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Mr Betts: Yes—

Mr Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gives way, I express the cautious optimism that he is approaching his very brief peroration.

Mr Betts: Absolutely; I will give way to the Secretary of State and then reach my peroration.

Mr Pickles: The hon. Gentleman and his colleague the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) came to see me and I was persuaded by what they had to say, and we are working on a package to be helpful. It has to go beyond money and be about services. I think the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying he is selling himself short, too, because what really impressed me from my meeting with him and his right hon. Friend was his determination to ensure the newcomers were properly integrated into the system, and the recognition that the failure to do that so far was making the situation worse. I commend him and his right hon. Friend, who sadly is not with us today, on the efforts they are putting in.

Mr Betts: That is absolutely right, and one of the positive things going on—it is not all negative by any means—is that the Pakistani Muslim centre had an open day for the Slovak Roma community a month ago in my constituency to which over 300 people came. That was a great event. Also, earlier today I got an e-mail from the Handsworth junior football club, which is going to give a week’s free coaching in August for the deprived community of Darnall, which has people from the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali and Slovak Roma communities. It is going to be open house for all to come along for a week’s free coaching. We can do these events on the ground, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and I are very much involved in trying to stimulate such activity.

My final point does not relate to the Queen’s Speech, but it was interesting to hear the Conservatives’ major announcement last week of a commitment to radical fiscal devolution for Scotland. They have gone further than the other two parties in that regard, and I commend them for that. We shall not be doing much about that during this Session, however, and we ought to be thinking ahead to what will happen after the next Queen’s Speech. If Scotland votes to stay in the Union, as I very much hope it will, and if there is then extra devolution to Scotland and Wales, the really big question that we will all have to think about is the English question. Once such devolution has happened in Scotland and, to a great extent, in Wales, how will we be able to devolve English government in a way that will rejuvenate our local democracy and give our local authorities greater fiscal powers and responsibilities? That is the major question that we need to be thinking about.

11.55 am

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): It will certainly be in my interest to keep my speech relatively short. I rise to speak in support of the Gracious Speech and, in particular, of the historic significance of the Modern Slavery Bill. I realise that it has only a tenuous connection to the themes we are debating today, but I want to talk about the housing of trafficked victims and I hope that the Ministers present will take that into account.

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It is no coincidence that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) also chose to focus on this subject today. The Modern Slavery Bill is the proposal in the Queen’s Speech with the greatest historic significance. Who would have thought that we would need to pass further legislation to tackle slavery more than a century after all the efforts of William Wilberforce and his supporters? The brutal truth, however, is that the estimated number of slaves worldwide now stands at 21 million and that the slave trade generates £150 billion of illegal profits annually. That is three times more than was previously estimated. Those figures come from the International Labour Organisation. In this country, the trouble is that the slavery is largely hidden. It was no surprise that the Centre for Social Justice entitled its report on the subject “It Happens Here”, because it does. I hope that the publication of the Bill will raise awareness.

I could not speak on this subject without paying tribute to someone who has really raised awareness of modern-day slavery: the former Member of this House, Anthony Steen. In 2006, he began his work of shining a searchlight on this iniquitous trade in human beings. He has worked for the Human Trafficking Foundation and now plays a pivotal role in raising public awareness. The foundation includes among its trustees the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who was asked by the Home Secretary to chair the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. He did so with remarkable skill, garnering support from both sides of the House.

The Home Secretary is to be commended for tackling this wicked issue head-on. It is also significant that the whole House came together during the pre-legislative scrutiny stage in recognising that we need to tackle the matter on a cross-party basis. My right hon. Friend has clearly been motivated by the shortcomings in the existing law. A good Queen’s Speech should contain legislation that brings together, rationalises and simplifies existing laws that are dotted around in other Acts. This Bill will do that.

I was surrounded by erudite lawyers during the pre-legislative scrutiny stage, and I was struck by the fact that the prosecution rate was so poor because of misunderstandings surrounding the definition of slavery. Indeed, those misunderstandings extend as far as the European directive that covers the problem, which highlights trafficking. Those prosecutions often fail because victims of trafficking stand up in court and swear on oath that they came here of their own free will. Indeed, they are sometimes paid to come here, only to find themselves subject to servitude. When we try to prosecute on the ground of trafficking, the case therefore often fails because the witness says that they moved here of their own accord. In a funny sort of way, if the European directive had been drafted in English first, we would have spotted that problem: trafficking is not actually the overarching term that needs to be used. We need to refer to “exploitation”, of which trafficking is an aggravation. This Bill is an opportunity to get that balance right, and we are indebted to such people as Lady Butler-Sloss, who applied her razor-sharp mind to that pre-legislative scrutiny Committee and helped all of us to understand where these kinds of problems lie.

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The Bill will break new ground because it will pay attention to the need for victim care and support. If it had neglected that aspect of this problem of modern-day slavery, I would be a good deal less enthusiastic about the Bill than I am. But I was delighted to hear that need to improve victim care and support spelled out in the Queen’s Speech. I do not underestimate the political challenges of protecting those who admit to breaking the law under coercion, but we will never stamp out this iniquitous trade in human beings until we get enough victims to testify. That is why I was encouraged to hear that a serious crime Bill will strengthen powers to seize the proceeds of crime as part of this Queen’s Speech. I firmly believe that some of those proceeds need to come back to the victims, which would help them to come forward to give evidence against the real criminals, who are the ones we need to catch. The care of victims of slavery in our country is nothing short of a scandal. I am sure there will not be a Member in this House who has not sat in a surgery hearing from someone—often someone young—who has been brought to this country under false pretences and still remains stateless within our society.

We also face real problems in trying to distinguish between those victims and the genuine criminals. I have heard evidence from victims who, just hours before being deported, were saved only by the swift intervention of lawyers, often working on a pro bono basis and some funded by the POPPY project, at detention centres. That happens all too often because of the inherent conflict of interest whereby UK Visas and Immigration, formerly the UK Border Agency, which is primarily responsible for getting immigration down, is the agency overseeing the decision about who stays and who goes. In some cases those almost deported faced a dangerous future, returning to families complicit in their trafficking in the first place. Anyone alleging slavery is invited to use the national referral mechanism, which contains questions designed to elucidate their real status. If they get through that, they are given just 45 days’ protection. That is my point about housing: what are these victims of trafficking expected to do about accommodation, after just 45 days of protection, while their whole situation remains uncertain? That is a cross-departmental consideration, so I hope the Ministers here today could give it some thought.

America is ahead of us, with statutory victim care and support. It has a designated independent anti-slavery ambassador, with a full-time complement of 80 staff, reporting directly to the President. The plan in this country is for a commissioner to be appointed by the Home Secretary, but an anti-slavery commissioner must be able to crack the whip round Whitehall, precisely because of the example I have just given about the lack of suitable housing for trafficked victims. We will not be the first country in Europe to have a commissioner; countries that have developed the role include Finland and the Netherlands. Of course I understand that the commissioner needs to have the sponsorship of one Department in order to secure adequate resources from the Treasury, but the commissioner must remain sufficiently independent to put a rocket up the prosecution service, as a Home Office Minister put it.

Children who are victims of slavery are a particularly important concern to us. The Government have recognised that with pilots for children’s advocates. A young person

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does need someone to fight their corner with authorities and stay on their case. A particularly worrying aspect of child slavery in this country is the fact that sadly children are often send to the UK to serve family members as slaves, even for sex. One victim told us that even when she was allowed to go to church on Sundays, she was forbidden to speak to other people. That shows how we need to open our minds and our eyes to the hidden slaves around us. We should try asking the chamber maid, the cleaner and those we fear might be under duress and offer a friendly hand of help where we can.

Jeremy Corbyn: The right hon. Lady is making an excellent speech. She must be aware of the problem of children living in informal foster care with distant relatives in this country, which means that nothing is done to regularise their immigration status and they are threatened with removal at age 18, having been completely unaware that they had no status whatsoever. The Home Office needs a different approach to the matter.

Mrs Spelman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important anomaly, and it certainly ought to be debated in relation to the Bill.

I have two more points to make. The first is about the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s transition from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—it was under my wing when I was Secretary of State— to the Home Office. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority does an excellent job in the sectors of the economy that it currently covers—agriculture, fisheries and horticulture—but sadly, slavery is rife in many other sectors, such as catering, cleaning and hospitality. I urge all Government Departments to make use of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority model to tackle slavery in the economic sectors for which they have responsibility.

Finally, I believe that the Bill must contain a clause on supply chains. That would make the legislation world-class. Businesses in general need to reappraise the risk of slavery in their own supply chains. That has already been achieved in America, where the Transparency in Supply Chains Act has been passed in California. Any European company that wants to do business in California must be compliant. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) introduced a private Member’s Bill on the subject, which I am sure he would wish me to remind the House of. We need a clause in the Bill that tackles the problem. Until businesses are made to report on due diligence, ruling out slavery the length of their supply chains, they will continue to be at significant reputational risk and, sadly, the victims will continue to suffer.

The UK has the potential to provide global leadership on this important issue. Frankly, with our heritage and the Wilberforce spirit behind us, we ought to be able to do that, and this Queen’s Speech opens the way.

12.7 pm

Margaret Hodge (Barking) (Lab): I start by offering my sincere apologies to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to right hon. and hon. Members for not being present at the start of the debate; I was chairing a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, which was attempting to hold the Government to account over their major projects.

I wanted the opportunity to speak in this debate because this is the final Queen’s Speech of this Parliament. I looked at it to see what it offered my constituents, the

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good people of Barking and Dagenham, but I am afraid that it offers them nothing. The recent European and local elections placed centre stage the challenges that many communities face from migration. In Barking and Dagenham, we have been dealing with the impact of migration on our community for over a decade. Indeed, the extreme right, in the form of the British National party, tried to exploit the legitimate concerns and fears that people have when dealing with change. Although we saw off that divisive, racist and intolerant threat, the concerns remain, and there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to help me or my constituents to respond to them.

The Government’s rhetoric continues to be about being tough on immigration numbers, but inevitably the Government fail to deliver on that promise. When the Government fail, that strengthens and deepens people’s loss of trust in their politicians, democracy is damaged and community cohesion is undermined.

More migration across national borders is a feature of the inter-dependent world of the 21st century; nobody can turn the clock back on that. The Government should start tackling the issues on which they can make a difference and respond positively to people’s concerns as well as articulate much more positive messages about the benefits of migration to our economy, culture and communities. If they were to do the practical things, anger would not be turned on migrants or indeed on second and third generation British citizens who are scapegoated for our Government’s failures.

My constituents feel bewildered and frustrated by the Government’s failure to respond to their needs. Top of their agenda is housing. They are desperate for a decent home at a price they can afford. Our need for more homes in Barking and Dagenham has gone beyond a crisis. Our population is set to grow by around 50,000 over the next decade. We have more than 13,000 families on the housing waiting list, and homelessness has increased by a staggering 167% since 2010 when this Government came into office.

In London as a whole, more than half a million new homes are needed by 2021 to meet the projected increase of a million in the city’s population, according to the figures that are produced by the London councils. If we factor in existing need, the number of houses needed in the capital over the next seven years grows to more than 800,000. What is the Government’s pathetic response to this crisis? It is a help-to-buy scheme that most economists believe is fuelling the housing price bubble and is anyway having minimal impact in helping first-time buyers or people in housing need in London.

Proposals in the Queen’s Speech simply tinker at the edges and fail either to unlock the potential or to provide the resources needed to respond to my constituents’ need for decent, affordable homes. The Government’s failure to act where they can simply fuels hostility against migrants and breeds division rather than supporting cohesion and harmony. There has been too much talk and too little action on housing. The Government need to stop making grand claims about how many homes they are going to build and get on with unlocking the investment to make things happen on the ground. Critical to that is getting the essential transport infrastructure in place. All I can see, and all my constituents can see, are

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a series of what I call big boys’ toys, such as HS2, for which the case is not yet proven, and Boris Johnson’s vanity cable car project.

We need a proper strategy that links up housing, transport and other regeneration so that we can achieve the potential and the prosperity for Barking and Dagenham and the east of London that are taken for granted in the wealthier parts of the capital.

Let me take Barking Riverside as an example. This is one of the biggest regeneration sites in London. It has been more than 20 years since the site was first bought by Bellway. There have been endless master plans, but since 2008 there has been planning permission for nearly 11,000 homes to be constructed on the site. About a third are supposed to be homes with three or more bedrooms, and more than 4,000 are supposed to be affordable. That means that 26,000 people could be housed on Barking Riverside—half the number of extra people we expect to be living in the borough over the next eight to 10 years. Yet so far, only 360 homes have been completed and another 300 are under construction. At that rate it will take more than 100 years to complete the development.

Failure by both the Government and the Mayor to take the necessary steps to speed up this development is a blatant dereliction of duty. Putting the necessary transport infrastructure in place is part of the planning deal to build these new homes, yet when Boris Johnson first became Mayor in 2008, he stopped the proposals to extend the docklands light railway to Barking Riverside on the grounds of cost. Only in 2013 did he start lobbying Government for the funding of a cheaper proposal—to extend the Gospel Oak to Barking line to Barking Riverside. However, in the last Budget all we got was a plan for a plan, with woolly words and no concrete commitments. The Government said that they would

“work with the Mayor of London to develop proposals”.

No funding has been made available.

The Government are prepared to commit £50 billion to HS2, but cannot commit even the £180 million needed to extend the Gospel Oak to Barking line to Barking Riverside. Boris spends £60 million on his cable car—a facility which, according to a recent freedom of information request, is used by just four regular commuters. Neither the Chancellor nor the Mayor has committed the money needed to unlock the huge potential for housing and regeneration in the heart of my constituency.

The Queen’s Speech could have delivered for Barking and Dagenham, and for London. We have the land to build a significant proportion of the homes we need. Indeed, there are 4,000 hectares of brownfield land in London alone, about 40% of which is owned by the public sector. Lack of planning permission is not an excuse. In my borough, we already have planning consents for at least 20,000 new homes, yet over the past 10 years, the housebuilding average has been around 500 homes a year. This is about political will. The Government should use their infrastructure programme to unlock the potential of communities, rather than feed the vanity of the coterie of men who control the legislative and financial purse strings.

The Government should legislate to ensure a ruthless and determined use of compulsory purchase powers so

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that disused sites can be brought into use and new homes built. They should legislate to penalise both public and private bodies which simply sit on land to let its value grow, rather than building homes.

The Government should lift restrictions on London councils to enable them to borrow against their assets to build new homes. Far from weakening section 106 powers, the Government should strengthen them to ensure that a good proportion of new homes are affordable to local families. That would be a legislative programme that brings optimism and hope to the good burghers of Barking and Dagenham, and across east London. That would be a pragmatic and serious response to the concerns expressed by voters in the recent elections. That is what the Queen’s Speech should have contained and that is what my constituency, London and Great Britain need.

12.18 pm

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge). Tempted as I am to agree with her about HS2 and the island airport, I think I should move on swiftly.

Both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have mentioned the D-day anniversaries—it was also mentioned in the Gracious Speech—and it is right that we should all pay tribute to those who were involved. However, I should also like to mention other events. I have not done my research, but I think that it was in this very House in 1944 that a Member referred to those people fighting in Italy as the D-day dodgers. Seventy years ago, on his 21st birthday, my father was at the battle of Monte Cassino. Recently, there was a royal visit to Monte Cassino to mark the anniversary of the battle. While we concentrate on D-day, it is also important that we do not forget all those who fought elsewhere.

The right hon. Member for Barking was right to say that we need to look at housing, and I believe that we are making efforts in that regard. The other area of concern is that of immigration. There are genuine concerns about that issue, but I want to sound a cautionary note. A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to have been asked to attend the 105th birthday celebrations of Sir Nick Winton. I am sure that many people in the House have heard of him, but if they have not, he founded the Abbeyfield homes system. In 1988, his wife came across a scrapbook in the attic of his house in Maidenhead and discovered that Nick Winton, as a young man in Prague at the outbreak of the second world war, had helped to get Jewish children out of Czechoslovakia into Britain. In fact, one of the people he rescued was a Member of this House and is now in the other place, Lord Alfred Dubs. I have discovered that, at that time, it was only Britain that was really prepared to help such children. Those who wanted to help had to have £50 and be able to find an address for the children to go to. What struck me was that the parents must have gone through hell being parted from their children, but they gave them up so that they could go off to find a life—literally, to find a life. Unaccompanied children arrive as asylum seekers at Heathrow, which is in my borough, next to my constituency. This is an issue that stirs us up. We have to remember that people are coming here not because they love the

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climate; they are coming because they are escaping from tyranny elsewhere, and we should always remember that.

There are some measures in the Queen’s Speech about which I have concerns. First, I am a director of the family retail business—furnishing, which is why I am keen on housing being improved, as long as everyone does not shop online—and I want to see some detail on the carrier bag measure. Although it is generally welcome, it is easy to talk about something happening, but the practicalities of it and how individual customers and retailers will be affected will have to be looked at carefully. It is good to have noble ideas but sometimes the practicalities have to be worked out.

Nia Griffith: Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the programme of paying for carrier bags has been a tremendous success in Wales? It has been remarkable how little correspondence any of us have had against the programme and, today, the Association of Convenience Stores has come out in favour of the measure.

Sir John Randall: I recognise that, and I have been following the issue for some time. In fact, the measure would save me money because I would have to give out fewer carrier bags. However, we might also be put in an awkward position. My family’s store is not a convenience store and we sometimes sell quite high-value items. If someone has bought something for £200 and we then say, “It is 5p for a carrier bag”, that puts the retailer in a difficult position. I recognise what the hon. Lady says, but we do have to think about such a measure. I am an advocate of it, however, because it is environmentally desirable.

Fracking is a more controversial issue and we need some detailed thought on it. I heard what the Opposition spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), said. There is uncertainty on both sides of the argument. I agree that fracking is not the only answer to our energy problems, but some of the stories put out to frighten people about someone turning up outside the back door with a rig ready to drill through their garden are false. We have to get the legislation right. Strong environmental concerns about water and all sorts of other issues have to be looked at carefully. I do not want us to rush into this because it is a fundamental issue. I hope that we can look at fracking in as non-partisan a way as possible because it is important for the future of our country.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), the one thing in the Queen’s Speech that I am most delighted about is the introduction of a modern-day slavery Bill. Like her, I pay tribute to Anthony Steen of the Human Trafficking Foundation—I declare an interest as a trustee of that organisation—and to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), with whom I have been privileged to sit both on the review that the Home Secretary asked him to carry out and on the scrutiny Committee for the draft Bill. For the past six months, since deciding to no longer keep an eye on my colleagues to ensure that they vote in the right way, I have devoted myself to that cause. As with so many things, modern-day slavery is something that people cannot ignore once they find out about it.

Anyone who has watched and been appalled by “12 Years a Slave” must realise that almost the same sort of conditions exist for some people today—being kidnapped,

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having no escape or being too frightened to find any way out. If nothing else were to be done in this Session, we could still be a world leader with this Bill. It is the most important measure. There are things that the scrutiny Committee has advocated that were not in the draft Bill, and I look forward to seeing whether they will be incorporated—no doubt some will and some will not. I will reiterate a few of those recommendations.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden mentioned the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and things that we could be doing. We want not only increased penalties, but to ensure that the activity is simply not lucrative. As with a lot of crime, but particularly modern-day slavery, one of the problems is that by the time of conviction the criminals have moved all their ill-gotten gains around the world. In Italy, where the authorities have experience with the mafia, they now freeze assets on arrest. I hope that we can go some way down that line. It does not mean confiscation; it is simply freezing. People are allowed something to exist on, because they remain innocent until proven guilty, but we have to look at such a measure in order to stop the goods and money being taken away. Otherwise, for some of these people, five years in jail is nothing, as long as they have the billions when they come out. During debate on the Children and Families Bill, some Members in the other place were advocating guardians for trafficked children. Such a measure has to be included for child victims of modern-day slavery—I think the Government will do so, because they said that they would.

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr John Hayes): I thank my right hon. Friend and the other members of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee for their work. Does he acknowledge that the role of the new anti-slavery commissioner will very much be to co-ordinate the law-enforcement process, including internationally, where international co-operation plays the part that he describes? Clearly, in consideration of the Bill, the role of the commissioner can be looked at in some detail in that regard.

Sir John Randall: I agree with my right hon. Friend. I am a little cautious, for understandable governmental reasons, about ensuring the independence of the commissioner. No one likes to give up power entirely. The commissioner’s role will be important, but we have to recognise that to a great extent, the commissioner will have to have independence from Departments. That is another aspect.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden talked about the supply chain and ensuring that businesses have due regard. I am sure that that theme will be raised on Tuesday when we are discussing home affairs and certainly when we debate the Bill itself. It is one of the most controversial issues, but it is essential. How far that is put into legislation will have to be discussed. I know that the Government, rightly, do not want to burden businesses with unnecessary regulation, but I think that most businesses, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden said, will want such provision for their own reputational advantage, so that they are seen not merely to pay lip service to having no slavery in their supply chain but to ensure that they do not. Nobody can be sure at any particular stage and some of the evidence we heard over recent months has put me off purchasing all sorts of items. For example, many of the

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prawns we get in this country, from Thailand and elsewhere, are produced in conditions, which, if we knew more about them, would make us very wary of buying them.

Huw Irranca-Davies: The right hon. Gentleman is making a very good point. Does he agree that buyers in the UK can play a significant role unilaterally in this regard? There are half a dozen significant buyers in the garment and food sectors and should they choose to lead the field by saying that they will ensure that they are paying people what they need right down the supply chain, whatever part of the world they live in, so that they can live in dignity and bring up their families, that could go a long way.

Sir John Randall: To a great extent, they are doing that. The problem is that when their suppliers in another country tell them that everything is okay and not to worry, they accept that. It is sometimes very difficult to get right down to the problem and that is why many of us think that one director or the chief executive should have a legal responsibility, not to penalise that person but to help the company. In other words, so long as they are doing their very best they will not be hauled in front of everybody and publicly shamed if something is found to have gone wrong. The idea is to help businesses.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend also acknowledge the excellent work that has been done through the Department for International Development’s support in places such as Bangladesh, where the garment industry has been encouraged to improve its terms of work and the conditions for its staff? UK companies that take supplies from Bangladesh are being encouraged to work with DFID on that.

Sir John Randall: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in this field. He is a very strong advocate and he is absolutely right. We have to work on this and must also increase public awareness. There is always a problem—I remember discussing it as a furnisher in the context of sustainable timber—in that some people, sad to say, do not care as long as a product is cheap enough. That is true of a lot of items. We must make it unacceptable to have available products produced by slave labour so that people will be unable to say, “Well, it’s cheap.” There should be no choice. We in this country should be free of the problem and we should set an example.

There are always things that I would have liked to have seen in the Queen’s Speech and things that I am delighted to see. If we can get a modern slavery Bill of which we can be genuinely proud onto the statute books in the 10 or 11 months left to us at the end of this Parliament, we will all be able to say that we were here when that happened.

12.34 pm

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), who made some good points, particularly about the modern slavery Bill, and some effective comments about immigration and what happens to youngsters coming into the country. I think that that is something on which we could all agree.

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I am pleased to make a small contribution to the debate and, perhaps unsurprisingly, would like principally to address some issues about energy. I am somewhat perplexed by the apparent headlong rush to do everything possible to allow fracking to take place. I remain sceptical about the potential of fracking and would be more cautious about taking it forward, because despite all the claims that are made of a new energy revolution, the situation in the UK is vastly different from that in the United States, and even there considerable controversy surrounds the technology.

Much of central and eastern Scotland, including parts of my constituency, is included in the latest map of possible sites for unconventional oil and gas. It seems to me, however, that we need to take a balanced, responsible and evidence-based approach, listening to the concerns of communities, and to proceed with caution. I particularly wanted to raise this issue, because I am a little unclear as to what is proposed in the infrastructure Bill. In Scotland, the situation is different from that in England. Although onshore oil and gas is vested in the Crown and subject to the same licensing regime at present as the remainder of the UK, planning law is devolved and the law of property is also significantly different, and both are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.

The changes to the law to allow fracking under properties without owners’ permission has already produced a considerable public response. In fact, I received a number of e-mails on the subject overnight. Although I accept what the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip said about the amount of misinformation and misapprehension over what is meant by those changes, I had assumed that the proposed changes to the law would not affect Scotland, since property and land law is a devolved matter. However, the notes to the Queen’s Speech issued by the No. 10 press office state, in relation to the infrastructure Bill:

“Subject to consultation, this Bill would support development of gas and oil from shale and geothermal energy by clarifying and streamlining the underground access regime.”

Furthermore, in a section headed “Devolution” it goes on to say:

“The provisions relating to roads, Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, planning consents for local projects and public sector land assets would apply only to England. The provisions relating to the local land charge aspects of the Land Registry and invasive non-native species would apply to England and Wales. Where the Bill deals with devolved matters, we are engaging with the Devolved Administrations as needed.”

Now, that raises a question in my mind: what is the situation with

“streamlining the underground access regime”,

as the notes put it? Can the Minister clarify whether it is the Government’s intention to seek changes in Scotland on these issues or is it indeed a specific matter for England? I had understood that the problem was with the specific English law of trespass, a law that is different in Scotland. If the Government’s intention is the former, what specific changes are they seeking? Many questions are being asked by my constituents and I do not want to give them false information, so I need to be clear about exactly what is happening and how far it will affect them.

The notes also refers to the future of North sea oil and gas and the report from Sir Ian Wood on maximising economic recovery of oil and gas reserves. This report

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perhaps already holds a special place in history as the only review to which both the UK Government and the Scottish Government, and almost everyone in between, has subscribed, even though it has some fairly uncomfortable things to say to both Government and industry. We will, of course, look closely at the part of the Bill that seeks to implement the proposals, although we have a different view of the future—these matters will become academic for this place following September’s referendum.

It will, however, be interesting to see how the Government propose to proceed. They say that they will

“introduce a levy-making power so that the costs of funding a larger, better resourced regulator can be paid for by industry rather than by the taxpayer as is currently the case.”

I support that objective, but as other parties now seem to be falling over themselves to offer some crumbs of further devolution to fight off the growing momentum towards a yes vote, it will be interesting to see whether that includes basing the proposed new regulator in Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe, or whether it will be yet another London-based outfit.

What the Gracious Speech did not do was tackle some of the many issues affecting the energy industry and consumers in Scotland and throughout other parts of the United Kingdom. Over the years in this House, I have repeatedly raised the issue of the unfair transmission charging regime that increases costs for generators, particularly renewable generators, in Scotland, adding to the costs of producing energy, which are invariably passed on to the consumers. After much pressing, Ofgem finally came up with Project TransmiT, which seems to be interminable. Although far from perfect, the proposal was to make some changes to the regime that would have benefited renewable generation, particularly in Scotland, yet its implementation has been postponed yet again and is now promised for sometime next spring.

The project has been postponed several times, and energy producers and consumers continue to pay more. Dealing with such issues could do a lot to help ameliorate the costs that consumers must pay towards their energy. If this Government are truly intent on enhancing the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security, as stated in the Gracious Speech, they need to get a grip and ensure that we have a regime that truly encourages the growth of renewable energy, which will not only create jobs but, as I said, ensure lower prices to consumers in the longer term.

There are many other issues that impact upon energy consumers and the cost of living of specific groups which could be dealt with to give real benefit and relief, but yet again they are completely missing from the Gracious Speech. It is interesting to note in passing that much was said earlier by the Secretary of State about companies voluntarily freezing prices. That has undoubtedly happened in some cases, but as those of us who looked at price freezes in another context know, it comes at a cost. There is no magic bullet. Along with its proposal to freeze prices, Scottish and Southern Energy announced significant job losses and pulled out of several investment projects. That must be borne in mind when thinking about such a proposal. It is not a one-way street.

I have long championed the cause of introducing a simple measure that would help pensioners who live off the gas grid, and have introduced two Bills on the matter, as well as raising it during the passage of various

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energy Bills. I may well take part in the ballot for private Members’ Bills and, if successful, introduce such a Bill again. The simple fact is that those who are off the gas grid pay higher costs than those on the grid, and pensioners are particularly badly hit. The problem in many rural areas is exacerbated by the fact that much of the housing is old and of construction that makes it very difficult to install energy-saving methods, such as cavity wall insulation.

Of course, those households will continue to receive the same winter fuel allowances as pensioners on the gas grid, but the crucial difference is how the energy is delivered. Those who are on the gas grid will receive their winter fuel bill around the time that the winter fuel allowance is generally paid, and the system therefore works very well for them. Indeed, in their explanatory notes to the regulations that last amended the benefit, the previous Government said specifically:

“They are paid in a lump sum each winter to ensure that money is available when fuel bills arrive.”

That is not the case for those who are off the gas grid. They face the difficulty that they have to pay for their liquefied petroleum gas or home fuel oil up front at the beginning of winter, well before they have the benefit of the winter fuel allowance. Many find it difficult to do so and may well not fill up the tank completely, leaving them having to do so in the depths of winter, which brings problems of its own.

When the Office of Fair Trading looked at the market a few years back, it found that there were many competing suppliers in the market. By definition, many of these were small suppliers, and although some of the larger players will offer greater flexibility for payment, many smaller ones are unable to so. The price of fuel is rising, often quite substantially as winter approaches, and even those suppliers who offer a fixed winter price will do so at a price higher than the summer price. There is also the problem of getting a delivery. Members will recall the dreadful weather two winters ago, during which many of my constituents faced huge difficulties in getting their tanks filled up, some being left with no fuel in the run-up to Christmas. That was perhaps exceptional, but it shows the additional problems that off-grid consumers face.

I am very pleased that the Labour Opposition have now supported the measure. I welcomed it when they did so and I welcome it again today, but the cynic in me notes in passing that I have now had support from all three of the other parties in the House for the measure. Unfortunately, it has always been when they were in opposition, not when they were in government. I hope that in the event of a change of Government, this time we will see an all-party approach to try to get the matter dealt with finally. It is an issue that has been going on for years and it is a simple matter that could make a real difference.

As I said, my Bill put forward a suggestion as to how we might tackle the problem, as was mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), by paying the winter fuel allowance earlier. The regulations could be amended simply by changing the date on which it is paid to off-grid customers. The scale of the problem was highlighted this week by a report from Scotland’s Rural College which showed that nearly 60% of the over-60s in rural areas are in fuel poverty,

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compared with 45% in urban areas. That is a truly shocking statistic. We need urgent action to tackle this situation.

The other point that I have often raised and will raise again is that there are no proposals in the Gracious Speech to tackle the problems of off-grid consumers under the present green deal. That is not working as well as it should, partly because it is left to the energy companies to set up and administer. There is such a complete lack of trust among consumers towards energy companies that many will not take up any deal offered by them. One example that I raised earlier and will mention again relates to the lack of ability to get a home fuel or LPG boiler under the energy company obligation scheme.

In Scotland the situation is slightly different. Under the home energy efficiency programme, the old scheme partly for central heating that was introduced by the Scottish Parliament, it is possible to get an off-grid boiler if it is replacing part of the central heating scheme. As I understand it, this is not available in other parts of the United Kingdom and it is not available under the energy companies’ ECO scheme. We have repeatedly been told that ECO is technology-neutral but this is clearly not the case, as none of the companies will include off-grid boilers in their schemes. I appreciate that these boilers are more expensive than traditional boilers, but that rather emphasises the point that those who are off the gas grid are doubly penalised—they pay much higher prices and at the same time cannot get replacement equipment that would be more efficient. Surely there are economies of scale that could reduce prices if the companies offered such technology, but I suspect that it will take the Government to force them to do so.

I am disappointed that despite talking about this matter—I know that the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) took an interest in it when he was an Energy Minister—the Government have not grasped the nettle and included provisions to deal with these issues. There is a missed opportunity in many of the proposals relating to energy, which could have made a real difference to people’s lives.

Mr Hayes: As the hon. Gentleman cited the impressive record that I had as the Energy Minister, will he acknowledge—I know he is very generous about these things—that we have made strides in greater transparency and clarity, at least in terms of tariffs, and that that progress was partly inspired by contributions from Members across the House, including him?

Mr Weir: I have always acknowledged that even off grid the Minister was responsible for setting up the ministerial round table which has opened up discussion on these issues. I acknowledge that, but what we need is action before next winter on these specific issues, because there are serious problems among pensioners in rural areas, and not just in Scotland. In the highlands of Scotland it is a particular issue, but it is also an issue in rural Wales, Northern Ireland and many parts of rural England. We need action on that. It is not expensive. It could be done relatively easily and I am disappointed that the issue has not been tackled.

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12.48 pm

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate following Her Majesty’s most Gracious Speech yesterday—a speech which truly shows that we are on the side of the vast majority of hard-working, decent, law-abiding, responsible people. It is a speech which, despite what the Opposition say, continues to demonstrate that this Government are dedicated to securing our country’s long-term economic future.

The range and depth of Bills announced shows that there is no let-up in our commitment to put right the failures of the previous Government, and builds on what this Government have already achieved. For the Opposition to have any credibility, they need to accept the failures of the past and just say sorry. Until they do, no one should ever trust them again with the finances of this country. Their weak attempt to frame this parliamentary Session as lacking substance is misguided and shows the desperation of their own argument. As John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“Businesses across Britain will be relieved to see that the government has opted for a streamlined legislative programme, meaning ministers can devote more time to delivering the best possible environment for economic growth and enterprise. Businesses hold governments accountable not for how many bills they pass, but for what they actually deliver.”

I agree. There is much to be welcomed, and it is not about quantity but quality. It is also not just about what we say here and what is in the speech but what we do and achieve in the next 11 months.

We have already achieved a lot. When this Government came to power, the future of our country was by no means certain. We were in the throes of Labour’s great recession, borrowing billions of pounds to bridge the gap between income and expenditure; confidence was at an all-time low; and, to top it all, we were informed by the former Chief Secretary, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), through his now infamous note, that “there’s no money left”. It was against this backdrop—this toxic economic inheritance—that the new Government had to set about rebuilding and rebalancing our economy. We abandoned the plans of the previous Government for more borrowing, more spending and more tax in exchange for a real long-term economic plan that is delivering growth, employment, and a brighter future than we might have dared to expect. Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech builds on that.

Huw Irranca-Davies: In his very outspoken welcoming of the Queen’s Speech, will the hon. Gentleman reflect on a situation that I am sure affects his constituents as well as mine, whereby as many as one in six agency workers now work under the so-called Swedish derogation, which means that some of them are being paid £135 less for doing the same job as the people standing next to them? Is that how we should be rebuilding the economy?

Stephen Metcalfe: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. There are still challenges to be tackled. I am not saying that the recovery is perfect. There is a long way to go and we need to do a lot more, but the fact that we are on the right road has to be welcomed.

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There are challenges—there is no doubt about that—and one of them is the overall cost of living, but we are serious about tackling that by taking the decisions to resolve these issues, decisions that have been blocked at every turn by Labour. I accept that there is a cost of living challenge—we have to; it is a reality—but we were always going to have this problem until our long-term economic plan was in place and seen to be working. Whichever way you cut it, as a nation we were spending more than we were earning and borrowing the difference, and that is what had to come to a stop. We cannot keep spending more than we earn. Anyone who has ever got into trouble with their credit card or overdraft knows that at some point they have to stop spending and face reality. That is what we did when we got into government—we faced reality and we stopped spending so much. Anyone who has ever used a credit card or an overdraft to fund their lifestyle knows that when they rein in expenditure and start paying back their bills they do not have as much money to spend. That is the situation we found ourselves in as a nation. Despite the toxic economic inheritance we received, we have managed the reductions in spending in a cautious and measured way. It has not been without pain, but if we had not taken the decisions we have, things could have been so much worse than they have been and are.

How do we tackle the continuing cost of living challenge? I believe there are three ways to do that. First, we can put off the inevitable, keep borrowing and spending, and hope something will turn up. Secondly, we can take an interventionist approach and try to con people that we can freeze energy prices, cap rents, and renationalise the railways. Thirdly, we can do what this Government have done: take the hard decisions, pull our head out of the sand, and tackle the problem head on. The best way to deal with the challenge is to create growth and jobs and to rebalance the economy so that wages rise at least in line with costs, and, in the meantime, to mitigate the impact of the readjustment as best we can. For example, we have raised the threshold at which people begin to pay tax so that low-paid workers who are least able to weather the economic storm can keep more of their money. That measure alone has saved 26 million people £705 each per year.

We have demonstrated to the markets that we are serious about paying down the debts and closing the deficit. This has potentially saved mortgage holders over £1,000 for every percentage point by which mortgages could have risen. We have frozen council tax so that after five years people are paying the same as they were in 2010, saving them hundreds of pounds. We should compare that with the doubling of council tax that took place under the previous Government. We have frozen the fuel duty escalator, making fuel now 20p per litre cheaper than it would have been under the previous Government’s plans. We have created jobs so that people have the security of an income. We have created 1.5 million new jobs and now have more people in work than ever before in our history. I could go on .

However, all of the above does not mean I am oblivious to the challenges people continue to face each and every day. That is why I warmly welcome all the Bills announced in the Gracious Speech, including the Childcare Payments Bill, which will help people to meet the cost of child care; the infrastructure Bill, which will enable us to source cheaper local energy; and the pensions Bill,

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which will show that we trust people to do the right thing with the money they have saved.

Above all, I welcome the small business, enterprise and employment Bill. As many in this House will know, in my previous life I worked in my own family printing business. I can therefore confirm that running your own small business is tough—always has been and probably always will be. If we can do anything to make it easier, then we must, and this Bill goes a long way towards achieving that. People might ask what small businesses have to do directly with the cost of living. I sometimes think we forget how important our small and medium-sized business sector is. It is the powerhouse of the British economy and—dare I say it?—the backbone of our society. Not until the SME sector is truly thriving will we be able fully to tackle the cost of living challenge. There are 4.9 million small businesses in the UK. If even only half of them employed one extra person, we could wipe out unemployment in a stroke.

That is why this Bill is so important, and I am not the only one who thinks so—the Federation of Small Business and the British Chambers of Commerce have also welcomed it. John Allan, the FSB’s national chairman, said:

“The Small Business Bill, announced today in the Queen’s Speech, reflects the growing recognition of the role small businesses have to play in driving forward the economy and the need to do all we can to support them in that effort.”

John Longworth, director general of the BCC, said:

“Simplifying life for small or growing businesses should be an objective shared across all political parties.”

That is what I believe we are delivering. A number of significant measures in the Bill will go a long way towards helping small businesses and thus helping them to support their staff in tackling the rising cost of living. Unlike Governments or public bodies, SMEs can pay their staff only what the company earns, and until they can earn more they cannot pay more.

The first measure that will have a significant impact on the success of our businesses is the renewed focus on late payment. As I said in my debate on this topic 18 months ago, small businesses should not be acting as the bank for large business. A recent survey of FSB members found that 51% of large company invoices were paid late. That is outrageous. It is blocking tens of billions of pounds that could be pumped back into the economy for the benefit of the majority and not the minority. Make no mistake: this is not asking companies to settle their invoices before the due date; it is just asking them to settle them at the agreed terms, whether 30, 60 or 90 days—that is a private arrangement. Paying on time could significantly increase the profits of small businesses. Businesses often function on overdrafts because of the money they are owed. If they did not have to fund an overdraft, they would undoubtedly have more money for wages and investment. Late payment of invoices costs money, affects cash flow, increases overdrafts, causes anxiety, and demotivates businesses so that they do not invest. Anything we can do to improve the situation by toughening up the prompt payment code is very welcome, but if it does not work, please expect me to come back here and call for yet further action. We cannot take our foot off the accelerator on this one.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): Is my hon. Friend disappointed, as I am, that the Queen’s Speech did not say anything about a full review of business rates? I am sure that he has been very conscious

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of this issue and businesses in my constituency talk about it all the time. We fundamentally need a full review of business rates in order to come up with a fairer tax.

Stephen Metcalfe: I agree that we need to look at that. The steps we have taken to ease rates for small businesses have been welcomed by businesses in my constituency, but we need to do more and a full review, perhaps with some safeguards for those businesses that may not be able to weather an increase in rates, is certainly something we should consider.

The second area of the small business Bill that I particularly welcome relates to the fact that, despite what banks tells us, small and medium-sized businesses still find it very hard to access competitively priced finance. Every time I visit my local shopping area or business park, someone tells me of the problems they have getting finance in order to grow and invest. I welcome the steps the Government have already taken to ease access to finance, such as the introduction of the business bank, but it is now time to go further, which is why I welcome the steps to force banks to refer businesses to other providers.

We are told that, for many first-time small business borrowers, the rejection rate from banks is about 50%, often simply because the bank’s risk assessment process is so rigid or the sector profile is so inflexible that a small or growing business is rejected out of hand, regardless of how viable or sustainable it is. Therefore, it is only right that they can be referred to other banks and alternative providers with different business models. If the provision fails to improve access to finance, I will again call for more direct action to support our vital SME network.

The third measure I particularly welcome is the commitment to level the playing field. As John Longworth has said:

“The vast majority of law-abiding businesses will also favour a clampdown on rogue employers who do not pay the National Minimum Wage”.

Of course those businesses will agree with that. The vast majority of SME owners and operators are decent, caring people who often act as the second welfare system, helping employees cover unexpected costs through loans or advance wages, avoiding other sources of lending. They also often help their staff with financial planning and managing their finances. That is because the vast majority of SMEs recognise that their greatest asset is their staff. For those who do not recognise that and who want to take advantage, it is right that we crack down and make everyone play by the same rules.

I believe that those measures, combined with many others in that and other Bills announced yesterday, will go a long way to help to tackle the cost of living challenge. It is a challenge that we have to rise to, and I believe that we are doing that. It is not easy—no one ever said it would be—but I am sure that, despite the challenges faced and the pain we have endured, there is only one Government who can rise to the challenges we still face, only one Government with a long-term economic plan to secure our future, and only one Government with a parliamentary programme that builds on our achievements. That is this Government and they should be supported.

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1.3 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate, which takes place in the atmosphere generated by the negative attitudes of the UK Independence party and others in the recent local and European elections. I urge people to be very cautious about starting to dance to the tune of xenophobes and closet racists or, indeed, open racists in their attitude towards society as a whole.

I compliment in particular the speeches of the right hon. Members for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) for highlighting the human consequences of what happens to people who migrate from one place to another. We should be aware of the fact that in every story there is a human story and in every tragedy there is a human tragedy. We should not suddenly shut the doors against anyone who is fleeing from violence, oppression or destitution, which is, indeed, what many people are doing.

Of course, the situation has consequences for our society, but people from this country have also sought to migrate to many other parts of the world in order to make a better life for themselves. This is the way of the modern world. If we start saying that nobody can come here, other countries might start saying that none of us can go there. These things go full circle, and we should be more cautious in our attitude to issues of migration and society.

I want to make two germane points and I will try to adhere to the 10 minutes suggested by Mr Speaker. First, the Queen’s Speech stated:

“The Bill will enhance the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources.”

I urge a degree of caution before we rush down the road of fracking all over the country, particularly the north-west, which will have environmental consequences. Many different organisations hold briefing sessions in this House—it is a form of lobbying and there is nothing wrong with that—and I was astonished at the large attendance at yesterday evening’s Friends of the Earth briefing on fracking and its consequences. A very interesting speaker from Australia, where there has been much fracking with apparently limited controls, explained what has happened there. She pointed out that a vast amount of water is used for fracking and that it causes pollution when it is pumped up to ground level. Storage ponds are needed to allow the water to settle and the process has longer-term environmental consequences.

Indeed, the first line of fracking has caused earth tremors in Lancashire, and there has also been a significant number of earth tremors in the United States as a result of fracking. Although it is presented as a cheap form of energy—any cheap form of energy sounds attractive when we first hear of it, and there is all kind of talk about Klondike and the new gold rush—there are two problems. One is the congestion caused by extra traffic and the noise and other pollution caused by the process itself, and the other is the clean-up phase afterwards. Are we not building in potentially huge costs to the public sector in having to clean up all the environmental pollution that will result from the process?

Surely we should be thinking even more strongly than we have up to now about energy sustainability and security, by which I mean not necessarily producing

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vast amounts more, but using a lot less through better conservation, better insulation and more efficient forms of transport, as well as, increasingly, the use of renewable energy. It is populist to attack wind farms, but they make a significant contribution to our electricity supply and will continue to do so. They do not, of course, create the pollution problems of fracking or any other fossil energy. There will be a huge debate about fracking and I would be very cautious about going down that road, because of the pollution problems it causes.

The other issue I want to address is housing. I represent an inner-city constituency and am very proud to do so. We face massive housing problems. We have an image problem, in that everyone thinks that Islington is an extremely well-off, wealthy and great place to live. It is, indeed, a great place to live, but the housing market is totally out of control. A first-time buyer seeking to buy in my borough would need to be on a very substantial income indeed, so no MP need think about buying as a first-time buyer in Islington.

We also have a large social rented sector—it is mainly council-run, but there are some housing associations—which makes up about 40% of the market. Thirty per cent. of the population in my borough live in the private rented sector. They pay very high rents and have very good security as a result. Those in the private rented sector who are in receipt of housing benefit or any other kind of benefit now find that the Government’s benefit cap affects them in a very damaging way. They are unable to pay the rent from their housing benefit, and they cannot make up the gap between their housing benefit and the rent level from any other benefits or, indeed, their wages—their low wages; many people receiving housing benefit are already in work. The council does not have enough houses to put them in, so they are forced to move away from the borough to a private rented flat somewhere else in London or, in the case of other London boroughs, outside London. That means that families have to up sticks and move, caring and child care support arrangements disappear, and children travel very long distances to remain in local schools to try to maintain a link with the community in the desperate hope that there will one day be a council flat available for them to come back to. Not just in my borough but all over London significant numbers of very young children make very long journeys every morning to keep a place in a primary school.

Is all this avoidable? Yes, I believe it is. I welcome the moves that the Labour party and its Front Benchers have made on changing our attitudes to the private rented sector, the regulation of letting agents, environmental conditions, longevity of tenancies and the ending of the ludicrous charging and deposit scheme that many agencies promote. I suggest that at some point, however, we will have to face the fact that we cannot go on controlling benefit levels but not rent levels, and therefore forcing people who rely on benefits for all or part of their income to move away from the areas where they have traditionally lived and been a very important part of the community.

In introducing a ten-minute rule Bill last Session, I pointed out that London was significantly different from the rest of the country in this respect. Rents are significantly higher and there is a significantly greater churn of people in London than in most other parts of the country. I do not see why we should not involve

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local government in the solution. After all, local government is the primary housing authority. Why can we not have some form of rent registration and regulation—London-wide—that takes account of the needs and costs of producing and providing housing in London so that we do not lose out on the private rented sector altogether, but can keep our mix of communities?

I would not normally go along with much of what the London chamber of commerce and industry says, but it points out in a briefing note sent to Members for today’s debate that of their members in London

“59% of firms are experiencing a greater pressure to increase wages as a result of higher housing costs…42% of firms believe that higher housing costs are having a detrimental impact on their ability to recruit and retain staff”


“33% of firms believe that their employees’ punctuality and/or productivity is being affected by longer commutes as a result of not being able to afford to live in the capital.”

All that is absolutely true. Unless we ensure that there is a sufficient supply of housing for a whole range of people in London or any other big city, we will end up destroying our communities and increasing the pressure on longer and longer commuter rail lines, bus routes and roads, while not actually solving the problem. I hope that we will be able to make some progress on that.

My last point on housing is that my local authority, like others, assertively uses its planning powers to try to ensure planning gain from any private sector development that takes place, as is absolutely right and proper. Hitherto, it has been able to ensure that any new housing development of more than 10 units must include a proportion of affordable housing, including a proportion of social housing. Many developers try to get around that, so the council has levied a surcharge to try to ensure that there is sufficient money for local housing development. Islington has done very well. It has one of the largest council house building programmes in the country, which, ultimately, is the only solution to the housing crisis.

However, the Government came along and changed the regulation on office conversions so that these no longer require planning permission. A developer who buys an office block can therefore convert it into private sector housing without any social housing requirement whatsoever, and no local authority or planning authority has any say in whether the conversion should take place. I can understand the point that some local authorities might oppose the conversion of office blocks into housing to retain jobs, and I think that local authorities should have the right to do that and that local people should have the right to have a say. However, when a large number of office blocks are converted into housing, with the developer making no contribution whatsoever to resolving the local housing crisis, it is time for regulation and for the local authority to have a say in the matter.

For example, Archway tower, near Archway underground station, which was originally built by London Transport in 1967, has been used for a succession of offices, mostly in the public sector, but is now empty. It has been bought by a company called Essential Living, which is converting it into 120 flats for tenants earning somewhere above £80,000 a year, which is far more than anyone earns who works in the area. No contribution whatsoever is being made to the social

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housing needs of my borough. That is happening all across London; indeed, it will soon happen in cities across the country.

We therefore need regulation, local government input and more council housing, but above all we urgently need tough regulation of the private rented sector so that very many people do not go through the insecurity and indignity of being forced to move out of their community simply because landlords can put up rents to whatever level they like and that they think the market can bear. Surely we must understand that housing is a necessary right for everyone, and that all children deserve to be brought up in a decent, clean and dry household and to attend a local school without the insecurity of moving every six months.

1.16 pm

Mr Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I shall return to the comments made by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and talk about housing in the bulk of my speech, but may I first commend my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), my friend and neighbour, for moving the Loyal Address yesterday? She spoke with passion, wit and great substance, not just about D-day and the Navy but about Portsmouth. Portsmouth has had a good week because not only has my hon. Friend moved the Address, but it is the focal point for the D-day celebrations, and this week the Conservatives took control of Portsmouth city council from the tired and discredited Liberal Democrats. I can get away with saying that since none of them are in the Chamber.

This Queen’s Speech is pro-business, pro-work and pro-aspiration. I want to focus my remarks today on aspiration—the aspiration that people in my constituency and across the country have to look after themselves and their family, to provide security for their retirement and to have a home of their own. However, I first want to address the issue of housing.

Housing development was a big issue in the elections in Fareham. Demographic change and a growing population mean that we need more homes if we are to enable people to get on the housing ladder and if we are to accommodate the families currently in overcrowded affordable housing or social housing. The challenge we face is where to site the 6,000 homes needed, for sale and for rent, to accommodate the demand.

Fareham has expanded during the past 40 years. Where I live in the west of the constituency, there used to be strawberry fields. In the last decade, the focus of development has predominantly been on brownfield sites, not greenfield ones or, indeed, strawberry fields. Although that approach to development has preserved green space in a predominantly suburban area, there have been issues with the provision of infrastructure. We have relied on expanding existing schools, rather than building new ones to accommodate demand. We have tweaked road junctions and lay-outs, rather than building new roads. GP surgeries have become overcrowded. For example, the Jubilee surgery in Titchfield has about 2,500 patients per GP, compared with an average of 1,800 patients per GP across the country as a whole. As a consequence, GP surgeries have shrunk their catchment

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areas and required families moving less than a couple of miles to change surgeries if they no longer live in the same GP catchment area. The use of brownfield sites has therefore imposed more pressure on existing infrastructure.

As a community, we have now reached a decision point about how to accommodate current population growth and where new homes are built. How and where do we build the 6,000 homes that Fareham needs? Brownfield sites have largely been utilised, so Fareham faces significant challenges. Do we merge existing communities so that Portchester merges with Fareham, Fareham with Stubbington, and Titchfield with Titchfield Common, creating a ribbon of development along the A27, which bisects my constituency? Alternatively, do we create a new settlement, where we create a vision for the future in which the services and infrastructure are tailored to meet the needs of the new community, rather than being cobbled together from what is already in the area?

Fareham, as a community, has decided to go down the second route. It will have a new settlement within its borough boundaries called Welborne. It will be on a greenfield site to the north of the M27. I am the first to acknowledge that that is not an easy decision for the communities that border the site, such as Funtley, the north of Fareham and Wickham. However, it is supported by the borough as a whole. Having Welborne in the borough plan to meet the future housing needs of the constituency protects other sites from development. An application to build in the gap between Fareham and Stubbington is less likely to succeed because we have a robust plan in place to meet housing demand in the borough. The Government’s planning reforms have been implemented to good effect in Fareham.

For Welborne to gain the full consent of the community, it is vital that the infrastructure is of a high standard and is provided when it is needed, rather than when the existing services are creaking at the seams. The developers get that and will finance the bulk of the infrastructure. Plans are in place for community facilities, new schools and new GP surgeries. A key part of the infrastructure provision is the creation of a four-way junction at junction 10 of the M27. That will improve road access to Welborne and the north of Fareham.

That junction is the main ask of the Solent local enterprise partnership in its bid to the local growth fund. The developers of the site, Fareham borough council, the Solent LEP and I have met the Housing Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), to press our case for that funding. The £90 million bid from the Solent LEP will ensure that we get the improvements that are needed to our road infrastructure to ensure that development takes place across Fareham and to facilitate improved access to the enterprise zone at Daedalus.

Welborne will meet the borough’s housing needs. Without it, fewer people will get on the housing ladder, there will be significant upward pressure on house prices and more families will be forced to live in accommodation that is too small for them. It is right for the Government to increase the supply of housing and to make it easier for people to own a home of their own. Owning one’s own home is an aspiration that many people save hard to fulfil. It took a decade of hard saving for my parents to buy their first home. My

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grandparents exercised their right to buy their council house. My family’s experiences motivate me to help others get on the housing ladder. That is why I support the Government’s Help to Buy scheme, which helps those who can afford mortgage payments but who do not yet have the deposit that lenders require.

The measures that the Government have taken, which have been built on in the Queen’s Speech, to tackle supply through planning reforms and the schemes to help affordability are vital to aid aspiration. We will improve social mobility and tackle inequality only if we make it easier for people to acquire assets such as a home of their own.

I shall touch briefly on the pension reforms in the Gracious Speech. They form part of the agenda on aspiration. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), should be commended for pursuing collective defined contribution schemes. He recognises the shift in pensions, whereby the burden of risk has been transferred from employers in defined benefit schemes to individuals in defined contribution schemes. His approach of tackling that through pooling investment should help to reduce the investment risk that the individual faces.

The pensions tax Bill, which the Chancellor announced in the Budget, is part of a series of radical reforms to pensions since 2010. The implementation of auto-enrolment, the move to single-tier pensions and the end of compulsory annuitisation have transformed the pensions landscape. The Chancellor was right in the Budget to recognise that new landscape and to give people greater freedom in the use of their pension pot. The single-tier pension will float most pensioners off means-tested benefits. It is right to give people more freedom in how they use their pension pot and not simply to roll it over into an annuity offered by the pension provider. People are not getting a good deal from the way in which the annuities market is operating. Freedom will force providers to sharpen up their act and to offer better value annuities and a wider range of products to help people manage their income in retirement.

The key to the success of these proposals is the guidance guarantee. We need to ensure that people are equipped to make the best choices for themselves. From meeting various stakeholders in the pensions sector, I know that that is a cause of concern. How will we ensure that people have good guidance at the right point in their life? Simply having guidance at retirement is not enough, given that people’s needs change over the period of their retirement. How will we gather together all the information about people’s pensions and savings so that we can give them good quality guidance? Will there be a digital service that people can dip into at will, or will advice always be face-to-face or on the telephone, which would be more expensive? How will we ensure that people take up the offer of guidance, so that they get the support and help they need to make the most of the new freedoms that we provide? If we get the guidance process right, it will help more and more pensioners to make better use of the assets that they have accumulated over their working life and ensure that they have the income that they need in retirement.

Ensuring that people are able to build up a pension pot, to save and to have good quality accommodation, whether that is in the private sector through owner-occupation or in the rented sector, is important if we are

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to support aspiration in this country. Over the past four years, the Government have made huge strides towards helping people realise their aspirations of work, a home of their own and savings. We need to continue that work into the next Parliament.

1.26 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to those on both Front Benches that I will not be here for the winding-up speeches, but I have to leave the House for personal reasons.

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) because he was a courteous and able Minister. He was very courteous in dealing with the Equitable Life issues, which were complex. I will touch on pensions a little later.

I will start by welcoming some of the measures in the Queen’s Speech. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I welcome the Modern Slavery Bill. It is an excellent piece of legislation. The draft Bill was rightly scrutinised before the Bill came before the House. I believe that the Bill will proceed with the good will of those on both sides of the House. It has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and others, but I just want to say that I will be very proud to be one of the Members of Parliament who helps to push that legislation through.

It is important not to lose sight of one issue in respect of that Bill. We must have adequate resources to ensure that measures can be taken against those who traffic people across our countries. As someone who represents a port community, I know how difficult that will be. We must have the right numbers, the right resources, the right intelligence and the right kit to ensure that there is adequate screening at ports and that people are brought to justice when they are caught. I welcome that piece of legislation.

I also welcome the announcement that the Government made a couple of days before the Queen’s Speech on pubcos and the need for adjudicators. There has been cross-party consensus on that. The House works very well on such issues. Many pub landlords in my area have suffered over the past few years because of the unscrupulous way in which the pub companies have dealt with them. Many pub companies bought lots of property across the United Kingdom at the height of the market when prices were high and got their fingers burnt. The victims of that are the tenants who are in tied premises. The proposal is an excellent way forward.

I also welcome the plastic bag legislation. I say that as a Welshman because in my part of the world, we do not have carrier bags in many places. I feel quite stupid when I take my carrier bags with me to go shopping in London and other parts of England. People look at me rather oddly. Getting rid of carrier bags is not the end of the world. It is very good for the environment. It also helps in framing one’s thoughts and buying just the right amount of goods, rather than loading up one’s trolley too much, thinking that there will be all those free bags. The serious point is that it is good legislation and I will certainly support it.

I am rather confused about the measures that are coming out on pensions. I know that the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) is very good on the theory of pensions. He knows the subject

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inside out. However, I am slightly concerned about the contradictions in the different pensions measures. We talk about liberating people to have choice on the one hand and collectiveness on the other. I want to see more detail before we move forward. We do need 21st century legislation on pensions because we are an ageing population, but I want to ensure that we mitigate the risks to workers in the private sector and to those who collect the state pension.

As a Welsh Member I do not often get the chance to engage with housing issues because of devolution, but I tell hon. Members from all parts of the United Kingdom that housing is a real and big issue whether someone lives in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or England, and we need to build more houses for the future. We also need the skills and work force for that—more bricklayers, plasterers, structural engineers and various things—and it is in all our interests for the United Kingdom to have an adequate skills base to ensure that.

This is not a partisan issue. Previous Conservative and Labour Governments have built numbers of houses, but we now face a massive challenge because the demography of our country is changing so much. Elderly people need to downsize. Many people who have had strokes and suffer from various things are living longer, and we need to adapt and build accommodation that is fit for purpose. We must help young entrants with the Help to Buy scheme—I know from my daughters and their peers how difficult it is—but we also need to look after older and less able people, and ensure a good mix of housing stock for our future citizens. I welcome legislation that will help that to happen.

The consensus ends on energy and the cost of living. It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister’s opening remarks on the Queen’s Speech. Government Members are now all on message to say that the long-term economic plan is working, but they have short memories. In 2010 an emergency Budget by the Chancellor stated that the core of the economic plan was to eliminate the deficit by 2015, but that has changed. Cuts are being felt by communities across the United Kingdom, but we have not eliminated the deficit and that is a big failure of the Government’s economic plan. It was their words, their actions, and their failure, and they will be judged on that as in recent elections and in the future—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) laughs, but I do not think we should be laughing when 5 million people vote for third and fourth parties in protest. They are doing it for a reason and the Government should be wary of that.

Michael Ellis rose—

Albert Owen: I will take an intervention if the hon. Gentleman wants to defend the fact that the deficit has not been eliminated. [Interruption.] The Whip states from a sedentary position that the Labour party is not in power, but this Government said that they would eliminate the deficit and did not do so. They also said they would not raise VAT but did so straight away. They are raising taxes and ordinary working people across the country are paying more for fuel, not less, because every time they buy £1 of fuel, they pay 2.5p extra. The reality is not the mythical 20p that the Government talk about; it is the real 2.5p on every pound when people purchase fuel.

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Michael Ellis: Does the hon. Gentleman think that he is rather like the hypothetical arsonist who starts a fire somewhere and then criticises firefighters for not putting it out quickly enough? Labour has the responsibility, which it is abrogating, and this Government have been fixing Labour’s problems.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman needs to get out and about. That might be what Conservative central office is telling him, but he needs to get out across the country and ask himself why people are genuinely suffering as a consequence of the actions his Government have taken. Blaming the Labour party is old hat and will not work. Carry on doing that, and we will see at the next election that the Government are judged on their record, not that of previous Governments.

I want to say the three letters that the Prime Minister will never admit to—VAT—because this is about trust in politics. When the leader of a party tells the country that he will not do something and then immediately does it, the country does not forget. This is about trust in politics and this Prime Minister. Indeed, to be fair to the Deputy Prime Minister, before the election he warned that the Conservatives would put up VAT, but he has now jumped into bed with them and is pushing those reforms through.

I think there is a big challenge for energy, and whichever party was in government would have had to reform the energy market. I supported many of the reforming measures in the Energy Bill, but the cost of living crisis has pushed up energy prices beyond what is reasonable and what households can afford. I think it is a missed opportunity for the Queen’s Speech not to contain a consumer Bill for helping with energy prices.

The Government ridicule the fact that the Opposition have come up with a energy freeze, which they say is populist, yet energy companies are starting to do it. The Government need to take a lead on that and not allow energy prices to go beyond the means of ordinary people. The hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) mentioned people who are off-grid. The Queen’s Speech contains an infrastructure Bill, but no mention of extending gas mains to many households in the United Kingdom. Many off-grid households have to pay a heck of a lot more for their fuel. They do not benefit from dual fuel bonuses and are not able to switch in the way that the Energy Secretary boasts about. They are also paying considerably more for their energy. The Winter Fuel Allowance Payments (Off Gas Grid Claimants) Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Angus would help to alleviate that, but we need to go further and build infrastructure.

When the Energy Committee, of which I am a member, discussed shale gas three or four years ago, the Government dismissed it because they did not think it worth taking forward—hon. Members can see the responses to that report. We then had another report, and I think it is important to have energy security. Rather than importing foreign gas and oil, we should produce our own if the potential is there. However, I am confused about the way those measures have been handled, moving towards exploration of shale gas, and from what I heard from the Energy Secretary today, things are no clearer.

We must bring communities with us to enjoy the benefits of shale gas together, and there should be local benefits. I am certainly not a nimby and I represent a

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constituency that has a nuclear power station, offshore wind farms in close proximity, too many onshore wind farms—they need to be moved as new development takes place—and tidal power. I think we should look at the bigger picture, and find local but also national benefits from a gas and oil bonanza, whether it be in the North sea or from shale. We should be putting aside money and ring-fencing some of those profits for local communities and for national benefit, and that could help to fund extension of the gas mains that are causing problems for many of our communities. I know that those on the Opposition Front Bench are listening to these arguments, just as they listened to arguments about people who are off-grid being protected by the regulator. The market does not work in the same way for people who are off-grid, as I explained, and they do not have the protection of a regulator. The Labour party is moving forward on that issue, and such measures could easily have been included in the Queen’s Speech.

People are suffering on a day-to-day basis from a cost of living crisis in the real world. Hon. Members should not take my word for that; they should listen to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). When he goes out and about and listens to people, he hears that there is a problem. There is a problem, and the Queen’s Speech should have helped to deal with it. Over the next 11 months I think that we will go at a slow pace and little will be achieved. There will then be an opportunity for real choice at a general election, and this failed Government will be turfed out because they have failed to do the things they said they would, and they have done many things that they said they would not do.

1.38 pm

Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). I agreed with some of the things he said, particularly that this Government will be judged on their record—I am very happy for the Government to be judged on their record at the general election. He mentioned shopping in England, but he should not be too embarrassed at taking his bags with him. I take my bags to the supermarket, and the only reason people look oddly at me is because I tend to fill rather robust Waitrose bags in a Tesco supermarket.

This was a good Queen’s Speech. It has been criticised for containing only 11 Bills, but earlier this morning we approved the carry-over of six Bills from the previous Session, so that makes 17. As somebody who is in favour of less government and less legislation, I think it is a good Queen’s Speech—the culmination of a balanced programme in the face of the economic and financial crisis that this Government inherited. As I said, I am happy for this Government to be judged on their record, and they will be judged on the growth, employment and inflation figures.

One of the topics we are considering today is energy—whether from solar panels, wind turbines or shale gas. How we get it, what we pay for it and what we are willing to give up to secure its future continue to be issues. Nationally, I have campaigned hard over the past 15 years with many colleagues in this House to change national policy in respect of large-scale, badly sited onshore wind farm developments, in response to a veritable barrage of applications faced by rural

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constituencies, from developers desperate to profit from generous subsidies. Twelve years ago in my constituency we saw off an application for some 32 wind turbines in the Winterbourne valley and, more recently—we fought this over several years—another wind farm at Silton, which at the end of 2012 the inspector ruled was a totally inappropriate development in a country area, on grounds of intrusion on the landscape and historic buildings.

The campaigning has started to pay real dividends, with a welcome commitment by the Prime Minister that the next Conservative Government would end any additional public subsidy for onshore wind beyond what is already planned and ensure that large-scale onshore wind farms would be determined by the locally led planning system, as opposed to a national infrastructure regime. We need to amend planning policy to give even greater protection to the landscape, heritage and other concerns.

Solar power is another renewable energy source that has enjoyed unprecedented growth in recent years. Similar action to curb over-inflated solar subsidies in 2011 led to cuts in the feed-in tariff that had so long supported the deployment of solar farms. That drove down the cost on consumer bills and, despite the concerns of the industry, solar has continued to thrive, as evidenced by the number of applications across my constituency. Back in the Winterbourne valley, where we fought wind turbines 12 years ago, the same landowner tried to develop 175 acres—for those who do not live in rural areas, that is about 110 football pitches—by covering them with wind turbines. I am pleased to say that the residents, who probably had a degree of self-interest, took the application to judicial review and it has now been quashed.

I have no objections to solar power as such, and in most cases it is infinitely preferable to towering industrial wind turbines, stamping their carbon-intensive footprint across our beautiful landscapes. However, the Energy Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), was right when he said that support for solar as part of our future energy mix does not equate to wanting the

“uncontrolled expansion of solar on the countryside”.

That means, in future, favouring domestic, retail, industrial and commercial rooftops and on-site generation, such as deployment on brownfield sites and car parks. In my view, our locally led planning system should be the sole judge of such developments.

Shale gas—I mention this because it was also mentioned in the Queen’s Speech—is a valuable resource that we should be considering, but when fracking takes place in our communities it, too, should come under the control of our democratically elected councillors and local communities, because they are essential to the decision-making process. Our future energy supply and security must remain at the top of this country’s agenda, but that should not mean sacrificing our natural environment or the quality of life of local communities, whether in Dorset or elsewhere.

Let me turn to the final paragraphs of yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, which included the words:

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

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That is fundamental. It is a positive message that, after the European Parliament election results—which sent us a clear message—says that we need to look positively at how we develop our relationship with the European Union.

The rise of UKIP and other far-right movements across Europe is a manifestation of the electorate’s disapproval of mainstream political parties and their handling of the financial crisis that engulfed the world, and particularly some European states, in 2008. Their dissatisfaction is justified, but the European elections come at a time when the British and European economies are turning the corner. With growth on the up—that it is not just my assessment; the International Monetary Fund and the OECD have indicated that in this country growth is up and, although modest, consistent, with employment numbers rising—I think the overall sentiment towards the European Union has been improving, both at home and across the rest of Europe. Despite UKIP’s rise in popularity, 70% of the voters who turned out in the European elections voted for parties that want Britain to remain part of the EU.

I urge all the mainstream political parties represented in this House not to use the EU as a fig leaf to cover other failings. What is needed is leadership and real solutions to the challenges facing this country and Europe. The populist and xenophobic panaceas offered by far-right parties are not the answer, as our not-so-distant history has shown us.

Unfortunately, UKIP Members of the European Parliament have consistently failed to work for their constituents and promote British positions. For about a month, I tried—not particularly scientifically—to ask virtually everybody I met in my constituency whether they could tell me who were the two UKIP Members of the European Parliament for the south-west. I did not find a single person who could answer the question. Many of them knew who the three Conservative MEPs were—and the one Liberal Democrat MEP—who, I have to say, have all been diligent over the past five years, working hard for their constituents. The UKIP MEPs are the least hard-working of all MEPs. At a time when Britain in Europe needs all hands on deck, they have been sleeping on the job and I do not expect the new batch to perform any better. It is more important that the rest of the MEPs we send to Brussels are influential, involved, active and constructive, and are prepared to engage, build alliances, lead, write reports and vote on the decisions that affect all of us.

Of course, Nigel Farage is popular. He is the average bloke we might meet in the pub—well, not quite average. The answer to every problem, as far as he is concerned, is either Brussels or immigrants; or, if we put them together, “It’s foreigners”—although not his wife, who happens to be German. He complains about hearing foreign voices on the train. When Mr Farage is on the Eurostar, travelling to Brussels, and he crosses the Belgian border, does he speak Flemish or French? I wonder what the answer is.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and for his considered comments on UKIP and those on the more extreme edges of the debate. The point he makes about immigration is moot, because people are talking about it on the doorstep. However, I

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think it would have been a different conversation on the doorstep, with his constituents and mine, if UKIP had elevated its conversation to talk about the real issues around pressures on services, and if, for example, Nathan Gill, the UKIP MEP elected in Wales, had fronted up to the fact that, as we now know, he employed immigrant labour for his own business. It seems to be a case of do as I say, not as I do.

Mr Walter: The hon. Gentleman is very perceptive, because I have Nathan Gill’s name written down here and I was going to mention him in a moment or two.

I want to continue briefly talking about Nigel Farage, because in UKIP terms he is quite moderate. What concerns me most, when listening to many UKIP members and supporters, is that they use the word Gypsy, which is for them Roma, which means Romanian, which therefore means that all Romanians are criminals. Bringing together those terms in a very ignorant way is something our hard-working European partners find deeply offensive. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Nathan Gill, the newly-elected UKIP MEP for Wales, who has been employing large numbers of eastern Europeans and accommodating them in bunkhouses, for which he then charges them rent. I think he has probably done a great service for his own pocket. Whether he has done a great service for the British economy, I am not sure.

If we are going to look at migration, we must remember that some 2.3 million EU nationals live in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that they contribute about £25 billion to the UK economy. In fact, there are fewer eastern Europeans living in the UK than there are UK nationals living in the rest of Europe. Some 1 million UK nationals live either permanently or temporarily in Spain, which is 300,000 more than the number of Poles living in the United Kingdom. However, most of the Poles living in the United Kingdom are here to work and to make a contribution, whereas most of the UK nationals living in Spain are there to use the local services because they are retired and elderly.

We need a sense of perspective, because we have a great opportunity. This year we are negotiating a new trade deal with the United States—the transatlantic trade and investment partnership—which will bring together 40% of the world’s GDP in one effective single market. That deal is too good to turn our backs on. I therefore hope we can turn our backs on the UKIP remedy for our problems. I hope we will treat the commemorations this year of the first world war and the 70th anniversary tomorrow of the D-day landings and the start of the liberation of Europe as a siren call to build on what the founding fathers of the European Union saw as the goal. It is not a centralised Government in Brussels; it is the European nations working together in harmony for the prosperity of all our peoples.

1.54 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter)—or rather, I do not thank him because I am trying to wean myself off the subject of Europe but I cannot, given his speech. It is 39 years to the day since the United Kingdom, by a majority of two to one, decided to remain in what was then the European Economic Community. It is interesting to remind ourselves that in March of that year Harold Wilson declared:

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“I believe that our renegotiation objectives have been substantially though not completely achieved”

and that the Government would recommend a vote in favour of continued membership. As I was reading that, I wondered whether there is not a Prime Minister somewhere who might be tempted to use a similar phrase not too far ahead in the future. As the hon. Gentleman was speaking, I checked the turnout in the European elections. For different reasons we may have started on the same side on the subject of Europe and are no longer on it, but does he not share my extraordinary distress at the turnout? This year it was 19.5% in the Czech Republic, 28.9% in Hungary, 13% in Slovakia, 25% in Croatia, 22% in Poland, 20% in Slovenia and 36% in the UK. The turnout in the referendum 39 years ago was 67%. That shows us a disengagement and democratic illegitimacy that national Parliaments will not address. That is not the subject of my speech, however. What I really want to talk about was not in the Queen’s Speech: cities.

I care deeply about cities and I want, in this context, to talk about the core cities, particularly Birmingham. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Chair of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, said in his final sentence that the real problem we have not addressed is devolution in England outside London. At the moment, we might be slightly more concerned about devolution in Scotland and the vote in September. I am concerned about that, but the truly unfinished business, which none of the party political manifestos, as I see them emerging, have so far addressed and neither did the Queen’s Speech, is the question of what we do outside London.

One of my great regrets is that towards 1999 and 2000, there was a huge tension in the Labour party over whether to go for regional government or city regions. In the end, we went for neither. That, combined with the abolition of regional development agencies, has meant that we now have a situation where the local enterprise partnerships that have replaced them might not have the capacity to deal with that issue. They may be too small in their configuration to be truly strategic.

With the exception of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who I would not dream of offending as he is in the Chamber, there are only a few people who understand the problem and are putting forward plans. I would like to mention Lord Heseltine and Lord Adonis. On the Government Benches, the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who has responsibility for cities, understands what needs to be done, but I am not sure whether he has been given the means to do what is required.

There are two things I need to say in this context. First, I am German by birth. Actually, I am Bavarian by birth. Bavaria has a population of 12.5 million. It is in itself a federal structure made up of seven units. Its capital, Munich, has been a socialist city since time immemorial and it is surrounded by a conservative state. It is so conservative that when the Christian Democrats win it is not a question of whether they win but by how much they win. The important point is that I understand subsidiarity, federal structures and the importance of cities in generating wealth. Cities are the engines of economic growth—they do not reflect the national economy.

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Secondly, I am a Birmingham, Edgbaston MP and my predecessor was a man called Neville Chamberlain, who was the son of a man called Joe Chamberlain who died 100 years ago. Joe Chamberlain was a Unitarian who did not approve of statues, so Birmingham does not have a statue of him. However, every day I go up the stairs to my office and there in front of me in the Committee corridor is Joe Chamberlain with his orchid and a monocle. He turned what was then one of the country’s worst governed cities into one of the best in three years. He did that after being elected as ceremonial mayor and making himself executive mayor. He municipalised water, which, as a public good, was not allowed to make a profit. He municipalised gas, which was allowed to make profits that were used to subsidise the business rates. He had a huge housing programme and he went for free education across the city. He failed in his attempt to make education completely secular and non denominational; something which, more than 100 years later, Birmingham may regret.

The key thing was that he was a local leader who gave up the town hall, with regret, to go to Westminster. He was said to have made the weather. How many civic leaders do we have these days who we can say are making the weather? We can say it of Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson, but the names of Richard Leese and Albert Ball ought to be rolling off our tongues in the way that the names of Cabinet Ministers do. But they do not.

With the greatest of respect to the DCLG teams on either side of the House, DCLG questions is hardly the big ticket seller. Anyone who seriously suffers from insomnia could not be better advised than to take a lesson on how central Government is funded. There is nothing designed to send someone to sleep faster than being given central Government funding formulae. Yet funding is where the money lies. Remember the line about Watergate? “Follow the money.” When we follow the money, we will also find where the power is. This is why the money that comes from central Government cannot be at the grace and favour of Westminster or Whitehall, which decides by pitting city against city or rural against urban. Our big cities need independent funding streams.

The council tax model is beyond repair. Previous speakers talked about how great it is that council tax is not increasing. In our big cities we have a history of council tax being artificially held low. Governments of both parties have talked about re-banding, but then lost their nerve. We are not re-banding, unless the Secretary of State tells us that we are. On top of that, we have a cap which says that beyond a certain level we are going to need—[Interruption.] Yes, it is a cap. It requires a referendum. I recognise that it is a cap in everything but name.

Barry Gardiner: If the cap fits?

Ms Stuart: If the cap fits, I wear it.

The funding streams for our cities are not working, which is a problem. I want to spell out some stark facts. I can pick any set of statistics and paint whatever picture of Birmingham I choose. It could be the most enterprising, the fastest growing and the most amazing city that has everything: theatre, football, ballet, orchestras. You name it, we have it. On the other hand, we have just about everything that is dark. We have the fastest growing

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population under the age of 25; 40% are under 25 and 30% are under 15. On family patterns and in terms of family sizes, we are Bradford. In terms of skills gaps, we are Leicester. In 18 months’ time, on the current trajectory, the city could go bankrupt. This is not just scary talk; it is the truth. What does that mean? In order to give our cities proper power and to make them work properly, we have to look at different ways of dealing with them.

We are told that Deutsche Bank is coming to Birmingham and creating 1,000 new jobs, but I have talked to Network Rail in the context of Birmingham New Street and asked what has surprised those most involved in the five years of the New Street regeneration. I was told that it was the increase in regional commuting. We have a city with ten constituencies, of which two are consistently in the top three of youth unemployment and general unemployment: Hodge Hill and Ladywood. We then create 1,000 jobs for Deutsche Bank in or on the edge of Ladywood, and all that happens is that we bring in employment from Warwickshire, Solihull and Worcestershire. The problems building up in the city are not being addressed.

There are some things that Birmingham can do by itself. I am working on something called the Birmingham baccalaureate, which is trying to combine the English baccalaureate employability skills with what local employers want to make sure that when we create jobs, we also create the kind of jobs that they will respond to. For our cities to grow, we must make sure that the wealth that is generated in the cities stays in the cities.

That takes me to the one thing that grieves me the most in the last five years: the wretched imposition of police commissioners, whom I would abolish tomorrow without shedding a single tear. We made having directly elected mayors the subject of a referendum, which was a big mistake. If we want to devolve power in England outside London, we need strategic directly elected mayors. We need them to work on boundaries that are beyond the local authority boundaries. If we look at the Birmingham city boundaries and at the NHS commissioning boundaries, the latter go by patient flows around the hospitals, which are not respecters of local authority boundaries.

We may think cities are about buildings. They are not. They are about flows of people. It is our job to provide the structure for the flows of people, and to make cities thrive and be economically successful. What I really want—it was not in the Queen’s Speech—is strategic elected regional mayors. I want direct flows of finance to go to the city units. I do not care whether it is a property tax, a percentage of VAT or whatever; they need a consistent and reliable stream. That is a challenge for all of us as politicians.

My last point is that we need to realise that doing the same everywhere is not only not fair, it is inappropriate. Divergence and differentiation—horses for courses in different places—is something that is politically difficult to accept but, in terms of devolving power properly, is the right thing to do.

2.7 pm

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who painted an

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honest and balanced picture of the city of Birmingham. She gave startling figures on the disengagement from the EU in terms of the voter percentage turnout. I agreed with her on devolution in England outside London and on cities being the engines of economic growth. As a London MP, I completely agree on that. We only need to look at the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to see how successful a mayor can be and what he and his team can deliver.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) on her outstanding proposal of the Loyal Address yesterday. It seems incredible that she is only the second woman to propose the Loyal Address in the 57 years of Her Majesty’s reign. Of course, it was ably seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke).

Ms Gisela Stuart: I was reading the speech this morning. I thought it was stunning, including the reference to Eric Prickles, which I really loved. However, I do not think that the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) was the second woman; she may be the second Conservative. Just for the record, I distinctly remember Oona King moving the Loyal Address from our side.

Mary Macleod: I thank the hon. Lady for that correction. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North was the second Conservative woman to propose the Loyal Address, and I was very pleased she did. She did herself, her party and her constituency proud.

We heard earlier from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) who talked about the Gracious Speech in terms of less is more: there was less legislation in it than expected. I completely agree with him and with others that less government and less legislation is a good thing and that we have quality and not quantity in the year ahead.

I was personally disappointed that my ten-minute rule Bill on the succession to hereditary titles and estates was not included. I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you are as amazed as I am that in the vast majority of cases women in this country still cannot inherit hereditary titles or estates. Of the 92 hereditary peers in the House of Lords, only two are women. At some stage—hopefully sooner rather than later—that really needs to change.

We have already heard about the importance of this year as the centenary of the start of the first world war. Another important event this year was mentioned by the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) who spoke about the Scottish referendum. I hope that many Members will get involved in it. I believe it is important to give Scotland more fiscal powers and I hope that we can debate that issue before the referendum takes place in September. I believe that the Scottish people are sensible and pragmatic and that Scotland is an enterprising nation, and I hope and feel sure that the Scottish people will do the right thing and affirm that we are better together.

The legislation outlined in the Queen’s Speech underlines the Government’s commitment to delivering our long-term economic plan. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) said, it is all about being pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration. The last year before

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the general election is an appropriate time to look back at the last four years. Unlike the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), I think that this Government can say a lot about what they have achieved—whether it be cutting income tax for 25 million people, taking 3 million of the lowest paid people out of tax altogether, cutting the deficit by a third, helping businesses create 1.5 million new private sector jobs, creating 400,000 more new small businesses, making our corporation tax the lowest in the G20, getting net immigration down by a third—I could go on. We need to recognise the many things that this Government have achieved in difficult circumstances over the last four years.

As I look locally at Brentford and Isleworth in west London, I can see what those things mean for my constituents. We are in the top 10 constituencies for business growth across the country. Since 2010, unemployment has gone down by 25% and youth unemployment down by 38%, while crime has gone down 15% across the borough—the second biggest decrease in London. There is much, then, to be recognised in what has been done in my constituency of 95,000 voters and 120,000 residents—one of the biggest in the country—including the Mayor’s outer-London fund in giving Brentford and Hounslow £4.8 million. Businesses are expanding; the new BSkyB campus hopes to increase from 8,000 to 12,000 people; a new free school has been set up; and the Health Secretary has prevented the closure of A and E at Charing Cross hospital and has secured £50 million to build a new hospital.

Much has been done, but there is, of course, more to do, which is what we have in front of us today. I believe that this Queen’s Speech was all about helping families and backing small businesses. As the small business ambassador for London, I would like first to look at what this means for small businesses. Secondly, I want to say a few words about support for child care in helping families. Thirdly, like other Members I shall speak about housing. I shall also mention supporting schools and finally touch on the Modern Slavery Bill.

On small businesses, my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) ably mentioned the challenges that he and small businesses have to face generally. He reminded us of how important small businesses are to the economy, making up 99% of all UK businesses. If all the sole traders were to take on just one person, we would eliminate unemployment across the country, as he said. That provides an important sense of perspective. A lot has been done to support small businesses, whether it be through encouraging start-ups, through StartUp Britain or the “Business is GREAT” campaign, through start-up loans, the new enterprise allowance or by encouraging growth through reducing corporation tax and extending small business rate relief, increasing investment allowance and doubling the lending for export finance.

Increased access to finance in general is important, with the setting up of the Business bank and the introduction of the enterprise finance guarantee. Improving skills is relevant, too, with 1.7 million new apprentices since 2010, making a huge difference to young people’s lives. We have seen 17 new university technical colleges, with a further 33 in development. I would really like one in west London, so I hope to work on that over the next year. We have cut red tape, improved business advice and achieved much for women in enterprise—there are

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now more women in work than ever before, and more female entrepreneurs than ever before. A lot has been done to help support them.

The Prime Minister was good enough to visit me in Brentford to meet some of my female entrepreneurs, who certainly spoke very clearly to him about where they needed further support. Whether it be “lovegiveink”, Anila’s Sauces, Plumber UK or SprinkledMagic, these small businesses have been set up by enterprising women who will, I am sure, go from strength to strength. We just need more of them. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill will, I think, help even further: it is all about building a stronger economy and supporting businesses. It should help to deal with some of the issues that many businesses talk to me about—access to finance, late payments, access to Government contracts, red tape and so forth. Those things are all important to small businesses. This Bill will really help them by reducing the burden of regulation, helping them to get paid faster by large companies, and supporting them through public procurement—I want to see many more small businesses getting the opportunity to get a slice of the bigger contracts that are often difficult for them to secure. The Bill will provide support for the low paid and help pub landlords to get a fair deal. This Bill, the first of its kind, will achieve much for small business.

Secondly, supporting child care is crucial to help people at an important time of life. This Government have already done a lot to support it, although there is certainly more to do. I was at a meeting this morning with Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of easyJet, and there was a whole range of talented business women in the room. She spoke of her frustration at how many great women in the middle ranks of business drop out of their careers, partly owing to the high cost of child care. We really need to try to do more to help with that. We have already funded 15 hours of free child care a week for all three and four-year-olds and introduced shared parental leave, which will make a difference. This Bill will offer tax-free child care to almost 2 million families, meeting 85% of the child care costs of families on universal credit. That will affect people’s lives fundamentally and make a real difference to families in my constituency and elsewhere around the country.

Thirdly, housing is very important, as some hon. Members have mentioned, and it is a particularly big issue in London. I was very pleased to take my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to Brentford to see some of the developments taking place there, particularly how Brentford has been completely transformed from Commerce road to the south side of the High street right up to Kew bridge, with many new housing developments taking place. From 2011 to 2021, the population of London is expected to rise by a million, so we will hit the 9 million mark before New York and approach 10 million by 2030. The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) mentioned population growth in his contribution.

Those figures mean that we need at least another 450,000 jobs for Londoners in the next 10 years, and another 400,000 homes. It is therefore important for us to support people and help them to meet their housing needs. I am pressing my local authority in Hounslow to provide a much better mix of housing, and to ensure that affordable housing is available so that people can live where they need to live. I hope that the Secretary of

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State will consider a measure aimed specifically at London, possibly in connection with the Help to Buy scheme. Perhaps the Government could guarantee a higher percentage, or perhaps something could be done to help people who aspire to buy their own homes but who find it difficult to raise a deposit of 10% or 20% when house prices in London are so high.

My borough is the fourth fastest-growing in London, and I know that we need skills to support population growth. I have taken the Secretary of State to see a potential new school site in the ISIS housing development in Commerce road, and I hope that it can be pushed through with the help of Hounslow council and the Department for Education, because there is an intense local need for new primary schools and, subsequently, secondary schools. Much more needs to be done to help cities with problems relating to population growth, housing and education.

My right hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) spoke very articulately about the Modern Slavery Bill, as did the hon. Member for Islington North. The hon. Gentleman said that every story was a human story and every tragedy a human tragedy, and how right he was. Female genital mutilation has already been mentioned today, but the Government are also trying to do more this summer to raise awareness of forced marriage. Pupils at some of my local schools go off on holiday to places such as Pakistan during the summer, and forced marriages take place during that time.

We all need to speak out about such issues. I think that the Modern Slavery Bill will form part of our legacy, and I hope that Members on both sides of the House will work together to deliver what I believe will be one of the first Acts in the world to deal with practices which, although we can hardly believe it, still take place across the world: human trafficking, slavery, forced labour and domestic servitude. If all Members stand up against those practices and speak with one voice, they can have an immensely powerful influence. The Bill will protect victims by introducing an anti-slavery commissioner and tougher measures to ensure that slave drivers face justice. I am sure that we in the House can say with one voice that the actions of such people will not be tolerated, and that we will definitely do something about it.

I am entirely in favour of the measures that were announced in the Queen’s Speech. The best way to ensure that there is a good standard of living for all is to continue to support the working economy and encourage everyone to make the most of the opportunities that are available to them. I commend the work that the Government have already done to help businesses and hard-working families, and I welcome the developments that are still to come in the year ahead.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. It may help the House if I clarify a fact before I call the next speaker. The issue of the gender of Members of Parliament who have proposed the Loyal Address was mentioned yesterday by the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt)—in an excellent speech—and

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the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), and this afternoon by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod). It is a fact that until yesterday only one woman, namely Lady Tweedsmuir, had proposed the Loyal Address, but Oona King and others have seconded it. I thought that if I enlightened the House, it might help to keep the facts straight.

2.24 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I am grateful for the chance to participate in the debate, and it is nice to be doing so just after the length of time that it has taken for women to be able to contribute to the proceedings of the House has been highlighted. I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and others are especially pleased to celebrate that today.

I believe that my constituents who watched the Queen’s Speech were looking for measures that would give them a sense of confidence and security about the future—a sense that there would be secure jobs, that they would have stable homes, and that they would be able to get on rather than having to scrape by wondering from week to week how things would pan out. There were a few welcome measures. I was pleased to hear the announcement about free school meals, and any investment in helping families with the cost of child care is welcome too. However, I want to say something very clearly and strongly to Ministers about an issue that is brushed aside each time it is raised.

Far too many people in this country who are in work are working in poverty, and that is simply not acceptable. The measures that Ministers talk about, such as the raising of the tax threshold, are not sufficient on their own, because the lowest-paid workers, particularly those on zero-hours contracts, are unlikely to benefit from them. Any fiscal measures must be accompanied by much firmer and more determined action on low pay. That is why we have spoken of the need to be much more proactive in addressing the phenomenon of zero-hours contracts, and to take much more energetic action to ensure that the national minimum wage increasingly becomes a wage on which people can live and raise their families.

I also think that we should take much firmer action in bearing down on some of the basic living costs that families face: the costs of food, energy and housing. I agree with other Members who have drawn attention to the need to increase affordable housing supply. In Trafford, in my part of Greater Manchester, housing costs are relatively high. They are not on the scale experienced by Members with seats in London and the south-east, but, in Greater Manchester terms, Trafford is an expensive place in which to live. That applies particularly to people in private rented accommodation, who constitute a substantial proportion of my constituents.

Those people will be very disappointed by the deficiencies in the Queen’s Speech in this regard, because they are already being priced out of their accommodation. If they complain about its quality, the landlord will tell them to move out, and the knowledge that the landlord holds all the cards makes them feel deeply insecure about their tenancies. It is very regrettable that the Government have not been more active in relation to that substantial housing sector. Many people in my

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constituency aspire to own their homes and we want to support them, but we must recognise that a large number of people are living in private rented accommodation, and will continue to do so because they cannot afford, or do not have stable enough incomes, to commit themselves to buying their own homes. I implore the Government to think about what more can be done for those households.

However, it was energy that I really wanted to discuss this afternoon. Let me first say a little about energy costs. We must all be relieved that last winter was so mild. I know that many of my constituents really fear their energy bills—especially disabled people, older people and those who are bringing up young children, because they are at home more often, and because the vulnerability of many family members requires the heating to be turned on and turned up. It is because of that real fear that I want to say to Government Members that their scepticism about Labour’s 20-month price freeze is totally misplaced. The proposal has been greatly welcomed by my constituents, because it will give them a chance to manage bills and to plan a bit—perhaps to set some money aside for a rainy day to cope with day-to-day living expenses. I think that Government Members should think carefully about the nature of that commitment, and about what more can be done to encourage other energy companies to follow the example of those that have already shown what can be done.

I particularly wanted to speak about energy supply, in the context of the importance of energy security and managing climate impact. The issue is of huge concern and interest in my constituency, and it is also an issue of considerable pride. Trafford college is at the cutting-edge in offering renewables installation training, for instance. It is also a very live issue in my constituency, because there is real concern about the environmental impact of the fracking measures announced in the Queen’s Speech, and that is what I want to talk about this afternoon.

The north-west has been identified as having significant shale gas and coal-bed methane fields and drilling has already begun, for example just over the border from my constituency in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). There are also live proposals for a coal-bed methane site in Trafford. There is deep local fear that fracking will start happening in our community, and there is a particular worry about fracking starting in Davyhulme where air quality standards are already being breached. It is a built-up area that is next to the M60 and close to an airport, and the site is right by the proposed biomass plant. There is, at the very least, real concern that the air quality will worsen substantially if there is fracking and exploratory drilling, not least because of the additional traffic flows, which the Secretary of State acknowledged was one of the unfortunate by-products of fracking exploration.

The core issue, however, is a lack of transparency and of genuinely honest and open dialogue with local communities about the implications for them. For example, it took the local press to reveal that radioactive waste water had been placed into the Manchester ship canal by United Utilities a couple of years ago. That waste water had been brought to our neighbourhood with the purpose of disposing of it. The public should have been informed about that, and if the view was that that was done entirely safely, that, too, should have been explained to local people. It does nothing for people’s confidence in new energy sources if we have such cover-ups.

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Friends of the Earth reports that Trafford council failed properly to consider the climate change impacts and did not therefore require an environmental impact assessment for the IGas application for coal-bed methane testing and production at Davyhulme. Therefore, we have not had a full environmental impact assessment of the likely consequences of such activity. Moreover, the Environment Agency has allowed exploratory drilling at Barton Moss next door, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South. It seems to be quite untroubled by the fact that the IGas application to undertake such activity made it clear that it would be storing hazardous waste extracts on site. That is not covered by the Environment Agency permit, yet nothing appears to have been done to prevent it from carrying on with the activity. There needs to be more transparency and the regulatory regime needs to be much more effective if people are to have any confidence in this form of exploration. My constituents are very sceptical about whether they are being given all the facts.

Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend is making a very good contribution on hydraulic fracturing. Last year I visited Pau in southern France where for a couple of decades work has been carried out on carbon capture and storage underground. There is extensive seismic monitoring and monitoring of gas and so forth. It would be helpful if Ministers explained to us what long-term monitoring there would be of any sites where hydraulic fracturing is used.

Kate Green: I agree. There must be both the monitoring and the publication of the outcome of that monitoring and absolute openness and transparency about the impact.

My constituents are also anxious about the Government’s proposals to allow fracking companies to drill under people’s homes or properties without permission. I am pleased there is to be a consultation. The Secretary of State said this morning that there would be a full 12-week consultation on this, but I am puzzled as to where the Government are coming from because yesterday, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), the Prime Minister said it would not be legal to go on to someone’s property and frack against their will, but I am not sure I got such a firm assurance from the Secretary of State this morning.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) pointed out, the coal and water and sewerage industries already have a right of access to underground land. It is important to have clarity as to whether Ministers intend there to be a comparable right in relation to shale gas and if that is the case whether the costs of any damage and any clean-up and so forth will fall to the industry, not to the taxpayer or property owners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) suggested, there is also significant concern about assessing baseline data in relation to, for example, seismic activity or methane in groundwater, and maintaining the monitoring of any impact on that baseline data as a result of any fracking activity.

Finally, there is significant worry about the long-term impact of investing substantially in further fossil fuel technology at the expense of renewables investment. We are very clear that any investment in fracking and other gas-based technologies must be accompanied by rigorous

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and tough adherence to decarbonisation targets. Ministers have not said much yet to explain why they are so enthusiastic about investing in a fuel source that can only increase our fossil fuel footprint, and which will not deliver much in the way of energy security for a good 10 to 15 years—time that could be used to develop alternative sources of energy. There is real concern about the climate impact being rather underplayed.

I think my constituents would prefer a greener energy strategy, and at the very least they deserve absolute openness about decisions to engage in the exploitation of coal-bed methane and shale gas. I echo calls made in this Chamber today for the Government to proceed with caution, and I very much hope they will be heeded.

2.36 pm

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). She touched on some of the issues I intend to speak to, although she may have come to slightly different conclusions from those I shall reach.

The No. 1 thing for this Government from their inception through to this Queen’s Speech has been the economy. There is no divide between economic growth and fairness and all the things that follow through from that, including the cost of living, which is the subject of this debate. It has been mentioned that we have cut the deficit, and we hope it will have been cut by half by the end of this Parliament, as has been forecast. That is not just some bean-counting exercise; it relates directly to mortgage payments, and it is therefore a cost of living issue as well as an economic issue.

A lot is said about Government debt, but far less is said about banking and household debt. Both of those are down from their high point under the last Government, and that is important. None of us wants to have to talk to our constituents about taxpayers bailing out banks again, and with interest rates likely to rise—and rightly so—in the relatively near future, it is very important that household debt comes down as well, so that those on tight, fine margins in respect of their mortgages do not feel the pinch too much.

We have recently become the fastest growing economy in the advanced world, and as a result unemployment has come down to 6.8%, as opposed to the 8% rate left by the last Government. The private sector has fuelled a huge amount of job creation. The media and also many in this Chamber talk about job creation and unemployment as if it were an economic priority, but the most economically and socially disfranchised in this country are the unemployed, and jobs creation is about dealing with them. This Government’s record in that regard is stellar: in just four years we have seen businesses create double the number of jobs that were created in the last decade under Labour. That is absolutely critical.