spending limits will fall in real terms from £32 billion this year to £30.7 billion next year, which means a cut of a further £1,321 million.

The Government told us that the cuts made in previous years were necessary because of the state of the economy. We should, perhaps, pass over the fact that the economy was growing again at the time of the 2010 election, having fallen into recession following the banking crisis, and also the fact that we suffered a double-dip recession as a result of the coalition Government’s economic policies. However, all of us—Members on both sides of the House—now agree that growth has returned, and although there are other pressing needs for public

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expenditure, I believe that further defence cuts next year would be wrong. Further defence cuts would send the wrong signal to our allies—especially our European allies, who often look to the United Kingdom for a lead on defence matters, because we are one of the very few countries that still spend more than 2% of their gross national income on defence as NATO recommends. They would send the wrong signal to President Putin, and they would send the wrong signal to the NATO summit which we are hosting in south Wales in September.

I believe that now is the time for us to ask our leadership—the leaders of our parties on both sides of the House—to put national security first. We should ask them to stop cutting our defence expenditure and start rebuilding our security forces, and if we do so we shall be in a much stronger position to argue at the September NATO summit that others should do the same.

7.32 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am grateful to you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on the first of our six days of debate on the Loyal Address. Some very good speeches have been made, covering a wide range of matters. I am particularly pleased to follow the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley): I agreed entirely with a great deal of what he said. However, I think it a great pity that his party did not include a day’s debate on foreign affairs and defence matters in its programme for these six days of debate. I think that we shall have to rectify that. I shall ask those on my party’s Front Bench whether we can have a general debate on foreign affairs. We seem recently to have got into the habit of hearing statements on specific matters, but it has been some time since we had a general debate.

The hon. Member for York Central rightly reminded us that we are approaching two important anniversaries, of the first world war and of D-day. We should bear in mind the state of flux that world affairs were in after the two world wars. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway), probably not since those days has the world situation been so fluid.

The hon. Member for York Central also referred to our problems with the attitude of the Soviet Union—or the Russian Federation, as it is now called—to increasing its hegemony around the world after seizing Ukraine. I shall make only one point about his critique of the Russian Federation. He said that the Russians were more economically independent than they used to be. Let me remind him that, as I have said before in the House, they are more internationally dependent on the world’s economic situation today than they have ever been. The rouble is more internationally tradable, the Russians now have a stock exchange, and they require more international development to develop their huge oil resources. They need big firms such as BP to be able to develop those resources in some very difficult exploration areas. There are levers that we can use in relation to the Russian Federation, and I think that we need to use them.