However, the hon. Gentleman was right to observe that the world is in a state of flux. As I said in my intervention during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, the situation in Russia

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is fluid, and the situation in Syria is very fluid. I think that the House, and my party, will need to revisit the subject of what assistance we can give the Syrian opposition. Like my right hon. Friend, I was one of the signatories of the letter that was published in

The Daily Telegraph

today, calling for the whole matter to be re-examined. We know that 100,000 people have been killed in Syria, that probably well over a quarter of a million have been displaced, and that there is a huge volume of misery in the country. People are being starved, maimed and killed. That situation cannot continue indefinitely: we cannot allow the evil Assad regime to go on behaving as it is.

Our troops are pulling out of Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see whether a democratic Government succeed there, and whether the gains that we have made in terms of women’s education and a whole range of infrastructural changes proceed or whether the country returns to its previous state. One of the things that the Queen’s Speech lacked was any reference to conflict countries, their abilities, and how we deal with them in the aftermath of conflict. My right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South raised the interesting issue of what is happening in the aftermath of the Libyan problem in which we intervened. A huge range of weapons are now going into Maghreb and Sahel, and that has given rise to a large number of problems in Africa and elsewhere.

I did not want to concentrate on foreign affairs today, although it is my wont to speak about them in the House. I really wanted to focus on economic matters. I think that the coalition Government’s economic policy has been successful. We have reduced the deficit by a third, we have created 1.6 million jobs in the private sector, and, even more pleasingly, we have created a record number of apprenticeships. I am especially pleased to note that 570 apprenticeships have been created in The Cotswolds in the last year. That is excellent news for my constituents.

I am particularly keen on the subject of exports and foreign direct investment in this country. After all, there are only so many goods and services that we can sell to ourselves, and if we want to continue on our current path of excellent economic growth, we must increase exports. I was pleased to see that in 2013 the UK’s goods exports amounted to £304 billion, which was a record high. The jump in exports reduced the trade deficit from £9.8 billion in November to £7.7 billion. However, that is only a drop in the ocean. We must continue to work to increase our exports. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has led trade delegations to China and to other countries all over the world. That is very good news, and it demonstrates the Prime Minister’s dedication to increasing our exports.

We need to look closely at the job that is done by UK Trade & Investment. UKTI has been transformed under Lord Green, and I am sure that Lord Livingston will build on those achievements, but there is still much to be done. The Chancellor has set this country the challenging target of increasing the value of exports to £1 trillion by 2020, and ensuring that an extra 100,000 businesses are exporting by that date. We shall have to motor fairly well to achieve that. We shall need to do what the British Exporters Association has done and is doing, and help small and medium-sized companies to export.

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UK Export Finance should be able to provide a boost for British exports. It has challenged its former excessively rigid structure, and its new flexibility has enabled it to invest £5 billion in its export refinancing facility. That will provide a huge boost for exports. I am particularly pleased that there is a small business, enterprise and employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech. It will deal with one or two long-standing problems that we need to address. We need to help small businesses and this Bill will do precisely that. It will help small business get into the business of public procurement. For too long public procurement has been difficult—indeed, often impossible —for small businesses because the Government contracts are so complicated and so weighted against small businesses. I hope my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will be able to cure that through this Bill.

Also in that Bill is a very welcome step to deal with zero-hours contracts. The real mischief I hope that the Bill will address is not the zero hours themselves, but the ability for an employer to prevent an employee from taking another job on a day on which the employer says there is no work. If there is no work for somebody on a zero-hours contract, they should be able to go off to another employer and seek work. I hope the Bill will address that.

Returning to exports, it seems that many SMEs do not know about the work of UK Trade & Investment. I was appalled to see in an article in The Daily Telegraph on 10 November 2013 by Alan Tovey that 69% of SME exporters were unaware of UKTI’s work and two thirds did not know about UK Export Finance. If so few exporters know about that, how can we expect to meet the exacting targets that the Chancellor has set?

We need to promote the British brand across the world. As I have said, the Prime Minister has led delegations to China, India, Africa, South America, the middle east and elsewhere, and that is an excellent start, but the only way we are going to secure truly sustainable growth is by increasing exports and foreign direct investment.

I was fortunate enough to go to China recently with a number of colleagues, where I learned about President Xi Jinping’s new economic plan up to 2020. It is worth setting out the facts because they are truly staggering, and in recent years the Chinese have never failed to implement an economic plan. This new economic plan aims to increase GDP per capita from its current $6,000 to $10,000 over the entire population of 1.25 billion people. In order to achieve that, they will need an annual growth rate of 6.7%, but, even more staggeringly, they will need to bring 10 million new people into the work force each year. That gives the UK huge opportunities, because the Chinese are buying up brands such as House of Fraser and they are moving up the value chain in respect of those brands so that they can both manufacture and market products under those brands. That gives our exporters a real opportunity.

We have another opportunity in China and elsewhere in the world. During my visit to China, I was delighted to be able to continue my help for the Royal Agricultural university in my constituency, which has formalised links with three Chinese universities. During a visit to Zhejiang university in Hangzhou city I was delighted to discover that it has just signed a memorandum of understanding with the London School of Economics. Britain has always been one of the leading innovator

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nations in the world. If we are to continue to compete in the global race, we have to rely on our best and brightest students. Equally, to keep our universities in that race, we need them to collaborate with the best universities around the world and to participate in cutting-edge research.

Britain invented the telephone, the computer, the internet, railways and in 2004 we invented the new wonder-material graphene at Manchester university. I hope that does not become yet another example of a great British invention which is commercialised by other countries. When intellectual property is developed in this country, we need to work to ensure that the law is strong enough to protect it around the world so that we may benefit from it. To this end, I was particularly pleased to visit the top executives in China Telecom to discuss their new music-streaming down the telephone, for which the growth numbers are exponential. To protect their own intellectual property rights in China, they have a team of lawyers. That is potentially good for British investors. We should be encouraging all developing countries to strengthen their intellectual property rights laws and enforcement, so when we invent things we can develop them and export them to those countries with confidence.

Mike Kane: Graphene was, indeed, invented in Manchester, along with the computer and the screw and a thousand other inventions, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming Manchester university’s development of the graphene centre at the campus on Oxford road.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: The hon. Gentleman rightly gives a plug to his university. That was a fantastic invention and I do not think the world has yet truly seen the transformative effects it will bring, but what is slightly worrying is that the Chancellor announced that we were going to put £50 million into developing the product, yet the South Koreans put £190 million in and the Europeans are putting in £1 billion. This invention will transform most electrical products and most people have never even heard of it. We must concentrate on where we are going in the future and I hope we will make the best of that transformative product.

Not just China is expanding at a huge rate in south-east Asia. Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and others are all experiencing very high levels of growth. Brazil, too, offers us a particular opportunity to help British exporters as a result of its hosting the World cup and the Olympics—we benefited, too, from our own Olympics.

However, to be able to expand into the world’s growing markets, we need to be able physically to get to them first. Businesses are calling out for increased airport capacity. I recently hosted a delegation from Hubei province in China. The only way to get to that province from this country is via a stop-over in Paris. We need to encourage our airlines to fly to more secondary destinations in China and elsewhere. The Germans, the French and the Dutch are all doing that, and we must do so too if we want to get our business men there—and, even more importantly, if we want to get their business men here. By pure chance I happened to sit next to a Chinese

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banker who wants to invest between £100 million and £1 billion in the banking sector in the City of London, yet he does not have a direct flight connection to London to get his people here to discuss that investment. If we do not pull our socks up in tackling these sorts of things, we will lose out in the world race. I say to the House that when the Sir Howard Davies commission makes a decision after the next election, whichever party is elected—I hope it will be mine—let us implement that decision quickly, whatever it is and however controversial, and let us hope that the Opposition support that decision.

The UK needs to tap into high-growth markets and diversify away from stagnant EU economies. In the last decade the UK has exported more to Ireland than Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. There are already signs that that situation is improving, however. Since 2010 exports to China have increased by 91% and to Russia by 118%, admittedly from a very low base, whereas in the three months to December 2013 the UK export of goods to the EU fell by 6.1%. Although it is easier to export to the EU market, we need to encourage our British companies to look out and go to the rest of the world.

I cannot finish my speech without a word on Europe and the recent elections. At least one quarter of the peoples around Europe voted for reform of the EU. Even the French President is now saying we should have a reform of the EU, and that should signal to the Eurocrats in the Commission that we need reform. I thought that it was breathtaking hypocrisy on the part of the Eurocrats in the Commission to start telling us that we should increase our taxes. They have clearly learned nothing from those elections, and we have to persuade them that we must reform the EU.

The British people will take note of what is happening in Europe and if there is no reform and we do not get a renegotiation on some of the key matters, it is possible that the British people, in a referendum, will vote to leave. Regardless of whether we get an in/out referendum in 2017—I hope we do and I hope we get a Conservative Government to achieve that, as only a Conservative Government will achieve it—we will have a referendum on Europe sooner or later, because in the previous Parliament we all enshrined in law an Act that gives a referendum when we transfer major powers in a treaty. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Eurocrats in the Commission will come up with a major treaty within the next five to 10 years and so there will be a referendum on Europe. Unless Europe amends its ways and unless we see that renegotiation, the British people will vote in a way that may well be anti-Europe in that referendum.

Like others, I knocked on a lot of doors in the European election campaign and I found that one major issue was migration into this country. Somebody made a powerful intervention on the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) suggesting to him that it is not about who comes to this country, whatever race or creed they are, but about the pace of change—it is not racist to say that. A lot of constituents fear too many people coming at once, which puts pressure on our services—our schools, health service and social services. That is why we need a renegotiation, so that we can repatriate some of the migration powers to this Parliament and start to control the pace of change.

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Hugh Bayley: Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that, equally, 1.5 million British citizens live in other EU countries, using their social services, drawing pensions from them and using their health services? If we were to shut the doors on the rest of the European Union, those EU countries would shut the doors on the Spanish costas. Where are we going to find 1.5 million homes to house these people should they come back? How are we going to find the money to provide the social services for Britons who live abroad and benefit at the moment? Surely he must recognise that it is two-way traffic.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Uncharacteristically, the hon. Gentleman exaggerates, to extremism, what I was saying. I was not saying that we should shut the doors; I was simply saying that we need to repatriate immigration powers to this Parliament so that we can control the numbers. I say again that if we do not listen to our electorates, who are telling us that the pace of change is too fast, we will all be in trouble and we will increasingly find extremist parties such as UKIP winning a greater share of the vote. We want to see moderate change and in that equation we have to take into account the size of the territory of each country. This country is one of the most populated in the world, when we take out the uninhabitable areas of Scotland, Wales and northern England where it is difficult for people to live. France is twice the size of our country but has the same population, and Spain is three times bigger but has the same population. They have the capability to take more people than we do. We need to be careful with the pace of change.

The Opposition are criticising the number of houses we are building. Of course we need to build houses, but it is very controversial in a constituency such as mine, 80% of which is an area of outstanding natural beauty. One reason we need more houses is the number of people coming into this country, so we need to be careful about the pace of change.

In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker—I am sure you have been waiting to hear that—this country has been one of the great internationalist countries of the world. We have been incredibly good at getting out into the world. Your native land, Scotland, has been one of the pioneers of going out into the world, which is why we need to keep this country the great country it is—the United Kingdom. Let us say to the Scots, “You are warmly welcome in that United Kingdom; we need you; this is what made this country great.” We need to get out into the world, we need not to be little Englanders and we need to trade with the rest of the world. Ultimately, our people will benefit if we do that.

7.54 pm

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I thank the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) for saying that he wants us. We want to be here too. It is important that people from across the whole UK, not just in Scotland, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, realise that any changes to the constitution in Scotland with regard to independence can affect the whole of the British isles, and we want to continue to be part of the UK.

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I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) and for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) for their excellent speeches in proposing and seconding the Loyal Address. The hon. Member for Portsmouth North reminded us all about my predecessor Lady Tweedsmuir, who proposed the Loyal Address way back in 1957. I did realise that my constituency had produced a number of MPs who had proposed or seconded the Loyal Address, but I did not realise that Lady Tweedsmuir was the only one who had proposed it—the other four, including me in 2000, all seconded it. So Lady Tweedsmuir was the first and only woman until today to have proposed the Loyal Address. It was interesting to hear what the hon. Member for Portsmouth North said about what the then Opposition had said about Lady Tweedsmuir—I believe the phrase was “softly spoken”. I never met Priscilla Tweedsmuir, but everything I have heard about her suggests she was an indomitable woman and “softly spoken” would not necessarily have been the phrase that would have sprung to mind to describe her. Interestingly, she proposed the Loyal Address in her maiden speech in 1957—I learned that only today as well—and she lost the seat in 1966 to a young whippersnapper of a lawyer who came up from Glasgow and defeated her. His name was Donald Dewar. So we have had a nice history lesson.

I was looking for a bit more in the Queen’s Speech on the Government’s welfare reform and was disappointed to find only one indirect reference, and that was to the overall welfare budget being capped. That is a bit of a red herring because all Departments of all Governments set limits on their spend, which often have to be kept to. This was not what I was looking for. I was hoping the Government might give us some indication of how they are going to rescue their flagship policy of welfare reform in this Parliament. It needs to be rescued because a lot of it is falling apart, particularly universal credit and its roll-out. Its implementation has been disastrous and I would like the Government to be up front and say that the IT simply is not working, and that the roll-out is a farce and is not really happening at all. Universal credit is still in only very few areas and only about 6,000 people have been on it, whereas 8.5 million are expected to be on it eventually. Yet the Government are still not facing up to just how difficult it has been and will be, and the fact that the system is not working at all. Great hope is still being placed on some kind of digital solution that will come in later in the year, but then we are getting close to the general election. At the moment it is not working at all and I would prefer it if the Government had some idea of how it might be put back on track or, if that cannot be done, what should replace it.

My other concern is that the roll-out of the personal independence payment, which is being implemented at the same time, seems to be going the same way. That is not because the IT systems are a problem but because the assessment process seems to be taking far too long. The Government have rightly slowed down and stopped the migration of those currently on disability living allowance on to the new PIP, but new claimants, for whom there is no alternative but the new benefit, are waiting six, seven, eight, nine months before they get their determination, and sometimes even longer than that. I had an e-mail from someone who had applied last June and still had not heard whether they were going to get the payment. Clearly, there are serious problems with the implementation of the personal independence payment.

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We did not hear what the Government will do to replace the work capability assessment. That has been a disaster for a number of years, but it has now reached a crisis point with the contract being taken away from Atos, which is still limping on and delivering the programme until a new contract can be let. As a result, nobody is being reassessed. For the people who were facing the trauma of a work capability assessment, not being reassessed might be quite a good thing. The Government have not said anything about what will replace the WCA or about what would be a better way of assessing people, because we will have to assess them, to see whether they are fit for work.

I was hopeful—perhaps it was a vain hope—that the Government might see sense on the bedroom tax. The policy has been a disaster, and I hope that they realise that it was ill considered and ill thought out. They should follow the example of Scotland, where, thanks to my Labour colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish National party Government were dragged kicking and screaming to the table. John Swinney had said that the SNP Government did not want to do anything about the bedroom tax because they did not want to let Westminster off the hook. Finally, though, they agreed to mitigate the problem. It was felt that people who rent social housing are not the same people who rent in the private sector. Renting a social house for life is not the same as temporarily renting a house in the private sector. The tax was never going to work or achieve its policy aim of ensuring that people were appropriately housed because the right-sized houses for which people on housing benefit could qualify did not exist in the right areas. Many Back-Bench Members, particularly on the Government Benches, thought that whole areas of disabilities would be exempt from the bedroom tax but in reality they were not. I had hoped that this Government would look again at that policy, which, as I have said, was ill thought out and vindictive and malicious to people who had no choice but to continue to live in the same house.

Another issue is in-work poverty. We used to say that the best way out of poverty is work—in fact, we used to say that the only way out of poverty for someone of working age is work—but that is no longer true. Some 52% of families who are deemed to be living in poverty have at least one adult in work. Although there are welcome measures about the enforcement of the minimum wage, we need the Government to look again at the level of the minimum wage to ensure that work pays. If work pays, benefit does not need to be paid out to supplement the gap between what is earned and what is needed to live. That is the best way for any Government to save money, because they would be saving on the welfare spend. Money would no longer be used to subsidise employers who are not paying their employees a high enough rate, and the burden of that payment falls on the taxpayer in the form of welfare spend.

Let me raise the issue of the two pension Bills. I am not sure whether there will be two separate Bills, or just one pensions Bill, but, as it stands, the Bills appear to be pulling in different directions. Today, the Prime Minister mentioned only one part of pension reform, which was related to accessibility and liberalisation. The policy is welcome, but there are concerns about whether it will turn pension savings into savings rather than just pensions.

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People who are left with a pot will have to make very difficult decisions. If they have the right information, it could help to narrow down the choice. Clearly, the advice and help that people are given to make these decisions will be crucial.

At the same time, the Government want to introduce something that the Pensions Minister used to call defined ambition, which is now called collective defined contribution schemes or even target schemes, which spread the risk across a much wider range. In principle, that is a good thing. That is what the old final salary schemes did; they shared risk across the members—in fact, they mostly put the risk on the employer—rather than the risk falling on individuals. Certainly, one concern about the Government’s liberalisation plans is that the risk falls on the individual to make good choices about what they will do both in terms of investment when they are building up the pension in the accumulation stage and once they retire and are made to draw down. Any kind of collective risk is a good thing. However, it is difficult to understand how, if people have access to their individual pots, they can give up some of that power and access in order to be part of a collective scheme. The Government are talking about liberalisation at one end, but they are also making it less easy for people to have individual control over their pensions at the other. The collective DC schemes would have to be big in case a large number of members decided to draw down their own pot. How we define our own pot becomes much more difficult when we get into collective schemes.

Briefly, I welcome the child care proposals. Extra help with child care is always a good thing. However, they only fill the gap that was left by the Government when they made cuts to child care support, particularly to child care tax credits. An awful lot more could be done in that area.

Finally, it is good that the Government are to introduce a Bill to deal with modern-day slavery and human trafficking. My constituents, particularly from women’s groups, feel very strongly about the issue. They see it as a black mark against us, and a shame on us, that we still have in our society humans who are trafficked, who are forced into slavery and to work in the sex trade or, as happens in my constituency, in a domestic situation or in the agriculture or fishing industry. That Bill is absolutely welcome, and I am glad that the Government are taking action.

8.8 pm

Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) on her excellent proposing of the Loyal Address, and my neighbour, the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), on seconding it. We have had a good and interesting debate, and it is sad to reflect that, for a number of Members, this will be their last Queen’s Speech. A lot of very talented people will be retiring in 2015, and they have made excellent contributions to the quality and standard of debate in this House.

It was a remarkable Queen’s Speech, because it was the fifth of a coalition Government. If we go back to those dark and dim days of 2010, we will remember that the electorate did not elect a party with an overall majority. The arithmetic led to a coalition being formed, and many people doubted that it would last the course, or that it would be a cohesive Government who did

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what it said on the tin, which was to sort out this country’s economic difficulties. Four years later, we still have legislation to put through. We have an economy that is recovering and growing faster than those of most of our competitors, with many hundreds of thousands of jobs being created

The key point is not to look so much at the legislation, but to look at the fact that what the Government have to do, more than anything else, is to secure the economic recovery in what is a difficult economic environment throughout the world. We are not out of the clouds of the eurozone yet—there are still some problems there—and we still have many economic challenges. The Government, however, can be congratulated on undertaking the task and on what they have done over the past five years. There have been occasions when the statistics have not looked good or when clouds have appeared and people have suggested that the Government change their course, or that they are on the wrong course, but four years after the formation of the Government we are starting to see that they have been proved right.

No one pretends that coalition is easy; it requires people to make compromises. The coalition has done certain things that, as Conservatives, we have found difficult and, no doubt, there are also things that the Liberal Democrats have found difficult. The Prime Minister, when he formed his Government, said that we had to put politics to one side in the national interest. Our national economy, the wealth of our nation, and the jobs and prospects of our people are sometimes more important than our political spats. From that point of view, the Government have done not only a good job, but the right thing for our nation. They have put country before party, and they are beginning to deliver a brighter economic outlook.

I am not a great believer in legislation to solve problems, because if legislation solved problems, we would not have any of them. The general tenor of debate on a Queen’s Speech is to ask how many Bills there are—the more the better. People do not necessarily look at each individual Bill and measure whether it makes us richer or happier, or whatever. What always strikes me—rather amusingly in this House—is that we focus on legislation, but we do not focus so much on money. My background is in both business and local government, and on a number of occasions I have been sitting on council committees when some poor officer, who had made a mistake over £2,500 or £3,000 on a tender, was pulled apart because councillors were demanding answers. Yet in this Chamber and in our parliamentary system, we as a Parliament do not really control money in the same way as we would on a local authority.

The Gracious Speech says that

“estimates for the public services will be laid before you.”

We have the rather bizarre spectacle of having estimates days for debate, but we do not really debate the estimates; we debate sports centres in Wales or sheep farming, but we do not debate what has happened with the money. One of the most interesting things about the estimates is that they show how Government have moved money between Departments and how money has been vired in different directions. As a Parliament, if we are to be more effective, we ought to be focusing a lot more on how money is spent and whether we are getting value for money—what the Government are doing with our money—rather than necessarily focusing on the minutiae of legislation.

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I welcome the measures that we do have in the Queen’s Speech. Simplifying national insurance for the self-employed is a good thing; the Government are clearly right to propose a modern slavery Bill; and the pensions reforms—we all have an interest, so I will declare an interest—are interesting and exciting.

I have a slight difficulty and concern about the recall Bill, however, as many Members will. On occasion, petitions are handed to me and, usually, I write to petitioners to say, “I got your petition.” It is not unusual to have people write or e-mail back to say, “I didn’t sign a petition.” If I ask whether they were outside Tesco on a Saturday morning, they might reply, “Oh, someone put something in front of me and I signed it to get rid of them.” I am afraid that a lot of people in our country will sign anything simply to get rid of someone in a shopping centre. If we have a threshold of only 10%, someone annoying outside Tesco could reach that fairly easily—in the Tesco in Branksome Park, Poole, for example. I have a few reservations about recall therefore, although I understand that there are issues of public confidence in legislators. I have a real worry about how that legislation will operate and what checks and balances it will include.

I welcome the infrastructure Bill, particularly because it will have an impact on the North sea, which has been a tremendous British success story. The North sea oil and gas fields were developed after the exploration in the 1960s and they have lasted far longer than people expected because of technology and free enterprise. We have to provide certainty with the tax regime and, as some of the fields are heading for decommissioning, we have to set a much better framework. The Wood review is vital in doing that, so I welcome the proposed Bill. I am sure that we can still squeeze a lot more profit out of the North sea sector.

I also appreciate the opportunities that fracking will provide. We have to make things as easy as possible, so that we can get the gas out of the ground, while also ensuring public confidence and that people do not feel that fracking will have an impact on their lives. As I said in an intervention, in Poole we have the Wytch Farm oilfield. In the 1960s and ’70s, when it was developed, there were concerns that it would have a major impact, but no one notices it now. Dorset county council, which dealt with many of the applications, did an excellent job of ensuring screening of the rigs. Occasionally, we see the odd flow off in the harbour, but it is extremely rare. The reality is that people should not be worried about this; it offers a tremendous national opportunity. If, as many hon. Members have said, we are to secure the recovery, use all our national assets and reduce dependency on imported energy, we have to use fracking and to use it as a revolution in the same dynamic way as the United States has done.

It is remarkable that we have got to the fifth Queen’s Speech of the coalition. There has been success on the economy, although I understand that it will take a while for living standards to return to where they were—a lot of people are still working hard and not earning the income that they might wish for. I am perfectly sure that if we persist with our economic policies, with inflation coming down and growth coming up, we will end up with people better off and having the opportunity to skill up and change jobs as the economy improves. It is important that we should continue with the mission, as

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set in 2010 by the Prime Minister, of nursing our country back to health and ensuring that it takes its place as a pre-eminent, industrial and prosperous country and as one of the best places in the world to live.

8.16 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I share the surprise of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms) that the coalition lasted this long. I am grateful for the opportunity to comment on the Gracious Speech and I, too, congratulate the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address on the skill, flair and wit with which they have discharged their tasks.

Having read the Queen’s Speech, there are measures with which I have no difficulty, such as the modern slavery Bill, and those on Syria and sexual violence in conflict. Of course, there is also the statement on the UK, which reads that the Government

“will continue to implement new financial powers for the Scottish Parliament and make the case for Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.”

For those Government Members and indeed Opposition Members who are not following the Caledonian debate closely, it might interest and surprise them to know that the Scottish National party is not focusing on the constitutional aspect of the change that they are asking people to undertake; they are putting the case in party political terms. The people of Scotland do not necessarily favour the Conservatives—Members will probably have noticed that, in electoral terms, they have only one MP—so the SNP is saying that people should vote for independence because they will then no longer have the Tories. People like me say, “I don’t want the Tories, but I don’t want the SNP either.” I am equally comfortable challenging SNP policies.

As I explain to constituents and to others at public meetings, I was not around in 1707 when the Act of Union took effect and, unless cryogenics play a part and people freeze my brain or something like that, I doubt that I will be around in 2314. Constitutions, however, are for ever; party politics change. No doubt there will be future Labour Governments—in May 2015, I hope—and future Conservative Administrations, but we have to explain to people the difference between the party political debate and the constitutional issues on which we Scots are being asked to make a judgment on 18 September.

I therefore have no difficulty standing four-square with Conservative colleagues. Recently, I shared a platform with the Secretary of State for International Development, and both of us put the case for staying in the Union. If we are to move into a new era of politics, we should not be ashamed of saying to people that in some instances we will agree on issues and the parties that believe in the United Kingdom consider that Scotland is much better as part of that UK and should not vote for separation on 18 September. I am confident, but not complacent. If we work hard we will be able to secure Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom and will wake up as part of the Union on 19 September 2014.

Much of the content of the Gracious Speech is just motherhood and apple pie. For example, I do not know what it means when it says that the Government will continue to work to build a fairer society. Nor does it

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matter to me that that is the type of insert that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) claimed that the Liberal Democrats had got into the Queen’s Speech, as the speech is light in content about the issues that affect my constituents and many millions of people across the UK.

I am not quite as sophisticated as the other Members I see as I look around the Chamber, but the coalition partnership started in the rose garden of No. 10 Downing street to the backdrop of an Australian-Scots 1978 hit record by John Paul Young, “Love is in the Air”, and will, as far as I can see, end with the opening bars of Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”.

I would like to be able to congratulate the Government on meeting their economic targets, on reducing the deficit and on getting the balance right between austerity and growth. Sadly, I cannot do any of that. Once we remove the empty rhetoric of the long-term economic plan, which has been parroted in every Prime Minister’s questions by Government Members and is even included in the Gracious Speech, we can see that even by a perfunctory analysis the Government’s record on the economy is pitiful. We were told that one reason that the Government needed a five-year term in office was so that by the end of that term the deficit would be eliminated and we were told that the harsh austerity measures agreed by the coalition would have had sufficient time to work by then.

The Chancellor might want to claim that he met his target for last year, with borrowing reduced to £107.7 billion against a target of £107.8 billion, but let us not forget that the target he set for that year in 2010 was £60 billion. As the World cup is approaching, an appropriate analogy would be to say that he has had to move the goalposts to score and even then he has only just got the ball underneath the bar.

The Government in the Gracious Speech and the speeches made by Government Members today, have not mentioned the fact that UK debt has continued to rise, reaching £1,185 billion in 2012-13 or, to put it another way, £18,606 per head of population in the UK. Surprisingly, that was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. What is more—this is very important—the debt is forecast to continue to rise for the next five years. Let me ask a rhetorical question: is that also part of the long-term economic plan?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) said, welfare reform was one of the key areas on which the Government focused with the introduction of the Work programme, described as a flagship policy that would simplify the processes and get people off benefits and back into work. The record shows that the Work programme has not been a success and there is compelling evidence that intervention through that programme is less successful than doing absolutely nothing. Indeed, the latest figures show that for the first two years of the project every target was missed and only 100,000 out of the 1.2 million people enrolled on the programme found work. That is not my measure of success, although it might be that of Government Members.

We have also discovered that the plans of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to simplify benefits and tax credits have also hit the buffers. It is the sole Government project out of 200 to have been reset. “Yes Minister” is often mentioned in debates in the House and perhaps “being reset” is “Yes Minister” jargon for, in plain English, “those who are responsible for the

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project being told to go back to their drawing boards and start again.” It was discovered last year that the original £2 billion cost of the project identified in the 2011 to 2015 spending review had risen to a staggering £12.8 billion over the same period, yet the Government still attempt to claim that they are economically competent. There is a phrase in Glasgow with which you are probably familiar, Madam Deputy Speaker, given your origins: you could not give Government Members a brass neck with a blowtorch.

As for the Government’s claim in the Gracious Speech that they want to build a fairer society, that view is not shared by world war two veteran Harry Smith, who told the “Today” programme this morning what life was like before the welfare state existed and how he is shocked and saddened by the growth of poverty in this country today.

The Gracious Speech contains the fewest Bills since 1950. I, like the hon. Member for Poole, accept that legislation is not always the answer to every problem that we face, but there are problems out there that require legislation to fix them and the Government are not doing anything about them in this Gracious Speech. We should be hearing about more measures to help ordinary people rather than tax cuts for the richest people in our society. We should be hearing about measures to help people with fuel bills and to replace part-time and zero-hours-contract jobs with full-time jobs that offer financial compensation and treat people with dignity. We do not know the details yet, but I look forward with interest to hearing the plans for the minimum wage. We should enforce a minimum wage and, more than that, we should encourage employers to pay their staff a living wage rather than subsidising low pay through tax credits. There should also be a jobs guarantee for the young unemployed, of whom there are far too many.

We need to tackle the housing market. I fundamentally disagree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood). In my area, there is a shortage of houses because of the right to buy scheme. The money generated by that scheme was never allowed to be used to build new houses or to create homes for the future and opportunities for the young people I see in my constituency who do not get a chance to have a flat or a “back and front door” house. There are 16,000 people on the waiting list at South Lanarkshire council and nearly 6,000 people on the waiting list in my constituency alone. Instead of tackling that problem, we have a Help to Buy scheme that will create, in my opinion, a price bubble that will cause problems in the future. We need to make much better use of the £7 billion housing benefit budget, which rewards private landlords with higher rents but does not invest in one new brick. We need to satisfy the fundamental desire for people to have their own roof and walls not just by giving them the ability to buy a home through higher wages but by allowing them to make the choice to have a steady rent, security of tenure and a clean environment.

None of those issues is addressed in the Gracious Speech, so it will be left to the next Labour Government in May 2015 to introduce legislation to tackle the problems. Let me end where I started and say, to use the orthographic style of Tammy Wynette’s greatest hit, that the people of Britain will regard this Queen’s Speech as a “D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R”.

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8.28 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I welcome the measures contained in the Gracious Speech—well, I say I do, but I am not sure about the one on plastic bags. Following what the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) said, however, I shall blame the Liberal party if it proves to be unpopular with my constituents. That seems to be the name of the game at the moment.

I thought that the state opening of Parliament was, as ever, a great occasion, but, of course, this House continues to be diminished as far as I am concerned. I have spoken on every occasion on the first day of debate on the Gracious Speech and we only have to look around to see that we are struggling somewhat for numbers. Whether that is for other reasons, I do not know, but it is symptomatic of what has happened in the House. The powers of Ministers, who are splendid people whatever party they belong to, seem to be increasingly diminished as they have lost powers to unelected bodies and quangos, not to mention the European Union. Given its history and symbolism, we should cherish the state opening of Parliament.

We are in the uncharted territory of fixed-term Parliaments, which I had not expected and am not sure about. Usually, when we come to the final Gracious Speech we expect to struggle for available time, but we have a full year, so no doubt we will be able to see the proposals on to the statute book. But again I say to the House that there is no point in our legislating if it is hit and miss about who is caught, so laws must be robustly enforced.

I congratulate the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address on their interesting contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) positively sparkled. In every sense she made a splendid speech and I would not have expected less from her given her wonderful performance in “Splash!”.

We come here following local and European elections. I know what our parties are saying, but I hope that we are taking notice of the electorate’s messages, which we ignore at our peril. I do not know whether the Gracious Speech was in any sense re-written, but at the end it says that other measures will be laid before us, so I look forward to hearing what those measures will be.

On a positive note I welcome the small business Bill. We are a nation of small shopkeepers, and my constituency in particular has many small and medium-sized businesses, such as “Strangeways Boutique Salon” in Leigh-on-Sea, which was recently named in the top 100 apprenticeship employers list. The Bill has come at the right time as the Bank of England recently announced that loans to smaller businesses fell by £700 million in the first three months of the year. The banks have learned nothing from the crash, and it is about time there was a root and branch shake-up of Barclays bank. I am not at all convinced by any of the statements made by the chairman of that bank. Small businesses throughout the country have been struggling to get the vital cash flow, despite the banks saying that they need to grow, and for some it is leading to insolvency. However, I am delighted that the Government are on the side of businesses, as the Bill proves.

One problem that small businesses face is that of late payment, and the Government have led by example in ensuring that they deal with that in their own bills. All

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Departments now include in their contracts the requirement for main contractors to pay suppliers, providing additional financial security. The Bill takes that principle and applies it to the private sector by tackling late payments and strengthening the prompt payment code, which improves transparency and creates a small business bank.

I also welcome the legislation that the Government plan to introduce on exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts. It is crazy that once someone signs a contract that has no given hours, they are barred from working for any other company. That is undoubtedly a massive hindrance for those who want a flexible working pattern but want to work more hours. The labour force survey recently estimated that more than half a million people are on zero-hours contracts. That is a significant number of people and I am delighted that we are legislating on that.

My constituency is well known for having the most centenarians in the country, which has put us in “The Guinness Book of Records”, so I obviously have a vested interest in pensions. I can well remember in 1997, the former Labour Prime Minister, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, destroying pensions in this country at one fell swoop. Here we are in 2014 trying to put them back together again. We inherited a broken pension system, and the Bill will give pensioners the freedom to take control of their own finances and to take a significant amount of their pensions on retirement without facing aggressively high taxes as a punishment. The current system stifles innovation and allows pensioners little choice about how they invest their pension, whereas the new system will allow far more competition, choice and consumer control. I must politely disagree with the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), who mentioned housing, because I enjoyed the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and support much of what he said. I think it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) who said that our pension systems need to catch up with those in the United States and Denmark.

I am also happy to see a change to collective pensions, which will provide better value through the pooling of funds of thousands of pensioners, thereby spreading costs and risk in a similar way to car insurance. This will also remove the necessity for pensioners to buy an annuity. Instead, pension schemes will pay money directly to them, avoiding the third party and providing better value for those facing retirement. These pension reforms are more flexible, provide better value and give pensioners much more choice.

I recently asked the Justice Secretary a parliamentary question on support for victims of modern-day slavery. It is shocking that thousands of people are still victims of slavery through forced labour or in the sex industry. A former Member of this House has done great work on this issue, and the Government seem to have included it in the proposed legislation. Modern-day slavery is a scourge, and I am delighted that the Government will tackle it. I am happy to hear that the Bill will increase the maximum sentence for human trafficking and provide courts with more powers so that we can give the clear message that this crime has no place in modern Britain.

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I am sure that if the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who represents the Green party, was here she would violently disagree with me about fracking, but I am pleased to see measures on it. It seems to be one of the most sensible options for the Britain’s future energy supply, being both cleaner and more environmentally friendly than other fossil fuels, providing massive potential for investment. I have been told by one of the lobbyists that there may be an opportunity to amend the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, of which I was the promoter, which will help to underpin what we are trying to do on warm homes.

The Queen’s Speech did not include a measure on the EU referendum. It is healthy that the Labour and Conservative parties and the Liberal Democrats have set out clearly where they stand on this issue, but on the doorstep it was clearly not understood. The general public do not understand the need to legislate to have a referendum and they do not understand that if the Conservatives win the next election it will take the Prime Minister time to renegotiate the treaty. That clearly is one message on which the Conservative party should reflect. I do not know whether it will be possible, but I hope that if the Conservative party wins the next election we can quickly renegotiate our membership and say that we will have a referendum in 2016. If I was first in the private Members’ ballot, I would promote a Bill to secure a referendum. If a Conservative Member promotes such a Bill, I would be interested to discover whether it would be the Government’s intention to invoke the Parliament Act in the event of efforts to talk it out similar to those faced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton). I hope that we would use the Parliament Act.

As an animal lover, I was disappointed that the wild animals in circuses Bill was not in the Gracious Speech; I hope that we can reflect on that and introduce it later. As far as a data-sharing Bill is concerned, I do not think it a good idea to allow Government Departments to share data on people who owe debt to public bodies. It seems that more and more private data are being made more widely accessible. Can we really trust Government Departments to share that information safely and securely? I can see the headlines.

While I am on the subject of the civil service, I should say that I absolutely approve of the legislation in the Gracious Speech to crack down on the ridiculous situation in which highly paid civil servants and NHS executives get large redundancy pay-offs before getting a similar job in the same year. Senior civil servants and NHS executives, such as those at the mental health foundation in the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, or SEPT, which serves my constituency, are paid far too much. That is a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money.

Perhaps the Government will consider addressing an anomaly in the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Those who request information should be identified so that the public and organisations are aware of who has made an inquiry. It is ridiculous that there is anonymity at the moment. I urge the Government to address the provisions that the former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair added, stating that the law should not apply to him—at least, it is reasonable to assume that he added them; as we all now know, Mr Blair’s letters to President

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George Bush during the Iraq era are not to be published. That is ridiculous. I feel strongly about the issue as one who voted for the war against my better judgment. I want to know whether I was misled on that occasion when, unlike now, the House was packed. It is wrong that, having waited four years for the Chilcot report, we are going to get only edited letters. That is absolutely unsatisfactory and I expect the Government whom I support to do something about it.

It is good to see that the Deregulation Bill, which removes unnecessary and burdensome legislation, has carried through from the last Session. However, one area that is not regulated enough is that of abortion clinics. The last time they were investigated, bad and even illegal practice was found to be rife throughout the system. Given that the Metropolitan police are currently deciding how to proceed against 67 doctors investigated for pre-signing abortion certificates without knowing anything about the women involved, it is incumbent on Parliament, if we are to be worth while, to put mechanisms in place to ensure best practice. That should mean annual, unannounced inspections of a percentage of abortion clinics. That is not happening at the moment. It is crazy that we have so many unnecessary regulations and laws, while on an issue about life itself, which is what we are all about, there seems to be no regulation at all.

The final measure that I would have liked to have seen in the Gracious Speech is one on a national cemetery. There are national cemeteries all over the world but we do not have one. Westminster abbey and Highgate cemetery accommodate a few notable people, but it is about time that our heroines and heroes—

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con) rose—

Mr Amess: I think I know what my hon. Friend is going to say.

Christopher Pincher: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for claiming the gift of second sight; I shall ask him my question anyway. Does he believe that the right place to put a national cemetery would be the National Memorial Arboretum in Lichfield—a hop, skip and small jump across the River Mease from my constituency?

Mr Amess: My hon. Friend has thrown me. Recently, we visited a national cemetery in a different country; I thought he was going to say how wonderful that was. I am not going to get involved in the merits of Lichfield. A national cemetery there would probably be splendid, although I am rather tempted to suggest Southend-on-Sea. That said, it should, I suspect, be in the centre of the country.

Finally, I should mention that the Government were said to be running out of steam. As far as I am concerned, after the next election it is full steam ahead with a Conservative Government who are not involved in this wretched coalition.

8.45 pm

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): It is a privilege to follow that rousing note from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess). I am also privileged to speak in this, the last Queen’s Speech

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debate before the general election. I am sure that I am not the only 2010-intake MP who is blinking in surprise and wondering where on earth the past four years have gone; they appear to have flown by. In my personal life, I have become a father not once but twice, to two young girls. The coalition Government have achieved a huge amount—more than many of us hoped they might and more than many of our opponents claimed they would.

It is worth pausing for a moment to remember that the main reason the two different political parties came together for the good of the country was to fix the economy. We inherited an economy that was just pulling itself out of the deepest recession since quarterly records began in 1955. There was the highest peacetime fall in GDP output since 1931. We inherited an eye-watering deficit of more than £150 billion a year. That is the principal measure against which the coalition needs to be judged over the past four years, and on that measure it is absolutely clear that it has been extraordinarily successful. The IMF now rates the UK as the fastest growing major economy—the fastest in the G7. We have created more than 1.5 million new private sector jobs since 2010 as a result of—I have to get the phrase in at this point—our long-term economic plan.

In my constituency, unemployment has been steadily falling. The number of jobseekers has more than halved since 2010 as a result of exciting and innovative companies such as—to name but a few; this is not an exhaustive list—Sertec, Brose, BMW, ADV Manufacturing, Premier Group, Ocado, Loades EcoParc and Leekes. All are growing and creating jobs as a result of the improved economic situation.

However, the coalition can be proud of more than fixing the economy. Even though our parties have different philosophical and political beliefs, we have managed to achieve, or are well on the way to achieving, radical and necessary reform in other policy areas as well. We have brought in a welfare cap for the first time. My constituency is interesting in that its average working pay is almost dead on the national average. The welfare cap of average pay simply means that no household in receipt of benefits can receive more than the average constituent in my constituency. That is absolutely right. It is remarkable, really, that we had to bring in the cap. Work is being done by the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that work pays so that we can finally get away from the ridiculous situation where, for quite rational reasons, people had to turn down extra work—extra hours or an extra shift—because they would ultimately have been worse off as a result of the high clawback on certain benefits. If we can get away from that and make work genuinely pay, that alone will have made the past four years worth while.

In education, free schools and academies are putting parents in the driving seat of their children’s education and restoring rigour to exams. In the NHS, we are gripping failing hospitals rather than sweeping them under the carpet. In my constituency, after years of the north of the county being worse off compared with the south of the county in NHS spending per head, despite it being more deprived, we are finally now seeing above-inflation primary care budget rises. At George Eliot hospital, which has for so long been struggling, we had the bravery and the guts to put it into special measures. As a result, clinical staff numbers are up, there is more investment and improved outcomes, and it is on a firm footing for the first time in many years.

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I find it remarkable that some Labour Members have tried to suggest that this Queen’s Speech is somehow thin or light. On the contrary, and given that there are areas where more reform and work is required, it contains 11 Bills. That is pretty challenging with less than a year to go until the election, and this Queen’s Speech is ambitious in what it is seeking to achieve.

The infrastructure Bill, which has already been mentioned by many colleagues, is absolutely essential if we are to get investment, particularly in energy, although it is about more than energy. We face a massive investment challenge on the energy side if we are to close the gap in capacity and keep the lights on. The issue of shale gas has been mentioned several times. The shale gas debate continues to suffer from the problem of people trying to portray it in terms of competing extremes. In fact, it is a lot simpler than many people wish it to be. It is not about whether the UK uses more gas. We will be using gas for decades to come: 83% of our homes are heated by gas, while 70% to 75% of our electricity comes from gas and coal. Even a speedy expansion of renewable energy will take a long time to eat into that fossil fuel use, and we should start by displacing the coal, not the gas.

The shale gas argument is not about whether we should use gas but simply about from where we get the gas. Importing it has a larger emission footprint—the Committee on Climate Change has said that imported liquefied natural gas is likely to have a higher life-cycle emission footprint than domestic shale gas—and creates no jobs and no tax revenue for the Exchequer. Alternatively, we can use the domestic gas that the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineers and Public Health England have all said can be produced safely as long as that is properly regulated. That will create jobs—up to 64,000 according to Ernst and Young and up to 74,000 according to the Institute of Directors—and produce tax revenue for the country that can be spent on public services. In 2011, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that more than 16% of Government corporate tax receipts came from the oil and gas sector. It is easy for people to turn their noses up at oil and gas, but it pays for our schools and our hospitals.

Pension reform could be one of the great lasting legacies of this Government. In decades to come, people will look back to the pension reforms that we are proposing in this Queen’s Speech and see them as the start of rebuilding the strength of UK pensions after the damage done by the previous Government.

On the measures to tackle slavery and human trafficking, I need not add to what has already been said. Human trafficking and slavery in the 21st century is abhorrent and yet all too prevalent. I am sure that these measures will get broad cross-party support to make sure that the UK can continue to be at the forefront of tackling such issues.

On help with child care, as a young dad with two young children I know only too well the difficulties and cost of dealing with child care. In fact, were it not for my redoubtable mother-in-law, we would struggle with it considerably more than we do. Anything that can be done to help, in particular, working families on low incomes with the challenge that child care costs present has to be a good thing.

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Plastic bags have been mentioned a few times in various ways. As somebody who has spent quite a lot of time at sea in a small boat, including a small rowing boat, I see at first hand the appalling ocean pollution that carrier bags, in particular, play a large part in. I am not expert enough in the economics of plastic bags to be able yet to judge the merits of the proposed Bill—I will look at it more closely—but if it can go any way towards helping to diminish plastic bag use and the sorts of pollution, particularly ocean pollution, that it creates, that will be a very good thing.

I am keen to see what an updated charter for budgetary responsibility will look like, because it is essential that we maintain our discipline and economic resolve as we move forward. This Government have been extremely successful in bringing down the deficit, which is down by over a third since we came to power, but still at eye-watering levels. Some Labour Members have criticised us for the fact that we have not managed to get rid of the deficit completely in five years, but that simply shows that it was even harder than we thought it was going to be. Thank goodness we had a Government who were trying to grip the deficit rather than one with a shadow Chancellor who claimed that there was no structural deficit problem in the run-up to the 2010 election: we can imagine what it would be now if that had been the case.

Legislation to make the UK the most attractive place to start, finance and grow a business is essential. This is a really exciting time for many different sectors in terms of technological advances and opportunities for new, small, innovative start-up companies to really make their mark in the world by harnessing the use of many new technologies. My own experience is predominantly in the energy sector. I have met some fascinating entrepreneurs and innovators from energy and clean-tech start-ups, and we need to do everything we can to ensure that they will want to come to the UK in order to start up the companies that will be tomorrow’s Microsofts, Apples and Googles. I strongly welcome any measures that make it easier to set up and run small businesses in the UK.

I know there is an enormous waiting list of Members who want to speak after me, so I will simply say that this Queen’s Speech shows that the Government are ambitious in what they hope to achieve in their final year—we will of course carry on after that. I am sure that many of the Bills will be carried over to the next Conservative Government if they are not completed in the next year. There is a lot still to do to put the country on the right footing.

8.56 pm

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate on the last Queen’s Speech before the general election. I spoke in the debate on this Government’s first Queen’s Speech in 2010, absented myself from the next three and arrived just in time for the fifth.

There are many good things in this Queen’s Speech—that is obvious—but I was drawn to one key sentence, which states:

“A key priority for my ministers will be to continue to build an economy that rewards those who work hard.”

That is what it is all about. In Broxbourne, good men and women wake up every morning and head off to work in order to do the right thing: pay their mortgage,

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put food on the table for their families, raise their children and be good citizens. They are undemanding people, but they are the backbone of this country and they need to know that the Government are on their side.

I want to pick out two or three very important things from the Queen’s Speech. The first relates to zero-hours contracts. My background is as a recruiter and traditionally I have been pro-flexible labour markets, but I find zero-hours contracts slightly abhorrent, to be perfectly honest. In a previous life, I used to write company reports for plcs, and one of the great lines I used to craft was, “Our people are our greatest asset.” It was corporate social responsibility nonsense. To be perfectly honest, a lot of what is written in company reports by large plcs is hot air and waffle.

I do not think that responsible employers should be going down the route of zero-hours contracts. They have a minimum obligation to the people who work for them, and I do not think that zero-hours contracts meet that obligation. Personally, I would do away with all these corporate social responsibility statements in company annual reports. I think they are meaningless. What we need to know is how these companies treat the people who work for them. How do they look after them? How do they pay them? How do they take care of them when they fall ill or when they have a mental health or physical health crisis? That is what it is all about and we as shareholders, politicians and the public need to ask demanding questions of the companies, because, other than the numbers, what is written on the pages of a company report is absolutely meaningless.

It is critical that the men and women in my constituency who own, manage and run small businesses are confident that the large multinationals are paying their taxes. I receive weekly complaints from hard-working men and women about letters they have received from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs crafted in a very aggressive way. These people are working extremely hard. They are conscientious, law abiding and the backbone of the economy. It really sticks in their craw when they see large multinationals such as Starbucks and Amazon appear before Select Committees and readily admit that they pay no or almost no corporation tax in this country. We talk about remaining competitive and being attractive for overseas investment, but let us be honest: these companies are here because they need our markets and access to the 65 million potential customers who live in this country.

I am delighted that this coalition Government and this Conservative Prime Minister are looking at zero-hours contracts and corporate social responsibility, and that they will challenge and pursue companies that do not meet their obligations under the minimum wage. All of us in this place, regardless of where we sit, are on the side of the men and women who, day in and day out, try their damnedest to do the right thing. We are not here to protect the vested interest, be it in the City or large corporate boardrooms; we are here to look after those people who go out and vote. Corporations do not vote, but people running businesses in our constituencies vote, and they are the ones doing the right thing.

Mr Speaker, as you magically appear in the Chair to replace Mr Deputy Speaker, let me wind up by having one last thrash around the important issue of housing. Colleagues will be familiar with families—they come to

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our surgeries almost weekly—who are working extremely hard to do the right thing. They do not have high-paying jobs, and probably never will have, but they are making all the right decisions that we value and on which we place emphasis. Both adults are in work and are conscientious, and both are committed to their community, their workplace and their family. They have not had numerous children, but have perhaps limited themselves to one or two because, as they say, “That’s what we can afford, Mr Walker.” They have been on a housing waiting list for 10 years while living in a one-bedroom flat with two children. That is not right. We need a system that rewards such hard workers and people who try desperately hard to make the right and responsible decisions.

On the vexed issue of housing, it is simply an inescapable truth that we need to build not just more homes, but better homes—places where people actually want to live—and that we need to build communities, not boxes. Some of the recent development in the past decade or 15 years in my constituency is simply not up to scratch: it is just not good enough. If we are to persuade communities in this country to take more houses, people have got to want them, so they have got to be high-quality houses that will create a community and allow it to grow and prosper. I ask the Government and people in public life to be more imaginative about the provision of affordable housing.

One key thing in society is to give people a stake in society. It is impossible to imagine that everybody could afford to go out and buy their own home, even with Help to Buy—it is just not possible for people in every circumstance to raise the money to buy a home of their own—but it is possible to give them the opportunity to own part of a home through shared ownership. Shared ownership has been around for several years. We need to promote it and to make it more available. Their share does not have to be 50% or 75%; it could start at 5% or 10%. It would, however, give people a stake in their community.

Doing so would also overcome much of the hostility to social and affordable housing. I find it extraordinary that people who are good, kind and decent for 99.9% of their life turn up at my surgery shaking with rage about social housing being built, saying, “What type of people will we get in our community, Mr Walker? Who are these people?” I reply, “Well, they might be nurses, teachers or police officers.” “Really?” they ask. “Of course,” I reply. Those types of people now cannot afford to buy a home in many parts of the country, even with Help to Buy and the other great initiatives promoted by the Government. Let us be imaginative about housing, let us embrace new forms of ownership and let us give people a real chance of owning, living in or having a stake in a quality home in a quality community that gives them a high quality of life.

I have detained the House long enough. I am extremely proud to be a Conservative MP. I have enjoyed it immensely for the past 10 years and I hope that I will get another chance to be Broxbourne’s Member of Parliament after the general election in 2015. However, that is not in my gift, but in the gift of my constituents. What will matter next year is whether people feel confident that the Government will be sound in their management of the country’s finances. When people go and put a tick in the box—whoever they vote for—they will be

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thinking, “Which party offers me the best chance with my mortgage? Which party offers me the best chance of having a job that is secure and that offers the hope of promotion and advancement? Which party offers me the best chance of having a good school at the end of my road that I can get my children into, so that they have the best chance in life?” Those are the things that matter. My party does not have a monopoly on great ideas; there are many good people on the Labour Benches. I hope that in 2015 we have a mature debate about the issues that really matter to our constituents. I look forward to engaging in that debate, to touring the wonderful sunlit uplands of Broxbourne and to bringing joy and hope to those I represent.

9.6 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I apologise to Members of the House for not being present for the whole debate. I enjoyed the important speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), but I think that he will forgive me for saying that the best speech today was by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). By keeping a straight face, she was able to make some serious remarks and some very entertaining remarks. She just about matched the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who has been known to keep the House entertained on occasion.

One reason I have not been here for the whole debate is that I have been considering issues of leasehold. If I may, I will read out a paragraph from “UK Over 50s Housing” entitled “Vincent Tchenguiz – Apology” from 19 May 2014. It states:

“On 1 May 2014, we published an article entitled ‘Peverel to be pursued in compensation claim.’ We suggested that Vincent Tchenguiz owned, controlled and was involved in the day to day affairs of property company Peverel. We now accept that there is no truth whatsoever to this suggestion. Prior to going into administration, Peverel was owned by the Tchenguiz Family Trust of which Vincent Tchenguiz is a beneficiary. Peverel always had an independent board of directors. Vincent Tchenguiz never had any day to day involvement in the management of Peverel. In particular, he had no knowledge of or involvement in any collusive tendering. We also accept that we have no basis for the claim that Mr Tchenguiz subjected Peverel residents to ‘constant financial clipping.’ We apologise to Mr Tchenguiz for the distress and embarrassment caused.”

I received that quotation from a man called David Leslie of New Century Media. I responded to him, saying:

“I have read the attached piece. A copy of this response goes to the magazine editor. Has your client ever made an apology on any leasehold issue or action?

Can you kindly help on some issues?

May I see in detail any and all exchanges with UK Over 50s Housing Weekly? As you mention them, I copy this to them and I can make it available to others interested.

Please let me know when you or your firm were first engaged to represent or to advise your client.

May I be sent a chronology of Tchenguiz links, including of influence, control, ownership and benefit in by and from Peverel and anything associated with it?”—[Interruption.]

If the hon. Member for Ealing North is asking why this matter is relevant, it is because the Queen’s Speech refers to Bills that are carried over, including the Consumer Rights Bill, which has to finish its Report stage in the

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Commons and has to go on to the House of Lords. In my meeting, I discussed the matter with Lord Best. If we cannot do so, I hope that he, probably with Baroness Gardner, will have the opportunity to add to that Bill provisions for the protection of leaseholders, who in many ways have been brutally abused, financially challenged and often intimidated.

What we know about collusive tendering is that when people complained to the economics crimes unit of the police, to the Serious Fraud Office and to the Office of Fair Trading, because Peverel declared that they had been involved in collusive tendering, when it turned out that they had obtained through their subsidiary Cirrus all the work for new calls systems, which were often not needed and almost always at prices which were unjustified, there was no penalty. That is relevant to what Mr David Leslie has told me about Mr Vincent Tchenguiz not being involved at all.

I have asked for a chronology of the Tchenguiz links of influence, control, ownership and benefit in and from Peverel and anything associated with it. I continued:

“If relevant, I anticipate being told who established and who controlled the body that did control and had influence on Peverel when so many bad things were done to so many.

Who was responsible for selecting the professional advisors and others associated with the valuations of properties bought, the loans obtained, the audits of and the responses to leaseholders when presenting valid questions and challenges to the way they were treated.”

I offered to meet these people. I went on to say:

“My intention is to lay out in Parliament the details of problems of the past, of the present and how life can be better in the future.”

I added that I have an interest in a leasehold flat in Worthing, where our managing agent was good, our freeholder was good, and I have had no problems whatsoever.

One thing that the Government should think of doing is asking the professional standards bodies whether they believe they should be disciplining their members—chartered surveyors, valuers, accountants or bankers—when they go along with valuations created apparently out of thin air by the owners of freehold blocks. For example, at Charter quay in Kingston a trust bought a freehold for about £700,000. It revalued it at over £3 million and borrowed £2 million against it, and when eventually the leaseholders managed to get the prospect of having a court decide what the value was, it turned out to be £900,000.

A company cannot have a valuation trebled or quadrupled in its company accounts without a valuer putting their name to it, an accountant doing the accounts, and auditors and bankers getting involved. I believe that all the professional standards bodies should be saying, “We’re going to find an example that we can make a decision on which will terrify the life out of others who go along with clients who say, ‘I can arbitrarily increase the value.’”

The only way a freeholder can put up the value is to have an income stream that goes way beyond the ground rents in the original leases. If, for example, they get insurance commissions of 40% or 60%, and if they can take exit fees that have been decided by the OFT and Peverel to be unjustified, we have an opportunity of saying that unfair contracts terms law can be imposed by the Competition and Markets Authority or the OFT saying that these things will not happen.

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As it happens, virtually every Member of Parliament in England has some of these blocks of leasehold properties in their constituencies. I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has them in Witney. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has in them his constituency. I could probably go through each Member present from an English constituency, but I will not do that as that would be extending the courtesy of the House in listening to me, but I declare, and if necessary, I warn that this is an issue that does not just affect my constituents; each individual constituent may be old, elderly, vulnerable or poor, and without good advice cannot stand up against the big people.

I am glad that the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership is going to turn itself into a charity. Carlex, the campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation, is doing well. I ask the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Justice, if necessary, together with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to get together an interdepartmental group, to ask what are the simplest things we can do to make the lives of leaseholders simpler.

Stephen Pound: The hon. Gentleman has quite rightly and properly mentioned his own possible interest in this matter. Does he feel that the House should be made aware of the gigantic sums of money that the Tchenguiz family give to the Conservative party?

Sir Peter Bottomley: That is true. Certainly it should be known. I am a great believer in transparency. I believe that if things can be said in the open and justified or criticised, we are much better off.

I had not intended to make this speech against the Tchenguiz family. I want to spell out what is happening, and if members of the Tchenguiz family say that by getting a newspaper to produce a paragraph, their hands are clean, by all means discuss that in public. All I am trying to say is that leaseholders deserve protection, I am here to help to protect them, and I am glad that other Members are interested as well.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.— (Mr Gyimah.)

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Flood Risk (North-East England)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Gyimah.)

9.15 pm

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this evening, Mr Speaker, for this important debate on flooding and flood risk in the north-east of England, and to speak in the first Adjournment debate of this Session.

Although I appreciate that the issue affects much of the region, I should like to start by highlighting some recent floods in my constituency before commenting on the broader issue. On 6 September, large areas of my constituency were flooded after days of steady rain on waterlogged ground, which channelled large volumes of water into already swollen waterways. That then combined with a high tide, causing vast areas of the coast to be affected by once-in-100-years flood levels.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing an important debate for our region. He mentions the once-in-100-years frequency, but does he accept that such incidents are occurring much more frequently as a result of climate change and other factors, and that the infrastructure is struggling to cope with flash flooding? People in areas of my constituency such as Arkley crescent, the wider West View area of Hartlepool and slightly further afield in Seaton Carew are all being affected by more frequent flash flooding. What else does he think can be done to help people such as my constituents and, no doubt, his?

Tom Blenkinsop: My hon. Friend touches on a point that I will come to later—how the flood risk in the north-east and other northern areas is assessed compared with that in other areas of the country, and the funding and protection that exist.

As we would hope, where flood defences were in place in my constituency, they generally reduced the amount of floodwater damage. In the seaside village of Skinningrove, flood defences were installed after the floods in 2000, and damage to property in September was thankfully minimised. However, that was only down to the work of local residents who volunteer as flood wardens, who monitor the river levels and man the floodgates when there is a risk of flooding. Yet Skinningrove did not escape unscathed. A bridge on the main road into the village was undercut by the fast-flowing river, causing a lengthy road closure while the bridge was repaired, much to the detriment of local residents and, particularly, local businesses.

Further upstream in Loftus, the floods affected Handale beck, where large volumes of water struck Gaskell bridge, causing structural damage and its eventual collapse earlier this year and cutting off a small community from the rest of the town. The water surged over the bridge, taking down two substantial sandstone walls, and flowed straight into the garden and home of my constituent, Mrs Himsworth, completely devastating the ground floor of her listed building. It was the second time that Mrs Himsworth’s home had been devastated by flooding since 2000, yet as her home is

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not in a high-risk area she is unable to secure any funding and has consequently had to pay for her own flood defences.

The bridge is in private ownership, and finding someone to take financial responsibility for it has proved difficult. There are three agencies with stakes in the bridge: Redcar and Cleveland borough council, the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water. Nearly a year later, there may thankfully be some progress towards the restoration of the bridge, thanks to a generous contribution from Northumbrian Water, which is responsible for a pipe within the bridge. However, that has taken far too long for the residents of Gaskell lane, many of whom are elderly pensioners.

Another town that suffered from floods last September was the Victorian seaside resort of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, where I live.

Mr Wright: Nice part of the world.

Tom Blenkinsop: A very nice part of the world.

Mr Wright: Not as nice as Seaton Carew.

Tom Blenkinsop: I would have to differ from my hon. Friend about that.

Saltburn was badly affected by the combination of high tides and swollen rivers. Saltburn Gill expanded, almost filling the entire valley floor, covering car parks, ruining much of the town’s Valley gardens and harming tourist attractions and businesses. Thankfully, the council has now repaired the damage along the sea front and, with the exception of the amusement arcade on the pier, the majority of businesses are trading again in time for the busy summer season.

Elsewhere in East Cleveland, the former mining village of North Skelton was hit, with water cascading down from higher farmland to the south and finding its new course by inundating homes in the terraced streets and the nearby A174 main road. The tragedy there was that many of the families affected were private renters, and relied for building insurance on their landlords’ ability to repair the structural damage. For them, it was not easy to get redress, which has led to casework that I am still pursuing.

Thankfully, for flood prevention in North Skelton the local council and principal landowner are working together on schemes that will involve breaking up the current prairie-like fields with new tree and hedge planting—an effective way of reducing and controlling flash floods and run-off. Such work takes time, however, and over the coming year I feel that affected North Skelton residents will still worry in periods of long and heavy downpours. One consolation would be to put in place effective measures to ensure that private landlords have sound and reliable building insurance—something that would benefit everyone in the long term. Such things cannot be left to the discretion of the market because we are talking about people’s homes where they raise their families.

Redcar and Cleveland council has spent more than £24,000 on council tax relief for people affected by the September 2013 floods, in addition to money spent via

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social fund grants and loans. After the Prime Minister’s “money is no object” claim I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), regarding the Government’s highly publicised council tax relief for flood victims, only to be told that my constituents would not qualify as it covered only

“severe weather in December, January and February 2014.”

That seems wholly unfair to me, to local councillors of all parties, and to local residents. The Government are refusing to support local residents by providing centrally funded council tax relief for the sole reason that—in their eyes—those people were flooded three months too early. Such cases prove that the north-east is still at risk from flooding.

Although flooding is a threat in much of England, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in a 2011 paper, “Climate change, justice and vulnerability”, demonstrates that there is a clear north-south divide in terms of socio-spatial flood disadvantage, and that the north-west, north-east, and Yorkshire and the Humber have neighbourhood social flood vulnerabilities that on average are above the English mean. That risk has not been met by Government investment in the north-east. As of January 2014, Government funding for flood defences was forecast to be lower in both nominal and real terms during the current spending period than during the previous spending period, and the Committee on Climate Change has calculated that that represents a real terms cut of around 20%. Although the Government have brought forward money that was already set aside to improve sea defences in Skinningrove, there has been little investment in other more rural areas of the north-east.

Since climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in the UK, we must have a joined-up, nationwide strategy on flood prevention. The effects of flooding last long after the water has subsided, and as many of my constituents know, the effects can last almost indefinitely causing lasting financial and emotional damage. The Government must act to protect all households from the damaging effects of flooding, not just in urban areas or where there is a high media presence. I urge them to extend the support and emphasis that they gave to areas hit by flooding last winter to places such as East Cleveland that were hit earlier in the year.

Finally, I thank the hard-working and dedicated emergency services, in particular the firefighters of Cleveland fire brigade who responded to around 300 calls in three hours when flooding occurred last September. That included a call from me, as the flat where my wife and I live was flooded. Without the assistance of Cleveland fire brigade we would have been in a fairly sticky situation, given that at midnight that evening I was in my shorts trying to bale out my neighbours in their living room.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): What an image!

Tom Blenkinsop: Exactly.

Mr Iain Wright: And not a pleasant one.

Tom Blenkinsop: Not a pleasant image, no. However, I am sure that MPs from across the north-east can provide examples of where the fire service has helped to

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reduce damage caused by flooding. Flooding is already a significant problem and is likely to increase in future, yet there is no statutory duty on the fire and rescue service to respond to flooding in England and Wales. I ask the Government to reconsider their decision not to introduce a statutory duty on fire and rescue authorities to respond to flooding as recommended in the Pitt review, and I urge them to ensure that fire authorities are sufficiently resourced to meet such an additional responsibility.

9.24 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) on securing this debate and on the work he does on behalf of his constituents. I served on a Select Committee with him, and know how seriously he takes these issues. To go to the extent of baling out his neighbour’s front room, however he was dressed, shows how seriously he takes his hands-on role as a Member of Parliament.

Flooding is a hugely important subject. I have had the honour of responding to a series of debates, some of which were national in scope and others that focused on particular locations. I hope the House will therefore forgive me for setting out some of the national background to the events of the past several months before looking specifically at the issues in the north-east that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

I should follow on from where the hon. Gentleman finished by thanking all those who were involved in the response effort. As he said, people worked tirelessly to respond to those events, including the staff of fire, ambulance, police and other rescue services, and local authorities, the Environment Agency, the voluntary sector and local communities. He pointed out how the flood wardens in his constituency have made a difference in ensuring that people are aware of what is coming and what steps they can take to protect themselves and their property.

The unprecedented weather events that caused the flooding we witnessed across the UK last year and into the early part of this year were a result of very unsettled weather. It was the wettest January since 1766 for England and Wales. Central and south-east England received more than 250% of average rainfall. Met Office statistics suggest that, for the south England, that was one of the most exceptional periods for winter rainfall in at least 248 years. Added to that, tidal surges caused by low pressure, strong winds and high tides led to record sea levels along many parts of the east coast. High spring tides brought coastal flooding to parts of the south and west coasts. River, surface water and groundwater flooding occurred in many areas.

Although it is not yet possible to attribute a single instance of extreme weather to climate change, the recent winter storminess is in line with what we expect to see under climate change scenarios, as the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) have pointed out. We therefore expect an increase in the frequency and severity of those types of weather events. The UK’s first climate change risk assessment, published in 2012, assessed that trend and informed the national adaptation programme report,

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which was published last year. The report sets out a wide range of actions by Government, business, councils and civil society to address the most significant climate risks we face as a country. We already prioritise across Government and well beyond the need to adapt to our changing climate, but we will of course look to learn any lessons from the recent extreme weather events.

We are spending £47.2 million on climate change initiatives this year on both adapting to climate change and helping further to mitigate effects. That includes programmes that help to protect international forests and cut greenhouse emissions, and that help the UK to adapt to a changing climate. Recent events impacted on the homes, businesses and farms of people across the country. Latest estimates suggest that more than 7,000 properties have been flooded in England since the beginning of December 2013. That includes 2,316 properties since the most recent flood event began in early February. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland pointed out the incidents earlier in the year in his part of the world and the summer floods last year. We have had a series of extreme flood events throughout the country.

There was significant damage to sea and flood defences and transport infrastructure in some areas. Urgent work is under way to repair the damage to rail links—many lines were back up to full operation by 3 March. The House is aware that the extreme weather also affected power supplies to homes. It is estimated that more than 1 million customers had power restored following interruptions during that stormy period. The response was a magnificent effort. All levels of Government and the emergency services were fully engaged in dealing with the floods and extreme weather. The Government’s response was led by the Cobra emergencies committee.

The most recent flooding was predominantly in the south of England and, as I have said, along the east coast during the high tides of early December 2013, but other regions across England have previously experienced the same sorts of devastating events that were witnessed last winter. For example, the north-east of England was affected in 2012. There were numerous reports of flooding to homes and businesses across County Durham, north Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne and Northumberland.

Recent Environment Agency data indicate that, in north-east England, approximately 36,500 properties are at risk of river and coastal flooding. Approximately 11,528 of those are thought to be at significant risk of flooding. The properties at risk are spread throughout the region. However, in a number of key flooding areas, existing flood defences afford a level of protection to communities. For example, the defences at Morpeth are currently being improved to provide more than a one-in-137-year standard of protection to 1,000 properties. Other communities benefiting from Environment Agency maintained defences include South Church, West Auckland, Hexham, Ponteland and Skinningrove, which the hon. Gentleman referred to in his contribution. A notable recent development has been the completion of the flood and coastal protection scheme at Redcar, which protected the town during the severe east coast surge in December 2013.

More than 110,000 properties are potentially at risk from surface water flooding. Managing the risk from surface water flooding is the responsibility of lead local

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flood authorities. We have established partnerships with the local authorities and Northumbrian Water to support them in managing surface water flood risks. Those partnerships are now starting to deliver schemes that manage both river and surface water flooding issues. Lustrum Beck is a good example of a partnership scheme with Stockton borough council that will deliver river and surface water flood protection to about 150 properties. The Environment Agency can issue 112 separate flood warnings in the north-east for flooding from rivers or the sea. Approximately 11,000 properties and businesses are registered to receive a warning, so that in addition to the flood wardens the hon. Gentleman referred to there are many people who can receive that information straight to hand. They will know when something is coming and when they should start to put into practice measures to ensure that their family and property are safe.

Investment is targeted at a range of communities, from large schemes, such as Port Clarence where 350 properties will be protected from east coast tidal flooding, to small-scale, local projects to protect a few properties from surface water flooding. Overall, this investment will assist in alleviating river flood risk for approximately 1,500 properties and the risk from coastal erosion for a further 200 properties. The annual amount spent on maintenance in the north-east in 2013-14 was £1.2 million and a total of £1.4m has been allocated for 2014-15.

The hon. Gentleman raised, as he has in the past, the specific example of the bridge in the isolated community in his constituency, which is incredibly frustrating. As constituency MPs, we have all had issues in which land ownership features. Where land has a value, people are clamouring to take over and take responsibility. It is very difficult, however, where there is a liability, particularly if the owner does not have a huge amount of cash to hand to be able to put that right.

Mr Iain Wright: The Minister talks about isolated communities. The Headland is a fantastic and proud historic part of Hartlepool in my constituency, but there is one road in and out. It is protected by the Heugh breakwater, but that is at risk. I know he will not know about this at the moment, but will he resolve to look at the importance of the Heugh in protecting the Headland? When the road floods, that community could be isolated. What else can be done to ensure that the residents on the Headland, my constituents, are adequately protected?

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Dan Rogerson: The hon. Gentleman represents a coastal constituency, as I do, and will appreciate that when we have these circumstances there may be one road in or out of a village community. It is really important that we get those connections restored as quickly as possible, or protect them where we can. If I could ask him to write to me with details of that particular road, I would be happy to look at them. We have to continue to invest significant amounts of money in new flood defences and ensure that we are working in partnership with local authorities. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland was able to point to Northumbrian Water and local authorities playing their part. We very much appreciate the role that they have played, not just in response but in coming up with innovative solutions to tackle these important local problems.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the schemes that the Government have put in place to help communities that were flooded from early December through until April. The issue in this context, as it would be anywhere, is where to draw the line and pick a date. I set out that we had a series of flood events that were constant over those months. The Government have put something in place to try to help those communities. My constituency had flooding events several years ago. Communities there, no doubt, would feel that similar moneys would have been helpful to them at the time, but we have to deal with the situation we have now. What I would say is that no matter where people are in the country, we are spending through the partnership funding arrangements to pull in other sources of money, along with Government investment, to deliver more protection from coastal river flooding, and, along with local authorities, tackling issues such as groundwater, too.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising these issues tonight. If there is anything that he has not had the opportunity to mention or would like to come back to, I would be happy to hear from him or the hon. Member for Hartlepool. I look forward to working with him to ensure that our investment in flood defences delivers the best possible protection for his constituents and those of all of us across the House.

Question put and agreed to.

9.34 pm

House adjourned.